Hidden History: How Pressure to Expand Slavery Led to the US War on Mexico

United States at Beginning of Mexican War 1846 | Library ...

Episode 11: A Restless South Expansion and Conflict

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

Ayers uses this lecture to explain the development of the US two-party system in the 1820s and how pressure to expand slavery led to the US War on Mexico. The founding fathers had warned against political parties, worried scheming opportunists would seize control of them.

The election of America’s first populist president Andrew Jackson (1828) would play a major role in the formation of the two party system. Also important was the decision by many legislatures to eliminate property qualifications for voting. In 1828 the popular vote for president was double that of 1820.

Identifying himself as a man of the people, Jackson claimed to have wrested control of the country from the wealthy elite. In doing so, he also increased the powers of the presidency beyond those described in the Constitution. Although his forced march of Native Americans to Oklahoma supported southern interests, he sided against the South when he shut down the South Carolina nullification movement in 1933.*

Jackson’s opponents (men with business and trade interests) saw themselves as a counterbalance to the “monarchical” powers of the Jackson presidency and began calling themselves Whigs.** His supporters (small farmers and urban immigrants) became known as Democrats.

In 1845 a 3rd party candidate split the Whig vote and Jackson protege and expansionist*** James K Polk narrowly won the presidency. In 1846, Polk seized on a border skirmish north of the Rio Grande as an excuse to invade Mexico. After a two year war (1846-48), Mexico and the US signed a peace treaty that gave the US undisputed control of Texas,**** established the U.S.-Mexican border along the Rio Grande, and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California,

Although the Whigs (and most northerners) had opposed the war, they sought to capitalize on General Zachary Taylor’s military prestige by offering him the 1848 nomination. Following his election, growing congressional conflict over slavery led to a law declaring California a slave free territory and the Fugitive Slave Act (requiring northern states to return escaped slaves to their masters)

The Whigs split in 1854, following enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Act proclaiming new states could decide for themselves whether they would allow slavery (effectively repealing the Missouri Comprise banning slavery north of the 33rd parallel). Most northern Whigs joined the anti-slavery Republican Party (formed in Wisconsin in 1854) and most southern Whigs joined the American Party and later the Constitutional Union Party.

*The Nullification Crisis was a confrontation between South Carolina and the federal government in 1832–33 over the former’s attempt to declare null and void the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832. The resolution of the crisis in favor of the federal government helped to undermine nullification doctrine, the constitutional theory that upheld the right of states to nullify federal acts within their boundaries.

**The Whigs were a British political party between the 1680s and 1850s.

***The southern states favored westward expansion of the US as acquisition of new plantation land was essential to the health of the southern economy.

****The major fighting in the Texas war of independence (with several hundred state militiamen fighting the 3,000-strong Mexican army) ended on April 21, 1836. However the Mexican Congress refused to recognize the independence of the Republic of Texas, as the treaty was signed by Mexican President General Antonio López de Santa Anna under duress as prisoner of state militias. The United States recognized the Republic of Texas in March 1837 but declined to annex the territory as a state until its economy, based entirely on slaves and cotton, collapsed follow the panic of 1837. Texas formally became a state in 1845

Can be viewed with a library card on Kanopy.


Just to let people know I’m moving to Substack and Telegram after several readers informed me I’ve been censored from WordPress Reader feed. The link to my Substack account is https://stuartbramhall.substack.com/. The link to my Telegram channel is https://t.me/themostrevolutionaryact I’ll continue to publish on WordPress as long as I’m able, but if my blog suddenly disappears you’ll know where to find me.

Hidden History: Slave Rebellions and Forced Native American Evacuation


Episode 9: Rebellion and Removal: Tightening of Slavery

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

This lecture covers the major slave rebellions occurring in South Carolina and Virginia between 1830-1850, as well as the forced removal of Native Americans from the southeastern US.

Ayers begins by describing the slave rebellion freeman Denmark Vesey organized with a slave called Gulla Jack in Charleston South Carolina in June 1832. The plan was to free as many slaves as possible and escape with them to Haiti.* They called the rebellion off after another slave betrayed the plot. The city militia arrested and hung sixteen of the leaders.

Ayers talks at length about the background of Nat Turner, who organized the slave rebellion in Southhampton County Virginia in 1831. An enslaved African American preacher, Turner saw visions and heard the voice of God telling him to gather arms and free local slaves from their masters. Turner eventually recruited 28 men, who moved from farm to farm killing white families. They attacked 15 homesteads before other white families learned of the revolt spread and abandoned their plantations. Turner and his followers were eventually arrested and executed.

Increasingly paranoid, white residents of North and South Carolina and Virginia (being greatly outnumbered by their slaves) began to see slave rebellions everywhere. This led to heated debates in the Virginia legislature about the “debilitating” effects of slavery on economic development. Western Virginia, which had the fewest slaves, petitioned the legislature to take steps towards ending slavery. One proposal put forward was for the state to purchase all slaves born after 1840 and either colonize them in Africa or sell them to plantations further south. Instead legislators passed harsher laws to limit the ability of free Blacks to move or gather.

Ayers spends the last half of the lecture on the Indian Removal Act, overseen by President Andrew Jackson despite being overturned twice by the Supreme Court twice. At the time of the forced removals (to “Indian Territory,” ie Oklahoma). By 1830, many Native Americans in the Southeast had converted to Christianity and owned property and slaves.

The Choctaw of northern Georgia were the first to be forcibly moved (after speculators discovered gold on their land) after selling, at a loss, their land and all goods they couldn’t carry with them. Nearly one third died of starvation, exposure or disease during the 500-mile journey.

The Cherokee removal occurred between 1836-39. The US forcibly removed 16,000 members of the Cherokee Nation and 1,000-2,000 from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. Roughly one quarter died.

The Creeks of Alabama were forcibly removed between 1830-36, with roughly 38% dying.

The Seminole of Florida were never evacuated. Jackson launched the second Seminole War started in 1836. Costing more than $20 million, it dragged on for six years. More than 5,000 (out of 36,000) US troops were killed with many more experiencing debilitating injuries.

The film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

*Where slavery ended with the 1791 Haitian Revolution.


The Citizens Group that Blew Whistle on OKC Bombing

A Noble Lie

Directed by James Lane (2011)

Film Review

This documentary approaches the Oklahoma City bombing from a somewhat different angle, focusing on the citizens group that empaneled a grand jury to investigate Tim McVeigh’s accomplices, as well as his links to US intelligence. Oklahoma is one of the few states that allows citizens to convene their own grand jury.

The Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee was made up of Oklahoma City police and sheriff’s officers, bombing victims and their families, eyewitnesses and a supportive state legislator. Their findings showed clearly that at the time of the bombing McVeigh was still in the US Army (as indicated on his death certificate) and assigned to working with the FBI and ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) group PatCon to infiltrate militant right wing groups. The committee’s goal was to force Congress to investigate the FBI cover-up of the Oklahoma City bombing. When this failed, the published their findings two weeks prior to 9-11 in a book called The Final Report on the Bombing of the Alfred P Murrah Building.

A Noble Lie also zeroes in on the two eyewitnesses who were murdered as part of the FBI cover-up, the files the FBI and ATF removed from the Murrah federal building before they permitted search and rescue teams from entering the bomb site, and FBI memos obtained under the Freedom of Information Act about the involvement of McVeigh and various accomplices in PatCon. The latter was an undercover FBI operation to infiltrate right wing extremist groups.

This film also goes to great lengths to debunk the FBI claim that a truck bomb caused the Murrah Federal Building to collapse. Not only was the pattern of structural damage inconsistent with an external air blast, but a truck bomb (of the size claimed by the FBI) would have produced too much ammonia gas for rescuers to enter the building.

Independent forensic tests at an Air Force lab ascertained that the bombing had to result from explosive charges attached to one or more columns inside the building – exactly like the two bombs defused immediately after the blast. The activities of the Air Force bomb disposal squad were reported by numerous media outlets on the day.

*An Oklahoma sheriff got a tip off from Little Rock the day of the bombing that these records likely concerned the federal investigation into CIA drug running at the Mena Airport in Arkansas. Federal records related to the Whitewater investigation, another Clinton scandal, were also stored in the Murrah building and vanished the day of the bombing.