Hidden History: When Nicaragua was an Official US Colony

President Franklin Pierce's Politics and Economics - Video ...

Episode 13: Sovereignty and Slavery in the American West

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

This lecture mainly concerns the heated battles occurring in Kansas and Missouri over slavery and the political forces behind them.

According to Ayers, the South had two main political factions, the Democratic “Fire-Easters” and former southern Whigs, and both supporter the continuation of slavery. The “Fire-Easters” believed the North intended to destroy the South and the only to stop them was to agitate continuously over the slavery issue. The former Whigs saw the “Fire Eaters” as a threat to the future of the South and slavery and tried to form a new party in opposition to the Democrats.

Among southern Democrats, there was strong support for expanding US borders to include Cuba and Central America. After organizing several military expeditions to Mexico, in 1855 Tennessean Dr William Walker led a military expedition to Nicaragua (in the grips civil war) and made himself president. President Franklin Pierce initially recognized Walker’s Nicaraguan government. However after cholera wiped out  Walker’s army, and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt* pressured Washington to end its support for his Nicaraguan government.

Although the southern economy boomed under slavery in the 1850s, some southern analysts warned the institution discouraged technological investment and long term development. In 1857, North Carolinan Hinton Helper’s book The Impending Crisis of the South argued that slavery was unsustainable because it required the continuing destruction of forests for new fields, as well as causing poor whites to be “ignorant, degraded and illiterate.” He called for both a tax on slaves and for the establishment of new colonies for free Blacks in Africa or Latin America.

The gradual expansion of the Republican Party in the North saw a rapid increase in anti-southern sentiment. The Kansas-Nebraska Act (which allowed new territories to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery) led to growing competition between pro- and anti-slavery factions for dominance in the new western territories. Northern philanthropists offered anti-slavery grants to encourage poor northern pioneers to settle in Missouri and Kansas.

In 1856, Kansas, which was 60% pro-slavery, elected a pro-slavery legislature which passed “Free Soil” laws prohibiting abolitionists from serving on juries or holding office and ordained the death penalty for any Kansas resident who assisted a fugitive slave. In response, the state’s Free Soil advocates elected their own government and wrote their own constitution. After abolitionists in New England and New York sent them rifles, pro-slavery forces in the southern states sent out an expedition of 3,000 militias to march into the Free Soil stronghold of Lawrence Kansas to execute warrants on anti-slavery leaders and two abolitionist newspapers. In what became known as the Sack of Lawrence, the militias burned down a hotel and threw printing presses into the river.

The following year the Supreme Court heard the case of Dred Scott, who sued his master for his freedom after he moved Scott and his family to the free state of Missouri. The court’s Democratic majority found that Blacks were not entitled to be citizens because their innate inferiority made them unfit to associate with white people.

In response to the Dred Scott decision, Republicans called for a sweep of all national offices in the 1860 elections, claiming the entire Democratic Party was captive to the southern viewpoint on slavery.

*Vanderbilt was infuriated when Walker ended Nicaragua’s contract with his shipping company.

The film can be viewed free 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.

Reclaiming Our History


Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States

Scott Noble (2015)

Film Review

As German philosopher Walter Benjamin famously stated, “History is written by the victors.” In the US, most history books are written by and for the corporate oligarchs who run our government. Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history from the perspective of the working class. Part II (Solidarity Forever) will cover the late 19th Century to the early twenties. The filmmaker is currently seeking donations to complete the project. If you’d like to help, you can donate to their Patreon account.

The film can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at Plutocracy

Plutocracy starts with Shay’s Rebellion in 1786, the insurrection of Massachusetts farmers against the courts and banks that were fleecing them of their meager wealth and property. Similar rebellions in Rhode Island and Virginia would cause leading US bankers, merchants and plantation owners to organize a secret convention to create a central government and standing army. Each of the 13 original states, which in 1787 were still independent and sovereign, sent delegates to Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Instead of revising the Articles, as authorized by their state legislatures, the delegates closed the meeting to the public and voted to replace them with a federal constitution. The latter substantially limited the freedom and power of state legislatures and ordinary Americans.

Plutocracy moves on to cover the massive Irish immigration of the mid-nineteenth century and the appalling squalor so-called “white Negroes” lived in. During the 19th century, 80% of babies born to Irish immigrants died in infancy.

The film touches only briefly on the Civil War, describing laws that enabled robber barons like John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt to evade the Civil War draft by paying a poor person $300 to replace them.

It offers a detailed depiction of post-Civil War Reconstruction, which coincided with the 1871 Paris commune and saw blacks collaborating with poor whites to establish the South’s first public schools and hospitals. This was in addition to the election of numerous former slaves to judgeships and legislative positions.

Their eagerness to return Negroes to productive status on plantations led northern industrialists to pressure Congress to end Reconstruction by removing the federal troops protecting the rights of former slaves. It also led to their passive acceptance of unconstitutional Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terrorism. The chief aim of both was to prevent poor backs and whites from associating with one another.

The federal troops withdrawn from the South were redeployed in genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and Mexicans. By the end of the 19th century, not only had Mexico ceded half their territory to the US (including California, Texas, Utah, Nevada and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Montana – in the 1984 Treaty of Guadalupe), but US corporations enjoyed de facto control of all land remaining under sovereign Mexican control.

Stripping the Native Americans and Mexicans of their land in the West, readied the US for the rise of the robber barons of industry (Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie and Vanderbilt) and a corrupt system of federal and local government run entirely by bribery and patronage.

The corruption and squalid living conditions of the late 19th century would give rise to militant trade unionism, socialism, anarchism and populism. Plutocracy depicts the Pullman and similar strikes in which strikers were brutally beaten and killed by Pinkerton’s Detectives and other goons hired by industrial bosses, as well as national guardsmen and, on several occasions, federal troops.

The film opens with a poignant depiction of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in US history. It’s the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, involving 10,000 coal miners. Denise Giardini memorializes the Battle of Blair Mountain in her 1987 novel Storming Heaven.

*Rockefeller and Morgan had a relative monopoly on the banks, Carnegie on steel and Vanderbilt on the railroads.