On December 16, 1773, British-American colonists boarded ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor to protest British tax policies. This act, later called the “Boston Tea Party,” inspired other colonists to resist British infringements on their rights, which ultimately led to American independence.
The incident later called the “Boston Tea Party” stemmed from the monopoly on tea that Parliament had granted to the East India Company. Along with this monopoly came various taxes, which colonists protested because they had no direct representation in Parliament.
There were many other grievances, but most of them derived from these two principal issues. Destroying the tea demonstrated colonists’ frustration with British policies, and Britain’s response would only provoke further acts of defiance leading to an all-out war of secession from Great Britain.
The East India Company
Tea was the most prevalent drink for British subjects, and the East India Company was granted a near monopoly on importing tea to Great Britain in 1698. In 1721, the British Parliament required the American colonies to import their tea only from England, which allowed the East India Company to virtually corner the colonial tea market. The company delivered tea to England, where it was sold at auction and then exported to the colonies, where it was resold to colonial merchants.
By the early 1770s, the East India Company was on the verge of bankruptcy, primarily because it was required to pay taxes on all tea imported to England and exported to the colonies. This caused the price of tea to rise in the colonies. In response, colonists began buying cheaper, smuggled tea from Holland since that tea was not taxed by the Dutch government. East India representatives lobbied Parliament for help.
Parliament bailed out East India by lowering the importation tax to England and removing the export tax to the colonies. Partly to recover lost revenue from the tax decreases, Parliament enacted the Townshend Act, which introduced many colonial taxes, including a tax to import the East India tea. These new provisions were intended to stop the Dutch smuggling problem, but they only exacerbated another issue.
Taxation Without Representation
The Townshend Act was bitterly protested in the American colonies, as colonists argued that, as British subjects, they could not be taxed without the consent of their elected representatives. The colonists were not permitted to elect their own members to the British Parliament, and as such they maintained that only their colonial representatives had the power to tax them. Parliament responded by enacting the Declaratory Act, which asserted the right to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever,” including taxes.
The protests, boycotts and smuggling continued until Parliament finally removed all Townshend importation taxes except for the tax on tea. British Prime Minister Lord North insisted on maintaining the tea tax to assert “the right of taxing the Americans.” Since all other taxes were removed, the colonists were temporarily satisfied.
But the tea tax harmed the East India Company, causing prices to rise and sales to drop. Again East India representatives lobbied Parliament for help, but the North ministry was reluctant to remove the tea tax because it would signal a victory for the colonists on the taxation issue. Moreover, the tax was used to pay colonial officials in an effort to keep them dependent on Britain rather than their constituents.
The Tea Act
Parliament rescued the East India Company again by enacting the Tea Act in May 1773. This saved the company from bankruptcy by removing the export tax to the colonies altogether. At the same time, the import tax on the colonies was maintained. In addition, East India was permitted to sell directly to the colonies without moving the tea through Britain first. Parliament appointed colonial merchants to receive the tea on consignment and then sell it to the colonists for a commission.
British officials thought this act would be celebrated in the colonies because tea would be cheaper despite maintaining the import tax. However the law carried unintended consequences that prompted colonial outrage.
By allowing East India to directly sell its tea to colonial consignees, nearly all other tea-related business was undercut. Merchants buying cheaper, smuggled tea faced financial ruin under this new law. Also, merchants not politically connected enough to be appointed as consignees also faced ruin. And even worse, many feared that if this system could be imposed for tea, it could be extended to other goods as well. This helped resurrect the old dispute over whether or not members of Parliament had the power to tax colonists who did not elect them.
Many colonists argued that retaining the importation tax was an unnecessary provocation. The North ministry countered that the tax was necessary to pay colonial officials’ salaries. In addition, retaining the tax was a symbolic gesture demonstrating the power of the British government over the colonies. This symbol, more than the tax itself, prompted outrage in America. Colonists assembled to discuss not only boycotting the tea but preventing it from being delivered altogether.
As news of the Tea Act spread, protest groups such as the Sons of Liberty began forcing consignees to resign. In Philadelphia, a mass protest ousted the city’s consignees and compelled the tea ship to return to Britain without unloading its cargo. The tea ship in New York City was forced to turn back without delivering its tea, and the consignees resigned as well. But Boston was a different story.
In Massachusetts, the only colony in which the tea import tax was fully enforced, Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson declared that tea ships would not be permitted to return to Britain until the tea was unloaded and the import taxes were paid. Hutchinson persuaded Boston’s consignees, two of whom were his sons, to hold firm.
When the tea ship Dartmouth arrived in Boston Harbor in November 1773, Sons of Liberty member Samuel Adams called for a meeting at the Old South Church. About 8,000 people heard Adams inform them of Governor Hutchinson’s policy regarding tea ships. A resolution was adopted urging the Dartmouth captain to return the ship to Britain without collecting the import tax. Men were assigned to watch the ship and prevent the tea from being unloaded.
But Hutchinson remained adamant, and soon two more tea ships arrived in Boston Harbor. On December 16, about 7,000 people gathered at the Old South Church for another meeting. As Adams tried maintaining order among the outraged citizens, people poured out of the church and headed for the harbor to protest. Later that evening, about 130 men led by Lendall Pitts disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and boarded the tea ships. Over the next three hours, they dumped all 342 chests of tea into the water.
While many Boston authorities supported the tea’s destruction, British officials in London were enraged. Governor Hutchinson urged Parliament to suppress the Sons of Liberty. Prime Minister North said, “Whatever may be the consequence, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over.” Consequently, a series of acts were passed, including:
- The closure of Boston Harbor to all commerce until the East India Company was reimbursed for the lost tea
- Denying citizens of Massachusetts the right to elect their own colonial representatives
- Allowing trials for colonial officials accused of harming colonists to be moved to Britain
- Extending Quebec and allowing Catholicism to spread there (causing fear among the primarily Protestant colonists)
These and other laws passed to keep the colonies obedient to Britain came to be known in America as the “Intolerable Acts.”
Moving Toward Secession
Samuel Adams publicized and defended the destruction of tea in Boston Harbor. Others denounced the action, including Benjamin Franklin, who declared that the East India Company must be repaid for its loss. Similar incidents occurred in other colonies, though they did not receive as much publicity as the action in Boston.
As Britain attempted to tighten its grip on the colonies, the colonists increased their protests and resistance to the “Intolerable Acts.” Many colonists living outside Massachusetts feared that the punitive measures being administered to that colony could someday be extended to them, and as such they joined the protests. Boycotts were coordinated and colonists began talking of suspending trade with Britain altogether.
The responses and counter-responses to grievances between the American colonies and Great Britain ultimately led to the First Continental Congress being formed in 1775. The Congress petitioned King George III to repeal the “Intolerable Acts,” and when the petition was denied, the colonists engaged in open rebellion against the Crown. This led to the War for Independence and the creation of the United States of America.
The “Tea Party” Name
The term “Boston Tea Party” was not coined in print until 1834. Prior to that, the event was most often called the “Destruction of the Tea.” Since the Tea Party, U.S. activists from various political viewpoints have invoked the name as a symbol of protest. The current “Tea Party” movement in the U.S. has urged a return to the country’s founding principles of limited government, individual freedom and responsibility, and reduced taxation.
Wednesday, May 13
In Mississippi, General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals advanced on the state capital of Jackson, which was defended by Confederates under General Joseph E. Johnston. Grant’s forces now stood between Johnston at Jackson and Confederate General John C. Pemberton, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg.
North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis expressing concern about desertion in the Confederate army; Vance attributed the high desertion rate to homesickness, fatigue, lack of furloughs, and inability to enter regiments of their choice. Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Missouri.
Thursday, May 14
In Louisiana, the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson on the west bank of the Mississippi River was depleted as men were transfered to defend the vital stronghold at Vicksburg. General Nathaniel Banks’s 24,000-man Federal Army of the Gulf advanced to capture the fort from the south.
In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals captured Jackson. Joseph E. Johnston withdrew his outnumbered forces, along with vital supplies, to the north.
President Abraham Lincoln wrote to General Joseph Hooker, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, that “some of your corps and Division commanders are giving you their entire confidence.” Hooker’s subordinates had lobbied the administration to remove him from command, but Lincoln feared the political implications of a quick removal. In private, Lincoln agreed with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck that Hooker should be removed before another major battle occurred, but Lincoln secretly hoped that Hooker would resign.
Friday, May 15
In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals converged on Edwards’ Station, east of Vicksburg. Federals under General William T. Sherman remained in Jackson to destroy supplies. John C. Pemberton decided it was impossible to link with Joseph Johnston. Skirmishing occurred in Arkansas, Missouri, and Virginia.
Saturday, May 16
In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals turned west from Jackson to attack Vicksburg from the rear. The Federals confronted John C. Pemberton’s Confederates at Champion’s Hill, about halfway between Jackson and Vicksburg, and the outnumbered Confederates withdrew west after launching a furious counterattack that was repulsed just before reaching Grant’s headquarters.
Democrats and even some Republicans protested the conviction of Clement Vallandigham. Many were shocked that a citizen could be thrown into a military prison for simply exercising his constitutional right of free speech. New York Governor Horatio Seymour said that the arrest “is cowardly, brutal, infamous. It is not merely a step toward Revolution, it is revolution… our liberties are overthrown.”
Skirmishing occurred in Missouri, western Virginia, Virginia, and Louisiana.
Sunday, May 17
In Mississippi, John C. Pemberton attempted to make one more stand against Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals by establishing defenses at Big Black River. However, the Confederates were overwhelmed once more, and they withdrew to previously prepared defenses on the outskirts of Vicksburg.
In Louisiana, Nathaniel Banks’s Federals converged on Port Hudson. Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, Virginia, and Tennessee.
Monday, May 18
In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals crossed the Big Black River and converged on Vicksburg. Joseph E. Johnston advised John C. Pemberton to abandon the city, but Pemberton decided to stay. President Jefferson Davis called for civilians and militia to join Johnston to help liberate Pemberton’s men trapped in Vicksburg.
In Great Britain, debates in the House of Lords led to demands that Britain defend its shipowners from U.S. prize ships. Skirmishing occurred in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and western Virginia.
Tuesday, May 19
In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant ordered a general assault outside Vicksburg, but the Confederate defenders were stronger than he had anticipated and the attack was repulsed.
In response to protests against the arrest of Clement Vallandigham, President Lincoln directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to commute his two-year prison sentence and banish the former congressman to the Confederacy. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Missouri.
Primary source: The Civil War Day-by-Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)
In August 1898, a ceremony was held on the steps of the ‘Iolani Palace that officially transferred the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hawaii to the United States. This transfer was in accordance with a joint U.S. congressional resolution declaring Hawaii to be a U.S. territory. However, there is no provision in the Constitution for such an act.
Prelude to Annexation
In the 19th century, the Hawaiian Islands served as a stop for U.S. merchantmen and sailors going back and forth to Asia. Located about 2,000 miles west of North America’s Pacific Coast, the islands were rich in sugar, fruit, and other products. The island government was a traditional monarchy.
In 1851, Hawaiian King Kamehameha III secretly requested that the U.S. annex his country. This would have eliminated the tariffs imposed on Hawaiian goods, thus enhancing the islands’ economy. But Secretary of State Daniel Webster declined, stating that “no power ought to take possession of the islands as a conquest… or colonization.” Webster opposed annexing Hawaii primarily because he opposed slavery, and he was unwilling to add land to the U.S. that could be potentially settled by slaveholders.
Reciprocity and Naval Expansion
In 1875, U.S. and Hawaiian officials signed a treaty of reciprocity, in which Hawaii could export sugar to the U.S. free of charge, provided that Hawaii did not make such a deal with any other nation. The treaty not only ensured that Hawaii would not make any other foreign alliances that could make it vulnerable to annexation by other countries, but it made Hawaii a quasi-protectorate of the U.S. As a result, many U.S. businesses began taking control of the Hawaiian sugar plantations, and soon U.S. interests dominated the Hawaiian economy.
Another agreement granted the U.S. exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor as a coaling and repair station for merchant ships. It was later expanded for use as a U.S. naval base. U.S. naval strategists had been pushing to obtain this port for both defense and commerce; it helped the U.S. to better defend the Pacific Coast and to better compete with the European powers for Pacific trade.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials began stressing the need for the U.S. to build a formidable navy, particularly in the Pacific. Naval War College President Alfred Thayer Mahan was the chief proponent for building up the navy, arguing that it would enhance national security. Mahan also advocated annexing Hawaii and using the islands as a mid-Pacific military base.
Foreign Influence and Overthrow
By the latter part of the 19th century, the U.S. was experiencing the same kind of growing pains that had led to the Mexican War and the acquisition of the Southwest in the 1840s. Many Americans sought expansion, some to increase business and trade, and others to spread the principles of democracy. As such, citizens and politicians began pushing to annex the Hawaiian Islands.
In Hawaii, widespread corruption in the monarchy prompted foreign business interests, led by Walter M. Gibson, to form a movement to oppose the king. The movement forced Hawaiian King David Kalakaua to sign an agreement stripping him of his administrative powers and granting voting rights only to those owning property or earning a certain income. Called the “Bayonet Constitution” because it was signed under threat of armed violence, this transferred much power from Hawaii to foreign interests.
Hawaii’s position was further weakened in 1890 when the McKinley Tariff ended the special duty-free status of Hawaiian sugar exports to the U.S. This harmed the Hawaiian economy, possibly in an attempt to cause a revolt among the foreign interests since the Republican majority in Congress at that time supported annexing Hawaii. At any rate, the foreign interests in Hawaii began pushing for the U.S. to annex the islands to reinstate the duty-free status of Hawaiian exports.
In 1891, Secretary of State James Blaine wrote to President Benjamin Harrison that Hawaii was one of only three places in the world that had value to the U.S. and had not already been taken by a world power (the other two were Cuba and Puerto Rico). Blaine sought to expand U.S. business interests, and as such he favored annexing Hawaii. The chance to snatch Hawaii came that same year.
When Hawaiian King Kalakaua died in 1891, he was succeeded by his sister, Queen Liliuokalani. The queen was a strong nationalist who opposed U.S. annexation. She rescinded many of the provisions in the “Bayonet Constitution,” stopped giving special favors to foreign interests, and issued a program of “Hawaii for Hawaiians.”
To combat the queen’s policies, foreign interests created the Committee of Safety. The committee essentially protected the foreigners as they sought to seize Hawaii from the queen. When the committee expressed concern about potential violence against U.S. citizens in Hawaii, the U.S. minister to Hawaii, businessman John L. Stevens, ordered the U.S. Marines to the islands to guarantee safety.
U.S.S. Boston landed in Honolulu Harbor in early 1893, and under Stevens’s orders, the Marines landed on Hawaii to “protect American lives and property in case of riot.” When the foreign interests revolted against the queen, the Marine presence made it impossible for the queen to protect herself. The monarchy was overthrown, and the U.S. flag was raised over the government building.
The Blount Report
A Hawaiian Provisional Government was formed, headed by Stevens, the Committee of Safety, and U.S. businessmen led by Sanford Dole. On February 14, 1893, the Provisional Government and U.S. officials signed the Hawaiian Annexation Treaty. The Harrison administration supported annexation and submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification. However, the Senate did not ratify the treaty before adjourning on March 3.
The next day, President Harrison was succeeded by Grover Cleveland, an anti-expansionist who opposed annexing Hawaii. Cleveland withdrew the treaty from Senate consideration and appointed former Congressman James H. Blount to go to Hawaii and investigate exactly how the monarchy was overthrown. Blount met with several royalists and annexationists in Honolulu before submitting his investigation’s results.
In the summer of 1893, the Blount Report was issued, which implicated the U.S. in the “lawless overthrow of the lawful, peaceful government of Hawaii.” The report alleged that the U.S. improperly backed the overthrow and ensured its success. The report also accused John Stevens of conducting unauthorized partisan activities, including landing U.S. Marines on Hawaii under false pretenses.
Based on the report’s findings, President Cleveland recalled Stevens from Hawaii and worked to restore Queen Liliuokalani to the throne. However, the queen refused to cooperate unless Cleveland withdrew his offer of amnesty to those responsible for the overthrow. Moreover, Sanford Dole and the Provisional Government refused to relinquish their power. The parties involved were at an impasse.
The Morgan Report
To resolve the stalemate, Cleveland referred the matter to the Senate for further investigation. When it was discovered that the Blount Report contained many factual errors, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appointed Senator John Tyler Morgan of Alabama, an ardent expansionist, to conduct an investigation of his own.
In the ensuing Morgan Report, Blount’s findings were contradicted by deeming Queen Liliuokalani guilty of her own overthrow because her policies violated the “Bayonet Constitution.” The report urged moderation, opposing both annexation and military intervention to restore the queen. Despite his previous support for Blount’s findings, Cleveland was eager to resolve the dispute and reluctantly accepted this revised version of events.
The matter appeared to end when Congress passed the Turpie Resolution, which stated that the U.S. should no longer interfere in Hawaiian affairs. While this ended the hopes of those who wanted the U.S. to annex Hawaii, it also ended Queen Liliuokalani’s hopes for U.S. support in regaining her throne. The U.S. established diplomatic relations with the Provisional Government, soon renamed the Republic of Hawaii. Meanwhile, Republic officials still held out hope that the U.S. would annex the islands.
When Republican William McKinley became president in 1897, he revived the idea of annexing Hawaii. Imperial Japan had been asserting itself in the Pacific, and when Hawaii refused to allow Japanese laborers onto the islands, the Japanese Imperial Navy sailed by in an act of intimidation. Many in the McKinley administration, including Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, strenuously warned that Hawaii must not fall into Japan’s hands.
In the U.S., big business opposed annexation because western sugar beet interests did not want competition from Hawaiian sugar. Many southern Democrats opposed annexation because they did not want more dark-skinned people as U.S. citizens. Labor unions opposed annexation because it could create a workforce that was beyond union control. But a majority of all other Americans and politicians still wanted Hawaii.
Therefore in 1897, U.S. and Hawaiian officials signed a treaty annexing Hawaii to the U.S. The treaty was quickly ratified by the Hawaiian government, but it lacked the necessary two-thirds majority needed for approval in the Senate. So once again the annexation effort stalled. Until the Spanish-American War.
As the war with Spain carried on in the summer of 1898, Congressman Francis G. Newlands of Nevada introduced a joint resolution annexing Hawaii to the U.S. by a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress. The Newlands Resolution passed both houses and was signed by President McKinley on July 7, 1898. In August, the official transfer of power took place as Hawaii became a U.S. territory.
Traditionally, the only way to annex a foreign territory is through a treaty, and under the Constitution, all treaties require a two-thirds majority vote by the Senate for ratification. Politicians bypassed this requirement by simply decreeing that Hawaii was U.S. property with a simple majority vote in both houses. This made the annexation of Hawaii unconstitutional.
Regardless, many argued that annexing Hawaii was vital in establishing permanent naval and commercial bases in the Pacific, which would help the U.S. compete with other world powers. And perhaps even more importantly, annexing Hawaii prevented Japan from taking the islands. President William Howard Taft later designated Pearl Harbor as the primary U.S. naval base in the Pacific, mainly because that port would be easy to defend in case of an attack by Japan.
In 1959, Hawaii was admitted into the Union as the 50th state. A referendum had revealed that Hawaiians favored statehood by a 17-to-1 margin, but critics charged that the only choices on the referendum were statehood or territorial status, not independence. The legal issues surrounding the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani were not addressed.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the “Apology Resolution,” which was a joint congressional resolution apologizing for U.S. involvement in the queen’s overthrow 100 years earlier. The resolution asserted that the U.S. was directly involved, and that Native Hawaiians never relinquished their sovereignty. This was based on the findings of the Blount Report, even though that report had been found to contain many factual errors. While the resolution acknowledged historical grievances by the Hawaiians, it did nothing to change Hawaii’s status as the 50th state.
Southern celebrations over the great victory at Chancellorsville were tempered by news that General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had been seriously wounded. After being shot in the left arm and hand, Jackson was taken to a field hospital where his arm was amputated below the shoulder. He was then brought to a farmhouse south of Fredericksburg, Virginia to recuperate.
While recovering, Jackson caught a severe cold that developed into pneumonia, which could not be medically treated. On Sunday, May 10, 1863, Jackson’s wife told the general that doctors did not expect him to last the day. Jackson said, “Very good, very good. It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.” Jackson died that afternoon.
Jackson lay in state in the Confederate Capitol as people throughout the South mourned the loss of one of the Confederacy’s greatest leaders. He was buried in Lexington, where he had taught at the Virginia Military Institute before the war.
Robert E. Lee issued General Order No. 61: “With deep regret the commanding general announces the death of Lieutenant General T.J. Jackson… Let his officers and soldiers emulate his invincible determination to do everything in the defense of our loved Country.”
The politically motivated shooting of President James A. Garfield in 1881 paved the way for much needed government reform.
Garfield’s assailant was Charles Guiteau, a mental defective who felt betrayed for not being awarded a government job after campaigning for Garfield’s election. Believing that Vice President Chester A. Arthur was more politically agreeable to his agenda, Guiteau decided to personally replace Garfield with Arthur.
Garfield Opposes the Stalwarts
Both Guiteau and Arthur were “Stalwarts,” or the radical wing of the Republican Party. The Stalwarts opposed the “Half-Breeds,” which were more moderate Republicans. Garfield was a Half-Breed who sought to unite the two factions with policies that shared common ground. But when he refused to appoint Stalwarts to key federal jobs, he angered many politicians. Among them was influential Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York.
Conkling led the Stalwarts in Congress, and he expected Garfield to reward him with federal jobs since Conkling had helped deliver New York’s crucial electoral votes in the presidential election. Garfield instead appointed one of Conkling’s political enemies as New York City customs collector, which controlled most of the country’s import revenue.
Conkling retaliated by urging fellow senators to vote down Garfield’s appointments. When this failed, Conkling resigned from the Senate in protest, confident the New York legislature and his fellow Stalwarts would back him. But this backfired when most Stalwarts in Congress sided with Garfield. This only made diehard Stalwarts like Charles Guiteau angrier.
At that time, federal jobs were often awarded by “patronage,” or having the right connection, rather than merit. It was an unwritten rule that the president was required to share the spoils of his office by granting jobs to those who did political favors for him, such as helping him get elected. Many expected to be rewarded with such jobs, and when it became apparent that Guiteau was being shut out of the “spoils system,” he took matters into his own hands.
Guiteau Shoots Garfield
On July 2, Garfield entered the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad in Washington, en route to a summer vacation. Garfield had no protection, as no president except Abraham Lincoln had ever used security before. Guiteau approached the president from behind and fired two shots. The first grazed Garfield’s arm and shoulder, and the second lodged in his back, barely missing the spinal cord.
Guiteau tried hurrying out of the station, but he was apprehended by police officer Patrick Kearney. After fending off a growing mob calling for Guiteau’s lynching, Kearney brought the assailant to a nearby police station. He confessed to the crime and declared, “I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts. Arthur is president now!”
Meanwhile, Garfield was taken to the White House where doctors tried finding the bullet in his back. With no x-ray technology, they could only guess where it was, so they dug and probed for several weeks without anesthesia. They then tried using a primitive metal detector invented by Alexander Graham Bell to find the bullet, but the device would not work because of the metal springs in Garfield’s bed.
The doctors finally resolved that they could only hope the wound would heal on its own. In the meantime, they tried making Garfield as comfortable as possible in the oppressive summer heat of Washington. Navy engineers loaded ice into vents in Garfield’s sickroom and pumped air over the ice through cotton filters. This was the first practical air conditioning system, and it kept the room at a cool 77 degrees. Although doctors still could not locate the bullet, Garfield’s condition seemed to be improving.
President Garfield’s improvement proved temporary. His body began deteriorating from starvation and infection due to doctors probing for the bullet with dirty hands. He lingered for two months before he was moved to his seaside home in New Jersey. Doctors hoped that leaving swampy Washington and taking in the ocean air would help. But by that time, Garfield had withered from 210 to 130 pounds.
At 10:35 p.m. on September 19, Garfield died at his New Jersey home. An autopsy revealed the bullet was actually lodged in his pancreas after hitting his spine, nearly a foot away from where doctors believed it was. Also revealed was that the original gunshot wound had healed; Garfield officially died from blood poisoning caused by constant probing without sterilization.
The country had essentially functioned without a president for over two months. From the time of his shooting until his death, Garfield’s only official presidential act was signing an extradition paper.
President Garfield’s death sparked the greatest outpouring of national grief up to that time. Garfield was mourned more than Lincoln, mainly because Garfield was relatively popular in both North and South. Homes, businesses, and government buildings were draped in black. After about 150,000 mourners paid their last respects, Garfield was laid to rest in Cleveland.
One of the most sensational trials of the 19th century ended with the hanging of Charles Guiteau. He had pleaded insanity and argued that the doctors, not his bullet, had killed Garfield. Guiteau had shot the president in an effort to return the Stalwarts to political power. Ironically, his act produced the opposite effect.
Garfield was succeeded by Chester Arthur, and being a Stalwart, he was expected to reverse many of Garfield’s appointments to appease his political cronies. However, the Stalwarts were bitterly denounced in the press for supposedly encouraging the toxic atmosphere that produced a fanatic like Guiteau, and thus Arthur decided it was politically expedient to avoid Stalwart influence.
To the Stalwarts’ dismay, Arthur avoided political cronyism and vetoed pork-barrel legislation. Most importantly, Arthur signed the historic Pendleton Civil Service Act, which required federal jobs to be filled by merit instead of patronage, a standard that still exists today. That it took an assassination to reform the federal government was tragic.
Wednesday, May 6
In Virginia, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia advanced into the Wilderness, but the opposing Federal Army of the Potomac had already withdrawn, ending the Battle of Chancellorsville. General A.P. Hill assumed command of the Confederate Second Corps, replacing the wounded General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Jackson was brought to a farmhouse south of Fredericksburg to recuperate from wounds suffered during the Battle of Chancellorsville. After being shot in the left arm and hand on May 2, Jackson had his arm amputated below the shoulder.
In Ohio, a military tribunal convicted former Congressman Clement Vallandigham of expressing treasonable sympathies and disloyal utterances aimed at “weakening the power of the Government (to put down) an unlawful rebellion.” Vallandigham was sentenced to two years in a military prison. Such a harsh punishment sparked protests throughout the North, as many argued that Vallandigham had merely exercised his right to free speech by speaking out against the war. President Abraham Lincoln publicly supported Vallandigham’s arrest, but he knew the sentence would have political consequences.
In Louisiana, a Federal naval flotilla under Admiral David D. Porter occupied Alexandria. In Tennessee, a group of disloyal Federal citizens were sent into Confederate lines at Nashville. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, western Virginia, and Missouri.
Thursday, May 7
In Mississippi, General William T. Sherman’s Federals joined Ulysses S. Grant’s main force south of Vicksburg. The large Federal army began advancing toward the railroad linking Vicksburg and the state capital of Jackson. Confederate President Jefferson Davis wired General John Pemberton, commanding at Vicksburg, “Am anxiously expecting further information of your active operations… To hold both Vicksburg and Port Hudson is necessary to our connection with Trans-Mississippi. You may expect whatever it is in my power to do for your aid.”
Confederate General Earl Van Dorn was assassinated by Dr. George Peters in Spring Hill, Tennessee after rumors had circulated that Van Dorn had a “liaison” with Peters’s wife. Most fellow officers acknowledged that Van Dorn was a notorious ladies’ man, and thus his murder came as no surprise.
In Virginia, President Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck met with General Joseph Hooker at his Army of the Potomac headquarters. Hooker proposed an immediate Federal offensive to avenge his army’s fiasco at Chancellorsville, but Lincoln, worried that troop morale could be destroyed with another failure, instructed Hooker to wait.
Friday, May 8
President Lincoln issued a proclamation stating that immigrants who had declared an intent to become U.S. citizens would not be exempted from military service; this sought to offset the wave of people claiming to be aliens to avoid the impending draft.
Saturday, May 9
Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was ordered to assume command of all troops in Mississippi. Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals skirmished near Utica. Other skirmishing occurred in Louisiana, Missouri, and Tennessee.
Sunday, May 10
“Stonewall” Jackson died in Virginia. Jackson had contracted pneumonia while recovering from battle wounds, and it could not be medically treated. When told by his wife that he would not survive the day, Jackson said, “Very good, very good. It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.” Confederate General Robert E. Lee issued General Order No. 61: “With deep regret the commanding general announces the death of Lieutenant General T.J. Jackson… Let his officers and soldiers emulate his invincible determination to do everything in the defense of our loved Country.”
Jackson lay in state in the Confederate Capitol as people throughout the South mourned the loss of one of the Confederacy’s greatest leaders. He was buried in Lexington, where he had taught at the Virginia Military Institute before the war.
Skirmishing occurred in Louisiana and Kentucky.
Monday, May 11
President Lincoln refused to accept the resignation of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase; Chase had threatened to resign due to a disagreement with Lincoln over the appointment of an official. Skirmishing occurred in Mississippi, Virginia, and Tennessee.
Tuesday, May 12
In Mississippi, a division of Ulysses S. Grant’s army was attacked by Confederates at Raymond. After several hours of fighting, the outnumbered Confederates withdrew toward Jackson; each side suffered about 500 casualties. This and other skirmishes prompted Grant to advance on Jackson before attacking Vicksburg. Meanwhile, Joseph E. Johnston struggled to give aid to John Pemberton’s Confederates in Vicksburg.
General Simon B. Buckner assumed command of the Confederate Department of East Tennessee. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia.
Primary source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)
Lusitania was a famous British passenger vessel. Her sinking in May 1915 shocked the world, especially coming so close after the tragic sinking of Titanic three years before. But unlike Titanic, Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo at a time when Great Britain was at war with Germany. And contrary to mainstream history books, Lusitania was not an innocent ship that was destroyed by vengeful Germans.
The conflict that became known as World War I had begun in 1914. That year, the British declared the North Sea (which Germany needed for supplies) to be a war zone. British ships intercepted cargo bound for Germany and mined the main approaches to German ports. In this way, the British deliberately tried starving German civilians into submission with a “hunger blockade.” Targeting civilians rather than enemy combatants violated international law.
Since the German High Seas Fleet could not match the strength of the British Royal Navy, they countered with submarines called U-boats, which attacked ships carrying war supplies to Britain and its allies. German commanders were ordered not to attack neutral shipping, but the British often violated neutrality laws by bearing fraudulent neutral flags on their ships to thwart the U-boat attacks.
Germany responded by declaring the waters around the Britain and Ireland a war zone. Enemy merchant ships in the war zone were subject to immediate attack. However, neutral ships were also at risk because of Britain’s policy of placing false neutral flags on ships carrying war supplies.
Under international law, a warring ship had to give ample warning to an enemy merchant vessel before attacking. However, Britain had ordered its merchant ships to attack any U-boat on sight. Since U-boats were much smaller, they could be easily destroyed without the element of surprise. Moreover, the international law had been written a decade earlier, before technology such as submarines and radios had ever been used in warfare.
Lusitania the Warship
At the outset of the war, Britain had designated Lusitania as an “AMC” (Armed Merchant Cruiser), and although she was never fitted with guns, she was officially a warship. Lusitania regularly carried war supplies from the U.S. to Britain on her luxurious passenger runs across the Atlantic.
The U.S. had declared neutrality in the war, and by supplying Britain and its allies with small-caliber arms only, the U.S. remained within the neutral rules. Even so, the Germans could not be expected to consider the U.S. a true neutral when it was routinely shipping war supplies to Britain and its allies.
In April 1915, Lusitania docked in New York and prepared for another run back to Liverpool. The German Embassy in the U.S. issued several warnings in newspapers throughout New York and the U.S. not to travel on Lusitania’s upcoming voyage.
Passenger fears were calmed by assurances that German U-boats had never successfully attacked a ship that traveled as fast as Lusitania. Also not publicly disclosed was the fact that Lusitania’s former captain, Daniel Dow, had been ordered to take leave due to stress. Dow had repeatedly urged the British Admiralty to revoke Lusitania’s status as an AMC because this made her a prime target for German U-boats.
Entering the War Zone
Lusitania left New York on May 1 carrying 1,959 passengers, including 159 Americans. Unbeknownst to most passengers, Lusitania also carried 4,927 boxes of rifle cartridges (holding 1,000 rounds each), 1,250 cases of shrapnel, and 2,000 cases of small arms ammunition. It remains uncertain whether the U.S. violated neutrality laws by loading illegal munitions in Lusitania’s hold.
That same morning, German Count Johann von Bernstorff issued an alert that British vessels were “liable to destruction” and cautioned that travelers entering the war zone “on ships of Great Britain and her allies do so at their own risk.”
As Lusitania entered the war zone, the British were receiving reports that the German U-boat U-20 had either hit or sunk several vessels in the region. U-20 approached Lusitania off the Irish coast on the afternoon of May 7. The German commander, Captain Walter Schwieger, was aware of Britain’s naval policy of ramming U-boats on sight. He preemptively fired one torpedo that struck Lusitania on the starboard (right) side.
The Tragic Destruction
Immediately after the first explosion from the torpedo, a second explosion rocked Lusitania. The ship quickly began listing, and most of the lifeboats could not be launched. The ship sank within 18 minutes. Of the 1,959 people on board, 1,195 died and 764 were rescued. Of those who died, 128 were Americans.
The second explosion likely destroyed the ship, but it is still unclear what caused that second blast. Many have asserted that the second explosion was caused by the torpedo detonating hidden munitions that should not have been on board.
The German government responded that warnings had been issued and Lusitania, having carried war supplies into the war zone, was subject to attack. The Kolnische Volkszeitung stated: “The English wish to abandon the German people to death by starvation. We are more humane. We simply sank an English ship with passengers who, at their own risk and responsibility, entered the zone of operations.”
Nevertheless, Lusitania’s sinking sparked worldwide outrage. The New York Herald referred to the sinking of Lusitania as “wholesale murder,” and the New York Times compared the Germans to “savages drunk with blood.” The British hoped this incident would bring the U.S. into the war, which was their goal from the outset. However, few people in the U.S. actually called for going to war over the sinking of Lusitania.
President Woodrow Wilson consulted with his cabinet regarding the disaster. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan proposed a compromise: Britain would lift the hunger blockade and remove mines in the North Sea, while Germany would minimize the U-boat campaign. The Germans expressed willingness to accept this, but the British refused.
Wilson decided to appease Britain by sending a stern message to Germany demanding an apology for Lusitania, compensation for U.S. victims, and a promise to avoid similar occurrences in the future. Wilson essentially demanded that the Germans respect the right of U.S. citizens to travel on enemy ships that carried war supplies intended to defeat Germany. No other “neutral” nation had ever made such a demand.
Bryan, noting Britain’s illegal hunger blockade, asked, “Why be shocked by the drowning of a few people, if there is to be no objection to starving a nation?” After denouncing Wilson’s hypocrisy in warning Germany while doing nothing to stop Britain’s harassment of U.S. shipping (which violated neutrality laws), Bryan resigned in protest. His replacement was Robert Lansing, a pro-British diplomat who flouted U.S. neutrality by openly working with Britain against Germany in the war.
Lessons from Lusitania
The U.S. did not enter the war until April 1917, nearly two years after the sinking of Lusitania. British and U.S. inquiries into Lusitania’s destruction predictably concluded that Germany was completely responsible for the tragedy. The Germans were defeated in 1918, and history books often disregard the losing side of wars. Thus, texts have cited the sensational sinking of an innocent luxury liner as the incident that put the U.S. on the path to World War I.
But there is no doubt that both Britain and the U.S. violated international law both before and after Lusitania’s destruction. And as one historian more accurately noted: “With the sanction of the British Government, the Cunard Line (which owned Lusitania) was selling people passages through a declared war zone, under due notice that its ships were subject to being sunk on sight by a power which had demonstrated its ability and determination to do so.”