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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Year of Decision

by
Bernard DeVoto

published by Little, Brown and Company,
Boston, 1943

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p455  Chapter 17:
Bill of Review — Dismissed

The largest of Mr. Polk's four objectives had been the acquisition of California: it was achieved. In California they were having trouble getting a government. That trouble was emblematic of graver difficulties to the seaward.

The fight at San Pascual, in which so many of Kearny's officers were killed and the general himself was wounded, took place on December 6, '46. Kearny joined Stockton at San Diego on December 12. In theory Frémont's California Battalion, with its accessions from the emigration of '46 and its delegation of Wallawalla braves, was marching down the interior. Even before San Pascual a force of Americans well in advance of it had been roughly handled by native horsemen (who had taken Consul Larkin as a hostage) at Natividad. Frémont brought his force southward with a wariness that would have prevented a surprise by overwhelming numbers of the enemy, if there had been any. The Battalion was uncomfortable in the rains, it lost many horses, sometimes it got out of hand, and it made wretched time. It never saw an enemy or smelled gunpowder. Though it was now a legitimate force, it retained the pattern of extempore war: whenever anyone had had enough rain or scorched beans, he went home.

The Battalion was supposed to be marching on Los Angeles from the north. Stockton and Kearny started toward the same place from the south. Since most of their force consisted of Stockton's sailors, marines, and volunteers, and since Kearny had not fully recovered from his wounds, Stockton commanded the expedition. On January 8 — Jackson Day — at the San Gabriel River they met the only sizable force of armed Californians remaining and drove them from their position. The next day they fought another skirmish and the Californians began to slip away. On January 10 they entered Los Angeles unopposed; the presidio was American again. The Californians melted northward and ran into Frémont, who accepted  p456 their eager surrender and made a set of peace terms. Formal and very elegant terms, which required no oath to the United States and extended amnesty to those who had violated their paroles. As it turned out, this amnesty had a good effect, though it ignored Kearny's authority, robbed the panting Stockton of a victory and a proclamation, and was contrary to the intention of both. But it signalized another shift in the career of John Charles Frémont. The great deed had had its surface marred by the native revolution and then, just when Frémont was marching to restore the veneer, a superior officer arrived. A change in his role was necessary. The Pathfinder and Conqueror became a politician.

The next two months would be good farce if one could forget that Stockton and Frémont were risking a serious danger: the paralysis of both government and military force in a conquered province whose people had been outraged by their arrogance, could revolt again, and might be supported from Mexico as the war went on. The tone is a good deal more sinister than the Ruritanian unreality of the Bear Flag Republic. The best interpretation that can be made of the two barnstormers, the best light they can be put in, is bad enough: that Stockton's egotism had been inflamed by his experience of power, that Frémont's always fragile intelligence had been overstrained, and that both had too much publicity for the good of the United States.

Stockton's later career — in the United States Senate and in the Ku Klux Klan of the period, the American Party — contains nothing to weaken the judgment that he was a fool. He did not quite make the nomination for the Presidency. Frémont did, and in doing so jeopardized the Republican Party, as from then on he repeatedly jeopardized the United States. You cannot let him off so lightly as Stockton. He was worse than a fool, he was an opportunist, an adventurer, and a blunderer on a truly dangerous scale. He was foisted on the Republic in the hour of its peril by the power of publicity, the reputation erected on his career in California during '46 and '47. That was the career of a military adventurer, a filibuster, and an officer of the United States Army committing mutiny. In the Civil War, as in California, he made a play for every opportunity that would serve John Charles Frémont, regardless of its effect on the United States. Then, as in California, he created spectacle but bungled what he had started out to do. Only, in the Civil War he came into the keeping of men with stronger intelligences and clearer understanding of the forces at work who could use the symbol of John Charles Frémont for their private purposes. Their purposes were not pretty and Frémont did nothing to inconvenience them. That they did not destroy the United States was not their fault. Neither  p457 was it Frémont's. (It was in part the responsibility of a major general who in February of '47 arrived in California as a lieutenant of artillery, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William Tecumseh Sherman.)​1 Technically and in the light of his own conscience, he was not a traitor to the United States in 1864. That this was not for lack of the raw stuff out of which treason is made was clear in '64 — and was clear in '47.

God and events were against Frémont. He tried to be a great man but something always happened.

Kearny arrived in California with orders from the President of the United States to take command of the land forces which were to occupy the province and to organize a civil government. The thousands of pages that have been written about the controversy have not altered the fact: Kearny had the authority of the United States and was carrying out the intention of the government. But Stockton regarded himself as the conqueror of California. On paper — and on paper only — he had organized a civil government. (His authority for doing so was the force of circumstance, and it ended at the moment when Kearny showed his orders.) He had named Frémont civil governor and a gentleman from the emigration of '46 secretary of state, Colonel William Henry Russell of Kentucky, a bosom friend of Henry Clay.

Stockton refused to acknowledge Kearny's authority. He withdrew the navy and marine detachments from Kearny's command.​2 This left Kearny with only his handful of Dragoons. He was under orders to take command of whatever armed forces might have reached California from the east and whatever armed forces might have been raised there. At the moment that meant, practically, Frémont's California Battalion. But when Frémont marched it into Los Angeles his instinct for self-aggrandizing treachery proved infallible. Stockton was going to make him governor, and in his judgment there was more to be gained from Stockton. So Lieutenant Colonel Frémont (his commission in the Mounted Rifles, now fighting in Mexico, had caught up with him) informed Brigadier General Kearny, his commanding officer, that he would not obey orders.3

Kearny had no recourse but to return to San Diego and await the arrival of unmutinous troops. Frémont began the series of appeals to his father-in‑law, Thomas Hart Benton, that ended by defacing Kearny's reputation in American history. Stockton went on being a personage in ink, and there was no government in California. At the end of January the Mormon Battalion arrived — part of Kearny's command. He ordered it to garrison duty at San Luis Rey and elsewhere and went on waiting. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Cooke, its commander, a very intelligent man and one of the best officers in the  p458 army, knew mutiny when he saw it and promptly gave it a name. His impulse was to give it the treatment that mutiny in wartime deserves. Philip St. George Cooke had a hard time holding his tongue and withholding his hand.

It must be realized that Kearny, Cooke, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Turner, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Emory, and the other officers of the constituted army of occupation were, as a result of Stockton's and Frémont's idiocy, in a position of extreme delicacy. The war was not over, Californians might take to the saddle again with this encouragement, adherents of Frémont might make it active mutiny, and the plain truth is that the United States Navy's esprit de corps was getting inflamed and might make a fatal division on behalf of its commodore. In the circumstances, Kearny and his officers did the only intelligent thing. They avoided forcing the issue and played for time.

It was a bitter dose, however. In private, Captain Turner longed for the decency of civilian life and began to believe that his chief was afraid of Benton. "Were I to behave as Frémont has done he would cause me to be put in irons and would pursue me with a bitterness that would drive me to desperation." Frémont, he said, deserved to be dropped from the rolls without even a trial. And Stockton was "a low, trifling, truckling politician."

Time did the job. Early in February a new commodore arrived, to replace Stockton. This was Branford Shubrick, who had a sense of reality. He recognized Kearny's authority but the two of them agreed that they had better await specific instructions from Washington. These arrived later in the month with Richard B. Mason, lately Kearny's second in command and now his successor as colonel of the First Dragoons. Kearny went to Monterey to meet him and found the President's orders unequivocal. Kearny was confirmed as commander and civil governor of California. He was to return to the States as soon as the province could be considered pacified and Mason was to succeed him. The California Battalion was to be mustered into the service, if this had not already been attended to, and was to be discharged as soon as possible. Frémont was to be sent east to his regiment as soon as he could be spared. (This was not intended to catch Frémont and Benton between the jaws of a trap, but it did.) Shortly afterward some more navy arrived and, a little later, a regiment of volunteers enlisted at New York for the purpose of colonizing, not conquering, California.

Kearny got to work. He began the pacification and government of California. His proclamation organized it under military command, pending the establishment of Territorial status by Congress. Also he sent orders to Frémont to have the California Battalion mustered into the service and  p459 to turn over his papers. Those orders produced the silliest act of Frémont's entire performance.

He appears to have told the Battalion that they could be mustered into the service if they wanted to be.​4 He reported to Cooke, whom Kearny had put in command of the southern district of California, that they declined to be mustered in. In the sworn judgment of Cooke — who was much more intelligent and much more honest than Frémont — there was ample "reason to doubt that steps were taken to allow the men of that battalion to decide, knowingly, upon their being mustered into the service." Frémont made a show of acting through Owl Russell, the secretary of state in Stockton's government, which had completely lost any standing it may ever have had. He refused to obey Cooke's orders and instructed his adjutant not to obey them and not to turn over to him any military property. He began to whoop up rumors of a vague but vast (and nonexistent) native revolt — he somehow contrived to represent it as at once directed against him and made in his support. He proclaimed that conflict between various of the military organizations was on the point of breaking out. (If any should break out, it would be at Frémont's instigation — which the cool-minded Cooke thought not at all unlikely. But Frémont's present yell about it had a purpose: he was planting it for use later when he could play his ace, the support of his father-in‑law.) That was sinister enough but he picked up a more sinister tool: he permitted the circulation of talk that hostilities were on the point of breaking out between the Missourians in his Battalion and the Mormons under Kearny's command. There is strong reason to believe that he not only permitted the talk and helped to circulate it but actively tried to incite the hostilities. He was working in the area of politics, for his own advancement — and if the incitement of armed conflict between organizations of the United States Army is not treason, just what is the right name for it?

He also saw a chance for cinema and made a thundering ride from Los Angeles to Monterey. It has become part of the Frémont myth and let us be scrupulously fair: the movies have never surpassed it. At Monterey he blustered and spoke orations, galling Kearny almost to the limit. He tried to resign his commission — more raw material for Benton to use. His sensitive honor was wounded a number of times but not too deeply to prevent him from insulting Kearny and Mason. At last Kearny asked him whether he intended to obey orders, advising him to appraise the gravity of his decision and offering him an hour or, if he wanted it, a day for the appraisal. An hour turned out to be enough and he said yes. Kearny told him to go back to Los Angeles and obey the orders he had received.

 p460  Meanwhile, on Frémont's order, Owl Russell had started east by the southern trail. This mission had an extremely important object: to turn the mightiest Senator, the father of expansionism, loose on everyone who had marred the theater of John Charles Frémont. Meanwhile also, his adjutant, obeying his orders, had defied the authority of Cooke, had even refused to turn over to him a howitzer that belonged to the Dragoons. With some difficulty Cooke held to Kearny's policy of avoiding overt clashes. "I sacrifice all feeling or pride to duty, which I think plainly forbids any attempt to crush this resistance of misguided men. It would be a signal of revolt." But the Virginia precisian let off steam in his report: —

My God! to think of a howitzer brought over the deserts with so much faithful labor by the dragoons; the howitzer with which they have four times fought the enemy, and brought here to the rescue of Lieutenant Colonel Frémont and his followers, to be refused to them by this Lieutenant Colonel Frémont and in defiance of the orders of his general! I denounce this treason, or this mutiny, which jeopardizes the safety of the country and defies me in my legal command and duties, by men who report, and say, that they believe that the enemy approaches from without, and are about to rise in arms around us.

Cooke had literary impulses but they did not equip him to appreciate the role which Frémont had written for himself. However, that role began to crumble now. Other Battalion subordinates obeyed Cooke and presently Frémont was back to begin the sad business of doing what he had been told to do. His honor got infected and he made himself as offensive as possible. Cooke held his temper but when the public hero sent Mason a challenge, the colonel of the First Dragoons was willing. He named "double-barrelled guns and bowshot cartridges," and would certainly have let the romantic drama end in such travesty if Kearny had not forbidden the duel. All through the court-martial Frémont kept trying to get the court to take cognizance of that duel, advertising it to the great public as a heroism still pending. But even here the effect cracked at the edge, for he could not help insinuating that the cowardly Mason was an expert with the shotgun.

This series of tableaus occupied the end of March, '47, and half of April. By the end of May Kearny regarded his job in California as finished and was ready to start east. It had not been difficult to tranquilize the province once an intelligent man was able to exercise authority. Practically all the riding of the Californians, north and south, had been a species of vigilante protection, natives who were afraid, for sound reasons, that their property and even their lives were in danger. They were afraid of such half  p461 or wholly irregular military forces as the Bear Flag stalwarts and the California Battalion, and they were afraid of the possible exuberance of the immigrants who were arriving in a disturbed society. The military needed no more than an intelligent commander, however, and the immigrants proved to be overwhelmingly well-disposed, peaceable, fair-minded people who had no desire to expropriate anything. (In that fact exists the entire absurdity of the Bear Flag affair and even the irrelevance of Mr. Polk's war.)

Kearny had a harder job than anyone would have had if Stockton had behaved intelligently in the beginning, if Frémont had had common sense, or if the Bear Flag uprising had not occurred. The emotions roused by such things as these left deep wounds, and in any event much injustice was unavoidable. But Kearny's government was another service of inestimable value to the Republic. He achieved much more than was to be expected in the circumstances. So did his successor, Mason. So did the commonwealth-building goodwill of the emigration. When Kearny left California the golden shore was peaceful, reconciled, and, the truth is, invigorated. He was justified in believing that it would go peacefully forward to the next stage, organization as a territory of the United States. That it did not was due to the sum of forces much too great for calculation west of the Sierra. California had been acquired, Mr. Polk had achieved his principal objective, expansionism had broken the farthest frontier, the Americans had reached the Pacific, the dream had broken through its chrysalis, the United States was a continental nation . . . and a demand note covering the expenses was presented for payment.

A number of our characters were in the party that started east with Kearny from Sutter's on June 16, '47. There were Cooke, who had resigned his California commands in order to see service in Mexico, and Turner and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Swords. There was Sanderson, the "Captain Death" of the Mormon Battalion. There was Willard Hall, who had accompanied it to California as a freelance and was going home to take his seat in the Thirtieth Congress; an item of Manifest Destiny, he would explain it to politicians who had merely watched it. There was Edwin Bryant, content to have his Wanderjahr reach its end; for the last three months he had served, on Kearny's appointment, as alcalde of San Francisco and was proud of the job he had done. There were thirteen members of the Mormon Battalion who had been brought up from the south to serve as a military escort. Among them were Daniel Tyler, who would presently be the historian of the miracles vouchsafed the Battalion, and our diarist, Sergeant Jones.5

And, traveling separately, there were Frémont and the remnants of his original exploring party, reduced from Caesar's Tenth Legion to a party of  p462 topographical engineers again. Frémont industriously laid up possible personal affronts to exhibit to the court-martial which he suspected was ahead of him — and, over its head, to the public. Kearny paraded the detachment at Sutter's in order to inspect it and find out whether any cared to be discharged here: Frémont told the court that that was an attempt to expose him to the derision of a naval officer who happened to be there on business. One night he was ordered to camp at a site which was to the rear of the escort; since the escort were Mormons, he thought there was a chance to derive some advantage from the public dislike of Mormons. Kearny several times refused to let him go home by various routes — the Gila, by way of Great Salt Lake, across lots to Mexico from Fort Laramie. These requests were meant solely as ammunition for the court and the public exhibition beyond it: he could represent Kearny's refusals as vindictive and tyrannical. Some of those refusals were pursuant to the orders given Kearny and the court found that the others were within his discretion as a commander, but Frémont was a martyr in newsprint. In fact, anything would serve as fodder for paranoia and publicity: he even entered in the record, with all possible solemnity, a statement that, when he reached Fort Leavenworth, only one officer spoke to him over a period of several hours.

Reaching Donner Lake (another Mormon diarist called it Cannibal Camp) they found the ghastly scene which Brannan and Goodyear had passed before them, a rubble of scattered goods and half-dismembered skeletons, some with putrefying flesh still on them. (It was June 22.) Kearny ordered the bodies buried and the cabins burned, so some of the unfortunates got decent burial at last. But he appears to have burned only one set of the cabins at the lake and none of those at Alder Creek. A later detachment of the Mormon Battalion coming east and numerous members of the western emigration report the pitiful bones and skulls and abandoned goods still lying round. There would be souvenirs there for years to come.6

They went on, a small party making excellent time. The Truckee, the Sink of the Humboldt, the Humboldt, the junction where dim scratches made by wagons of the Harlan-Young party and the Donners came in from the east. (Jones wrote wistfully that they were only two days' journey from the Salt Lake, but it was a good deal more than that.) Kearny rejected the Hastings Cutoff; so did the whole emigration of '47, which took its moral to heart. Eventually the first half of it, from Fort Bridger to Great Salt Lake City, was to become the standard emigrant route. From the City of the Saints later emigrants would either strike north to Bear River or south to a Mormon-built variation of the old Spanish trail.

Kearny reached this junction on July 9: the Mormon pioneers were  p463 just setting out from Fort Bridger. His party met the outriders of the summer's emigration a few miles west of Fort Hall on July 14. Two days later, beyond Soda Springs, the Mormons got their first authoritative word of the Church, meeting a Gentile who had traveled east with Brannan. By the end of the week they were meeting emigrants in swarms. On July 24, as Brigham Young's carriage halted at City Creek, they crossed the divide and started toward the Sweetwater. And on July 29, just east of Independence Rock, the thirteen Mormons met their people at last — an advance party of the first company out from Winter Quarters under Parley Pratt. More emigrants, more Mormons, Fort Laramie, Chimney Rock, Ash Hollow, and at last, their rations exhausted, Fort Leavenworth. The thirteen Mormons had reached the end of their military service, and so had the Army of the West.

Two months after them, Stockton and Gillespie also made the overland crossing. They can be glimpsed in various journals, Mormon and Gentile, but there appears to have been nothing important about their trip. Except that Stockton, the prototype of cinematic man, loosed a flood of publicity about the prodigies he wrought single-handed when some Indians got hostile.​7 They reached the States in November, in ample time for the court-martial. . . . And in mid‑July the enlistment of the Mormon Battalion expired. "We bid good‑bye to Uncle Sam having it to say You are the Most Exact Unkle we ever had." Mason was able to prevail against the priesthood sufficiently to enlist one company for another year of guard duty in California. A few stayed on to settle in southern California, the others organized themselves according to the Lord and under the priesthood, and in various groups started out to find their Church. A few dropped off in the San Joaquin, at Brannan's settlement. A few others got the priesthood's permission to hire out to Sutter, who always had jobs for everyone. The remainder moved over the Sierra.

(They passed the melancholy relics at Donner Lake and their journals show more charity than the pioneer party had exercised when they heard of the tragedy. As they were moving eastward the next day, September 6, they met Sam Brannan coming west to rejoin his colony, and a little later Captain James Brown of the Sick Detachment lately at Pueblo. [Both parties had avoided the Hastings Cutoff, coming by way of Bear River.] Brannan was overcharged with rebellious counsel, denouncing the folly of the Twelve in selecting Great Salt Lake Valley for Israel's home, and inciting these veterans to return to the golden shore. [Brannan, like Hastings, was a predestinate Booster.] But Brown, who was on his way to find an officer with authority to muster out his detachment and pay it off, had counsel  p464 and a letter to the veterans from Brigham Young. The prophet told them that those who had no families in the emigration and wanted to spend the winter in California were free to do so — supplies at Great Salt Lake City were low.​8 So the veterans divided again. Some kept on eastward to Fort Hall. Here some went south to Great Salt Lake, others kept on till they met their families on the trail, and still others went all the way to Winter Quarters. Of those who turned back to California with Brown a good many stopped off at Sutter's and found employment.)

At Fort Leavenworth Kearny ordered Frémont to report himself at Washington under arrest, for trial. The court convened at Washington Arsenal on November 2 and reached its verdict on the last day of the following January. Captain Turner had been wrong in suspecting that Kearny was afraid of Benton, but might have devoted some thought to the officers who composed the court. For they permitted Frémont and Benton, who was his principal counsel, to turn a military trial into a political circus. Neither misuse of Senatorial power in the pursuit of advertising nor the creation in newsprint of a great public hero is an invention of our age, which has not seen any betterment of the technique that erected Frémont into a martyr and a man designed by providential forethought to save the American people from their governors. Here, at a trial designed to assess his actions on the fringe of empire, was created a figure of pure advertising that cost the nation heavily from then on, a creature of oratory and newsprint. That creation was almost enough to wreck the republic. It was enough to convince innumerable people born since the advertising stopped and its proprietors died, so that you will still find it in the instruction given our children. The report of that trial is a case study in the dynamics of reputation.9

The technique of the defense was to dramatize him to the American newspapers — not the court — as a pure and great man who was being martyred by jealous, vindictive incompetents. Benton could be a gigantic hater and his hate had already several times had a decisive effect in American history. It was now loosed on a man who had dared to oppose the husband of a beloved daughter. Benton was a great man, he has a place in our history among the most honorable and the most distinguished, he served the republic well, his shadow is long. But his attack on Kearny shall not be forgiven him. It was dishonest, it was absurd, and it was puerile. He looked quite as silly as his son-in‑law and sometimes quite as crooked.

The witnesses testified: Stockton, Gillespie, Kearny, Cooke, Turner, Edwin Bryant, Owl Russell, and Willard Hall of those we have been concerned  p465 with. The Conqueror was presented as Sir Galahad clad in buckskins and wrapped in Old Glory. Permitted by a scared court the most harrowing deviations from both legal and military procedure, Benton hurled this hero at the people who would be asked to vote for him from now on. (The theory behind that vote henceforth was: that incompetence is courage, that self-seeking mutiny is statesmanship, that youth and purity of intention — if purity exists in the main chance — qualify a stupid man to lead armies and govern a nation, that martyrdom in headlines erases blunders and nullifies treason, that greatness is a loud noise.) Mr. Polk had lost a good deal in recent months: he saw himself losing much more as the trial went on, and he wrote some comments on Galahad in his diary that soothe the student's annoyance at a distance of ninety-five years. And the press co‑operated with the designs of Benton. It had found a usefulness in Frémont that it would not lose throughout a generation and so tried the case on a country-wide basis.

But neither Benton nor the court's awe of him could reduce the facts. By verdict of a general court, Frémont was found guilty on three charges, supported by twenty-three specifications. The first charge was mutiny: "And the court does therefore sentence the said Lieutenant Colonel Frémont, of the regiment of mounted riflemen, United States Army, to be dismissed the service." Thus ended the first volume of a romantic trilogy. The same pattern was to shape the two sequels and both were to end in precisely the same mood.

Such a verdict encroached on high politics, and Mr. Polk's Cabinet discussed it repeatedly. The court had recommended executive clemency, and in high politics the President extended it. He threw out the charge of mutiny, sustained the other two charges (disobedience to the lawful command of a superior officer, and conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline), and approved the sentence. Then he remitted the sentence, released Frémont from arrest, and ordered him to report for duty. There was political pain in this, though there would have been as much in any other outcome, and the President lost Benton when he needed him most, with the peace treaty coming up for ratification. Three months later, Benton, once his confidant in strategy and his candidate for the high command, was willing to nod to him at a funeral, but reconciliation got no farther.

Frémont remained Childe Harold. While Benton blew enough trumpets to reduce a walled city, he resigned his commission and took up the preliminary publicity of the political arm, to which he was committed from now on. He prepared to vindicate himself by leading an exploring expedition  p466 over the main chain of the Rocky Mountains in midwinter. This would absorb publicity from the agitation for a Pacific railway, which had enormously increased now that California was ours. Also it would humiliate the United States Army which, by folly of its own act, was deprived of the Pathfinder's services. After a high-pressure advertising campaign he took his Fourth Expedition into the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Kit Carson had refused to go with him and Tom Fitzpatrick was not available, having begun a distinguished career as an Indian agent. So the Pathfinder was without the two to whom the safety of his earlier expeditions had been due. The guide he got, the almost mythical Bill Williams, was wise in mountain craft but he could not impose his judgment on Frémont. So a little later, expeditions precisely like those that rescued the Donners were starting out from Taos to bring in the Pathfinder, who had overruled Bill Williams. They were caught in the San Juan snows — where no railroad has ever crossed. A dozen of them died; there was cannibalism; Frémont's unstable egotism had repeated a pattern. There is no more shocking or more unnecessary failure in the exploration of the West. . . . No matter. He was off to California, the Mariposa Grant, a fortune in gold, a Senatorship, the first candidacy of the Republican Party, two inept military campaigns in the Civil War (one of which was disastrous), and two crises of his own deliberate making, either of which might easily have lost us the war. But his conviction of greatness and martyrdom remained unshakable and the limelight never left him till he died.

Benton kept on bugling. Late in July of '48, while Congress rocked in the stormiest session it had ever had, there was introduced a bill conferring the brevet rank of major general on Stephen Watts Kearny. Kearny had meanwhile been in Mexico, where he had served as governor of Vera Cruz and later of Mexico City, once more the quiet man keeping his head while he worked to tranquilize a far more turbulent society than that of California or New Mexico. Benton had never stopped exposing him as a villain and this brought him out on the roar. For the better part of two weeks he deafened the Senate whenever he could get the floor. Polk wrote in his diary that Senator Benton "was violent beyond what is usual even for him," and set down a sad, astringent memory that he had made Kearny a brigadier chiefly because of Benton's recommendation. Benton's thunder and even his threat to filibuster were unavailing, however, and the bill went through. The brevet commission reached Kearny at the home of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Meriwether Lewis Clark, his brother-in‑law, who had commanded Doniphan's artillery. He had come home an invalid, having taken fever at Vera Cruz. There, at the end of October, assisted by Benton's malice, the fever killed  p467 him. Before he died, he sent for Jessie Benton Frémont, once his friend, daughter of one man and wife of another who had once been his friends. Jessie blamed him for as many injuries as her father and husband did, and alleged that he had killed her infant son. The beautiful virago (the noun is Lincoln's) would not visit that deathbed.

Because of what Benton said of him in that interminable speech, at the trial and in the newspapers, and in theº Thirty Years' View, Kearny has never had his due. Besides the malice, prejudice, and blind rage in Benton's attack there were innumerable deliberate misstatements, misrepresentations, and misinterpretations. They were immoral acts of revenge and historians should contrive to get beyond them to the facts. Kearny's service to the United States at a decisive turning point in history is great — was itself decisive. He did the jobs assigned him, quietly, completely, authoritatively. He took New Mexico and organized it. He completed the conquest and began the organization of California. In that packed year his was a job rich with possibilities of failure — with just such possibilities as we have seen fulfilled by the stupidity, arrogance, carelessness, or egotism of other men. He succeeded at everything he set out to do: he was an expert. He kept his temper and he held his tongue. He wrote no letter to politicians or the press. He conducted no intrigues and was not interested in politics. Few of those in high places we have had to deal with were capable of putting the republic before themselves. Kearny served it without trying to serve himself. He was a man, a gentleman, and a soldier. The enmity of an adventurer's father-in‑law should not be permitted to obscure his achievement any longer.

* * *

Meanwhile, Winfield Scott, half-betrayed by the commander in chief, half-inhibited by the military system, much less than half-equipped and half-supplied by the overstrained quartermaster department, and constantly intrigued against by politicians who held generals' commissions — Winfield Scott had won the war.

It has been made clear that though James K. Polk was, by a wide margin, the biggest man who held the Presidency between Jackson and Lincoln, he was not big enough to conduct a war. When Congress adjourned in August of '46, representative government in the United States had come close to collapse. Both parties were formless, without logic and almost without meaning. Finances were precarious: the administration had destroyed its principal source of revenue, the tariff, at the moment when it undertook a war that required the greatest expenditure yet made by the United States.  p468 (From the end of summer on, however, the finances improved rapidly. The bad luck of the Irish saved the credit of the United States. The famine overseas brought prices back to pre‑'37 levels and beyond them. The exportation of cereals brought a boom in shipping. War manufacture accelerated the already accelerating industries. In '47 the nation roared into a war boom.)

If Congress adjourned in chaos, it was accurately reproducing the country's emotions. The period between August and December was absolutely decisive in our history. At the moment what is important about it is that bewilderment, resentment, and frustration began to head up. The intoxication of May and June ended. A lot of people found that they didn't want any war, a lot more that they didn't want this one, a few that they didn't want the next one. Those who wanted this war still did not like the way it was going. When they came to vote they canceled a certainty of political interpreters, they did not increase the power of the party in power. It did them no good, it only increased the chaos and helped to show that a decisive turn had been rounded — and it laid a further load on the insufficiencies of Polk.

He did what he could. He had not been able to buy or bribe a victory. His peripheral campaigns had given him the West, all the principal Mexican seaports except Vera Cruz, and a fringe of territory in northern Mexico, but the Mexican government strangely refused to submit. Polk's idea had been to sit on a conquest of about this size and wait for submission. But by December it was obvious that such a policy would mean a long war and that the nation would not stand for a long war. There was no recourse but to increase the national effort and fight a decisive campaign. Specifically, to fight the campaign which Scott and a number of others had been urging on him: to take Vera Cruz and move on Mexico City.

But this involved decisions of great pain. It was clear that such an operation was beyond the talents of Zachary Taylor. Besides, it would make him President. That left Scott. Scott had been insubordinate, he was a trained soldier, and he was a Whig — three formidable disqualifications, the last almost insuperable. While Polk raised armies and tried to finance them, he was exhausting his ingenuity trying to get the high command into safely Democratic and safely amateur hands. As his counselors succeeded in convincing him that he could not entrust it to political generals, the autumn of '46 brought the brief, surprising period of his accord with Thomas Hart Benton. Out of that came the most preposterous military proposal ever made by a President, which we have seen him writing in his message to  p469 Congress on Christmas Day. He tried to have Congress revive the rank of lieutenant general, so that he could put Benton in charge of the war. Benton's ignorance of war was absolute, but that was rather a virtue than a defect in Polk's eyes, and Benton's appointment would be economical. It would have at least two inestimable results: it would prevent a Whig military victory and it would pull out the kingpin of the Van Buren faction of the Democratic Party.

All this time Scott was laboring at his job. The war effort, particularly the service of supply, was never equal to the needs of the armies but it succeeded better than there was any reasonable hope it could. That it succeeded so well, that it did not break down altogether, was due to Scott and the two men who worked with him, Jesup the Quartermaster General, and Marcy the Secretary of War. Marcy was a wheelhorseº politician who had been appointed to the Cabinet for services rendered but the emergency had refined him into a first-rate Secretary of War. He had come to appreciate Scott's genius and, when it became clear that there was enough good sense in Congress to keep Benton out of the high command, he succeeded in bringing Polk to the abhorrent decision. There was nothing else to do if we were to win the war.

So finally Polk approved Scott's plans for the reduction of San Juan de Ulúa and the invasion of the heart of Mexico from Vera Cruz. He then put Scott in charge, with a set of instructions which told him quite openly that if he won it would be an administration victory and if he lost no one would share the responsibility with him. Presently Polk found himself actually pleased by this solution. He believed that he was spoiling the Taylor for President movement and he was confident — on ample grounds — that he could keep Scott's candidacy from blossoming. However, he found the idea of any success by any Whig general increasingly distasteful. For a full two months after he had started Scott toward Mexico with a promise of complete authority and complete support, he went on trying to make Benton lieutenant general. He came pretty close: the House actually passed one of the bills creating the office. But he finally lost this weapon and, to produce the necessary disgrace of Scott, had to rely on Worth and his own political generals, notably his farm law partner, the confessed father of his candidacy, Gideon Pillow.

It was altogether impossible for Scott to raise an army large enough for the job set him; the first condition he worked under was to do the job with inadequate forces. He began by taking over about half of Taylor's army and ordering Taylor to confine himself to defensive activity. Since the battle of Monterrey in late September, Taylor had done nothing but  p470 occupy Saltillo, watch a number of aimless expeditions peter out (fortunately, they brought Wool down within supporting distance at Monclova), cultivate his press relations, and consolidate preparations for his candidacy. When Scott deprived him of troops necessary for the conquest of Mexico, Taylor had a blinding revelation of human perfidy. His mind was not large but it was violent. They were not going to keep Old Rough and Ready from either glory or the White House! There followed the instructive spectacle of the head of an expeditionary force in hostile country acting in defiance of his immediate commander and in disregard of the commander in chief, with the uproarious approval of his army and the sustained praise of the war correspondents. It cost a lot of blood and treasure to make Zachary Taylor President of the United States for sixteen months.

The battle of Monterrey had been a wasted battle, had accomplished nothing, but at least it was inevitable in the campaign Taylor had been ordered to make. Whereas the bloody engagement at Buena Vista was not only wasted, it was wholly a step in the advancement of a political candidacy. Taylor had been ordered to secure and defend the occupation of the north as far as Monterrey. Instead of that, in a sublime belief that he could take his reduced forces on to San Luis Potosí and perhaps to Mexico City, he concentrated his army at Saltillo, well beyond Monterrey, and prepared to go even farther. On February 5 he reached a position in the mountains a little beyond Buena Vista, where he arranged his troops in various positions and camped to await developments. They came on February 22, when Santa Anna attacked him.

Santa Anna had worked a prodigy: he had succeeded in raising a large army from a nation that was half in revolt against him, he had armed and equipped it, and he had made it a fine fighting force. It was a good army; it fought with sustained fury, it came exceedingly close to winning the two‑day battle, and it might well have won it if Santa Anna's own courage had lasted long enough to send it into action on the third day. At the end of that day the Americans had broken every assault but had been pushed back, were disorganized, and had let the Mexicans work round their flanks within striking distance of their rear. However, the heroic defense, though it had not broken the spirit of the Mexican Army, had broken Santa Anna's nerve. On the morning of the third day, instead of attacking again, he was already in retreat. The retreat became a panic, the army melted away, and it was only by what amounted to another miracle that he raised an army to oppose Scott.

For the Americans it was a desperately near thing. It turned out a victory after all, a victory won by Taylor's subordinates and the courage of  p471 the private soldier. Everyone who has ever written about it has paid tribute to Taylor, sitting on his white horse, absolutely without fear or even concern, inspiring a whole army by his coolness, and giving history and the Presidential campaign of '48 a tagline, "a little more of the grape, Captain Bragg." But it was Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Bragg and the other officers of artillery (T. W. Sherman, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George Thomas, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Reynolds), it was Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis and the First Mississippi Rifles, above all it was the anonymous platoons, who won the battle. The will of the individual soldier to stand his ground under fire and cavalry charge, to take enormous losses without fleeing, to go on shooting long after military logic would have had him running to the rear — that was what counted when the balance hung at dead center. Taylor may have inspired his troops: he certainly did not direct them. The company officers and the private soldiers improvised a rule of thumb defense on the spot as it was needed. The army was shot to pieces in two days of murderous fighting that was frequently hand-to‑hand, but it was still full of fight — and it held the field. Thus ended the military career of Zachary Taylor. His former son-in‑law had won the election for him.

And that son-in‑law had advanced farther toward the defeat of the unborn Confederacy. It was a little after noon of the second day when a brigade of Mexican cavalry, grandly uniformed, charged the one remaining strong point that defended a flank and protected the road to Saltillo by which an American retreat would have to move. The troops of that strong point had been driven back and the Mississippi Rifles were coming up in support. Their wounded colonel formed them as a retracted flank, joining an Indiana regiment at a sharp angle. When the Mexican cavalry got within rifle range, it halted. Mississippi and Indiana blew it too pieces and there was no further attack in that part of the field. That refused flank is the V that comes down in history. By September Jefferson Davis was a Senator of the United States. In 1853 he was Secretary of War. In 1861 he was a President exercising the function of a military genius. The war was half finished when a Confederate newspaper put the grief of nations into a remark on that genius, "If the Confederacy ever perishes it will have perished of a V."

Winfield Scott, however, made an army and conquered a nation. He never had half the troops he needed; at best he had only two thirds of those definitely promised him, and never had as many as that at any one time. His little time was weakened by the necessity of sending home regiments whose enlistments had expired. Supplies were cut off for weeks at a stretch and he ended by abandoning his line of communications, living off the country, and capturing ammunition. He was hamstrung by the instructions  p472 given to a political commissioner who was sent to treat for peace. One of his best generals betrayed him in the end and his worst general, besides endangering his campaign, was betraying him from the beginning. But he clamped down on a formless mass the discipline and training that made them a fighting army. He curbed the disorders that Taylor had permitted for the sake of his candidacy. He dealt so equably with a conquered people that, before he left, responsible portions of them begged him to stay and establish a dictatorship. And, taking his army up the pathway of invasion established by a famous predecessor, Cortes, he fought one of the most brilliant campaigns in military history.

He had, of course, brilliant assistants. Twiggs was a first-rate fighting man, and Worth, the letter writer who gave Polk his chance to disgrace Scott, was rather more than that. Some of Mr. Polk's Democratic generals were excellent too: Persifor Smith, Quitman, and Shields (lately Commissioner of the Land Office) revealed a natural talent for war. Moreover Scott had a handful of brilliant engineers — Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Robert E. Lee who was effectively his chief of staff, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Beauregard, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Meade. The intelligence of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ethan Allen Hitchcock, his inspector general, was a mighty force. Finally the Academy at West Point which the Senate had recently been so eager to destroy vindicated itself. Company and battalion officers whose names read like a list of Civil War generals, North and South, fought in detail the campaign that Scott conceived and directed.

This last was by no means the least important result of the march that ended with the American flag flying over the Halls of Montezuma. They got a schooling that enabled them to manage armies when the deadlier war came. It trained them as West Point could never have done, and some of the training went deep. The classic tactics of Robert E. Lee, the perfect battle of Chancellorsville, the converging attacks of Gettysburg, were all learned at the headquarters of Winfield Scott. When Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ulysses Grant, to the horror of textbook soldiers and the derision of journalists and English critics, cut loose from his base and marched overland to take Vicksburg from the rear (thus foreshadowing the March to the Sea), he was able to recall the same horror and derision when Old Fuss and Feathers marched out of Puebla, abandoning his base.

It was March 29, '47, when Vera Cruz surrendered after the fortress of Ulúa had been battered in by the big guns landed from Matthew Perry's fleet and sited by Lee. (Perry, who was to negotiate the opening of Japan, had succeeded Conner.) On April 8 Scott advanced into the interior and on April 18, in the mountain pass at Cerro Gordo, he shattered an excellent army which Santa Anna had raised since Buena Vista. A brilliant reconnoissance  p473 by Lee​a made possible the turning movement that won the battle, and the bungling of Mr. Polk's law partner, Pillow, endangered it. (Pillow took a slight wound, went home to buttress Polk's distrust of Scott, and came back a major general.) The army occupied Jalapa the next day, and here Scott had to send seven regiments back to the States — which left him with six thousand men to conquer Mexico. Here also he quarreled ferociously with Nicholas Trist, the liberal philosopher and dreary letter writer who was Polk's peace commissioner. On May 15 the army occupied Puebla and presently Worth, its first governor, was converted into an enemy of Scott's, when a court-martial directed the commander to rebuke him for injudicious behavior. At Puebla, Trist and Scott settled their quarrel (though the reports of it were laying up trouble for both of them in Washington) and tried to negotiate a peace.

Their efforts failed and the campaign had to be resumed. Another political general arrived with a brigade of reinforcements at last. This was Franklin Pierce, who eventually would run a wound sustained by a fall from a horse on the field of battle into the Presidency. On August 7 Scott abandoned his base. On the word of the Duke of Wellington he also abandoned all hope of winning his campaign or successfully retreating from the defeats he was sure to suffer. He took the army over the last majestic mountains and down to the great central plateau of Mexico. On August 19 and 20 he won two brilliant and bloody battles, known as Contreras and Churubusco, that brought him to the gates of Mexico City. Again Lee found the key to victory, again Pillow's ineptness exposed the army to defeat, and again a first-class army outfought another first-class army whose generals lacked staying power and guts. Twiggs, Worth, Quitman, and Persifor Smith made up for Pillow's stupidity and Pierce's mediocrity, and Scott personally directed the tactics that U. S. Grant was later to call faultless.

Outside the capital, Scott again tried to negotiate a peace. (Neither he nor Trist knew it but both of them had by now been discredited at Washington. Malice, lies, politics, and bad communications had convinced Polk, who was longing to be convinced, that they were both out of sympathy with him, which made them traitors.) The negotiations broke down, for Santa Anna did not dare risk the domestic consequences of acknowledging the military situation, and after two weeks Scott terminated the armistice and prepared to attack the city. He first stormed a group of buildings known as El Molino del Rey, part of the fortifications based on Chapultepec. His information — which proved false — was that cannon for the defense of the city were being cast there. The action of September 8 was intense and the victory cost the Americans heavily, far more than it should  p474 have done if Worth, who was in charge, had learned the lessons in artillery which the whole war had been teaching. Five days later came the decisive battle, which has been known ever since as Chapultepec.

In proceeding against Mexico City, Scott had two alternatives. He could storm the heavily defended stone causeways that led to the city from the south across swamps, or he could storm a causeway that led from the west. This last was more lightly held but was much stronger naturally in that its defense could be based on the high hill known as Chapultepec. For once the reconnoissance and advice of Robert E. Lee were disregarded, in favor of a dissenting opinion by Pierre Beauregard, and Scott chose to attack Chapultepec. The hill was crowned by an immense stone palace, once the summer residence of the viceroys of Spain, now occupied by the Mexican Military College. Throughout September 12 Scott battered it with his heaviest guns. The cannonade accomplished little and the next day, September 13, assault groups from Worth's and Twiggs's divisions of regulars set out to storm it. They clawed and shot their way up the almost vertical slope through a terrible musketry fire, climbed the palace walls with scaling ladders, and, after a savage bayonet action, drove the defenders out. (Among the Mexican troops were the young cadets of the Military College. Santa Anna had ordered them relieved but they would not go. Their stand richly deserved the monuments that commemorate it at Chapultepec.) The capture of the fortress opened the way to the city. Worth — Scott hoped to mollify his innumerable grievances by letting him finish the job — worked his way down one causeway. It was bitterly defended, Santa Anna commanding in person, but Worth got a little way into the city before digging in for the night. So did Quitman, down another causeway which was defended just as stubbornly. At daybreak of the fourteenth Quitman pushed on to the center of the city while Scott, Worth, and Hitchcock were talking to civilians who wanted to surrender on terms. There in the Plaza de Armas, at seven A.M., he raised the first American flag that ever flew above the capital of a conquered nation.

The five months' campaign from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, with its six bloody victories, was a tremendous feat of arms. Between George Washington and the maturity of two subalterns who watched Scott enter the national palace two hours after Quitman raised the flag, there was no American general who could have come anywhere near doing it. It remains a classic of generalship succeeding against all but impossible odds. Also it gave Mr. Polk his desire: it put an end to opposition in Mexico.

That ending came on September 14, 1847. On February 2, 1848, Nicholas Trist, deprived of power to make a treaty and ordered home in disgrace,  p475 nevertheless memorably served his country by signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. On February 18, Scott — who for five months had kept an idle and increasingly rebellious army in check and had smoothly governed Mexico — received orders relieving him of command and summoning him also home in disgrace. Worth and Pillow had collaborated in a job. Mr. Polk was arranging to keep the conqueror of Mexico from heading the Whig ticket this summer. He was preparing to turn a court of inquiry, which had been convened to investigate the lying of Gideon Pillow, into a public repudiation of Winfield Scott.

* * *

Through all this time the United States had been unable to provide a government for Oregon, which went on sustaining the unattached organization, like the free state of Franklin,​b which it had developed between 1843 and 1845. The United States had also been unable to provide governments for New Mexico and California, where the military organizations established by Kearny went on operating, or for Deseret, where Brigham Young was in no hurry for an exterior government.

The treaty of peace which the discredited Trist signed at Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, was ratified by the Senate on March 10. It was ratified in desperation, because the war had to be ended so that more serious business could, at last, be faced. The treaty confirmed the American possession of Texas, of California as it is today, and of New Mexico to the Gila River and down that river to the Colorado. (This last was ambiguous and unsatisfactory. The ambiguity was cleared up and the cession extended to include all of Cooke's wagon road and a route for a Pacific railway by the Gadsden Purchase of 1854.) So the West of Mr. Polk's original intention became American by treaty and was declared to be worth fifteen million dollars, here guaranteed to Mexico, above the costs of war and the assumption of the American claims.

And still there was no government for Oregon, New Mexico, California, and Deseret — for the West. Oregon was finally given Territorial status in August, 1848, and the first governor arrived there three years after Termination. New Mexico continued under military government till the great Compromise permitted it organization as a Territory in September, 1850. The same measured pared down Deseret from Brigham's claims, renamed it Utah, and gave it Territorial status. California never was a Territory. The military organization established by Kearny had to govern it till the same Compromise made it a state of the Union.

The three preceding paragraphs record a beginning.

 p476  This narrative has remarked that a decisive turn was rounded at some time between August and December, 1846. On August 10, the First Session of the Twenty-ninth Congress adjourned while Senator Davis was discussing a measure, which had originated in the House and bore the name of David Wilmot, to exclude slavery from the territory to be acquired from Mexico. Senator Calhoun of South Carolina said that the first volume of our political history under the Constitution had been closed and the second opened, that a curtain had been dropped between the present and the future which was to him impenetrable. Prescience woke in the nerves of William Lowndes Yancey, however; he resigned his seat in the House and went back to Alabama; in the second volume of our political history he could predict no future under the Constitution for the Southern states. Likewise, when the Second Session of the Twenty-ninth Congress convened in December, John C. Calhoun was able to penetrate the impenetrable curtain for at least a little way. He was the last survivor of the first period of the Southern politician, and Yancey's resignation is the signal that the third period of that politician was taking charge. The survivor of a period when there were clearer and more power­ful minds, aware that a curtain had not been lowered but that at last a curtain had been raised — John C. Calhoun thought he saw one way of saving the United States. It was a tolerably desperate way: the United States must enter again into the womb and be born a second time. Since the summer solstice of 1788 when by a vote of 57 to 46 the New Hampshire convention brought the number of states ratifying the new Constitution to the nine necessary for adoption — from that June day on, the whole course of the United States had been wrong. In the opinion of Calhoun, we must go back to the preceding September, reconvene the Constitutional Convention that then adjourned sine die, and start all over.

"The United States will conquer Mexico," Ralph Walden Emerson had said, "but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us."

The Second Session of the Twenty-ninth Congress convened in chaos and so accurately reflected the nation which, according to the provisions of the Constitution, it was to govern. That chaos was the reason why the United States could provide no government for Oregon till 1849 and none for New Mexico, Deseret, and California till 1850. When what is called the Compromise of 1850 was finally voted in Congress chaos had not been in the least resolved but a channel had been established which would contain it for just ten years.

 p477  Already in December of '46 Congress, exactly tuned to the vibrations of its electorate, was more turbulent than any Congress before it had been. Seen against that turbulence, the human figures that expressed it do not matter much, and at this distance the patterns they wove, the passions that dominated them, the ideas and expedients and guesses and experiments and evasions they worked with are less than the overmastering fact itself. We need waste no effort in trying to determine whether war with Mexico was just or unrighteous. Even the long shadow which the war cast to the southward, a shadow which is only beginning to be dissipated after ninety‑six years, is not within our purpose. The fact of the Mexican War is infinitely smaller to us than the fact, the complex of facts, which now had to be faced by the Congress and the people of the United States. And the facing of those facts is the basis of some other book than this one, which has endeavored to lead up to them and may now end with the statement that the West had been won.

Bill Bowen in Oregon could not be given citizenship, he could not even be protected from the Indians who on November 29, 1847, massacred Dr. Whitman and his missionaries — till it had been determined whether some abstractions called the Ordinance of 1787 and the line of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 ought to be effected on humble farmsteads along the Willamette River. There could be no Negro slavery in Oregon, and there could be none in New Mexico, Deseret, or California. But Bill Bowens of those territories could not be citizens till it had been decided whether or not boys who had died at Monterrey and Cerro Gordo had died to extend the political theory of a low‑energy, gang-labor economy which was already altogether obsolete. Can Congress deprive any state of its right in any Territory? Can Congress forbid any citizen to take his property anywhere? Who shall decide whether California, Oregon, and New Mexico shall be free or slave? Who has the authority to decide? Who can constitute a Territory? Who shall make its laws? Can the citizens of a Territory exclude slavery? Can Congress exclude it from a Territory? Can Congress exclude it anywhere? Can any people exclude it anywhere?

In Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Deseret they broke the ground with plows. They tore out the sagebrush by the roots, felled the trees, brought water to the parched earth, bred their cattle, gathered honey, grafted slips on orchard trees, built wharves, set up water wheels, ground wheat and sawed timber. They built houses, sent the kids to school, gathered on Sunday to thank God for having brought them safe to a new land, and taxed themselves to prevent the curse of an illiterate ministry and to secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity. But to the  p478 eastward, breaking through increasingly ineffective subterfuges, fighting the whole thing out on an unreal question, the United States at last was facing the paradox and quandary at its core. The West had made the United States a continental nation. But the continental nation was under the necessity of resolving its basic contradiction.

The theorem of squatter sovereignty, the theorem of Dred Scott — both announced before 1847 ran out. Resolutions from nine states that all territory added to the area of the United States shall be henceforth and forever free. Resolution by the legislative body of Virginia that Congress (or the people) has no authority over slavery. Voted: to extend Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. Voted: to repeal the vote. Through the spring and summer of '48, while James K. Polk, the last man of Yesterday, began to fade into the shadow of abandoned unrealities where, a good, small man, he has existed ever since, there went on a violent struggle for the control of two political parties which meant less than was yet realized. The election, fought in the collapse of subterfuges, was itself one more, desperate subterfuge. No logic could be imposed on the Democratic Party. All but one of its pressures might have been angled into another such forced harmony as had made Polk its candidate in the now faraway, now innocent and hopeful year of 1844. That one pressure was the Territories — the West — and it was invincible. Martin Van Buren and his following withdrew — and this meant that a portion of the Democratic Party had announced that the extension of slavery would be a moral curse. That settled the Democracy for this year, and after this year it would be a different party. It nominated the most sedulous, the loudest of its candidates, Lewis Cass — and the Whigs won. The Whigs won with a subterfuge candidate, Zachary Taylor, who was a war hero and had no convictions about slavery. That finished the Whigs forever.

They had already lost the "Conscience Whigs" — those who were not wrapped in the cotton thread which Emerson said held the nation together. In 1848 some of these joined a variety of small parties which suddenly seemed much less crackbrained, much more respectable than they had seemed last week. More, however, shaken to find themselves in such astonishing company, voted for Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams. It was an incredible vote for an unbelievable ticket and there it was, irrefutable evidence of what had happened since August of '46. Van Buren and Adams stood for free soil in Oregon, California, and New Mexico, where soil could not possibly be anything but free. "Free soil," their slogan said, "free speech, free labor, and free men." Stripped to the actuality: free West. It had happened.

 p479  Well, how? By the sum of many small and a few great things.

In part by this . . . He was a good boy. You remembered how he had laughed and chattered. You remembered being harsh to him, in the unforgivable stupidity of parenthood. One day he was playing with a tin sword or, with a wooden gun, shooting imaginary Indians round a corner of the barn. A day or two later his voice was not treble any more and it was not a wooden gun that was on his shoulder when the fifes shrilled and he marched off behind the silk banner which the ladies of the church had made. You saw his face when he waved to you at the curve in the road, and you wouldn't see it again. He had died of fever at Matamoros or of thirst on the way to Monclova, or a Mexican lance had done for him at Buena Vista or he had got halfway up the slope at Chapultepec. No children would spring from his loins as he had sprung from yours. So in Georgia you watched the upland where he had hunted squirrels turn brown with autumn, or in Ohio you saw the cows come in at milking time in still evening with someone else whistling to his dog. For what? For New Mexico and California. What did those three words mean? As day was added of the day, slowly, insensibly, it was borne in on you that you had better find out.

But that is simple, easily dramatized, and too slight. Georgia or Ohio, as day was added to day, you were tugged at by force subtler, more complex, more power­ful, and more lasting than personal grief. A steelyard's arm had been lengthened and the counterpoise had moved out along it. Imperceptibly, the nation's consciousness was shaping to a new orientation, as the logic of geography, now acknowledged by the map, became the logic of economics. As, at a different level, the logic of desire achieved became the logic of daily expectation, and the logic of time became the logic of time continuing. The lines ran east and west more firmly than before, old constraints were broken through, new bonds were formed. Yesterday poised on the brink of disappearance. The center of gravity had been displaced. Imperceptibly, with an uncomprehending slowness, the nation began to answer to its new conditions.

But too slowly. On March 4, 1861, not enough Americans knew what the new President was talking about. "Physically speaking we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this. . . . Suppose you go to war, you cannot fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions as to terms of intercourse are again upon you."

 p480  So Abraham Lincoln (who might have been governor of Oregon) had learned in the old West, and so, now that the counterpoise was at the far end of the lengthened steelyard, the old West and the new West were prepared to prove. Mr. Lincoln was telling his countrymen that the achieved West had given the United States something that no people had ever had before, an internal, domestic empire, and he was telling them that Yesterday must not be permitted to Balkanize it.

Too late. At some time between August and December, 1846, the Civil War had begun.

* * *

They had done that, the people of this book: they had brought in that empire and made the war inevitable. The soldiers who followed Kearny to Santa Fe and on to California, Doniphan's farm boys and the Mormons slogging along with Cooke under their canopy of dust and miracle, Brigham Young's dispossessed people, and Owl Russell, Edwin Bryant, Jessy Thornton, the Donners. The wagon trains pulling out from Independence in the mud and coming finally to the Willamette or the Sacramento. They had shifted the center of gravity of the nation forever.

From August '46 until the murky dawn of April 12, 1861, the war progressed through political and social phases. Then in that dawn Edmund Ruffin, the most honored Virginia secessionist, pulled the lanyard of a cannon on Morris Island that was trained on a fort in Charleston harbor, and the military phase began.

The book ends here, for we are not dealing with Western history. That history exists, one may remember, and its spectacle might be touched upon almost anywhere. Already in 1847 Asa Whitney, the dreamer of railroads, was by no means the figure of cloud-cuckoo land which he had been a year before — precisely as the abolitionists had, in that year, somehow ceased to be madmen. The spectacle of Western history might begin with the railroads, or with the stagecoaches that preceded them, or the pony-express riders — or with tall masts coming into the Bay of San Francisco, taller masts than any seen there before, and a jubilant crew singing to Stephen Foster's tune, "Oh Susanna! Oh please take your ease, for we have beat the clipper fleet, the Sovereign of the Seas." Or it might begin with spectacle's curiosa: the airship that was to California in three days but somehow didn't, or a nester waking at midnight to see against the copper circle of the Arizona moon the silhouettes of Lieutenant Beale's camels. Or with the wagons that kept on coming year after year till Asa Whitney's dream took flesh, and very little difference between any of them and those  p481 we have followed here. Or agony giving a name to Death Valley. Or the mines in the canyons where the Forlorn Hope starved, or the mines anywhere else in the ranges of the West. Or the Long Trail and its herds, its ballads, and in its too much advertised gunfire. Or the vigilantes, the Sioux and the Cheyenne rising, the army on the march. Or anything else from an abundance of spectacle.

No Westerner, however, would begin the history of his region with spectacle. For the history of the West is the history of such people as we have seen here living out their lives in the new country, and watching their children and grandchildren grow up with that country. It is not a spectacular but a laborious history. One who once thought of writing it would have written it in terms of alkali, sagebrush, wind, and water — in terms of making a dead land bring forth life — and in terms of the mortgage held on it by other sections where a man's labor was permitted to secure his old age, since he gave value to the land he settled on, as the West was not permitted to do. It could not possibly be a spectacular story. But, whatever it might have turned out to be, that book not to be written would have begun where this one ends, with the internal empire of the United States achieved.

* * *

There remains one paragraph of this history. In 1861, following Mr. Lincoln's appeal to his countrymen, the Civil War went into its military phase. Yesterday would not yield to the future without appealing beyond Mr. Lincoln and human intelligence to arms.

It was Yesterday, of course, and the greatest tragedy of the war it fought was that war was fought for an anachronism. The low‑energy economy and the chattel slavery it consisted in had been slain by such men as Eli Whitney, William Kelly, Cyrus McCormick, Samuel Colt, Elias Howe, the gunsmiths who made machine tools, the proprietors of the National Fair, the city of Lowell, the Naugatuck Valley, Pittsburgh, the railroads, the telegraph lines, the turbines. These — but in collaboration with men who went West and made the nation a continent. It had become a nation which inclosed a journey from Baltimore to San Diego, or Charleston to San Francisco, or Richmond to Oregon City, that crossed no frontier and kept always within a common texture of experience and feeling. They had stretched out that commonalty to the Pacific, making the empire, and New Bedford sold its goods to Santa Fe through the entrepot of St. Louis from within, or Monterey sent its sons to the college at Cambridge still from within. In this continental nation the habit and expectation of thought had already realized the empire. Since that had happened, the expectation  p482 of the seceded states was already obsolete when they met in Montgomery to make a nation against Tomorrow.

What was done at Montgomery was to file a last Bill of Review against reality and, when the nation dismissed it, to appeal from the dismissal to the final court. That appeal might have succeeded, one remembers, working in virtual motions, in history's if's. At least, in the course of human history such bills of review have sometimes been granted, the future has not always won when the past attacked it. This time the future won. Yesterday was overturned and rejected. Of those who have thought about that decision in our own time, a certain curious, gentle set of literary people have fallen in with their spiritual ancestor, Calhoun, and regretted the event, feeling that the past would have been better for us all. History is not properly concerned with them and could only call them fools; they had best be left to literary criticism, which may call them poets. At any rate, Yesterday lost out. On June 18, 1865, Edmund Ruffin, rising once more to the surface of events, acknowledged that A. Lincoln had been right on March 4, 1861. The admission made, he killed himself. In history's if's that sacrificial acknowledgment need not, perhaps, have been made. Except that some people went west in '46, and so sentenced Edmund Ruffin to death.

* * *

Outline of American history, final chapter.

On Christmas Day, 1848, Jim Clyman sat down in Napa Valley, where he had spent the winter when we first met him, to write to a friend back in Wisconsin, whither he was returning when he left our narrative. "We left the west of Missouri on the 1st of May and arrived here on the 5th of September without accident or interruption of any kind worthy of notice," Jim said. "Matters and things here are strangely and curiously altered since I left this country."

For the waters of Manitou had worked their spell once more and Jim had crossed to California in '48. He had signed on to guide some emigrators west, the Mecombs from Indiana. He was fifty‑six and he was going back to the golden shore. All the West was in his memory, and it was a mountain man who found nothing worthy of notice in that crossing. We must take his word, however, since there is no record. But Jim Clyman found at least one notable element in the passage west. She was Hannah Mecomb and on August 22, '49, she married him at Napa. The mountain man would now settle down. He farmed in various places and finally bought a ranch at Napa in 1855. Children were born to him. Some of them  p483 died. He and his wife adopted other children. He worked his land. He died on December 27, 1881. Grandchildren are working his land now. (Outline of Western History.)

When Clyman wrote in December, '48, that "matters and things" were curiously altered since he had left California in '46, he was alluding to the sequel of an event which he had heard of on his way west. It was an event which one would think "worthy of note." In August, '48, the Mecomb train was coming westward along the Truckee River. It may be that Jim was telling his greenhorns about the emigrators of '46 who had traveled this very stretch too late to cross the pass ahead, when they met a party who had just come down from that pass. God knows how often in his time Jim had halted on a trail to exchange information with a party met in the wilderness and traveling trail the other way. But this was like no other meeting.

The eastbound were former members of the Mormon Battalion on their way to Deseret, where their twenty‑six months' journey would end at last in the company of their families, the prophet Brigham, and Israel growing strong in Zion. We saw some of them, just eleven months before this meeting, turning back to Sutter's when they received the prophet's counsel that they might take jobs there for the winter and so ease the strain on food supplies at Great Salt Lake City. Henry Bigler had been with them then, and he was with them now, meeting the Mecombs and Jim Clyman by the Truckee. They had information to give Jim in exchange for any news about the Saints in Zion or on their way to it which he may have picked up in his long traverse. They could tell him that a former companion of his, James Marshall, a man who had come down from Oregon with him in '45 and then gone to work for Sutter, had finally located on the American River the sawmill site that Sutter had so often wanted located there. They could tell, and show, him what Marshall had found on that site six and a half months ago, on January 24, of this year.

If John Bidwell is right, Marshall was more than a little star-crazed. At least when he started in to build that mill — on shares — he had some notion of rafting lumber down the canyons of the American River. But, on Bidwell's word, he was a good millwright and built a good mill. Six of the Mormon Battalion, including Bigler, were working on it under his direction, besides three Gentiles and a number of Sutter's Indians. They got the wheel set too low, and so the tail race had to be deepened. They would dig during the day, then turn the water in at night to clean it out.

On January 24, 1848, there were still nine days to go before Trist and the Mexicans could sign their treaty at Guadalupe Hidalgo. Brigham  p484 Young was at Winter Quarters again, where he had at last had himself formally "sustained" as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints, and was preparing the emigration of '48. At Washington the court-martial told Lieutenant Colonel Frémont that he might submit a written defense, and Mr. Polk wrote in his diary, in a crazy fear of an inconceivable rebellion, "The Conduct of Mr. Trist and Gen'l Scott, who seems to have entered into a conspiracy to embarrass the government gives me great anxiety. They have proved themselves [the man who won the war and the man who saved the peace] to be wholly unworthy of the positions they hold, and I most heartily wish they were both out of Mexico." Many soldiers, scattered in detachments in many places, heartily wished themselves out of Mexico, that day. In Congress they were quarreling about the bitterly felt but not yet understood. The Comanche were licking the wounds that a campaign by William Gilpin had cost them, and were preparing this year's slaughter. Scattered about America new Bill Bowens, not so many as in '46 or '47, were dreaming of spring, when they too would take to the trail.

On that Monday morning Marshall turned the water out of the tail race as usual, and toward mid‑afternoon got down into it to see how much progress had been made. Not much, for they were down to bedrock. A few inches of water covered the granite itself. Marshall saw something shiny under that water. He stooped to pick it up.

That was what Henry Bigler and his homing fellow Saints told Jim Clyman besides the Truckee in August, '48.

The past was not going to win the appeal to arms, the continental nation was not going to be Balkanized, it was going to remain an empire and dominate the future.


The Author's Notes:

1 Who, when he saw Frémont in California, admired the costuming but was not stirred by the act. See his memoirs.

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2 He also tried to suspend Kearny from command of the Dragoons. See the Proceedings of the court-martial, page 117.

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3 At this point the situation becomes pie for Hubert Howe Bancroft: three American military men at odds with one another. In his satisfaction he is led to a grotesque judgment. Stockton was wrong, Bancroft decides, but Frémont was right in siding with him. For there must be honor among filibusters!

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4 When the time came to make claim for their pay, they decided that they had certainly wanted to be, or at least certainly ought to have wanted to be.

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5 Both Jones and Tyler record that, at a camp between the Stanislaus and the Sacramento, they were visited by a Mormon named "Rhoades," a Missourian who, they both say, had come to California the previous October. This was the father of John and Daniel Rhoads of the Donner reliefs. Their notation is important for there are exceedingly few records of the undetermined, necessarily very small number of Mormons who traveled overland with Gentile trains in the summer of '46. Several historians have said that the thirteen members of the Mormon Battalion were serving as an escort or guard of Frémont's party. Jones's diary makes quite clear that this is not so. Frémont's party was only occasionally in touch with Kearny's after both parties left Sutter's, and the Mormons were always with Kearny.

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6 "To see the Bodys of our fillow beings Laying without Burial & their Bones bleaching in the Sun Beames is truly shocking to my feelings" — Robert S. Bliss. "We found what we took to be a woman's hand, it was nearly whole, it had partly been burned, the little finger on it was not burnt but the flesh was completely dried" — Henry W. Bigler.

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7 Bancroft believes that Caleb Greenwood was their guide. If so, Stockton's yarn was even more absurd. But he was, of course, a seafaring man, not a prairie traveler.

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8 Brigham's letter says that "some few have passed by a new route to California called Hastings cut‑off . . . but it is not a safe route." This is phrased clumsily; he must have meant Miles Goodyear and his horse herd, traveling east.

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9 Senate Executive Documents, No. 33, 30th Congress, 1st Session, The proceedings of the court martial in the trial of Lieutenant Colonel Frémont. This is by far the most important source for Frémont's career in late '46 and '47. Recent treatments of Frémont have consulted but not studied it. . . . It is only fair to add that much of Frémont's reputation today issues from the campaign biographies of 1856.


Thayer's Notes:

a Freeman, R. E. Lee, I.249‑272.

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b An area of what is now northeastern Tennessee that came very close to becoming a separate State of its own. Full details can be read in Samuel Cole Williams' History of the Lost State of Franklin.


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