Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Map of Paris by Vince Szilagyi

One of my favorite jobs at the shop is trying to determine the origins and history behind the maps and prints in our inventory. Recently we acquired a wonderful map of Paris that took me on quite a journey to figure out its bizarre and interesting history.

This is the wonderful and bright folding map of Paris we recently acquired from a collector. The first thing I do when dating maps of Paris is look at the size of the city itself. For much of its modern history, Paris was a much smaller city surrounded by a ring of well-to-do suburbs like Montmartre and Issy. Then in 1860 as part of Georges-Eugene Haussmann's famous plan to redesign Paris, Emperor Napoleon III annexed these suburbs and dramatically increased the size of the city. This map shows Paris with its pre-1860 borders, with some of Haussmann's early improvements like the Bois de Boulogne Park.

Everything about this map’s depiction of Paris, from its boundaries to its railroads, places it between 1856 and 1860, except for one. This map also includes the Eiffel Tower, which was not designed, let alone built until the late 1880s! An explanation for this strange historical juxtaposition can be found with a little digging. It is most likely the lithographic stone that was used to produce this map was originally made to show the changes in the city of Paris Haussman had completed in the late 1850s. However, when city of Paris annexed the surrounding suburbs this map became severely out of date, as it now only showed a fraction of the city's size and attractions. This stone was probably shelved and a new one created that showed the new extent of the city. Most old lithographic stones that were obsolete were eventually redrawn or recycle into something new.

However, this old stone likely got a new life thanks to the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. The 1889 World’s Fair was hugely popular and millions of people flooded into Paris to join the festivities. This also created a huge market for maps of Paris that these travelers could use. It was this demand that could have brought new life to the old 1850's lithographic stone we mentioned earlier. Seeking to capitalize on the new demand for Parisian maps, the British publishing company of Charles Smith & Son most likely bought the old 1850s lithographic stone of Paris and simply updated it by adding in the fairgrounds and the Eiffel Tower. Evidence supporting this addition is the fact that while all the other Parisian attractions shown on this map are outlined in heavy black and have light red and green coloring, the Eiffel Tower and fairgrounds are in a very light outline and have no color. This would seem to suggest that these were added to the map at a different time than the rest of the attractions.

Further supporting this idea is the fact that the Tower depicted on the map looks slightly, but noticeably different from how it appears in real life. Smith & Son most likely based their depiction of the Tower off of the numerous sketches of how the yet unfinished tower was supposed to look, rather than waiting for it to actually be completed. This sort of situation was not wholly unusual in 19th century mapmaking, but it certainly resulted in a wonderfully weird map that I personally had never seen before.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Meat Extract and Chromolithography

A rather unusual juxtaposition of subjects, but one which is delightfully represented in a set of six cards issued by the Liebig Meat Extract Company in the late nineteenth century.

Baron Justus von Liebig was a German chemist of considerable note, considered one of the founders of organic chemistry. Concerned about providing inexpensive nutrition for Europe’s poor, he invented a method for producing extract from cattle carcasses, supposedly preserving the flavors and nutrients of the beef. The cost for the process proved considerable, but a young Belgian, George Christian Giebert, came up with a feasible plan to produce the extract in Uruguay, where land and cattle were plentiful.

In 1865, Liebig and Giebert formed the Liebig Meat Extract Company, with its factory in Uruguay, and it went on to great success. Not only did the company make its meat extract a popular item for kitchens throughout the world, but it also introduced both Oxo meat extract and beef stock cubes, not to mention Marmite (which I think is pretty awful, but which my wife loves!).

In 1872, the company started to issue promotional trading cards on all sorts of subjects, usually issued in sets of six cards on one topic. They were produced initially in lithography, then chromolithography, and finally offset printing. These cards were hugely popular and supposedly by the time Liebig stopped producing them in 1975, they had produced over 10,000 different cards!

The early chromolithographed cards are the most collectible and I was surprised and delighted when I came across a set of the Liebig cards on the subject of chromolithography. Chromolithography is a printmaking process, developed by the late 1830s, where a colored subject was produced by using multiple lithographic stones, each using a different color ink. The Liebig set, “Les Phases de la Fabircation d’un Chromo Liebig,” shows all the steps in making a Liebig trading card set. Included is a wonderful demonstration of the process, showing the development of a portrait of Liebig through six stages from just two stones to the finished image having used twelve stones.

Card 1: The first card shows the artist composing the subject in his studio. He is drawing a water color onto a sheet of paper, carefully working on an image of the exact size of the intended print. The portrait of Liebig is printed in gold and yellow and is barely visible.

Card 2: This card shows the quarrying of the limestone to be used for making the prints. Though many different stones were tested, it was limestone from Solnhofen in Bavaria which proved to be the best. The portrait of Liebig now has had red and blue ink added, and the visage is beginning to appear more distinctly.

Card 3: This image shows the process of transferring the image to the multiple lithographic stones to be used. The explanation on the verso explains that an outline of the image is transferred, in an inverted manner, to each stone which has been polished with pumice powder. That part of the image appropriate to the color for each stone is then added to that stone for a total of twelve stones. Liebig’s portrait is now quite visible, having been printed with six colors.

Card 4: This card shows the testing of the stones. Each stone is cleaned with nitric acid, so that the ink will not adhere to the stone except where the image has been drawn on it. Then the stones are tested, and the different colors combined onto sample images in sequence, working from the lightest to the darkest ink colors. Liebig’s portrait now appears with 8 colors having been used.

Card 5: Once the test stones are perfected, the final images are printed on a rotary press, being compared with the test images. Other than the placing of the paper on the press, this process is all automated. The portrait of Liebig is now almost finished, with 10 colors having been printed.

Card 6: This shows the cards being cut from the larger sheets and then packed. The portrait, with 12 stones used, is complete.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Maps of Ireland and the Black Irish

The term “Black Irish” is usually used to describe Irish who have dark features, black hair and dark eyes (in contrast to the more “typical” stereotype of the fair skinned, blue eyed and blond or red headed Irish). The Black Irish are generally found in western Ireland. There are a number of explanations of the origin of the Black Irish, but my favorite has to do with maps!

In 1588, the Spanish Armada was beaten badly by the English and were driven out of the English Channel to the east. Fearing trying to run the gauntlet by returning through the Channel, the surviving ships of the Armada sailed north, around Scotland, planning to head west, then south back to Spain.

The ships turned south too soon, sailing very close to the Irish western coastline. This proved disastrous when gales blew in from the west and sent quite a number of ships to destruction on the Irish shore. Many men died by drowning or were killed by English troops, but some did survive. The story is that these Armada survivors married into the local population, thus propagating the Black Irish.

So why did the Spanish turn south too soon? One factor was simply the fact that it was at that time very difficult to know your exact longitude, and another was perhaps that they did not account as they should have for the Gulf Stream, which flows to the north-east. However, the story I like, is that they were using maps which didn’t show Connaught’s western bulge. The Mullett Peninsula in County Mayo extends quite a ways further west than the more northern coast and this was not shown on the earliest maps of Ireland.

For instance, Gerard Mercator’s map of Ireland (which is shown as printed at top of the blog and oriented to the North just above) shows the western coast as with very little western bulge and most other maps of the earliest period were like this. If you were navigating south along the western coast of Ireland in 1855, using a map such as this, you would not expect the Mullett Peninsula to jut out as you got past Donegal Bay. Perhaps this was what happened to the Armada ships?

In any case, by the end of the seventeenth century a more correct shape of the west coast of Ireland appeared and that mistake would no longer occur. Collectors usually like earlier maps in any case, but for maps of Ireland, it is maps such as Mercator’s that are particularly desirable. Even if not a true tale, it certainly makes a good story!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Point of Beginning for the American West

One of the earliest issues facing Americans after they won independence from Great Britain was what to do about the lands lying northwest of the Ohio River. There were competing claims there by a number of states, based on their original charters, and the nascent nation could very well fall apart if these conflicts were not resolved.

The solution was to have those states each waive their claims, turning this “northwest territory” over to the American government. This not only resolved the conflicts between the states, but solved a number of other problems. First, there was a need for lands to reward veterans of the Revolution, and it also made land available to American citizens to seek their fortune in the west. Finally, it offered a means for the federal government to raise revenue, as the Articles of Confederation, which were then in place, did not allow Congress to tax its citizens.

As a result, in 1787, Congress passed “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio” which established the manner in which this area would be measured, divided and then distributed.

The ordinance called for the surveying of the territory with a single, consistent system, dividing it into a grid of townships and smaller sections, each with border lines oriented strictly north-south and east-west. These sections could then be used for public purposes, distributed to veterans and sold to individuals and land companies. A process was established so that as a certain population was reached, the Northwest Territory would be divided into new states. This not only gave access to citizens for land, but also would provide a source of revenue for the federal government.

In order for this all to work, the Northwest Territory had to be surveyed and divided into sections. The task of doing this was given to the first Geographer of the United States, Thomas Hutchins, who developed a system for doing this which became the foundation for how most of the United States was surveyed and divided as new lands were added.

Hutchens devised a system where the government lands were to be divided into townships of six miles square. The townships were stacked in north-to-south columns called “ranges.” Each township was itself divided into thirty-six numbered sections of one square mile each, and those were in turn divided into half, quarter and quarter-quarter sections, the smallest units being 40 square acres.

This system was eventually extended throughout the Northwest Territory, and then later to most of the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, Mexican cession, and Oregon Territory, explaining why so many roads, towns, farms, and other properties west of the Ohio and Mississippi River are so regular and straight-sided.

In order to start the survey, Hutchens had to lay down a base line, called the Geographer’s Line, off of which the rest of the survey would work. The base line itself had to start somewhere, a place called the “Point of Beginning.” Hutchens picked a spot on the north bank of the Ohio River, directly north of the western terminus of the just surveyed southern border of Pennsylvania. This point of beginning is now in East Liverpool, on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The first area that Hutchens surveyed was called the “Seven Ranges,” that is, the first seven stacks of townships, each six miles wide and lying between the Geographer’s Line and the Ohio River, running from the Point of Beginning forty-two miles to the west. Hutchens set off on September 30, 1785, but the survey team did not make it very far before they heard of Indian troubles no too far west, and so decided to high-tail it back to Pittsburgh. Hutchens and the surveyors were later able to secure military protection and so returned to finish the job, completing the Seven Ranges in 1787.

A map of the seven ranges was issued in 1796 by Mathew Carey and engraved by W. Barker. The title of the map says:
“Plat of the Seven Ranges of Townships being Part of the Territory of the United Sates N.W. of the River Ohio Which by a late act of Congress are directed to be sold. That part which is divided into sections or tracts of a mile square will be sold in small tracts at public auction in Pitsburg [sic] the residue will be sold in quarters of Townships at the seat of Government.”

W. Barker sculp.

Surveyed in conformity to an Ordinance of Congress of May 20th 1785. Under direction of Thos. Hutchins late Geographer to the United States

Hutchens’ system, now known as the Public Land Survey System, is still in use today, all surveys working off of the initial Seven Ranges survey of the late eighteenth century. It is this national survey grid which allowed for the orderly division and distribution of land to farmers and settlers, railroad companies, prospectors and all the other Americans who emigrated from the east to the west as the country expanded. Thus Hutchens’ “Point of Beginning” for this first survey, was in fact the Point of Beginning for all the American West.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

America as an Indian Woman

We just acquired a late eighteenth-century, French print, “L’Amerique,” representing America as a handsome Indian woman. The image is very Europeanized, with classical features, the only exotic aspect being the feathered headdress with the sun symbol on the front.

It has long been customary to represent the continents as women, each shown as a “type” that supposedly reflected the nature of that continent. The obvious type for America, from the earliest days of discovery, was as a Native American. These figures were often shown with bows and arrows, or spears, with feathered headdresses, and surrounded by exotic animals or other items, including one with a severed head.

The classic early uses of this representation was on the title pages of atlases, where the four continents were all shown. The title pages by Ortelius (1570) and Mercator (1595) both show America as an Indian, who, along with Africa, is shown mostly naked as opposed to the fully clothed figures of Europe and Asia.

The 18th century was a time when allegories were popular and the use of an Indian figures to represent America was quite common, indicating that this was universally understood by those for whom the prints were intended. “The Tea-Tax Tempest” shows the four continents, including a Native American, watching a magic lantern showing an image of the American Revolution.

This other allegory, which glorifies American Independence, has Benjamin Franklin and a semi-naked (again!) Indian standing under a figure of liberty watching as Britain is overwhelmed.

The figures were now a little more Europeanized in appearance, the “exotic” nature of America represented by feathers and often keeping the figures only partially clothed. After the American Revolution, other figures, such as Columbia and Brother Jonathan, came to be used more than an Indian as the symbol of America, though there were still instances, such as the French print at the top.

The use of a Native American woman to represent America continued into the nineteenth century, always with exotic clothing and feathers, but usually with more clothes that earlier examples.

The exoticism of the symbol, together with the fact that it seemed ok to show an Indian maiden in a manner one would never do for non-natives, meant that some of these images remained a bit more risqué than one might expect for the period.

The Clements Library has an excellent on-line exhibit on Native American history and this includes a fun page specifically on this topic, “Indian Queens and Indian Princesses: Allegorical Representations of America." Well worth a visit!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

John Brown lithograph

John Brown first appeared on the national scene as leader of abolitionist forces during the “Bleeding Kansas” crisis in 1856. Brown became convinced that there was no way to achieve abolition other than by an armed revolution. Referring to the mainstream abolitionist groups, Brown stated, “These men are all talk. What we need is action—action!”

In late 1856, Brown headed East to raise funds, weapons and followers, traveling around New England, New York and into Canada, meeting with many prominent abolitionists and antislavery groups. By late 1859, Brown was convinced that he had the support necessary to start a glorious antislavery uprising among abolitionists and both slave and free blacks. So he went south to Harper’s Ferry, where on October 16-18 he led a raid on the federal armory, a bold act which he thought would spark that uprising. This did not happen, however, and Brown was subsequently captured, tried and hung on December 2, 1859.

The photograph above was taken May or June 1858, when Brown was traveling through New England. It is the first image of Brown with a beard, for hitherto he had been clean shaven. It was the source for a lithograph issued by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg shortly thereafter.

That print is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is a pre-Harper’s Ferry print of Brown, as evidenced by the lack of mention to that action which so defined Brown’s fame from October 1859 on. It would seem that this print was issued by the Kellogg firm in response to Brown’s travels in New England, for the Kelloggs were located in Hartford, CT, and Brown would have been a figure of considerable interest to the public in the area in 1858-1859.

To the photographic image, the Kelloggs added a map of Kansas hanging on the wall in the background. It is interesting to note that there was no such wall map of Kansas issued that early, so this is simply a made-up image. Also of interest is another map, of indeterminable subject, rolled up and leaning on the table at right. The meaning of this seems clear: the Kelloggs were symbolically representing Brown’s vow to extend the abolitionist movement from Kansas (the wall map) to the rest of the country (the rolled map).

This print was followed by the Kellogg’s competitor, Currier & Ives, after the Harper’s Ferry raid, as the subtitle calls Brown “Leader of the Harper’s Ferry Insurrection.” Brown is sitting, rather than standing, and the map of Kansas still hangs on the wall, while the second map is now rolled on the table. In this print Brown is holding a copy of abolitionist Horace Greely’s New York Tribune, which may explain the unidentifiable paper on the table in the Kellogg print.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Slavery and the American West

“…we tend to treat these two mid-nineteenth-century narratives as geographically distinct: a battle over slavery engulfs the East while mineral rushes and migration transform the West.” (Susan Schulten, “The Civil War and the Origins of the Colorado Territory,” Western Historical Quarterly, 44, p. 21)

As Dr. Schulten points out, contrary to the usual narrative, slavery was one of the major factors in determining the political transformation of the American West in the nineteenth century. I would argue that it was the major factor in the political development of the West, from its earliest days right through to the Civil War.

The issue of slavery was contentious between the northern and southern states from the very beginning of the nation, though many of the founding fathers hoped that slavery would slowly fade away over time. Then Eli Whitney’s 1793 invention of the cotton gin made the slave-based cotton industry profitable, as evidenced by the increase in the number of American slaves rising from 697,897 in 1790 to 1.2 million in 1810.

Louisiana Purchase

The fissure in the nation caused by slavery began to widen with the Louisiana purchase of 1803. In the early days of the republic, there was a rough parity between the slave and free states, so neither side could dominate Congress. New states would eventually be carved out of the Louisiana Purchase and the issue that worried each side was whether the new states would be free or slave.

This question was of great importance to both the North and the South. Those who wanted to abolish slavery hoped that by pinning this institution in the Southeast, it would eventually fade away. Those in the South were concerned both to maintain the vigor of the slave economy through expansion, but also to provide a new market for excess slaves they wished to sell.

The first state created from the new territory was Louisiana, a slave state, in 1812, but this simply balanced Ohio, a free state admitted in 1803. Later in the decade, new settlement and development in the territories to the east of the Mississippi River led to the admittance of four new states, Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana and Illinois, keeping the number of free and slave states equal, now with eleven in each camp.

What concerned both parties was the question of what would happen in the Missouri Territory, that is that part of the Louisiana Purchase outside of the state of Louisiana, as it was carved into new states. Slavery was legal in the Missouri Territory from the beginning, though the climate and soil of much of it was not conducive to a slave economy. The only part of the territory clearly suitable for cotton growing was along the rich bottom lands of the Mississippi River and along the lower Missouri River.

In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, Southern emigrants brought their farming economy, including slaves, up into the region around St. Louis, and west along the Missouri River, in what became known as “Little Dixie.” This was the most developed area of the Missouri Territory, with St. Louis—-a major center for trade and commerce-—growing into a city of over 10,000 citizens by the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century. In 1818, the citizens around St. Louis petitioned Congress for admission as a new, slave state of Missouri.

The Northerners in Congress were unwilling to allow such a new slave state. It was more than simply the fact that this would upset the balance of free and slave states. Louisiana had long had a slave economy, but the idea of opening up the lands further north to slavery threatened the long-held belief that the institution could be limited to the South, eventually to fade away. Northerners were adamant in trying to prevent this.

Missouri Compromise

A compromise, brokered by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, was reached in 1820 which was acceptable to both Southerners and Northerners. As part of this “Missouri Compromise,” the District of Maine, a detached part of Massachusetts, would be admitted as a state along with Missouri. Maine had been clamoring to become be admitted to the Union on its own and since it would be a free state, it would off-set Missouri as a slave state, with the balance in Congress maintained.

Still, however, Northerners were adamant against the expansion of slavery into the lands in the northern part of the Missouri Territory, so as part of the compromise it was agreed that no new slave states—-other than the new state of Missouri—-could be carved out of the original Louisiana Purchase north of the 36°30′ parallel—the line which separated Virginia from North Carolina, Kentucky from Tennessee, and Arkansas from Missouri.

In hind-sight, Southerners realized that the Missouri Compromise had placed pro-slavery forces at a great disadvantage. A look at the map of the United States showed that the area open for free states was far larger than that from which slave could be created, consisting only of the Arkansas Territory. A look at the larger map of North America, however, showed a lot of land west of the Mississippi and south of the 36°30′ line, land, though, which inconveniently was part of a foreign country, Mexico.

Compromise of 1850

About this time Americans began to move into Texas, the province of Mexico bordering Louisiana and Arkansas. While slavery was outlawed in Mexico in 1829, the new Texans ignored this prohibition. The American pro-slavery faction could not help but covet Texas-—almost half the size of the Louisiana Purchase—-already inhabited with slave owning American emigrants, especially when it declared itself an independent republic in 1836.

Texans themselves were strongly in favor of being annexed into the United States, and pro-slavery American politicians dreamed of adding Texas to the Union as a single or perhaps even multiple slave states. Their plans took on added urgency when Britain decided it would recognize Texan independence and push for the abolition of slavery there. The desire by Southerners to add Texas to the Union led finally, in 1845, to the annexation of Texas as the 28th state. As U.S. Grant wrote, “The occupation, separation and annexation were…a conspiracy, to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union.”

Prompted in part by a desire for even more land which would be open for slavery, the United States provoked Mexico into the short-lived Mexican War. At the end of the war, by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico, in return for a payment of just over $18 million, not only recognized Texas as part of the United States, but ceded their provinces of Alta (or Upper) California and New Mexico.

The acquisition of these new lands to the west of the original Louisiana Purchase immediately raised the issue of how they were to be politically organized and, of course, what role slavery would play there. During the war, Congressman David Wilmot had introduced a bill to prohibit slavery in any territory captured from Mexico. Naturally, this bill was fought against by Southerners and though it passed the House, it failed in the Senate.

How the new lands of the Mexican Cession were to be governed was an issued which had to be faced by Congress, but this was quite a complex issue. The old Mexican settlements of California saw themselves as forming a mature political entity ready for admission as a state, and the Mormons were proposing a new state of Desert to be formed from the lands south of the Oregon Territory lying between the Continental Divide and California. Most Congressmen agreed that the Mormons could not have their desired state, but there was disagreement on almost all other questions of what to do with these new American lands.

One sore point for Northerners was that Texas, which allowed slavery, extended above the 36°30′ line—-when it first was annexed, Texas claimed as far north as present-day Wyoming-—which they argued was contrary to the Missouri Compromise. Northerners were thus determined that there would be no slavery allowed in the new territories acquired from Mexico. Southerners felt like the Northerners were running roughshod over the previous balance of power between the two sides by wanting to admit a new free state of California while at the same time excluding slavery from the rest of the Mexican Cession.

The solution to this conundrum was devised by Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas, who pushed through what is known as the Compromise of 1850. This was based on Douglas’ avocation of the use of the principal of “popular sovereignty” to get around the slavery question in the new territories. By that policy, citizens of the new territories would be able to decide for themselves whether their new states would be free or slave, writing this into the state constitutions as determined by democratic vote. Thus, when the territories were admitted as states, they would “be received into the Union, with or without slavery as their constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.”

By the Missouri Compromise, the North got a new free-soil state, California, and had the northern border of Texas cut off at 36°30′ (in exchange for $10 million of debt relief), while the South got the possibility of slavery being voted in for the two new territories created between Texas and California—Utah and New Mexico—and they also got a stronger Fugitive Slave Act.

Many Northern Congressmen found this an unsatisfactory agreement, both because of the Fugitive Slave Act, but also because the possibility of slavery in the new territories, both of which had lands above 36°30′, seemingly a repudiation of the Missouri Compromise. Douglas, however, argued that the Missouri Compromise applied only to the lands of the original Louisiana Purchase, not to the Mexican Cession, and assuring fellow Northerners that the Missouri Compromise would continue in force there. He further sweetened the deal by including a clause into the new compromise for the abolition of slave trading in the District of Columbia.

The Compromise of 1850 did finally allow for the political organization of the lands gained in the Mexican War, and it was hailed by some as solution to how to keep the South and North from falling out over the issue of slavery. That was a premature and false hope, for the possibility that slavery might be allowed north of the 36°30′ line, together with the strong Slave Fugitive Act, lit a smoldering fuse of passion in the North, a fuse which would burst into flame just a few years later, sparked by another Congressional act shepherded through by Stephen Douglas.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

Within a few decades of the Louisiana Purchase, inspired in part by Stephen Long’s description of much of the lands west of the Mississippi River as the “Great American Desert,” the Federal Government decided that this area would make a perfect place to locate not only the western Indian Tribes, but also those from the East whose land was confiscated. The Indian Intercourse Act of 1834 set aside for Indian territory "…all that part of the United States west of the Mississippi and not within the states of Missouri and Louisiana, or the territory of Arkansas…"

This region comprised most of the Great Plains lying between the Rocky Mountains and those states and territories just to the west of the Mississippi River. As Americans began to move towards the west coast, it soon became evident that there was the need for the extension of U.S. law, especially related to property, to that part of the Indian lands through which emigrants traveled and where a railroad could be built.

For this to happen, at least a band of land crossing the plains had to be organized as a U.S. territory. The designation of this proposed territory was to be "Nebraska," a name first used by Frémont with reference to the Platte River, which was for much of its length the main route for the emigrants heading west. "Nebrathka" was an Otoe word for ‘flat water' and was used by them as the name for the Platte. A bill to create a Nebraska Territory was first introduced in 1844, with another put forth in 1848; both bills failed because this territory would be north of the Missouri Compromise line and Southerners were loath to create such a large, free-soil territory.

With the acquisition of California in 1850, the need to organize such a territory became even more urgent. For both economic and social reasons the country needed to connect the East and West Coasts with a railroad. Thus pressure to organize these lands continued to grow.

Stephen Douglas turned from his “triumph” in the Compromise of 1850 to tackle this problem, which he again “solved” using his principal of popular sovereignty. Douglas proposed that two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, be created under “popular sovereignty,” each able to determine for itself whether it was slave or free.

This was acceptable to many Northerners, especially those who were keen to have a trans-continental railroad built, for they believed these two proposed territories were situated too far north to prove hospitable to slavery. Ironically, many Southerners accepted this compromise because they thought that at least the Kansas Territory would be favorable to the introduction of slavery, as it lay directly west of the slave state Missouri.

In order to make sure Kansas voted to come in as a slave state, Southerners were encouraged to move into Kansas, while abolitionists in the North did the same thing, promoting antislavery settlements there. Thousands poured into the new Kansas Territory, armed and ready for a fight over slavery. “Bloody Kansas” was the immediate effect, but another more lasting consequence was that many antislavery proponents in the north—both Democrats and Whigs—left those parties to form a new Republican Party, specifically organized to prevent the expansion of slavery into the new territories.

New Territories

In the years leading up to the Civil War, an increasing movement to create new territories ran smack into a Congressional blockage caused by the hardening sectional conflict between the supporters and abhorrers of slavery.

New emigrants were pouring into the large territories of the West, many prompted by gold discoveries, and this generated strong pressure to create smaller territories for these populations. Many of these new settlements were located well away from the centers of power in the old territories and the emigrants wanted to have local control. The New York Times reported on Jan. 11, 1859 that there were six applications for new territories before Congress, five for trans-Mississippi regions.

Despite these, and other petitions for territorial creation, Congress would not act. With a roughly equal balance between the free and slave states, neither side was willing to let in a territory or state which would lead to one side gaining a significant advantage in Congress. No new territory was created between the Kansas-Nebraska Act and 1860.

This all changed in early 1861 when eleven state seceded from the Union, with all their Senators and Representatives leaving Congress. All of a sudden, Congress was heavily weighted towards the north and mostly anti-slavery. Within just the first three months of 1861, three new territories-—Dakota, Nevada and Colorado—-were created, all free-soil.

The final political alteration in the American West that was specifically related to the issue of slavery was the creation of the Territory of Arizona in 1863. About a decade before, in 1854, the Gadsden Purchase added about 30,000 square miles to the southern part of the New Mexico Territory. This area was called either “Gadsdonia” or “Arizona.” The settlers who moved into this area felt alienated and neglected by the territorial government in Santa Fe, located well to the north. These settlers, most of whom were originally from the South, were not particularly keen to be administered by a government which had a large Hispanic element to it and which was anti-slavery.

Thus, in 1856 and then again in 1860, conventions were held to create a Territory of Arizona from the lands south of the 34th parallel. The Arizonians elected a territorial governor and sent a delegation to Congress asking for the establishment of this territory, but as with the other similar requests of the time, Congress did not act.
The Arizonians were not happy, so when the Confederacy was created in 1861, they voted to secede from the United States and join the Confederacy, which accepted Arizona as a territory in early 1862. A year later, Congress—-now free to create free-soil territories-—did decide to create an Arizona Territory, but with a north-south border, rather than east-west, for this both avoided a de facto recognition of the Confederate Territory and it diminished the influence of the southerners in the new territory.

From this brief history, it is clear that slavery played a preeminent role in almost all the changes to borders, territories and states in the trans-Mississippi West from 1803 through the Civil War. Other factors, of course, did play significant roles, but the issue of slavery was always there, greatly determining outcomes. It was certainly in the eastern U.S. that slavery drove the hammer of conflict most strikingly, but the West too was greatly shaped by the chisel of the fight against bondage.