This Day in History

February 28, 1845:
Texas Annexation Controversy

This text comes from our textbook, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North AmericaFor ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.

John C. Calhoun
In May 1836, John C. Calhoun said: “there [are] powerful reasons why Texas should be part of this Union.” The southern states, he said, “owning a slave population, were deeply interested in preventing that country from having the power to annoy them.” With other southerners, Calhoun feared an independent Texas could not maintain the institution of slavery by itself; and if, as it was feared, Great Britain should annex Texas, slavery would end there. No fugitive slave agreement, as the South had with the North, would exist with an independent Texas; and if slavery were abolished in Texas, slaves in the states could easily escape there. Some southerners, too, thought admitting Texas would provide, as one Senator McDuffie said before his colleagues on May 23, 1844, “a safety valve to let off the superabundant slave population from among us.” Texas annexation, McDuffie continued, would “at the same time improve their [the slaves'] condition; they will be more happy, and we shall be more secure. But if you pen them up within our present limits, what becomes of the free negroes, and what will be their condition?”

Southerners had another reason to favor Texas’ annexation. As in 1820, Calhoun and other southerners feared the political dominance of the North. To date, there were 13 slave and 13 free states; but with Florida remaining the only potential slave state, and with Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, all free territories, waiting in the wings for statehood, Southerners feared to lose their power in the Senate as they already had in the House. Texas, they thought, could be divided into several slave states and so provide their section the representation it needed to maintain its power in the national councils.

Map of the United States 1842-1845, showing the Republic of Texas in gray. The red area shows the region disputed by Texas and Mexico. The pink region indicates the states of the union, while the mustard-colored area indicates U.S. territories.
The growing number of antislavery “abolitionists” in the North, of course, disagreed. They wanted to keep Texas out of the union. Indeed, many thought the whole Texas revolution had been a plot by slaveholders for the extension of slave territory. In November 1837, the Vermont legislature protested the admission of any states that allowed domestic slavery. President Martin Van Buren, however, had a different reason for opposing the annexation of Texas; he was engaged in delicate negotiations with Mexico at the time, and Mexico was very sensitive about the issue.. The annexation issue was brought before Congress in 1838 and was defeated after a three-week anti-annexation speech by Senator John Quincy Adams.

Sam Houston, president of the Republic of Texas, was eager for annexation by the United States; but if he could not get it, he would settle for protection and aid from either France or Great Britain. Texas’ finances were worse off than Mexico’s. Moreover, the financial panic of 1837 that hit the states had brought more debt-ridden small planters into Texas, increasing its Anglo-American population to 50,000.

A Currier & Ives lithograph depicting
President William Henry Harrison
The financial panic, which began in 1837 and lasted to 1841, had important political effects. Because he was president when the panic hit, Martin Van Buren, was blamed for it. His opponent in the election of 1840, nominated by the Whig party (a coalition of conservative Republicans and remnants of the Federalist Party), was William Henry Harrison, the hero of Tippecanoe. Harrison and his vice-presidential candidate, John Tyler, an old-fashioned Virginia Republican, ran on no platform; instead, the Whigs paraded “Old Tippecanoe’s” military record. “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!” they cried. When a Democratic journalist sneered that “Old Tip” would prefer to retire to his log cabin if only he had $2,000 and a barrel of hard cider, the Whigs took up the sneer and ran a campaign centered on log cabins and hard cider. They attacked Van Buren for his “aristocratic” New York ways:

  Let Van from his coolers of silver drink wine,
           And lounge on his cushioned settee; 
      Our man on his buckeye bench can recline,
           Content with hard cider is he.
      Then a shout from each freeman — a shout from each State,
           To the plain honest husbandman true,
      And this be our motto – the motto of Fate –
           “Hurrah for Old Tippecanoe!”

But, despite the democratic appeal of the campaign, Harrison won the popular vote by only a small margin (though he captured 174 more electoral votes than Van Buren). But President Tip had not long for this world. Refusing to wear coat or hat at his inauguration (it was a bitterly cold day), the 70-year-old Harrison caught pneumonia and died a month after taking office. John Tyler then became president and proved himself more of a Democrat than a Whig. It was not long before he was repudiated by his old party and allied himself with the states’ rights Democrats.

Tyler joined John C. Calhoun and other Democrats and pressed for the annexation of Texas. A lame-duck president (he was nominated by neither the Whigs nor the Democrats in 1844), Tyler wanted Texas admitted to the Union before the end of his term. He resorted to a constitutionally questionable move — Congress approved the annexation, not by passing a bill of annexation but through a joint resolution. On February 28, 1845, just a few days before he left office, Tyler informed Sam Houston that Congress had approved Texas’ admission into the union.




This Day in History

February 20, 1810:
Execution of Andreas Hofer
 
This text comes from our textbook, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.

Not all of Emperor Franz’s subjects gave up their resistance to Napoleon after the Treaty of Vienna. In the Alpine valleys of western Austria, called the Tyrol, there lived a stout, freedom-loving peasantry who were loyal to the House of Habsburg and deeply devoted to their Catholic Faith. They would tolerate no one who would dare raise a hand against God or their emperor.

The Tyrol is in the western extension of Austria
 So it was very bitter for the Tyrolese when, in 1805, the Treaty of Pressburg forced them to submit to Napoleon’s ally, Bavaria. Yet, at first, all seemed to go well enough. Bavaria’s King Maximilien Josef had promised that life in the Tyrol would go on as it had before, and for a while it seemed he would keep his word.

Franz II (Holy Roman emperor, 1805)
But Napoleon was pressuring Maximilien Josef; and in the end, the king broke his word. He laid new taxes on the Tyrolese, divided their country into French-style departments, and began drafting their men to serve in the Bavarian army. Worst of all, influenced by his “enlightened” advisers, the Bavarian king tried to crush Catholic worship and practice in the Tyrol. Churches were pillaged of their adornments and sacred vessels; and when priests resisted this tyranny, the Bavarian authorities imprisoned them. The bishop of Innsbruck, the chief city of the Tyrol, was himself exiled for protesting against the government’s acts.

When Austria again was planning war against Napoleon in late 1808, the Emperor Franz’s son, the Archduke Johann, began corresponding with Tyrolese leaders. In January 1809, three of these leaders went secretly to Vienna, where they met with the archduke. One of these Tyrolese leaders was Andreas Hofer, nicknamed the Sandwirth because he kept an inn (called a Wirtshaus in German) at Sand in the Passeyr Valley. Dressed in the Tyrolese costume (a colorful short coat, knee breeches with a richly embroidered belt, and a broad-brimmed hat), Hofer was imposing with his long, black beard. A horse trader as well as an innkeeper, Hofer had traveled a good deal around the Tyrol. He knew his country well and thus was the natural leader for the rebellion he, his companions, and the archduke now were planning.

Andreas Hofer
On April 9, 1809, Andreas Hofer called on his people to rise against the Bavarians. From all over Tyrol, tens of thousands of peasant men, and even women, answered his call. Other peasant leaders joined the uprising, including Martin Teimer, a tobacconist; Josef Spechbacher, a former poacher; and a Capuchin priest named Joachim Haspinger, who led men into battle holding a large ebony crucifix instead of a sword. Archduke Johann brought an Austrian force into the Tyrol to support the rebels.

Though they were not trained soldiers, the peasants were victorious in battle after battle against the combined French and Bavarian forces. But in May, a French and Bavarian army entered the Tyrol and began pushing the peasants back, burning villages, and massacring men, women, and children. Such violence only encouraged Hofer to further resistance. After the Austrian victory over Napoleon at Aspern, Hofer gathered a force, 80,000 strong, and moved against Innsbruck, where in a struggle on the Isel Berg (a hill overlooking the city), he defeated the French General Lefebvre. On May 30, the Tyrolese entered Innsbruck, where they filed into churches to give thanks to God for their triumph.

Joachim Haspinger
To reward his faithful subjects, Emperor Franz I pledged never again to abandon the Tyrol. But after the Battle of Wagram in July 1809, Franz signed an armistice with Napoleon that did not mention the Tyrolese.

When Archduke Johann bade the peasants lay down their arms, Hofer refused. When the French and Bavarians again entered the Tyrol, burning and pillaging as before, the Sandwirth called for further resistance. “It is now not a question of saving our fortunes,” he declared, “no! It is our holy religion that is threatened with open peril . . . For God, for the Kaiser Franz, conquer or die!”

Gathering another huge force, Hofer moved on Innsbruck, driving the French from the city on August 14. The next day, the Feast of the Assumption, the Tyrolese entered the city, where Hofer established himself as governor. Again Emperor Franz pledged his support to the Tyrolese, sending a gold medal to Hofer to recognize his leadership of the Tyrol.

But with the signing of the Peace of Vienna in October 1809, Franz again abandoned the Tyrol to Napoleon. Much stronger forces of Bavarians and French now entered the mountain valleys and drove the peasant army from Innsbruck. Hofer thought of surrender; but urged — and even threatened — by his own people, he continued the fight.

Tyrolese insurgents
Still, all was lost. By December 1809, most of the Tyrolese chieftains had accepted amnesty from the French, Father Haspinger fled to Switzerland, and Josef Spechbacher escaped into the mountains. Hofer, now a wanted man, found refuge in a hut on a snow-covered mountainside near his home in the Passeyr Valley. He remained in hiding until mid January 1810 when, betrayed by one of his own people, he was captured and taken a prisoner to Mantua in Italy.

In Mantua, a court-martial tried Hofer; but admiring his courage and devotion to God and country, the judges could not agree on a sentence. After sending a message to Napoleon to ask his will in the matter, they received this reply: Hofer must immediately be shot. The Sandwirth was, however, given one last chance. If he decided to fight for the French, said his captors, he could go free. But Hofer would not play the traitor. “I remain faithful to the house of Austria and the good Kaiser Franz,” he said.

Farewell, vain world; dying appears to me so
easy that my eyes do not become wet.

These words Hofer wrote on February 20, 1810, the day of his execution. When led before the firing squad, the Sandwirth refused a blindfold. After being commanded to kneel, he said he would not. “I shall stand before my Creator, and standing I will render up my spirit to him, who gave it,” he said. He then let out a loud cry, “Long live Kaiser Franz!” and covered his eyes to pray.

 After a few minutes Hofer dropped his hands and gave the command, “Take good aim — Fire!” Six shots rang out, and Hofer fell to his knees. “Ach!” he exclaimed, “How badly you aim!” A corporal then took out his pistol and, placing the barrel against Hofer’s head, fired. In this way, Andreas Hofer at last found peace.

Contemporary painting of Hofer’s execution


It’s Some 300 Years Too Early, but…

We couldn’t find a decent performance of the song, Zu Mantua in Banden, which honors Andreas Hofer and is currently the anthem of the Austrian state of Tirol. (Those interested may find the music for this piece here and the German text with a rough translation here.) Instead, we offer a performance of Innsbruck Ich Muss Dich Lassen, by Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517) Scroll down and click “Show More” for the German text and translation.




This Day in History

February 15, 1775
:
Election of a Pleasure-loving Pope

This text comes from our textbook, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.

Pope Pius VI in 1775. Portrait by 
Giovanni Domenico Porta
Thconclave that met to elect Pope Clement XIV’s successor in 1774 stretched on for four months. Once again, Spain, France, and Portugal pressured the cardinals to elect a pope who would not give the kings much trouble. Among the cardinals the monarchs opposed (because he was friendly toward the Jesuits) was Cardinal Giovanni Angelico Braschi. But Braschi was able to gain the support of the anti-Jesuits in the conclave by tacitly agreeing not to reinstate the Jesuits. And he received the support of those who favored the Jesuits because they thought him a friend of the Jesuits. Thus on February 15, 1775, Braschi was elected pope and took the name of Pius VI.

Pope Pius VI was something of a throwback to the Renaissance. Unlike the last pope named Pius (St. Pius V), Pius VI was not an ascetic. He loved pompous ceremonies and elaborate processions. Because he was a strikingly handsome man, women would cry out Come sei bello! (“How handsome you are!”) as he and his entourage passed through the streets of Rome. A patron of the arts, Pius VI purchased beautiful paintings and sculpture for his collection in the Vatican. He carried out civic works in Rome — draining marshes and restoring the ancient Roman road, the Via Appia, for use as a thoroughfare. None of this displeased the people of Rome; as lovers of pageantry, they welcomed a pope who could put on a good show.

Romualdo Braschi Onesti,
 Pius VI’s cardinal-nephew
Unfortunately, other characteristics of the Renaissance could be found in Rome during Pius VI’s reign. The clergy surrounding the pope were more interested in gaining new offices for themselves and their favorites than they were in serving the Church. The pope himself practiced nepotism, seeking places for his relatives in the Church’s government. Though in many ways he was a good man, Pius VI did not have the spiritual character to lead the Church through the dark times that she was passing into.

Still, this pope did not entirely neglect his duties as the shepherd and teacher of the Church. He permitted the Jesuits in Silesia and Russia to continue their work and even admit new members. It was Pius VI who traveled to Vienna to urge Emperor Josef II not to carry out his reforms of the Church; and in 1783, Pius threatened to excommunicate the emperor when he appointed a bishop to the archdiocese of Milan without the pope’s permission. But, fearing that Josef might take the Church in his lands into schism, Pius in the end granted him the right to nominate bishops in the Habsburg domains of Milan and Mantua.

In 1786, Pius VI came into conflict with another member of the Habsburg family: the emperor’s brother, Leopold II, the duke of Tuscany in Italy. An “enlightened” despot like his brother, Leopold wanted to establish a church that would be independent of Rome and subject only to himself. To aid him in his program of “reform,” Leopold had the help of Scipio Ricci, the bishop of Pistoia and Prato, who was also a zealous Jansenist and Gallican.

Coat of arms of Pope Pius VI, on the 
ceiling of the Basilica of St. John 
Lateran in Rome
Faced with Josef II’s Church reform in Austria and another reform by King Fernando IV of Naples, Pope Pius VI was powerless to stop Leopold in Tuscany. But after Leopold became Holy Roman emperor in 1790, the people of Tuscany rose up against Bishop Ricci; and the new Habsburg duke, Ferdinand III, deposed him. In 1794, after the fall of Ricci, Pius condemned the reforms Bishop Ricci had attempted to make in Tuscany.

By 1794, however, Pius VI was engaged in another struggle, this time not against “enlightened” despots, but against a revolution that, like a great and destructive flood, threatened to sweep away the Church and all Christendom. This would be the pope’s main fight for the remainder of his reign. It would give the pleasure-loving pontiff the opportunity to imitate the sufferings of the first of the popes. Pius VI was about to relive in his own flesh the prophecy Christ made to St. Peter: “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands,and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18).

Music from Late 18th Century Italy

Music by Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824), himself a virtuoso violinist.


Viotti, Meditazione in Preghiera Guido Rimonda,
Orchestra Camerata Ducale

                                          



The Ubiquitous Question

Catholic History? Why Not Catholic Mathematics?
The General Editor of the Catholic Textbook Project, Christopher Zehnder,  is often asked this question. Its gist is simply this — like mathematics, history is about facts that we can verify, apart from religion. Why then talk about “Catholic” history?
 
His reply?
File:Escribano.jpg
While true, that history, like mathematics, can be verified apart from religion, the Catholic Church has been involved in history in a way she can never be involved in mathematics. With or without the Church, mathematics would be the same. Without the Church, history would not be the same.
 
We can call a history “Catholic” when it proceeds from an insight, given by the Faith but verified by historical science — that history has been transformed by Christ and his Church. To deny this, or to diminish it, is to distort history. And many secular textbooks do just that — they distort history by misrepresenting the Church’s role in history.
 
File:Schillerdenkmal Berlin, Begas, Allegorie Geschichte.jpgBut isn’t Catholic history just Catholic bias?
 
Yes and no. If by “bias” you mean “point of view,” then Catholic history is history told from a Catholic “bias.” But this is not a weakness. It is a strength.
 
 
Secular history has a secular, often anti-supernatural, bent. It will, for instance, deny the historicity of miracles, not necessarily because historical instances of miracles lack documentary evidence, but because it assumes miracles cannot happen. Secular history views history from a single dimension — materialism.
 
A Catholic historian sees history in all its fullness. He does not reject a supernatural dimension to life. He is free to entertain the possibility of miraculous events in history. He is not so narrow as to reject them out of hand.  Catholic history is truly “catholic” — it is universal, embracing the fullness of reality and all its possibilities.
 
It is this full-bodied, catholic history our Catholic Textbook Project textbooks tell. 
 
File:Leoattila-Raphael.jpg
Meeting between Pope Leo the Great and Attila the Hun
by Raphael
 

 



This Day in History

February 4, 1787:
Daniel Shays Lays Down His Arms 
 
This text comes from our high school textbook, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North AmericaFor ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other books, please click here.

The years following the end of the Revolutionary War found farmers all over America sinking deeper into debt. In the course of the war, many farmers had made good money selling their crops to the Continental Army. With the coming of peace, farmers lost this lucrative market; and this loss, coupled with the general economic downturn of the time, left them owing money to all sorts of creditors, including the government — debts that they could not repay. In those days, a man could be imprisoned for not paying his debts, and, as today, his land could be seized and sold at auction.

File:Soldiers of the Continental Army.gif
Soldiers of the Continental Army, from a 1781 drawing by a French officer
Many states, especially in the North, where the debt problem was the most dire, passed laws to relieve the poor farmers. Some states established land banks, which lent a kind of paper money to the farmers that they could use to pay their taxes. Other states passed “stay laws” that postponed the collection of mortgages and other debts. Rhode Island, one of the most radically democratic of the states, passed a law that if a creditor refused to take state paper money in repayment of debts, then his debtors could deposit the money at a local court and the law would consider the debt paid. But creditors did not want paper money; they decided it was worthless, as it was not backed by “specie” — gold or silver. Many Rhode Island merchants, therefore, closed shop, or moved to New York or the West Indies.

File:Continental $50 note 1778.jpg
Colonial Currency
Things were different in Massachusetts. Unlike the democratic Rhode Island legislature, in the Massachusetts Great and General Court (the state legislature) any relief measure passed by the lower house was defeated by the senate, representing the wealthier coastal counties instead of the poorer western counties. The strongly conservative Massachusetts government refused to issue paper money and insisted that all debts be paid in specie. Specie was hard to come by and so it took longer for a farmer to earn the money to pay his debts – and his taxes, for that matter, which weighed more heavily on the poor than on the rich. The poor economy compelled merchants to demand payment of debts from shopkeepers, who sought payment from farmers; and since farmers could not pay in specie, they lost their farms, cattle, furniture, and even their freedom to their creditors. In one year alone, 1785, 92 men were imprisoned for debt in Massachusetts.

File:Governor Samuel Adams.jpg
Samuel Adams
The situation became yet more dire when the Massachusetts Great and General Court placed a tax on paper and vellum used for books, deeds, and newspapers. Legal documents also had to be printed on sheets stamped by the commissioner of taxes — a stamp tax! Farmers first responded by requesting relief from the legislature; and when that didn’t work, they formed county conventions to state their grievances. They even established committees of correspondence. The irony of the situation was lost on Sam Adams — now a respectable member of the state legislature — who threatened to hang anyone who did the very things he had done against the British government only ten years previous.

In the fall of 1786, groups of farmers in the four western counties and Middlesex County prevented courts from sitting. They hoped they could thus could keep the courts from trying any more farmers for debt until the coming of the spring elections that could change the membership of the legislature. In response, Governor James Bowdoin issued a proclamation forbidding unlawful assemblies and ordered out the state militia to disperse the farmers. Meanwhile, Daniel Shays, a poor farmer who had served as a captain of the Massachusetts line regiment during the Revolutionary War, became the leader of the rebellious farmers. Ignoring the governor’s proclamation, Shays, along with Luke Day and Eli Parsons, led his farmer regiments in a march on Springfield to prevent the sitting of the state supreme court and seize the federal arsenal there.

Illustration of Daniel Shays (left) and Job Shattuck
 When Governor Bowdoin learned of Shays’ movements, he ordered General William Shepard (who had fought alongside Shays at Bunker Hill) to garrison Springfield. On January 25, 1787, Shays’ men marched on Springfield and attacked Shepard’s force, which had taken its position on a small rise. Shepard had ordered his men to fire over the heads of the farmers, to frighten them; but when the farmers continued their advance, Shepard ordered his men to shoot to kill. After the first volley of militia muskets and artillery, Shays’ men broke and fled. Retreating through the snow and bitter cold of a New England winter, they did not form again until they reached Petersham, about 45 miles west of Springfield.

General William Shepard
State militia under General Benjamin Lincoln pursued Shays’ forces to Petersham where, on February 4, they routed the farmers and took many prisoners. Fourteen of the leaders of the rebellion were sentenced to death (they were eventually pardoned). Shays himself escaped to Vermont, while Eli Parsons fled to New York, where he raised another force. In late February, Parsons led his new force into Massachusetts, where he was joined by more recruits. Seizing supplies at Stockbridge, Parsons’ men moved against Springfield, where they confronted a larger force of state militia and fled, leaving two dead and thirty wounded. By March 1787, state militia had crushed the rebellion.
 
Shays’ Rebellion failed. Yet, it may have inspired changes in Massachusetts. An election in the spring brought a new legislature and governor to power. The new legislature passed laws granting relief to the burdened tillers of the soil. The year 1787, too, ushered in a period of prosperity, and farmers became less discontent.

Still, Shays’ Rebellion was troubling to many in America, confirming their conviction that the current form of the national government was insufficiently powerful to keep the peace. Though the Massachusetts militia had proved quite capable of handling the rebellion, some pointed out that the federal government had been powerless to help. Leaders throughout America were deeply worried about the future of the American union. Only Thomas Jefferson, then ambassador to France, was unruffled. “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” he wrote from Paris. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Music from 18th Century America
 

American Harpsichord Music in the XVIII Century / 
The complete album / Olivier Baumont