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The Louisiana Purchase: Liberty, Slavery, and the Incorporation of the Territory of Orleans  

Jennifer M. Spear

On December 20, 1803, residents of New Orleans gathered at the Place d’Armes in the city center to watch as the French flag was lowered and the flag of the United States was raised in its place. Toasts were made to the US president, the French First Consul, and the Spanish king (whose flag had been lowered in a similar ceremony just twenty days earlier), and the celebrations continued throughout the night. The following day, however, began the process of determining just what it meant now that Louisiana was a part of the United States, initiating the first great test for the United States of its ability to expand its borders, incorporating both territories and peoples. The treaty ratifying the transfer, signed in Paris the previous April 30th, promised that “the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States” where they would experience “the enjoyment of all these rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States.” These inhabitants included thousands of people of French and Spanish descent, several thousand slaves of African descent, and about fifteen hundred free people of at least partial African ancestry; most of these inhabitants spoke French or (far fewer) Spanish and practiced Catholicism. In addition, the territory was home to tens of thousands of indigenous peoples, many of whom still lived on traditional territories and under their own sovereignty. For a few inhabitants of what would become the Territory of Orleans and later the state of Louisiana, incorporation did lead to “the enjoyment of all these rights” and gave some small grain of truth to Thomas Jefferson’s hope that the trans-Mississippi region would undergird the United States as an “empire of liberty,” although even for Europeans of French and Spanish ancestry, the process was neither easy nor uncontested. For most, however, incorporation led to the expansion of the United States as an empire of slavery, one built upon the often violent dispossession of native peoples of their lands and the expropriated labor of enslaved peoples of African descent.

Article

The Huguenots in America  

Bertrand Van Ruymbeke

The Protestant Reformation took root in France in the middle of the 16th century under the distant leadership of Jean (John) Calvin who settled in Geneva in 1541. In the 1560s, France was devastated by a series of religious and civil wars. These wars ended in 1598 when Henry IV, a former Huguenot who converted to Catholicism to access the throne, signed the Edict of Nantes. This edict protected the Huguenots. In the 17th century, however, its provisions were abrogated one by one. Daily life for the Huguenots was more and more limited and many Huguenots, especially in Northern France, converted to Catholicism. After a decade or so of legal harassment, and at times military violence, Louis XIV, whose objective was to achieve a religious reunification of his kingdom, revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Huguenots could then either convert or resist. Resistance led to imprisonment and being sent to the galleys and, for women, to convents. At least 150,000—of a population of nearly 800,000—left France, forming what has been labeled by French historians as the Refuge. Huguenots fled first to neighboring countries, the Netherlands, the Swiss cantons, England, and some German states, and a few thousand of them farther away to Russia, Scandinavia, British North America, and the Dutch Cape colony in southern Africa. About 2,000 Huguenots settled in New York, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island in the mid-1680s and in 1700 in Virginia. They settled in port cities, Charleston, New York, and Boston, or founded rural communities (New Paltz and New Rochelle, New York, Orange Quarter and French Santee, South Carolina, and Manakintown, Virginia). The Huguenots originally attempted to live together and founded French Reformed churches. But with time they married English settlers, were naturalized, were elected to colonial assemblies and to political offices, and joined other churches, especially the Church of England. In South Carolina and New York, they acquired slaves, a sign of their economic prosperity. By the 1720s and 1730s most Huguenots were fully integrated into colonial societies while maintaining for a decade or so the use of the French language in the private sphere and keeping ties to their original French church. In the 18th century, a new wave of Huguenot refugees mixed with French- and German-speaking Swiss formed rural communities in South Carolina (Purrysburgh, New Bordeaux) under the leadership of a colonial entrepreneur or a pastor. These communities quickly disappeared as Huguenots gradually acquired land elsewhere or moved to Savannah and Charleston. In the 1880s, Huguenot Societies were formed to commemorate the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in England, Germany, New York, and South Carolina. The memory of the Huguenot diaspora was maintained by these genealogical, historical, and patriotic societies until professional historians started to study the Refuge a century later.

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The British Army in Colonial America  

John G. McCurdy

The British army was an important part of colonial America and contributed to the coming of the Revolution. Although the number of British soldiers in North America was meager in the 17th century, this changed with the creation of a standing army and expansion of the British Empire. The French and Indian War (1754–1763) brought thousands of regular troops to the colonies, and many remained in America after the war ended. Life as a redcoat reflected contemporary society and the soldiers had a tenuous relationship with Indigenous peoples. The army became a flashpoint between Britain and the colonies in the 1760s and, with the Boston Massacre, a cause for independence. During the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), British soldiers fought in numerous theaters, aided at times by Hessians and Loyalist militias. Despite victories at Charlestown, Long Island, and Philadelphia, the British army was defeated at Yorktown. Following the Revolution, the British army slowly evacuated the United States but remained in Canada and the Caribbean until the 20th century.

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Early American Foreign Relations, 1775–1815  

Lindsay M. Chervinsky

From 1775 to 1815, empire served as the most pressing foreign relationship problem for the United States. Would the new nation successfully break free from the British Empire? What would an American empire look like? How would it be treated by other empires? And could Americans hold their own against European superpowers? These questions dominated the United States’ first few decades of existence and shaped its interactions with American Indian, Haitian, Spanish, British, and French peoples. The US government—first the Continental Congress, then the Confederation Congress, and finally the federal administration under the new Constitution—grappled with five key issues. First, they sought international recognition of their independence and negotiated trade deals during the Revolutionary War to support the war effort. Second, they obtained access to the Mississippi River and Port of New Orleans from Spain and France to facilitate trade and western settlement. Third, they grappled with ongoing conflict with Indian nations over white settlement on Indian lands and demands from white communities for border security. Fourth, they defined and protected American neutrality, negotiated a trade policy that required European recognition of American independence, and denied recognition to Haiti. Lastly, they fought a quasi-war with France and real war with Great Britain in 1812.

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Origins of the Vietnam War  

Jessica M. Chapman

The origins of the Vietnam War can be traced to France’s colonization of Indochina in the late 1880s. The Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh, emerged as the dominant anti-colonial movement by the end of World War II, though Viet Minh leaders encountered difficulties as they tried to consolidate their power on the eve of the First Indochina War against France. While that war was, initially, a war of decolonization, it became a central battleground of the Cold War by 1950. The lines of future conflict were drawn that year when the Peoples Republic of China and the Soviet Union recognized and provided aid to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi, followed almost immediately by Washington’s recognition of the State of Vietnam in Saigon. From that point on, American involvement in Vietnam was most often explained in terms of the Domino Theory, articulated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the eve of the Geneva Conference of 1954. The Franco-Viet Minh ceasefire reached at Geneva divided Vietnam in two at the 17th parallel, with countrywide reunification elections slated for the summer of 1956. However, the United States and its client, Ngo Dinh Diem, refused to participate in talks preparatory to those elections, preferring instead to build South Vietnam as a non-communist bastion. While the Vietnamese communist party, known as the Vietnam Worker’s Party in Hanoi, initially hoped to reunify the country by peaceful means, it reached the conclusion by 1959 that violent revolution would be necessary to bring down the “American imperialists and their lackeys.” In 1960, the party formed the National Liberation Front for Vietnam and, following Diem’s assassination in 1963, passed a resolution to wage all-out war in the south in an effort to claim victory before the United States committed combat troops. After President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, he responded to deteriorating conditions in South Vietnam by militarizing the American commitment, though he stopped short of introducing dedicated ground troops. After Diem and Kennedy were assassinated in quick succession in November 1963, Lyndon Baines Johnson took office determined to avoid defeat in Vietnam, but hoping to prevent the issue from interfering with his domestic political agenda. As the situation in South Vietnam became more dire, LBJ found himself unable to maintain the middle-of-the-road approach that Kennedy had pursued. Forced to choose between escalation and withdrawal, he chose the former in March 1965 by launching a sustained campaign of aerial bombardment, coupled with the introduction of the first officially designated U.S. combat forces to Vietnam.

Article

John Quincy Adams: Architect of American Empire  

Randall Woods

John Quincy Adams was one of the most significant statesmen-intellectuals of the Early American Republic. Highly intelligent, well-traveled, and massively educated, Adams was a Christian nationalist who believed that the American Republic was destined to be a shining example of democracy and liberty to the rest of the world. He was profoundly influenced by his parents, John and Abigail, and embraced his father’s political philosophy which was rooted in a written constitution and a strong three branch government constrained by checks and balances. Adams served as US minister to several European nations before becoming secretary of state in 1817 and then the sixth president of the United States in 1824. He began life as a Federalist but strongly supported the foreign policies of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The three pillars of his foreign policy were neutrality toward Europe, continental expansion, and hemispheric hegemony. Adams chaired the US delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 and was the driving force behind the Convention of 1818 and the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819. Adams partnered with President James Monroe in formulating the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which canonized the principles of the two hemispheres including European non-colonization in the Western hemisphere and US non-interference in European affairs. Domestically, Adams was a relentless exponent of the American System in which the federal government would fund a system of internal improvements—turnpikes, canals, ports—that would create a national market and bind the various regions together by means of a national economy. In this, he was disappointed in part because he had the misfortune to be president when Jacksonian democracy was taking hold in America and distrust of the federal power was growing. Defeated for re-election by Andrew Jackson in 1828, Adams briefly retired from public life but then accepted election to the House of Representatives in 1830 where he served until his death in 1846. In the House, he proved to be an avid opponent of the further extension of slavery into the territories, and ironically, of further continental expansion. He became convinced that a civil war was inevitable but held abolitionists at arm’s length because of their rejection of the Constitution as a means to achieve racial justice in America. Adams died with a deep sense of failure, believing that his earlier career as an expansionist had produced not an empire of liberty but an empire of slavery.

Article

France-US Relations  

Kathryn C. Statler

U.S.-French relations are long-standing, complex, and primarily cooperative in nature. Various crises have punctuated long periods of stability in the alliance, but after each conflict the Franco-American friendship emerged stronger than ever. Official U.S.-French relations began during the early stages of the American Revolution, when Louis XVI’s regime came to America’s aid by providing money, arms, and military advisers. French assistance, best symbolized by the Marquis de Lafayette, was essential in the revolution’s success. The subsequent French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power also benefitted the United States when Napoleon’s woes in Europe and the Caribbean forced him to sell the entire Louisiana territory to the United States, in 1803. Franco-American economic and cultural contacts increased throughout the 19th century, as trade between the two countries prospered and as Americans flocked to France to study art, architecture, music, and medicine. The French gift of the Statue of Liberty in the late 19th century solidified Franco-American bonds, which became even more secure during World War I. Indeed, during the war, the United States provided France with trade, loans, military assistance, and millions of soldiers, viewing such aid as repayment for French help during the American Revolution. World War II once again saw the United States fighting in France to liberate the country from Nazi control. The Cold War complicated the Franco-American relationship in new ways as American power waxed and French power waned. Washington and Paris clashed over military conflict in Vietnam, the Suez Crisis, and European security (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO, in particular) during the 1950s and 1960s. Ultimately, after French President Charles de Gaulle’s retirement, the Franco-American alliance stabilized by the mid-1970s and has flourished ever since, despite brief moments of crisis, such as the 2003 Second Gulf War in Iraq.