United States History



John C. CalhounVice-president of the U.S. under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. A native of South Carolina, he was originally a supporter of the American System, a plan to use the federal government to increase business. He later became a big supporter of states' rights. He served in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. As a Representative, he was a War Hawk, demanding war with Great Britain. (He got his wish when the War of 1812 began.) As vice-president, he wrote a document that became the basis for the argument for Nullification (going against the wishes of President Andrew Jackson). This split convinced Calhoun that he was better served in the Senate. He spoke out for slavery and states' rights time and again on the Senate floor. He was Secretary of State under President John Tyler and secured the annexation of Texas. He also opposed the Compromise of 1850 as a blow to states' rights.
California TrailWagon trail west from Missouri to California. The main use of the California Trail was for gold-seekers to travel to northern California, seeking fortunes. More than 200,000 of these people traveled the 5,550-mile-long California Trail, which passed through the present-day states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and California.
Battle of CamdenBritish victory at Camden, South Carolina, on August 16, 1780. British forces under Lord Cornwallis routed American troops under General Horatio Gates. Gates himself fled the field and never commanded another army. This victory was important because it solidified Britain's hold on South Carolina, a move made to try to split the American colonies in half, North and South. Britain kept a tight hold on South Carolina until the historic Battle of Cowpens the following January.
Charles CornwallisBritish general who won more battles than he lost but surrendered at Yorktown, ending the war. As second-in-command to General Henry Clinton, he was on the winning side at Brooklyn, Brandywine, Monmouth, and Charleston. After that, he was placed in command of the southern British forces. His big success was the smashing victory at Camden, although he did technically win at Guilford Courthouse. But he was beaten at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, and at Yorktown.
ChancellorsvilleDisaster for the Union army, despite outnumbering the South 2-1. Fresh from the defeat at Fredericksburg, mere miles to the southeast, the Union army, with "Fighting Joe" Hooker in charge, acted swiftly and then hesitated. Into the breach came Robert E. Lee, splitting his vastly numerically inferior force into three even smaller parts. With Hooker pinned down defending the town of Chancellorsville instead of the high ground town (his original destination), Lee and Stonewall Jackson and Jeb Stuart hammered the Union army into submission and retreat. But the cost was high for the South: Stonewall Jackson was shot by his own men and died eight days after Lee's greatest success.
Battle of CharlestonBritish victory in the first few months of 1780 that gave Britain control of much of the Southern colonies. Charleston was an important port and strategic center for the Southern Continental Army, nearly all of which surrendered at Charleston. Under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln, the Americans held out as long as they could, then surrendered to the British, commanded by General Henry Clinton.
Salmon ChaseLincoln's Secretary of the Treasury. Trained as a lawyer, he defended many runaway slaves and was himself a leader of the antislavery movement. He began his political career as a Senator from Ohio and later served as governor of his home state. He was a founder of the Republican Party and sought its presidential nomination several times. He so wanted to be president that he attempted to secure the Democratic nomination in 1872. As Lincoln's main money man, he kept the national finances afloat through adept money-raising and balancing the needs of the nation (and the war) against the needs of the nation's creditors. Chase's main method of money-raising was war bonds, of which more than $2 billion worth were during the Civil War. He also issued "greenbacks," paper money unsecured by gold backing. He also pushed through the National Bank Act of 1863, which gave the country its first national currency. He was an outspoken critic of General George McClellan, preferring Joseph Hooker. He served as Chief Justice of the United States from 1864 to 1873, replacing Roger Taney.
ChattanoogaTennessee city abandoned by Confederate General Braxton Bragg and occupied by Union General William S. Rosencrans before the Battle of Chickamauga. Reinforced by General Ulysses S. Grant, the Union army overwhelmed Bragg and his Confederates. The Confederates had ringed the city with batteries and troops, strategic positions including Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain. Here, though, the Union army did something it could not do at Fredericksburg: seize the high ground. At Missionary Ridge, troops under General H. Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga," seized the Confederate gun pits at the base of the hill. Then, without orders from either Thomas or Grant, they stormed up the ridge and routed the Rebels from their perch. Chattanooga would stay Union-occupied, and Northern troops could move northeast or southwest along the Tennessee River to cut the eastern part of the Confederacy in two.
Battle of Chickamauga With the Confederacy split in two by the surrender of Vicksburg, the Union still found a way to lose battles and lives. General William S. Rosencrans, who had hammered General Braxton Bragg at Murfreesboro, took the city of Chattanooga and then attempted to follow Bragg's retreating army southward into Georgia. Having received reinforcements, Bragg suddenly turned on Rosencrans and crushed the life out of him, forcing a Union retreat to Chattanooga. The only bright spot in this debacle for the Union was the brilliance of General George H. Thomas, who earned the nickname "The Rock of Chickamauga." Only Thomas's left flank did not give way before the Confederate assault. Thomas gained further fame as the commander who took Missionary Ridge, in the famous "battle above the clouds."
Chisholm TrailMajor route for cattle ranchers to drive their cattle from Texas to Kansas railroads. The Chisholm Trail began in San Antonio and ended in Abilene, Kansas. The trail was named for Jesse Chisholm, a Native American trader who traveled the route in a wagon in the mid-19th century. At its height, the Chisholm Trail carried 600,000 cattle in one year (1871)."
Henry ClayStatesman who became known as "The Great Compromiser" for his ability to get people to compromise. He made a name for himself in the House of Representatives, as one of the first members of the new Whig Party. He was known as a "War Hawk," someone who wanted war with Great Britain. He welcomed the war but also welcomed the peace, helping negotiate the treaty that ended that war. He was the author of the Missouri Compromise, which attempted the solve the Slavery Crisis. He served as Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams and himself ran unsuccessfully for president three times.
Henry ClintonCommander of the British forces in America after the resignation of General William Howe. Clinton saw action in the North and South. He fought at the Battle of Brooklyn and was the victorious general at the British victory at Charleston. He was a part of the planned three-pronged attack on Saratoga that ended in an American victory. He was in charge of the men that lost the Battle of Monmouth. In fact, the Charleston victory turned out to be the high point for Clinton. He was relieved of his command in 1780 after several losses in the South and blamed for the loss of the colonies.
Battle of Cold HarborGrant's last full frontal assault against Lee's lines. Losses were extremely heavy (6,000 Federals in one hour), as Confederates were dug in and only too happy to fire away at conveniently charging targets. Grant sidestepped again and headed for Petersburg.
Compromise of 1850Another stopgap measure along the lines of the Missouri Compromise. This one abolished the slave trade in the District of Columbia but bound Congress to create became the Fugitive Slave Law. The Compromise of 1850 also admitted California as a free state and separately organized the territories of Utah and New Mexico without restrictions on slavery.
Comstock LodeHuge silver-mining area near Virginia City, Nevada, that yielded about $300 million in silver and gold ore. The lode was named for Henry Comstock, an investor who, ironically, sold out early and made only a small amount of money. The discovery of the Comstock Lode made people want to go west all over again (after the initial Gold Rush of the 1850s).
Confederate StatesThe 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union before or during the Civil War: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens were elected president and vice-president, respectively. The first capital was Montgomery, Ala.; the capital moved to Richmond, Va., in May, 1861.
ConstitutionDocument detailing our form of government. Ratified by a majority of states and declared in effect in 1787. Form of government outlined largely resembles the Virginia Plan, an idea of James Madison's that focused on a strong central government. Madison also insisted on a Bill of Rights, which became the First Ten Amendments.
Constitutional ConventionConvention called in 1787 to discuss problems with the current government document, the Articles of Confederation. The result was a new form of government, the Constitution. Delegates from all over the colonies attended, and they struggled with competing concerns of large-population states and small-population states. George Washington presided over the Convention, and James Madison took detailed notes. Once the Constitution was approved at the Convention, it still had to be ratified by a certain number of states.
Constitutional Union PartyPolitical party formed in 1859 by members of the defunct Know-Nothing and Whig parties. Its only presidential candidate, John Bell, lost to Abraham Lincoln in 1860, although Bell won more.
Continental CongressTwo groups of people from all over the 13 Colonies who came together to discuss liberty. The First Continental Congress was a group of 56 delegates from 12 colonies (all except Georgia) who met in Philadelphia in September of 1774. They came together to act together in response to the Intolerable Acts. They met in secret because they didn't want Great Britain to know that they were united. The Second Continental Congress met in 1775, when the Revolutionary war had started. Things were going badly, and the armed forces were disorganized. The Continental Congress created the Continental Army and named George Washington as commander-in-chief. The Congress continued through the summer. Out of the discussions came both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.
Peter CooperBuilder of the Tom Thumb, the first steam locomotive in the United States. He also introduced into the U.S. the Bessemer process for steelmaking, which helped make high-quality, low-cost steel. He also opened Cooper Union, a New York college that taught adults for free. He also invented what we call Jell-O, in 1845.
Cotton GinHugely important cotton-harvesting device invented by Eli Whitney in 1793. The cotton gin had spiked teeth on a revolving cylinder that pulled the cotton through small openings to separate the cotton seeds from the lint. At the same time, a brush removed the lint from the spikes. The invention of the cotton gin meant that people didn't have to separate cotton by hand anymore. It also meant that the cotton fiber made from the lint could be produced much faster than ever before. This made cotton into a huge cash crop.
Battle of CowpensDecisive American victory that turned the tide of the war in the South. American forces under the command of Nathanael Greene met British forces under the command of Lord Cornwallis near some cowpens in South Carolina on January 17, 1781. Outnumbered and ill-prepared, the Americans nonetheless won the day with a fierce bayonet charge that resulted in a mass surrender. This victory convinced Cornwallis to look northward, a decision that would ultimately lead him to Yorktown and final surrender.
Crittenden CompromiseIn 1860, Kentucky Senator John Crittenden submitted to Congress this proposal of six Constitutional Amendments. Proposals included denying Congress the right to abolish slavery and protecting the interstate slave trade. Largely because of Lincoln's opposition, the amendments were voted down.
Davy CrockettFrontiersman, Native American fighter, and member of Congress (from Tennessee) who is best known for his death defending the Alamo.
Cumberland GapNatural pass in the Cumberland section of the Allegheny mountains between Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and Middlesboro, Kentucky. The Wilderness Road, created by Daniel Boone and others, ran right through the Cumberland Gap.
George Armstrong CusterCavalry commander who served in the Army of the Potomac for most of the principal battles and later in the Shenandoah Valley brigade. Best known for the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.
Jefferson DavisMexican War soldier; U.S. Senator from Mississippi 1847-1851 and 1857-1861 and Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce (1853-1857); and President of the Confederate States of America. He took a large role in planning the military strategy of the Confederate troops (even directing from at the First Battle of Bull Run) but was hampered by the irony that the Southern states wanted a decentralized government based on states' rights even as they wanted to fight a modern war, which required a centralized command. He was captured soon after the Civil War ended and indicted by a grand jury but was never tried for treason and was eventually released.
Declaration of IndependenceDocument declaring the 13 American Colonies independent from Great Britain. Written by Thomas Jefferson and declared in effect by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Many prominent Americans signed it, including John Hancock, John Adams, and Samuel Adams. Great Britain's response was to continue the war.
Democratic-Republican PartyOne of the first two American political parties, together with the Federalist Party. Founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Those two and James Monroe were the only Democratic-Republican presidents. Party disbanded in the 1820s, splintering into two factions, the Democratic Party and the Whig Party. Members of the Democratic-Republican Party believed that a strong federal government would weaken and not respect the rights of the states and the people.
Democratic PartyOne of the political parties that emerged from the demise of the Democratic-Republican Party. Members of the Democratic Party adopted the belief that a strong federal government would weaken and not respect the rights of the states and the people. Andrew Jackson was the first Democratic president.
Alexis de TocquevilleFrench writer who became famous for writing Democracy in America, a study of life and government in 19th Century America. This book became enormously popular, both in American and in other countries.
Battle of DetroitNot really much of a battle. American troops under General William Hull crossed from Fort Detroit into Canada and demanded the surrender of the Canadian and British troops there. (Among these troops was the Shawnee leader Tecumseh). Even though Hull had a much larger force (2,500 to about 500), the Canadian-British-Native American forces refused to surrender. While Hull waited, they got a large number of reinforcements and seized some key spots, including Fort Mackinac. Hull retreated to his fort and waited some more. Eventually, the massing of Native Americans and British troops proved too much for Hull. Even though he still had his enemies outnumbered (although he thought they outnumbered him), Hull surrendered his forces and Fort Detroit without a shot's being fired. The surrender made a hero out of British General Isaac Brock and a villain out of American General William Hull, who was ordered to be executed but later pardoned by President James Madison.
Dorothea DixTeacher and Civil War nurse best known for her work with the mentally ill.
Stephen A. DouglasIllinois Senator (1847-1861), presidential candidate, and champion of Popular Sovereignty. A famous orator in his own right, he gained even more fame from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. In the election of 1860, he was the Democratic Party's nominee. The only problem was, the South started its own Democratic Party. Douglas gained almost as many popular votes as Lincoln, but they were in all the same states. Douglas had almost no support in the South, so he lost the electoral race badly. He is most famous (aside from the debates with Lincoln) for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which had its beginnings in his desire for a transcontinental railroad.
Frederick DouglassAfrican-American who was a leader in the antislavery movement. He protested against segregation policies by sitting in whites-only trains. He founded the North Star, an antislavery newspaper, in Rochester, N.Y. in 1847. His home was a station on the Underground Railroad. He helped recruit African-American soldiers for the Union army and conferred with President Lincoln on slavery many times.
Dred Scott DecisionSlave who forever changed the definition of property. He went with his master to Illinois and Minnesota and claimed that this made him a free man. The Missouri Supreme Court found otherwise. Scott, sued his new owner, John Sanford of New York, for damages, alleging physical abuse. A federal court ruled that Scott was a citizen. But the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. Chief Justice Roger Taney, in an 1857 plurality opinion, said that African-Americans could never become United States citizens and that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Further, the Court said, Congress could not constitutionally exclude slavery from the territories.
Jubal EarlyConfederate Major General and Mexican War veteran who served as a brigade and corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia for all of that army's major battles during the Civil War. In early 1864, with Lee pinned down in siege at Petersburg, Early made a mad dash up Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, heading for Washington, D.C. It was a desperate attempt to frighten the North, but Union General Philip Sheridan intercepted Early, kept him at bay for several skirmishes and a few battles, and finally routed him and seized control of the Valley for good in August.
Emancipation ProclamationLincoln issued the proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. It was a technical document, granting freedom to all slaves in all areas of the Confederacy still in rebellion. The proclamation did not pertain to slaves in the border states, but it did allow for the popular use of African-Americans in the Union Army and Navy. The proclamation also made the war a crusade against slavery, meaning that England and France, both morally opposed to slavery, could not in good conscience ally themselves with the Confederacy.
Embargo ActLaw passed by Congress and signed by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807. This law stopped all trade between America and any other country. The goal was to get Britain and France, who were fighting each other at the time, to stop restricting American trade. The Act backfired, and the American people suffered. The Act was ended in 1809.
Erie CanalOne of the longest of the great American canals built in the 19th Century. The Erie Canal extends from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, at Buffalo. The idea was to get goods back and forth from the Great Lakes to New York City (via the Hudson River, which connected with the Erie Canal). The Canal was built between 1817 and 1825 and had paid for itself within 10 years. The building of the Canal also helped settle Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states on the Great Lakes.
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David White