Equality and the Seneca Falls Convention

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…”

At different times in US history, different groups have emphasized shortcomings of the
Constitution as it relates to human equality. In a New York town in 1848, men and
women met to discuss the legal limitations that American women faced. This was the
Seneca Falls Convention, the first formal women’s rights convention held in the United
States. The event was advertised as a “convention to discuss the social, civil, and
religious condition and rights of women”.

The convention was designed to be small (so as to not disturb nearby farmers), but about
three hundred people gathered from the immediate area. The conference featured
prominent personalities of the time, including abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
Lucretia Mott, and Frederick Douglass.

People attending the convention were inspired in part by women’s participation in the
anti-slavery movement. Women had worked tirelessly for slaves’ rights, but had not
advocated for themselves as women. This became especially clear at the 1840 World
Anti-Slavery Convention — female delegates were banned from participating in the
debates. How, wondered delegate Lucretia Mott, could this honestly be called a “World”
convention?

Although the Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London, the limiting gender culture
was not much different in the United States. For example, women virtually lost their legal
identities once they married, and they were not permitted to vote for lawmakers.
Education was also restricted, with boys having much wider educational opportunities.

Following the 1840 convention, Mott and Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments.
This document intentionally mirrored the historic Declaration of Independence; it
basically rephrased the document to guarantee rights to American women as well as men.
The Declaration of Sentiments proclaimed that “all men and women were created equal”.
It went on to list eighteen “injuries and usurpations” that men had leveled against female
citizens. This was the same number of charges that male colonists had leveled against the
King of England. These addressed many spheres of a woman’s life. For example:

* “He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.”

* “He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education – all colleges
being closed against her.”

* “He allows her in church, as well as State, but a subordinate position…”

Individual women, including Abigail Adams, had earlier urged statesmen to address
questions about women, equality, and the Constitution. However, people had not yet
formally organized around the cause. Those who signed the Declaration of Sentiments
pledged their efforts toward righting legal imbalances with a constitutional amendment.

The US public was caught off guard by these bold statements. An Oneida Whig journalist
described the document as “the most shocking and unnatural event ever recorded in the
history of womanity”. In contrast, Frederick Douglass, editor of the North Star,
described the document as “the grand basis for attaining the civil, social, political, and
religious rights of women”.

Seneca Falls became a catalyst for cultural change. Other women’s rights conventions
followed shortly thereafter and women as a group started to make political gains. For
example, that same year, a woman named Ernestine Rose was instrumental in the passing
the Married Women’s Property Act, which allowed married women to maintain property
in their own name. Other states then enacted similar laws. The next year, Elizabeth Cady
Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association to
focus on voting rights. When Wyoming was settled, women there won the vote in 1869,
decades before women’s suffrage would be achieved nationwide.

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Deep Throat and his Legacy

In the pre-dawn hours of June 17, 1972, a security guard called police officers to the
Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. He had discovered a taped-open door. Once inside,
the officers found and arrested five males in a highly unusual burglary.

The burglary was unusual not only because it was inside the offices of the Democratic
National Committee, but also because the men had uncommon burgling gear. In addition
to standard lock-picks, they held: $2300 in hundred-dollar bills; a walkie-talkie; a police
radio scanner; cameras with 40 rolls of film; and sophisticated covert recording devices.
Evidently, they intended to eavesdrop on the Democratic organizers.

Furthermore, the men seemed to have ties to the White House. At least one had been a
Central Intelligence Agency employee, and two carried notebooks with a telephone
number accompanied by the inscriptions “W. House” and “W.H.”

The Watergate Hotel scandal immediately attracted media attention. Washington Post
reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein covered the story for two years. Their
investigative reporting contributed to implicating Nixon and his associates of crimes far
beyond burglarizing the DNC. It became evident that Nixon’s staff had also: authorized
campaign fraud; ordered political espionage and sabotage; created improper tax audits;
conducted large-scale illegal wiretapping; and maintained secret funds (laundered in
Mexico!) to pay off the men involved in break-ins.

But how did these young reporters, just embarking on their careers, gain access to top-
secret Nixon-incriminating information? Woodward and Bernstein claimed that their
journalistic advantage came from a single anonymous informant, whom their editor
dubbed “Deep Throat”. But they vowed to not reveal their informant’s identity until he
consented or passed away.

Thus, for thirty years Americans pondered the mystery of Deep Throat. Hundreds of
theories were put forth, and several were widely considered credible. One leading
candidate was Nixon’s White House Associate Counsel Fred Fielding, who had obvious
close connections to the uncovered information. He also seemed to be as high-level as
Deep Throat; each obtained information before the FBI was privy. Another candidate was
Diane Sawyer. She’d been hired by Nixon’s press secretary, and one Nixon supporter
made an odd deathbed “confession” revealing Sawyer as the informant. George H. W.
Bush, Henry Kissinger, and Pat Buchanan also made the list. And although the journalists
claimed to have had a single source, some speculators suggested that Deep Throat was
really a composite of multiple informants.

At last, on May 31, 2005, Deep Throat publicly revealed his identity. Vanity Fair
magazine revealed online that former Deputy Director of the FBI William Mark Felt, Sr.,
91 years old, was the secret Watergate whistleblower. Later that day, Woodward and
Bernstein’s former managing editor confirmed the claim.
A few days later, the Washington Post ran an article by Bob Woodward. Therein he
described his pre-Watergate relationship with W. Mark Felt. Apparently, the two first met
by chance in a White House waiting room, and Woodward kept Felt’s business card.
Woodward consulted with Felt even before the Watergate scandal.

Felt was instrumental in the Watergate scandal being understood. His information leaks
exposed many misdeeds of Richard Nixon and members of his administration, ultimately
bringing the first US presidential resignation. Administration members receiving prison
terms included G. Gordon Liddy, who masterminded the first Watergate break-in; White
House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman; chief counsel Charles Colson; and advisers John
Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh.

Felt’s leaking of information also changed the face of national politics. The Senate and
House had elections shortly after the Watergate scandal was publicized. Voters were now
thoroughly disillusioned with Nixon’s party, and they elected Democrats in large
numbers. The Democrats gained five seats in the Senate and a significant forty-nine in
the House of Representatives.

As of 2007, Felt was residing in Santa Rosa, California.

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Chinese Immigrants and the Iron Road

On a bright May day in 1869, railroad workers, businessmen, and government officials
gathered in Utah for an historic event. Soon the ceremonial driving of a solid gold
railroad spike would complete a six-year effort at building a railroad across America. Of
course, the pricy $350 spike was quickly replaced for safekeeping. Still, it represented the
bridging of 3,500 miles of railroad, and thus also symbolized an enormous amount of
human labor. Much of this labor was Chinese.
Americans had contemplated constructing a transcontinental railroad since the 1830s.
Without an “iron road”, overland travel from the eastern states to the California Territory
entailed four to six months of hardship. A railroad would facilitate westward expansion
and help realize America’s “manifest destiny”.
In 1862, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act. This granted a charter to two
railroad companies, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, for the building of a railway
and telegraph line. The companies would work from opposite directions: the Union
Pacific would start construction in Omaha, and the Central Pacific would start in
Sacramento. The separate projects would eventually meet and become linked.
The companies broke ground in 1863, but their projects didn’t gain full speed after the
Civil War ended. In 1866 the Union Pacific increased its labor force with mostly Irish
immigrants. The Central Pacific hired more than 25,000 Chinese immigrants to move
through the Sierra Nevadas.
Chinese people had ventured to North America as early as 450 A.D. Still, few Chinese
resided in North America until the California Gold Rush was publicized. When news of
golden soil reached the Chinese mainland, peasants recognized an opportunity to escape
poverty. Some men were so destitute that they had sold their children. Earning a few
hundred American dollars would allow their families a life of luxury. So, thousands of
men boarded tightly packed ships for passage to “the Golden Mountain” of California.
The Chinese workers were especially valuable to the Central Pacific Company. With
their goal of moving east from Sacramento, they needed an estimated 5,000 workers.
There weren’t enough Anglo-Americans available in California, and when men were
brought from the eastern states, they tended to take off for adventure! The Central Pacific
hired as many Chinese immigrants as they could, and then sent agents to Hong Kong for
additional recruits. By the time the rails were joined in Utah, about 90% of the Central
Pacific workers were Chinese.
The Chinese immigrants, despite being crucial laborers, were not treated as well as white
laborers. White men were paid $35 each month and also received a tent, food, and
supplies. The Chinese were usually paid less and did not have the “benefits” of company-
provided food, shelter, or supplies.
The Central Pacific workers risked their lives every day when scraping through the Sierra
Nevada Mountains. Sometimes they wove man-sized baskets to suspend themselves over
cliffs, 2,000 feet above ground. They used dynamite and nitroglycerine, which sometimes
exploded prematurely. For many months, some lived entirely beneath the mountain snow,
creating labyrinths from home to work and living by lantern light. Entire camps of men
were lost to avalanches.
Once the men reached the desert, they faced another set of hazards. There they could lay
rails more quickly, but the temperature reached 120 degrees! Alkali dust made most bleed
from the lungs.
By January of 1869, the work was nearly complete. The federal government calculated
where the two railroads should meet, ultimately deciding upon Promontory Summit.
Eight Chinese men placed the final section of rail on May 10, 1869. Just five days later,
passenger train service began. The overland trip from Omaha to Sacramento would now
require only four days of travel!
Californians expected the railroad to bring prosperity. The most immediate effect,
however, was that California’s fledgling manufacturing industry was threatened by
cheaper items from the Eastern US. Californians were further irritated by the influx of
job-seeking immigrants who arrived via train. The ensuing economic depression was
blamed upon the Chinese immigrants who had constructed the iron road. California
passed numerous anti-Chinese laws. Fortunately for the Chinese American community,
however, the railroad employees had earned the immigrants a reputation for being good
workers. They were recruited to work elsewhere across the United States.
Every year in May since 1965, the celebration of completing the nation’s first
transcontinental railroad is re-enacted at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in
Brigham City, Utah.
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What Caused the Great Depression?

The Great Depression was a global phenomenon that significantly changed the course of
history. In America, people lost their life savings when banks collapsed. The severe
decline in US capital triggered economic troubles overseas. The resulting German
poverty ultimately contributed to the rise of Nazism and World War II! What sparked the
world-changing Great Depression?
Historians cite many contributing factors. Most agree that the downturn began with the
US stock market crash of 1929. Throughout the 1920s, rapid economic growth and
industrialization had been accompanied by easy lending. There was a vast amount of
unsecured consumer debt. But in October of 1929, the prosperity and optimistic
speculation of the “roaring twenties” suddenly collapsed. A Black Thursday on Wall
Street was followed by a Black Tuesday, and investors quickly lost $40 billion! Many
had invested their life savings and mortgaged their homes.
President Herbert Hoover failed to realize that his nation’s economy could collapse; he
believed he was witnessing a mere recession and said the market would naturally recover
within a couple of months. He refused to establish a federal unemployment program, and
he dismissed public construction projects as “progressive ideas” that wouldn’t improve
the economy. Hoover was a sort of “trickle-down” theorist who was inclined to support
businesses before unemployed individuals. He tried to protect American companies with
the Hawley-Smoot Tariff, but by reducing trade he only worsened the faltering American
and global economies.
When the American economy sputtered to a standstill, others suffered through
association. America had been an important trade partner for England, France, Germany,
Japan, Argentina, and Brazil. These countries suddenly saw sharp declines in demand for
their products. Also, all of the countries’ currencies were linked through their adherence
to the gold standard. Virtually every industrialized nation suffered wholesale price
declines of 30 percent or more at the start of the Depression.
The 1930s were particularly harsh for farmers in the United States. In the Great Plains,
the Depression was worsened from 1933 to 1939 by a severe drought and dust storms.
Unable to produce crops, farmers lost their farms and banks seized their homes. Farm
families were reduced to living in shantytowns, which Hoover’s critics called
Hoovervilles. These farmers and other destitute citizens turned to bartering for basic
goods in the absence of cash.
Farmers’ losses increased bank failures in rural areas, and urban bank failures had already
been escalating rapidly. When stock investors lost their capital, banks started to fail at ten
times the 1920s rate. Nine thousand banks failed during the 1930s. And when banks
failed, customers lost their savings! By the end of Hoover’s term in 1933, Americans had
$140 billion missing from their accounts. The bank failures limited new enterprise and
growth across the country. Banks started to limit how much money customers could
deposit, and loans became scarce. Hoover was not about to win a second term.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, he instituted a bank holiday. Banks
would rest for several days while Congress passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act to
stabilize the banking system. The new President told his nation, “The only thing we have
to fear is fear itself.”
Roosevelt tried to end the Great Depression by creating dozens of government agencies
to support the people. Unemployment fell by two-thirds during his first presidential term.
If it weren’t for his programs, surely many more people would have died from starvation
and lack of shelter. Still, daily life remained precarious for most Americans until the
depression ended six years later with America’s involvement in World War II.
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John O’Sullivan and America’s Manifest Destiny

When leaders wish to conquer foreign lands, they invariably put forth a list of
justifications. In America in the 1840s, politicians and others invoked the phrase
“manifest destiny” to optimistically explain continual territorial expansion by the United
States. In modern terms, manifest destiny might be described as something that is
“obvious and certain”. In short, leaders in the 1840s were arguing that American
expansionism was quite natural and good, determined by fate.

The term seems to have been coined mid-decade by journalist John O’Sullivan. In an
essay entitled “Annexation”, O’Sullivan urged the US to annex Texas from Mexico. Not
only was this justified because of Texans’ own wishes, O’Sullivan contended, but also
because it was America’s “manifest destiny to overspread the continent”.
In a second and more widely-read column in New York Morning News, O’Sullivan
reiterated his phrase when advocating for the US claim to “the whole of Oregon”. This
time, he added the notion of a pro-expansion God:

And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to
overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which
Providence has given us for the development of the great
experiment of liberty and federated self-government
entrusted to us.

By invoking “Providence”, the journalist was suggesting that the highest moral authority
actually supported the US annexation of the Oregon Country; since the British were not
spreading democracy, their claims had lower moral status in the eyes of God.
Ironically, O’Sullivan did not condone the violence that his phrase eventually supported.
He had expected territorial expansion to be truly “natural”, coming about through
settlements and voluntary annexation by residents. After all, residents of Texas actively
sought to become the Union’s twenty-eighth state, and thousands of Americans had
already migrated to the Oregon Country via the Oregon Trail. What could be more
obvious and certain?

The actual process of expansionism entailed violence and suppression that a kindly god
would not condone. The idea of “Indian Removal” garnered a following. Native
Americans were removed from lands by force, and at the same time, some lands were
desired solely for African American slave labor. This was clear to Henry David Thoreau,
who asked:

How does it become a man to behave toward this American
government today? I answer that he cannot without
disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant
recognize that political organization as my government
which is the slave’s government also.

Ironically, O’Sullivan’s term was not popularized until seized upon by Whig opponents.
Whigs in particular contested what “Providence” would desire; the “mission” of the
United States, they maintained, was simply to behave as a virtuous (non-conquering)
example for the rest of the world.

In 1846, a Whig representative named Robert Winthrop ridiculed O’Sullivan’s concept
when speaking before Congress. Observing the notion’s self-interest and chauvinism, he
commented:

I suppose the right of a manifest destiny to spread will not
be admitted to exist in any nation except the universal
Yankee nation.

Despite this public criticism, the Polk Administration and other expansionists quickly
embraced the phrase. The era of US history encompassing the War of 1812 through the
Civil War is often called the Age of Manifest Destiny. During this time period the United
States were expanded to the Pacific Ocean, and borders began to look much as they do
today.

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