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THE NAVIGATION OF THE MISSISSIPPI; SEPARATIST MOVEMENTS AND SPANISH INTRIGUES,
Twas important for the frontiersmen to take
the Lake Posts from the British; but it was even more important to wrest from the Spaniards the free navigation of the Mississippi. While the Lake Posts were held by the garrisons of a foreign power, the work of settling the Northwestern territory was bound to go forward slowly and painfully; but while the navigation of the Mississippi was barred, even the settlements already founded could not attain to their proper prosperity and importance.
The lusty young commonwealths which were springing into life on the Ohio and its tributaries knew that commerce with the outside world was essential to their full and proper growth. The high, forest-clad ranges of the Appalachians restricted and hampered their mercantile relations with the older States, and therefore with the Europe which lay beyond; while the giant river offered itself as a huge trade artery to bring them close to all the outer world, if only they were allowed its free use.
Navigable rivers are of great importance to a country's trade now; but a hundred years ago their
importance was relatively far greater. Steam, railroads, electricity, have worked a revolution so stupendous, that we find it difficult to realize the facts of the life which our forefathers lived. The conditions of commerce have changed much more in the last hundred years than in the preceding two thousand. The Kentuckians and Tennesseans knew only the pack train, the wagon train, the river craft and the deep-sea ship; that is, they knew only such means of carrying on commerce as were known to Greek and Carthaginian, Roman and Persian, and the nations of mediæval Europe. Beasts of draught and of burden, and oars and sails,—these, and these only,—were at the service of their merchants, as they had been at the service of all merchants from time immemorial. Where trade was thus limited the advantages conferred by water carriage, compared to land carriage, were incalculable. The Westerners were right in regarding as indispensable the free navigation of the Mississippi. They were right also in their determination ultimately to acquire the control of the whole river, from the source to the mouth.
However, the Westerners wished more than the privilege of sending down stream the products of their woods and pastures and tilled farms. They had already begun to cast longing eyes on the fair Spanish possessions. Spain was still the greatest of colonial powers.
In wealth, in extent, and in population both native and European—her colonies surpassed even those of England; and by far the
most important of her possessions were in the New World. For two centuries her European rivals, English, French, and Dutch, had warred against her in America, with the net result of taking from her a few islands in the West Indies. On the American mainland her possessions were even larger than they had been in the age of the great Conquisadores; the age
of Cortes, Pizarro, De Soto, and Coronado. Yet it was evident that her grasp had grown feeble. Every bold, lawless, ambitious leader among the frontier folk dreamed of wresting from the Spaniard some portion of his rich and ill-guarded domain.
It was not alone the attitude of the frontiersmen toward Spain that was novel, and based upon a situation for which there was little precedent. Their relations with one another, with their brethren of the seaboard, and with the Federal Government likewise had to be adjusted without much chance of profiting by antecedent experience. Many phases of these relations between the people who stayed at home and those who wandered off to make homes, between the frontiersmen as they formed young States and the central government representing the old States, were entirely new, and were ill-understood by both parties. Truths which all citizens have now grown to accept as axiomatic were then seen clearly only by the very greatest men, and by most others were seen dimly, if at all. What is now regarded as inevitable and proper was then held as something abnormal, unnatural, and greatly to be
dreaded. The men engaged in building new commonwealths did not, as yet, understand that they owed the Union as much as did the dwellers in the old States. They were apt to let liberty become mere anarchy and license, to talk extravagantly about their rights while ignoring their duties, and to rail at the weakness of the Central Government while at the same time opposing with foolish violence every effort to make it stronger. On the other hand, the people of the long-settled country found difficulty in heartily accepting the idea that the new communities, as they sprang up in the forest, were entitled to stand exactly on a level with the old, not only as regards their own rights, but as regards the right to shape the destiny of the Union itself.
The Union was as yet imperfect. The jangling colonies had been welded together, after a fashion, in the slow fire of the Revolutionary War; but the old lines of cleavage were still distinctly marked. The great struggle had been of incalculable benefit to all Americans. Under its stress they had begun to develop a national type of thought and character. Americans now held in common memories which they shared with no one else; for they held ever in mind the facts of a dozen crowded years. Theirs was the history of all that had been done by the Continental Congress and the Continental armies; theirs the memory of the toil and the suffering and the splendid ultimate triumph. They cherished in common the winged words of their statesmen, the
edged deeds of their soldiers; they yielded to the spell of mighty names which sounded alien to all men save themselves. But though the successful struggle had laid deep the foundations of a new nation, it had also of necessity stirred and developed many of the traits most hostile to assured national life. All civil wars loosen the bands of orderly liberty, and leave in their train disorder and evil. Hence those who cause them must rightly be held guilty of the gravest wrongdoing unless they are not only pure of purpose, but sound of judgment, and unless the result shows their wisdom. The Revolution had left behind it among many men love of liberty, mingled with lofty national feeling and broad patriotism; but to other men it seemed that the chief lessons taught had been successful resistance to authority, jealousy of the central Government, and intolerance of all restraint. According as one or the other of these mutually hostile sets of sentiments prevailed, the acts of the Revolutionary leaders were to stand justified or condemned in the light of the coming years. As yet the success had only been in tearing down; there remained the harder and all-important task of building up.
This task of building up was accomplished, and the acts of the men of the Revolution were thus justified. It was the after result of the Revolution, not the Revolution itself, which gave to the governmental experiment inaugurated by the Second Continental Congress its unique and lasting value. It was this result which marks most clearly the differ