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John Wesley North and the Reform Frontier

John Wesley North and the Reform Frontier

Copyright Date: 1965
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    John Wesley North and the Reform Frontier
    Book Description:

    This biography is the absorbing and significant story of a frontier life in America in the nineteenth century. John Wesley North was a carpetbagger in the best sense of the word, and professor Stonehouse points out that no fallacy is more persistent in American history than the generalization that carpetbaggers were evil opportunists peculiar to the southward movement after the Civil War. North’s aims, ambitions, and ideas were typical of many carpetbaggers whose common aspiration was the evangelical humanism that flourished in all of the English-speaking world at that time except in the slave-holding South. Born in upstate New York in 1815, North migrated westward. For the rest of his life he pursued business and political interests with equal zest and championed many social causes. He went to Minnesota, Nevada, and California without enough money to live on, yet contributed significantly to their early history. He was a founder of Minneapolis, proprietor of Fairbault and Northfield, a founder of the University of Minnesota and of the Republican party in Minnesota, and a leader in the state’s constitutional convention. In Nevada he helped shape land policy and mining law and found its cities and was president of the 1863 constitutional convention. He helped develop Southern California, where he established Oleander and Riverside. These three states welcomed him as a penniless dreamer, and he added much to the development of each. But in Tennessee, where he arrived with a fortune, eager to help rebuild the war-torn state, his best efforts resulted only in recrimination and his financial ruin. Thus North’s life illustrates the sorry truth of General Sherman’s comment that the carpetbaggers built the West but were not permitted to build the South.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6461-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xv-2)
    (pp. 3-12)

    Among the oak groves below San Francisco, in 1888, an old man with a clear mind and firm hand sat down before a pile of foolscap to write “Random Sketches of a Crude Life,”¹ recalling seventy-three years of personal history. The task would have been a major undertaking for a much younger man, for he would have had to write the story of founding a half-dozen cities and two states and the reconstruction of a third; he would have had to trace a score of careers, all his own. He would have had to sketch most of the national heroes...

    (pp. 13-21)

    North was thirty when he opened his law office in Syracuse with Israel Spencer. Never a great lawyer, he was too impatient of the past to linger over precedents and too active in the present to accept the routine and confinement of office chores. But law opened to him two avenues of great interest, politics and speculation. In lieu of fees, he too often shared his client’s speculations, whether land or patent. Aside from some lots in Syracuse and an interest in a patent “regulator” for water control of the Erie Canal, he had little to show for his legal...

    (pp. 22-32)

    Mnnesota was an idea without borders. In the minds of some it was the triangle bounded by the St. Croix River and the Mississippi, a remnant of the Old Northwest. The Ordinance had limited the Northwest Territory to the formation of five states. Wisconsin was the fifth state, oriented toward the more populous region bordering Lake Michigan, with little interest in the western boundary. When the line was drawn at the St. Croix, the triangular remnant of the Wisconsin Territory continued to exist under that name, but was more popularly called Minnesota. Some residents conceived of a greater Minnesota extending...

    (pp. 33-42)

    During Minnesota winters friends were tended as jealously as the fire. One of the four schoolteachers sent to the Minnesota frontier by former Vermont governor William Slade’s Board of National Popular Education was Electa Backus. She planned a seminary for the projected city and promised Ann North that she might teach piano, understandable as long as Ann North had the only piano. Another friend was a young man with a good ear who tuned the piano in return for lessons. Still another friend was Abigail Marshall, the gay and overdressed mother of the local grocers. Her Kentucky charm was strange...

  8. MINNESOTA, 1850
    (pp. 43-53)

    Publicity for Minnesota was aided considerably by the showing five panoramas painted of the Mississippi in the 1840’s — gigantic pictures unrolled before audiences all over the nation.¹ The landscape painter Henry Lewis showed hisGreat National Work — Lewis’ Mammoth Panorama of the Mississippi(which the Norths had seen in Chicago on their way west) in Syracuse in 1850 while the North letters were appearing in Onondaga county papers. The high point of the program for many of the “capitalists” of Syracuse was the scene of St. Anthony Falls which was well-known locally as the “island home” of Mr. and Mrs....

  9. MINNESOTA, 1851
    (pp. 54-63)

    Early in 1851 North began to prosper in law, spending much of his time in St. Paul attending court and the legislature and leaving his office in St. Anthony to the care of Isaac Atwater. Close friends of the year before had drifted away, Rebecca Marshall to Catherine Beecher’s school at Quincy, her mother to St. Paul. Ann looked to Mrs. Atwater for companionship, but Mrs. Atwater regarded her only as a landlady, and Atwater’s loud talk drove Ann from her own sittingroom. With North spending so much time in St. Paul, nobody censored Ann’s letters home; they were full...

    (pp. 64-69)

    Young St. Anthony, on the eastern bluff of the Mississippi, was cradled at the falls like a huddle of spectators in an amphitheater, with all eyes of the upper and lower town looking westward to the huge empty stage of the trans-Mississippi where the great drama was now to begin between white and red men. But long before the actors entered, the people had watched the sun set over Sioux lands. In winter when ice bridged the river, they could climb onto the stage itself where later scene-shifting would create the city of Minneapolis. The early actors on this far...

  11. A HIGHWAY FOR OUR GOD, 1853–54
    (pp. 70-79)

    The year 1853 began like 1852 with excitement over temperance. Because the referendum on the Maine Law had been declared unconstitutional, pressure was now being brought on the legislature to enact a temperance law. North’s abolitionist friend Messer arrived to share the temperance and reform burden. He went about town with North, who carried the new baby to display the wonderful tooth, with no idea that the baby would one day be his daughter, too. Levi Nutting, a minister from Amherst, Massachusetts, seeking a site where his congregation of a hundred and twenty families could set up a colony, joined...

    (pp. 80-88)

    I have the pleasure of writing you on my fortieth birthday,” January 4,1855.

    That was how North began his first letter of the new year in which he would found two cities and the Republican party in Minnesota. The honor of establishing the national Republican party is claimed by Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and in all four places some of the founders were friends of John Wesley North. The party itself dates from 1854, but North did not organize his temperance and abolitionist friends in the Minnesota Territory until the end of March 1855. As first organized, the...

    (pp. 89-94)

    Keeping up her correspondence was impossible for Ann North during the week after arriving at the new home, because her ink froze. Her new dwelling was a house eighteen by thirty feet with a ten-bythirty lean-to. The house fronted west, with a fine view of the mill, the river, and the woods on its opposite bank. The walls were made of muslin tacked on the studs; roaring fires were needed to keep warm.

    It had taken a day and a half to come through from St. Anthony with a four-horse team drawing a sleigh covered like a prairie schooner with...

    (pp. 95-102)

    Congress passed the enabling act authorizing Minnesota Territory to organize as a state in February 1857. Governor Willis A. Gorman convened the legislature in special session three months later and his successor, Samuel Medary, addressed the legislators. Qualified voters were summoned to the polls on July 1 to elect delegates to a state constitutional convention which would meet in the capitol at St.Paul on Monday, July 13, 1857, the seventieth anniversary of the Northwest Ordinance.

    The political division in that year was still into fur and anti-fur parties, now organized as Moccasin Democrats and Sowbelly Republicans. Republicans constantly increased as...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  16. M. & C. V. RAILROAD
    (pp. 103-114)

    When Congress granted railroad lands to Minnesota, the legislature named commissioners for a line south to Iowa, among whom were Steele and Sibley. The shareholders demanded that the leading writer on railroads in the state, J. W. North, be added as director of this line, the Minneapolis and Cedar Valley Railroad. On Lincoln’s birthday in 1857, the shareholders met at Mendota, long the center of the fur trade, where the houses of Sibley and Faribault were surrounded by warehouses and docks running down to the edge of the river. Here gathered the stockholders to select the directors. They quickly elected...

    (pp. 115-132)

    Lincoln was accorded a ten-thousand-vote majority by Minnesota in 1860, a victory possible only because the Republicans had reversed the tide of politics in Minnesota in 1859. In 1859 they defeated the longentrenched Democratic party on the railroad issue, won six national offices, and achieved a two-thirds majority in the legislature, which assured their electing a Republican senator, possibly two, in the next year. Patronage passed to the Republicans.

    Early in the spring of 1859 the political leaders in the eastern states promised the Minnesota Republicans $5,500 for the campaign. Eastern Republican speakers promised to canvass the state. This concentration...

    (pp. 133-149)

    Bare maintenance of the nation was not what the Chicago platform committed Lincoln to, but rather the development of the West. “Upon the plainest grounds of good faith, one so elected is not at liberty to his position.”¹ These words were struck from the inaugural address, but not from the mind of Lincoln. Two days before his inauguration, Congress organized the Territory of Nevada, placing the keystone in the arch of the West between the amorphous Utah Territory and California.

    Nevada Territory looked all right on the map, but it was all wrong on the ground. Now out from under...

    (pp. 150-155)

    Judgeship of the First District was the temptation that, in the fall of 1862, the lawyers of Virginia City started placing before North. To a man, the Nevada bar said they wanted him. North was conscious of honor, but not unconscious of the salary — three thousand dollars. He had found that he could not live on a federal salary in Nevada, and as judge of the First District he would have no time to augment his income. With every mine in Nevada in litigation, his would be the busiest court in the United States.

    The lawyers would not let North...

    (pp. 156-163)

    On the first ballot, John Wesley North was elected president of the 1863 Nevada constitutional convention, an election that was “almost unanimous.” Nevada was seeking statehood under forced draft with Lincoln racing to get Nevada into the Union in time to ratify the amendment to the United States Constitution emancipating the slaves.

    North wrote, “We have some delicate questions to settle in our Constitution and as usual I assume my full share of responsibility.” As in Minnesota, now in Nevada, there was talk of North’s becoming governor of the state, chief justice, or senator. From his experience in the Minnesota...

    (pp. 164-177)

    Rejection of the constitution of 1863 at the polls was the result of Stewart’s propaganda in the paid press of Nevada. Next, Stewart planned to cast suspicion upon North as a corrupt judge. James H. Hardy, a notorious drunk, provided the story of alleged corruption. In one of his less responsible moments, Hardy claimed that when he was attorney for the Burning Moscow in suit against Ophir, Judge North had accepted a bribe in the form of a hundred feet of Burning Moscow. He allegedly told this story to Alexander W. Baldwin; Baldwin told it to Stewart, his law partner,...

    (pp. 178-192)

    Urging her to read the book, North wrote Ann from Washoe and quoted from James Robert Gilmore’sDown in Tennessee, which he was spending his evenings with:

    I long more and more to escape from a life of strife and conflict, and go where I can indulge my tastes inlabors of love. . . .

    I long to go down there, after the war is over, to help build up good society . . . to heal the wounds the war has inflicted.¹

    Ann, living with the children in the home of President Bannister of the University of the...

    (pp. 193-204)

    Faced, by October 1869, with his failure to build his ideal community in Tennessee, North wrote Ann, then in exile from their poverty, that they must strike out west again.¹ He was perplexed about his failure in Knoxville, where he had lavished his capital upon good works, public and private, until his wife had had to return to De Witt or starve. He had gone to Tennessee in the Gilmore spirit — open-handed, openhearted, wealthy, and ready for labors of love among the poor. Now they delighted in his poverty.

    Ten years later, when he had established two flourishing communities in...

    (pp. 205-210)

    Given his experience of the preceding months, North should have been convinced by the spring of 1869 that Tennessee could not at that time be reconstructed by northern men and northern investments. He blamed Andrew Johnson, hoping that with the new administration of General Grant northern men would have more security in the South. A great immigration of northern men to east Tennessee might well outweigh the resurgent rebels in middle and west Tennessee. “There is no doubt now,” he wrote his Unitarian friends in Boston, “that this tide of immigration is turning to the South, and before the close...

    (pp. 211-219)

    Holding a meeting in the city of Chicago on the tenth anniversary of the nomination of Abraham Lincoln were those hopeful people who had expressed immediate interest in the founding of a colony somewhere in California. Some were disillusioned carpetbaggers from the South, all were old friends or admirers of J. W. North. Most of them came from the southern tier of counties in Michigan or from the Cedar Valley in Iowa.

    In 1869 North had interested Dr. James Porter Greves in his plan for a colony in Tennessee. Greves, a New Yorker who had gone west to Michigan to...

    (pp. 220-232)

    Various facts conspired to arouse interest in colonial settlements in the 1870’s, among them the failure of Reconstruction, disillusionment with eastern politics, and the rise of corporate business. North was ready to give up all thought of private gain if he could but realize his ideals in a model community based upon cooperative or communitarian ideas. Riverside (the name was changed from Jurupa in December 1870) was originally planned as a temperance community like Greeley, Colorado Springs, and many other western colonies. Greeley was his chief competitor in 1870, and North said very frankly, “We do not expect to buy...

    (pp. 233-244)

    Quite unable to content himself in the San Francisco law office with a great agricultural revolution going on in the Central Valley of California, North saw that baronial holdings dating back to the Spanish land grants were being broken up into family-size farms. His success at Riverside and the success of the Anaheim colony near present-day Disneyland were the models upon which proprietors were turning great estates into small agricultural holdings.¹

    Foremost in these colonial ventures was the Washington Irrigated colony at Fresno, organized by North’s friends, J. P. Whitney, Wendell Easton, and A. T. Covell. Easton was proprietor and...

  28. NOTES
    (pp. 247-257)
  29. INDEX
    (pp. 258-272)