Greetings fellow historians and welcome back to This Week in History! This week is loaded with riveting events, so let’s jump in!
On Nov. 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th president of the United States, winning the election against three competing candidates in the process.
The political landscape of the U.S. at the time was both chaotic and divided. In the North, the decline of the Whig party led to the rise of the newly formed Republican Party. Only six years old at the time of the election – primarily classical liberal – the party generally vowed to leave slavery untouched in the South, only to curb its advance in new states.
Moreover, the main political force across the nation, the Democratic Party, had split into three major factions, each of which held slightly different views on slavery, economic reforms and various other issues.
The election is commonly held to be the main spark for the Civil War, causing the secession of many Southern states as early as a month later. With Lincoln receiving only 39.82% of the popular vote, the coming presidential term was going to be full of strife, but over his next four years (and even into his second term), Lincoln set an example for future presidents through his dignity and fair judgment despite the chaos of the times.
Looking even further back at U.S. history, on Nov. 10, 1674, the Third Anglo-Dutch War came to a conclusion, marking the transition of New Netherlands (New York) to the English colonies.
Prior to English dominance over the entirety of the eastern coast of the United States, the Dutch had established a sizable colonial presence in what is now roughly the states of New York and Delaware. The Dutch had even been the first to explore Connecticut, years before the first permanent English settlements were established.
Unfortunately for the Dutch living in New Netherlands, due to several European-based colonial wars, the colony was in serious jeopardy. Ultimately following several defeats at the hands of the English and the French, the Treaty of Westminster of 1674 marked the transferal of New Netherlands to the English, which would take place this week.
As a consequence of the transition, the main hub of Dutch colonial influence, New Amsterdam, would become New York City, and the surrounding land adjoined to New England and the state of New York. Yet the Dutch influence is not entirely gone, with many names such as the Bronx, Broadway and Brooklyn all having Dutch roots. Even the current flag of New York City is a rework of the classic orange, white and blue Dutch tricolor, showing just how influential the Dutch were in the region.
Sticking to the colonial era of the U.S., the next event for this week occurred on Nov. 11, 1620, with the signing of the Mayflower Compact.
Largely considered one of the first civil governments/agreements in North America, the compact was formed out of a need for survival, rather than a document to ensure freedom.
As the Pilgrims made their way across the Atlantic in their brutal journey, their initial settling point of Virginia could not be reached due to storms and dwindling provisions. Likewise, the Pilgrims were not all Puritans, and despite a sense of loyalty held to the King, there were some deemed “strangers” who seemed to want to break the collective mold of the group.
The fear of these outlying individuals prompted the creation of the compact, which attempted to ensure mutual respect and safety for all, while still holding many values derived from the Old World nations of Europe.
The compact would be signed by all of the notable men aboard the ship and serve as the founding document of the Plymouth Colony, which would use it for over 60 years. It would be the basis for many other governing documents in the new colonies and set the precedent for political freedom in the years to come.
And that concludes This Week in History! It is certainly a week filled with momentous events in the history of the U.S. – and one such event occurring this very week is Election Day. Be sure to vote, and who knows, maybe the results of your vote will be a topic on the column in years to come! See you next week!