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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  July 9, 2012 7:00am-8:00am EDT

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>> gillum ferguson recently appeared at the chicago tribune printers row lit fest to discuss his book "illinois in the war of 1812". that program starts now onjoh booktv. >> thank you very much. it's my pleasure and my honor to introduce today's author, gillu, ferguson is a lawyer by trade, tr but t but the kind of lawyer who who tecame a historian.torin bu he's an independent scholar, has his first book , but his first book has been
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taking illinois history by storm. it is "illinois in the war of 1812". it's a book of the of the illinois state historical society. it's about a theater of the war of 1812 that has long been neglected by historians, and i'm proud to ask gillum ferguson to lead off with his own opening thoughts. >> well, my interest in the war really turned around its importance in the development of illinois in 1812. of a territory which include not only the state of illinois but wisconsin, and about 12,000 people in it. they were scattered, you know, narrow fringe along the southern end of what is now the state of. six years later in 1880 and was able to knock wisconsin on the door again to be asked to be admitted in the union. after that they never look back to the population of illinois
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tripled every 10 years for the next several decades. but in intervene was the work 1812 surprising no one had given a detailed look at what happened in illinois during that were. well,. >> well, a few fundamental about illinois history. when it comes as a surprise to people is we think of america being settled east to west, but illinois was more or less settled from south to north. and maybe you could explain it. it was settled last by new englanders than it was by people from places like virginia and kentucky. >> the initial settlement in illinois came along the ohio river, and especially of the tennessee and cumberland rivers from tennessee and from the carolinas. the early settlers of illinois, most of them, the period we're talking about, settled within 20 miles of either the ohio or the lower mississippi river.
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they were used to farming in heavily wooded areas. and to them for me was a formula should be cut down trees and pull out hundreds of stumps before you did. the idea of going out into the vast grasslands and dropping about was something it was very difficult for them to get to my to read to the other problem of course they can find in southern illinois was they had no ability really get tired of to link it if you have done this after you cut down a forest, you know that the stumps after youtube land, at that point it was impossible to get clear title to incorporate these people were not just the they were basically squatters because the public lands had not been put on sold or were not put on sale until 1814. so other than a few people who held under agent grants, most of these before taking a risk and settling in a wilderness at that point. and ran the risk that therefore might at some point be bought out from under them by some better money speculative from
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the east. would enable the public lands to be surveyed i reducing the indian threat was of course the war of 1812. >> so when we are talking about illinois territory and most of the people who were there, the settlers, were in the southern part of the state. the native americans, the indian tribes were scattered around illinois. this is part of what had been the larger northwest territories, and maybe we should set the context as well, the northwest territories, how they fit into american history. >> well, the northwest territory was the land northwest of the ohio river. it had been claimed by virginia by right of conquest during the revolution and, of course, george rogers clark was the key figure there. at the end of the revolution, the date that eludes me, sometimes 1780s, virginia seceded a territory, it might've in 1786 or 787 to the united
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states. and ceded all the land northwest of the ohio river to the united states. that include those which now ohio, indiana, illinois, wisconsin, what am i forgetting? michigan and part of minnesota for all of which were claimed by virginia at that point. it's why, for instance, kentucky claims the ohio river and its own property that the borders on the north bank because what was ceded by virginia was the land northwest of the river. so congress organized this in 1787 as initially as a territory of the northwest territory, and there were rules made for the development of society in that vast area. some of them followed, some of them not. but it was initially federal territory. and they provided for the eventual, eventual creation of space in a territory. and illinois was ultimately one of them. >> so in 1812, when the war
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began, let's see, ohio was a state. in the and was a territory. illinois, as you described it was not only a territory but went straight up through wisconsin and part of what we call the upper peninsula of michigan, and even a little tiny corner of minnesota. so illinois was big territory. now, why don't you -- tell us, who was here, what languages were they speaking in illinois. by here, i mean illinois in 1812 when the war began. >> the oldest inhabitants of the territory were the caste indians with the renezeder wants proud -- at one time will all the land between the ohio river and wisconsin river but they had
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been reduced, starting in the 1670 by series of savage attacks by other indian tribes. largely those who from the northwest and the iroquois from the norse passionate northeast driven so demoralized. their population began falling. they incur diseases from incoming lightning, that they had no resistance to. and by the time 1812 they were reduced to really a remnant of the tribe perhaps as many as 200 people there that may be a generous estimate. the next most senior residents of the territory where the french. the french had come initially with la salle and formed a series of committees many along the southern part of the mississippi between st. louis and what is now carol. there's also french settlement in what is now peoria. called peoria at the time. they had been there longer, other than the end interest.
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the next senior residents were indian tribes of the north and then the white settlers would come in, white and black settlers were coming from the south, can primary from tennessee and kentucky. is a risky note that if you were to draw a line across the present state of illinois, say running to the present springfield and decatur, south of that line, other than the indians on the wabash river there were virtually no indians who are in permanent residence. the indian tribes who are north of that line had come in from the north, had forced their way into kaskaskia, forced their way in by violence and taking land away from the illinois in the event had been a more than one or two generations, had so the really longer than the 1760s at the earliest. bill that passed through the state on many occasions before. coming in from the south, the
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settlers from tennessee and kentucky primary. also some from the northeast, but very few of those, would come in through southern indiana or kentucky. and as they move north they met the indians were forcing their way in from the north and a software direction, and where they would, result from the collision of the cultures was the war of 1812. >> now, to put it again in a bigger framework, this time a global framework, the war of 1812 of course is the chapter in the 20 years struggle between the british and the french. now, the war of 1812 actually was declared by the united states laid in bed 20 year
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struggle. and maybe you know i to give us a moment or to remind us how that came about. >> would exist on paper doesn't often fully exist in reality. the united states became independent in 1783, nominate by the way of the treaty of paris but it wasn't fully recognized by european powers as a full equal. as time went on, it became clear and clear that the united states was not regarded as a full sovereignty to the war until the late 1790s, 796 i think was, red coated rigid soldiers flying the british flag on american territory. it was clearly american territory in northern ohio and michigan, wisconsin and the thing for sure time in indiana until eventually removed by j street it was clearly an illegal occupation by the mistakes military, could drink about. despite the fact that this is violation of the terms of the
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treaty. after that, the british continued to interview with the indian trade, tried to monopolize very thoughtful portrait of the northwest for territory with a great deal of success. the loyalty of the indians to the great father, the king, king george who we thought we were rid of. on the sea, the situation was even worse. as gary noted, britain and france were in lock in a death struggle for nearly 20 years with very few interruptions. they fought in every part of the world and they did everything they could to undermine their up and. one of them being to interfere with their triggered united states was a military pygmy but it was already emerging as a significant commercial power and american ships were flying the seven seas or however many seats that are, caring goods around the world. both britain and france particularly britain though, felt able to seize u.s.
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flagships on high seas, or even as close to port in u.s. territorial waters. sees cargoes, the ships if they thought about for an emmy for. british particularly plucked the u.s. theaters off of u.s. ships and on commercial jets, commercial ships, but also u.s. warships and impressed them into a slave like existence in the royal navy fighting the king's enemies. to all of this was a challenge to the united states. the united states under the past administrations of jefferson and madison, for 10 years, respond with milder, with diplomatic protest and even the self-defeating measure of an embargo on our own trade, which really did not bring the europeans to their knees until they destroyed much of our own shipping. but finally, we reached a point where over 900 u.s. flagships had been seized by britain and france.
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the massive ministration finally declared war on britain, and really at that point serve notice on the entire world that there were some insults that this country would not swallow, and some light in which it could not be pushed without putting but i think that was a real entry of the united states onto the world stage as a nation which had to be respected by other nations, which would defend its rights. >> so you may remember some of that from your own reading of history, from your own schoolbooks. most of those events occurred on the east coast, not in the former northwest territory. so now the word comes that the united states is at war. what did i mean in the lives of those who were responsible for places like the illinois territory? >> the person responsible for the illinois territory at the time was governor edwards who was a political appointee. he was not, he was not a soldier, a minister. a been a judge the supreme court and kentucky, court of appeals
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and kentucky. and he had a three-year appointment, his boss was secretary of war. and he was responsible for looking out for the protection of the united states, or the united state's interest in illinois territory. at that time there only to u.s. garrisons in illinois territory. 50 for soldiers at fort dearborn, not chicago just north of us on michigan avenue. and in 36 soldiers, 365 miles away on the ohio river. those 90 soldiers were given the task of guarding the two states of illinois and wisconsin, as war broke out. so a lot of the responsibility for self-defense fell on the settlers themselves. at every free white male between 18, and i believe it was 46, was bylaw a member of the state militia. typically this meant that they
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would muster for time to you, have a big party day, a lot of drinking. you know, they would march around. but when war broke out this be a very, very significant sacrifice by the militiamen who would have to leave their farms. especially in the spring and fall which were the main campaigning seasons, to go and serve for pay, which might never come, for sometimes extended period of several weeks or even months. so they answered to governor edwards. edwards and the militia. the primary responsibilities were broke out, felt. >> if i remember correctly, governor edwards not only oversaw the militia to he often had to reach into his own pocket to help subsidize what was going on. because the supplies and so forth from the east were not always there. in fact, even news of what was
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happening was not always forthcoming. >> it could take weeks for a literature reach illinois territory from washington. and again, edwards was responsible to the second of four. it was interesting that edwards who would write repeatedly to the secretary of war, not only to find out what was happening in this territory, but asking for instructions or proof of what he had done, almost never heard back from the secretary, who barely knew he existed. in fact, in 1812, his appointment expired and the madison administration simply forgot to appoint him, or any governor for illinois. it was such an unimportant position, but they simply forgot to edwards, to his credit, continue to act as governor knowing that war was breaking out and someone had to do it. when he called, he called militia and dessert he pledged his own assets as pay for the militia if the government should disallow what he had done later.
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you know, ninian edwards has kind of a bad reputation from historians, sort of the prototype of the illinois political hack. and i have to say that that was the attitude with which i pushed him as a begin to research this book. but i will say that the two years from june 1811 to june 1813 when he was superseded in command over the two best years of his life, when whatever his shortcomings in other areas, he displayed a great devotion to duty and great both moral and physical courage and took his responsibilities very strictly. in fact, i think for the rest of his life have followed the pattern that he set in the two years he might well have a better historic reputation. but i consider my book something of a rehabilitation of edwards, at least part of his life. >> well, one of the best aspects of the book is the chapter where gillum ferguson focuses on the
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lives of two individuals who try to shape events in this very lately settled very, very difficult to control area. and the two individuals are thomas forsythe and robert dixon. if you could share their stories with us as a way to help us understand what was happening on the ground, what was happening in the minds of a few individuals who are trying to shape what was happening on the ground. >> well, thomas forsyth and robert dixon were in a sense opposite numbers. x. and was a scotsman who have been, had come to what was in the northern united states as a young man come and engage in the first rybicki was married to a sue woman, and he was unlike a lot of the sort of mountain energy. it was a real marriage. they live together faithfully until death and they had four children. dickson was perhaps the dominant
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fur trader of the upper mississippi river before the war. he was a tall redheaded fellow. i guess quite imposing. he was beloved by the indians. not only because of his personal charisma but because of his obvious genuine concern for them. his opposite number, at least as i see in my book, was thomas forsyth. forsyth was also a man of ambiguous nationality, which he used to allow his traveling in indian territory during difficult times. he had been born in detroit when it still subject to king george, and many of the american traitors regard him as an englishman, and so for that matter did the indians. but forsyth had no love for the english at all. he eventually was appointed to the american indian agent at peoria. so i think that as your it as having an indian agent, but peoria at the time was deep in indian country.
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and forsyth operator to a certain extent as the eyes and ears of the united states in indian country, in his correspondence which survives in a number of places in the chicago history museum and the wisconsin historical society, and notable collection in missouri history museum. he is one of our best sources for was going on in indian country at the time. both of those men had the responsibility for at least neutralizing indians, and at best bringing them into the service of their packet size. dickson was perhaps the most successful initially because he raised in illinois territory and in again, including what is that wisconsin and northern illinois, and the upper mississippi, he raised basically indian army's which he led, according to the instructions, head east to fight the british, ontario and northern ohio.
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ironically, this to some extent to spirit the illinois character, some of the ravages of an indian war because dickson again pursuant to his orders led most of the fighting indian warriors of the illinois territory and the upper mississippi valley to the east, to theaters that were really far from the own interests. there's a story that block off, you know, the famous indian, the black hawk war, the prominent figure in this will come and also my book, told dickson that he wanted to raise indians to go down river and attack that those and has gas kick and dixons and was that he would not lead brave men to kill women and children, that he would leave them where there were soldiers to fight. and if they defeat the american soldiers at the mississippi thought would fall into their laps. blackhawk city consider this and answer break. effect yet other indians did found dickson to the east and west but probably was not the decision was in the best
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interest of the indians. forsyth's response bill is primarily one of primary can keep the indians neutral. forsyth spoke both gentle and patois as well as french which was sort of the common language of the frontier among the indians. and had very strong personal ties with some of the indians among the pocket watches, especially chief goma was the scene sheet of the illinois river valley. his response ability unsuccessful at first was to keep the indians at least neutral if he could not get into fights with the united states. by 1813 so after the collapse of the british physician in ontario, in the death of tecumseh, the pottawattamie did make peace. after that, forsyth was able to keep them in line even after some rather violent provocations, rather unfortunate provocations from american soldiers. but he was never able to succeed
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and bring them to war against the british, again his friend as well as his primary contact among the indians was much too slippery a politician to lead people into another war and goma was one his favorite beach. so you have robert dickson who is trying to organize affairs on behalf of of the british. you have forsyth who is trying to neutralize on half of the americans, the indians in illinois. the third individual you might say who has a bigger picture in mind who has a vision in mind, is tecumseh, and his brother crockett. stich tecumseh really looms large in my book, but his primary by casting a shadow to the actual physical contact of
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tecumseh, what now is the state of illinois is a limited he made a number of, you might say with great or even missionary trip to. but their spirit really dominates the indian portions of my book. and it was quite influential in the world. indian society in 1812 come in this area was in crisis. because a large game animals on which they were largely dependent for protein had become, had become rare and headed to extension the buffalo almost gone. the elk trade beginning a rapid deterioration, bears and the like also dying out due were on their way to extinction at that point. for the first time we read stories of starving indians the part of this was a result of their ability to kill them with modern weapons the up gained from the way. as well as the demand for for. also as result the fact that we
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were about 10 years of a very severe drought at the beginning of the 19th century. in making 10 especially, according, i understand this as well beyond my own personal conference. i understand from treatment analysis it was one of the worst droughts to strike the midwest. so the indians began to realize that something had to happen. tecumseh was a shawnee indian, though not shawnee chief, not one who had much influence on the shawnee, who with his brother known to us as prophet, there were a number of different names he used over the years and why sellers at the time called him the prophet, sort of a handy term to use because as i said, he changed his name periodically. really developed a program of spiritual, commercial, political and military revival for the
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tribes of the midwest as a way of not only reducing the encroachments of the white, and if possible, reversing them. but also in terms of restoring the morale of the indian tribes. among the teachings of the prophet world country and -- were of course their restriction of occult. -- alcohol. destroying their social structure but interestingly enough, the prophet forbade the use of firearms. i could only be done under his teaching with the bows, arrows, traditional weapons of the indians, though they could use the white man's weapons to fight in warfare against the americans. they could not, i think it shows how somewhat the same way we limit deer harvest now. they show some sensitivity to the fact that they're hunting with these weapons which, in fact, forcing them into an economic collapse.
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so tecumseh and the prophet offered a way forward to indians, and while they had little success in ohio where they come from, as they get further west outside the area where chiefs might of been corrupted by gifts from americans, or where tribes were intimidated by the shadow of american authority, especially in the illinois among the pottawattamie, the kickapoo and the winnebago, they had many, many adherents. at the famous battle of tippecanoe in 1811 in indiana, perhaps a majority of the indian warriors were indians from illinois, belong to those three tribes. >> so let's talk about some of the big early events in the war of 1812, and the northwest territory area. mackinaw, fort mackinac fell july of 1812 to the british. major fort controlling the whole
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upper great lakes area. detroit fell to the british. again, cutting off another major segment of the great lakes area. and then on august 15, 1812 game the fall of fort dearborn in chicago. and that's the one event from this theater that people may have some knowledge of. it's an event that is much discussed. there are many mysteries. ..
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that had grown up around before. most than discharge soldiers but most of engaged even trading dith the indians or with small farming.which and then the gerson of the fort which numbered between very men ien 50 and 60 men at differenft times, about 54 at te time of the events we're talkinb it was seen as indefensible.defn although it was a strong fort ie was very hard to be supplied. the commander at detroit, major general commander who had authority over forth deer born who was commanded by captain nathan. in early august, he received an order from the general ordering him to evaluate the fort deer born to lead the command to fort
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wayne or detroit. he has been criticized a lot for that. , but i think probably unfairly, actually, eventually the actual order emerged and the old legend it was left up to his discretion seems not to be true. the order is commanded him to do this. he was a captain in the united states army captain given an order by the major general, he's not going say no unless there were circumstances he couldn't be aware it. he prepared other the course of the week to lead the command and the civilian community out on the march to fort wayne. over the next of the course of the next week he tried to purchase a passage by descript distribute -- descrinting the u.s. property in the factory which was a government trading house here in chicago it was owned by the government as well as the nonmilitary supplies at the post of the surrounding
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indians. as he did it, it attractedded a larger crowd came from further and further way from places star away as milwaukee and southwestern michigan and the like. one criticism he didn't leave the next day before the large crowd of indians congregated. he would have been on the road for weeks and vulnerable. he hoped to purchase safe passage. the indians had not great love for the americans americans in general. they become to know the chicago community. as the crowd got larger indians who had no contact with chicago flock to the area. the situation became nor dangerous. final on august 15, he lead his command about exact numbers little uncertain, between 0eur9 and 100 people escorted by william wells from forth wayne
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and the indians lead them out of the gate. it stood at the south end which is now the michigan avenue bridges over the chick river. headed south along with now michigan avenue to up, again, the location is disputed about a mile and a half the traditional location is 18th and prairie avenue. and where they were set upon the by the indians they thought were ease courting safely to fort wayne. there was a brief battle followed by a blood bath. he made the mistake of charging with the troops against the indians who scattered and cut the troops off from the wagons where the women, children, and noncombats were stationed. at the wagons there was a blood bath. twelve children were killed in one wagon. two women died and all of the civilian males of chicago except
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one the famous john kin city were killed in the short time as well as the soldiers who stood guard on the wagons. the troon -- troops on the regular about half the number were killed agreed to surrender under a promise that the lives would be spared, the promise was kept only in part. some of them were actually murdered after the battle, and they were then lead off into captivity. the fort was burned the next day, 1812, and the cannons were thrown into the river. >> it was another important defeat for the united states along the great lakes. this site, of course, being important port age between the great lakes basin and the mississippi river basin.
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so to just jump ahead, the tide did turn in the war in the sense that the battle of lake erie took place, which restored naval control to the americans, and then another important battle was the battle of items in october 13. and maybe the battle you could give us thumbnail description of that battle and what it meant for those who were in illinois. >> it is a battle that is deserves to be remembered than it was. the cull make of william hair's campaign in northern ohio. he's a cautious general and basically spent a year getting ready to capture detroit which had been surrounded in august of
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1812. finally after the battle of lake erie restored american control to lake erie and gave america navel supreme city on the lower great lakes not so much on the upper. he is able to make the move against detroit. the establish evacwaited detroit without a fight and retreated into on ontario. harrison and the army set off after them. the british were lead by a general named proctor, not a god one. fighting with one and abide with them was the famous chief who was the one of the great men in american history. at the battle, harrison caught up with the british and indians. as it turned out the british ran like rabbits for the most part. the warriors stayed and fought and he died fighting killed to onability of future vice president of the united states
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richard johnson. this destroyed british power in upon or it owe. it -- ontario it cooperated communications between the east and the west. at this point, the effect in illinois was substantial. the pot -- pot wot me had enough. they fought alongside the british. they had been unempressed what they had seen. they returned to illinois, and some of the hostile chiefs made peace. so in at least northern central illinois, measure of peace did return when the pottow at&time when they put down the weapons and signed on to a peace treaty and gained hostages.
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in 181, the situation was returned. by the end of l 1813, it looked as if the war was over in illinois. >> let's jump ahead to the formal end of the war of 1812 where the treaty of gent is signed, but bringing peace to illinois territory even in the context of the signature on a piece of paper in europe, it is not easy and in fact a whole process organized by commissioners took place with one tribed at the time. and i found that a fascinating chapter, and loved to hear more about that. >> well, the treaty of gent which ended the war between united states and britain. the british had taken a initial position that the united states
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was established an indian buffer state all the land northern of the ohio river. it was in fact of the british. that's what they promised the indians they would fight for. but as crunch came in bell begin, they ultimately gave up on that and settled for safety. gave the indians the right to existed for them in 1811, and abandoned the hope for a indian state in the old northwest. the british made peace and it was formalized by exchange radification in february. the indians hadn't been representedded at the peace treaty. they were, in fact, many of theme severely hostile to the terms of the agreement. in fact, interestingly enough, many of the british officers were outraged by the temples they had made personal promises
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they thought it was a matter of personal honor face to face with the indians they would fight until they established a state for the indiansed at least a buffer state. and had go into counsel and tell them, no, the deal was off, that they fought in vein for two and a half years and suffered. but it turned out the third time going to be abandoned by their allied great britain. the indian tribes were not necessarily under the circumstance willing to race to the council table. so the americans had to send out adversaries to the tribes to the individually. they were difficult to reach. they were hostile. they had to send out tray traitors to bring them to the peace treaty at north of st. louis where william clark, lewis
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and clark the founder of st. louis wanted to make peace with the tribes. some of them until come until 1816 some such as winnebago never came in and made peace. the process did end and the instruction nor the american commissioners were not seek any more land. they would worry about it later. to make peace with the indian tribes. of course once the am city was -- amnesty was granded peace was restored the ability to push further also opened up. >> and before you knew it, illinois was a state. [laughter] 1818, that's right. by 1830, 18 40, the last indians were gone. what became of the promise that certain of the guarantees that the british said they were fighting for would prevail even
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post treaty in the area? well the british may have thought and certain the indians thought the british would be the guarantees for the rights after wards under the treaty. the united states had a different attitude toward that and thought that could not be admissible. this was u.s. territory the united states fought for the sovereignty of the borders. it curtailed any contact to the extend they could between indians and the british. >> well, one name that you've heard a number of times is that of chief gomo, and i think of all the names that are in the book, he's the individual i would like to meet the most because he's absolutely a fascinating person. he was a chief but remember, native american chiefs weren't ceo. they couldn't give orders. they had to sort of import tune
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and lead. he was someone who is counted as a friend, by both different points the americans and the british. he was considered generally reliable. one of the goals, and i think you've handledded it admirally has been whatever possible to get authentic indian voices in the book and you're actually able to quote a speech from gomo not word for word but an account of the speech. do you agree that he's one of the most fascinating characters of the period? >> definitely. gomo was an important politician. for him the shortest distance between two points were never a straight lines. there a lot of twists and turns in the route he took. he is also, among the characters in the book, the one who seemed to have the best understanding that eventually the killings is going to end and we're go to have to find a way to live together.
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so maybe on that note, it is a good place to end. i would just conclude by saying that those of you who heard this sweep through a series of very compliant -- complicated developments will have the same impression i had. there's so much we don't know about the period in american history. the bicren tential of the war of 1812 is a great reason to explore the history. this is a chapter where we are not so much undoing what we thought we know. we are encountering things we never knew. and this book mar lousily -- marvelously imiendz on the ground developments with the 30-feet approach why you have an understanding of the big developments. so we thank you very much for your authorship and the
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participation today. >> thank you. [applause] >> is there a nonfiction author or book you would like to see featured on booktv? send us an e-mail at or tweet us at >> on booktv's recent visit to jefferson city, missouri, with local cable partner media, we spoke to local author clarence y.h. lo. his book, "small property versus big government" takes a look at what he calls on the social origins of the property tax revolt. >> good evening. here in california and the primary tomorrow people have the rare and no doubt pleasing opportunity to vote their taxes down. to tell politicians that they will pay this much and no more. proposition 13 it's called, and it's an absolute flat ban on how
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much property tax they can charge homeowners. it is thought to be as much a vote against big expensive wasteful government as it is against the property tax. >> for 25 years without increasing taxes on property. now to chance for the people to say something. >> its excessive spending. it's getting out of hand. kind of like a boston tea party that we are saying we have had it. >> whenever you have the real estate boom, that sets in motion the assessment of increases and individual paying the how pretty tax bill. -- than the property tax bill. florida, texas have always been subject to land booms. in the 1970s, it was particularly intent, and taxes, unicom assessments went up. you ill was that the property tax is the tax on property that
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is owned, not a tax on income like the way the income tax is. so certain categories of people, i.e. elderly homeowners could own a $200,000 house, $300,000 house, and have huge property tax bill, but not have and income, they could be retired, living on fixed income and have to pay the property tax bill out of this very small fixed income. and in some cases they didn't have the money. now, later on there's, you know, relief came in for elderly homeowners and what not but that was in response to the crisis of people being property rich but income for. and being unable to pay their property tax bills. and tax bills as you know, you have to pay them.
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if you don't the government has all sorts of powers. they can come in, seize the property, whatever, just like they do for income tax. and the government is particularly unforgiving, you know, tax bills. historically, the property tax has been the way that local government services have been funded, you know, police and fire, but increasingly it's expanded to a whole range of services, including education. and that's been the biggest, the largest drain, all levels of education, k-12 and college. and educational sector has increased, across this state sector has increased your property taxes have gone up. and the way they go up is what is most upsetting to people, because most people are really upset about the assessment, which places a value on your
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house, and in some cases the property that you own. and when there's real estate, inflation which there has been, you know, the past decade, what happens is people that find they bought a house for $15,000, and all of a sudden it's worth $250,000 rising very rapidly. so the property tax is according to value. so the minute the value of your house goes up, your assessment goes up. even in the tax rate stays the same, your property taxes skyrocket because property value skyrocket and usually property values skyrocketing are a good thing. you say wow, i will take the money out to go on vacation, or i will trade up and buy a real mansion. and generally rising property values are very, very good thing, except when it comes to
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paying your tax. then the piper has to be paid. and you pay a higher tax bill because property values are going up. >> has anyone ever tried to fight this tax before? >> well, that's the whole story of the citizens movement, community movements throughout los angeles, throughout california. there will -- they were initially feud -- fueled by people thought, don't have a very high income, people that are struggling to save common you know, to save their houses, just a very, very modest incomes. again, they can put all their life savings and end up accumulating money and wealth, and it would be taxed but again, if they don't have a good job at the moment, they are without the ability to pay.
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so folks, elderly, people in working-class neighborhoods, middle-class neighborhoods were particularly had, not being able to pay the bills, and went out and organize. a lot of people don't realize that suburban communities are communities. they are organized. there's mobile organizations. and these are the organizations that, you know, petitions, protested, and eventually put on petition on the ballot to the initiative process to get tax reductions initiatives on the ballot. in california and later in other states. the initial grievance is homeowners, and it's a very small businesses, the mom and pop businesses, unicom elderly homeowners, middle-class, working-class homeowners. but the wealthy have a very unique advantage.
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they are very good at organizing. they are very good at making action. they're very good in wielding political power, influencing government. it's the kind of power that poor people, ordinary middle-class people don't have. so what the movement discovered is that in order to be effective, in order to really form a large coalition and really wins this thing, as long as the protest was marginal but to really succeed you have to have upper middle class community involved. and they were hit by property taxes. their assessments were going, their houses were going up one, two, 5 million. so they were hit i this as well. businesses were hit by tax bills as well. so when the leadership, sometimes property related land
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on businesses, hotels, apartment owners, people that, you know, businesses were very land intensive property development, realtors, these folks got into the movement as well, as well as the wealthy homeowners. and provide a ready-made leadership. if you think about some of the interest groups, realtors, apartment builders, property developers, very, very well-organized. anytime they have to give zoning approved, they have to go through local government. they are family with local government. so the movement could succeed with these folks in a leadership position. but the cost of that leadership position was switching the relief from the people that really need it, i.e., the people that couldn't pay, the elderly,
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the working-class homeowners, the people who could really lose their home by not being able to pay, the kind of the locus of belief, and this tends to happen in all tax protest movements. it really shifts to the people that are wealthy and our pain, you know, at a very, very high tax rates. you see the same thing with capital gains, with income tax. the tax relief inset being targeted to the very wealthy, even though the movement may start as a more grassroots movement on the concern, on their middle-class people. it's that leadership factor, in order to succeed you go through this leadership, and his leadership is naturally very, very used to getting things for itself it does at all the time. it gets its zoning, it gets the special tax break.
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they know what to do. and, unfortunately, some of these movements, you know, of poor and middle-class people, the leadership was of the same, the leadership didn't have the same backing, you know, as the elite leadership. so the whole program shifts. they do get some relief, okay, but the largest relief, the biggest slice i think it was two-thirds, you know, goes to businesses, okay? and tax revenues were reduced tremendously, and it caused problems in california, throughout the country ever since. california struggled since proposition 13 which reduced everything. public education has deteriorated, k-12, universities, community colleges. we used to have very, very
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strong, unicom systems, educational systems or ranks, top of the country in california. they fall down so they are now at the bottom, just because the money isn't there, and the money isn't there particularly to do with the kinds of students that are coming in. people whom english is a second language but it's very, very expensive. the money isn't there. these people are underserved. so the real tragedy of it is that you could have actually, you know, eliminate or the property tax for homeowners, and if you just did only that and didn't reduced for the taxes for businesses, california, other states that went this route would still have money to finance the public services that middle-class people need. i mean, middle-class people need educational services and so
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forth. they need police and fire protection. and right now the state, because of the large tax reductions for businesses, the money isn't there, and necessary services for the small homeowners, for middle-class people are being cut back. police and fire are being cut back. all of it because the very unnecessary large tax relief was good for businesses. and you see this time and time again. you see this with the income tax. yet, you know, middle-class folks benefit from income tax cut, but by far the large majority, particularly the capital gains tax reduction, inheritance tax, all of this goes not only to 1% but half of, you know, one-tenth of the 1%. the very, very top slice, okay?
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they got all the tax relief, and then government, if you bail those folks out, who really don't need it because they have the income to pay. it's like poor people, elderly, they don't have income to pay. rich people of income to pay, that's why they are rich. they don't need it, okay? but because all of the relief went to those folks, government starved, and necessary services, federal government, now states, local, everyone is in the same position. teachers, libraries closed. teachers fired, you know. at the end of the are many, many teachers just laid off, you know, no thought of them ever getting a job again. but this kids that need to be taught. the money isn't there. the middle-class have to learn what it's interest really is. it's very, very complicated
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because you don't see, you know, costs of education, loans to get education. all these things involve the government, involve policy. but are really important to the overall state of living. housing and health care, these things are now very, very expensive but they are very basic to what we think of the middle-class families living in. so in order for the middle-class to get what it wants, you know, prosper and to really live a decent standard of life, it's got to be active in all of these issues to make sure on health care, make sure in education, to make sure on housing, make sure and interest rates, loans and so forth, that it gets a fair shake. more and more people are falling out of the middle-class, headed towards the bottom. there's more and more polarization. and, unfortunately, there's policies that are put in place by the 1% that tend to reinforce
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the polarization. i think the middle-class has got to figure out the opposite thing, which is really to raise itself up through policy. so it isn't cast aside. that they made the fatal compromise of, you know, just accepting the political leadership as is with all its problem of time -- campaign finance and whatever. you can't accept the political leadership as it. that's the leadership of the 1%. you've really got to form your own 99% leadership. and that is going to look very, very different from leadership in government right now. >> for more information on booktv's recent visit to jefferson city, missouri, and the many other cities visited by our local content vehicles, go to


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