Crisis of 1875

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The Crisis of 1875 has sometimes been described as "America's Almost Civil War." Certainly it was the most tumultuous and violent internal struggle the North American League has yet faced.

Contents

Background

During the middle third of the 19th century, the NAL faced a growing crisis of national identity. Quite apart from being a brand new nation, the League was a hodge-podge of different nationalities and cultures. More, different provinces of this new nation held fealty to different foriegn monarchs--sometimes more than one! When the vast social changes of the Industrial Revolution are added on top of this, it is little wonder some fairly extreme notions were floated about.

Various extremists arose in this period, all pursuing different agendas, often mutually exclusive. Crown Loyalist Parties arose in several different provinces, demanding that (for example) Queen Victoria be sworn fealty by the native peoples of Cherokee or the Six Nations, or by the New Icelanders. Or it might be the monarch of the Kemr, or the Scandinavian Realm. There were also Pan-Nationalists who saw the NAL's provinces as natural extensions of some other homeland, allies at most to the other provinces in the League but certainly owing them no further consideration than that. Anti-Religious factions fervently wanted to deal with the plethora of new faiths so common to 19th century America (such as the Mormons) or desired some negation of the effects of an older faith seriously distrusted.

Politically, much of this centered around the role of the national government. Almost no one agreed, from the Conferationalists to the Socialists of different stripes. For almost a quarter of a century, coalitions became the rule rather than the exception in Parliament.

All that was needed was the right blow to send things flying apart. What happened instead was a chord that bound the new nation together.

The Unionist Party

The Unionist Party did not at first seem too radical for its time. Its avowed aim was a strong central government which would encourage legal and social standardization. Fervently anti-Socialist and anti-Catholic, Unionists (ironically enough) were also deeply suspicious of organized labour. They advocated strict isolationist policies and a strong tariff, while urging a beefed-up military to both protect NAL borders and if necessary expand them (should circumstances warrant same).

After its formal incorporation in 1860, the Unionists ran Senator William Seward for the General Moderator-ship in 1863. He lost to Abram Lincoln. By 1873, however, the Party had changed. For one thing, it had gained more influence simply because the lack of majority in Parliament bestowed power upon smaller parties with greater Party discipline. Both Whigs and Conservative Democrats needed coalition partners, and ultimately the Whigs chose the Unionists to retain control of the cabinet.

Unionist Flag

But even more important was the rise of Nathan Bedford Forrest to supplant Seward as leader of the Party. He was a dashing figure, an icon to the so-called ‘Black Stars’ (named for a distinctive banner they began to display at rallies and conventions). The Black Stars were more radical, believing that what North America needed was to sever ties with Europe entirely, replacing far-off foreign princes with a home-grown monarch. It was Forrest the Black Stars insisted be the Unionist candidate in 1873, supplanting the candidate presumptive—-an aging Senator Seward. They got their way, but lost the election.

Another important factor in all this was that the Black Stars were in effect a party within the party. It was widely assumed by many that this particular group was composed of Masons, and to be sure more than one did belong to that order. Perhaps more tellingly, the Black Stars maintained an air of mystery. Although clearly well-organized, insomuch as was possible they avoided allowing that organization to be visible. What few papers have survived for historians to examine betray a world-view that could best be described as "paranoid." It is clear they believed everyone was plotting as busily and covertly as themselves, forging secret alliances.

The newly elected GM, George McClellan, was forced to include several Unionists in his cabinet. Seward became Foreign Secretary while Forrest was Minister of War.

Crisis

George McClellan had a tempestuous relationship with both Parliament and Cabinet. One particular source of contention was the proposed Sedition Act of 1874, regarded as necessary but too severe by Whigs and vital but too weak by Unionists. It was legislation aimed squarely at the Socialist and Organized Labour movements, empowering (among other things) the Continental Army and Solemn League Navy to act against “disturbances to the public order.”

Nathan B. Forrest

When the Act finally passed after a very acrimonious debate, dissent immediately reared its head. Protests all over the League broke out, especially in New Amsterdam. Open fighting between Unionists and Socialists took place all over the nation, with a body count of nearly two hundred inside three weeks. Attorney General Samuel Chase refused to enforce the new law with the vigor demanded by Minister of War Forrest, who wanted virtually every Socialist leader, included MPs, arrested.

The borders of New Francy were suddenly closed as violence spread, especially between various groups which had simmering complaints against one another. Lutherans and Catholics fought it out in some places--two small towns in Ontario actually declared war against each other! In Atlanta full-scale riots rippled through the city for weeks, ending as a fire broke out which gutted most of the city's heart. Fortunately, there were less than a dozen casualties due to historic efforts by Atlanta's Fire Brigades.

GM McClellan went to New Amsterdam himself to speak before the press and public. While at the Royale—that city’s most prestigious hotel—a series of explosions rocked the foundation of the building. Among those killed was the GM himself, crushed by falling debris. Whether in fact this was the intention of whoever set the bombs in place remains a mystery, as they were never positively identified. The official theory of radical Socialists remains a viable one. Subsequent investigations suggested the bombers were present when the explosions happened. It is certainly true that a Continental Army Colonel named Stephen Richey ran into the collapsing building in an effort to save the GM. He pulled out several survivors, then went back in. At last, he himself was killed by falling debris. The tale became famous due to a song written by one Todd Matthews, "The Ballad of Colonel Richie."

Some have argued that the real assassins were Black Stars, acting under Nathan Forrest’s orders. Indeed more than one well-known novel and two major motion pictures used this as a central premise. Whether true or not, the government found itself effectively decapitated at a time of great internal dissent. In fact, the decapitation was even worse than it seemed at first glance. NAL law stated that in the event of a General Moderator's death, the President was to take office in his place. But in this case, the President (Rhoberth E. Lee, an elderly former Army general) had been in the same hotel as GM McClellan. He too was killed, and the GM line of succession was unclear.

The Turning Point

The Cabinet and Parliament argued. Even working out how to hold an election for a new General Moderator was a matter of dispute, while Minister of War Forrest insisted the Cabinet had to act as one to crush an obvious (he claimed) rebellion againt the legitimate government.

The final crunch came when a band of Swedish Pan-Nationalists briefly seized a portion of Boston Harbour. In what seemed like a bizarre re-enactment of the Baltimore Tea Party, they were evidently demanding that New Iceland and New Sweden secede from the League (the legislatures of these two provinces were evidently quite startled at this news).

At approximately the same time, the heavy frigate T.M.S. Chicago under the commander of Commander George Pickett—an avid Unionist--headed to Boston without orders. More, he replaced his NAL ensign with that of the Black Stars. He sent a message to the effect that "American law shall not be flouted."

It was at that time that the experimental ironclad T.M.S. Maine steamed into the Chicago’s path and refused to budge. Lieutenant Arthur McArthur, Maine’s captain, was implacable about not allowing what he saw as an act of treason to go unchallenged. Despite repeated orders from his superior officer, Lt. MacArthur would not allow the Chicago to come within range of the Swedish nationals. After nearly an hour of signalling back and forth, Commander Pickett lost patience and opened fire.

Cmdr. George Pickett of the TMS Chicago
Only photo of TMS Maine believed extant

The battle, the only ever between Solemn League Navy vessels, lasted nearly three and a half hours. T.M.S. Maine proved herself a worthy adversary, but the essential fact was that T.M.S. Chicago had likewise been equipped with iron plating. Relatively little damage was inflicted until some kind of accident happened aboard the Maine. Most historians agree a flaw in the design of ammunition storage was almost certainly to blame. Whatever the specifics, the gallant ship disintegrated in an explosion a few minutes before sunset.

Commander Pickett took Chicago towards Boston, but now discovered a ship of her own class had arrived. The T.M.S. Benedict Arnold approached, her guns at the ready. Pickett declared his duty done, since local Constabulary had by then already captured the Pan-Nationalists (it turned out they were all very, very drunk). Somewhat to his surprise, Pickett was immediately arrested. His court martial ended with a Dishonourable Discharge three months later. The court was headed by Admiral Bjørn Honstadt, later President and Acting General Moderator.

News of the event galvanized Parliament and indeed the nation. A vote of "No Confidence" removed Forrest and Seward from office, and the troops upon which Forrest at least was counting proved more loyal to Parliament and law than to himself.

Possibly the most unusual Coalition in NAL history--comprised of Conservative Democrats and Whigs--took the government and organized an election. Nathan Forrest and Seward both ran. They had just enough support between them to throw make the election very close, and Forrest disputed the results in court. But in the end Rutherford Beauford Fogg was the General Moderator. Both retired from public life, Seward voluntarily and Forrest by losing his seat. Forrest tried for the rest of his life to re-enter politics, but failed.

Aftermath

Pieces of the Maine were retrieved and melted down to form part of a new decoration--the Parliamentary Medal of Honor. Colonel Richie as well as the entire crew of the Maine were awarded them, posthumously (as indeed most PMH's have been given since).

The Solemn League Navy began the soon rock-hard tradition of beginning every formal or informal gathering with a toast in her honour. "Remember the Maine" has become the unofficial motto of the NAL's navy ever since.

The Unionist Party dwindled to a tiny version of its former self, and by 1900 had fractured into several factions. It eventually grew again into a party with local influence especially in Mobile, Jacobia and Carolina, but was tainted by the so-called Black Star Societies associated with it--extremists prone to violence, including lynchings. In the 1970s the formation of the American Snorist Party actually drew away the most rabid extremists away from the Unionists, who as a result began to be seen (and to be) more mainstream. By the 1990s they had become prominent on the provincial level in several places.

And the NAL had gained a new sense of itself, which was--as the various extremists never expected--founded upon balance and compromise, yet mutual loyalty and respect. When things looked at their worst, it could hardly be denied that most American leaders and most citizens had acted honorably. They refused to make things worse. More, they pitched in to help make things better. Atlanta, rocked by riots, gathered together again as one to combat the Great Fire and then rebuild. The New Amsterdam citizens did their best to preserve the lives of those caught up in the loss of the Royale. The people of Boston cheered the Maine as it took its gallant stand, and cheered again as another ship took its place. In the end, soldiers obeyed Parliament, preventing what was widely seen as an attempted coup. Parliament revoked the Sedition Act.

In the end, the radical Black Star Unionists seemed puzzled most of them were never arrested.

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