American History Series: Monroe Dislikes but Signs Missouri Compromise

A painting of James Monroe
James Monroe

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

In the spring of eighteen twenty, President James Monroe was coming to the end of his first four years as president. He wanted to be elected again. But he faced a difficult decision.

Congress, after much debate between the North and the South, had approved a bill giving statehood to Missouri. Missouri was part of the Louisiana territory. Southern lawmakers wanted Missouri to permit slavery. Northerners wanted no slaves in Missouri. A compromise was reached. Missouri could have slaves. But nowhere else in the northern part of the Louisiana territory would slavery be permitted.

Now, Sarah Long and Steve Ember continue our story of the presidency of James Monroe.

VOICE ONE:

Many southerners were not satisfied. The compromise closed the door against slavery entering large new areas of land. Southerners — like all other Americans — had a right to settle in the new territory. President Monroe was a slave-owner. He understood the feelings of the South. His friends urged him to veto the compromise bill, because it limited slavery in the territory.

Monroe believed the compromise was wrong — but not because it kept slaves out of the territory. The president did not believe the Constitution gave Congress the right to make such conditions.

Monroe even wrote a veto message explaining why he could not approve the compromise. But he did not use the veto. He also understood the strong feelings of those opposed to slavery.

He believed there might be civil war if he rejected the compromise. So Monroe signed the bill. Missouri had permission to enter the union as a slave state.

VOICE TWO:

The crisis seemed ended. But a few months later, a new problem developed. Missouri wrote a state constitution that it sent to Congress for approval. One part of this constitution did not permit free black men to enter the state. The constitution was immediately opposed by a number of congressmen. They charged that it violated the United States constitution.

The United States Constitution said citizens of each state had the rights of citizens of each of the other states. And since free black men were citizens of some states, they should have the right to be citizens of Missouri. The debate over this lasted several months.

Former House speaker Henry Clay finally proposed a compromise that both sides accepted. Missouri could become a state if its legislature would make this promise: it would never pass any law that would violate the rights of any citizen of another state. This second compromise ended the dispute over slavery in Missouri and the Louisiana territory.

VOICE ONE:

The compromise of eighteen twenty settled the crisis of slavery for more than twenty years. But everyone knew that the settlement was only temporary.

[Former President] Thomas Jefferson used these words to explain his feelings about the compromise: “This question — like a fire bell in the night — awakened and filled me with terror. I understood it at once as the threat of death to the union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment.

“But,” said Jefferson, “this is a reprieve only. Not a final settlement.”

Monroe’s decision to approve the compromise did not hurt his election chances in eighteen twenty. There was at this time really only one party — the Republican — and he was its leader. The opposition Federalist Party was dead. It was no longer an election threat.

Monroe was the only presidential candidate in the election of eighteen twenty. He received the vote of every elector, but one. William Plumer of New Hampshire voted for John Quincy Adams. He explained later that George Washington had been the only president to get all the electoral votes. Plumer said he did not want anyone to share this honor given to Washington.

VOICE TWO:

Monroe’s first four years as president had been successful. He had increased the size of the United States. Florida now was part of the country. And the problem of slavery had been temporarily settled. There had been economic problems — some of the worst in the nation’s history. But the situation was getting better.

The nation was growing. As it grew, new problems developed between its different sections. There were really three separate areas with very different interests. The northeastern states had become the industrial center of the nation. The southern states were agricultural with large farms that produced cotton, rice and tobacco. Much of the work on these farms was done by slave labor.

The western states were areas of small farms where grain was produced with free labor. It was a place where a man could make a new start. Could build a new life. The land did not cost much. And the fruits of a man’s labor were his own.

VOICE ONE:

This division of the nation into different sections with opposing interests ended the one-party system of Monroe’s administration. The industrial Northeast wanted high taxes on imported products to protect its industry from foreign competition. This part of the country also believed the national government should pay for roads and waterways to get their products to markets.

The South did not agree to high import taxes. These taxes raised the prices on all goods. And import taxes on foreign goods might cause foreign nations to raise import taxes on southern cotton and tobacco. The South also opposed spending federal money for roads and canals. The mountains through the southern Atlantic states would make road-building difficult and canals impossible.

The western states supported government aid in the building of roads and canals. The Ohio and Mississippi rivers were the only inexpensive transportation systems for moving their products to markets. The westerners also supported high taxes on imports, because they believed such taxes would raise the prices of their agricultural products.

VOICE TWO:

The separate interests of these different sections produced an exciting presidential election campaign in eighteen twenty-four. Each section had at least one candidate. Several had more than one. The campaign began almost as soon as Monroe was elected for the second time.

John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams

At one time, as many as sixteen men thought of themselves as presidential possibilities. By eighteen twenty-two, the number had been reduced to six men. Three of them were members of Monroe’s cabinet: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Treasury Secretary William Crawford, and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun.

Adams was the only northern candidate. He was an extremely able man. There were few jobs in government he could not do, and do well. But he was not the kind of man that people liked. He was cold, questioning, and had a sharp tongue. His father was John Adams, the second president of the United States.

VOICE ONE:

Treasury Secretary Crawford was a southerner — born in Virginia — and a large landowner in Georgia. Crawford had received some votes when the Republicans chose Monroe as their presidential candidate in eighteen sixteen. He was a good politician and supported by most southern Republicans.

War Secretary Calhoun also was a southern candidate. But he had much less support than Crawford. His home state — South Carolina — first named another man as its candidate. When that man died, they named Calhoun.

The West had two candidates in the election of eighteen twenty-four. One was Henry Clay of Kentucky — “Harry of the West” — a great lawyer, congressman, speaker of the House and senator. The other was Andrew Jackson — “Old Hickory” — the hero of New Orleans [the Battle of New Orleans during the war of 1812]. Jackson was poorly educated, knew little about government, and had a terrible temper. He was a fighter, a man of the people.

The sixth candidate was Dewitt Clinton of New York. He was governor of that state and leader of the commission that built the Erie Canal. But New York presidential electors were chosen by the legislature, which was controlled by Clinton’s enemies. So Clinton’s chances were poor.

VOICE TWO:

William Crawford
William Crawford

Treasury Secretary Crawford was clearly the leading candidate two years before the election. But he had a serious illness in the autumn of eighteen twenty-three. He could not meet with the cabinet for months. He could not sign official papers.

Crawford did go back to work. But he was only a shadow of the man he had been. “He walks slowly, like a blind man,” wrote one reporter. So that took secretary Crawford out as a possible candidate for the coming election.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER:

Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Steve Ember and Sarah Long. To learn more about American history, go to voaspecialenglish.com. We have transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs as well as historical images. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION – an American history series in VOA Special English.


New Findings Add to Health Concerns About a Chemical in Plastics

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Bisphenol A is a chemical widely used to make hard, polycarbonate plastic. Food storage containers, reusable water bottles and baby bottles are among the many different products that may contain BPA. BPA is also commonly used in protective coverings inside metal food and drink cans.

People can swallow small amounts of BPA as they eat or drink. An industry Web site says more than forty years of safety research shows that products made with bisphenol A are safe.

But others question the safety of BPA. Now, a large study has linked it to diabetes and heart disease in adults.

Canadian Environment Minister John Baird, left, and Health Minister Tony Clement hand out baby bottles that are free of BPA. In April, Mister Clement announced Canada's plans to limit use of the chemical.
Canadian Environment Minister John Baird, left, and Health Minister Tony Clement hand out baby bottles that are free of BPA. In April, Mister Clement announced Canada’s plans to limit use of the chemical.

Researchers divided almost one thousand five hundred American adults into four groups based on BPA levels in their urine. All the levels were within the limits considered safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Yet the study found that the highest group was more than twice as likely as the lowest group to have heart disease or diabetes, or both.

The Food and Drug Administration and chemical industry officials said the study does not show that bisphenol A caused the diseases. The researcher who led the study, David Melzer at England’s University of Exeter, agrees. He says the findings must be reproduced and that other studies are also needed.

But he also says that if BPA is a cause of these conditions, then just reducing contact with it might prevent some cases. The study appeared last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Earlier this month, United States government scientists from the National Toxicology Program released a final report on BPA. They found that the chemical is of “some concern” for effects on development of the prostate gland and brain in fetuses, infants and children. They made the same finding for behavioral effects.

The scientists based their findings mostly on studies of laboratory animals. Even so, the program director said “the possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed.”

In April, Canada became the first country to propose a ban on plastic baby bottles that contain BPA. The government has said it will publish its final decision by October eighteenth.

Some plastic goods are now being marketed as BPA-free. But some people wonder whether any other chemicals that might take its place are any better.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I’m Jim Tedder.


National Cryptologic Museum Is Filled With Secrets of the Past

VOICE ONE:

This is Mary Tillotson.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we visit a small museum in the state of Maryland. It is called the National Cryptologic Museum. It is filled with information that was once very secret.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

The little National Cryptologic Museum is on the Fort George G. Meade military base near Washington, D.C. It tells the story of cryptology and the men and women who have worked in this unusual profession. The word cryptology comes from the Greek “kryptos logos.” It means “hidden word.” Cryptology is writing or communicating using secret methods to hide the meaning of your words.

VOICE TWO:

An example of a slave quilt at the National Cryptologic Museum
An example of a slave quilt at the National Cryptologic Museum

The museum shows many pieces of equipment that were once used to make information secret. It also has equipment that was used in an effort to read secret information. One unusual example is a kind of bed covering called a quilt. Quilts are made by hand. They usually have a colorful design sewn on them. One special kind of quilt was used to pass on secret information.

In the early history of the United States, black people from Africa were used as slaves in the southern states. Slaves sewed quilts that had very unusual designs. These quilts really told stories. The quilts were made with designs that told slaves how to escape to freedom in the northern states.

The museum has an example that shows a design that represents the North Star. Slaves knew they had to travel from the South to the North to escape to freedom. The quilt tells a slave to follow the North Star. Other designs in the quilt represent roads and a small house.

History experts say about sixty thousand slaves escaped to freedom during the period of slavery. The experts do not know how much the quilts really helped, but they did provide needed information for those trying to escape.

VOICE ONE:

The Cryptologic Museum has several examples that show the importance of creating secret information, or trying to read secret information written by foreign nations. Secret information is also called code.

One of the most important displays at the museum shows American attempts to read Japanese military information codes during World War Two. The Japanese Navy used special machines to change their written information into secret codes. This coded information was then transmitted by radio to ships and bases. Much of this information contained secret military plans and orders.

Joseph Rochefort
Joseph Rochefort

The leaders of the Japanese Navy believed no one could read or understand the secret codes. They were wrong. An American Naval officer named Joseph Rochefort worked very hard to break the Japanese code. He did this in an effort to learn what the Japanese Navy was planning.

Mister Rochefort did his work in a small building on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was early in nineteen forty-two. The American naval commander in the Pacific Ocean was Admiral Chester Nimitz. His forces were much smaller than the Japanese Naval forces. And the Japanese had been winning many victories.

(SOUND)

VOICE TWO:

Joseph Rochefort had worked for several months to read the secret Japanese Naval code called J-N-Twenty-Five. If he could read enough of the code, Mister Rochefort would be able to provide Admiral Nimitz with very valuable information. Admiral Nimitz could use this information to make the necessary decisions to plan for battle. By the early part of the year, Mister Rochefort and the men who worked with him could read a little less than twenty percent of the Japanese J-N-Twenty-Five code.

VOICE ONE:

From the beginning of nineteen forty-two, the Japanese code carried information that discussed a place called “A-F.” Mister Rochefort felt the Japanese were planning an important battle aimed at “A-F.”

But where was “A-F”? After several weeks, Mister Rochefort and other naval experts told Admiral Nimitz that their best idea was that the “A-F” in the Japanese code was the American-held island of Midway.

Admiral Nimitz said he could not plan an attack or a defense based on only an idea. He needed more information.

VOICE TWO:

The Navy experts decided to try a trick. They told the American military force on Midway to broadcast a false message. The message would say the island was having problems with its water-processing equipment. The message asked that fresh water be sent immediately to the island. This message was not sent in code.

Several days later, a Japanese radio broadcast in the J-N-Twenty-Five code said that “A-F” had little water.

Mister Rochefort had the evidence he needed. “A-F” was now known to be the island of Midway. He also told Admiral Nimitz the Japanese would attack Midway on June third.

Admiral Nimitz used this information to secretly move his small force to an area near Midway and wait for the Japanese Navy. The battle that followed was a huge American victory. History experts now say the Battle of Midway was the beginning of the American victory in the Pacific. That victory was possible because Joseph Rochefort learned to read enough of the Japanese code to discover the meaning of the two letters “A-F.”

(SOUND)

VOICE ONE:

One American code has never been broken. Perhaps it never will. It was used in the Pacific during World War Two. For many years the government would not discuss this secret code. Listen for a moment to this very unusual code. Then you may understand why the Japanese military forces were never able to understand any of it.

(MUSIC)

You may have guessed that the code is in the voice of a Native American. The man you just heard is singing a simple song in the Navajo language. Very few people outside the Navajo nation are able to speak any of their very difficult language.

At the beginning of World War Two, the United States Marine Corps asked members of the Navajo tribe to train as Code Talkers.

VOICE ONE:

The Cryptologic Museum says about four hundred Navajos served as Marine Corps Code Talkers during the war. They could take a sentence in English and change it into their language in about twenty seconds. A code machine at that time took about thirty minutes to do the same work.

The Navajo Code Talkers took part in every battle the Marines entered in the Pacific during World War Two. The Japanese were very skilled at breaking codes. But they were never able to understand any of what they called “The Marine Code.”

For many years after the war, the American public did not know about the valuable work done by the Marine Navajo Code Talkers. The United States government kept their work a secret and their language continued to be a valuable method of passing secret information.

VOICE TWO:

The Cryptologic Museum has many pieces of mechanical and electric equipment used to change words into code. It also has almost as many examples of machines used to try to change code back into useful words.

Examples of Enigma machines
Examples of Enigma machines

Perhaps the most famous is a World War Two German code machine called the Enigma. The word “enigma” means a puzzle or a problem that is difficult to solve.

The German Enigma machine was used by the German military to pass orders and plans. The United States, Britain, and the government of Poland were all successful in learning to read information transmitted by the Enigma. It took thousands of people and cost millions of dollars to read the Enigma information. However, the time, effort and money resulted in a quicker end to the war against Nazi Germany.

VOICE ONE:

The National Cryptologic Museum belongs to the United States National Security Agency. The agency is usually called the N.S.A. One of the N.S.A.’s many jobs is cryptography for the United States government. The work of the N.S.A. is not open to the public. However, the National Cryptologic Museum tells the story of the men and women who work at the N.S.A. long after their work is no longer secret.

Each part of the museum shows the value of this secret, difficult and demanding work. Visitors say it is really fun to see equipment and read documents that were once very important and very, very secret.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I’m Steve Ember.

VOICE ONE:

And I’m Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.