Henry Gilpin (1801 - 1860) was the Governor of the Northern Confederation, the first Minister of War under the Second Britannic Design, and the second Governor-General of the Confederation of North America.
Governor and DelegateEdit
Gilpin became Governor of the Northern Confederation on 7 September 1840 after the death of his predecessor, Daniel Webster, who was stabbed by an assassin. Gilpin carried out a ruthless suppression of the Grand Consolidated Union and the Laborers' Alliance, resulting in the deaths of over 40,000 people, and another 78,000 severely injured. Gilpin ruled the N.C. with an iron fist, suspending the Britannic Design in the name of safety, before being voted out of office in 1842.
Gilpin was one of the chief organizers of the Concordia Convention of 1841, and one of the founders of the Unified Liberal Party following the Burgoyne Conference of 1842. In the 1843 Grand Council elections under the Second Britannic Design, the Unified Liberals won 91 seats on the Grand Council, and Gilpin was appointed Minister of War in the Cabinet of Governor-General Winfield Scott.
Minister of WarEdit
Gilpin was more influential within the Unified Liberal Party than Scott, and he was eager for war with what he called the "anarchists and half-breeds of Mexico." As early as the summer of 1843, he was urging Scott to make a surprise attack on the Mexican cities of Jefferson City and Tampico. As conflict broke out in the Broken Arrow region of Vandalia and Mexico del Norte in the summer of 1845, Gilpin increased the pressure for a declaration of war. Scott sought to avoid war, but he was unsuccessful in gaining the support of Willie Lloyd of the National Conservatives for negotiations.
The election of Pedro Hermión as President of Mexico in August 1845 strengthened Gilpin's hand, and in a secret Cabinet meeting on 28 August he was able to sway the rest of the Cabinet to support a declaration of war against the U.S.M. Scott agreed, and on the following day Gilpin sent word to his field commanders to make final preparations for an attack on Mexico, and to have their forces put on a war footing.
When Scott received a message from Hermión that he would continue to search for peace "in the spirit of my predecessor," he called a second special Cabinet meeting on 11 September to discuss the message. He was about to ask for another vote on a declaration of war when the meeting was interrupted by Gilpin's aide, Captain Nathan Rusher, who brought news that fighting had broken out between Mexican and North American troops the week before. Sobel notes that there is evidence that Gilpin ordered an attack, but suggests that this was due to his field commanders misinterpreting poorly-worded orders. Professor Frank Dana, in his critique of Sobel, states that most historians consider the aggression to have begun by the North American attack at three points along the Vandalia border.
Although there was no declaration of war made, military activity in the Broken Arrow region increased in intensity and regularity until a de facto state of war existed between the two countries by the end of 1845. The first years of the war were marked by a series of North American attacks on the U.S.M. which were uniformly unsuccessful, including successive invasions of Mexico del Norte, and a drive on Mexico City from Tampico.
Unhappy with Scott's prosecution of the war, Gilpin broke with the government in April 1849, charging Scott with incompetence and lack of dedication to the fighting men. He joined with Lloyd in a no-confidence motion that left Scott without majority support in the Grand Council. Instead of calling elections, Scott spent three weeks attempting to form a coalition government with the National Conservatives. Scott's effort was unsuccessful, and when Gilpin's supporters expelled him from the Unified Liberal Party, Scott resigned.
Lloyd demanded a new election, but Gilpin was able to form a Cabinet that included some pro-war National Conservatives, and won the support of a majority of the Grand Council on 15 May. Gilpin then vowed to bring the war to a close through "a massive assault on the Mexicans, who shall not rest from our blows." Gilpin launched a new offensive against the U.S.M., sending an army under General David Homer to take San Francisco. Homer's army was halted at the Battle of San Fernando in July 1850, and he was forced to retreat into Williams Pass. He was trapped there by two Mexican armies, and a North American relief expedition under General FitzJohn Smithers was trapped as well. The C.N.A. lost 113,000 of 140,000 men at the Battle of Williams Pass, and popular opinion turned against the war in both countries. Gilpin, however, dismissed the appalling cost of the battle, saying, "Our nation can afford to lose men; the Mexicans cannot. We shall grind them to dust."
President Hermión was assassinated in June 1851, and the Mexicans elected an anti-war candidate, Hector Niles, in August. Niles pledged himself to the search for an end to the war, and offered to meet Gilpin "at a place of the Governor-General's choice, where we may end this sad conflict in good will." Niles ordered the Mexican Army to cease offensive operations, which Gilpin interpreted as an admission of weakness. Gilpin continued to send North American armies into Mexico, including more amphibious invasions of the Mexicn Gulf Coast, and a second attempt to take San Francisco in 1852, along with a naval assault on the city led by Commodore Daniel Hanson.
The North American army began to suffer mutinies in the field, and that, combined with strikes and riots in the N.C. and a growing rejection of the war throughout the C.N.A., cost Gilpin the support of the Unified Liberals. The party's caucus in the Grand Council rejected Gilpin, and chose Bruce Harrison of the N.C. as its candidate for governor-general in the 1853 Grand Council elections. Gilpin retired from public life after leaving office in 1853, and published a volume of memoirs in 1860 called No Apologies are in Order: My Term as Governor.
Sobel's sources for the life and career of Henry Gilpin are Gilpin's own memoirs (New York, 1860), as well as Henry Gibbs' The Gilpin Legacy (New York, 1889); William Cocke's Caesar in Broadcloth (New York, 1910); George Loring's The Right Man: Gilpin in Command (London, 1956) and, as editor, Origins of the Rocky Mountain War (London, 1969); John Pritchard's The First Shot: Origins of the Rocky Mountain War (Mexico City, 1958); and Joan Kahn's The Unknown History of the Hermión Assassination: The Gilpin Connection (New York, 1968). Sobel notes that "after more than a century, we still lack a 'standard biography' of this important and complex man", and recommends editor Henry Murray's Gilpin and the Historians (New York, 1970) for the most recent scholarship in the field.
|Governors of the Northern Confederation|
|John Dickinson • George Clinton • Daniel Webster • Martin van Buren • Henry Gilpin • John Dix • Victor Astor • Elbert Childs|
|Governors-General of the C.N.A.|
|Winfield Scott • Henry Gilpin • William Johnson • Whitney Hawkins • Kenneth Parkes • Herbert Clemens • John McDowell • Ezra Gallivan • Clifton Burgen • Christopher Hemingway • Albert Merriman • Calvin Wagner • Henderson Dewey • Douglas Watson • Bruce Hogg • James Billington • Richard Mason • Perry Jay • Carter Monaghan|
This was the Featured Article for the week of 31 March 2013.