History in Haiku
The American saga, seventeen syllables at a time


Walking from Asia / A hunter, a tribe, a clan / Into a new world. (First arrivals, c. 15,000 BC)

The Norsemen sail west / For fish, grapes, a plot of ground / Then sail east again. (Newfoundland, c. 1000 AD)

The white ships appear / The bearded ones come ashore / Who the hell are they? (Columbus, 1492)

Fever takes the young / Their parents weep, then die too / Whole peoples perish. (First contacts, 15th-19th centuries)

Gold! There will be gold! / For gentlemen to gather / In fair Virginia! (Jamestown, 1607)

No gold, no profit / No corn, no meat, no sugar / Nothing but hunger. (Virginia, 1607-24)

Torn from their homeland / Transported in misery / To toil in chains. (Slave trade, 17th-19th centuries)

A cold churning sea / A windswept peninsula / This is a refuge? (Plymouth, 1620)

We solemnly swear / As a joint body to seek / The general good. (Mayflower Compact, 1620)

Terror in the night / Blood and slaughter in the day / Horror on the land. (King Philip's War, 1670s)

Shivers and specters / Flit over hearts in Salem / And nineteen are hanged. (Witch trials, 1690s)

New lights and new hearts / New preachers from new pulpits / Awaken the world. (The Great Awakening, 1730s-40s)

The days! Oh, the days! / When the calendar is changed / Eleven go missing! (Britain adopts the Gregorian calendar, 1752)

Clouds churn, thunder rolls / The kite string shudders and sends / A small spark to earth. (Ben Franklin's kite, 1752)

Victory burdens / An empire deeply in debt. / London retrenches. (Aftermath of French and Indian War, 1763)

Taxes, new taxes / That drive a free people to / Arson and riot. (Stamp Act protests, 1765)

Taunts and ice balls fly / Nervous soldiers flinch and fire / Blood moon, scarlet snow (Boston Massacre, 1770)

In angry war paint / Men board the East India ship / And toss the cargo. (Boston Tea Party, 1773)

Gruff men, frightened boys / Face off, then fire unknowing / And shatter a world. (Battle of Lexington, 1775)

A congress ponders / Then takes a heartstopping leap / To independence. (Declaration of Independence, 1776)

Whigs battle Tories / Fathers take arms against sons / A people divide. (The Revolution as civil war, 1775-83)

Franklin charms Paris / Gates batters Burgoyne, bringing / France into the war. (Battle of Saratoga, 1777)

Frozen sky, iron earth / Tattered clothes, empty bellies / Verging on defeat. (Valley Forge, 1778)

The Quaker conscience / Gets the better of profit / A century late. (Pennsylvania begins to abolish slavery, 1780)

A hesitant step / Toward a national union / With war as cement. (The Articles of Confederation, 1781)

French money and ships / American muskets and will / Bring Cornwallis down. (Battle of Yorktown, 1781)

A year of wrangling / After six years of fighting / And the deed is done. (Treaty of Paris, 1783)

A stroke of genius / To create not colonies / But fully fledged states. (Northwest Ordinance, 1787)

In victory's warmth / The glue of their common fear / Melts alarmingly. (To the Constitution, 1780s)

America stumbles / On account of selfish states / Behaving badly. (To the Constitution, 1780s)

Two men of vision / Madison and Hamilton / Quietly plot a coup. (To the Constitution, 1780s)

Delegates gather / To subvert one government / And craft another. (Constitutional Convention, 1787)

In secret debate / In Philadelphia's heat / The fifty-five wrangle. (Constitutional Convention, 1787)

They limit the states / And strengthen central power / To build a nation. (Constitutional Convention, 1787)

To secure the South / The drafters knowingly make / A devil's bargain. (Slavery in the Constitution, 1787)

They sign the charter / And send it to the people / For their yea or nay. (End of the Constitutional Convention, 1787)

The battle is joined / The Antis cry freedom's doom / But fail to persuade. (Constitution ratified, 1787-88)

At Federal Hall / A federal government / Restarts the nation. (The 1787 Constitution takes effect, 1789)

The Congress convenes / And Madison proposes / To guarantee rights. (The Bill of Rights, 1789)

America's flame / Kindles dry forests in France / The heat cracks the earth. (American ideals and the French Revolution, 1789)

To aid an ally / Or to heed self-interest / The nation must choose. (The response to the wars of the French Revolution, 1790s)

Amid the conflict / Factions form, parties congeal / Old patriots weep. (National politics, 1790s)

Hamilton heads up / The Federalist party / Tilting to Britain. (Federalists vs. Republicans, 1790s)

Jefferson favors / And Republicans second / The fortunes of France. (Federalists vs. Republicans, 1790s)

The Congress threatens / Free speech and encourages / Xenophobia. (Alien and Sedition Acts, 1798)

Kentucky resolves / To refuse obedience. / Virginia does too. (Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, 1798-99)

In their revulsion / The people shout 'liberty' / And elect Marse Tom. (Jefferson's election, 1800)

No parties! says he / For we're Americans all / And stand together. (Jefferson's first inaugural address, 1801)

A cunning device / Which severs cotton from seeds / Gives bondage new life. (Cotton gin introduced, 1790s and after)

The whip still slashes / The chains still burden and bruise / But the ships sail by. (End of slave imports, 1808)

A Western empire / Suddenly offered for sale / Louisiana! (Louisiana Purchase, 1803)

Jefferson worries / Do I possess the power? / Then ignores his qualms. (Louisiana Purchase, 1803)

He buys it and sends / Lewis and Clark to explore / To the Pacific. (Corps of Discovery, 1804-6)

Trouble with Europe / Ships and cargoes snatched at sea / By Britain and France. (US caught between Britain and France, 1803-12)

Jefferson responds / With a blanket embargo / That staggers commerce. (Embargo Act, 1807)

New England erupts / Federalists fulminate / All curse Jefferson. (Reaction to Embargo Act of 1807)

Jefferson retires / To his mountaintop mansion / To garden and muse. (Monticello, 1809-1826)

Madison is next / In the line of Virginians / To take the White House. (Madison become president, 1809)

War feeling rises / Anglophobia rages / Hottest in the West. (The approach of the War of 1812)

Meanwhile Tecumseh / Gathers Indian allies / To drive out the whites. (Tecumseh's alliance, 1811-12)

A violent earthquake / That reverses great rivers / He claims as a sign. (New Madrid earthquakes, 1811-12)

A dismal conflict / Dashing vainglorious hopes / Embarrassing all. (The War of 1812)

The Capitol burned / The government driven off / The war hawks chastened. (War of 1812)

Comes almost too late / The war's singular hero / Brave Old Hickory. (Andrew Jackson, 1814-15)

He smites the British / At the gates of New Orleans / Salvaging honor. (Battle of New Orleans, 1815)

Napoleon falls / Peace settles upon Europe / America too. (Treaty of Ghent, 1815)

Land prices rally / Speculators get greedy / Till the bubble bursts. (Panic of 1819)

Jackson rides again / Into Spanish Florida / And Madrid gives way. (Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819)

Missouri wants in / As a state with slavery / Northerners object. (To the Missouri Compromise, 1820)

Voters like Jackson / But the pols prefer Adams / And they have their way. (The disputed election of 1824)

A corrupt bargain!' / The Jacksonians bellow / And plot their revenge. (To the election of 1828)

Bitter and brutal / Mean lies and wicked slanders / Mark the next campaign. (The election of 1828)

Though Jackson prevails / Wife Rachel, slandered, libeled / Collapses and dies. (Election of 1828)

Jackson despairing / Yet travels to Washington / To take up his task. (Jackson's inauguration, 1829)

Thousands go with him / Delirious, triumphant / The people will rule! (Jackson's inauguration, 1829

The old order reels! / A riot! A mob! Chaos! / Is there no respect?! (Jackson takes office, 1829)

But Jackson proceeds / Steady, resolved, still grieving / To serve once again. (Jackson as president, 1829-37)

Trouble in Charleston / Murmurings of secession / Over a tariff. (Nullification crisis, 1828-33)

By the Almighty! / Jackson thunders, then threatens / War for the Union. (Nullification crisis, 1832-33)

I'll hang the traitors / High as Haman! They shall not / Rend the republic! (Jackson on the nullifiers, 1832-33)

Carolina heeds / Old Hickory's warnings / The crisis passes. (Nullification crisis, 1832-33)

A new foe springs up / The haughty and powerful / Nicholas Biddle. (The Bank War, 1832-33)

Banker luxe, in league / With Henry Clay, most bitter / Of Jackson's rivals. (Nicholas Biddle, head of the Bank of the United States, 1832)

They prepare a trap / An untimely renewal / Of Biddle's great bank. (The Bank War: Biddle versus Jackson, 1832)

But Jackson counters / Defies wealth and privilege / And vetoes the bank. (Jackson and the Bank War, 1832)

The money men howl: / Democracy blind! Amok! / Mad Jackson must fall! (The Bank War, 1832)

Yet Jackson undaunted / Strikes at the raging Biddle / In his marble lair. (Jackson and the Bank War, 1833)

He strangles the Bank / By withdrawing deposits / That Biddle covets. (Jackson and the Bank War, 1833)

Biddle, outsmarted / Can only watch impotent / As the bank expires. (Jackson and the Bank War, 1833)

Then for an encore / Jackson wrestles the budget / And defeats the debt. (The last time U.S. government was in the black, 1835)

A western bubble / In land balloons, balloons, bursts! / Mad panic ensues! (The Panic of 1837)

Van Buren shudders / Eager Whigs clamor and vote / For Tippecanoe. (Benjamin Harrison elected over Martin Van Buren, 1840)

Two hours in chill rain / A cold becomes pneumonia / The White House wears black. (The first president to die in office: Harrison, 1841)

A thousand wagons / Cross the muddy Missouri / Ho for Oregon! (The westward migration, 1843)

Texas now beckons / Take me! she says, lest helpless / I seek another. (The Texas republic applies for admission to the Union, early 1840s)

But Texas has slaves / And some Northerns say: Never! / They block her entry. (Debate over Texas, 1844)

Polk is determined / 'Texas was ours, and will be / And Oregon too!' (James Polk runs for president, 1844)

He fights a campaign / Vowing landed expansion / And thumpingly wins. (Polk elected, 1844)

Tyler is clever / He outwits his foes and makes / The Lone Star a state. (John Tyler arranges the annexation of Texas, 1845)

Now Polk grows greedy / Coveting California / He provokes a war. (The War with Mexico, 1846)

The blue coats attack / Taking Mexico City / Forcing surrender. (The U.S. war with Mexico, 1846-47)

Polk gets his desire: / A Pacific coast harbor / Then exits to die. (Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848; Polk's retirement and death, 1849)

Meanwhile on a stream / In the western Sierra / A small cadre toils. (California, 1848)

A glint, a glimmer / In the dawn, in the millrace / A fateful yellow. (James Marshall discovers gold, 1848)

Marshall and Sutter / Gather quietly, anxious / To keep their secret. (John Sutter's Fort, California, 1848)


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