In the aftermath of the War of the Rebellion, a strange situation arose politically: the presence of both freedmen and ex-Confederates in politics. Not all black politicians had been born into slavery, but many were. The approaches of them differed on suffrage for ex-Confederates, with some fearing their freedoms would be compromised should ex-Confederates be restored suffrage too early and others calling for reconciliation by having everyone enfranchised, and many ex-Confederates agitated (to say the least) for the disenfranchisement of black voters. In the 1870s, both the former vice presidents of the United States and of the Confederacy were serving: Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, a Republican who had once been a Democrat, and Representative Alexander Stephens of Georgia, a Democrat who had once been a Whig, like Abraham Lincoln. The first Democrat to be elected to Congress from Mississippi after the war was Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II (1825-1893) (love that name) in 1872, who had served before the war. He distinguished himself as a reconciliatory figure through his moving tribute in 1874 to the late Senator Charles Sumner, the famous Massachusetts abolitionist. However, Lamar was a believer in white supremacy and opposed black suffrage, at least, during Reconstruction. He had also as a plantation owner once owned 31 slaves.
In 1875, Blanche K. Bruce (1841-1898) was elected to the Senate and was the first black man to serve a full term. Bruce was a man who had escaped slavery and his fellow Mississippi senator, former Confederate General and Republican James Alcorn, refused to escort him per Senate tradition. Senator Roscoe Conkling (R-N.Y.) stepped up to do so instead. This action made Conkling a hero for many blacks, and numerous black boys were subsequently named “Roscoe Conkling”, including Bruce’s son. Bruce would not be troubled by Alcorn’s antagonistic presence for long, as by the next election the Democrats won control over the state legislature, and elected Lamar to the Senate.
Bruce and Lamar served together in the Senate from 1877 to 1881 and despite the latter’s stated belief in white supremacy and opposition to Reconstruction, the two developed a cordial and friendly working relationship in securing legislation and railroad funds for Mississippi. Indeed, Bruce got on better with his white Democratic colleague than he had Alcorn. Bruce won approval from many whites for his moderate Republicanism and support for suffrage for ex-Confederates and on February 14, 1879, he presided over the Senate, the first and only former slave to do so. He stressed that while he was proud to be black, he thought of himself as a senator for both races in Mississippi. Like Lamar, Bruce was a successful plantation owner and would remain so.
The experience of working with Bruce, it turns out, may have had quite an effect on Lamar. In 1879, Lamar participated in a forum in which he supported black suffrage along with James Garfield and James G. Blaine (Crapol, 64). Indeed, race relations seemed to be improving and in 1880 blacks equaled or exceeded whites in turnout in eight Southern states and in all but two Southern states a majority of them voted (Filer, Kenny, & Morton, 371). In fact, while in Grover Cleveland’s cabinet as Interior Secretary he was one of the more open Southerners to black patronage appointments. On January 16, 1888, he was confirmed to the Supreme Court, the first Southern nominee since before the War of the Rebellion. Unfortunately, the times were not moving with Lamar.
Bruce’s successor in 1881 was Democrat James Z. George, the architect of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution that both in practice and intent disenfranchised black men by a poll tax and a literacy test that was administered in a racially discriminatory manner by local election officials. Voter fraud was also ramping up and would be used to gradually push Republicans out of office. One incident in Bolivar County, Mississippi, is described by Dennis J. Mitchell (2014) thusly, “In one instance, when suspicious black election officials hovered too closely over a box so that the Democrats could not substitute their fraudulent one, a Democratic physician among the group went out for food. Coming back with sardines and crackers, he announced that, on this special occasion, blacks and whites could eat together in violation of custom. He had injected croton oil into the black men’s sardines with a hypodermic needle, and when the sick black men rushed from the room, the Democrats switched ballot boxes” (170). In 1890, he spoke out against his state disenfranchising black voters through the adoption of Senator George’s constitution. Alcorn, on the other hand, had participated in drafting the 1890 constitution despite having backed the 14th and 15th Amendments earlier in his career. Lamar had even called for the appointment of a black cabinet member (Wilson). He was eighty years ahead of his time on this one – it wouldn’t happen until 1966 during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. A group of Mississippi leaders in politics and society who aimed to improve race relations in the 1970s would reflect on Lamar’s legacy and hold that his conduct in the 1870s was a good model for Southerners in the 1970s (Wilson). If the politics of Bruce and Lamar had been stuck to perhaps freedom for both races would have prevailed in Mississippi and perhaps even social equality would have come sooner. Unfortunately, greater socioeconomic forces were at work.
Bruce, Blanche K. (1841-1898). New York University of Law.
In 1934, conservative Republican Senator Henry Hatfield, normally a popular figure, faced an exceptionally young Democratic opponent in Rush Dew Holt Sr. (1905-1955), a member of the House of Delegates who stood out as a populist and a foe of public utility companies. He ran as a staunch proponent of the New Deal and given its popularity and the shift of West Virginia to the Democrats he was able to oust Hatfield. This was despite not being the Constitutionally required age by the start of the term to which he was elected. Holt would have to wait six months before being sworn in, and to this day he is the youngest person ever elected to the Senate. He initially was thought of as to FDR’s left and his early record reflected this perception, but he soon changed. Despite having been raised by a socialist, Holt dramatically departed from the New Deal line starting in 1936. He had also parted ways with his original political benefactor, Senator Matthew Neely, both ideologically and over patronage; Neely had been getting an overwhelming share of the latter to the consternation of Holt. The parting became so bitter that Neely denounced Holt as a “sewer rat” for his turn (Hill).
By DW-Nominate’s measurements, Holt was the fifth most conservative Democrat to serve in either House of Congress between 1857 and 2021 with a score of 0.283. However, the MC-Index places him at a 60%. This can be attributed to his dramatic swing against the New Deal but even more so his uncompromising non-interventionism, the latter of which DW-Nominate seems to have a heavier weight on in the Senate. This was in step with old progressives, who opposed American military adventures in the early 20th century, including President Calvin Coolidge’s now little-known intervention in Nicaragua in the 1920s. Holt not only voted against any effort weakening the Neutrality Acts and against the peacetime draft, but also voted against both the nominations of Henry Stimson as Secretary of War and Frank Knox as Secretary of the Navy in 1940, both men interventionist Republicans who managed to get significant Republican support. He also supported higher tariffs, especially on glass, as this was a specialty of West Virginia. Holt seemed to relish his role as a great dissenter, and he earned the spoils of dissenting against one of history’s great men. FDR was still quite popular in West Virginia, and so out of step was he with his party that he came in third in his bid for renomination. Out of the Senate, Holt spoke at America First rallies and got some bad press for trying to publish his book, The British Propaganda Network, through Flanders Hall, a publishing firm that was run from behind the scenes by Nazi propagandist George Sylvester Viereck. Even after Pearl Harbor, he remained resolute in his non-interventionism, declaring in 1942, “Our fight is not over. We must stand guard to see that the internationalists…are not allowed to determine the future of our great country. They would commit us to everlasting wars everywhere” (Coffey, 1-14).
Holt won back his seat in the House of Delegates in 1942 as a Democrat, serving from 1943 to 1949. However, his efforts at higher office were in vain, losing a gubernatorial nomination in 1944 and as late as 1948 he trying to win the party’s nomination for the Senate. By 1949, however, he had figured out that he no longer belonged in the Democratic Party and switched. In 1950, he made an unsuccessful bid for Congress as a Republican, came close to winning a gubernatorial election in 1952 (running ahead of Eisenhower), and was again elected to the House of Delegates in 1954. However, Holt had little time to savor this final victory, as he tragically lost his battle with cancer on February 8, 1955, only 49 years old. His widow, Helen, would serve in his place and would serve as the state’s secretary of state from 1957 to 1959, the first woman to hold statewide office in West Virginia. Unlike her short-lived husband, Holt lived to the advanced age of 101, dying 60 years after her husband. His son, Rush Jr., served in Congress as a Democrat from New Jersey from 1999 to 2015.
Holt was a man who possessed a powerful mind (he started attending university at 15) but he compromised a promising political career on principle and perhaps a sense of pleasure in being an iconoclast within the Democratic Party. He peaked and died early, possibly short of his full political potential.
Coffey, W.E. (1992). Isolationism and Pacifism: Senator Rush D. Holt and American Foreign Policy. West Virginia History, 51.
Hill, R. (2013, April 14). The Boy Wonder: Senator Rush Holt of West Virginia. The Knoxville Focus.
On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany commenced their invasion of Poland. The justification was the fabricated Gleiwitz incident the previous day, in which the SS conducted an attack on a German radio station on the German-Polish border disguised as Polish nationalists. Hitler himself stated on such an operation to his generals a week earlier, “I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn’t matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth” (Wirtz, 100). Most people in the United States had no interest in getting into another European war, as they had by and large been disillusioned by World War I. The British sought to change that. British Security Coordination (BSC) was started in 1940 at the behest of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, being employed to influence American opinion towards intervention in World War II. From the very start of his time as Prime Minister, he said in response to his son Randolph how he intended to defeat Nazi Germany, “I shall drag the United States in” (Simkin, BSC). The British wanted a repeat of American intervention in World War I, while the Germans wanted to prevent a repeat. Both nations would use methods legal and illegal in efforts to achieve their aims.
The British Efforts
The BSC was headed by Canadian Sir William Stephenson, who was officially posted to the United States with the title of Principal Passport Control Officer. His main contact was boxer Gene Tunney, a personal friend of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and also had Ernest Cuneo, the lead brain truster in the Roosevelt Administration, as a contact. Cuneo was even given the codename “Crusader” and passed along intelligence to BSC (Simkin, Cuneo). They aimed to influence the public, the media, and the government. Stephenson provided information to journalist Edgar Ansel Mowrer, who proceeded to write a series of articles why Nazi Germany was a threat to the United States. They also used some people who are now notable literary names, such as Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming, in their operations.
Stories were planted in the press, and they made great efforts to influence journalists including Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson. According to author Donald Ritchie, “Winchell swallowed BSC bait whole, printing some of their news stories exactly as the British wrote them. Not so Pearson, who dismayed the propagandists by putting his own interpretation on whatever they gave him. The BSC did not consider Pearson anti-British, but attributed his hostility to his anti-colonialism” (78). The British, it should be understood, were at a significant economic and military disadvantage to the Germans. Germany had twice the workforce of Britain, higher average income, and had spent five times the amount on armaments the British had (Simkin). It was thus vital for the British to get the United States into the war.
The BSC was actively aided by the Roosevelt Administration and aided numerous organizations calling for intervention. These included The League of Human Rights, Freedom and Democracy, and The American Labor Committee to Aid British Labor. The BSC was involved in bringing about the Bases for Destroyers Deal, an impeachable offense for violation of the Neutrality Acts. However, the deal was so favorable to the United States that the political push for Roosevelt’s impeachment never materialized.
In 1940, the BSC’s efforts helped ensure that the Republican ticket in 1940 would be headlined by Wendell Willkie, and this was done through manufactured polling. On June 25th, the New York Herald reported that a poll by Market Analysts, Inc. revealed that 3/5’s of Republicans supported helping allied powers with “everything short of war” (Usdin). The problem here, however, was that Market Analysts was not a neutral firm. It was headed by Sanford Griffith, an intelligence agent for Britain, and it produced time and time again polls that supported intervention in Europe (Usdin). Willkie won the nomination under the belief of the convention delegates that he best represented the feelings of the Republican voters. He was also persuaded not to come out against FDR’s Bases for Destroyers deal by BSC agents. Thus, Britain had removed non-interventionists entirely from a realistic shot at the presidency in 1940.
By April 1941, with public opinion still strongly against intervening in World War II, the BSC figured they needed a more aggressive organization for advocacy and thus Fight for Freedom, Inc. was established by future CIA chief Allen W. Dulles and BSC agent Sydney Morrell. They succeeded in recruiting numerous prominent people into this organization including TIME Magazine’s owner Henry Luce, journalist Joseph Alsop, Senator Carter Glass (D-Va.), future Secretary of State Dean Acheson, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and FDR’s former budget director Lewis W. Douglas. This organization was particularly big on working to discredit non-interventionist politicians and conducted illegal undercover operations and bogus news stories against them. It was a BSC operation, for instance, to deliver a card by a representative of Fight for Freedom, Inc. to Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.) at the end of his non-interventionist speech reading “Der Fuhrer thanks you for your loyalty”, with pictures taken of the embarrassment (Simkin, BSC). The BSC worked overtime to defeat Fish, even creating the “Non-Partisan Committee to Defeat Hamilton Fish”. He would be defeated for reelection in 1944. Senator Gerald Nye (R-N.D.) was another prominent target. After he delivered a non-interventionist speech in September 1941 in Boston, representatives of the BSC handed out handbills claiming he was a Nazi lover and appeaser (Simkin, BSC). Nye would also lose reelection in 1944. The aim was to paint non-interventionists as well as the America First Committee as “Nazi lovers”. Arguably the greatest feat was the BSC’s fabrication of intelligence that historian Thomas Mahl argued led to the effective repeal of the Neutrality Acts.
The BSC commissioned the manufacture of a map purporting to be the German plan to conquer parts of Central and South America, and it was a convincing one. This was the evidence that was delivered to President Roosevelt and on October 27th, 1941, he announced to the public, “I have in my possession a secret map, made in Germany by Hitler’s government, by planners of the new world order. It is a map of South America and part of Central America as Hitler proposes to organize it” (Simkin, BSC). Helping events was the sinking of the U.S. destroyer Reuben James, which was escorting convoys to Britain, on October 31st. The legislation to permit U.S. ships to enter belligerent ports would become law on November 17th. This was reminiscent of the genuine Zimmermann Telegram in January 1917 that was instrumental in pushing the US into entering the war on the Allied side, in which the German Foreign Office promised Mexico recovery of the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas if it allied with them and they won. The final dismantling of the Neutrality Acts occurred thereafter. The effectiveness of this British propaganda was so good that the idea of these people and groups being pro-Nazi sticks in the minds of some to this day. This is not to say, however, that no politicians or activists had pro-Nazi attitudes. Indeed, as I will illustrate there were a few who even collaborated in German propaganda efforts.
The German Efforts
The key figure in the effort to spread Nazi Germany’s propaganda to the United States, their counterpart to Sir William Stephenson, was German-American propagandist and poet George Sylvester Viereck, a registered German agent. Viereck had long fancied himself as a cultural ambassador for Germany in the United States and had written propaganda for Germany in World War I. He was particularly useful for marketing for Germany as he was in truth mildly critical of anti-Semitism but deluded himself into regarding it as an incidental rather than a central feature of Nazism. The Nazis knew that Kristallnacht had not been popular in America, thus Viereck’s focus would be to spread anti-British propaganda: criticism of Britain’s foreign policies as well as of their propaganda.
Flanders Hall: From Berlin to the US
Viereck founded, with the Hauck brothers being the official heads of the firm, Flanders Hall in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. This was a publishing firm that concealed from public view its Nazi funding and mostly selected works from the German Library of Information and distributed them in America. Most of the authors were either German or German-American and often used pseudonyms. These works included the highly popular Lord Lothian vs. Lord Lothian, officially authored by Senator Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota but ghostwritten by Viereck, which pointed out contradictions in the pro and anti-Nazi speeches from Britain’s ambassador to the United States, who had been pro-Nazi before he read Mein Kampf (Mahl, 157). They also provided critiques of British policies in Ireland, India, and on their strategy of blockading Germany during World War I. Another book, The 100 Families That Rule the Empire (1941) by Giselher Wirsing, was reported by Flanders Hall to be boosted by several non-interventionist senators and representatives (Allen & Pearson, 1941). The title was based on America’s 60 Families (1937) by Ferdinand Lundberg, which had charged that the U.S. was a plutocracy of these families and called for scrapping the U.S. Constitution in favor of a parliamentary system. Wirsing, it turns out, was not only a member of the Nazi Party but also held rank in the SS. A book that attracted some scandal was We Must Save the Republic, as its author, Congressman Stephen A. Day (R-Ill.), son of Supreme Court Justice William R. Day, had used Flanders Hall, apparently with his eyes open as to its connections, to publish it. Former non-interventionist Senator Rush Holt (D-W.V.) also had been in negotiations with Flanders Hall to publish his book critical of British propaganda titled appropriately, The British Propaganda Network before it was shut down.
The Franking Scheme
Viereck sought to use Congress as a machine with which to distribute propaganda against intervention. He had made his way in Washington’s social circles and through knowing Congressman Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.), he met one of his secretaries, George Hill. The two concocted a scheme to distribute anti-British propaganda through the Congressional frank. For those not in the know, the franking privilege is that members of Congress get to use the mail free of charge. They would get members of Congress to speak against involvement in World War II and distribute these speeches through the frank. Hill would use the justification that it was for the Order of the Purple Heart (a veterans group of which he headed a chapter in New York) for the mailers to members of Congress (Hoke, 28-30). Given that non-interventionist members of Congress saw themselves as patriots, how could they refuse if it was a veterans organization behind it? This was an illegal scheme, and although Viereck had registered as a German agent, the scope of his activities was not disclosed, such as the establishing of Flanders Hall. They also managed to get a several members of Congress as patsies for them. Reps. Jacob Thorkelson (R-Mont.) and Lewis Thill (R-Wis.), for instance, inserted Nazi propaganda into the Congressional Record. However, the most in-depth case was that of Senator Ernest Lundeen.
The Case of Senator Lundeen
In 1917, Minnesota’s Ernest Lundeen had as a Republican representative voted against American participation in World War I, which had cost him renomination in 1918. The times had changed by the 1930s and criticism of World War I was more normalized, with him being elected to the Senate from the Farmer-Labor Party in 1936. He was determined to prevent the US from going down the same path a second time, and went the greatest length of any senator to do so.
Lundeen didn’t shy away from associations with George Sylvester Viereck, the leading propaganda agent the Nazis had in the US who specialized in promoting anti-British sentiment. In fact, Viereck even wrote some of his Senate speeches, and he may have paid Lundeen to allow him to do so. He also was made the chair of the Make Europe Pay War Debts Committee to promote anti-British sentiment in the US. Lundeen’s role was pretty much honorary on this committee, as it was Viereck pulling the strings as he did with Flanders Hall. On August 31, 1940, he boarded a plane with two FBI agents on board, supposedly there to tail Lundeen. However, this plane crashed with all on board killed in what was at that time the worst air disaster in American history. There has been speculation that the plane was sabotaged, but the FBI investigation produced no conclusion.
Overall, the British efforts proved much more successful of course than Germany’s, but Germany had a capable propagandist in Viereck and the American public was not wanting to go to war again. What ultimately won out though was the superiority of Britain’s propaganda and intelligence efforts.
Allen, R. & Pearson, D. (1941, August 30). The Daily Washington Merry-Go-Round. Suffolk News-Herald.
Eisele, A. (2009, September 3). Death of senator from Minnesota still shrouded in mystery. MinnPost.
Hoke, H. (1944). Black mail. New York, NY: Reader’s Book Service, Inc.
Johnson, N.M. (1968). George Sylvester Viereck: Poet and Propagandist. University of Iowa.
Mahl, T.E. (1998). Desperate deception: British cover operations in the United States: 1939-44. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books.
Ritchie, D.A. (2021). The columnist: leaks, lies, and libel in Drew Pearson’s Washington. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Simkin, J. (2020, January). British Security Coordination. Spartacus Educational.
Many of the Texas Democrats who won their first elections in the 1940s were a more conservative breed than past ones, and Omar Truman Burleson (1906-1991) was another example. Elected in 1946, he had previously been an FBI agent as well as secretary to his predecessor, Sam Russell. The freshmen who accompanied Burleson were Joseph F. Wilson, Tiger Teague, Wingate Lucas, and Kenneth Regan and of these people he was in fact one of the more moderate people in his first few sessions of Congress and was a strong supporter of President Truman’s foreign aid programs. He was also active in bringing electricity, airports, and military bases to his district (Hardin-Simmons University). However, Burleson moved firmly into the conservative camp during the Kennedy Administration and proved a staunch opponent of the Great Society, voting against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and Medicare. Although he didn’t sign the Southern Manifesto, he also didn’t support a single civil rights measure during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
Burleson was an active member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and resisted rising to chairmanship in that committee as he knew he’d have to lend his support to foreign aid packages, which he had been voting against after the Truman years given his rural constituency’s dislike of such measures. On at least one occasion, however, he voted strategically – on July 14, 1966, he voted against Rep. E. Ross Adair’s (R-Ind.) motion to recommit the Foreign Assistance Act of 1966 to cut funds, which was anticipated to be close, and it failed 191-193. On the very next vote, Burleson voted against the foreign aid bill that passed easily. This pleased both the Democratic leadership and his constituents. He transferred to the House Ways and Means Committee in the 91st Congress.
As chairman of the House Committee on Administration from 1955 to 1969, he did his duties quietly and diligently and that his behavior contrasted with his successor’s indicated his lack of inclination to seek power. His successor, Wayne Hays (D-Ohio), used this position to become one of the most powerful members of Congress, creating “a formidable base of personal power from which he tyrannizes the House” (Burka & Smith). For Burleson to seek power in the 1970s he would have needed to be more compromising on conservatism, which he was just not willing to do. At this time, he was really just a conservative backbencher who wanted to vote his conscience and no more, and resigned on December 31, 1978 as did a number of other members that year to take advantage of a change in pension law. Burleson’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 76%, which reflected a moderate record from 1947 to 1961, and a solidly conservative record after. He was ultimately one of the people, along with O.C. Fisher and Tiger Teague, to be part of the shift of Texas to conservatism.
Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.
Rakich, N. (2018, January 29). We’ve Never Seen Congressional Resignations Like This Before. FiveThirtyEight.
To Recommit H.R. 15750, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1966, with instructions to reduce from 2 years to 1 all authorizations except for Development Loan Fund and for the Alliance for Progress and to reduce the amount for development assistance. Govtrack.
I posted about the Republicans and DW-Nominate last time, now it is the Democrats’ turn and the story told about them is much more complicated. The Democratic Party was in its heyday a party that presumably stood for the working man (provided he was white), against big business interests, and for tariffs for revenue only instead of protection. It was indeed Democrats who primarily opposed land grants to railroads and would be the greater supporters of inflationary currency. Their understanding of the role of government was from their start until the 1890s a Jacksonian one, that the state governments could be used as a check on the power of business and were the best protectors of liberty rather than the federal government. Indeed, Democrats preferred state to federal courts in rulings on big businesses as the former were less favorable to them than the latter in practice. However, the rise of the Populist Party and William Jennings Bryan challenged this traditional practice and the Democratic Party became more favorable to active federal intervention, which was first practiced on a wide scale among Democratic Presidents by Woodrow Wilson.
The results of DW-Nominate are odd to our modern conceptions. It portrays at their most “liberal” from 1867 to 1901 in the Senate, and the current period ties with the late 19th century in levels of liberalism in the House. For the House, the most liberal period was apparently 1865-1921. The most conservative period for House Democrats was 1923-1965, when they never hit a -0.3 average. The period we are in now with House Democrats is a second rising of liberalism, with this being true to a lesser degree in the Senate. This sounds strange given the party’s direction during the New Deal, but the 1930s and 1940s was the period when the Southern members grew much more conservative and people who registered as more conservative by DW-Nominate were getting elected. This is an odd narrative that this data seems to tell, as the most liberal periods for both the House and Senate coincided with the rise of the Bourbon Democrats, who have conservative reputations and with some justification. My MC-Index certainly gives more credit to Bourbons for conservatism than this measurement does, however there were two areas in which they were distinctly opposed to Republicans: tariffs and imperialism. One of the oddest cases, which I have written about before, was that of Senator Huey Long of Louisiana, who DW-Nominate finds to be the most conservative Democrat in the Roosevelt years despite public perception of him and some of the votes he cast on key issues. The Democratic Party really was evolving in a strange way: although initially the party of a Jefferson-Jackson conception of limited government as a way to counter the growing force of big business interests and to help the working class the methods began to change with the Wilson presidency. However, Democrats even in the Cleveland Era were willing to establish the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate major business.
Although Woodrow Wilson was a Southerner by birth and attitude on racial issues, with this helping keep Southerners in, FDR was a different story as he engaged in even more permanent expansions of the federal government. This was the point in which the Southern wing became distinctly more conservative than the Northern wing, particularly with the latter’s increasing acceptance of blacks in their ranks. Northern Democrats that chose to remain conservative often found themselves primaried or defeated by a Republican. The issue of race, frankly, did not start to become left-right ideologically until after World War II. Before it was regional and there was some crossover between region and left-right ideology after the war, but when it came to matters such as employment and housing discrimination, the most conservative of Republicans took the side of business and property owners, which given the origin of many of the early Republicans as Whigs adds up. The Democrats, standing as the party of the working class, used different means to support said class over time. The alliance between civil rights activists and labor that was forged after World War II was in truth a gargantuan accomplishment, as protection from competition was at one time a justification for regressive laws on the subject of race, such as bans on immigration based on race. President Nixon briefly revived the conflict with his proposed Philadelphia Plan that I covered before, but this was at this point no more than a notable blip in the alliance. The Democratic story told by DW-Nominate is odd and my system certainly has significant disagreements with it, but it does at least spell that the Democrats were not even close to as conservative back then as thought.
It is widely reported that the GOP has grown far more conservative in the last forty years, and although this is undoubtedly true, to what extent is it so? What’s more, how does it compare to the party’s history? At some point I will have an MC-Index scale for this, but I am still working on it. In the meantime, I have the one and only scale currently available to fulfill this purpose, DW-Nominate.
The GOP first starts appearing as a legislative party in the 35th Congress (1857-59) so I’ll start there. For those still unfamiliar with DW-Nominate, the scale is between -1 and 1, with the former being most liberal and the latter being most conservative. The lowest score for the GOP in the House was in the 90th Congress (1967-69), in which the average was 0.243. This made them a moderately conservative party overall. The highest? Why that would be the last Congress! The score was 0.503. This makes them an ultra-conservative party and on average over 100% more conservative than they were fifty-two years before. The lowest score for the GOP for the Senate was back in the 37th Congress (1861-63), at 0.2. The highest for the Senate was also the last Congress, the average being a 0.498. Thus, the average Republican in the House in the last session was as conservative as Samuel Devine (R-Ohio) in the 90th Congress, who was the 7th most conservative Republican in that session! The best representative of the average Republican of the 90th Congress in the last Congress is Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), and many Republicans are rather unhappy with him to say the least. There are a few caveats to be aware of here, however, before we take this as “objective truth” and I’m pretty sure I’ve gone over this before, but I feel its worth repeating.
First, most of the people who served in the last Congress are continuing to serve! Thus, their scores are subject to go up and down over time. Second, the DW-Nominate counts what are called “first dimension” votes. These are issues that fundamentally split left-right and excludes certain lifestyle and regional issues, and this constitutes most votes. Thus, votes on the subject of slavery would be splits between slave and free states, and counted as second dimension issues as it is fundamentally regional. Third, this is a quantitative rather than a qualitative measure. Thus, if there are two votes in a session of Congress on the income tax and, say, fifty on tariffs, guess what’s going to be weighed a lot heavier? Would it also not be true that there would be a bit of an imbalance how the House and Senate are weighted if the Senate casts fifty votes on tariffs given the chamber’s set up as being the one of greater deliberation and debate while the House casts two? Fourth, a lot of procedural votes get counted, which means that partisanship gets mixed in with ideological judgments and may obscure some more significant differences. And fifth, and this is more of an issue of public understanding and perception than anything else, there is an issue of translatability of past issues to modern day. However, thanks to a few transitional long-serving figures, this isn’t as great of a problem as you might think and can be overcome through examination of the subject, of which I can help!
All this being said, DW-Nominate is in fact quite good at distinguishing moderate-liberal Republicans from conservatives, and its overall validity over time was recently once again reaffirmed to me when I looked back to the 1st Congress and found as the most conservative in the House to be Fisher Ames of Massachusetts. Look up Ames and you will find a rigidly conservative, nationalistic, and capitalistic Federalist with a deep-seated fear of anything that had the appearance of radicalism. This included Jeffersonian democracy.
Although this is not as conservative an era for Republicans as the past twelve years, it is the closest comparison: The Gilded Age and Progressive Era. In the 51st Congress, for the first time, the Republican average went above 0.4. The Senate would not achieve the same feat until the 58th Congress due to a higher number in proportion of Republicans who supported inflationary silver for currency. From the 58th (1903-05) to the 66th (1919-21) Congresses, both the Republican House and Senate would be above 0.4. This was despite efforts of Theodore Roosevelt to move the party in a moderately progressive direction. By the mid-1920s, however, Republicans in both Houses had moved to an average of below 0.4 and it would take the House Republicans until the 105th Congress (1997-99) to go above and Senate Republicans until the 111th Congress (2011-13) to do so. In fact, the party would be below 0.3 in both Houses from 1947 to 1981.
This is, bear in mind, one measure of how to determine ideology and it emphasizes party crossover a bit less than I do, as I use key votes that are designed to highlight differences between liberal and conservative wings of the parties.
A More Conservative Party?
Although Republicans made a record in the last Congress for conservatism and may exceed it in this one by DW-Nominate, they are not the most conservative major party. That would be the Federalist Party. The Senate Federalists never scored below a 0.528 average, and the House Federalists didn’t score below a 0.5 until their last three Congresses. However, be warned, conservatives, for this party DIED!
Income Tax to Fund the War of the Rebellion & Post-War Developments
In the first year of the War of the Rebellion, it became clear that the current and accepted methods of taxation were insufficient to fund the war effort. Republicans were strongly supportive of higher tariffs, but they were not doing the trick. So Representative Justin S. Morrill (R-Vt.) proposed the nation’s first income tax. Although as law professor Sheldon D. Pollack (2013) notes, “Unsurprisingly, conservative Republicans in the Northeast adamantly opposed the impost. Despite this opposition, a majority of Republicans eventually acquiesced to this “odious” tax based on the need to fund the Union war effort” (1). This was also considered to be by them the best option they had. A leading alternative that was considered unacceptable to them was a land tax. As future Speaker and Vice President Schuyler Colfax (R-Ind.) stated, it was the “most odious tax of all we can levy” (Pollack, 7). At the time of the rebellion, the income tax was already in existence in England and this was used as a model for what the US adopted. To not have adopted an additional method of revenue collection would have guaranteed the end of the United States. The 1861 law, however, lacked an effective enforcement mechanism and this was corrected with a stronger measure the next year and the taxation progressive despite the objections of sponsor Justin Morrill (R-Vt.). In 1864, taxes were increased as the revenue provided in the 1862 law was insufficient to cover war expenses. Taxes on numerous commodities were also imposed in these revenue acts. However, the income tax was widely regarded as to fund war and the conservative wing of the GOP in New England was keen on its repeal after the war’s end.
In 1870, Representative James A. Garfield (R-Ohio) proposed making tax information private, and this rule against publicity was signed into law as part of the Revenue Act of 1870, which extended the income tax through 1871. He would also denounce in his writings progressive income tax rates, holding them to be “unconstitutional and communistic” (Shepard, 144). This would become increasingly objectionable to progressives and there would be efforts during the 1920s and 1930s to publicize wealthy taxpayer information. Garfield’s proposal was indicative of both where the GOP was and where it was heading.
However, there was ideological crossover on the issue. Constitutional history professor Paul D. Moreno (2013) notes, “The income tax issue was no simply masses-versus-the-classes dispute. Before the 1890s, socialists had condemned it, while laissez-faire doyen William Graham Sumner defended it. Classical liberals preferred the income tax to the redistributive tariff, and some tariff advocates (particularly John Sherman) regarded the income tax as a way to preserve the tariff – as a kind of sop or palliative to prevent a radical change in public finance. Congressman Uriel S. Hall of Missouri called it “a measure to kill anarchy and keep down socialists”” (42). This was an early version of the argument FDR’s supporters would use for the New Deal, that it was a killer of rather than a road to socialism.
The Sherman Switch
Perhaps the best person to use as an example of the changing politics surrounding the income tax was Senator John Sherman of Ohio. He was a key figure in economic debates of the late 19th century as a senator and as Rutherford B. Hayes’ Treasury Secretary and valued stability. His policy preferences, even as they shifted, reflected this. In 1870, Sherman called for a retention of a small yet flat income tax at least for the time being to politically protect the tariff system that the GOP stood for. He was concerned, as noted earlier by Moreno, that a radical push to overhaul this system could arise in the absence of the income tax, stating “The income tax expires with the collection of the tax of 1871…A few years of further experience will convince the body of our people that a system of national taxes which rests the whole burden of taxation on consumption, and not one cent on property or income, is intrinsically unjust. While the expenses of the national Government are largely caused by the protection of property, it is but right to require property to contribute to their payment” (Pollack, 21-22). However, Sherman didn’t win this battle, with the income tax’s sunset per the Revenue Act of 1870 occurring at the end of 1871. Income taxes were to be left entirely up to the states. This law also repealed the inheritance tax, a reflection of the GOP’s fervently capitalist perspective.
Despite his 1870 argument, Sherman would by 1894 come to see things differently. He responded to the Democratic income tax measure contained in the Wilson-Gorman Tariff thusly, “In a republic like ours, where all men are equal, this attempt to array the rich against the poor or the poor against the rich is socialism, communism, devilism” (Shepard, 144).
The Democrats Oppose, Then Push for Income Taxes
Democrats opposed the income tax in the 1860s and 1870s as they wanted even more equitable means of taxation, including a “equal taxation of every species of property, according to its real value” (The American Presidency Project). However, after the end of Reconstruction, Democrats were calling for a reinstatement of the income tax. One proposal to report an income tax bill failed under suspension of the rules 165-89 (D 111-21; R 52-68; ID 2-0) of February 4, 1878. Among the nays were future presidents James A. Garfield and William McKinley. The following year an income tax failed again under suspension of the rules, this time it was on a vote of 111-94 (D 92-10; R 6-84; G 9-0; ID 4-0) on May 12th.
Although Professor Moreno noted that socialists denounced the income tax before the 1890s, the Socialist Labor Party in fact called for a graduated income tax in 1887. The Populist Party followed suit in 1892, and the Democrats, pushed by Representatives William Jennings Bryan (D-Neb.) and Benton McMillin (D-Tenn.), got into law a 2% income tax for individuals with income above $4000 a year and a 2% tax on income and profits for all for-profit entities in the United States, the “socialism, communism, devilism” that Sherman spoke of. Indeed, the law fundamentally applied only to the rich, and the very rich at that. Senate Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to kill the provision on June 28, 1894, which was defeated 23-40 (R 20-6; D 3-31; P 0-3). The “yea” votes included Sherman himself and the elderly Justin Morrill (R-Vt.) who had authored the first income tax legislation. However, this tax was struck down as unconstitutional in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. (1895) as the majority regarded it as an unconstitutional unapportioned “direct tax” rather than a constitutional tax equally apportioned among the states. This decision was 5-4 and deeply unpopular at the time. Conservatives would pull out all the stops to try to prevent a reinstatement of the income tax. However, by this time most Democrats had come around to an income tax and moderate Republicans were increasingly embracing it, one of them being Theodore Roosevelt. I have already covered Senator Nelson Aldrich’s (R-R.I.) backfiring scheme to prevent an income tax by making it a constitutional amendment, and after that failure the Underwood Tariff of 1913 established firmly the nation’s first permanent income tax. The overall legislation met the approval of most Democrats and the opposition of most Republicans, for reasons surrounding both reduced tariffs and the establishment of the income tax.
1868 Democratic Party Platform. The American Presidency Project.
To Suspend the Rules and Adopt a Resolution Providing That the Ways and Means Committee be Instructed to Report a Bill Imposing a Graduated Tax Upon the Excess of Income Above a Reasonable Minimum Fixed Law. (1878, February 4). Govtrack.
In January 1865, President Abraham Lincoln, looking to the end of the War of the Rebellion, was looking to the next big thing: the Transcontinental Railroad. He summoned Massachusetts Republican Congressman Oakes Ames (1804-1873) to the White House to discuss the matter with him. Ames, a descendant of Founding Father Fisher Ames, was known as the “King of Spades” for his family business of manufacturing shovels and had a reputation as a staunch and effective advocate for railroads. At this meeting, the president told him, “Ames, you take hold of this. The road must be built, and you are the man to do it. Take hold of it yourself. By building the Union Pacific, you will be the remembered man of your generation” (Langeveld, 2014). Two years later, Ames managed to oust Thomas C. Durant from control of Credit Mobilier and placed his younger brother Oliver in control. On May 10, 1869, the Ames brothers had succeeded in making the vision of a transcontinental railroad realized, with the golden spike being driven by Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific at Promontory Summit in the Utah territory where the two railroads met. Lincoln would be right about Ames, he would be remembered, but both in fame and infamy; this glorious and vital achievement was tainted by corrupt practices.
To construct the railroad, the Union Pacific contracted with Credit Mobilier, a construction company, which was financed with unmarketable bonds. This was portrayed as an independent company, but in truth UP’s vice president at the time, Durant, had created Credit Mobilier, with himself at the head of this sham business. The principle means of fraud was through indirect billing, the billing between Union Pacific and Credit Mobilier. Credit Mobilier presented fraudulent bills to Union Pacific, and Union Pacific presented the bills to the federal government, which were on their face legitimate (White, 32). While Credit Mobilier incurred operating costs of $50,720,959, Congress paid out per the bill $94,650,287 (Rhodes, 1-19). This massive graft was pocketed by executives as profit, with $9 million of it used to influence members of Congress for favorable policy to the Union Pacific. Ames was the man in Congress who sold discounted stock options inflated through fraudulent profits to numerous fellow legislators to produce favorable policy and protect the Union Pacific from investigation.
The Scandal Breaks
On September 4, 1872, The New York Sun, a notoriously anti-Grant and anti-Republican newspaper, broke the scandal after receiving three damning letters from disgruntled Ames associate Henry Simpson McComb, who had wanted more shares in Credit Mobilier. These letters, written from Ames to McComb in 1868 to push back against his efforts at getting more shares, exposed his scheme to buy influence so as to turn the interests of the Union Pacific and Credit Mobilier into those of Congress as well. As Ames wrote, “We want more friends in this Congress, & if a man will look into the law (& it is difficult to get them to do so unless they have an interest to do so,) he cannot help but being convinced that we should not be interfered with” (Mitchell). Ames revealed in these letters as he didn’t consider what he was doing bribery as he had neither asked for support for the Union Pacific or conditioned the sales of discounted stock on support of the Union Pacific. However, he also realized he had no need to say such things, as he wrote, “I have found that there is no difficulty in inducing men to look after their own property” (Mitchell). Although some Republican partisans were dismissive as it came from the Sun, and indeed the story did contain significant bias and errors, such as dramatically exaggerating the number of stocks that had been sold to members of Congress and that it outright called for voters to oust GOP members of Congress, it did reveal a real scandal (Mitchell). The King of Spades had now gotten new names, such as “The King of Frauds” and “Hoax Ames”. Although the exposure of the scandal was close to the election and impacted Republicans, it wasn’t enough to tip the scales in favor of the weak and erratic campaign of Liberal Republican challenger Horace Greeley and the full extent would not be known until after the election.
Speaker James G. Blaine (R-Me.), who had been exonerated by the letters, organized an investigation and placed Rep. Luke Poland (R-Vt.) as chair. Members of Congress named in the letters proceeded to deny ownership and Ames stepped forward to testify. Additional documentation provided by him proved that numerous members of Congress who had denied ownership of stock outright lied. This included former Speaker of the House and then-Vice President Schuyler Colfax, who denied ownership of Credit Mobilier stock despite records that he received a $1200 dividend payment from it (Mitchell). Future President James A. Garfield (R-Ohio) was one of the members who bought the discounted stock, as did Representatives William D. Kelley (R-Penn.), James Wilson (R-Iowa), G.W. Scofield (R-Penn.), John A. Bingham (R-Ohio), Henry L. Dawes (R-Mass.), and the late Senator James W. Grimes (R-Iowa). Some, like Garfield, claimed that they had no knowledge of intent, and indeed Ames appeared to have leaned on him heavily to buy 10 shares.
In February 1873, the Senate investigated some of their own members and Vice President Schuyler Colfax under the Morrill (R-Me.) Committee. They found that the evidence against James A. Bayard Jr. (D-Del.) and George S. Boutwell (R-Mass.) was insufficient to continue and exonerated Roscoe Conkling (R-N.Y.) and John A. Logan (R-Ill.). However, for four others and the vice president, matters were more complicated. William B. Allison (R-Iowa) had held discounted stock in Credit Mobilier briefly before returning it as his constituents condemned him for holding railroad stock. Senator James Harlan (R-Iowa), who had been a longtime advocate for railroads, was found to have received $10,000 in campaign contributions from Thomas C. Durant, and the Committee recommended censure for him, despite finding no evidence that the funds influenced his actions. Senator Henry Wilson (R-Mass.), who was the recently elected vice president, had an alibi that relied upon a story of unwise investment actions regarding him and his wife in 1865; she had conveniently died in 1870. However, Wilson’s testimony was backed up by Ames. The worst case among the senators was found to be James Patterson (R-N.H.), who testified that he had given Ames sums of $3000 for Credit Mobilier and $4000 for Union Pacific for investment and claimed that he was not aware that he owned Credit Mobilier stock, which was contradicted by documentary evidence provided by Ames (U.S. Senate). Although Patterson claimed financial ignorance and poor memory, the Morrill Committee wasn’t buying it. The Committee found that Patterson had full guilty knowledge of the operations of Union Pacific and Credit Mobilier, that he actively sought to profit from it, and that he knew Ames was trying to influence him (U.S. Senate). The Morrill Committee unanimously recommended expulsion, and Patterson was only saved from it as his term had come to an end.
Despite there being more implicated parties than two in the House, it was only Ames and Rep. James A. Brooks (D-N.Y.), a government director for the Union Pacific and Tammany Hall man who had profited mightily through a workaround with his son-in-law buying the stock and handing it to him, who were recommended for expulsion by the House’s Poland Committee for their activities. However, a vote for expulsion failed. The two were censured by Congress on February 27, 1873. Ames’ term was already expiring and Brooks’ health was poor. Both Brooks and Ames, their disgraces having taxed their health, died only about two months later. Curiously, the Massachusetts state legislature would pass a resolution on May 10, 1883, exonerating the latter. As it turns out, Ames’s son, Oliver, was lieutenant governor. That such minor consequences came out of such a major influence buying scandal reflected what was in truth politically normal in that day and age; the Gilded Age was a corrupt era in politics. Ames also had his defenders; as Roy Hoopes (1991) writes, “Ames’s defenders argued that he had done nothing wrong except the patriotic act of building a railroad, and everybody built railroads with bribery and corruption (which was probably true)”. Indeed, Canada had a similar scandal with the Pacific Scandal on their efforts to build a transcontinental railroad at roughly the same time. Unlike in the US, the scandal temporarily brought down the Conservative Party under John A. Macdonald and the railroad was not completed until 1885 (McIntosh, Yarhi, & McIntosh). The scandal would, however, weigh on the Republican Party and with Reconstruction and the Panic of 1873 contribute to their loss of the House in the 1874 midterms. The executives of the Union Pacific, although they didn’t ultimately face legal consequences as the Supreme Court ruled the government couldn’t sue until 1895, the date of the maturity of the company debt, they did face market consequences as they were nearly bankrupted by the revelations as well as by the Panic of 1873.
Although the career of Oakes Ames ended in disgrace, the family business continues to prosper; it was his family that began the company today known as Ames True Temper in 1774 and to this day it produces 85% of wheelbarrows used in the US and Canada (Penn-Live).
I will be removing the 2018 posts for archiving after Saturday, November 13th. If you wish to read what I have written at that time, do so before then!
Hoopes, R. (1991). It Was Bad Last Time Too: The Credit Mobilier Sandal of 1872. American Heritage, 42(1).
In my last post, I wrote, “The rise of the Republicans produced some highly accomplished and notable legislators.” However, there were also scoundrels who came with this rise, such as Oregon’s John Hipple Mitchell (1835-1905). Indeed, the popular history YouTuber Mr. Beat included Mitchell as one of the “ten” worst senators in his list about two years ago, yet he managed to get elected to the Senate a whopping four times in his political career.
First thing to mention, Mitchell’s name was not originally “John Hipple Mitchell”, it was “John Mitchell Hipple”. As a young Pennsylvania schoolteacher he seduced a 15-year old student of his, Sadie Hoon, and they married and had three children. Hipple conducted numerous extramarital affairs and when Hoon found out she confronted him, but he threatened to kill her if she told anyone and proceeded to openly bring his mistresses home (Perry). He subsequently abandoned his wife and children for a mistress in 1860 and fled to California with his youngest daughter and $4000 in client funds he “borrowed” from his law firm, which he did eventually pay back. Hipple would not long after take his daughter and abandon the mistress in California for Oregon, where he would live under the assumed name of “John Hipple Mitchell” and portray himself as a widower. He got remarried to Mattie Price in 1862 and that year he was elected to the State Senate. Two years later, he was elected Senate president. In 1865, he managed to swindle client George Neff through legal technicality out of land and sell it to future Governor Sylvester Pennoyer. However, Neff managed to recover the land after the Supreme Court found in his favor. George Neff would not be the only client he swindled. In 1867, Mitchell tried to get elected to the Senate but was defeated by party rival Henry W. Corbett. The following year, he pulled off the Caruthers swindle that benefited him and his friends immensely. Elizabeth Caruthers regarded herself as a widow as her husband had disappeared and was presumed dead, however not too long after she and her son died, sans heirs and will. The widow Caruthers had owned 640 acres of land south of downtown Portland that was soaring in value. Mitchell and his friends managed to persuade a St. Louis man named John C. Nixon to commit perjury in swearing his identity as the missing husband, for which he received an $8000 payoff, and then deeded the land to Mitchell and friends who proceeded to develop the land (John). As the personal attorney of transportation magnate Ben Holladay, he built up enough support by 1873 to oust Corbett. Accusations abounded that Holladay had bribed legislators to vote for Mitchell, but one of his allies, Attorney General George H. Williams, killed the investigation at Mitchell’s request. Williams himself would face multiple scandals in his long career but never convicted.
Although a leading figure in Oregon’s Republican Party, Mitchell never had full support in the party, and his faction would battle the Corbett faction throughout his career. As a senator, he had still not divorced the woman he married in Pennsylvania, making him a bigamist. In 1874, he officially changed his name to John Hipple Mitchell, but this didn’t prevent the scandal of his bigamy being reported in 1878. His foes tried to get him expelled, but the Senate Committee opted not to act as they thought it wasn’t relevant. The Oregon public was forgiving too after Mitchell admitted to acts of youthful folly but asked them to consider his service since moving to Oregon. Indeed, while he had employed his skillset to seduce women and to swindle, he also employed it to bring home the bacon for Oregon, including securing funding for the construction of multiple lighthouses and the Cascade Locks. Mitchell stood for certain regional interests, such as timber logging as well as supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act, a popular position at the time among white workers in the West. However, he also served transportation magnate Ben Holladay and the Southern Pacific Railroad, promoting their interests without fail. Mitchell, consistent with his character, had no qualms about pushing the federal government to break agreements with Indian tribes to gain their timber-rich lands.
Despite the Oregon public excusing his past actions in light of his Senate service, he lost reelection to a Democrat in 1879 as Democrats had gained control of the state legislature. In 1883, Mitchell tried again but he couldn’t get enough support, thus he had his supporters vote for his law partner and ally Joseph N. Dolph, who was elected. He succeeded in securing election in 1885 despite a news story revealing love letters from him to his wife’s younger sister. Although not a strongly conservative Republican (MCI: 69%), he opposed many reforms of the Populist Party, as did the Old Guard, but backed free coinage of silver. A popular figure, Mitchell was reelected in 1891. However, his stance on silver cost him among conservatives and in 1897, his opponents managed to deny him reelection by refusing to provide a quorum for the Oregon legislature to conduct business for the whole session. This caused the state to have only one senator for over a year. Finally, in a special 1898 session, Joseph Simon, part of the Corbett faction, was elected. But Mitchell was not done yet! In 1901, he succeeded in getting enough supporters elected to win election to the Senate for a fourth time and the following year got George H. Williams, the attorney general who stopped the investigation into his first election, elected Portland’s mayor. In 1903, Mitchell succeeded in getting another ally, Charles W. Fulton, elected as his colleague. He had yet another victory when in the following year he secured funding for the Lewis and Clark Exposition and Oriental Fair, which was a resounding success and much of this is credited to the funding (Tatom). However, the end of the road was near.
In January 1905, Mitchell was indicted in the Oregon Land Fraud scandal based on the testimony of defendant Stephen Puter the previous month, who stated that he had bribed him $2000 to advocate for fraudulent land claims through the United States General Land Office for private interests wanting to secure public lands for their timber (Langeveld). Although he protested his innocence, the evidence piled up against him. A 1901 dated letter used as evidence to exonerate Mitchell was discovered by investigators to have been a sloppy forgery created as the scandal was breaking in late 1904, and an incriminating February 1905 letter was discovered in which he instructed his law partner, Judge Albert H. Tanner, on what to say about him regarding the case and ended with “burn this without fail” (Langeveld). Both Tanner and Mitchell’s secretary testified against him and he was convicted, being sentenced to six months imprisonment and a $1000 fine, half of the bribe he accepted. Despite the conviction, Mitchell continued to have supporters who thought this prosecution was unfair and politically motivated. While his case was on appeal, he died from complications of dental surgery. Looking at Mitchell’s astounding lack of scruples, it is no surprise he made Mr. Beat’s worst list and it makes me think I should reevaluate my list of ten awful senators.
Allen, C. (2006). Land Fraud Trial of Senator John Mitchell. The Oregon History Project.
The rise of the Republicans produced some highly accomplished and notable legislators. One of these was Justin Smith Morrill (1810-1898) of Vermont. Morrill’s rise in politics in his state was not hard to explain nor due to any underhanded factors. He simply did the jobs no one else wanted to do, such as Justice of the Peace. Morrill was industrious and shrewd in his business practices and investments, which gained him enough wealth to retire before the age of 40. He initially identified with the Whig Party, being elected to Congress as one in 1854. However, as a Northern foe of slavery he easily shifted into the Republican Party formed after the demise of the Whigs, being one of its founders in the state of Vermont. As chair of the Ways and Means Committee, he sponsored the Morrill Tariff, the Land Grant College Act, and the nation’s first income tax. Morrill hadn’t gone to college due to lack of funds but appreciated them as centers of pursuing knowledge and truth. As he stated, “This bill proposes to establish at least one college in every State upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil, where all of needful science for the practical avocations of life shall be taught, where neither the higher graces of classical studies nor that military drill our country now so greatly appreciates will be entirely ignored, and where agriculture, the foundation of all present and future prosperity, may look for troops of earnest friends, studying its familiar and recondite economies, and at last elevating it to that higher level where it may fearlessly invoke comparison with the most advanced standards of the world” (Parker, 52). Indeed, it is astounding how much of an impact Morrill had and continues to have through the universities established as a result of his legislation. Many people who don’t know who he is have to this day benefited.
In 1867, Morrill was elected to the Senate, where he would serve as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee for a standing record of 17 years and supported Reconstruction measures and the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. For a long time he lobbied for successor land grant legislation that would cover the former Confederacy, which he finally achieved in 1890, with this measure funding numerous universities that required that admissions be done without racial discrimination or be separate schools (to attract Southern support, segregation was not prohibited), some now known as historically black colleges.
The Ideological Morrill
In 1862, Morrill sponsored the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, which cracked down on polygamy among Mormons in the Utah territory by imposing a $500 fine and up to five years imprisonment for the practice. Most politicians of the time supported this legislation and was one of the issues that united Republicans of the day. Indeed, the party platform in 1856 called for abolishing the “twin relics of barbarism – polygamy and slavery” in the territories (George & Saunders). Morrill was one of the more moderate Republicans initially and often opposed land grants to railroads and dissented on printing paper currency as a means to fund the war effort. Morrill grew more conservative as the Gilded Age progressed. He was a supporter of hard currency, particularly the gold standard. Morrill also sponsored the first income tax as a means to fund the War of the Rebellion, and opposed a revision to make the tax structure progressive, holding that it penalized people for gaining wealth. He stated, “This provision goes upon the principle of taxing a man because he is richer than another. The very theory of our institutions is entire equality, that we make no distinction between the rich man and the poor man. The man of moderate means is just as good as the man with more means, but our theory of government does not admit that he is better” (TIME). Morrill would favor a peacetime modest income tax for revenue and to offset the impact of high tariffs, but after the wartime income tax expired, he proved a foe. He voted along with most Senate Republicans to eliminate the income tax from the Revenue Act of 1894, which imposed a minor tax on the top 2% of the wealthy. In 1897, Morrill voted for the Lodge Bill to impose a literacy test on immigrants, which was vetoed by President Cleveland. He died in office the following year at 88. Morrill had served 43 years continuously, a record in his time. Before his passing his colleagues came to respectfully know him as the “Father of the Senate”.
George, R.P. & Saunders, W.L. (2004, August 30). Republicans and The Relics of Barbarism. National Review.