George Fitzhugh: The Socialist Socialists Wish Never Existed

George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) identified himself as a socialist. He condemned capitalism as birthing “a war of the rich with the poor, and the poor with one another” (Fitzhugh, 1854, 22). For him, free markets benefited the strong at the expense of the weak, and wrote in Cannibals All! (1857) that industrial capitalism in America constituted “wage-slavery”. No need to fear though, for Fitzhugh had an answer for this pressing problem of “wage-slavery” and class warfare. Are you ready for it? Slavery!

Fitzhugh held that the slavery of the South was more beneficial for its workers than the capitalist oppression of the North. In Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (1854), he stated that socialism “Proposes to do away with free competition; to afford protection and support at all times to the laboring class; to bring about, at least, a community of property, and to associate labor. All these purposes, slavery fully land perfectly attains. Socialism is already slavery in all save the master…Our only quarrel with Socialism is, that it will not honestly admit that it owes its recent revival to the failure of universal liberty, and is seeking to bring about slavery again in some form” (Fitzhugh, 1854, 48, 70). Fitzhugh was unique among slavery defenders in his advocacy of extending slavery to poor whites. He expressed concern that blacks could not compete in a free market and needed slavery to be economically secure and morally civilized, and was similarly paternalistic towards poor whites. Fitzhugh considered the notion insulting that whites were unfit for slavery. He wrote, “It is the duty of society to protect the weak,” but protection cannot be efficient without the power of control; therefore, “It is the duty of society to enslave the weak” (Fitzhugh, 1857, 278). While Fitzhugh’s socialism was not Marxian socialism strictly speaking, he expressed similar critiques of capitalism and competition, and held that it was society’s duty to provide for the poor. For him, providing for the poor required collectivism and control absolute.

Fitzhugh was no obscure figure in his time; he attracted a lot of attention, including negative attention from abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and President Abraham Lincoln, who was more irked by Fitzhugh than by any other slavery defender (Blumenthal, 2017). During the Civil War, he would work in the Treasury of the Confederacy and oddly enough, during Reconstruction, he would briefly serve as a judge on the Freedmen’s Court before his retirement.

Most young socialists of today probably don’t know of Fitzhugh, but if they did, they won’t be eager to cite him any time soon.

Sources:

Blumenthal, S. (20 May 2017). How Abraham Lincoln Found His Anti-Slavery Voice. Newsweek.

Retrieved from

http://www.newsweek.com/how-abraham-lincoln-found-his-anti-slavery-voice-610431

Fitzhugh, G. (1857). Cannibals All! Richmond, Va.: A. Morris.

Fitzhugh, G. (1854). Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society. Richmond, Va.: A. Morris.

Comparing Past Politics to Modern Politics and Its Difficulties

Perhaps my prime specialty on history is investigating ideology of politicians, past and present. I am profoundly fascinated by it. There is a common, all too often repeated narrative that the “parties switched places”. At a future date I will write a massive, cited post fully addressing this egregious case of pop history. But for now, I will briefly describe my problems with it.

This narrative fails to address what constituted “left” and “right” in the past, makes certain assumptions about those in the past, and uses a definition of conservative that means “stay the same” rather than any greater coherent set of beliefs. Under this definition of conservatism, a “conservative” in the USSR would stand for maximum government control of the means of production, which is anathema to American conservatives. The process of determining ideology, admittedly, can be difficult the further back you go. Take for instance, Congressional Republicans during the Lincoln Administration. While the layperson may say the GOP was “progressive” for its abolitionism, the GOP of the time was ideologically diverse, and some took wildly divergent ideological turns after the Civil War. These were often based on their previous political affiliations. For instance, Congressman Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota and Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois had been Democrats, but both returned to their original party in the 1870s and towards the end of their lives joined the left-wing Populist Party. Radical Republican Congressmen William B. Allison of Iowa and James Garfield of Ohio, however, had considered themselves Whigs before the Republican Party’s existence, and both not only stayed with the GOP but identified with the party’s conservative wing. This makes the notion that the old Republican Party would necessarily translate into the Democratic Party today highly dubious.

This all being said, we cannot with 100% certainty say past a certain point who would believe what today. This is especially applicable to contemporary social issues. John F. Kennedy would have almost certainly opposed legalized abortion had the issue entered the national stage in the early 1960s. After all, none other than Ted Kennedy opposed it in the early 1970s. However, the latter Kennedy along with the other Kennedys were influenced by a group of prominent academic Catholic reverends to side with abortion rights in the mid-1970s. Who is to say that had JFK lived into the 1970s that he wouldn’t have been as receptive as his brother and other family members to a change of heart?

 

Saulsbury v. Saulsbury v. Saulsbury: That Time When Three Brothers Ran for the Same Senate Seat

The Saulsburys were a major Democratic political family in Delaware, and in 1859, Willard Saulsbury Sr. was elected to the Senate. He was a “Peace Democrat” during the Civil War and was a vehement critic of Lincoln. He opposed disloyalty arrests, suspension of habeas corpus, and defended Senator Jesse Bright of Indiana in his battle against expulsion for treason (Dickinson College). He also opposed the abolition of slavery, and Delaware, a slave state, would reelect him in 1865.

fs_w_saulsbury

Willard Saulsbury Sr.

In 1871, Saulsbury sought a third term, but there was a major issue. He had a drinking problem and was a mean drunk, which resulted in numerous humiliating public outbursts. The most notorious of these was in 1863, when on the Senate floor, Saulsbury denounced Lincoln as a “weak and imbecile man”, a violation of Senate rules (U.S. Senate). Vice President Hannibal Hamlin ordered that he sit down, but he refused to do so. After Hamlin directed the sergeant at arms to “take the senator in charge”, Saulsbury responded by brandishing a pistol and threatening to shoot the man (U.S. Senate). A few days later, New Hampshire Senator Daniel Clark motioned to expel him for this behavior, but Saulsbury publicly apologized and the matter was dropped. The Democratic leadership, however, tired of this behavior and had discreetly approached his older brother, Delaware’s Governor Gove Saulsbury, who agreed to run. However, Willard’s other older brother, Eli, also wanted the seat.

During this time in Delaware’s history, the state was staunchly Democratic and there was an agreement between the Saulsbury family and the Bayard family that they would share control of Senate seats. Thus, from 1859 to 1889, with one brief interruption on the Bayard seat, both Senate seats were occupied by members of the Bayard and Saulsbury families. The legislature was divided in their loyalties: while thirteen members of the General Assembly continued to support Willard, fourteen supported Gove, and three supported Eli. After three ballots failing to give any of the brothers the sixteen votes needed to win the election, Willard still found himself behind Gove and realized he couldn’t prevail. Steaming from Gove’s betrayal, he told his supporters to vote for Eli, making the total sixteen. Eli M. Saulsbury would serve three terms with integrity before being defeated in 1889 by Republican Anthony Higgins, after which he retired from politics and died in 1893. Gove would retire from politics and continue his previous career as a physician until his death in 1881. As for Willard, his story has a happy ending. He would be appointed chancellor in 1873 by Governor and brother-in-law James Ponder on the condition that he pledge to drop the bottle (Munroe, 150). Apparently, he did so, as he served without incident until his death in 1892. His son, Willard Jr., would serve in the Senate from 1913 to 1919.

References

Munroe, J.A. (2006). History of Delaware. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses.

Retrieved from

https://books.google.com/books?id=vs7NcOKnlNUC&pg=PA150&lpg=PA150

The Battle of Three Brothers. U.S. Senate.

Retrieved from

https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/The_battle_of_three_brothers.htm

“Willard Saulsbury (1820-1892)”. (2005). Dickinson College Archives.

Retrieved from

http://archives.dickinson.edu/people/willard-saulsbury-1820-1892

The Forgotten Presidents: Did They Do Anything We Should Remember?

We all know about Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Reagan, and others who are in living memory. However, numerous historians have questioned the strong emphasis on presidents in schools and for good reason. Many paled in comparison to other political figures of the time in their importance. An oft-cited example is William Henry Harrison, who was president for the span of an entire month before succumbing to pneumonia. An example of a politician who was undoubtedly more important to American history than numerous presidents was Kentucky’s Henry Clay, who was instrumental in crafting compromises to hold the Union together. However, perhaps these presidents did things in their lives that were more significant than be president. Some had achievements outside of their office that were more significant than their presidencies.

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), Served: 1837-41.

martin_van_buren_by_mathew_brady_c1855-58

Before becoming president, Van Buren had been a most skillful politician. He had created the first significant political machine, known as the Albany Regency in his home state of New York (Silbey). This machine got him elected to the Senate, and eventually he would use his political skill to ally himself with Andrew Jackson, gaining his confidence as well as the position of Vice President for his second term. Elected in 1836 essentially to be Andrew Jackson’s third term, the Panic of 1837 and the severe recession that followed ultimately precluded his reelection.

Van Buren proposed the creation of an independent Treasury, but was unable to secure its passage until 1840, as his presidency was coming to an end. He also completed the Trail of Tears started under Jackson. He did, after all, run on the promise of continuing Jackson’s policies. After his loss to William Henry Harrison, he attempted to run again in 1844. His opposition to the annexation of Texas, however, killed his chances. The Democratic nomination went to the far less forgettable James K. Polk instead. In 1848, he ran as the candidate of the Free Soil Party, getting no electoral votes. Although he remained a loyal Democrat, endorsing the Democrat each election, he was staunchly anti-slavery and publicly supported Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to preserve the union.

What should be remembered? His mastery of politics, which did not translate into a successful presidency! His inability to pass legislation to deal with the recession.

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), Served: 1841

william_henry_harrison_daguerreotype_edit

Although he died after one month, his significance in American history was as a bonafide war hero in the Battle of Tippecanoe as well as serving in both houses of Congress. He also negotiated with Lewis Cass the Treaty of Greenville in 1814. The next year, he negotiated the Treaty of Spring Wells. Both these Indian treaties increased the amount of land under US control. His fame led the Whig Party to seek him as a candidate for president. After a failed bid in 1836, they recruited him again in 1840, with him prevailing. However, the Whigs were unlucky, as that was that for Harrison!

What should be remembered? His military career.

John Tyler (1790-1862), Served: 1841-45

john-tyler-e1375298032558

After Harrison’s death, it would be Tyler who would serve out the remainder of his term. Although nominally a Whig, he was a Whig with a very small “w”. He would proceed to veto almost the entire Whig agenda, including reestablishment of the Second Bank of the United States. Most of his cabinet resigned and his own party derided him as His Accidency, expelling him. Notably, he was the first president to have a veto overridden. Most of his successes as president were in foreign policy. It was Tyler who opened trade relations with China and brought Hawaii under the Monroe Doctrine (Freehling). He also signed the bill annexing Texas. At the start of the Civil War, Tyler sided with the Confederacy and was elected to the Confederate Congress shortly before his death. Notably, as of 2018, two of his grandchildren are still alive!

What should be remembered? Admission of Texas, an example of what would happen if a president constantly disagreed with his own party.

Zachary Taylor (1782-1850), Served: 1849-50

zachary-taylor-9503363-1-402

Of the four people the Whigs ran for president from 1840 to 1852, three were generals. Taylor was no exception, being at the time the most popular man in the United States for his victories in the Mexican-American War. Elected in 1848, Taylor was tasked with managing the status of the new territories, which ones were to be slave and free states. His first plan, popular sovereignty for California and New Mexico, would have tipped the balance in favor of free states and was rejected. He notably came down hard on any talk of secession and threatened anyone who plotted or attempted secession with the gallows. Although he owned slaves, Taylor did not favor the expansion of slavery. His greatest accomplishment was the ratification of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, which shared U.S. and British control over a proposed Nicaragua Canal, which would eventually become the Panama Canal. However, the Whigs once again were unlucky. In 1850, their second elected president died of a stomach illness, reportedly after drinking iced milk and eating cherries.

What should be remembered? His strong stand against secession and against the expansion of slavery, Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.

Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), Served: 1850-1853

fillmore-crop

A career politician who started as a member of the Anti-Masonic Party, Fillmore as a Whig Congressman had opposed the Mexican-American War, citing the growth of slavery’s influence. This was about as impressive as he was on opposing slavery. Hailing from New York, he was critical for Taylor’s win in the state, and thus the election. Fillmore, although publicly anti-slavery, was more this in terms of restricting the slave power as opposed to its abolition. Thus, he thought the Fugitive Slave Act to be a good part of the Compromise of 1850, which made it the federal government’s responsibility to capture runaway slaves. This measure was heavily resisted in free states. Possibly Fillmore’s greatest achievement aside from California entering the Union was the ordering of the successful Perry Expedition, which had the purpose and impact of forcing an end to Japan’s 220-year period of isolation from world affairs. In 1852, his party, unhappy with his record on slavery, booted him in favor of General Winfield Scott. Scott proceeded to badly lose the election due to the conflicted nature of the dying Whig Party on slavery. In 1856, Fillmore was nominated to be the candidate of the American (Know Nothing) Party without his consent and would only win the state of Maryland. The last Whig president was not a fan of Lincoln, and voted against him both times while supporting the Union. The last president of a dead party, Fillmore was forgotten even in his own lifetime.

What should be remembered? Nothing! Only kidding, Fugitive Slave Act, admission of California, and Commodore Perry’s expedition.

Franklin Pierce (1804-1869), Served: 1853-1857

d29cdf8eca6563b1573775dabf99cf3f

Having the benefit of running against a hopelessly conflicted Whig Party which had a moderately pro-slavery platform while running an anti-slavery candidate in Winfield Scott, Pierce won all but four states in the 1852 election. This was the most decisive victory and seemed to give the Democrats a mandate. Pierce’s goal as president was to resolve the conflict between Free and Slave states, a goal for which he failed miserably. He signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which by mandating popular sovereignty for Kansas and Nebraska repealed the Missouri Compromise, which barred slavery north of the latitude 36°30´. This resulted in “Bleeding Kansas”, in which bloody conflicts in the state of Kansas occurred between out of state pro and anti-slavery men, both groups seeking to tilt the vote their way. This act also resulted in the death of the Whig Party and the birth of the Republican Party. If “Bleeding Kansas” wasn’t bad enough, the Ostend Manifesto inflamed sectional tensions further, as Pierre Soule, U.S. minister to Spain, suggested the US invade Cuba if Spain wouldn’t sell to them. This would have been a win for slave states. Under Pierce, the Gadsden Purchase, which bought 55,000 square miles for $15 million of Southern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico. He was the first of the two “doughface” presidents, Northern politicians who favored Southern interests. Pierce was thought of so badly that the Democrats declined to renominate him, favoring James Buchanan. Speaking of Buchanan…

What should be remembered? Kansas-Nebraska Act, Gadsden Purchase.

James Buchanan (1791-1868), Served: 1857-1861

james_buchanan-356x300

Regarded as more ideal than Franklin Pierce by the Democrats, this assessment would prove oh so wrong. Buchanan stands as the only president under which the United States lost states. Although officially he acted as a compromiser, Buchanan actually tended to side with slave states on the subject. He secretly lobbied the Supreme Court to rule against Dred Scott in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), now regarded widely as the worst Supreme Court decision, as it ruled that blacks were not citizens, disallowed the federal government from freeing slaves in federal territories, and it actually expanded slavery’s reach by repealing the Missouri Compromise. Buchanan also tried to push the Lecompton Constitution, which made Kansas a slave state and prohibited free blacks from living there. The first vote on the matter had so many fraudulent ballots that the territorial governor urged Buchanan to reject the results, but he didn’t and got it passed by the Senate. In the House, however, an alternative measure was passed that mandated a new vote, in which the Lecompton Constitution got crushed. Buchanan’s public belief that secession was illegal but the federal government had no authority to stop it was pathetic, especially when you consider that Presidents Jackson and Taylor had no such concerns about secession.

What should be remembered? His role in the Dred Scott decision, Lecompton Constitution, inability to stop states from seceding.

The Custodial Presidents

Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893)

president_rutherford_hayes_1870_-_1880_restored

Rutherford B. Hayes, if he is remembered at all, he is remembered for the infamous deal made to make him president. This deal gave him the presidency in exchange for a number of concessions, including ending Reconstruction and appointing a Southern Democrat to his cabinet. However, Hayes was considering doing so anyway, and Democrat Tilden would have undoubtedly done so had he won the election. Hayes was not particularly notable although he did take some definitive stands. First, he would resume the fight to ensure that Southern blacks could vote by vetoing a bill that would prohibit federal troops at polls. Second, he vetoed the Bland-Allison Act, as he favored a return to the gold standard instead of bimetallism. Third, Hayes also tried to reform federal patronage, and as part of this effort, fired Chester A. Arthur, the Collector of the Port of New York. Fourth, Hayes also vetoed a bill excluding Chinese immigrants, preferring to work with China to achieve immigration limits.

What should be remembered? End of Reconstruction, firing a future president.

James Garfield (1831-1881)

1200px-james_abram_garfield2c_photo_portrait_seated

Before serving as president, Garfield served in the Union Army as Chief of Staff to General William Rosecrans. In December 1863, Garfield resigned to take his seat in the House of Representatives. In Congress, he stood as one of the most radical Republicans. Eventually he would focus on other issues, including favoring hard money and opposing greenback currency. Garfield also opposed farm cooperative programs, considering them “communism in disguise” (Doenecke) His views on labor and federal relief projects would find him in good company with the present-day GOP. Garfield was elected president after a very close and spirited campaign against Union General Winfield Scott Hancock. Garfield served a very brief time before his assassination by Charles J. Guiteau, a deranged office-seeker. Before then, he had appointed his cabinet, which included James G. Blaine as Secretary of State.

What should be remembered? His career in Congress, his death.

Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886), Served: 1881-1885

220px-20_chester_arthur_3x4

Chester Arthur completely defied expectations as president. Arthur had been a supporter of the “stalwart” faction of the GOP, but changed course and sought reform. In 1883, he signed into law the Pendleton Act, vetoed a Rivers and Harbors Act for excessive spending, and strengthened the U.S. Navy. However, he failed to cure the budget surplus, an unthinkable problem in modern times. In spite of this turnaround of reputation, Arthur was in no position to run for president in 1884. By 1882, he had developed Bright’s Disease, a chronic inflammation of the kidneys that was incurable at the time and would slowly poison him to death (University of Arizona). The true state of his health was kept under wraps and he only made a minor attempt to campaign for the nomination, which went to James G. Blaine.

What should be remembered? He was a political hack who became principled upon becoming president, possibly due to his realization of his mortality.

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), Served: 1885-1889, 1893-1897

71041-004-b475207f

By 1884 the Democrats had twice failed to win the presidency despite running solid candidates. This time, they were determined to win. Grover Cleveland had developed a reputation for clean, honest governance as Mayor of Buffalo and Governor of New York. He also had the good fortune of running against James G. Blaine. The Republican Blaine had a number of controversial business deals which led his detractors to claim he was corrupt, which included a group of reformer Republicans known as “mugwumps”. However, Blaine’s campaign had a counteroffensive, pointing to Cleveland’s illegitimate child. Cleveland took financial responsibility, as all other potential partners of the woman in question were married at the time. Ultimately, Cleveland’s personal baggage was regarded as lesser than Blaine’s ethics baggage and Cleveland was elected.

Cleveland issued the most vetoes of any president. About half of these were on individual pensions claimed by Union veterans who had been unable to obtain them through the Pensions Bureau. Hundreds of these claims were fraudulent. He vetoed the Texas Seed Bill in 1887, which provided a small sum of $10,000 for the Secretary of Agriculture to purchase seeds to distribute to Texans (Folsom, 2004). Although Cleveland stood strongly against the use of the federal government on seed legislation, he did sign into law the Interstate Commerce Act. This law aimed to regulate railroads by requiring publication of shipping rates and required that they be “reasonable and just”. By vetoing pension bills, Cleveland had attracted the enmity of the lobbying group Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which had a candidate in Republican Benjamin Harrison, who pledged to sign an extensive disability law for veterans if elected. Although Cleveland won the popular vote, he lost the electoral vote and Harrison won. However, four years later, the public mood had turned against Harrison and the Republicans, and Cleveland was again elected president. This time, he aimed to fight a nasty recession, and blamed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 for the draining of gold reserves. The gold standard proponent Cleveland signed a bill repealing the law. He also opposed imperialism and resisted Hawaii’s annexation, but like his fight against veterans pensions, he only managed to delay it. By 1896, Cleveland had fallen out of popularity with his party, as they shifted to the left in their support for free silver advocate William Jennings Bryan.

What should be remembered? Cleveland fought prevailing trends in governance, fought against bogus pension bills, supported the gold standard, was highly principled, and stood against imperialism.

Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), Served: 1889-1893

pach_brothers_-_benjamin_harrison

A union veteran and Indiana Senator, Benjamin Harrison, grandson of William Henry Harrison, was elected to the presidency in 1888. The Harrison years were categorized largely on the domestic front by balancing out Republican Party interests. Easterners wanted a high tariff and Westerners wanted a currency that gave backing to silver. Harrison and the Congressional Republicans, led by Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed, were eager to accommodate. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed in exchange for the McKinley Tariff. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act resulted in a speed up of production of silver while draining the treasury of gold while the McKinley Tariff would raise the tariff rates by an average of 49.5% (Spetter).

Harrison would also support the Blair Education Bill and the Lodge Federal Elections Bill, the former provided federal aid to education to combat illiteracy in the South, and the latter was to ensure blacks could vote in the South. Both would not reach the president’s desk. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was also signed, which aimed to combat monopolies. However, this law would not be vigorously enforced until Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.

On foreign policy, he sought to expand American influence abroad, including the annexation of Hawaii, expanded the U.S. Navy, and negotiated numerous reciprocal trade agreements. Harrison’s foreign policy would inspire Theodore Roosevelt to engage in “Big Stick” diplomacy (Spetter). Ultimately, the time in the sun for Harrison and the Republicans was short. The “Billion Dollar Congress” run by Reed had attracted much opposition, and by 1893, the Republicans had lost control of both the Executive and Congress.

What should be remembered? Harrison was very ambitious, but not all of his ambitions succeeded. Fought for civil rights.

William Howard Taft (1858-1930)

71460-004-49760b95

If Taft is remembered for one thing by the layman, it is the fact that he was fat. Taft was Theodore Roosevelt’s chosen successor, and he easily won the presidency in the 1908 election on the basis of Roosevelt’s popularity. Taft sought a different approach to governance than Roosevelt. While Roosevelt’s style was personal and larger-than-life, Taft was more subdued, legalistic, and conservative. Taft sought to expand U.S. reach in international markets further through “Dollar Diplomacy”, which was crafted by him and Secretary of State Philander C. Knox and involved the use of U.S. troops for economic diplomacy, including employing them to smash a revolt against Nicaragua’s pro-American government (Arnold). This policy resulted in increased ill will towards the United States. One of the first orders of business on the domestic front during Taft’s presidency was the issue of tariffs. Tariffs had been at their all-time high since the 1897 Dingley Tariff, and reformers wanted to see lower rates. Taft ultimately worked with ultra-conservative House Speaker Joe Cannon (R-Ill.), Rep. Sereno Payne (R-N.Y.), and Sen. Nelson Aldrich (R-R.I.) to produce tariff reduction legislation. Although many rates were reduced, numerous others went up, resulting in only about a 5% average drop in tariff rates, which caused progressive Republicans to drop their support of the president (Encyclopedia Britannica). This, combined with the Ballenger-Pinchot controversy over conservation led to Theodore Roosevelt challenging his successor for the Republican nomination in 1912. When this failed, Roosevelt ran as the “Bull Moose” candidate, splitting the Republican vote and resulting in the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. However, Taft’s role in American life wasn’t over, not by a long shot. In 1921, President Harding nominated him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and he was confirmed. Taft’s mind was better fit for this branch of government, and he enjoyed it much more, wishing to be remembered as a chief justice rather than a president, and history is much kinder to his presiding over the court than his time in the White House.

What should be remembered? The tariff law, the split of the GOP.

Warren G. Harding (1865-1923)

91902-004-eded9321

Aside from not usually being remembered by the average American, he is often rated spectacularly low on presidential rankings, the primary reasons having to do with Harding being thought of as having abilities below the office and the extensive corruption that existed in the Bureau of Veterans Affairs and the Justice Department as well as the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal. For the latter, he is probably too castigated for it, as Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall’s confirmation was uncontroversial in 1921. If Harding erred in judgement in appointing Fall, then the Senate erred in judgement for confirming him. Harding’s economic record also goes ignored, even though under his watch the country recovered from an economic depression and the Mellon tax cuts set up the country for an economic boom. Harding also attempted to further civil rights, which is also forgotten. He also appointed some good men in Andrew Mellon, Charles Evans Hughes, and Herbert Hoover. He probably doesn’t deserve as bad a rap as he gets, although his presidency was undoubtedly flawed, with him trusting the almost certainly corrupt Harry M. Daugherty to run the Justice Department.

What should be remembered? Cutting taxes, corruption, economic growth.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)

calvin-coolidge-9256384-1-402

Calvin Coolidge is most commonly known by the public, if thought of at all, as “Silent Cal” and who didn’t do much while in office. After Harding’s 1923 death, Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn into office. He was instrumental in restoring public trust in government by causing the resignation of Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty and running a corruption-free administration. Coolidge initially had an ambitious agenda, but his enthusiasm waned after the untimely death of his teenage son from a blood infection. Although Coolidge won handily in 1924, he would write later in his autobiography, “When he went the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him” (Otfinoski, 53).

Among his achievements, Coolidge signed into law the Immigration Act of 1924, which established national origins quotas for immigration, severely restricting groups that were not Western or Northern European. The measure also contained, despite Coolidge’s objections, a complete ban on Japanese immigration. American Indians were granted citizenship, and Coolidge also called on Congress to no avail to pass anti-lynching legislation. Much of the agenda-setting went to Congress, which, like him, was conservative. Coolidge issued a few notable vetoes, such as the McNary-Haugen bill, which would have provided relief for agricultural areas that weren’t experiencing prosperity. This veto was based on Coolidge’s commitment to keeping government out of the market. Although he presided over significant economic growth and signed tax reduction legislation into law that helped its continuance, there is also the ever-nagging question as to how much responsibility Coolidge bears for the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, which is hard to ascertain given the variety of economic opinions as to what caused the Great Depression aside from buying on the margin.

What should be remembered? Commitment to limited government, tax cuts, restoration of integrity to the White House.

Whew…this was a long post. I had originally thought of posting something else, but since President’s Day just happened, this is most appropriate.

References

Arnold, P.E. William Howard Taft: Foreign Affairs. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/taft/foreign-affairs

Baker, J.H. Franklin Pierce: Domestic Affairs. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/pierce/domestic-affairs

Baker, J.H. Franklin Pierce: Foreign Affairs. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/pierce/foreign-affairs

Chester Alan Arthur – Fighting a Hidden Illness. The University of Arizona Health Sciences Library.

Retrieved from http://ahsl.arizona.edu/about/exhibits/presidents/arthur

Chester A. Arthur – Key Events. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/chester-arthur/key-events

Cooper, W. James Buchanan: Domestic Affairs. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/buchanan/domestic-affairs

Doenecke, J. James A. Garfield: Life Before the Presidency. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/garfield/life-before-the-presidency

Freehling, W. John Tyler: Foreign Affairs. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/tyler/foreign-affairs

Grover Cleveland – Key Events. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/grover-cleveland/key-events

John Tyler – Key Events. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/john-tyler/key-events

Ostend Manifesto. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/Ostend-Manifesto

Otfinoski, S. (2009). Calvin Coolidge. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.

Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=Dy3UqSKVtU0C&pg=PA53&lpg=PA53

Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Payne-Aldrich-Tariff-Act

Rutherford B. Hayes – Key Events. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/rutherford-b-hayes/key-events

Silbey, J. Martin Van Buren: Life Before the Presidency. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/vanburen/life-before-the-presidency

Spetter, A.B. Benjamin Harrison: Domestic Affairs. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/bharrison/domestic-affairs

Spetter, A.B. Benjamin Harrison: Foreign Affairs. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/bharrison/foreign-affairs

Trani, E.P. Warren Harding: Domestic Affairs. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/harding/domestic-affairs

Warren G. Harding – Key Events. Miller Center.

Retrieved from https://millercenter.org/president/warren-g-harding/key-events

Ignatius Donnelly: Congressman and Crackpot

Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901) aspired to be many things and was many things, although not necessarily what he aspired to be.

Ignatius-Donnelly

An attorney by profession, Donnelly engaged in many pursuits. His first major venture was in 1856 when he and a business associate, John Nininger, founded Nininger City in the Minnesota Territory. This was a utopian community that lasted only a year before the Panic of 1857 caused all except Donnelly to leave. However, this development did not harm his political chances in the young state of Minnesota. Donnelly served as lieutenant governor and as a Republican in Congress from 1863-1869, where he voted to abolish slavery. However, his enthusiasm for the Republicans waned in the 1870s as he saw them as becoming controlled by business interests. Donnelly ran for Congress again in 1878 as a Democrat, but narrowly lost.

Ignatius Donnelly believed himself to be a visionary and a genius, and in 1882 wrote his most influential book, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, in which among thirteen hypotheses he claimed that the Plato’s story of Atlantis was not an allegory and argued that the society of Atlantis constituted the ideal state, a model the United States should follow. This book serves as the starting point of all hypotheses about the alleged existence of Atlantis, but credible scholars then and now regard it as an allegory. He also wrote Caesar’s Column (1891), an apocalyptic book that takes place in 1988 New York in which society is ruled by a financial oligarchy over a suffering working class. The book predicted television, radio, and the use of poison gas in war. Donnelly not only engaged in futurism and attempting to find truth in allegory, but he also attempted to prove Shakespeare’s works were authored by Sir Francis Bacon. In The Great Cryptogram (1888) and The Cipher in the Plays and on the Tombstone (1899), he deciphered a “code” he discovered in Shakespeare’s works, which also led him to conclude that Bacon wrote the plays of Christopher Marlowe and Michel de Montaigne. For Donnelly, Bacon sure got around. His efforts at Shakespearean “scholarship” were poorly received in his time, yet this hasn’t stopped others from trying! The notion that Shakespeare’s author was not really Shakespeare is a notion that is still entertained by people, including Supreme Court justices (Bravin, 2009). He was often regarded humorously in his day, with detractors referring to him as the “Sage of Nininger”. Donnelly also wrote about racism in Doctor Huguet (1891), in which a white intellectual is transformed into a poor black man and must endure the harsh racism prevalent at the time.

In the 1890s, Donnelly was one of the central organizers of the Populist Party and served terms in both houses of the Minnesota State Legislature. He advocated redistributing wealth by instituting an income tax and raising inheritance taxes, backed stronger regulations on railroads and telegraph companies, and supported an eight-hour day law. In Donnelly’s last campaign he was running for Vice President on the Middle Road Populist ticket, a splinter group of a third party. He departed with the close of the 19th century, suffering a fatal heart attack shortly after the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1901.

References

Bravin, J. (18 April 2009). “Justice Stevens Renders an Opinion on Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays.” The Wall Street Journal.

Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123998633934729551

DeMeules, D.H. (1961). “Ignatius Donnelly: A Don Quixote in the World of Science.” Minnesota History.

Retrieved from http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/37/v37i06p229-234.pdf

“Ignatius Donnelly”. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ignatius-Donnelly

Underhill, R. (2014). Against the Grain: Six Men Who Shaped America. New York, NY: Algora Publishing. 7-22.

Quick Thought – Andrew Jackson: A Deplorable President?

In order to keep this blog going, I have put myself on a schedule. Regular postings, which are researched and cited, will be posted on Tuesdays and Saturdays. What I will call “Quick Thoughts”, however, are not cited and have no regular schedule. I could post anywhere from none to five in a week. These will be no more than three paragraphs and to find the truth in them you’ll have to “trust, but verify”. Through a regular and irregular schedule I embrace both order and chaos in my writing. Quick Thoughts will consist of relatively brief writings that relate to American history, and I present the first one right now!

Andrew Jackson: A Deplorable President?

No other president in recent history has had their record reevaluated more than Andrew Jackson.  Only fifty years ago, he would have easily made most if not all American historian top ten lists for presidents. Presently, some who are social justice minded relegate him to the bottom for the Trail of Tears alone. However, a president ought not be judged solely by one action, even though the Indian Removal Act was a major part of his agenda. I find examining this issue to be important because our current president looks favorably upon Jackson, and there are several reasons why. First, he was a populist in his time. Jackson represented the hopes and aspirations of newly enfranchised poor whites, and they lay westward. Trump likewise represents poor whites, with their hopes and aspirations being getting their jobs back. Second, Jackson fought an entrenched power. In his case, this entrenched power, this dragon he slew, was the Second Bank of the United States. As far as Jackson was concerned, the Bank was corrupt and served the interests of the rich and the rich alone. For Trump, the “deep state” serves the interests of a bloated federal government and its stakeholders, not the people.  Third, Jackson exercised strong leadership in getting his agenda through and facing challenges, and Trump likes to view himself as a man of action.

There are good reasons to reevaluate Jackson, and the Trail of Tears isn’t the only one. His administration also expanded the spoils system to the detriment of the quality and integrity of public service, his veto of the Second Bank of the United States combined with the 1836 Specie Circular executive order, which required payment for government land to be in gold and silver, contributed to the Panic of 1837. The economy afterwards suffered a massive recession that lasted until 1843, for which his successor Martin Van Buren would shoulder the burden of the public blame. However, there is one factor that must absolutely be accounted for in evaluating his legacy: his handling of the Nullification Crisis. South Carolina nullified the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832, and threatened to secede if the federal government tried to enforce it. Jackson sent the Navy to enforce the tariffs while simultaneously getting a tariff law passed more satisfactory to South Carolina. He also in no uncertain terms made clear that secession was illegal and that he would be willing to use the full force of the government in response. The manner in which this conflict was resolved delayed the Civil War for almost thirty years, and gave the North time to industrialize so they would be able to prevail in the conflict.

Was Jackson a “deplorable” president? If we are to define a nationalistic agenda tailored to working class and poor whites as “deplorable”, then yes he was! Our first “deplorable” president, if you wish to think of him as that, didn’t destroy the country…he saved it and enabled its growth through his promotion of Manifest Destiny but with numerous costs, short and long run.

Benjamin Harrison, Warren G. Harding, and Calvin Coolidge: The Presidents You Didn’t Know Supported Civil Rights

When people think of presidents who were for civil rights, they tend to think of Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson and sometimes Ulysses Grant as well. All three of these men deserve this reputation, but there are more who deserve recognition they don’t get. Benjamin Harrison, although often regarded as one of the “forgettable” and “custodial” presidents, stood as a consistent advocate for equal legal rights for blacks. His administration made the last major effort until the 1950s to combat the denial of the vote for Southern blacks. He also supported the Lodge Elections Bill, which aimed to enforce voting rights but fell victim to a Senate filibuster. His Attorney General, William H.H. Miller, ordered suits filed over voting rights violations in the South, but Southern juries nullified most of these efforts (Calhoun, 89). This was an excellent contrast to presidents such as Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley, whose approaches to black voting rights were lackadaisical at best. Cleveland was the worst example, having opposed the Lodge Federal Elections Bill, deriding it as the “Force Bill” and along with the McKinley Tariff placed this bill as the centerpiece of the campaign, Democrats alleging that “Negro domination” of the South would occur if it was enacted (Loewen, 398-399). Cleveland believed that all matters pertaining to race belonged on the state level, giving the white South a free hand to do what it pleased.

McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft would not play a particularly active role in working towards improving the legal situation for blacks in the South, but Warren G. Harding would try. In 1920, the Republican platform, which was an expression of what Harding supported, explicitly endorsed an anti-lynching bill in response to post-war racial violence and the high incidence of lynching of Southern blacks. It was also significant that Harding gave a speech in Alabama in 1921 before a segregated audience in which he called for equal citizenship between blacks and whites, leading to cheers from the black section and stone silence from the white section (Bailey, 2016). In 1922, the House passed the Dyer Anti-Lynching bill by a commanding margin but it died in a Senate filibuster. His successor, Calvin Coolidge, would also advocate to no avail an anti-lynching bill but would successfully give his backing to increasing funding to Howard University and would even give the Commencement Address at the University. While none of these three men have accomplishments in this field that come close to those of Lincoln, Grant, and Johnson, it would nonetheless surprise the layperson to know that support for civil rights was more widespread among the presidents than thought.

References

Bailey, G. (26 October 2016). This Presidential Speech on Race Shocked the Nation…in 1921. History News Network.

Retrieved from http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/164410

Bushong, W. (2015). The Life and Presidency of Calvin Coolidge. The White House Historical Association.

Retrieved from https://www.whitehousehistory.org/the-life-and-presidency-of-calvin-coolidge

Calhoun, C.W. (2005). Benjamin Harrison: The American presidents series: The 23rd president, 1889-1893. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=SZTqAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA89&lpg=PA89

Loewen, J.W. (1999). Lies across America: What our historic sites get wrong. New York, NY: The New Press.

Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=zRtFAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA398&lpg=PA398

Schmoke, K.L. (8 May 2013). Calvin Coolidge, rights pioneer? Politico.

Retrieved from https://www.politico.com/story/2013/05/calvin-coolidge-civil-rights-pioneer-091065

 

The Forgotten Assassination of a Governor and the Scandalous Trials That Followed

Kentucky’s 1899 gubernatorial race was unusually heated. After years of Democratic domination since Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the Republicans were finally becoming competitive. In 1895, the voters tired of poor economic conditions and elected its first Republican governor, William Bradley. The following year Kentucky’s voters for the first time chose a Republican president, William McKinley. The GOP wanted to repeat their gubernatorial victory in 1899 with state Attorney General William S. Taylor. The Democrats had selected as their nominee state Senator William J. Goebel. Goebel was a controversial figure within his own party. A staunch populist who battled railroads, he made many enemies with his abrasive personality, often lacing his arguments with profanity and insults. He had also attracted controversy for his eventually lethal conflict with wealthy banker and Confederate veteran John Sanford. He was angered that Goebel’s successful advocacy of removing tolls from many of Kentucky’s turnpikes had cost him a lot of money and he had previously muttered that he would kill Goebel. He also may have been behind an anonymous smear campaign against him as well as a denial of a judgeship on the Court of Appeals. Goebel responded with a scathing article in which he alleged that the married Sanford had gonorrhea, referring to him as “Gonorrhea John”. Sanford was enraged and approached Goebel on the street, asking if he had written the article, to which Goebel affirmed. Sanford shot at Goebel, but missed. Goebel returned fire, shooting Sanford in the head. He was acquitted for the killing as an act of self-defense, but had he been convicted of dueling, he would have been barred from holding public office. This was not the only issue he had with the more traditional Democrats of Kentucky.

Goebel also differed from the traditional Democrat as he was the son of a Union veteran and was favorable to civil rights. A small group of Democrats were dissatisfied with his nomination and the means to which he won it to the point of running former governor John Y. Brown on the “Honest Election Democrats” ticket. Because of this split in the Democratic Party, the 1899 election was close, with Taylor initially winning by 2,384 votes. However, the Democratic Kentucky General Assembly would not give up and claimed voter fraud accounted for the difference, even though a special elections board with three pro-Goebel men that Goebel had created had certified the results for Taylor. Republicans thought Democrats were out to steal the election, and armed citizens from staunchly Republican Eastern Kentucky descended upon Frankfort to prevent this from happening. The tensions were high and violence seemed nigh, and there were numerous reported threats on Goebel’s life. On January 30, 1900, Goebel was walking to the Old State Capitol with two guards when five to six shots were fired from the State Building, with one hitting Goebel in the chest. The Democratic majority certified the election for him the next day and the dying Goebel was sworn in. He lingered until February 3rd before succumbing to his wound.

Sixteen men were indicted for involvement in the murder, including Governor Taylor and Secretary of State Caleb Powers. The prosecution charged that Powers had, with the knowledge of Taylor, masterminded the plot and arranged for Jim Howard, who had been on trial for murder in a blood feud, to shoot Goebel, with Republican State Auditor clerk Henry Youtsey acting as an intermediary between them. The alleged reward for Howard for pulling the trigger was a pardon from Governor Taylor. As for Taylor, he was able to avoid jail time by fleeing to Indiana, and the state’s Republican governor refused to extradite him. Of the defendants, Youtsey proved the weakest link. He had been arrested trying to leave Frankfort disguised as a woman, witnesses testified to him expressing a desire to kill Goebel, and some had placed him at the State Capitol building at the time of the shooting, cleaning a rifle. Over the course of the first trial, he faked insanity, faked a coma, and offered contradictory testimony. After being sentenced to life imprisonment, Youtsey offered testimony for the prosecution, implicating Powers and Howard. Powers and Howard were convicted three times, but their verdicts were overturned on appeal due to the intensely partisan jury selection (360 of 368 people called up for jury duty in one of the cases were Democrats, in another, 173 out of 176) and intense partisan bias exercised by the judge, Goebel supporter J. Campbell Cantrill, who in the first trial had issued jury instructions practically demanding the jury issue a guilty verdict. On a fourth trial for Caleb Powers, in which the jury was mostly Republican, the jury deadlocked.

A fortunate development occurred for Powers and Howard when in 1907 Kentucky elected its second Republican governor, Augustus Willson. The following year he pardoned Powers and Howard, while keeping the unstable Youtsey in prison, as it was Willson’s conviction that he alone had murdered Goebel. In 1910, the voters of Eastern Kentucky’s 11th District, certain of the innocence of Powers, elected him to Congress. Ironically, he served alongside Judge Cantrill for as long as he had served in prison, retiring in 1919. Another alleged conspirator who had fled to Indiana, Charles Finley, would also serve time in Congress. Youtsey would be paroled in December 1918 and pardoned the following year. This all leaves us with a question: who perpetrated the only assassination of a sitting American governor? The case to this day remains unsolved and we may never know as the environment surrounding the trials was overly partisan, the physical evidence was lacking, and the remaining evidence was too contradictory.

References

Edwards, B. “Henry Eckert Youtsey”. Findagrave.com.

Retrieved from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53360709/henry-eckert-youtsey#

Klotter, J.C. (1977). William Goebel: The politics of wrath. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 111-125.

Pearce, J. (1994). Days of darkness: The feuds of Eastern Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 191.

Woodson, U. (1939). The First New Dealer, William Goebel: His origin, ambitions, achievements, his assassination, loss to the state and nation; the story of a great crime. Louisville, KY: The Standard Press.

A New Beginning

After not posting since July, I realized that I have lost my passion for writing about issues of the day under the moniker “The Ranting Reactionary” and understand that it is time to move on. I have deleted all my postings under that moniker, but not before saving them on my computer. I am not, after all, an erratic and temperamental artist. I’ve enjoyed writing for a long time, but ever since writing many a paper in graduate school I’ve had many ideas but I have been lacking follow-through, perhaps because I have made the perfect the enemy of the good. I will change that this year. While I could write about political issues of the day, I honestly have to say there are more than enough people who talk a storm about it. I am neither the most bold or inflammatory of commenters, I am not particularly willing to make everything fit a narrative, and I am not interested in making grandstanding displays of self-righteousness. In all, I am simply lacking in passion about writing in an overtly partisan matter. I will be nothing more than a voice drowned among many. Therefore, I think it best to find my own voice. I have always enjoyed history and crossed into it a lot when previously writing. Because life doesn’t go as expected and to embrace the strangeness and chaos that is life, I will write about the strangeness and chaos of politics. My new blog Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History I hope will prove to be simultaneously amusing and informative. I may cover contemporary strangeness as well from time to time, but most of the emphasis will be on American history and contemporary affairs will always connect to history in some way.  I have many ideas and I am excited to get started!

– Mike