The Controversy of Justice Hugo Black

In 1937, the Supreme Court finally gave way to FDR’s policies in two ways. First, they ruled that Washington state’s minimum wage was constitutional in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (1937). Second, Willis Van Devanter, one of the court’s “Four Horsemen” who repeatedly voted to strike down New Deal laws, called it quits. As his replacement, Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated Senator Hugo Black of Alabama. Black was one of the most passionate advocates of the New Deal and had repeatedly fought to curb the influence of corporate lobbying on American politics, at times in ways that attracted widespread criticism. He had also been one of the few senators to come out strongly for and fully believe in FDR’s “court-packing plan”. Unlike the nomination fights of today, Black’s ultimate confirmation was a pretty sure thing: it is difficult to see a period in American history where conservatives were weaker than in the 75th Congress. Republican representation in the Senate had been reduced to less than 20, and New Deal Democrats could easily best whatever alliance Republicans and reluctant Democrats could muster. However, a controversy would arise aside from partisanship about this justice.

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Hugo L. Black (1886-1971)

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan hit its peak in membership. Both the Republican and Democratic parties had their pro and anti-Klan wings that battled it out in state primaries. In 1926, Hugo Black had been elected to the Senate with the support of the Klan. His predecessor, the more conservative Minority Leader Oscar Underwood, was an avowed opponent of the KKK and fought for the insertion of an anti-Klan plank in the Democratic Party platform in 1924. He knew this would come at the cost of his career, so he didn’t bother running for reelection. Black had not only gained the support of the Klan…he had also been a member. In the Senate Black had opposed anti-lynching legislation (which made him no different than any senator from the former Confederacy). While the NAACP during his confirmation hearings was bringing up his Klan membership, most of the opposition against him came from opponents of the New Deal. When the Senate voted on his nomination, he was easily confirmed 68-16. The opponents consisted strictly of New Deal foes. Immediately after the confirmation a newspaper expose by journalist Ray Sprigle was released about Black’s membership, proving that he had been a member from 1923 to 1925. He publicly admitted that he had been a member but stated that he had not participated in any of its activities, and many senators stated afterward that they would not have voted for him had they known of his former membership. Sprigle won a Pulitzer Prize for the story and Black entered his first session of the court through the basement, as hundreds of protestors stood outside the court with black armbands.

Although there has been controversy about Justice Black’s views on Catholics and Catholicism influencing his decisions on restricting school prayer, he took a distinctly different turn on civil rights as he joined the rest of the court in decisions striking down school segregation. Black also became known as one of the court’s staunch liberals on the First Amendment, arguing for an absolutist view and was easily one of the 20th century’s most influential justices. He would sit on the court until 1971, retiring only eight days before his death.


Confirmation of Hugo Black as Associate Justice. Govtrack.

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Eschner, K. (2017, February 27). This Supreme Court Justice was a KKK Member. Smithsonian Magazine.

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Hugo L. Black. Encyclopedia Britannica.

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How the Northeast Became Democratic, Part V: New Hampshire (Sort of) and Conclusion

In 1918, New Hampshire had a Republican senator, a retiring Democratic senator, two Republican representatives, and Republican Governor Henry W. Keyes, who would be elected senator that year. Today, it has two Democrats in the Senate, two Democratic representatives, and Republican Governor Chris Sununu. New Hampshire is the most recent New England state to give its four electoral votes to a Republican, doing so in the hotly contested 2000 election. Despite having an entirely Democratic delegation at the moment, the state party appears strong: Governor Chris Sununu is popular and is looking at easy reelection in November and both houses of the New Hampshire General Court have a Republican majority. Although on the federal level, the state seems a bluish purple, the Democrats have overall had the least success here. Yet, the state used to be solidly Republican as opposed to competitive. Thus, how did it get competitive?

From the foundation of the Republican Party until 1936, New Hampshire was a fairly reliable Republican state, voting Democratic only in 1912 and 1916. The state was swept up in the support and enthusiasm for FDR in his three reelection bids, but from 1938 to 1960, the state elected only Republicans to federal office. The Democrats got a break in 1962 when the state elected Thomas McIntyre to the Senate, who held the seat until his defeat in 1978. The state did not experience the same immigration that the industrial Northeast had, and even up until the 2000s the state had conservative Republicans representing it on the federal level. Some rightist standouts the Senate has had from the state include George Moses (1918-33), Styles Bridges (1937-61), Norris Cotton (1954-75), Gordon Humphrey (1979-90), and Bob Smith (1990-2003). However, as with the previous five states, there has been one figure who stands out as politically transformative. This politician is unlike the others in a number of ways: still alive, still holding office, and is a woman.

Jeanne Shaheen, Senator, New Hampshire, 2009-.

Jeanne Shaheen made political history in 1996 when she was the first woman to be elected governor in New Hampshire and was reelected twice after. Her popularity as governor helped revitalize the state’s Democratic Party. This showed in 2004, when the state voted for Kerry; in 2006, when the state voted out its two Republican incumbent representatives; and in 2008, when New Hampshire voted Shaheen to the Senate, making her the first woman to be a senator from the state. This influence also showed on the gubernatorial level: since Shaheen’s election in 1996, Republicans have only held the office for four years thus far. By contrast, from the start of the 20th century till Shaheen assumed office in 1997, Democrats only held the post for a total of thirteen years. One popular political figure can change the makeup of a state, and New Hampshire is an example. New Hampshire Democrats were also helped by the fact that the next Democratic governor, John Lynch, was outstandingly popular. Another factor, which has been the case for the other states, is population migration. A significant factor in the state’s population growth is that residents of Massachusetts, a heavily Democratic state, have been moving to New Hampshire. So perhaps it is the descendants of the immigrants to Massachusetts who are now influencing New Hampshire’s politics? That being said, however, Democrats have a lot of work to do to make this state solidly in their column, but they did a good job of making it no longer a solid Republican state.

Conclusion: What Does This All Mean for Today Anyway?

For wary Republicans, New England is a model for the political future of America if immigration is continued to be loose and especially if a comprehensive legalization plan is passed that admits high numbers of ethnic Catholics who heavily trend Democrat. Something to bear in mind with this comparison that I had not mentioned in earlier posts: Catholics were not accepted into the WASP society of old New England, which was a partial motivator for their Democratic Party affiliation. This leaves open the idea that the GOP lacking accommodating views on immigration motivates this Democratic lean. Yet, even with a more politically accommodating approach as adopted by Republican politicians of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the GOP only delayed their eventual long-term minority party status in these states. The Republican Party is in a tough position on immigration today, especially since many legalization candidates are already residing on U.S. soil. The GOP has two choices if history is an indicator: 1. Moderate their politics and delay long-term minority party status, with only occasional “personality” candidates becoming president and doing little to nothing for party building. 2. Remain staunch, fight to prevent a mass wave of legalization, and possibly prevent long-term minority party status, or be hit harder than choice #1.


Ramer, H. (2017, December 27). Domestic Migration Fuels N.H. Population Growth. Associated Press.

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How the Northeast Became Democratic, Part IV: Maine (Sort of)

Maine’s story is a bit different than that of the industrialized Northeastern states, as immigrants did not directly flock to the state and that Maine is only Democratic leaning, not staunchly Democrat. Maine, in fact, was the only New England state to give Donald Trump an electoral vote. Yet, the state has not voted for a Republican for president since 1988. Once, it was one of the most Republican states in the nation.

Maine’s Republican Party was historically quite strong. The party’s first Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin, had once been a Democratic senator who ditched the party on the issue of slavery. The state and its voters for quite some time proved strongly conservative on social and economic issues. Senator James G. Blaine was a prominent figure in the party and was its unsuccessful candidate for president in 1884. One of the most powerful Republican Speakers of the House, Thomas Brackett Reed, represented Maine’s 1st congressional district. The state was able to maintain having two Republican senators throughout the entirety of the Roosevelt Administration, although incumbent Frederick Hale came very close to losing reelection in 1934. In 1936, the state was one of only two to vote for Alf Landon. The state’s two senators, Frederick Hale and Wallace White, were predictable votes against the Roosevelt Administration, with the former being more extreme as unlike White, he voted against Social Security and the Wagner Labor Relations Act. After this election, the Republican Party was quite secure in its hold of the state until the rise of a politician named Edmund Muskie.

Edmund Muskie, Governor of Maine, 1955-59, Senator, 1959-1980, and Secretary of State, 1980-81.

In 1954, the voters elected Democrat Edmund Muskie governor. He was the state’s first Roman Catholic governor, and he pushed strongly for the expansion of the Democratic Party in the state. According to the New York Times, he “revitalized the state’s frostbitten Democratic Party…” (Apple, 1996). This was demonstrated in 1958, when the Democrats scored a smashing victory in the state: Muskie defeated incumbent Republican Senator Frederick G. Payne 60-39%, and of the three representatives in the state, only the 3rd district was held by a Republican, Clifford McIntire. For Maine, Muskie was the figure that transitioned the state from Republican to competitive. Maine’s habit of voting Republican for president, something the state had only broken away from once in 1912, would be broken again in 1964 and in 1968, when the voters backed Humphrey due to the state’s favorite son, Muskie, being the Vice Presidential candidate. The state would oscillate throughout the 1970s, with the Democrats even able to defeat GOP moderate Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to run in a major party primary for president and the first woman to be elected to the Senate without succeeding her husband, for reelection in 1972. The state, however, would vote Republicans for president until 1992.

Maine has not voted Republican for president since 1988, but has been willing to elect moderate Republicans to federal office and it is the only New England state that currently has Republicans representing it on the federal level in Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Before 2013, Maine also had Republican Olympia Snowe representing it in the Senate. The state also has a Republican governor, Paul LePage, who is not known for moderation. Hillary Clinton also only won the state by less than 3%, a poor recent performance for a Democratic candidate in a state that has voted Democrat since 1992.

Maine overall is not as Democratic as the other states previously covered, it only leans Democrat. Maine’s 2nd district (the state’s rural north) looks promising for Republicans to keep in their influence given Trump’s resounding victory in the area, but the GOP must keep in mind that they likely will not be able to get away with ultra-conservatism. In the future, Maine could go either way politically given the state’s divide. The state’s GOP also benefits from the fact that the state did not get the level of Catholic European immigration that Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut received. The Democratic Party’s rise in Maine was largely thanks to the popularity and legacy of Edmund Muskie. For Democrats, the state is still a work in progress.


Apple, R.W. Edmund S. Muskie, 81, Dies; Maine Senator and a Power on the National Scene. The New York Times.

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How the Northeast Became Democratic, Part III: Connecticut and Vermont

In 1918, Connecticut had five representatives just like it does today. However, that year 4 of 5 were Republicans and both senators were Republicans, with Frank Brandegee being one of the chamber’s most conservative members. Today, both senators are liberal Democrats and all representatives are so as well. Likewise, the governor in 1918 was a Republican while today the office is held by a Democrat. Connecticut, however, did not join the staunchly blue fold so definitively and quickly as did Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Neither was it as definitively and staunchly Republican in its history as were those states before the Great Depression: the state voted for Samuel Tilden in 1876 and voted for Grover Cleveland thrice. Rhode Island and Massachusetts didn’t vote for a Democratic president until 1912.

After the 1896 election, Connecticut could be counted as a solid Republican state. It was even one of only six states whose voters believed Herbert Hoover deserved a second term in 1932. However, the state had grown more and more industrialized, and many of the workers in the state’s factories were Catholic immigrants from Ireland or Italy or the children of said immigrants. The origin of such immigration dated back to the time of the Irish Potato Famine, when 50,000 Irish Catholics had immigrated to the state and they tended to vote Democrat as well (Hoffman, 2014). The GOP’s grip on the state broke in 1936, when the state voted for Roosevelt and all federal Republican incumbents were defeated. However, this victory for the Democrats was short-lived as the Republicans roared back in 1938, taking all but two House seats and a Senate seat. The state was a major battleground during the 1940s, with candidates from both parties regularly elected and cast aside, depending on what party had the edge. However, in 1952, it seemed like the GOP had regained its hold on the state’s politics: all its federal elected officials were Republicans save for Thomas Dodd of the 1st district. These Republicans, however, were not like the Republicans of the 1940s and past. None of them were even close to as conservative as men like Sen. Frank Brandegee, who opposed the Versailles Treaty unconditionally, or Rep. Schuyler Merritt, who voted against Social Security. A typical Connecticut Republican in the 1950s was Sen. Prescott Bush, who was an Eisenhower Republican through and through: internationalist, socially moderate to liberal, and fiscally conservative. The root cause of increasing moderation on the part of the GOP was that the electorate had grown less conservative, and thus more moderate candidates needed to be run to win. As it was throughout much of the Northeast, the key year was 1958. That midterm election, Republicans took a beating, and nowhere more so than Connecticut. Before the election, they held all House seats and both Senate seats. The next year, only Sen. Prescott Bush would remain. The GOP would never quite regain the hold they had in the 1950s.

In my last two posts, I identified certain key figures in the state’s change: for Rhode Island, it was Theodore Green. For Massachusetts, it was John F. Kennedy. For Connecticut, it was not a senator or governor, but political operator John Bailey. Bailey, an Irish Catholic Harvard graduate, had become chair of the state’s Democratic Party in 1946, and with shrewdness and his tremendous talents in political organization, was able to lead its transition away from Republican politics. He was instrumental in John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign as well as in getting three Democratic governors elected (Sembor, 2003). The base of the state’s political power shifted away from WASP Republicans and shifted towards a winning Democratic coalition of ethnic Irish, Italian, and Jewish voters. Bailey was such a success that he kept his job until his death in 1975.

John Bailey, Connecticut Democratic Party Chair, 1946-1975

The 1960s proved rough for the GOP in the state: Connecticut voted Democrat in all three of the decade’s presidential elections and both Senate seats went Democrat. The delegation and the majority of the state’s voters favored the liberal policies of the Great Society. However, the 1970s proved to be something of a rebound as the GOP was consistently able to hold the 4th district and was able to score victories in the 2nd and 5th. Republican Lowell Weicker Jr. won a Senate seat in 1970 from Democrat Thomas Dodd, who had been censured in 1967 for using his campaign funds for personal expenses. Weicker lost his bid for a fourth term in 1988 as he had become the most liberal Republican in the Senate (and thus lost a lot of GOP support), and the GOP hasn’t represented the state since in the chamber. That same year the state would for the last time vote for a Republican for president. The GOP, however, did maintain a healthy presence in the state’s House delegation, with moderate to liberal Republicans Chris Shays and Nancy Johnson serving for over twenty years. The Bush era ultimately brought an end to the GOP presence in the Connecticut delegation, with its final incumbent, Chris Shays, losing reelection in 2008. Its Republican governor, Jodi Rell, left office in 2011.

Although the state’s modern voting for president isn’t as dauntingly Democratic as Massachusetts or Rhode Island, the state seems unlikely to return to the GOP fold anytime soon considering that even its unpopular Democratic governor, Dan Malloy, was able to narrowly win reelection in 2014, a good year for Republicans. Thus far, I have covered the New England states that were industrialized, but this still leaves Maine and New Hampshire, which constitute the more rural part of the region.

As for Vermont? It turns out I already covered the state in a previous post! Read it here:


Hoffman, C. (2014, June 22). 19th-Century Irish Catholic Immigrants Faced Unabashed Hostility. The Hartford Courant.

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Sembor, E.C. (2003). An introduction to Connecticut state and local government. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.



How the Northeast Became Democratic, Part II: Massachusetts

Massachusetts in 2018 is most commonly connected to politics with liberal Democrats like the Kennedys and Elizabeth Warren. All 9 of its representatives and both senators are Democrats. Although the governor is Charlie Baker, a popular Republican, he is moderate and tends to stay out of matters unrelated to the governance of the state. In 1918, of its 16 representatives, 11 were Republicans, 4 were Democrats, and 1 was Independent. Both senators were Republican, and its governor was conservative Republican Samuel McCall, Calvin Coolidge’s political mentor. How did this change happen?

The story of Massachusetts’ change doesn’t begin in the 1960s or even the 1930s. The story in fact starts in the 1880s. Starting in that time, immigration accelerated from Central and Southern Europe. These immigrants were poor, Catholic, and many were illiterate and non-English speakers. These immigrants, like first generation immigrants of the past and present, tended to vote Democrat. Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge was so concerned about immigration that he was active in supporting the Immigration Restriction League and served as a leading advocate for severe curbs in immigration, perhaps fearing not only cultural and racial differences, but political ones as well. Massachusetts Republicans, however, were not unified about immigration. Senator George Frisbie Hoar was one of the few major critics in his time of legislation barring Chinese immigration, which mostly impacted the west coast, yet he remembered the interests of the state party when he expressed his belief that Portuguese and Italian immigrants were “unfit for citizenship”, this group of people far more likely to immigrate to Massachusetts (Puelo, 27). Additionally, more Republican representatives in the state voted against the Immigration Act of 1917 than for, which was a comprehensive immigration limitation measure that pretty much banned anyone from immigrating who might prove inconvenient to American society. Despite Democratic influence being largely limited to Boston for a long time, in the early 20th century there were some warning signs for the GOP. In 1918, for the first time since 1851, the state elected a Democratic senator, David I. Walsh. Thanks in good measure to the election of senators by state legislatures as well as the lack of requirement that legislative districts be based on population, Republicans had been able to dominate the state’s Senate elections until the ratification of the 17th Amendment. Although Lodge finally was getting his wishes by the 1910s and 1920s in passage of immigration restriction legislation, for Massachusetts Republicans it was already too late. Birthrates of these immigrants outpaced those of the Republican WASPs and they tended to have bigger families (Connolly, 2016). Another warning sign was that in 1928, despite Republican Herbert Hoover winning in a landslide nationwide, the Democratic candidate Al Smith barely carried the Bay State.

Despite the Great Depression and FDR winning the state four times, Massachusetts remained one of the best states for the GOP. Many of its voters still voted Republicans into office on the state and local level, and the state proved one of his worst performances among the states he won. For instance, in 1936, the state gave Republicans the only takeover of a Senate seat from a Democrat and was FDR’s third worst performance in a state. The Senate loss, however, was due to FDR’s refusal to endorse the corrupt Governor James M. Curley. The state’s Democratic takeover was somewhat forestalled by Irish American opposition to FDR’s foreign policy given their antipathy to the British, with their anti-war sentiments being shared by Democratic Sen. David Walsh and Boston’s Republican Congressman George Tinkham. Also helpful to Republican prospects was that one of the GOP’s leading national figures was Rep. Joseph W. Martin Jr., who represented North Attleboro in Congress and led the House GOP from 1939 to 1959, serving as Speaker in two sessions. Although Truman won Massachusetts in 1948, Republicans were still in excellent shape in the state, having two senators and a majority of the state’s representatives. Unfortunately for them, change was rapidly approaching.

From Lodge to Kennedy: The Freefall of the Massachusetts GOP

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You know who this is!

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Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.

The most prominent Massachusetts Democratic family is of course the Kennedys. Joseph P. Kennedy, the family’s grand patriarch, headed the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as served as FDR’s isolationist ambassador to Great Britain. In 1946, one of his sons, John F. Kennedy, won a Boston congressional seat. In 1952, he challenged the moderate Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Lodge Sr.’s grandson, who found himself too busy securing Dwight Eisenhower’s nomination and election to properly tend to his own campaign. Although he helped get Massachusetts to vote for a Republican for president for the first time in 28 years and the nation to vote for Ike, Lodge couldn’t get his own state to vote for him and Kennedy scored an election night upset.

From then forward, Republicans suffered a decline in fortunes in the state. Although Ike gained in votes in the state in 1956, the 1958 elections proved momentous for Democrats in the Northeast. The country was suffering a mild recession and the Soviets had launched Sputnik, which resulted in the loss of 48 seats in the House for Republicans as well as 12 seats in the Senate, placing the House out of reach for the Republicans for 36 years and the Senate for 22 years. That year the state legislature solidly shifted into Democratic control (Connolly, 2016). For contrast in how the state’s GOP fared in the 30 years since Eisenhower took office: In 1953, Republicans held 8 of 14 House seats and one of two Senate seats. The Speaker of the House was Bay State Republican Joe Martin. By 1983, they held one House seat, zero Senate seats, and the Speaker of the House was Bay State Democrat Tip O’Neill. In 1960, the state voted for John F. Kennedy by over 20 points. This was the worst rout that Republicans had suffered in a presidential election in the state, and they would suffer worse in the future. Massachusetts routinely voted Democrat up until 1980, when Reagan won the state by less than 0.2%, and he was greatly helped by 15% of the vote going to Independent John B. Anderson. In 1984, the president had the second worst electoral performance in the state, the only one being worse was the only state he lost: Minnesota. Massachusetts has not voted Republican in a presidential election since, and seems highly unlikely to do so in the near future.


Connolly, K. (2016, February 16). How Massachusetts Became a Blue State. State Library of Massachusetts.

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Puelo, S. (2007). The Boston Italians. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

How the Northeast Became Democratic, Part I: Rhode Island

One of the most fundamental shifts in 20th century politics was the shift of the Northeast from Republican to Democrat. While lazy pop historians claim that the Northeast was always liberal and it was the GOP that switched, this story isn’t true. Let’s examine the states on an individual basis, with the first one being Rhode Island, as it was the first state to go Democrat.

Since the Civil War, Rhode Island had reliably voted Republican in presidential elections, but by the early 1900s, the state had more registered Democrats than Republicans, yet the state reliably sent two Republicans to the Senate, one of whom was Nelson W. Aldrich. He was the most powerful senator of his time and the closest ally of John D. Rockefeller, whose son had married his daughter. One of his grandsons, Nelson Rockefeller, would be a prominent liberal Republican governor of New York and Vice President during the Ford Administration. Aldrich was widely regarded as the “economic manager of the nation” and with his “Big Four” clique of senators that included Orville Platt (R-Conn.), William B. Allison (R-Iowa), and John C. Spooner (R-Wis.), they steered Senate policy and stood staunchly against government intervention in the private sector.

Nelson W. Aldrich, the most prominent of the Rhode Island Republicans

The state of affairs in Rhode Island was able to continue due to its rather unique system of state legislative apportionment as well as the corrupt practices that plagued the state’s elections. Each township got one representative in the state house, which meant that a small town would receive the same representation as Providence. These small towns were reliable Republican votes, and these voting habits were partially reinforced through bribing individual voters (Steffens, 1905). This was a common practice for the Republican and Democratic parties of the state.  This system resulted in these small towns outweighing more Democratic urban areas and since state legislatures elected senators, Republicans would always win Senate races. However, the 1910 election would be the beginning of the end for GOP control of the state. Aldrich’s reputation had been tarnished by a Lincoln Steffens expose, “Rhode Island: A State for Sale”, alleging corruption on his part. He thus opted not to run for reelection that year. Although a Republican was elected in his place that year, the Republican Party suffered a thrashing nationwide as the voters were tired of the GOP as led by the autocratic and staunchly conservative Joseph G. Cannon (R-Ill.) and by Nelson Aldrich in the Senate. This push is significant as it resulted in the 17th Amendment, which made elections to the Senate by popular vote rather than state legislature, losing the GOP its built-in advantage.

This loss was immediately apparent in the first Senate election by popular vote in the state when Aldrich’s successor, Henry F. Lippitt, lost reelection in 1916 to Democrat Peter Gerry by over eight points despite the state voting for Charles Evans Hughes over Woodrow Wilson for president.  This was the first time since the establishment of the Republican Party that the state elected a Democratic senator. The state maintained its traditional affiliation when voting for Warren G. Harding in 1920 and Calvin Coolidge in 1924, but in the 1928 things were different. Although the voters ousted Democrat Peter Gerry for Republican Felix Hebert, Democrat Al Smith won the presidential vote. Hebert managed to pull off the victory due to his French-Canadian extraction, as many Rhode Island voters were and are French-Canadian. Another factor for the state turning away from the Republican Party was that in the past 30 years a substantial number of Irish and Italian Catholics had immigrated to the state, and they voted Democrat. However, it was the Great Depression that finally did the Rhode Island GOP in.

Theodore F. Green, the man who led Rhode Island’s political transformation

In 1932 as FDR won in a landslide, Rhode Island’s two Republican Congressmen lost reelection and politically transformative Democrat Theodore Green was elected governor. In 1934, Senator Felix Hebert was defeated in a rematch with Democrat Peter Gerry. In January 1935, the General Assembly was to convene and while Democrats controlled the House, the Republicans controlled the Senate 22-20. However, Lt. Governor Robert Quinn refused to seat two Republican senators who were certified and appointed a committee of three senators to recount the ballots for the races behind closed doors. They unanimously declared the Democrats as the victors, after which the legislature dramatically reorganized state government to favor Democratic programs and job-seekers and replaced the Supreme Court within fourteen minutes (Mayhew, 16). The Democratic Party had taken solid control of the state. The following year, Republican Senator Jesse Metcalf, who had opposed the New Deal to the point of voting against Social Security, lost reelection to Green. Although Republicans would take Rhode Island’s two House seats in 1938, they promptly lost reelection in 1940. No Republican would be elected to federal office from Rhode Island until 1976, when the state had a resurgence of Republicans (who were liberal to moderate) that lasted until the 1990s.

Rhode Island has never reverted to conservative Republicanism and today stands as one of the most liberal states, with Democrats holding all federal offices as well as the governorship. After 1956, the state only voted Republican for president twice: Nixon’s reelection in 1972 and Reagan’s reelection in 1984. These were elections in which only one state voted for the losing candidate. It would take nothing short of a political earthquake for the state to shake off its Democratic status.


Mayhew, D.R. (2011). Partisan balance: Why political parties don’t kill the U.S. constitutional system. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Steffens, L. (1905). Rhode Island: A State for Sale. McClure’s Magazine.

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Richard F. Pettigrew: Republican Radical

On November 2, 1889, North Dakota and South Dakota were admitted into the union. One of the first two senators elected from South Dakota that day was Republican Richard F. Pettigrew (1848-1926), a prominent attorney and developer from Sioux Falls. Despite his party affiliation, he often had substantial differences with fellow party members. These differences would only increase after the Panic of 1893, which resulted in a depression as well as the collapse of Pettigrew’s investments. He supported government regulation of big businesses, opposed the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, and opposed the gold standard. In 1896, Pettigrew bolted the Republican Party, becoming a “Silver Republican”, and endorsing Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president. He also stood as a staunch opponent of American expansionism. On the annexation of Hawaii, Pettigrew stated, “The American flag went up on Hawaii in dishonor, it came down in honor, and if it goes up again now it will go up in infamy and shame and this Government will join the robber nations of the world” (Los Angeles Herald). In 1900, he participated in the Populist convention and lost reelection.

Pettigrew moved to New York City to practice law but returned to Sioux Falls. In 1912, he endorsed Theodore Roosevelt’s bid for president on the Bull Moose ticket, but after this loss his views grew more radical. In 1917, he stated his belief in an interview that the First World War was a capitalist plot to enrich the wealthy and encouraged draft evasion. Pettigrew was subsequently indicted for violating the Espionage Act of 1917, the law that had resulted in the imprisonment of socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. He managed to hire an all-star team of attorneys, including his personal friend Clarence Darrow. After numerous delays, the charge was dropped. Pettigrew subsequently framed the indictment, placing it alongside a framed document of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1922, he wrote Triumphant Plutocracy, a staunchly anti-capitalist book in which he criticized capital as theft, condemned the Supreme Court for ruling government regulations on commerce unconstitutional, called for the abolition of federal courts, and praised the Russian Revolution as “the greatest event of our times. It marks the beginning of the epoch when the working people assume the task of directing and controlling industry. It blazes a path into this unknown country, where the workers of the world are destined to take from their exploiters the right to control and direct the economic affairs of the community” (Pettigrew).  Pettigrew also condemned the Republican Party, stating that “It had come into being as a protest against slavery and as the special champion of the Declaration of Independence, it would go out of being and out of power as the champion of slavery and the repudiator of the Declaration of Independence” (Pettigrew). He also claimed that bribe-taking was commonplace in the Senate, specifically charging that Senators Nelson Aldrich (R-R.I.), George Edmunds (R-Vt.), and Edward Wolcott (R-Colo.) took bribes. It is worth noting that all three men were dead by the time this book was published. He was not critical of all his colleagues; he praised Silver Republican Senator John P. Jones of Nevada and Populist Marion Butler of North Carolina, political allies of Pettigrew.

Pettigrew died on October 5, 1926, and left his Sioux Falls home to the city for preservation as a museum, which stands to this day.


Pettigrew, R.F. (1922). Triumphant plutocracy: the story of American public life from 1870 to 1920. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr & Co.

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“Pettigrew’s Speech”. (1898, July 3). Los Angeles Herald.

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Staggers, K.L. “Pettigrew, Richard (1848-1926)”. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.

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Ike: The General Who Never Saw Battle

Image result for Dwight Eisenhower

The founder and chair of the John Birch Society, Robert W. Welch Jr., once wrote a highly critical book about President Dwight Eisenhower titled “The Politician”. This work was a manifestation of Welch’s bitterness towards Ike for defeating his preferred presidential candidate, Senator Robert Taft, in the 1952 Republican primary. The book’s thesis is twofold: 1. Ike was a secret communist. 2. He was a mediocre general but an incredible politician. While any detailed reading of Eisenhower’s political views and stances makes it apparent that part one is grossly inaccurate, part two is spot on.

Dwight Eisenhower is known as both a president and a general, but what few people know about him was that he had never seen battle. Ike went to West Point but did not excel and wasn’t particularly strong on military tactics. However, he had other advantages to compensate. For one, he was highly ambitious. Eisenhower managed to find numerous mentors, including such prominent military leaders as Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall. However, his most important influence was Major General Fox Conner, who mentored Ike not only on military history and tactics but also on philosophy, literature, and leadership.  Eisenhower once wrote “in sheer ability and character, [Conner] was the most outstanding soldier of my time…Outside of my own parents he had more influence on me than any other individual, especially in regard to the military profession” (Bassford, 158). He gained knowledge on how to deal with difficult personalities, such as General Douglas MacArthur. When FDR placed General Eisenhower in charge of the European theater of war, he did not bring him for his ability as a tactician, rather for his leadership abilities and political acumen. Numerous military leaders in fact were dismissive of Ike’s abilities on military matters:

“Nice chap…but no general.” – Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery

“He submerges himself in politics and neglects his military duties, partly…because he knows little if anything about military matters.” – Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke

“(Eisenhower) had little grasp of sound battlefield tactics.” – General Omar Bradley (Schein, 87-88).

I of course don’t mean to say that Eisenhower lacked value in the military. Quite the contrary, the military needs both master strategists (Patton) and politicians in its ranks. Thanks to the influence of Fox Conner, Eisenhower had learned how to be an effective political leader. Thus, the presidency in retrospect seems a more natural fit for him than the military. Eisenhower in this respect is similar to George Washington. Although unlike Ike Washington saw many battles, he too was far better at politics than commanding armies.


Bassford, C. (1994). Clausewitz in English: The reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America 1815-1945. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Garrity, P.J. (2012, October 17). Eisenhower the Political General. The Claremont Institute.

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Schein, D. D. (2018). The decline of America: 100 years of leadership failures. New York, NY: Post Hill Press.

Measuring the Ideology of John McCain


John McCain's official Senate portrait, taken in 2009

While tributes and honors have been pouring in for the late Senator John McCain and his status as a war hero for his sacrifices, I have been examining his political record. How ought one judge the record of John McCain?

Reasons for McCain Being Thought a RINO

After his 2000 presidential primary loss to George W. Bush, John McCain developed a reputation among staunch conservatives as a Republican in Name Only (RINO). I’ll offer ten reasons for this reputation:

  1. His initial opposition to the Bush tax cuts, for which it is quite honestly hard to see how this was other than sour grapes for the outcome of the 2000 primary.
  2. His sponsorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation, which was reluctantly signed into law by Bush. This action was motivated by him being part of the “Keating Five” senators in the scandal surrounding the failure of Lincoln Savings & Loan under the corrupt Charles H. Keating Jr. Although McCain along with Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) were absolved of wrongdoing, both were criticized for exercising bad judgment.
  3. His willingness to speak his mind without regard to party.
  4. His views on social issues were at times to the left of the Republican base.
  5. His vote against the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which in retrospect, was the last chance conservatives really had to stop it.
  6. Casting the deciding vote against the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare last year. Without doubt his most egregious break from conservatism.
  7. His active role in promoting immigration reform legislation which conservative critics have condemned as “amnesty”.
  8. A prevailing belief among some conservatives that McCain deliberately lost the election, despite economic fundamentals being pure crap in the last months of the campaign, American involvement in a war the public was tired of, Bush fatigue being at its peak, and Americans wanting a change in direction. The first alone as a factor is enough for a candidate of the incumbent party to lose.
  9. McCain actively courted a lot of publicity for the times in which he broke with the GOP.
  10. McCain backed legislation addressing climate change.

At this point any conservatives reading may say “case closed”. But wait, there’s more!

McCain No Ultra-Conservative, But No Liberal Either

Although the previous ten reasons look bad for him from a conservative perspective, three ideological measurements paint a different picture. The DW-Nominate scaling method for ideology gives McCain a first-dimension life score of 0.381, with most liberal being -1 and most conservative being 1 (legislators seldom score above a 0.7 or below a -0.7). The first-dimension measures liberal-conservative issues while the second-dimension measures so-called “cross-cutting” issues, like regional issues.  Bear in mind this measure is a comprehensive measure and accounts for votes he cast as far back as 1983. This makes him conservative, but not an ultra-conservative. McCain scored a rounded American Conservative Union (ACU) life score of 81%, which although on a lifetime perspective makes him solid, voters regularly think “what have you done for me lately?” So here are his average ACU scores from his more recent years in politics, when he developed his “maverick” reputation:

Bush Era – 73%

Obama/Trump Era – 80%

The Bush era score makes him a moderate conservative, while he just makes it into solid territory during the Obama/Trump years, and interestingly is only 1 point down from his life score. McCain’s score is helped by the fact that during the first two years of the Obama era he voted like an ultra-conservative, even scoring a 100% in 2010.

I have not accounted in this analysis yet how the left viewed him, which I will represent with Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) scores. ADA has a terrible habit of counting absences against legislators, which serves to imply that absence is a “conservative” position. Thus, I have adjusted McCain’s scores so that absences are not counted as “conservative”. Because ADA has been exceptionally slow in recent years in releasing their ratings, we don’t know McCain’s 2017 score yet, so the Trump year in which he was an active legislator is not included in these scores.

Bush Era – 25%

Obama Era – 10%

What is very clear from all these scoring systems is that while McCain was to the left of what many in the Republican base would wish, he was not overall a liberal. His lifetime ADA score was a 13%, so liberals didn’t think him one of their own, even if they may have appreciated him on some occasions (not when he was running for president, that’s for damn sure). The problem for him is somewhat one of perception: immigration as an issue has become strongly polarized and it was a central issue of Trump’s campaign (see Wall, Build the), thus disagreement on the issue makes a legislator, particularly a Republican, look a lot less conservative than they looked before. This explains the all-too-frequent labeling of Jeff Flake, who has a DW-Nominate score of 0.855, as a RINO, despite him having the 16th highest score of federal legislators since 1879. His major breakaway was on immigration and that was the cardinal political sin, that along with extensive criticism of President Trump, that is forcing his retirement. McCain also bears some responsibility for this perception since at times he actively pushed it in the press with his self-identification as a “maverick”.

Limitations of Scoring Systems Used

I must admit that there are some things to account for with these scoring methods. First, they are deaf to what politicians say (I would argue this is an advantage, although the ACU made a painful exception to this in 2016 regarding the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland). Second, they are blind to actions politicians take outside of voting, such as work on committees and their ethical conduct. Third, for the interest group ratings such as ACU and ADA, they select their votes in a way to influence how people vote, not merely to measure ideology. They make their position look more embattled and weaker than it is, and they make their opponents look significantly more extreme than they are. For instance, ADA has often scored center-right Republicans like Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia (DW-Nominate Score: 0.26, Obama Era ADA score: 8%, Obama Era ACU score: 64%) a 0-10% while more extreme Republicans can score higher due to the horseshoe effect of politics. ACU’s 2017 scores were egregious in this regard, with every single Democratic senator being placed in the category of “Coalition of the Radical Left”, with the highest scoring Democrat being Joe Manchin getting an 8% (ACU 2017). This was partly achieved by counting procedural votes instead of final votes. The confirmation vote of Neil Gorsuch, for instance, was not counted. No, it was the “nuclear option” for his confirmation vote that was counted, which was a strictly party line vote. The result was that on only two votes counted did any Democrats vote with ACU’s position. I would say generally that ACU is good at scoring who is most conservative while ADA is good at scoring who is most liberal, but neither are good at scoring ideological differences on the other side, often lumping in more moderate people with extremists. Fourth, DW-Nominate is so comprehensive it counts party-line procedural votes, which may not be revelatory of ideology but of partisanship. I find the value of DW-Nominate scoring in that it counts issues that are ideological but don’t get attention from said interest groups, but I think it overstates the relevance of some votes.


Despite the different approaches of these three methods, they reach certain common conclusions based on his voting record:

  1. John McCain was not a liberal.
  2. John McCain was a conservative, but his views became less strong after losing the 2000 GOP presidential primary.
  3. John McCain dissented the most from his party during the Bush years.

McCain’s record gets underrated from a conservative perspective because of his very public dissents and that some of his crusades from a conservative perspective didn’t get a lot of press. After all, Donald Trump didn’t run for president on the platform of ending a wasteful catfish inspection program, on cutting wasteful spending in general, or on privatizing government functions (all positions McCain supported, if this wasn’t clear).

A final word about McCain: whatever you think of his politics, he served his country well and paid a substantial price for it. For that and his over thirty years of service in politics he deserves the honor of laying in the US Capitol Rotunda and receiving a hero’s burial.


115th Congress (2015-2017) Senators Roster.

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2017 Ratings of Congress. American Conservative Union.

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ACU Ratings. American Conservative Union.

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Voting Records. Americans for Democratic Action.

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* – I must emphasize, an incredibly useful resource for political research.