The Time FDR Took a Conservative Stance

Image result for Franklin D. Roosevelt

I have written previously about how Franklin D. Roosevelt was a significant change from the orthodoxies the past three presidents had followed, indeed, some of the past orthodoxies all the previous presidents had followed. Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover believed in a cooperative relationship between government and business, with the former two being more free market in their overall orientation. Franklin D. Roosevelt was interested in putting restraints on business and expanding government, effectively creating the modern federal apparatus we have today. Although many of his programs would either be held unconstitutional or be ended by Congress, FDR’s legacies remain in Social Security, the federal minimum wage, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and our country’s agricultural policies. The left loved Roosevelt (and still does) for good ideological reasons while the right despised Roosevelt and had good ideological reasons to do so. All this being said, there was an area in which Roosevelt didn’t depart from his predecessors. This issue was veterans bonus legislation, which was supported by many who also supported the New Deal.

A History of the Bonus Issue

World War I had been a horrendously destructive war, and many of the soldiers who returned home wanted immediate cash payments for some of their benefits. This measure was pushed by the American Legion, typically a conservative veterans organization. President Warren G. Harding feared that this would be a fiscal bomb and would endanger the fiscal viability of the income tax cuts he strongly supported. He had successfully made his case before the Senate against one version in 1921, but Congress passed another version in 1922, which he vetoed. This proposed measure was quite popular and opposition to it was politically costly, which disturbed Republicans who valued reelection over principle on this issue. Harding’s successor, Calvin Coolidge, followed his lead by vetoing another bonus measure in 1924 which instead of immediate cash payments provided the veteran with a bonuses that they couldn’t redeem until 1945. Congress had become less conservative after the 1922 midterms, and overrode his veto.

The issue returned with force during the Great Depression, in which many veterans wanted a payout of their benefits to help their strained finances. This was a dreaded fiscal prospect for the federal government, which already had lost significant revenue due to decreased economic activity. The Bonus Army marched on Washington to demonstrate for a bonus, with its members camping out in tents outside of the White House. Although the House passed the Patman Bonus Bill, the Senate rejected it to the consternation of the Bonus Army. The Hoover Administration chose to pay the marcher’s costs for going home, but 2000 marchers chose to remain. The Hoover Administration’s handling of these remaining marchers ended in a PR disaster when Hoover ordered the Army to clear the campsite, with General MacArthur driving the remaining bonus marchers out. This, along with the Depression and his stance for maintaining Prohibition cost him reelection. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected with a mandate, but the veterans were still out there and still wanted their bonuses. Roosevelt, like the leaders before him, had other ideas.

FDR and the Bonus Bill

President Roosevelt had managed to get Congress to pass the Economy Act, which intended to shore up funds for New Deal programs by, among other things, dismissing federal employees and cutting veterans benefits. One of the earliest significant fights Congress had with Roosevelt was on prioritizing New Deal funding over veterans benefits. However, when confronting the bonus marchers, FDR was more politically skillful, having the First Lady come out to meet and chat with the marchers instead of employing military force. Roosevelt feared the expensive nature of bonus legislation and that such expenses would cut into funds for his New Deal programs. On his opposition to bonus legislation, he was supported unusually by conservative Republicans and Democrats most committed to his economy program. In 1935, the American legion managed to convince Congress to vote for Congressman Wright Patman’s (D-Tex.) bill, which called for immediate payout of veterans benefits. FDR vetoed the bill, and Congress failed to override. However, as the 1936 election came closer, more people in Congress were convinced to vote for this measure. Congress was able to vote to override FDR’s second veto that year, and World War I veterans were able to collect on their benefits nine years early.




Bonus Marchers evicted by U.S. Army.

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World War I Veterans Bonus Bill. U.S. House of Representatives.

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Maury Maverick: The Lone Star Liberal Who Lived Up to His Namesake

Senator John McCain, who passed away two months ago, often identified himself as a maverick, and there have been numerous politicians who have similarly embraced this label. The origin of the term “maverick” comes from Texas rancher, San Antonio mayor, and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Samuel Maverick (1803-1870). He stood as unique among ranchers for not branding his cattle, thus they became known as “mavericks”. There was another Maverick who entered politics, and this was his grandson, Maury (1895-1954).

In 1934, the 39-year old Maury Maverick was elected to Congress as a Democrat, representing San Antonio. New Deal support was common in Texas in his time as the state would not start to develop a conservative reputation until World War II. He stood as one of the most left-wing members of the state’s delegation, and wanted to go further than the New Deal. Maverick enthusiastically backed veterans bonuses, cracking down on public utility companies, expanding the powers of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and enacting a strong national minimum wage. The latter stance placed him further left than many Texas politicians were willing to go. Maverick was ahead of his region on civil rights, as he stood alone among the Texas delegation in his support for anti-lynching legislation in 1937. He was also an outspoken non-interventionist, which also ran counter to stances of Texas Democrats, who favored a Wilsonian internationalism. Unfortunately for Maverick, 1938 proved to be a year in which conservatism was starting to make a comeback due to the political fiasco that was FDR’s “court packing plan” as well as the onset of the “Roosevelt Recession”, an economic downturn in the midst of the Great Depression. His foe in the primary was Paul J. Kilday, who ran as an anti-communist and New Deal opponent. Maverick was defeated in the primary, and since at the time Texas was effectively a one-party state, this was tantamount to election for Kilday. Maverick, however, made a political comeback in the following year in which he was elected Mayor of San Antonio. His administration became known for its honesty and efficiency, but a smear campaign that labeled him a “communist” got him defeated for reelection in 1941. Although this was the end of his time in elected office, he also served as the chair of the Smaller War Plants Corporation.

Maverick was not only a politician, but also a man of letters. He wrote two books, A Maverick American (1937) and In Blood and Ink: The Life and Documents of American Democracy (1939). He also made a lasting contribution to the English language. While his grandfather had inspired the coining of the term “maverick”, Maury coined the term “gobbledygook”, his word for unintelligible bureaucratic jargon.

Although Maverick passed away in 1954, in death he would have the last laugh in San Antonio. His 1938 foe, Kilday, resorted to shifting his record leftward in the mid-1950s to accommodate the increasing voting power of Latinos in his district. After accepting a judgeship in 1961, he would be succeeded by Henry B. Gonzalez, a staunch liberal in the ideological mold of Maverick. The district has not had a conservative representative since Kilday as he was during the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations.


Henderson, R.B. Maverick, Fontaine Maury. Handbook of Texas Online.

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The Tea Party of Foreign Policy: The Irreconcilables


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William E. Borah, leading irreconcilable

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Hiram Johnson, leading irreconcilable

The Tea Party, as Americans politically tuned in know, are a group of people strongly opposed to government interference in the lives of the American people overall but especially on taxes and the economy. There was a group that proved as truculent on foreign policy, and were successful in their aims in the short run. This group existed during the tail end of the Wilson Administration and with the end of World War I, Woodrow Wilson wanted to create an alliance of nations that would ensure that a repeat of the war would not occur. This idea was the League of Nations, and the United States’ participation would be ratified through the Versailles Treaty. This subject became a topic of heated debate, with various different factions emerging. The most staunchly opposed group to the treaty were the Irreconcilables, who opposed the treaty in any form. This was a group of sixteen senators, fourteen Republicans and two Democrats. The senators were:

Hiram Johnson, R-Calif. – Progressive

Charles Thomas, D-Colo. – Progressive

Frank B. Brandegee, R-Conn. – Conservative

William E. Borah, R-Idaho – Progressive

Joseph M. McCormick, R-Ill. – Conservative

Lawrence Y. Sherman, R-Ill. – Conservative

Bert M. Fernald, R-Me. – Conservative

Joseph I. France, R-Md. – Conservative

James A. Reed, D-Mo. – Progressive

George W. Norris, R-Neb. – Progressive

George H. Moses, R-N.H. – Conservative

Albert B. Fall, R-N.M. – Conservative

Asle J. Gronna, R-N.D. – Progressive

Philander C. Knox, R-Penn. – Conservative

Miles Poindexter, R-Wash. – Conservative, but was once progressive.

Robert M. La Follette, R-Wis. – Progressive

Unlike the Tea Party of today, this group was not uniformly conservative. Its most prominent representatives, Senators Hiram Johnson and William Borah, identified with the progressive wing of the GOP. As Woodrow Wilson toured the country to promote the treaty, Johnson and Borah toured the country to oppose the treaty. Borah’s opposition was so intense that he stated that he would not support the treaty even if Jesus Christ came to Earth and instructed him to do so (Buchanan). A stronger statement cannot be made from someone who identifies as a Christian.

These senators had different reasons to be concerned about the Versailles Treaty. Conservatives feared a loss of sovereignty and a compromise to set America’s destiny while progressives feared that this would further imperialism and ultimately serve the interests of big business rather than the people. Despite being only a group of sixteen, it was their position that won out in the short run. Their position prevailed because Woodrow Wilson and Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.), the leader of the strong reservationist wing, despised each other so much that they would not speak to each other or be in the same room. Both men held doctorates, were intellectual equals, and disagreed on almost every major issue. Wilson would not accept a treaty with reservations that would prevent the US from being obligated to commit troops to defend an ally even when it was clear that a treaty without reservations could not even win a majority of senators. He would rather have lost on the whole matter than concede to Lodge. Although the irreconcilables’ position, no treaty at all, prevailed in the short run, in the long run it was Lodge’s position that prevailed. The US became a member of the United Nations in 1945, which does not obligate them to commit troops to defend an ally, even if we often do so anyway. Thus, the aim of joining an international alliance was fulfilled, but only after a second world war, and avoiding the strong commitments contained in the Versailles Treaty.


Buchanan, P. (1999). A republic, not an empire: Reclaiming America’s destiny. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing:

The Tidelands Controversy: The Forgotten Fight for States Rights

In the 20th century when people think of the term “state’s rights”, many think of a Southern excuse for treating black people as second-class citizens. However, there was another highly significant fight that involved states’ rights in its time and it had no racial connotations whatsoever. This was the fight for whether the federal government or the states have title over off-shore resources. The primary actors in this situation were the federal government and the states of California, Louisiana, and Texas as they had the most to keep from maintaining a states’ rights policy over continental shelf resources.

The 1930s and 1940s brought expansive ideas of the reach of federal power and in 1946 the U.S. government sued California for title over its offshore resources. Congress was alarmed by this development and passed a bill asserting state ownership, but President Truman vetoed the bill and Congress was unable to override. The following year, the Supreme Court decided in a divided decision against California, eliciting outrage. Since President Truman needed Texas in the 1948 election, he asserted that Texas was in its own class since it entered the United States willingly as an independent nation and thus owned its offshore resources. After the election, however, he ordered his attorney general to file suit against Texas, the first time its boundaries over its resources had been contested in its history as a state. The Supreme Court also decided against Texas, thus federal authority extended to offshore resources, including oil deposits. In 1952, Congress passed legislation restoring title to the states, but Truman, a firm believer in the federalism of the New Deal, vetoed the bill. Notably, all senators and representatives from the states of California, Louisiana, and Texas voted for this bill. The Republican candidate for president, Dwight Eisenhower, promised that if elected he would restore title to the states. The Democratic nominee, Adlai Stevenson, followed Truman’s lead and announced his opposition to this bill. This issue resulted in Texas’ Democratic Convention passing a resolution urging all Texas Democrats to vote for Eisenhower, and this issue played a significant role in him winning the traditionally Democratic state. This was only the second time a Republican had done so since Reconstruction.

On April 1, 1953, the House passed the bill 285-108 (R 188-18, D 97-89, I 0-1) (Govtrack). However, in the Senate, the measure encountered staunch resistance from Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon, a staunchly liberal Independent who had recently left the Republican Party. He led a group of senators in a twenty-seven-day filibuster, with Morse himself speaking for 22 hours and 26 minutes straight, setting a record that would be beat four years later when Strom Thurmond filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The measure nonetheless passed the Senate on May 5, 1953 56-35 (R 35-9, D 21-25, I 0-1) and Eisenhower signed the bill as promised (Govtrack).


Daniel, Price. Tidelands Controversy. Handbook of Texas Online.

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HR 4198. On Passage. Govtrack.

S.J. Res. 13. Committee Amend. in the Nature of a Substitute. Govtrack.

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Wayne Morse Sets Filibuster Record. United States Senate.

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Joe Martin: The Man Who Saved the GOP

I have always opposed the prediction of the death of either the Republican or Democratic Party. One way or another, one of them will eventually screw up bad enough for the other to come back into power. The ultimate time in which the former seemed to be on the verge of death was during the Great Depression, and the man to help it out surprisingly was a man from the Bay State, Joe Martin (1884-1968). Congressman Joe Martin is today a forgotten man, even though he often served as his spokesman during the New Deal years. He was a short, dumpy fellow yet he managed to make his way to Speaker of the House. Martin made no memorable speeches and no major laws bear his name, yet he is perhaps more responsible than anyone else for the resuscitation of the Republican Party as its House leader from 1939 to 1959. His political start began in Massachusetts when he was elected to the state House, serving from 1912 to 1914. Martin then served in the state Senate from 1914 to 1917. In 1924, he ran in the Republican primary against Congressman William S. Greene, an octogenarian who had opposed the 19th Amendment. Martin used Greene’s age against him but the incumbent narrowly prevailed. However, Greene died shortly after the primary, leaving Martin free to run for and win the seat.

Early and New Deal Years

Martin was a protégé of President Calvin Coolidge and staunchly supported his policies. He tended to identify with the Republican Party’s Old Guard but could be pragmatic. This, combined with his people skills and the defeats of many Republican incumbents during the Great Depression, made him an ideal choice for the fast track to leadership: staunchly conservative Minority Leader Bert Snell (R-N.Y.) certainly thought and acted so. Martin opposed most of the New Deal and criticized elements of it as fascist and socialist. He voted against the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Martin also supported alternatives to work relief that placed the distribution in state instead of federal hands and opposed FDR’s tax increases. However, he was not uncompromising: he voted for Social Security and a federal minimum wage. In 1938, Snell decided to retire and Martin was the clear choice for his successor. That year’s midterms were a triumph for the GOP, regaining much lost ground, but not near enough to be a majority. Martin was now Minority Leader. He was a man devoted to politics as he had little other focuses in his life. Martin was a lifelong bachelor, had no hobbies aside from collecting elephant figurines, and didn’t smoke, drink, or dance.

With this devotion to politics, he was able to cultivate ties with Southern Democrats, particularly his friend on the Rules Committee, Eugene Cox of Georgia, and they formed the Conservative Coalition. This alliance of Republicans and Southern Democrats aimed to block further New Deal measures and proved quite successful in these endeavors, leaving FDR to focus on foreign policy. By World War II’s end, gone were the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration  among others. On foreign policy, Martin supported preparation for war but opposed measures he thought would bring the United States closer to war, including Lend-Lease. His stances on foreign policy along with those of Reps. Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.) and Joe Barton (R-N.Y.) led President Roosevelt to include them in a rollicking taunt of “Martin, Barton, and Fish” in 1940.

Triumph: Martin as Speaker

In 1946, shortages, particularly on meat, wore on the American public and the GOP put out a successful campaign slogan in “Had Enough?”, which catapulted the Republican Party into Congressional majorities for the first time since the Hoover Administration. Under Martin’s leadership, the 80th Congress pushed a conservative agenda on domestic policy and an internationalist agenda on foreign policy. The Congress passed over President Truman’s veto the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, tax cuts, and a bill loosening anti-trust regulations on railroads. On foreign policy, they passed the Marshall Plan and aid to Greece and Turkey, both measures President Truman championed. This Congress also conducted the HUAC Hollywood hearings, resulting in contempt citations for the “Hollywood Ten”, members of the American Communist Party, that landed the men in jail. Truman nonetheless derided the 80th Congress as the “do-nothing Congress” in the sense that they did nothing he wanted on domestic policy. He successfully ran against the 80th Congress, resulting in the loss of GOP majorities as well as presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey’s (who wouldn’t defend the Congress) loss. Out as Speaker, Martin early and often opposed President Truman’s proposed successor to the New Deal, the Fair Deal.

On April 6, 1951, Martin sparked drama when he read a letter from Douglas MacArthur to him into the Congressional Record, which criticized President Truman and his allies’ conduct of the Korean War. MacArthur was promptly fired, resulting in a tremendous controversy. He regretted his exposure of the letter, as he hoped it would further MacArthur’s cause instead of getting him fired. In 1952, Martin thought MacArthur would be the prime choice for president, but when Eisenhower clinched the nomination, he was fully on board.

The Eisenhower Years: Martin as an Eisenhower Republican

After the 1952 election, Joe Martin was back as Speaker and dedicated to pushing the Republican Party agenda and regarded the president’s agenda as synonymous. Therefore, he moved to support measures that bore similarity to measures that Martin and other Republicans had staunchly opposed under President Truman. This included substantive foreign aid packages, federal aid to education, and the construction of some public housing. The only issue Martin could not back Eisenhower on in his first term was on the St. Lawrence Seaway, as one of its impacts would direct commercial traffic away from New England. However, he also did not seek to obstruct the project. The more staunch conservatives in the party were unhappy with this course but Martin stood firm, thinking of these measures as for the good of the party as opposed to any sort of greater conservatism. He also maintained a close personal friendship with the Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, which led to accusations that Martin gave in too much, which he hotly contested. Although the Republicans had gained Congress in 1952 only to lose it in 1954, they did maintain fairly healthy numbers until Martin’s argument wore thin in 1958. As I have written before, the 1958 midterms were a disaster for the Republican Party and many Republicans placed the blame on Martin. While in 1956, Eisenhower had publicly supported him staying leader, this time he maintained silence, and Martin narrowly lost to his more conservative deputy, Charles Halleck of Indiana. He was bitter over his defeat, but unlike the leaders of today, he didn’t retire.

The Final Years: Independence as a Backbencher

Now that he was out of leadership and relegated to the status of backbencher, Martin charted his own course. Martin’s record had grown more moderate during the Eisenhower years, and this trend accelerated. He thought highly of Nelson Rockefeller as a future presidential candidate and more often bucked his party. His reception to the New Frontier and Great Society were far friendlier than his responses to the New Deal and the Fair Deal, as he supported federal aid to education, federal aid to mass transit, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Medicare, foreign aid spending, and the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Martin had not gone full liberal, however: he maintained his traditional opposition to public works spending for job creation, opposed rent subsidies, maintained his opposition to government encroachment into the field of power generation, opposed expansion of the food stamp program, and opposed the repeal of the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act. He also often supported Republican alternatives to Democratic domestic plans. On civil rights, he had consistently supported such measures since 1937, and voted for all the major laws during the civil rights era. Martin also managed to continue to wield some political influence.

The former Speaker managed to take revenge on Halleck for his defeat twice: in 1961, he gave crucial support to Speaker Sam Rayburn’s proposal to expand the Rules Committee by adding two Democrats and one Republican to the committee. The Rules Committee at the time was chaired by Howard W. Smith (D-Va.), who opposed most of his party’s national platform and worked closely with Halleck to block liberal measures. The vote to pass Rayburn’s proposal was close, and the Republicans who were swayed by Martin to vote for made the difference. The second time was when Martin cast his vote in 1964 for Gerald Ford over Charles Halleck as Minority Leader, a post the future president won. However, by 1966, Martin was himself an octogenarian and his health was in decline. Nonetheless, he wanted just one more term. Complicating matters was a 35-year old attractive woman named Margaret Heckler, who ran in the GOP primary against him to his left. Martin fought the challenge, but Heckler brought up his old campaign against the octogenarian Greene in 1924, and won the primary. Politics was Martin’s life, and with his career finally at an end, he lived only a little more than a year after leaving office.

In the end, Joe Martin was consistently interested in what he thought was best for the Republican Party, be that a Coolidge conservatism in the 1920s, a resistance to the New Deal and the Fair Deal, or Rockefeller Republicanism. It could be said in the end that he was a Republican with a big “R” and a conservative with a small “c”.



Auchincloss, K. (1959, January 8). The Fall of Joe Martin. The Harvard Crimson.

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Hill, R. (2018, April 8). Mr. Speaker: Joseph W. Martin of Massachusetts. Knoxville Focus.

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Kirby, M. (2011, July 17). Truman, MacArthur, and the infamous letter. The Sun Chronicle.

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Martin, J.W. & Donovan, R.J. (1960). My first fifty years in politics. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

The Income Tax: A Hidden Cause of Prohibition

The policy of prohibition has numerous identifiable causes. One of them as I wrote in an earlier post was the effectiveness of Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League. Another was World War I, as it enabled the demonization of Germans and their culture, of which beer is a staple. However, Prohibition would not have been feasible if it had not been for the income tax.

One of the arguments that could always be presented against prohibitionist policy before 1913 was that it would deprive the government of a fundamental source of revenue: the whiskey tax. For the first 125 years of the U.S.’s existence, the primary sources of federal revenue were tariffs and alcohol taxes. Although the U.S. government had an income tax in place from 1861 to 1872, this tax was strictly to cover the costs of the Civil War, and the Republican Party was content to allow its expiration. Whiskey and beer taxes levied during the war, however, remained. Although proposals had come up to bring it back, it wasn’t placed into law until the Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894, which was meant to offset the revenue loss from tariff reductions. This portion of the law, however, was overturned by the Supreme Court, necessitating the adoption of a constitutional amendment. The 1910 election proved pivotal to this end as Democrats swept state legislatures and were able to ratify the 16th Amendment, permitting an income tax. In 1913, the first permanent income tax was adopted under the Underwood Tariff bill, which also lowered tariffs. Although the Prohibition Amendment failed to pass in 1915, American involvement in World War I resulted in its passing Congress and ratification.

In a twist, the income tax not only made Prohibition possible, Prohibition also reinforced the income tax. The states increasingly came to rely on the income tax to fund budgets with the end of beer and whiskey taxes (Lerner). Yet, budgetary needs also contributed to the end of Prohibition. The Great Depression drained government revenue on account of reduced economic productivity, providing a reason for repealing Prohibition and restoring taxes on beer and whiskey.


Bishop-Henchman, J. (2011, October 5). How Taxes Enabled Alcohol Prohibition and Also Led to Its Repeal. Tax Foundation.

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Lerner, M. Unintended Consequences. KQED.

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The Capitol Hill Shooting of 1954

Yesterday I caught an episode of The Savage Nation while driving between my day jobs. Michael Savage was condemning protestors and threats to the safety of members of Congress and recounted an incident in the 1950s in which he stated that members of Congress were shot and killed by Puerto Rican nationalists. This is only partially true; here is the full story.

Before Puerto Ricans were vying for statehood, there was still residual anti-colonial sentiment in the land. Puerto Rico was one of the U.S.’s acquisitions as a result of the outcome of the Spanish-American War along with Cuba and the Philippines. Both Cuba and the Philippines had been let go, but Puerto Rico remained. Thus, some Puerto Rican nationalists resorted to terrorism to gain sovereignty. Two Puerto Rican nationalists, for instance, were responsible for an assassination attempt on President Truman in 1950. They would demonstrate their dissatisfaction most dramatically on March 1, 1954.

That day Congress was in session and they were debating an immigration bill when four Puerto Rican nationalists unloaded thirty rounds from semi-automatic pistols into the chamber. Members of Congress frantically ducked for cover, while the Speaker declared “the House is recessed” as he went to hide behind a marble pillar. Contrary to what Dr. Savage claimed, no members of Congress died but five were shot. The five were Kenneth Roberts (D-Ala.), George Fallon (D-Md.), Ben Jensen (R-Iowa), Clifford Davis (D-Tenn.), and Alvin Bentley (R-Mich.). Of the five, only Bentley was gravely injured, having taken a bullet to the chest. One former marine Congressman, James Van Zandt (R-Penn.), helped tackle and disarm one of the shooters. The four perpetrators were Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irvin Flores Rodriguez. Of the four shooters, most of the shots came from Cancel Miranda, and Lebron claimed to have fired her shots into the ceiling. Nonetheless, the four were sentenced effectively to life imprisonment for the wounding of the five representatives. The House had considered putting up bulletproof glass, but the notion that the House was the “people’s House” prevailed and the proposal was rejected. In 1978 and 1979, all four shooters were pardoned by President Jimmy Carter and returned to Puerto Rico. This action coincided with the release of Americans from Cuba on espionage charges.


Stanglin, D. (2014, October 22). Six decades ago, shots rained down on Congress. USA Today.

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Timeline of 1954 Shooting Events. U.S. House of Representatives.

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The BEER Group That Fought Prohibition

In 1926, Anti-Saloon League Leader Wayne B. Wheeler was at the height of his power. He had successfully persuaded Congress to pass the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution and had gotten Congress to sign off on its enforcement mechanism, the Volstead Act (which Wheeler wrote himself), over President Wilson’s veto. His organization was feared by legislators for its efficiency in electing legislators who supported prohibition (drys) and ending the political careers of those who opposed (wets). It was Wheeler who coined the term “pressure group” and pioneered a number of political pressure tactics that are in common use by interest groups today. Yet, there were many pockets of dissension, with some cities not abiding at all (Chicago, Baltimore). Wheeler had not been able to oust all wet politicians, and they were holding hearings in the Senate criticizing the failure of Prohibition and proposing alternatives. He sarcastically referred to four senators as the “BEER Group” for their staunch opposition to Prohibition (Zelizer, 425). These were Senators Bruce, Edge, Edwards, and Reed.

William Cabell Bruce (1860-1946) of Maryland was a Democrat and a renowned author who had won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1918 biography, Benjamin Franklin, Self-Revealed. As an alternative to Prohibition, he advocated the Quebec System, in which wine and beer would be sold by private establishments while government held a monopoly on the sale of distilled spirits (Crenson, 376). On other issues Bruce stood as a conservative, backing reduced income taxes and repeal of the inheritance tax. He also had some possibly conflicting views on race…in 1891 he wrote a racist treatise about race relations in the U.S. titled The Negro Problem but when he was a senator, he was denouncing the Ku Klux Klan for lawlessness (Crenson, 376). Bruce only served one term before being swept away in the 1928 Hoover landslide.

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Walter E. Edge (1873-1956) of New Jersey was a Republican who had voted against the Volstead Act and repeatedly tried to get it repealed. A conservative on economic issues but a moderate on foreign policy, he was a mild reservationist on the Versailles Treaty and backed the postwar “modern Republicanism” of Dwight Eisenhower. Edge, not about being behind the times, voted for the Suffrage Amendment in 1919. He was also twice governor of the state (1917-19, 1944-47) and Ambassador to France under the Hoover Administration. Despite being portrayed as a villain in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire and having allegedly made a deal with Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague for splitting control of the state in exchange for his support in the 1916 gubernatorial election, his second term was committed to combatting Hague’s corrupt influence on the state’s politics and was successful (Grundy, 2003).

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Edward I. Edwards (1863-1931) of New Jersey was a Democrat who had been the state’s governor from 1920 to 1923, and won his 1922 Senate race with the slogan “Wine, Women, and Song” on a platform of repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and the legalization of wine and beer (Birkner, Linky, Mickulas, 1923). Edwards was an ally of Jersey City Mayor and Democratic Party boss Frank Hague, and they worked hard to rally immigrant votes to the Democratic Party. Notably, he opposed immigration restriction. Like Bruce, however, Edwards veered conservative on fiscal issues and questions of federal government size. Also like him, he lost reelection in the 1928 Hoover landslide, with his opponent, Hamilton Kean, opposing Prohibition as well. Sadly, the man’s misfortunes piled up with his wife’s death during his reelection campaign, being implicated in an electoral fraud scandal, going broke as a result of the 1929 Stock Market Crash, having a political falling out with Hague, and being diagnosed with skin cancer. This was all too much for Edwards, who committed suicide in 1931.

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James A. Reed (1861-1944) of Missouri was a Democrat who had many enemies, yet served three terms in the Senate and voluntarily retired. He was a progressive in his time but one who marched to his own drum. Reed infuriated his party’s leadership with his uncompromising opposition to the Versailles Treaty. He was despised by the KKK for his opposition to Prohibition and restricting immigration for ethnic Europeans (but strongly supported cutting off immigration for non-whites). Suffragettes found his opposition to women’s suffrage and federal funding for maternity and child care highly objectionable. Business opposed his affinity for higher and more progressive taxation as well as his support for trust busting. Reed suffered no fools and used his acerbic wit against all he found to be charlatans. No figure was subject to more ridicule from him than Wayne B. Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League,  who was more than anyone else responsible for Prohibition. Reed even earned the praise of fellow acerbic wit H.L. Mencken, who wrote, “The legislative machine is operated by nonentities, with frauds and fanatics flogging them. In all that vast and obscene mob there are few men of any solid ability, and fewer still of any intellectual integrity. Reed was one. He had both” (Mencken).  His retirement in 1928 did not bring about the end of his public life, however. As an attorney, Reed successfully defended Myrtle Bennett for gunning down her husband after he slapped her around during a bridge game in the infamous Bridge Murder Case. He also opposed the New Deal as an over-expansion of federal power.

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As for Wheeler? His reign over American politics came to an end when he retired from his organization in 1927 due to poor health and died later that year, mere weeks after the accidental death of his wife in a kitchen fire and his father-in-law’s fatal heart attack as a result of learning of her death. Prohibition survived only six years without his influence.


Birkner, M.J., Linky, D., Mikulas, P. (2014). The Governors of New Jersey: Biographical essays. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Crenson, M.A. (2017). Baltimore: A political history. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Grundy, J.O. (2003). Before 1949: Thirty Years War on Hagueism Part One. City of Jersey City.

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Mencken, H.L. (1929, April). James A. Reed of Missouri. American Mercury.

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Zelizer, J.E. (2004). The American Congress: The building of democracy. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Grover Cleveland’s #Metoo Case


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In light of recent events, there is a story of historical scandal that bears some similarity, in which accounts differed. Except this was not a Supreme Court nominee, this was a presidential candidate. No comparison is perfect, but the 1884 election mirrors the 2016 election in a few ways: the victor was from New York, won the South, was a political outsider, and had a sex scandal. The opponent was found to have taken payments in exchange for favors to railroads, thus the corruption accusations played a role in the loser’s defeat.

The traditional historical account of Grover Cleveland’s sex scandal is that he became “illicitly acquainted” with widow Maria Halpin, a woman who also had similar acquaintance with his friends. Given that Cleveland was the only bachelor among the men, he assumed responsibility for the child. This is the version found in history textbooks, but is this the truth or merely the official story given by Cleveland’s 1884 campaign?

Grover Cleveland’s sexual history sure wasn’t normal. He was one of the few bachelors to be elected president, and after being elected he married his good friend’s daughter, Frances Folsom, who was 27 years younger. Before his marriage, when his sister had chided him about getting married, he stated, “I’m waiting for my wife to grow up” (History News Network). This is even creepier when you consider that he assumed guardianship over his future wife when she was 11 after her father had been killed in an accident, so he was specifically referring to her. There is another way it wasn’t normal. You see, his campaign’s story wasn’t the only one in regard to his relations with Maria Halpin.

Author and reporter Charles Lachman challenged the traditional narrative when he wrote A Secret Life, which holds that the traditional narrative is incorrect, rather that Maria Halpin’s version is an accurate version of events. She stated that she went on a date with Cleveland after he was quite persistent. After dinner, Halpin alleged that he sexually assaulted her [b]y use of force and violence and without my consent” (Lachman, 2011). After the rape, Cleveland allegedly threatened to ruin her if she reported, stating that “he was determined to ruin me if it cost him $10,000, if he was hanged by the neck for it” (Lachman, 2011). Halpin discovered she was pregnant six weeks later, and he had her committed to a mental asylum and her child, Oscar Folsom Cleveland, placed in an orphanage. She was soon released after the doctors concluded she was sane. Halpin was not a free-wheeling woman, rather a church-going widow with two children. Tragically, Halpin would never see her son again. Despite the injustice, Cleveland’s story prevailed and he was elected president twice.

What kind of man was Cleveland? Was he really a rapist? Did his record on integrity differ so much from his public life and his personal life? What I will say is this: her account is the most credible rape accusation that has been leveled against a president. Although from a contemporary standpoint, Thomas Jefferson’s relations with Sally Hemings is regarded as rape as she wasn’t in a position to refuse, how they actually felt about each other is up to dispute and the actions both of them took throughout the relationship are up for interpretation. Maria Halpin’s account, however, is a direct contradiction of that of Grover Cleveland. Lachman’s work, though, is not a historian’s work and I haven’t read any account from historians that claim to back or refute this revisionist view. Overall, Cleveland’s scandal may be far deeper than is traditionally believed.


Grover Cleveland, Lover? Read the Love Letter He Wrote to His 21-Year-Old Bride. (2014, February 12). History News Network.

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Lachman, C. (2011, May 23). Grover Cleveland’s Sex Scandal: The Most Despicable in American Political History. Daily Beast.

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