James Alexander Reed: A Most Unconventional Progressive

 

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One day in the 1890s, a Kansas City meeting of the American Protective Association, an anti-Catholic secret society, was underway. One of the people who came forth to speak was a young man named Jim Reed (1861-1944), who proceeded to rip on the group for their intolerance and stood up for the freedom of religion of Catholics and Jews per the First Amendment. This caught the favorable attention of the Irish Catholic head of the Kansas City Democratic machine, Jim Pendergast, who would subsequently back him for public office. From 1898 to 1900 Reed served as the prosecutor of Jackson County, and of 242 cases he only lost two, one of which was against Jesse E. James, the son of the infamous outlaw Jesse James. In 1900, James A. Reed was elected Mayor of Kansas City. He presided over the emergency construction of Convention Hall after the original burned down, just in time for the Democratic National Convention that year. Reed, despite being a member of a party that opposed civil rights, recognized the need for black votes to win and doled out patronage jobs to black supporters. In 1902, he won reelection with such strong black support that a white Democrat stated, “The Democratic Party no longer claims to be a strictly white man’s party” (McKerley). Reed’s position contrasted with some other figures in the Democratic Party, including future Mayor Thomas T. Crittenden Jr., who, among other things, didn’t believe that blacks should serve on juries. In 1910, Reed ran for the Senate on a platform of lower tariffs, a federal income tax, and direct election of Senators. He stated his opposition to a central bank and imperialism and coupled this with a Jacksonian support for limited government. He also was a staunch advocate for campaign finance regulation, but strong legislation on this subject wouldn’t be passed for over 25 years after his death. However, his stances on these issues didn’t guarantee that Reed would be a rubber stamp for Democratic President Woodrow Wilson.

Although Reed supported many of Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” policies, he had reservations about the influence of private banks for the Federal Reserve Act, so Missouri was given two federal reserve banks to win his vote. He also wanted to go further with corporate regulation than the Clayton Act mandated. Reed sided with Wilson in his initial resistance to building up the navy and military to prepare for American involvement in World War I. However, he would come to be known as a major opponent of numerous popular trends of his time and his stubborn independence proved a poor fit personally for Woodrow Wilson, who according to Senator Thomas P. Gore (D-Okla.), “had no friends, only slaves and enemies” (Glass). Reed consistently opposed women’s suffrage, even after Wilson embraced a constitutional amendment for it in 1916. He considered it a matter of state’s rights and not opposition to women participating in politics. Reed was also one of the leading foes of Prohibition and regularly ridiculed and scorned Wayne Wheeler and his Anti-Saloon League. On immigration, he regularly voted against immigration restriction bills despite being an advocate of “whites only” immigration policies as he thought the literacy test contained in these bills was unjust to poor white immigrants. During World War I, Reed opposed censorship, both voting for the France Amendment to protect communication of the truth with good motives and ends and voting against the Sedition Act. However, he gained his greatest notoriety in his most critical break with the Wilson Administration: the Versailles Treaty.

Of the members of the irreconcilables, a group of senators that would under no circumstances vote for the Versailles Treaty, Reed was one of only two Democrats. He staunchly opposed the compromise of American sovereignty and made no bones about ridiculing Wilson. Reed feared that the powers granted to the League of Nations would be nearly unlimited and would force the United States to deploy troops in places that were not in its interests. The reaction of his party at home was hostile, as the Democratic legislative caucus of Missouri censured him and called upon him to resign. Reed believed that his opposition would result in the end of his political career, but this proved not to be the case. In 1922, Woodrow Wilson, the Anti-Saloon League, and the Ku Klux Klan, all targets of Reed’s acerbic criticisms and mocking, tried their best to stop his renomination and reelection but failed due to strong support from the urban centers of St. Louis and Kansas City, which opposed Prohibition.

Despite his seemingly newfound support for Republican positions on foreign policy, Reed reverted to form after the Wilson Administration and similarly opposed the Four Power Treaty, embraced by conservative Republicans. He proved a regular opponent of the policies of Harding and Coolidge, opposing income tax reductions and tariff increases. However, he maintained his view on state’s rights with his opposition to the Child Labor Amendment in 1924 as well as to the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act. Despite Prohibition being in full force, Reed never let up on his opposition. In 1922, Oswald Garrison Villard of The Nation compared him favorably to Andrew Jackson, writing “the latter also a bold, handsome, swashbuckling, hard-drinking roistering, dueling leader of men, of much the same political viewpoint” (Meriwether). In his heart, Reed was a Democrat of the Jefferson and Jackson schools of thought. He often embraced policies that combatted big business but was also weary of the federal government. Reed, like numerous colleagues in that time, could be thought of as a “state’s rights progressive”, a category that doesn’t exist anymore in American politics. Reed attempted to win the Democratic nomination for president thrice: in 1924, 1928, and 1932. However, he had made too many enemies for him to win the nomination through his acerbic wit and frequent embrace of unpopular stances. In April 1929, H.L. Mencken wrote a tribute to the recently retired senator, writing “To be a fraud is safer and happier in Washington today than it has been since March 4, 1911. For James A. Reed, after eighteen years in the Senate, has hung up his sword and gone home to Missouri” (Mencken). After his time in the Senate, Reed continued to oppose Prohibition and went back to representing clients as an attorney. Most famously, he won an acquittal for Myrtle Bennett in the Bridge Murder case, in which she shot her husband in the back after he slapped her around during a bridge game. Reed also wrote a book published in 1931 provocatively titled The Rape of Temperance, which was a devastating indictment of Prohibition filled with facts and anecdotes. The direction of the Democratic Party after his departure didn’t please him, as he came to oppose the New Deal for its break from the principles of Jefferson and Jackson. In truth, progressives had decided to embrace the means of Hamilton to obtain the ends of Jefferson and Jackson. Reed was still wedded to the philosophy of Jefferson and Jackson, both in means and ends.

References

Glass, A. (2018, May 20). Wilson wires Congress from Paris, May 20, 1919. Politico.

Retrieved from

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/20/wilson-wires-congress-from-paris-may-20-1919-595617

McKerley, J. The Long Struggle Over Black Voting Rights And The Origins Of The Pendergast Machine. The Kansas City Public Library.

Retrieved from

https://pendergastkc.org/article/long-struggle-over-black-voting-rights-and-origins-pendergast-machine

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

Retrieved from

http://truthbasedlogic.com/ownman.htm

Meriwether, L. (2008, November 30). Show Me a Statesman. Kirk Center.

Retrieved from

https://kirkcenter.org/reviews/show-me-a-statesman/

 

That Time the Senate Voted to Exclude Blacks From Immigrating

The 63rd Congress seemed a peak for legislative racism. In 1915, the House passed a bill prohibiting interracial relations in Washington D.C. This measure had the support of almost all the House Democrats and 44% of its Republicans, with the voting being strongly correlated with whether the states they were from prohibited interracial relations. Although the Senate never voted on this proposal, on  December 31, 1914, the chamber approved an amendment prohibiting “all members of the black or African race” from immigrating to the United States. This amendment was proposed by Senator James A. Reed (D-Mo.), a leading advocate of a “whites only” immigration policy. Twenty-four Democrats and five Republicans supported his amendment while seven Democrats and eighteen Republicans opposed.

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Senator James A. Reed, who proposed excluding blacks from immigrating to the United States.

After this vote, the NAACP sprung into action, lobbying Congress intensely to overturn the Reed Amendment. Booker T. Washington, often regarded as overly conservative on civil rights issues, also lobbied against this measure. As a result of this pressure, the House, contrary to Senate action, voted down the black immigration ban on a vote of 74-253 with all Republicans and even some Southern Democrats against. Reed tried again with this amendment, but it got voted down. Interestingly enough, he voted against the restrictive immigration legislation of his time because he opposed the imposition of a literacy test on white immigrants.

Although black immigration would be severely curtailed with the Immigration Act of 1924 through the national origins quota system, there was never a complete ban on their immigration. The same could not be said for Asians. Such a ban had been passed for Chinese in 1882 and existed until 1943, when Congress realized the ridiculousness of excluding immigrants from an allied nation. This ban was expanded to numerous other Asian countries in 1917 and to Japan in 1924, the latter which would have major diplomatic consequences, bringing the two nations closer to war. The McCarran-Walter Immigration Act in 1952 eliminated all race and nationality bans.

Henry Cabot Lodge: American Nationalist

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During World War II, Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck, an admirer of President Woodrow Wilson, wanted to make a film to honor him, and the product was 1944’s Wilson. Although the film won five Oscars and many critics of the time praised it, it was a box office bomb and Zanuck subsequently eschewed reference of the film in his presence. A notable part of the film is that it portrays Wilson’s chief rival, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, as a villain. Wilson was a film made in a period of Democratic political primacy and it was not the first film to commemorate a Democratic president and vilify his Republican foe. The film Tennessee Johnson (1942) made a hero out of the 17th president while making the elderly, dying Thaddeus Stevens the villain. Stevens has a much more positive reputation today while Johnson has a much lower one. Although modern times have not been as kind to Wilson as they were in the 1940s, there has been no similar revival for Lodge.

Background and Support for Expansionist Foreign Policy

Henry Cabot Lodge was born on May 12, 1850. That was the year of the final major compromise on slavery, the Compromise of 1850, which was a series of five bills, among which admitted California as a free state and the Fugitive Slave Act. Many at the time thought and hoped this to be the final resolution of the conflicts between free and slave states, but the next fifteen years proved, to say the least, tumultuous. Lodge grew up in this political environment and the Civil War had left him with a deep impression that good had prevailed over evil with the slaves freed and the union restored. Furthermore, he thought that the United States could and should be the supreme moral actor on the world stage, fighting similar “good vs. evil” battles abroad. Lodge backed increasing America’s influence through growing the navy, embracing the views of the incredibly influential Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, who held in his books that powerful nations had in common strong sea power. However, this view was coupled with the notion that America should first and foremost be out for its own interests, or you could say, “America First”! Lodge became a prime advocate of the American version of imperialism, backing the annexation of Hawaii and the Treaty of Paris, which secured US control over former Spanish colonies. He regarded America’s version of imperialism as more humane than that of the European powers and that the expansion of American ideals and business would serve to uplift people around the world. With this view in mind, he strongly embraced the foreign and military policies of Presidents Harrison, McKinley, and Roosevelt. Lodge was downright enthusiastic about Roosevelt’s “big stick” foreign policy, including the Panama Canal.

Although Lodge believed in spreading American cultural and economic influence, he did not approve of the reverse: masses of immigrants spreading their influence to the United States, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe. He was a key figure in the advocacy of immigration restriction by requiring that immigrants be able to read five lines from the U.S. Constitution. Lodge’s proposal passed the House and Senate in 1895, but President Cleveland vetoed it. Lodge thought in political, cultural, and racial terms on the subject. He thought of Eastern and Southern Europeans as lesser but also had realistic political fears: immigrants from these areas tended to vote Democrat. Lodge’s political concern has undoubtedly been proven correct given the state’s current political makeup, fueled by the influx of Catholic working-class immigrants and the out-migration of WASPs. Lodge’s proposal again was vetoed by President Taft in 1913, but four years later Congress succeeded in overriding President Wilson’s veto of the Immigration Act of 1917, which included the literacy test as well as an “Asiatic Barred Zone” and basically prohibited a laundry list of anyone from immigrating who was at risk of being a political or social inconvenience to the United States.  He also voted for the Immigration Act of 1924, which slowed immigration to a crawl as it aimed to maintain the levels of race and ethnicity based on the census of 1890, before the major wave of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe occurred. However, Lodge also opposed more extreme propositions on immigration, such as total bans based on race.

On Civil Rights

If Lodge’s stances on immigration seem highly uncharitable today, his support for voting rights on race do not. In 1890, Lodge sponsored a bill with Senator George Frisbie Hoar that would have enforced voting rights in the South as well as tackled corruption nationwide. Although it passed on a partisan vote in the House, the measure was filibustered to death in the Senate and used as an issue against the Republicans in the 1890 midterms. His enthusiasm, as well as the Republican Party’s, for passing civil rights legislation waned as a result. Lodge didn’t think highly of social reform movements in general in the 1910s and voted against the constitutional amendments providing for the direct election of senators, Prohibition, and women’s suffrage. For the latter, the state of Massachusetts’ male voters had overwhelmingly rejected suffrage in 1915. The latter stance also came at a political cost as public opinion turned increasingly favorable to suffrage: in 1918, his even more conservative colleague and anti-suffragist John W. Weeks lost reelection to suffragist Democrat David I. Walsh, with suffrage being a central issue of the campaign. This development was tremendously significant as Massachusetts hadn’t had a Democratic senator since 1851, and Walsh was only the second from the state. Lodge himself almost lost his final reelection bid in 1922, coming within a point of defeat. Although Lodge supported the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, he didn’t commit much energy to it and assigned freshman Senator Samuel Shortridge (R-Calif.) to shepherd the bill. Shortridge proved no match for Senators Oscar Underwood (D-Ala.), William Borah (R-Idaho), and Pat Harrison (D-Miss.), whose will to defeat the bill was far greater than the Republican will to pass it.

Other Political Matters

Henry Cabot Lodge’s stances on most issues was conservative, including his backing of the gold standard, tariffs, and opposition to strong regulations on business. He also supported the tax cuts of the Harding Administration. There were a few reforms he endorsed, such as an abolition of child labor, but he mostly could be counted as a “standpatter”. His influence extended to the judiciary as well, and he recommended Oliver Wendell Holmes to President Theodore Roosevelt, who appointed him Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Although Holmes disappointed Roosevelt in voting against the Administration’s position on an anti-trust case, he would become the most recognized and celebrated justice who never held the post of chief justice for his jurisprudence.

Lodge vs. Wilson!

This part of his career is what Lodge is most famous for. In 1912, the conservative Lodge backed Taft over progressive Theodore Roosevelt, but the two remained personal friends. However, there was no friendship between Lodge and the victor, Woodrow Wilson. From the start of the Wilson Administration he stood opposed to his policies. Wilson and Lodge had a surprising amount in common: both held doctorates, they were intellectual equals, both held high opinions of themselves, and both were stubborn. However, on politics they agreed on few things, and Lodge more than anyone else was able to irritate the president. Lodge despised Wilson and thought him to be indecisive, weak, and morally relativistic on foreign policy. He thought Germany was the bad actor in Europe and that Britain, France, and Russia were the good actors and that Wilson should act accordingly. Wilson thought no better of Lodge, believing him to be a man who would do anything for partisan advantage and regarded him and his supporters as having “bungalow minds” (Fleming). The relations between Wilson and Lodge were so awful that neither would be in the same room.

These exceptionally poor relations had far-reaching consequences: in 1918, the Republicans won control of both the House and Senate, placing Lodge as chair of the important Foreign Relations Committee as well as leader of the Senate Republicans. Wilson had blundered at the start when he failed to invite Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee to Paris with him. Wilson’s League of Nations struck Lodge as being too compromising of American sovereignty, especially the section requiring the United States to come to the defense of member nations. Lodge stated, “The United States is the world’s best hope, but…if you tangle her in the intrigues of Europe, you will destroy her powerful good, and endanger her very existence… Beware how you trifle with your marvelous inheritance — this great land of ordered liberty. For if we stumble and fall, freedom and civilization everywhere will go down in ruin” (PBS). On the Versailles Treaty, several factions sprung up: the internationalists, who supported a treaty with no reservations; reservationists, who backed a treaty with reservations; and irreconcilables, who under no circumstances would back the treaty. Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke during his tour of the United States to promote the treaty and as a consequence was rendered partially paralyzed and mentally impacted by a severe stroke. He refused to give any ground to Lodge despite lacking enough support for a treaty with no reservations and instructed his supporters to vote against a treaty with reservations. Lodge didn’t have enough support for his position either thanks to the votes of the irreconcilables moving against him as well. In the end, the treaty was defeated to the tremendous dismay of Wilson, who left office regarding himself as a failure. Lodge’s success on defeating the treaty gained him further prominence and during the Harding Administration he participated in the Washington Naval Conference, the first arms control conference in history.

The End

Lodge died of a stroke on November 9, 1924, nine months after his arch-rival, Woodrow Wilson. Lodge’s grandson, Lodge Jr., also got into politics and forged a different path, becoming one of the Republican Party’s leading advocates of internationalism, centrism, and immigration liberalization. However, he found no inconsistency in supporting the United Nations with his grandfather’s views since the organization satisfied the restrictions he had advocated for the League of Nations. Despite Wilson (1944) vilifying Lodge on his role in defeating the Versailles Treaty, Lodge’s position on the extent of American commitment to foreign affairs won out the following year and has won out since. Despite his substantial impact on American politics, his lack of revival likely stems from lack of contemporary name recognition, his overall conservatism, and past stances on certain issues that are quite far from mainstream today.

References

Fleming, T. (2003). So Henry Cabot Lodge Was One of History’s Villains? History News Network.

Retrieved from

https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/1580

“Henry Cabot Lodge”. Public Broadcasting Service.

Retrieved from

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/wilson-henry-cabot-lodge/

 

William Walker: American Adventurer

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Did you know that at one time an American ruled Nicaragua? This would be William Walker, who in his day was known as a “filibuster”, an independent colonizer who aimed to spread “Manifest Destiny” to Latin American countries. There were hundreds of these people, but Walker was by far the most successful of them. A Tennessean by birth, he was an ambitious and unusual man. Walker studied both law and medicine and at different times practiced as a doctor and a lawyer. In 1850, he was engaged to a deaf-mute woman named Ellen Martin, but she died. Thereafter Walker began his expansionism with his temporary takeover of Baja California, proclaiming the territory independent in 1853. The following year, he proclaimed the annexation of Sonora but he faced resistance and desertion and he and his forces had to retreat to the United States. Although Walker was indicted for violating U.S. neutrality laws, he was acquitted and was thus able to continue his adventuring while remaining a hero among Californians. He was a figure not funded by the U.S. government, but had a small private army and intended to colonize Latin American countries to spread Americanism.

In the next few years, Walker met with his greatest success. In 1856, he and his forces overtook the government of Nicaragua on the invitation of President Castellon and he ruled for ten months. Walker had the support of a coalition of Nicaraguans and during this time he declared English the official language of the nation, confiscated lands from his political opponents and sold them to Americans, encouraged immigration from the United States, and eliminated the nation’s constitutional prohibition of slavery. The latter was an effort to win support from pro-slavery Americans and he did through the recognition of his government by the Pierce Administration, which was hostile to abolitionism. However, he made some enemies along the way. Much of the population of Nicaragua was opposed to his rule, and he made an enemy of both the British, who feared he constituted a threat to their colonies in the region, and of the powerful railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt by confiscating his properties in the country and transferring them to rivals. Vanderbilt repaid Walker by sending an agent to Costa Rica with $40,000 in gold who persuaded the Costa Rican Army to invade Nicaragua and depose him. Ultimately, the military pressure from within Nicaragua as well as from Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, which feared they would be next on Walker’s territorial agenda, made long-term rule impossible. In the next year, after burning down the city of Granada to spite invading forces, he and his forces had to surrender to the U.S. Navy. By this time, the U.S. government had soured on him, with President James Buchanan stating, “That man has done more injury to the commercial & political interests of the United States than any man living” (Carlson).

The flag of Nicaragua under Walker’s rule

Walker was not one to give up, and he continued his “filibustering” after his departure, trying again to become Nicaragua’s leader. In 1860, he was arrested by British Naval Commander Nowell Salmon after landing in Honduras and instead of extraditing him to the United States, he turned him over to Honduran authorities, who executed him by firing squad. Walker was 36 years old.

William Walker was the foremost figure who tried to spread Manifest Destiny southward rather than westward and serves as an unofficial example of American imperialism, simply because he was never a representative of the U.S. government. Yet, he served as a representative of romantic American expansionist ideals and was a hero in the minds of many Americans of the time.

References

Carlson, P. American Schemers: William Walker. HistoryNet.

Retrieved from

American Schemers: William Walker

 

The Shooting of a Senator…By the Cops!

I am currently out of town for the weekend, so my post will be a bit shorter than usual but it is about an interesting little story from history I encountered.

In the 1910s, support for Prohibition was rising thanks to the influence of Wayne Wheeler, a tireless, zealous, and revolutionary political activist. On December 17, 1917, the House voted to ratify the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution. One of the votes against was from Republican Congressman Frank L. Greene of Vermont, who did so out of his opposition to expanding the reach of the federal government and likewise voted against the 19th Amendment. Little did he know that his opposition to the former would turn out to be justified on much more than on an ideological level.

Frank Greene

Frank L. Greene

On February 15, 1924, Greene, by this time a senator, was walking down the streets of Washington D.C. with his wife when a gunfight broke out between Prohibition agents and moonshine bootleggers during a raid. He promptly shielded his wife and seconds after was accidentally shot in the head by a Prohibition agent. Despite this, Greene barely survived and was paralyzed on the right side for the rest of his life. He would not be the only innocent who would be harmed by the zealousness of Prohibition agents: at least 200 bystanders were killed by them in the course of enforcing the law. Despite his condition, Greene stayed in office until his death in 1930 at 60 from complications of a hernia operation. Imagine the outrage today if a senator was accidentally shot by law enforcement in the course of a drug bust!

The Other Reagan

Anyone familiar with American politics knows the name of the 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan. However, he was not the first Reagan to make his mark in American politics. That would be John H. Reagan (1818-1905) of Texas, who was a Democrat.

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In 1846, Texas was admitted into the Union, and with this admittance, John H. Reagan’s career began. He rose up in Texas politics over the next ten years and in 1856 he was elected to the House, where he was a staunch defender of slavery, believing that slave ownership was an extension of property rights. Reagan warned that if abolition were to occur, it would lead to the extermination of much of the freed slave population (he thought it would be a defensive action on the part of whites) with the remainder living in “degradation, suffering, and want” (The Congressional Globe). However, he was against secession, that is, until John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry and undoubtedly after Abraham Lincoln was elected president. On January 15, 1861, Reagan resigned in anticipation for Texas seceding and ultimately voted for secession, with Texas formally seceding on February 2nd.  That month he was appointed Postmaster General of the Confederate States of America. In this capacity he managed to grab the U.S. Post Office as well as most of the heads of the U.S. Post Office bureaus right under the nose of the U.S. government. They had defected and copied their materials in response to his invitation to work for him. In six weeks of taking office, Confederate mail service was up and running. Throughout the Civil War, his department would be by far the most effective in the Confederate cabinet, adopting policies including raising postal rates, employing a small and efficient staff, and convincing railroad magnates to reduce their rates for mail by half.

On May 9, 1865, Reagan was captured by the U.S. Army and spent 22 weeks in solitary confinement. While in custody, he learned of the angry and bitter attitudes of the North to the South through newspapers and in August of that year wrote an open letter to the people of Texas called the “Fort Warren Letter”, urging them to recognize the authority of the United States, to abolish slavery, and to grant former slaves suffrage if the federal government demanded it to avoid military rule. Bear in mind, Reagan opposed suffrage for blacks, but he thought it better that it be done by the state of Texas than the federal government if it couldn’t be avoided. On his release to Texas in December 1865, Reagan was shunned for the letter, but as Texas underwent Reconstruction the people came to realize he had been prescient. They forgave him and he was able to relaunch his political career. Reagan was elected to Congress in 1874, and in 1887 he was elected to the Senate. During this time, he was the foremost advocate of railroad regulation and his efforts resulted in the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission. He resigned in 1891 to accept the role of chair of the Railroad Commission of Texas, the body that regulated railroads in the state, serving until 1903. In 1897, Reagan played a role in establishing the Texas State Historical Association and in 1903 he wrote memoirs on his time in politics titled Memoirs, with Special Reference to Secession and the Civil War, in which he characterized both abolitionists and secessionists as radicals who took liberties with the Constitution.

Reagan died of pneumonia in 1905, leaving behind a legacy as the most successful cabinet leader in the Confederate States of America and in the establishment of railroad regulation.

References

Proctor, B.H. Reagan, John Henninger. Texas State Historical Association.

Retrieved from

https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fre02

The Congressional Globe, House of Representatives, 36th Congress, 1st Session (1860).

Retrieved from

https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llcg&fileName=051/llcg051.db&recNum=1002

The 1619 Project: A Radical Leftist Effort to Revolutionize the United States

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I often cover historical subjects in my posts, but I feel compelled to comment on a contemporary development as in August, The New York Times announced the release of The 1619 Project, by one of its editors, Nikole Hanna-Jones. This is a series of essays with the overall message purporting that the true founding of the United States was in August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived on the territory we now know as the United States. Hanna-Jones states, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true” (New York Times). I feel compelled to write against the intent of this project as it is my view that the 1619 Project is spearheaded by a radical with essays by radicals whose purpose is to present a narrative to convince the American public that the founding principles of this country are tainted beyond repair and require a complete political revolution, including ending capitalism. Although to some leftists this will come off as weak evidence for Hanna-Jones’ radical politics, I find it hard to believe that anyone that lacked socialist intent would go to communist Cuba to study their healthcare and educational system. Additionally, on the NYT page promoting the project, there are some choice quotes from the essays in the project:

“If you want to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation.” – Matthew Desmond

“Why doesn’t the United States have universal health care? The answer begins with policies enacted after the Civil War.” – Jeneen Interlandi

There is a leftist intent with this project, an effort to redefine and reconstitute America in a collectivist, anti-capitalist, and yes, Marxist framework. I don’t object to publicizing accounts of slavery as I support inquiry and the discovery of new information, but I harbor no delusions about the purposes of this project. For Hannah-Jones and her ideological kin, racial injustice is inextricably tied to the values the United States was founded on and is the root of continued injustices today. Thus, it logically follows that such a system must be undone. The problem with this narrative is that it flies in the face of history.

There are seven men who are identified as the major Founding Fathers of the United States: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and John Jay. Of these men, four were not slave owners and opposed the institution. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison did own slaves until the end of their lives and had a complicated and contradictory relationship with the institution in thought and practice, but all agreed that slavery should be gradually phased out as they recognized the inconsistency of the practice from the principles of the founding of the nation. Washington freed all of his slaves in his will and Jefferson himself proposed legislation while the U.S. was a confederation in 1784 to gradually abolish the practice with Madison in support, a proposal which lost by one vote. What is clear is that one of the purposes behind the Constitution was to gradually phase out the practice of slavery. On December 2, 1806, President Thomas Jefferson, in support of prohibiting the importation of slaves, denounced the international slave trade for human rights violations, stating “I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe” (Sixth Annual Message to Congress). While this language is curious from a man who owned over 600 slaves yet only freed seven, it illustrates Jefferson’s conflicted attitudes on the institution of slavery.

While in the northern states the practice was indeed phased out after the federal prohibition on importing slaves, in the southern states the institution grew stronger. By his final years, Jefferson acknowledged that slavery was not headed in the trajectory he had hoped for. These men harbored no delusions about the suitability of slavery to the principles of freedom they advocated. James Madison, for instance, found he could not penalize one of his slaves for taking such a deep interest in the freedoms he was advocating, and arranged a servitude deal with him in which he was eventually freed and became a merchant who maintained close ties with the Madison family. However, there were also some people in American politics who instead of thinking slavery a necessary evil they came to think of it as a positive good and actively resisted the intent of the Founding Fathers. This group was led by the highly influential Vice President and Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a preacher of nullification and secession who held the founding principles of the United States to be both a mistake and a lie. This is in comport with the statement, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written” (New York Times). Although Hannah-Jones and the supporters of the aims of this project don’t share the aims or racial theories of Calhoun, they agree with his premise. In truth, although some of the Founders were contradictory on slavery, they did have a clear aim to eventually abolish it. It was Calhoun and his supporters who sought a radical revision of the direction of the United States, aided and abetted by Northern doughface politicians like Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.

I write what I have written today out of love for my country and its ideals. I write to defend against the indictment against the individualistic principles of the country as well as the capitalism by extension Hannah-Jones and her fellow essayists aim to indict. I write to defend the intent of the Founding Fathers, who were not blind to the contradiction that the continued existence of slavery presented for the principles and ideals behind America’s founding. It is true that they didn’t always live up to said principles and ideals, but they had plan and intent to gradually abolish slavery. Unfortunately, their plan didn’t work and required the Civil War and the 13th Amendment for their aim to be realized. It is also true that since then we haven’t always followed through on the classical liberal values, but I hold they are the right ones to pursue. When we stay true to the values presented in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we grow our country and the standard of living of our people.

Sources

The 1619 Project. The New York Times Magazine.

Retrieved from

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html

Thomas Jefferson: Sixth Annual Message to Congress (1806). The Avalon Project.

Retrieved from

https://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jeffmes6.asp

 

The Only Congressman Convicted of Lying to the Voters

If we are to give into cynicism, lying to the voters is a political pastime in America and elsewhere, but it is not a crime. However, there has been one instance in which a member of Congress was convicted of lying to the voters, and he was elected in the Republican Revolution of 1994.

In 1994, the Republican Party finally regained control of the House of Representatives after a forty year stretch of Democratic control. They gained fifty-four seats in the House and toppled some powerful incumbents, including Speaker of the House Tom Foley, Ways and Means Committee chair Dan Rostenkowski, and Judiciary chair Jack Brooks. In large waves like this, you will get new people who go far: Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina went on to have successful careers in the Senate. On the other hand, you will also get among the newbies one-hit wonders and grifters, the most abortive of these in the 104th Congress being Wester “Wes” Shadric Cooley (1932-2015) of Oregon. The utterly bizarre Steve Stockman of Texas, who is currently serving a ten-year sentence in the penitentiary for swindling conservative organizations, would be on top if it were not for him managing to get another term in Congress…in the 2012 election.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/76/Wescooley.jpg

Wes Cooley as a member of Congress.

The trouble began for Cooley practically from the very beginning of his time in Congress. He became known for bizarre and intemperate behavior, including flipping off Sierra Club demonstrators and mistakenly taking an April Fool’s article from the publication Roll Call seriously. When a female reporter from the Portland Oregonian asked to speak to him about it, Cooley grew furious and shouted, “The only thing that is saving you from getting your nose busted is you’re a lady” (Bowman, 2015). However, the career-ending trouble began with questions about his war service. In the 1994 Oregon voter guide he stated that he had served in the Army Special Forces in Korea. However, there were no documents that proved this, and Cooley conveniently claimed that the proof had burned up in a 1973 St. Louis fire that had destroyed other military records. He additionally stated that his superior, Sergeant Clifford Poppy, could vouch for his record if only he hadn’t been killed in Korea. The problem was that he was alive, and when a journalist found him, he stated regarding Cooley, “Tell him he’s a liar. Tell him Sergeant Poppy said that” (Beutler, 2010). Military records ultimately proved that he never left the United States for the duration of the Korean War. Additionally, allegations arose that he and his wife kept their marriage a secret for years so she could continue collecting widow’s benefits from her late former husband. The scandal over Cooley’s credibility had grown to the point that in 1996, under pressure from other prominent Republicans in the state, he chose not to seek another term. He was subsequently convicted of a felony for submitting a written statement to the voters that he served in special forces in Korea and was fined. Cooley was again convicted in 2012, this time in a federal court in California of masterminding an internet investment swindle and evading taxes, for which he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison with payment of restitution to the victims. He died on February 4, 2015, less than two years after his release.

References

Beutler, B. (2010, May 31). Top Moments in Politicians Lying About Military Service. Talking Points Memo.

Retrieved from

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/top-moments-in-politicians-lying-about-military-service

Bowman, B. (2015, February 6). Former Rep. Wes Cooley, Lightning Rod From Oregon, Dead at 82. Roll Call.

Retrieved from

https://www.rollcall.com/news/former-rep-wes-cooley-died-wednesday-at-82