The Wizard of Ooze: Everett Dirksen of Illinois

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1932 was a tough year for the Republicans. Hoover only won six states in his bid for reelection, the GOP took massive losses in the House, and lost the Senate. This, however, was the start of the career of one of the GOP’s most prominent politicians of the 20th century. Everett Dirksen (1896-1969) of Illinois had toppled the Republican incumbent in the primary and went on to win the election. Although initially more conciliatory than many other Republicans to the New Deal as he voted for the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act, his opposition grew with time, especially after the 1938 midterms, and had always stood as a staunch foe of the notion that government should run any sort of industry. Dirksen explained his support of some of these measures thusly, “Those days of 1932 and 1933 were troublous and beset with difficulty. Insofar as conviction permitted, one was expected to adjourn all partisanship and participate in the common enterprise of lifting the Nation from its despondency” (Dirksen). He also in retrospect concluded that, “the New Deal was long on reform, much longer on relief, yet very short on actual recovery and restoration of normal conditions” and was disturbed by the level of power being vested in the presidency and its potential for erosion of freedom, asking “Will the American system of living, which rests upon the morals of individualism, become the victim of a pious collectivism and will freedom be just a word or a way of life?” (Dirksen) As an Illinois Republican, it practically goes without saying he was a non-interventionist before World War II…and he was one of the more effective ones given his study of the rules of the House. Dirksen stood, with the support of the Chicago Tribune fully behind him, against the repeal of the Neutrality Acts, against the peacetime draft, and against Lend-Lease. Although he voted for enacting wartime price controls, he was one of the leaders of the pushback against it, particularly with his pushing for amendments requiring that people enacting price controls have five years experience in the field they were imposing such controls and to permit judicial review of price control edicts. Dirksen was so known that Union for Democratic Action, the left-wing predecessor to Americans for Democratic Action, identified him as one of the foremost conservative legislative obstructionists.

Postwar Dirksen

Everett Dirksen took a primarily right course on domestic policy but voted for the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan (although he would regret the latter). In 1948, he chose to retire from the House as he was facing an eye problem so serious that doctors recommended it be removed. Dirksen refused to do so, opting for treatment and rest. After 10 months of this he was able to recover most of the vision in his eye, and opted to jump back into politics.

The 1946 election was mistaken by many Republicans to have been a referendum on New Deal liberalism, when it was largely a reaction to postwar adjustment issues, especially meat shortages caused by price controls. However, the 1950 election was the ideological election conservatives had wanted the 1946 election to be. Although Republicans didn’t win back either chamber, the victories were very ideologically clear, and the case study for this was certainly Dirksen’s race against Democratic Majority Leader Scott Lucas. Lucas stood firmly with Truman and with his domestic policies while Dirksen was a staunch critic and called the Marshall Plan “Operation Rathole”. He also got some help on the campaign trail from Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose influence, although often cited for this election, is perhaps overstated. Lucas counterattacked by having his staff produce a report, titled “The Diary of a Chameleon”, which found that Dirksen had “changed his position on military preparedness 31 times, on isolationism 62 times, and on farm policy 70 times” (Dirksen). However, Dirksen was a smooth political operator and instead of denying the charge, he embraced and defended his record. Dirksen ultimately toppled the Majority Leader for reelection, a repudiation of Truman and the Fair Deal by Illinois voters.

As a senator, Dirksen would develop a reputation as politically savvy, a flamboyant figure who loved the spotlight, and for delivering over-the-top oration, which gained him the nickname “The Wizard of Ooze”. In 1952, he backed Senator Robert Taft (R-Ohio) for president, and criticized Eisenhower supporters at the Republican National Convention. Specifically, he pointed his finger at Thomas E. Dewey and warned him to not lead the GOP down the road of defeat again through his support of Eisenhower. However, this time the moderates did win the election as Eisenhower was a formidable candidate. Dirksen was initially hesitant to aid in the moderation of Eisenhower and often butted heads with him in foreign policy, but events would develop that made Dirksen a valuable player in Washington politics. Robert Taft died in 1953, and his successor, William F. Knowland of California, proved a weak leader and regularly was outmaneuvered by his Democratic counterpart, Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. Additionally, Dirksen’s friend and ally Joseph McCarthy was censured in 1954 resulting in the loss of his influence, and Illinois’ leading journalistic voice of conservatism, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, died in 1955. This opened the door to Dirksen becoming more accommodating to the Eisenhower Administration, which needed him as a point man in the Senate. Dirksen’s support of the Eisenhower Administration on foreign policy grew and his Taft-style conservatism softened.

Dirksen strongly backed the Eisenhower Administration’s civil rights proposals and regularly sided with the president’s vetoes, and was a logical choice for official leadership. In 1959, he ran for Minority Leader to replace the outgoing William F. Knowland of California and defeated the significantly more liberal John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky for the post in a close race. Dirksen would prove a far more effective leader than his predecessor and used his skill of wheeling and dealing along with mastery of the Senate rules to his advantage.

Dirksen As Leader

In 1961, Dirksen and House Minority Leader Halleck had a regular press conference on Meet the Press officially titled the “Republican Congressional Leadership Statement” in which they would criticize and respond to the Kennedy Administration’s initiatives. This was compared to a vaudeville act by political commentators given the contrast between Dirksen’s folksy manner and Halleck’s rough and easily angered persona and was universally called the “Ev and Charlie Show”. Although Halleck, true to his nature, was peeved at being made a joke, Dirksen loved it and urged reporters to compare them to other “great duos” in America, including “corned beef and cabbage” and “ham and eggs” (U.S. Senate). When Halleck lost the House leadership contest in 1964, it became the “Ev and Jerry Show”, but Gerald Ford wasn’t easily angered, thus the comedic value of the program declined.

As Senate Minority Leader, Dirksen commanded an unusual amount of power given his party’s decided minority status during his entire time as leader. He was a uniting figure in the party who was often able to appeal to the conservative and liberal wings. Dirksen’s man with the liberals was Minority Whip Thomas Kuchel of California and his man on the right was ultra-conservative Roman Hruska of Nebraska. He was also often able to win over Southern Democrats, many of whom agreed with him more than JFK and LBJ, thus keeping the Conservative Coalition a formidable force and often requiring Democratic presidents to negotiate with him. However, Dirksen was not necessarily an obstructionist…he could also be accommodating to the Democratic administrations of the 1960s. In 1963, for instance, Dirksen was crucial in winning over many Republicans in support of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. He was on genuinely friendly terms with President Lyndon B. Johnson…both men shared a love for the political process…and bourbon after work. This relationship played a major role in producing the major civil rights legislation of the era. Dirksen was sure that the 1964 act wasn’t too hard on business to win over the votes of some reluctant conservatives yet aimed to make the measure strong enough so that it would command a consensus level of support. Unlike Johnson, who was a relatively new civil rights supporter, Dirksen had supported civil rights legislation such as anti-lynching and anti-poll tax bills since the 1930s. 73% of the Senate ultimately voted for the act, including all but six Republicans. He would again be of great assistance in the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and Dirksen would get all but two Senate Republicans to vote for it.

Dirksen largely opposed the Great Society, including its “War on Poverty” legislation, rent supplements, and its high domestic spending. However, he backed the Social Security amendments that included Medicare and Medicaid (which he had previously voted against) and supported the Appalachian Regional Development Act. He also took the lead, as I have written about before, in trying to pass constitutional amendments on school prayer and legislative reapportionment, both staunchly opposed by liberals but had most Republicans in support. Dirksen also was able to kill an effort backed by the Johnson Administration to repeal the “right to work” section of the Taft-Hartley Act. Dirksen was initially opposed to fair housing legislation and in 1966 he played a leading role in killing such legislation. However, in 1968 he worked out a compromise measure with Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Senator Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) that passed in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Dirksen was a hawk on the Vietnam War and wanted a stronger war effort than Johnson was employing, and offered counsel and support to the president in these times. In 1968, President Johnson, in one of his daily calls with the Senate Minority Leader, accused Nixon’s operatives of treason, and Dirksen agrees:

President Johnson: I want to talk to you as a friend, and very confidentially, because I think that we’re skirting on dangerous ground. I thought I ought to give you the facts, and you ought to pass them on if you choose. If you don’t, why, then I will a little later.

Dirksen: Yeah.


President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] Both Thieu and Ky stressed on us the importance of a minimum delay [between a bombing pause and the opening of peace negotiations]. Then we got some of our friends involved, some of it your old China [Lobby] crowd.
Here’s the latest information we’ve got: the agent says that they’ve just talked to the boss [Nixon] in New Mexico, and that he says that you must hold out, that . . . Just hold on until after the election.

Now, we know what Thieu is saying to ‘em out there. We’re pretty well informed on both ends.


President Johnson: Now, I’m reading their hand, Everett. I don’t want to get this in the campaign.

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: And they oughtn’t to be doing this. This is treason.

Dirksen: I know.

President Johnson: I don’t know whether it’s [Melvin] Laird; I don’t know who it is that is putting it out, but here is the UPI [item number] 48 that came in tonight.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I’m calling you only after talking to [Dean] Rusk and [Clark] Clifford and all of ‘em, who thought that somebody ought to be notified as to what’s happening.


President Johnson: Now, I can identify ‘em, because I know who’s doing this. I don’t want to identify it. I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter this important.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: I don’t want to do that.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: But if they’re going to put this kind of stuff out, they ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to, and I know what they’re saying.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: Well, now, what do you think we ought to do about it?

Dirksen: Well, I better get in touch with him, I think, and tell him about it.

President Johnson: I think you better tell him that his people are saying to these folks that they oughtn’t to go through with this meeting [in Paris]. Now, if they don’t go through with the meeting, it’s not going to be me that’s hurt. I think it’s doing to be whoever’s elected.

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: It may be—my guess—him.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I think they’re making a very serious mistake, and I don’t want to say this.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And you’re the only one I’m going to say it to.

Dirksen: Yeah.


President Johnson: Now, Everett, I know what happens there. You see what I mean?

Dirksen: I do.

President Johnson: And I’m looking at his hole card.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: Now, I don’t want to get in a fight with him there. I think Nixon’s going to be elected.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: And I think we ought to have peace, and I’m going to work with him.

Dirksen: That’s right.

President Johnson: I’ve worked with you.

Dirksen: That’s right.
President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] But I don’t want these sons of bitches like Laird giving out announcements like this, that Johnson gave them the wrong impression. I gave them the right impression, except I gave it to him decently, when I said that you ought to keep the Mrs. Chennaults and all the rest of ‘em from running around here. Now, you see, I know what Thieu says to his people out there.

Dirksen: Yeah. I haven’t seen Laird.

President Johnson: Well, I don’t know who it is that’s with Nixon. It may be Laird. It may be [Bryce] Harlow. It may be [John] Mitchell. I don’t know who it is.

I know this: that they’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war.

Dirksen: That’s a mistake!

President Johnson: And it’s a damn bad mistake.

Dirksen: Oh, it is.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen assenting] And I don’t want to say you, and you’re the only man that I have enough confidence in to tell ‘em. But you better tell ‘em they better quit playing with it. You just tell ‘em that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it. ” (Johnson)

Dirksen’s Decline and Death

Everett Dirksen had for his adult life been a heavy smoker and drinker, and by the 1960s this was catching up to him and it was apparent to those around him. A reporter once commented that, “His face looks like he slept in it” (Kenworthy). He also developed emphysema and on one occasion coughed so hard he cracked a vertebrae. Dirksen was not long for the world by the time Nixon was inaugurated and his influence declined as Nixon didn’t feel the need to negotiate with him to get things done. He developed lung cancer and died after an operation on September 7, 1969, aged 73. Senator Margaret Chase Smith left a marigold on his coffin…it was what he thought should be the national flower. Today he has a Senate office building named in his honor.

Dirksen was by and large a good representative of the GOP of his time: moderately conservative (MCI: 78%) and often but not always, negotiating with the Democratic majority. He represented a different time in America, one in which the parties were closer to each other ideologically and had divergent wings. Dirksen seemed to just fit where his party was at the time and the mood of the times. The days of friendly negotiation on legislation over bourbon after hours has been dead for some time now, but that’s how postwar politics rolled. Perhaps a Dirksen could be elected today but he would probably be too conservative for Illinois and possibly not conservative enough to be in Republican leadership, but given his flexibility and his ability to wheel and deal, who knows?


Dirksen in Brief. (2018). The Dirksen Congressional Center.

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Hill, R. (2016, November 13). Senator Howard Baker: Part IV. Knoxville Focus.

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Senator Howard Baker, Part Six

Johnson, R. Did Nixon Commit Treason in 1968? What The New LBJ Tapes Reveal. History News Network.

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Kenworthy, E.W. (1969, September 8). Dirksen Dead in Capital at 73. The New York Times.

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Mendenhall, S. Everett Dirksen and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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“The Ev and Charlie Show”. U.S. Senate.

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1920: The Year Women Got The Vote? Not Entirely, And Entirely Not in Two States

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and women across the nation were granted suffrage…right? Theoretically, yes, but as historians and your woke friends will tell you, this isn’t the full story just as the 15th Amendment wasn’t the full story for black male voters. They will say this primarily because most black women, like black men, couldn’t vote in the South due to Jim Crow practices until the 1960s. This is true, but what is not so well known, however, is that there were two states that managed to block all women from voting in the 1920 election. Even more surprising, this was 100% constitutional.

Many states in 1920 had a preexisting requirement that all voters be registered for six months before they could vote. Most states that had this rule waived it for 1920 given the ratification of the 19th Amendment, but Georgia and Mississippi, states with vehemently anti-suffragist political leadership, refused to do so. No elected officials from Mississippi voted for the 19th Amendment and in Georgia only Sen. William Harris and Rep. William Upshaw voted for. Since no women would be registered in these states for six months, none could vote. The constitutionality lies in the fact that the original laws were not passed in response to women gaining suffrage.

Women in Georgia and Mississippi would have to wait until the 1922 elections to vote for senators and Mississippi’s women wouldn’t vote on who the next governor would be until 1923. As I have written before, the blowback from this, at least in Georgia, was to the extent that the state’s anti-suffrage governor, Thomas Hardwick, appointed the first female senator, but only for 24 hours as a purely symbolic gesture. This didn’t save him from losing renomination in 1922. Georgia did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1970 and Mississippi did not follow suit until 1984.

To Boldly Lie: Ernest G. Liebold, The Devil on Henry Ford’s Shoulder

Liebold is the man behind the two women.

In reviewing my post on Henry Ford, there’s something I realize that I didn’t touch on sufficiently, and that was the influence that Ernest G. Liebold, his secretary, exercised on him. Although Ford was undoubtedly anti-Semitic without Liebold’s help, he did push him repeatedly in this direction. Journalist E.G. Pipp, who had been the editor of The Dearborn Independent before his resignation in 1920 over the anti-Semitic content being published, stated “the door to Ford’s mind was always open to anything Liebold wanted to shove in it, and during that time Mr. Ford developed a dislike for the Jews, a dislike which appeared to become stronger and more bitter as time went on… In one way and another, the feeling oozed into his system until it became a part of his living self” (Pipp). Another employee of Ford’s at the paper, Fred Black, concurred with this assessment. He stated, “If I were to put the number one blame on anyone, I would put it on Liebold” (Lewis, 138). After all, it was Liebold who had purchased The Dearborn Independent on Ford’s behalf. It was Liebold who acquired The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forgery alleging a Jewish conspiracy to promote war and famine, for publication in that paper. And it was Liebold who hired the man who brought them to the United States!

A Detective Agency…For Henry Ford

Ernest G. Liebold was recognized for his organizational abilities as a young man by Ford’s Vice President, James Couzens, and because he was willing to do things for Ford that other leading employees were not, he was made his personal secretary. As part of his duties, he headed up investigations on behalf of Ford.

Liebold set up a detective agency that worked exclusively for Henry Ford, and hired a lot of…characters. One of the most notorious in the agency was Boris Brasol, who had immigrated from Russia to the United States in 1916 and had been a member of the Black Hundreds, a Russian nationalist group which was xenophobic and especially anti-Semitic. When a member of this group, he participated in the prosecution of the Beilis blood libel case, in which a Jewish factory superintendent was falsely accused of ritual murder. He was acquitted to Brasol’s disappointment. Brasol bragged at having written books “which have done the Jews more injury than would have been done to them in ten pogroms” (Logsdon). He intended for his writings to inspire pogroms, boasting that “There are going to be the biggest pogroms and massacres here and elsewhere, I will write and I will precipitate them” (Logsdon). Brasol brought the Protocols to the United States and presented them to intelligence officer Major Harris Ayres Houghton, M.D., and had his secretary, Natalie de Bogory, translate them into English. Brasol and Houghton distributed the work around, with Houghton himself publishing it in its English translation. It was Brasol who had given Liebold a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Liebold spearheaded the publication of the Protocols in The Dearborn Independent on Ford’s behalf and was the most strenuous in pushing for anti-Semitic articles. He conducted the “research” for these stories as well as The International Jew. As a result of Ford Dealerships not only selling Model Ts but also selling subscriptions to The Dearborn Independent, the newspaper went far and wide across the nation and at its peak it only had 50,000 less subscribers than the leading newspaper in the country at the time, New York Daily News. Thus, hundreds of thousands of people were sent The Protocols of the Elders of Zion when it was published in The Dearborn Independent along with The International Jew between 1920 and 1922.

Although Liebold had Ford’s trust, he didn’t have the full trust of the U.S. government. During World War I, he had been investigated by the War Department as a suspected German spy after an informant’s tip that he was caught showing the blueprints of the aircraft engine Liberty L-12, manufactured by the Ford Company for the U.S. Army, to a reporter from New Yorker Staats-Zeitung (Wallace, 25-26). He had also coordinated Ford’s abortive peace ship campaign in 1915. Although the War Department investigation turned up nothing conclusive about Liebold, whether he spied for the Germans or not during World War I remains a subject of dispute among historians who have studied Ford. Ultimately, Liebold’s influence began to decline in the late 1920s following the closure of The Dearborn Independent, but he remained with Ford as his secretary until his dismissal in 1944.

Liebold ultimately served to encourage Ford’s political habits and tendencies, and did so for the worst. He was arguably the driving engine behind the anti-Semitism of The Dearborn Independent, which spread vicious lies about Jews and he certainly pushed Ford more and more in this direction.

P.S.: There’s a bit of an amusing photo of Liebold with Albert Einstein, with the former not looking terribly pleased being photographed next to a Jew.


Anti-Semitism: The “Protocols” Come to America. Jewish Virtual Library.

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Lewis, D.L. (1976). The public image of Henry Ford: an American folk hero and his company. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

Logsdon, J.R. Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism: Henry Ford and His War on Jews. The Hanover Historical Review.

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Pipp, E.G. (1921, March 5). What started Mr. Ford against the Jews. Pipp’s Weekly.

Wallace, M. (2003). The American axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the rise of the Third Reich. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

When Presidents and Vice Presidents Don’t Get Along

Last week, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate. For those who remember, Harris raked Biden over the coals on racial issues in the primary debates, specifically his opposition to the practice of busing as a means of desegregation. When it comes to politics, its hard to know who gets along and who doesn’t based on public words and actions alone…we tend to find this out later through historical accounts. I don’t know if Biden and Harris get along personally behind the scenes, but if public appearances before the nomination tell the story, it wouldn’t seem to be the case. If the ticket is elected in November and my thoughts on this matter are correct, it also wouldn’t be the first time that presidents and their vice presidents haven’t gotten along. There are three particularly notable cases I present here.

Case 1: Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun

At the end of his time in office, Andrew Jackson had two famous regrets: that he didn’t shoot Henry Clay and that he didn’t hang Calhoun. What caused the level of enmity between Jackson and Calhoun to be so high were on matters both personal and political, and it begins with the Petticoat Affair.

Matters Get Personal: The Petticoat Affair

Andrew Jackson was always quite sensitive about rhetorical attacks on women and felt that his own wife’s death was brought on by the stress of learning of such attacks by people from the Adams campaign, namely that they were in a bigamous marriage and that Jackson had “stolen” Rachel from her husband. Thus, when gossip and accusations surrounded Secretary of War John Eaton and his wife, Peggy, that he had stolen her from her now late husband and that this had resulted in his suicide (which was false, he had died of pneumonia abroad), Jackson was furious. Peggy had formerly worked in a tavern and was more outspoken and flirtatious in her talk than society women of the time were expected to be, and had only married Eaton nine months after her husband’s passing, shorter than was commonly expected for mourning. Jackson was friends with the couple and had encouraged Eaton to marry her, and now the wives of other cabinet officers, led by Second Lady Floride Calhoun, were ostracizing the Eatons and not inviting them to social events. Even Jackson’s surrogate First Lady sided with Calhoun, which resulted in her being replaced by his daughter-in-law in serving the function of the First Lady. Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, who played it smart by siding with the Eatons, did Jackson a favor by resigning first to give him a pretext for reorganizing his cabinet, and he thus asked for the resignations of all cabinet members opposed to the Eatons. The entire cabinet save for Postmaster General William T. Barry resigned. Matters were made even worse between Jackson and Calhoun when it was revealed that as Secretary of War Calhoun had supported censuring Jackson for his invasion of Florida in 1818. Calhoun asked Eaton to bring up to Jackson the subject of publishing the correspondence between him and Jackson to clear the air on the matter. Eaton didn’t act, and Calhoun, under the belief that he had Jackson’s approval to publish the correspondence between him and Jackson during the Seminole War, did so in the Telegraph, which added fuel to the fire of Jackson’s fury.

Eaton was appointed Governor of the Florida Territory and then later as Minister to Spain while Van Buren was rejected for Ambassador to Britain by the tie-breaking vote of Calhoun, but this ultimately resulted instead in Van Buren replacing Calhoun after his resignation on December 28, 1832.

Matters Get Political: The Nullification Crisis

Jackson would not have expressed his regret for not hanging Calhoun over the Petticoat Affair, but it was the threat of secession that got him threatening executions. Jackson was the last president to have fought in any capacity in the Revolutionary War and given how hard he had fought and what he had suffered he would not tolerate talk of secession.

In 1832, Andrew Jackson signed into law a bill largely written by John Quincy Adams, now a Congressman, to moderately reduce tariffs from the 1828 Tariff of Abominations that he had signed into law as president. Southern states were still displeased with the state of tariffs rates, and none more so than South Carolina, which was suffering economic hardship at the time. South Carolina thus nullified both the Tariff of Abominations and the 1832 tariff. Calhoun, who was from the state, sided with it. Jackson resorted to signing a force bill into law that allowed him to use the navy to enforce the tariff. As a senator, Calhoun opposed it. When talk of secession reached his ears, he threatened to hang anyone who tried it. Ultimately, Jackson agreed to sign a compromise tariff proposed by the grand master of compromises, Henry Clay, the following year that resulted in South Carolina rescinding its nullification of the tariff while nullifying the force bill as a symbolic gesture.

Calhoun would, after resigning the Vice Presidency, use his influence to push a radical view of state’s rights in defense of slavery, which led to the War of the Rebellion that he predicted shortly before his death in 1850.

Case 2: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Nance Garner

FDR, Kansas Gov. Harry Woodring, and John Nance Garner

Franklin D. Roosevelt had a grand total of three vice presidents, and although he and John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner got along fine in his first term in office and he was critical for the enactment of the First 100 Days legislation, the relationship began to turn for the worse when Roosevelt and Garner started having some significant disagreements. Garner had throughout his Congressional career been more or less a progressive, but he had his limits, and FDR began crossing those with his second New Deal.

The relationship between Roosevelt and Garner broke down when they disagreed on approaches to labor strikes and the court-packing plan. Garner was no longer in the progressive camp and his influence helped similar developments among other Southern Democrats. He even helped the opponents of the court-packing plan during the debates. In 1940, both men seemed to agree that they would be parting ways, and Garner challenged FDR for reelection in the Democratic primary, but his bid got little steam. He remarked on the vice presidency that it “isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss”, which the press reported at the time as “warm spit” according to former Texas Congressman O.C. Fisher in his 1978 biography of Garner (Holley). Garner was ultimately replaced with reliable New Dealer Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace and never returned to Washington. He was, however, frequently consulted as an elder statesman at his residence in Uvalde, Texas, and John F. Kennedy even gave him a call on his 95th birthday…November 22nd, 1963. “Cactus Jack” died in 1967.

Case 3: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson

This is the most recent case of the president and vice president famously not getting along, and it was more due to personality than politics. Kennedy and Johnson in many ways were ideologically on the same page, and the Great Society itself was a continuation and expansion of the New Frontier. John F. Kennedy’s friends and associates were Ivy League school people from New England, while Johnson stuck out like a sore thumb as a rural Southerner who could be quite crass and crude. Johnson thought of Kennedy as a political lightweight who hadn’t done much as a senator and knew that Kennedy was a sicker man than he appeared to the public. Robert Caro states that Johnson said of Kennedy, “Did you ever see his ankles? They’re only this big around, and he’s sickly, yellow, yellow, not a man’s man” (Putnam).

Kennedy didn’t care for Johnson either, although unlike his brother and other members of his cabinet, he didn’t show it. He felt he had to pick him in 1960 to win the state of Texas, a political calculation which seems justified given that the Kennedy-Johnson ticket won by only two points in the state. Some of Johnson’s most miserable years in politics were as vice president, as he no longer, even though his title was President of the Senate, carried authority there as senators by and large wanted his successor, Mike Mansfield of Montana, to maintain his own authority as Majority Leader. His worst enemy in the president’s cabinet was Attorney General Bobby Kennedy…the two men despised each other from the moment they met. In 1963 Kennedy allegedly decided to dump Johnson in 1964 and instead pick either Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina or Senator George Smathers of Florida, the latter who was a moderate and his best friend in the Senate. Kennedy’s justification would be the scandal surrounding his right-hand man, Bobby Baker, who eventually went to prison for his corruption. Of course, history tells a different story.


Andrew Jackson – Key Events. Miller Center.

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Holley, J. (2014, July 26). “Cactus Jack” Garner was as prickly as his nickname. Houston Chronicle.

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Putnam, T. (2012, May 16). Interview of Robert Caro: LBJ: From Senate Majority Leader to President, 1958-1964. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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Remini, R.V. (1981). Andrew Jackson and the course of American Freedom, 1822-1832. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.


J. William Fulbright: The Face of Postwar Internationalist Consensus Politics

Arkansas is a state not often associated with internationalism, academic achievement, and moderate liberalism. Yet, the state has produced some political figures of great significance: Joseph Robinson was Senate Majority Leader during the New Deal and played a fundamental role in shepherding it through, Hattie Caraway was the first woman elected to the Senate, Bill Clinton was a two-term president, Rep. Wilbur Mills was a titan on tax policy, and Sen. Tom Cotton is being discussed as possible presidential material in 2024. Senator J. William Fulbright (1905-1995) fits all the descriptors of my first sentence.

In 1942, the 37-year old former president of the University of Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, won election to the House. He had been known previously as an opponent of non-interventionism, having become an advocate for multilateralism in his Oxford days. Fulbright immediately made an impact on the debates on postwar planning, coming out early and often for the United Nations. In September 1943, the House adopted the Fulbright Resolution, which encouraged the United States to participate in an international peacekeeping organization, which would later be known as the UN. This was an impressive feat for a freshman, and the voters of Arkansas recognized it: in 1944, Fulbright defeated Senator Hattie Caraway for renomination and his influence on foreign affairs grew. In his first year in the Senate he proposed the creation of an agency funded through the sale of surplus of war property to fund cultural and educational exchange between the nations of the world and the following year this proposal was signed into law by President Truman. Today this is known as the Fulbright Program, and it remains the largest educational exchange agency that has ever existed.

Fulbright and the Cold War

Fulbright, like most Democrats, supported the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. He regarded foreign aid as a means of fighting communism, including aid to nations that were poor rather than impacted by World War II under the Point Four Program. However, he proved an opponent of admitting displaced persons in Europe to the United States and backed anti-communist domestic legislation, notably the McCarran Internal Security Act. His record on Fair Deal measures was mixed.

Fulbright notably backed Truman in the firing of General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination, but he didn’t always get along personally with the Democratic presidents he served with. He for instance headed up an investigation into Reconstruction Finance Corporation corruption during Truman’s presidency, with him calling Fulbright in response an “over-educated Oxford S.O.B” (Lauter & Folkhart) He also gave Truman some un-sage advice after the Democrats lost the 1946 midterms, arguing that he should resign as happened in British politics with a Prime Minister. Since Truman had no vice president, this would have made Senate Pro Tem Arthur Vandenberg, a Michigan Republican, the president. Truman publicly stated that Fulbright didn’t know his American history, and behind his back he referred to him as “Senator Halfbright”, an insult that both Joseph McCarthy and LBJ would employ.

Senator Fulbright was an anti-communist and voted for the McCarran Internal Security Act, but he came out early and often against his demagogic colleague from Wisconsin, Senator McCarthy. He was so opposed to him and his political style that he was the sole senator to vote against funding of his subcommittee. Like all voting Democrats in the Senate, he voted to censure him in 1954, which curbed his influence until his death in 1957.

The Ideology of Fulbright

Senator Fulbright is not necessarily the easiest politician to place on an ideological scale. His MC-Index score is a 28%, but Americans for Democratic Action thought him a moderate given their scoring, and, without counting absences, his scores ranged from 17% to 92% on their scale. On foreign policy, Fulbright could be relied on generally as a liberal vote while on domestic policy he balanced out his beliefs and those of his constituents and could sometimes side with the Conservative Coalition. This leads me to the issue that prevented him from ever considering a presidential run and the issue that is a black mark, so to speak, on his record.

Race, the Reality of Arkansas Politics, and Fulbright’s Faustian Bargain

Fulbright, as an Oxford educated man, Rhodes scholar, and former president of the University of Arkansas, it was rather hard for political observers to believe that he really believed in segregation. Whether he really believed in it or not, the politics of Arkansas made it impossible for him to not vote for segregation. As Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.) noted, “He rationalized his position by saying that he had a powerful position from which to influence U.S. policy and that raising his voice on behalf of civil rights legislation wouldn’t accomplish much since the Southern position was doomed anyway… somewhat painfully, I have to concede he probably made the only choice that was open to him” (Lauter & Folkhart).

In 1956, he signed the Southern Manifesto along with every other member of Arkansas’ delegation. He also subsequently voted against all civil rights legislation in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Administrations. Arkansas was, after all, the state that President Eisenhower sent federal troops to in order to enforce desegregation.  However, there was evidence that he was more moderate than many other Southern senators on race.

Fulbright was not averse to voting for federal nominees who happened to be black. Unlike many of his Southern colleagues, he voted for the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall as the first black justice in 1967, and in 1970 he voted to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Compared to his Arkansas colleagues on civil rights, Fulbright looks good, but compared to his colleagues across the nation, he looks bad. Fulbright, in effect, made a Faustian bargain: he had to vote against civil rights legislation until 1970 to attain the level of power and prominence that he did. Although he was no racial demagogue and tended to stay out of debates on race, he had to tow the line.

Fulbright and JFK

Fulbright was the longest serving chairman in history of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1959 to 1974, and although in 1961 he had been offered the post of Secretary of State, according to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., I asked why Rusk had finally emerged. Elizabeth said, ‘He was the lowest common denominator.’ Apparently Harris Wofford succeeded in stirring the Negroes and Jews up so effectively that the uproar killed Fulbright, who was apparently Jack’s first choice” (98). That year, he stated two weeks before the construction of the Berlin Wall that “I don’t understand why the East Germans don’t just close their border, because I think they have a right to close it” (Congressional Record). In 1962, Fulbright was briefed on the Bay of Pigs operation, and advised Kennedy not to go through with it, but he didn’t heed his advice and the operation ended in disaster. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, however, he took on a hawkish position to the Soviets.

Fulbright, the Vietnam War, and Jackson-Vanik

In 1964, Fulbright shepherded the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution through the Senate, but this came to be his greatest regret. He began criticizing Johnson at hearings on the Vietnam War in 1966 and this greatly upset him as the criticism of the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee lent the peace movement a credibility that student demonstrations could not. Fulbright subsequently wrote The Arrogance of Power (1966), a collection of his lectures critical of the Vietnam War. He also was critical of the Nixon Administration’s prosecution of the Vietnam War, including the administration’s expansion into Cambodia. Fulbright advocated and voted for the Cooper-Church Amendment ending the Cambodian expansion and prohibiting any expansions of troops outside South Vietnam. As a result, he became popular with young voters.

Although Fulbright disagreed with Nixon on Vietnam, he agreed with the Nixon Administration in its opposition to the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which restricted the president’s ability to grant most-favored nation status to nations that restricted emigration. This was aimed explicitly at the Soviet bloc, and Fulbright regarded this as overly idealistic. However, Congressional support was too strong and overcame Nixon’s and Fulbright’s objections.

In 1974, Fulbright lost renomination overwhelmingly to Governor Dale Bumpers. Bumpers was more liberal than him and the face of the New South Democrats, who were overall moderately liberal and sought to form multiracial coalitions. Given the growth of black voting in the Democratic Party, Fulbright’s history of voting against civil rights helped his defeat. Fulbright ultimately inspired a number of future leaders, most notably President Bill Clinton, who considered him a friend and mentor, and his legacy continues to this day with the Fulbright Program.

Author’s note: My grandfather met and casually befriended Senator Fulbright when he was in the State Department. He thought he was a nice guy, didn’t think the most of him on intellect, and noted that he was a publicity hound as he would never pass up the chance to shake hands with a homeless person if he saw reporters with cameras around.


Congressional Record — Senate, August 1, 1961, pp. 14222-14224.

Lauter, D. & Folkart, B.A. (1995, February 10). William Fulbright, Critic of Cold War Policy, Dead at 89. Los Angeles Times.

Retrieved from

Schlesinger, A.M. (2008). Journals 1952-2000. London, UK: Penguin Books.




The Ignorance and Anti-Semitism of Henry Ford

Henry Ford - Wikipedia

Although Henry Ford is known best for his founding of the Ford Motor Company, “welfare capitalism”, and the development of the Model T, a car affordable for the average American, he has a darker legacy…that is his political legacy.

Ford’s views on wider issues and his general lack of sophistication can be traced to his origins….he grew up on a farm and had limited formal education, attending a one-room school for a period of eight years when he wasn’t helping his family on the farm. Ford’s tremendous mechanical aptitude ultimately catapulted him into success, but he was an opinionated and stubborn man and this expanded into fields considerably outside of his knowledge and thanks to his wealth he was able to spread these views far and wide. His influence on politics begins in the 1910s.

Ford and the Peace Voyage

Henry Ford was a pacifist and he believed, tremendously naively, that he could end the war by sailing to Europe on a ship with a big white cross to try and reason with the belligerents. The voyage began on December 4, 1915 to divided reaction from the crowd witnessing the sendoff. Reactions included “the poor simp”, “the savior of peace”, and “a second Messiah” (Grossman, 2015). Accompanying him were 63 pacifists, 54 reporters, and four “Chicago babies”, three of whom were great-grandchildren of a co-founder of the Chicago Tribune. The voyage proved ill-fated, as the passengers started quarreling with one another when news reached them that President Wilson was increasing the size of the military, and pro and anti-Wilson factions developed as the anti-Wilson faction had drafted a resolution condemning the president and were demanding that others on the ship sign it. Ford was hoping for an endorsement of his peace voyage from President Wilson yet, according to reporter Carolyn Wilson, “In the first place, he couldn’t understand why anyone would refuse to sign the resolution…In the second place, he couldn’t understand the discussions” (Grossman, 2015). Ultimately, the ship arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, but Ford, claiming illness, declined to go to Stockholm with the other pacifists and sailed home.

Ford and the First Libel Suit

In 1916, the Chicago Tribune released an incendiary article on Henry Ford that claimed he was “an anarchist”, “an ignorant idealist”, and “incapable of thought” for protesting military mobilization on the Mexican border (Admin). As previously noted, Ford was a pacifist and as part of this he opposed America’s involvement in World War I, a conflict he believed had origins in a conspiracy. He sued the Chicago Tribune for libel and the case dragged on until 1919, when he was called to the stand to testify. The questioning proved humiliating for Ford as it exposed his sheer ignorance of American history and government: he thought that the American Revolution occurred in 1812, that Benedict Arnold was a writer, and claimed that he had voted only once in his life: for James A. Garfield, even though Ford wasn’t old enough to vote in 1880. He also appeared to have trouble reading a document put before him and while he blamed his glasses, this gave people the impression that he was semi-literate if not illiterate. Ford was lampooned in the press for his testimony and a cartoon appeared with him wearing a dunce cap. Despite this, he won the libel suit but it was a Pyrrhic victory: he was awarded six cents (the equivalent of 83 cents today).

The perception of Henry Ford’s scope of knowledge isn’t helped by the fact that the quote “History is bunk” is often attributed to him, but the full quote is, “History is more or less bunk. It is tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today. That’s the trouble with the world. We’re living in books and history and tradition. We want to get away from that and take care of today. We’ve done too much looking back. What we want to do and do it quick is to make just history right now” (Strohl). Although educated Americans had a laugh at Ford’s expense, working class Americans identified with him further as he wasn’t like other rich people they thought of.

Ford Runs for Senate and Destroys His Opponent’s Political Career

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson, knowing Ford’s pacifistic beliefs, urged him to run for the Senate. Wilson figured having the master automaker in his corner would greatly aid his bid for the League of Nations. However, there were a few problems. First, Ford only accepted on the grounds that he would not campaign personally. Second, his grasp of politics and the office he would hold was limited. Evidence for this included Ford’s testimony in the libel case as well as his pledge to as senator “serve the people of the United States, and the people of the world”, which demonstrated a misunderstanding of what his role would be as a senator (Felten). Third, another wealthy Michigander, Truman Newberry, also wanted the seat. Ford attempted to secure both the Democratic and Republican nomination, only succeeding in the former. Ford, offended that anyone would challenge him, was bitter over his Republican primary defeat and after a close race in which Newberry was elected after attacking Ford’s antisemitism and pacifism, he brought a legal case against him for spending too much money in the Republican primary and used his wealth to finance investigations into him. He also claimed that Jews were behind Newberry’s election. The legal case against him was that he knowingly exceeded a legal cap on campaign spending in the Corrupt Practices Act that applied to elections and primaries. Newberry was tried before a judge and jury sympathetic to Ford and was convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Newberry appealed his case to the Supreme Court, which struck down the conviction, holding 5-4 that the Corrupt Practices Act applied to state primaries was unconstitutional and found unanimously that the judge in the case issued erroneous instructions to the jury.

Newberry had his defenders, including the Republican statesman Charles Evans Hughes, who had represented him in the Supreme Court, and stated that the verdict against him was “as gross a miscarriage of justice as had ever come under my observation” (Felten). The Republican Senate majority conducted their own investigation and produced a report that exonerated Newberry, while the Democratic minority asserted in their report that Newberry was fully aware of the spending in his campaign. On January 12, 1922, the Senate voted to affirm that Newberry had been legally elected, but Ford would end up getting his way. The 1922 elections increased the number of Democrats and progressive Republicans in the Senate, who were opposed to Newberry and wanted to kick him out. He shortly thereafter resigned, not wanting to continue fighting to keep his seat. In Newberry’s place, Michigan’s governor Alex Groesbeck appointed James J. Couzens, who was subsequently elected. He had been vice president and general manager of Ford.

Henry Ford and Jews

Henry Ford had a unique animus towards Jews that became clear in the 1910s. In 1915, he made it clear that he blamed a group of German-Jewish bankers for the start of World War I.  Strangely enough, Ford had been influenced in his pacifism by Rosika Schwimmer, who was of Jewish descent.

In 1918, he purchased the newspaper The Dearborn Independent, but only two years later it badly needed to raise subscriptions, and Ford and his secretary Ernest G. Liebold came up with the idea of writing articles about Jewish conspiracies. Liebold conducted much of the research, but the writer for most of it was William J. Cameron, who wrote based on the opinions and ideas espoused by Ford. The most notable and attention-grabbing of these articles were formed into a four-volume series titled The International Jew. Henry Ford fully believed that the push for peace and spreading awareness of Jewish plots went hand in hand. He argued in The International Jew that “The Jew is a race that has no civilization to point to no aspiring religion… no great achievements in any realm… We meet the Jew everywhere where there is no power. And that is where the Jew so habitually… gravitate to the highest places? Who puts him there? What does he do there? In any country, where the Jewish question has come to the forefront as a vital issue, you will discover that the principal cause is the outworking of the Jewish genius to achieve the power of control. Here in the United States is the fact of this remarkable minority attaining in fifty years a degree of control that would be impossible to a ten times larger group of any other race… The finances of the world are in the control of Jews; their decisions and devices are themselves our economic laws” (Simkin).  The series attributed the Russian Revolution, control of the press, control of motion pictures, the corruption of baseball, Jazz, Tammany Hall’s corruption, the Federal Reserve, bootlegging, and influencing Benedict Arnold’s treason among other things to Jews. Consistent with Ford’s pacifistic views, articles in The Dearborn Independent did condemn incidents of violence against Jews but also claimed that Jews had provoked them.

In 1922, the four-volume series was translated into German, which inspired and influenced numerous Nazis, including Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Hitler Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach, the latter who attributed his antisemitism to the work. He stated, “We saw in Henry Ford the representative of success, also the exponent of a progressive social policy. In the poverty-stricken and wretched Germany of the time, youth looked toward America, and apart from the great benefactor, Herbert Hoover, it was Henry Ford who to us represented America” (Simkin, 2020). Hitler himself gave Ford two positive mentions in Mein Kampf.

The Second Libel Suit

In his first libel suit, Henry Ford was the plaintiff, but this time he was the defendant. Attorney Aaron Sapiro sued Ford for libel for making false accusations about him and his collective farming movement in California in The Dearborn Independent. William J. Cameron, the writer, claimed in court that Henry Ford had no input in the editorials, but according to academic Michael Barkun, “That Cameron would have continued to publish such controversial material without Ford’s explicit instructions seemed unthinkable to those who knew both men. Mrs. Stanley Ruddiman, a Ford family intimate, remarked that ‘I don’t think Mr. Cameron ever wrote anything for publication without Mr. Ford’s approval” (Barkun, 35). The lawsuit ultimately shut down The Dearborn Independent and resulted in a settlement that included a public apology and renunciation of anti-Semitic writings from Henry Ford. The result was important: Henry Ford, the nation’s leading anti-Semite, had been held accountable and forced to publicly apologize.

Ford and Nazi Germany

In 1938, Henry Ford accepted the award of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from German diplomats for his 75th birthday in Dearborn, Michigan. Allegations of Ford himself or headquarters being responsible for the use of slave labor in German Ford plants are false, as according to Professor Simon Reich, “By the time that slave labor was introduced, Fordwerke was clearly under the direct control of the Nazi government, though administered through the company headquarters in Cologne (albeit by Robert Schmidt)” (Jewish Virtual Library). The Cologne plant was still technically under American ownership but the Nazis pulled the strings, and Schmidt was an appointee of the Nazis.


Ford’s two central beliefs revolved around Jews and pacifism so naturally he regarded the former as the opposite of the latter. It is an irony most bitter and terrible that Ford believed that by exposing Jewish conspiracies he would make the world a more peaceful place. He stated to the New York World in 1919 that “International financiers are behind all war. They are what is called the international Jew: German-Jews, French-Jews, English-Jews, American-Jews… a Jew is a threat” (Simkin, 2020). In truth, his pushing of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories was an indirect cause of one of the world’s most horrible wars as The International Jew was among the foremost works that influenced the Nazis. When I started writing about Ford, I didn’t quite realize the scope of how much damage he did with his influence. This work, or more accurately, piece of work, continues to influence anti-Semites around the world.

The next post will be of an opposite figure in terms of education, shared Henry Ford’s goal of peace, and struggled with a different sort of prejudice: J. William Fulbright.


Admin, M. (2014, August 8). How to Prove Henry Ford is Dumb (In Court). Knowledge Nuts.

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How To Prove Henry Ford Is Dumb (In Court)

Barkun, R. (1996). Religion and the racist right: the origins of the Christian identity movement. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press.

Braswell, S. (2014, November 1). The Astonishing Ignorance of Henry Ford. OZY.

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Felten, E. (2018, November 27). History Lesson: Henry Ford Was the World’s Biggest Sore Loser. Washington Examiner. UNC Press.

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Grossman, R. (2015, December 11). Henry Ford, the Peace Ship, and four Chicago babies. Chicago Tribune.

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Reich, S. The Nazi Party: Ford Motor Company & the Third Reich. Jewish Virtual Library.

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Simkin, J. Mein Kampf: Nazi Germany. Spartacus Educational.

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Simkin, J. (January 2020). Dearborn Independent. Spartacus Educational.

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Strohl, D. (2018, January 14). Fact Check: What Henry Ford meant when he said “History is bunk”. Hemmings.

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The Expulsion Case of Truman H. Newberry of Michigan. U.S. Senate.

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The Confederates Who Had Political Careers…Outside of the Confederacy!

The modern talk about those who served in a political or military capacity for the Confederate side in the War of the Rebellion (yes, I use an alternative name for the Civil War and its accurate) is that they were traitors. Indeed, this reflects the view of many Radical Republicans in that day and age. However, President Grant was more forgiving and wanted national reconciliation, thus he allowed a significant number of people who had served on the Confederate side to serve. In 1872, Georgia’s voters elected Alexander H. Stephens to Congress, who was the Vice President of the Confederacy. The former Confederate states pretty much whenever they elected a Democrat were electing someone who had served in the Confederate government or served in the Confederate Army. Tennessee sent Isham G. Harris to the Senate, who had spearheaded the state’s exit from the union in 1861.

One of the more surprising developments, however, is states outside the Confederacy were electing former Confederates. Many of these were border states, in which loyalties had been divided. Kentucky’s, Missouri’s, Maryland’s, and West Virginia’s Democrats could have either sided with the Union or the Confederacy. However, most unusual is those who served in the Confederacy and served outside the Confederacy or border. These guys were:

Charles Thomas (D-Colo.), 1913-21.

Charles Thomas served in the Senate from 1913 to 1921, and as a native of Georgia had briefly served in the Confederate Army. Thomas was one of the more moderate Democrats and favored both Prohibition and women’s suffrage. He also opposed efforts at limiting extension of suffrage to only white women.

Atterson Rucker (D-Colo.), 1909-13.

Atterson Rucker served in the House from 1909 to 1913. Living in Missouri at the time of the War of the Rebellion, he was one of many Missourians who cast their lot with the Confederacy. His career ended when he lost renomination in 1912.

Rep. Thomas L. Glenn (P-Idaho), 1901-03.

A native Kentuckian, Glenn had lived in a bitterly divided state and he sided with the Confederates. In the 1890s he moved to Idaho and became active in the state’s politics, serving a single term in the House as a member of the Populist Party.

William A. Harris (P-Kan.), 1893-95, 1897-1903.

A native of Virginia whose father served in the House as a Democrat, William Harris fought on the Confederate side until the loss at Gettysburg, after which he knew the Confederates were beat and he deserted. In 1865, he moved to Kansas and worked as an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad. Harris eventually became active in the state’s politics, and joined up with the left-wing Populist Party, serving a single term in the House before being elected for a single term in the Senate from 1897 to 1903. He is the only Confederate veteran to have served in any significant political capacity in Kansas.

Thomas B. Catron (R-N.M.), 1912-17.

New Mexico’s first two senators were Albert B. Fall and Thomas B. Catron, both Republicans. The former became a corrupt Secretary of the Interior and the latter was a former Confederate. Catron had been a native of Missouri, and that state was bitterly divided, with him siding with the South. He rose to the rank of first lieutenant. However, after the Civil War he put on a new hat, becoming a Republican and moving to the New Mexico territory, where he learned Spanish and studied law. Catron became a powerful political force and major landowner in the territory and pushed hard for statehood. The reward for his efforts was election to the Senate, and there he aligned himself with the conservative wing of the GOP. However, in 1916 he lost renomination to a candidate who would lose the seat for the Republicans.

When State’s Rights Was Progressive

White-haired man with black coat

Although the term state’s rights is commonly associated with the political right in the United States and indeed most conflicts that have involved states vs. feds in recent years have had the right on the side of the states. However, this isn’t a rule and the earlier history of state’s rights proves it. The original advocates of state’s rights were Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democrats. The Federalists and Whigs believed in an active federal government to help the nation grow. This meant infrastructure projects such as bridges and canals so commerce could expand and permitting companies to form in multiple states. They viewed the federal government as a cooperative helper to business, not as a check on its power. The Federalists and Whigs were the supporters of the growth of corporations and the Jacksonians regarded state’s rights as a useful tool to combat such a growing power that Jackson and his supporters viewed as harming farmers and common laborers. The growth of the power and influence of corporations would reach its peak during the Gilded Age.

Jackson and the Second Bank of the United States

In 1819, the Supreme Court ruled in McCulloch v. Maryland that the Second Bank of the United States was constitutional by a 7-0 vote and that it could not be taxed by states. The political leaders of the state of Maryland had opposed the bank  and had passed a tax on all branches of banks that weren’t chartered by the legislature. The Second Bank was intended to help the growth of commerce, and Maryland sought to restrict it. Although Thomas Jefferson was the first major figure to espouse state’s rights, the official founding of the Democratic Party was under Andrew Jackson, a major proponent of state’s rights.

President Jackson and his supporters were deeply suspicious of concentrated economic power and took a dim view of the financial power of the Northeast. They opposed paper money as they believed it contributed to “a corrupting and demoralizing system that made the rich richer, and the poor poorer” (Remini, 127). Thus, only gold and silver coins were acceptable currency for them. They saw as the epitome of concentrated economic power in the Second Bank of the United States, a private institution created by Congressional charter to manage fiscal transactions for the U.S. government, with the federal government owning 20% of its capital. Jackson doubted the bank’s constitutionality and to make matters worse allegations abounded that the bank under its chief, Nicholas Biddle, had taken actions that favored John Quincy Adams in the 1828 election. Biddle was encouraged by Jackson’s supporters to select candidates from both parties as Bank of the United States officers, but he feared that using partisan balance as a criterion would inevitably detract from the quality of people who were officers of the bank.

Some of the opposition was based on fear of what federal authority on this issue could do to the institution of slavery. As future President John Tyler of Virginia, who would side with the Confederacy during the War of the Rebellion, warned, “if Congress can incorporate a bank, it might emancipate a slave” (Dangerfield, 98). As president, he would veto a proposed reconstitution of the Second Bank of the United States. Andrew Jackson was openly hostile, stating to a delegation of bankers discussing the reauthorization of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, “You are a den of vipers and thieves. I intend to rout you out, and by the eternal God, I will rout you out” (U.S. History).  In 1832, Bank President Nicholas Biddle and his allies in the Senate, Henry Clay of Kentucky and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, attempted to reauthorize the bank four years early to provide an election dilemma for President Jackson and to ensure the bank’s extension.

If Jackson signed reauthorization of the bank, it would please Pennsylvania voters but it would displease his farmer and laborer constituency and if he were to veto reauthorization it would cost him in New England and in Pennsylvania. Congress voted to reauthorize and a majority of his cabinet supported it, but as Jackson said to Martin Van Buren in response to these efforts, “The Bank is trying to kill me, Sir, but I shall kill it!” (U.S. History) Jackson vetoed the Bank Recharter Bill, and ordered deposits removed from the Bank and placed in state banks. Before the veto of the Second Bank of the United States, presidents saw it as their place to only veto legislation they believed unconstitutional, but Jackson used arguments in his veto message that were ideological and political as well as constitutional. He stated in his veto message, “The rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes…When the laws…make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers – have a right to complain of the injustice to their government” (Boissoneault). This set the precedent of presidents vetoing legislation they disagreed with and we haven’t looked back since. Jackson’s opposition, which controlled Congress at the time, was furious and passed a resolution censuring the president for “abuse of power”. In 1833, Biddle tried to reassert his power by constricting loans from the bank, which caused a mild economic downturn. Ultimately this power play didn’t help his case for extending the bank’s charter and in 1836 the Second Bank of the United States was ended. The economic repercussions of this wouldn’t be clear until after Jackson’s presidency, and his successor Martin Van Buren would take the political heat for it.

Jackson’s action against the commercial interests of the Northeast came to be greatly celebrated among Democrats for a long time and, along with his advocacy for working class people and farmers, resulted in them venerating Jackson with Jefferson as the greatest presidents. Indeed, it wasn’t until about the last twenty years that Andrew Jackson lost his spot on top ten lists for historians. His veto of the Second Bank also made him a pioneer of class politics and inspired future populist and progressive campaigns and planks, including that of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the first place was a response to the politics, economics, and social conditions of the Gilded Age. The Democratic Party at its start in the 1830s was, paradoxically to the eyes of the modern viewer, both for state’s rights and economically progressive.

Jackson, however, had his limits on state’s rights. He would not, for instance, permit South Carolina’s nullification of the Tariff of 1832 and used the navy to enforce it. He called anyone who would propose to secede from the United States a traitor and threatened the hanging of political leaders who tried it. Ultimately, Jackson signed into law a bill with lower tariffs. Tariffs, as I have written before, were until the 1970s understood as a position of the political right, as Americans for Democratic Action repeatedly counted votes for lower tariffs favorably in their legislative scorecards.

Historian Views on State’s Rights

Historian Michael Kazin (2017) writes, “The [Democratic] party’s founders in the 1830s believed that the federal government needed to stay out of most economic matters; but unlike conservative Republicans today, they did so because they thought that an interventionist government benefited the rich and well-connected”. Other progressives viewed state’s rights similarly…in 1927 Vernon L. Parrington, a left-wing literary historian, wrote with lament that the decline of state’s rights with the justified end of slavery opened the door to “the principle of capitalistic exploitation” (Genovese). In 1946, liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a founder of the left-wing Americans for Democratic Action lobbying group, wrote the Pulitzer prize winning The Age of Jackson, which celebrated Jackson as a hero for the working class and emphasized his and his coalition’s checking of the power of business. This was the basis FDR could justify his legacy as like that of Jackson despite his different approach. As historian Eugene Genovese (2001) writes, “…although we tend to think of federal intervention as “progressive” and the relegation of regulatory power to the states as “reactionary”, the historical record shows nothing of the sort. After the Civil War the federal government, notably the courts, smoothed the way for big-business combinations (“pools”, “Trusts”), and it was the states that initiated restrictions”.


The New Deal transformed Democratic politics in terms of means, but not ends. Likewise, the Republican Party’s true ideological ancestors were the Whigs and the Federalists, for they stood for making the United States an easier place to do business in. Their means changed…the federal government, rather than state governments, were used to check capitalism. Additionally, the context of the Democratic Party has changed. As I have written in the past, who they view as a common person has greatly expanded. Many modern pop perspectives on history place an immense emphasis on racial issues, which means the primary focus on Jackson regards the Trail of Tears and his status a slave owner who uncritically embraced the institution. These are undoubtedly factors of his presidency that should be talked about and ones that Arthur Schlesinger Jr., to his regret, completely ignored in writing The Age of Jackson. However, such a heavy emphasis can serve to remove from public consciousness significant historical issues that, were we to place more emphasis on them, would improve public understanding of history.


Boissoneault, L. (2017, March 23). Is Elizabeth Warren the Real Jacksonian on Capitol Hill? Smithsonian Magazine.

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Campbell, S.W. (2019). The bank war and the partisan press: newspapers, financial institutions, and the post office in Jacksonian America. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Dangerfield, G. (1965). The awakening of American nationalism: 1815-1828. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Genovese, E. (2001). Getting States’ Rights Right. The Atlantic.

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Kazin, M. (2017, August 10). The Two Andrew Jacksons. The Nation.

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Remini, R.V. (1984). Andrew Jackson and the course of American democracy, 1833-1845. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.

The War Against the Bank. U.S.

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