A History of America’s Most Infamous Hate Group

On December 24, 1865, six Confederate veterans founded a social club in Pulaski, Tennessee, inspired by the Sons of Malta. Initially they just engaged in initiations, ceremonies, and the like. This is how it stayed for a little while, but the question arose of what the purpose of the organization was. According to Albert Stevens (1907), “Beginning in April, 1867, there was a gradual transformation…The members had conjured up a veritable Frankenstein. They had played with an engine of power and mystery, though organized on entirely innocent lines, and found themselves overcome by a belief that something must lie behind it all – that there was, after all, a serious purpose, a work for the Klan to do”. They decided this purpose was to restore government under Southern whites and opposed carpetbaggers, scalawags (Southerners who supported Reconstruction), and politically active blacks. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was the organization’s first leader.

A depiction of early Klansmen who had planned to murder a family.


The first Klan was easily the most violent of the Klans, and disguised under their hoods (which were not the white uniform you think of) they engaged in intimidation, committed whippings, tortures, and lynchings against politically active blacks, carpetbaggers, and scalawags. Their crimes exceeded all those of the subsequent Klans combined and became a huge problem for Reconstruction governments, with murders committed by people identifying as the KKK in the thousands. Despite the KKK having “official” leaders, it never had a real centralized structure and by 1869 people identifying as Klansmen who engaged in terrorism went so far that Forrest officially disbanded it, but in keeping with the organization’s lack of a central structure, it continued to engage in such activities and was found by a federal jury to be a terrorist organization in 1870. Their acts provoked federal responses, such as the Force Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871, which permitted the president to suspend habeas corpus to fight the group. These were vigorously enforced and proved effective in destroying the first Klan.

Although the aims of the first KKK didn’t occur while they were active, what they wanted in the South ultimately occurred between 1877 and 1900. Additionally, although the Klan was ended, there were still violent paramilitary organizations with this aim in mind, such as the White League and the Red Shirts. These organizations declined once their goals were achieved. Some in the first Klan would go on to have political careers, including:


John Tyler Morgan – U.S. Senator and Grand Dragon of the Alabama KKK.
Joseph E. Brown – U.S. Senator, Georgia
John B. Gordon, U.S. Senator, Georgia, a founder of the organization in his state.
Edmund Pettus – U.S. Senator, also Grand Dragon of the Alabama KKK.
George Gordon – U.S. Representative from Tennessee, the first Grand Dragon for Tennessee, authored the group’s precept.


The Second Klan: The Most Successful (1915-1944)

See the source image

In the early 1900s, there were many changes occurring in the United States, including influxes of immigrants, urbanization, and a perceived lessening of social standards and fear of radicalism. In 1915, the film Birth of Nation showed in theaters and it was a highly popular albeit controversial film, which inspired the formation of the second Klan that year by William J. Simmons at Stone Mountain, Georgia. This Klan began the practice of wearing white hooded uniforms as well as cross burnings, which was an old Scottish clan practice. Simmons was ousted in 1922 and succeeded by Hiram Wesley Evans, a Texas dentist who in the previous year had led a group of Dallas Klansmen who kidnapped black bellhop Alexander Johnson, gave him twenty five lashes, and burned “KKK” on his forehead with acid for having relations with a white woman. The case was not prosecuted as many community leaders, including the sheriff, were Klansmen themselves. However, Evans as leader publicly discouraged vigilante activity as he realized it got the KKK bad press.


The Klan initially grew under Evans and he emphasized 100% Americanism, which in his view meant white and Protestant. His description of the Klan was:


“1. This is a white man’s organization. 2. This is a gentile organization. 3. It is an American organization. 4. It is a Protestant organization” (Rice).

Strangely enough, the Klan for a short time even branched out into Canada, emphasizing, along with being white and Protestant, “Britishness”. However, although this incarnation of the Klan was the least violent it was also prone to vigilantism. The Dallas KKK was in particular known for its violence. The most common act was flogging people at night for “moral offenses”, with most of the people targeted being fellow white Protestants. As a political organization, they had some successes as their pushes against Catholic and Jewish influence and immigration resonated among many voters. This Klan was nationwide and supported people from both parties…their politics were neither on the whole conservative or progressive and they appealed to both parties to grow their organization. The Klan also engaged in activities that got them good press such as charity drives, summer camps for children, donations to churches, and raising money for Protestant hospitals (Rothman). They had their greatest successes in the states of Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas. These included:


. Electing fellow Klansman Earle B. Mayfield to the Senate in 1922.
. Electing Clifford Walker Georgia’s governor in 1922, who would be revealed as a Klansman in 1924.
. Electing Klansmen Rice Means to the Senate in 1924 and Clarence Morley governor in Colorado. The latter pushed to exclude all non-Protestants from teaching at the University of Colorado and to ban sacramental wine.
. Electing Governor Owen Brewster in Maine in 1924. Although Brewster never publicly endorsed the Klan, he never condemned them either.
. Electing in Indiana ally Edward Jackson as governor and Klansman Arthur Robinson to the Senate.
. Electing Oregon’s Walter Pierce governor in 1922 and as well as having the Speaker of the Oregon House, Kaspar K. Kubli (that’s right, KKK was his initials), as a Klan member. They supported a law that banned private schools, which had the purpose of ending Catholic schools and was overturned by the Supreme Court. Pierce lost the organization’s support after backing Robert La Follette for president in 1924.
. Electing Alabama Klansman Hugo Black to the Senate in 1926, who succeeded vocally anti-Klan Oscar Underwood.
. Getting Republican leaders, including Calvin Coolidge, not to condemn them by name in 1924. Despite Coolidge opposing many Klan platforms and opposing the Klan itself, not publicly calling them out by name, supporting Prohibition, and signing into law the Immigration Act of 1924 was sufficient for them to back the Republican ticket that year. Additionally, the 1924 Democratic convention was so divided between pro and anti-Klan people that it became known as the “Klanbake”. Although the platform contained no condemnation of the KKK, compromise nominee John W. Davis did so himself.


These successes were helped by people who joined them as a means of social networking as in many communities social leaders joined the organization as one that promoted Protestant values. Fryer and Levitt (2012) state of the second Klan, “Rather than a terrorist organization, the 1920s Klan is best described as a social organization with a very successful multilevel marketing structure fueled by an army of highly incentivized sales agents selling hatred, religious intolerance, and fraternity in a time and place where there was tremendous demand”. In the North, the KKK placed its emphasis on anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism rather than anti-black racism, which remained an emphasis in the Southern Klans. By 1925, the organization had 4 million members.


These successes, however, were short lived. The organization was getting more and more backlash from the vigilante violence, corruption surrounding the organization, and moral hypocrisy from its leaders. Its politicians were also losing reelection to anti-Klan candidates: Governor Brewster, Senator Means, and Senator Mayfield lost renomination, and Governor Clarence Morley lost reelection thanks in part to his incompetent and corrupt administration.

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The Crime That Ended the Indiana Klan and Weakened the National Klan


D.C. (David Curtiss) Stephenson was one of the most prominent and ambitious Klan leaders, leading the Indiana Klan, which became a force in itself in the organization. He was an effective leader whose efforts had helped elect Edward Jackson governor, got a quarter million people as members in the state, and had managed to influence legislation on various subjects. However, he had a dark side that was exacerbated by his drinking problem. He was prone to violence while drunk and had physically attacked his first wife. In 1926, he was arrested for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of school teacher Madge Oberholzer. Oberholzer had been beaten, ravished, and raped by Stephenson, who had bit her everywhere. He told her after the rape, “You must forget this, what is done has been done, I am the law and the power” (Abbott). Oberholzer subsequently poisoned herself with mercury and died. A prosecutor not involved with the Klan, William Remy, indicted Stephenson. He was convicted of kidnapping, rape, and second-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Governor Edward Jackson’s career fell along with Stephenson, as he aired his dirty laundry when Jackson wouldn’t pardon him.

This scandal as well as others badly harmed the Klan and wrecked it in Indiana. By 1928, membership had dropped to 4,000. Stephenson would be released in 1950. The Klan’s membership after the 1920s would primarily be in the South and even there it would be in decline: by 1930 Alabama’s KKK would be down to 6000 members. The organization had increasing money troubles and in 1939 Evans resigned. There were still sporadic incidences of violence surrounding the Klan in the South, including the murders of a young white couple they caught on a lovers lane as well as a white barber who was beaten to death for drinking in Atlanta. In 1944, the organization was unable to pay its taxes and folded.


The Third Klan: The Least Successful and Popular One (1946-present)

See the source image


In 1946, Atlanta physician Samuel Green founded the third and final incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the one we know of today and it focused on opposition to civil rights and communism. This Klan used violence specially targeted at blacks, most notoriously the 1964 murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi, the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham which killed four girls, and the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. There were numerous bombings of black homes at this time. They saw some gains in membership in the 1950s and 1960s, but this growth was limited to the South. Legal action on a federal level and FBI infiltration helped bring the organization into decline. However, there still were acts of violence from Klan members, such as the killings of five communist protestors in 1979 in Greensboro, North Carolina and the lynching of black nineteen-year old Michael Donald in 1981.


The most successful figure in this period was arguably David Duke. Duke had been a member of the American Nazi Party in his younger years and had once been Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan who had tried to make the organization have a more respectable appearance. After running for office as a Democrat, he switched to Republican in 1988, claiming that he was a born-again Christian and that he had renounced racism and anti-Semitism. With this official stance, he managed to win a seat in the Louisiana House. Duke tried to run for the Senate in 1990 and managed to win the Republican nomination for governor in 1991 as a product of a three-way primary race among them. The Republican leadership did not support Duke, and he lost badly to incumbent Edwin Edwards.

The KKK remains a fringe organization that has at most a few thousand members nationwide but is nonetheless a most potent symbol of hatred and the first thing people think of when they think of a racist organization.


References


Abbott, K. (2012, August 30). “Murder Wasn’t Very Pretty”: The Rise and Fall of D.C. Stephenson. Smithsonian Magazine.


Retrieved from


https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/murder-wasnt-very-pretty-the-rise-and-fall-of-dc-stephenson-18935042/


Fryer, R.G. & Levitt, S.D. (2012, November 9). Hatred and Profits: Under the Hood of the Ku Klux Klan. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 127(4).


Retrieved from

https://academic.oup.com/qje/article-abstract/127/4/1883/1842770?redirectedFrom=fulltext


Gruberg, M. Ku Klux Klan. The First Amendment Encyclopedia.


Retrieved from


https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1191/ku-klux-klan


Miller, T. (October 2020). The First Black Dentist in Texas. D Magazine.


Retrieved from


https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/2020/october/the-first-black-dentist-in-texas/


Rice, A.S. (1962). The Ku Klux Klan in American Politics. Public Affairs Press.


Rothman, J. (2016, December 4). When Bigotry Paraded Through the Streets. The Atlantic.


Retrieved from


https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/second-klan/509468/


Stevens, A.C. (1907). The Cyclopædia of Fraternities; a compilation of existing authentic information and the results of original investigation as to more than six hundred secret societies in the United States. New York City and Paterson, New Jersey: Hamilton.

The Other Disney: Wesley Disney of Oklahoma

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Although images of Mickey Mouse, fairy-tale princesses, and Walt Disney himself are conjured in the mind when the word “Disney” is heard, Oklahoma has its own Disney, Wesley Ernest Disney (1883-1961) of Tulsa. The 1930 election was a great one for the Democrats, as they won 52 seats in the House as well as control of the chamber in response to the start of the Great Depression, and one of these gains was in Oklahoma’s 1st district (Tulsa), a swing seat that had switched between Republicans and Democrats since the 1914 election. Disney defeated the incumbent Republican, Charles O’Connor, by less than half a percentage point, but unlike his predecessors, he would stick around.

Disney had made a splash previously as an Oklahoma legislator. Representing Tulsa, he had a background as a “tough on crime” prosecutor and thus prosecuted Governor Jack C. Walton on impeachment charges which were initiated partly in response to his illegal suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Tulsa County in 1923; any state official suspending habeas corpus was explicitly prohibited by the Oklahoma Constitution. Walton had been engaging in numerous measures to beat back the Ku Klux Klan for reasons that were at least as much if not more political than moral, including martial law for Tulsa and Okmulgee counties. Indeed, the Klan’s influence and membership had been growing in Oklahoma partly in response to rising crime and tensions that had been growing from a major increase and urbanization in population as well as widespread suspicion by whites of blacks and other non-whites that they were radicals. The worst product of this tension was the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, in which a group of whites targeted the black population, which included arson, murder, and even aerial bombings. The death toll is disputed, with 39 officially confirmed dead (26 black, 13 white), but it is possible that 75 to 300 people were killed. The business section of the Greenwood district of Tulsa (which was the black district) was destroyed as well. This was the context of the rise of the Oklahoma KKK, which since its founding in 1920 developed a particularly nasty reputation for violence, which included numerous nighttime floggings for people who didn’t meet the Klan’s standards of moral conduct as well as some murders. Although they were without doubt racist and targeted minorities with racial motivation, most of their attention was on enforcing morality for their fellow white Protestants. Disney’s efforts against Walton, who had imposed martial law on the entire state after impeachment charges were initiated against him, were successful. He was convicted on eleven of twenty-two impeachment charges, including graft, incompetence, and abuses of parole and pardon powers. The Oklahoma Senate had voted unanimously on some of them, and he was removed from office on November 19th. Disney subsequently urged the passage of a strong anti-mask law against the Klan to refute plausible accusations that the legislature was Klan-dominated, but the result was a watered-down law from what he had proposed. By 1928, however, the Klan had become irrelevant in Oklahoma’s politics.

Disney began his career in Congress as a progressive, being a staunch foe of President Herbert Hoover and proving a strong supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. He, as did other Oklahoma Democrats save for Senator Thomas Gore, regarded the New Deal as good for the state’s farmers. However, as numerous rural Democrats did, he began having second thoughts about Roosevelt during his second term and after the 1938 midterms became a foe of the New Deal. Disney was something of a representative of how Oklahoma was changing as a state: at the time of its foundation in 1907, it was a strongly progressive state that had one of the strongest state Socialist parties, which was able to win nearly one and five votes with regularity. However, by 1920 the Socialist Party lay in ruins due to its opposition to American participation in World War I. Although it made a minor comeback during the Great Depression, this was quite temporary and would be overshadowed by a long-term rise in right-wing politics. Disney’s progressivism had turned into conservatism and he was a rather extreme example of how some Democrats shifted from favoring the New Deal to becoming opposed to it: in the 73rd Congress (1933-35) he scored an 8% on the MC-Index while in the 78th Congress, Disney was voting like a conservative Republican, scoring an 87% on the MC-Index. His lifetime score was a 41%. Disney’s turn was also observed in other legislators and among the state’s electorate. Even Roosevelt’s friend and supporter in the Senate, Elmer Thomas, scored a 53% on the MC-Index in the 78th Congress, and in the 1942 Senate election, New Deal loyalist Josh Lee had lost reelection by ten points to ultra-conservative Republican oilman Edward H. Moore. Disney also voted against civil rights legislation in his time in office, opposing two anti-lynching bills and the 1942 bill banning the poll tax.

Wesley Disney’s political transformation, plotted using MC-Index scores.

He was a staunch foe of price control during World War II, voting against the 1942 price control bill as well as voting to limit controls once implemented. In 1943, he battled the Roosevelt Administration on the October 3rd presidential order on wage freezes and managed to successfully alter it. The policy changed to freezing them at their highest rate from January 1st to September 15th, 1942 rather than prohibiting wage increases save certain exceptional circumstances.

In 1944, Disney tried to oust Senate incumbent Elmer Thomas in the Democratic primary, running as an anti-Roosevelt “state’s rights Democrat”, calling for the return of many functions assumed by the federal government to the states. Roosevelt campaigned for Thomas’s renomination, and Thomas prevailed. Disney never ran for office again, being succeeded by ultra-conservative Republican George B. Schwabe. For the remainder of his life, he pursued a successful lobbying career and continued practicing law.

References

Hanneman, C.G. Disney, Wesley Ernest. Oklahoma Historical Society.

Retrieved from

https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=DI009

Langeveld, D. (2016, January 3). Jack C. Walton: general incompetence versus Invisible Empire. The Downfall Dictionary.

Retrieved from

http://downfalldictionary.blogspot.com/2016/01/jack-c-walton-general-incompetence.html

O’Dell, L. Ku Klux Klan. Oklahoma Historical Society.

https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=KU001

Is America a Christian Nation?

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As perhaps the loneliest Christmas in living memory approaches for many, the whole “War on Christmas” seems to be rather muted given all the hubbub surrounding Biden’s upcoming inauguration and Trump’s continuing truculence on the election results and of course the depressing reality I mentioned. Given that this time of the year is upon us, I am covering a topic I have been keen to discuss, and that is the relationship of America and Christianity. Particularly the question, is America a Christian nation? Some groups and people have answers for this question:


Americans United for Separation of Church and State holds, “The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, and in Article VI, which prohibits “religious tests” for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian” (Americans United for Separation of Church and State).


The 1517 blog, which is explicitly Christian, states, “A person, not a nation, can be a Christian because only a person can be saved by grace through faith in the work of Christ” (Voorhis).


Professor Mark David Hall (2011), writing for The Heritage Foundation, holds, “Christian ideas underlie some key tenets of America’s constitutional order. For instance, the Founders believed that humans are created in the image of God, which led them to design institutions and laws meant to protect and promote human dignity. Because they were convinced that humans are sinful, they attempted to avoid the concentration of power by framing a national government with carefully enumerated powers. As well, the Founders were committed to liberty, but they never imagined that provisions of the Bill of Rights would be used to protect licentiousness. And they clearly thought moral considerations should inform legislation”.


It is also important for us to think about what this question means. Does it mean that the United States was founded on Christian principles and should thus morally operate on said principles? Does it mean that the people of the United States are Christian? Does it mean national customs and traditions are Christian? Additionally, we must consider how much value this has in an increasingly pluralistic society.


Some pieces of evidence have been accumulated for the “yes” and “no” position here. These are, starting with the “yes” position:


People v. Ruggles (1811) (New York State Supreme Court Decision) states, “the people this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity” (Barka).


Updegraph v. Commonwealth (1824) (Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Decision) states, “Christianity, general Christianity, is, and has been, a part of the Common Law of Pennsylvania…” (Barka)


Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer declared in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (1892) that America was a “Christian nation”. In 1905, he published The United States: A Christian Nation, a series of lectures which used historical examples and official references to Christianity, but held that the United States wasn’t a Christian nation in the sense that it had an official religion or that the government pushes people to be Christian.


Article I, Section VII of the Constitution reads, “If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law” (Barka).


Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland stated in United States v. Macintosh (1931), “We are a Christian people, according to one another the equal right of religious freedom, and acknowledging with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God” (Barka). The central finding of this decision was overturned in 1946, but there was no comment on this sentence.


As for the “no” position:


The 1797 treaty with Tripoli states that the United States “is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”.


Thomas Jefferson’s famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists includes this sentence: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” (Jefferson).


Opponents of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution condemned it as a “godless” document, as it lacked and still lacks reference to God.


Certain important Founding Fathers were Deists, as opposed to Christians, and the way others practiced religion wouldn’t be recognized today.


A few words on some of the evidence presented:


The Jefferson letter is widely considered one of the most powerful pieces of evidence for the notion of a strict secularist approach to government. This letter has been cited in over 50 Supreme Court cases, and in Reynolds v. United States (1878) the Supreme Court declared the “wall of separation” was “almost an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect” of the Establishment Clause. However, there are those in the legal community who have argued that this letter has been misused to further a secularist agenda, including the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Potter Stewart. Additional controversy on the matter came when in 1998 the Library of Congress released an analysis of the letter by James H. Hutson, chief of the library’s manuscript division, which stated, ”The Danbury Baptist Letter was never conceived by Jefferson to be a statement of fundamental principles; it was meant to be a political manifesto, nothing more” (Goodstein).


The judicial decisions can be said to be opining on the state of the American people and possibly the motives of the Founders themselves, but not necessarily holding that the United States is in any legal sense a Christian nation.


The Tripoli treaty seems quite good as a legal document but the language can also be interpreted as diplomatic language to ensure the Muslim nation of Tripoli that religious differences are of no relevance.

For the “Sundays Excepted” provision, why mention Sundays excepted unless regarded as an exceptional day? Sunday is of course the Christian day of rest, and at the time there were numerous laws prohibiting travel and business transactions among states and towns in the young nation. While it can be said that the reason for such laws existing and Sunday thought of as a day of rest is based in widespread Christian belief and practice, the provision in the Constitution is an acknowledgment of society as it existed then. The colonists of the young United States were approximately 98% Protestant, with most of the remainder being Catholics (Hall, 2011). Thus, those who would be thought of as citizens of the United States were almost entirely Christian. The cultural traditions and customs that exist are also based in Christianity. That Easter and Christmas are recognized as public holidays is evidence of the Christian heritage of the United States, but the “Sundays Excepted” provision does not indicate any more than an accommodation of common legal and business practices. There in fact are better things in the Constitution to cite if one is looking for Christian influence. For instance, the Founders’ negative views on human nature influenced the “checks and balances” structure of American Constitutional government, which is itself influenced by the Bible. In Federalist No. 51, James Madison wrote “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external or internal controls on government would be necessary” (Hall, 2011).


What is to be said here? America is and isn’t a Christian nation. America is not a Christian nation in the sense that Christianity is an established religion, the government compels people to practice Christianity, or that the Constitution favors Christianity over other religions and that this was the intent of the Founders. It is a Christian nation in the common morality, culture, and traditions of its people. It can also be said that Christian belief influenced the founding of the United States as it heavily influenced the Founders’ mistrust of human nature (hence separation of powers and checks and balances) and that few of them were as unorthodox as Jefferson and Franklin in their beliefs. As Professor Hall (2011) writes, “These individuals, without exception, called themselves Christians, and a good case can be made that many were influenced by orthodox Christian ideas in important ways”.


This argument is made as well in broad strokes by Barry Alan Shain in The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought. It also receives interesting empirical support from Donald Lutz, who examined 15,000 pamphlets, articles, and books on political subjects published in the late 18th century. His study found that the Bible was cited far more often than any other book, article, or pamphlet. In fact, the Founders referenced the Bible more than all Enlightenment authors combined” (Hall). Additionally, Thomas Jefferson himself stated on religion, “Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious disciple, has been delegated to the General [i.e., federal] Government. It must then rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority” (Hall). However, this may not mean agreement with the notion that America’s founding had inspiration in Christianity. As historian John Fea writes, “Just because John Adams and George Washington quoted from the Bible or made reference to God does not mean that they were trying to construct a Christian nation. Granted, the Founding Fathers were the products of a Christian culture, but most of them were never comfortable with the beliefs that defined this culture. Very few of them would qualify for membership in today’s evangelical churches” (Fea).


Even with the affirmative answer common morality, culture, and tradition it is less so than it used to be. America is considerably less Christian than when Justice Brewer wrote about America being a Christian nation over 100 years ago and far less than at the time the Constitution was ratified. Demographically, 65% of Americans today are Christian if the definition applies to Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons. 26% are unaffiliated, 2% are Jews, and 1% each are Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. Robert Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State goes as far as to say about the 19th century, “the unpleasant truth is that nineteenth-century America was a mild form of Protestant theocracy. In this period, Protestantism was America’s de facto established religion” (Barka).


American Christians are painfully aware of the decline in belief, and the challenge presented for them is not the single digit percent populations of other religions rather the whopping 26% of those who don’t identify with a faith. While the umbrella known as Christianity is still the majority, the second largest group is the unaffiliated, which means atheism, agnosticism, or some belief in a higher power independent of religion has a significant minority…they even outnumber Catholics. These people are more likely to go for a “freedom from religion” as opposed to a “religious freedom” perspective and support a strict secularism based on an expansive interpretation of the “wall of separation” in Jefferson’s letter. The American people of today are dealing with a document and traditions that come from a time in which the country was extremely Protestant, so we must consider how a more plural nation ought to address the country’s Christian heritage.


References


Barka, M.B. (2011). The Christian Nation Debate and the U.S. Supreme Court. European journal of American studies, 6(2).


Retrieved from


https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/8882


Fea, J. Is America a Christian Nation? What Both Left and Right Get Wrong. History News Network.


Retrieved from


http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/42835


Goodstein, L. (1998, September 10). Fresh Debate on 1802 Jefferson Letter. The New York Times.


Retrieved from


https://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/10/us/fresh-debate-on-1802-jefferson-letter.html


Hall, M.D. (2011, June 7). Did America Have a Christian Founding? Heritage Foundation.

Retrieved from


https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/did-america-have-christian-founding#_ftn3


Is America A Christian Nation? Americans United for Separation of Church and State.


Retrieved from


https://www.au.org/resources/publications/is-america-a-christian-nation


Jefferson, T. (1802, January 1). Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists. Library of Congress.


Retrieved from


https://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html


Voorhis, D.V. (2019, August 14). Is America A Christian Nation? 1517.


Retrieved from


https://www.1517.org/articles/is-america-a-christian-nation

Wartime Price Controls: Economic Restrictions in a State of Emergency

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Although there hasn’t been a manifestation of voting on national COVID-19 economic restrictions as these have been governor and local authority dictates, conservative opposition to strong and lengthy restrictions on business has manifested itself here on the state level, through protests, and through presidential tweets. This opposition to strong and lengthy restrictions on business reminded me of the imposition of economic controls during World War II. After all, if you think about it, humanity is in a war against COVID-19 and everyone is de facto drafted in the effort against it. Price controls, as well as national conservative opposition to them, manifested during World War II and in the post-war period.

In 1942, Congress passed the Emergency Price Control Act, establishing the Office of Price Administration (OPA) as an independent agency, which had been previously created by President Roosevelt. The purpose of this law was to prevent high inflation due to the economic circumstances of wartime, which would require vast levels of military spending. The fear of inflation was that it would lessen consumer spending and be particularly disadvantageous to working class American families. This passed the House on January 26th by a vote of 289-114, with Democrats breaking for 220-23 and Republicans breaking against 68-87. The Senate passed it the next day 65-14, with Democrats breaking for 48-6 and Republicans 15-8. Nearly all the Democrats who voted against were from rural areas, as the prices of agricultural commodities would be artificially capped. The legislation was far better received in the Northeast, with the entirety of New England, Republicans and Democrats alike, voting for it with the sole exception of Senator George Aiken of Vermont, who had been a non-interventionist. Its reception, however, was most hostile in the Midwest. The OPA also imposed rationing in response to shortages on certain goods that were caused by war. These included sugar, coffee, rubber, and tin. Efforts to curb price control would gain a great deal of support from Republicans in the next Congress, including proposals by Congressman Everett Dirksen, one of only two Illinois House Republicans to vote for the original price control legislation, to reduce funds for the Office of Price Administration and to subject price control to judicial review. Some supporters of price control urged it beyond wartime and immediate postwar conditions and argued that a release of such controls would serve to jack up prices again. The OPA ultimately came to an end on May 29, 1947.

The subject of price control, as I have written about before, ultimately was the greatest deciding factor of the 1946 midterms that briefly catapulted Republicans back into a legislative majority, specifically as it applied to meat. The Korean War once again brought price controls to the United States, this time through a body called the Wage Stabilization Board, which ultimately came to an end with President Dwight Eisenhower’s executive order abolishing it on February 6, 1953. Unlike COVID-19 controls, price controls were subjected to numerous votes in Congress, some of the most critical ones I have listed here, including with vote breakdowns to show how the parties voted. This information comes from Govtrack as well as my own research into Congressional Quarterly.

Key Votes on Price Control During World War II and Immediate Aftermath, House

1. Price Control Bill

This was the initial price control proposal in the face of impending war for the United States.

Passed 224-161: D 166-64; R 56-93; P 0-3. FL 0-1, I 1-0, A 1-0, 11/28/41.

2. Recommit Price Control Bill

Motion to recommit the bill setting price controls, striking authorization for the OPA to issue and revoke licenses and to reinstate a board of review.

Defeated 189-210: D 36-203; R 149-6; P 3-0; FL 1-0, I 0-1, 1/26/42.

3. Conference Report on Price Control Bill

Passed 289-114: D 220-23; R 68-87; P 0-3; FL 0-1; I 1-0, 1/26/42.

4. Cut Funds for Office of Price Administration

Rep. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) amendment, reducing funds for the OPA from $165 million to $130 million.

Passed 185-147: D 26-135; R 156-11; P 2-0; FL 1-0; ALP 0-1, 6/18/43.

5. Limit Food Price Controls

Rep. Harry Sauthoff (Progressive-Wis.) amendment, providing that no part of the appropriation be employed for price control over any food commodity that has yet to reach parity, nor for any commodity that isn’t a necessity.

Passed 229-105: D 63-101; R 163-3; P 2-0; FL 1-0; ALP 0-1, 6/18/43.

6. Limit Oil Price Controls

Rep. Wesley Disney (D-Okla.) amendment, providing that in the setting of parity prices for crude oil, consideration be given to the necessity of drilling for oil.

Defeated 178-204: D 61-121; R 116-80; P 0-2; FL 1-0; ALP 0-1, 6/14/44.

7. Judicial Review of Price Control

Rep. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) amendment, providing for judicial review for price controls.

Passed 206-181: D 63-122; R 142-56; P 0-2; FL 1-0; ALP 0-1, 6/14/44.

8. Profit Margin Amendment to Price Control Bill

Rep. George Bates (R-Mass.) amendment, providing that Office of Price Administration price ceilings must allow a profit margin in each category of livestock products.

Passed 249-123: D 87-120; R 161-2; P 1-0; AL 0-1, 6/23/45. 

9. Judicial Review Amendment to Price Control Bill
Rep. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) amendment, permitting judicial review of Office of Price Administration enforcement actions.

Passed 200-164: D 47-154; R 153-8; P 0-1; AL 0-1, 6/23/45.

10. Price Control Extension

Passage of the bill extending the Office of Price Administration’s authority to impose price ceilings.

Passed 255-94: D 176-15; R 77-79; P 1-0; AL 1-0, 6/23/45. 

11. Terminate Price Controls on March 31, 1947

Rep. Jesse Wolcott (R-Mich.) amendment, ending price controls on March 31, 1947.

Adopted 209-189: D 45-171; R 164-16; P 0-1; AL 0-1, 4/17/46.

12. Account for Costs and Profit in Price Control

Rep. Jesse Wolcott (R-Mich.) amendment, requiring price controls must be based on current costs of production and processing and permitting a margin for reasonable profit.

Adopted 260-137: D 88-126; R 172-9; P 0-1; AL 0-1, 4/17/46.

13. End Price Controls on Livestock

Rep. James Wadsworth (R-N.Y.) amendment, ending price controls on livestock immediately.

Defeated 172-223: D 44-170; R 128-51; P 0-1; AL 0-1, 4/17/46.

14. End Food Subsidies December 31, 1946

Rep. Jesse Wolcott (R-Mich.) amendment, ending food subsidies on December 31, 1946.

Adopted 245-151: D 77-137; R 168-12; P 0-1; AL 0-1, 4/17/46.

15. End Meat Subsidies

Rep. John Flannagan (D-Va.) amendment, ending meat subsidies promptly.

Adopted 214-182: D 79-134; R 135-46; P 0-1; AL 0-1, 4/17/46.

16. Recommit Price Control Bill

Rep. Ross Rizley (R-Okla.) motion to recommit the extension of the authority of the Office of Price Administration to control prices, ending all controls on livestock, meat, and dairy products immediately.

Defeated 151-220: D 31-162; R 119-57; P 1-0; AL 0-1, 6/25/46.

Senate

  1. Price Control Bill

Passed 65-14: D 48-6; R 15-8; I 1-0; P 1-0, 1/27/42.

  1. “Little Steel” Formula

Sen. Joseph Ball (R-Minn.) proposed to authorize wage increases by as much as 15% over rates paid on January 1, 1941.

Defeated 12-69: D 1-56; R 11-11; I 0-1; P 0-1, 9/30/42.

  1. Require Congressional Reauthorization for Food Subsidies Past June 30, 1945

End food subsidies June 30, 1945, unless authorized by Congress.

Passed 50-22: D 21-22; R 27-0; P 1-0, 6/5/44.

  1. Increase Parity Oil Prices Before Control Applies

Boost oil price ceiling by $0.35 per barrel.

Defeated 25-42: D 16-24; R 9-17; P 0-1, 6/9/44.

  1. Price Ceiling for Agricultural Products

Sen. Alben Barkley (D-Ky.) amendment, making unlawful maximum prices resulting from processing of any agricultural commodity including livestock which doesn’t equal all costs and expenses plus reasonable profit.

Adopted 36-31: D 29-7; R 6-24; P 1-0, 6/11/45.

  1. Fix Price Control – Dollar Margins Over Cost to 1939

Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio) amendment, providing for fixing maximum prices the same dollar margin over cost received for commodities in 1939.

Rejected 26-41: D 1-35; R 25-5; P 0-1, 6/11/45.

  1. Price Control – Costs and Reasonable Profit for Agriculture

Sen. Kenneth Wherry (R-Neb.) amendment, require inclusion in maximum price fixed for producers of livestock, grain, or other agricultural commodity, all costs and expenses plus a reasonable profit.

Adopted 37-29: D 10-25; R 27-3; P 0-1, 6/11/45.

  1. Increase Meat and Flour Subsidies

Amendment to the Office of Price Administration extension, increasing meat and flour subsidies for fiscal 1947.

Passed 44-33: D 34-9; R 9-24; P 1-0, 2/27/46.

  1. Reduce Funds for the Office of Price Administration

Passed 45-25: D 17-21; R 28-3; P 0-1, 2/27/46.

  1. Limit Price Control to Costs of Products for October 1941

Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio) amendment, requiring that maximum prices be set on manufacturers and processors be based on the cost of the product for the base period of October 1-15, 1941.

Adopted 44-29: D 16-25; R 28-3; P 0-1, 6/12/46.

  1. Maximum Prices Based on Costs and Profits

Sen. Kenneth Wherry (R-Neb.) amendment, requiring that maximum price established for distributors, wholesalers, and retailers shall be based on current costs of acquisition in addition to prewar markup.

Adopted 42-25: D 18-20; R 24-5, 6/13/46.

  1. Extend Price Control, No Changes

Sen. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) amendment, extending price control with no amendments.

Rejected 17-52; D 16-25; R 1-27, 6/13/46.

  1. No Price Ceilings on Food

Sen. Elmer Thomas (D-Okla.) amendment, prohibiting price ceilings on livestock, poultry, eggs, or food or feed products from any agency.

Defeated 25-51: D 7-38; R 18-12; P 0-1, 7/9/46.

  1. Decontrol Meat, Poultry, and Eggs

Sen. Kenneth Wherry (R-Neb.) amendment, prohibiting price ceilings on meat, poultry, and eggs from the Office of Price Administration.

Adopted 49-26: D 18-25; R 31-0; P 0-1, 7/9/46.

  1. End Federal Rent Control in States That Established Rent Control

Sens. William Knowland (R-Calif.) and Homer Ferguson (R-Mich.) amendment, ending federal rent controls in states where rent control has been established.

Passed 59-20: D 27-19; R 31-1; P 1-0, 7/11/46.

  1. Use 1940 Prices Plus Cost Increases for Price Control

Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio) amendment, allowing the use of 1940 prices plus cost increases since then in determining price controls.

Defeated 40-40: D 9-37; R 31-2; P 0-1, 7/11/46.

What we see here is a mixed Republican view on whether price control should exist at all in war and in immediate post-war conditions and most of them wanted restrictions on price controls to make them easier for business to handle. The conservative proposals constituted a mostly market approach to wartime economics. This is a similar line to how Republicans have reacted to COVID-19, although I would argue that opposition to wartime controls were far more justified than opposition to mask-wearing. Price and rent controls are widely panned as policies by economists, although some make exceptions for wartime and others make exceptions for healthcare. OPA supporters defended the organization by pointing out that prices only increased in World War II by 31% rather than how they did in World War I, by 62%. However, there is no doubt that a substantial black market formed in response, including a substantial rise in cattle rustling and under-the-table dealings, especially on meat and gasoline. The rationing stamp program also proved to be overly complicated and getting the right food with the right government-issued stamps could mean going to multiple stores to buy dinner. There was also significant adulteration of products advised by the OPA that lowered their quality in the name of maintaining low prices. Keeping businesses open with certain safety restrictions seems to be the maximum the mainstream conservative position for the pandemic goes and it is possible that with the incoming Biden Administration we will start to see Congressional votes surrounding such restrictions, depending on how long the vaccines take to distribute and how far Biden is willing to take the use of executive power.

References

Higgs, R. The Two-Price System: U.S. Rationing During World War II. Foundation for Economic Education.

Retrieved from

https://fee.org/articles/the-two-price-system-us-rationing-during-world-war-ii/

Office of Price Administration. Encyclopedia.com.

Retrieved from

https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/united-states-and-canada/us-history/office-price-administration

Urgent Deficiency Appropriation, 1946. CQ Almanac.

Retrieved from

https://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/document.php?id=cqal46-1410506

“Wild Bill” Langer: Eccentric and Corrupt Maverick


In politics, there are those who fall because of one error and there are those who survive despite words or actions that would doom the careers of most politicians. Until the 2020 election, the latter seemed to be how it was for President Donald Trump. The same goes for another figure of a different time and persuasion, William “Wild Bill” Langer (1886-1959) of North Dakota. A theme I like to come back to on my blog now and again is that the Great Depression was a time in which the people turned to unconventional figures for help. Many of them were Democrats, but Langer was a Republican, albeit not your average Republican.


Langer’s career began with the Non-Partisan League faction of the GOP, which was the progressive wing that sometimes experimented with socialism. From 1916 to 1920 he served as North Dakota’s attorney general where he aggressively enforced the state’s Prohibition law. He gained some notoriety in this role for, as among other things, he “led a posse against illegal liquor stores, commandeered telephone lines during a vice raid, censured 275 North Dakota schools for failing to display the American flag, been blamed for the suicide of a former attorney general, and escaped impeachment by one vote” (U.S. Senate). Langer had greater ambitions and had a bit of a break with the faction as he accused its founder, Arthur C. Townley, of practicing “Bolshevism” and tried to defeat its candidate, Lynn Frazier, for the gubernatorial race in 1920. Frazier would be the first governor in history to successfully be recalled the following year, but this wouldn’t prevent him from winning a Senate seat in 1922. Langer’s turn would come in 1932, when the state was in dire straits being nearly broke, farmers were losing their farms in foreclosures, and the staple crop of wheat’s price had fallen below production. He in response cut state budgets while imposing a suspension of foreclosures and imposing an embargo on the shipment of beef and grain out of the state. For the latter two acts, he used the National Guard to enforce them. The enforcement of the embargo was subsequently declared unconstitutional by a federal court. Langer, like the other unconventional governors of the Great Depression I have covered, abused his power.


The Contribution Scheme


Governor Langer’s relationship with the Roosevelt Administration was testy, as he criticized the New Deal for not going far enough in his eyes. He solicited state employees to contribute 5% of their salaries to the Leader, his newspaper. This was legal at the time, but what was not legal was soliciting federal employees in the state to do so as well. Langer was indicted, and in his defense no one contributed to the paper who didn’t want to. The timing of the indictment was considered suspect as it occurred a short time before the Republican primary, as was the matter in which the indictment was conducted: the first jury declined to indict and the second jury was made up largely of people opposed to Langer and the NPL, with the judge being an old rival. However, Langer took $12,000 from the funds to his newspaper and placed them in his bank account. He was convicted, and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment requiring him to leave office. Game over, right? Wrong.


Langer appealed his conviction to the state Supreme Court, in which they ruled 4-1 he was disqualified from office. He proceeded to barricade himself in his office, declared martial law, and deployed the National Guard to surround the capitol. Langer’s supporters remained steadfast in support, and they demonstrated in Bismarck chanting “We want Langer” (Kerzman). He even tried seceding from the United States as he drew up a declaration of independence for North Dakota and got 26 of his supporters to sign. However, one of the justices got word of this and visited Langer, managing to convice him that his secession plan wouldn’t work and that he needed to resign office. He resigned office, gave the nomination for the 1934 gubernatorial race to his wife Lydia, and continued to fight his conviction. Lydia Langer lost in a three-way race to Democrat Thomas Moodie, who soon had to resign himself as it was discovered he did not satisfy the five-year residency requirement to be governor. In his second trial in 1935, the jury deadlocked, with a 10-2 vote for conviction. In his third trial he was acquitted.

The Comeback


In 1936, the people of North Dakota again elected Langer governor, this time as an Independent. Two years later, he ran for the Senate against Gerald Nye but lost as Nye himself was popular at the time as well. In 1940, Langer defeated Lynn Frazier for his Senate seat in the GOP primary and won a three way race. However, ethics complaints from a group of North Dakota voters made their way to a Senate committee. The committee that investigated the corruption charges against him found that as a lawyer he on one occasion kidnapped his own client from jail, took him and his ex-wife across state lines, and convinced her to remarry him so she couldn’t testify as a witness against him in a murder case. Langer promised to handle the divorce for free after the case concluded, but he never followed through, which she found out nine years later when she tried to remarry. The committee ruled 13-3 that Langer was unfit to be a senator and should be expelled, finding “gross impropriety, lawlessness, shotgun law enforcement, jail breaking, violation of oath as an attorney, rabble rousing, breach of the peace, obstruction of the administration of justice, and tampering with court officials” (Langeveld). They recommended he be expelled based on poor moral character, but the majority of senators felt it wasn’t their place to deny the will of the people of a state, even if they elected a corrupt man. The majority also reached the conclusion that the charges against Langer were widely known by the North Dakota voters and they had voted for him anyway. The proposal to expel him was defeated.


Langer was a staunch foe of FDR’s foreign policy, voting against the Lend-Lease Act and arming merchant ships. Although he supported the war effort after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, his non-interventionist views didn’t cease after World War II. Langer politically proved to be holdover from a time past for the remainder of his career. He voted against the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan while being one of the most progressive Republicans on domestic issues, opposing the Republican 80th Congress on most of their economic agenda and supported continuing New Deal policies. Langer’s lifetime MC-Index score is a 33%, which is unusually low for a Republican. He was also one of only three senators to oppose US participation in the UN. The other two were Hiram Johnson of California who paired against it and died shortly after and Henrik Shipstead of Minnesota who voted against on principle while realizing it would cost him his political career. Shipstead would indeed lose renomination in 1946, while the voters of North Dakota happily reelected Langer.

Langer was known for his eccentricity while in the Senate such as his backing, on the request of black organizations that supported the Garveyite “Back to Africa” movement, a bill to expatriate black settlers to Liberia. He was a bitter critic of Winston Churchill and filibustered the nomination of Earl Warren to the Supreme Court. Langer also lobbied West Germany High Commissioner John J. McCloy to commute the sentence of Martin Sandberger, an SS officer who had been sentenced to death for his role in committing massacres of Jews as part of the Einsatzgruppen. Langer thought that only the high-ranking Nazis should be tried as a matter of American legal tradition. Sandberger’s sentence was commuted and he was released in 1957. In 1950, he filibustered against overriding President Truman’s veto of the Internal Security Act until he collapsed despite having initially supported the bill.


In 1954, Langer voted against censuring Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. This was an odd vote given Langer’s opposition to the Internal Security Act and his opposition to red-baiting, but in truth it was returning a favor: McCarthy had campaigned enthusiastically on his behalf in 1952 when a conservative threat to his renomination was present. He was also a staunch supporter of civil rights legislation and in 1956 he tried to get the administration’s voting rights proposal to the Senate floor, but the Senate delayed consideration until the next year to avoid it becoming an election issue. In 1958, Langer ran for reelection despite his failing health as a result of advanced diabetes. He did not make a single campaign appearance on account of attending to his also ailing wife, and won reelection. However, Langer was not long for this world and died only a year after winning reelection.


Sometimes to attain a status I refer to as “political immortality”, you must do something that voters either view as a great act (or acts) of conscience or have helped the voters in a profound and unforgettable way. William “Wild Bill” Langer of North Dakota was a bit lacking in the former, but he came through in spades on the latter. The fact that many farmers in North Dakota credited him with saving their farms during the Great Depression helped him survive political crises that would have done in most politicians.


References


Kerzman, K. (2018, January 2). The time a ND governor was convicted of a felony, refused to leave office and declared martial law. InfoForum.


Retrieved from


https://www.inforum.com/community/4381812-time-nd-governor-was-convicted-felony-refused-leave-office-and-declared

Langer, William (1886-1959). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.

Retrieved from

Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | LANGER, WILLIAM (1886-1959) (unl.edu)


Langeveld, D. (2015, March 8). William Langer: breaking away. The Downfall Dictionary.


Retrieved from

https://downfalldictionary.blogspot.com/2015/03/william-langer-breaking-away.html

Plummer, B.G. (1996). Rising wind: Black Americans and U.S. foreign affairs, 1935-1960. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.


Retrieved from


https://books.google.com/books?id=M4eEkAbYTTUC&pg=PA108&lpg=PA108

William Langer Expulsion Case. U.S. Senate.


Retrieved from

https://www.senate.gov/about/powers-procedures/expulsion/123WilliamLanger_expulsion.htm

William Langer. North Dakota Studies.


Retrieved from


https://www.ndstudies.gov/gr8/content/unit-iv-modern-north-dakota-1921-present/lesson-4-alliances-and-conflicts/topic-2-two-party-political-system-guy/section-3-william-langer

Louis Ludlow: An Independent Journalist in Congress

Louis Ludlow - Wikipedia

After covering Washington D.C. as a correspondent for multiple newspapers over 28 years, Louis Ludlow (1873-1950) decided that Congress needed a change: him. Despite Herbert Hoover both winning the presidential election in 1928 in a landslide and having coattails, the Democrat Ludlow upset Republican Ralph Updike for reelection in an Indiana district that typically voted Republican. Updike, who had KKK support, had himself upset establishment Republican Merrill Moores in the 1924 election. Ludlow’s victory was in part a rebuke of the Klan. He was more prepared for Congress than the usual freshman given his background and his entry was more than welcome by his fellow members.

After the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 he was often at odds with him and was one of the most skeptical of House Democrats of the time. Although supportive of work relief, Ludlow voted for Republican substitutes that placed work relief on a state level. He also opposed the National Industrial Recovery Act and many of the public works projects backed by FDR on grounds of fiscal conservatism. Ludlow was disturbed by the increasing centralization of government and high spending, but he was only sometimes an opponent of the Roosevelt Administration: he was largely supportive of its agricultural policy, often backed public power, and was always opposed to legislation that weakened organized labor. Additionally, his views on states didn’t extend to civil rights: he backed federal penalties for lynching and the abolition of the poll tax. In 1939, he delivered a speech before Congress titled “Why I am a Jeffersonian Democrat” and he stated, “In my estimation, Jefferson was the greatest humanitarian since Jesus of Nazareth…The beauty of the Jeffersonian philosophy is that it fosters comradeship. It makes brothers of you and me and all of us. It teaches us that we should manifest an interest in people not for the purpose of exploiting them, but to assist them to higher and happier levels of living…” (Davidson). Ludlow’s independence was quite popular in his district and as fellow Indiana Democrats were gradually losing reelection to Republicans, he remained. However, his reelection bids were often close given how Republican his district was and in 1942 he won by less than a point.

If Ludlow’s domestic views could run against Roosevelt sometimes, his foreign policy views did so much more: he was one of the most non-interventionist Democrats in Congress and during the 1930s he proposed what is now known as the Ludlow Amendment. If ratified, this amendment would require a national referendum for war unless the US was invaded or its citizens attacked from within. Ludlow was not the first person to come up with this idea: the idea had first been proposed in 1914 and both the 1924 Democratic and Progressive Party platforms had versions of this proposal. In 1938, the proposal started gaining steam and President Roosevelt was so concerned with it he felt the need to write a letter to Congress, which read,

“I must frankly state that I consider that the proposed amendment would be impracticable in its application and incompatible with our representative form of government.

Our Government is conducted by the people through representatives of their own choosing. It was with singular unanimity that the founders of the Republic agreed upon such free and representative form of government as the only practical means of government by the people.

Such an amendment to the Constitution as that proposed would cripple any President in his conduct of our foreign relations, and it would encourage other nations to believe that they could violate American rights with impunity.

I fully realize that the sponsors of this proposal sincerely believe that it would be helpful in keeping the United States out of war. I am convinced it would have the opposite effect” (U.S. Department of State).

This was enough to prevent the Ludlow Amendment as it fell far short of the votes necessary to discharge it from committee, failing on January 10, 1938 on a vote of 188-209. Although this proposal has been reintroduced from time to time, it has not received a vote of any sort since. Ludlow’s views were motivated by how he viewed World War I as well as the Nye Committee hearings. He would subsequently vote against the Neutrality Act of 1939 (which weakened neutrality), the peacetime draft, Lend-Lease, and the 1941 revision of the Neutrality Act permitting merchant ships to arm themselves, enacted mere months before Pearl Harbor. With wartime, however, brought greater cooperation between Ludlow and the Roosevelt Administration as he started voting in a more liberal direction. By the Truman Administration, his voting was mostly in line with urban Northern Democrats. In the postwar period, Ludlow pushed for the banning of the atomic bomb and proposed the creation of a Department of Peace. He had given up on his signature amendment, but expressed regret that it was not ratified, “Looking backward, I cannot escape the belief that the death of the resolution was one of the tragedies of all time. The leadership of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth might have deflected the thinking of the world into peaceful channels. Instead, we went ahead with tremendous pace in the invention of destruction . . . I cannot help thinking what might have been” (Simins).

Of all members of Congress, voters found him the most interesting as he received by far the most mail of any member in his time, averaging 200 letters a day, for which Ludlow with some staff assistance answered all inquiries. His lifetime MC-Index score is a 41%.

In 1946, Ludlow contracted a nasty case of pneumonia and was unable to attend the remainder of the session nor the first session of the next Congress. Although he returned for the second session, he reached the conclusion that it was best to retire. Accolades and tributes poured in from colleagues from both sides of the aisle after his announcement of retirement, and after leaving Congress he resumed work as a correspondent. Ludlow had served ten terms and never suffered a defeat. He died on November 28, 1950, less than two years after leaving Congress.

References

Davidson, A.A. (1980). Louis L. Ludlow. Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

Retrieved from

Simins, J.W. (2020, January 14). “A Solemn, Consecrated Act of the People Themselves:” Rep. Louis Ludlow and the Power to Declare War. Indiana Historical Bureau.

Retrieved from

U.S. Department of State. (1943). Peace and war: United States foreign policy, 1931-1941. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 400-402.

Retrieved from

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/interwar/ludlow.htm

On America First…Committee

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/48/America_First_Committee.jpg

On Monday, the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor passed with little notice or fanfare. The generation that remembers this day of infamy is dying off and will not too far from now will have left living memory completely. All we will have are what was written, recorded, filmed, and photographed. I take this time to examine the America First Committee, the central organization that tried to keep us out of World War II.

Throughout the 1930s the world was becoming an increasingly dangerous place as the Great Depression took its toll globally. As Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, and Tojo in Japan grew ever more aggressive, the American people and their elected officials wanted to stay out of the conflicts as they didn’t view it as in their interests to send American soldiers to die in foreign battlefields. On April 12, 1934, the Nye Committee was formed, chaired by Senator Gerald Nye (R-N.D.), who attacked what he called the “Merchants of Death”. In 1935, as the committee was still ongoing, Congress passed the first of its Neutrality Acts, which imposed an embargo on trade of arms with all parties engaging in war. The two subsequent acts strengthened the original act, but the pressure was increasing on the international front for action from the United States and other actors to counter aggression. The committee issued its final report in 1936, which found that profits for arms dealers was a major contributor to World War I. Nye himself called for the abolition of war profits. However, with the invasion of Poland, President Roosevelt sought to weaken the Neutrality Acts, which he did late in 1939 by lifting the arms embargo. He would go further in the next year.

On September 2, 1940, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed to a “Destroyers-for-bases deal” that violated the Neutrality Acts and arguably the Constitution as this monumental agreement bypassed the Senate, whose authority it is to approve treaties. The administration traded 50 naval destroyers for 99-year rent free leases on seven naval or air bases and rights on two more. Despite the violation of the Neutrality Acts, impeachment was not coming as it was right before an election and the deal was overwhelmingly favorable to the US. Two days later, the America First Committee was founded by R. Douglas Stuart Jr., a 24-year old student at Yale Law School. Future President Gerald Ford, future vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver, and future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart were among the Yale students who joined him. Future President John F. Kennedy also supported the America First Committee and contributed $100 to it. Robert E. Wood, chair of Sears-Roebuck and retired brigadier general, became the organization’s chair and certain other prominent people joined it as well including Nye Committee advisor and author John T. Flynn, Chicago Tribune head Robert R. McCormick, businessman William H. Regnery, and silent film star Lillian Gish.

The America First Committee listed four guiding principles:

The United States must build an impregnable defense for America. No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America. American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European war. “Aid short of war” weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad (Simkin).

The AFC publicly opposed the peacetime draft of 1940 and especially the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, the latter which made it clear beyond any doubt that the US was no longer neutral in World War II as it allowed the United States to lend or lease war supplies to any nation regarded as in the interests of US defense (read: Britain). Interestingly, the CPUSA also initially sided with the America First Committee on the war and tried to infiltrate it and turn it into a communist front group. However, after Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, they did an about face and accused the committee of being a Nazi front. The Communist Party only supported American involvement in World War II right after the Nazis double-crossed the USSR.

Vox’s Libby Nelson (2016) wrote, “America First has become historical footnote partly because it was a lost cause — interventionists decisively won the debate about World War II after Pearl Harbor — but also because anti-Semitism in the US became much less socially acceptable after the scope of the Holocaust was fully known.”

This implies that AFC was an anti-Semitic group, which was a portrayal that the Roosevelt Administration was quite eager to go with and Vox quite eager to emphasize those smaller elements that tried to glom on to the wider non-interventionist movement. Indeed, the Roosevelt Administration’s officials could nut pick certain people who would show up at rallies who were indeed vocal anti-Semites such as Joe McWilliams, but people like McWilliams were not the bulk of the over 850,000 people who joined up. John T. Flynn said of him when he saw him in an America First crowd, “The America First Committee is not crazy enough to want the support of a handful of Bundists, Communists, and Christian Fronters who are without influence, without power, and without respect in this or any other community. Just because some misguided fool in Manhattan who happens to be a Nazi, gets a few tickets to this rally, this meeting of American citizens is called a Nazi meeting. And right here, not many places from me, is sitting a man named McWilliams. What he is doing here, how he gets in here, whose stooge he is, I do not know, but I know the photographers of these war-mongering newspapers can always find him when they want him” (Troy).

It is true that Father Charles Coughlin supported the AFC and urged listeners to become members and that Henry Ford was a supporter, but they didn’t define the movement nor were they allowed to be members of the AFC. The AFC itself in fact sought caution with the issue of anti-Semitism and did so in their refusal to associate with the professional anti-Semite Minister Gerald L.K. Smith, who at the time was attracting some support for his non-interventionist views and even testified before Congress against Lend Lease. In April 1941, however, they brought on famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, as he was a talented speaker who attracted crowds and membership. However, Lindbergh wrote his own speeches and did so without editorial oversight. Additionally, he had already had some public image baggage surrounding the Nazi regime. In 1936, he and his wife were special guests of Hermann Goering at the Berlin Olympics and he twice more visited Germany to inspect the Luftwaffe (while secretly submitting reports to the US government). Lindbergh was impressed by the militarization of the Nazis and reached the conclusion that no country could stand against them. In 1938, he was awarded the Service Cross of the German Eagle by Goering for aviation. Lindbergh viewed this as just another award, while many viewed it as an endorsement of the Nazi regime. He and his wife even planned to move to Germany before Kristallnacht occurred.

The worst PR moment for the America First Committee came on September 11, 1941, when their spokesman, Charles Lindbergh, said the following in his speech, “Who are the war agitators?” in Des Moines, Iowa (I have bolded the troubling parts):

The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.

Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that the future of mankind depends upon the domination of the British empire. Add to these the Communistic groups who were opposed to intervention until a few weeks ago, and I believe I have named the major war agitators in this country.

I am speaking here only of war agitators, not of those sincere but misguided men and women who, confused by misinformation and frightened by propaganda, follow the lead of the war agitators.

As I have said, these war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence. Against the determination of the American people to stay out of war, they have marshaled the power of their propaganda, their money, their patronage.

Let us consider these groups, one at a time.

First, the British: It is obvious and perfectly understandable that Great Britain wants the United States in the war on her side. England is now in a desperate position. Her population is not large enough and her armies are not strong enough to invade the continent of Europe and win the war she declared against Germany.

Her geographical position is such that she cannot win the war by the use of aviation alone, regardless of how many planes we send her. Even if America entered the war, it is improbable that the Allied armies could invade Europe and overwhelm the Axis powers. But one thing is certain. If England can draw this country into the war, she can shift to our shoulders a large portion of the responsibility for waging it and for paying its cost.

As you all know, we were left with the debts of the last European war; and unless we are more cautious in the future than we have been in the past, we will be left with the debts of the present case. If it were not for her hope that she can make us responsible for the war financially, as well as militarily, I believe England would have negotiated a peace in Europe many months ago, and be better off for doing so.

England has devoted, and will continue to devote every effort to get us into the war. We know that she spent huge sums of money in this country during the last war in order to involve us. Englishmen have written books about the cleverness of its use.

We know that England is spending great sums of money for propaganda in America during the present war. If we were Englishmen, we would do the same. But our interest is first in America; and as Americans, it is essential for us to realize the effort that British interests are making to draw us into their war.

The second major group I mentioned is the Jewish.

It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race.

No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.

Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.

Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.

I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.

We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.

The Roosevelt administration is the third powerful group which has been carrying this country toward war. Its members have used the war emergency to obtain a third presidential term for the first time in American history. They have used the war to add unlimited billions to a debt which was already the highest we have ever known. And they have just used the war to justify the restriction of congressional power, and the assumption of dictatorial procedures on the part of the president and his appointees.

The power of the Roosevelt administration depends upon the maintenance of a wartime emergency. The prestige of the Roosevelt administration depends upon the success of Great Britain to whom the president attached his political future at a time when most people thought that England and France would easily win the war. The danger of the Roosevelt administration lies in its subterfuge. While its members have promised us peace, they have led us to war heedless of the platform upon which they were elected.

In selecting these three groups as the major agitators for war, I have included only those whose support is essential to the war party. If any one of these groups–the British, the Jewish, or the administration–stops agitating for war, I believe there will be little danger of our involvement.

I do not believe that any two of them are powerful enough to carry this country to war without the support of the third. And to these three, as I have said, all other war groups are of secondary importance. (Lindbergh)

 The Roosevelt Administration was without doubt pushing for intervention on the side of Britain and one of the groups of Americans that supported it most were Jews, as most of them were supporters of Roosevelt. However, the same could have been said for Southern Democrats and they were not included as among the groups pushing for war, even though people and politicians from the South were among the Roosevelt Administration’s strongest supporters on foreign policy and were far larger in number than Jews in America or in Congress. Although Lindbergh clarified that he was not attacking the British or Jews, singling them out gives rise to anti-Semitism and makes them seem like a power that rivals the US and British governments in power and influence. He should have restricted his attacks to the Roosevelt Administration and Britain, although that would wreck the three-pronged approach of his speech. Worse yet was his bit that largely echoes the anti-Semitic canard about Jewish control of the media. Lindbergh’s speech was a gift to the Roosevelt Administration and was widely condemned by political and religious leaders in America. The America First Committee’s official response was defensive and weak, denying anti-Semitism on Lindbergh’s part and claiming that their critics had inserted the issue. This response can be seen in the light that the leaders were tired of being associated with the craziest people who sought to support them by the Roosevelt Administration and others.

By this point, however, AFC was already declining as more and more Americans were getting convinced that the events of the world were going to come to their doorstep. On December 7, 1941, they did with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Although the America First Committee died on December 10, 1941, the committee and its supporters arguably did achieve something: the preservation of the lives of many American soldiers. Leading non-interventionist Representative Hamilton Fish III recounted to Studs Terkel in a 1985 interview, “I’d led the fight for three years against Roosevelt getting us into war. I was on the radio every ten days. I stopped him until he issued this ultimatum. That is the greatest thing I did do in my life. He would have gotten us into the war six months or a year before Pearl Harbor. We would have been fighting those Germans, plus probably the Russians, because they made a deal with them. Every American family owes an obligation to me because we would have lost a million or two million killed. That’s the biggest thing I ever did, and nobody can take it away from me” (Simkin, 1997).   

Pat Buchanan (2004) echoed this defense thusly, “The achievements of that organization are monumental. By keeping America out of World War II until Hitler attacked Stalin in June of 1941, Soviet Russia, not America, bore the brunt of the fighting, bleeding and dying to defeat Nazi Germany. Thanks to America First, no nation suffered less in the world’s worst war”. We also were in a better starting position for the Cold War than the USSR, which suffered tremendous military casualties.

The truth is, that without Germany committing troops against the USSR first, US intervention in the war would have been quite unwise. By holding off until attacked first, the US gained indisputable moral legitimacy in entering the conflict while sparing our troops from the brunt of the casualties and the America First Committee played its part in delaying American entry into the war.

References

Arnold, L. (2014, May 12). Robert D. Stuart Jr., Quaker Oats chief and founder of America First, dies at 98. The Washington Post.

Retrieved from

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/robert-d-stuart-jr–quaker-oats-chief-and-founder-of-america-first-dies-at-98/2014/05/12/0b01cc4c-da07-11e3-bda1-9b46b2066796_story.html

Buchanan, P.J. (2004, October 13). The Resurrection of ‘America First!’. The American Cause.

Retrieved from

http://www.theamericancause.org/patamericafirst.htm

Carlson, C. (2013, September 12). This week in history: Lindbergh gives infamous ‘Who are the war agitators?’ speech. Deseret News.

Retrieved from

https://www.deseret.com/2013/9/12/20525433/this-week-in-history-lindbergh-gives-infamous-who-are-the-war-agitators-speech

Lindbergh, C. (1941, September 11). “Des Moines Speech”.

Retrieved from

http://www.charleslindbergh.com/americanfirst/speech.asp

Nelson, L. (2016, September 1). “America First”: Donald Trump’s slogan has a deeply bigoted backstory. Vox.

Retrieved from

https://www.vox.com/2016/7/20/12198760/america-first-donald-trump-convention

Simkin, J. (1997). America First Committee. Spartacus Educational.

Retrieved from

https://spartacus-educational.com/USAfirstC.htm

Troy, G. (2016, September 4). When America Rejected its Homegrown ‘Joe McNazi’. Daily Beast.

Retrieved from

https://www.thedailybeast.com/when-america-rejected-its-homegrown-joe-mcnazi

Howard W. Smith: The Great Obstructionist

https://historycms2.house.gov/uploadedImages/People/Listing/S/S000554.jpg

People from both parties can complain about those who don’t vote with their interests often enough, but as I’ve covered before, in the past there was far more reason for partisans to complain than now. For Democrats, one of these reasons was a single member of Congress, Howard W. Smith (1883-1976) of Virginia.

Elected to Congress in the wake of the Great Depression in 1930, Smith, like most Democrats, was at least initially friendly to the New Deal. However, he was never enthusiastic about progressive policies and by 1935 he was starting to turn against it, as evidenced by his votes against work relief bills and other key New Deal measures. In 1937, he played a leading role in blocking a wage and hour bill, delaying it until 1938. By 1939, Smith, a member of the powerful Rules Committee, was a key member of the Democratic part of the Conservative Coalition.

In 1940, Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed into law his bill, the Smith Act. This criminalized advocating for the violent overthrow of the United States and was clearly aimed at the Communist Party. Smith, as did many other Southerners, fought civil rights legislation and was one of the leaders of the opposition to the 1937 Gavagan-Wagner Anti-Lynching bill. He also led the way on legislation to restrict the power and influence of labor unions, which he thought had grown too strong under Roosevelt, especially the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Smith accused the Roosevelt Administration of favoritism to the CIO and held hearings on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 1940. Although Smith managed to get legislation passed in the House to alter the NLRB that year, the Roosevelt Administration was able to persuade the Senate to kill it while changing the composition of the board to placate him and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1943, with Senator Tom Connally (D-Texas) he sponsored the War Labor Disputes Act to counter wartime strikes, which passed over President Roosevelt’s veto. Ironically, this act would first be invoked in stopping the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Employees Union sick-out strike, which was in response to the Fair Employment Practices Committee ordering the Philadelphia Transportation Company to hire black workers. FDR ended the strike by sending 6,000 troops to operate transportation and threatened striking workers with being drafted if they didn’t return to work in 48 hours.

Post-War Years

Although Smith initially cooperated somewhat with the Truman Administration, particularly during the 80th Congress, he became one of its strongest opponents on the Democratic side after the 1948 election. During the 80th Congress, he participated in the crafting of the Taft-Hartley Act, which in several respects weakened the Wagner Act of 1935 to restrict the power of unions. In 1952, he proposed using the Taft-Hartley injunction over a steel strike instead of President Truman’s action of taking over the steel plant. Although the Democrats temporarily lost control of Congress that year, the 1954 election brought them back and Smith was in line for the chairmanship of the Rules Committee. As chair, he worked with Republicans to block much of the Democratic Party planks, including policies on housing, labor, and education. He was commonly known as “Judge Smith”, referring to his position before serving in Congress. In 1957, Smith managed to kill a federal aid to education measure and he was also able to delay Alaska statehood by a year. He was also active in trying to block civil rights bills, and in one instance he cited a barn burning down on his farm to delay consideration.

Smith’s alliance with Minority Leader Charles Halleck (R-Ind.) starting in 1959 proved a great frustration to the national Democrats, so much so that in 1961, Speaker Sam Rayburn pushed for a curb on his power by adding three new members to the committee, two Democrats and one Republican. This measure was even officially backed by President Kennedy and ultimately narrowly passed. However, its impact was minor and in 1963 the House again passed a measure to expand the Rules Committee. This one was more successful as in this Congress some significant legislation passed, including a bill for aiding medical education, the Kennedy Tax Cut, the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Economic Opportunity Act, the latter which survived an attempt of Smith to kill it. He notably contributed to the Civil Rights Act in an odd way: he proposed covering sex as a protected class. Although some viewed the proposal as a joke to try to wreck the bill and many thought that he didn’t care about women’s rights, in truth he was supportive of women’s rights as he had supported the Equal Rights Amendment in the past and was an ally of Alice Paul. Smith would of course rather not have a Civil Rights Act at all, but if one was going to be passed no matter what he’d rather have sex as a protected class than not for white women. Accounts of this inclusion being an accident ignore a behind the scenes campaign for it by the NWP (National Women’s Party).

The number of liberals in the Great Society Congress was also too much for him to counter, and in his final term he was not effective in obstruction. What ultimately did him in politically was what he had tried to stop: civil rights. With the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 black voters could now effectively vote in the Democratic primaries in the South, and Smith was among the first segregationists to go. He was, at the age of 83, defeated in 1966 by the liberal George C. Rawlings Jr., who would lose the election to Republican William Scott.

Should Democrats feel the need to complain about people in their party not being committed enough, they ought to remember they have had it a LOT worse in the past given that Smith was not only more conservative than any Democrat serving in either chamber of Congress today but that he also served in a position with the power of life and death over legislation. 

References

Dierenfield, B. (2014, June 5). Howard W. Smith (1883-1976). Encyclopedia Virginia.

Retrieved from

https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Smith_Howard_Worth_1883-1976

McQuiston, J.T. (1976, October 4). Ex-Rep. Smith Dies at Home in Virginia. New York Times.

Retrieved from

Osterman, R. (2009). Origins of a Myth: Why Courts, Scholars, and the Public Think Title VII’s Ban on Sex Discrimination Was an Accident. Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 20(409).

Retrieved from

Dueling in America: A National Scourge

Dueling in America was a means of settling manners of honor among men who were said to possess “honor”. In 1777, a document was published called the Code Duello, which outlined 26 rules for dueling, and these rules were followed by the participants; the price for not doing so was a loss of honor. In 1838, South Carolina Governor John Lyde Wilson wrote and published an updated version. Usually upon an offense the offended party would send a challenge to duel through a second, and if the offender apologized that was usually the end of the matter. However, if the offender accepted the challenge, the challenged party would pick the weapons, time, and place of the duel. Each party had a “second”, and this second was usually a friend who would serve as an intermediary and try to stop the duel. Up until combat started an apology could be delivered and accepted with the matter settled. Additionally, the duel could end at any time if honor was found to be “satisfied”. Usually but not always flintlock pistols were the weapons used and people rarely actually died in duels using these weapons given accuracy issues and that these pistols often misfired. Under these circumstances, participants had three seconds to aim before the matter became dishonorable. Despite various authorities, religious and political, trying to end the practice of dueling including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, this practice continued for the antebellum period of American history.


Some famous duels:

Swartwout vs. Clinton (1802)


Offense: John Swartwout charged New York Senator DeWitt Clinton with trying to ruin his friend Aaron Burr’s reputation with his rhetoric. Clinton refused to apologize.

Outcome: Clinton wins. Swartwout is wounded but still wants to fight, Clinton walks off after having shot him twice, unwilling to shoot at a wounded man.


Burr vs. Hamilton (1804)

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b7/Hamilton-burr-duel.jpg
1902 illustration of what the Burr-Hamilton duel supposedly looked like.


Offense: This is perhaps the most famous duel of them all. Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr were bitter rivals and Hamilton’s defamation of Burr’s character in the 1804 gubernatorial race in New York (which he lost) was the final straw. Burr demanded satisfaction.


Outcome: Burr wins as Hamilton is mortally wounded and dies the next day. He is indicted for murder and although he is acquitted, his reputation is ruined and his political career is over.


Jackson vs. Dickinson (1806)


Offense: Tensions build up between Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson over a horse race involving him and Dickinson’s father-in-law. Jackson demands satisfaction after Dickinson called him a “poltroon and a coward” in a newspaper article (Parton, 292).


Outcome: Despite Dickinson shooting him in the chest, Jackson manages to take aim and shoot Dickinson, killing him. Jackson wins.


Clay vs. Marshall (1809)


Offense: Kentucky House Speaker and future senator and presidential candidate Henry Clay calls for members of the Kentucky Assembly to only wear American-made suits while wearing a suit that is less fancy than he normally wears. Fellow legislator Humphrey Marshall, who likes wearing imported suits, doesn’t respect this gesture and wears a British imported suit to the assembly. The two men get into a furious argument with insults exchanged. Clay challenges Marshall to a duel.


Outcome: Both Clay and Marshall are slightly wounded.


Jackson vs. Benton (1813)


Offense: Andrew Jackson was said to have not handled his duties as a second in another duel well, and Thomas Hart Benton wrote so to him. Jackson and Benton wrote a series of escalating angry letters until Jackson challenged Benton.


Outcome: A duel that’s supposed to be orderly becomes a brawl, but Benton wins as Jackson is badly wounded and soaks two mattresses with blood. He miraculously does not die and Benton becomes one of Jackson’s foremost political supporters and best friends. On his deathbed in 1845, Jackson dictated a farewell message to him.


Decatur vs. Barron (1820)


Offense: Admiral Stephen Decatur condemns James Barron’s conduct in the Chesapeake-Leopold Affair of 1807 while opposing his reinstatement in the navy.


Outcome: Decatur is killed.

Clay vs. Randolph (1826)

Offense: Senator John Randolph of Virginia insulted Secretary of State Henry Clay by charging him with a “corrupt bargain” in the 1824 election in giving the election to Adams and then Adams appointing him Secretary of State. Clay issued the challenge.

Outcome: Neither man is injured, with Randolph not even trying to hit Clay. The only casualty is Randolph’s coat, which gets a hole in it.


Brooks vs. Wigfall (1839)


Offense: Future Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall quarreled with future South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks.


Outcome: Wigfall and Brooks wounded, the latter must use a cane for the rest of his life, and uses said cane to beat Senator Charles Sumner in 1856.


Belmont vs. Hayward (1841)


Offense: August Belmont, a major Democratic fundraiser and the Rothschild family’s representative in Washington D.C., quarreled with William Hayward of South Carolina over a woman.


Outcome: Both Belmont and Hayward are wounded, Belmont walks with a limp for the rest of his life.

Terry vs. Broderick (1859)


Offense: Former friends David S. Terry (ex-Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court) and California Senator David C. Broderick turn sour on each other over political losses given their stances on slavery (Terry is for, Broderick is against).

Result: Terry wins as he kills Broderick, and the former is thought of as an Aaron Burr as he supposedly fired before the count had finished. Terry would eventually himself be killed while attacking Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field.

The practice of dueling ultimately came to an end after the War of the Rebellion, as the United States had tired of such bloodshed. As troublesome as slander and libel suits can be, they are far better than having duels.

References


List of Politicians Who Participated in Duelling. The Political Graveyard.


Retrieved from

http://politicalgraveyard.com/special/duel-participants.html

On This Day: April 8, 1826. U.S. Senate.

Retrieved from

https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/anecdote/days/014week_0408.htm

Parton, J. (1859). Life of Andrew Jackson. New York, NY: Mason Brothers.

Smith, E.B. (1958, February). “Now Defend Yourself, You Damned Rascal!” American Heritage, 9(2).
Retrieved from

https://www.americanheritage.com/now-defend-yourself-you-damned-rascal#2

The History of Dueling in America. PBS.

Retrieved from

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/duel-history-dueling-america/