James Wilkinson: Head of the US Army and Traitor

American history has its figures of tremendous character and integrity and I’ve covered some of those. However, there are others who have been venal and corrupt. One of the most scandalous figures was of the Founding generation who was a general and politician and seemed to only ever act in his own interests. Although the name “Benedict Arnold” is synonymous with treason, maybe the name “James Wilkinson” should be as well. This was a man who President Theodore Roosevelt said, “In all our history, there is no more despicable character” (NPS).

Wilkinson had a long career in the military, serving in the Continental Army during the Revolution. At the age of 20 as General Horatio Gates’ aide, he was the one to report to the Continental Congress about the colonial victory in the Battle of Saratoga. He regaled the Congress with a tale that exaggerated his boss’s contribution and way overexaggerated his own contribution to the victory. Wilkinson was then promoted to brigadier general by the Congress, but this was regarded as way too much by Gates, who in the following year had him resign. In 1779, he was appointed clothier-general, but on March 27, 1781 resigned due to his “lack of aptitude for the job” (Linklater, 68).

The Spanish Conspiracy

Wilkinson opposed the adoption of the new constitution, as it served to delay the admission of Kentucky as a state. He saw himself as acting in the interests of the Kentucky region and himself by engaging in a plot to have Kentucky and the future state of Tennessee to become a state under Spain so they could have access to the Mississippi River, at the time under control of Spain which had blocked United States access. Wilkinson managed to get an audience with Louisiana Governor Esteban Miro, claiming that he could get the Kentucky and Tennessee regions to split off from the United States and managed to secure through the transmission of secrets to Spain exclusive trade rights in addition to a promise of a pension and a promise that the state would be English-speaking, and its citizens would be free to practice Protestantism. However, Wilkinson’s plan was thwarted as Kentucky politicians rallied against any idea of breaking off from the United States. Kentucky would be admitted in 1792.

Smear Campaign Against His Boss

In 1791, President George Washington had some choices of who to pick to be head of the new U.S. Army. He selected Major General Anthony Wayne over Brigadier General Wilkinson. Wilkinson had expected to get the position, having written to Miro, “it is most probable that I shall be promoted [to] the chief Command” (Harrington). Although he was polite and respectful to Wayne in person, he was behind efforts to push dissension over Wayne’s command in the ranks and he wrote an anonymous article published in a Cincinnati newspaper signed “Army Wretched” in which he claimed that General Wayne was a drunkard, incompetent, wasteful, and practiced favoritism (Harrington). In December 1792, Wilkinson accepted pay and a pension by Spain for giving away secrets rather than trade rights. Two years later, he was almost exposed when a courier carrying one of his payments was murdered by one of the Spanish boatmen and the money stolen. Although the other boatmen were arrested, the judge on the case was his lawyer and co-conspirator Harry Innes, and the man sent to translate the prisoners’ Spanish was sent by the Spanish government and left out any mention in his translation that he was carrying a payment for Wilkinson (Harrington). Wilkinson also wrote complaints to Secretary of War Henry Knox making accusations of Wayne he had written as “Army Wretched”. He had been unaware of Wilkinson’s intrigues until Secretary of War Knox made him aware of Wilkinson’s complaints in January 1795. Wayne was enraged, writing to Knox that Wilkinson was a “vile assassin”, “that worst of all bad men,” and “I have a strong ground to believe, that this man is a principle agent, set up by the British & Demoncrats [sic] of Kentucky to dismember the Union” (Harrington). He would eventually start to suspect that Wilkinson was in the pay of the Spanish and would make efforts to catch him red-handed. Wayne’s unexpected death in 1796 resulted in Wilkinson becoming the new commander and the investigation coming to a halt. Wayne was no saint himself, but he wasn’t a traitor. Wilkinson would be the chief officer of the United States Army from 1796 to 1798 and again from 1800 to 1812. As chief officer, he passed on numerous military secrets to the Spanish, including the existence of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Wilkinson advised the Spanish to intercept the expedition, and the Spanish Army attempted to do so, but they never found the expedition. Had they done so, the Lewis and Clark expedition would be known today to have “disappeared”. His intelligence also helped delay the annexation of Texas by the United States.

Participation in the Burr Conspiracy

Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804 began to conspire to hinder the growth of the United States to enhance his own political power. That year, he wrote a letter to British Minister to the United States Anthony Merry offering assistance to Britain to take western territories from the United States. The following year, he managed to convince President Thomas Jefferson to appoint James Wilkinson territorial governor of Louisiana. The two came to conspire together to stir up a conflict with the Spanish and use the army to conquer Southern lands for which Burr could rule his own country.

However, suspicions were growing about Burr and Wilkinson became convinced that the plot would fail, so he double-crossed him to save himself and altered a coded letter he presented to President Jefferson that although did not specifically reference Burr, the suspicion was already there and Wilkinson left himself out of it. The alteration of the letter would be discovered and this, along with a narrow reading of the Constitutional definition of treason, would result in Burr’s acquittal. President James Madison launched a court-martial against Wilkinson for treason and his conduct in the Burr trial, but he too was acquitted.

The War of 1812

At the start of the War of 1812, Wilkinson advised along with other generals guerrilla tactics against the British. President Madison opted for conventional warfare, which was a big mistake, as it resulted in the sacking of Washington. Wilkinson’s performance in command was mixed during the conflict. He would be succeeded in as head of the US Army in 1812 by General Henry Dearborn.

Wilkinson: A Murderer?

It is incredible enough that the head of the U.S. Army for FOURTEEN YEARS was a traitor, but was he a murderer too? Historian Kira Gale, who wrote Meriwether Lewis: The Assassination of an American Hero and the Silver Mines of Mexico (2015) certainly thinks so. There are several deaths that General Wilkinson may have been responsible for. He may have ordered the death by poisoning of his superior, General Anthony Wayne. Three months before Wayne’s death, Wilkinson wrote to his Spanish handler, Baron Hector de Carondelet, that “my views at Philadelphia are to keep down the military establishment, to disgrace my commander, and to secure myself the commandant of the army” (Harrington). Wayne was on the way to Philadelphia to answer accusations by Wilkinson and had been actively trying to catch him red-handed for being a Spanish spy, but he fell ill and eventually died on December 15, 1796. This was only four months after his forces had almost uncovered documentary evidence that would have proven that Wilkinson was a spy. The official cause was complications of “stomach gout”. President Washington likewise had his suspicions about him at this point, but Wilkinson automatically succeeded Wayne and he needed the support of the army, some members who had strong loyalty to him. Had Wayne produced conclusive evidence of Wilkinson’s treason, Wilkinson faced execution. Another figure that Wilkinson may have had murdered was Meriwether Lewis.

The death of Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition was most mysterious. Although the official explanation behind Lewis’s death is suicide given the existence of a suicide letter, a letter by Captain Gilbert Russell as to his mental state and two prior suicide attempts, as well as other accounts of him being depressive. Lewis died on the Natchez Trace, a notoriously dangerous road as it was a hotspot for highwaymen, and he was accompanied on this trip by James Neelly, a Chickasaw agent in the employ of…you guessed it…General Wilkinson. What’s more, Lewis, who was an expert marksman, died of two gunshot wounds, first to the head and then the abdomen. How did he botch it the first time? Wilkinson did have motive to get Lewis out of the way…in 1807 President Jefferson replaced him due to his unpopularity among the area’s people as Governor of Northern Louisiana with Lewis, and in this capacity, he had access to Wilkinson’s records. Historian Kira Gale hypothesizes that Lewis was ordered killed by Wilkinson to prevent the exposure of corrupt land schemes he was perpetrating with Missouri mine operator John Smith T, and Lewis was traveling on the Natchez Trace to deliver mine records to Washington.

These are unproven, but are difficult to rule out completely given Wilkinson’s treachery and many connections. In 1815, he was discharged from the army and appointed Envoy to Mexico in 1816, in which he was the one to establish relations with the new nation of Mexico, which won its independence from Spain in 1821. He then requested a land grant from Mexico in the territory of Texas, but died in Mexico City in 1825 while waiting for the approval.


In 1854, Wilkinson was proven a traitor when Louisiana historian Charles Gayarre uncovered conclusive evidence in the Spanish archives in Madrid that he had been a paid spy for the Spanish Empire known as “Agent 13” and had received $26,000 in payments between 1787 and 1804. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner regarded him as “the most consummate artist in treason the nation has ever produced” (Gale). Wilkinson is now known as a treacherous scoundrel, but in his time he was not without supporters and co-conspirators. Some even thought him a hero during the Spanish Conspiracy for his advocacy for the Kentucky region. His treachery remains on display as a street in downtown Frankfort, an area which he owned at the time of its development, is named Mero Street, a misspelled commemoration of his first Spanish handler, General Esteban Miro. Wilkinson himself has a street in downtown Frankfort and a county in Georgia and Mississippi are named after him.


General James Wilkinson, the Spanish Spy Who Was a Senior Officer in the U.S. Army During Four Presidential Administration. Library of Congress.

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Harrington, H.T. (2013). Was General Anthony Wayne Murdered? Journal of the American Revolution.

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James Wilkinson. NPS.

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Linklater, A. (2009). An artist in treason: the extraordinary double life of General James Wilkinson. New York, NY: Walker Publishing Company.

Moore, K. (2003). The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis. History News Network.

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Rice, H.A. (2017, October 8). Spanish Conspiracy. Tennessee Encyclopedia.

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Savage, J.E. Scoundrels, and Statesmen: General James Wilkinson and the Spanish Conspiracy, 1787-1790. Hanover College.

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The Burr Conspiracy. PBS.

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Tucker, A. (2009, October 8). Meriwether Lewis’ Most Mysterious Death. Smithsonian Magazine.

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Weems, J.E. Wilkinson, James (1757-1825). Texas State Historical Association.

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Ex-Presidents and the War of the Rebellion

A bit of news I have not been examining too much lately is the unprecedented FBI raid on a former president’s home. There is still much to know about what is going on, but we at least now know that the information they sought was subpoenaed by the Justice Department and the outcome of this was presumably negative. While no former president has had their private home raided by the FBI, the closest comparison I can think of is how former presidents reacted to the War of the Rebellion. By the start of the war, five former presidents were alive. Their responses varied and one was even treasonous. This is covered further as a subject in historian Chris DeRose’s The Presidents’ War: Six American Presidents and the Civil War That Divided Them (2015).

Martin Van Buren, Democrat, 1837-41.

Martin Van Buren, president from 1837 to 1841, was one of the founders of the Democratic Party and President Jackson’s anointed successor. Van Buren, like many people of his day, was conflicted on the question of slavery and union. He certainly believed the practice itself to be an evil, writing in 1819, “Morally and politically speaking slavery is a moral evil” (NPS). In 1821, he had voted to extend suffrage to black men in New York, but with a property limitation that made it so nearly all black men couldn’t vote. Van Buren supported upholding the union if it meant retention of slavery or the end of it. He had also sided with the Spanish government in the Amistad case and believed that black people of African descent were not subject to Constitutional protections, similar to Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s view in the Dred Scott decision. However, in 1844 he would oppose the annexation of Texas as it would add another slave state and this cost him the Democratic nomination.

In 1848, Van Buren decisively moved in the anti-slavery column in his candidacy for president on the Free Soil ticket. He strongly disapproved of the handling of the slavery issue under Pierce and Buchanan but was reluctant to back Republican Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, Van Buren had attempted to pull off a scheme to deny Lincoln the victory in 1860 and had voted for Stephen Douglas. However, he did come to support the war effort to hold the union together and refused to back Franklin Pierce’s effort to get the five former presidents to write a letter in opposition to Lincoln. Van Buren died before the war’s conclusion.

John Tyler, Whig, 1841-45.

John Tyler was commonly known as the “accidental president” in his time, as he had succeeded William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia one month into his term. He became known for bucking the Whig Party, most bitterly on the issue of reinstating the Second Bank of the United States, to the degree that he was read out of the party in 1844. Tyler was a consistent defender of slavery throughout his career and owned numerous slaves in his life, although he was compared to other slaveowners at the time quite humane in his treatment of them, forbidding his overseers from whipping them. In 1860, Tyler backed John C. Breckinridge, the Southern Democratic candidate, for the presidency. Although after the election he supported a last-ditch effort for a peace conference to stop the war, when the time came for his state of Virginia to decide whether to secede, Tyler was on board. In 1862, he was elected to the Confederate Congress, but died before he could take his seat.

Millard Fillmore, Whig, 1850-53.

Millard Fillmore was nominally opposed to slavery, namely the influence of slave states on American politics, but signed the Compromise of 1850 into law in an effort to preserve the union. This law gave some major concessions to the South including the Federal government being used to apprehend escaped slaves.

After his presidency, Fillmore campaigned for preservation of the union and for slavery remaining a state question. In 1856, he was drafted to run for president as the candidate of the American (“Know Nothing”) Party. Although he lacked animus to immigrants, he did push his campaign forward by warning of foreign influence in American elections. Fillmore also spoke in the South in support of maintaining the union. He opposed Buchanan’s passivity in the face of the growing threat of secession and voted for John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party, regarding secessionists as traitors.

Fillmore concluded that the election of Lincoln caused the War of the Rebellion but supported the war effort and helped recruit soldiers for the cause. However, he opposed emancipation and supported George McClellan in 1864, calling for a peace that would readmit the Southern states as slave states. Fillmore was never forgiven for some for his signing the Fugitive Slave Law; after President Lincoln’s assassination his house was smudged with black paint by a mob (Holt).

Franklin Pierce, Democrat, 1853-57.

Pierce’s presidency was famously disastrous with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 causing the Kansas territory to become a battleground in which pro and anti-slavery settlers camped in the state to vote on whether it was slave or free and proceeded to murder each other. “Bleeding Kansas” as it was known, was a preview of the coming war. He had beforehand been known foremost as an anti-abolitionist and while he was in the Senate, his best friend had been none other than Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who he had made his Secretary of War and remained close friends with him until the end of his days. Pierce’s term was considered so disastrous by Democrats that he lost renomination at the Democratic National Convention in 1856. Of the presidents who stuck with the Union, he was the most antagonistic to Lincoln and the war effort. He had in 1860 backed Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge and attempted to assemble the last five presidents into a united front opposing President Lincoln going to war. However, he was unable to get agreement on it. He also believed, unlike the other former presidents who remained in the Union, that the South should just be let go. Pierce was antagonistic in his opposition to the point that many people initially believed a forged letter that he was involved in a plot to overthrow the president and install himself. It was also discovered in 1863 that Pierce had been maintaining a secret correspondence with Confederate President Jefferson Davis after the latter’s home had been captured and searched. Pierce also had to talk down a mob from burning down his house after he wouldn’t lower the American flag after President Lincoln’s assassination. Having faced a lot of tragedy and having surrendered to the bottle, he would succumb to his alcoholism in 1869.

James Buchanan, Democrat, 1857-61.

Although James Buchanan may have been a weak and awful president who did nothing to stop secession and pushed a pseudo-neutrality on slavery (he was one of the “doughfaces”), he was supportive of President Lincoln and the Union war effort. Buchanan believed that although the South had no right to secede, the United States had no right to stop them. At the end of his presidency, he called for union but with a guarantee that slavery would remain a state question. In 1860, Buchanan backed Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge for president. Like Jimmy Carter, he may have been a bad president, but he was a pretty good former president. In 1866, Buchanan wrote a book that blamed the Republican Party and abolitionists for the War of the Rebellion.

President Franklin Pierce, 1853-57.

Of all the presidents, the one whose situation seems most similar to that of former President Donald Trump is Franklin Pierce. Like Pierce, he was a staunch foe of the administration, and he has been accused of treason but despite what some have said about it, it is not proven. Pierce had been accused of treason by Secretary of War William Seward. Also similar was that some of his personal documents were seized by the Federal government in the form of correspondence when Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s home was captured and searched in 1863.


Baker, J.H. Franklin Pierce: Life After the Presidency. Miller Center.

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Cooper, W. James Buchanan: Life After the Presidency. Miller Center.

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DeRose, C. (2014, June 27). When Lincoln saved the union and freed the slaves, five ex-presidents tried to stop him. The Washington Post.

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Freehling, W. John Tyler: Life After the Presidency. Miller Center.


Holt, M. Millard Fillmore: Life After the Presidency. Miller Center.

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Kelly, J. (2013, February 24). John Tyler, traitor? Well, yes, actually… The Washington Post.

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Martin Van Buren and the Politics of Slavery. National Park Service.

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The 1922 Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill: How They Voted

In the aftermath of World War I, racial violence spiked with numerous race riots occurring. These were from whites directed to blacks. One in St. Louis motivated Missouri Republican Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer to take up anti-lynching legislation as a cause. After the 1920 election seemed like a good time to do this. The major Republican Congressional leaders, such as Speaker of the House Frederick Gillett (R-Mass.) endorsed the bill as did President Warren G. Harding. One of the key movers was the NAACP’s James Weldon Johnson, whose lobbying was of great help in winning it passage in the House. Key backers in addition to Dyer included Majority Whip Frank Mondell (R-Wyo.), and Andrew Volstead (R-Minn.). The vote on January 26, 1922, was 230-120 (R 220-17; D 8-103; IR 1-0; S 1-0).

I have included DW-Nominate first dimension scores for this vote. I have found an error in the revitalized MC-Index that I am in the process of correcting for this session. These scores do not necessarily agree with MC-Index and are based on their lifetime service rather than just the 67th Congress. The higher the score, the more conservative they purportedly are. Republicans are in italics, and Meyer London of New York is a member of the Socialist Party.

Although House passage was won, Senate passage was stymied by a resistant South and a GOP that didn’t prioritize the legislation. It would take one hundred years for a federal anti-lynching law to be enacted.

“Honey Fitz”: Presidential Mentor

The first place in which the Democratic Party rose in Massachusetts was in Boston, and it was through Irish Catholics that this phenomenon occurred. One figure they produced was John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald (1863-1950). The politics of Massachusetts in Fitzgerald’s heyday were not Democratic, they were Republican. The Republicans were WASPs while the Democrats were Catholics. In two of his three terms he was the single Democrat to represent New England, a stark contrast to today in which Maine’s Susan Collins is the only Republican to represent New England on a federal level. Fitzgerald’s time was different, and as he was a Grover Cleveland Democrat, but he voted against the Gold Standard Act of 1900. As an Irish Catholic Democrat, he clashed with the WASP establishment, and 1897 he opposed Senator Henry Cabot Lodge’s (R-Mass.) legislation to require that immigrants can read at least twenty words of the Constitution in English or their own language, which was vetoed by President Cleveland on his advice. The veto was upheld, and after Fitzgerald delivered a speech denouncing Lodge for his stance, Lodge said to him, “You are an impudent young man. Do you think the Jews and Italians have any right in this country?” to which Fitzgerald retorted, “As much as your father or mine. It was only a difference of a few ships” (PBS). In his six-year time in Congress his MC-Index score was a 52%.

Mayor of Boston

In 1905, Fitzgerald was elected Boston’s mayor for the first time, and despite using the machine system to rise, he ran against the ward system. Unlike other major cities, Boston didn’t have anyone “boss”, rather many who controlled their own wards and had their own political machines. The machines exchanged with voters jobs and financial aid for votes and in some cases assistance during election years. He campaigned with the slogans “The People Not the Boss Should Rule” and “Bigger, Better, Busier Boston”. Fitzgerald declared this victory to be the “first hurrah of the dynasty to come” (DeCosta-Kilpa). At the time, even he probably had no idea how prescient this declaration would be. The machine system didn’t go away under “Honey Fitz”, indeed corruption was rife per Francis Russell, “In Johnny Fitz’s first administration, graft was blatant in all departments. During those two years the city lost $200,000 in dealings with a single coal company, whose manager later absconded. In subsequent investigations the Finance Commission discovered that Boston had been paying sixty cents a barrel more than the going price for cement—a $240,000 annual waste. There were dozens of strange land deals in which the city ended up paying three times more than anyone had imagined a given property was worth” (2). However, his charming and outgoing personality won over many people in Boston and he absolutely relished in the role. Democratic Party infighting which produced two candidates for mayor in Fitzgerald and state representative John Coulthurst resulted in Republican George A. Hibbard winning the election, a “good government” (or “googoo”) candidate who served only one term and cut expenditures, reducing the city’s debt and halving the cost of street maintenance. The reformers also lengthened the mayor’s term from two years to four years. However, as happened so often, “googoo” governments would not last long, as people who had benefited from the old ways would come back in force. This force was Fitzgerald and ward leaders Martin Lomasney and Jim Curley. An agreement was struck that they would back Fitzgerald for mayor, and that Curley would run for Fitzgerald’s old Congressional seat and succeed him after his term as mayor was done. What Lomasney got out of the bargain is unknown. Fitzgerald was returned to office in 1909 narrowly; the anti-Fitzgerald forces put their weight behind another Democrat in James J. Storrow, but “Honey Fitz” had persuaded a terminally ill Hibbard to run again, and he diverted enough votes from the anti-Fitzgerald forces for Fitzgerald to win. He had some achievements in his second term; he directed the construction of Fenway Park and the Franklin Park Zoo, and his nickname came from both his personality and his propensity to sing in public. Fitzgerald was said to be the only politician who could sing “Sweet Adeline” sober and get away with it. In 1913, he decided that he enjoyed being mayor so much that he decided to go back on his word with Curley. This was a big mistake, as Curley was both corrupt and ruthless.

As mayor, he had been spending a lot of time with a cigarette girl named “Toodles” Ryan. Fitzgerald was married and had several children. Although close friends of Fitzgerald held that this was not an affair, rather a malicious joke that they were having one, this didn’t stop Curley from blackmailing him over it by announcing lectures that contrasted famous figures from history with Fitzgerald, including “Graft in Ancient Times vs. Graft in Modern Times” and “Great Lovers: From Cleopatra to Toodles” (Russell, 6). Fitzgerald quit the race before Curley was to deliver the lectures, only three weeks after entering.
In 1916, Fitzgerald attempted a comeback by running against Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in his first race in which the Brahmin of Boston Brahmins faced the popular vote. However, he lost by six points. Fitzgerald would try again in 1918.

The 1918 Election

Fitzgerald looked like he was making a comeback in his win to Congress. He defeated the incumbent, Peter F. Tague, in the primary by 50 votes. Tague chose to run a write-in campaign and lost by 238 votes. However, he challenged the election in Congress. An investigation into the primary uncovered evidence of extensive voter fraud in three precincts, including goons supporting Fitzgerald who intimidated Tague supporters. After those precincts were eliminated from the count, Tague was the victor. On October 23, 1919, Congress voted unanimously to seat Tague. Fitzgerald again tried his hand at returning to elective office in 1922 when he ran against conservative Governor Channing Cox, but lost by 60,000 votes. His career was over.

Supporting FDR; His Grandson

In 1932, Fitzgerald and Curley put their energies behind supporting the candidacy of FDR for the president and attempted to get the now old boss Martin Lomasney to go along, but he declined. Roosevelt would appoint Fitzgerald’s son-in-law as the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and later Ambassador to Great Britain. In 1942, the 79-year-old Fitzgerald ran a quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination for the Senate, which was alleged to have been done to spoil the rise of one of his son-in-law’s rivals, with the nomination going to Congressman Joseph Casey, who proceeded to lose to incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Fitzgerald then committed his energies to advising and encouraging his grandsons to enter into politics. One of these grandsons was named after him, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who he helped win the 1946 election. He would campaign for him at public events and on the streets. Also helping was an arrangement made with Fitzgerald’s old rival, Curley, to run again for mayor in 1947, allowing Kennedy to succeed him in Congress. After his grandson’s election to Congress, Fitzgerald made another prediction, that the young Kennedy would one day be president.

Fitzgerald did not live to see his grandson be president or defeat the grandson of the man who defeated him in 1916, which would have most certainly tickled him pink. On the upside, he did not live to see his grandson’s fate. Fitzgerald’s widow, Mary, however, did live to see Kennedy become president. She even outlived JFK himself but was never informed of his assassination. Fitzgerald had not been happy that his first grandchild had been named after his father rather than him. Joseph Jr. was killed in World War II, while his namesake got to have the political career that Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was hoping for his firstborn. In truth, JFK was more politically influenced by his grandfather than Joseph, a man far more politically conservative than his sons.


The Presidency: Man of the New Frontier. (1960, November 16). Time Magazine.

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John Fitzgerald: Mayor of a Bigger, Better, Busier Boston. National Park Service.

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John Francis Fitzgerald: American Experience. PBS.

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DeCosta-Kilpa, N. (2017, May 17). Meet Honey Fitz: The ‘pixie like’ mayor of Boston (and JFK’s grandfather). Boston.com.

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Russell, F. (1968, August). Honey Fitz. American Heritage, 19(5).

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The Cautionary Tale of Evan Mecham

Last Tuesday, Arizona Republicans nominated Kari Lake to run for governor of Arizona. The centerpiece of her campaign has been an extension of the former president’s sustained tantrum about his 2020 loss. This nomination reminds me a bit of another figure who ran for governor and proved at minimum a PR disaster for Arizona: Evan Mecham (1924-2008).

Evan Mecham was a successful Pontiac dealer in Arizona who became politically active in the 1950s. He was both extremely conservative and highly religious, being both a member of the John Birch Society and the Church of Latter Day Saints. In 1962, Mecham ambitiously ran against longtime Democratic incumbent Carl Hayden, whose incredible career I have previously written about. The Republican Party gave him nominal support but didn’t work hard for him as Hayden was viewed as critical for securing the long-desired Central Arizona Project, which would be signed into law in 1968. Mecham, who ran on a campaign of opposition to the UN and for school prayer, nonetheless got 45% of the vote, a sign of the rising GOP. He ran in the Republican primary four times for governor in 1964, 1974, 1978, and 1982. Mecham won the 1978 nomination but lost to Democrat Bruce Babbitt, who had assumed the office after the death of his predecessor. Mecham was not done, though.

The election of 1986 had low turnout and Mecham again ran, winning the GOP nomination. He won a three-way gubernatorial race as former Democrat Bill Schulz opted to run as an Independent and with just under 40% of the vote. By this time, Mecham appears to have no longer been a member of the John Birch Society, but he continued to support the organization. From the start, Mecham faced opposition, including from Ed Buck, a gay man who at the time was a Republican who protested his inauguration and would start the recall campaign against him. His time as governor was not without accomplishments. He opened a trade office with Taiwan to export Arizona’s cotton, raised the speed limit from 55 to 65 miles per hour, and eliminated the state’s $157 million deficit. However, the first major issue arose over a figure that to say the John Birch Society opposed him would be a major understatement: Martin Luther King Jr.

The MLK Holiday Controversy

Mecham’s predecessor as governor, Democrat Bruce Babbitt, had enacted the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for public employees after the Arizona State Legislature failed to pass the legislation enacting the day by one vote. The Secretary of State had found the holiday illegal as it had not been approved by the legislature in 1986. One of Mecham’s first actions was to cancel the holiday, which met with strong disapproval by civil rights groups. Mecham could have simply cited the Secretary of State’s legal opinion in support of his action, but he decided to go a step further when he stated, “King doesn’t deserve a holiday” and he further went on to say to a group of black community leaders, “You folks don’t need another holiday. What you folks need are jobs” (Hawkins). Mecham would later declare an unpaid holiday on the third Sunday of January, which was widely regarded as a weak substitute. Several public figures declared a boycott of the state and numerous conventions to be held in the state were canceled. He compounded the damage when he stated, “I’ve got black friends. I employ black people. I don’t employ them because they are black; I employ them because they are the best people who applied for the cotton-picking job” (Hawkins).

Governance Problems

Mecham’s attitude toward governance was unfortunately a non-starter. Despite having a Republican state legislature, his relations with them were poor as he asserted that he had no obligation to cooperate with the state legislature, holding that he was only accountable to God and the United States Constitution. This resulted in numerous vetoes, frustrating his fellow Republicans. State Senator Tony West said of him, “Mecham has neglected the day-to-day administration of the government, and a number of his appointments have been catastrophic” (Hull). Indeed, he made a few embarrassing appointments. Mecham appointed Albert Rodriguez, a man under investigation for a 1955 murder in Mexico to head the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, Lee Watkins, who had been convicted of armed robbery as the supervisor of prison construction, Russell Richey, who had filed his tax return ten months late as tax collector, and Bill Heisler, a former Marine as state investigator who had been court-martialed twice, and former Congressman Sam Steiger as his special assistant, who would be indicted for extortion which resulted in a conviction followed by an overturn on appeal (Watkins, 77, 158-59). A popular joke at the time was, “What do Mecham’s political appointees have in common? Parole officers” (Hull).


Evan Mecham was notorious for gaffes, and these, all from a January 9, 1988 AP article, included,

″If you continue to push in this manner and you continue to push people who have willingly said ‘we want equal rights for all people,’ the time does come when the majority says, ’we’re not going to take it any more.” – On supporters of the MLK Day.

″That’s right, I want you to sell your house, pack your belongings, quit your job and come to the most beautiful state in the Union. … Without your contribution I will risk being crushed by the millions of dollars the militant liberals and the homosexual lobby plan to spend against me. … If they destroy me it will be a sad day for conservatives everywhere and most of all for America.″ – From Mecham’s fundraising letter sent to 25,000 conservatives across the nation, which included his signature.

″As I was a boy growing up, blacks themselves referred to their children as pickaninnies. That was never intended to be an ethnic slur with anybody.″ – In defending his refusal to disavow a historical textbook by his mentor W. Cleon Skousen that included a 1930s essay that used the word “pickaninny”.

″In fact, I would welcome a recall election – next week, next month. At least a recall election I think would shut ’em all up. … I’ll tell you what, if a band of homosexuals and a few dissident Democrats can get me out of office, why heavens, the state deserves what else they can get.″ – On a recall petition.

As the aforementioned recall petition was underway, bumper stickers in his defense began being released included “Queer Buck’s Recall”. Another embarrassment occurred when Kip Shippy, the 17-year-old head of the “Evan Mecham Fan Club” and unpaid volunteer for Mecham who helped organize opposition to the recall was discovered to have been convicted three years before hand in juvenile court of molesting an eight-year-old girl. On October 9th, former Senator Barry Goldwater called for him to resign, and calls for him to step down increased from there. On January 8th, 1988, both he and his campaign manager brother Willard were indicted on three counts of perjury, two counts of fraud, and one count of not reporting a $350,000 loan to the campaign. The Arizona State Legislature subsequently impeached him for obstruction of justice and allegedly diverting $80,000 in state funds to his Pontiac dealership (NBC News). This action nullified the recall election, in which if it would have happened, he would have faced former Congressman John Rhodes. Mecham held in his 1988 book, Impeachment: The Arizona Conspiracy that he was impeached because of “pure and simple raw political power exercised by those groups who wanted to remain in control. In the final analysis, my error was not in what I did with the (protocol) funds, but in thinking that I was dealing with people who had honor, integrity and the best interest of the state at heart” (NBC News). Mecham and his brother were found not guilty. In 1999, he published Wrongful Impeachment, which as you might have guessed was an indictment of his impeachment. He was forced to withdraw from public life in 2004 due to his failing health, being afflicted with both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Mecham died four years later in a nursing home.

Mecham failed as governor because of his attitude towards governing. He was disconnected from reality, highly opinionated, and lacked caution in his words to the press. Mecham blamed the press and certain powers in the state for the popularity problems befalling his administration, when much of his problems were self-inflicted. Most notable was his turning an issue in which he had a simple defense in legality into a major blowup when he decided to opine further on the MLK holiday. Mecham’s impeachment does seem in retrospect to have the goal of ending the career of an inconvenient politician, which he certainly was. Mecham subsequently left the GOP, running unsuccessful campaigns for governor and the Senate.

His former press secretary defended him, holding that Mecham was treated unfairly, “The tragic fact … is that Mecham will be remembered as an incompetent, bumbling bigot who got what he deserved. But … he had some charming personal qualities. He had a genuine interest in helping the disadvantaged. He understood economic development far better than his predecessor, Bruce Babbitt, or his successor, Rose Mofford. He believed in economic equality for all races and minorities, arguing this would be necessary before political and social equality could be achieved. He was deeply troubled by rampant drug abuse. And, his pet project this year [1988] would have been a statewide campaign to help illiterate adults learn to read. This side of Mecham was lost in a fog of controversy that he helped create” (Smith).


Asseo, L. (1988, June 11). Defense Rests In Mecham Criminal Trial. Associated Press.

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Asseo, L. (1987, January 12). Governor Rescinds Martin Luther King Holiday. Associated Press.

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Evan Mecham Era in Arizona. Jim Heath Channel.

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Former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham dies at 83. NBC News.

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Gov. Evan Mecham. National Governors Association.

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Hall, C. (1987, September 2). In Arizona, a Dust-Up Over ‘Doonesbury’. The Washington Post.

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Hawkins, S.L. (1988, February 22). Inside the wacky world of Evan Mecham. U.S. News and World Report. 104: 29-30.

Hull, J.D. (1987, November 9). Evan Mecham, Please Go Home. TIME.

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Langeveld, D. (2009, May 14). Evan Mecham: the faux pas factory. The Downfall Dictionary.

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Quotes From Ariz. Governor Evan Mecham With PM-Mecham Indicted, Bjt. Associated Press.

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Smith, K.V. (1988, May 15). Mecham ignored advice, created own road to ruin. Mesa Tribune, B1.

Watkins, R.J. (1990). High crimes and misdemeanors: the term and trials of former Governor Evan Mecham. New York: William Morrow & Co.

Our Political Leadership is the Oldest Its Been in At Least 100 Years

Old age is given some good marks in society. These include wisdom and experience. However, there are some ways in which society gives old age bad marks, including a loss of touch with the issues impacting younger generations and the health problems of the body and mind that accompany age. Today we have the oldest president in American history and at the end of the 113th Congress (2013-15), the Democratic leadership hit a landmark average age of 70. Over the last two Congresses the Democrats have averaged over 75 among their leaders, with only Kamala Harris being under 70. All three of the House leaders on the Democratic side are over 80…Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is 83, and Majority Whip James Clyburn is 82. This is a development raises questions such as who is waiting in the wings? It isn’t Hoyer and Clyburn. Katherine Harris of Massachusetts as Assistant Speaker and Hakeem Jeffries of New York as Democratic Conference Chairman are young enough, but they haven’t been getting a whole lot of attention, so their ascendency will not be an anticipated thing. Worse yet, in 2017 a former pharmacist for a D.C. pharmacy reported that he was filling prescriptions for elderly politicians for serious ailments, possibly those impacting the mind (Singman).

I have gone back one hundred years and found that the current Democratic leadership of the last Congress and the last is the oldest Congressional leadership from a party we’ve had in that time and in truth, ever in American history (Harwood). The Republicans are on a rather high end at 64 by the end of the year, with the oldest average being 65 over the last 100 years. It would be even higher if the former President Trump was counted. He is currently 76 and if he chooses to run for president, its’ going to be an ironic campaign if the GOP tries to pull the age card on Biden again. I think both are too old to give the presidency a run for 2024 and for the record, if both are the nominees in 2024 it will stand as a major indictment of our primary system. I could go on about the troubles of the existing primary system, but that will have to wait for another time. The average for this Congress will be 72 by the end of the year. Below I have a chart of the average age of politicians at the end of every Congress since the 67th (1921-1923). This counts presidents, vice presidents, speakers, and majority and minority leaders and whips.

This chart demonstrates that starting with the first Congressional session during Obama’s presidency, the age of the Democratic leadership has only climbed up. The current leadership among them is old and uninspiring to many voters, certainly some Democrats included. This problem is not just one I’ve observed, just search “aging Democratic leadership” and you will get a bevy of articles discussing it.


Harwood, J. (2021, September 26). Democrats’ aging leaders need all their skills for the task ahead. CNN.

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Singman, B. (2017, October 12). Uproar as Capitol Hill pharmacist dishes on Alzheimer’s prescriptions for the powerful. Fox News.

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Challenging Prohibition: The Legend of “Johnfillup”

I am posting a bit early this time as I will be in a place soon for the next few days that I’m not sure has a stable internet connection.

Prohibition was one of America’s grand social experiments, and like many grand social experiments, there were many who opposed it. Certain cities never accepted Prohibition, among them Chicago and Baltimore. In 1920, the latter elected to Congress the perfect representative for their tastes: Republican John Philip Hill (1879-1941). Hill had as an attorney advised the American Express Company in 1914 that the Webb-Kenyon Act was constitutional as it was sufficiently respectful of state’s rights in providing Federal support for individual state decisions on alcohol regulation. This being said, he thought Prohibition went way too far. Hill became known in Congress as “the wettest wet” for his opposition to anything that furthered or could serve to further Prohibition. He was a major publicity hound in his cause as well. Correspondent Clinton W. Gilbert wrote of Hill, “He lives by headlines. If newspapers were abolished, he would curl up and die. I know he will read this with delight and paste it away in his scrapbook. That’s why I am writing it” (TIME). He regularly ridiculed Wayne A. Wheeler and his Anti-Saloon League to the delight of his constituents. Hill was also unafraid to take unpopular stances, two examples being his vote against the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act in 1921, the popular support which had pushed many rock-ribbed conservatives into voting for, and against the Immigration Act of 1924 that established national origins quotas for immigration. His opposition to Prohibition would go beyond voting against measures furthering it, however.

Hill decided to provide a legal challenge to Prohibition in 1923. He saw the law as unfairly discriminating in favor of farmers given an allowance for them to grow “nonintoxicating” fruit beverages while people in the cities lacked the same allowance on their properties. Hill thus decided to grow grape vines and apple trees in his backyard and called it “Franklin Farms”. In 1924, he threw a party with 500 in attendance in which in his Baltimore basement they drank his cider. That year, Hill was indicted under the Volstead Act for the production of “intoxicating” liquors. Before his trial ended, however, traditionally Democratic Baltimore reelected him with over 60% of the vote. At the trial, numerous witnesses came forward stating that they hadn’t been intoxicated from drinking Hill’s wine and cider. He had also never sold any of his product, and he was acquitted. The result of the trial was a success for him and the foes of Prohibition. This verdict established that people could make wine and cider on their own property as long as they dubbed it a “farm” and that the definition of “intoxicating” liquors was dependent on opinion. There was even a poem written celebrating his acquittal,

“Twelve honest men and true the court did choose
To try Johnfillup for his jest with booze,
Twelve honest men heard learned doctors Say
A single drop of wine will make you gay,
Twelve honest men discussed for weary hours
The arrant nonsense of the Volstead powers.
Twelve honest men who knew the strength of thirst,
Gave their opinion and were then dispersed.
They ruled a townsman, and a farmer too,
Were not intoxicated by home brew,
A simple wine, of merely ten per cent,
Was just and fair and was the law’s intent.
My flat is tiny, there’s no home brew space,
But if some friend will Send to me a case,
An ancient beaker to the brim I’ll fill
And drink the glory of Johnfillup Hill” (Lewis).

In 1925, Hill wrote an article condemning the Volstead Act, regarding it as a failure given its increasing number of busts of illegal distilleries and distilling apparatuses, implying that more were created as a consequence of Prohibition than there had been before. He also held that based on the verdict of his trial, the Volstead Act “…establishes a definition for “intoxicating liquors” which is artificial and untrue. It prohibits beer with one-half of one per cent, of alcohol, but permits cider and home-made wine with as much alcohol in them as the individual jury may consider non-intoxicating in fact” (Hill, 639). He proposed a substitute, which respected state’s rights to define what beverages were “intoxicating” and have the Federal government support whatever each state decided on the question.

In 1926, Hill ran for the Republican primary for the Senate, but lost to incumbent Ovington Weller, who would lose reelection to wet Democrat Millard Tydings. His political career would only slide down from there. In 1928, Hill lost a bid to return to Congress by less than a point. His 1930 bid went worse with the Great Depression, losing by eight points. Hill attempted one more time in 1936, losing by over 20 points. By this time his signature issue of Prohibition was resolved in his favor, and thus the motivation of Baltimoreans to vote for him was largely gone. He then moved to New York City to practice law. In 1937, Hill’s wife divorced him, asserting that he had left her in 1932. Hill died four years later on May 23, 1941. No Republican has represented Maryland’s 3rd district since he departed Congress in 1927, but his legend lives on.


Hill, J.P. (1925). A State’s Rights Remedy for Volsteadism. The North American Review, 221(827), 635-640.

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Lewis, W. (1961, June). The Battle of Franklin Farms: John Philip’s Jest With Booze. The Atlantic.

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Prohibition. U.S. House of Representatives.

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Prohibition: Not Guilty. (1924, November 24). Time Magazine.

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Great Conservatives from American History #2: John W. Weeks

Today I wish to honor a man who could best be thought of as both a hardline and constructive conservative. An investment banker by profession, John Wingate Weeks (1860-1926) founded with Henry Hornblower the investment banking firm Hornblower & Weeks in 1888. He was heavily focused on budget efficiency, a trait that would serve him well in the private and public sector. Weeks served an energetic term as the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts from 1902 to 1903, in which he was interested in getting things done to develop the city over adhering to tradition or precedent. Weeks first was elected to Congress in 1904, and he proved a trusted man for the legendary conservative Speaker Joe Cannon with his strong support for tariffs, trusts, and pro-business policies in general. Although Weeks’ specialty was banking, Cannon placed him on the House Agriculture Committee so that a fiscal conservative could have influence over agricultural and conservation legislation. If anyone could write a conservation bill that the famously anti-conservation Speaker would approve of, it was Weeks. As Cannon told him, “If you can frame a forestry bill which you, as a business man, are willing to support, I will do what I can to get an opportunity to get its consideration in the House” (New England Historical Society).

The Weeks Act

Representative Weeks followed through, sharing the wishes of many Americans to conserve the nation’s natural treasures, and on June 24, 1910 the Weeks Act passed the House and the Senate, with the critical support of conservative Republican Jacob Gallinger of New Hampshire, passed the bill on February 15, 1911. This law authorized the Federal government to purchase private lands to preserve them from destruction. This law has protected 20 million acres in the Eastern United States. In 1913, Weeks was elected to the Senate.

The Wilson Years

Although Senator Weeks was opposed to President Wilson’s anti-trust legislation and his administration overall, he lent crucial support to the enacting of the Federal Reserve, adding a multitude of amendments to the bill. He was one of the few “pro-bank” Republican senators to support the law. Weeks, like many other politicians on the Eastern seaboard, supported former President Roosevelt’s push for military training and expanding the size of the navy to prepare for war with Germany. In 1916, he was held in sufficiently high regard to come in second for the Republican nomination for president, losing out to the more moderate Charles Evans Hughes, a candidate the conservative and progressive wings could agree on.

Defeat By Suffragists

Senator Weeks, like his colleague Henry Cabot Lodge, was an opponent of many social reform pushes of his day. One of them was Prohibition, and another was women’s suffrage. Many men in Massachusetts had shared his views on suffrage; in an October 1915 referendum, almost 65% of the voters went against, and some women in the state also opposed suffrage. However, attitudes were changing by the year and what a difference three years made! Democrat David I. Walsh was able to fully capitalize on rising approval for women’s suffrage, and made history by being the first Democrat to defeat a Republican in a Senate election in Massachusetts in 1918. His MC-Index score was a 97%. However, Weeks was not out of the game yet!

Harding and Coolidge Administrations

Weeks had been an early supporter of Senator Warren G. Harding’s (R-Ohio) candidacy for president, and after his election, he tapped him to be Secretary of War. The Harding Administration was famously troubled with corruption in Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall, Attorney General Harry M. Daughtery, and Veterans Bureau Chief Charles Forbes. However, Weeks was among the honest and competent of Harding’s picks and worked hard to transition the military to peacetime levels of personnel and expenditures through his emphasis on fiscal efficiency. President Coolidge kept Weeks on after Harding’s death and he continued his hard work. Unfortunately, it turns out he worked too hard.

The End

Weeks worked strenuously for long hours, and this taxed him beyond what he could handle at his age. In April 1925, he suffered a stroke and by October he retired due to his failing health. Weeks’ health continued to deteriorate as he developed a brain tumor and died of heart failure on July 12, 1926. His biographer and dear friend, Charles Walsh, wrote on his passing, “His earnest wish had been gratified. He died in the spot dearer to him than any other. The towering peaks of the majestic Presidential Range, stood, almost like sentinels, at his bedside. He fell asleep in the land of his fathers” (Baird, 102). Weeks’ son, Sinclair, would also serve as mayor of Newton and would for most of 1944 serve in the Senate as a placeholder. He would then serve as head of the American Enterprise Association (today known as the American Enterprise Institute) from 1946 to 1950. His most significant role was as President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Commerce from 1953 to 1958, where he proved to be one of the most conservative members of his cabinet. I plan on giving Sinclair Weeks his own entry for he too has a great accomplishment under his belt…one that all of America benefits from today.


Baird, I.D. (2011). Biographical Portrait – John W. Weeks. Forest History Today.

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John W. Weeks. Miller Center.

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Passing the Weeks Act. Forest History Society.

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Passing the Weeks Act

Francis E. Warren and Charles M. Stedman: Two Monumental Lasts

The War of the Rebellion produced numerous veterans who went into politics, and they were both from the North and the South. All of the Republican presidents from 1869 to 1901 served in the War of the Rebellion, and all of them relied on endorsements from the Grand Army of the Republic. However, as time passed by, their numbers dwindled as the numbers have for World War II veterans, and by the 1920s there were two left: Senator Francis E. Warren (1844-1929) of Wyoming and Representative Charles M. Stedman (1841-1930) of North Carolina.

Francis E. Warren

During the War of the Rebellion, Warren joined up with the 49th Massachusetts Infantry. At the age of 19 he won the Medal of Honor for disabling Confederate artillery after most of his unit had been killed, he himself having suffered a serious scalp wound in the process. Warren would rise to the rank of captain by the war’s end. Although a Bay Stater by birth and upbringing, he found himself attracted to the West, making significant investments in real estate and livestock and establishing the Wyoming Territory’s electrical grid, which made him quite wealthy. In 1885, Warren was appointed Governor of the Wyoming Territory and in this capacity had to respond to the Rock Springs Massacre, the single worst incident of anti-Chinese violence in American history. His decisive and courageous actions, including requesting the sending of federal troops, prevented more killings, but also employed trickery to ensure that the Union Pacific would continue to have Chinese laborers. Warren denounced the massacre as “the most damnable and brutal outrage that ever occurred in any country”, but a grand jury refused to indict any accused perpetrators (Drake).

In 1890, the state legislature of the newly admitted Wyoming elected Warren as one of its first two senators. The other senator elected was Joseph M. Carey. Although the two men were both Republicans and had cooperated in getting Wyoming admitted as a state, the men were arch-rivals and deeply personally disliked each other. During the currency debates, Warren during the Cleveland Administration sided with the cause of bimetallism, while Carey stuck to supporting gold. This cost the latter reelection.

Warren would proceed to build a political machine that guaranteed him to remain in the Senate as long as he wished. He relentlessly pushed for the construction of federal buildings in Wyoming, and many buildings in Cheyenne, constructed publicly or privately, can be attributed to Warren’s direction or influence. Carey, after losing the Republican nomination for the governorship in 1910, ran an independent campaign and won the Democratic nomination, then won the election.

Progressive Republican Senator Robert La Follette (R-Wis.) identified Warren clearly as a member of the conservative wing of the party, writing “He is the boss of Wyoming, with a powerfully entrenched political machine of the ‘pork barrel’ and ‘patronage’ type. He is one of the high moguls of the Old Guard” (Drake). He was a big supporter of high tariffs, particularly on cattle and wool, and was a fiscal conservative. Warren also supported women’s suffrage and opposed Prohibition. Indeed, on the subject of women Warren had hired Leona Wells for his staff in 1900, the first time a woman was ever employed on a senator’s staff. In 1921, he was one of the few senators to vote against the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act, a bit of an unusual vote for a politician who voted for suffrage, as opposition to that act and suffrage often went together. Warren had a critical connection, or should I say, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing had a critical connection to Warren as he had married his daughter, and the senator had a major role in funding the war effort during World War I. served throughout the Harding and Coolidge Administrations, backing their conservative agendas. In early November 1929, Warren developed bronchitis and pneumonia and deteriorated until his death on November 24th. At the time of his death, he had served in the Senate for 37 years, which at the time was a record for service. Warren’s MC-Index score was an 87%.

Charles M. Stedman

At the start of the War of the Rebellion, Stedman enlisted in the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry Company of the Confederate Army, and by the war’s end would rise to the rank of major. He would subsequently practice law and later take some time to get involved in politics, doing so in 1880 as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention. In 1884, he was elected lieutenant governor of North Carolina, serving for four years. Stedman ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1888 but lost. He proceeded to resume practicing law and served as the president of the North Carolina Bar Association from 1900 to 1901. After this, Stedman again ran in the Democratic primary for governor in 1904, but once again lost the nomination.

An opportunity arose for Stedman to return to elected office in 1910 when North Carolina’s 5th district had a vacancy, and he was elected to Congress in the Democratic wave. He proved a staunch supporter of President Woodrow Wilson and voted as a rural-minded progressive, supporting lower tariffs and anti-trust legislation. He was far from the most influential members of Congress but was known for the courtly manners that were regarded as characteristic of the Southern aristocracy and was popular among his colleagues. Among younger members of Congress, Stedman was a subject of great fascination as a historical link to the War of the Rebellion.

In 1923, Stedman proposed a “Mammy Memorial” in Washington D.C. to commemorate black slave women who remained loyal to their masters during the War of the Rebellion. Although this passed the Senate, it was defeated in the House after opposition from civil rights groups and the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1926, Congress celebrated Stedman’s 85th birthday, presenting him with a cake with 85 candles. In 1928, the Republicans made substantial inroads in the South, defeating two incumbents in North Carolina and Stedman was almost a third, winning only by 0.2%. Like Warren, Stedman died in office on September 23, 1930. His lifetime MC-Index score was a 10%.


Drake, K. (2014, November 8). Francis E. Warren: A Massachusetts Farm Boy Who Changed Wyoming.


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Glass, A. (2018, September 23). Rep. Charles Manly Stedman dies at age 89, Sept. 23, 1930. Politico.

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Last Union Veteran. U.S. Senate.

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Warren, Francis. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.

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Williams, M.R. (1994). Stedman, Charles Manley. NCPedia.

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Great Conservatives of American History #1: George Moses

Since the conclusion of my Texas Legends series, I have been thinking about the next step. I was thinking about a series called American Radicals, and I still plan on writing it with the first entry being W.E.B. Du Bois. However, what has come quicker to my mind is the series I start today, Great Conservatives of American History. This is about legislators who honored their offices, had conservative records, and fought for what they saw as the right thing. Not all of these people would have necessarily got on personally with each other, as this series will include both segregationists and black people. Some can retroactively be called great conservatives, as I have already written about them. These include Henry Cabot Lodge Sr., John J. Williams, Joe Cannon, Hamilton Fish, John Rousselot, H.R. Gross, Thomas Brackett Reed, Durward G. Hall, Thomas B. Curtis, George Tinkham, James Wadsworth, James B. Allen, James M. Beck, William McCulloch, Oscar De Priest, and Fisher Ames. This list is necessarily a bit of a subjective one, as I am coming at this subject as a conservative, and certain ones who engaged in behavior I find embarrassing or discrediting for their time don’t make the list, such as John G. Schmitz and Earl Landgrebe. After all, that does rather take away greatness from them. The first entry in this series is about one of the foremost conservatives of the 1920s, a man who fought relentlessly for American sovereignty and for the sovereignty of its people. This would be New Hampshire’s George Higgins Moses (1869-1944).

Moses started his career young in politics and journalism. At the age of 20, he started working as private secretary to the governor of New Hampshire, a post he would serve in for two years. Moses would then get into journalism, reporting for the Concord Evening Monitor, and would rise to chief editor, a position he held for twenty years. He served as a partner in this endeavor with Senator William E. Chandler and his son. Moses would begin to make his presence known in Washington during the first Roosevelt Administration, and this would result in him holding his first office.

In 1909, President William Howard Taft nominated Moses US Minister to Greece and Montenegro, despite Moses not having originally supported his nomination, a post he served in until 1912. During this time, he wrote several articles for National Geographic on the racial tensions of the region. During this time, he attracted the positive attention of veteran Senator Jacob Gallinger, who he helped win reelection in 1914. Gallinger gave his blessing for him to join him in the Senate by running against Democratic incumbent Henry Hollis in 1918. However, the 81-year-old Gallinger died on August 17th, so Moses ran to replace him instead and narrowly won.

Moses was a staunch opponent of President Wilson’s New Freedom domestic agenda and in 1919, he was one of the leaders in the fight against the League of Nations and he identified with the irreconcilables on the question, who would accept no version of the Versailles Treaty. Moses delivered a compelling speech that swayed several colleagues against the League, and it became the first peace treaty in American history to fail to be ratified. He backed the Esch-Cummins Act, which returned railroads to the private sector with favorable conditions, and backed an anti-strike provision in the measure, earning the staunch opposition of the AFL’s Samuel Gompers. Moses also cast his vote against the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage). In 1920, he backed General Leonard Wood for the Republican nomination for president before settling on supporting Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding.

During the 1920s, Moses served as a major conservative leader and had at times an independent voting record from what the Republican Party at the time wanted. Despite most conservative Republican senators backing the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act in 1921 and the Child Labor Amendment in 1924, he voted against. Moses also sided with the Harding and Coolidge Administrations against the veterans’ bonus bill as straining the budget. He also curiously voted against the Mellon tax cuts in 1921, likely not viewing them as sufficient given his ultra-conservatism elsewhere. From 1925 to 1933, Senator Moses served as the president pro tem. He was a strong supporter of the Coolidge Administration and frequently voted to uphold President Coolidge’s vetoes. Moses was known for his sharp wit, and this made him an effective, trusted, and credible figure on the Senate floor, if not always the most liked among the targets of his wit. He would also in this role mentor a future conservative senator in Norris H. Cotton. Cotton would in later years remark on his boss’s nature, “The world never saw, nor does history record, the human, compassionate side of George Moses. This was his fault. To the world he gave the impression of a cynical, sarcastic, brilliant individual with a biting tongue. In later years, when I was more mature, I came to realize that he enjoyed that role – indeed, that he almost reveled in it. His wit was sharp as a rapier and he could not resist uttering a witticism, no matter how cutting” (GovInfo, 89).

In 1929, Senator Moses referred to a group of progressive Republican senators troubling the GOP leadership on tariff legislation as the “sons of the wild jackass” (U.S. Senate). Although he tried to play it off as an admiration for their stubbornness, this contributed to the tensions between the wings of the party. During the Great Depression, Moses, similar to Herbert Hoover opposed just giving states relief money, rather opting for the money to be loaned. Unlike Hoover, however, he supported ending Prohibition. Being a Republican was politically costly in this time, especially a conservative Republican, and he was among the casualties as in 1932 he lost reelection by a point to Democrat Fred Brown, running behind President Herbert Hoover, who narrowly won the state. Moses’ MC-Index score was a 97% while his DW-Nominate score was a 0.709, making him one of the most conservative senators in the history of the Republican Party.

The Final Years

Although out of office, Moses maintained hopes of a Republican resurgence and even him possibly returning to the Senate, attempting to do so twice. In 1936, he backed Frank Knox for the Republican nomination, fully believing that if nominated he would win. Instead, Knox was placed as the vice-presidential candidate and the ticket was crushed, only winning Maine and Vermont. The following year, he wrote to Senator Carter Glass (D-Va.), by this time an avowed foe of the New Deal, proposing a conservative alliance between Republicans and Southern Democrats, holding that because the black vote no longer went Republican, the issue of the “color line” was no longer present (Schickler, 247). This presaged the Conservative Coalition that arose after the 1938 midterms and the South’s long-term eventual shift to the GOP. Moses ultimately never got to come back, with his old seat being won back to the GOP by Congressman Charles W. Tobey, a guy who would by World War II’s end be on the moderate to liberal wing of the party. Moses didn’t live to see his party’s resurgence, dying on December 20, 1944. Even if he had lived to see the Republicans win control both the White House and Congress again from 1953 to 1955, his arch-conservatism, his status as an irreconcilable on the Versailles Treaty, and his thoughts about President Hoover as being too liberal would certainly have had him finding Eisenhower wanting on a domestic and foreign policy basis. Norris Cotton recalled about him in his 1978 memoir, “My own boss, George Moses, a man of many contradictory traits, was in many respects the most brilliant man who ever represented New Hampshire, and he merits more than passing attention…Moses was truly a master of words” (GovInfo, 89).


Dartmouth College Public Service Legacy: George Higgins Moses, Class of 1890. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences.

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Fathers of the Senate, 1890-1946. GovInfo.

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Schickler, E. (2016). Racial realignment: the transformation of American liberalism, 1932-1965. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

“Sons of the Wild Jackass”. United States Senate.

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