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.
Davidson, A.A. (1980). Louis L. Ludlow. Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
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.
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.
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.
Arnold, L. (2014, May 12). Robert D. Stuart Jr., Quaker Oats chief and founder of America First, dies at 98. The Washington Post.
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.
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.
Dierenfield, B. (2014, June 5). Howard W. Smith (1883-1976). Encyclopedia Virginia.
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)
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.
List of Politicians Who Participated in Duelling. The Political Graveyard.
While researching for a post on dueling, I found a senator whose life story I couldn’t resist writing about, as it was about as tempestuous as one can get in the history of American politics.
Henry S. Foote (1804-1880) was a planter, attorney, and politician known for his hot temper and this got him into duels between 1828 and 1837. This was unfortunate for him as he wasn’t a good dueler and was injured in three of them. The first duel was against attorney Edmund Winston over a fistfight he and his younger family members had with Foote and two members of the Washington family in which the latter side lost badly. The product of this duel was Foote being shot in the shoulder and Foote getting Winston in the hip. His second duel was the result of him, as an attorney representing a client in a lawsuit, throwing an inkstand at opposing counsel Sergeant S. Prentiss in a rage. The result was Foote getting shot in the shoulder again. Although honor was satisfied per dueling code he insisted on another duel. This time, Foote was even less fortunate as he was shot above the knee, which almost killed him due to blood loss. The two men ironically would end up becoming good friends. Despite almost dying in his third duel, Foote engaged in a fourth! This time he managed to slightly wound his opponent after shooting wildly. In modern times, this man would not rise in politics at all, but dueling was a matter of honor practiced by men rich and poor. In 1839, Foote was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served until his election to the Senate in 1847. There, he became known for three things: the Compromise of 1850, delivering overly long speeches, and getting into fistfights.
In 1847, Foote was elected to the Senate as a Democrat and was known as a staunch unionist. Over Christmas of that year, fellow Senator Jefferson Davis and Foote had an argument regarding popular sovereignty which got heated to the point in which Davis apparently struck Foote, prompting a fistfight. After the fight, Foote proclaimed that Davis had struck first, to which Davis denounced him as a “liar” and threatened to beat him to death should he say it again. Foote responded by punching him in the face and Davis responded in kind. The following year he got into a fight with Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania on the last night of his term after Foote interrupted him during a speech as he stated he had no rights to speak on the floor as he was no longer a senator. In March 1850, he got into yet another fight, this time with Arkansas Senator Solon Borland after he called him a “servile follower” of Senator John C. Calhoun (Langeveld, 2016). A firm supporter of slavery, Foote also threatened Free Soil Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire with hanging should he ever visit Mississippi, to which Hale responded that Foote would receive a warm welcome should he visit New Hampshire. He was one of the key senators in the negotiations for the Compromise of 1850, which was staunchly opposed by another notoriously hot-tempered man, Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who had in 1813 bested Andrew Jackson in a duel and had killed a man in one in 1817. Foote despised Benton for what he regarded as a pompous attitude and disliked his recent anti-slavery views. He proceeded to rail against and insult him for weeks during the debates on the Compromise of 1850. On April 17, 1850, matters finally reached a boiling point when Foote insinuated that Benton, who prided himself on his integrity, was taking bribes. Benton, a large hulking man of 68 years old, had enough of his abusive rhetoric. He charged at Foote, a 46-year old who was rail thin. He retreated and pulled out a pistol, to which Benton reportedly responded to by opening up his shirt and shouting, “Let him fire! Stand out of the way! I have no pistols. Let the assassin fire!” (Langeveld, 2016) Senator Foote was wrestled to the ground by other senators and disarmed. Ultimately his drawing of his pistol was regarded as an act of self-defense after a special Senate committee investigated the matter. To this day, he is the only senator to ever pull a gun on another senator on the floor of the Senate.
Foote would also bore senators with his long speeches and it would often happen that senators would loudly groan when they wanted him to wrap up. In 1852, he left the Senate as he had been narrowly elected Governor of Mississippi on a platform of maintaining the union the year before, defeating his hated rival Jefferson Davis. His time, however, was short-lived as Mississippi politics were growing ever more favorable to secession, and in 1853 he lost reelection to secessionist John J. McRae. After serving as Governor of Mississippi, he left the state for California, where he became involved with the American (“Know Nothing”) Party and lost a bid for the Senate in 1856. Foote didn’t stay long after and moved back to Mississippi, then to Tennessee, where he was once again a Democrat. In 1860, Foote backed Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois as the only candidate he believed could hold the nation together and predicted secession and war if Abraham Lincoln won.
Although previously a firm unionist, Foote aided Tennessee Governor Isham G. Harris in getting the state to secede after the Battle of Fort Sumter and was elected to the Confederate Congress, where he criticized pretty much everything President Jefferson Davis did at least partly out of personal spite for him. His proposals for how to conduct the war ranged from advising a full-scale invasion of the North in 1862 to urging peace negotiations in 1863 and 1864 after President Lincoln offered them. Foote also viciously spoke against Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin using anti-Semitic rhetoric, including alleging if the influence of Jews continued that the people of the South would “probably find nearly all the property of the Confederacy in the hands of Jewish shylocks” and succeeded in ousting him in 1862 (Langeveld, 2016). Foote’s fighting ways also didn’t end in the Confederate Congress and he was widely ill-regarded there as well. Representative Edmund Dargan of Alabama attacked him with a bowie knife after he called him a “damned rascal” and he got into a fight with Commissary General Lucius B. Northrop (a man he had denounced previously) and Missouri Representative Thomas B. Hanly after laughing disrespectfully at the latter’s testimony. On January 10, 1865, he was arrested for trying to get to Washington D.C. on an unauthorized peace mission. On January 24th, he was almost expelled from the Confederate Congress but when the vote narrowly failed, Foote was censured instead. Only a week later he was arrested again, this time in the United States, as he had fled the Confederacy to stay with his son-in-law, Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada. Foote was forced to leave the country and stayed in London, where he wrote and published a manifesto urging Tennessee to secede from the Confederacy. This time, the Confederate Congress expelled him for his desertion and treason. Although he again returned to the United States, President Andrew Johnson was unsympathetic to him and ordered him to leave the country in 48 hours or be charged with treason. Foote left the country again, this time staying in Montreal. He petitioned for a presidential pardon from there, which again President Johnson resisted. On August 26th, however, Johnson permitted him to return to the United States on the condition that he swear an oath of loyalty to the United States, which he did. Foote was, however, disenfranchised as a former Confederate officeholder. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant restored Foote’s civil rights. By this time, Foote had come to support civil rights for freed blacks, including suffrage.
Despite his support for Grant’s civil rights policies, in 1872 he backed Horace Greeley for president. However, in 1875, Foote switched to the Republican Party and backed Rutherford B. Hayes the following year, attending the Republican National Convention. As a reward for his support, Hayes appointed him to head the U.S. Mint at New Orleans in 1878, a largely honorary position he held until he fell ill and died in 1880.
Foote stands out to this day for penchant for being an exceptionally obnoxious and ill-tempered man who repeatedly got into fights with others, being the only elected official from Mississippi to vote for the Compromise of 1850, being the only senator to ever pull a gun on another senator in the chamber, and having betrayed both the Union and the Confederacy. He shows us that for however divided we are, things could be worse.
Corlew, R.E. (2017, October 8). Henry S. Foote. Tennessee Historical Society.
Langeveld, D. (2016, August 28). Henry S. Foote: Two Time Traitor. Downfall Dictionary.
In 1888, journalist Edward Bellamy wrote Looking Backward: 2000-1887, which is the story of a young man who manages to enter a deep sleep for 113 years to awake in the world of 2000. American society has become a utopia in which private property has been nationalized, goods are equally distributed, people can retire at 45, and food is available for free at public kitchens. Although what he describes is Marxian socialism, Bellamy doesn’t use the term “socialism” in the book as the term was tremendously negatively regarded in that time, more so than today. Instead, he called this philosophy “Nationalism”, in that the nation owns all property. Bellamy’s book became tremendously popular in his time and among 19th century books was only outsold by Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. This book also influenced the creation of the Populist Party, the first significant party to call for outright socialist policies. One adherent to his ideas was his cousin, Baptist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), who contributed to American patriotism in a way that we know quite well today.
In 1891, Bellamy delivered sermons before his congregation in Boston in which he denounced capitalism and argued that Jesus was a socialist. His sermons deeply offended his congregation and ultimately, he got booted out, but he moved on to another endeavor: forming a new nationalism for America. In 1892, Bellamy wrote in the children’s magazine Youth’s Companion the Pledge of Allegiance, which reads in its revised version, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Although Bellamy was a socialist minister, he refrained from including any reference to religion or socialism in the pledge. He was, along with being a socialist, a patriot and his patriotism motivated his creation of the pledge. Bellamy wanted to “inoculate” immigrants and native-born Americans who waver in their patriotism from “radicalism” and “subversion” (Beato). He was not a socialist in a modern sense, but rather in an old sense and this meant that culturally he was more like the Populists in that he was wary of mass immigration.
Bellamy gained support from the National Education Association to adopt this in schools and he even created his own salute to the flag, known as the “Bellamy salute”. This was dropped during World War II and replaced with the hand over the heart for the reason you can see below:
Nope, that’s not some sort of Nazi school, that’s students in a regular classroom giving the old salute to the flag. The Bellamy salute was slightly different than the Nazi salute, but the confusion was enough for the change. The pledge got changed in minor ways a few times (none of which Bellamy approved) and in 1919 the state of Washington became the first to legally require students to recite the pledge weekly. Although the law is upheld by the Supreme Court in 1940 when Jehovah’s Witnesses challenge it, the Supreme Court overruled itself only three years later. The pledge was legally adopted by Congress in 1942. Its final form in 1954, the one that we know, reads, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The phrase “under God” was the addition of Senator Homer Ferguson (R-Mich.) and Reps. Charles Oakman (R-Mich.) and Louis Rabaut (D-Mich.), who sponsored the legislation and wanted to contrast the United States with the officially atheist USSR.
The Pledge of Allegiance has existed for 128 years and for 66 years in its current form. Will it be changed again in the future? Will a future generation opt to leave God out of it again? Will we dispense with the pledge altogether? Will we bring back the Bellamy salute? Okay, I’m just kidding on that last one. However, my point here is that the Pledge of Allegiance hasn’t always been how we’ve known it and could still be changed in the future. While I like the way the Pledge is right now and I will say all of it if prompted, I nonetheless think it is worth it for us to reflect on what the implications of the Pledge are regarding obedience to the state and whether we ought to have God in it.
Beato, G. (2010, December 16). Face the Flag. Reason.
Jones, J.O. (2003, November). The Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. The Smithsonian.
There was a period of American history that isn’t often talked about called the “Brown Scare”. Coverage of the two “Red Scares” often leaves the “Brown Scare” forgotten. The “Brown Scare” of 1940-1944 was the idea that like with the “Red Scare”, that there were Nazi agents in numerous facets of American life. If a politician or public figure was a non-interventionist, there would be accusations that they were a Nazi, in league with the Nazis, or an active agent of the Nazis. There were certainly some figures for which this was true, such as George S. Viereck and Prescott F. Dennett of the “Make Europe Pay Its War Debt Committee” and the “Islands for War Debt Committee”, who were paid agents of the Nazis trying to influence American politics away from war in Europe. However, such efforts were unsuccessful and were rather limited. Additionally, in the case I mentioned, it happened before American involvement in World War II.
It is often forgotten that the Dies Committee (House Committee on Un-American Activities) also directed attention to elements of what is regarded as the “far right” and if it is remembered, it is remembered that it focused a lot more on communism. In retrospect, this is justified as Soviet intelligence operations have since the declassification of the Venona Papers been revealed to have been far better at infiltration than Nazi intelligence operations…in the Roosevelt Administration there were no “secret Nazis” among the president’s advisors, but there was Assistant Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White as a Soviet agent and Roosevelt’s economic advisor Lauchlin Currie, who was a paid agent of the NKVD as well as numerous agents in the State, Treasury, and Agriculture departments. The pinnacle of the “Brown Scare” came in the form of U.S. v. McWilliams, et al., or as it became more commonly known, “The Great Sedition Trial of 1944”. FDR had for some time pushed Attorney General Francis Biddle for a trial of American fascists and this was the product.
There were thirty-three defendants in this indictment, which included non-interventionists and actual fascists. Many of them were anti-Semites of some stripe. Prosecutor O. John Rogge, a committed New Dealer, sought to prove that these defendants were trying to undermine the morale of American troops or to cause them to revolt, which if proven would warrant convictions under the Smith Act of 1940. Some of the most prominent were:
Joe McWilliams – The principal defendant in the case. As a young man, McWilliams was a communist, but he became a professional fascist and anti-Semite after having a bout of ill health in 1935, despite being aided in this time by Jewish friends. He became a nationally infamous hateful crank and was called “Joe McNazi” by radio commentator Walter Winchell. In 1940, he held a rally for non-interventionism in which the crowd turned violent after he denounced businessmen, Jews, and communists for the world’s problems. McWilliams advocated the use of violence against communists and Jews and in 1940, he ran for the nomination of the Republican Party for New York’s 18th congressional district (which he lost badly). He seemed to be the nut that the Roosevelt Administration, particularly Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, loved to pick to portray as representing opponents of American involvement in European wars. McWilliams also worked briefly for Democratic Senator Robert R. Reynolds of North Carolina, a man with a terrible habit of associating himself with disreputable organizations and characters that he viewed as patriotic.
George E. Deatherage (what a name to inspire dread!) – An enthusiastic fascist who founded a second incarnation of the Knights of the White Camellia as a fascist group, the first which had been a terrorist organization in the Reconstruction Era in the South. Deatherage wrote speeches for retired General George Van Horn Moseley (a notorious anti-Semite) and collaborated with Nazi propagandist Ulrich Fleischhauer with the Welt-Dienst/World-Service agency prior to American involvement in World War II.
Elmer J. Garner – A journalist from Kansas who was a traditional populist in thought, with his Farmers’ Advance possibly being the first Populist newspaper in Kansas. Consistent with the Populist Party platform, he called for “free silver” and public ownership of utilities at the turn of the century and had embraced much of the New Deal in the 1930s. Garner consistently stood for Prohibition, non-interventionism, and nativism but got the negative attention of the Roosevelt Administration for negative writings on Roosevelt’s foreign policy and for often employing anti-Semitism in his writings, including calling for the impeachment of “Roosevelt and his Jewish Camarilla” (Encyclopedia of the Great Plains). Although he softened his opposition to Roosevelt with the start of the war, Garner was nonetheless a target. He was eighty years old by the time of the trial and died only two weeks after its start.
George Sylvester Viereck – George Viereck was a poet, German nationalist, and a paid propagandist of the Nazis who became socially acquainted with numerous non-interventionist activists and politicians. He tried to push a narrative to Americans (which he apparently believed as he offered mild criticism of anti-Semitism) that Hitler was comparable to FDR and that anti-Semitism was only peripheral to Nazism, an approach condemned by his Jewish friends. Viereck had also written pro-German material during World War I. In 1940 he set up a publishing firm in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, called Flanders Hall, which existed to distribute pro-Nazi material and was busted for a scheme to mail out material free of postage through the Congressional frank. Although by mid-1941 he had ended his arrangement with the Nazis, it was too late for him and he was indicted weeks before Pearl Harbor for failing to disclose activities that should have been present when he registered as a German agent in 1938. He was convicted in 1942 and served five years in prison.
Prescott F. Dennett – Worked for Viereck as treasurer of “Make Europe Pay Its War Debt Committee” and the “Islands for War Debt Committee”, was also in the pay of the Nazis before World War II. He was convicted along with Viereck for the Congressional mailing scheme.
Lawrence Dennis – Lawrence Dennis was the nation’s leading intellectual advocate of fascism, who had come to believe that capitalism was done for and that communism must be repelled. He collaborated with Harold Lord Varney, Joseph P. Kamp, and former Populist Alabama Congressman Milford W. Howard on The Awakener, a publication which opposed the New Deal. Dennis, however, departed the publication in 1935 due to the magazine’s rejection of fascism. He had attempted to join the US Army during World War II, but was rejected based on his politics. In 1946, Dennis would write A Trial on Trial: The Great Sedition Trial of 1944, a biting critique of the trial. Dennis was also secretly black. Dennis had been a child preacher at the turn of the century and was identified as “black” or “mulatto” during that time, but as an adult he was able to pass due to his lighter complexion and always cutting his hair short.
Elizabeth Dilling – Wrote The Red Network – A Who’s Who and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots, which contained the names of over 1300 suspected communists and sympathizers. She included on this list Jane Addams, Albert Einstein (who she falsely claimed had his property confiscated by the Nazis for being a communist), Sigmund Freud, and Mahatma Gandhi. Dilling had visited the USSR in 1931 and was repulsed by the dreadful conditions there as well as its rejection of Christianity. She initially seemed to reject anti-Semitism but later embraced it, strongly believing that Judaism and communism were connected. Dilling contributed to anti-Semitic publications after World War II.
Robert E. Edmondson – Edmondson was an anti-Semitic pamphleteer who organized the Pan-Aryan Conference and ran the Edmondson Economic Service, through which he charged the economy was being manipulated by Jews. He accused FDR of being secretly Jewish and of being under the sway of Bernard Baruch, Felix Frankfurter, and Louis Brandeis (all Jews) in 1936. Like Deatherage, Edmondson also collaborated with Nazi propagandist Ulrich Fleischhauer prior to American involvement in World War II. He would push the fluoridation conspiracy after World War II.
William Dudley Pelley – A former journalist and Hollywood screenwriter who had won two O. Henry Awards and founder of the Silver Shirts, a paramilitary organization fashioned after the Nazi stormtroopers. Pelley advocated for a system in which the state owned all property and distributed it to whites based on “loyalty”, reinstatement of slavery for blacks, and the deportations of all Jews out of the United States. His organization never had more than 15,000 members and he had already disbanded the organization by the time of American involvement in World War II. Pelley had also already been incarcerated by the time of the indictment for publishing a seditious magazine. He was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for sedition and other charges in 1942, being released in 1950. Pelley would subsequently become fascinated by UFOs and would write about them as well as mysticism extensively until his death in 1965.
James True – An obscure crank journalist who ran James True Associates and America First, Inc., through which he peddled grossly anti-Semitic literature. He may have been the originator of the term “America First” for the cause of non-interventionists. True also literally patented and tried to sell a nightstick for the apparent purpose of combatting Jews on the streets to police departments. He was called before the Dies Committee as part of their investigations into fascism, in which he testified his belief that Jews were responsible for communism and that they control the United States through the government and monetary system. By 1944, however, True was, at 64 years old, in poor health and had collapsed on day seven of the trial. On account of his ill health, he was unable to attend most of the trial and died before its conclusion.
Gerald B. Winrod – An evangelical reverend known as the “Jayhawk Nazi” for being from Kansas and spreading anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi material. He believed that Hitler was a Christian who would save Europe from communism and that the New Deal had been perpetrated by communists and Jews. In 1938, he downplayed his anti-Semitism to try to run for the Senate as a Republican, but was defeated in the primary. Winrod’s publication was called The Defender, in which after World War II he railed against Jews, lionized Joseph McCarthy, and promoted curing ailments through faith healing. The latter contributed to his death from pneumonia in 1957 when he refused to see a doctor.
On April 17, 1944, the trial began but the case from the very start was weak, as it attempted to prove that there was a deliberate effort to aid the Nazis from the defendants based on the similarity of their writings to Nazi propaganda. Prosecutor O. John Rogge hoped this trial would strike a blow against racial and religious hatred. While many of these people were anti-Semites and racists, the government’s case was not to convict them of bigotry, it was to convict them of undermining the morale of American troops and/or trying to incite them to revolt. A mistrial was declared on November 29, 1944 due to the death of Judge Edward C. Eicher from a heart attack. By this time, the trial had attracted ridicule and scorn from many corners of American life. Time Magazine wrote disapprovingly of the trial that it was the “biggest and noisiest sedition trial in United States history…no one in Washington doubted that a ludicrously undignified trial had hastened the death of a scrupulously dignified judge” (Time Magazine). The ACLU campaigned against the trial, while predictably the CPUSA offered full-throated support of the trial. By late 1946, even Rogge was doubting that he could win convictions. As Justice Laws wrote in his dismissal of the case,
“If these defendants are guilty, it would seem that any serious doubt as to their guilt would be resolved in more than five years of intensive investigation by able counsel and investigators of the Department of Justice. If they were clearly guilty, the prosecution should have unwaveringly assured the Court to this effect at least upon completion of the investigation in Germany. Usually the Court will permit the prosecutor to decide whether he will bring a case to trial. But where it appears, as here, there is serious doubt as to the success of the case, and that the defendants, because of long delays granted over their objections, cannot obtain a fair trial the Court should exercise its discretion to deny prosecution. It would be both unjust and un-American to do otherwise” (69 F. Supp. 812.).
None had been proven to have had Nazi connections by the time war was declared and it wasn’t proven that they had written their works for the purpose of undermining the war effort. Truth be told, these people didn’t have many supporters but latched on to causes that attracted much greater support, such as anti-communism and non-interventionism, to push their fringe perspectives and made for easy targets by their far more prominent foes.
Daley, J. (2018, October 3). The Screenwriting Mystic Who Wanted to Be the American Führer. The Smithsonian.
The political affiliations of states are not permanent, and the proof of it is in the state of West Virginia. The voters of this state have time and again switched their political loyalties. In fact, there are multiple eras that can be found with West Virginia: Republican Founding (1863-1875), Democratic Takeover (1875-1895), Republican Return (1895-1933), Democratic Dominance (1933-2001), Transition (2001-2015), and Republican Dominance (2015-present).
The state of Virginia was majorly divided on slavery and when the political leadership of Virginia decided to join the Confederacy, the people of the western portion of the state decided to form a separate state: West Virginia. Although the political leadership was staunchly unionist, it was also not super bullish on civil rights and radical Republicanism. Some of the unionists were themselves slaveowners, including one of the state’s first Republican senators, Waitman T. Willey. In 1868, one of its Republican senators, Peter G. Van Winkle, voted against impeaching President Andrew Johnson.
In 1870, the state began moving to the Democrats with the election of two representatives and that year Democrat Henry G. Davis was elected to the Senate. In 1874, the economic decline precipitated by the Panice of 1873 produced great losses for the Republicans, and West Virginia’s delegation went entirely Democratic with the remaining Republican representative losing reelection. Democrat Allen T. Caperton, a former Confederate senator, succeeded retiring Republican Arthur Boreman, who had signed the West Virginia law abolishing slavery as governor. Democrats dominated the scene in West Virginia from 1875 to 1895, but just as a major economic downturn brought Democrats to dominance in the 1874 election, the major downturn under Cleveland brought Republicans to dominance. They would remain so in the state until the 1932 election.
The Democratic dominance produced by the New Deal would last remarkably long, with Republicans until 2000 only winning the state in the presidential elections of 1956, 1972, and 1984. Democrats held both Senate seats from 1959 to 2015 and the delegation to Congress was only Democratic from 1969-1981 and from 1983-2001. Union organization of coal miners was a major factor in keeping the state Democratic for as long as it was given the increasingly socially liberal politics of the national Democratic Party. Many of the state’s Democratic officials were considerably more conservative than the national party on social issues, so this held off Republicans for some time. However, with the 2000 election the state’s movement to the Republicans began with George W. Bush’s win by over six points and the election of Shelley Moore Capito to the House. Bush’s appeal to family values after the Clinton impeachment helped move the state into the Republican column.
The state grew even more Republican after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, with his energy policies widely denounced in the state as the “war on coal”. In 2010, both of the state’s senators were Democrats, and Shelley Moore Capito stood as the only Republican representative. Today, Republicans hold all three House seats and Capito holds one of the Senate seats. Republicans had made gains everywhere, winning control over the Senate and the House of Delegates, and getting Governor Jim Justice to switch from Democrat to Republican. The only remaining Democrat is Joe Manchin, who is without question the least liberal among Democratic senators and even he had a close call in his 2018 reelection bid. The deciding factor for politics in West Virginia has been economics, and while one might think the 2008 election would have brought the state more Democratic, the Republicans are friendlier on energy policy to the coal industry, and West Virginia has been one of the most hurting states in terms of economic trends. In 2020, the state voted for Trump by almost 69% of the vote, and he won all counties. He even improved his already high performance in the state. Only Wyoming had a greater percentage for Trump this year, and Wyoming has been entirely Republican in its national voting behavior since 1978. Republicans have also achieved supermajorities in the Senate and House of Delegates with the 2020 election. Although right now Democrats are certainly on the outs in the state, it may be that within the next forty years the state moves back into the Democratic column. Nothing is permanent and nothing is impossible in American politics.
This election was a bit of a surprise in a number of ways, which I will dive into after taking care of two obligatory matters.
First, an obligatory roasting of the polls. The pollsters were off this year, but not as badly as I initially thought they were. It is clear that they haven’t “fixed” the problems that resulted in them botching the call in 2016. In the states of Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin, average polling was over five points off. Polling bias was once again Democratic, but to a lesser extent than in 2016. On the bright side, their prediction was of a Biden victory, and that is what we have. Also, their calling of how states would vote was not as off as in 2016, in which average polling got four states wrong, whereas the calls were off only on Florida and Georgia. However…
The Maine Senate race polling is a scandal. Not a single poll posted on RCP since February put Susan Collins ahead, yet she won reelection by over eight points. What gives, pollsters?
House polling and prognostication is also a scandal, as gains for Democrats in the House were widely predicted but instead Republicans gained. As of writing, not a single Republican incumbent has lost reelection in the House. Two Democrats took Republican seats in North Carolina that had been redistricted to them and the incumbents had opted to retire, and they took retiring Rob Woodall’s seat in Georgia.
Second, an obligatory assessment of my predictive performance.
I was wrong about Maine and Minnesota for the Senate. I invoke the “I was relying on the polls” defense for Collins (no poll since February had her in the lead!), but for Minnesota, I admitted when I called that it was a wild card call, and it turns out that’s all it was. In fact, aside from the Georgia and Nevada vote for president, it is the only state that had a Republican bias in its polling.
I was wrong about Georgia(!) and Pennsylvania going to Trump.
I was right about everything else. If I didn’t mention it in my pre-election post, it was because I believed it would go in the predictable direction…how the polls had it. Incidentally, I think given our Electoral College, there is literally no reason to poll national popular vote. Only poll the vote of states that are swing in the election.
I was right about Gardner losing reelection and McSally losing the election. Gardner wasn’t a tough call as he was the doomed Republican incumbent of the election, while McSally only led in literally one poll throughout the campaign season. However, she lost by less than the poll average. I feel embarrassed for the pollsters that reported double-digits for Kelly.
I was right on Ernst in Iowa and Tillis in North Carolina. I am most proud about the latter, because he was behind in polling and I used the following reasoning to reach this conclusion: first, almost all the polls showed Tillis losing in 2014 yet he still won, and second, Cunningham had an extramarital affair scandal. I thought these two factors meant the race going to Tillis, and I was right!
I was right about Peters winning reelection in Michigan, even if it does depress me that there will be no Senator James. The average polls were over five points in favor of Peters, which I thought was too much for James to overcome. I wanted to be wrong here.
I thought that Montana was too favorable to Trump to elect Bullock over Daines, and I was right.
I never took seriously the idea that Cornyn would lose reelection in Texas, and I thought Graham would win despite a lot of publicity for Harrison.
In all, this Senate election has produced two polling upsets: Susan Collins and Thom Tillis holding their seats. You might consider David Perdue in Georgia a third because Jon Ossoff led in average polling, but this is now a runoff, so the race has no winner yet.
Also, final obligatory note: Mitch McConnell is unpopular every day except Election Day it seems. To be fair, Democrats fielded a candidate, Amy McGrath, with a weak and contradictory message who lost in 2018 in a district that was less Republican than Kentucky overall: when she ran for the House, she’s anti-Trump and when she runs for the Senate she praises Trump? Not buying it. Not when Senate Democrats voted unanimously to impeach him.
Now, on to the meat…the analysis.
The Biden campaign had hoped that the election’s overarching narrative would be the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 policy failures. This did not prove to be the case. There were other narratives that were running through the minds of the voters. One in particular was emphasis on the economy, and the US’s recovery has been considerably quicker than expected. Another was concern about the rioting that accompanied the protests over racial injustice this year. Americans value both people and property. Yet another was a dislike of the left-wing radicalism promoted by the likes of Warren, Sanders, Harris, and The Squad. The American people don’t like socialism, “defund the police”, or “cancel culture”. Unfortunately for the GOP, they don’t like Trump either. The results of this election are this: the voters don’t want Trump on the throne but they also don’t want to hand the Democrats the keys to the kingdom.
Although it is undoubtedly true that there were many politicians and people in the media who were indeed out to get Donald Trump, it is also true that no person is more responsible for Donald Trump’s loss than Donald Trump.
Although his political honeymoon was remarkably short at the start of his presidency, up until March 2020 Trump stood a reasonably good chance of winning reelection. Biden was not the strongest choice, and the Democratic candidates had called for many things that were way to the left for the American public (illegal immigrants get govt. healthcare, decriminalizing unauthorized border crossing, single-payer healthcare, etc.) and embraced radical left narratives on the nature of racism in America. Now, it is normal for candidates in the primary to appeal to the party base and then backtracking later before the general electorate…however, the influence of the radicals was particularly strong in this primary season, and provided plenty of advertising fodder for the Trump campaign. Just on the horizon was COVID-19’s appearance and spread throughout the United States. At the time, Trump had survived an impeachment effort backed by all Senate Democrats, and one that was from the beginning tremendously unlikely to succeed. However, with COVID-19, Trump had a golden opportunity to unite the nation with decisive, business-like, and calm leadership. He squandered this with petty fixations, publicly speculating inappropriately on potential cures, and continuing divisive rhetoric. The nation needed a uniter, and quite simply, uniting isn’t in his playbook.
This got even worse with the aftermath to the killing of George Floyd by the police, with anti-racism demonstrations occurring throughout the United States and the world. While much of the demonstrations were non-violent, violence was prevalent enough to result in killings, injuries, looting, and arson in a number of major American cities. This helped people become more concerned about the radical left, which was quite useful in the hands of Donald Trump who delivered a swift rhetorical condemnation of rioting…but he again harmed himself when he cleared out a group of peaceful protestors with tear gas so he could make a public appearance. He also sent troops to Portland who may have exceeded their constitutional boundaries. Such an infamous act by a president against a group of protestors had not been seen since Herbert Hoover ordered the dispersing of the Bonus Marchers in 1932.
The first debate was one of the most painful televised experiences I have ever witnessed. Donald Trump decided that a good strategy would be to regularly interrupt Joe Biden so as to throw him off track, which seemed to work initially but he continued to do so when it had stopped working and also insulted his intelligence. Biden pulled no punches either, accusing the president of being a racist (for ending “critical theory” based racial sensitivity training), a clown, and the worst president ever. No one you could say liked the first debate, and it was certainly not a win for Trump, who would have been better off letting Biden talk more. This itself is not a death sentence for a campaign…President Barack Obama did famously poorly in his first debate with Mitt Romney in 2012 but he recovered in the next two debates and went on to win the election. However, Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis prevented three debates, and what’s more he had previously refused to do a second one if virtual as he didn’t want his mic cut off. Although in the next debate Trump performed reasonably well, it didn’t move the needle enough. Just like towards the end of October 2016, Trump had a surge in the polls.
Here we stand today with an election outcome that is in fact not uncertain, rather the notion of its uncertainty or illegitimacy is in truth almost entirely a media campaign by the lame duck Trump Administration. Trump blew what could have been a turnaround year against a candidate who would have in any other election year not even been nominated. In most places, he ran behind down-ticket Republicans.
Trump, however, has given the GOP some good lessons. Before he was nominated, they were having some trouble connecting with working class voters, and now Republicans have an idea of where they can mine votes and some sense of how to do it. Additionally, Trump improved upon the GOP’s performance with minority voters. Some of these gains could be attributed to Democrats’ tepid and delayed response to rioting and fears that Democratic policies would be steps to systems such as Cuba’s and Venezuela’s. However, there is yet more work to be done in the suburbs, which were once a place the GOP could count on for votes. People are put off by Trump the man, but not necessarily the overall policies of the administration. The Senate looks like it will stay in GOP hands and the Republican House gains are putting Pelosi’s Democratic majority at an uncomfortably thin margin. This leaves us with a 50-50 nation with multiple competing narratives influencing voters and with animosities old and new continuing to stew. We will likely focus a whole lot on what divides us in the next two years, but perhaps we can find some small areas in which we agree that can bear fruit. A Biden Administration, like the last six years of the Obama Administration, will have to largely rely on executive orders for whatever partisan actions can be achieved with that limited avenue and will be forced to negotiate with Republicans on other domestic matters. On international affairs, although it is fundamentally a purview of the executive, the Biden Administration will have a difficult time getting through any remotely controversial treaties and will have to rely upon executive agreements.
Although the COVID-19 narrative was not dominant, COVID-19 itself played a decisive role in the election. Although it did not claim Trump, it claimed his presidency. Trump’s failure to unite the nation during this public health crisis by focusing on petty nonsense, partisan bickering, empty speculation on questionable treatments for COVID-19 (at best), and his turning the wearing of masks into a political issue did him much political harm. Yes, its true that the government lied to the public initially about whether you needed to wear a mask with COVID-19 so that the public wouldn’t do with masks what they did with toilet paper, but get over it! When the government changed its assessment of the necessity of mask-wearing, I knew they had lied. There was no way that there was some study that changed their view on the nature of the disease. They knew all along. This being said, there was no need for President Trump to continue this fiction through not wearing a mask beyond its necessary end date. Additionally, Trump’s getting COVID-19 prevented a debate from occurring, and he NEEDED three debates after the first one. In these senses, COVID-19 killed the Trump presidency. However, the Democrats’ courting of radical leftists helped make the race closer than anticipated, even if the man they ran is not personally on the same page as those people.
The Democrats ultimately so far have only won two of the Senate seats polls foretold they’d win: Arizona and Colorado. Instead of Republicans losing seats in the House, they gained, yet another scandal in polling and election prognostication. However, some of these wins I really wasn’t surprised about, especially the Charleston, SC and Oklahoma City districts given that they had repeatedly elected Republicans for many years before. Nonetheless, the results in Florida were stunning for the Democrats, who should have known that courting people who were pushing policies on the Castro and Chavez end of things would have scared Cubans and other Latinos off. I can also report that the Democratic Party of California has a ceiling: the vote on the most important propositions went in a conservative direction and as of writing, the GOP has won back two Orange County seats in Congress.
Overall, this election provides a mixed verdict and establishes once again we are a nation divided. There is, you might say a strange brilliance to the voters’ choices: they don’t like Trump or the Democrats so enough split their tickets to divide power. Partisans will not care for the next two years, but this is the verdict the voters have delivered and if they want to get anything done in the next two years that isn’t through executive order or agreement, they’ll have to think of some things they agree on and act on those. After all, there will be “must-pass” bills that will come before Congress in the next session. This election also reflects a “2020” spirit in the sense that Florida was more Republican than Georgia and Ohio was more Republican than Texas. Also, this is the first election since 1960 that the winner didn’t win Ohio, ending the state’s streak as a bellwether for elections. I suppose the new sentiment about Ohio will be, “As Ohio goes, so goes Florida”. There is also a great irony in this election: Trump’s win in 2016 before faithless electors be faithless was 306 to 232. This is the exact figure of Biden’s victory this year.
My post-election analysis will have to be next post at earliest. As of writing, some states still haven’t finished counting and I want a final count of the states before I proceed so I can elucidate how truly off the polls were this year as well as the core takeaways. This being said, Biden has almost certainly won. Trump would have to win Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania to prevail, and it is unlikely in the extreme that if voter fraud happened in the latter state that it was enough to have made a difference. This would require around 24,000 ballots to have been for Trump and fraudulently switched to Biden. Voter fraud does exist, but to pull something off to that extent would be extraordinary, and as Carl Sagan has said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Arizona seems to have shifted, albeit slightly, to blue. For the first time since the Truman Administration, Democrats hold both Senate seats. It seems like Biden will win Arizona, the first time a Democrat has done so since 1996. This can be attributed at least in part to Arizona voters disliking Donald Trump for his disrespect to the now late Senator John McCain. Also, the increasing support for Democrats can be attributed to demographic changes, with Latinos (who overall tend to vote Democrat) rising in population in the state. If the state is on an inevitable path to being a blue state with this growth, it would actually be going back to what it used to be.
For Arizona’s first forty years the state was staunchly Democratic and quite the small rural state. A grand total of one time the state had elected a Republican, Ralph Cameron, to represent the state in the Senate and this was in the 1920 Republican landslide. Although the state voted for Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover the first time around, the state was following national trends and the vote for Coolidge was a plurality. Cameron’s election turns out to have been a fluke, as he was easily defeated in the 1926 midterms by the state’s first-ever Congressman, Carl Hayden, who would serve until 1969, when he was in his nineties.
Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, 1953-1965, 1969-1987.
The Great Depression and FDR’s presidency delayed for twenty years potential movement from the Democratic to Republican Party among states. However, after 1936 the vote from Arizona was slowly but steadily moving to the Republicans. This manifested itself in a tremendous way when the Republicans not only won Arizona by almost 17 points in the 1952 presidential election, but Barry Goldwater also toppled Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland by 2.5 points. In the House, 16-year incumbent John Murdock was defeated for reelection by John Rhodes by 8 points. By stark contrast, in 1946 McFarland had won reelection by nearly 40 points while Murdock had in 1950 won reelection by over 20 points. The state was becoming suburban as opposed to rural, and at the time rural areas were still places in which Democrats, including New Deal Democrats, could still win. However, as more and more Republican voters moved into the state’s growing suburbs, the more conservative and Republican the state became. In the tough Republican year of 1958, Rhodes won reelection by nearly 20 points while Goldwater easily defeated McFarland in a rematch.
Goldwater would continue to win the approval of Arizonans, even in his ill-fated 1964 presidential run and would be returned to the Senate in the 1968 election, serving until 1987. Rhodes would serve as Minority Leader from 1973 to 1981 and was reelected until he retired in 1983. These two were the Arizona GOP’s fathers and pioneers and made the state a hotbed of conservative Republicanism: between 1952 and 2016, Arizona would only in 1996 vote for a Democrat for president, and this was a plurality.
Today, it seems what helped the GOP in the 1950s appears to be harming them now…continued growth of the suburbs are, rather than producing Republican voters, producing more Democratic voters, likely of an overall center-left persuasion who are most turned off by conservative culture war politics. They may be turned off by radical left politics as well as bad for their wallets, but this doesn’t seem to be the perception these voters have of Arizona’s Democratic Party at the moment and in any case they view it as preferable to a staunchly conservative Republican Party.