Saturday, June 28, 2008

Andrew Jackson's Proclamation Regarding Nullification 2: More State of the Union

In his December 4, 1832 State of the Union message, President Andrew Jackson next turned to the issue of internal improvements. In his Maysville Road veto of 1830, President Jackson he had made clear that he believed that federal funding of internal improvement was constitutionally suspect unless they were clearly national in character.

Now, two and half years later, the president underlined his objections. Even if federal funding of internal improvements “be deemed constitutional,” it was “subversive of the best interests of our country.” This was so, Jackson strongly suggested, because the states were somehow closer to the people, protecting them against the potentially dangerous power of the federal government:
Both Governments are the Governments of the people; improvements must be made with the money of the people, and if the money can be collected and applied by those more simple and economical political machines, the State governments, it will unquestionably be safer and better for the people than to add to the splendor, the patronage, and the power of the General Government.

Likewise, in discussing matters military, President Jackson emphasized the day-to-day primacy of local militia. The General Government might play an increased role in a crisis, but in ordinary times the federal army must be kept small because of “its ultimate danger to public liberty.” Reliance on local and state forces, Jackson asserted, were the best defense against federal usurpation:
[F]or the purposes of defense under ordinary circumstances, we must rely upon the electors of the country. Those by whom and for whom the Government was instituted and supported will constitute its protection in the hour of danger as they do its check in the hour of safety.

Finally, President Jackson devoted the closing two paragraphs of his address to describing his vision of “the great principles on which our institutions are founded.” The role of the General Government was limited to only a few “plain and simple duties.” Within this framework, “citizens” and “State sovereignties” would be free “to regulate the great mass of the business and concerns of the people” and thus “work out improvements and ameliorations” to their best advantage:
That this Government may be so administered as to preserve its efficiency in promoting and securing these general objects should be the only aim of our ambition, and we can not, therefore, too carefully examine its structure, in order that we may not mistake its powers or assume those which the people have reserved to themselves or have preferred to assign to other agents. We should bear constantly in mind the fact that the considerations which induced the framers of the Constitution to withhold from the General Government the power to regulate the great mass of the business and concerns of the people have been fully justified by experience, and that it can not now be doubted that the genius of all our institutions prescribes simplicity and economy as the characteristics of the reform which is yet to be effected in the present and future execution of the functions bestowed upon us by the Constitution.

Limited to a general superintending power to maintain peace at home and abroad, and to prescribe laws on a few subjects of general interest not calculated to restrict human liberty, but to enforce human rights, this Government will find its strength and its glory in the faithful discharge of these plain and simple duties. Relieved by its protecting shield from the fear of war and the apprehension of oppression, the free enterprise of our citizens, aided by the State sovereignties, will work out improvements and ameliorations which can not fail to demonstrate that the great truth that the people can govern themselves is not only realized in our example, but that it is done by a machinery in government so simple and economical as scarcely to be felt.

Six days later, the president made himself felt.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"She was bleeding profusely from the vaginal area"

If I were a legislator, I am not sure whether I would vote for the death penalty for any crime. There are legitimate reasons to believe that, on balance, life imprisonment in solitary confinement just might be sufficient: the expense and interminable appeals that death penalty cases inevitably generate; the possibility of misidentification.

But the idea that the death penalty is morally inappropriate for certain crimes is not merely ludicrous; it is offensive. Many others will spill volumes of ink over the Supremes' latest death penalty decision. I will let two excerpts speak for themselves. The first, from the majority opinion, is simply a sanitized version of the facts. The second is the beginning of Justice Alito's dissent:

The majority:
When police arrived at [defendant's] home between 9:20 and 9:30 a.m., they found L. H. [defendant's eight year old step daughter] on her bed, wearing a T-shirt and wrapped in a bloody blanket. She was bleeding profusely from the vaginal area. . . . L. H. was transported to the Children’s Hospital. An expert in pediatric forensic medicine testified that L. H.’s injuries were the most severe he had seen from a sexual assault in his four years of practice. A laceration to the left wall of the vagina had separated her cervix from the back of her vagina, causing her rectum to protrude into the vaginal structure. Her entire perineum was torn from the posterior fourchette to the anus. The injuries required emergency surgery.

The dissent:
The Court today holds that the Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of raping a child. This is so, according to the Court, no matter how young the child, no matter how many times the child is raped, no matter how many children the perpetrator rapes, no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how much physical or psychological trauma is inflicted, and no matter how heinous the perpetrator’s prior criminal record may be. The Court provides two reasons for this sweeping conclusion: First, the Court claims to have identified “a national consensus” that the death penalty is never acceptable for the rape of a child; second, the Court concludes, based on its “independent judgment,” that imposing the death penalty for child rape is inconsistent with “ ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.’ ” Ante, at 8, 15, 16 (citation omitted). Because neither of these justifications is sound, I respectfully dissent.

A person who believes that death is a morally unjustified response to such depravity has truly lost his humanity.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stephen Douglas Misses A Chance

Reading (as I am) about Stephen Douglas, I feel wistful. It’s such a shame that he didn’t take up leadership of the free soil wing of the Democratic party.

He had the opportunity, too. In 1845 and early 1846, the rabidly expansionist Douglas was a leader of the 54-40 or fight forces. At one point, he announced that a renewal of the offer to settle the US-Canadian boundary at 49 degrees
would be nothing less than “a treasonable proposition.” . . . “[I]f ever [the offer] was commended again . . ., in violation of the pledges given by the Democratic party to the American people, sooner let his tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth than he would defend that party which should yield one inch of Oregon."

At the same time, Douglas championed an internal improvements bill that focused on fresh-water rivers and harbors. Douglas adamantly denied that the bill improperly violated strictures against federal funding of local projects.

President James K. Polk undercut – demolished is more like it – both initiatives. First, Polk wound up negotiating and recommending a treaty with Great Britain by which the boundary was set at 49 degrees. Then Polk vetoed the rivers and harbors bill.

Remarkably – and unfortunately – Douglas turned his cheek on both humiliations. Douglas remained an intimate confidant of the president. When the Wilmot Proviso came before the House later in 1846, Douglas “was one of only four northern Democrats to oppose” it. What a shame.

It’s hard to imagine what would have happened if Douglas had joined the Wilmot Proviso Democrats in August 1846. If he had not helped fashion the Compromise of 1850, would there have been Civil War in 1850? If he had not driven the catastrophic Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, would there have been no Civil War at all? And if Stephen Douglas had morphed into a Republican by 1858, where would that have left Abe?

Guelzo on Lincoln

Allen C. Guelzo is on a roll. I'm delighted to see he's appearing regularly in the Claremont Review of Books. Having produced a nuanced review of William Freehling's Roads to Disunion Vols. I and II in the Spring issue (see my last post), he has now come out, in the Summer issue, with an enthusiastic and mouth-watering review of a book I hadn't even heard of until now, Thomas L. Krannawitter's Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President.

Professor Guelzo's review, Washing Mud from Marble, is well worth a read. You may get thirsty.

Thanks to Scott Johnson at Powerline for the lead.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Guelzo on Freehling

The Claremont Review of Books has, at last, uncovered Allen Guelzo's balanced and penetrating review of William W. Freehling's The Road to Disunion, Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, and The Road to Disunion, Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861.

Well worth a read.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Frederick Douglass and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

A nice article comparing the lives of Frederick Douglass and Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Parallel Lives:
Born a little over 150 years apart, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born 1969) both had the experience, on the threshold of adulthood--he was 20, she 22--of fleeing the culture they'd grown up in and entering another. For both, it was a run toward freedom. In each case, a short train ride and a name change to foil pursuers were the fateful turning points in a remarkable life they would recount in bestselling memoirs.

Hat tip to David Frum, who also drew the comparison here.

Andrew Jackson's Proclamation Regarding Nullification 1: Intro and State of the Union

On December 4, 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued his fourth annual State of the Union message to Congress. Six days later, on December 10, 1832, the president issued his Proclamation Regarding Nullification, addressing concerning South Carolina’s nullification of the tariffs of 1828 and 1832.

From the beginning, the president’s two statements were, and continue to be, regarded as wildly divergent in tone and political philosophy, to the point of being impossible to reconcile. The State of the Union message was, in the words of Professor Richard E. Ellis, “stridently states’ rights and agrarian in its tone and thrust.” The Proclamation, on the other hand,
tilted strongly in the direction of the nationalist theories of the Union that had been variously espoused by Daniel Webster, Joseph Story, John Quincy Adams, Nathan Dane, and others, and . . . tended to undercut the constitutional-ideological underpinnings of states’ rights in general.

I thought I’d take a few posts to walk through these documents, to see why people were stunned to the point of disbelief when Jackson issued his Nullification Proclamation.

Jackson issued his annual State of the Union message having been reelected in a landslide a month earlier over National Republican Henry Clay. With few exceptions, he laid out forcefully and clearly where he stood and what he advocated concerning the major issues of the day. In the process, he explained with equal force the philosophical beliefs that underlay his views on specific subjects. Let’s wade right in.

The first part of Jackson’s State of the Union message focused on international matters: the country’s peaceful and successful relations with foreign nations, and its flourishing international commerce. This in turn led to a review of the country’s revenues, which derived almost exclusively from tariffs levied on international imports. In the guise of praising the country, Jackson praised himself on an accomplishment in which he took great pride: the impending elimination of the national debt. “I can not too cordially congratulate Congress and my fellow citizens on the near approach of that memorable and happy event -- the extinction of the public debt of this great and free nation.”

Jackson indicated that this development justified a reduction in tariffs going forward. The “simplicity” of the federal government should require only modest revenue to sustain it:
The soundest maxims of public policy and the principals upon which our republican institutions are founded recommend a proper adaptation of the revenue to the expenditure, and they also require that the expenditure shall be limited to what, by an economical administration, shall be consistent with the simplicity of the Government and necessary to an efficient public service.

Likewise, in recommending that the federal government divest itself of all stocks, Jackson emphasized the “simple” and limited role that the general government should play, and suggested that ownership of the securities constituted an improper attempt to “influence” the states:
In conformity with principles heretofore explained, and with the hope of reducing the General Government to that simple machine which the Constitution created and of withdrawing from the States all other influence than that of its universal beneficence in preserving peace, affording an uniform currency, maintaining the inviolability of contracts, diffusing intelligence, and discharging unfelt its other super-intending functions, I recommend that provision be made to dispose of all stocks now held by it in corporations, whether created by the General or State Governments, and placing the proceeds in the Treasury. As a source of profit these stocks are of little or no value; as a means of influence among the States they are adverse to the purity of our institutions. The whole principle on which they are based is deemed by many unconstitutional, and to persist in the policy which they indicate is considered wholly inexpedient.

Jackson also recommended that the federal government abandon attempts to raise revenues by land sales. First, the principal goal should be to settle the land with independent farmers, whom Jackson portrayed as the backbone of society:
It can not be doubted that the speedy settlement of these lands constitutes the true interest of the Republic. The wealth and strength of a country are its population, and the best part of that population are cultivators of the soil. Independent farmers are every where the basis of society and true friends of liberty.

Furthermore, in the longer term, the federal government should, to the extent possible, get out of the land distribution business and turn over the “machinery” of land distribution to the states:
It seems to me to be our policy that the public lands shall cease as soon as practicable to be a source of revenue, and that they be sold to settlers in limited parcels at a price barely sufficient to reimburse to the United States the expense of the present system and the cost arising under our Indian compacts. The advantages of accurate surveys and undoubted titles now secured to purchasers seem to forbid the abolition of the present system, because none can be substituted which will more perfectly accomplish these important ends. It is desirable, however, that in convenient time this machinery be withdrawn from the States, and that the right of soil and the future disposition of it be surrendered to the States respectively in which it lies.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Was Nullification Really About Slavery?

The Nullification Crisis of 1832-33 arose out of South Carolina's protest of federal tariff policies. The question arises, however, whether nullification was "really" about slavery?

I don't think there is any doubt that, right or wrong, the outrage in South Carolina over the tariff was real. That is, South Carolina did not cook up a crisis over the tariff simply, or even primarily, to test or establish a precedent concerning nullification for use in a future dispute over slavery. Many, perhaps most, nullifiers embraced the concept without consciously drawing the connection.

That said, it is fair to say that at least some of the leaders of the secession movement in South Carolina realized that it might, some day, be necessary to play the nullification and/or secession cards, in response to a threat to the south's peculiar institution.

The most prescient of those leaders was, as you might suspect, none other than John Caldwell Calhoun. Almost two and a half years before the crisis came to a head, Calhoun wrote a letter to Virgil Maxcy, dated September 11, 1830, in which he explicitly made the link to the defense of slavery:
I consider the tariff act as the occasion, rather than the real cause of the present unhappy state of things. The truth can no longer be disguised, that the peculiar domestick institution of the Southern States and the consequent direction which that and her soil and climate have given to her industry, has placed them in regard to taxation and appropriations in opposite relation to the majority of the Union, against the danger of which, if there be no protective power in the reserved rights of the states they must in the end be forced to rebel, or, submit it to have their paramount interests sacrificed, their domestick institutions subordinated by Colonization and other schemes, and themselves and children reduced to wretchedness. Thus situated, the denial of the right to the State to interpose constitutionally in the last resort, more alarms the thinking, than all the other causes; and however strange it may appear, the more universally the state is condemned, and her right denied, the more resolute she is to assert her constitutional powers lest the neglect to assert should be considered a practical abandonment of them, under such circumstances.

At the height of the crisis, on February 25, 1833, the U.S. Telegraph drew the connection even more clearly:
If a state has no right to interpose and protect its citizens against unjust and oppressive laws . . . what security have the people of the south for their liberty and property? We are in the minority in Congress, and must forever continue so. We cannot control Congress. Every member from the South may hang together, and vote against their oppressive measures, and yet they cannot stop them, for the reason that they are in a minority. Let us suppose a case, and it is by no means an improbable one. Suppose the Congress should pass an act, declaring that all the slaves should be set free. We could not prevent this by our votes in Congress; for there the non-slaveholding states have two to one against us. No! We would have either to submit to this unjust or unconstitutional law, or resort to state interposition.

I should explain the relevance of the picture. Virgil Maxcy was killed in the 1844 explosion of a naval gun called the "Peacemaker" aboard the U.S.S. Princeton, which also killed President Tyler's Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Gilmer. Maxcy's arm can been seen flying through the air in the middle of the lithograph. One final note: After Upshur's death, President Tyler named as his replacement . . . John Caldwell Calhoun.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It Can't Happen Here?


If you haven't been following the thoughtcrimes trial of Mark Steyn, you should be.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Ship of Love Is Ready to Attack


Those of you who know and love this song will know to what I'm referring to.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Was Andrew Jackson Consistent on Internal Improvements?

Having read several books with a Whig orientation recently, I thought that I needed to balance the scales by reading something with a Jacksonian emphasis. Looking over my library, I decided I should re-read Richard Ellis’s The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States’ Rights and the Nullification Crisis. I read the book about three years ago and remember liking it a lot; at the same time, I was pretty sure that I had read it too early and without adequate background, and that a lot of it had gone over my head.

Although I am now only 35 or so pages in, I already know that I was right. In the opening pages alone, Professor Ellis briefly delivers insightful analyses of a number of issues including: the different “flavors” (my term) of states’ rights, and why traditional states’ righters could be adamantly opposed to nullification and secession, in theory as well as in practice; procedural details concerning the Cherokee Indian cases (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia) that explain why Andrew Jackson was not put in a position in which he had to choose between enforcing or not enforcing the Supreme Court’s order; and the pre-history, as it were, of Andrew Jackson’s mixed feelings and mixed signals concerning the Second Bank of the United States before Henry Clay and Nicholas Biddle openly allied and pushed re-charter in 1832.

For purposes of this post, however, let me highlight one other topic that Professor Ellis raises: Jackson’s approach to internal improvements. The opening chapter contains the best analysis of the issue that I have seen.

Jackson famously vetoed the Maysville Road bill in 1830, denouncing federal funding of projects deemed to be local as unconstitutional. Critics have asserted that Jackson’s veto was arbitrary and based on spite (against Henry Clay), citing the fact that “the federal government spent more money on internal improvements during Jackson’s two administrations than during all the previous administrations combined.”

In just a couple of pages, Professor Ellis convincingly rebuts the charge and argues that Jackson’s “internal improvements policy appears to have been both effective and fairly consistent.” Among other things, Ellis dissects Jackson’s veto messages, which drew careful distinctions among different kinds of improvements. Funding for roads and canals, to which Jackson applied a more stringent test, was (with two exceptions I won’t go into here) largely confined to projects in the territories and the District of Columbia.

Jackson’s veto messages, in contrast, indicate that he believed that maritime projects were more likely to warrant federal involvement. Consistent with this stated understanding, “[t]he largest and most frequent [federal] expenditure . . . was on lighthouses and river and harbor improvements.” In addition, Professor Ellis points out that prices rose over 50% during the period 1834-1837, so comparing raw dollar expenditures with those in prior years is misleading.

Based on his analysis, Professor Ellis concludes:
The overall effect of Jackson’s policy is to be seen in the fact that most of the expenses for the internal improvements mania of the 1830s were picked up by state and local governments and by private investors, and not by the federal government. It would be too much to argue that Jackson’s policy on internal improvements was absolutely consistent. The issue was simply too vague and complex and too political for that to be possible. But it was a carefully thought out and reasonable response to a very complicated issue that reveals fully his deep belief in states’ rights.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Judge Francis Cone Attempts to Kill Alexander Stephens

The story of the assault by Judge Francis Cone (whose name I mistyped as "Coner" in a previous post) on Alexander Stephens is so dramatic that I thought I'd relate it.

I haven't been able to find much information about Judge Cone; I infer, from the lack of information that he was a local judge in Georgia. At all events, the background of the assault, according to Daniel Walker Howe, lay in Stephens' opposition to Whig Senator John Clayton's bill that would have referred the "the question of slavery in the new territories [created from the Mexican Cession] to the U.S. Supreme Court." Stephens did so because "he decided that the Court was bound to rule in favor of freedom." Stephens, like Joshua Giddings and many other northerners, believed that, "[s]ince Mexican law had prohibited slavery, the institution would remain illegal in the absence of any new legislation."

Back in Georgia, Stephens heard rumors that Judge Cone had called him "a traitor to the South," presumably because Stephens had "endorsed the same line of legal reasoning as the free soilers."

Stephens confronted Cone, who denied it. "Stephens responded, ungraciously, that if Cone had spoken [the words], he would have slapped his face."

Cone later wrote Stephens to demand that Stephens retract his parting insult. Stephens refused.

On September 3, 1848, the two men ran into each other outside the Thompson Hotel in Atlanta. I'll let Professor Howe tell the rest:
[This time], Cone did call Stephens a traitor, and Stephens hit him in the face with his cane, no doubt expecting this would lead to a duel. Instead of setting up a proper duel, however, Cone whipped out a knife and stabbed Stephens repeatedly. He climbed on top of his fallen antagonist, and, when Stephens still refused to retract anything, proceeded to slash his throat. Only then was Cone pulled off by others. Stephens miraculously survived and declined to press charges. Judge Cone pleaded guilty to wounding and was fine a thousand dollars.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Another Unfair Quiz

What do Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia, well-known fire-eater William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama, Georgia Whig, Know-Nothing and Constitutional Union party member Benjamin H. Hill, and a Georgia judge by the name of Francis Coner have in common? It's something that relates to Alexander Stephens.

Unrelated to the quiz, I cannot fail to express my amazement that Herschel V. Johnson's middle name was "Vespasian." Why on earth would you give your child that name?

An Unfair Quiz

What did Louisiana Democrat John Bennett Dawson and Georgia Democrat Edward Junius Black have in common when it came to Ohio Whig Joshua Reed Giddings?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

I Guess He's Not a "Liberal"


"I have rejected use of the term 'liberal' to describe even the most progressive Whigs, because of their moral absolutism, paternalism, and preoccupation with discipline." Daniel Walker Howe.

The video is courtesy of Mary Katharine Ham and .

Friday, June 06, 2008

"The people have elected a mere Tom Tit over the Old Eagle"

Imagine a baseball game in which your team loses 7-6. There are a number of ways of analyzing the loss. Your immediate reaction is, “It’s the umpire’s fault!” The lousy ump missed what clearly should have been a called third strike in the ninth; on the next pitch, the batter drove in the winning run with a clean single to left.

But that reaction is, perhaps, not entirely fair. After all, the opposing team scored six other runs that weren’t the ump’s fault. If your pitcher hadn’t given up that three-run homer in the eighth, the ninth wouldn’t have mattered. And even though the umpire clearly blew it, it was your pitcher who threw that next pitch.

And what about your hitters? Sure, they scored six runs – not bad at all. But didn’t your cleanup batter end the seventh inning by hitting into a double play with the bases loaded? A single would have scored two runs, kept the inning alive and put the game out of reach.

Or maybe it was the baserunning and fielding. Your shortstop’s error in the fourth accounted for one run, and then your plodding catcher ran you out of an inning when he tried to stretch that single into a double.

The manager probably deserves to take some heat as well. Your pitcher was far over his pitch count and clearly tiring. Why didn’t the skipper have the bullpen ace warmed up and ready to go?

One of the great things about Michael F. Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party is the way he analyzes election results from multiple perspectives. Sure, the book is incredibly long, and the microscopic print is guaranteed to induce eye strain. But Holt takes his time because he is not content to go with the easy answer, the equivalent of, “It’s the umpire’s fault!”

Henry Clay’s defeat in 1844 is a case in point. Holt is the first to point out that “Clay came heartbreakingly close to victory:”

[James K.] Polk defeated [Clay] by only 38,000 votes out of 2,700,000 cast, and the Democrat lacked a popular majority because the Liberty party’s vote had burgeoned from 6,200 in 1840 to 62,000 in 1844. . . . Clay . . . lost eight other states that [William Henry] Harrison had carried in 1840, six of them by exceedingly narrow margins. Relatively miniscule changes in those six states would have thrown the race to him.

Holt, like Daniel Walker Howe, cites New York as the most important (lost by 5,100 votes, or 1.05%, out of 486,000 votes cast). In addition:
Even without New York, [Clay] would have triumphed by taking Pennsylvania and Indiana, yet Polk’s margin in the former was 7,000 votes, 1.9 percent of the total, whereas Clay lost Indiana by only 2,300 votes, 1.7 percent of the total. Perhaps even more remarkable, the Whigs could have lost both New York and Pennsylvania and still have won with a total of 8,600 additional votes – 2,300 in Indiana, 2,000 in Georgia, 700 in Louisiana, and 3,600 in Michigan.

Why then did (in the words of one Whig) “[t]he people . . . elect[] a mere Tom Tit over the Old Eagle”? Turning to the causes of the defeat, Holt reviews the usual suspects: Thurlow Weed’s verdict that “the people have declared against the Tariff and for Texas”; Clay’s personal unpopularity among some voters (what analysts would now call his “high negatives”); and the conviction of many Whigs at the time that “angrily attribute[d] Clay’s defeat to the ‘asinine fatuity of the abolition party.’” Holt cites statistics that illustrate how crucial the Liberty party vote seemed to be:
Indeed, if Clay had captured only a third of [James M.] Birney’s 15,800 votes in New York, he would have won the election. Similarly, Clay lost Indiana by 2,300 votes, while Birney attracted 2,100 there. The Liberty party’s 3,600 votes in Michigan, added to his own total, would have given Clay that state too.

Holt, like Howe, also points out that corruption and ballot-box stuffing (“’the utter mendacity frauds & villainies of Locofocoism’”) played a role:
[T]he charges [of corruption] represented more than sour grapes. Historians agree that the Democrats carried Louisiana, at least, only by padding the vote of Plaquemines Parish, a veritable Democratic rotten borough. The Democratic vote in that parish jumped from 250 in 1840 to 1,007 in 1844, even though only 538 white males over twenty and only 577 over fifteen resided there in 1840 . . ..

But then Holt peels another layer of the onion. Looked at differently, the major Whig problem was that the party had failed to attract new voters. “But what disturbed the Whigs far more and what they recognized (far better than many historians) as the chief cause of their defeat was the disproportionate and unexpected growth of the Democratic vote since 1840.”

I will not cite all of Holt’s numbers, but the bottom line is that Clay in 1844 retained the large majority of the voters who had cast ballots for Harrison in 1840. Likewise, Polk retained virtually all of those who had voted for Martin Van Buren in 1840. The Democrats, however, captured the overwhelming majority of new voters in 1844. Of new voters nationwide, over 72% went for Polk (in the south, this figure was an “awesome” 86.1%); some 19% opted for the Liberty Party; the Whigs garnered only a pathetic 8.7%. “Even had all the additional Liberty voters backed Clay in 1844 . . . the Democrats would still have outpaced Whigs among new voters by almost three to one.”

Holt argues that “this surge of new voters to the Democrats in 1844, rather than abstention by former Whigs or their defection to the Liberty party, accounted . . . for Polk’s victory.”
In every northern state that the Democrats narrowly carried – New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Michigan – the difference between the Democratic and Whig gains since 1840 exceeded both the Liberty party’s vote in 1844 and the margin by which the Democrats won.

In New York, for example, almost 25,000 more voters cast ballots for Polk in 1844 than had voted for Van Buren in 1840 (vs. a Whig gain of only 6,500). This was almost 10,000 votes more than the Liberty party earned in the state in 1844 (15,814), and almost 20,000 more than Polk’s margin of victory (5,106).

All that is well and good, but it still does not answer the ultimate question: why did the Democrats experience such an upsurge in voters?

To answer that question, Holt begins with the premise that “[t]he Whigs lost the election in the North, not in the South. If Clay had been able to carry New York and Pennsylvania, he could have lost Tennessee and North Carolina in addition to other southern states and still have won the election.”

Focusing, then, on the North, Holt’s analysis of voting patterns and trends in interim elections between 1840 and 1844 leads him to conclude that the common explanations do not tell the whole story. “[N]orthern voting returns strongly suggest that the issue differences of 1844 and Clay’s candidacy benefited the Whigs far more than the Democrats or the Liberty party.” In particular, in the north “the Texas issue, if anything, helped the Whigs . . ..”

The reasons for Clay’s defeat, then, lay elsewhere. In New York, ironically, the candidacy of Silas Wright – a protégé and ally of Polk’s rival Martin Van Buren – who ran for governor against none other than Millard Fillmore, helped the Democratic presidential candidate:
The widely popular Democratic gubernatorial candidate [Silas Wright] ran ahead of Polk, thus pulling out votes for the presidential ticket that might not otherwise have been there. Moreover, his well-known opposition to Tyler’s Texas treaty had helped Democrats obfuscate party differences on annexation.

But more broadly and fundamentally, what did Clay in was a tidal wave of newly-naturalized immigrant voters:
[Horace] Greeley, [Thurlow] Weed, and scores of other Whigs . . . pointed quite correctly to a more important cause of the Democratic gains that defeated Clay, a complex of issues and events that most Whigs had considered peripheral to the campaign – the increase in ethnic and religious animosities that had turned the vast majority of foreign-born and Catholic voters against [the Whig] party. . . . [T]he Democrats had been terrifyingly successful in mobilizing massive numbers of new immigrant voters behind Polk and their other candidates.

Although the trend was nationwide, this was particularly true in the key states of New York and Pennsylvania, where the Whigs had flirted with the nativist American Republican party. In the former state, reports from Albany, Buffalo, New York City, and even non-urban upstate areas with pockets of Germans and Irish, reported large, virtually unanimous immigrant turnouts in favor of the Democrats. Whether the practice was illegal or at least abusive, as the Whigs believed, the fact is that across the country “tens of thousands of immigrants naturalized in the fall of 1844 cast their first presidential vote for Polk.” Democrats privately agreed that the votes of “’true-hearted Adopted Citizens’” amounted to “’an avalanche [the Whigs] could not resist.’”

If Professor Holt’s analysis is correct, ironies abound. Henry Clay’s 1844 candidacy was undone by the same complex of forces – disputes about immigrants and Catholics – that would tear his party apart shortly after his death. For the country, Polk’s razor-thin win clearly did not amount to a mandate in favor of Manifest Destiny or Texas. And yet, that is how it was interpreted. Annexation and war were the result.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Clay in 1844: Four Key States

Some months ago, I opined that Henry “Clay's best chance of winning the presidency probably came in 1840 -- the year he wasn't nominated.” See also here.

Daniel Walker Howe doesn’t quite come out and say so, but he seems to suggest that Clay’s best shot was in 1844. In addition to Howe’s point discussed here, he repeatedly refers to events that might have turned the election in Clay’s favor:
Clay’s narrow defeat in 1844 may well have been due to massive Democratic ballot-box stuffing in New York, Georgia and Louisiana.

* * *

One cannot confidently attribute the result of a close election to a single tactical mistake [Clay’s “Alabama Letters” during the 1844 campaign], but it is a fact that enough voters turned to the unambiguously antiannexationist Liberty party in New York and Michigan to give Polk pluralities in those states.

* * *

[Horace Greeley] felt very bitter toward those Liberty Party voters who cost Clay New York and the election of 1844.

Let’s take a closer look, then, at the election of 1844, focusing on the four states that Howe mentions: New York, Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan. The numbers in parentheses are the number of electoral votes allotted to the states:

Polk Clay Birney
New York (36) 237,588 232,482 15,812
Georgia (10) 44,147 42,100 0
Louisiana (6) 13,782 13,083 0
Michigan (5) 27,737 24,185 3,638

Now Clay lost in the Electoral College by 65 votes: 170 to 105. A quick look at the electoral vote totals shows that Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan combined had a total of 21 electoral votes. Polk got them all. But even if all three of those states are put in the Clay column, that only narrows Polk’s margin of victory to 149 to 126.

New York, in other words, was the pivotal state; the others were irrelevant. With its 36 electoral votes, if New York alone had gone for Clay, he would have squeaked through with a vote of 141 to 134.

Clay lost to Polk in New York by just over 5,000 votes out of 485,000 cast – 5,106 to be exact. That was about one-third of the votes cast for the Liberty Party candidate, James G. Birney.

The statistics may be found here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Just Cause You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean That They Aren't Out to Get You

Over forty years ago, Richard Hofstadter wrote about The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

Daniel Walker Howe's discussion of the phenomenon is the most interesting I have seen. Among other things, Professor Howe argues that the "conspiracy paradigm" shared by both Democrats and Whigs can be seen as a positive phenomenon. It assumed that that "American institutions were fundamentally good," and that "the American people . . . were fundamentally virtuous." It was for these reasons that "the explanation for perceived dangers must be moral rather than structural," and that "the moral evils must be those of designing minority rather than endemic in the general population." "Analyzed in this way, the conspiracy paradigm seems less paranoid, for it reveals trust as well as fear."

Second, Professor Howe argues that a belief in conspiracies was understable due to "the relative accuracy with which it represented the facts":
The Democrats believed that Nicholas Biddle and Henry Clay were conspiring to turn their hero out of office by manipulating the nation's finances; the Whigs believed that Andrew Jackson was conspiring to enhance the power of the presidency. Both, as it happens, were right.

In this connection, Professor Howe points out that the word "conspiracy" "once had a broader definition than it has since acquired": "any 'union or combination (of persons or things) for one end or purpose.'" In antebellum terms, what we would term a "faction" or an "interest group" could be a conspiracy. So understood, the paradigm loses much of its paranoid quality.

I would add only that conspiracy theorists today make their Nineteenth Century forbears seem like pikers. Just talk to any 9/11 Truther.

At Least He Didn't Bludgeon Her to Death

"He could not display the blood-stained sheet that is traditionally exhibited as proof of the bride’s 'purity.'”

I remember doing that on my wedding night. Don't you?

This kind of thing keeps happening when you don't get them before they reach puberty. Mohammed had no problem displaying the bloody sheet when he consummated his marriage with his nine year old wife, Aisha.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

One Historian, at Least, Is Not a Moron

I've previously castigated the 61% of alleged "professional historians" who rushed like cattle to condemn Dubya as the "worst [president] in the nation's history" -- before his term was even complete. It's simply stupid to try to begin to rank a president's performance until decades have passed. (I suppose there are exceptions that prove the rule -- Jimmy Carter springs to mind.)

At all events, Victor Davis Hanson expresses a similar opinion when it comes to evaluating the performance of military leaders:
Q: How many years after a war does a historian need to get a proper perspective?

A: I think it takes a half century.... It takes the death of people, and that’s usually 50 years. In the case of World War II, we had a radical change of heart once Eisenhower passed away and once Gen. Omar Bradley passed away, because they were icons of the American military. If we were to say Bradley was not as good a general as George Patton, that would have been heresy. Patton died right after the war and was caricatured as an uncouth bigmouth. But after Bradley died and there was not the Bradley core of scholars – clients, so to speak – in the military and also in the civilian world, then people began to look at World War II with a fresh start. So you can see that the last two or three biographies of Patton have been very sympathetic. They have started to say that it was Bradley who was responsible for the Falaise Gap (in Normandy); it was Bradley who didn’t have a good plan to restore the Bulge; it was Eisenhower who was naïve about Czechoslovakia and Berlin. These questions were not even raised before, because of the enormous stature they held while they were alive. That’s true of every war; you really can’t question in a disinterested fashion because the principals who are still alive have their various spheres of influence. I don’t think we’ll know about Iraq until all the major players are gone.

Now, is that so hard?

John Quincy Adams, Slavery and the Civil War

John Quincy Adams' diary entry for February 24, 1820 is a a wonder to behold.

At the time, Adams was President Monroe's Secretary of State, and John C. Calhoun was the Secretary of War. On the afternoon of that day, Adams visited Calhoun's office at the President's request to discuss another matter. The discussion then turned to the Missouri crisis, which was then reaching a boiling point in Congress. As I have done before, I have added paragraph breaks to enhance readability:
I called at Calhoun’s office . . .. [After discussing other matters,] I also had some conversation with Calhoun on the slave question pending in Congress. He said he did not think it would produce a dissolution of the Union, but if it should the South would be from necessity compelled to form an alliance offensive and defensive with Great Britain. I said that would be returning to the colonial state; he said yes, pretty much; but it would be forced upon them.

I asked him whether he thought, if by the effect of this alliance offensive and defensive, the population of the north should be cut off from its natural outlet upon the ocean, it would fall back upon its rocks bound hand and foot to starve, or whether it would not retain its powers of locomotion, to move southward by land. Then he said they would find it necessary to make their communities all military.

I pressed the conversation no further, but if the dissolution of the Union should result from the slave question, it is as obvious as any thing that can be foreseen of futurity, that it must shortly afterwards be followed by the universal emancipation of the slaves. A more remote but perhaps not less certain consequence would be the extirpation of the African race on this continent, by the gradually bleaching process of intermixture; where the white portion is already so predominant, and by the destructive progress of emancipation, which like all great religious and political reformations is terrible in its means though happy and glorious in its end.

Slavery is the great and foul stain upon the North American Union; and it is a contemplation worthy of the most exalted soul, whether its total abolition is or is not practicable. If practicable, by what means it may be effected, and if a choice of means be within the scope of the object, what means would accomplish it, at the smallest cost of human sufferance. A dissolution at least temporary of the Union as now constituted would be certainly necessary, and the dissolution must be upon a point involving the question of slavery and no other. The union might then be reorganized, on the fundamental principle of emancipation. This object is vast in its compass, awful in its prospects, sublime and beautiful in its issue. A life devoted to it would be nobly spent or sacrificed.

This conversation with Calhoun led me into a momentous train of reflection. It also engaged me so much that I detained him at his office, insensibly to myself till near five O’clock, an hour at least, later than his dining time.

The Whigs vs. Modern Liberals

I have read all of thirty-odd pages of Daniel Walker Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs. So far it’s wonderful. But I’m taking this post to explore the one sentence I have come across so far that I disagree with strenuously.

The opening chapter, entitled “The Whigs and Their Age," tries to outline and explain the core values of the Whigs from different perspectives and using different points of reference. Toward the end of the chapter, Professor Howe examines the idea that Whig policy “supported ‘the positive liberal state.’” He opines that this is “[o]ne of the most useful characterizations of Whig policy that has been offered.”

He then qualifies this endorsement, because characterizing Whigs as champions of “the positive liberal state” “makes them sound too much like twentieth-century liberals. Actually, the differences between the Whigs and twentieth-century liberals are more important than the similarities.”

Professor Howe then explains what he thinks those differences are. He begins:
Whig policies did not have the object of redistributing wealth or diminishing the influence of the privileged. Furthermore, the Whigs distrusted executives in both state and federal government (they had been traumatized by the conduct of Jackson), whereas twentieth-century liberals have endorsed strong executives more often than not. For all their innovations in economic policy, the Whigs usually thought of themselves as conservatives, as custodians of an identifiable political and cultural heritage.

So far, so good. All of these points seem fair, and I have no quarrel with them.

Then Professor Howe concludes as follows:
Most deeply separating the Whigs from twentieth-century liberals were their [the Whigs’] moral absolutism, their paternalism, and their concern with imposing discipline.

Here is where Professor Howe and I must part company. I infer that he is thinking of modern liberals as they like to think of themselves: inclusive, tolerant of alternate lifestyles, morally relativistic – think Woodstock and Haight Ashbury – as opposed to those mean, morally judgmental and intolerant conservatives – think Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

But these assumptions about modern liberalism and conservatism are caricatures that grossly distort both. In many ways – I would say in most ways – modern liberalism is far more morally judgmental and intolerant than is conservatism. The moral thought police in modern society are overwhelmingly on the left, seeking to condemn and regulate to death every deviation from the politically correct line on everything from gender and sex to race and religion. Just ask FIRE, Lawrence Summers and Ezra Levant.

In fairness the Professor Howe, the book was published in 1979, almost thirty years ago. It may be that the march of liberalism toward fascism was not so apparent then.

DDT: Fact vs. Fiction

As Glenn Reynolds would say, Ouch! Come to think of it, Glenn Reynolds did say Ouch!
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