Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thomas Morris: "What have you to do with slavery?"

Sorry, but I can’t help giving you a bit more of Thomas Morris’s February 9, 1839 speech on slavery and the slave power.

During the course of speech, Morris addressed the contention, made by Henry Clay in his speech of February 7, 1839, and others, that northerners had no cause to agitate about slavery because it did not concern or affect them. Morris’s response demonstrates moral revulsion for the institution itself. But what is really interesting is that, using Jacksonian analysis, he in effect condemns his own party and winds up describing the domination of the federal government by the “slave interest” in terms remarkably similar to that of modern historians:
We who are opposed to, and deplore the existence of, slavery in our country, are frequently asked, both in public and private, what have you to do with slavery? It does not exist in your State; it does not disturb you! Ah, sir, would to God it were so – that we had nothing to do with slavery, nothing to fear from its power or action within our own borders, that its name and its miseries were unknown to us.

But this is not our lot; we live upon its borders, and in hearing of its cries; yet we are unwilling to acknowledge, that if we enter its territories and violate its laws, that we should be punished at it pleasure. We do not complain of this, though it might well be considered just ground of complaint. It is our firesides, our rights, our privileges, the safety of our friends, as well as the sovereignty and independence of our State, that we are now called upon to protect and defend.

The slave interest has at this moment the whole power of the country in its hands. It claims the President [Martin Van Buren, a Democrat] as a northern man with southern feelings, thus making the Chief Magistrate the head of an interest, or a party, and not of the country and the people at large, It has the cabinet of the President, three members of which are from slave States . . ..

Here, then, is a decided majority in favor of the slave interest. It was [sic, presumably “has”] five out of nine judges of the Supreme Court; here, also, is a majority of from the slave States. It has, with the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the clerks of both Houses, the Army and the Navy; and the bureaus have, I am told, about the same proportion.

One would suppose that, with all this power operating in this Government, it would be content to permit – yes, I will use the permit – it would be content to permit us, who live in the free States, to enjoy our firesides and our homes in quietness; but this is not the case. The slaveholders and slave laws claim that as property which the free States know only as persons, a reasoning property, which, of its own will and mere motion, is frequently found in our States; and upon which THING we sometimes bestow food and raiment if it appear hungry and perishing, believing it to be a human being; this perhaps is owing to our want of vision to discover the process by which a man is converted into a THING.

For this act of ours, which is not prohibited by our laws, but prompted by every feeling, Christian and humane, the slaveholding power enters our territory, tramples under foot the sovereignty of our State, violates the sanctity of private residence, seizes our citizens, and, disregarding the authority of our laws, transports them into its own jurisdictions, casts them into prison, confines them in fetters, and loads them with chains, for pretended offenses against their own laws, found by willing grand juries upon the oath (to use the language of the late Governor of Ohio) of a perjured villain. . . .

* * *

Slave power is seeking to establish itself in every State, in defiance of the constitution and laws of the States within which it is prohibited. In order to secure its power beyond the reach of the States, it claims its parentage from the Constitution of the United States. It demands of us total silence as to its proceedings, denies to our citizens the liberty of speech and the press, and punishes them by mobs and violence for the exercise of these rights. It has sent its agents into free States for the purpose of influencing their Legislatures to pass laws for the security of its power within such State, and for the enacting new offenses and new punishments for their own citizens, so as to give additional security to its interest. It demands to be heard in its own person in the Hall of our Legislature, an mingle in debate there. . . .

A power, whose character is marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to rule over a free people. In our sufferings and our wrongs we have besought our fellow-citizens to aid us in the preservation of our constitutional rights, but, influenced by the love of gain or arbitrary power, they have sometimes disregarded all the sacred rights of man, and answered in violence, burnings, and murder.

After all these transactions, which are now of public notoriety and matter of record, shall we of the free States tauntingly be asked what we have to do with slavery?

Thomas Morris: The Conspiracy of the Bank Power with the Slave Power

Thomas Morris’s speech of February 9, 1839 displays tremendous power and moral passion. But it is also remarkable for the insight it gives into the connection between hard-money, anti-monopoly Democracy and Free Soil.

The Democracy tended to identify evil concentrations of power that, it contended, were bent on destroying liberty, and then sought to destroy them. Andrew Jackson’s campaign against the “Monster Bank” is, of course, the paradigm.

Thomas Morris thought in precisely those terms, and identified such a monster: “the slave power.” Henry Clay, in his speech of February 7, 1839, had estimated that the value of slave property in the nation was $12 Billion. Here, Morris contended, was a monstrous concentration of power whose tentacles stretched across the country and into the Senate, resulting, for example, in the grotesque Gag Rule:
[L]et the Senator from Kentucky reflect that the petition which he offered against our right was . . . received and ordered to be printed without a single dissenting voice; and I call on the Senate and the country to remember that the resolutions which I have offered on the same subject have not only been refused the printing, but have been laid upon the table without being debated or referred.

Posterity, which shall read the proceedings of this time, may well wonder what power could induce the Senate of the United States to proceed in such a strange and contradictory manner. Permit me to tell the country now what this power behind the throne, greater than the throne itself, is. It is the power of SLAVERY. It is a power, according to the calculations of the Senator from Kentucky, which owns $1,200,000,000 in human beings as property; and if money is power, this power is not to be conceived or calculated; a power which claims human property more than double the amount which the whole money of the world could purchase.

Morris drew precise parallels between the Bank Power and the Slave Power, and the remedy was the same: expose it and destroy it:
What can stand before this power? Truth, everlasting truth, will yet overthrow it. This power is aiming to govern the country, its constitution nad laws; but it is not certain of success, tremendous as it is . . .. Let it be borne in mind that the bank power some years since . . . had influence sufficient in this body, and upon this floor, to prevent the reception of petitions against the action of the Senate on their resolutions of censure against the President. The country took instant alarm, and the political complexion of this body was changed as soon as possible.

The same power, though double in means and in strength, is now doing the same thing. This is the array of power that even now is attempting such an unwarrantable course in this country; and the people are also now moving against the slave, as they formerly did against the bank power. It, too, begins to tremble for its safety.

Indeed, Morris warned, the two powers were even now conspiring to unite to destroy liberty:
But all will not do; these two powers must now be united; an amalgamation of the black power of the South with the white power of the North must take place, as either, separately, cannot succeed in the destruction of the liberty of speech and the press and the right of petition. Let me tell gentlemen that both united will never succeed. As I said on a former day, God forbid that they should ever rule this country. I have seen this billing and cooing between these different interests for some time past; I informed my private friends . . . that these powers were forming a union to overthrow the present [Van Buren] Administration . . ..

* * *

[T]he assertion has gone forth that we have twelve hundred millions of slave property at the South; and can any man so close his understanding here as not plainly to perceive tht the power of this vast amount of property at the South is now uniting itself to the banking power of the North, in order to govern the destinies of this country? Six hundred millions of banking capital is to be brought into this coalition, and the slave power and the bank power are thus to unite in order to break down the present Administration. There can be no mistake, as I believe, in this matter. The aristocracy of the North, who, by the power of a corrupt banking system, and the aristocracy of the South, by the power of the slave system, both fattening upon the labor of others, are now about to unite in order to make the reign of each perpetual. Is there an independent American to be found who will become the recreant slave to such an unholy combination? Is this another compromise to barter the liberties of the country for personal aggrandizement? “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”

About the illustration:
A rare pro-Jackson satire on the President's campaign to destroy the political power and influence of the Bank of the United States. It was probably issued late in the presidential campaign of 1832, after Jackson's July veto of the bill to re-charter the Bank. (Weitenkampf tentatively dated the print 1833, but the Library's impression was deposited for copyright on September 12, 1832.) Jackson is portrayed as a cat (with a tail marked "Veto") defending the corn cribs in "Uncle Sam's Barn" from rats "which had burrow'd through the floor, to get at his capital Corn Crib: While Uncle Sam, and his active laborers, stand at the door, enjoying the sport." The cat has one rat in his mouth, possibly Henry Clay, who says, "My case is desperate." Under his paws is another (possibly the Bank's president Nicholas Biddle) who says, "Them d'd Clay-Bank Rats brought me to this." In the lower left a rat with a cape and his paw on a Bible says, "My Cloak does not cover me, as well as I could wish, but this Book with it, will be a good passport to the Corn Crib." Other rats creeping from holes in the floor say, "I'l keep in my hole while he's in sight" and "No chance for me whie he's in the Barn." At the upper right two rats (possibly influential pro-Bank newspaper editors James Watson Webb and Charles King) nibble corn, remarking, "The U.S. Bank Rats are very liberal to us Editor Rats, we must stick to them at all risks." From an open doorway three men, "Uncle Sam and his active laborers," survey the scene. First man: "Bravo my Boys! keep him in the Barn; and no doubt, but he will keep the Rats away." Second: "What a tail he carries! I guess he is of the Kilkenny breed." Third: "How he nicks them." The use of rats to symbolize corruption was commonplace in cartoons of the 1830s, particularly with respect to the Bank of the United States. See ""This is the house that Jack built"" (no. 1833-6). For their use in another context see ".00001. The value of a unit..." and "The Rats Leaving a Falling House" (nos. 1831-1 and 1831-2).

Thomas Morris and Democratic Antislavery

Jonathan H. Earle has introduced me to a man I hadn’t heard of, and a truly remarkable speech that man gave in 1839.

The man is Thomas Morris, a loyal Jacksonian Democrat who served as Senator from Ohio for a single term from 1833 to 1839. Professor Earle describes him as the man who “introduced the phrase and concept of the Slave Power into American political culture.” Now that, I thought, was interesting.

Professor Earle’s footnotes referred to a speech that Morris gave on the Senate floor on February 9, 1839.

By way of background, on February 7, 1839, Henry Clay delivered a famous speech on slavery and abolitionism. The speech was Clay at his worst. In an attempt to position himself for a run at the presidency in 1840, Clay courted southern votes by presenting a petition from residents of the District of Columbia, in which they protested against efforts in Congress to outlaw slavery in the District. The decision whether to outlaw slavery in the District, the petitioners maintained, belonged solely to the residents of the District. Congress did not have power, they contended, to interfere.

Clay used the introduction of the petition as the basis for accusing “abolitionists” of disrupting the harmony of the country. It was “abolitionists” – into which category Clay lumped essentially everyone who sought to limit slavery in any way – who were the problem. By unnecessarily complaining about slavery, the “abolitionists” were responsible for the regrettable, but entirely understandable, reactions of southerners determined to resist encroachments on their rights and institutions. If some overzealous southerners reacted by imposing the Gag Rule, or threatening disunion, well Clay regretted it, but the “abolitionists” had only themselves to blame.

Two days later, on February 9, 1839, Mr. Morris rose to present his own slavery-related petition, and to deliver one of the most remarkable speeches I have read – both for its power and for the insights it gives into the origins of Democratic antislavery.

The petitions that Morris presented opposed slavery:
These petitions, sir, are on the subject of slavery, the slave trade as carried on within and from this District, the slave trade between the different states of this Confederacy, between this country and Texas, and against the admission of that country into the Union; and also against that of any other State whose constitution and laws recognize or permit slavery.

Morris’s denunciation of slavery was passionate. “In my infant years I learned to hate slavery,” he announced. The Declaration of Independence, the words of Thomas Jefferson, and the free state in which he was born “taught me it was wrong.”
I also, in early life, saw a slave kneel before his master, and hold up his hands with as much apparent submission, humility, and adoration, as man would have done before his Maker, while his master, with outstretched rod, stood over him. This, I thought, is slavery – one man subjected to the will and power of another, and the laws affording him no protection; and he has to beg pardon of man, because he has offended man, (not the laws,) as if his master were a superior and all powerful being.

It was this certainty that his petitioners’ cause was just that gave Morris the courage to oppose “the very lions of debate in this body, who are cheered on by an applauding gallery and surrounding interests.”
What, sir, can there be to induce me to appear on this public arena, opposed by such powerful odds? Nothing, sir, nothing but a strong sense of duty, and a deep conviction that the cause I advocate is just.

Henry Clay had labeled anyone who objected to slavery an “abolitionist.” In that case, Morris’s petitioners were “abolitionists,” and he would defend them to the last:
I charge gentlemen, when they use the word Abolitionists, they mean petitioners here such as I now present – men who love liberty, and are opposed to slavery – that in behalf of these citizens I speak; and, by whatever name they may be called, it is those who are opposed to slavery whose cause I advocate. I make no war upon the rights of others. I do not act but what is moral, constitutional, and legal, against the peculiar institutions of any State; but acting only in defense of my own rights, of my fellow-citizens, and, above all, of my State, I shall not cease while the current of life shall continue to flow.

The Democracy and Free Soil

Some of my recent reading has caused me to wonder about an issue I hadn’t thought much about: why was it that a number of otherwise orthodox northern Democrats – Andrew Jackson loving, hard-money, anti-Bank Democrats – came to embrace the concept of Free Soil? By all accounts, David Wilmot was such a man. The fact that he was such a loyal Democrat was probably why the Speaker of the House felt safe in giving him the floor on that fateful evening in August 1846. What on Earth had motivated his apostasy? And why, a year later, did the Radical Democrats of New York – the Barnburners – embrace him as a kindred spirit?

The usual suspects seemed to include Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk. In 1844 Southern Democrats had denied Van Buren renomination in favor of Polk by invoking the two-thirds rule. After his election, President Polk had snubbed Van Buren by failing to accept Van Buren’s recommendations for cabinet appointments and patronage. Most glaringly, Polk wound up nominating conservative Democrat and Van Buren rival William Marcy as Secretary of War.

And yet . . . I was getting the sense that the Van Buren angle was not holding together. Nobody was pointing to hard evidence demonstrating that Wilmot was a Van Buren disciple. Polk had been the beneficiary of Van Buren’s convention defeat, but he was not involved in the conspiracy. Van Buren knew this, and in fact got on well with Polk. Likewise, Van Buren almost certainly understood that Polk was not snubbing him intentionally. Finally, whatever Van Buren’s private views, his public embrace of Free Soil came late in 1848. Men such as Wilmot would have had no way of knowing in August 1846 or October 1847 that Van Buren would join their ranks.

Another cause of friction I had seen mentioned was Oregon. Polk had taken office promising to acquire (or re-acquire) Oregon as well as Texas. He had made his peace with England, however, to concentrate on Mexico. Some northern Democrats were reportedly upset that Polk had “sacrificed” Oregon. But could that issue alone have precipitated a rebellion by a substantial number of otherwise loyal and orthodox Democrats? That seemed unlikely.

About the illustration:
Here [the illustrator, Edward Williams] Clay is critical of James K. Polk's public advocacy of the 54.40 parallel as the northern boundary of American territory in Oregon. The cartoon also alludes to widespread uncertainty as to the course the secretive Polk would actually pursue on the issue. The artist invokes the specter of an earlier Democratic president, Andrew Jackson, as the inspiration for what he considers Polk's rash and autocratic handling of the dispute. Standing at the foot of Polk's bed in a cloud of smoke is a devil, who, concealing himself behind the mask and hat of Andrew Jackson, commands the sleeping Polk, "Child of my adoption, on whom my mantle hath fallen, swear never to take your toe off that line should you deluge your country with seas of blood, produce a servile insurrection and dislocate every joint of this happy and prosperous union!!!" Polk, slumbering in a large canopied bed, has one toe on the 54.40 line of a map of Oregon which lies on floor. Also next to bed is a potted "Poke" weed (a pun on his name) and a table with his readings: "Art of War, Calvin's Works, Practical Piety," and "Life of Napoleon." Polk answers the devil, "I do my venerated and lamented chieftain! I do, by the eternal!" (The vow "By the eternal" was a well-known Jacksonism.) At left, dressed in nightshirts, three cabinet members steal into the room. They are (left to right) George Bancroft, James Buchanan, and Robert J. Walker. Treasury Secretary Walker carries a "Tariff" document, no doubt the controversial and recently introduced tariff bill of which he was generally considered the architect, and comments, "It seems to me there's the devil to pay with the president; yet behold his great toe, greater than any Pope's fixed firmly on the line 54.40. Patriotic even in dreams!" Behind Walker Secretary of State Buchanan, holding a candle and a portfolio marked "Packenham Correspondence," says, "There's certainly a strong smell of brimstone in the room! Perhaps his excellency has been practising pyrotechnics previous to commencing his campaign." The "Packenham Correspondence" refers to Buchanan's July 1845 note to British ambassador Richard Pakenham, wherein the forty-ninth parallel was proposed as a compromise. Pakenham's response, a rejection, touched off Polk's pursuit (at least temporarily) of a more hard-line stance, claiming the 54.40 boundary. "I guess there's a screw loose here! I wonder what Polk's going to do!" muses Navy Secretary Bancroft.

Friday, January 30, 2009

It Takes A Proverb . . .

“Do not waste your time talking to the yak. Because yakkity yak don’t talk back.”

Iowahawk, who is clearly on a roll.

Soylent Green Is People!

That was my immediate reaction when I saw this post on Glenn Reynolds' site: Harvesting Energy from human bodies.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dred Scott . . . Automotive?

Orin Kerr at Volokh explains.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Off-Topic Roundup

I've read three excellent articles today and thought I'd share them.

At City Journal, Nicole Gelinas explains why the Democrats' spending plan may just send us over the cliff: Can the Feds Uncrunch Credit? Maybe—but Washington’s unprecedented interventions could make things much, much worse.

Also at City Journal, Bruce Bawer looks at the Religion of Peace, Geert Wilders and the shame of the Netherlands: Submission in the Netherlands: The trial of Geert Wilders represents another blow against Dutch freedom.

Last but not least, Andrew Bostom debunks the anthropogenic global warming scam: Horse Hockey Climate Scientology: “Getting Rid” of the Medieval Warming Period.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"It is a fraudulent term"

In 1854, Georgia Senator Robert Toombs was complaining about ever-increasing demands for funds for internal improvement projects from northern legislators, who claimed that every pier, harbor and sandbar was “national” and thus eligible for federal support. To demonstrate the bankruptcy of their position, Tombs framed a hypothetical:
They said it was to be exercised for “national purposes,” but we know practically that that is no limitation at all. You find that here anything is national so that you get strength enough to pass the bill None are national, or all are national, under the same signification.

To build a road from my cotton gin house to the river, on one principle, is national, because it will help me to get my cotton to market, and make me a richer man, and as I am part of the community, it will benefit the whole nation. It is upon that logic that these appropriations are national.

“It is,” Toombs concluded, “a fraudulent term used to deceive, having no definite meaning . . ..”

Fewer than 90 years later, the Supreme Court proved Senator Toombs right, holding that Congress had the power to bar an Ohio farmer from harvesting an extra acre of wheat, even for use on his own farm to feed his poultry and livestock:
It is well established by decisions of this Court that the power to regulate commerce includes the power to regulate the prices at which commodities in that commerce are dealt in and practices affecting such prices. One of the primary purposes of the Act in question was to increase the market price of wheat, and, to that end, to limit the volume thereof that could affect the market. It can hardly be denied that a factor of such volume and variability as home-consumed wheat would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. This may arise because being in marketable condition such wheat overhangs the market, and, if induced by rising prices, tends to flow into the market and check price increases. But if we assume that it is never marketed, it supplies a need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. The stimulation of commerce is a use of the regulatory function quite as definitely as prohibitions or restrictions thereon. This record leaves us in no doubt that Congress may properly have considered that wheat consumed on the farm where grown, if wholly outside the scheme of regulation, would have a substantial effect in defeating and obstructing its purpose to stimulate trade therein at increased prices.

David Wilmot on the Necessity of the Proviso

Northern opponents (and some southern ones) of the Wilmot Proviso repeatedly complained that the Proviso was a needless provocation of the south. Due to climate and geography, they argued, slavery could never establish itself in the southwestern lands obtained from Mexico. The Proviso was, therefore, purely symbolic at best and served no practical purpose. Later, similar objections were made Stephen Douglas and other proponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Substituting popular sovereignty for the provisions of the Missouri Compromise that barred slavery from those territories conceded nothing, they contended, because the laws of nature, weather and geography would do the job every bit as well.

Yet another interesting aspect of David Wilmot’s October 29, 1847 speech in Albany, New York is his response to these contentions. To begin with, he deftly turned the tables on his opponents. If slavery could never take root in the Mexican territories, then why were southerners screaming bloody murder about the Proviso? And why were northern dough-faces taking their side?
Again, the Proviso is assailed by northern dough-faces as an idle, harmless abstraction. Would it not be well to inform the south of this fact? Her eminent statesmen, who have been supposed to understand abstractions tolerably well, cannot be apprised of the innocent and harmless character of the Proviso. They would not become so strongly excited as to threaten a dissolution of the Union on a mere idle abstraction. Will not Mr. Ritchie, and the government presses of the North, embark in this labor of love, and cease their denunciation of those who seek to make the Rio Grande [the presumed border between Texas and the anticipated Mexican territories] what Jefferson and the men of the South made the Ohio [River], a boundary over which Slavery cannot pass?

In fact, Wilmot rejected the premise of the doughface argument: weather and geography, he maintained, were not insuperable barriers to slavery. Laws, not nature, had prevented slavery from establishing itself north of the Ohio River. The Proviso was every bit as necessary as the Northwest Ordinance and the Missouri Compromise had been:
The Proviso and the Ordinance of 1787 are abstractions, alike in their character and their consequences. What stopped Slavery on the south bank of the Ohio? What prevents its crossing an imaginary line beyond the Missouri, the line of 36 deg. 30 min. N.? The will of the nation, expressed authoritatively in legislative enactments. Like these enactments, the Proviso proposes to erect a barrier against the advance and extension of Slavery.

The Proviso was not an insult to the south. It was the south, not the north, that was issuing arrogant demands and insolent threats in an attempt to convert free land to slavery, in defiance of the nation’s history:
Heretofore, limits have been set, over which Slavery should not pass; now the law of Freedom is to be annulled to make room for its extension. This is the arrogant and insolent demand made upon us, and made in a tone of threatening defiance. The South will not yield, therefore the North must. The North shall yield! This is the attitude of insulting defiance assumed by the South.

Shall we yield? NEVER. God forbid! Are we so tame, so servile, so degenerate, that we cannot maintain the rights of a free soil, and a free people? Where is the spirit of our fathers? Are we Slaves, that knowing our rights, we dare not maintain them?

I hold free soil as sacred as free men, and, so help me God! I would as soon submit to have the chains fastened upon the free limbs of our people, as to surrender their rightful inheritance to the demands of the Slave power. Let us hurl back the defiance of the South, and in a voice of thunder, proclaim that the North will not YIELD. Come what may come – be the issues life or death, the North will not yield.

About the illustration:
A parody of Democratic politics in the months preceding the party's 1848 national convention. Specifically, the artist ridicules the rivalry within the party between Free Soil or anti-slavery interests, which upheld the Wilmot Proviso, and regular, conservative Democrats or "Hunkers." The "Gilpins" (named after the hero of William Cowper's 1785 "Diverting History of John Gilpin," who also loses control of his mount, to comic effect) are regular Democrats Lewis Cass, Thomas Hart Benton, and Levi Woodbury, who ride a giant sow down "Salt River Lane" away from the "Head Quarters of the Northern Democracy," which displays a Liberty cap and a flag "Wilmot Proviso." Cass, a former general and avid expansionist, wears a military uniform and brandishes a sword "Annexation." John Van Buren (right), a Free Soil Democrat, tries to restrain the pig by holding its tail. He remarks, "This is our last hope. If the tail draws out, they are gone for good." A man at left tries to block the pig's passage shouting "Stop, stop, Old Hunkers! here's the house!" Cass orders, "Clear the road. Don't you see that we are fulfilling our manifest destiny!" Benton asserts, "We are not a whit inclined to tarry there." On the far right a stout gentleman chases after them calling, "Hey! hey, there! where upon airth are you going? Come back here to your quarters!" Meanwhile former President and Free Soil contender Martin Van Buren is neck-deep in a pool at the lower right. He laments, "Had I served my country with half the zeal with which I served my illustrious predecessor, I should not thus have slumped in the mud." He refers to his service under Andrew Jackson, whom he succeeded as President. Attribution of "The Modern Gilpins" to John L. Magee is based on its similarities in draftsmanship and facial characterizations to Magee's 1850 satire "The Clay Statue," (no. 1850-9) and to several Mexican War prints he executed for the publisher Baillie.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Michel Chevalier on Northerners and Southerners

At the risk of offending my readers south of the Mason Dixon line (and relatives in North Carolina), I can't resist relating another anecdote from Marc Egnal's Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War. Illustrating one view of the "distinct work habits" and "approaches to entrepreneurial activities" of Northerners and Southerners, Professor Egnal quotes from observations by "Michel Chevalier, a French official who came to America in the 1830s to study public works:"
In a village in Missouri, by the side of a house with broken windows, dirty in its outward appearance, around the door of which a parcel of ragged children are quarreling and fighting, you may see another, freshly painted, surrounded by a simple, but neat and nicely whitewashed fence, with a dozen of carefully trimmed trees about it, and through the windows in a small room shining with cleanliness you may espy some nicely combed little boys and some young girls dressed in almost the last Paris fashion. Both houses belong to farmers, but one of them is from North Carolina and the other from New England.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

David Wilmot on His Motivations

Another fascinating aspect of David Wilmot’s speech in Albany, New York on October 29, 1847 is his description of the motivations underlying the Proviso and the desire to keep slavery out of new territories

Wilmot discussed the issue in the context of addressing “[a]n effort . . . made to bring odium upon this movement as one designed especially for the benefit of the black race.” Wilmot adamantly denied this charge:
While its success would insure the redemption, at an earlier date, of the negro from his bondage and his chains, I deny that it was especially for him, that the Proviso was offered; or that he is the party most deeply interested in its result. It has, with justice and propriety, been called the “White Man’s Proviso”; and the Free White Laborer, has by far the deepest stake in its failure or success. For him it solves the momentous question, whether that vast country, between the Rio Grande and the Pacific, shall be given up to the servile labor of the black, or be preserved for the free labor of the white man. Shall that fair clime, with its rich soil and abundant resources, capable of sustaining a population of fifty millions of freemen, be preserved to the white man and his posterity, or shall it be given up to the African and his descendants? This is the great ultimate question involved in the present struggle between Freedom and Slavery.

Wilmot then illustrated and expanded on this theme by describing a conversation he said he had held with “an intelligent member of Congress from the South.”
[The southern congressman] said, “if you succeed in your efforts to prevent the extension of slavery, and confine us to the territory now occupied by it, in less than a century we will have a population of thirty millions of blacks, with less than half that number of white population in their midst; and, said he, then the terrible alternative will be presented: we must either abandon the country to them, or cut their throats.” Would you, said he, bring such a calamity upon us?

Wilmot replied that he did not have an answer; he could only trust “in an all mericiful Providence.” But it was clear to him that “enlarging the borders of slavery” would only make the problem worse:
[I replied t]hat if the alternative which he had presented, should come, we had better meet it with a population of thirty than an hundred millions of slaves; and upon the theatre of its present limits, than upon the wide domain of one half of this continent. You are afraid, said I, now to look those dangers in the face and boldly meet them, that you would cast upon posterity, magnified a thousand fold.

It is not clear from the transcript when Wilmot shifted from describing his conversation with the southern congressman to making a direct address to his Albany audience. The first sentences can be read either way:
In God’s name, as we love our country and our race, let us stop in this mad career of human slavery. The negro race already occupy enough of this fair continent; let us keep what remains for ourselves, and our children – for the emigrant who seeks our shores – for the poor man, that wealth shall oppress – for the free white laborer, who shall desire to hew him out a home of happiness and peace, on the distant shores of the mighty Pacific.

Free laborers of the North! – down trodden free white men of the South! this is your cause, and the cause of your children! -- Where negro slavery is, there free white labor cannot come, without sharing its degradation and partaking of its dishonor.

About the illustration:
An optimistic view of the presidential prospects of Martin Van Buren, nominated at the Free Soil Party's August 1848 convention in Buffalo, New York. Here Van Buren rides a buffalo and thumbs his nose as he sends Democratic candidate Lewis Cass (left) and Whig Zachary Taylor flying. Both are about to land in Salt River. Van Buren says defiantly, "Clear the track! or I'll Ram you both!" Cass, whose "Wilmot Proviso" hat has already landed in the river, exclaims, "Confound this Wilmot Proviso, I'm afraid it will lead to something bad." (On the Wilmot Proviso see "Whig Harmony," no. 1848-21.) Cass's opposition to the proviso put him at odds with a large number of Democrats. Taylor speculates, "If I had stood on the Whig platform firmly, this would not have happened." He cites his reluctance to decisively embrace the regular Whig party doctrines. His cap flies in the air, spilling a packet of "Dead Letters." (On the "dead letter" matter see "The Candidate of Many Parties," no. 1848-24.)

David Wilmot on the Creation of the Wilmot Proviso

The disputes between Barnburners and Hunkers erupted into schism in September 1847. At a New York state Democratic convention held in Syracuse on September 29th, the Hunkers obtained a narrow majority and nominated Hunker candidates for statewide office. The Barnburners walked out.

The Barnburners reassembled at a separate convention, held in the town of Herkimer on October 26, 1847. One of the featured speakers was none other David Wilmot. His speech at Herkimer was apparently not transcribed. Several days later, however, on October 29, 1847, Wilmot delivered a substantially identical speech in Albany, which was transcribed.

Although the entire speech is available online here, it’s in pdf format. I thought it would we worthwhile to transcribe and highlight some of the most interesting portions for you.

One fascinating part of Wilmot’s speech describes the origins of the Proviso that bore his name:

The history of the introduction of this measure into Congress is brief. The occassion [sic] which called for it, arose but a few hours before the adjournment of the first session of the late congress; which took place at 12 o’clock M. of Monday the 10th of August [1846]. On the Saturday before, the message of the President, asking that two millions be placed at his disposal, was received and read in the House of Representatives.

It was the subject of general remark and speculation. That day at dinner, the conversation turned upon it; in which Robert Dale Owen of Indiana, Robert P. Dunlap of Maine, Jacob S. Yost of Pennsylvania and myself took a part. I remarked that it was clear, that the two millions asked for by the President, was to be paid, if paid at all, as the first instalment, of purchase money, for large accessions of territory from Mexico to the United States; and then declared my purpose, in case Mr. [James Iver] M’Kay, (the chairman of the committee of ways and means,) should bring in a bill, to move an amendment, to the effect that slavery should be excluded from any territory acquired by virtue of such appropriation.

Mr. Owen objected, and said he would make a speech against it. Gov. Dunlap and Mr. Yost approved of such an amendment, and advised me to adhere to my purpose. . . .

After dinner, in front of the hotel, I had further conversation with several members. Those that I now recollect, were Mr. Grover of New York, Mr. [Jacob] Brinkerhoff of Ohio, and Mr. [Hannibal] Hamlin of Maine. We agreed to advise our northern friends generally, when we re-assembled in evening session, and if the measure met with their approbation, that it should be pressed. We did so, and so far as I heard, Northern democrats were unanimous in favor of the movement.

When the bill was introduced, or called up, several gentlemen collected together, to agree upon the form and terms of the proposed amendment. I well recollect that Mr. [George O.] Rathbun, Mr. [Preston] King, and Mr. [Martin] Grover of New York; Mr. Brinkerhoff of Ohio, Mr. Hamlin of Maine, and Judge Thompson and myself of Pennsylvania, were of the number, if we did not constitute the entire group. Some were engaged in drafting an amendment, myself among the number, and several were submitted; all of which underwent more or less alterations at the suggestions of those taking part in the business going on. After various drafts had been drawn and altered, the language in which the amendment was offered was finally agreed upon, as the result of our united labors.

Wilmot specifically denied that “the design” of the Proviso “was to embarrass the administration” or “that it had its origins in a political intrigue for a Presidential candidate in 1848. He pointed out that he had loyally supported all of the initiatives of the Polk administration. He asserted that, when he moved the Proviso, he did not realize that the administration would oppose it:
Previous to its being moved, I never heard the suggestion made, that it would embarrass the Administration. We did not then know that the Administration desired to plant slavery on free soil. It is only recently that this hateful policy had been boldly put forth.

About the illustration:
The artist predicts a decisive Whig victory in the presidential election of 1848, with Whig candidate Zachary Taylor "bagging" all of the states in an electoral sweep. (Taylor actually carried only fifteen of the thirty states.) A kneeling Taylor (left) gathers fallen pigeons, each bearing a state's name, into a bag. Holding up the New York bird he muses, "My purpose would be suited without this fellow, however I'll take him: the more the merrier for the 4th of March next." Taylor's strength in New York was considered questionable before the election. Standing to the right is Lewis Cass with a musket at his side. Looking over at Taylor, he marvels, "What an all devouring appetite the fellow has: I expect he'll bag me in the bargain!" In the background Martin Van Buren is caught by the seat of his trousers on the nails of a fence. Holding a rooster labeled "Proviso" he cries, "Cass, come and help an old crony won't you!" Peering over from behind the fence is Pennsylvania congressman David Wilmot, author of the Wilmot Proviso, who threatens Van Buren with a switch, "I'll teach you to come ta robbing my barn!" Van Buren and the Barnburner Democrats adopted the proviso, which barred slavery in American territory gained in the Mexican War, as the main plank in their 1848 campaign platform.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Would you believe it . . . he is a Democrat!"

Marc Egnal's new book Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War contains a detailed review of the statistical evidence showing that Whigs tended to be wealthier than Democrats, in both the North and South. But I really got a laugh out this little piece of anecdotal evidence (emphasis added):
Seventeen-year-old Varina Howell was struck by the tall, slender, intense planter she had just met. "I do not know whether this Mr. Jefferson Davis is young or old," she wrote her mother in December 1843. "He looks both at times. . . . He impresses me as a remarkable kind of man, but of uncertain temper, and has a way of taking for granted that everybody agrees with him when he expresses an opinion, which offends me; yet is most agreeable and has a peculiarly sweet voice and a winning manner of asserting himself." But Howell was puzzled by Davis's politics. She told her mother: "Would you believe it, he is refined and cultivated, and yet he is a Democrat!" Her parents and (as she later recollected) "most of the gentlefolk of Natchez," where she was raised, were Whigs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Barnburners and Hunkers: Texas Intrudes

After 1842, tensions deepened between the Radicals and the Conservatives in New York. The substantive disputes between them, however, remained focused on the Erie Canal and economic issues. National issues and politics did not seriously intrude on the intra-party feud. The Democrats' rejection of Martin Van Buren in favor of James K. Polk in 1844 was not perceived as favoring one side or the other -- the participants were not even sure where Van Buren stood. Likewise, in assembling his cabinet, Polk had offended Van Buren by declining to accept his cabinet recommendations and instead nominating Conservative William L. Marcy as Secretary of War, but there was no immediately apparent connection to the intra-party feuding.

In fact, Texas and slavery extension seem to have come in as issues in the dispute through the back door. In January 1846, at the beginning of the 1846 New York legislative session, a Hunker state senator "offered a set of resolutions approving all the policies of the National Administration, including the annexation of Texas." His motivation for doing was apparently not substantive. "His object . . . was believed to be strengthen the hands of the Hunkers in Washington by making Marcy and [Hunker U.S. Senator Daniel S.] Dickinson . . . the peculiar friends of the president."

A Radical Senator "promptly moved amendatory resolutions omitting all references to Texas." The ensuing debate was "warm" but had nothing to do with Texas or slavery extension. The Senators instead engaged in name-calling about "the loyalty and justification of the public course of the leading men of the two factions."

Quoting an earlier observer, Herbert D.A. Donovan suggests that the event demonstrates fundamental substantive differences over slavery extension between the factions:
"The debate," says Alexander, "indicated that the Free-Soil sentiment had not only taken root among the Radicals, but that rivalries between the two factions rested on differences of principle far deeper than canal improvement."

But the facts that Donovan relates do not necessarily support this conclusion. The Radical who moved to strike the pro-Texas resolution may well have disliked the idea of slavery extension or resented the Slave Power, but he seems to have seized on the issue primarily in order to embarrass and discredit the Conservatives with the president. The two factions then fought over the issue, just as they fought over a number of other auxiliary issues, in order to gain tactical advantage and to deny victory to their adversaries.

Nonetheless, the Texas issue -- and by extension the spread of slavery -- had been raised.

About the illustration, which dates to an earlier period (1838, when William H. Seward and the Whigs swept the Democrats out of power in New York):
A satiric commentary on the effects of the landslide Whig victory in New York state elections in the autumn of 1838. President Van Buren (left) greets two of his defeated allies: incumbent governor William L. Marcy (center, in uniform) and Representative Churchill C. Cambreleng. Both men had the support of New York radical Democrats, or "Loco Focos." Van Buren: "Welcome old friends to me yet dear, Pray what the devil brings you here?" Marcy: "I have had leave to resign, and wish to be taken care of. If you had nothing better, I'll take the Office of Collector!" Cambreleng (wiping his eyes): "I am defeated in spite of the lamentations of the people!" Servant at the door, in a Dutch accent: "Vot rum-looking Coveys these is. I vonder Master admits them!" A portrait of Van Buren supporter Francis Preston Blair hangs on the wall of the room.

"We could never discover that they were peculiar in that"

You've got to admit, in the War of the Names, the Barnburners beat the Hunkers hands down.

Herbert D.A. Donovan identifies two potential derivations of the term "Hunker." "The less probable explanation is that it derived from the Dutch word 'honk,' a post or station, reflecting on their supposed stationary attitude toward reforms."

The other, which Donovan finds more plausible, is somewhat similar to the traditional one of "hunkering" (i.e., hankering) after spoils:
To their rivals for party supremacy, the equally inappropriate and mystifying name "Hunkers or "Old Hunkers" was given. This was supposed to ridicule their strenuous efforts to get a large "hunk" of the spoils of office; though, as [Horace] Greeley slyly observed, "we could never discover that they were peculiar in that," and it is true that during the epoch of the struggle, the Barnburners probably surpassed their rivals both in getting and keeping offices.

"Britannia's Fist"

Haven't read it, but you Civil War alternate history fans may be interested: Peter G. Tsouras, Britannia's Fist: From Civil War to World War: An Alternate History. Here's the product description (for which I do not vouch for):
Once too often in the War Between the States, Great Britain's support for the Confederacy takes it to the brink of war with the Union. The escape of a British-built Confederate ironclad finally ignites the heap of combustible animosities and national interests. When the U.S. Navy seizes it in British waters, the ensuing battle spirals into all-out war. Napoleon III eagerly joins the British and declares war on the United States. Meanwhile, treason uncoils in the North as the anti-war Democrats, known as Copperheads, plot to overthrow the U.S. government and take the Midwest into the Confederacy.

Britannia's fist strikes quickly and hard. Along with the Canadians, the British invade New York and Maine, and the Royal Navy strikes at the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. The clash at Charleston is history's first great naval battle between ironclads. Meanwhile, a French army marches into Texas from Mexico, and the French Navy attacks the Gulf coast. In the Midwest, the Copperheads rise in revolt to liberate Confederate POWs and arm them with stockpiled weapons. Never has the Republic been in such peril.

Britannia's Fist brilliantly describes not just a war of stroke and counterstroke but one in which new technologies--repeating weapons, observation balloons, advances in naval ordnance and armament--become vital factors in the struggle of the young country against the Old World's empires. For one of the great missed stories of the Civil War was not the advance of military technology but its impediment by incompetence, disorganization, and in some serious cases outright refusal to contemplate anything innovative. This is also a war in which the Union finds a "combat multiplier" when it organizes history's first national-level intelligence effort. Britannia's Fist is the compelling story of powerful historical personalities who come together as the Union goes into total war mobilization in the fight for its life.

"Thunder and lightning are barnburners sometimes"

Herbert D.A. Donovan dates the use of the term "Barnburners" to 1842, although "[t]he use of the term is not common before 1843." The most likely origin
is, that the name grew out of a slighting remark that the policy of the Radicals in connection with public works resembled that of the legendary Dutch farmer who had burned down his barn to rid it of the rats -- the implication being that the Barnburners were willing to destroy the public works and corporations to stop the abuses connected with them. This explanation was given by speakers on both sides during discussion in the legislature . . ..

The term of ridicule was, predictably enough, eventually adopted by the targets as a badge of honor:
[I]n 1847, at the celebrated Herkimer convention, Samuel Young, one of their oldest and ablest leaders, accepted the designation. "Gentlemen," said he, "They call us barnburners. Thunder and lightning are barnburners sometimes; but they greatly purify the whole atmosphere, and that, gentlemen, is what we propose to do.."

About the illustration:
A humorous commentary on Barnburner Democrat Martin Van Buren's opposition to regular Democratic party nominee Lewis Cass. Van Buren and his son John were active in the Free Soil effort to prevent the extension of slavery into new American territories. In this he opposed the conservative Cass, who advocated deferring to popular sovereignty on the question. In "Smoking Him Out," Van Buren and his son (wearing smock, far right) feed an already raging fire in a dilapidated barn. (radical New York Democrats supporting Van Buren were referred to as "Barnburners" because in their zeal for social reforms and anticurrency fiscal policy they were likened to farmers burning their barns to drive out the rats). On the left, Lewis Cass prepares to leap from the roof of the flaming structure while several rats likewise escape below him. The artist seems to favor Van Buren, and his attempt to force the slavery issue in the campaign. The Free Soilers, unlike the Democrats, supported enforcement of the Wilmot Proviso, an act introduced by David Wilmot which prohibited slavery in territories acquired in the Mexican War. John Van Buren, adding another pitchfork of hay to the flames, exclaims, "That's you Dad! more 'Free Soil.' We'll rat'em out yet. Long life to Davy Wilmot."

A Great Dred Scott Primer

Yesterday, I pointed out Paul Finkelman's article on Dred Scott: Was Dred Scott Correctly Decided? An "Expert Report" for the Defendant. Having now read it, I'm pleased to report that it's excellent. In 34 pages you get a crisp summary of the often obscure facts, a comprehensible description of the tangled procedural background, and a fine and well-ordered outline and discussion of the issues. The nice thing is that it's accessible, I believe, to non-lawyers trying to understand what was going on. If you take the time to read the article with a little care, you'll be well rewarded. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Millard Derangement Syndrome: A Case Study and Rebuttal

I really like Rick Moran's site Right Wing Nuthouse and return to it regularly, but this cartoonish sketch of Millard Fillmore's career is utterly misguided. Rick clearly suffers from a bad case of Millard Derangement Syndrome (MDS):
[Zachary Taylor's] successor was, if possible, even more incompetent. Millard Fillmore is, to this day, a national joke, a punchline of a president. Historians try to be kind to the guy but Fillmore’s rabid enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act (a product of the last great compromise by the Great Compromiser Henry Clay) meant that hundreds of freed slaves or slaves who had been living free in the north became targets of bounty hunters and slave owners with dubious claims on their person. Many freed blacks fled to Canada rather than take a chance with Fillmore’s federal marshals who enforced the act, working cheek to jowl with the bounty hunters. The legislation was part of the Compromise of 1850 that lasted less than 4 years when the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the seminal Missouri Compromise of 1820 and made the 1850 legislation moot. Even the Whigs refused to nominate him for a full term in 1852. He ended up running for president in 1856 on both the Whig and Know Nothing Party tickets. Considering that there was no such party as the Whigs except as it existed in the drawing rooms and salons of a few rich men, Fillmore’s greatest claim to fame may be that he was the last major figure to run for president on the Whig party ticket.

The core of Rick's dislike of Fillmore clearly lies in Fillmore's willingness to sign the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 into law. No reasonable person will contend that that law was anything other than abominable. But what Rick fails to acknowledge is that the act was only one piece of a package of laws that Congress narrowly passed after years of acrimony and deadlock dating back, ultimately, to the introduction of the Wilmot Proviso in 1846. It's fair enough to debate whether the Compromise of 1850 as a whole was a Good Thing or a Bad Thing; but it's unreasonable to condemn Fillmore's decision on the Fugitive Slave Bill in isolation.

As it turns out, I've written a post on the real issue here: Was the Compromise of 1850 a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?. Having re-read it, I think it stands up pretty well (a few typos notwithstanding), and I won't repeat myself ad nauseam. But very briefly, I think it's reasonable to conclude, first, that, but for the Compromise, war might well have broken out between Texas and New Mexico, and then escalated and spread into a general civil war. Mark Stegmaier's book, Texas, New Mexico and the Compromise of 1850 (discussed here) further highlights this possibility.

Second, had war broken out in 1850 or 1851, it's entirely possible that the Union would not have survived intact. How would history have judged President Fillmore if he had provoked a civil war and then presided over the destruction of the Union? For that matter, if an independent CSA had emerged in 1850-51, how long might slavery have endured there? 1900? 1920? 1960?

Subsidiary manifestations of Rick's MDS appear in his descriptions of Fillmore's failure to obtain renomination in 1852 and his decision to run as the American Party candidate in 1856. Neither criticism withstands close analysis.

Fillmore did run for the presidency in 1848 and had no desire for the office. When President Taylor unexpectedly died, Fillmore steered the country through the greatest crisis it had ever faced. His initial inclination was to announce that he would not be a candidate in 1852. Friends dissuaded him from this course, but he clearly had none of Bob Dole's "fire in the belly." Essentially, all he did was not eliminate himself.

Had he seriously wanted the Whig nomination in 1852, it would have been his. Although Winfield Scott was ultimately nominated, it was Fillmore's own secretary of state, Daniel Webster, who blocked Fillmore's nomination by failing to release his small block of delegates. If Fillmore had demanded that Webster stand down, Fillmore would have been the candidate. He did not do so, and was probably relieved when he not get the nomination. This may be a political failing, but it was not a moral one.

Rick's complaints about the 1856 run are equally misguided. I have written a number of posts about Fillmore's affiliation with the Americans and won't repeat them here. But the bottom line is that Fillmore and his advisors devised a plan to take over the American Party and use it as a pro-Union vehicle. Fillmore used the American Party because it was the only platform available. He had entered politics in 1828 through the Anti-Mason Party. He had no use for the KN's secret rituals or its nativism.

There may have been "a few rich men" in "drawing rooms and salons" in 1856 who believed that the Whig party was not dead, but Fillmore was not one of them. It was precisely for that reason that Fillmore had concluded that he had no choice but to employ the Americans, and not the Whig Party, for his 1856 run. If a few deluded fossils claiming still to be Whigs chose to endorse him, there was no reason for Fillmore to reject them, but he ran as an American, not as a Whig, because he knew the Whig party no longer existed.

Finally, Rick's comments about rich men and drawing rooms suggest that he's been looking too much at those photos of Fillmore that make him look like a stuffed shirt. He was anything but. As I've recently emphasized, Fillmore's family was dirt poor; he was the quintessential self-made man. Both before and after his presidency, he dedicated himself to the welfare of his fellow citizens of Buffalo and western New York and was widely respected by them for his efforts.

About the illustration:
Sharply critical of both the Democratic and Whig choice of presidential candidates in 1852, the artist laments the nomination of two soldiers, Winfield Scott (center) and Franklin Pierce (far right), in preference to several more "capable" statesmen who appear at left. The latter are (left to right): Samuel Houston, John J. Crittenden, Thomas Hart Benton, Millard Fillmore, John Bell, Lewis Cass, Stephen A. Douglas, and Daniel Webster. Most prominent in the group are Fillmore, Cass, and Webster, who also sought the presidential nomination in 1852. Fillmore: "I have sought more anxiously to do what was right; than what would please, and feel no disappointment, at finding that my Conduct has, rendered me an unavailable candidate." Cass: "We have been partizans where we differed in opinions as to the best means of promoting the prosperity and happiness of our native land, but we cast aside, party when we stood Shoulder, to Shoulder, for the Constitution & the Union." Webster: "It is not our fortune to be, or to have been successful Millitary Chieftains. We are nothing but painstaking, hardworking, drudging Civilians, giving our life, and health, and strength, to the maintenance of the Constitution and upholding the liberties of our country." Columbia, draped in stars and stripes and grasping the hands of Scott and Pierce, responds: "I acknowledge your noble services, worth and Constant devotion most Illustrious sons, and that you have the long experience, Sound sense and practical wisdom which fit you to receive the highest honor in my power to bestow, but you are "not Available." " "Availability," in the contemporary lexicon, meant the quality of broad popular appeal. Scott and Pierce were both distinguished in the Mexican War. Scott, holding a liberty staff and Phrygian cap, proclaims: "You see Gentlemen it is "availability" that is required and that is "my" qualification." Pierce holds a shield adorned with stars and stripes, adding, "I am a "Great" man and have done the country "Great" Service! I never knew it before; but it "must be so;" for the Convention has declared it, and the Democracy affirm it." Before his nomination by the Democratic convention of 1852, Pierce was a relatively little known New Hampshire attorney--a fact which Whig publicists tended to exaggerate. Pierce had, after all, served as a two-term congressman and senator from New Hampshire.

The Barnburners: Fons et Origo

Herbert D.A. Donovan identifies 1842 as a key year in the developing divisions within the Democratic Party in New York.

During the last gubernatorial term of Democrat William Learned Marcy (who left office on December 31, 1838) and particularly during the administration of his successor, Whig William Henry Seward (who assumed office January 1, 1839), the state debt mushroomed. Conservative Democrats and Whigs sponsored ambitious canal projects while refusing to lay taxes to pay for them, maintaining that the income generated from the projects would ultimately pay off the debt.

As previously discussed, by 1842 the state was an economic disaster area. The Radicals finally gained enough support to pass the Stop and Tax Act of 1842, aided by more conservative Democrats “who consented to it only on the ground of temporary necessity.” The Radicals then beat back attempts by Conservatives to undermine the Act through the passage of bills that would have authorized work on specific projects.
“[T]he proceedings of the Democratic members of the [New York] Senate [in which Conservatives proposed to fund projects and Radicals thwarted them] . . . are worthy of particular notice, because they afforded the first public demonstration in our state legislature of the difference of opinion between that portion of the Democratic party called the Barnburners or radicals, and those that were afterwards called conservatives, or ‘Hunkers.’” From this time forward, the Radicals had a concrete platform on which they could stand together and seek to dominate the will of the party.


Thus it may be seen that the ramifications of the canal question were the ultimate source of division, the “fons et origo” from which sprang the dissentions in the Democratic party at that period.

Was Dred Scott Correctly Decided?

Lawrence Solum points out and "highly recommend[s]" a new article on the Dred Scott case: Paul Finkelman, Was Dred Scott Correctly Decided? An "Expert Report" for the Defendant. Here's the abstract:
This Article offers an "expert report" for the defendant in Dred Scott, and argues that "given the history of the writing of the Constitution, the importance of slavery to the American economy, the specific protections for slavery found in the Constitution, and the politics of the era," the "decision upholding Dred Scott's status as a slave was surely inevitable." However, from "the perspective of modern scholarship . . . it is not unreasonable to ask if the case was in fact correctly decided. To ask this question is not to defend [Chief Justice] Taney's racism" or to argue "in favor of slavery." Instead, this Article suggests "how the Court might have reached the same result that Chief Justice Taney reached - and why perhaps the result was constitutionally correct - without relying on racism or aggressively proslavery thought."

I haven't read the article yet, but it has been my view as well that the result in the case at the Supreme Court was a no-brainer.

About the illustration:
A general parody on the 1860 presidential contest, highlighting the impact of the Dred Scott decision on the race. That controversial decision, handed down in 1857 by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, ruled that neither the federal government nor territorial governments could prohibit slavery in the territories. The burning question of the future of slavery in the United States was addressed by several of the contenders during the 1860 race. Here the four presidential candidates dance with members of their supposed respective constituencies. The music is fiddled by Dred Scott, the former slave whose suit precipitated the court's decision. Scott sits on a chair at center. In the upper left is Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge. He is paired with Democratic incumbent and ally James Buchanan, depicted as a goat or (as he was nicknamed) "Buck." At the upper right Republican Abraham Lincoln prances arm-in-arm with a black woman, a pejorative reference to his party's alignment with the abolitionists. At lower right Constitutional Union party candidate John Bell dances with an Indian brave. This pairing is puzzling but may allude to Bell's brief flirtation with Native American interests. (For one instance of the use of the Indian as a nativist symbol see "Know Nothing Soap," no. 1854-3.) At lower left Stephen A. Douglas dances with a ragged Irishman. Associated with Douglas in several cartoons (see "The Undecided Political Prize Fight," no. 1860-22) the Irishman, here wearing a cross, may be intended as a reference to Douglas's backing among Irish immigrants and allegations of the candidate's Catholicism. "The Political Quadrille's" stylistic similarity to the "Undecided Political Prize Fight" and "Dividing The National Map" (nos. 1860-22 and 1860-24) suggests a common authorship.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Barnburners: The Prequel

The Erie Canal gave birth to the Barnburners.

Shortly after the Canal opened in the mid-1820s, "it became evident that the income . . . would exceed even the sanguine predictions of the most ardent Clintonians." In 1827, "the [New York] legislature suspended entirely the imposition of a direct tax."

Over the next decade, however, increasing expenditures, particularly on uneconomical feeder canals that did not pay their way, depleted the state treasury. By 1834, the New York state general fund was reduced to $190,000. By 1835, it was clear that the State would either have to re-impose a direct tax to fund projects or resort to deficit spending.

In that year, the state comptroller was Democrat Azariah C. Flagg. "It was he," according to Herbert H.D. Donovan, "who at this time outlined and urged the financial policy which, in its application later, became the bone of contention . . . between two almost equally-balanced sections of the Democrats themselves."

Flagg did so by reporting as follows (paragraph breaks and emphasis added):
The annual reports from this office the last nine years have urged upon the consideration of the representatives of the people the necessity of a state tax, to enable the treasury to meet the ordinary expenses of the government, and to save the general fund from annihilation. The acts of the legislature, instead of favoring the policy of preserving the principal of the general fund, have indicated a settled determination to use it up for the current expenses of the treasury, and not to levy a tax, so long as there remained a remnant of that fund . . ..

The alternative is now presented, whether a light tax shall be levied, or a state debt created, for supplying the treasury with the means of paying the daily demands upon it. A decision of the question cannot be postponed any longer. It is necessary for the preservation of a sound financial system, that a tax should be levied, of at least one mill upon the dollar of valuation of real and personal estate. If the treasury is not relieved by a tax, there will be a debt against the treasury of at least $1,500,000 by the close of 1837. In addition to this, there will be a debt on account of the lateral canals of at least $3,000,000. . . .

In authorizing money to be borrowed and stock to be issued for the construction of the lateral canals, the salutary principle adopted (in 1817) has not been adhered to. . . . It is a wise rule . . . never to borrow a dollar without laying a tax in the same instant for paying the interest annually, and the principal within a given term, and to consider that tax as pledged to the creditors of the public faith.

Within the next several years, "[c]onflicting impulses on the subject of expenditures for canals . . . began to open a rift in the hitherto solid lines of the majority party."
Those who believed in a rather liberal policy of pledging the state's credit and resources to the extension and completion of the canal system at an early date began to be called "Conservatives." Those, on the other hand, who favored the new policy of limiting the canal expenditures to the amount available from the surplus revenue of those canals, received the designation "Radicals." It is by these names that the two groups are always referred to in the early days of their strife.

About the illustration:
A satire on the Van Buren administration's involvement in New York State politics. Although the precise context of the cartoon is unclear, specific reference is made to Van Buren's alliance with postmaster general and political strategist Amos Kendall against Senator Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, leader of the conservative faction of New York Democrats. In an interior, Kendall (left) and Van Buren are at a table strewn with "discharge" papers. Kendall, seated below a painting of Andrew Jackson titled "Glory," reads the "Globe" newspaper. Van Buren sits below a portrait of "Globe" editor and administration apologist Francis Preston Blair. Van Buren: "So they've nailed that infernal Tallmadge to the counter-Whole hog fellows these eighteen-we must show our gratitude-any room in your concern Amos?" Kendall: "You're right sir we must back up the Albany Boys. Ill send every d--md whig in my department to "Jones" locker. Theres that old superanuated hero Van Ranselaer [i.e., probably, Canal Commissioner Stephen Van Rensselaer] we'll bury him decently and put a "Flagg" [State Comptroller Azariah C. Flagg] over him." Tallmadge watches from behind a curtain, saying "Those fellows can only conceive of mens souls as marketable commodities." Weitenkampf dates the print tentatively 1836, but the artist's rendering of Kendall is clearly based on Charles Fenderich's life portrait, etched by William W. Bannerman and published in the "United States Magazine and Democratic Review" in March 1838. The likeness of Tallmadge also appears to be from a Fenderich portrait copyrighted in 1839.

"A labyrinth of wheels within wheels"

Having recently referred to "[t]he hothouse of politics in New York during the first half of the Nineteenth Century," I was amused to run across the following:

The complexity of New York State politics during its whole history has been often a matter of comment. Particularly during the first half of the nineteenth century it was the despair of the most competent observers. William Allen Butler, writing in 1862, declared that it had "always been a vast deep," and his judgment was echoed by other excellent critics. Horace Greeley, who, by virtue of long experience no less than active personal interest, should certainly have been able to elucidate the subject, complained of "the zigzag, wavering lines and uncouth political designations which puzzled and wearied readers." The shrewdest politicians from other parts of the union, anxious as they were to conciliate a state which was by its very size a vital factor in the decision of all political questions, were compelled to admit that the currents and counter-currents at work here could not be accurately or reliably gauged. President John Quincy Adams pleaded this lack of comprehension in excuse of some unpopular nominations, and Oliver Wolcott wrote: "I don't pretend to comprehend their politics. It is a labyrinth of wheels within wheels, and it is understood only by the managers."

Herbert D.A. Donovan, The Barnburners (NYU Press 1925).

About the illustration, entitled The strife, between an old hunker, a barnburner and a no party man:
A particularly well-drawn satire on the three major presidential contenders for 1848, (left to right) Zachary Taylor, Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass. Of the three the artist seems to favor Van Buren, the "Barnburner" candidate, who sits on a stool milking the cow which the others try in vain to move in opposite directions. Taylor, who tugs at the tail of the animal, is called a "No Party Man" because of his continued refusal to commit to a party ideology. Cass, the "Hunker" or conservative Democrat, strains at the cow's horns. Van Buren: "I go in for the free soil. Hold on Cass, dont let go Taylor, (That's the cream of the Joke)." Van Buren was the candidate of a coalition, between Barnburner Democrats and Liberty and Whig party abolitionists, called the Free Soil party. Zachary Taylor: "I don't Stand on the whig Platform 'I ask no favor and shrink from no Responsibility.'" Lewis Cass: "Matty is at his old tricks again, and going in for the Spoils old Zack, and myself will get nothing but skim milk."

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Haven't posted a picture of Mohammed in a while. This one, courtesy of Zombietime, "is from one of the earliest surviving illustrated manuscripts of the Inferno, dating from the third quarter of the fourteenth century (1350-1375), and currently held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England." Mo is the guy in the middle, showing his entrails to Dante and Virgil in the Eighth Circle of Hell.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Maybe We Should Give Them Back the Southwest

U.S. military report warns 'sudden collapse' of Mexico is possible.

About the illustration:
An indignant James K. Polk takes issue with Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster's public attacks on his Texas policy. In 1844 Webster had been opposed to the annexation of Texas and in 1846 he criticized attacked the war with Mexico over Texas as highly unjustifiable. Webster's first public speech on the war was made in late June, and the print probably did not appear before that. In the center, Polk (left) confronts Webster, warning, "If you say the Mexican War is a War of my own makeing you tell a falshood!" Raising his fists, Webster retorts, "I did say it & say it again!" To the left of Polk stand Thomas Ritchie and James Watson Webb, newspaper editors supporting the administration. Webb holds a bottle of "Tom and Jerry" and a sponge, commenting, "Principles, not men!" The Whig editor had opposed the annexation of Texas, but once hostilities commenced he urged military action to bring about a speedy termination. Webb's insistence on "principles" reflects his uneasiness in an alliance with a Democratic administration which stood to gain politically from the conflict. Ritchie reassures Polk, "In Union [a double entendre referring to his newspaper the "Washington Union&1] there is strength, Nous Verrons!" To the right of Webster stand an unidentified man (probably another journalist) and Horace Greeley, editor of the New York "Tribune. "Greeley, who was severely critical of Polk's policies, holds a bottle of "Lemon Soda" and (like Webb) a sponge, and remarks, "I wish Dan had eaten more Graham bread he's too fat for Polk!" (Graham bread was a well-known Greeley dietary preference.) The unidentified man remarks, "A Daniel come to blows, if not Judgment." The sponges and bottles are apparently intended for the relief of the fighters, much as the port and the "Old Monongohala Whiskey" figured in Anthony Imbert's "Set to between Old Hickory and Bully Nick"(no. 1834-4), on which "The Issue Joined"seems to be based. The precise significance of the "Tom & Jerry" and "Lemon Soda" is unclear. "The Issue Joined"is executed in a style similar to that of Edward Williams Clay. The faces of the characters may in fact be attributable to Clay, but the drawing of the figures and costumes are not up to that artist's standard.
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