Sunday, August 30, 2009

Welcome to the Blogosphere!

I first met captainrlm recently at Civil War Talk. Now I see that the Captain, a/k/a Richard McCormick, started his own Civil War-related blog at the beginning of the month: My Civil War Obsession.

Welcome to the Blogosphere, Richard!


You don't see this every day. Our neighbors' pet pig, Lulu, apparently decided that the grass was greener (or at last tastier) at our house.

Two Andrew Jackson Stories

Andrew Jackson's Jefferson Day 1830 toast and his threat to hang nullifiers are both well known and wouldn't be worth repeating in themselves. But James Parton provides interesting context and background for both.

Here is Parton on Jackson's toast (paragraph breaks added):
It was supposed, at the time, that the toast offered by the President was an impromptu. On the contrary, the toast was prepared with singular deliberation, and was designed to produce the precise effect it did produce.

Major [William B.] Lewis favors the reader with the following interesting reminiscence: "This celebrated toast 'The Federal Union — It must be preserved' was a cool, deliberate act. The United States Telegraph, General Duff Green's paper, published a programme of the proceedings for the celebration the day before, to which the General's attention had been drawn by a friend, with the suggestion that he had better read it. This he did in the course of the evening, and came to the conclusion that the celebration was to be a nullification affair altogether.

"With this impression on his mind he prepared early the next morning (the day of the celebration) three toasts which he brought with him when he came into his office, where he found Major [Andrew Jackson] Donelson and myself reading the morning papers. After taking his seat he handed them to me and asked me to read them, and tell him which I preferred — I ran my eye over them and then handed him the one I liked best. He handed them to Major Donelson also with the same request, who, on reading them, agreed with me. He said he preferred that one himself for the reason that it was shorter and more expressive. He then put that one into his pocket and threw the others into the fire. That is the true history of the toast the General gave on the Jefferson birth-day celebration in 1830, which fell among the nullifiers like an exploded bomb!"

I wonder what the discarded versions said.

And here is Parton on the background to Jackson's exclamation that he would hang the first nullifier he found from the nearest tree. Again, Parton quotes Major Lewis:
"I believe I related to you . . . the anecdote that occurred in the General's office between him and a South Carolina member of Congress, who called to take leave of him. The General received him with great kindness, offering his hand, and begging him to be seated. After a few minutes of conversation, the member rose, and remarked to the General that he was about to return to South Carolina, and desired to know if he had any commands for his friends in that quarter. The General said, 'No, I believe not,' but immediately recalling what he had said, remarked, 'Yes, I have; please give my compliments to my friends in your State, and say to them, that if a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.'"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"I regret beyond expression that you believed me to be an emissary of Mr. Clay"

Sorry, but I have an irresistible urge to dump on James Buchanan a little. I did say something nice about Old Buck once or twice, but the truth is that it's a whole lot easier and more fun to abuse him. Can you say, "Low hanging fruit"?

This installment dates to fairly early in Buchanan's career, 1827, when Buck was a member of the House of Representatives. But before I get to Buck, I need to give you some background.

The background is the famous “corrupt bargain” of 1825. In the run-up to the presidential election of 1824 there were four or five contenders. John C. Calhoun dropped out early in 1824, swamped by enthusiasm for Andrew Jackson in Pennsylvania. In the fall elections, none of the remaining four candidates obtained a majority of electoral votes. This meant that, under the Twelfth Amendment, the trailing candidate, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, dropped from contention. The remaining three – John Quincy Adams, William H. Crawford of Georgia and Andrew Jackson – advanced to the final round. The winner would be selected by the House of Representatives, with each state's delegation voting as a unit and getting one vote. A majority of state delegations (13 of 24) was required to declare a winner.

This isn't the place to go into gory detail about the alleged “corrupt bargain”. Suffice it to say that Clay used his influence as Speaker of the House to help convince the delegations of three states that he had won and in which Jackson had finished second (Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio) to vote for “Quinzy”. Adams prevailed with a bare majority of 13 state delegations (Jackson had 7, Crawford 4). Thereafter Adams nominated Clay as his Secretary of State, a position then regarded as the principal stepping-stone to the presidency. Jackson and his supporters cried foul, maintaining that Adams had gained office only by entering into a “corrupt bargain” with Clay.

Over two years later, on March 27, 1827, the Jacksonian storyline took an odd twist that appeared both to enhance the credibility of an explicit “bargain” and to emphasize the incorruptibility of Old Hickory. On that date, the Fayetteville Carolina Observer published a letter by Virginia planter Carter Beverley asserting that Clay's friends had approached Jackson with a deal before Clay sealed his corrupt bargain with Adams. In a nutshell, Clay had offered to make the Old Hero president if he agreed not to make Adams his Secretary of State. Old Hickory had virtuously and indignantly rejected the offer.

The wonderful James Parton quotes extensively from Beverly's letter in the third volume of his Life of Jackson (paragraph breaks added):
I have just returned from General Jackson's. I found a crowd of company with him. Seven Virginians were of the number. He gave me a most friendly reception, and urged me to stay some days longer with him.

He told me this morning, before all his company, in reply to a question that I put to him concerning the election of J. Q. Adams to the presidency, that Mr. Clay's friends made a proposition to his friends, that, if they would promise, for him [General Jackson] not to put Mr. Adams into the seat of Secretary of State, Mr. Clay and his friends would, in one hour, make him [Jackson] the President.

He [General Jackson] most indignantly rejected the proposition, and declared he would not compromise himself; and unless most openly and fairly made the President by Congress, he would never receive it. He declared, that he said to them, he would see the whole earth sink under them, before he would 'bargain or intrigue for it.'"

Jacksonian newspaper editors knew a good thing when they saw it. Duff Green, a cohort of John Calhoun and Jackson (who were at this point allied), promptly republished the story and charge in his United States Telegraph.

Clay denied the story but otherwise bided his time. Soon enough, Jackson fell into the trap by writing a letter, made public on June 5, 1827, endorsing and elaborating on Beverley's story. Among other things, Jackson revealed that he had been informed of Clay's offer by “a member of Congress of high respectability.” James Parton again quotes from letter (paragraph breaks added):
Early in January, 1825, a member of Congress, of high respectability, visited me one morning, and observed that he had a communication he was desirous to make to me; that he was informed there was a great intrigue going on, and that it was right I should be informed of it; that he came as a friend, and let me receive the communication as I might, the friendly motives through which it was made he hoped would prevent any change of friendship or feeling in regard to him. To which I replied, from his high standing as a gentleman and member of Congress, and from his uniform friendly and gentlemanly conduct toward myself, I could not suppose he would make any communication to me which he supposed was improper. Therefore, his motives being pure, let me think as I might of the communication, my feelings toward him would remain unaltered.

The gentleman proceeded: He said he had been informed by the friends of Mr. Clay, that the friends of Mr. Adams had made overtures to them, saying, if Mr. Clay and his friends would unite in aid of Mr. Adams' election, Mr. Clay should be Secretary of State; that the friends of Mr. Adams were urging, as a reason to induce the friends of Mr. Clay to accede to their proposition, that if I were elected President, Mr. Adams would be continued Secretary of State (innuendo, there would be no room for Kentucky); that the friends of Mr. Clay stated, the West did not wish to separate from the West, and if I would say, or permit any of my confidential friends to say, that in case I were elected President, Mr. Adams should not be continued Secretary of State, by a complete union of Mr. Clay and his friends, they would put an end to the presidential contest in one hour. And he was of opinion it was right to fight such intriguers with their own, weapons.

To which, in substance, I replied – that in politics, as in every thing else, my guide was principle; and contrary to the expressed and unbiased will of the people, I never would step into the presidential chair; and requested him to say to Mr. Clay and his friends (for I did suppose he had come from Mr. Clay, although he used the term of' Mr. Clay's friends) that before I would reach the presidential chair by such means of bargain and corruption, I would see the earth open and swallow both Mr. Clay and his friends, and myself with them. If they had not confidence in me to believe, if I were elected, that I would call to my aid in the cabinet men of the first virtue, talent, and integrity, not to vote for me.

The second day after this communication and reply, it was announced in the newspapers that Mr. Clay had come out openly and avowedly in favor of Mr. Adams. It may be proper to observe, that, on the supposition that Mr. Clay was not privy to the proposition stated, I may have done injustice to him. If so, the gentleman informing me can explain.

Clay then pounced. He again publicly denied the report and this time also demanded that Jackson reveal the identity of the “member of Congress of high respectability” who had served as the source. “'I demand the witness,' he thundered [according to Robert Remini], 'and await the event with fearless confidence.'”

You can probably see where this is going. It soon came out that the source was none other than Jacksonian Congressman James Buchanan of Pennsylvania. The only problem was that Buchanan's story was untrue.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Buchanan issued a public letter, printed in the Lancaster Journal on August 6, 1827, in which he asserted that the whole thing had been a misunderstanding. Jackson, he suggested, had misinterpreted statements that Buchanan had made to him in a conversation held at the very end of 1824. Parton quotes from Buchanan's letter (paragraph breaks added):

The duty which I owe to the public, and to myself, now compels me to publish to the world the only conversation which I ever held with General Jackson, upon the subject of the last presidential election, prior to its termination. . . .

On the 30th of December, 1824, (I am able to fix the time, not only from my own recollection, but from letters which I wrote on that day, on the day following, and on the 2d of January, 1825,) I called upon General Jackson. After the company had left him, by which I found him surrounded, he asked me to take a walk with him; and, while we were walking together upon the street, I introduced the subject. I told him I wished to ask him a question in relation to the presidential election; that I knew he was unwilling to converse upon the subject; that, therefore, if he deemed the question improper, he might refuse to give it an answer: that my only motive in asking it, was friendship for him, and I trusted he would excuse me for thus introducing a subject about which I knew he wished to be silent. His reply was complimentary to myself, and accompanied with a request that I would proceed.

I then stated to him there was a report in circulation, that he had determined he would appoint Mr. Adams Secretary of State, in case he were elected President, and that I wished to ascertain from him whether he had ever intimated such an intention; that he must at once perceive how injurious to his election such a report might be; that no doubt there were several able and ambitious men in the country, among whom I thought Mr. Clay might be included, who were aspiring to that office; and, if it were believed he had already determined to appoint his chief competitor, it might have a most unhappy effect upon their exertions, and those of their friends; that, unless he had so determined, I thought this report should be promptly contradicted under his own authority. I mentioned it had already probably done him some injury. . . .

After I had finished, the General declared he had not the least objection to answer my question; that he thought well of Mr. Adams, but he never said or intimated that he would, or would not, appoint him Secretary of State; that these were secrets he would keep to himself – he would conceal them from the very hairs of his head; that if he believed his right hand then knew what his left would do on the subject of appointments to office, he would cut it off and cast it into the fire; that if he ever should be elected President, it would be without solicitation, and without intrigue, on his part; that he would then go into office perfectly free and untrammeled, and would be left at perfect liberty to fill the offices of the government with the men whom, at the time, he believed to be the ablest and the best in the country.

I told him that this answer to my question was such a one as I had expected to receive, if he answered it at all; and that I had not sought to obtain it for my own satisfaction. I then asked him if I were at liberty to repeat bis answer? He said that I was at perfect liberty to do so, to any person I thought proper. I need scarcely remark that I afterward availed myself of the privilege.

The conversation on this topic here ended, and in all our intercourse since, whether personally, or in the course of our correspondence, General Jackson never once adverted to the subject, prior to the date of his letter to Mr. Beverly. I called upon General Jackson, upon the occasion which I have mentioned, solely as his friend, upon my individual responsibility, and not as the agent of Mr. Clay or any other person.

“Mortified by the testimony of his Pennsylvania friend [says Merrill Peterson], Jackson retired from the controversy without another word.” Privately, however, he was, in the words of Robert Remini, “livid over the Buchanan letter. 'The outrageous statements of Mr. Buchanan will require my attention,' he rumbled to his friend and neighbor William B. Lewis.”

James Parton quotes extensively from Jackson's letter to Lewis (or perhaps a second letter to him). Jackson seems to have believed both that Buchanan's 1825 (or 1824) inquiry to him was “corrupt[]” and that his 1827 letter describing the conversation was a lie (once again, paragraph breaks added):
Your observations with regard to Mr. Buchanan are correct. He showed a want of moral courage in the affair of the intrigue of Adams and Clay – did not do me justice in the expose he then made, and I am sure about that time did believe there was a perfect understanding between Adams and Clay about the presidency and the Secretary of State. This I am sure of. But whether he viewed that there was any corruption in the case or not, I know not; but one thing I do know, that he wished me to combat them, with their own weapons – that was, let my friends say if I was elected I would make Mr. Clay Secretary of State. This, to me, appeared deep corruption, and I repelled it with that honest indignation as I thought it deserved.

Buchanan, for his part, could only grovel. Remini again: “Meanwhile, the hapless meddler apologized for misleading the general. 'I regret beyond expression,' he wrote, 'that you believed me to be an emissary of Mr. Clay.'”

The illustration is taken from The Wasp's Stuff. Excellent!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Which Robert Pierce Forbes Takes Me to the Woodshed

I'm too lazy to provide all the background, but very briefly in an earlier post I asserted that in the aftermath of the Missouri Compromise most northerners regarded the resolution of the crisis as a defeat. In a comment to that post, Prof. Robert Pierce Forbes, the author of The Missouri Compromise and its Aftermath: Slavery and the Meaning of America, raised a question about my conclusion, citing correspondence of two of the restrictionist leaders, James Tallmadge and John W. Taylor. I in turn published a follow-up post noting Prof. Forbes's question and asserting that there appeared to be extenuating circumstances surrounding the expressions in the correspondence. I pledged to highlight any reply that Prof. Forbes might be so gracious to supply.

Prof. Forbes has now done exactly that, and true to my word I want to give him the floor. Here is his response without edit:
Dear Mr. Tig,

Thank you for your invitation to respond to your thoughtful post. It calls to mind a quotation from Einstein that I cite in my introduction: "The theory decides what we can observe." Since you know that the Compromise was a defeat for its authors, the letters must be ones of consolation.

But how would you read them if you had never heard of the Missouri Compromise? Would “great Joy," "a monument to your fame," "ample recompense," look like commiseration in defeat? In public, as I make clear, the architects of the Compromise had to describe it as a Southern victory. But in their private correspondence--in letters not likely to be intercepted by Bucktail postmasters--the two men most responsible for restriction expressed their delight in the outcome.

This stuff is far from obvious; it took me literally years to figure it out.

I have an idea as to at least one point I want to make, but for now I'll keep my powder dry. The books I want to consult first - Prof. Forbes's work and Glover Moore The Missouri Controversy, 1819-1821 - are at my weekend place. But respond I shall!

About the illustration:
A satire condemning the duplicity and conspiracy of the "Bucktail" faction of New York Democrats in their April 1824 ouster of New York's ex-governor DeWitt Clinton from his post as canal commissioner. The Library's impression of the print has the missing letters in the names of the figures filled in by hand. Twelve men stand in a room, with a platform, table, and lamp on the right. On the left G[ardiner] is about to exit saying, "I will run home and ask the people how they will like it before I give my vote." To the left of the platform P[ierson] says to B[ourne], "I hope we shall give you a united vote for the removal of Mr. Clinton I have long wished an opportunity to have revenge on him for blowing up the old Burr Conspiracy." B[ourne]: "I am delighted with the prospect! Clinton has always been my devil--it will be impossible to pull him down to our level if we do not dishonor him. I recommend secrecy as success depends upon our taking the members by surprise at the moment of adjournment." Others in the room speak (counterclockwise, from the far left): S[eama]n: "I beg of you to pause ere you adopt any more lobby measures--we were sent here for public good--yet all our measures have for their object individual benefit. This base deed will produce a reaction and may make him Governor. The republican party so justly famed for justice and liberality will in their haste to free themselves from this odium forget and forgive everything." M[ors]e: "The North river squad think the Canal a benefit to ourside [sic] of the City and they will therefore disapprove our dishonoring its founder." D[rake]: "I wish I could be excused from voting, my conscience tells me it is wrong my judgment tells me it will dishonor the State--but the lobby requires it and it must be done." H[yatt]: "I vote here against the measure but if a majority of this meeting decide in its favor I will vote for it in the house tomorrow as my creed is the majority must rule." B[enedict]: "It is inconsistant with a Soldiers honor to build up or pull down any man to gratify angry or sordid passions --besides this lobby influence must be check'd or it will ruin the State." [Henry] W[heaton]: "I will support the measure to punish him for the injury he did our profession by recommending the fee bill and extending the jurisdiction of the judges." [Clarkson] C[rolius]: "I will support the measure in hopes of appeasing the wrath of the Bucktails altho' I fear they are too hard baked to be gull'd in this way. Besides My Insurance Co. & the lobby." W[ar]d: "My vote shall be given for this removal because he is the author of all our troubles about the electoral law. When Govr. he recommended to the Legislature the restoration of the peoples rights." T[own]: "It is true he has been my Benefactor and I ought to shudder at the deed but three months tuition in the hands of the lobby does away these squeamish feelings." Above, in a cloud, is Columbia with an American flag and an eagle, saying, "I renounce them and their ways."

Monday, August 24, 2009

"She is as chaste as a virgin!"

In his biography of Andrew Jackson, James Parton provides the context surrounding Old Hickory's famous exclamation that Peggy O'Neill Eaton was “as chaste as a virgin.”

One of the allegations against Peggy was that John Eaton and she had, while she was married to John Timberlake, registered as husband and wife at a New York hotel and spent the night there together. Jackson, determined to disprove the charge, sent the Reverend Ezra Stiles Ely to New York to examine the hotel register and interview witnesses. Rev. Ely reported back that the charge could not be substantiated.

On September 10, 1829, Jackson held a cabinet meeting, to which he also invited Rev. Ely. According to Parton, “the President opened the proceedings with an address upon the meanness of calumny, and concluded by giving an account of the late investigations” by Ely and others, including the President himself. After reviewing and condemning as unfounded another report about Mrs. Eaton (that she had had a miscarriage at a time when Timberlake had been abroad for more than a year), Jackson turned to the New York hotel charge:
The charge that Major Eaton and Mrs. Timberlake passed the night together in a New York hotel dwindled first, said the President, into a story that they had been seen on a bed together, and, afterward, that they had been seen sitting on a bed together. He called upon Dr. Ely to state the result of his inquiries in New York.

The reverend gentleman told his story, and concluded by saying that there was no evidence to convict Major Eaton of improper conduct.

"Nor Mrs. Eaton either," broke in the President.

"On that point," said the Doctor, "I would rather not give an opinion."

"She is as chaste as a virgin!" exclaimed the President.

"The Omnibus is smashed -- wheels, axles and body"

In a recent post, I referred to the origin of the term "omnibus bill" during the Crisis of 1850. In Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis and Compromise of 1850, Holman Hamilton cites several examples illustrating how taken people were with the image of the bill as an actual "omnibus", a common carrier "for all" (dative plural!) passengers and their cargo.

Item 1: Toward the end of July 1850, Henry Clay was defending the inclusion in the bill of amendments that some argued were inconsistent. "In reply to criticism, Clay proudly said he saw no 'incongruity' in the freight or passengers 'on board our omnibus.'"

Item 2: The bill fell apart on Wednesday July 31, 1850, as various provisions were stripped away, leaving only that portion providing for the establishment of the Utah territory. "'The omnibus is overturned,' Thomas Hart Benton gloated, 'and all the passengers spilled out but one. We have but Utah left - all gone but Utah!"

Item 3: A few days later, Horace Greeley could not resist using the image. "And so the Omnibus is smashed - wheels, axles and body - nothing left but a single plank termed Utah. I even saw the gallant driver [Henry Clay] abandoning the wreck between six and seven this evening, after having done all that man could do to retrieve, or rather to avert the disaster."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Rights, Advantages and Immunities of Citizens of the United States

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment includes the so-called Privileges or Immunities Clause, which provides that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Most scholars have come to agree that, if the Fourteenth Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to the States, it was the Privileges or Immunities Clause that was supposed to do the job. This, in turn, has set off a scholarly search for the meaning of and antecedents to the mysterious phrase, “the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

Most legal historians have, not surprisingly, pointed to a clause in Article IV, Section 2 that contains similar language. The Privileges and Immunities Clause provides that “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.”

In his important new article, The Origins of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, Part I: “Privileges and Immunities” as an Antebellum Term of Art, constitutional historian Kurt T. Lash identifies a different source. It turns out that treaties and treaty-related documents in the period between the founding and the Civil War repeatedly referred to the rights, privileges and immunities “of citizens of the United States.” What is more, we have contemporary explanations of what the terms were understood to mean.

Since my purpose here is to whet your appetite, not rehash Prof. Lash's entire article, I want to cut to the chase and focus on one example to which Prof. Lash points. Article III of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty provided that inhabitants of acquired territory (which included Missouri) would enjoy “all these rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States”:
The inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States and admitted as soon as possible according to the principles of the federal Constitution to the enjoyment of all these rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States, and in the mean time they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and the Religion which they profess.

During the Missouri Crisis of 1819-1821, this provision became the focus of discussion and argument. Anti-restrictionists (that is, those who contended that Missouri should be admitted as a state without restriction as to the form of its state constitution) maintained that restriction violated Article III.

Among those who denied the charge was Daniel Webster, who in December 1819 authored A Memorial to the Congress of the United States, on the subject of restraining the increase of Slavery in New States to be admitted into the Union.

In the Memorial, Webster countered the Article III argument by drawing a distinction between “the rights, advantages and immunities” granted under state law and those “of citizens of the United States.” The constitution and laws of a particular state might or might not grant all sorts of rights; but “the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States” were those set forth in the federal Constitution and common to all:
The rights, advantages, and immunities here spoken of [in Article III], must, from the very force of the terms of the clause, be such as are recognized or communicated by the Constitution of the United States; such as are common to all citizens, and are uniform throughout the United States. The clause cannot be referred to rights, advantages, and immunities derived exclusively from the State Government, for these do not depend upon the Federal Constitution. Besides, it would be impossible that all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the different States, could be at the same time enjoyed by the same persons. These rights are different in different States; a right exists in one State which is denied in others, or is repugnant to other rights enjoyed in others. In some of the States, a freeholder alone is entitled to vote in elections; in some a qualification of personal property is sufficient; and in others, age and freedom are the sole qualifications of electors. In some States, no citizen is permitted to hold slaves: in others, he possesses that power absolutely; in others, it is limited.

Webster then went on to describe some of “the rights derived under the Federal Constitution”:
The obvious meaning, therefore, of the clause is, that the rights derived under the Federal Constitution, shall be enjoyed by the inhabitant of Louisiana in the same manner as by the citizens of other States. The United States, by the Constitution, are bound to guarantee to every State in the Union a republican form of government; and the inhabitants of Louisiana are entitled, when a State, to this guarantee. Each State has a right to two Senators, and to Representatives according to a certain enumeration of population, pointed out in the Constitution. The inhabitants of Louisiana, upon their admission into the Union, are also entitled to these privileges.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Reconstruction Congress

Long-time readers will know that I am a big fan of the late David P. Currie, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who authored a series of books on The Constitution in Congress. He also produced two law review articles that should be of particular interest to students of the Civil War: The Civil War Congress and Through the Looking-Glass: The Confederate Constitution in Congress, 1861-1865<.

Well, I'm excited to discover that the University of Chicago Law Review posthumously published one last article by Prof. Currie that brings the series through Reconstruction: The Reconstruction Congress.

About the illustration:
A puzzling caricature, probably dealing with Reconstruction under Andrew Johnson's administration. The work is quite crudely drawn. An acrobat, with mustache and sideburns and wearing a jester's cap, holds in each hand a mask, one grinning and one frowning. His legs stretch from the head of Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who holds a paper labeled "Committee of 15" and is seated on a black man, who crawls on all fours, to the head of an unidentified man (probably Johnson) who holds the U.S. Constitution. The latter's back is turned to the viewer and several geese, some alive and some dead, appear at his feet. Stevens, an abolitionist, was one of the most prominent members of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, composed of fifteen members of Congress. The fool remarks, "As yet, I have found no difficulty in standing upon my own platform."

Friday, August 21, 2009

"I hold in my hand a series of resolutions . . ."

Having devoted a few posts to descriptions of the oratorical style of Henry Clay, I thought I would take a look at two of his speeches. Before doing so, however, I urge you to to try to hear Clay speaking the words – a deep voice that, even at conversational levels, could fill the largest room and mesmerize an audience. You should also try to visualize Clay, a not particularly handsome, loose-limbed man who used movement – an arched eyebrow, the sweep of an arm, a stroll across the Senate floor, a pinch of snuff – to dramatize his points:
“He moved from his desk,” one observer wrote. “He walked up and down between the rows of seats. He took snuff. He used his hands freely. He varied his voice; was sometimes rapid, sometimes slow, sometimes solemn, sometimes playful. . . . He had the air of an accomplished actor playing a part with great skill but with an eye always on the audience and their applause.”

“Unfortunately,” Merrill Peterson explains, “none of the actions of his speeches could be transmitted to the printed page. The reported speeches were but skeletons of the originals.” As we read Clay’s speeches in coming posts, we must all, therefore, use our reconstructive powers to imagine a performance – not merely a speech – by a master.

The speeches that I want to take a look at are the ones he delivered in the United States Senate at the end of January and the beginning of February 1850, in support of his compromise resolutions. In the first, given on Tuesday January 29, 1850, Clay publicly unveiled his resolutions for the first time and “present[ed] a few observations upon each . . . with the purpose, chiefly, of exposing it fairly and fully before the Senate and before the country.” The second extended over two days, Tuesday and Wednesday February 5 and 6, 1850. In it, Clay set forth his arguments more fully and pleaded with his audience to support them.

In January 1850, Clay was approaching the end of a long and distinguished career. Approaching seventy-three years of age (born April 12, 1777), he had first set foot in the Senate in 1806, when, at the age of twenty-nine, he was, in theory, constitutionally ineligible to serve. Having featured prominently in the resolution of two earlier crises – the Missouri Crisis of 1819-1821 and the Nullification Crisis of 1832-1833 – Clay was widely expected to fill a similar role in the resolution of this crisis, and he knew it. Taking advantage of his reputation, Clay maneuvered to make his initial presentation the focus of debate. John C. Waugh explains and sets the stage:
It had been announced to the country beforehand that Clay was to appear in the Senate on January 29 to offer a set of resolutions. On that day the weather was bright and beautiful, and crowds hopeful of cramming into the Senate gallery began arriving early, long before the session opened. Alexander Stephens, who had gone to the Senate chamber with the mob, noted that “every aisle, nook and corner” was jammed. He estimated that when Clay rose to speak, “thousands were disappointed,” unable to get within earshot of him.

When Clay rose, he dramatically focused the audience's attention on a document he was holding. “ Mr. President,” Clay intoned, probably holding the document up for all to see, “I hold in my hand a series of resolutions which I desire to submit to the consideration of this body. Taken together, in combination, they propose an amicable arrangement of all questions in controversy between the free and the slave States, growing out of the subject of slavery.

Clay then explained the limited purpose of his present speech:
It is not my intention, Mr. President, at this time, to enter into a full and elaborate discussion of each of these resolutions, taken separately, or the whole of them combined together, as composing a system of measures; but I desire to present a few observations upon each resolution, with the purpose, chiefly, of exposing it fairly and fully before the Senate and before the country; and I may add, with the indulgence of the Senate, towards the conclusion, some general observations upon the state of the country and the condition of the question to which the resolutions relate.

Clay concluded his introduction with an attempt to diffuse knee-jerk criticism by emphasizing the “care and deliberation” he had devoted to preparing the resolutions he was about to introduce:
Whether they shall or shall not meet with the approbation and concurrence of the Senate – as I most ardently hope they may; as I most sincerely believe they ought – I trust that at least some portion of the long time which I have devoted, with care and deliberation, to the preparation of these resolutions, and to the presentation of this great national scheme of compromise and harmony, will be employed by each Senator before he pronounces against the proposition embraced in these resolutions.

Clay then proceeded to read his first resolution:
1st. Resolved, That California, with suitable boundaries, ought, upon her application, to be admitted as one of the States of this Union, without the imposition by Congress of any restriction in respect to the exclusion or introduction of slavery within those boundaries.

He had very little to say concerning it. Clay raised and dismissed an alleged procedural “irregularity” in California’s anticipated petition for admission and praised California as worthy of admission (“She forms now one of the bright stars of this glorious Confederacy”). Although – or because – everyone knew that California was about to apply for admission as a non-slave state, Clay downplayed this initial resolution as almost unnecessary:
The resolution proposes her admission when she applies for it. There is no intention on my part to anticipate such an application, but I thought it right to present the resolution as part of the general plan which I propose for the adjustment of these unhappy difficulties.

And with that, Clay briskly moved on to his next topic.

About the illustration:
A patriotic, illustrated sheet music cover for a song composed by Charles Collins, Jr., and dedicated to Kentucky senator Henry Clay. The work celebrates Clay's efforts to preserve the Union, and was a product of the optimism following passage of the Compromise of 1850. The Union is symbolized here by a circular chain in which every link is inscribed with the name of a state and its year of entry into the Union. California, admitted in 1850, is represented by the center ring below. At the top of the ring is an eagle with shield and olive branch, emerging from a cloud and flanked by two American flags. The chain is superimposed on an arch supported by two Doric columns, which in turn rest upon a stepped pedestal inscribed: "The United States of America. Union and Liberty, Forever, One and Inseparable." Outside of the columns are floral swags and acanthus ornaments. Inside is a view "The Capitol at Washington" with two men on horseback on its lawn. Above the dome appear the lines: "In Union's Chain, within its Spell, /Freedom & peace & safety dwell." An inscription (printed) appears below the illustration, a facsimile of a note by Henry Clay endorsing "the sentiments and the poetry" of the song and acknowledging the composer's dedication of the piece to him.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"It is not good for a girl to grow up in a large tavern"

I've been leafing (digitally) through James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson. It's a delight. Take this opening paragraph from his chapter on Peggy O'Neill Eaton. A bit Victorian, perhaps, but it makes me smile for precisely that reason:
William O'Neal kept at Washington for many years a large old-fashioned tavern, where members of Congress, in considerable numbers, boarded during the sessions of the national legislature. William O'Neal had a daughter, sprightly and beautiful, who aided him and his wife in entertaining his boarders. It is not good for a girl to grow up in a large tavern. Peg O'Neal as she was called, was so lively in her deportment, so free in her conversation, that, had she been born twenty years later, she would have been called one of the "fast" girls of Washington. A witty, pretty, saucy, active tavern-keeper's daughter, who makes free with the inmates of her father's house, and is made free with by them, may escape contamination, but not calumny.

About the illustration:
A mild satire on Jackson and his Cabinet, portraying in imaginative terms a White House reception of popular French dancer and actress Madame Celeste. Seated in chairs in a White House parlor are six cabinet members. In the center Jackson sits behind a table, as "Door Keeper" Jimmy O'Neal (standing) presents Madame Celeste. The cabinet members are (left to right): Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson, Attorney General Benjamin F. Butler, Secretary of War Lewis Cass, Postmaster General Amos Kendall, Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury, and Vice-President Martin Van Buren. Each figure's remarks are an amusing reflection of his own character or reputation. Dickerson: I never felt the inconvenience of being a bachelor untill now. what I have lost!! she as gracefull as a Seventy-four under full sail. Cass: This is a very strange introduction to the Cabinet when weighty matters are under discussion; but it does not become me to complain. Jimmy O'Neal: O' she'll bother them all by the powers faith, except my friend Kendal he has no soule for a pretty woman... Celeste: Mon General, if it is "glory enough" to serve under you "ma foi" vat is my grand satisfaction to see you wis de Grand Cabinet of dis Grand Nation here assamble. Jackson: Charming Creature. I've not lost all my penchant for pretty women .... Kendall: I wonder how the General could ever prefer the heels to the head. He never learnt that from me. But the least said the soonest mended. Woodbury: She has grace enough to dance all the surplus Revenue out of the Treasury Hasn't she, Mr. Attorney general? Butler: She is well enough, but I have conscientious scruples on these matters. Van Buren: Pooh pooh Butler, this is not the age for scruples of any kind. I like her rapid movements, her quick changes, her gracefull transitions. She is of my school ..." Weitenkampf's association of the cartoon with the Peggy Eaton affair of 1831, where several cabinet members resigned, is mistaken since the cabinet shown here consists of later appointees. The print appears from the style and monogram to be the work of lithographic draftsman Albert Hoffay.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kurt Lash on the Privileges or Immunities Clause

A new paper by Kurt Lash is always a treat. I haven't read it yet, but Prof. Lash has turned from the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Amendments to the Fourteenth Amendment: The Origins of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, Part I: 'Privileges and Immunities' as an Antebellum Term of Art. Here's the abstract:
Historical accounts of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment generally assume that John Bingham based the text on Article IV of the original Constitution and that Bingham, like other Reconstruction Republicans, viewed Justice [Bushrod] Washington’s opinion in Corfield v. Coryell as the definitive statement of the meaning of Article IV. According to this view, Justice [Samuel Freeman] Miller in the Slaughterhouse Cases failed to follow both framers’ intent and obvious textual meaning when he distinguished Section One’s privileges or immunities from Article IV’s privileges and immunities.

A close analysis of antebellum law, however, suggests that Justice Miller’s approach was faithful to long-standing legal doctrines regarding the meaning of Article IV and a distinct category of rights known as the “privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States.” As of Reconstruction, Article IV’s protection of “privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states” was broadly understood as providing sojourning citizens equal access to a limited set of state-conferred rights. The “privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States,” on the other hand, was an accepted term of art which referred to those rights conferred upon United States citizens by the Constitution itself. Even as the country came apart over the issue of slavery, slave-state advocates and the proponents of abolition both expressly maintained the distinction between Article IV and national privileges and immunities. In the Thirty-Ninth Congress, John Bingham, the drafter of Section One, insisted that this distinction informed the meaning of the final draft of the Fourteenth Amendment. According to Bingham, the Privileges or Immunities Clause protected “other and different privileges and immunities” than those protected by Article IV. Understanding the roots of this distinction in antebellum law helps illuminate Bingham’s explanation of Section One, and the likely reception of the Privileges or Immunities Clause by the public at large.


Prof. Lawrence Solum comments:
This important new paper by Lash should cause quite a stir. Lash located the origins of the phrase "privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" in pre-civil-war sources such as the Louisiana Cession Act of 1803 and provides strong evidence that this phrase was a term of art with a meaning that was quite separate and distinct from the meaning of the privileges and immunities clause of Article IV, which itself had a more complex interpretive history than the recent emphasis of Corfield v. Coryell would suggest. This is an important article, and essential reading for anyone interested in the 14th Amendment or fundamental rights jurisprudence. Highly recommended. Download it while its hot.

Andrew Jackson, James Parton and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

The Claremont Institute has made publicly available a wonderful article on Andrew Jackson and Andrew Jackson historiography by Daniel Walker Howe: The Ages of Jackson.

I'm not sure which part I enjoy most. One candidate is a passage that highlights the virtues of Nineteenth Century biographer James Parton, whom I have mentioned several times:
I asked each of the three editors, so familiar with the documentary sources of Jackson's life, which of the many Jackson biographies was their favorite. All picked the same one: Life of Andrew Jackson by James Parton, published in three volumes between 1859 and 1861.

Parton wrote a number of biographies, bestsellers in their time, but Jackson's has remained his best known. He relied closely on documentary evidence, which he sometimes quoted at length and supplemented by interviewing surviving participants. Every later biographer has relied considerably upon him. Parton was critical of Jackson's presidency, especially the "spoils system," instituted by wholesale removals of federal employees down to the level of local postmasters, whom Jackson replaced with his own followers. Parton called this practice "an evil so great and so difficult to remedy, that if all his other public acts had been perfectly wise and right, this single feature of his administration would suffice to render it deplorable." Later in the 19th century, legislation would create the tenured civil service to prevent wholesale partisan removals of the kind Jackson practiced, and more meritorious kinds of removals as well.

But I probably prefer the part where Howe kicks around pseudo-historian and pompous blowhard Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s The Age of Jackson:
Schlesinger promoted a Jacksonian Democracy that was primarily an expression of eastern workingmen's resentments. Taking some of Jackson's class—conflict rhetoric with new seriousness, Schlesinger declared that Old Hickory's "war" on the national bank rallied eastern workers against the changes being promoted by capitalism. Industrialization was rendering their artisan skills obsolete and reducing once-proud craftsmen to the status of assembly-line wage earners. Jackson's chosen successor in the White House, Martin Van Buren of New York, exemplified for Schlesinger the climax of the transformation of the old agrarian republicanism of Jefferson into a modern working-class democracy (or rather, Democracy, for the antebellum Democratic Party called itself "the Democracy" with a capital "D.")

Schlesinger took his refusal to acknowledge the role of the frontier to such an extreme that he never even mentioned Indian Removal, the number one item on the agenda of Jackson's first term in office. In a single allusion to the Supreme Court decision in Worcester v. Georgia (1832) that vindicated the Cherokee Nation's treaty right to refuse removal—a decision that President Jackson famously felt free to ignore—Schlesinger simply calls it "the case of the Georgia missionaries." An unwary reader would have no inkling of all that the case involved. Indian Removal was by no means overlooked by historians at this time; Marquis James had recently treated the subject. Similarly, Schlesinger also ignored Jackson's personal slaveholding, public support for slavery, and attempts to ban criticism of slavery from circulating through the mails. Schlesinger preferred to avoid any topic that might cast doubt on his characterization of Jackson as an appropriate hero for New Deal liberals. His work on Jackson became the first of a long series of volumes that established him as the more or less official historian of the Democratic Party.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Purse" Pierce?

If true, it’s a new one on me: Benjamin Perley Poore asserts that Franklin Pierce’s friends called him “Purse”. No explanation as to why.

"He gesticulated all over"

Other descriptions of Henry Clay’s oratory note that his superb voice was complemented by a wide range of theatrical effects. Here is Benjamin Perley Poore (“The Veteran Journalist, Clerk of the Senate Printing Records, Editor of the Congressional Directory, and Author of various Works”), in the wonderfully-entitled Perley’s Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis: Illustrating the Wit, Humor, Genius, Eccentricities, Jealousies, Ambitions and Intrigues of the Brilliant Statesmen, Ladies, Officers, Diplomats, Lobbyists and other noted Celebrities of the World that gather at the Centre of the Nation; describing imposing Inauguration Ceremonies, Gala Day Festivities, Army Reviews, &c., &c., &c. (1886):
The fire of his bright eyes and the sunny smile which lighted up his countenance added to the attractions of his unequaled voice, which was equally distinct and clear, whether at its highest key or lowest whisper – rich, musical, captivating. His action was the spontaneous offspring of the passing thought. He gesticulated all over. The nodding of his head, hung on a long neck, his arms, hands, fingers, feet, and even his spectacles, his snuff-box, and his pocket-handkerchief, aided him in debate. He stepped forward and backward, and from the right to the left, with effect. Every thought spoke; the whole body had its story to tell, and added to the attractions of his able arguments.

I don’t know whether books such as this one can be downloaded from Google Books onto Kindle, but if they can this one and some of the others I have referred to in recent posts look like excellent candidates: great stories, and they’re free!

"I confirm all the directions in my will respecting my slaves"

I was generally aware that John Randolph of Roanoke had manumitted his slaves (this list suggests almost 400) in his will and also provided that land be purchased for them; that after Randolph’s death in 1833 the will was contested for years (I believe a brother maintained that Randolph had been insane); and that in 1846, after the contest was resolved, the former slaves were transported to Ohio.

In Famous Americans of Recent Times (1867), however, James Parton provides further details of Randolph’s determination on his deathbed to insure that his wishes were carried out. I cannot vouch for the story Parton tells; but even if it is a fable, it is well worth retelling, for it captures perfectly the stubborn determination of that strangely admirable man. I have added additional paragraph breaks for readability:
The last act of John Randolph's life, done when he lay dying at a hotel in Philadelphia, in June, 1833, was to express once more his sense of this blighting system. Some years before, he had made a will by which all his slaves were to be freed at his death. He would probably have given them their freedom before his death, but for the fact, too evident, that freedom to a black man in a Slave State was not a boon. The slaves freed by his brother, forty years before, had not done well, because (as he supposed) no land had been bequeathed for their support. Accordingly, he left directions in his will that a tract of land, which might be of four thousand acres, should be set apart for the maintenance of his slaves, and that they should be transported to it and established upon it at the expense of his estate. "I give my slaves their freedom," said he in his will, "to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled."

On the last day of his life, surrounded by strangers, and attended by two of his old servants, his chief concern was to make distinctly known to as many persons as possible that it was really his will that his slaves should be free. Knowing, as he did, the aversion which his fellow-citizens had to the emancipation of slaves, and even to the presence in the State of free blacks, he seemed desirous of taking away every pretext for breaking his will. A few hours before his death, he said to the physician in attendance: "I confirm every disposition in my will, especially that concerning my slaves whom I have manumitted, and for whom I have made provision."

The doctor, soon after, took leave of him, and was about to depart. "You must not go," said he, "you cannot, you shall not leave me." He told his servant not to let the doctor go, and the man immediately locked the door and put the key in his pocket. The doctor remonstrating, Mr. Randolph explained, that, by the laws of Virginia, in order to manumit slaves by will, it was requisite that the master should declare his will in that particular in the presence of a white witness, who, after hearing the declaration, must never lose sight of the party until he is dead.

The doctor consented, at length, to remain, but urged that more witnesses should be sent for. This was done. At ten in the morning, four gentlemen were ranged in a semicircle round his bed. He was propped up almost in a sitting posture, and a blanket was wrapped round his head and shoulders. His face was yellow, and extremely emaciated; he was very weak, and it required all the remaining energy of his mind to endure the exertion he was about to make. It was evident to all present that his whole soul was in the act, and his eye gathered fire as he performed it. Pointing toward the witnesses with that gesture which for so many years had been familiar to the House of Representatives, he said, slowly and distinctly: "I confirm all the directions in my will respecting my slaves, and direct them to be enforced, particularly in regard to a provision for their support." Then, raising his hand and placing it upon the shoulder of his servant, he added, "Especially for this man."

Having performed this act, his mind appeared relieved, but his strength immediately left him, and in two hours he breathed his last.

The illustration of Randolph at the top is taken from the site of the Virginia Historical Society, which asserts that "This 1829 watercolor of Randolph, by Arthur J. Stansbury, was said by a contemporary to be 'an accurate and by no means caricatured or exaggerated representation of his singular personal appearance.'"

"His voice filled the room as the organ fills a great cathedral"

In his book Famous Americans of Recent Times (1867), James Parton agreed that Henry Clay’s chief oratorical asset was his “majestic bass”:
But of all the bodily gifts bestowed by Nature upon this favored child, the most unique and admirable was his voice. Who ever heard one more melodious? There was a depth of tone in it, a volume, a compass, a rich and tender harmony, which invested all he said with majesty. We heard it last when he was an old man past seventy; and all he said was a few words of acknowledgment to a group of ladies in the largest hall in Philadelphia. He spoke only in the ordinary tone of conversation; but his voice filled the room as the organ fills a great cathedral, and the ladies stood spellbound as the swelling cadences rolled about the vast apartment. We have heard much of Whitefield's piercing voice and Patrick Henry's silvery tones, but we cannot believe that either of those natural orators possessed an organ superior to Clay's majestic bass.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"It touched every note in the gamut of human susceptibilities"

Henry Clay was, by all accounts, one of the finest orators that America ever produced. And yet his speeches were not studied, memorized and recited by generations of schoolboys the way, for example, Daniel Webster's Second Reply to Hayne was.

The reason seems to be that the words that Henry Clay uttered formed only a small portion of his art. Like a great actor, Clay used every resource at his disposal -- tonal inflection, facial expressions, body movement and language -- to sway and affect his audience. Numerous auditors have confirmed that the result was overwhelming.

In his book, On the Brink of Civil War, John C. Waugh cites to and quotes from a number of witnesses to Clay's speeches. I've gone back to the underlying sources and wanted to share some of their attempts to explain Clay's power. After reading them, I for one wish I could be transported back to hear and see Clay in action.

Descriptions of what made Clay's oratory great seem to start with "his wonderful voice." Here is Edward G. Parker's description, from The Golden Age of American Oratory (1857). I have added additional paragraph breaks for readability:
No orator's voice superior to his in quality, in compass and in management, has ever, we venture to say, been raised upon this continent. It touched every note in the whole gamut of human susceptibilities; it was sweet, and soft, and lulling as a mother's to her babe. It could be made to float into the chambers of the ear, as gently as descending snow-flakes on the sea; and again it shook the Senate, stormy, brain-shaking, filling the air with its absolute thunders.

That severe trial of any speaker, to speak in the open air, he never shrank from. Musical yet mighty, that marvellous organ ranged over all levels, from the diapason organ-tone to the alto shriek; from the fine delicacies of pathetic inflections, to the drum-beat rolls of denunciatory intonations. And all the time it flowed harmoniously. Its "quality," as elocutionists would say, was delicious; and its modulations proved that the human voice is indeed the finest and most impressive instrument of music in the world.


His general level of speech was conversational, like animated talk . . .. But even while upon this level, so silver-tongued were his tones, so easy and gliding their flow, and so varied and delicate their inflections, that he held his auditors' attention fascinated and unflagging. When, then, he rose above that subdued level, the effect was correspondingly powerful; and in every pitch of the scale, that glorious voice was unbroken; he had never injured it by bad usage, he had never roared it into gruffness, nor growled it into hardness and an edgy coarseness, but always he was golden-mouthed, -- a modern Chrysostom, in that point at least.

There are many distinguished speakers who are never extremely interesting, except when making a point, or making a vehement burst; but all really great speakers can command attention, and exhibit charms on their general level; and in the highest degree Clay's average level was grateful to the hearer. He did not, like some quite popular declaimers, indulge in violent contrasts of pitch; running along, for instance, for ten sentences on one level, and then abruptly changing to another and remote level; but maintained always this melodious general level of spirited conversation, from which, easily and gracefully and by gradations, he rose and fell. Single words and tones, however, he would sometimes give with great variety of modulation; for his voice was not only full and wide-ranging, but it was under the most exact command; from his low and sweet level of tone, he would sometimes strike instantly a tone like an alarm-bell.

We remember once hearing him throw off the simple words "railroad speed" in such a manner that, in an instant, he made the whole express train, under lightning headway, dash across our mind. He had, too, a faculty of crowding,-- as by some hydrostatic pressure of oratory, an amazing weight of expression on to the backbone of a single word. Sometimes mounting from his easy level, on one word alone, he would go through a whole pantomime of action; his form rises, his eye burns, his look strikes awe, while the final ejaculation of that much-anticipated word would burn it into the very fibre of the brain, for an everlasting memory. In boyhood, we heard him thus utter the word "crevasse"; we didn't even know then what a "crevasse" was, but it was struck, as by some tremendous die, into our mind; and has been there ever since, the type and synonyme of everything appalling.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


This remarkable story reminded me that it's been a while since I've posted a picture of Mohammed.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dead, Red Herrings

This site describes several possible origins for the phrase “red herring”:
We were familiar with the business technology magazine Red Herring and figured their web site might offer the origin of the peculiar term. After a bit of searching, we did manage to uncover an explanation.

According to the site, British fugitives in the 1800s would rub a herring across their trail, thereby diverting the bloodhounds that were hot in pursuit. In the 1920s, American investment bankers started calling preliminary prospectuses "red herrings" as a warning to investors that the documents were not complete or final and could be misleading.

We liked the explanation, but wondered if there was more to the story. We spent some time searching and uncovered an alternate explanation, centered on hunting. The Word Detective explains that the curing process turns the fish a red color and lends it a distinctive smell. The fish was tied to a string and dragged through the woods to teach hunting dogs to follow a trail. Later, red herrings may also have been used to confuse the hounds in order to prolong a foxhunt or to test their ability to stay with a scent.

Another handy etymology source, Wilton's Word and Phrase Origins offers a similar explanation, but attributes the use of the herring to poachers, who used the scent to throw the dogs off the trail of game so they could claim the prize for themselves.

It seems that whether the prey was a fugitive or a fox, this pungent fish did the trick and distracted the dogs.

I mention this because I came across a reference to the phrase that does not connote “deliberately misleading," but rather simply "dead". Holman Hamilton, discussing reactions to Henry Clay’s compromise proposals, quotes a February 1, 1850 letter to Thurlow Weed:
Clay’s compromise is as dead as herrings that are red. He has offended the South without appeasing the North – He should retire from that kind of business.

Henry Clay Inadvertently Names the Omnibus

Having mentioned omnibuses recently, I thought I’d turn to another sort of omnibus – the bill incorporating the principal provisions of Henry Clay’s proposals to resolve the Crisis of 1850.

Clay’s proposals, which he first described in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday January 29, 1850, encompassed eight resolutions. Holman Hamilton describes them:
His first resolution called for admitting California as a state. The second specified territorial governments for New Mexico and Deseret [Utah] without any slavery restriction or condition. The third and fourth were designed to reduce Texas’ area and to pay her debt, but the amount of the payment was purposely left unspecified. The fifth and sixth resolutions denied the expediency of abolishing slavery in the District [of Columbia] while providing for termination of the slave trade there. In the seventh, the Kentuckian advocated a more effective fugitive [slave] law. The last and eighth resolution was a simple assertion that Congress had no power to obstruct the slave trade of the southern states.

The “Omnibus Bill” that emerged more than three months later encompassed the first four of Clay’s resolutions:
On Wednesday, May 8, a packed Senate finally heard Clay read the report. The Committee of Thirteen’s main recommendation consisted of the so-called “Omnibus Bill.” This not only provided for California statehood and for the two territorial governments but also offered solutions for the Texas boundary and debt questions. Kept separate were a fugitive slave measure and another limiting the District slave trade.

So how, then, did the Omnibus get its name?

On Wednesday February 13, 1850, Senator Henry S. Foote, Democrat of Mississippi, had introduced a resolution proposing to refer to a special committee “the various propositions now before the Senate relating to [California], in connection with the question of domestic slavery, in all its various bearings.”

When the issue resurfaced the next day in a slightly altered form (now the proposal was to send all matter to the Committee on Territories), Henry Clay objected:
I do not think it would be right to embrace in a general motion the question of the admission of California and all the other subjects which are treated of by the resolutions upon the table – the subject, for example, of the establishment of territorial governments, the subject of the establishment of a boundary line for Texas, and the proposition to compensate Texas for the surrender of territory. I say, sir, I do not think it would be right to confound or to combine all these subjects, and to throw them before one committee to be acted on together.

Foote, in response, expressed “unbounded astonishment” at Clay’s position. It was Clay himself who had just recently taken “the lead in urging upon this body and the country consideration of a general scheme of pacification and compromise.” Everyone understood, Foote asserted, that it had been Clay’s intention to refer all matters to a single committee, which would issue a bill covering all issues.

Foote went on at length. The thrust of his objection was that, if the California bill were referred to the Committee on Territories, and other proposals to another committee or committees, the South would be prejudiced. The Territories Committee was clearly stacked and would certainly report a bill to admit California as a free state, while other proposals friendlier to the South would get watered down or buried.

Clay then rose. Referring to Foote’s speech in a humorous aside, he inadvertently gave the future “omnibus” its name:
I do not know that I should have risen at all had not the worthy Senator from Mississippi made a sort of omnibus speech, in which he introduced all sorts of things and every kind of passenger, and myself among the number. [Laughter]

“It was thus,” Holman Hamilton reports, “on Clay’s initiative, that the word 'omnibus' was incorporated into standard 1850 congressional language."

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The More Things Change . . .

Nothing and nobody seem to stand still for half a moment in New York; the multitudinous omnibuses, which drive like insane vehicles from morning to night, appear not to pause to take up their passengers.

Lady Emmeline Stuart Wortley, Travels in the United States etc. During 1849 and 1850 (1851)

Thomas Jefferson "was a very silly man"

In the London Telegraph, a Member of Parliament and admirer of Thomas Jefferson (Daniel Hannan, whose speech went viral a few months ago) reproduces an email he received "explaining that it was Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, who was, perversely, the true Jeffersonian." Here's a taste:
“On thinking in the U. S. about the division and dispersal of power, it was not Jefferson but John Adams who was the major figure. Indeed, Jefferson was on the other side, although his rhetoric was designed to mislead. Jefferson may have said that that government is best which governs least, but he never had a useful thought about how to keep limits on government except to recommend revolution in every generation. Which is of course disastrous. But he was a very silly man - a true, because superficial and calculating, product of the Enlightenment. While Adams was horrified by the French Revolution as soon as Burke was, Jefferson was still enthusiastic even after the terror had begun. Jefferson was the inventor of faux egalitarianism, which was a way of keeping the enlightened patrician (and slave-owning) class in power based on the rationale that they were protecting the interests of common folk. FDR and Teddy Kennedy are the direct descendants, and indeed Jefferson was FDR’s hero and model of a patrician who protected the interests of his class by “representing” and looking out for the working man. Jefferson founded the Democratic Party. The Republican Party was founded on the ruins of the Whig Party which was founded on the ruins of the Federalist Party. Unlike Jefferson, Adams was obsessed with how to keep elites in check by dividing power and balancing power against power. In this he is in the tradition of Harrington and Montesquieu and Hume rather than of Locke (Jefferson on the other hand admired Rousseau). He was the deepest thinker of the Revolution and also the most important political figure (as distinguished from leader) - he made the strategy that led to independence, he led the public campaign for independence, and was the leading proponent for independence in the Continental Congress both rhetorically and behind the scenes. He chose Jefferson to write the Declaration, chose Washington to lead the army, and was appointed by the Continental Congress to be supply master of the army before he was sent to Paris to gain French support (which won the war), which Franklin might have accomplished, but seemed in no hurry to do."

Via Iain Murray at The Corner.

The cartoon is from the very odd Married to the Sea Blog.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Flower Power!


Thought Crimes

I really enjoyed this rant by Tom Smith at The Right Coast and can't help quoting a portion:
Also, I would like to clarify a few things. If anyone happened to hear me opine that "this so-called health care reform plan is the most loathsome, disgusting and collectivist steaming crock of shit that has emerged from the fevered and depraved swamp of Washington misrule in 50 years," please bear in mind I was only kidding and had had a couple [of] adult beverages. Neither was I serious when I said "this will reduce us to a bunch of penurious, ill-educated coolies in hock up to our eyeballs to a cabal of bloated Red Chinese crony-capitalist warlords, you just wait and see," but rather employing poetic license, to wit, hyperbole. Similarly, when I remarked that "Obama took more time to choose his dog than he wants Congress to consider health care "reform" and at the end of that he picked a breed known for its bad smell and hostility to children," I was honestly relying on just a few reports of PWD's, of which I am sure there are many examples of perfectly nice dogs. And if anybody attributes to me the rumor that the health care legislation includes a proposal to send old people with serious medical problems to North Korean hospitals to save money, please be assured I never said such a thing.

I didn't say it either. But I thought it.
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