Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween (Part 2)!

Frank Zappa played in New York on Halloween for years, and I went every year. It's therefore particularly appropriate that I wish you Happy Halloween with "Goblin Girl."

I Only Urinate in My Own Fireplace

In 1811 [the new British Minister to the United States Augustus John] Foster was thirty-three. He was handsome, self-assured, and so confident of his superior breeding that he felt able to ignore American crudities and insults. Foster's diary and letters are full of contemptuous comments - he was particularly amused when an uncouth congressman urinated in his fireplace and when other legislators, confusing caviar for jam, had to spit out their overly large mouthfuls.

Bradford Perkins, Prologue to War: England and the United States 1805-1812.

Abe Says "Cheese!"

Now my day is complete, thanks to Woman's Day magazine:
Taking a stand as “the big cheese” in Washington, DC, this sculpture of the 16th President of the United States was made from a 1,000-pound block of mild Cheddar cheese by sculptor Troy Landwehr. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Bridge.

"For more than two years the United States wallowed in purposeless humiliation"

Bradford Perkins expresses his acid views so artfully that I can't resist giving you another sample. Here is the beginning of a chapter entitled "America's Humiliation", discussing the early years of the James Madison administration:
"The Lord the Mighty Lord must come to our Assistance, or I fear we are undone as a nation." Thus wailed a Republican leader [identified in a footnote as Nathaniel Macon], not merely a carping Federalist, at the end of February, 1809. But Jehovah did not deign to aid his chosen people. Instead, He sent James Madison as his vice-gerent, and the new President was no Moses. Madison never pointed out any route to a promised land of peace and plenty, and for more than two years the United States wallowed in purposeless humiliation.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The 1807 Embargo Says, "Ouch!"

Bradford Perkins' analysis of the policies pursued by the British and Americans in the period leading up to the War of 1812 is a model of subtlety. Reviewing each decision, he carefully looks at the facts and assumptions that underlay it, turning them over to show how a closer examination might make them seem to appear very different, leading to a different decision.

At the same time, subtle analysis can produce rather brutal conclusions. Here are Prof. Perkins' closing thoughts on the Jeffersonian Embargo of 1807-1809:
[Jefferson's] most ambitious venture in foreign policy had failed, save only in perhaps delaying the outbreak of war with England - and that, until a less favorable time. The Embargo imposed many of the disadvantages of war on the nation by destroying trade; it secured none of the prospective advantages, such as the conquest of territory or the capture of enemy ships and commerce at sea. Diplomatically, Jefferson failed either to coerce or seduce the European belligerents. Economically, the Embargo proved ruinous at home. Politically, it encouraged fissiparous tendencies in Republicanism and temporarily reinvigorated the most unpleasant forms of Federalism. If Jefferson had acted strongly at the opening of his last Congress [in December 1807], he might have achieved an acceptable substitute for the Embargo. By his inertia he was negatively responsible for its continuation until February, 1809, and for the disgraceful scenes of humiliation and panic which sullied America's reputation for years.

About the illustration:
In this satirical [1809] cartoon, "Intercourse or Impartial Dealings," President Jefferson is depicted as being held up for money by Napoleon and King George. Critics of Jefferson believed that he had paid too much for Louisiana and was prepared to pay too much for the Floridas. This cartoon also satirizes the failure of Jefferson's use of the embargo and restrictions on trade as a curb on French and British depredations of American shipping.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Congress must legalize all means . . . necessary to obtain it's ends"

In Prologue to War: England and the United States 1805-1812 author Bradford Perkins is most interested in the development of policies that contributed to tensions between the two countries. As a result, he pays scant attention to the violations of civil liberties that accompanied the Embargo of 1807-1809. Even so, he makes pretty clear that Thomas Jefferson was knee deep in the enforcement policies that created the worst excesses. He references in particular the hair-raising correspondence exchanged between the president and his Secretary of State Albert Gallatin in the summer of 1808:
If the Embargo was considered as a prelude to war, a precaution, or shock treatment of European psyches – Jefferson talked of all these – occasional violations did not much matter. In any event all risk would be borne by the transgressing shipowner [whose vessel might be seized by the British or French]. As the coercive emphasis [i.e., the rationale that the embargo was intended to coerce the British and the French into respecting American rights] increased in the spring of 1808, becoming the only possible excuse for the continuation of a policy that had demonstrably failed in its other aims, airtight enforcement of the Embargo assumed new importance. The President devoted most of the energies of his last year in office to this task.

* * *

In the summer of 1808, after gathering much information during a visit to New York, [Secretary of the Treasury Albert] Gallatin wrote to the President that “if the embargo must be persisted in any longer,” new legislation must be passed to “invest the Executive with the most arbitrary powers & sufficient force” to execute them. He suggested that not a single vessel be permitted to move without presidential approval, that collectors be permitted to seize goods “any where” and to remove rudders and rigging from any suspected vessels, and that “a little army” be collected along the Canadian frontier.

Here is the relevant passage from Gallatin's letter, dated July 29, 1808:
With those difficulties we must struggle as well as we can this summer; but I am perfectly satisfied that if the embargo must be persisted in any longer, two principles must necessarily be adopted in order to make it sufficient: 1st, that not a single vessel shall be permitted to move without the special permission of the Executive; 2d, that the collectors be invested with the general power of seizing property anywhere, and taking the rudders or otherwise effectually preventing the departure of any vessel in harbor, though ostensibly intended to remain there; and that without being liable to personal suits. I am sensible that such arbitrary powers are equally dangerous and odious. But a restrictive measure of the nature of the embargo applied to a nation under such circumstances as the United States cannot be enforced without the assistance of means as strong as the measure itself. To that legal authority to prevent, seize, and detain must be added a sufficient physical force to carry it into effect; and although I believe that in our seaports little difficulty would be encountered, we must have a little army along the Lakes and British lines generally.

Perkins then describes and characterizes Jefferson's response:
These suggestions, perhaps designed as much to shock the President into a reconsideration of his policy as to make the Embargo effective, did not shake the Chief Executive, who replied [in a letter dated August 11, 1808], “I am satisfied with you that if the orders & decrees are not repealed, & a continuance of the embargo is preferred to war (which sentiment is universal here), Congress must legalize all means which may be necessary to obtain it's [sic] end.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thomas Jefferson and the Passage of the First Embargo Act

In Prologue to War: England and the United States 1805-1812, Bradford Perkins highlights the unseemly haste with which the Tenth Congress acceded to the recommendation of President Jefferson to enact an embargo law.

On Friday December 18, 1807 the president transmitted the following message to Congress requesting embargo legislation:
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

The communications now made, showing the great and increasing dangers with which our vessels, our seamen, and merchandise, are threatened on the high seas and elsewhere, from the belligerent Powers of Europe, and it being of the greatest importance to keep in safety these essential resources, I deem it my duty to recommend the subject to the consideration of Congress, who will doubtless perceive all the advantages which may be expected from an inhibition of the departure of our vessels from the ports of the United States.

Their wisdom will also see the necessity of making every preparation for whatever events may grow out of the present crisis.


“The Senate rushed the Embargo through in one afternoon.” “Four or five hours after Jefferson recommended an embargo, the Senate had done his bidding.”

Things took slightly longer in the House, but not much. The Senate bill arrived on Friday afternoon and was debated Saturday December 19. “[O]ver the Sunday recess the administration brought pressure to bear on Republican legislators.” On the evening of Monday November 21 “the House approved the bill by almost two to one.”

Jefferson signed the Embargo Act – formally entitled An Act laying an Embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of the United States – into law the next afternoon, Tuesday November 22, 1807. Perkins comments:
The act was scarcely more than a sketch of a policy. . . . Jefferson had secured his object, had pressured the Congress into passage of the act without revealing his own motives. But if he should fail either to advance to war or to secure British – and French – relaxation of the assault upon American commerce, the President's magnificent feat of legislative dexterity would turn to ashes in his mouth.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thomas Jefferson: Food for Thought

Perhaps a half-felt sense of inadequacy caused Jefferson to order that no mention of his presidency be chiseled into the stone that marks his grave.

In 1805 Jefferson had passed the age of sixty, a fact of more than ordinary significance since the story of his life is in part the story of a gradual shedding of youthful enthusiasms.

Bradford Perkins, Prologue to War: England and the United States 1805-1812.

"Soylent Green is VEGETABLES!"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the CIvil War

Most surveys of the antebellum period give only a passing reference to the Panic of 1857. It is generally referred to as a sharp, but short, economic downturn, a blip in the booming economy of the 1850s that disappeared within a matter of months and virtually without a trace. In The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War, James L. Huston argues that these perceptions are fundamentally wrong. While banks quickly resumed paying specie – hard currency – other aspects of the downturn lingered on for years. More important, those lingering economic effects played a critical role in transforming the rickety Republican coalition from a one-issue pressure group into a well-rounded political party capable of winning the presidency in 1860.

The most obvious symptoms of the Panic, Bank failures and refusals to redeem notes presented for specie, started at the end of August 1857 and subsided by the end of the year. But the banks righted themselves only by calling in demand loans and thereafter strictly limiting credit, thereby starving their manufacturing and shipping customers of capital. This led to widespread layoffs and unemployment in the Northeast. At the same time, the end of the Crimean War led to a catastrophic decline in European demand for Northwest wheat, which rippled through the Northern economy as railroad tonnage nosedived. Prof. Huston opines that the Panic was not fully over until the beginning of 1860, when the economy returned to pre-Panic levels. The South was less affected. While the price of cotton dipped in late 1857, prices of Southern export crops quickly recovered because demand remained high.

The Panic and its economic effects, principally continued unemployment, represented a fundamental challenge to those Northern political leaders who adamantly maintained that Free Labor was the best form of labor organization. In particular, Northern leaders were shaken by bread riots that occurred during the Fall of 1857. Defenders of Free Labor developed a three-part solution that, they asserted, would right the ship: higher tariffs, homesteading, and education.

A primary reason for continued unemployment and underemployment, they argued, was that American laborers were competing against degraded European workers and peasants who toiled for subsistence wages. So long as this continued, the laws of economics would reduce American workers to the same subsistence levels. Raising import duties would cure this situation by increasing the price of the competing European goods. High tariffs were not a pro-boss tactic, they were are pro-Labor measure. Think of labor opposition to NAFTA in the 1990s.

Another reason for unemployment and low wages, so the argument went, was an excess of labor supply in urban areas of the Northeast. The answer to this was to encourage increased migration to the West via a Homestead Act that rewarded settlers with land that was free or virtually free.

The third leg – education – was more in the nature of a long-term solution that reaffirmed the core principles of American social mobility By providing for institutions of learning such as agricultural colleges, the government would insure that American labor would not descend to the degraded condition of European workers. Thrifty, industrious workers and farmers would be able to improve themselves and climb the social and economic ladder to success.

The Republican coalition did not come to these answers quickly or easily. In fact, at the outset Republicans were badly divided and confused. These Whiggish solutions came more readily to those members of the party who had been Whigs. But former Democrats were a critical component of the Republican coalition, and ironically (as I have mentioned elsewhere) former Free Soil Democrats tended to hail from the radical Locofoco wing of the party – precisely the element that embraced free trade and low tariffs. Only under the pressure of events was the party as a whole able to forge a consensus on economic matters.

Meanwhile, the Democrats and the South played directly into the Republicans' hands, allowing the Republicans to formulate a message that demonstrated that the Slave Power was the economic enemy of Northern labor. The Panic resulted in dramatically reduced federal government revenues, all of which were derived from import duties and Western land sales. During the legislative sessions of 1858-59 and 1859-60, the Buchanan administration was therefore confronted with a dilemma. It could either recommend an increase in tariffs, or float debt and cut the budget.

To make a long story short, the Southern wing of the party (silently abetted by Northwestern colleagues) took the lead to block even a modest upward revision in the tariffs. The administration was left with the second option: debt and spending cuts – spending cuts that precluded a homestead act, college land grants, and river and harbor improvements for which the Great Lakes region was clamoring. The Republicans could not believe their luck, and the Democrats' stupidity. Here was proof that the Democratic party was the pawn of the Slave Power, and that the Slave Power was intent on destroying the farmers and workers of the North. The end of the Lecompton controversy in mid-1858 had ended the immediate crisis over slavery in the territories. But the Panic of 1857, and the Democrats' response to it, breathed new life into the Republicans.

Pennsylvania is not called the Keystone State for nothing. In the late 1850s, it was the key to the presidency. The proto-Republicans had lost the state resoundingly in 1856. Everyone recognized that it would be the crucial state in 1860. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the Pennsylvania mining and iron industry was the epicenter of the downturn in employment that persisted through the late 1850s, and the epicenter of worker demands for pro-Labor tariff increases. The 1858 mid-term elections in Pennsylvania were a disaster for the Democrats. The House delegation, previously composed of 14 Democrats and 11 Opposition, was transformed into a 21 to 4 Republican majority.

Through regression analysis, Prof. Huston demonstrates that the tariff and related economic issues arising out the Panic were crucial to this dramatic transformation of the political landscape. Both former conservative Whigs and Americans (who either voted for Millard Fillmore in 1856 or sat out the election), as well as thousands of workers who had previously voted Democratic, were convinced that the Republicans were no longer merely an anti-slavery party, but had the economic answers they needed.

Thereafter, intransigent Southern Democrats continued to play into the Republicans' hands, rejecting, despite the pleas of their Pennsylvania colleagues, upward tariff revisions. The Republicans were able to hone their message into a species of Grand Unified Theory. The Democrats were the Slave Power, and the Slave Power was intent on destroying the North. In its lust for power, the South would deprive Northerners of the ability to settle in the West, grind Northern workers into the dust by depriving them of a meaningful tariff, obstruct desperately needed internal improvements in the Northwest and elsewhere, and block the ability of Northerners to improve themselves through education.

In the process, by 1860 the Republicans were able to present themselves in Pennsylvania and other conservative areas (such as New York City and New Jersey) as a multi-issue political party that did not obsessively focus on slavery alone. They had positions on, and answers to, unemployment, tariffs, internal improvements, homesteading and education. In the 1860 election, their selection of an apparently moderate, Whiggish candidate who had regarded Henry Clay as his idol, reinforced this perception. They swept Pennsylvania, and with it the presidency. Although the economic effects of the Panic had abated by early in the year, the Republicans' comprehensive message persuaded most of the voters who had defected to them in 1858 that they had the better answers in 1860.

* * *

This is obviously a specialized book, but for the right reader it will be a revelation. Among other things, it helps explain how and why various apparently disparate elements of the Republican program complemented each other and fit together. It also explains what to me had been something of a mystery: how and why the Republicans were able to survive and gain strength even after the last major pre-War territorial crisis (Lecompton) ended in the first half of 1858, when over two years remained before presidential balloting began. Highly recommended.


In order to avoid being fined by the Federal Trade Commission I hereby declare that I received no compensation for the above review, except that an unidentified person, who may or may not have been an agent of the author, has promised me a vacation at a tropical resort with a call girl who allegedly serviced Elliot Spitzer. Further affiant sayeth not.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"How about I Told You So, You F*cking Fools?"

From a wonderful (and unfortunately hilarious) article, Fools for Communism: still apologists after all these years:
The end of the Cold War has produced many such numbing silences. The speed with which the Soviet empire imploded and the economic ruin and popular revulsion that were revealed have made it clear that baby boomer intellectuals and journalists, viewing the world through the distorted lens of Vietnam, overwhelmingly got it wrong. Peasants ate less and were slaughtered more on the other side of the Iron Curtain; the jails were fuller; the KGB's list was a lot longer and a lot deadlier than Joe McCarthy's. A team of French historians calculated the worldwide death toll of communism during the 20th century at more than 93 million. When Hoover Institution historian Robert Conquest used newly available data from the Soviet Union to update The Great Terror, his account of Stalin's murderous purges of the 1930s, his publishers asked for a new title. "How about I Told You So, You Fucking Fools?" Conquest suggested.

And I'm happy to see nut-job Eric Foner coming in for his fair share of abuse:
Columbia's Eric Foner, a past president of both the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians, staking his bid as founder of what might be called the Smiley-Face School of History, denounces "the obsessive need to fill in the blank pages in the history of the Soviet era." He wasn't talking about pesky American historians using the Freedom of Information Act to ferret out new horror stories about J. Edgar Hoover but about a Moscow exhibition on the Soviet gulag. What possible good could come of learning the details of that?

Read on to the end. There's a response by Foner and a reply by the author.

The image is from the notebooks of Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya.

H/T Instapundit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Social, commercial, and political revulsions, the effects of which can scarcely be imagined"

Those steeped in the Civil War know that the Confederacy foolishly, as it turned out, hoarded its cotton crop in the hope and expectation that by doing so it would force Great Britain to intercede to avoid financial disaster and social unrest.

What led the South to this conclusion? I had not heard of this report, described in James L. Huston's The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War, but my guess is that it was a substantial factor:

During the second session of the Thirty-fourth Congress [the session that began in December 1856], southerners pushed a bill through both houses that allowed a representative of the United States government to travel abroad and assess the European consumption of cotton. For this exploration Franklin Pierce chose John Claiborne, a Mississippi states' rights leader and later biographer of the fiery John A. Quitman. Claiborne returned in early 1857, cutting short his visit, and presented his findings. The report substantiated the southern belief that England's economy depended upon cotton, and Claiborne further hypothesized that if the cotton supply should ever be “cut off,” the event “would be followed by social, commercial, and political revulsions, the effects of which can scarcely be imagined.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Circe! Circe!

In the summer, I use a separate stereo system geared for outdoor use. But when the cold drives me indoors, I turn back to my indoor system. For the past several years, that system has centered on 8 Watt Welborne Labs Laurel amplifiers driving a pair of Pi Speakers 4 Pi Studio loudspeakers.

For this winter, I thought it was time for a change: a little more power would be nice. I decided to hook up my old Parts Connection Assemblage ST-40 amp, the first amplifier I built from a kit, sometime in the late '90s. For those of you who don't know it, the ST-40 is a 40 Watt push-pull design built around EL34s, and it's one beautiful amp (if I do say so myself). I have not used it all that much in recent years, but every time I plug it in I'm amazed at how great it sounds.

Then, as I have documented in earlier posts, last winter the amp started blowing fuses. In a series of emails, Chris Johnson, the President of PartsConnexion (the unofficial successor to the old Parts Connection) diagnosed the problem as a shorted power transformer. I bought a new one, installed it (and cleaned up some sloppy wiring – remember, this amp had been my first effort), and Voila! Good as new!

So, last weekend I decided that my old, neglected but refurbished ST-40 should re-assume its rightful position. Right now it's paired with a Welborne Reveille preamp and drives the Pi Studio 4 speakers. Sources are a crappy CEC CD player (working on that) and a Rega 3 turntable (the latter accompanied by an Audio Electronic Supply phono preamp).

The ST-40 and the Studio 4s are a wonderful match. With 40 “tube Watts”, the ST-40 has plenty of power to begin with. Mated with the sensitive Pi Studio 4s (97 or 98 dB, if I recall correctly), the ST-40 can easily handle orchestral crescendos – or Eminem. After a long layoff, the ST-40 was grainy at first, but after a few hours it settled in and began displaying the clear, smooth lushness that makes it such a wonderful amp.

Firing up the system tonight, the first thing I noticed was that ST-40 is dead quiet. Even with the Reveille volume three-quarters of the way up (stepped attenuators!), when I put my ear to the Pi drivers I heard . . . nothing. Not even a trace of tube hiss. I must be a re-wiring genius!

Then I decided to put the amp to the acid test: Richard Strauss. First up, the second disc of the Rudolf Kempe Ariadne auf Naxos on EMI with Gundula Janowitz and James King. Both the glory and the difficulty of the recording is that it is miked very close. If your stereo is bad, you'll know it; but with a good system, the beauty of the voices makes the hair on the back of your head stand up – as mine is doing now.

Next up, the the third act of mono version of the Karajan Der Rosenkavalier, with Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Christa Ludwig and Teresa Stich-Randall. You can quibble all you want about whether this is the finest version of the opera as a whole, but there's not a doubt in my mind that the trio is unsurpassed. And on the ST-40 it's spine-tingling. Sounds like its going to be a good winter!

The pictures were taken in low light and without flash to try to capture the tube glow, so forgive the fuzziness.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thomas Jefferson says, "Ouch!"

I was becoming concerning that Gordon Wood was going to gloss over Thomas Jefferson's dark side. Not to worry. How's this for a no-holds-barred body slam:

In trying to implement his policy [of supporting the right of neutrals like the United States to carry goods], he [Jefferson] ended up completely stopping the flow of all American overseas trade and at the same time repressing his fellow citizens to a degree rarely duplicated in the entire history of the United States. Jefferson's extraordinary efforts to defend the rights of neutrals to trade freely drove the country into a deep depression and severely damaged his presidency. He ended up violating much of what he and his party stood for.

There's a bit too much of Robespierre in the Sage of Monticello for my taste.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"We forgot"

You don't often think of Alexander Hamilton as a funny guy, but Gordon S. Wood makes me wish I could have a drink with him:
During the Revolutionary era Hamilton had shed his youthful religious inclinations and had become a conventional liberal with deistic inclinations who was an irregular churchgoer at best. People even told stories about his joking references to religion. During the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 [Benjamin] Franklin proposed to call in a minister each day to lead the delegates in prayers "to the Creator of the universe" in order to calm the rancor of the debates. Hamilton is supposed to have replied that the Convention did not need any "foreign aid." When Hamilton was later asked why the members of the Convention had not recognized God in the Constitution, he allegedly replied, "We forgot."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It Depends What the Meaning of "Is" Are

In two recent posts at The Language Log, Mark Liberman examines the oft-repeated contention that the Civil War dramatically changed the United States from a plural to a singular entity: before the War, the United States "were"; immediately after, the United States "was".

As examples of the ubiquity of this idea, Prof. Liberman quotes two worthy sources, the late Shelby Foote and Dimitri's favorite author, James McPherson. Here's Foote, from the Ken Burns Civil War documentary:
Before the war, it was said "the United States are." Grammatically, it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war, it was always "the United States is," as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an "is."

And here is Prof. McPherson, from Battle Cry of Freedom:
Before 1861 the two words "United States" were rendered as a plural noun: "the United States are a republic." The war marked a transition of the United States to a singular noun.

The only problem, Prof. Liberman points out, is that the available evidence doesn't support the assertion.

The best available evidence appears to be a study by Minor Myers, entitled The Supreme Court and the Making of an “Is”. Here's the abstract:
This survey examines use of the phrases “United States is” and “United States are” in opinions of the United States Supreme Court from 1790 to 1919. The familiar claim, popularized by Shelby Foote in the Ken Burns Civil War documentary, is that the Civil War marked a shift in usage from plural to singular. This survey demonstrates that in the Supreme Court this account of the timing of the change is not accurate. Although patterns of usage changed abruptly in the 1860s, justices continued to use the plural form through the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the plural usage was the predominant usage in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s. Only in the beginning of the twentieth century did the singular usage achieve preeminence and the plural usage disappear almost entirely.

In other words, as Prof. Myers explains in his conclusion:
This survey demonstrates that the plural usage of “United States” did not fall into disuse on the Supreme Court until more than a generation after the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse. Whatever innumerable and profound changes the Civil War worked on the United States, it did not, grammatically speaking, make us an “is.”

H/T Eugene Volokh.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Quids

In American political history, the term “Tertium Quids” (Latin for “third somethings”, often abbreviated to “Quids”) is almost universally used to identify a group of radical Republicans whose “great object”, in the words of Russell Kirk, “was the restriction of power of [the federal] government to that sphere specifically assigned by constitution and precedent.” The term Quids came from the fact that its members were neither mainstream Jeffersonian Republicans nor Federalists, but “third somethings”.

The group dates from 1806, when John Randolph of Roanoke broke with Thomas Jefferson:
Randolph had denounced the Yazoo scandals in January 1805; he quarreled with Jefferson and Madison over the Florida scheme in December of that year [the so-called Two Million Dollar Act, passed in February 1806, the funds of which were intended to be used to purchase the Floridas from Spain]. On March 6, 1806, he spoke against [Andrew] Gregg's Resolution, which was intended to cut off commerce with Britain – here siding with the Federalists, though not joining them. By August 15, his alienation from Jefferson was complete; and he formed the faction of the Tertium Quids, which little band of Southerners he led most of the rest of his life.

Other Quids, or Old Republicans as they were sometimes called, included Nathanial Macon of North Carolina, Spencer Roane of Virginia, John Taylor of Caroline and Richard Stanford.

In Empire of Liberty, Gordon S. Wood points out, however, that Randolph's group of radicals was not the first to bear the name Quids. Ironically, the term appears to have first been used on the state level in Pennsylvania to identify a minority group of moderate Jeffersonian Republicans who were, at the time, engaged in a bitter fight with the radical majority.

The radical Republicans who gained ascendancy in Pennsylvania shortly after 1800 were headed by Dr. Michael Leib and William Duane. Leib, a member of the state legislature who later became a member of the House and the U.S. Senate, “was totally committed to turning the poor and the common laborers of Pennsylvania into political actors” “and the most extreme forms of majoritarian democracy.” Duane was the “irascible” editor of the Aurora whose acid pen had gotten him charged with sedition under the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1898 (among other things).

In 1803, the radicals had control of the state legislature and were able to engineer the impeachment and dismissal of a Federalist judge. By 1805, however, the radical coalition was showing signs of strain. The radicals were able to impeach but failed to convict three other Federalist judges who were members of the state supreme court.

Things came to a head later in 1805, when the radicals denied renomination to the moderate Jeffersonian Republican incumbent governor, Thomas McKean. With the support of other moderates such as Alexander J. Dallas, McKean “combined with the Federalists to create a coalition ticket” and “narrowly won the bitterly contested election for the governorship.”

Although Prof. Wood does not precisely specify, it was apparently during this campaign that Duane fashioned the term “Quids” as a contemptuous reference to the moderates – they were “third somethings,” neither Jeffersonian fish nor Federalist fowl.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The First Federal Case Holding a State Statute Unconstitutional

In Empire of Liberty Gordon S. Wood identifies a 1792 decision of the United States Circuit Court for Rhode Island, Alexander Champion and Thomas Dickason v. Silas Casey, as the first case in which a federal court held a state statute unconstitutional. I had never heard of the case, so I thought I'd do a little digging to see what I could find about it.

The case points up the fact that federal judicial review of state statutes under the Constitution was an extremely early development. Congress passed the first Judiciary Act, establishing the United States Supreme Court and lower federal courts, on September 24, 1789.

As might be expected, it was some time before judges were appointed and the courts opened for business. The District of Rhode Island, for example, was not established until June 23, 1790, and Henry Marchant was not confirmed as its first District Judge until July 3, 1790. The first session of the Circuit Court for Rhode Island convened on Saturday December 4, 1790 and met for a total of three days, adjourning on Tuesday December 7, 1890. Thereafter it convened every six months, in early June and early December. The sessions continued to be brief. For example, the December 1791 term lasted a total of four days, from December 7 to December 10. The June 1792 term opened June 7 and adjourned June 14.

And yet, within a year and half of its opening for business, that court became, it appears, the first federal court to strike down a state statute as unconstitutional.

Silas Casey was a prominent Rhode Island merchant who had suffered business reversals during the Revolution. In February 1791, Casey used his influence to persuade the Rhode Island legislature to pass a private act “giving him an extension period of three years to settle his accounts with British creditors, during which time he would be exempt from all arrests and attachments.”

Presumably recognizing that Rhode Island state courts would enforce the stay statute, two of Casey's British creditors, Alexander Champion and Thomas Dickason, sued him in the United States Circuit Court for Rhode Island to recover debts of almost $20,000. Casey, naturally, moved to dismiss the case based on the stay statute. Champion and Dickason moved to strike the defense, arguing that the state act violated the Contract Clause of Article I, Section 10, which provided that “No State shall . . . pass any . . . Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts . . .. “

In June 1792, the Circuit Court for Rhode Island, consisting of Chief Justice John Jay, Associate Justice William Cushing, and District Judge Marchant, sitting at Newport, granted the creditors' motion. The decision was not officially reported, but it was widely reported in the press. James W. Ely Jr. quotes the June 14, 1792 edition of the United States Chronicle as follows:
The Judges were unanimously of Opinion, that, as by the Constitution of the United States, the individual states are prohibited from making laws which shall impair the Obligation of Contracts, and the resolution in question, if operative would impair the Obligation of the Contract in Question, therefore it could not be admitted to bar the action.

The aftermath is equally interesting. Rhode Island acquiesced in and apparently endorsed the result. According to Prof. Ely, “Not only did the decision arouse no opposition, but the Rhode Island legislature adopted a resolution that it would not grant any individuals exemptions for private debts.”

For you Civil War buffs, a question. I'm wondering whether Silas Casey the defendant was related to – perhaps the grandfather of – Civil War General Silas Casey, born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island in 1807. Anyone know the answer?

UPDATE (of a sort):

By sheer coincidence, I just ran across a new article that Prof. Ely has posted on the Contract Clause: James W. Ely Jr., Whatever Happened to the Contract Clause? Here's the abstract:
This paper examines the decline of the contract clause in constitutional jurisprudence. Although the contract clause occupied a key and much-litigated place in constitutional law during the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court never read the clause with literal exactness. Over time the Court began to limit the reach of the contract clause in a number of ways. It early distinguished between contractual rights and the remedy available to enforce such rights. States retained some room to modify enforcement procedures. Thereafter the Court insisted upon strictly construing legislative grants and recognized an inalienable police power to protect the health, safety, and morals of the public. Moreover, the Supreme Court upheld rent control laws and mortgage moratorium measures as valid legislative responses to emergency conditions which trumpted contracts between individuals. In short, the Supreme Court recognized so many exceptions to the contract clause as to virtually read it out of the Constitution. The advent of New Deal constitutionalism in the late 1930s, which downplayed economic rights and affirmed broad regulatory authority, completed the effective destruction of the contract clause. Despite some fleeting interest in revitalizing the clause, and a few decisions enforcing contract clauses in state constitutions, this once-powerful provision remains at the fringe of modern constitutional law. The paper contends that the decline of the contract clause likely reflects a diminished faith in contractual bargaining and competitive markets.

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Debt, corruption and rottenness, closing with revolution"

I'm not a big Thomas Jefferson fan. Even Jefferson was not all bad, however. In these days of multi-trillion dollar deficits and unread thousand-page bills funneling hundreds of billions to corrupt special interests, this passage from Gordon S. Wood's Empire of Liberty struck a chord:
Each year of his presidency [Jefferson] habitually called for further reductions in the [federal] debt. If the public debt were not extinguished, he warned [Albert] Gallatin in 1809, "we shall be committed to the English career of debt, corruption and rottenness, closing with revolution. The discharge of the debt, therefore, is vital to the destinies of our government."

By 1810, even with the $15 million in cash and claims spent on the Louisiana Purchase, the Republicans had reduced the federal debt to half of the $80 million it had been when they took office.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"A gay man tried to poison his lesbian neighbours by putting slug pellets into their curry after he was accused of kidnapping their three-legged cat"

I am not, I swear, making this stuff up.

Walt Whitman's Voice?

Did Thomas Edison make a wax cylinder recording in 1890 of Walt Whitman reading four lines from his poem "America"? The recording may be found here and here. Some background is here. The words are difficult to make out unless you have the text in front of you, so here it is:
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,

All, all alike endear'd, grown, un grown, young or old,

Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,

Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love.

H/T to Metafilter.

"Swedish town 'full of sex-mad lesbians' lures male tourists"

The October 6, 2009 edition of the Australian Courier Mail carries this odd item:
SWEDISH tourism bodies have been swamped with inquiries from millions of men captivated by a mythical town rumoured to be home to 25,000 sex-mad lesbians.

The town of "Chako Paul City" is said to have been founded in 1820 in the northern Swedish woods by a wealthy man-hating widow.

Two blonde women are rumoured to stand guard at the town, which also features a medieval castle.

Many of the town’s female residents became lesbians “because they could not suppress their sexual needs”, Chinese news service Harbin News reports.

The myth has been embraced by the Chinese media, with millions of men crippling the country’s internet providers trying to find out how to get to the town.

However, men have been warned by media reports that they risk being “beaten half to death” by police if they dare pay a visit.

"I've no idea where this came from but it's not true," local authorities' spokesman Claes Bertilson told Sweden’s new service The Local about the rumour.

“At 25,000 residents, the town would be one of the largest in northern Sweden, and I find it hard to believe that you could keep something like that a secret for more than 150 years.”

Mr Bertilson said he did not know where the fictitious account could have originated.

“I have no idea where something like this could have come from,” he said.

Although Per Wilhelmsson of the tourist office in Umea in northern Sweden said he had never heard of Chako Paul City, he did confirm that tourism in the area is bustling.

“Our tourism industry is doing quite well, among the best in northern Sweden,” he said.

H/T to Tom Smith at The Right Coast.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Gordon S. Wood on Empire of Liberty at NRO

Since I'm in the middle of Gordon S. Wood's fine new book, Empire of Liberty, it's particularly appropriate to note that National Review Online has posted a podcast interview of Prof. Wood by John J. Miller about the book.

It Can't Happen Here

Those of you Civil War and history bloggers who receive free books from publishers (I don't seem to rate) had better watch out. If you fail to disclose that you received a freebie, come December 1 you will be subject to a fine of up to $11,000 by the Federal Trade Commission:
The Federal Trade Commission will require bloggers to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.

It is the first time since 1980 that the commission has revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials, and the first time the rules have covered bloggers.

But the commission stopped short today of specifying how bloggers must disclose any conflicts of interest.

The FTC said its commissioners voted, 4-0, to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. Penalties include up to $11,000 in fines per violation.

The rules take effect Dec. 1.

But don't worry. They can't throw you in prison yet.

H/T to Instapundit.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

"It is not a vote!"

As you know, the nomination by the President of the United States of executive officers is subject to confirmation by the Senate. Article II, Section 2 provides in relevant part:
He [the president] . . . shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The converse, however, is not the case. Presidents routinely terminate executive officers (or pressure them into resigning) on their own authority. They do not seek or obtain the consent of the Senate to do so, and no one expects them to.

It is one of the strange facts of American constitutional history that the constitutionality of this practice is entirely unclear. In fact, the Constitution does not address whether executive removals require Senate consent or not. It might certainly be logical to suppose that the opposite result is correct: if Senate confirmation is required for appointment, then Senate confirmation for removal is likewise required. Ironically, this was precisely the position taken by that champion of executive power, Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 77:
IT HAS been mentioned as one of the advantages to be expected from the co-operation of the Senate, in the business of appointments, that it would contribute to the stability of the administration. The consent of that body would be necessary to displace as well as to appoint. A change of the Chief Magistrate, therefore, would not occasion so violent or so general a revolution in the officers of the government as might be expected, if he were the sole disposer of offices. Where a man in any station had given satisfactory evidence of his fitness for it, a new President would be restrained from attempting a change in favor of a person more agreeable to him, by the apprehension that a discountenance of the Senate might frustrate the attempt, and bring some degree of discredit upon himself. Those who can best estimate the value of a steady administration, will be most disposed to prize a provision which connects the official existence of public men with the approbation or disapprobation of that body which, from the greater permanency of its own composition, will in all probability be less subject to inconstancy than any other member of the government.

Current practice is sanctioned by historical precedent. The very first Congress faced and debated the question. Standard histories note with a good deal of irony that, in the House, it was Representative James Madison who spearheaded the forces that successfully argued that removal did not require Senate consent.

What I had not focused on, however, was the Senate itself, and how close the result was there. In Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, Gordon S. Wood, citing the Journal of Senator William Maclay, points out that the vote was razor thin. Maclay reports that the Senate vote, held July 16, 1789, was a tie; Vice President John Adams then cast the deciding vote in favor of removal without Senate consent:
After all the arguments were ended and the question taken the Senate was ten to ten, and the Vice-President with joy cried out, “It is not a vote!” without giving himself time to declare the division of the House and give his vote in order.

Prof. Wood comments:
The consequences of such a close vote were immense: on it turned the future nature of the presidency. Indeed, as Madison noted in the House, the Congress's decisions on this issue of removal “will become the permanent exposition of the Constitution; and on a permanent exposition of the Constitution will depend the genius will depend the genius and character of the whole government.” If the Senate had been able to claim the right of approving the removal of presidential appointees, executive officials would have become dependent on the will of the Senate, and the United States would have created something similar to the English system of cabinet responsibility to Parliament.

For an article arguing that Hamilton's reference to "displace[ment]" was not intended to encompass mere "removal", see here. A response has recently appeared, which I have not yet read:: Jeremy D. Bailey, The Traditional View of Hamilton's Federalist No. 77 and an Unexpected Challenge: A Response to Seth Barrett Tillman.

Anne Frank: The Only Existing Film Images

July 22 1941. The girl next door is getting married. Anne Frank is leaning out of the window of her house in Amsterdam to get a good look at the bride and groom. It is the only time Anne Frank has ever been captured on film. At the time of her wedding, the bride lived on the second floor at Merwedeplein 39. The Frank family lived at number 37, also on the second floor.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Don't Tell Braveheart

In the opening pages of Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, the newest volume of the Oxford History of the United States, Gordon S. Wood relates the reaction of Thomas Lee Shippen (a nephew of Richard Henry and Arthur Lee) when he was presented to the French Court at Versailles in 1788:
Of course, nowhere in the world was there more tinsel and titles than at the Court of Versailles, more indeed than Shippen had ever imagined. The protocol was incredibly elaborate: arriving at half past ten, "we were not done bowing until near 2"; in fact, "the business of bowing" went on so long, Shippen told his father, that "any but a Scotchman would have been tired of [it]."
Related Posts with Thumbnails