Sunday, December 28, 2008


Two shots of the fog in northwestern New Jersey on an unusually warm late December afternoon. Click to enlarge.

Slavery in the Territories: Yet Another Take

In several recent posts, I have briefly described the views of two historians who believed that Southerners regarded the slavery-in-the-territories issue as symbolic. That is, white Southerners resented Northern attempts to exclude slavery from the territories because they viewed it as insult to their honor and a denial of their equal rights as citizens – not because they wanted (or even thought they wanted) to travel to those territories.

J. Mills Thornton is the author of perhaps the finest book on antebellum southern political culture and secession that I have read: Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama, 1800-1860. In it, he argues powerfully that, in the end, the territorial issue was a symbolic one.

Professor Thornton admits – indeed, vigorously contends – that the southern desire for additional slave territory was very real. He argues that southern farmers did indeed exhibit a marked tendency to move from one region to another, and that they it was important for them to believe that new, culturally-friendly areas were available for settlement:
The southern farmer – indeed, the American farmer – in the nineteenth century suffered from a sort of claustrophobia. He could not tolerate the prospect of being irrevocably condemned to his existing farm, of being shut out of the possibility of migration to a new life if events should ever require it. But his vision was not of migration to a new world and a new life-style; rather, he wanted the assurance that there was an accessible alternate community in which he could engage in fundamentally the same pursuits, but in circumstances which might produce greater success. Southern rights advocates constantly reminded him that the Yankee culture was very different from his own, and that if he allowed the territories to become re-creations of the northern states, he could thereafter migrate only at the cost of giving up his own egalitarian, democratic world for a socially stratified society swept by the gales of class conflict and unbridled meliorist ferment.

To this extent, the availability of new territory was not purely a symbolic issue.

At the same time, Professor Thornton concludes that, ultimately, issues of respect and equality were critical, at least in Alabama. In a discussion that I have mention and quoted from before, Professor Thornton points out that there was “a fundamental non sequitur in the southern rights case.” Southern rights advocates argued that the north was trapping southern farmers in and confining them to their existing lands. But how, then, “would secession remedy the predicament?” The responses of southern rights advocates did not adequately address the issue. “If getting access to that territory was the primary southern goal, southerners had certainly not selected a means which gave obvious promise of being efficacious.”

But the clincher demonstrating that the issue was in the end symbolic lay in the fact that anti-secessionists “never mentioned the difficulty” in the argument. And they did so because they understood that the efficacy of the secession remedy was ultimately irrelevant, or at least beside the point. The following passage is simply brilliant:
It is essential to note, however, that though this genuinely crucial link in the southern rights argument was, to say the least of it, weak, Unionists almost never mentioned this difficulty. The solution to this paradox is the identification of which element in the southern rights case was the primary source of its force. Despite all the discussion about the effects of free-soil upon southern slavery, the threat of Negro inundation was not the chief terror with which the case conjured; and the Unionists knew it. . . . The essence of the case was not what would happen to southerners when they were excluded from the territories but was the fact that they were to be excluded. . . . Free-soil was an issue basically because it would represent an overtly discriminatory action by the common government.

Anti-secessionists, then, avoided attacking the weak link precisely because they would then have to defend the proposition that southerners were entitled to expect no more than second-class citizenship. Accordingly, they
contented themselves simply with maintaining that most northerners did not hate the South, that the North could be brought to compromise, and that compromise would restore calm to the republic and self-respect to all its citizens without the necessity for radical action. If the southern rights fears of discrimination should ever gain substance, however, Unionists agreed that immediate and harsh reciprocal action would be required.

What this tells us, Professor Thornton argues, is that secession (and the territorial issue as well) were, in the end, grounded in fundamental symbolic issues of equality and non-discrimination:
Secession, then, was not really intended as a remedy for the consequences of free-soil, despite explicit statements to the contrary. It was to be revenge for the condemnation implied by the policy and the inequality inherent in it. Southerners were Americans and they wanted to be treated like Americans; we must never forget that they saw themselves as struggling to preserve the substance of the American dream.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Origin of the Term "Know-Nothing"

Researching the origins of the term “Know Nothing” turns up the same tired explanation virtually every time. Here, for example, is Wikipedia:
The origin of the "Know Nothing" term was in the semi-secret organization of the party. When a member was asked about its activities, he or she was supposed to reply, "I know nothing."


Fear of Catholic immigration led to a dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party whose leadership in many areas included Irish American Catholics. Activists formed secret groups, coordinating their votes and throwing their weight behind candidates sympathetic to their cause. When asked about these secret organizations, members were to reply "I know nothing," which led to their popularly being called Know Nothings.

Wikipedia, in turn, cites to the Encyclopedia Britannica online, which reports that “[m]embers, when asked about their nativist organizations, were supposed to reply that they knew nothing, hence the name.”

Unfortunately, this universally accepted story is probably wrong.

In his meticulous Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s, Tyler Anbinder examined the evidence more closely and debunked the myth:
The precise origin of this term [“Know Nothings”] is a mystery, but it apparently made its public debut in November 1853. At that time, the New York Tribune reported that the Whig candidate for New York district attorney had lost “through the instrumentality of a mongrel ticket termed the 'Know-Nothing.' . . . This ticket,” continued the Tribune, “is the work of the managers of a secret organization growing out of the Order of United Americans, but ostensibly disconnected therefrom.” A few days later the Tribune again mentioned “the Know-Nothing organization,” calling it “but a new dodge of protean nativism.”

Andbinder points out that
[n]either reference mentions the now universal belief that the term “Know Nothing” derived from members' practice of feigning ignorance when queried about the organization. Nor does it appear that Tribune editor Horace Greeley coined the term. The Tribune's use of the phrase suggests that rather than having concocted the term itself, the newspaper was simply reporting what had been relayed by some outside source.

What, then, was the origin of the term? Anbinder suggests several possibilities:
Perhaps the ticket mentioned by the Tribune had been nicknamed the “Know-Nothing” ticket by its organizers. Local electoral tickets often assumed strange labels . . . [or] adopted names used as slurs by their enemies. Perhaps poll watchers coined the term during the November 1853 New York City election, because they could not discover the source of the OSSB [Order of the Star Spangled Banner] ballots. However the appellation originated, the influence of the Tribune, the most widely read newspaper in the nation, made it stick. From this point onward, the OSSB was referred to as the “Know-Nothings,” and the members initially did little to discourage the term's use.

About the illustration:
Sheet music cover for a schottisch (a dance similar to the polka), composed by Francis H. Brown and dedicated to "Miss Mary Leeds of New York." The illustration features the standing figure of "Young America," a young man in coat, waistcoat, and plaid trousers, holding an American flag. Virtually the same idealized, youthful male figure appears as "Citizen Know Nothing" and "Uncle Sam" in other nativist contexts. (See for instance "Uncle Sam's Youngest Son" and "Sam's Coming," nos. 1854-4 and 1855-6.) Behind him on the left a train moves along a track out of a tunnel, and on the right are two ships. These allude to the progressive (or "Young America") Democrats' emphasis on internal improvements, commerce, and trade.

Slavery in the Territories

In the last post, I noted that Kenneth S. Greenberg believed that southerners reacted to the slavery in the territories issue as a symbolic one. Daniel W.Crofts is decidedly of the same view:
Historians who contend that the South had a material interest in taking slaves to new territories surely have overstated their case. Many southerners shared eagerly in the enthusiasm for territorial expansion widespread in mid-nineteenth-century America. Democrats, especially, believed that economic opportunity and social harmony depended upon access to new land. And some racial theorists held that new territory would become an essential escape valve to keep the South from becoming “Africanized.” But during the 1850s slaveowners displayed no inclination to take their property to the recently acquired domain in the Southwest, even though the huge New Mexico territory had as thorough a territorial slave code as any southerner could wish.

About the illustration:
Perkins's grim picture of conditions in the goldfields of California during the 1849 Gold Rush contains a backhanded swipe at the outgoing Polk administration. In the foreground, violence breaks out against a backdrop of hills in the "Gold Region." On the left a man cuts the throat of another over a sack of gold, while beyond and farther to the left appear a man carrying a sack and another fallen victim. At far right two men spar with daggers, one of them evidently a Mexican or Spanish Californian, who declares, "Clear you D--d Foreigner our law is the law of might." Meanwhile, apparently oblivious to the mayhem, other men go about the search for gold. A man with a kerchief around his forehead calmly sifts a pan over a barrel or tub. Behind him another man with a flintlock slung across his back digs into the side of a small rise, and a third, wearing a smock, shovels ore into a wooden sieve. Visible above, beyond the hills, is the U.S. Capitol, on whose lawn stands newly elected President Zachary Taylor. In uniform with his hands behind his back, Taylor watches former President James K. Polk and five of his officers, in the form of birds, fly away toward California. They are armed with pickaxes and the spoils of office. Polk, in the lead, carries a sack marked "Secret Service 3,000,000 [i.e., dollars]" and declares, "The happiest days of my administration. We will take unto ourselves the wings of the morning and depart into the depths of California." Taylor addresses a man who aims a cannon at the flock of birds, "Hold on Capt Bragg 'Dont' waste your Grape.' it is nothing but a "Shide-Polk." Our extra Session shall regulate "California."" These lines echo his famous and decisive order at the Battle of Buena Vista, "A little more grape Captain Bragg." Bragg responds, "As you say General but by G-d! I'd like to make him smell of Buena-Vista." Nearby is the "High Road to California" and a grave marker reading, "In Memory of the Shide-"Poke" Administration. Died 4 M[ar]ch 1849," the customary inauguration date.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Avaunt! You are not my equal."

One of the interesting sub-issues associated with the reasons for secession is whether southerners viewed slavery in the territories as primarily a symbolic issue. In other words, did southerners seriously want to move to territories such as Kansas with slaves, or did they view the threatened exclusion of slavery principally as a denial of equality and a matter of honor?

Kenneth S. Greenberg comes down firmly on the side of the issue as a symbolic one:
Southerners always understood the problem of slavery in the territories in a way that would have been familiar to any duelist. Whatever else Northern attempts to exclude slavery from the territories might have meant, it primarily signified a denial of Southern equality. One Virginia Supreme Court justice [identified in the notes as Peter Vivian Daniel], for example, denounced the Wilmot Proviso because it “pretends to an insulting exclusiveness or superiority on the one hand, and denounces a degrading inequality or inferiority on the other: which says in effect to the Southern man, Avaunt! You are not my equal, and hence are to be excluded as carrying a moral taint with you.”

About the illustration:
Democratic candidate James Buchanan, as a buck deer, crosses the finish line of a racecourse ahead of competitors Millard Fillmore and John C. Fremont. Spectators cheer in the stands behind. Fillmore appears as an emaciated horse, fallen on the course. Next, Fremont follows close on the heels of Buchanan. Fremont stands astride two horses: one with the head of New York "Tribune" editor Horace Greeley and the other the "wooly nag" of abolitionism. The latter here more closely resembles a filly than a nag. Greeley: "Monte why didn't you lean more on the wooly horse--you gave me all your weight--never mind we've beat the grey Filly [i.e., Fillmore] next time we'ill head off that hard old Buck." Fremont: "Get out--hang you and the Wooly Horse--I could beat that broken down silver grey "Filly" and the old Buck too--had I gone on my own hook." Fillmore: "Oh! Oh! why did'nt I stay in sweet Italy with my friend King Bomba and the lazy Neapolitans--Then I should not have been blowen up like a Bag of wind in this Chase." Buchanan: "Never mind Gentn. I could not "help" beating you, the American Nation wished it so--I will send you all to Ostend--and I promise you that I will have no Tailors in my white House. [As a youth Fillmore had been apprenticed to a tailor.] Mercy on me! to think that this Glorious People should be almost Pierced to Death [a reference to unpopular Democratic incumbent Franklin Pierce] by War and making Free States in this land of Liberty by a set of Fashion inventores 'I'll none of it.'"

Judith S. Kaye

At Concurring Opinions, Professor Lawrence Cunningham has a fine tribute to Judith Smith Kaye, who is retiring as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, focusing on an early specific performance case, Van Wagner Advertising (1986).

Judge Kaye had been a civil litigator at Olwine Connelly in Manhattan before she joined the Court. For various reasons, principally finality, relatively few civil cases reached the Court. It was for this reason that she particularly enjoyed digging into a good contracts case or complex civil litigation.

Extra credit question followers of Judge Kaye's work: which portion or portions, if any, of the opinion in Citibank v. Plapinger (1985) might Judge Kaye have contributed?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas (Part II)

The All Cat Christmas Tree.

Merry Christmas!

I extend my best Christmas wishes to all of you. My modest gift is the foregoing 1848 illustration, entitled "Shooting the Christmas Turkey." It's one of my favorites, featuring as it does a wide range of antebellum political figures, including of course Millard Fillmore:
While Democratic and Whig candidates debate strategies to win the presidency, or "shoot the Christmas turkey," Free Soil candidate Martin Van Buren makes off with the bird. At left Democrat Lewis Cass (facing front) and Whig Zachary Taylor (facing left), both in military uniform and holding rifles, quarrel about the turkey which is chained to a stake in the center. Taylor: "I tell you, Cass, that I prefer coming to close quarters. It will be as fair for you as for me." Cass: "But I prefer long shots. It will give more chance for the exercise of skill & ingenuity." Taylor running mate Millard Fillmore enters from the left and sighting Van Buren exclaims, "Blood and thunder! I thought that infernal fox was dead: but he has come out of his hole and carried off the prize, while we have been disputing about the preliminaries!" On the far right, Van Buren, as a fox, grasps the turkey by the neck as David Wilmot cheers, "Huzza! Huzza! Victory! Victory!" Wilmot holds up the famous and controversial Wilmot Proviso of 1846, which forbade slavery in territories acquired by the United States in the Mexican War. The measure, embraced by Van Buren but sidestepped by Cass and Taylor, was a burning issue in the 1848 campaign. On the ground in the center of the scene sits New York editor Horace Greeley with a tally sheet marked "Taylor" and "Cass" nearby. Greeley thumbs his nose at Taylor and Cass and says, "Well, Gentlemen, my place has become a sinecure. I need not keep tally for you now." An ardent and powerful Whig spokesman in the 1844 election, Greeley withheld his support for Taylor until late in the 1848 campaign. By that time his New York "Tribune" had become an established and successful newspaper.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"I would not have seen him fall wounded for all the land that is watered by the King of Floods"

I have previously mentioned the duel between John Randolph of Roanoke and Henry Clay. Kenneth S. Greenberg points out a few more details:
When John Randolph and Henry Clay fought a duel in 1824 Randolph aimed at Clay’s knees on the first shot and fired into the air on the second. He later told Thomas Hart Benton: “I would not have seen him fall mortally, or even doubtfully, wounded for all the land that is watered by the King of Floods and all his tributary streams.”

After the duel, Randolph treated his seconds with great courtesy and rewarded them for their service. He
gathered with his friends and produced an envelope – an envelope he had earlier left with instructions to be opened in the event of his death. It contained a note that directed that the gold coins that Randolph carried in his pocket be made into seals and given to the seconds. “But Clay’s bad shooting shan’t rob you of your seals,” Randolph announced, “I am going to London and have them made for you.”

About the illustration:
A figurative portrayal of the presidential race of 1824. A crowd of cheering citizens watch as candidates (left to right) John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson stride toward the finish. Henry Clay has dropped from the race and stands, hand on head, on the far right saying, "D--n it I cant save my distance--so I may as well "draw up."" He is consoled by a man in riding clothes, "Well dont distress yourself--there'll be some scrubbing by & by & then you'll have a chance." Assorted comments come from the crowd, reflecting various sectional and partisan views. A Westerner with stovepipe hat and powder horn: "Hurra for our Jacks-"son."" Former President John Adams: "Hurra for our son "Jack."" Two men in coachmen's livery: "That inne-track fellow [Crawford] goes so well; that I think he must have got the better of the bots [boss?]." and "Like enough; but betwixt you & I--I dont think he'll ever get the better of the "Quinsy."" A ragged Irishman: "Blast my eyes if I dont "venter" a "small" horn of rotgut on that "bald filly" in the middle [Adams]." A Frenchman: "Ah hah! Mon's Neddy I tink dat kick on de "back of you side" is worse den have no dinner de fourt of july." In the left background is a platform and an inaugural scene, the "Presidential Chair" with a purse "

Monday, December 22, 2008

John Randolph, "prevaricating, base, calumniating scoundrel, poltroon and coward"

John Randolph of Roanoke fought a number of duels, but on at least one occasion he declined to so, apparently because he did not consider the challenger his equal. As Kenneth S. Greenberg explains,
James Wilkinson, disgraced by involvement in Aaron Burr’s schemes to detach the Western states, practically begged John Randolph for a duel in 1807. “I have no hesitation,” he wrote, “to appeal to your justice, your magnanimity and your gallantry, to prescribe the manner of redress.” Randolph denied his request. “I cannot descend to your level,” he wrote.

Spurned, Wilkinson publicly “posted” Randolph as a coward by
printing handbills and posting them all over the District of Columbia. “Hector unmasked,” he announced. “In justice to my character, I denounce John Randolph, M.C., to the world as a prevaricating, base, calumniating scoundrel, poltroon and coward.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Vietnamese torture is nothing compared to what I know"

Over at The Right Coast, Professor Gail Heriot recounts the appalling origins of Kwanzaa and its thuggish inventor. Happy Holidays!

. . . and Ariadne

From The Cats

And here's Ari, the Devil Cat herself.

Salome . . .

From The Cats

Here's a recent picture of Sallie, staring out at the snow.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"The young man is no bug eater"

John Randolph of Roanoke -- he of Blifil and Black George fame -- is one of the most colorful political figures of the early part of the Nineteenth Century.

Kenneth S. Greenberg relates a wonderful little story that reflects the oratorical abilities of the young Randolph. Randolph was born in 1773 and was first elected to Congress in 1798, so the event probably occured in the mid '90s:
The young John Randolph . . . began his career in Virginia politics [with a grand discourse]. In an election-day gathering he spoke just after the aged and venerable Patrick Henry, orator of an earlier era. One listener reacted to Randolph's words in a way that would have warmed the heart of any statesman. Comparing him to Patrick Henry, the man exclaimed: "I tell you what, the young man is no bug eater neither."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Martin Van Buren

It’s certainly possible to make the case that Martin Van Buren was one of the most important American political figures of the first half of the 19th Century. The man conceived and constructed the Democratic Party and, with it, the Second Party System, which defined and held the country together between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Later, the decision of the ultimate party man to accept the nomination of the Free Soil Party in 1848 must have stunned his contemporaries.

At the outset of his biography, Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics, John Niven announces his intention to demonstrate that Van Buren was far more than “an unprincipled manipulator, a magician, a Talleyrand, who debased the pure coin of American democracy through the spoils system.”

There was, Niven argues, “a strong moral fiber to the man, a cast of mind that could transcend the immediate and the practical and adopt the unpopular view because he thought it was right.” Niven cites as an example that decision in 1848:
Though in retirement and against all of his political instincts, Van Buren accepted the nomination of the Free-Soil party for President in the campaign of 1848. He knew he would be defeated, but he was willing to put his reputation on the line to administer what he felt would be a timely warning to southern extremists that the North would resist further expansion of slavery.

Niven seems tacitly to be rejecting the argument that Van Buren’s principal motivation in 1848 was personal (such as getting back at the Democrats who had stymied his nomination in 1844) or parochial (such as getting back at the Polk administration for having sided with the Hunkers in cabinet appointments and patronage). It should be a fascinating read.

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Unintended Consequences

In his newly-released paper, The Misconceived Assumption about Constitutional Assumptions, Randy Barnett refers to an irony that I had not focused on:
[N]umerous slave-holding founders and others [assumed] that the population would expand in the temperate South at a greater rate than in the colder North. As a result, they assumed that the express textual protection of slavery would be unnecessary because it would be protected effectively enough by the various electoral mechanisms incorporated into the Constitution. The politics of slavery markedly changed, however, when population unexpectedly expanded disproportionately in the North, thereby increasing its representation in the House as well as in the Electoral College.

When this occurred, the balance of slave and free states in the equally apportioned Senate unexpectedly became the sole remaining political protection of slavery. Ironically, the Virginia Plan for the Constitution had called for proportional representation in both the House and Senate, and the Convention was thrown into turmoil when the smaller states obtained equal representation in the Senate. Later, some Virginians could be quite happy their plan was modified in this respect.

At 17-18 (footnotes omitted; emphasis added)

About the illustration:
Another attack on the 1856 Democratic platform as pro-South and proslavery. The Buchanan-Breckenridge ticket is reviled on the basis of recent developments occurring during the outgoing Pierce administration. In the center of the picture is a flagstaff bearing an American flag inscribed "Buchanan & Breckenridge. Modern Democracy." To its base are chained two slaves (right)--a man and a woman. The woman kneels before an overseer with a whip and pistol in his pocket, and asks, "Is this Democracy?" The overseer declares, "We will subdue you." In the background one of Cuba's coastal towns burns and is fired upon by a ship. The scene probably refers to expressed Democratic ambitions to annex Cuba for the expansion of American slave territory. The phrase "A due regard for our just rights in the Gulf of Mexico" appears above the burning town. A similar scene of conflagration, "Squatter sovereignty demonstrated," appears in the left background. Here a settlement in Kansas burns and its inhabitants are driven away by armed marauders. Reference is to atrocities committed in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of May 1854, which was endorsed by the Democratic platform. The act provided for dividing the Nebraska territory into two parts, each later to be admitted into the Union as either slave or free, as decided in each case by popular (or "squatter") sovereignty. The measure ushered in a bloody struggle between proslavery and antislavery settlers over control of Kansas. The antislavery town of Lawrence, Kansas, was invaded and sacked by a proslavery posse on May 21, 1856. In the left foreground is Preston S. Brooks's May 22 attack on Charles Sumner in Congress. (See "Arguments of the Chivalry," no. 1856-1.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Ira Stoll on Samuel Adams: A Life

Here's a link to a recent interview with Ira Stoll, discussing Samuel Adams: A Life:
It's pretty likely that if Samuel Adams hadn't existed at the time he did, America would have ended up more like Canada, sort of existing in the extended orbit of the British Empire for a much longer period of time and only gradually drifing away.

Although I haven't read Mr. Stoll's book, I can heartily recommend Pauline Maier's The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams.

The picture is, I believe, by Samantha B., a student at Bresnahan Elementary School, Newburyport, Massachusetts. Excellent!

"The killings are in line with Islam"

Michael Ramirez is the finest political cartoonist working today, the visual equivalent of Mark Steyn:
This isn’t law enforcement but an ideological assault — and we’re fighting the symptoms not the cause. Islamic imperialists want an Islamic society, not just in Palestine and Kashmir but in the Netherlands and Britain, too. Their chances of getting it will be determined by the ideology’s advance among the general Muslim population, and the general Muslim population’s demographic advance among everybody else.

So Bush is history, and we have a new president who promises to heal the planet, and yet the jihadists don’t seem to have got the Obama message that there are no enemies, just friends we haven’t yet held talks without preconditions with. This isn’t about repudiating the Bush years, or withdrawing from Iraq, or even liquidating Israel. It’s bigger than that. And if you don’t have a strategy for beating back the ideology, you’ll lose.

There is evil in the world, and we'd better wake up and recognize it:
In Islamic extremist Web forums, some praised the Mumbai attacks, including the targeting of Jews.

A man identified as Sheik Youssef al-Ayeri said the killings are in line with Islam.

"It's all right for Muslims to set the infidels' castles on fire, drown them with water .... and take some of them as prisoners, whether young or old, women or men, because it is one of many ways to beat them," he wrote in the al-Fallujah forum.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Willie P. Mangum, Secretary of State

The article I pointed out yesterday concerning David R. Atchison does not, unfortunately, contain a serious analysis of the issues surrounding his status on March 4, 1849. It does, however, suggest that Willie P. Mangum of North Carolina had a pretty good sense of humor. According to Atchison, Mangum

waked me up at 3 o'clock in the morning and said jocularly that as I was President of the United States he wanted me to appoint him as secretary of the state.

Friday, November 28, 2008

David Rice Atchison, President

I've discussed before the arguments for and against the proposition that Senator David Rice Atchison of Missouri served as President of the United States on March 4, 1849. Now the event is the subject of an article on SSRN: Joseph J. Simeone, The First U.S. President from Missouri, March 4, 1849. Here's the abstract:
In these days of an historic presidential election, it may be fitting to recall the election of 1848 when the term of James Knox Polk expired and Zachary Taylor - "Old Rough and Ready" - was elected the President of the United States.

This short article relates the trivia story of one of Missouri Senators - David Rice Atchison, who acted as President of the United States for a very short period of time because President Taylor declined to be sworn in on a Sunday because of his religious scruples. Since Senator Atchison, as President of the Senate, was next in line for the office, Atchison served as President until Taylor took the oath of office.

About the illustration:
The cartoonist is optimistic about the prospects of Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor, here shown rowing Democratic oppponent Lewis Cass up the river of political misfortune. Cass, seated in the stern, wears an almost comical frown and Taylor, plying his oars in the bow, a look of determination.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Pinch of History

John Hinderaker at Powerline points out the following odd correction from the New York Times:
A report in the City Room column on Tuesday about politicians who have served as both United States senator from New York and secretary of state misidentified the president who was in office when Alaska was purchased from Russia and misstated several dates in the careers of two of the politicians, William L. Marcy and William H. Seward, both former governors of New York. Andrew Johnson — not Abraham Lincoln — was president when Alaska was purchased in 1867. Marcy left the governor’s office in 1838, not 1839; Seward succeeded him in 1839, not 1838; and Seward took office as senator in 1849, not 1850.

Anything else you missed, Pinch?

About the illustration:
The National Union Convention met in Philadelphia in August 1866 to create a political party that would back President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction program and to elect a new Congress. Here, the convention is portrayed as a gathering of muzzled dogs, their collars inscribed with state names, who file toward a large doghouse, the "Wigwam." Except for the unwelcome arrival of Copperheads or Peace Democrats Fernando Wood and C. L. Vallandigham, the meeting was surprisingly harmonious even with the participation of representatives from both North and South. Here two dogs, "Massachusetts" and "South Carolina," side by side, lead the pack toward the Wigwam. Wood and Vallandigham are portrayed as cats, each held by the scruff of its neck by guard dogs Edgar Cowan and J. R. Doolittle. At bottom left stands a dog with a brush and a pail marked "N.Y. Times" tied to its tail. In the background "The Dead Dog of The White House," incumbent Andrew Johnson, lies in the road in front of the presidential mansion, which flies from its roof an American flag labeled "My Policy." "My Policy" was Johnson's campaign catchword. The Philadelphia movement ultimately failed, and anti-Johnson Republicans achieved more than a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress.

Happy Turkey Day!

About the illustration:
Satire on the diplomatic crisis and threat of hostilities between the United States and France over the latter's refusal to pay indemnifications set by the Treaty of 1831. The situation was exacerbated by remarks, made by President Jackson in a December 1835 speech, to which the French took offense. (See also nos. 1836-2, -3 and -5 on this crisis). "Spirit of the Times" focusses on England's role as mediator in the dispute during January 1836. The leaders of the two countries face each other across an ocean through which John Bull wades saying: "In "Pantaloons" John Bull can walkAcross the Atlantic for to baulk The Cock of all his boasted pride And Eagle's passion to subside." John Bull is portrayed as a bull wearing pantaloons and holding a musket. On the left shore, atop a cage holding a squawking goose, stands a cock with the head of French king Louis Philippe crowing: "Sacre non [i.e. "nom"] de Dieu!!!! Me vont be pick by you!!" Further to the left a turkey stands over a nest egg marked "Fr.25,000,000" (the amount of French reparations established by the treaty) and says: "Before from off this egg I rise You must to me apologise." On a birdhouse behind them a row of six pigeons with bayonets stand at attention with chests puffed out. An "Aquatic Expedition" of six geese heads across the water toward the American shore on the right, from where a rattle-snake boasts, "Let them come a'Shore; I'll rattle them." On the right, perched in a tree, is an eagle with the head of Andrew Jackson. Below him is a nest made of stars and stripes holding five young birds. Corn, like the rattlesnake indigenous to America, grows nearby. Jackson says:"Come stop your puffing, cease to Crow And pay the Debt you justly owe,Or full your Crop with Pills I'll cram, And stop your muttering "French God Damn."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Montpelier Graveyards

The contrast between the Madison family graveyard and the slave graveyard at Montpelier was poignant.

Montpelier v. Monticello

On Sunday afternoon, we visited James Madison's Montpelier; early Monday morning, we toured Monticello. Maybe I just root for the underdog, or maybe I just prefer Madison to Jefferson, but I enjoyed Montpelier more. Monticello is very much like its creator: prissy, mannered, over stylized, too clever by half. Montpelier was somehow more . . . is stolid the word? Not quite, but you get the drift.

Amar on Heller

I have only skimmed the first few pages, but Akhil Amar has an amusing article out on the Supremes' recent decision in Heller, holding that the Second Amendment conveys an individual right to bear arms. Here's a taste:
Justice Scalia's landmark ruling merits our attention for its method as well as its result. Behold: a constitutional opinion that actually dwells on the Constitution itself!

* * *

At times [in most opinions] the Constitution's language can come to resemble a pea covered by a stack of judicial mattresses -- a grain of sand no longer visible, though presumably resting deep inside the pearl of judicial elaboration. The majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, for example, never even quoted the constitutional clause that the Court used to reach its sweeping results. In countless cases involving applications of the Bill of Rights against the states, the operative Fourteenth Amendment text has received little or no mention.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rotunda Skylight

My wife, mother-in-law, an old college buddy and I just arrived in North Carolina, having stopped in the Charlottesville, VA area for about 36 hours. We made a rushed stop at Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda and Quad at UVA. Here's a picture of the Rotunda skylight and reflection. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Arma virumque cano. . .

As a former Classics major, I heartily endorse this observation by Victor Davis Hanson concerning the value of studying Latin (and Greek):
Four years of high-school Latin would dramatically arrest the decline in American education. In particular, such instruction would do more for minority youths than all the ‘role model’ diversity sermons on Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Montezuma, and Caesar Chavez put together. Nothing so enriches the vocabulary, so instructs about English grammar and syntax, so creates a discipline of the mind, an elegance of expression, and serves as a gateway to the thinking and values of Western civilization as mastery of a page of Virgil or Livy (except perhaps Sophocles’s Antigone in Greek or Thucydides’ dialogue at Melos). After some 20 years of teaching mostly minority youth Greek, Latin, and ancient history and literature in translation (1984-2004), I came to the unfortunate conclusion that ethnic studies, women studies—indeed, anything “studies”— were perhaps the fruits of some evil plot dreamed up by illiberal white separatists to ensure that poor minority students in the public schools and universities were offered only a third-rate education.

Thanks to Powerline for pointing out Professor Hanson's article.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning from History

I've been waiting for Dimitri to unload on the Obama/Lincoln/"Team of Rivals" meme. And now, God bless him, he has.

As for the illustration, your guess is as good as mine.

Secession Exploded

I have nothing to say about this illustration, except that the drawing style strikes me as extremely unusual for period. Here's the description:

This strongly anti-Confederate satire is a fantastical vision of the Union defeat of the secessionist movement. A hideous monster representing secession emerges from the water at left. He is hit by a charge from a mammoth cannon "Death to Traitors!" operated by Uncle Sam (right). A two-faced figure representing Baltimore, whose allegiance to the Union was at least questionable during the war, pulls at Uncle Sam's coattails. The explosion sends several small demons, representing the secessionist states, hurling through the air. Prominent among them is South Carolina, in a coffin at upper right. Tennessee and Kentucky, two Southern states internally divided over the secession question, are represented by two-headed creatures. Virginia, though part of the Confederacy, is also shown divided--probably an acknowledgment of the Appalachian and eastern regions' alignment with the Union. Among the demons is a small figure of Tennessee senator and 1860 presidential candidate John Bell, with a bell-shaped body. In the foreground is a large American flag on which Winfield Scott, commander of the Union forces, and a bald eagle rest. Despite the imprinted copyright date, the print, according to the inscription on the Library's impression, seems to have been registered for copyright on June 14 but not deposited until July 10, 1861.

The illustration is attributed to William Wiswell of Cincinnati.

In the News

My careful research (which consisted of looking at pictures of prior holders of the office on Wikipedia) discloses that George Woodward Wickersham appears to have been the last Attorney General who sported a mustache. For those of you who can't get enough, here's a later picture:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Act to provide for the Public Defence

At TOCWOC, Brett Schulte posted recently concerning an email he received from a reader concerning the creation of the Confederate Army. The e-mailer (is that a word?) had read that the Confederacy had authorized the creation of a 100,000 man army just two days after Lincoln’s inauguration as president:
I just finished reading a biography of Winfield Scott and ran across a piece of info I have never noted before. I went back through my somewhat extensive library and have taken part in a number of discussions about the origins of the Civil War, but no where have come across the fact that two days after Lincoln was inaugurated the Confederate govt called authorized [sic] an army of 100,000. This would be proposing the biggest army that had ever existed in the western hemisphere and was akin to the mobilization orders that began WWI. Why does this not get more notice?

Ah, the internet is a wonderful thing. All of the laws enacted by the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America are available online. On March 6, 1861, President Jefferson Davis did indeed sign into a law a bill, entitled An Act to provide for the Public Defence. The first section of the Act authorized Davis, as President, to accept up to 100,000 men into military service:
The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That in order to provide speedily forces to repel invasion, maintain the rightful possession of the Confederate States of America in every portion of territory belonging to each State, and to secure the public tranquility and independence against threatened assault, the President be, and he is hereby authorized to employ the militia, military and naval forces of the Confederate States of America, and to ask for and accept the services of any number of volunteers, not exceeding one hundred thousand, who may offer their services, either as cavalry, mounted riflemen, artillery or infantry, in such proportion of these several arms as he may deem expedient, to serve for twelve months after they shall be mustered into service, unless sooner discharged.

About the lithograph:
The Confederate leaders are portrayed as a band of competing opportunists led by South Carolina governor and secessionist Francis Pickens (far left). The artist criticizes the January 1861 secession of five states from the lower South, following the lead of South Carolina, which had formally declared its independence a month before. Armed with a whip and a pistol, Pickens sits on the back of a young slave, pronouncing, "South Carolina claims to be file leader and general whipper in of the new Confederacy, a special edict! Obey and tremble!" The other leaders are also armed. Pickens's tyranny is met by expressions of self-interest from the other confederates. The nature of these individual interests are conveyed pictorially and in the text. Leaders from Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia sit on bales of cotton, while Florida and Louisiana sit on a wrecked ship's hull and a barrel of sugar respectively. Florida (represented by a bearded man, possibly Stephen R. Mallory, senator and later secretary of the Confederate navy ): "We want it distinctly understood that all the lights on the Coast will be put out, in order to facilitate wrecking business." Alabama (William L. Yancey): "Alabama proclaims that Cotton is King,' and the rest of the Confederacy "must obey" that Sovereign. Mississippi (Jefferson Davis): "We came in, with the understanding that we shall issue bonds to an unlimited extent, with our ancient right of repudiation when they became due." Georgia (Governor Joseph E. Brown): "Georgia must have half the honors, and all the profits, or back she goes to old Pluribus Unum.'" Louisiana (a mustachioed man): "A heavy duty must be levied on foreign sweetening in order to make up for what we have sacrificed in leaving the Union, otherwise we shall be like a Pelican in the wilderness!'" Although Texas, which seceded on February 1, is not represented here, the print probably appeared at the time of the Montgomery convention in early February when the Confederate States of America was formed, but before Jefferson Davis assumed its presidency. Texas did not attend that convention.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"A Brute in human form"

Before they joined forces to oppose secession during the Winter of 1860-81, Democrat Andrew Johnson and Whig William G. Brownlow had been "[b]itter antagonists for twenty years."

You've got to admit, political invective isn't as creative as it used to be:

In Browlow's eyes, Johnson had long been "contemptible political prostitute," an "unprincipled knave," and a "disgrace to patriotic Tennessee." Johnson reciprocated in kind, labeling the Whig politico and newspaper editor a "vile miscreant," a "brute in human form," and a hypocritical liar.

Daniel W. Crofts, Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Late Colonial and Early National Juries

William E. Nelson’s groundbreaking Americanization of the Common Law: The Impact of Legal Change on Massachusetts Society, 1760-1830 was first published over thirty years ago. For me, at least, what was most stunning about the book was its description of the way in which juries functioned in the late colonial and early Republic periods. In particular, it was understood and expected that juries would determine both the facts and the law.

This meant that, as a practical matter, the power of colonial and state legislatures was extraordinarily weak. What mattered were customs of the local community, embodied in their juries. In effect, “jury nullification” was the norm:
[T]he law-finding power of juries meant that the representatives of local communities assembled as jurors generally had effective power to control the content of the province’s substantive law. Because of the power of juries, the legal system could not serve as an instrument for the enforcement of coherent social policies formulated by political authorities, either legislative or executive, whether in Boston or in local communities, when those policies were unacceptable to the men who happened to be serving on a particular jury.


The power of juries over the substance of the law, the restraints that the doctrine of precedent imposed on judges in their performance of their few law tasks, the lack of coercive power on the part of officials, and their liability to damage judgments at the hands of juries rendered formal institutions relatively weak. Officials were, in essence, incapable of exercising their coercive powers without the consent of the local communities they “governed.”


The antiauthoritarian response of the province’s legal system, which made it impossible for officials to act without the approval of local communities, apparently insured that officials would act on against people who violated community norms of morality and justice, while people who followed those norms would be safe and their rights and properties secure.

Over the past several years, Professor Nelson’s work has assumed increasing importance as other scholars have used it to explore diverse areas of legal and constitutional history.

One recent example is an article posted earlier this month on SSRN: Robert L. Jones, Finishing a Friendly Argument: The Jury and the Historical Origins of Diversity Jurisdiction. By way of background, Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution gave Congress the power to create “inferior” federal courts below the Supreme Court, but did not require Congress to do so (“The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”).

The First Congress promptly used this authorization to create federal trial courts, called District Courts, the major business of which was to try so-called “diversity” cases – that is, ordinary cases, involving state law issues, where the parties were citizens of different states, or one party was a foreign national. By way of example, if a New Yorker sued another New Yorker for breach of contract or theft of property, he had no choice but to bring that suit in state court. But if a Virginian, or a citizen of Britain, sued a New Yorker on such a claim, he had the option of bringing his suit in the newly-created federal trial court for the “District” of New York.

In his article, Professor Jones explores the question, Why did Congress bother? Why create a duplicative set of federal trial courts devoted largely to trying cases that state courts were already handling? Building on Professor Nelson’s findings, Professor Jones identifies the jury as the key to the puzzle. Federal legislators intent on creating a system of justice that gave greater weight to national interests presumably understood that the composition of jury panels was crucial. By establishing separate federal trial courts, local federal officials could manipulate the composition of federal juries in several ways.

First, unlike now, when jurors are summoned by lot, at the time federal marshals had the discretion to select just about anyone they wished. A federal marshal could therefore summon men he knew to be reliable Federalists who were sensitive to national interests. Professor Jones’s review of jurors summoned to the federal District Court in New York shows exactly this pattern. Leading men in the professional and business communities were summoned over and over again.

The other crucial element was geography. In state courts, trials were truly local affairs. Judges rode circuit from county to county. If a case involving a contract or a dispute over a parcel of land went to trial, the trial was held in the county where the contract was made or the land was situated. The jurors came from the same county. Their decision reflected (in Professor Nelson’s words) “community norms of morality and justice.”

In contrast, in most states the federal District Courts sat in only one (occasionally two) places. Typically, those locations were the leading business and financial centers. In New York, for example, the court sat in Manhattan (it also sat one time in Albany). That meant that the overwhelming percentage of jurors would come from Manhattan – even if the dispute involved a contract or land in the distant reaches of the state. As already noted, those Manhattan jurors tended to be the “better sort”, members of the merchant, financial and business community.

These devices could be extremely effective. Professor Jones cites as an example an extraordinary string of victories by out-of-state and British plaintiffs seeking to recover land in New York:
Between 1809 and 1815, the New York Circuit Court rendered judgments in approximately thirty-five ejectment suits. In all of these cases, diverse [that is, out-of-state] plaintiffs claimed title to the land and sought to eject a local inhabitant in an upstate county [including Broome, Cayuga, Cortland, Seneca, Tioga and Washington]. Twenty-six of the suits were brought by British heirs of Donald Fisher to eject landholders in upstate Washington County. The Fisher cases arose of the New York confiscation laws, which had redistributed the lands of loyalists during the Revolution.

Under New York law, all of these title disputes would have been tried in the counties where the land was located had they been litigated in state court. One can speculate whether a British heir to a loyalist would have been successful in dispossessing a local inhabitant had the case been tried before a jury composed exclusively of local farmers. The federal juries, however, were composed of Manhattan residents who were predominantly merchants. The Fisher plaintiffs succeeded in dispossessing the local inhabitants in every one of their federal cases. In fact, the judgment rolls reveal only one instance during this period where the federal jury found for the defendant in an ejectment case.

As a side note, did you ever wonder how federal authorities so successfully stacked the juries in the Sedition Act cases with Federalist jurors prepared to convict the defendants? Now you know.

Professor Nelson’s work has also gained new attention as the result of an article by Suja A. Thomas bearing the startling title Why Summary Judgment is Unconstitutional. For non-lawyers, summary judgment is a procedural device that defense lawyers use in civil cases (that is, non-criminal cases) to seek the dismissal of cases before they are presented to a jury. Under modern rules, if the relevant facts are undisputed, a judge is entitled to dismiss a case “as a matter of law” if the substantive law warrants it. For example, if a judge concludes that the wording of a written contract is unambiguous (not reasonably susceptible of more than one meaning), he may rule in favor of one party or the other. The jury is not involved.

Professor Thomas argues that the use of this procedure violates the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases (“In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”). When the Seventh Amendment was ratified, she argues, juries decided both the facts and the law; it was practically impossible to obtain dismissal of cases unless a jury decided to so rule, and there was certainly no procedure akin to modern-day summary judgment. Thus, the right to a jury trial included the right to have a jury decide virtually every case -- including cases that are now dismissed before trial today.

It is obviously impossible, in the context of an already-long blog entry, to evaluate Professor Thomas’s claim. However, it is worth noting that the University of Iowa recently held a symposium on the issue, with papers by both Professors Thomas and Nelson, among others.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Thought on the James Madison Problem

The best attempt to reconcile the federalist and Jeffersonian James Madison is Gordon Wood’s Is There a “James Madison Problem”? Unfortunately, that effort is only a fairly brief essay. The devil, however, is in the details. Consider, for example, the following from Ralph Ketcham’s biography:
In drafting the full financial plan submitted to [the Continental] Congress on March 6, 1783, Madison also included a provision that the debts of the states resulting from the “reasonable expenses” of war should in justice and equity be assumed by the general government.

Why, then, did Madison go crazy when Alexander Hamilton introduced just such an assumption of state debts plan seven years later?

On the other hand, I find another claimed inconsistency less compelling – or at least Ketcham’s description is confusing. Ketcham states:
In a plea that would haunt him seven years later, when he opposed Hamilton’s plan for funding the public debt, [Madison] rejected any discrimination between the various kinds of creditors; all had lent in good faith and any distinctions would be “equally unnecessary and invidious.”

It’s the “all had lent in good faith” language that has me confused. As I understand it, Madison did not object to Hamilton’s plan because it treated all original lenders equally. The heart of his objection was that the federal government should discriminate between original “lenders” and second-generation holders who had subsequently purchased notes and debts for less than their face amount.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Civil War between North and South would then have likely erupted"

Several weeks ago, I highlighted Mark J. Stegmaier’s discussion of the firm and statesmanlike leadership that President Millard Fillmore and his hand-picked Secretary of State Daniel Webster displayed in bringing about the Compromise of 1850. I thought I’d take one more post to emphasize how much was at stake.

Some commentators downplay the importance of the Compromise because they focus only on whether southern states would have been prepared to secede at that point if no compromise had been reached. But, as Professor Stegmaier points out, that is not where the true danger lay. The most serious threat to the Union lay in the possibility that a shooting war might have broken out between Texas and New Mexico. In that event, it is possible – and I would submit probable – that at least some of the Cotton South states would have lined up with Texas. As was the case eleven years later, mid-south and border-south states would have been forced to choose sides, unless the federal government simply allowed Texas to complete its invasion of New Mexico, and allowed the seceding states to go their own way.

Since Professor Stegmaier describes the potential consequences far better than I, I’ll let him speak for himself:
No great feats of imagination are required to contemplate the probable consequences of a failure to settle the issues of 1850 in a manner acceptable to great majorities in both North and South. . . . Texas . . . might have attempted to send a military force toward Santa Fe. A bloodletting could have occurred there, and, even though the Texans would have probably suffered defeat, the incident would probably have rallied the Southern states to aid Texas. Civil War between North and South would then have likely erupted.

I have posted before about my belief in the importance of hypotheticals and “what-ifs” in assessing historical events. Again, Professor Stegmaier makes the point most eloquently:
“Might-have-beens” and “what-ifs” are always dangerous for historians perhaps stretching too far, but some consideration of possible alternative outcomes can illuminate the significance of what did take place.

The description of the illustration is as follows:
A crudely drawn but complex satire mocking Zachary Taylor's military background and lack of political experience. Student Zachary Taylor, wearing a paper cap made out of the journal "The True Whig" is seated on a low stool at the feet of his more politically seasoned running mate Millard Fillmore. Taylor reads from a book "Congressional Debates 1848. Slavery . . .", and spells out "W-I-L-M-O-T: Wilmot, P-R-O-V-I-S-O: Proviso. What do I know about such political stuff. Ah! Wait until I get loose, Then you will see what fighting is!" A torn sheet marked "National Bank" lies at his feet. Fillmore, who reads from "The Glorious Whig Principles [by] Henry Clay," admonishes Taylor, "This will never do, you must forsake this course,--for our party is a peaceful and rightous sect--free from wickedness." Behind Fillmore are an open book cabinet, the Constitution, and a globe. This are in obvious contrast to the maps of "The Late War" and a broadsheet "The Life of Johnny Tyler" on the wall behind Taylor. At Taylor's knee sits a bloodhound with a collar marked "Florida," a reminder of Taylor's controversial use of bloodhounds in the Second Seminole War. To the right two black youths polish Taylor's weapons. The first, kneeling and wiping a pistol, says, "By golly! Massa Taylor like fighting better then him dinner." The other, cleaning a sword, claims, "Dis am de knife wot massa use to cut up de Mexijins wid." In the center of the floor are a group of toy soldiers and a cannon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Hurly-Burly Pot

Charles W. McCurdy's wonderful book, The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics 1839-1865 covers a dense and complex subject and, unfortunately, does not readily translate into blog entries. In lieu of a meaningful post, here instead is a contemporary illustration that alludes to the anti-rent movement.

The summary of the lithograph, produced in New York City in 1850, is as follows:
The artist attacks abolitionist, Free Soil, and other sectionalist interests of 1850 as dangers to the Union. He singles out for indictment radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Pennsylvania Free Soil advocate David Wilmot, New York journalist Horace Greeley, and Southern states' rights spokesman Senator John C. Calhoun. The three wear fool's caps and gather, like the witches in Shakespeare's "Macbeth," round a large, boiling cauldron, adding to it sacks marked "Free Soil," "Abolition," and "Fourierism" (added by Greeley, a vocal exponent of the doctrines of utopian socialist Charles Fourier). Sacks of "Treason," "Anti-Rent," and "Blue Laws" already simmer in the pot. Wilmot: "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble! / Boil, Free Soil, / Ther Union spoil; / Come grief and moan, / Peace be none. / Til we divided be!" Garrison: "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble / Abolition / Our condition / Shall be altered by / Niggars strong as goats / Cut your master's throats / Abolition boil! / We divide the spoil." Greeley: "Bubble, buble [sic], toil and trouble! / Fourierism / War and schism / Till disunion come!" In the background, stands the aging John Calhoun. He announces, "For success to the whole mixture, we invoke our great patron Saint Benedict Arnold." The latter rises from the fire under the pot, commending them, "Well done, good and faithful servants!"

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig

On Armistice Day, it seems appropriate to point out this article on a new biography of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig: Field Marshal Douglas Haig would have let Germany win, biography says:
The one constant belief has been in Haig’s unswerving pursuit of a final and complete victory. It is also inaccurate, Dr Harris said. In the final month of the war Haig “seemed to lose faith in his ability to conclusively defeat the German armies and thought it was necessary to offer them very moderate ceasefire terms followed by a moderate peace that may indeed have left Germany with many of its ill-gotten gains in Eastern Europe.” Haig did not even expect the Germans to disarm – they would be left with a full complement of weapons, including artillery.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Anti-Rent Era

Although I'm working on James Madison, I made the mistake of picking up Charles McCurdy's The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics 1839-1865 today. What a great, great book. Very dense -- I recommend it only if you're deeply interested in the era. But if you are, the book does an excellent job of immersing you in the politics and worldviews of Whigs and Democrats in a particular state, New York, and providing a close-up examination of the interaction between state and national political and economic developments.

Thanks, Sean!

About the illustration:
A satire on the Democrats' defeat in the fall [1838] New York state elections, here viewed as a referendum on Van Buren's independent treasury, or "Sub-treasury" system. A large ball labeled "Sub Treasury" is pushed down a hill by successful Whig gubernatorial candidate William H. Seward, who says, "A long push, a strong push, and a push all together, and down goes Tyranny and Oppression!" He is assisted by three other men whose arms are linked, one of whom holds a banner with the Whig motto "Preserve Credit and Commerce." Inside the ball is a sleeping Van Buren, who exclaims, "I must be dreaming, for it seems to me, I am going down hill!" The ball rolls onto New York Democratic incumbent governor William Marcy, wearing a uniform with a "50 cents" trouser patch (See "Executive Marcy and the Bambers," no. 1838-5), and several other men, including Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton. Benton cries, "Push Governor; or down you goes!" Another holds a flag with the words "Trades Union" and cries "Lord ha! Marcy upon us!" In the lower left a crowd of workingmen applaud the scene. Among them are a farmer, a seaman, and a driver or husbandman who waves his hat and says, "Huzza! for the Empire State, she has sent the Ball rolling back again, in double quick time!"

The Deep Ocean: A Ribbon of Life

I haven't mentioned TED in a while. What a great site. Here's David Gallo talking on "The deep ocean: a ribbon of life."

"Hens set"

I can't resist one more Isaac Bassett story, a wonderful little recollection about Senator Thomas Hart Benton:
Benton, he took a prominent part in the deliberation of the Senate. Few public measures were discussed that he did not participate in. He was distinguished for his iron will. As a public speaker, he was not interesting. Senator Benton was the author of the expunging resolution, which I was an [eye]witness to in the Senate. He was distinguished for his learning, he had a practical mind and a strong memory. As a public speaker he was not interesting, but his speeches were read with great interest and his influence was widely felt.

I remember on one occasion when I was quite a boy, he wanted to see a friend who was on the floor of the Senate and requested me to find him. I found him and pointed him out on one of the sofas. I made use of the word “setting,” instead of “sitting.” He stopped and put his hand on my head and said, “My boy, don’t say that again, hens set.”

About the illustration:
A caricature of Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, as an insect rolling a large ball "Expunging Resolution" uphill toward the Capitol. The print employs Benton's own metaphor of rolling a ball for his uphill campaign to have a March 1834 Senate censure of then-President Andrew Jackson stricken from the Senate journal. The censure had condemned Jackson's removal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States as exceeding the President's constitutional power. In the cartoon Benton says, "Solitary and alone and amidst the jeers and taunts of my opponents I put this Ball in motion." The quotation comes from Benton's 1834 speech given in the Senate, stating his intention to move to expunge the censure. Benton's campaign earned him scorn from the opposition and, initially, little support from friends of the administration. But his resolution was finally passed in January 1837. The cartoon must have appeared shortly after the successful vote, for the ball is inscribed with a "List of the Black Knights," which names the twenty-four senators who voted for the resolution.
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