Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Margaret ("Peggy") O'Neill Eaton 2

She is as chaste as a virgin!

Andrew Jackson

Age cannot wither nor time stale her infinite virginity.

Henry Clay

Margaret ("Peggy") O'Neill Eaton

[T]he political history of the United States, for the last thirty years, dates from the moment when the soft hand of Mr. Van Buren touched Mrs. Eaton's knocker.

James Parton, Life of Jackson (1860).

Monday, January 28, 2008


According to to Daniel Walker Howe, the "Quincy" of "John Quincy Adams" is "pronounced 'Quinzy.'"

I'm stunned. C'mon, be honest. Did you know that?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sean Wilentz Has Lost His Mind . . . Again

Remember this? Now consider this:
Historians cannot expect all politicians and their supporters to know as much about American history as, say, John F. Kennedy, who won the Pulitzer Prize for a work of history.

I'm glad we cleared that up.

Does the man not realize he's making a laughingstock out of himself?

"First They Came for Piglet"

You've got to hand it to Mark Steyn. I happen to agree with most of what he says, but putting that aside (although it's hard to do), the fact is that is that he's a superb writer with a brilliant ear for the absurd. I often find myself laughing out loud reading his columns.

In his latest production, for example, he discusses Britain's ludicrous decision to refer to Islamic terrorism as "anti-Islamic activity." After all, "'There is nothing Islamic about the wish to terrorize, nothing Islamic about plotting murder, pain and grief,' [British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith] told her audience. 'Indeed, if anything, these actions are anti-Islamic.'”

Concerning which Mr. Steyn gently observes:
Well, yes, one sort of sees what she means. Killing thousands of people in Manhattan skyscrapers in the name of Islam does, among a certain narrow-minded type of person, give Islam a bad name, and thus could be said to be “anti-Islamic” — in the same way that the Luftwaffe raining down death and destruction on Londoners during the Blitz was an “anti-German activity.” But I don’t recall even Neville Chamberlain explaining, as if to a five-year-old, that there is nothing German about the wish to terrorize and invade, and that this is entirely at odds with the core German values of sitting around eating huge sausages in beer gardens while wearing lederhosen.


Around Christmas, my sister and her husband became the proud parents of of an American Mastiff puppy, on whom they bestowed the name Augustus, a/k/a "Augie." Here he is at about 11 weeks.

What they say about the breed appears to be true. Augie is going to be huge. His father reportedly weighs 185 pounds. Augie is growing by leaps and bounds, and his paws are still much bigger than his body. But he's extremely gentle and good natured, licks up a storm if offered the opportunity, and seems to be taking well to training. In short, he's a doll.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rifles at Thirty Yards!

While I was writing the last post, I read (and linked to) the Wikipedia entry on William M. Gwin, a southerner who transplanted to California and became one of that state's first two senators.

The entry includes a description of an event that I can't help but share:
Gwin had a duel with Congressman Joseph McCorkle with rifles at thirty yards following an argument over his alleged mismanagement of federal patronage: Shots were fired by both men but only a donkey some distance off was shot dead.

I can't figure out what stuns me more: that two guys decided to duel with rifles at thirty yards, or that they both shot and missed.

"Let all the disorderly be taken out"

One of the great things about the internet for history lovers is that so much original material is readily accessible. I am, for example, reading Holman Hamilton's Prologue to Conflict, on the Compromise of 1850. After reading about Henry Clay's February 5 - 6, 1850 speech in support of his compromise resolutions, I decided to find it. A few clicks later, and there it is!

Sometimes the little things are the most interesting. Even from the dry transcript, as reported in the Congressional Globe, one gets a sense of the nervous anticipation that accompanied Senator Clay's speech. The Senate Chamber and galleries were packed. People were so eager to be present that they assembled in the hallways leading to the chamber and in adjacent rooms, where they could not hear. Inevitably, disruption ensued as people jostled and, I would guess, whispered to other and relayed to those outside that the speech was beginning.

Perhaps a minute into the speech, the disruptions became so pronounced that Clay was forced to stop so that order could be restored:
Mr. CLAY. . . . But what have we seen during this very session? One whole week -- I think it was an entire week -- exhausted in the vain endeavor to elect a Doorkeeper of the House!

[Much confusion prevailed in the lobbies and the avenues leading to the Senate chamber.]

Mr. CASS. Will the honorable Senator pause a few moments, until order is restored here?

The VICE PRESIDENT. The Sergeant-at-Arms will see that the avenues to the galleries and this chamber are closed, and that a sufficient number withdraw from them to give room for those who are in, and to restore order.

Mr. FOOTE. Let all the disorderly be taken out.

Mr. BADGER. There are persons in the ante-rooms that, because they cannot hear themselves, will not let others hear. I would suggest the propriety of extending the order to their case also.

Mr. CASS. Is the Sergeant-at-Arms in the chamber.

The VICE PRESIDENT. He is discharging his duty in restoring order.

Mr. BADGER. Let the ante-rooms be entirely closed.

Order having at length been restored,

Mr. CLAY continued. . . .

Henry Clay's speech was captured in a famous lithograph (above). In the version below, I have added numbers that correspond to the list below, identifying some of the senators:

1. Henry Clay (Whig, KY)
2. Daniel Webster (Whig, MA)
3. Thomas Hart Benton (Dem., MO)
4. Lewis Cass (Dem., MI)
5. William Seward (Whig, NY)
6. Vice President Millard Fillmore (Whig, NY)
7. William L. Dayton (Whig, NJ)
8. William M. Gwin (Dem., CA)
9. John Caldwell Calhoun (Dem., SC)
10. James A. Pearce (Whig, MD)
11. Robert F. Stockton (Dem., NJ)
12. Henry S. Foote (Dem., MS)
13. Stephen A. Douglas (Dem., IL)
14. Pierre Soule (Dem., LA)
15. Truman Smith (Whig, CT)
16. Salmon P. Chase (Free Soil, OH)
17. William R. King (Dem., AL)
18. John Bell (Whig, TN)
19. James M. Mason (Dem., VA)
20. James Cooper (Whig, PA)
21. Willie P. Mangum (Whig, NC)
22. Sam Houston (Dem., TX)

I obtained the list of names from this webpage. You will need to scroll down about one-third of the way.

Presumably, Gwin was present as an interested observer, California not yet having been admitted as a state. He took his seat on September 10, 1850.

The presence of Robert F. Stockton is something of a mystery. Although I have listed him as a Senator, he was not at the time. According to his Congressional biography, Stockton did not begin his service in the Senate until March 4, 1851 -- more than a year after Clay delivered his speech. Although a native of New Jersey, he had close contacts with California. Stockton served in the navy, rising to the title of Commodore. He was responsible for the Pacific coast, fought in battles in California during the Mexican War, and became the first military governor of California. (The city of Stockton, California is named after him.) By 1850, he was back in the East. It is possible that his stature and connections with California earned him a front row seat in the Senate chamber.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"What is to be done? O my God, I don't know; but something must be done!"

Thomas Ritchie of Virginia was an Old Republican and a leader of the Richmond Junto. He purchased the Richmond Enquirer in 1804 and published and edited that paper for forty years.

Robert Pierce Forbes quotes the following editorial, published January 7, 1832. It is simply astounding. You can figure out the topic:
Are we forever to suffer the greatest evil which can scourge our land, not only to remain but to increase in its domains? . . . We may shut our eyes and avert our faces, if you please . . . but there it is, the black and gnawing evil at our doors – and meet the question we must at no distant day. God only knows what is the part of wise men to do on that momentous and appalling subject. Of this I am sure, that the difference, nothing short of frightful – between all that exists on one side of the Potomac and all on the other side, is owing to that cause alone. The disease is deep rooted – it is at the heart’s core – it is consuming, and has all along been consuming our vitals, and I would laugh, if I could laugh at such a subject, of the ignorance and folly of politicians who ascribe that to an act of government which is the inevitable effect of the eternal laws of nature. What is to be done? O my God, I don’t know; but something must be done!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jefferson Cries Wolf In the Night? 1

In his new book, The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath: Slavery and the Meaning of America, Robert Pierce Forbes intriguingly suggests that Jefferson’s famous “fire bell in night” comment was, let us say, a bit disingenuous. Particularly since I'm no Jefferson fan, I thought I'd spend a few posts laying out the argument.

Although the letter is readily available elsewhere, it probably makes it easier to have it in front of us. The letter is dated April 22, 1820 – about seven weeks after the resolution of the first Missouri Crisis – and is addressed to one John Holmes (we’ll return to him later). Here is the body. I have added additional paragraph breaks for readability, but I have not changed spelling, capitalization or punctuation:
I thank you, Dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on the Missouri question. it is a perfect justification to them.

I had for a long time ceased to read the newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant. but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once concieved and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.

I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. the cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.

of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one state to another would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation, by dividing the burthen on a greater number of co-adjutors. an abstinence too from this act of power would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress, to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state. this certainly is the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government. could congress, for example say that the Non-freemen of Connecticut, shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other state?

I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of ‘76. to acquire self government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it. if they would but dispassionately weigh the blessings they will throw away against an abstract principle more likely to be effected by union than by scission, they would pause before they would perpetrate this act of suicide on themselves and of treason against the hopes of the world.

to yourself as the faithful advocate of union I tender the offering of my high esteem and respect.

In the next post, we’ll look at some of the preliminary clues: the date, the recipient, and the context.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rest Easy, Mr. Whitney

The common conception is that Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 came as a bolt from the blue that changed history. It ignited, so the story goes, an explosion of cotton production in the United States, allowing short-staple cotton cultivation to spread inland and across the South. In the darker version of the tale, Whitney’s invention was responsible for the reinvigoration of the otherwise dying institution of slavery, condemning millions to untold misery for additional decades, and even indirectly caused the Civil War.

The only problem with the story is that it isn’t true. In Slavery and American Economic Development, economic historian Gavin Wright terms the claim that Whitney was responsible for the cotton explosion “a storybook formula hardy enough to have survived fresh debunking in every generation.”

The tremendous growth in cotton production around the turn of the 19th Century, according to Wright, “was largely driven by demand.” Beginning in about 1785, British demand for raw cotton began escalating due to technological breakthroughs. Assisted by the elimination of St. Domingue, the largest supplier, as a source in 1792, the price of cotton rose dramatically, and the profits of mainland cotton planters soared.

This, in turn, generated intensive interest in the ginning problem and related issues, such as the development of hardier, disease resistant varieties of cotton. Whitney was only one of many working on the ginning problem:
Whitney was far from the first to build a machine for separating cotton seeds from the fiber. Roller gins invented in the Bahamas were used on all types of mainland cotton as early as 1791, and improved roller gins coexisted with Whitney’s and even extended their market for another thirty years before ultimately losing out.

True, Whitney’s version was “a genuine innovation” that enhanced speed, “though at some cost in fiber quality.” Even so,
it was only after improvements provided by subsequent machinists that the variant known as the “saw gin” achieved general acceptance from planters. The transition stretched into the 1820s and entailed mutual adaptations among growers, gin makers, and the textile industry – much more an illustration of interactive diffusion than an example of a great invention that reshaped history.

I guess Eli Whitney didn't start the Civil War after all.

It Can't Happen Here?

The publisher of the Calgary, Alberta, Canada Western Standard, Ezra Levant, was hauled before the Alberta Civil Rights Commission for a hearing on whether he had committed a crime by publishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons. Levant has posted at You Tube a series of four (so far) video excerpts from the hearing. I have embedded Part 1 above. Parts 2 through 4 are here, here and here.

Levant's defense of his right of freedom of speech is articulate, impassioned and compelling. If you want to understand why creeping governmental dhimmitude and pandering to radical Islam is the greatest threat to our freedoms today, watch these videos. Mark Steyn is next.

Nor is the US immune. As one example, consider the actions of officials at San Francisco State University, who put "the College Republicans on trial . . . for hosting an anti-terrorism rally at which participants stepped on makeshift Hezbollah and Hamas flags. University officials . . . alleged that the students desecrated the name of Allah, which is written on both flags in Arabic script." Only after strenuous efforts by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and others were the students acquitted. You may be confident that the enemies of free speech and Western values are continuing their efforts. Just take a look at FIRE's Speech Codes of the Month page.

All of which reminded me of Frank Zappa:

Thanks to Little Green Footballs, which posted about the videos here and here.


Mark Steyn's thoughts are here and here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Guns and Alcohol

In Pistols, Crime and Public Safety in Early America, Clayton Cramer and Joseph Olson look at the meaning of the term “arms” in the Second Amendment. Although this sounds dry, the essay is in fact quite entertaining, since the authors spend most of the article exploring the history and use of pistols and handguns in colonial and early independent America. They establish that pistols were in common use, both as militia weapons and by civilians, who often carried multiple pistols, sometimes concealed. They were used in crimes, and accidents inevitably resulted, witness this grisly report from an 1845 issue of the National Enquirer Pennsylvania Gazette:
Monday Evening last a very melancholy Accident happen’d in this City, when a young Gentleman having been on board the Clinton Privateer, then going out, had a Pair of Pistols given to him; which on his coming on Shore he carried into a Publick House, among some of his Acquaintance, where one of them was found to be loaded [presumably referring to the pistols, although some of the Acquaintances may have been loaded as well]; upon which several Attempts were made to discharge it; but it missing Fire, he sat down in order to amend the Flint; in doing which, the Pistol unhappily went off, and shot Mr. Thomas Cox, Butcher, through the head, in such a Manner that some of his Brains came out, and he fell down dead without speaking a Word.

Apparently even in 1845, guns and alcohol did not mix.

David Potter on Causes of the Civil War

I was browsing at the Strand several weeks ago when I ran across an old book of essays by David M. Potter. On the theory that David Potter can do no wrong, I grabbed it. I’m glad I did.

The third essay in the volume, entitled “The Historian’s Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa,” is outstanding. Some excerpts:
To explain an antagonism which sprang up suddenly, and died down suddenly, the historian does not need to discover, and cannot effectively use, a factor which has been constant over a long period, as the cultural difference between the North and the South has been. He needs to identify a factor which can cause bitter disagreement even among a people who have much basic homogeneity. No factor, I would suggest, will meet this need better than the feeling, widespread in the 1850’s in the South, that the South’s vital interests were being jeopardized, and the region was being exposed to the dangers of a slave insurrection, as a result of the hostility of antislavery men in the North. Applied to the sectional crisis, such a view of the sources of friction would make possible the explanation of the Civil War, without making impossible the explanation of the rapid return to union after the war. No cultural explanation will do this.

* * *

Insofar as it is sound to regard the equilibration of interests as a condition necessary to nationalism, it follows that the American Civil War must be interpreted less in terms of antitheses and dissimilarities between North and South, and more in terms of the prolonged sequence of interest conflicts which crystallized along sectional lines. Southerners became progressively more alienated as they became more convinced, first, that the Union was sacrificing their economic welfare by its tariff policy; later, that it was denying them parity in the process of national expansion; and finally, that it was condoning the activities of men who would loose a slave insurrection upon them and expose them to possible butchery.

* * *

If the adjustment of conflicting interests rather than the elimination of cultural differences is in this instance the key to perpetuation of national unity, and if an equilibrium of power is the condition most favorable to the adjustment of conflicting interests, then the historian has an explanation for the seeming paradox that the crisis of American nationalism came not when regional diversity was greatest, but after many common denominators between the sections had developed and had substantially increased the measure of cultural uniformity. He has also a key to the anomalous fact that from 1787 to 1861 national growth always seemed to endanger national unity: it upset the equation between North and South by introducing new factors of power which potentially jeopardized sectional interests that had previously seemed to be in balance.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Millard Fillmore, Fulcrum of History

About a week a ago, in anticipation of Millard Fillmore’s birthday, I published a post discussing the crucial impact he had on securing the passage of the Compromise of 1850.

By coincidence I have just acquired Holman Hamilton’s recently republished
Prologue to Conflict: The Crisis & Compromise of 1850. In his introduction, Michael F. Holt succinctly restates how crucial a role Fillmore played. Holt comes pretty close to saying that that the Compromise would not have been achieved if Zachary Taylor had lived:
[P]erhaps because of his loyalty to Taylor and convictions about the superiority of Taylor’s approach, Hamilton unduly minimizes the pivotal role that the new president Millard Fillmore and his secretary of state Daniel Webster played in securing passage of the Compromise after Taylor’s death on July 9, 1850. Their intervention into the Senate debate with special messages on August 6 decisively shifted the legislative agenda from California statehood, which Douglas had hoped to take up first, to resolution of the Texas-New Mexico boundary dispute, thus greatly facilitating passage of the compromise measures. Both Fillmore and Webster, moreover, exerted great pressure on northern Whigs in the House to support the Compromise, and their pressure resulted in voting patterns that would have been impossible had President Taylor still been alive.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part X

In assessing Millard Fillmore’s 1855-56 candidacy, several conclusions stand out.

First, he sought and accepted the nomination of the National Americans for the best of reasons – reasons having nothing to do with the original nativist agenda of KNs. Both Michael Holt and Tyler Anbinder are unequivocal on the point: Fillmore was convinced that the safety of the Union required locating a non-sectional, pro-Union party; the alternative was increasing sectional animosity, leading to disunion and civil war. The Know Nothings were simply the vehicle that Fillmore believed he had to use to accomplish that goal.

It is entirely reasonable to question or criticize Fillmore’s implicit decision to value the concept of Union more highly than moral qualms over slavery. In this respect, it might be said, he was simply another doughface and no better than the victor in that election, James Buchanan. On the hand, it is fair to observe that in 1855-56 most members of the coalescing Republican party were not acting out of concern for black slaves either. Many hated the Slave Power because of its perceived domination of the North; many others despised slavery because it degraded free, white labor and were seeking to prevent the spread of slavery to preserve the territories for free white men. Virtually no one was proposing to abolish slavery in the southern states.

Second, Fillmore’s few statements in support of the original, nativist principles of the Americans were remarkably bland. The name “Know Nothings” typically conjures up lurid images of rabble-rousing demagogues violently denouncing whiskey-soaked Irishmen and beer-swilling Germans and urging their brutish followers to ransack churches and hunt down imaginary Popish plotters in the streets. I have quoted at length the statements that Fillmore made precisely so that you can see for yourself that his campaign bore no resemblance to such stereotypes. It is fair to say that Fillmore said the bare minimum – or less than the minimum – necessary to justify his credentials as the American nominee. When he did speak, he eschewed ethnic or religious slurs and focused largely on the need to educate immigrants in the ways of democracy.

Would I have preferred Fillmore to have chosen a vehicle other than the Know Nothings for his unsuccessful run? Sure. But even (or especially) from this distance, it is hard to see what other choice Fillmore, and other men of his persuasion, had in the mid-1850s. History is not foreordained. If events such as the Sack of Lawrence and the caning of Sumner had not driven more and more northerners – including former Know Nothings – into the arms of the Republicans during the course of 1856, perhaps Fillmore and his allies might have succeeded in their quest to transform the Americans into a credible, cross-sectional, pro-Union party, jettisoning most of the Americans’ nativist baggage in the process. Millard Fillmore could not know that events would betray him; at least he tried.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Cause vs. Motivation 3

But it is by no means certain historically that the participants in a war necessarily understand why they fight, nor that the conscious objectives of belligerents are an adequate measure of the historical meaning of a war.

David M. Potter, “The Literature on the Background of the Civil War,” in The South and the Sectional Conflict (Louisiana State University Press 1968), at 105.

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part IX

The focus of Fillmore’s campaign was so clearly on Unionism – and not on nativism – that he never did dispel the concerns of many about his lack of commitment to Americanism. Ironically, a number of KNs expressed the belief that he was not even the strongest pro-native candidate in the field: despite (false) rumors that Republican candidate John C. Fremont was a Catholic, and although the Republicans had reneged on their commitment to nominate a KN as their vice presidential candidate, some KNs opined that Fremont was more likely than Fillmore to champion key portions of the American agenda. As Tyler Anbinder has explained:
North Americans [KNs from the north who had bolted the national party over slavery] also believed that once the slavery issue was settled, Fremont would be more responsive than Fillmore to the Order’s nativist agenda. Nativist newspapers throughout the North reported that Fremont had assured Know Nothing leaders of his sympathy with their movement. In a comparison they portrayed Fillmore as a “parlor Know Nothing” who had never attended a lodge meeting and who had accepted membership in the Order merely to gain the American party’s nomination. As a result, said North Americans, nativists would find Fillmore “less disposed to carry out the great principles of the American party than Col. Fremont will be.” . . . Veteran Massachusetts nativist Jonathan Peirce stated privately that if Fremont “is elected no aliens or Roman Catholics will be retained in office.” Even the Catholic Bishop of Buffalo believed that the Republicans had replaced the Americans as the most anti-Catholic political party.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part VIII

Millard Fillmore arrived back in New York harbor at the end of June 1856. His backers arranged for a series of dinners and events to celebrate his return as he traveled from New York City to his home in Buffalo, at which he could deliver impromptu remarks without violating the conventions of the period.

The speeches that Fillmore delivered along the way centered on the preservation of the Union, not on immigrants or Catholics. In the words of Tyler Anbinder, they “revealed how sharply the goals of the American party differed from those espoused during” 1854 and early 1855:
Instead of criticizing the political power of Catholics and immigrants, Fillmore attacked those who disturbed the harmony of the Union. He condemned “the present agitation” of the slavery issue, “which distracts the country and threatens us with civil war,” and insisted that these conditions had been “recklessly and wantonly produced” by the adoption of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Although the Democrats had initiated the crisis, Fillmore blamed the Republicans for the persistence of the sectional hostility . . .. Fillmore promised that the American party would restore sectional harmony by favoring neither North nor South, insisting that “I know only my country, my whole country, and nothing but my country.”

This is not to say that Fillmore ignored nativism entirely. Given the persistent doubts about his commitment to the cause, he could not afford to do so. Solomon Haven warned Fillmore that he needed to make statements that were “strong[ly] American, and a little Protestant.” To satisfy this requirement, Fillmore typically made brief endorsements of “Americanism.” His most detailed statement on the subject appears to have taken place during remarks in Newburgh, New York, in which he asserted that
Americans should govern America. I regret to say that men who come fresh from the monarchies of the old world, are prepared neither by education, habits of thought, or knowledge of our institutions, to govern America. The failure of every attempt to establish free government in Europe, is demonstrative of this fact; and if we value the blessings which Providence has so bounteously showered upon us, it becomes every American to stand by the Constitution and the laws of his country, and to resolve that, independent of all foreign influence, Americans will and shall rule America.

Again, at least to this sympathetic auditor, this is pretty tame stuff. KNs had advocated increasing the naturalization period from five to twenty-one years or more. Fillmore’s speech pointedly failed to endorse even this requirement. So far as one can tell, the existing five-year period might be sufficient to inculcate the values of democracy in “men who come fresh from the monarchies of the old world.” Certainly, neither the Constitution nor the existing laws required more. Likewise, there was no mention of Catholicism or Popish plots. A skeptic might even point out that Ireland was omitted entirely, since it was not really a “monarchy” (unless England was).

Monday, January 07, 2008

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part VII

Millard Fillmore sailed for Europe in May 1855, having made a single statement designed to ingratiate himself with Know Nothings, and did not return to the United States until June 1856.

In his absence, a Know Nothing convention nominated him for the presidency at the end of February 1856. From the very outset, many Know Nothings expressed doubts about Fillmore’s commitment to the American cause. Tyler Anbinder cites complaints by the Albany State Register (February 29, 1856), the Jamestown [NY] Journal (March 7, 1856), and the Steubenville True American (March 5, 1856). Also in early March 1856, Thomas Ford, an Ohio Know Nothing leader, urged Ohio KNs to renounce Fillmore’s nomination.

Such condemnations generated rumors that Fillmore would decline the nomination. Solomon Haven and others therefore urged Fillmore to accept as soon as possible. Fillmore did so by letter from Paris dated May 21, 1856, addressed to Alexander H.H. Stuart and other members of the National Americans’ executive committee.

To placate concerns about his bona fides, Fillmore’s letter included endorsements of the party and its platform. But what is most remarkable about the letter is how frank Fillmore was in describing his priorities and reasons for doing so. The KNs, Fillmore asserted, were the only political organization that had the power to silence the “violent and disastrous agitation” between the sections -- sectional divisions could lead to disunion. It was for this reason that Fillmore, and “every earnest friend of the integrity of the Union,” was compelled to embrace the National Americans:

As the proceedings of the Convention have marked a new era in the history of the country, by bringing a new political organization into the approaching presidential canvass, I take occasion to reaffirm my full confidence in the patriotic purpose of that organization, which I regard as springing out of the public necessity forced upon the country to a large extent by unfortunate sectional divisions, and the dangerous tendency of those divisions towards disunion.

It alone, in my opinion, of all the political agencies now existing, is possessed of the power to silence this violent and disastrous agitation, and restore harmony by its own example of moderation and forbearance. It has a claim, therefore, in my judgment, upon every earnest friend of the integrity of the Union.

So estimating this party, both in its present position and future destiny, I freely adopt its great leading principles, as announced in the recent declaration of the National Council in Philadelphia, a copy of which you were so kind as to enclose to me, holding them to be just and liberal to every true interest of the country, and wisely adapted to the establishment and support of an enlightened, safe, and effective American policy, in full accord with the ideas and the hopes of the fathers of our Republic.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

How Unusual?

SCOTUS Blog reported Friday that the Supremes have accepted a noteworthy Eighth Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment) case. The question presented in the case, captioned Kennedy v. Louisiana, is "Whether the Eighth Amendment bar on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits capital punishment for the crime of child rape." To see why the case may "put[] the Court's liberals and swing vote Justice Kennedy to the test to see if they actually mean what they say," check out the Crank's great post, Take This Evolving National Consensus and Shove It. See also here.

It's no secret that the Supremes' Eighth Amendment jurisprudence is a car wreck that needs to be scrapped. They might start by taking a look at this interesting article: The Original Meaning of "Unusual": The Eighth Amendment as a Bar to Cruel Innovation.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President, One Day Early

Millard Fillmore was born two hundred eight years ago tomorrow, January 7, 1800.

On March 30, 1853, as he was leaving the White House, Fillmore's wife of thirty years, Abigail, died. A little over a year later, on July 26, 1854, the former president's twenty-two year old daughter, Mary Abigail, died unexpectedly of cholera.

Fillmore was utterly devastated. Here is how he expressed it in an August 11, 1854 letter to President Franklin Pierce, in response to a letter of condolence that Pierce (to his credit) sent his predecessor:
Your kind letter of condolence of the 3d inst has just reached me here. That you should have remembered me in my sorrows amid the anxieties incident to the closing of a long session of Congress shews the deep sympathy of your breast, and can not be otherwise than grateful to my bleeding heart.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

"The First Major Study in Fifty Years . . ."?

This book looks quite interesting, but I do wonder about the book description (I assume it's the publisher's) as quoted by Amazon:
When Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 prompted several Southern states to secede, the North was sharply divided over how to respond. In this groundbreaking book, the first major study in over fifty years of how the North handled the secession crisis, Russell McClintock follows the decision-making process from bitter partisan rancor to consensus.

From small towns to big cities and from state capitals to Washington, D.C., McClintock highlights individuals both powerful and obscure to demonstrate the ways ordinary citizens, party activists, state officials, and national leaders interacted to influence the Northern response to what was essentially a political crisis. He argues that although Northerners' reactions to Southern secession were understood and expressed through partisan newspapers and officials, the decision fell into the hands of an ever-smaller handful of people until finally it was Abraham Lincoln alone who would choose whether the future of the American republic was to be determined through peace or a sword.

Lincoln and the Decision for War illuminates the immediate origins of the Civil War, demonstrating that Northern thought evolved quite significantly as the crisis unfolded. It also provides an intimate understanding of the antebellum political system as well as Lincoln's political acuity in his early presidential career.

Can the highlighted clause possibly be correct?

Credit to Brian Dirck for pointing the book out.

Millard Fillmore, Decisive Strategist

As the president's birthday approaches, let's take a break from his later career and examine briefly one of his masterstrokes as president.

On July 31, 1850, the Omnibus Bill that had been the centerpiece of Henry Clay's compromise plan collapsed in ruins. It was Millard Fillmore -- who had been president for less than a month -- who picked up the pieces.

At Fillmore's urging, on August 5 Senator James Pearce of Maryland introduced a new bill that among other things set new boundaries for Texas -- the boundaries it inhabits today -- together with new terms of compensation. The following day, August 6, the president sent Congress a special message on Texas. As Michael Holt explains, "[t]he message that Fillmore and Webster concocted was a political masterstroke."
Fillmore declared that the boundary dispute was . . . between the United States government and the the state of Texas. By terms of the treaty of 1848 [with Mexico] the area claimed by Texas belonged to the United States, and Fillmore was sworn to protect it by his oath of office. If Texas militia invaded United States territory by marching on Santa Fe, they would "become at that moment trespassers . . . [without] any lawful authority, and . . . intruders." In such an event, Fillmore would have no choice but to use his ample constitutional authority to call up the militia and the regular army to repel Texas' aggression.

Fillmore's firm stand "accomplished the seemingly impossible." By defying the Texans while at the same time proposing fair compensation to them, he both placated northern critics and gained the approval of southerners seeking settlement. Just three days later, on August 9, the bill easily passed the Senate, 30-20.

Thereafter, "[d]ebate in the Senate remained abrasive, but passage of the Texas bill allowed easy enactment of the other compromise measures." The series of bills that we know as the Compromise of 1850 was ultimately passed by the House and signed into law by the president.

"Millard Fillmore exulted over the final passage of the compromise bills," Holt observed, "[a]s well he might." Displaying decisiveness, bold leadership and an outstanding strategic eye, he helped the forces of compromise snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part VI

One of Millard Fillmore’s problems in seeking the presidential nomination of the Know Nothings and, later, their votes was the fact that he had absolutely no record as a nativist. Under the circumstances, it is remarkable how little he was willing to say to establish his credentials.

As I noted in the last post, Fillmore joined a KN lodge in late January 1855 and sailed for Europe in May. It appears that, before he left, the only action that Fillmore took to establish his nativist credentials (other than to join a KN lodge) was to write a single letter containing some mildly pro-American rhetoric.

The letter in question, dated January 3, 1855, was sent to Isaac Newton, a Philadelphia Know Nothing and former Whig. According to Michael Holt, “Fillmore instructed Newton to circulate it among Pennsylvania’s Know Nothings, but he insisted that the letter must not be published.”

Fillmore’s daughter, Mary Abigail, had died on July 26, 1854. Six months later, Fillmore related to Newton that he had been too depressed to follow the Fall campaigns closely, although he had “giv[en] a silent vote for Mr. Ullman for Governor,” referring to Daniel Ullman, the Know Nothing candidate for governor of New York in 1854. Fillmore then continued (as usual, I am adding paragraph breaks for readability):
I have for a long time looked with dread and apprehension at the corrupting influence which the contest for the foreign vote is exciting upon our elections. This seems to result from its being banded together, and subject to the control of a few interested and selfish leaders. Hence, it has been a subject of bargain and sale, and each of the great political parties of the country have been bidding to obtain it; and, as usual in all such contests, the party which is most corrupt is most successful.

The consequence is, that it is fast demoralizing the whole country; corrupting the ballot-box – that great palladium of our liberty – into an unmeaning mockery, where the rights of native-born citizens are voted away by those who blindly follow their mercenary and selfish leaders. The evidence of this is found not merely in the shameless chaffering of the foreign vote at every election, but in the large disproportion of offices which are now held by foreigners, at home and abroad, as compared with our native citizens. Where is the true-hearted American whose cheek does not tingle with shame and mortification, to see our highest and most coveted foreign missions filled by men of foreign birth, to the exclusion of the native born? Such appointments are a humiliating confession to the crowned heads of Europe, that a Republican soil does not produce sufficient talent to represent a Republican nation at a monarchial court.

I confess that it seems to me, with all due respect to others, that, as a general rule, our country should be governed by American-born citizens. Let us give to the oppressed of every country an asylum and a home in our happy land; give to all the benefits of equal laws and equal protection; but let us at the same time cherish as the apple of our eye the great principles of constitutional liberty, which few who have not had the good fortune to be reared in a free country know how to appreciate, and still less how to preserve.

Washington, in that inestimable legacy which he left to his country – his Farewell Address – has wisely warned us to beware of foreign influence as the most baneful foe of a republican government. He saw it, to be sure, in a different light from that in which it now presents itself; but he knew that it would approach in all forms, and hence he cautioned us against the insidious wiles of its influence.

Therefore, as well for our own sakes, to whom this invaluable inheritance of self government has been left by our forefathers, as for the sake of the unborn millions who are to inherit this land – foreign and native – let us take warning of the Father of his Country, and do what we can to preserve our institutions from corruption, and our country from dishonor; and let this be done by the people themselves in their sovereign capacity, by making a proper discrimination in the selection of officers, and not by depriving any individual, native or foreign-born, of any constitutional or legal right to which he is now entitled.

Pretty tame stuff, if you ask me, for a man seeking the presidential nomination of a nativist party, particularly given the overheated political rhetoric routinely used during the period.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Pocket Veto

Here is a very nice post on the pocket veto, inspired by President Bush's recent veto of H.R. 1585. Hat tip to Ethan Leib at Volokh.

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part V

Millard Fillmore had to overcome a number of qualms before deciding to embrace and attempt to infiltrate the KN organization. First, Fillmore was repelled by its structure, which resembled that of a secret society. When Fillmore had first entered politics in 1828, he had done so as a member of the Anti-Masonic party. That party was born of strong feelings against the Masons, a fraternal organization that was perceived to be a secret society whose influence corrupted republican values. In the words of Michael Holt, “As a founder of New York’s Antimasonic party, . . . [Fillmore] abhorred the [KN] order’s secrecy and agreed with Congressman Solomon G. Haven that its initiation rituals were ‘puerile.’”

More important was the fact that Fillmore had little if any sympathy for the nativist agenda of the KNs. To the best of my knowledge, no one has identified any speeches or correspondence by Fillmore before early 1855 endorsing anti-immigrant or anti-Catholic principles. Michael Holt flatly declares that “Fillmore had never condemned Catholics or immigrants,” and had “never publicly expressed any anti-Catholic or nativist sentiments.” To the contrary, the available evidence seems to confirm that Fillmore’s general decency and sense of compassion extended to immigrants. In the words of
Tyler Andbinder,
[T]he enrollment of a daughter in a Catholic school and his generous donations for the construction of Catholic churches demonstrated that Fillmore did not sympathize with the militant Protestantism that inspired most American nativists. Fillmore had worked to achieve harmony and consensus, and he valued religious amity as much as sectional tranquility.

Correspondence I have found online confirms that impression. Here, for example, is letter in which Fillmore sought help for and extolled the virtues of a group of German immigrants seeking to move to Kansas. It is particularly noteworthy that Fillmore wrote the letter on December 1, 1854, just as he was wrestling with whether he should join the KNs:
The bearer, Mr John Beyer is a chief man in a religious association of Germans, settled near this city [Buffalo, NY] who contemplate removing to some western state. They have heretofore sent an exploring party to Kansas, but I understand they were not satisfied with that country, and as I have formed a very favorable opinion of your state, I have advised them to look at it before they locate; and I know you will take great pleasure in giving them any information in your power.

As a community, they are most excellent citizens, quiet, peaceable, industrious and honest; excellent agriculturalists and carrying on many branches of manufactures with remarkable skill & neatness. I hope they may find a place to suit them in your state.

A later letter, from 1856, likewise strongly suggests that Fillmore was no hard-core bigot when it came to Catholics. Although he may have had misgivings about the hierarchical nature of the church, it is remarkable that he met and had a long and cordial conversation with the Pope, for whom he expressed admiration. Fillmore’s letter dated January 22, 1856 to Solomon Haven describing the encounter is worth quoting at length because it clearly conveys Fillmore’s basic decency and lack of prejudice. Again, the timing is striking: the KN convention at which Fillmore hoped to be nominated was just a month away. For readability, I have added paragraph breaks:
As in duty bound, I was presented to his Holiness the Pope. He granted me a private audience, but the day before I was to be presented I was told that the etiquette of the Court required all who were presented to kneel and kiss the hand of the Pope, if not his foot. This took me by surprise and when Mr Cass called to accompany me to the Vatican, I informed him of what I had heard, and said if this was the case, I must decline the honor of a presentation. That I could only consent to be presented to the Pope as the sovreign of the State, not as High Priest of a religious sect or denomination. He assured me that I had been misinformed and I consented to accompany him.

I was accordingly presented. His Holiness received me sitting, but very graciously, neither offering hand or foot for salutation, and to my surprise asked me to take a seat and entered very freely and familiarly into conversation for some ten or fifteen minutes. He has a very benevolent face, and I doubt not is a very good man. From all I can learn here, he was really desirous of benefiting those whom he governs, and especially in ameliorating the condition of the common people. But the system which he administers is so bad, and is entrenched so strongly in the political and ecclesiastical despotism of ages, and he is so hedged in by a numerous and selfish priesthood, that he found it impossible. The madness and folly of political demagogues, who without any knowledge of a republican government seized upon the reins of power and committed many excesses, disgusted all well meaning sensible men, and has thrown back all hope of reform here for many years to come.

I was also introduced to Cardinal Antonelli, the minister of foreign affairs. He appears to me like a very intelligent active energetic man and I believe is the chief person in the administration. Some say that he is ambitious but of that I know nothing.

Ironically, Fillmore voiced more doubts about the secular authorities of Europe than he did about the Pope:
Upon the whole I have no cause to complain of the treatment which I have received from the government officials any where in Europe. That they should not like our government, is neither strange nor unnatural, and as long as they do not require me to like theirs I am content. I must say, however, in all candor, that these people seem wholly unfit for a republican form of government. If they can ever reach that it must be by slow degrees through a constitutional monarchy.

Despite these drawbacks, in the end Fillmore concluded that the Know Nothings were the only viable option. Convinced that Know Nothingism provided the “only hope of forming a truly national party, which shall ignore this constant and distracting agitation of slavery” (1/15/55 letter to Alexander H.H. Stuart), “I finally overcame my scruples and at a council in my own house, previous to my departure to Europe, I was initiated into the Order . . ..” (10/30/56 letter to Dorothea Dix)

Fillmore joined the order in late January 1855. In May 1855, he boarded a ship for Europe. He did not return to New York until June 1856.

From Nine to Five

Yesterday, I read -- "skimmed" is probably more accurate -- about three-quarters of Frederick Mark Gedick's extremely interesting article arguing that the original understanding of the Due Process Clause included a substantive component: An Originalist Defense of Substantive Due Process: Magna Carta, Higher-Law Constitutionalism, and the Fifth Amendment.

Professor Gedick's article is well done and clearly requires a response. I was just thinking that it was time for Kurt Lash to branch out into the due process clause when, lo and behold, I saw that Randy Barnett has fired his latest shot in their ongoing debate over the meaning of the Ninth Amendment: Kurt Lash's Majoritarian Difficulty. I guess that Professor Lash will be otherwise engaged for a bit longer. Oh well.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part IV

I concluded the last post on this topic at the end of 1854. After all the election results were in, it was clear to virtually everyone that the Whig party was expiring, if not already dead. Millard Fillmore needed to find a new party that could be used as vehicle out of which to fashion a nationwide pro-Union party.

By process of elimination, only the Know Nothings might serve that purpose. The Democracy was clearly not an appropriate vehicle. Visceral hatred of the Democrats, nurtured over almost two decades, meant that many former Whigs would never adopt the Democratic banner. Moreover, it was the Democrats who had, by introducing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, fomented the latest crisis that threatened sectional peace by overturning the finality of the 1850 Compromise. The increasing radicalism of the Democrats’ southern wing cemented the impossibility of making that party the center of Unionism.

The emerging Republicans were, if anything, even more clearly out of the question. It was precisely such a sectional party, with an incendiary agenda designed to alienate the south, that conservative Union Whigs like Fillmore wanted to smother.

The structure of the Know Nothing organization also made it an attractive takeover target. Know Nothing lodges decided which candidates were preferred and then instructed members how to vote. Lodge members, who were bound by oath, had demonstrated remarkable discipline in voting for approved candidates during 1854. Therefore, if Unionists joined KN lodges in sufficient numbers to control the machinery, they could potentially direct the votes of large blocs of disciplined members and thus transform the party. The KNs could, as Solomon G. Haven, Fillmore’s law partner, put it in a letter to Fillmore on December 9, 1854, “be worked . . . into a national fabrick which should be of service to” national Whigs.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

An Important Bicentennial

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan Adler notes that "[o]n Jan. 1, 1808, it became illegal to import slaves into the United States."

The first clause of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution provided that:
The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

In addition, Article V provided that this section could not be amended:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Congress enacted "An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place within the Jurisdiction of the United States, From and After the First Day of January, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight" on March 2, 1807. Section 1 barred the importation of slaves into the United States on the earliest possible date permitted by the Constitution -- 200 years ago today:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and eight, it shall not be lawful to import or bring into the United States or the territories thereof from any foreign kingdom, place, or country, any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, with intent to hold, sell, or dispose of such negro, mulatto, or person of colour, as a slave, or to be held to service or labour.

When the Constitutional Convention voted to defer the date from 1800 to 1808, James Madison objected that "Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the National character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution."

The Old City Hall Post Office

I have several photobooks of old New York that I really enjoy, my favorite one of which is this one.

One of the most striking buildings of the late 19th Century city was the City Hall Post Office, which was constructed on the southern tip of what is now City Hall Park -- for those of you who know Manhattan, that's just west across Park Row from the current J&R mega-complex.

The monstrosity -- and I use that term affectionately -- was built beginning in 1875 at a cost of $10MM (including furniture). It was torn down in 1938-39. Here is a page of photos and depictions.

Millard Fillmore, Know Nothing: Part III

As discussed in earlier posts (Part I; Part II), early in 1854 conservative pro-Union Whigs lost control of the debate over the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Nonetheless, at least in the North, it did not appear that the Whig party was in its death throes. Although some were abandoning the Whigs for a new anti-Nebraska coalition party, many others –- William Seward, for example -- continued to see the Whigs as the beneficiaries of the Democrats’ self-inflicted wounds. Although Millard Fillmore and the Silver Gray Whigs disagreed violently with Sewardites on many issues, Fillmore too stuck steadfastly with the Whigs going into the 1854 elections.

Then the Know Nothings exploded onto the public stage. In retrospect, it is possible to see that immigration and related issues had been assuming increased political importance. Anti-immigration groups had shown local strength going back to the 1840s in certain areas, particularly Philadelphia. But the rise of KNs was astonishing. Tyler Andbinder estimates that in early 1854, the KNs boasted about 50,000 members nationwide. By the middle of the year, membership in KN lodges had increased to one million.

What accounted for this phenomenal growth? It is certainly true that the core of the KN agenda was anti-immigrant and particularly anti-Catholic. But the key to the explosion was the fact that KNs embraced a series of other issues and values that they perceived to be related. Among other things, KNs tended to advocate temperance (those drunk Irish and Germans hung out in saloons and polluted on the Sabbath). Many also espoused moderate anti-slavery (in contrast to degraded Europeans and Catholics who, accustomed as they were to serfdom and to taking orders from the Pope, had no problem with slavery). Finally, they also embodied and benefited from an upsurge in anti-party feeling, which sought to teach unresponsive immigrant-catering politicians and political parties a lesson by throwing the bums out).

The KNs wreaked havoc on both major parties in 1854. The trauma was all the more acute because it came out of the blue: since the KNs were organized in secret lodges, their numbers were unknown and their political strength unrecognized. The results varied from state to state, but they particularly devastated the already-weakened Whigs. Most notably, in Massachusetts, long a Whig stronghold, the KNs elected the governor with 63% of the vote, won all eleven congressional contests, and captured all but three of the more than 400 legislative seats.

To make a long story short, by the end of 1854, the Whig party was on life support. It had been torn apart. In a few upper Midwest states, the anti-Nebraska coalition that was coalescing into the Republican party had become the primary anti-Democratic party. In many other northern and southern states, the Know Nothings had gutted the Whigs. The Whig party was clearly no longer a viable vehicle to serve as a national, pro-Union party.

As mentioned, throughout this disorienting year, Millard Fillmore steadfastly clung to the fading Whig banner, seeking to construct strategies that would position it as the one pro-Union party in both north and south. At no point before all of the 1854 results were in did Fillmore suggest, even privately, that the Whigs should consider abandoning their party. Only at end of the year did Fillmore, viewing the wreckage, admit to himself that the Whig party could not be resuscitated, and that a new vehicle must be found to save the Union.
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