Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's Gotta Be A Record!

According to Charles Sellers, James Hamilton, Jr. of South Carolina was "legendary for a perfect record of wounding without killing all his fourteen dueling opponents."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Martin Van Buren

Van Buren glides along as smoothly as oil and as silently as a cat.

Amos Kendall

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Andrew Jackson, Champion of Internal Improvements and the American System

Andrew Jackson has come down to us as a fierce opponent of federal funding of internal improvements (epitomized by the Maysville Road veto) and of banks (exemplified by his campaign to kill the Monster Bank).

It is pretty well known, I think, that Jackson presented a much less clear message concerning these issues when he ran for president in 1824 and 1828. Some political insiders and men who knew Jackson well may have known of Jackson's views on these issues, but the electorate as a whole was far less certain.

I mention this because, in looking for a Jackson-related illustration for my last post, I ran across some Jackson election tickets from 1828 that dramatically demonstrate the point. Three are included here. As you will see, all at least imply support for commercial development, manufacturing and transportation. One specifically touts "internal improvement," and another (the most startling of all, in my view) identifies Jackson with the "American System" -- the term used by Henry Clay as early as 1824 (not 1829, as the Wikipedia entry incorrectly states) to describe his high-tariff, pro-Bank and pro-internal improvements program designed to protect domestic manufactures and spur industrial development.

Andrew Jackson's First Cabinet

Other than Martin Van Buren at the State Department, Andrew Jackson’s first cabinet is generally given very low marks. Its subsequent dissolution two years later in the aftermath of the Peggy Eaton Affair has further tarnished the cabinet's reputation, although by rights it is Jackson himself who should take most of the blame for that debacle.

While conceding that, with the exception of Van Buren, Jackson “chose obscure men he could dominate,” Charles Sellers gives the president more credit than most do for his selections, which were:

John H. Eaton, Tennessee, for the War Department

Samuel D. Ingham, Pennsylvania, for the Treasury Department

John Branch, North Carolina, for the Navy

John M. Berrien, Georgia, as Attorney General

William T. Barry, Kentucky, Postmaster General

First, Sellers argues, “this Cabinet manifested considerable canniness on the part of a President determined to be master of his own house.”
By appointing a New York Bucktail [Van Buren], a Pennsylvania New Schooler [Ingham; New Schoolers were pro-internal improvement democrats who had originally supported John C. Calhoun for president in 1824 but had converted to the Jackson cause early in 1824], two southerners [Branch and Berrien], and two westerners [Eaton and Barry], he recognized the factions and sections that had given him strongest support while denying predominance to any. Although Van Buren got the top spot, Jackson managed, by appointing obscure men of Radical antecedents from North Carolina and Georgia, to exclude not only the Little Magician’s South Carolina foes [allies of Calhoun] but also his potent radical allies in Virginia [the Richmond Junto, headed by editor Thomas Ritchie]. Never before had the Old Dominion been banished from the highest executive levels.

In addition, Sellers suggests, Jackson cleverly appointed men who were ideologically predisposed to carry out “some controversial policies not yet announced.”
The westerner Eaton was positioned in the War Department and the Georgian Berrien as Attorney General to execute a final solution of the Indian problem. Branch had denounced banks, and Barry had been chief justice of Kentucky’s antibank New Court. The most ingenious selection was Ingham, a paper manufacturer loyal to Pennsylvania protectionism but also a veteran Calhounite. Having resolved his conflicting loyalties by abstaining on the Tariff of Abominations, he was placed at the Treasury to compromise the most dangerous impending issue.

About the illustration:
A satire on dissension and political intrigue within Andrew Jackson's administration, surrounding the Spring 1831 resignations of several members of his Cabinet. In the center Jackson sits in a collapsing chair, labeled "The Hickory Chair is coming to pieces at last." Seated on the arm of his chair is a rat with the head of Postmaster General William T. Barry. On the floor before him is a pile of resignations with a broken clay pipe, and a brazier. He sweeps with a broom at a number of rats scurrying at his feet, and in the act knocks over the "Altar of Reform" toppling a winged ass also holding a broom. The rats have heads of (from left to right) Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, Secretary of War John H.Eaton, "D. I. O."(?), Navy Secretary John Branch, and Treasury Secretary Samuel D. Ingham. John Calhoun is a terrier which menaces the Van Buren rat. Van Buren, threatened by an eagle while attempting to climb the "Ladder of Political Preferment" whose rungs are labeled with the names of the states, says, "If I could only humbug that Eagle and climb up this ladder." Calhoun: "You don't get up if I can help it." Eaton: "I'm off to the Indians." Branch: "This from the greatest and best of men." Ingham: "Is this the reward of my Patriotic disinterestedness." In a doorway marked "Skool of Reform" appears a man in a visored cap and fur-trimmed coat saying, "There's Clay, and this is all Clays doings." Daniel Webster and Henry Clay (with raised arms) look in through a window. Webster: "That Terrier has nullified the whole Concern." Clay: "Famine! War! Pestilence!"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Andrew Jackson Becomes a Presidential Candidate: 1822

As Charles Sellers tells it, the idea that Andrew Jackson might seriously be considered as a candidate for the presidency was the result of a stunning miscalculation by pro-bank politicians in Tennessee.

Before the Panic of 1819, the Tennessee political landscape was dominated by territorial governor William Blount and, after Blount’s death in 1800, John Overton. These men “embraced the new entrepreneurial opportunities brought by the postwar [i.e., post-War of 1812] boom and controlled the state’s two banks.”

The Panic of 1819, however, caused widespread hardship and disruption in the state of Tennessee, which in turn “provoked a massive public outcry” against banks and the “moneyed aristocracy.” In 1821, a Radical faction opposed to the Blount/Overton group backed William Carroll for governor. “With voters ‘in a perfect ferment,’” Carroll, “who blamed the depression on the banks and wished he ‘had never seen one in the state,'” trounced his Blount/Overton opponent by a margin of 4–1.

Desperate to regain power, the Blount/Overton group searched for a solution – and thought they found it in Andrew Jackson. “Blount’s son-in-law Pleasant M. Miller suggested to Overton that only Andrew Jackson could defeat Carroll for reelection in 1823.”

It seemed like a good fit at the time. There were strong personal ties between Jackson and members of the Blount/Overton group (Jackson “and Overton had been close friends since first entering public life under Blount’s aegis back in territorial days”), and “the general had quarreled violently with several of the now triumphant Radicals.” In addition, Jackson detested the Radicals’ presidential candidate, William H. Crawford, whose congressional supporters had attacked Jackson’s invasion of Florida.

Apparently, Jackson rejected the suggestion that he run for governor in 1823. Overton then suggested to Miller that they could achieve their aims by nominating Jackson for president. “Miller immediately fell in with” Overton’s absurd counterproposal. The idea that Jackson could be a serious presidential contended was ludicrous. But it would serve the purpose of stirring up “a state of excitement” in “publick opinion” that would allow the Blount/Overton group to recapture the governorship and state legislative seats in upcoming elections.

And so Jackson’s name was floated for the presidency in early 1822:
Early in 1822, the Blount/Overton newspapers began puffing Jackson as a presidential candidate, and that summer the [Tennessee] legislature formally nominated him.” None of the Tennessee politicians who hatched Jackson’s nomination thought he could be a serious contender nationally, and most of them thought his candidacy could be dropped once this became evident and once it served its local purpose.

“The politicians,” Sellers notes, “were in for a shock.” The Tennessee nomination unleashed “a ‘contagion’ of popular enthusiasm for Jackson” that engulfed states from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.

In our next episode, the Overton group unsuccessfully tries to stuff the genie back in the bottle.

"The Whig Party is dead and buried"

Apparently somebody is trying to revive the Whig Party. I certainly agree we need a new party, but I doubt the Whigs are it. As a historical phenomenon, the Whigs are fascinating, and there is much to admire about them, as Daniel Walker Howe has argued. But, as Edward Stafford, a Republican newspaper editor from Jackson, Mississippi, noted in 1870, "The Whig Party died of too much respectability and not enough people." I'll go with Zebulon Vance's opinion, as described by Michael F. Holt at the close of his magnificent history of the Whigs:
[Zebulon Vance] was also realistic enough to know the task [of reviving the Whig Party] was impossible. When asked to do so in 1865, therefore, he replied with cold finality: "The [Whig] party is dead and buried and the tombstone placed over it and I don't care to spend the rest of my days mourning at its grave." To this brutally candid and totally accurate extinguisher, there was -- and is -- only one appropriate response. Amen!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Doe Face" or "Dough Face"?

John Randolph of Roanoke famously coined the term dough face during the debates over the Missouri Crisis as a term of opprobrium for northern representatives who were willing to sacrifice their principles to cast votes in favor of measures favored by the south. Frustratingly, I can’t find a web-verifiable citation to the original quote. I suspect that it may have appeared in a newspaper report, rather than the Annals of Congress, but that's just a guess.

Citing a secondary source, Robert Pierce Forbes provides the quote and context as follows:
John Randolph . . . bitterly sneered that he had always known that the northern representatives who voted for the Compromise “would give way. They were scared at their own dough faces – yes, they were scared at their own dough faces! – We had them, and if we had wanted three more, we could have had them; yes, and if these had failed, we could have three more of these men, whose conscience, and morality, and religion, extend to ‘thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude.’

To this day, historians remain uncertain where Randolph got the phrase. Prof. Forbes himself suggests that Randolph intended the phrase to be “doe face”, and that it was misunderstood and subsequently interpreted to be “dough face”:
It is apt that the wracked, erratic, half-mad Virginian should have coined the peculiar epithet, “doe face,” that became, in a curious mutation, “doughface,” the universal term of contempt for such “Northern men with Southern principles,” or rather, as Randolph implied, with no principles at all.

Prof. Forbes supports this contention by reference to a passage in Theodore Dwight Weld’s American Slavery As It Is: The Testimony of a Thousand Voices (New York, 1839). There, Weld mysteriously states:
Doe face,” which owes its paternity to John Randolph, age has mellowed into “dough face” – a cognomen quite as expressive and appropriate, if not as classical.

Weld also suggests that the “cognomen” “dough face” came to be rationalized as a reference to northern flour that was eagerly shipped to southern customers (emphasis added):
Our newspapers are full of these and similar daily occurrences among slaveholders, copied verbatim from their own accounts of them in their own papers, and all this we fully credit; no man is simpleton enough to cry out, “Oh, I can't believe that slaveholders do such things,” – and yet when we turn to the treatment which these men mete out to their slaves, and show that they are in the habitual practice of striking, kicking, knocking down and shooting them as well as each other – the look of blank incredulity that comes over northern dough-faces, is a study for a painter: and then the sentimental outcry, with eyes and hands uplifted, “Oh, indeed, I can't believe the slaveholders are so cruel to their slaves.” Most amiable and touching charity! Truly, of all Yankee notions and free state products, there is nothing like a “dough face” – the great northern staple for the southern market – “made to order,” in any quantity, and always on hand. “Dough faces!” Thanks to a slaveholder's contempt for the name, with its immortality of truth, infamy and scorn.

Weld does not explain why the original phrase as he understood it, “doe face,” was expressive. Presumably, he understood it to mean that the men were as timid as female deer in their accommodation of the south.

Other commentators have more or less thrown up their hands. Leonard L. Richards, for example, characterized Randolph as referring to “weak men, timid men, half-baked man,” suggesting he believed the word was “dough” rather than “doe.” But Richards then punted:
Not everyone understood Randolph’s reference, and no one dared to ask for an explanation. A few apparently thought the sardonic Virginia aristocrat had a female deer in mind and the word he used was doe. Others thought he was referring to a child’s game where children put dough on their faces, worked it into strange configurations, and then looked at their reflections.

Whatever Randolph had in mind, his words stuck.

Most others have opined that the original word was “dough” and then tried to explain why. Daniel Walker Howe has opted for the children’s game theory:
Randolph, mocking the northerners intimidated by the South, referred to a children’s game in which the players daubed their faces with dough and then looked in a mirror and scared themselves.”

This is also Sean Wilentz’s explanation:
[Randolph] was probably referring to a game where children placed wet dough on their faces and frightened themselves and their friends by looking in a mirror.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

John Taylor of Caroline, Marxist

Yikes! I've heard Old Republican John Taylor of Caroline called many things, but I've never seen him characterized as a proto-Marxist . . . until now. Charles Sellers draws the unlikely comparison:
As Karl Marx would analyze capitalist exploitation of European industrial labor, the Virginian explained capitalist exploitation of American agricultural labor. Both men cherished human labor as the source of economic value. "Labour is in fact the great fund for human subsistence," said the Virginian; "-- a surplus of this subsistence is wealth." Labor's "degree of safety" was for him the "barometer of good government."

Also like Marx, the Virginian thought labor "the object which tyranny invariably attacks." The American Revolution had no sooner guaranteed the republic's labor against the ancient extortions of European aristocracies and priesthoods, he argued, then a new and even more oppressive "aristocracy of paper and patronage" arose. Taylor calculated that "this legal faction of capitalists" was extorting 40 percent of the proceeds of agricultural labor. [Me: Shades of George McDuffie's Forty-Bale theory!] Writing just as wage labor galvanized capitalist exploitation, he anticipated Marx in sensing that capital "will, in the case of mechanics, soon appropriate the whole of their labor to its use, beyond a bare subsistence."

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Market Revolution

I’ve begun reading Charles Sellers’s The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846. The Marxist terminology makes me a little nervous, and the book is extremely dense and, I think, assumes a general working knowledge of the period – probably not the place to start if you have no background. But that said, the book is superb. Sellers’s research is prodigious, his insights both startling and then, in retrospect, perfectly logical when you go back and follow his train of thought. He writes well enough, if a bit abstractly, that he keeps you riveted: a slow-motion page-turner.

As a brief excerpt, I offer the following, which features some statistics that are both surprising and depressing when you consider our modern-day monstrosity:
Excluding Congress and the military, the entire government establishment at Washington, from President to doorkeeper, numbered only 153 people at the beginning of Jefferson’s administration and would increase to only 352 by 1829. In 1815 the President paid out of his own pocket the single secretary who assisted him; the Attorney General had neither clerk nor office; the Supreme Court convened for two months a year in a Capitol Hill boarding house; and during the summer only the clerks and bureau chiefs remained in the muggy capital to keep the wheels of state slowly turning.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

George McDuffie's Forty-Bale Theory

George McDuffie’s Forty-Bale Theory held that “a tariff that imposed duties averaging 40 percent robbed cotton planters of the value of 40 percent of their crop – forty bales out of every hundred.” Was he right?

The modern consensus seems to be that he was about twenty bales high.

Daniel Walker Howe: “A modern economist has calculated that a 40 percent tariff cost antebellum planters 20 percent of their real income from cotton – less that McDuffie claimed but still very significant.” Citing John A. James, "The Optimal Tariff in the Antebellum United States,” American Economic Review 71 (1981): 731.

John Majewski: “McDuffie’s famous ‘forty bale’ theory undoubtedly exaggerated the impact of the tariff, but his argument contained a kernel of truth. Economic historians have estimated that a tariff of 40 percent in 1859 would have reduced the real incomes of southern slaveholders by at least 20 percent.” Citing Jeremy Atack and Peter Passell, A New Economic View of American History: From Colonial Times to 1940, 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), 137-40.

About the illustration:
A gloomy view of the effects of the Polk administration's Tariff of 1846. The artist echoes Whig condemnation of the measure as adverse to American trade. A funeral cortege, composed of administration supporters, carries the coffin of "Free Trade" to a grave marked by a monument with the names of sixteen states. The names of Pennsylvania and New York, two states particularly resistant to the new tariff, appear in large letters. Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are missing. Over the grave is a banner reading, "Here lies Free Trade! Be it understood / He would have liv'd much longer if he could." The pall-bearers are (left to right) Vice President George M. Dallas, James K. Polk, Secretary of State James Buchanan, and Secretary of War William L. Marcy, wearing his characteristic fifty-cent trouser patch (see "Executive Marcy and the Bambers," no.1838-5). Polk: "This is a dead weight and verry heavy Mr. Vice." Dallas replies: "I agree with every thing you say Mr. President. if you were to insist that the moon was made of green Cheese I would swear to it for a Consideration." Buchanan complains: "I say, army lower down your side a little, you are throwing all the weight on me." Buchanan, from Pennsylvania, drew considerable fire from his native state for his support of the new lower tariff. Marcy suggests: "Raise your side, state and then we'll throw the whole weight on our leaders." The mourners are administration supporters: editor Thomas Ritchie (here called "Mother Ritchie" and dressed as a woman), senators John C. Calhoun and George McDuffie, and congressmen Ambrose H. Sevier, Robert Barnwell Rhett, and Dixon Hall Lewis. Ritchie: "If he should be resucitated! What a paragraph it would make in my paper!! Nous Verrons." Calhoun: "Hung be the heavens with black!" McDuffie: "If the whigs should get in we must resort to Nullification!" Sevier: "this sticks in my gizzard!" Lewis (notoriously obese): "We must grin and bear it, though it makes me feel very heavy!" Rhett: "a plagu of this sighing! it wells one up most villainously!" In the lower margin is the narrative: "This unfortunate youth died of Home Consumption & was buried at Washington in Nov: 1846 [the date the tariff was passed]. He was carried to the grave by Polk, Dallas, Buchanan & Marcy. The chief Mourners were his Nurse Mother Ritchie, [. . .] the cenotaph is to be erected by the Whigs. 16 States have already contributed & others are coming in."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ultisols and Alfisols

Ten days week ago, I posted an entry on John Majewski’s new book, Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation, focusing on Prof. Majewski’s discussion of land use and agricultural practices in the antebellum south, and in particular the fact that southern farmers placed only about one-third of their land in cultivation at any given time, versus two-thirds on average in the north. I left you hanging concerning Prof. Majewski’s conclusions as to why southerners retained the practice of shifting cultivation, which accounted for this discrepancy. This post continues and concludes that review.

In the antebellum period, northerners regularly made note of and denigrated the effects of shifting cultivation in the south: the large tracts of unimproved and worn-out land, interspersed with occasional farmhouses and small settlements. With equal regularity they assumed that the desolate appearance of much of the rural south was somehow attributable to slavery, which rendered the inhabitants slovenly and lazy:
David Wilmot . . . frequently associated slavery with soil exhaustion. “Sterility follows its [slavery’s] path,” he declared in 1846. A decade later, Representative Israel Washburn of Maine noted that “their [southerners’] lands are being worn out and exhausted. . . . [T]hey have not the enterprise, skill or means to renovate them.”

The contrast between the tidy, prosperous farms of the north and (in the words of William Seward) the “old and decaying towns, wretchedly neglected roads, and, in every respect, an absence of enterprise and improvement” in the south provided a powerful argument to Free Soilers. “No wonder,” Prof.Majewski observes, “that many northerners wanted to stop slavery spreading to the western territories. Shifting cultivation, they believed, was sure to follow.”

Modern historians have to a large extent adopted this analysis. “Historians have frequently pointed to some combination of slavery, cheap western lands, and ingrained traditionalism.” The relative abundance of land and mobility of slave labor, so the argument goes, allowed southerners to work a given piece of land to exhaustion, and then move on.

Prof. Majewski rejects all such explanations. Shifting cultivation persisted, he argues, because southern soil and weather made crop rotation impracticable or impossible. It turns out that most of the south has soil classified as part of the ultisol soil order. “Ultisols generally lack key nutrients for plant growth and tend to be highly acidic. The acidity makes it difficult for plants to fully utilize whatever nutrients are present, which means that fertilizing the soil will not raise crop yields unless the acidity is first neutralized.”

Shifting cultivation was ideally suited to this soil because the ash produced by burning “provided a quick infusion of important nutrients, and its calcium content helped neutralize the acidic ultisol soils.” Northern farms, in contrast, generally consisted of alfisol soils, which contained “an abundance of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and other essential plant nutrients.” The rotation systems that northerners successfully used on alfisol soils simply did not translate to the ultisols of the south.

Other environmental facts – heat and rainfall patterns – also conspired against the south to make rotation impractical. “Important fodder crops such as hay and clover that supported continuous cultivation failed to thrive in the warm and humid southern climate.” Southern cattle tended to be stunted and produced less manure – another important element of the rotation system in the north – both because they had to be raised on less nutritious substitutes and because they fell prey to tick-spread disease.

Prof. Majewski appears to do an excellent job supporting his thesis that these environmental factors constituted the principal reason that southern farmed stuck with shifting cultivation. The core of his analysis involves the use of “multivariate regressions” to assess the impact of numerous variables, which are summarized as follows:
In summary, the regressions indicate that the environmental factors (soil types, typography, and climate) greatly influenced levels of improved land; they show a particularly strong association between alfisol soils and high levels of improved land. Ultisols and rugged topography (such as the mountains of Appalachia or the marshes of the coastal regions), on the other hand, led to low levels of improved land.

The book includes a 17-page “statistical appendix”, which I invite those more statistically literate than I to pick at for holes or discrepancies. What I found most interesting about the more detailed analysis there was the discussion concerning the relationship between slavery and shifting cultivation. It turns out, according to Prof. Majewski, that there is “a strongly positive” and “statistically significant” relationship between more slaves and higher levels of improved land.

Prof. Majewski cautions that “it is impossible to tell . . . whether slavery caused more land to be improved or whether slaveholders simply preferred to locate in areas with the best soils and the best access to transportation.” However the correlation does discredit the contrary claim, that slavery “caused” less land to be improved. “Slavery (or its absence) did not ‘cause’ shifting cultivation, strengthening the point that environmental factors plaed the most important role.”

Post-Civil War (and therefore post-slavery) evidence further buttresses this conclusion:
What makes the statistical results for 1860 even more compelling is that the same basic relationship holds for 1890 as well. Despite the greater availability of fertilizers, farmers in counties with poor soils cultivated far less land than farmers in areas with more favorable soils. The 1890 results cast further doubt that slavery and cheap western land caused shifting cultivation. Shifting cultivation, simply put, outlived both.

Prof. Majewski’s findings, if correct, point to a profound irony. Obviously, northerners came to adopt Free Soil ideology for a variety of reasons. But images of decrepit southern agriculture and agricultural lifestyles caused by slavery were a powerful weapon in the Free Soil arsenal, as some of the above quotes suggest. Was the assumption that slavery was the source of those images simply wrong? It would seem so.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chez Cliff, Easter Weekend 2009

A group shot. Click to enlarge.

"They left us free to change"

Ann Althouse recently pointed out this perceptive observation by Justice Scalia:
The virtue of a democratic system with a First Amendment is that it readily enables the people, over time, to be persuaded that what they took for granted is not so, and to change their laws accordingly. That system is destroyed if the smug assurances of each age are removed from the democratic process and written into the Constitution. So to counterbalance the Court's criticism of our ancestors, let me say a word in their praise: they left us free to change. The same cannot be said of this most illiberal Court, which has embarked on a course of inscribing one after another of the current preferences of the society (and in some cases only the counter majoritarian preferences of the society's law trained elite) into our Basic Law.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"An Essay on Calcareous Manures"

Edmund Ruffin is most famous for being a rabid Fire Eater who was accorded the honor of firing the first shot of the Civil War. Standard accounts typically mention that he was also an “agricultural reformer” or similar. I had taken that to mean that he was the agricultural version of a history buff – he dabbled a little on the side.

John Majewski, however, suggests that Ruffin was in fact an accomplished agricultural scientist who was capable of “profound insight”, tested his theories with “carefully conceived experiments”, and produced “a stunning scientific achievement”:
Ruffin had tried a variety of techniques to renovate his fields. Nothing worked until Ruffin read English author Humphry Davy’s Elements of Agricultural Chemistry (1813). Davy’s discussion of soil acidity led Ruffin to a profound insight. A few brief experiments convinced Ruffin that the acidity of southern soils prevented crops from taking in nutrients. An acidic soil, no matter how well fertilized, would almost always produce poor yields. To correct the problem, Ruffin applied marl, a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate. The high calcium content of marl, Ruffin hypothesized, neutralized the natural acidity of southern soils. . . . A series of carefully conceived experiments showed that applications of marl doubled and sometimes even tripled wheat and corn yields. Ruffin publicized his findings in a series of articles and in an 1832 pamphlet entitled An Essay on Calcareous Manures. The work was a stunning scientific achievement that promised to revolutionize southern agriculture.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Millard Declines A Degree

This article reminds me that Millard Fillmore declined an honorary degree even after he left the presidency:
One of the popular accounts of Fillmore's stay in England concerns the ex-president's refusal to accept a D.C.L. degree at Oxford University [in 1855]. A reliable 19th century biographer, who personally interviewed Fillmore, and other writers commenting about the Oxford incident said that the ex-president refused the honor on the grounds that he lacked scientific and literary attainment. Fillmore never attended a college. He allegedly made this statement: "I had not the advantage of a classical education and I don't feel any man should accept a degree he cannot read."

Robert J. Scarry, Millard Fillmore.

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

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Tale of the Dog's Tail

Rep. Charles Ogle’s (Whig – PA) Gold Spoon Oration of April 14, 2009 is a real hoot. I have decided to highlight one discrete portion just because it is so odd.

Toward the end of the speech, Ogle started needling a Democratic representative from Pennsylvania, William Beatty, about what Ogle charged was the Democrats’ “political somerset [somersault] with regard to banks.” Beatty tried to get the floor to explain his position, but Ogle refused to yield his time.

Then, for reasons that are not entirely clear (to me at least), Ogle related the following:
I will just call the attention of my colleague to an ordinance passed by the Mayor and Common Council of a neighboring city, in prevention of the danger from hydrophobia; they decreed and ordained that every dog running at large through their streets should wear a muzzle.

Beatty apparently sensed that a story involving dogs, hydrophobia and muzzles was somehow aimed at him and would not be complementary. He accordingly “again endeavored to obtain the floor, and spoke with some warmth in reference to his colleague.” Unfortunately, the precise nature of Beatty’s warm remarks must remain a matter of conjecture, for “his words were lost to the Reporter.”

After noting with satisfaction that his story was having the desired effect on Beatty (“I see it takes admirably”), Ogle then resumed his story:
Well, sir, there was a certain yankee pedler [sic], who had a dog which he employed to guard his wagon; and, as he wanted his dog to have the power of biting thieves, and stood in awe of the ordinance of the Mayor, he had a muzzle made and attached it to his dog’s tail. [A laugh.] The dog was caught by the constable running about the street with the muzzle at the wrong end; the muzzle was taken off, and the owner arrested for a violation of the ordinance.

But when the yankee was brought before the magistrate, he plead that penal statutes were always to be rigidly construed, and as the law said nothing about where the muzzle was to be worn, he insisted that he had complied with the letter of the statute; and he then turned about and entered a complaint against the constable who had removed the muzzle, and had him fined $15, that being the penalty for taking off the muzzle from any dog, according to the same law. [Loud laughter.]

About the illustration:
A satirical attack on alleged excesses in the Van Buren administration and on the President's Loco Foco or radical Democratic supporters in New York. Martin Van Buren rides past New York's Tammany Hall in a luxurious British carriage. With him are editors and advisers Frances Preston Blair and Amos Kendall. The carriage is drawn by supporters, one wearing a fireman's hat marked "No.5." A crowd looks on, and two youthful "Loco Foco" match-vendors wave as the coach passes. Blair: "Well my democratic friends this is really a triumph! What will the Federal Whigs say to it." Kendall: "You told me Matty that you could make the Tammany men do do anything--I see you can!" Van Buren: "These are my loyal subjects! old Tammany never fails to do her duty on a Pinch!" Others: "This is truly royal--great as the Coronation--what a humbug is this Democracy." "This beats our reception of Hunt & Cobbett at Spittalfield." ". . . LaFayette's entry was a fool to this." An elderly man in the crowd: "I must have a seat in Congress again to speak of this Triumph." The coach's driver: "This is True Democracy--a triumph of principle." Weitenkampf dates the print 1838, but several factors argue against this. The matter of Van Buren's purportedly regal life-style and preference for foreign goods figured large in the Whig campaign of 1840. (It was given prominence by Pennsylvania Representative Charles Ogle's lengthy philippic on the subject in Congress during April of that year.) In addition, editors Blair and Kendall emerged as Van Buren's most powerful publicists during the 1840 race.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Southern Agricultural Practices, Population Densities and the Failure to Industrialize Before the Civil War

Brett Schulte pointed out John Majewski’s new book, Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation, in a recent post. It looked interesting, so I got it.

It turns out that the first chapter of the book is so fascinating that I decided to write on it separately. Don't shoot me, Brett! The chapter explores southern agricultural practices, land use and population density, and the effects that flowed from them, including the south’s slow rates of industrialization and development of transportation, and relative dearth of institutions from schools and associations to newspapers and libraries.

In the colonial period, farmers in both the north and south grew crops using a technique called shifting cultivation. This was essentially a pioneer slash-and-burn approach. The farmer burned an area he wanted to use as a field, farmed it for a period of, say, three to five years until the soil gave out, then burned a new area and started over. The downside of shifting cultivation was that it was wasteful of the land, which might have to rest for fifteen to twenty years until it could be burned again and replanted.

As population densities increased in the north, farmers there gradually shifted to a rotation system in which older fields were converted to pastures of clover and other legumes that helped revitalize the soil, combined with heavy use of cattle manure. In the south, however, shifting cultivation remained the norm up to the Civil War.

The south’s failure to adopt a rotation system had widespread consequences. First, it meant that large amounts of land went unused. In the north, farmers employing crop rotation were able to have almost two-thirds of their farmland in cultivation during any given year. In the south, the corresponding figure was about one-third.

The fact that most farms and plantations included large tracts of unused land – whether virgin forest that awaited burning in the future or previously-burned areas returned to scrub – had the effect of dispersing the rural population and “stunting rural population growth. In terms of rural population per square mile, southern states . . . lagged far behind most northern states.” Prof. Majewski includes statistics showing that total southern rural population density was 60% to 40% that in various areas of the north. Eliminating slaves, the statistics were far worse.

This dispersion of the rural population amidst large tracts of undeveloped land in turn had consequences. Among other things, “the South’s low population densities helped stifle overall development.” One key “to the rapid expansion of northern manufacturing” had been the existence of “deep and rich rural markets” that would purchase manufactured goods. “[A] wealthy and densely populated countryside provided the economic foundation for the North’s large and prosperous cities.”

But these concentrated rural markets were precisely what the South lacked:
Shifting cultivation effectively precluded Smithian industrialization. A sparsely settled countryside meant fewer people, smaller markets, and, ultimately, less manufacturing and urban development. A population spread thinly over a wide area discouraged local manufacturing. The lack of local manufacturing and urban development in turn reinforced the incentives of slaveholders to achieve self-sufficiency. With few towns and cities to provide goods and services, slaveholders had a greater incentive to use their slaves to produce textiles, shoes, and other goods for home use when the demands of the plantation slackened. Southerners thus failed to develop the local pools of capital, skilled workers, and entrepreneurial ability that had helped sustain northern industrialization.

As the above quote suggests, Prof. Majewski does not assert that slavery was irrelevant to the south’s failure to industrialize before the War. To the contrary, he asserts that “the presence of slavery discouraged the production of consumer goods.” The existence of plantations and slaves both encouraged on-site manufacturing (as the foregoing quote suggests) and reduced and skewed consumer demand away from the sorts of consumer goods that had fueled northern industrialization.

Low rural population densities had even more far-reaching effects. Although the south desperately needed improved transportation to counteract dispersed markets, low density made transportation networks uneconomical. “The large swaths of unimproved land generated little traffic, which dramatically reduced potential revenue per square mile.” Again, slavery only compounded the problem, because slaves were not going to passengers or consumers in meaningful amounts.

In addition, “[l]ow population densities also made it more difficult for southerners to create institutions that could create and disseminate productive knowledge.” Newspapers and periodicals, professional and literary associations, libraries, schools and colleges all suffered as a result. “Economic historians have found a strong correlation between low population density and illiteracy in the antebellum period.”

In short, “[i]n the South, shifting cultivation created the demographic equivalent of a permanent frontier in which vast amounts of land remained uncultivated for generations.”

All of which leads us back to the beginning. If shifting cultivation had so many disadvantages and negative consequences, why did southerners retain it and not progress to rotation, as their northern brethren had? Was it slavery? Was it a plantation system that somehow made it acceptable to retain large amounts of unused land? Was it slavish devotion to some misguided Jeffersonian ideal? It is here that Majewski presents his most startling thesis, which I will discuss in the next post.


I haven't posted a nice Mohammed image lately, so here are two -- or, rather, two views of the same image, The Last Judgment by Giovanni da Modena, a fresco (c. 1415) in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, Italy. In case you missed it, someone tried to blow it up recently. Ho hum.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Tale of Two Professors

I've mentioned it several times before, so I won't beat a dead horse, but I've finished listening to Donald Kagan's Introduction to Greek History course, and it's superb. Highly recommended. Professor Kagan is a delight. Authoritative and impassioned, he is also modest, gracious (giving credit to Victor Davis Hanson for several key insights) and self-deprecating.

Two lectures into Prof. Steven Smith's course on Political Philosophy, I'm less impressed -- sorry, Rene! A good deal of it is probably me. Prof. Smith's style just annoys me. But substantively I was also not that impressed with his treatment of the Apology, which I know pretty well. The Athenians didn't put Socrates to death because he was advocating a "rational vision" over a "poetic vision" (or some such nonsense). They convicted him because he was a pain in the ass who for decades harassed people in the agora and made them look like idiots. Anyone who has read the Euthyphro (for example) knows perfectly well why most Athenians believed Socrates was a Sophist, and a particularly dangerous one at that. When they saw him coming, most probably crossed to the other side of the street, much like you do to avoid a potentially aggressive panhandler.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Unknown Supreme Court Justices

Vanderbilt University held a seminar on, and has published a series of papers about, neglected Supreme Court Justices. I haven't read any yet, but I'm happy to see that the antebellum era is well represented. There are articles on John Catron, the Jacksonian who corresponded with president-elect Buchanan concerning Dred Scott; and John McLean, the intensely political and (in my view) intellectually challenged Dred Scott dissenter and perennial presidential candidate.

But most interesting of all, to me at least, there is an article on William Johnson of South Carolina, who remarkably held, as Circuit Justice, that the South Carolina Negro Seamen Act was unconstitutional and who vehemently opposed nullification. I've been meaning to read something about Justice Johnson, and now I'll have the chance to do so.

Thanks to Prof. Orin Kerr at Volokh for the pointer.
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