Wednesday, September 30, 2009

100 YouTube Hits in Four Minutes

See you in October.

History in the Making

The big news in the legal world today is that the Supremes have granted cert in a case called McDonald v. City of Chicago. The issue? Whether the Second Amendment right to bear arms applies against the states (and their political subdivisions):
Whether the Second Amendment is incorporated into the Due Process Clause or the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment so as to be applicable to the States, thereby invalidating ordinances prohibiting possession of handguns in the home.

The reference to the Privileges or Immunities Clause is fascinating.

Dave Kopel at Volokh recommends a number of articles for background reading here.

Based on the explosion of scholarly articles we got in advance of Heller, I am hopeful that we will be beneficiaries of a like outpouring between now and next June, when McDonald will likely be decided. This time, the articles will focus on Reconstruction and the Reconstruction Congress. John A. Bingham may become the most famous man in America!

Kurt Lash, hurry up with the second part of your article on the Privileges or Immunities Clause!

Assorting the Mail

Lacy K. Ford's Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South includes an illuminating description and discussion of the 1835 abolition mail campaign and its aftermath. I'd like to focus on just one aspect, the federal legislative response.

As you may know, in mid-1835 the American Anti-Slavery Society used the United States mails to send tens of thousands of abolitionist pamphlets into the south. When the literature first arrived in Charleston at the end of July, the local postmaster, Alfred Huger, declined to distribute it and kept it locked in the post office. Meanwhile, he wrote to interim United States Postmaster and Andrew Jackson confidante Amos Kendall asking him for instructions. Kendall responded that Huger was not required to deliver the mail if local “circumstances” suggested otherwise.

When Congress met in early December 1835, President Jackson proposed a straightforward solution: legislation that would ban the mailing of abolitionist literature. John C. Calhoun, however, found the president's proposal unsettling: any government strong enough to thwart abolition was strong enough to promote it. Calhoun therefore advanced his own, federalist solution, “a bill giving every state the power to refuse to deliver any mail that ran contrary to the laws of the individual state.”

As it turned out, neither proposal passed. Instead, Congress ultimately enacted a bill that “declared that the federal government would protect the inviolability of the mail."

Although the bill appeared to be a triumph for freedom of expression and civil liberties, in fact it was never enforced in the south. As a practical matter, southern postmasters continued to observe the original Kendall advice that gave them discretion whether to deliver materials that were perceived to be incendiary.

This result left most of the south satisfied. Prof. Ford, however, agrees with Calhoun that it left the south vulnerable:
[A]s William Freehling pointed out, a president who allowed the mail to be stopped could also order that the mail be delivered. The failure of Calhoun's bill and the success of Kendall's informal policy seemed to put the future of the South in the hands of every incumbent president. This fact raised the stakes of the presidential contest to new heights in the minds of white southerners, and southern interest in the contest became and remained almost obsessive. Not the least danger Abraham Lincoln presented to the slaveholding states when elected in 1860 was the possibility that he might simply declare that the mail must go through.

About the illustration:
A portrayal of the nocturnal raid on the Charleston post office by a mob of citizens and the burning of abolitionist mails found there in July 1835. Mail sacks are handed through a forced window of the ransacked post office, torn open and bundles of newspapers such as "The Liberator," the Boston "Atlas" and "Commercial Gazette" removed and strewn about. At left, in an open square before a church, a crowd surrounds a bonfire. A sign reading "$20,000 Reward for Tappan" hangs on the wall of the post office, referring to the bounty placed by the city of New Orleans on the head of Arthur Tappan, founder and president of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Groves v. Slaughter: Some Context

Several years ago, I wrote a number of posts, the first of which is here, on an 1841 United States Supreme Court decision entitled Groves v. Slaughter. Very briefly, the case involved a contract for the purchase of slaves. Robert Slaughter imported the slaves into Mississippi in 1835 and 1836. On about December 20, 1836, Slaughter sold them to John W. Brown, apparently a Mississippi planter in the Natchez area. Brown paid for them by issuing two promissory notes payable to the order of R.M. Roberts, his banker at the Commercial Bank at Natchez. Roberts then indorsed the note over to Slaughter. Two other men, Moses Groves and James Graham, also indorsed the notes. These indorsements made the indorsers - and in effect Brown's bank - liable for the note, security that Slaughter probably demanded to insure payment.

When the notes came due at the end of 1837 and 1838, however, Brown and other responsible parties refused to pay. Slaughter sued in federal court in Louisiana. In response, the defendants asserted that they did not have to pay "because the contracts on which they are found were in direct violation of the constitution of the State of Mississippi, which expressly prohibits the introduction of slaves into that state as merchandise or for sale after 1 May, 1833."

The Constitution of the State of Mississippi, adopted in 1832, provided in the 2d section, title "slaves," as follows:

"The introduction of slaves into this state as merchandise or for sale shall be prohibited from and after 1 May, 1833, provided that actual settler or settlers shall not be prohibited from purchasing slaves in any state in this Union and bringing them into this state for their own individual use till the year 1845.

In Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South, Lacy K. Ford provides some historical context concerning Mississippi’s wavering approach to the slave trade and the provision of the Mississippi Constitution at issue in Groves. The state, like most others in the deep south, was deeply conflicted about the introduction of additional slaves. On the one hand, planters and aspiring planters clamored for more slaves for their fields. On the other side stood fear of slave revolt. As the state became blacker through imports, many believed that the risks of revolt grew, particularly if the imports tended to be unruly and rebellious rejects dumped on the lower south by upper south masters eager to be rid of them. In the words of one white Mississippian, “We repose on a volcano.”

The result was state policy that gyrated wildly during the 1820s and 1830s. Going back to 1817, the State’s original constitution guaranteed to immigrants the right to bring slaves with them when they came to settle, but expressly authorized the legislature to ban the importation of slaves “as merchandise”. The legislature had used this power to regulate, but not to ban, slave imports. In 1822, the legislature enacted a “character test” by which commercial importers – slave traders – had to obtain character references for the slaves they were importing. In 1825 the legislature added a tax of 2.5% on all slaves purchased at auction, but after an outcry the tax was reduced to 1.0% in 1826.

In 1832, Mississippi held a constitutional convention. Although the convention was called for unrelated reasons – primarily to draft a more democratic state constitution – the recent Nat Turner Rebellion in Virginia prompted delegates to use it as an opportunity to increase white safety. “Ultimately, an unlikely coalition of Natchez area planters and piney woods whites placed a provision in the proposed constitution prohibiting the introduction [of] slaves 'as Merchandise' after March 1, 1833.” The Natchez planters benefited because the decrease in supply would force in-state residents to purchase their excess slaves at increased prices. Piney woods yeomen simply wanted to avoid further blackening of the state.

The new constitution was approved, but the ban on the slave trade caused an uproar by planters in the still-growing black belt who demanded more slaves and resented having to purchase them from Natchez area planters at increased prices. As a result, the legislature declined to enact implementing legislation that set penalties and the like. Instead, that very year (1833), it approved and sent to the voters for ratification a proposed constitutional amendment revoking the ban, which was almost universally expected to pass.

In the ensuing vote in November 1833, a large majority of those who voted on the provision approved it. Unexpectedly, however, the amendment failed because it was not endorsed by a majority of all eligible voters. The result left the legislature uncertain and confused. It responded by reviving the old policy of taxing slave purchases at a rate of 2.5%. “Thus while the supreme law of Mississippi prohibited the importation of slaves as merchandise after March 1, 1833, the legislature not only approved no penalties or sanctions for violators but instead taxed what appeared to be an unconstitutional trade.”

Beginning in 1837, the Mississippi courts became involved. In the wake of the Panic of 1837, numerous purchasers defaulted on notes they had issued for the purchase of slaves. In suits by the note holders, the defendants argued that the notes were invalid and unenforceable because they were issued in connection with transactions that were unconstitutional and thus void. “In a series of sometimes inconsistent decisions, results-oriented state courts in Mississippi tended to void debts planters owed slave traders but upheld debts that purchasers of slaves owed indigenous Mississippi slaveholders.”

The slave traders, who were citizens of states other than Mississippi, figured out that they could bring their suits in federal court by invoking diversity jurisdiction (where the parties are citizens of different states), and they began doing just that. Robert Slaughter was one of them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Origins of South Carolinian Radicalism

I mentioned the other day that I did not recall an extensive discussion of the Denmark Vesey conspiracy in Lacy K. Ford's Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry 1800-1860. I'm relieved to report that my memory did not fail me. A quick check of the index disclosed exactly one reference to Denmark Vesey, and that proved to be a passing one.

A quick review of that volume also indicates that my more general point was correct: Prof. Ford there argued that it was the later Nullification Crisis that sent South Carolina spinning off course. “Prior to the nullification crisis, there was little evidence to suggest that South Carolina was not part of the national political mainstream, or at the very least, typical of the other states along the South Atlantic seaboard.” Prof. Ford's sole mention of the Vesey scare came in the context of a laundry list of events that tended to put National Republicanism on the defensive in the early and mid 1820s, including the Missouri Compromise debates and the higher tariff of 1824. Nonetheless,
[p]olitics in South Carolina prior to nullification was remarkably similar to politics in the other Southern states, as well as several Northern ones, during the so-called “Era of Good Feelings.” . . . Indeed, a superficial glance at South Carolina politics during the mid-1820s offers the observer little reason to believe that the state was about to veer off on a remarkable and controversial tangent that would not only place it in radical defiance of the national government but would also do much to isolate it from the other southern states.

I must emphasize that my suggestion that Prof. Ford's views may have shifted somewhat is by no means a criticism. Quite the contrary. Origins of Southern Radicalism was published in 1988 and presumably (I am guessing here) grew out of Prof. Ford's doctoral dissertation. To his credit, twenty years of further research and study by a perceptive scholar have produced a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the stages of South Carolina's unique journey toward interposition and secession. What I'd love to see is an updated and revised version of the book that incorporates Prof. Ford's additional learning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Denmark Vesey and the Origins of Radicalism in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Three hundred fifty pages or so into Lacy K. Ford's Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South, I can tell you that this is a superb book.

To give but one example, Prof. Ford includes a brilliant discussion of the of the Denmark Vesey scare in South Carolina during mid-1822 and its effect on South Carolina politics. (As a side note, did you know that Vesey's name was originally Telemaque but that “the local community's dialect changed the pronunciation of Telemaque to Denmark”?)

Prof. Ford argues that the Vesey scare led to a fundamental political realignment in Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry. Although the Upcountry was less affected (as votes in the South Carolina legislature in the session held at the end of 1822 attest), the reaction to the Vesey scare marked the beginning of the radicalization of the state.

Here, for example, is Prof. Ford commenting on the contemporary analysis of Supreme Court Associate Justice William Johnson. Johnson, one of the few natives of Charleston who resisted the frenzy, strangely saw the political dislocation as a reincarnation of old Federalist-Republican divisions. The South Carolina Association and the Negro Seaman's Act were, in effect, the Hartford Convention come back to life. Prof. Ford disagrees:
But in his [Johnson's] assessment of events in Charleston during the early 1820s, the politically minded Johnson seemed strangely unable to sense the political ground shifting under his feet. He failed to recognize that a new and intensely localist faction was emerging, one led by [James] Hamilton but drawing support from many of the area's leading politicians, who, regardless of their prior stances on the boundaries of states' rights and federal authority, now stood ready to assert state sovereignty, in its most radical forms if necessary. This new radicalism emerged as part of a concerted effort to protect the slaveholding society from both outside influence and internal unrest. This new, decidedly activist states' rights faction hardly embraced limited government in the abstract; they were willing to use the power of government, and particularly state and local government, aggressively in defense of white security and local control over slavery. They saw, or at least claimed to see, the ability to maintain maximum control over their admittedly “peculiar and local” society as a matter of survival. Former Federalists and national Republicans joined longtime states' rights Republicans to forge an assertive new coalition committed to defending the slaveholding society of the Carolina Lowcountry against all threats. This movement, embodied in the South Carolina Association, represented a counterrevolution of sorts, driven by the politics of slavery. In 1823, however, this counterrevolution, though it generated faint echos of support from black-belt enclaves scattered across the lower South, held sway only in the heavily black South Carolina Lowcountry, a region recently alarmed by an insurrection scare that had been presented to the public as one of previously unimagined proportions.

My recollection is that when he published Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry 1800-1860 twenty years ago Prof. Ford identified the Nullification Crisis as the central event that sent South Carolina spinning off on its radical course. I recall little if any discussion of Vesey in that book; it's been a while, though, so I may be wrong.

That said, the two books (assuming my recollection is correct) may well be reconcilable. By carefully noting that Vesey radicalized the Lowcounty while leaving the rest of the state relatively unscathed, Prof. Ford leaves open the distinct possibility that it was the Nullification Crisis that caused the Upcountry to join their Lowcountry brethren in the asylum.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Deliver Us from Evil

Long-time readers of this blog – and there may be one or two of you – may know that I'm a huge fan of Lacy K. Ford's Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800-1860 (Oxford University Press 1988). That study of why and how the South Carolina "upcountry" – that portion of the state above the fall line – joined the South Carolina asylum is, in my view, one of the great studies of secession in the lower south, up there with J. Mills Thornton's Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama, 1800-1860. Although I did not list Prof. Ford's book as one of my "top ten" favorite pre-Civil War books in my survey entitled The Road to the Road to Gettysburg, that was only because I feared it was too specialized for the general reader, and even so I went out of my way to give it a nod in the postscript to that post.

At all events, you may imagine my delight when I stumbled across a reference to Prof. Ford's newly-published volume, Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South (Oxford University Press 2009), his first book-length work (as far as I know) in over twenty years. Detailed studies of slavery are not exactly my cup of tea, but I ordered the book immediately nonetheless based on the author.

Upon receipt, my initial reaction was, "Uh oh, I've bit off more than I can chew": 536 pages of text in fairly small type (no maps, no photos, no charts), plus over 100 pages of endnotes on a subject I wasn't sure about.

Although I'm only 100+ pages in, I'm delighted to report that the book is wonderful. I invite you to read the overviews at Amazon to get a more detailed description of the general subject matter, but in brief it contains a detailed description and analysis of attempts by white southerners to understand, rationalize and formulate political reactions to slavery. The book explores these issues both over time – from roughly the founding (1780s) to the mid-1830s (when northern assaults caused southerners to close ranks and made their internal discussions more opaque) – and over space (exploring the different interests, attitudes, rationalizations, responses and solutions of the upper and lower south).

To give you a better feel for the book, I thought I'd provide a brief overview of the portion I've just finished, an examination of the lower old south, exemplified by South Carolina, from the founding era until 1808, when the international slave trade was abolished at the national level.

What Prof. Ford provides in this chapter is a fascinating – for me at any rate – exploration of South Carolina's concerns about and legislative enactments concerning slavery during the period. After noting that South Carolina and her sister deep south state, Georgia, had insisted during the Constitutional Convention of mid-1787 that the federal government not be permitted to outlaw the international slave trade for twenty years, Prof. Ford notes and explores what appears to be a profound irony: earlier that very year (in March 1787) the South Carolina legislature had "prohibit[ed] not only the foreign slave trade but also the interstate slave trade."
Moreover, every member of South Carolina's distinguished delegation to the Philadelphia convention had served in the 1787 legislature and only one of the four future founders, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, voted to keep the state's slave trade open. The other three, John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, and Pierce Butler, all voted to close the state's foreign slave trade.

Although South Carolina legislature reopened the domestic slave trade the very next year (1788), it "agreed to keep the foreign trade closed." In 1792, the state again closed the interstate slave trade "ever hereafter." For the next eleven years South Carolina – incredibly, it would seem – prohibited the importation of slaves from overseas and from other states (with an exception for masters entering the state to reside there with their slaves). As late as 1802, the South Carolina house of representatives defeated an attempt to reopen the foreign slave trade by an overwhelming margin, 86-11. The state's senate agreed by voice vote. And yet one year later (1803) both houses of the legislature dramatically reversed themselves, "vot[ing] to reopen both the foreign and domestic slave trades." Why?

I won't give away the answers, but Prof. Ford accounts for and explains these apparently wild gyrations in detail – Saint-Domingue, the Louisiana Purchase, white safety, profits and the desire to attract new settlers feature prominently.

This is clearly a specialized and detailed volume that is not for everyone. It is not a book that can be read quickly or superficially. But if the sorts of issues that I have described fascinate you, as they do me, after only 100+ pages I recommend it highly. Prof. Ford's writing is clear and cogent. He both conveys the drama inherent in particular episodes (Gabriel's Rebellion of 1800, for example) and provides closely-argued and subtle yet well laid out and easily followed (if read carefully and methodically) analyses of those events and their consequences (the reactions, proposals and legislative responses of white Virginians to the Rebellion). For the right reader, this book will be a joy and a revelation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rare Newsreel Footage of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

Thanks to A Blog About History for highlighting this touching video.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Slaves and Quakers

We took each other with our mutual bad habits and respective evils, for better, for worse; the Northern states adopted us with our slaves; and we adopted them with their Quakers.

South Carolinian William Loughton Smith, commenting in 1790 on slavery abolition petitions submitted to Congress by Quaker groups. The quote is taken from Lacy K. Ford's new book, Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South (Oxford University Press 2009).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Election of 1828: Two New Books

The latest beneficiary of the odd phenomenon by which multiple books on the same topic appear almost simultaneously is the presidential campaign and election of 1828 – that's the one in which Andrew Jackson beat the incumbent, John Quincy Adams.

In this case the reader is also the beneficiary, because the two books that recently appeared on the subject – Donald B. Cole's Vindicating Andrew Jackson: The 1828 Election and the Rise of the Two-Party System (University Press of Kansas 2009) and Lynn Hudson Parsons's The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 (Oxford University Press 2009) – have somewhat different emphases. The volumes are virtually identical in length (roughly 200 pages of text) and there is overlap, of course, but what is most surprising is the extent to which they focus on different aspects of the topic. I happily read both back-to-back with little been-there-done-that regret.

The title of Prof. Cole's first chapter – “The Spring of 1825” - reveals his general approach. Prof. Cole focuses rather tightly on the four-year period leading up to the election. As I suggested in an earlier post, this gives him the opportunity to explore the campaign in some depth. While he provides the obligatory background and history of the major players, Prof. Cole clearly most enjoys digging into the guts of how the Jacksonians and anti-Jacksonians went about the unfamiliar task of building campaign organizations.

The result is a detailed treatment of the formation of the two proto-parties that goes well beyond the typical top-down survey that largely restricts itself to following the centers of the organizations – Jackson and his cronies plotting in Nashville to dethrone the incumbent, while Quinzy stoically sits and stews in the Capital, refusing to take the actions necessary to energize his natural constituents. We certainly get all that, but in addition Prof. Cole focuses on six diverse states (New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire and Kentucky) to give us a worm's eye view of party formation on the ground, Along the way, we get a sense of how important pre-existing local political controversies and alignments were to the process. In my earlier post on the book, I took a look at Prof. Cole's treatment of this process in Kentucky, and I invite interested readers to consult that post by way of example. But in each state, advocates had to work within the context of local factions and try to turn them to their advantage.

Prof. Parsons, in contrast, might have subtitled his book “The Elections of 1824 and 1828.” The first sixty-odd pages of text (out of a book only two hundred pages of text in length) contain, in effect, parallel biographies of the lives and exploits of Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams into James Monroe's second term. The 40-page Chapter Three takes us through the campaign and election of 1824. It is thus more than half-way through the book that the campaign of 1828 actually comes into view.

Structuring the book in this way allows Prof. Parsons to highlight the transition from the Monrovian Era of Good Feelings to the partisanship of the 1828 campaign. As different as they seem, it is possible to trace good deal of continuity between the two.

The second term of the Monroe administration was marked by factional development that was primarily personal and to a lesser extent regional as the principal players covertly jockeyed for position. The most obvious divide was between Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, who had been political enemies (and for Jackson personal enemies) since at least January 1819, when Clay had denounced Jackson on the floor of Congress as a modern day Julius Caesar.

Other relationships are more surprising, and point up the largely non-ideological nature of the political world. Among others, Clay and John Quincy Adams (later Whig soul-mates) were adversaries; Martin Van Buren (later joined at the hip to Old Hickory) was a vigorous advocate of Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford and shunned Andrew Jackson, who returned the favor (Van Buren's alignment, based on ideology, was the exception that proved the rule); fellow south-easterners John Calhoun (South Carolina) and Crawford (Georgia) were rivals; and, most surprising of all, Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams were closely aligned.

Prof. Parsons clearly relishes the irony that abounds in the early Adams-Jackson relationship given their later history. In 1818, Adams was the sole supporter in Monroe's Cabinet of Jackson's unauthorized (or perhaps tacitly authorized, or perhaps mistaken assumed by Jackson to be tacitly authorized, or whatever) incursion into Spanish Florida earlier in the year, during which he had two British citizens executed. Jackson did not learn until much later that no other Cabinet member had sided with Adams, but he was well aware of Adams's vigorous public defense of Jackson's actions. In 1821, Adams likewise justified and defended Jackson's questionable actions while serving as Governor of the newly-acquired Florida Territory.

Circumstances also showed the two men thought alike on foreign policy issues and could work together. Before signing the Adams-Onis treaty in 1819, by which the United States acquired Florida from Spain, a nervous President Monroe asked Adams (then Monroe's Secretary of State) to review its terms with Jackson, because the treaty would relinquish any claim by the United States that the Texas was part of the Louisiana Territory previously obtained from France. Adams met with Jackson twice in early February 1819, and Old Hickory readily agreed that the deal was well worth making. (In later years, Jackson would adamantly deny this. “But,” as Prof. Parsons archly notes, “Adams kept a diary, and Jackson did not.”)

Nor was Adams's support of Jackson merely for public (or international) consumption. At about this time (early 1819), the two men exchanged dinners at their Washington residences, and three years later (early 1822) Adams confided to his diary that “General Jackson has rendered such services to this Nation, that it is impossible for me to contemplate his character or conduct without veneration.”

Jackson returned the compliment. In a letter at the end of 1821 he expressed his admiration for Adams and indicated that he would be willing to support Adams for the presidency in 1824:
You know my private opinion of Mr Adams Talents, virtue, and integrity, and I am free to declare that I have never changed this opinion of Mr Adams since it was first formed, I think him a man of the first rate mind of any in America as a civilian and scholar, and I have never doubted of his attachment to our republican Government. . . . [I am] at liberty to say in my name both to my friends and enemies – that I will as far as my influence extends support Mr Adams unless Mr Calhoun should be brought forward.

“Historians are in agreement as to the importance of the election of 1828,” Prof. Parsons observes, “but not necessarily as to why.” Prof. Cole agrees: “Americans have interpreted the election in various ways.” Both debunk the idea that the campaign and election themselves created democracy (rather than taking advantage of democratizing developments that had already occurred but had not previously been exploited) and provide useful surveys of the ways in which the campaign, election and the coming of the Age of Jackson have been viewed.

While I would prefer to advise that you simply read both, that's probably an unrealistic hope. How, then, to choose? Reluctantly, if I have to pick one book over the other, I have to go with Prof. Parsons's work. You certainly lose the detail of Prof. Cole's valuable descriptions of the 1828 campaign itself. But Prof. Parsons' technique allows him to provide a better explanation of the continuity as well as the discontinuity of the period – how the Age of Jackson grew out of the Age of Jefferson.

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

Jack Webb Schools Barack Obama

Friday, September 11, 2009


Evil exists in this world, and we had best never forget it.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Beauty and Booty

At the end of my last post I noted that in 1828 pro-Jackson editor Isaac Hill came up with the memorable line, "Pshaw! Why don’t you tell the whole truth? On the 8th of January, 1815, [Jackson] murdered in the coldest blood 1,500 British soldiers for merely trying to get into New Orleans for Booty and Beauty.”

Hill's one-liner gave rise to an 1828 campaign poster, above, that bears the caption "PROTECTOR & DEFENDER OF BEAUTY AND BOOTY".

But what is more interesting is that memory of the line seems to have lived on for decades. Immediately above is a copy of a handbill dated May 17, 1861 and printed at Morristown, Tennessee calling men to arms against the Yankee enemy. The text begins with the sentence, "The Yankee War is now being waged for 'beauty and booty.'"

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Andrew Jackson, Murderer!

One of the charges that supporters of John Quincy Adams leveled at Andrew Jackson during the 1828 presidential campaign was that Old Hickory was not an Old Hero but rather a murderer. The charge was first made on March 19, 1827, “when two Adams congressmen from Kentucky, Richard Buckner and Francis Johnson, separately accused Jackson of having cruelly and illegally executed six Tennessee militiamen for mutiny.“ Donald B. Cole tells the background that gave rise to the story:
The incident occurred near Mobile in the Mississippi Territory in the late summer of 1814, while Jackson was in command of the entire Southwest. At the court-martial, which was held on December 5, 1814, the six men maintained that they were innocent because their terms of duty had expired, but the court ruled otherwise. Jackson was not present at the court-martial, but on January 15, 1815, shortly after the Battle of New Orleans, he approved the court’s findings, and on February 21 the men were executed.

The Jacksonians fought back, arguing vigorously that the men were guilty and the punishment just under the circumstances, particularly because the United States had been at war at the time. Core Jackson supporters set up a central organization, called the Nashville Central Committee, to respond to attacks on the Old Hero. As to the murder charge,
[t]hey published documents showing that the executed men had stolen food and supplies and that their terms of enlistment had not expired. They also pointed out that the mutiny and court-martial had taken place while the United States was under attack and that the men had been executed before word of the peace treaty arrived in New Orleans.

Nonetheless, anti-Jackson men kept repeating the charge. Ten months later, in January 1828, pro-Adams editor John Binns of Philadelphia created one of the great attack ads of the period by publishing a series of “Coffin Handbills” in his Democratic Press.
The first handbill, which appeared near the end of January 1828, was entitled “Monumental Inscriptions” and featured two rows of three coffins each, with brief attacks on Jackson at the top and bottom. Each coffin was topped by a skull and crossbones and a detailed inscription. About half of these contained the poem “Mournful Tragedy,” which called the executions of the militiamen “A dreadful Deed – A bloody Act / Of needless Cruelty.”

The Coffin Handbills were wildly successful. In early March, Jackson confidante John Eaton reported to the Old Hero “that ‘Binns 6 militia, & 6 Coffins . . . fairly inundated’ New Hampshire before the state election.”

New Hampshire Jacksonian editor Isaac Hill was himself a master of invective, having created the story that John Quincy Adams had pimped for the Tsar of Russia. Following the March 1828 New Hampshire state elections – “a decisive victory for the Adams men” – Hill lashed out in frustration (or, as Prof. Cole maintains, mock frustration) against the Coffin Handbills and other Adams attacks, producing one of the campaign’s most memorable lines in the process:
During the summer [of 1828] Hill and party press were forced to spend a large part of their time defending the Old Hero. Hill’s most memorable comment came when he was refuting the charges, one after another. Suddenly in mock exasperation he shouted, “Pshaw! Why don’t you tell the whole truth? On the 8th of January, 1815, [Jackson] murdered in the coldest blood 1,500 British soldiers for merely trying to get into New Orleans for Booty and Beauty.” Like his czar story, this remark won national attention.

The first illustration is, of course, one of John Binns’s Coffin Handbills:
One of the well-known "coffin hand bills" originated by Republican editor John Binns in his campaign against presidential candidate Andrew Jackson. The six coffins across the top of the broadside represent six militiamen executed under Jackson's orders during the Creek War in 1813. Other coffins represent soldiers and Indians allegedly condemned and executed by Jackson. The broadside's text is a catalog of these and similar atrocities attributed to the candidate. A woodcut scene at lower right portrays Jackson assaulting and stabbing Samuel Jackson "in the streets of Nashville." Another version of the handbill, reproduced by Lorant, has the same text but substitutes a reversed copy of the cut at lower right.

About the second illustration:
A satire on the reverse impact of John Binns's anti-Jackson "coffin handbill" campaign during the presidential race of 1828. Editor-publisher Binns supports on his back a large load of coffins, upon which are figures of Henry Clay (left) and incumbent President John Quincy Adams (right). Binns: "I must have an extra dose of Treasury-pap, or down go the Coffins Harry, for I feel faint already." Clay: "Hold on Jonny Q – for I find that the people are too much for us, and I'm sinking with Jack and his Coffins!" Adams (grasping the presidential chair): "I'll hang on to the Chair Harry, in spite of Coffin hand-bills Harris's letter Panama mission or the wishes of the People."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

George Washington's Dentures

I am not sure this is true (although you can find pictures on the internet that suggest it is), but I'm never going to look at those portraits of George Washington (or the $1 bill) the same way again:
For me, the most interesting part of the story about George’s teeth is the mechanism of their fabrication. The upper and lower gold plates were connected by springs which pushed the upper and lower plates against the upper and lower ridges of his mouth to hold them in place. Washington actually had to actively close his jaws together to make his teeth bite together. If he relaxed, his mouth would pop open. There is speculation that this is the reason that the Father of Our Country always looks so stern in his portraits. Take a look at a dollar bill. George isn’t upset - he’s just trying to keep his teeth in!!!

Hat tip to The Other McCain.

Friday, September 04, 2009

John Quincy Adams, Pimp! - Isaac Hill

In Vindicating Andrew Jackson, Donald B. Cole describes the origin of the 1827 Jacksonian campaign slur that John Quincy Adams pimped for Tsar Alexander I of Russia while Adams served as United States Ambassador to that country between 1809 and 1814:
Another, more ludicrous attack was the story relating to the czar of Russia. While Adams was minister to Russia, a young chambermaid on his staff wrote a letter in which she made some casual remarks about the czar. On being informed of the letter, the czar was so amused and curious that he asked to speak to her. So during his next audience with the czar, Adams brought the woman in for a brief (and public) conversation. This humdrum story had no political appeal until it appeared in a short sketch of Jackson published by Isaac Hill in which Hill accused Adams of being a pimp who had procured a woman for the lascivious pleasure of the czar. Once the story appeared in the sketch, it spread throughout the Jackson press.

"Vindicating Andrew Jackson"

I’m about half way through Ronald B. Cole’s Vindicating Andrew Jackson: The 1828 Election and the Rise of the Two-Party System. By no means is this a formal – or even informal – review, but I thought I’d provide an impression or two.

Although the book would serve perfectly well as an introduction to the political landscape of the period 1824-1828, what are most interesting to me are some of the details. On the national level, it’s fascinating to watch Henry Clay, then John Quincy Adams’s Secretary of State, struggle as he tries to take on a previously-unknown and undefined role: national chairman, or at least coordinator, of a party that did not yet exist. As Prof. Cole explains,
Clay’s reputation as the Great Compromiser and the model Speaker of the House and his long career as congressman, senator, secretary of state, and three-time candidate for president have forced historians to give him his due; yet his efforts to create a second political party to match the Jacksonians deserve far more attention than they have received.

Prof. Cole nicely portrays Clay’s frantic efforts to establish pro-Adams organizations in the various states, where the 1828 election would ultimately be fought and decided.

The other figure who stands out on the national level is “Postmaster General John McLean, a holdover from the [James] Monroe administration, who controlled more patronage than anyone else.” Thirty years later, McLean, on the Supreme Court, would dissent from the Dred Scott decision. But in 1825-1828 McLean was a serpent in the heart of the Adams administration whom the president suicidally failed to fire, because he was competent and not corrupt. But in state after state we see McLean alienating Adams supporters and strengthening the Jacksonians through the use of his patronage power.

But even more illuminating than his examination of national political figures is Prof. Cole’s exploration of party formation and battles on the state level. Far more than now, the proto-parties of the 1820s were built and fought on the state level, and in the context of earlier state factions and state-based disputes. Prof. Cole takes a close look at the pre-history and history the development and fortunes of the emerging parties in six states – New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Virginia. Looking at the swelling contest from “the bottom” provides a fascinating glimpse of how the Jacksonians ultimately prevailed.

As is often the case, an example is worth a thousand generalities. In his review of Clay’s home state of Kentucky, Prof. Cole takes us through that state’s bizarre political pre-history. In the wake of Panic of 1819, politician who favored relief for strapped debtors (largely based in the non-Bluegrass region) gained ascendency, passing debt moratorium laws. When the state supreme court ruled the legislative centerpiece of the pro-relief agenda unconstitutional, the pro-reliefers overplayed their hand by appointing a new, pro-Relief supreme court. (Prof. Cole does not draw the analogy, but one immediately thinks of the way FDR overplayed his hand when he tried to “pack” the Supreme Court.) In the resulting fallout, the anti-Relief party, centered in the wealthy Bluegrass region and now dubbed the “Old Court” party, defeated the “New Court” (formerly pro-relief) party in state elections in 1825 and 1826.

These developments and alliances were the result of state-based disagreements and reactions arising out of the Panic of 1819 and local political feuds. And yet as 1828 approached the state-based factions tended to gravitate toward the rival national contestants. Although Henry Clay “steadfastly refused to take sides in the [Old Court-New Court] controversy,” he was a native of the wealthy Bluegrass region and consistently represented creditors (including the Second Bank of the United States) in his legal career. Members of the Old Court group seemed naturally to lean towards Clay and the president he served, Quinzy. Conversely, most leaders of the New Court (pro-relief) party tended to favor the president’s opponent, Old Hickory.

But chance and personal circumstance also played key roles. In Kentucky, they took the form of Amos Kendall, the fiery and slashing pro-Relief editor of the Frankfort, KY Argus of Western America, who railed against evil and corrupt banks. Although he ultimately became a key member of the Jacksonian brain trust (he helped write Jackson’s Bank veto), Kendall was at first no fan of the General. Bound to Henry Clay by ties that were both personal (he had tutored the Clay children) and financial (he owed Clay money), Kendall had backed Clay for years and in 1824 had attacked Jackson for his “propensity to war.”

Only in late 1826 did Kendall swing into the Jacksonian camp, announcing his conclusion that “the Old Hero was more Jeffersonian and less ‘consolidating’ than John Quincy Adams.” Prof. Cole intimates that the move was motivated in part by the fortunes of the state parties – Kendall became convinced that the faltering New Court party “needed to shift public attention away from the court struggle by converting . . . into a Jackson party.” But growing distance from Clay and personal circumstance also played key roles:
Kendall was sincere about his Jeffersonian beliefs, but he had made the move primarily to save his state party and his own career. He really had no other choice. If he had refused to shift, the Jacksonians would have set up their own newspaper in Frankfort, and the Argus would have been in deep trouble.

During the course of 1827, Kendall helped to transform the identity and fortunes of the New Court party. As the August 1827 state elections approached, Kendall transformed them into “a national event,” defending Jackson against charges of adultery and murder and flaying Adams with claims that he played billiards (billiards!) in the White House and “had provided a woman for the pleasure of the czar of Russia.” The stunned and more staid opposition seemed to be at a loss as to how to fight back, and in August the former New Court – now Jacksonian – party made substantial gains in the state legislature. The day the returns came in, the Jackson men, headed by Kendall and Francis Preston Blair, began to organize for 1828.
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