When France Meddled in American Elections

 

Over at The Washington Post, historian Jordan Taylor reminds us that “the founding fathers knew first-hand that foreign interference in U.S. elections was dangerous.”  He points to French ambassadors Edmond-Charles Genet, Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet, and Pierre-Auguste Adet in the 1790s.

Here is a taste:

 

Throughout the 1790s, France’s ambassadors repeatedly sought to influence the results of American elections, hoping to sway policy in their favor.

Even after this meddling ended, fear of foreign influence persisted, ultimately making subsequent untainted elections seem illegitimate. Public faith in the democratic process had eroded. The entire experience convinced the founding generation that democracies live or die based on the integrity of their elections — a lesson we must remember today.

In 1793, a quirky and energetic man named Edmond-Charles Genêt arrived in the United States to assume his position as the new ambassador of France. Many Americans responded enthusiastically to Genêt at political gatherings and social engagements as he integrated himself with the Francophile Democratic-Republican party that opposed the Federalist Washington administration.

Unsurprisingly, relations between Genêt and the Washington administration quickly soured. George Washington’s repeated refusal to align American interests with France angered Genêt. According to some accounts, he warned that if the president continued to rebuff him, he would “appeal to the people” themselves. This threat earned him immediate infamy, because it suggested that Genêt might seek to influence the American elections in 1794 to build support for policies friendly to France. To prevent him from taking such actions, the Washington administration demanded that France recall Genêt.

The new French ambassador, a sulking, stubborn man named Jean Antoine Joseph Fauchet, practiced greater discretion in advancing French interests. But though he was not as flamboyant as Genêt, Fauchet nonetheless paid small subsidies to Democratic-Republicans as they fought against the adoption of the looming Anglo-American “Jay Treaty” that would harm France’s interests.

Read the entire piece here.

The Benefits of Impeachment: Some Lessons from Andrew Johnson

Johnson

Historian Gregory Downs thinks that Trump should be impeached even if the Senate keeps him office. There is a good chance that the time between the impeachment in the House and the trial in the Senate might “curtail Trump’s worst behaviors” and neutralize him politically.

Downs uses the impeachment of Andrew Johnson to make his point.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

Johnson’s adept attorneys succeeded in protecting his tenure in office in two ways. First, they sought to delay the Senate trial. Then, they used that delay to persuade Johnson to keep his hands off Reconstruction. As the trial hung over him and then dragged on through April and May, a chastened Johnson pledged to appoint a moderate secretary of war, stop shuffling generals in the Southern states, and let the Army and African American Republicans complete their work in the South. By April, a half-dozen former Confederate states had ratified their new constitutions and asked Congress for readmission. Only then, in mid-May, did the Senate finally vote on Johnson’s fate.

Even with his acquiescence to Reconstruction, Johnson survived only by a single vote in that Senate tally. Although the 14th Amendment was not ratified until July 1868, the impeachment trial that put Johnson’s fate into question allowed freedpeople, white Southern Republicans and the Army to freely engage in the crucial work of making what some scholars call a “Second Constitution,” a refashioning of the federal government’s role in protecting individual rights through the 14th Amendment’s pledges of equal protection and due process. Most significantly, those reconstructed states provided the votes to ratify the proposed amendment, which has subsequently shaped Supreme Court decisions on desegregation, voting rights, same-sex marriage, freedom of speech and assembly, and many other basic rights we enjoy today.

Impeachment also did play a role in Johnson leaving office by weakening him politically. In 1866, Johnson had explored the creation of a new party that combined Democrats and conservative Republicans. When that collapsed, he spent part of 1867 trying to engineer nomination by the Democratic Party, his old home. But the trial helped make him untouchable, and the Democrats turned to a different candidate, New York’s Horatio Seymour, leaving Johnson off the ballot.

Analogies are never perfect. We are not now in a period of Reconstruction, or a moment when Congress and the president are primarily at war over such a specific set of laws. Nonetheless, as Johnson did, Trump threatens the nation’s stability by attacking our faith in elections and the rule of law, as well as our global alliances. His tweets and incendiary rhetoric are dangerous, and although no one can say how he would respond to a looming trial, one possibility is that he, like Johnson, might tone down his behavior to avoid removal. And this possibility makes it worth taking the political risk posed by impeachment.

Trying to judge the worthiness of impeachment solely by whether it ends in conviction and removal would be a mistake. If the presence of a trial disciplines Trump to stop encouraging foreign interference in U.S. elections and to start curtailing his destabilizing rhetoric, impeachment will have been worth it, whether it ends in conviction or acquittal, in 2020 reelection or defeat. While many will call for a speedy impeachment trial if the House votes to impeach, senators might look to the Johnson case to ask whether a deliberate process will sustain pressure on the White House to behave more responsibly, and give the president the opportunity to save — or destroy — his tenure in office.

Read the rest here.

Other Famous American Whistleblowers

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The list includes John Grannis, A. Ernest Fitzgerald, Frank Serpico, Karen Silkwood, Daniel Ellsberg, and Mark Felt.  Will will add one more soon.

Here is Olivia Waxman of Time:

America’s history with whistle-blowers is as old as the country itself, but the popular idea that they are courageous hasn’t meant whistle-blowing isn’t still risky, says Tom Mueller, author of Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud, out Oct. 1. And in the intelligence community, where sharing secrets is a loaded idea, whistle-blowing is even more complicated.

The origins of the term “whistle-blower” are murky — one theory holds that it’s a reference to the whistle blown by British policemen when they saw foul play, and another says it’s a sports reference to the whistles blown by referees — but the principle dates back to medieval England by way of Roman law. Central to the existence of whistle-blowers is the concept that sometimes individuals, not governments or law-enforcement, need to be the ones who raise the alarm about wrongdoing.

Read the rest here.

A Review of Three New Washington D.C. Exhibits on the Women’s Suffrage Movement

women's Sufferage

Are you looking for one more quick get-away this summer?  Why not take a women’s suffrage-themed trip to Washington D.C.?

Over at The New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler reviews exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery, Library of Congress, and National Archives.  These exhibits, Schuessler argues, reveal the complexity of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Together, these shows — all curated by women — make up one of the richest explorations of women’s history yet assembled in the capital, or anywhere else. But they also offer a lesson in the messiness, complexities and compromises involved in any movement for social change — and the fraught politics of historical memory itself.

For years, the drive for women’s suffrage was presented mainly as the story of middle-class white women and iconic national leaders like Anthony and Stanton. That story began with the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York in 1848 and ended with the triumphant adoption of the amendment on Aug. 26, 1920, which resulted in the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in American history.

But in recent decades scholars have taken a less top-down view, emphasizing the movement’s multiple starting points and patchwork progress through hundreds of state and local campaigns. They have also excavated the role of African-American women, who were largely excluded from the major, white-led suffrage organizations and marginalized in the early histories of the movement, if they were mentioned at all.

Even before the centennial year began, there have been tensions over who and what to celebrate — or even how to sum up the amendment’s significance.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner With William Nelson

Nelson pluribusWilliam E. Nelson is Judge Edward Wienfeld Professor of Law at New York University. This interview is based on his new book, E Pluribus Unum: How the Common Law Helped Unify and Liberate Colonial America, 1607-1776 (Oxford University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write E Pluribus Unum?

WN: I decided to write a multi-volume history of colonial American law, of which E Pluribus Unum is a one-volume summary, because I knew that a massive amount of colonial courts records existed, that someone should study them, and that NYU Law School would support my study. Courts were the primary instrumentality of colonial government, and I believe the most important job of historians is to explain how government has worked in the past so that the people can better appreciate how to make it work for them in the present.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of E Pluribus Unum?

WN: The book traces how the early colonies had a variety of legal systems and how King Charles II and King James II for lack of other means decided to use lawyers and the common law to bring unity and effective governance to their colonies. For half a century, lawyers governed effectively on behalf of the Crown, but beginning with the Zenger case in 1735 and continuing in a series of cases thereafter, lawyers assumed an increasingly oppositional role, with the result that by the 1770s they were the leaders of the Revolutionary movement.

JF: Why do we need to read E Pluribus Unum?

WN: One reason to read the book is to understand the importance of law and local power in the DNA of the American nation; the nation still does not have bureaucratic national institutions that are capable of governing without the help of law and local power. The book also reports on significant details, such as the origins of judicial review of legislation during the Stamp Act controversy and the role of debt collection in the breakup of slave families and communities.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

WN: In my last year of college, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to practice law or become a history professor. The minute I arrived at law school, it became clear that the right path for me would be to become a law professor whose scholarly focus was on history.

JF: What is your next project?

WN: My next book is a comparative study of New York and Texas law in the 20th century, with a goal of striving to better understand what differentiates conservatives in places like Texas from liberals in places like New York.

JF: Thanks, Bill!

What Happened to the Never-Trump Republicans?

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A few still exist, but most of them have lined-up with their Trump-controlled party.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear from people who did not support Trump in 2016, but today defend him and his policies with vigor.  Lawrence Glickman, a historian at Cornell University, provides some historical context to help us understand why these never-Trump Republicans like Ben Shapiro, Glenn Beck, and Erick Erickson went “extinct.”

Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

The very same thing happened in 1964, when party loyalty and ideological similarity convinced moderate Republicans to embrace the controversial candidate upending their party. In the late spring that year, as it became increasingly likely that Sen. Barry Goldwater (Ariz.) had a clear path to the Republican nomination for the presidency, twin fears gripped the then-formidable moderate wing of the party: first, that Goldwater might bring catastrophic loss to the Republican Party, and second, that if he were to win, it would bring a dangerous man to the White House.

But rather than going to war against Goldwater, the moderates, led by former president Dwight Eisenhower, first vacillated in their criticism and then relented, ultimately offering active support for their putative enemy.

Their actions help explain how a shared enemy and ideological affinities often lead political figures to overcome doubts they once had about the fitness and extremism of the leader of their party.

Of the moderates, Eisenhower’s behavior is especially telling. He should have been leading the charge against Goldwater. After all, the Arizona lawmaker and author of “The Conscience of a Conservative” had denounced the social welfare policies of his administration as a “dime-store New Deal.” And according to the journalist Theodore H. White, author of “The Making of the President” series, “Eisenhower was appalled at the prospect of Goldwater’s nomination.”

Yet the former president refused to publicly or explicitly denounce Goldwater. Instead, he whipsawed from private criticism of Goldwater to loyalty to his party, seeming to endorse even some of Goldwater’s more extreme ideas.

Read the entire piece here.

Kevin Kruse on the Differences Between Donald Trump and George Wallace (Hint: Trump is More Dangerous)

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Here is a taste of the Princeton historian‘s recent piece at The New York Times:

This leads us to the significant difference between Mr. Wallace and Mr. Trump. Mr. Wallace’s targets were, for the most part, presented in the abstract. Though he denounced broad categories of generic enemies — “agitators,” “anarchists” and “communists” — he rarely went after an individual by name.

Mr. Trump, in pointed contrast, has used his rallies to single out specific enemies. During the 2016 campaign, he demonized his political opponents in the primaries and the general election, and also denounced private individuals, from Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor, to the former Miss Universe Alicia Machado and the federal judge Gonzalo Curiel.

At recent rallies, he has targeted four Democratic House members who have criticized him and his administration — Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.

Participants at Mr. Trump’s rallies have been moved to attack individuals he’s singled out. For most rally participants, the attacks have been confined to ominous but nevertheless nonviolent chants — from the 2016 cries of “Lock her up!” to the recent refrain of “Send her back!” But a handful have gone further, targeting the individuals named by the president with death threats and even attempts at violence.

Read the entire piece here.

Quick Thoughts on Reagan’s Racist Remarks. Or What Say Ye Dinesh D’Souza and Friends?

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By now you should know about the recently released audio recording of Ronald Reagan calling African people “monkeys.” Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, made the remarks to Richard Nixon in 1971.

Listen to the remarks here and read historian Tim Naftali’s contextual piece at The Atlantic.

When I learned about this recording I thought about the debate between conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza and Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse.  For several years D’Souza has been making the case that the Democratic Party is the real racist political party, while the Republicans, as the party of Lincoln, is the party of equality and civil rights.

Southern Democrats were indeed racist in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century.  Many Republicans were also pretty racist, but they championed abolitionism, led a war to end slavery, and fought for the equality of African-Americans in the decades following the war.  But things change.  Historians study change over time.  While Southern Democrats opposed the civil rights movement, so did conservative Republicans such as Barry Goldwater and others.  Meanwhile, other Democrats, such as John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and the leaders of the civil rights movement, all sought to end Jim Crow in America.  Today the overwhelming majority of African Americans vote for Democratic candidates because of this legacy.

So what does D’Souza do about Reagan’s racist comments?  If the GOP is not the party of racism, then how does D’Souza explain the recorded remarks of the party’s conservative flag bearer?

The Politicization of July 4th is as Old as the Republic

Trump 4th

Is Trump politicizing Independence Day with his military parade and “Salute to America” speech?  Of course he is.  And, as historian Shira Lurie reminds us, this practice dates back to the country’s founding.  Here is a taste of her Washington Post piece, “Why Democrats are wrong about Trump’s politicization of the Fourth of July“:

In the hours after The Washington Post broke the news, Democrats pounced on Trump for politicizing the national holiday. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) denounced the president for “injecting partisan politics into the most nonpartisan sacred American holiday there is.” Three prominent congressional Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), wrote a letter to the president describing the Fourth as a “nonpartisan and apolitical” day. “It is, therefore, unfortunate that you are considering a conflicting event, which would create the appearance of a televised, partisan campaign rally on the Mall at the public expense.”

But these claims are wrong. The Fourth has never been apolitical or nonpartisan. Americans have always used Independence Day to disguise political messaging in the cloak of patriotism. And often, these messages have contained the divisiveness and acrimony we have come to associate with Trump.

Politicization of the Fourth of July began even before the United States was a country. During the War of Independence, officials used the anniversary of Congress’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence as an opportunity to bolster anti-British sentiment. They rallied support for the Patriots’ cause with toasts, orations, militia drills and fireworks. In the postwar years, the day transformed into a civics lesson, with Americans extolling the benefits of republican government and, later, the Constitution.

As soon as political parties developed in the 1790s, partisans began capitalizing on the nation’s birthday as well. Local leaders hosted rival Fourth of July celebrations and positioned their parties as the “true” inheritors of the American Revolution’s legacy. Occasionally they came to blows as each side vied for control over the crowds and public spaces in their communities.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Joseph Adelman

AdelmanJoseph Adelman is Assistant Professor of History at Framingham State University in Framingham, Massachusetts.  This interview is based on his new book, Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763-1789 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.

JF: What led you to write Revolutionary Networks?

JAThe book sits at the confluence of life and professional experiences that have shaped my thinking for several decades. I’ve long been interested in the American Revolution and in particular the politics of rebellion—how and why the “thirteen colonies” (and only those) decided to form a new nation. Second, between college and graduate school I worked for two years as the communications director for a New York state assemblyman. The work fascinated me, but because I was leaning towards becoming a historian, I often found myself stepping back from my day-to-day responsibilities to think about how various processes and structures of both politics and the media interacted and influenced what happened. So when I came to considering a research topic, I wanted to apply the questions I have about contemporary media to understand how the business of media intersected with politics during the era of the Revolution.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Revolutionary Networks?

JADuring the American Revolution, printers—artisans who worked with their hands at the press and also engaged in intellectual labor of editing and publishing—shaped political debate through the business practices of their trade. From the networks that printers developed across the colonies and around the Atlantic world to individual editorial decisions made in a single printing office, Revolutionary Networks shows how printers navigated a wide range of political and commercial environments to attempt to run successful businesses and also make an impact on the content of political debate.

JF: Why do we need to read Revolutionary Networks?

JAWe often assume that the news media were important during the American Revolution, and in fact many historians who have produced great scholarship on the Revolution require that to be true in order for their arguments to work. But very few have asked how the process of news creation worked—Revolutionary Networks fills that gap. It may seem like a narrow point at first, but what the book tries to document at a really close-in level is that those details matter a great deal. It changes our understanding of the politics surrounding the American Revolution that these artisans were making choices every day about what news to publish, where to situate it in context with other stories, whether to revise or amend the text they received, and so on. What appears on the surface to be a clear articulation of a political position instead is the result of a decisions and negotiations that focused not only on the beliefs of a text’s author but also—and in fact often more so—on the political perspective and business interests of the printer/editor who published the material.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JAI’ve been fascinated by history in general and the American Revolution in particular since I was in elementary school—as memory has it, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Deuel, gave me a book about the Revolution and it was off to the races. But I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a historian around my sophomore year in college as I immersed myself in scholarly readings. I talked about it with a few of my professors, who cautioned me that it was a difficult path in some ways but offered lots of flexibility (this was around 2000, well before the academic jobs crisis, and came from a privileged undergraduate institution). After the two years with the New York State legislature, I knew I wanted to get a Ph.D. to answer the call to write and teach about the past.

JF: What is your next project?

JAOne of the key institutions that made the printing trade function was the Post Office, and the key player in that entity was Benjamin Franklin. I’ve wanted to do a project that focuses a bit more on Franklin and I’m fascinated by the contradictions in the Post Office’s development—people saw it as a government institution but it has always functioned in many ways as a profit-seeking business. So I’m now writing a history of the post office in early America and the Atlantic world.

JF: Thanks, Joe!

Mapping Early American Elections

County-Election

This looks like a really useful website from Lincoln Mullen, Rosemarie Zagarri, and the folks at George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media:

Mapping Early American Elections offers a window into the formative era of American politics by producing interactive maps and visualizations of Congressional elections from 1787 to 1825. The project makes available the electoral returns and spatial data underlying those maps, along with topical essays on the political history of the period and tutorials to encourage users to use the datasets to create their own maps.

If you use this project, please use the following citation or something like it:

Mapping Early American Elections project team, Mapping Early American Elections, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University (2019): http://earlyamericanelections.orghttps://doi.org/10.31835/meae.

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2016 to offer enhanced access to the early American election returns in the New Nation Votes collection at Tufts University. The New Nation Votes dataset is the only comprehensive record of elections in existence for the early American republic. Scattered in newspapers, state archives, and local repositories around the country, the election returns have been painstakingly gathered over the past forty-five years by Philip J. Lampi of the American Antiquarian Society.

You can find the data we have released in our GitHub repository, along with the other codeproduced by the project.

For more about the project, please read our introductory essay and the other essays on early American politics.

Learn more here.

Did Men Invent “Likability?”

Hillary nominated

Check out historian Claire Potter‘s piece at The New York Times: “Men Invented ‘Likability.’ Guess Who Benefits.”  She reflects on the origins of the idea of “likability”  advertising culture and, eventually presidential politics.

As Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and others jumped into the race, each seemed to affirm the new power of women in 2019, a power that was born when President Trump was sworn into office, exploded during #MeToo and came into its own during the 2018 midterms.

But no female candidate has yet led the polls. The men keep joining — Michael Bennet this week, Joe Biden the last — and keep garnering glowing press coverage. Although Mr. Biden fumbled two previous presidential bids, we are told he has “crossover appeal”; Bernie Sanders has been admired by this newspaper as “immune to intimidation”; and Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay man nominated for president, is “very authentic.” By contrast Ms. Harris is “hard to define”; Ms. Klobuchar is “mean”; and Ms. Warren is a “wonky professor” who — you guessed it — is “not likable enough.” Seeing comments like this, Mrs. Clinton said wryly in January, “really takes me back.”

Likability: It is nebulous, arbitrary and meaningless, yet inescapable — and female politicians seem to be particularly burdened with it even when they win and especially when they run for president.

In a recent interview on CNN with Michael Smerconish, Potter challenged the audience to find one female candidate in the 2016 race who has been called “likability.”

Here is another small taste of her piece:

Americans were also taught that being likable was a quality that could be cultivated as a means to get ahead. In 1936, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” warned that those who tried too hard to be liked would fail: Theodore Roosevelt’s naturally friendly greetings to everyone he passed, regardless of status, Carnegie noted, had made it impossible not to like him, but Henrietta G., now the “best liked” counselor at her office, had been isolated until she learned to stop bragging. (Though looking back, we have to wonder: Would Henry G. have needed to hide his accomplishments?)

As presidential candidates put advertising experts in charge of national campaigns, perhaps it was inevitable that likability would jump explicitly to politics. In 1952, some of the first televised election ads sought to highlight Dwight Eisenhower’s likability. The advertising executive Rosser Reeves put Eisenhower in controlled settings where his optimism, self-confidence, humor and nonpartisanship could be emphasized over his political inexperience and what Reeves viewed as his “inept” speaking style. The animator Roy Disney was commissioned to make a cartoon spot with a catchy jingle: “Ike for President,” the song repeated, cutting to Uncle Sam leading a parade down the streets. “You like Ike, I like Ike, everybody likes Ike,” the chorus sang as Eisenhower’s smiling cartoon face passed.

Read the entire piece here.

Jimmy Carter Beat 17 Competitors to Win the Democratic Nomination in 1976

Carter 1976

As Gillian Brockell notes at The Washington Post, the last time we had a very large Democratic primary field we got Jimmy Carter.  The Plains, Georgia peanut farmer emerged as the primary winner over Birch Bayh, Lloyd Bentsen, Jerry Brown, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Sargent Shriver, Morris Udall, and George Wallace, to name a few.

Here is a taste of Brockell’s piece.

As the primaries approached, one Democrat after another announced campaigns for president. Most were senators. Some were governors. One came from a university town in Indiana. They spoke of a need to clean up an executive branch they said was riddled with corruption.

No, this isn’t a description of the 2020 campaign. It was 1976 — the most crowded Democratic presidential field in modern American history, until the current election cycle, which boasts 21.

And, despite worries about a bruising intraparty battle, the little-known peanut farmer who won the primaries also won the White House. His name was Jimmy Carter.

How many Democratic candidates were there in 1976? One historian put the number at 17, though it depends on how you count them. Let’s just say the race was remarkably fluid right up until the last primary.

Read the rest here.

Historicizing the “Politics of Touch”

Biden grab

We now know that Joe Biden likes to touch people in ways that some might deem inappropriate.   According to University of South Carolina historian Mark M. Smith, Abraham Lincoln was also kind of handsy.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Conversation:

Amidst the furor over former Vice President Biden’s handsy habits – and with examples of inappropriate touching by current and former U.S. presidents still lingering – it might be a good time to recall how past politicians learned to use touch not to molest, intimidate or cow but to connect, engage and inspire.

No one was better at tactile politics than Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln lived in a time when American political culture valued touch. Handshaking had long been important as a sign of political and social etiquette.

Quakers, for example, preferred the handshake over doffing hats and bowing because the act had something of a democratic ring to it, denoting a rough equality.

By the early 19th century, handshaking was becoming both more American and masculine. French and British gentlemen were less inclined to shake hands and considered the American habit of sweaty handshaking “disgusting.”

Lincoln and American politicians cast their touch as a necessary part of political culture and engagement.

I’m a scholar of sensory history, and in my research I have found that elected and electable leaders during the 19th century especially had to touch voters, metaphorically and literally, a point Lincoln probably learned while glad-handing as a young traveling lawyer.  

Read the rest here.

19th Century Conspiracy Theories

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According to historian Mark Cheathem, “rumors of secret alliance, bank deals, and double-crossings were rampant in early American elections.”  Here is a taste of his recent piece at Smithsonian.com:

From claims that NASA faked the moon landing to suspicions about the U.S. government’s complicity in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Americans love conspiracy theories. Conspiratorial rhetoric in presidential campaigns and its distracting impact on the body politic have been a fixture in American elections from the beginning, but conspiracies flourished in the 1820s and 1830s, when modern-day American political parties developed, and the expansion of white male suffrage increased the nation’s voting base. These new parties, which included the Democrats, the National Republicans, the Anti-Masons, and the Whigs, frequently used conspiracy accusations as a political tool to capture new voters—ultimately bringing about a recession and a collapse of public trust in the democratic process.

During the early decades of the American republic, the Federalist and Jeffersonian Republican Parties engaged in conspiratorial rhetoric on a regular basis. Following the War of 1812, the Federalist Party faded from the political landscape, leaving the Republicans as the predominant national party. Their hold was so great that in 1816 and 1820, James Monroe, the Republican presidential candidate, ran virtually unopposed, but in 1824, the Republicans splintered into multiple and disparate factions. Five viable candidates ran in that election cycle, and John Quincy Adams won the presidency.

The controversy around Adams’s victory quickly fueled suspicions: Tennessean Andrew Jackson had won the most electoral and popular votes and the most regions and states, but because he did not win the majority of electoral votes, the U.S. House of Representatives was constitutionally required to choose the president in a runoff of the top three vote-getters. Jackson’s supporters believed that House Speaker Henry Clay, who had placed fourth in the regular election, helped Adams win the House election in return for being appointed secretary of state. The Jacksonians’ charges of a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Clay ensured that the 1828 election would, in part, be fought over this conspiracy theory.

Read the rest here.

#OAH19: “Revisiting Reconstruction Political History”

Freedmen's Bureau 2Katie Lowe, a graduate student in American history at Towson University, is back from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians where she was covering the conference for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  In this conference dispatch, she writes about Session #AM2873: “Revisiting Reconstruction Political History.”  Read all of her OAH dispatches here.

Technically, the OAH meeting didn’t end until Sunday, but I had to catch a train, so my last panel on Saturday was #AM2873, “Revisiting Reconstruction Political History.” It was a good choice!

Corey Brooks (York College, PA) began with a discussion of Andrew Johnson’s veto of the Freedmen’s Bureau legislation and its eventual revision and passage. He argued that the bill represented a need for Congress to “advance meaningful liberty.” Brooks noted that there was a vocal minority, rooted in longstanding racial prejudice, against using a federal agency to help people of color. After Johnson’s initial veto, the legislation was changed in terms of appropriations, aid, and the distribution of claimed and abandoned land.

Hilary Green of the University of Alabama discussed efforts in Alabama to ensure education for African Americans during Reconstruction. These efforts were framed around the concept of “education as a vehicle for citizenship.” Delegates to Southern state conventions worked to have public education become part of state constitutions, with Alabama’s statute opening free education to all children ages 5-21. It became a right of citizens, including African Americans, to access education. This raised the question of who would be deemed worthy to gain education and the revolutionary nature of the conventions.  Texas and Arkansas had vague language in their statutes, without comment on freed or former slave status, while Florida’s statute made education accessible “without distinction or preference.” Race, class, and place continued to define access to education. Opposition from the South, philanthropy from the North, and the availability of resources could all affect the quality of schooling.

Kevin Adams of Kent State followed up with an examination of the far Western United States during Reconstruction..  He focused on the Army’s role in Reconstruction as part of a “chronological and geographically expansive approach.” Anti-Chinese mobs in the 1880’s triggered the use of the Army as posse comitatus in Seattle, even though this practice had officially ended years earlier.

Manisha Sinha of the University of Connecticut rounded out the panel with a paper reexamining Reconstruction with regard to the expansion of the state and the redefinition of American democracy to include political and civil rights for African Americans.  She began by suggesting that conventional wisdom, which paints abolitionists as political neophytes, is inaccurate. The political history of abolition and Reconstruction includes debates over the nature of the Constitution that led to political and social changes through government power.  Slaveholder influence in the U.S. government did not result in the growth of the state, but abolitionist work did. Radical Reconstruction could be seen as “rescuing the federal government from the clutches of the slave power.” She notes that suffrage and black citizenship were not new ideas during Reconstruction. The work of radical/political abolitionists remade constitutions to ensure the “[inscription] of black rights into law.” Sinha concluded by emphasizing the interaction between political citizenship and social justice.

The chair/commentator, Andrew Slap from East Tennessee State University, emphasized the “radical and revolutionary nature of Reconstruction” and suggested that the multiple approaches taken by the panel countered the idea of a “greater Reconstruction” that was too big to say anything meaningful. The floor was then opened to questions.

The first question was for Manisha Sinha.  How representative were radical abolitionists? She said that they were the “ideological vanguard” of the party, which is why they are important to the conversation and the formation of the idea of an American state responsible for the well-being of all of its citizens. Corey Brooks added that late wartime and post-war legislation had radical voices setting the parameters for congressional debate.

The next question was for Corey Brooks: Did the Freedmen’s Bureau have its own authority even after its reauthorization and realignment under the War Department?  The answer is yes. A follow up; “Why did Andrew Johnson veto the legislation? Brooks stated that Johnson claimed that eleven states did not have representation at the time and so he believed passage would be inappropriate.

Someone asked Kevin Adams if Washington was still a territory, how did federal authority extend there? He said that the Washington territory had asked for federal intervention.  Moreover, a broader view had emerged by this point giving government the power to intervene in all civil rights issues.

A member of the audience asked Hilary Green if the discussion over Reconstruction education extended to universities.   Yes, in South Carolina the University of South Carolina was desegregated. Some states agreed to build separate schools and others made provisions for students with special needs (blind, deaf).

Episode 49: Why is America So Divided?

PodcastWhether you ask a young college student or a baby boomer, the only thing people seem to agree on these days is that we are more politically divided than ever. But is this true, and if so, how did we get this way? Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling try to tackle this question. They are joined by Princeton historian and CNN commentator Julian Zelizer (@julianzelizer), the co-author of the recent book, Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.

Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Group (lyndhurstgroup.org) and Jennings College Consulting (drj4college.com).

Lindsey Graham and the “Judgement of History”

washington dcv

George Washington’s Annual Message to Congress, 1790

Lindsey Graham is furious with Nancy Pelosi’s decision to forbid Donald Trump from delivering the State of the Union Address in the chamber of the House of Representatives until he ends the government shutdown.

Interesting.

I wonder how Graham defines a “longstanding American tradition?” George Washington and John Adams delivered their annual message to Congress in person.  When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, he did not deliver the message in person, preferring a written statement.  Every U.S. President followed Jefferson’s precedent until Woodrow Wilson revived the “in person” message to Congress in 1913..  (Actually, it was called the “Annual Message” until 1946).  Karen Tumilty explains it all in this piece at The Washington Post.

Moving from the historical to the political, I find it disturbing that Graham, a Senator from South Carolina and a Trump supporter, has saved the “judgement of history” line for this incident.