The Author’s Corner with Dennis Rasmussen

Dennis Rasmussen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University. This interview is based on his new book, Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders (Princeton University Press, 2021).

JF: What led you to write Fears of a Setting Sun?

DR: Like many Americans, I’ve long enjoyed reading popular biographies of the founders. It often struck me, though, that while the stories were generally meant to be inspiring and uplifting, the endings were never entirely happy. On the contrary, almost all the leading founders ended up being, for one reason or another, rather disappointed in the government and the nation that they’d helped to create. This seemed like a point worth pursuing, and I was surprised to find that no one had done so in a systematic way. I decided to have a go at it myself, and this book is the result.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Fears of a Setting Sun?

DR: Most of the founders who lived into the nineteenth century—or even to the dawn of the new century, like George Washington—came to feel deep anxiety, disappointment, and even despair about America’s constitutional order. In particular, Washington became disillusioned because of the rise of parties and partisanship, Alexander Hamilton because he felt that the federal government was not sufficiently vigorous or energetic, John Adams because he believed that the American people lacked the requisite civic virtue for republican government, and Thomas Jefferson because of sectional divisions that were laid bare by conflict over the spread of slavery.

JF: Why do we need to read Fears of a Setting Sun?

DR: This is a side of the founders that is relatively little known today. We tend to focus on their “heroic” deeds during the founding period—above all securing America’s independence and setting up a new government based on new principles which has lasted, with some modifications, to this day. But their views of the pitfalls and possibilities of republican government continued to develop over the succeeding decades, shaped by the struggles and successes of the constitutional order that they’d created. In order to achieve the fullest possible understanding of their outlooks, we need to look beyond the founding to the views that the these figures held later in life, which were, after all, shaped by greater real-world experience.

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

DR: Alas, I’m not an American historian! I’m a political theorist, although my specialty within political theory is the history of political thought, which is of course closely related to history. And there’s quite a bit of history in the book, which sets the context for my examination of the founders’ political thought. But prior to this book most of my research was on the Scottish and French Enlightenments—Adam Smith, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire. I suppose you could say that, to the extent that I am an American historian, I became one in order to write this book!

JF: What is your next project?

DR: I’m going to stick with the American founding for at least a little while longer: I’m currently writing a book on Gouverneur Morris’s role at the Constitutional Convention. Morris is an utterly fascinating and immensely colorful figure whose impact on the Constitution—through both his dominant presence within the Convention debates and his role as the charter’s main drafter—is far greater than is generally known.

JF: Thanks, Dennis!

When one member of the House of Representatives tried to impeach Thomas Jefferson

I’ll bet you didn’t know that in 1809 Josiah Quincy (MA), the only Federalist in Congress, tried to impeach Thomas Jefferson. His attempt failed by a vote of 117 to 1.

Andrew Fagal, associate editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton, tells us more in his recent piece at The Washington Post. Here is a taste:

On Jan. 25, 1809, Quincy rose to denounce the president as he had done numerous times in the past. This time was different, as Quincy alleged that Jefferson had failed to carry out his duties as chief executive. The president’s “high misdemeanor,” according to Quincy, was that he kept Benjamin Lincoln, the customs collector for the port of Boston, in federal office despite the man’s protestations that he was too old, and too feeble, to do his job. In 1806 Lincoln had written to Jefferson proposing to resign his office, but Jefferson asked him to stay on until he had appointed a successor. The president did so to nominate Henry Dearborn, his friend and the secretary of war, to this important position before his eventual retirement to Monticello. Jefferson wanted to reward his longtime ally with the Boston collectorship, but first, he needed to keep the long-serving Dearborn in the War Department until the foreign crisis with Great Britain over trade restrictions and the impressment of American sailors was resolved.

Quincy saw it differently, alleging that Jefferson unfairly allowed a federal official to be paid a $5,000 annual salary “for doing no services.”

Quincy’s motion received intense pushback in the floor debate that followed, as both Democratic-Republicans and Federalists objected to it. Seventeen Congressmen in total spoke against even considering the resolution, a high number for any House debate at the time. Thomas Gholson, an administration ally from Virginia labeled Quincy’s impeachment attempt as a “ridiculous proposition” while William A. Burwell, Jefferson’s former private secretary now a Virginia Congressman, referred to the ploy as something out of “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Read the entire piece here.

Will a third political party emerge?

Some are suggesting that the Republican Party could split into principled conservatives and Trump populists. The next four years will also reveal the depth of the divisions within the Democratic Party. How hard will the progressives in the party challenge Joe Biden and the moderates? Or maybe we will see a unification of Republican moderates and Democratic moderates.

Whatever the case, I found Sriram Laksham’s interview with presidential historian Jeffrey Engel to be informative. Engel directs the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Here is a taste of the interview, published at The Hindu:

Laksham: If appears that people in the Republican party are torn between sticking with Trump or standing for the “real” Republican party. Do you think that there’s going to be a third major political party forming in the near term?

Engle: I’m glad you asked that. That’s what history suggests. Remember that one way to understand the entire Trump presidency and candidacy is as a civil war within the Republican party. That Donald Trump ran against the Democratic party, but also ran against traditional Republicans — the George W. Bush-Mitt Romney wings of the Republican party. Obviously he was successful in controlling the party and then ultimately winning the presidency, but those people haven’t gone away. And I think that what we’re seeing is quite likely a moment where the Republican party, I think, as a brand is going to continue moving forward.

That doesn’t mean everybody who’s in the Republican party is going to continue under that brand, which suggests — especially given that the people who are most antagonistic towards Trump are by and large towards the centre of the political spectrum and there is of course a centre wing of the democratic party as well — that there is a ripe moment here for a coalescing of these two into a new political party.

Now, before Democrats get very excited about that, I should point out that every previous time in American history we’ve seen one party collapse, it takes the other party down with it over the course of the next several election cycles, just because it completely realigns the interest groups and the coalitions and the alliances within the broad electorate. So I think that there’s a good chance of the Republican party is in its death throes. As we currently see it, I think Republicans will continue. I don’t necessarily know that their party is going to continue as is currently formed.

Read the entire interview here.

“The Culture of the Confederation Era”

The Panorama, the online site of The Journal of the Early Republic, is running an informative roundtable on the United States under the Articles of Confederation. Here is a taste of Rosemarie Zagarri‘s introduction to the roundtable:

In March 2020, just as the Covid virus was sweeping through the country and the national lockdown was beginning, a writer for The Atlantic magazine announced, “The United States is about to find out whether the Articles of Confederation would have worked.” As President Donald Trump made clear from the earliest days of the pandemic, the federal government would not be responsible for coordinating a national response to the crisis.  Each state would be on its own, left to its own devices in securing ventilators, determining when to open up its economy, and deciding if and when its residents would wear masks. Now as the country continues to struggle to get a handle on the pandemic, we have a glimmer of insight into how the country may have functioned if Americans had rejected the strong central government created by the U.S. Constitution and had chosen instead to retain its first federal government, the “firm league of friendship” established under the Articles of Confederation.

With the benefit of hindsight, then, it seems oddly prescient that a group of early American historians gathered at the SHEAR conference held in July 2019 to talk about, and reassess, the current state of scholarship on the Confederation era and to propose new directions for the study of the period. I see at least three major themes emerging from the papers that offer promising directions for new research.

Read the rest here.

The roundtable includes several articles:

Jane Calvert, “The John Dickinson Draft of the Articles of Confederation.”

Sara Georgini, “When the World Turned Upside Down.”

Robb Haberman, “Record-Keeping and Power Dinners: John Jay, Sarah Livingston Jay, and the Practices of Foreign Policy during the Critical Decade.”

Terrance Rucker, “Bridging Divides.”

The “conspiratorial style” of American politics: colonial Pennsylvania edition

Historian J.L. Tomlin writes, “the historiography of the conspiratorial style in American politics is well-known but tends to start at the American Revolution and move forward.” Here is a taste of his Age of Revolutions piece, “‘They Chase Specters’: The Irrational, the Political, and Fear of Elections in Colonial Pennsylvania”:

Surveying the situation on the eve of Pennsylvania’s 1726 General Assembly elections, Quaker James Logan realized he’d come to despise the colony’s democratic process. To him, its participants were seemingly “vile people who may truly be called a Mob.” In fact, many had come to loathe and fear the colony’s elections. Each contest seemed more contentious and heated than the last, and the two competing factions had become progressively more hyperbolic and even violent in public depictions of their opponents. In such a tense and partisan environment, elections were almost always marked by public disorder, but they increasingly also devolved into violence and vandalism. What concerned Logan most, however, was his belief that the increasing vitriol was not due exclusively to the serious political and economic considerations of competing interest groups within the colony. He believed a good deal of what animated the supporters of both factions was irrational. He felt followers of both factions genuinely believed the colony was perpetually “absorbed in a contest between papists and levelers.” “Papists” was a kind of political dog whistle connoting various types of abusive power molded off of anti-Catholic tropes, and “levelers” connoted radical social and economic egalitarianism. Fear of either overlapped with prominent conspiracy theories of the time. Logan thought either accusation a hysterical exaggeration. He dismissed what he saw as irrational suspicion felt by ideologues on both sides, stating simply “they chase specters.”

Read the rest here.

An early critic of political polls

Political pollsters are under the gun again. Some of them did not anticipate Donald Trump’s ability to win votes in the 2020 presidential election. The debate over the usefulness of polling continues to rage in the wake of November 3.

Let’s bring some historical perspective to this topic. Over at Politico, Rutgers University history David Greenberg introduces us to Lindsay Rogers, one of the earliest critics of political polling. Here is a taste:

At bottom…Rogers’ critique wasn’t methodological. At a philosophical level, he rejected the very idea that public opinion was measurable in the concrete way that the pollsters alleged. Public opinion was too inchoate to lend itself to precise measurement, even when fine-tuned with open-ended questions, scales of intensity and other methodological tweaks that had been introduced over the years. Public opinion, he said, wasn’t like distance or mass or other scientifically measurable phenomena; it had no freestanding existence apart from the operation of measuring it. Polling thus pretended to quantify the unquantifiable. Like others in the increasingly data-driven social sciences, Rogers charged, the public opinion analysts were following false gods of methodology. Properly understanding the public required not pseudo-scientific methods but human insight.

Along with many others, [pollster George] Gallup pushed back against Lindsay, calling him “the last of the arm-chair philosophers in this field.” And while Gallup’s name, owing to his lucrative polling business, endured through the decades, Rogers’ faded into relative obscurity. Political science became inexorably more quantitative and data-driven, leaving behind his concerns about its pretensions to scientific status. Moreover, the profits that commercial pollsters reaped — alongside, perhaps, Gallup-like hopes of improving democracy — ensured that the practice of election-season survey-taking would not subside anytime soon. Over the years, critics from both the world of journalism (columnist Mike Royko, polemicist Christopher Hitchens) and academia (political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg, journalism historian W. Joseph Campbell) have kept alive Rogers’ skepticism, but on the whole Americans have continued to be seduced every election season by the pollsters’ allure.

Read the entire piece here.

19th Amendment anniversary roundup

Suffrage Wilson

Today is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States constitution. The amendment gave the right to vote to all American women.

As you might expect, some people are writing about this important anniversary. Here is a short roundup of what is out there:

President Donald Trump celebrated the day by giving a posthumous presidential pardon to Susan B. Anthony. She was arrested in 1872 for voting and fined $100.00.

The irony of this move cannot be overlooked. Trump is trying to stop mail-in-voting during the pandemic by defunding the post office. Yesterday he claimed that the only way he would lose in November is if “the election is rigged.” And he could not pass-up the opportunity to take a shot at a former First Lady.

Anna North has a nice piece at VOX. She cites historians Martha Jones, Lisa Tetrault, Catherine Cahill, and Stephanie Sellers.

The New York Times offers an amazing photo essay titled “Suffrage at 100: A Visual History.” It includes insights from historian Susan Ware, Martha Jones, and Ellen Carol DuBois.

Historian Rosemarie Zagarri reminds us that women voted in New Jersey as early as 1776:

Over at Time, Olivia Waxman debunks some myths.

Treva Lindsey reminds us that “virulent racism, classism and xenophobia” plagued “a storied movement for women’s right to the elective franchise.”

Dayton, Ohio is proud of its role in the women’s suffrage movement.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz offers a religious history of the 19th Amendment.

The Kamala Harris pick in historical context

Chisolm

Over at The Conversation, University of Florida political scientist Sharon Austin puts Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate in the context of other Black women who aimed for the White House.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Kamala Harris is a registered Democrat who served as California’s attorney general and later one of the state’s U.S. senators. But, historically, most Black female presidential candidates have run as independents.

In 1968, 38-year-old Charlene Mitchell of Ohio became the first Black woman to run for president, as a communist. Like many other African Americans born in the 1930s, Mitchell joined the Communist Party because of its emphasis on racial and gender equality. Black female communists fought Jim Crow, lynchings and unfair labor practices for men and women of all races.

Mitchell’s presidential campaign, which focused on civil rights and poverty, was probably doomed from the start. In 1968, many states didn’t allow communists on the ballot. Media outlets from the Boston Globe to the Chicago Tribune also discussed Mitchell’s “unsuitability” as a candidate because she was both Black and female. Mitchell received just 1,075 votes.

Other independent Black female presidential candidates have been community organizer Margaret Wright, who ran on the People’s Party ticket in 1976; Isabell Masters, a teacher who created her own third party, called Looking Back and ran in 1984, 1992 and 2004; and teacher Monica Moorehead of the Workers World Party ticket, who ran in 1996, 2000 and 2016.

In 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president, Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. representative from Georgia, was a nominee of the Green Party. And in 2012, Peta Lindsay ran to unseat President Obama from the left, on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket.

Only one Black woman has ever pursued the Republican nomination: Angel Joy Charvis, a religious conservative from Florida, who wanted to use her 1999 candidacy to “to recruit a new breed of Republican.”

These Black female presidential candidates were little known. But as the first Black female member of Congress, Shirley Chisholm had years of experience in public office and a national reputation when she became the first Black American and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Chisholm’s campaign slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Nathan Kalmoe

with ballots and bulletsNathan Kalmoe is Assistant Professor of Political Communication at Louisiana State University. This interview is based on his new book, With Ballots and Bullets: Partisanship and Violence in the American Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write With Ballots and Bullets?

NK: The short answer is that I sought to provide a broader, more representative view of ordinary Civil War Era voters than is typically found in most histories, and I wanted to consider what the violent extremes of that era might tell us about the nature of mass partisanship more generally.

I’m a political scientist who specializes in quantitative public opinion research in the modern United States, but I’ve been reading academic and popular histories on the Civil War Era for most of my adult life. In grad school, I began to see that my field’s narrow focus on the survey era of American public opinion (roughly 1950s onward) greatly impoverished our understanding of public opinion across a broader set of contexts, especially for how we understand the bounds of partisanship. At the same time, I saw opportunities to make unique methodological and theoretical contributions to our understanding of the Civil War Era based on my expertise in the political psychology of contemporary public opinion. In doing so, I was careful to consult closely with several historians of the period and to read extensively to ensure that I was appropriately respectful of work by historians and informed enough to identify where interdisciplinary interventions could be useful in each field.

As I read political histories of the war, I began to recognize that partisanship was central to the violence and its politics, both between the sections and within the North, which is the book’s focus. Of course, conflicts over enslavement and white supremacy were at its heart, but the political parties embodied those differences and served as the political instruments that mobilized mass warfare. Partisan coalitions, though newly formed, were powerful vehicles for collective war-making and electioneering during the war. That view of partisanship clashes with the relatively benign views of mass partisanship in my home discipline (due to the field’s myopic contemporary focus), and I saw an opportunity to cautiously integrate disciplines in a way that leveraged the insights from both for mutual benefit.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of With Ballots and Bullets?

NK: The Civil War experience shows the powerful extremes of mass partisanship clearly, but it also shows how bullets can, at rare moments, be an essential means of advancing democracy alongside ballots, not just a force in opposition to it. Partisan identities and leadership are far more powerful forces than U.S. social scientists have generally recognized–especially when fused with other potent social identities like race and religion–including the power to mobilize mass violence and rationalize almost any events to fit prior political beliefs.

JF: Why do we need to read With Ballots and Bullets?

NK: The book helps us better understand the mass politics of America’s most defining crisis, which still reverberates in our politics today. It also shows that ordinary partisanship can be far more powerful than political scientists generally recognize. The book combines insights and methods from history and political science to provide a new and expanded view of extreme partisanship. Taking a comparative approach to recognize similar types and processes, I also raise tentative questions about what Civil War partisanship can tell us about partisanship today – including the threats to democracy we face in the next few months and years.

In particular, I focus on 1) the surprising endurance of partisan voting patterns across party systems in the Northern electorate, despite new party coalitions, analyzing county and state election returns, 2) the rhetoric of the party press and party leaders more broadly in mobilizing war participation and sustaining their electoral coalitions, with systematic content analysis from a representative sample of Northern newspapers, 3) the effectiveness of Republican leaders mobilizing their voters into the Union military effort, more so than Democrats, as seen through enlistment, desertion, and death variations across partisan localities leveraging the service records of over 1 million Union soldiers, 4) the general insensitivity of voters to national and local casualties when casting their votes, with the exception of places that leaned toward Democrats before the war, 5) the general insensitivity of the voting public to the war’s monumental events, including the storied fall of Atlanta in 1864, and 6) the enduring partisan legacy of the war for decades effort in voting patterns, war memorialization, and veterans’ organizations. The results tell us much about partisanship in the Civil War and what ordinary partisanship can do more generally under extraordinary circumstances.

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

NK: I described my professional background and project motivations above, but I’ll add a few related observations here. My passion for the politics of the era was of no immediate use to my work in grad school. The public opinion subfield in political science focuses almost entirely on recent trends, and the study of American history in political science has some stellar practitioners but is generally shunted aside, to our detriment. The earliest ideas in this project were partly an effort to excuse all the time I had spent reading history when I should’ve been doing more relevant work (in addition to the joy of pursuing what I found to be most interesting)! It took another decade to find the data, the time, and the review of past work to bring the book together.

Disciplinary boundaries make it harder to do the kinds of integrative work I aimed for here, and, I would’ve accomplished this work better if I had benefited from greater integration. Luckily, I was able to draw on the expertise of several historians and history-focused political scientists to avoid some of the larger blunders I could’ve made in a project of this ambition. In some ways our more developed fields have moved backwards on this front. The 19th century political histories written in the 1960s and 1970s frequently engaged with cutting-edge public opinion research and often adopted quantitative methods and big-picture analysis like I pursue here. Likewise, mid-century political scientists were much more well-versed in early American history and drew on it much more heavily than American-focused political scientists today.

I’m gratified to see more history-focused work in political science, both to better explain important patterns and developments in the past and to consider the past comparatively to draw better inferences about how democratic politics works across broader contexts.

JF: What is your next project?

NK: My next project is a book called Radical American Partisanship: Mapping Extreme Hostility, Its Causes, & What It Means for Democracy, coauthored with Dr. Lilliana Mason. It analyzes many of the same violent and authoritarian themes found in With Ballots & Bullets. We assess the extent of extreme partisan attitudes and behaviors in the contemporary U.S. using more conventional public opinion methods of surveys and experiments, but with dozens of new questions and tests overlooked by the myopic focus of my field. The book is under advance contract with University of Chicago Press, and we aim to have it in print by the end of 2021.

JF: Thanks, Nathan!

New exhibit on the 19th Amendment opening at the National Constitution Center

19A_UpcomingExhibits_03

“The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote” opens on August 26, 2020. Here is the original, pre-COVID-19, press release:

Philadelphia, PA (January 29, 2020) – On June 10, the National Constitution Center will open The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote, tracing the triumphs and struggles that led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The exhibit will feature some of the many women who transformed constitutional history—including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and Ida B. Wells—and will allow visitors to better understand the long fight for women’s suffrage.

“The ratification of the 19th Amendment extended the Constitution’s promise of equal citizenship to women, underscoring the core values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” said National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen. “The National Constitution Center is thrilled to open an exhibit that will inspire and educate visitors about the visionary women who worked to secure this landmark amendment, which prohibits discrimination in voting rights ‘on account of sex.’”

The 3,000-square-foot exhibit will feature nearly 100 artifacts, including Lucretia Mott’s diary, a rare printing of the Declaration of Sentiments from the first women’s convention at Seneca Falls, a ballot box used to collect women’s votes in the late 1800s, a letter from jail written by a White House picketer, Pennsylvania’s ratification copy of the 19th Amendment, as well as various “Votes for Women” ephemera. A selected list of confirmed artifacts is featured below.

Beginning in the 1840s, The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote will trace the roots of the women’s rights movement in early reform work and the ultimate decision to pursue voting rights. It will highlight the constitutional arguments and historical context of the fight for suffrage over 70 years, as well as the tactics suffragists used to persuade state legislatures and the national government to recognize voting rights for women. To experience these tactics, visitors will be immersed in the large-scale parades and White House picketing that defined the final few years of the movement. The exhibit will also feature a media interactive that will enable visitors to explore the state-level campaigns for suffrage, as well as a separate interactive capturing the debates for and against a national women’s suffrage amendment. The story will culminate with the ratification of the 19th Amendment—where visitors will be able to view Pennsylvania’s own copy of the amendment—and trace its impact, including the push for equal rights that followed ratification in 1920.

As part of the Drafting Table, a feature of the National Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution, The 19th Amendment will also include a third media interactive allowing visitors to explore the creation and drafting of the 19th Amendment text and the key events that led to its eventual ratification. This interactive will also be incorporated into the Center’s online Interactive Constitution platform, which has received more than 30 million views since its launch and will ensure key content in the exhibit is accessible to classrooms across America.

Building on the National Constitution Center’s newest permanent exhibit, Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality, The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote will explore the continuing quest to extend the equal liberty promised by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to African Americans and women. The exhibit will examine how the women’s rights movement grew alongside the anti-slavery movement and ultimately gained momentum during Reconstruction as part of the ongoing battle for freedom and equality for all. The 19th Amendment will also feature a one-actor theatrical performance based on the words of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a key African American writer and activist who was integral to the 19th-century anti-slavery and suffrage movements.

To assist in the development of The 19th Amendment, the National Constitution Center assembled a diverse panel of America’s leading scholars to serve as an advisory board. Scholars include Bettye Collier-Thomas, professor of history at Temple University; Gail Heriot, professor of law at the University of San Diego; Reva Siegel, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law at Yale Law School; and Lisa Tetrault, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

The exhibit has been supported by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, John P. & Anne Welsh McNulty Foundation, Mauree Jane and Mark W. Perry, The McLean Contributionship, and SteegeThomson Communications. Additional exhibit details will be posted to constitutioncenter.org/upcoming-exhibits when available.

The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote is a key component of the National Constitution Center’s Women and the Constitution initiative, a yearlong effort to convene America’s top women leaders and scholars to examine the historical and constitutional background of the 19th Amendment and the importance of equal citizenship for women today. The initiative will include a series of public programs, podcast episodes, and special events. The Center is also a proud partner of Vision2020’s Women 100, a celebration of American women in the year 2020, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.  

Learn more here.

Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has died from COVID-19

742e0-herman-cain

Here is CNN:

Washington (CNN) Herman Cain, a onetime Republican presidential candidate and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has died from coronavirus, according to an obituary sent from his verified Twitter account and Newsmax

Cain, 74, was hospitalized earlier this month, and his Twitter account said this week he was being treated with oxygen in his lungs. It is unknown where Cain contracted the virus.

“You’re never ready for the kind of news we are grappling with this morning. But we have no choice but to seek and find God’s strength and comfort to deal,” his official Twitter account said Thursday.

As a co-chair of Black Voices for Trump, Cain was one of the surrogates at President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma — which saw at least eight Trump advance team staffers in attendance test positive for coronavirus. Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh has told CNN that Cain did not meet with Trump at the Tulsa rally.

Read the rest here. We don’t know where Cain contracted the coronavirus. But it is certainly possible that he was a victim of Donald Trump’s decision to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa on June 20, 2020.

Trump launched his 2020 campaign tonight. Not much has changed since 2016.

Trump Tulsa

Earlier this evening, Donald Trump started his campaign with a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma is rising. Most of those who did attend the rally were not wearing masks. With the exception of U.S. Senator James Lankford, none of the politicians Trump asked to stand and be recognized–Senators James Inhofe and Tom Cotton, Representatives Jim Jordan, Debbie Lesko, and Elise Stefanik, and Governor Kevin Stitt–were wearing masks. Six of Trump’s rally staff tested positive for coronavirus this week.

The millions of attendees that Trump promised this week did not show up. It looked like he had a decent crowd in Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center (BOK), but it was much, much smaller than what the Trump team estimated. As I watched on television (C-SPAN), I saw a lot of empty seats. Trump and Mike Pence had to cancel an outdoor speaking event today because no one came.

Trump chose to say nothing about the country’s race problems. He did not bring-up George Floyd, Juneteenth, the country”s racial unrest, or the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. His silence spoke volumes.

I live-tweeted and retweeted the rally

This is what we mean by Christian nationalism. Pence uses this verse all the time and applies it to the United States. I wrote about the way the Christian Right uses 2 Chronicles 7:14 here and here. Russell Moore has a nice piece on this here.

Much of the material in the link above comes from my discussion of “law and order” and Nixon in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

For those who can’t access the link in the above tweet, you can find it here. During the speech, Trump continued to extol his two Supreme Court justices, although he did not mention either of them by name. Readers will recall that we also looked at the Bostock case this week from the perspective of religious liberty and historical thinking.

I would love to know what was going through the mind of James Lankford during this rally. He does not seem like the kind of guy who likes these kinds of events. As we noted earlier this week, Lankford was behind Trump’s decision to move the Tulsa rally from June 19, 2020 (Juneteenth) to June 20, 2020.

Here is what Americans think about how Trump handled, and is handling, the coronavirus. His lies, mistruths, and partially true statements (at least before April 9, 2020) about the pandemic have been compiled here. The Associated Press reported that Trump “wasted” months before preparing the country for the virus. One could make a good case that Trump’s “America First” policy was to blame.

It is hard to pick the most disgusting thing Trump said tonight, but the above statement would be near the top. It reveals the inner-workings of Trump’s mind. Only a narcissist, who interprets everything through the lens of how it benefits his ambitions, would say publicly that there is a political downside to coronavirus testing.

The last five tweets cover the darkest moments of Trump’s speech

As noted above, Trump said nothing about race in America or Tulsa. Yet he spent a considerable portion of the speech talking about this:

John Gehring nails it. Court evangelicals, cover your ears:

Great observation from Kedron Bardwell:

Let’s remember that in 2016, Trump announced a list of  Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society judges. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were on that list. Trump’s promise of a new list, of course, is a direct appeal to the white evangelical base. Trump knows that evangelicals vote for a president based predominantly on his or her promises of conservative Supreme Court appointments. Gorsuch’s majority opinion in the Bostock case will not change anything here. Trump is hoping this strategy will pay off again in November.

Matt Lewis may be correct, but I am pretty sure Trump will give it his best shot.

If you can’t read the link in the above tweet click here.

Here Trump seems to be making a statement about the self-interested nature of humanity and his constituency’s inability to rise above such selfishness. He is essentially saying something like: “I dare you to place your morality and what is right over a strong economy.  You don’t have the guts.” It all reminds me of his “I can stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” line.

For more on John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, click here.

And the campaign has begun!

Episode 68: The History of the Presidential Cabinet

Podcast

The members of Donald Trump’s controversial cabinet are regular features of the 24-hour news cycle. He has fired members of his cabinet who challenge his thinking on a host of foreign and domestic issues. Just ask Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and Jeff Sessions. But how did our first president, George Washington, imagine the role of the cabinet? In this episode, we think historically about this important part of the executive branch with historian Lindsay Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.

https://playlist.megaphone.fm?e=ADL7730217358

Chervinsky

The Author’s Corner with Christopher Leahy

President without a partyChristopher Leahy is Professor of History at Keuka College. This interview is based on his new book, President Without a Party: The Life of John Tyler (LSU Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write President Without a Party?

CL: This book is a dramatic revision and expansion of my doctoral dissertation. To start, I wanted to focus my attention on a president most people knew nothing about, thinking that might help my publishing prospects. There had been no full-scale biography devoted solely to John Tyler since 1939, so I thought a fresh look at his life and career was warranted. As a political historian, I had always been interested in the dynamics of the two-party system, and by how that system both energized and constrained our presidents. That led me to the larger thematic question of what it meant to be a president who had been excommunicated by his party. I wanted to know how President Tyler’s banishment from the Whig ranks affected him personally, how it impacted his agenda, how exactly it affected his chances to win election in his own right, and what all of this had to say about the importance of political parties to presidential politics in the mid-nineteenth century.

I also became fascinated by how a former president of the United States, one whose father (whom he idolized) had played a small role in creating the Union out of the American Revolution, could have turned against the country he once led and formally ally himself with the government of the Confederacy.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of President Without a Party?

CL: John Tyler was portrayed by his contemporaries and by many historians as an ideologue whose rigid devotion to states’ rights and strict construction of the Constitution forestalled compromise and made him a failed president. While the view of him as an ideologue contains merit for his pre-presidential career, I argue that he largely favored a middle-of-the road, bipartisan approach to the nation’s problems once he became president, and that it was his status as a president without a party and rejection by both the Whigs and opposition Democrats that doomed his presidency.

JF: Why do we need to read President Without a Party?

CL: I don’t think we can fully understand the long process that led to secession and civil war without understanding John Tyler. For one thing, his career-long defense of the South and slavery provides a case-study of why the planter class turned against the Union and led the South to secede in 1860-61. Moreover, his successful pursuit of the annexation of Texas as president re-ignited the sectional controversy over slavery’s expansion into the nation’s territories and served as a long fuse for the start of war in April 1861.

There is also an aspect to Tyler’s experience that speaks more broadly to the presidency itself. All of the nation’s chief executives have maintained that the press has harassed them and that they suffer unfair attacks at the hands of their opponents. John Tyler, however, likely wins the prize for partisan abuse—and his opponents could be found in both parties. My book demonstrates the lengths to which the Whigs and Democrats went to undermine his presidency.

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

CL: I became interested in American history, and specifically American presidents, as a child. I went to college, however, intent on becoming an attorney. When I was an undergraduate, I read the first volume of William W. Freehling’s The Road to Disunion. The book sparked my interest in antebellum politics, and it made me think that I’d like to research and write and become an historian. I was fortunate to take courses in college with professors who were riveting lecturers as well as demanding instructors. In speaking with them over the course of my college years, I got to understand the life of an academic historian and decided that I wanted to pursue that career.

JF: What is your next project?

CL: My wife, Sharon Williams Leahy, and I are collaborating on a biography of First Lady Julia Gardiner Tyler. Sharon has published an academic journal article in New York History that overturns a key piece of the historiography on Julia Tyler and we have published book chapters for two anthologies that re-orient the historiography on her. So, we are off to a great start on our work!

JF: Thanks, Christopher!

The Author’s Corner with Zachery Fry

A Republic in the RanksZachery Fry is Assistant Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. This interview is based on his new book, A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac (The University of North Carolina Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write A Republic in the Ranks?

ZF: I’ve always been fascinated by the history of political debate. There’s a great deal of literature out there already on how intense the partisan divide was among the Union Army’s high command during the Civil War, and I grew up reading a lot of that. As I waded into the army’s story myself, though, what I found more and more intriguing was the heated political divide further down the chain of command at the level of captains, majors, and colonels. This was especially true in the Army of the Potomac, the army that hardly ever fought more than several days’ march from Washington. What made the Army of the Potomac such an intriguing topic was that its soldiers went from worshiping George B. McClellan as commander in 1862 to voting against him for president in 1864.

Most historians have examined this political debate in the army by prioritizing diaries and letters home to family as the best evidence. What I found engrossing, though, was the tremendous number of letters and opinion pieces from soldiers at the front to newspapers back home. It was clear to me that newspaper editors, many of whom were intensely partisan, were capitalizing on the army’s role as conscience of the nation to influence the political dialogue. And soldiers were willing and eager to lead the nation’s political debate because they were convinced the importance of the moment demanded it.

The result of all this research is, I hope, a much richer picture of Civil War soldier ideology than readers have previously had.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Republic in the Ranks?

ZF: The Civil War was a political awakening for thousands of young soldiers serving in the Union Army of the Potomac, and the men who guided that process were the junior officers who had received their commissions from home front politicians. The result of this awakening, much of it acrimonious and heavy-handed, was an army that led the national dialogue by shunning antiwar protesters and earnestly supporting Lincoln’s policies.

JF: Why do we need to read A Republic in the Ranks?

ZF: It’s important to understand why soldiers fought in the Civil War. My book offers something genuinely new to that topic by examining how extensively Union soldiers, led by their officers, set the terms of debate in national politics. The angry words of Union officers and men against the “Copperhead” Democratic peace movement—truly a language of revenge and even extermination—are genuinely chilling to read. But it’s also fascinating to see how earnestly these soldiers supported Abraham Lincoln and the policies that won the Civil War. For the hard-luck Army of the Potomac, rallying behind the Republican message gave downtrodden men an inspiring sense of purpose to continue the fight.

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

ZF: What’s interesting to me as a military historian is how many scholars in our field can trace their professional interest back to childhood. I’m no different. I’ve wanted to write and teach history since I was in elementary school. I saw Civil War movies, read anything I could find on the conflict, and started touring battlefields at age seven. My parents were incredibly indulging, and I was able to meet some gifted historians as a youngster who inspired me to pursue a similar path. I also had some supportive high school teachers and, later, professors who expanded my interests well beyond those four years of “The War of the Rebellion.” Now I put that training to work everyday teaching military history to Army officers, and it’s the most rewarding career I could ever imagine.

JF: What is your next project?

ZF: I’m currently at work on a study of the 1864 presidential election between Lincoln and McClellan, almost certainly the most important election in our nation’s history. It’s been a while since readers have seen a new account of this event, so I’m excited to finish it.

JF: Thanks, Zachery!

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Is America More Polarized Then Ever?

Civil War dead

Annie’s recent Out of the Zoo column raised this question.  Check it out here.

I think Annie must have inspired University of Virginia Civil War historian Gary Gallagher. 🙂

Here is a taste of his piece at The Conversation:

It has become common to say that the United States in 2020 is more divided politically and culturally than at any other point in our national past.

As a historian who has written and taught about the Civil War era for several decades, I know that current divisions pale in comparison to those of the mid-19th century.

Between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army at Appomattox in April 1865, the nation literally broke apart.

More than 3 million men took up arms, and hundreds of thousands of black and white civilians in the Confederacy became refugees. Four million enslaved African Americans were freed from bondage.

After the war ended, the country soon entered a decade of virulent, and often violent, disagreement about how best to order a biracial society in the absence of slavery.

To compare anything that has transpired in the past few years to this cataclysmic upheaval represents a spectacular lack of understanding about American history.

Read the rest here.

Is Pete Buttigieg the New Jimmy Carter?

Buttigied

Over at The Washington Post, historian J. Brooks Flippen compares the two Democratic political outsiders.  Here is a taste of his piece “Is Pete Buttigieg Jimmy Carter 2.0“:

Like Carter, the former long-shot mayor has emerged as one of the front-runners by winning Iowa and performing well on Tuesday in New Hampshire, finishing a close second. Like the former president, Buttigieg grew up in a middle-class household — Carter’s father was a prominent landowner and Buttigieg’s father a professor. Both served in the Navy, Carter having attended the U.S. Naval Academy and Buttigieg having served with the Naval Reserve in Afghanistan. When they declared their presidential ambitions, both were derided as too inexperienced and thus garnered little media attention.

In response, both demonstrated remarkable self-assurance and confidence, proposing an ambitious agenda early. Both welcomed the civil rights debates that their respective candidacies engendered. Carter had promoted desegregation in his governorship and even in his Southern Baptist Church, while Buttigieg championed gay and lesbian rights, even touting his marriage to a man. In response to ensuing questions and attacks, both cited their faith. In fact, both men made their religions central to their candidacies, Carter famously declaring himself a “born-again Christian” while Buttigieg proclaimed that his faith demanded LBGQT equality.

As they launched their presidential campaigns, both men confronted an energized Democratic electorate, anxious to repudiate the scandal-tarred Republicans. Both faced large Democratic fields initially crowded with accomplished candidates — 17 in 1976 and in 28 in 2020. Neither field, however, had a clear front-runner.

Read the entire piece here.

When New York Mayors Run for President

John_Lindsay_NYWTS_2

Former New York mayor John Lindsay, October 1965 (Wikimedia)

What do DeWitt Clinton, John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani, Bill DeBlasio, and Michael Bloomberg have in common? They were all New York City mayors who ran for president.

Here is Ed Kilgore at New York Magazine:

So that brings us to 2020 and Bloomberg. Interestingly enough, he’s emulating Giuliani’s skip-the-early-states strategy, but he’s putting his vast wealth into ensuring that when the calendar does turn to Super Tuesday in March he will be extremely well-known and have a solid campaign in those states. And it’s looking like he is lucking into a landscape in which all of his surviving rivals will have weaknesses he can exploit. Whether it’s a one-on-one cage match with current front-runner Bernie Sanders, or a large field of wounded and underfunded candidates struggling from state to state, Bloomberg is positioned to do a lot better than Rudy did and perhaps as well as or even better than DeWitt Clinton. If he blows this opportunity, it could be a long time before another New York mayor ventures onto the presidential campaign trail.

Read the entire piece here.

How Bernie Sanders Has Transformed the Democratic Party

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds a campaign rally in San Diego

William Jennings Bryan, George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, and Barry Goldwater all failed in their bids for the presidency.  But their ideas lived on and profoundly shaped the future of their parties.  According to historian Michael Kazin, Bernie Sanders is doing the same thing.

Here is a taste of his New York Times piece “Bernie Sanders Has Already Won“:

Since he began running for president five years ago, Senator Sanders and his supporters have nudged Democrats to take stands to the left of where the center of the party was when Barack Obama moved out of the White House. Every remaining candidate for president now endorses either Medicare for All or a robust public option, doubling the minimum wage, much higher taxes on the rich, legislation to facilitate union organizing and a transition to an economy based on sources of renewable energy. Even if the delegates in Milwaukee this summer choose a different nominee, they will surely endorse such policies and make them central to the drive to make Donald Trump a one-term president.

So whatever his electoral fate, the socialist from Vermont who is pushing 80 is likely to be remembered as a more transformative figure than many politicians who won an election but whom most Americans were quite glad to put behind them. Mr. Sanders wants to be the next Franklin Roosevelt — but if he can’t, better to be the next William Jennings Bryan or Jesse Jackson than the next William Howard Taft.

Read the entire piece here.

Out of the Zoo: The Divided States of America

Southern_Chivalry

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie writes what about how history helps put our “divided nation” into perspective. –JF

“The United States is more divided than ever.”

It seems like this trope becomes more popular every day. I see it in newspaper articles and read it in Facebook posts. I overhear it on radio broadcasts and in the hallways of my school. Distressed citizens paint dismal pictures of red and blue soldiers steadily marching in opposite directions, stretching the country thin between them. How long will this go on? How long until the once-United States shatters into a million pieces? Will our nation agree on anything ever again? These and many more questions seem to reverberate ever-louder in our ears. The events of the last few weeks–the impeachment trial and Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address–seem to provide dismal answers to such inquiries.

I won’t deny that the United States is divided. Our country is filled with people who don’t appear to have the word “compromise” in their vocabulary. Democrats and Republicans alike villainize their political opponents, all too often pointing out the speck in their enemy’s eye before first removing the log from their own. Venomous words seem to fly through the air like whizzing arrows hurtling towards a target. Yet despite all this, when people assert that the United States is more divided than it has ever been, I can’t help but chuckle.

As a student of history, I know that division in our country is nothing new. Before and during the Revolution, the colonies were split into loyalist and patriot factions. Soon after the war was over George Washington’s own cabinet diverged right before his eyes–feuds between Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans resemble the political quarrels of today with striking similarity. 

As a student of history I also know that in terms of national division, things could be worse. They could be much worse. In the years leading up to the Civil War, slavery became such a divisive issue that physical violence often broke out on the Congress floor. For example, on May 22, 1856 South Carolinian Representative Preston Brooks beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner nearly to death with a cane, after Sumner scathingly criticized another South Carolina legislator for supporting slavery. In another instance, a fist fight between Pennsylvania Republican Galusha Grow and South Carolina Democrat Laurence Keitt turned into an all-out brawl with 30 participants. I need not remind most Americans that division over the issue of slavery contributed to the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives during the Civil War.

There’s a lot of things I love about history, but one thing I like most about studying the past is that it gives me scope for the present. It reminds me that things might not always be as bad as people say they are. Life is hard, and I’m not denying that fact. Every day we interact with people who go through hardships we’ll never completely understand. Our country is divided, and I’m not denying that either. But sometimes it’s comforting to know that the struggles we deal with now are not entirely new ones.