May 4: Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) – Senate Member From New York, Democratic Party Leader – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

The press and media are full of reports of extreme partisanship and acrimony in Congress and with the White House in recent times.  But not that long ago, the parties at least appeared to work together to solve national problems regardless of party affiliations.  By no means did they agree on everything or make a president with different political party affiliation struggle to achieve his agenda easy when the Congressional power was in the other party’s hands.  But when Daniel Patrick Moynihan retired in 2001, we lost one of those able to navigate across party lines.

Early Life and Career

Moynihan was born on March 16, 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma to John Henry, who was a reporter for a local paper in Tulsa, and Margaret Ann (nee Phipps).  When he was six, the family moved to Hell’s Kitchen in New York City.  Moynihan worked an odd assortment of jobs as a child and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem. After a short stint as a longshoreman, Moynihan attended the City College of New York, which provided free education for New York residents.  After one year at the city school, he joined the United States Navy in 1944 and then enrolled at Tufts University, where he received a degree in naval science in 1946.

After his military service, Moynihan obtained a second undergraduate degree from Tufts in 1948 and then received an M.A. from its Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  Moynihan attended the London School of Economics from 1950 to 1953 as a Fulbright fellow.  Moynihan became politically active in the 1950s, serving in various capacities for New York Governor Averell Harriman.  In 1960, Moynihan was a Democratic National Convention delegate.

National Politics

Shortly after the 1960 DNC Convention, Moynihan began to serve in the national government, something that he would continue for the next fifty years.  He served the Kennedy administration as special then executive assistant to the Department of Labor from 1961 to 1963, and then was appointed the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy, Planning and Research from 1963 to 1965.  He worked primarily during that time on what became known as the “War on Poverty.”  In this role, Moynihan issued a report, The Negro Family:  The Case for National Action, known also as “The Moynihan Report,” that was attacked by the left and by the right.  Moynihan would later receive some criticism when in 1994, after the Republicans swept Congress, when he noted with respect to the welfare system, “The Republicans are saying we have a hell of a problem, and we do.”

Moynihan left the Johnson administration in 1965, returning to academics.  In January 1969, Moynihan became Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and executive secretary of the Council on Urban Affairs under President Richard Nixon.  From late 1969 until the end of 1970, Moynihan served as Counselor to the President.  In 1973, Moynihan became Ambassador to India and, in June 1975, he became United States Ambassador to the United Nations.  The United Nations post was by President Gerald Ford, another Republican.

Senator Moynihan

In 1976, Moynihan was elected to the United States Senate, and would serve for the next twenty-four years.  As a Senator, Moynihan supported the ban on partial-birth abortions, and opposed President Bill Clinton’s universal health care coverage push.  He also opposed NAFTA and the flat tax.  He also voted against the Defense of Marriage Act and the Communications Decency Act.

Despite his working for previous Republican administrations, Moynihan was not a supporter of President Ronald Reagan’s hawkish Cold War policies.  However, during the time that Moynihan served in the Senate, the Democrats controlled the Senate for much of that period.  Despite that party difference, Moynihan was someone who could effectively work across the aisle and work with Republican presidents and congressional members to address various issues of national import.

In a 2010 Daily Beast column (available at https://www.thedailybeast.com/daniel-patrick-moynihan-letters-we-need-more-like-him), John Avlon wrote:

The Moynihan that emerges in these letters is engaging and unfailingly civil, armed with statistics and a sweeping view of history. He could be surprisingly thin-skinned—unlike many politicians, his was a sensitive soul. But it is clear that his counsel was sought by presidents because he brought more light than heat to the conversation. He thought with a sense of historic perspective and he always felt the possibility as well as the limits of government action. He believed that government could improve the lives of its citizens, but he recognized that government overreach could create unintended consequences and provoke political backlash.

Conclusion

Moynihan is one of a dying breed in Washington- someone who effectively could interact with members and presidents from the opposing political party and who as Avlon notes tried to bring the long perspective to various issues.  He was not always right and could take umbrage at those who did not agree with him, but he tried.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. He is in the process of writing a book on the seventeen Chief Justices.  He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

 

May 2: Thomas Phillip, Jr. (Tip) O’Neill (1912-1994) – House Speaker, Democratic Whip & Majority Leader From Massachusetts – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

As noted in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan column in this series, the press and media are full of reports of extreme partisanship and acrimony in Congress and with the White House in recent times.  But not that long ago, the parties at least appeared to work together to solve national problems regardless of party affiliations.  Like Moynihan, Thomas Phillip (Tip) O’Neill was one of those who was able to work with the other side at least when it came to foreign affairs.

Early Life and Career

Tip was born on December 9, 1912, to Thomas Phillip O’Neill, Sr. and Rose Ann (nee Tolan), in North Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His mom died when he was nine months old and his father was a bricklayer who became Superintendent of Sewers.  Tip’s nickname came from a Canadian baseball player whose last name was O’Neill and whose nickname was “Tip.”  Tip graduated from Boston College in 1936.  Tip ran for a seat on the Cambridge City council as a college senior, the only election he ever lost.  It was from that campaign that he learned the lesson that would become his most famous quote- “All politics is local.”

Fresh from Boston College, Tip ran for and won election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  Tip became the Minority Leader of the Massachusetts House from 1947 to 1949 and was Speaker of the Massachusetts House from 1949 to 1953, becoming the first Democratic Speaker in Massachusetts’ history.

National Politics

Tip ran for the United States House of Representatives vacated by John F. Kennedy in 1952 when Kennedy ran for the Senate.  He won and was re-elected 16 more times.  During his second term in the House, he was selected to the House Rules Committee.  Tip bucked President Lyndon B. Johnson’s support of the Vietnam War, coming out opposed to the United States intervention.

Tip was elected House Majority Whip in 1971 and, in 1973, was elected House Majority Leader.  In that role, he called for the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon.  A scandal in the House caused the then-Speaker, Carl Albert, to retire, and Tip was elected Speaker in 1977.  He would hold that position for the next ten years, until he retired from Congress on January 3, 1987.

Tip was a proponent of universal health care and tackling jobs and poverty.  When Jimmy Carter became President in 1977, expectations were that there would be much accomplished.  However, while President Carter was focused on reducing government spending, Tip had other ideas as Speaker, including rewarding party members.  When Ronald Reagan became president, Tip and the new president collapsed, and the Senate had shifted to a Republican majority.  Tip called President Reagan “the most ignorant man who had ever occupied the White House” and was otherwise very critical of President Reagan.  Despite the public vitriol, the two were always on friendly terms.  In one interview, President Reagan mentioned that he had seen Tip make unflattering comments about Reagan.  Reagan called Tip to ask why the attacks, that he thought these two were friends.  Tip is reported to have replied, “Buddy, it is just politics. After 6 p.m. we are friends.”  After a visit between the two early in Reagan’s first term, the two were able to navigate social security reform and a tax reform plan and other legislation.

When it came to foreign affairs and our involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war, Tip gave his approval and through his House positions ensured that billions went to the Mujahideen.  When Reagan was shot, Secretary of State Alexander Haig asserted he was in charge, O’Neill was the next in line after Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Tip was also very involved in the peace efforts in Northern Ireland.  He and several other congressional leaders helped to achieve peace between Northern Ireland and England.  Tip died on January 5, 1994, of cardiac arrest.  His wife of many years, Mildred “Millie” Anne Miller, outlived him by almost a decade.  President Bill Clinton said of Tip at his death:

“Tip O’Neill was the nation’s most prominent, powerful and loyal champion of working people…”

Conclusion

While Tip and Reagan had different political views and approaches, they showed that great debates and the efforts of compromise sometimes can result in good end results for the nation.  Tip is the third longest serving Speaker in United States House history and was a strong “New Deal Democrat” who believed strongly that through public service he truly could positively affect the lives of working people.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. He is in the process of writing a book on the seventeen Chief Justices.  He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

 

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

 

April 27: Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) (1908-1973) 36th U.S. President, Vice President, House Member, Senate Minority & Majority Leader From Texas – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

Author Robert A. Caro has been at work for years writing his definitive biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  In Volume 3, “Master of the Senate,” Caro explores the twelve years that LBJ spent in the Senate and truly became the Master of that body, the youngest majority leader in history.  But as the title of this installment notes, he held several other powerful positions in his long political career that Caro continues to chronicle.

Early Life and Career

LBJ was born on August 27, 1908 in Texas, to Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr. and Rebekah Baines.  He graduated from Johnson City High School, then in 1924 enrolled at Southwest Texas State Teachers College but left shortly after to move to Southern California. After working for a few years, he returned to Southwest (later became Texas State University) and obtained his degree while working, including teaching at a segregated school teaching Mexican-American children.  He then began his career teaching public speaking.

Politics

LBJ began his long career in politics in 1931, after Richard Kleberg won election as a United States Representative from Texas, naming LBJ his legislative secretary. It was the perfect job for the politically aspiring LBJ because Kleberg handed most of the day-to-day duties to LBJ.  LBJ was a strong supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and FDR’s “New Deal.”

LBJ married “Lady Bird” in 1934.  In 1935, he was named the head of the Texas National Youth Administration but resigned to run for Congress.  From 1937 until 1949, LBJ served in the House of Representatives.  In 1949, he began his tenure as a United States Senator, where he would serve until 1961, when he became President John F. Kennedy’s Vice President.  LBJ served as the Majority Whip from 1951 until 1953, Minority Leader from 1953 to 1955, and then Senate Majority Leader from 1955 until he left the Senate.

While in the House, he was appointed a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve and served active duty starting in December 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  LBJ earned the Silver Star, the American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.  He was released from active duty on July 17, 1942.

The 1948 Senator race has in retrospect alleged to have been rigged by LBJ, and he received an assist in his efforts to be declared the winner by Abe Fortas, a friend who he would later reward with a Supreme Court seat.

As soon as LBJ arrived, he began his efforts to gain the respect and trust of senior Senators and gained favor early.  He was appointed to the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee and soon created the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee.  When he became the Minority Leader in 1953, he was the youngest person to hold that position.  He eliminated seniority as the criteria for committee appointments, giving him added power.  LBJ as Majority Leader worked closely with President Dwight D. Eisenhower to pass his agenda.

According to Caro, LBJ was the most effective Senate Majority Leader that we have ever had in our history, understanding who each Senator was and what it would take for a vote on a piece of legislation.  He would use his mastery demonstrated in the Senate to great advantage when he became President.

Vice President and President

The Kennedys knew they needed the votes of Southern Democrats if JFK was to be successful and LBJ became his Vice President.  Due to a change in Texas law LBJ requested, he became not only Vice President but also was re-elected to the Senate.  He withdrew from the Senate as required on inauguration.

LBJ sought to maintain the powers he held as Majority Leader, but the Democratic Caucus rejected his efforts.  JFK kept him busy with various task forces and committees.  On November 22, 1963, on Air Force One, he was sworn in as President after JFK was assassinated.  President Johnson strongly pressed for passage of the Civil Rights Bill to honor JFK and his legacy.  LBJ created the Warren Commission to investigate JFK’s assassination.

LBJ knew how to get things through Congress and used various techniques and his ability to convince members of the Senate to vote to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.  LBJ pushed for his “Great Society” legislation and began a “War on Poverty” as well.

The LBJ presidential years were productive on the legislative front, with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, Head Start legislation, and many other pieces of legislation.

LBJ’s presidency also saw steep escalations of our presence in Vietnam.  On March 31, 1968, he surprised the nation when he announced, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”  A variety of reasons are given for LBJ’s decision, including Vietnam, his failing health, and his nomination of Thurgood Marshall as the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Conclusion

LBJ died of a massive heart attack on January 22, 1973.  LBJ is remembered for his significant legislative achievements both as a member of Congress over a long period of time and in his Vice President and President roles.  That legacy is offset by his Vietnam War strategy and results.  Few if any senators in the last fifty years have demonstrated the mastery that LBJ possessed.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. He is in the process of writing a book on the seventeen Chief Justices.  He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

 

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

 

April 23: James G. Blaine (1830-1893) – House Speaker & Senate Member From Maine, Secretary Of State, Presidential Candidate – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

The Great Debates- James Blaine (1830- 1893)

James G. Blaine was a politician from Maine who first served in the Maine House of Representatives and then moved to the federal stage, where he became Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, a United States Senator, Secretary of State and Republican nominee for President.  Nicknamed “the Magnetic Man,” Blaine was one of the leaders of the Republican Party during the late 19th Century and one of the great debaters.

Early Life and Rise in Politics

Blaine was born in Western Pennsylvania.  His father was a Whig party supporter and his great grandfather was Ephraim Blaine, who served as a Commissary-General under General Washington.  Blaine’s mother was Irish Catholic and Blaine’s parents brought their daughters up Catholic and their sons, including Blaine, Presbyterian.

Blaine enrolled in Washington College (now Washington & Jefferson College) at the age of thirteen, graduating four years later near the top of his class.  Blaine considered attending law school but decided to get a job.  He was hired at Western Military Institute as a professor of math and ancient languages, and married a teacher, Harriet Stanwood, on June 30, 1850.  In 1852, Blaine took a job at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind (now Overbrook School for the Blind).  In 1853, Blaine left teaching to become editor and co-owner of the Kennebec Journal, a strong supporter of the Whigs.  Upon that party’s demise, Blaine turned his attention to the newly formed Republican Party.

In 1856, Blaine was elected to the first Republican National Committee.  In 1858, Blaine made his first run for an elected position, winning his race for the Maine House of Representatives and winning each of his reelection efforts in 1859, 1860 and 1861, winning a healthy majority of the vote.  In 1859, Blaine also became chairman of the Maine Republican state committee.  In 1861 and 1862, Blaine was elected Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.

Congressional Work

In 1862, Blaine successfully ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives, one of the few Republicans to win in the midterm elections.  In the 1860s, those elected in an even year began their actual congressional duties the following December.  In his first term, Blaine was relatively quiet.  Blaine advocated for the commutation provision contained in the military draft law, and he also made a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would have permitted the government to impost an export tax.

Blaine won reelection in 1864 and that Congress focused primarily on Reconstruction.  Blaine took the position that the Fourteenth Amendment required three-fourths of the states that had not seceded, losing the argument to the majority who agreed that it required three-fourths of all states.  Blaine did vote in favor of harsh measures on the South but voted against a bill barring Southerners from attending the United States Military Academy.  When the House voted on the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, Blaine voted in favor of impeaching the president.

Blaine was a strong advocate for the strength of the dollar, rejecting the efforts to issue additional greenbacks to pay interest on pre-war bonds.  In 1869, Blaine was elected Speaker of the House, winning unanimous Republican support.  Blaine was elevated to the position in part because of his strong parliamentary skills and President Ulysses S. Grant thought he was a skillful leader.  Blaine served six years in the Speaker role.  During the 1872 campaign, rumors and accusations were leveled against Blaine that he had received bribes in the Credit Mobilier scandal, charges that were never proven but continued to haunt Blaine.

On February 4, 1875, after much debate and great watering down of its contents, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 passed the House by a vote of 162 to 99.  Speaker Blaine worked hard and cooperated with President Grant to get the act through the House.

In December 1875, Blaine proposed a joint resolution, the Blaine Amendment, to address the separation of church and state by prohibiting direct federal government aid to religiously affiliated educational institutions.  The bill followed a speech by President Grant at a veterans meeting.  The Amendment would have been an amendment to the United States Constitution. Despite Blaine’s efforts, which were successful in the House, by a vote of 180 to 7, the bill failed in the United States Senate by four votes.  It never became law at the federal level, but 38 of the 50 state constitutions in the United States contain versions of the Amendment.

Blaine was considered a favorite for the 1876 Republican presidential nomination, but a scandal involving railroad bonds emerged. Blaine denied the accusations and was believed until some letters were discovered. Blaine was able to reclaim the letters, but the damage was done.  Although Blaine was nominated at the Republican convention and referred to as “an armed warrior, like a plumed knight,” he lost to Rutherford B. Hayes.

In 1876, Blaine was appointed by Maine Governor Seldon Connor to a vacant Senate seat.  Blaine served five years but did not have any significant leadership role.  In 1880, Blaine was again nominated at the convention, but lost to Garfield.  In 1881, President Garfield nominated Blaine to Secretary of State, which he accepted.

Blaine eventually was the Republican nominee in 1884 but lost to Grover Cleveland.

Conclusion

Blaine had influence during Reconstruction in his role as Speaker of the House and was a leader of the newly formed Republican Party for many years but fell into obscurity not long after his death in 1893.  His most lasting contribution might be the Blaine Amendment, which many states adopted, and which laws are now being reviewed as part of the current discussion of school vouchers and impact of the tax reform bill.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. He is in the process of writing a book on the seventeen Chief Justices.  He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

April 11: The Great Debates – Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy issued his Report to the American People on Civil Rights, calling on Congress to pass a civil rights bill to address discrimination and segregation against African Americans.  Kennedy’s civil rights bill included a ban on discrimination in places of public accommodation and tackled segregation in schools, but did not address many other issues affecting African Americans, especially in the South.  Kennedy was assassinated before the bill was approved by Congress.  President Lyndon B. Johnson made passage a priority.

The Congressional Debates

Prior to his televised appearance to discuss his Report, President Kennedy met with Congressional Republicans to discuss the legislation. On June 13, 1968, Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield expressed support for Kennedy’s proposal, except for the portion dealing with public accommodations.  President Kennedy submitted his bill as originally drafted to Congress on June 19th.  The House Judiciary Committee discussed the bill and held hearings, adding provisions to the bill to enhance protections.  In addition, the Judiciary Committee added Title III, which authorized the Attorney General to pursue legal remedies.

In late October, Kennedy met with the House leadership to figure out a path to sufficient votes for House passage.  The House Judiciary Committee reported the bill out in November and referred to the Rules Committee, chaired by Virginian Howard W. Smith, a segregationist, who promised that the bill would not emerge from his committee.  On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated and LBJ was sworn in as President.  President Johnson supported the bill and used his experiences in the Senate to find ways to ensure passage.

On November 27, 1963, President Johnson made clear his position on passage of the civil rights bill when he made his first joint session of Congress, stating:

“No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.”

In a rare parliamentary procedure, Judiciary Committee Chair Emanuel Celler filed a petition to discharge the bill from the Rules Committee and the premises of Chair Smith.  When the winter recess arrived, the petition was short of required signatures.  Upon return from recess, sensing the strong support in the North for the bill, Smith permitted the bill to pass through his Rules Committee.

President Johnson then navigated the Senate.  The Senate Judiciary Committee Chair James O. East land, a Democrat from Mississippi, strongly opposed the bill.  Senator Mansfield invoked a procedural tool to avoid referral to the Judiciary Committee, reading the bill a second time after it had initially been waived, permitting the bill to reach the Senate floor directly for debate.

On March 30, 1964, the bill came for debate on the Senate floor.  The Southern Bloc implemented a filibuster, led by Senator Richard Russell, a Democrat from Georgia, who stated:

“We will resist to the bitter end any measure of movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states>”

Senator Strom Thurmond, who had set a record filibuster of more than twenty-four hours against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, strongly opposed the bill, stating:

“This is the worst civil-rights package ever presented to the Congress and is reminiscent of the Reconstruction proposals and actions of the radical Republican Congress.”

The filibuster continued for 54 days.  Finally on June 10, 1963, Senator Robert C. Byrd finished his 14 hours, 13 minutes speech.  Senator Russell made final opposition comments, then Senator Dirksen from Illinois spoke for the bill proponents, declaring, “the time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing government, in education, and in employment.  It will not be stayed or denied. It is here!”  During roll call on cloture, Senator Clair Engle from California did not respond verbally, having lost his ability to speak from a brain tumor.  However, he pointed to his eye to affirmatively vote.  Cloture passed, 71 to 29, four more votes than needed for cloture.

The resulting vote on cloture of the filibuster was the first time in the Senate’s history that a filibuster on a civil rights bill had been brought to cloture.

On June 19, the compromise bill passed the Senate, 73-27, and then quickly passed through the House-Senate Conference Committee.  On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed the law, and the long road to passage was complete.

Despite its historic nature, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had limited impact at the time of its passage, but has been influential on subsequent civil rights bills and was upheld generally in the Supreme Court decision, Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. He is in the process of writing a book on the seventeen Chief Justices.  He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

 

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

 

April 4: Stephen A. Douglas & Abraham Lincoln In Congressional Debate: The Compromise Of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act Of 1854 – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

The Great Debates – Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861)

Known as “the Little Giant,” Stephen A. Douglas was a politician from Illinois who designed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and served as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and was the Democratic Party nominee for president against Abraham Lincoln in the election of 1860.  Lincoln and Douglas also faced each other during the 1858 race for Senator from Illinois, and the two engaged in a series of famous debates on the question of slavery and the future of our nation.  Named the Little Giant because he was small in stature, he was not little when it came to politics and his place in our history as a great debater.

Early Life and Rise in Politics

Born in Vermont, Stephan Arnold Douglass, he eventually dropped the second s.  Douglas’ father died when Douglas was a baby.  His mother remarried and they moved to western New York. Eventually Douglas made his way to Illinois and was admitted to the bar.  He courted Mary Todd, who married Lincoln, and the two faced off against each other on many other occasions.  In 1847, he and his wife, Martha Martin, moved to Chicago.

Douglas became active in Illinois politics in the Democratic Party, serving as State’s Attorney of Morgan County in 1834.  He served in the Illinois House of Representatives, served as Illinois Secretary of State and then at age 27, was appointed to a position as Associate Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court when the number of justices was expanded.  In 1843, Douglas was elected as a United States Representative and served in that capacity until 1847, after the Illinois General Assembly voted elected him as a United States Senator.  Douglas would serve the rest of his public career in that position, serving from 1847 until June 3, 1861, when he died at the age of 48.

Congressional Work

In 1850, a sectional crisis ensued when California was admitted as a free state with no slaveholding state admitted at the same time.  Douglas was a strong advocate for compromise, supporting the efforts of Henry Clay.  Clay was a political rival, but Douglas took Clay’s bill for a compromise that had failed to garner adequate support and split it into separate bills, helping to navigate the successful approval of the Compromise of 1850, which reaffirmed the compromise on territories and slavery from the Missouri Compromise.

Douglas strongly advocated popular sovereignty, allowing the people rather than the national government to determine positions on slavery.  Lincoln used this position to try to distinguish himself in 1858 in the United States Senator race.  In 1854, Douglas invoked popular sovereignty during a dispute over the admission of the Nebraska Territory.

Various proposals for a transcontinental railroad were being made, with one potential route going through Chicago that would benefit Douglas.  Southern leaders offered a deal to Douglas- they would support the central route that went through Chicago if Douglas allowed slavery in the new territories.  The agreement effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850.  Douglas defended his position with popular sovereignty, winning over many from the north.  Lincoln criticized Douglas’ position in a series of speeches. Despite some critiques, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively overruling the Missouri Compromise.

In 1856, Douglas was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination but was not the nominee.  In 1857, the United States Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, striking down key provisions of the Missouri and 1850 Compromises and made the Kansas-Nebraska Act largely moot.  Douglas attempted to take a weak position on the decision to keep support from both the North and the South.

Douglas faced Senate reelection in 1859 by the Illinois legislature. Douglas represented the Democrats and the Republicans chose Lincoln.  The two eventually agreed to a series of a joint appearances, which became known as the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.  Douglas stood behind his popular sovereignty views.  Lincoln argued that slavery was a moral issue that the nation must decide.  In what became known as his “House Divided” speech, Lincoln stated in June 1858 (prior to the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, but consistent message):

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. “

In one of the speeches, at Galesburg, Illinois, Douglas asserted the Declaration of Independence did not apply to non-whites, stating, “This Government was made by our fathers on the white basis.”

At a debate in Freeport, Illinois, Lincoln pressed Douglas on his support of Dred Scott. Douglas took the position that the Supreme Court had explicitly prohibited states from not allowing slavery, but people of Territories had the ability to exclude slavery by “unfriendly legislation.”  This position came to be known as the Freeport Doctrine and Douglas was re-elected to the Senate, defeating Lincoln.

Conclusion

In the Presidential election of 1860, the two nemeses would face off again.  Douglas was the Democratic nominee, but the split on slavery positions resulted in splintering of the Democrats, with Southern Democrats nominating John C. Breckinridge and the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell.  Lincoln won and the Southern states quickly seceded.  Post-election, Douglas attempted to make compromise to avert secession and denounced it.  Douglas died on June 3, 1861, of typhoid fever.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. He is in the process of writing a book on the seventeen Chief Justices.  He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

 

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

 

March 29: The Great Debates – Congress & The Missouri Compromise Of 1820 – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1789, debates over slavery and how to count slaves for purposes of legislative representation and tax apportionment threatened to derail an agreed upon new constitution.  The Three-Fifths Compromise resulted and while it led to the ratified Constitution, the issue of slavery continued to be a major issue of tension between the North and South.  In 1820, those tensions intensified when Missouri sought admission to the Union.  The Missouri Compromise was the solution that pushed civil war back several decades.

The Missouri Compromise

The Missouri Compromise was an effort by the United States Congress to address slavery and create balance between the slaveholding and free states.  Congress struggled with the issue for some time starting in 1819, when the Missouri Territory applied for statehood.  The Missouri Territory had been part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  The Spanish and French sanctioned slavery in the Louisiana territories prior to the sale, and Louisiana, the first state carved from the Louisiana Purchase, was a slave state when it entered the Union.  If it were admitted, Missouri would throw off the eleven to eleven balance between slaveholder and free states.  On February 3, 1819, New York Jeffersonian Republican Representative James Tallmadge, Jr. proposed two amendments to Missouri’s application for statehood, providing:

“And provided, That the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been fully convicted; and that all children born with in the said State, after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free at the age of twenty-five years.”

The Tallmadge Amendment passed the House but failed in the Senate.  The debates in the two chambers of Congress pitted the northern restrictionists against anti-restrictionists from the south.  To further the Tallmadge Amendment in the House, a fellow House member, proposed splitting Tallmadge’s amendments into two separate votes and, despite a 101 to 81 northern advantage in the House, the House voted 87-76 in favor of the further migration into Missouri and 82 to 78 on emancipation at age twenty-five.   But the three days of debate prior to passage have been described as “rancorous” and “fiery” and “blistering,” with rhetoric such as “which seas of blood can only extinguish” and “If a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so!”  When the House passed bill made it to the Senate, the Senate rejected both parts, 22-16 and 31-7, respectively.

The Congressional debate on admitting Missouri continued for a year, until Maine (which was part of Massachusetts) sought statehood.  The agreed upon deal was to admit Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state- states would be admitted in pairs to keep the balance.  The Senate linked the two bills for Missouri and Maine and Senator Jesse B. Thomas from Illinois introduced a compromise amendment, which excluded slavery from remaining lands of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36◦, 30’ parallel.

The measure passed the Senate but faced resistance in the House by Northerners who wanted Missouri to be a free state.  Speaker of the House Henry Clay, the “Great Compromiser,” divided the Senate bills and on March 3, 1820, the House voted to admit Maine as a free state, Missouri as a slave state, and made free soil western territories north of Missouri’s southern border, excluding Missouri.  The debate did not end in 1820, however.

When Missouri submitted its new constitution, it excluded “free negroes and mulattoes” from the state.  Clay again saved the matter, approving an act of admission that the exclusionary clause would “never be construed to authorize the passage of any law” that impaired the privileges and immunities of any United States citizen.  Referred to as the Second Missouri Compromise, it helped save the Union for several decades.

Conclusion

The Missouri Compromise was a necessary action to avert continued battles over the balance of power in Congress.  However, Thomas Jefferson predicted the peace gained by the Missouri Compromise could not last, writing to a friend:

“[B]ut this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

The Missouri Compromise helped to issue a “reprieve” as Jefferson noted, and for the next three decades, the issue continued to be debated, but the balance of power remained, until the admission of California as a state in 1850 with no offsetting slaveholding state admitted at the same time.  Effectively overruled by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the Missouri Compromise was also found to be unconstitutional by the much-denounced 1857 Supreme Court decision, Dred Scott v. Sandford, which held that Congress had overreached in its enactment of the Missouri Compromise.  Civil war would come four years after Dred.

Dan Cotter is a partner at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC and an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, where he teaches SCOTUS Judicial Biographies. He is in the process of writing a book on the seventeen Chief Justices.  He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

Click Here for the previous essay.

Click Here for the next essay.

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90 Day Study on Congress.

 

March 7: Articles of Confederation – Congress Wielded All Three Powers: Legislative, Judicial, Executive, Later Separated – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , ,

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD:

On November 15, 1777, the Continental Congress approved what was this newly declared independent nation’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation.  The Articles included a single governing body, the Continental Congress.   Requiring unanimous ratification by all thirteen of the British colonies, it took until March 1, 1781, when Maryland ratified the Articles, for them to become effective.  The Articles governed until 1789, when the United States Constitution replaced the Articles.

Read more

Lawrence v. Texas (2003), United States v. Windsor (2013) And Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Lawrence v. Texas (2003), United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015): The June 26th SCOTUS Trifecta by Justice Anthony Kennedy

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States held a special Friday session the week before end of term to announce its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Court held that the “Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.”  The Obergefell opinion marks the third of three June 26th Supreme Court decisions since 2003 recognizing human rights and protections for gay people. All three were authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, making him a hero in the LGBT community.

Read more

Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (1906-1997) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (1906-1997): An Associate Justice Who Led the Court and Which is Often Referred to as The Brennan Court

On July 20, 1990, Associate Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. resigned from the Supreme Court of the United States, after serving nearly 34 years (including three months with a recess appointment and two months while his nomination was confirmed).  Only five justices served longer on the Supreme Court and only one justice wrote more opinions.  Brennan was an election year appointment by President Dwight Eisenhower.

Read more

Justice Hugo Black (1886-1971) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Hugo Black (1886-1971): The Justice with the Plain Meaning Approach

Hugo Black served more than thirty-four years on the Supreme Court, the fifth longest tenure in the Court’s history.  During his time on the Court, Black developed a reputation as a justice who strongly believed the United States Constitution was to be given its plain and original meaning.

Read more

Chief Justice William Howard Taft (1857-1930) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Chief Justice William Howard Taft (1857-1930): The Only Former President to Serve on the Supreme Court of the United States

When Chief Justice Edward White died in May 1910, President Warren G. Harding immediately turned to former President William Howard Taft, who had appointed White to the Supreme Court, to succeed White.  Taft served on the Supreme Court for just less than ten years until his resignation on February 3, 1930. Charles Evans Hughes, another justice whom Taft had appointed to the Supreme Court, replaced Taft as Chief Justice, serving in that role from 1930 to 1941. This column explores William Howard Taft’s career and his Supreme Court tenure and legacy.

Read more

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935): The Oldest Justice at Retirement from the Supreme Court              

I, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., after serving as a Massachusetts Supreme Court judge for twenty years, was nominated to a vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States and served for almost thirty years on the highest court in the nation, retiring at age 90.  Justice Holmes took his seat on the United States Supreme Court in 1902, at the age of 61, becoming the 58th Justice of the Supreme Court, and one of the most quoted justices in the Supreme Court’s history as well as one of the best known of the justices.    
Read more

Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891-1974) – Guest Essayist: Daniel Cotter

, , , , , ,

Earl Warren: The Governor from California Becomes The 14th Chief Justice

Nine chief justices and nearly 120 years separate John Marshall from Earl Warren.  While each chief has influenced the Supreme Court and helped to shape its history, Warren and Marshall are often mentioned together as the greatest of the 17 chiefs.  This column explores Earl Warren’s career and his Supreme Court tenure and legacy.
Read more

Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

John Marshall Harlan: The Great Dissenter

John Marshall Harlan served more than thirty-three years on the Supreme Court, the sixth longest term in the Court’s history.  During his long tenure, Harlan became known as “The Great Dissenter,” signing more than 300 dissenting opinions from 1877-1911.  Harlan’s grandson, John Marshall Harlan II, would later also serve on the Supreme Court.

Read more

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

In 1890, Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act which required railroads to provide separate accommodations, including separate cars, for blacks and whites.  A group of Creoles and blacks in New Orleans formed a committee, the Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law, to challenge this law.  Homer Plessy, whose light-colored skin made him appear to be white but was classified as “colored” under Louisiana law because he was one-eighth black, agreed to bring a test case on behalf of the Committee. He bought a first class ticket and boarded a train in New Orleans in a “whites only” car.  Plessy was arrested by a detective who had been hired by the Committee to ensure that Plessy would be charged with violating the Separate Car Act.  The Louisiana court found Plessy guilty of violating that Act and Plessy sought Supreme Court review of that ruling.  The Supreme Court heard the case, with the main issues being whether the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and whether the Separate Car Act labeled blacks with a badge of inferiority.

Read more

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (1777-1864) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice, served thirty-four-and-a half years in that role. Roger B. Taney, who succeeded Marshall, served for twenty-eight-and-a- half years, including during almost the entirety of the Civil War. (Marshall and Taney are, respectively, the first- and second- longest serving Chief Justices.)  

Read more

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Dred Scott was born into slavery in Virginia around 1799, but was moved to Missouri where he was sold to Dr. John Emerson, an army surgeon.  Given Dr. Emerson’s military career, he moved frequently and took Scott with him.  Eventually, Dr. Emerson moved with Scott to the State of Illinois and the Territory of Wisconsin, both free territories.  While in the Wisconsin Territory, Scott married Harriett Robinson, another slave who was also sold to Dr. Emerson.  In 1838, Dr. Emerson married Eliza Irene Sandford from St. Louis.  In 1843, Dr. Emerson died shortly after returning to his family from the Seminole War in Florida.  His slaves continued to work for Mrs. Emerson and were, as was common at the time, occasionally hired out to others.  In 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott each filed suit in St. Louis to obtain their freedom, on the basis that they had lived in a free state and territory, and the rule in Missouri and some other jurisdictions at the time was “once free, always free.”  When the suit reached the Supreme Court of the United States, the main issue presented was whether slaves had standing to sue in federal courts.

Read more

Justice David J. Brewer (1837-1910) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

David J. Brewer: Foreign Born Justice Who Sat with His Uncle

David J. Brewer was born on June 20, 1837, in Smyrna, Asia Minor (today Turkey), the fourth of six Supreme Court Justices born outside the United States.  Brewer sat on the Court with his uncle, Stephen J. Field, to date the only relatives to serve contemporaneously, with Brewer serving twenty years on the Court before his death in 1910.

Read more

Wickard v. Filburn (1942) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

In 1938, Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 (the “1938 Act”), which it enacted to address and correct provisions of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 for farm subsidies that the Supreme Court had found unconstitutional.  The 1938 Act established marketing quotas and price controls.  Roscoe Filburn, a farmer in Ohio, admittedly sowed twelve acres of wheat more than he was permitted under the 1938 Act, but none of it was sold on the open market.  Filburn was fined $117.11 for violating the 1938 Act.  Filburn sued, challenging the penalty.  The main issue before the Supreme Court was whether wheat that Filburn used for personal consumption was subject to the quotas imposed by the 1938 Act and whether local commerce could be regulated by the Federal government under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. 

Read more

Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Louis Brandeis: First Jewish Justice of the Supreme Court

Until 1916, the United States Supreme Court had never had a Jewish justice.  That changed on January 28, 1916, when Louis Brandeis, the “People’s Lawyer,” was nominated to the highest court in the land by President Woodrow Wilson. Brandeis served for almost twenty-three years and authored several significant opinions during his time on the Supreme Court.

Read more

Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Dartmouth College was chartered in 1769 by King George III. In 1816, over thirty years after the conclusion of the American Revolution, New Hampshire’s legislature attempted to alter Dartmouth College’s charter  by giving  the Governor of New Hampshire authority to appoint trustees to the board and creating a state board with veto power over trustee decisions—in effect, converting the school from a private to a public institution.  The existing trustees filed suit against William Woodward, the newly appointed secretary under the new charter, claiming that the acts of the legislature violated the Constitution.  The main issues presented by the trustees’ suit were whether the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution applied to private corporations and whether the corporate charter of Dartmouth College could be changed by the New Hampshire legislature.

Read more

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. City of Chicago (1897) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

In October 1880, the Chicago City Council decided to widen Rockwell Street, requiring the City to acquire certain private property owned by individuals and a right-of-way owned by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company.  The City of Chicago brought a condemnation suit in state court, and the jury awarded compensation to the individuals but only awarded one dollar to the railroad for its right-of-way.  The railroad appealed, asserting that the condemnation was a taking in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the judgment and the railroad thereafter appealed to the United States Supreme Court on a writ of error.  The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a provision in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution applies to a state through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Read more

Justice George Sutherland (1862-1942) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Justice George Sutherland: One of the Four Horsemen              

Introduction 

In the Supreme Court’s history, six justices were born outside of the United States.  The fifth of those born on foreign soil was George Sutherland (second born in England).  After a career in private practice and public office, Sutherland became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1923, and would figure prominently in the New Deal jurisprudence as one of the “Four Horsemen” of the Supreme Court.

Read more

Craig v. Missouri (1830) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

In 1821, the State of Missouri enacted legislation entitled, “An act for the establishment of loan offices,” which permitted the Missouri Treasurer to issue loan certificates – a form of paper currency issued by the state – up to a total of $200,000.  The Missouri Supreme Court found the loans to be valid, and the appellants submitted a writ of error to the United States Supreme Court.  Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton argued the Missouri law was a valid exercise of state sovereignty and also urged the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional Section 25 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the putative basis for the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over the case. The Court decided both issues.

Read more

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter  

, , , , , ,

At times during our nation’s history, the executive branch of the United States government has tested the limits of its power by taking actions that are not explicitly granted to the president or executive branch.  For example, in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (the “Steel Seizure Case”) (1952), the Supreme Court addressed the issue of executive power during emergencies in the absence of express statutory or Constitutional authority.  The Supreme Court decision spans more than 140 pages, including Justice Hugo Black’s opinion for the majority, holding that President Harry S. Truman had exceeded the limits of the president’s power, as well as concurring opinions from each of the five members of the Court agreeing with Black’s conclusions, and a long dissent by the Chief Justice. The decision and bases for the Steel Seizure Case are hard to discern from the six opinions written to support the majority.  Justice Robert Jackson’s concurrence is often cited to assess the limits of executive power, as it sets forth a categorization that is the most comprehensible of the six opinions.

Read more

United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

The three branches of the United States government are often questioned with respect to whether their exercise of powers exceeded the limitations imposed upon them by the United States Constitution. In U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936), the issue was the extent of the president’s and executive branch’s power to conduct the foreign affairs of the United States. The decision has been recognized as a very influential one, establishing the president’s supremacy when it comes to foreign affairs.

Read more

Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Justice Joseph Story: The Youngest Justice Appointed to the Court                

Most lawyers in private practice at the age of 32 are preparing for potential consideration for, and transition to, partnership.  At that same age, after a distinguished government and law firm career in Boston, Joseph Story took his seat on the United States Supreme Court in 1811, becoming the 18th Justice of the Supreme Court and the youngest justice appointed to the Supreme Court.  Story served on the Court for almost thirty-four years, writing a large number of opinions and dissents.  His tenure coincided with those of two of the longest serving Chief Justices in the Supreme Court’s history, John Marshall and Roger B. Taney.

Read more

Swift v. Tyson (1842) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Section 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 provides that “the laws of the several states, except where the Constitution, treaties or statutes of the United States shall otherwise recognize or provide” were to be applied and followed “as rules of decision in trials at common law.” George Swift, a Maine resident, was assigned a bill of exchange from John Tyson in New York.  The bill was dishonored when it became due, and Swift brought a diversity action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking payment.  New York common law held that bills of exchange could not be assigned, and the federal court found in Tyson’s favor on that basis.  Swift appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and the main issue before the court was whether the reference to “the laws of the several states” in Section 34 included common law decisions as well as enacted statutes.

Read more

Marbury v. Madison (1803) – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , ,

Marbury v. Madison (1803) – A Landmark Decision Establishing The Supreme Court’s Role

In an effort to fill the Chief Justice vacancy on the Supreme Court before leaving office, President John Adams offered the position to John Jay, who declined, citing the lack of dignity and respect of the Supreme Court.  Secretary of State John Marshall was with Adams when Adams received Jay’s rejection letter and, with time running out, Adams offered Marshall the Chief Justice position, which Marshall accepted. The Senate confirmed Marshall on January 27, 1801, and he became Chief Justice.  However, a Democratic-Republican Party-led Congress repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801 (aka the “Midnight Judges Act”) and subsequently replaced it with the Judiciary Act of 1802, causing the Supreme Court to be on hiatus from December 1801 until February 1803.

Read more

1968, Supreme Court Decisions On Civil Rights: An Issue Raised By George C. Wallace – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

Anyone who believes that today’s political discourse has reached a new low should consider the political career and rhetoric of George C. Wallace, a 1968 Presidential candidate for the American Independent Party, a party formed by Wallace after the Democratic Party rejected his segregationist agenda.  Wallace was at the forefront of resistance to the Supreme Court’s civil rights decisions, including the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

Read more

1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt Defeats Herbert Hoover: How The Great Depression Threatened Constitutionalism – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

The 1932 Presidential election took place during the height of the Great Depression.  While a number of candidates ran on third party tickets, the main fight for the White House featured the incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover against Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt and none of the other candidates garnered more than 2% of the popular vote.  Hoover had won the presidential election in 1928 on a pro-business platform promising continued prosperity.  Nine months into Hoover’s term, on October 24, 1929, the stock market crashed, beginning the period that would become known as the Great Depression.  The challenges created by the downward economic spiral consumed Hoover’s term and were a main focus of the 1932 presidential election.

Read more

1920, The Sedition Act And Eugene Debs: Raising Of The Issue Of The “Red Scare” – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

The Election of 1920: The Sedition Act, Eugene Debs, and the “Red Scare”

Eugene V. Debs was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World and a frequent Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America.  Debs became a well-known socialist both through his political activity and as a result of the government’s criminal prosecution of his activities.  Other essays in this series cover the numerous Presidential elections in which Debs ran, as well as the other candidates in the 1920 Presidential election. This essay focuses on the Sedition Act of 1918, Debs, and the “Red Scare.”

Read more

1916, Woodrow Wilson Defeats Charles Evans Hughes – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , , , , , ,

 

The 1916 Presidential election pitted incumbent Democratic President Woodrow Wilson against Republican Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes.  The election was a very close one and had significant ramifications for the “progressive” movement.

Read more

1908, William Howard Taft Defeats William Jennings Bryan – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , , , ,

 

The 1908 Presidential election featured the incumbent Republican President Theodore Roosevelt following through on his promise to not seek a third term and encouraging the Republicans to nominate Secretary of War William Howard Taft.  While a number of third party candidates ran against Taft, the only non-Republican candidate who garnered any significant votes was the Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan.  Bryan had been the Democratic nominee for President in 1896 and 1900, but the 1908 election was the most lopsided of his three defeats in the race for President.

Read more

1904 And 1908 Elections: Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” vs. William Jennings Bryan’s Populism – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , , , , ,

 

The United States Constitution is silent on the subject of corporations.    After the Civil War, as American society began to quickly evolve from agrarian to industrial, politicians from both major parties raised concerns about the rise of corporations, banks, and businesses, and the need for protection of the individual.  Against this backdrop, two important political figures emerged on the national scene.  William Jennings Bryan was a leader of the Populist Party (which would merge with the Democratic Party in 1896) who unsuccessfully ran for President in 1896, 1900 and 1908.  Republican President Theodore Roosevelt proposed a number of “progressive” initiatives through his “Square Deal” program and other policies and positions.  Other essays in this series cover the various Presidential elections in which Bryan and Roosevelt were their parties’ nominees. This essay compares the progressive and populist views of Roosevelt and Bryan, respectively.

Read more

1864, Abraham Lincoln Defeats George McClellan: Constitutional Issues Raised By Lincoln’s Conduct Of The War – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

The Election of 1864: Constitutional Issues Raised by Lincoln’s Conduct of the War

The 1864 election pitted the incumbent, Republican President Abraham Lincoln, against George McClellan of the Democratic Party.  It was the first election since 1840 in which an incumbent was renominated by his own party.  A major focus of the election was the Civil War and the divided Union.  Lincoln’s actions as President would also be considered by the electorate, which reelected him in a landslide.

Read more

1860, John Bell’s Understanding Of The Constitution – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

The election of 1860 featured a number of candidates vying for the Presidency, with the tensions over slavery at the forefront.   Abraham Lincoln would carry the North for the Republican Party and win the election over numerous candidates, including three contenders that garnered significant votes.  Other essays in this series cover the 1860 Presidential election and certain of the candidates.  This essay focuses on John Bell, the 1860 nominee for President from the newly formed Constitutional Union Party, and his understanding of the Constitution.

Read more

1852, Franklin Pierce Defeats Winfield Scott, John Pitale: The Controversy Over The Fugitive Slave Act Of 1850 – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

The 1852 election pitted Franklin Pierce of the Democratic Party against General Winfield Scott of the Whig Party, John P. Hale of the Free Soil Party, Daniel Webster of the Union Party, Jacob Broom of the Native American Party, and George Troop of the Southern Rights Party.  In nominating Pierce, the Whig party refused to renominate the incumbent, President Millard Fillmore.  Pierce won the election in a significant Electoral College landslide over General Scott, 254-42.  As with the 1848 election, and for the next several presidential elections, a major focus of the election was on the question of slavery, especially the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Compromise of 1850.

Read more

Election Of 1848: Abolitionism And The Constitution – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

The 1848 election pitted former President Martin Van Buren of the Free Soil Party against Zachary Taylor of the Whig Party, Gerrit Smith of the Liberty Party, and Lewis Cass of the Democratic Party.  The incumbent, President James Polk, did not seek reelection due to his declining health and his prior promise to serve only one term.  A major focus of election was the question of slavery and whether it would extend to the Western states.   Zachary Taylor narrowly won the election, becoming the third of four Whig Party members to become President of the United States.  As described below, Van Buren’s candidacy on behalf of the Free Soil Party likely influenced the outcome in Taylor’s favor.

Read more

1844, James K. Polk Defeats Henry Clay, James Birney – Texas Annexation As It Related To The Issue Of Slavery: Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

The election of 1844 was notable in that the incumbent Whig President, John Tyler, who ascended to the Presidency when President William Henry Harrison died one month after his inauguration, was not nominated by his party to seek a second term as President.  Tyler’s focus on the annexation of Texas as a slave state set the themes for the 1844 presidential election and also led to James K. Polk becoming the Democratic President.

Read more

1836, The Tariff Issue And The Constitution – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

The Election of 1836: The Tariff Issue, Nullification and the Constitution

The 1836 Presidential election saw Democratic incumbent Vice President Martin Van Buren win the election in a campaign that featured four candidates from the newly-formed Whig Party running against Van Buren by region against a background of Southern threats of nullification and secession, caused chiefly by opposition to federal tariff laws as well as by the issue of slavery. The two-term incumbent, Democrat President Andrew Jackson, decided not to seek a third term and supported his Vice President, Van Buren.  Jackson’s second term and the tariff issue and nullification strategy helped lead to the formation of the Whig Party, which was formed in 1834 in opposition to Jackson and his policies.  The 1836 election was the first in which the Whig Party sought to have a party member as President.  The Whig Party strategy to regionalize the electoral votes in 1836 failed, with Van Buren capturing the Presidency.

Read more

1832, The Anti-Masonic Controversy – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

The election of 1832 featured the incumbent Democratic President, Andrew Jackson, against National Republican Party candidate Henry Clay as the main contender.  Jackson easily won re-election.  A third party, the Anti-Masonic Party, also nominated a candidate, William Wirt, who received just under 8% of the popular vote but only 7 of the 286 Electoral College votes.  Formed as a single-issue party, the Anti-Masonic Party had a short lifespan on the American political stage.

Read more

1820, James Monroe Won Unopposed: The Missouri Compromise – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

, , , , ,

 

The Election of 1820: The Uncontested Race and the Missouri Compromise

The election of 1820 was the last presidential contest in which the ticket ran virtually unopposed.  President James Monroe and his Vice President, Daniel D. Tompkins, won all but one electoral vote, which went to John Quincy Adams.  The only other president elected without opposition had been George Washington in 1788 and 1792.  The Federalist Party ran no presidential candidate and the election effectively marked the end of the Federalist Party.  Monroe’s re-election came in the wake of Congressional debate on Missouri Compromise, which had been passed by the Senate and was still pending in the House at the time of the election.

Read more