Guest Essayist: Robert L. Woodson, Sr.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the launch of a nationwide War on Poverty in 1964, momentary hope arose that it would uplift the lives of thousands of impoverished Americans and their inner-city neighborhoods. But the touted antipoverty campaign of the 60s is a classic example of injury with the helping hand.

Regardless of intention—or mantras—the ultimate measure of any effort to reduce poverty is the impact it has on its purported beneficiaries. After more than 60 years and the investment of $25 trillion of tax-payers’ money, poverty numbers have virtually remained the same, while conditions in low-income neighborhoods have spiraled downward.

While impoverished Americans may not be rising up, what has become a virtual “poverty industry” and the bureaucracy of welfare system has prospered, expanding to 89 separate programs spread across 14 government programs and agencies.  In sum, 70% of anti-poverty funding has not reached the poor but has been absorbed by those who serve the poor. As a consequence, the system has created a commodity out of the poor with perverse incentives to maintain people in poverty as dependents. The operative question became not which problems are solvable, but which ones are fundable.

I had first-hand experience of power and money grabs that followed the launch of Johnson’s antipoverty agenda. As a young civil rights leader at the time of its introduction, I was very hopeful that, at long-last, policies would be adopted that would direct resources to empower the poor to rise. I was working for the summer in Pasadena, California, leading a work project with the American Friends Service Committee in the year after the Watts riots and the government’s response with the War on Poverty.

Initially, the anti-poverty money funded grassroots leaders in high-crime, low-income neighborhoods who had earned the trust and confidence of local people and had their best interests at heart. But many of the local grassroots leaders who were paid by the program began to raise questions about the functions of the local government and how it was assisting the poor. These challenges from the residents became very troublesome to local officials and they responded by appealing to Washington to change the rules to limit the control that those grassroots leaders could exercise over programs to aid their peers.

One of the ways the Washington bureaucracy responded was to institute a requirement that all outreach workers had to be college-educated as a condition of their employment. Overnight, committed and trusted workers on the ground found themselves out of a job. In addition, it was ruled that the allocation and distribution of all incoming federal dollars was to be controlled by a local anti-poverty board of directors that represented three groups: 1/3 local officials, 1/3 business leaders and 1/3 local community leaders. I knew from the moment those structural changes occurred that the poverty program was going to be a disaster and that it would serve the interests of those who served the poor with little benefit to its purported beneficiaries.

Since only a third of the participants on the board would be from the community, the other two-thirds were careful to ensure that the neighborhood residents would be ineffective and docile representatives who would ratify the opportunistic and often corrupt decisions they made. In the town where I was engaged in civil rights activities, I witnessed local poverty agencies awarding daycare contracts to business members on the board who would lease space at three times the market-value rate.

Years of such corruption throughout the nation were later followed by many convictions and the incarceration of people who were exploiting the programs and hurting the poor. When they were charged with corruption, many of the perpetrators used the issue of race to defend themselves. The practice of using race as a shield of defense against charges for corrupt activity continues to this day. The disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick received a 28-year sentence for racketeering, bribery, extortion and tax crimes. Last year, more than 40 public and private officials were charged as part of a long-running and expanding federal investigation into public corruption in metro Detroit, including fifteen police, five suburban trustees, millionaire moguls and a former state senator. Much of the reporting about corruption in the administration of poverty programs never rose to the level of public outrage or indignation and were treated as local issues.

Yet the failure of the welfare system and the War on Poverty is rooted in something deeper than the opportunistic misuse of funds. Its most devastating impact is in undermining pillars of strength that have empowered the black community to survive and thrive in spite of oppression: a spirit of enterprise and mutual cooperation, and the sustaining support of family and community.

In the past, even during periods of legalized discrimination and oppression, a spirit of entrepreneurship and agency permeated the black community. Within the first 50 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, black Americans had accumulated a personal wealth of $700 million. They owned more than 40,000 businesses and more than 930,000 farms, Black commercial enclaves in Durham, North Carolina and the Greenwood Avenue section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, were known as the Negro Wall Street. When blacks were barred from white establishments and services, they created their own thriving alternative transit systems. When whites refused to lend money to blacks, they established more than 103 banks and savings and loans associations and more than 1,000 inns and hotels. When whites refused to treat blacks in hospitals, they established 230 hospitals and medical schools throughout the country.

In contrast, within the bureaucracy of the burgeoning poverty industry, low-income people were defined as the helpless victims of an unfair and unjust society. The strategy of the liberal social engineers is to right this wrong by the redistribution of wealth, facilitated by the social services bureaucracy in the form of cash payments or equivalent benefits. The cause of a person’s poverty was assumed beyond their power and ability to control and, therefore, resources were given with no strings attached and there was no assumption of the possibility of upward mobility towards self-sufficiency. The empowering notions of personal responsibility and agency were decried as “blaming the victim” and, with the spread of that mentality and the acceptance of a state of dependency the rich heritage of entrepreneurship in the black community fell by the wayside.

Until the mid-60s, in 85% of all black families, two parents were raising their children. Since the advent of the Welfare State, more than 75% of black children were born to single mothers. The system included penalties for marriage and work through which benefits would be decreased or terminated. As income was detached from work, the role of fathers in the family was undermined and dismissed. The dissolution of the black family was considered as necessary collateral damage in a war that was being waged in academia against capitalism in America, led by Columbia University professors Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven who promoted a massive rise of dependency with a goal to overload the U.S. public welfare system and elicit “radical change.”

Reams of research has found that youths in two-parent families are less likely to become involved in delinquent behavior and drug abuse or suffer depression and more likely to succeed in school and pursue higher education. As generations of children grew up on the streets of the inner city, drug addiction and school drop-out rates soared. When youths turned to gangs for identity, protection, and a sense of belonging, entire neighborhoods became virtual killing fields of warring factions. Statistics from Chicago alone bring home the tragic toll that has been taken. Within Fathers’ Day weekend, 104 people were shot across the city, 15 of them, including five children, fatally. Within a three-day period of the preceding week, a three-year-old child was shot and killed in the South Austin community, the third child under the age of 10 who was shot.

In the midst of this tragic scenario, the true casualties of the War on Poverty have been its purported beneficiaries.

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. founded the Woodson Center in 1981 to help residents of low-income neighborhoods address the problems of their communities. A former civil rights activist, he has headed the National Urban League Department of Criminal Justice, and has been a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Foundation for Public Policy Research. Referred to by many as “godfather” of the neighborhood empowerment movement, for more than four decades, Woodson has had a special concern for the problems of youth. In response to an epidemic of youth violence that has afflicted urban, rural and suburban neighborhoods alike, Woodson has focused much of the Woodson Center’s activities on an initiative to establish Violence-Free Zones in troubled schools and neighborhoods throughout the nation. He is an early MacArthur “genius” awardee and the recipient of the 2008 Bradley Prize, the Presidential Citizens Award, and a 2008 Social Entrepreneurship Award from the Manhattan Institute.

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Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

We are going to assemble the best thought and broadest knowledge from all over the world to find these answers. I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of conferences and meetings—on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. From these studies, we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society. – President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Anne Arbor, MI, May 22, 1964

In America in 1964, the seeds of the later discontent of the 1960s were being planted. The nation had just suffered an horrific assassination of an enormously charismatic president, John F. Kennedy, we were in the midst of an intense national conversation on race and civil rights, and we were just starting to get mired in a military conflict in Southeast Asia.

We were also getting into a presidential election, and while tackling poverty in America wasn’t a centerpiece, President Johnson started giving a series of speeches talking about transforming the United States into a “Great Society”—a concept that was going to be the most-massive series of social welfare reforms since Franklin Roosevelt’s post-depression “New Deal” of the 1930s.

In that time, there was serious debate over whether the federal government even had the power to engage in what had, traditionally, been state-level social support work—or, previously, private charitable work. The debate centered around the Constitution’s “general welfare” clause, the actionable part of the Constitution building on the Preamble’s “promote the general welfare” language, saying in Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 that, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;” (emphasis added)

Proponents of an increased federal role in social service spending have argued that “welfare” for this purpose means just what politicians today proffer that it does: that “welfare” means social service spending, and that because the Constitution grants Congress this power, such power is expansive (if not unlimited).

But this flies in the face of the whole concept of the Constitution itself—which is the idea of a federal government of limited, carefully-enumerated powers. The founders were skeptical of powerful, centralized government (and had fought a revolution over that very point), and the debate of just how powerful, how centralized was at the core of the Constitutional Convention’s debates.

Constitutional author (and later president) James Madison said this in Federalist 41:

It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,’’ amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction. Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases.

In 1831, he also said, more plainly:

With respect to the words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.

This was, essentially, the interpretation of the clause that stood for nearly 150 years—only to be largely gutted in the wake of FDR’s New Deal programs. As discussed in the essay on FDR’s first 100 days, there was great back and forth within the Supreme Court over the constitutionality of the New Deal—with certain members of the court eventually apparently succumbing to the pressure of a proposed plan to “stack” the Supreme Court with newer, younger members.

A series of cases, starting with United States v. Butler (1936) and then Helvering v. Davis (1937), essentially ruled that Congress’ power to spend was non-reviewable by the Supreme Court… that there could be no constitutional challenge to spending plans, that if Congress said a spending plan was to “promote the general welfare” then that’s what it was.

Madison was right to be fearful—when taken into the context of an expansive interpretation of the Commerce Clause, it gives the federal government near-unlimited power. Either something is subject to federal regulation because it’s an “item in or related to commerce” or it’s subject to federal spending because it “promotes the general welfare.”

Building on this, LBJ moved forward with the Great Society in 1964, creating a series of massive spending and federal regulatory programs whose goal was to eliminate poverty and create greater equity in social service programs.

Problematically, LBJ created a series of “task forces” to craft these policies—admittedly because he didn’t want public input or scrutiny that would lead to criticism of the work his administration was doing.

Normally, when the executive branch engages in policymaking, those policies are governed by a series of rules aimed at ensuring public participation—both so that the public can offer their ideas at possible solutions, but also to ensure that the government isn’t abusing its powers.

Here, the Johnson administration did no such thing—creating, essentially, a perfect storm of problematic policymaking: a massive upheaval of government policy, coupled with massive spending proposals, coupled with little public scrutiny.

Had they allowed for greater public input, someone might have pointed out what the founders knew: that there was a reason such social support has traditionally been either the purview of local governance or private charity, that such programs are much more effective when they are locally-driven and/or community based. Local services work because they better understand the challenges their local communities face.

And private charities provide more-effective services because they not only have a vested-interest in the outcomes, that vested-interest is driven by building relationships centered around faith and hope. If government programs are impersonal, government programs whose management is far-removed from the local communities is far worse.

The end result is two-fold:  faceless entitlement bureaucracies whose only incentive is self-perpetuation (not solving problems), and people who have little incentive to move themselves off of these programs.

Thus, Johnson’s Great Society was a massive failure. Not only did it not end poverty, it created a devastating perpetual cycle of it. Enormous bureaucratic programs which still exist today—and which, despite pressures at various points in time (the work of President Bill Clinton and the GOP-led Congress after the 1994 election at reforming the nation’s welfare programs as one example), seem largely resistant to change or improvement.

The founders knew that local and private charity did a better job at promoting “the general welfare” of a community than a federal program would. They knew the dangers of expansive government spending (and the power that would accrue with it). Once again, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in New York v. United States (1992), the “Constitution protects us from our own best intentions.”

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty. He teaches in the Public Policy Program at the College of William & Mary

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Guest Essayist: Joshua Schmid

The Cold War was a time of immense tension between the world’s superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. However, the two never came into direct conflict during the first decade and a half and rather chose to pursue proxy wars in order to dominate the geopolitical landscape. The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 threatened to reverse this course by turning the war “hot” as the leader of the free world and the leader of the world communist revolution squared off in a deadly game of nuclear cat and mouse.

At the beginning of the 1960s, some members of the Soviet Union’s leadership desired more aggressive policies against the United States. The small island of Cuba, located a mere 100 miles off the coast of Florida, provided Russia with an opportunity. Cuba had recently undergone a communist revolution and its leadership was happy to accept Soviet intervention if it would minimize American harassments like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev offered to place nuclear missiles on Cuba, which would put him within striking range of nearly any target on the continental U.S. The Cubans accepted and work on the missile sites began during the summer of 1962.

Despite an elaborate scheme to disguise the missiles and the launch sites, American intelligence discovered the Soviet scheme by mid-October. President John F. Kennedy immediately convened a team of security advisors, who suggested a variety of options. These included ignoring the missiles, using diplomacy to pressure the Soviets to remove the missiles, invading Cuba, blockading the island, and strategic airstrikes on the missile sites. Kennedy’s military advisors strongly suggested a full-scale invasion of Cuba as the only way to defeat the threat. However, the president ultimately overrode them and decided any attack would only provoke greater conflict with the Russians. On October 22, Kennedy gave a speech to the American people in which he called for a “quarantine” of the island under which “all ships of any kind bound for Cuba, from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back.”

The Russians appeared unfazed by the bravado of Kennedy’s speech, and announced they would interpret any attempts to quarantine the island of Cuba as an aggressive act. However, as the U.S. continued to stand by its policy, the Soviet Union slowly backed down. When Russian ships neared Cuba, they broke course and moved away from the island rather than challenging the quarantine. Despite this small victory, the U.S. still needed to worry about the missiles already installed.

In the ensuing days, the U.S. continued to insist on the removal of the missiles from Cuba. As the haggling between the two nations continued, the nuclear launch sites became fully operational. Kennedy began a more aggressive policy that included a threat to invade Cuba. Amidst these tensions, the most harrowing event of the entire Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. The Soviet submarine B-59 neared the blockade line and was harassed by American warships dropping depth charges. The submarine had lost radio contact with the rest of the Russian navy and could not surface to refill its oxygen. The captain of B-59 decided that war must have broken out between the U.S. and Soviet Union, and proposed that the submarine launch its nuclear missile. This action required a unanimous vote by the top three officers onboard. Fortunately, the executive officer cast the lone veto vote against what surely would have been an apocalyptic action.

Eventually, Khrushchev and Kennedy reached an agreement that brought an end to the crisis. The Russians removed the missiles from Cuba and the U.S. promised not to invade the island. Additionally, Kennedy removed missiles stationed near the Soviet border in Turkey and Italy as a show of good faith. A brief cooling period between the two superpowers would ensue, during which time a direct communication line between the White House and the Kremlin was established. And while the Cold War would continue for three more decades, never again would the two blocs be so close to nuclear annihilation as they were in October 1962.

Joshua Schmid serves as a Program Analyst at the Bill of Rights Institute.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

The Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union was a geopolitical struggle around the globe characterized by an ideological contest between capitalism and communism, and a nuclear arms race. An important part of the Cold War was the space race which became a competition between the two superpowers.

Each side sought to be the first to achieve milestones in the space race and used the achievements for propaganda value in the Cold War. The Soviet launch of the satellite, Sputnik, while a relatively modest accomplishment, became a symbolically important event that triggered and defined the dawn of the space race. The space race was one of the peaceful competitions of the Cold War and pushed the boundaries of the human imagination.

The Cold War nuclear arms race helped lead to the development of rocket technology that made putting humans into space a practical reality in a short time. Only 12 years after the Russians launched a satellite into orbit around the Earth, Americans sent astronauts to walk on the moon.

The origins of Sputnik and spaceflight occurred a few decades before World War II, with the pioneering flights of liquid-fueled rockets in the United States and Europe. American Robert Goddard launched one from a Massachusetts farm in 1926 and continued to develop the technology on a testing range in New Mexico in the 1930s. Meanwhile, Goddard’s research influenced the work of German rocketeer Hermann Oberth who fired the first liquid-fueled rocket in Europe in 1930 and dreamed of spaceflight. In Russia, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky developed the idea of rocket technology, and his ideas influenced Sergei Korolev in the 1930s.

The greatest advance in rocket technology took place in Nazi Germany, where Werner von Braun led efforts to build V-2 and other rockets that could hit England and terrorize civilian populations when launched from continental Europe. Hitler’s superweapons never had the decisive outcome for victory as he hoped, but the rockets had continuing military and civilian applications.

At the end of the war, Russian and Allied forces raced to Berlin as the Nazi regime collapsed in the spring of 1945. Preferring to surrender to the Americans because of the Red Army’s well-deserved reputation for brutality, von Braun and his team famously surrendered to Private Fred Schneikert and his platoon. They turned over 100 unfinished V-2 rockets and 14 tons of spare parts and blueprints to the Americans who whisked the scientists, rocketry, and plans away just days before the Soviet occupation of the area.

In Operation Paperclip, the Americans secretly brought thousands of German scientists and engineers to the United States including more than 100 German rocket scientists from Von Braun’s team to the United States. The operation was controversial because of Nazi Party affiliations, but few were rabid devotees to Nazi ideology, and their records were cleared. The Americans did not want them contributing to Soviet military production and brought them instead to Texas and then to Huntsville, Alabama, to develop American rocket technology as part of the nuclear arms race to build immense rockets to carry nuclear warheads. Within a decade, both sides had intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in their arsenals.

During the next decade, the United States developed various missile systems producing rockets of incredible size, thrust, and speed that could travel large distances. Interservice rivalry meant that the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force developed and built their own competing rocket systems including the Redstone, Vanguard, Jupiter-C, Polaris, and Atlas rockets. Meanwhile, the Soviets were secretly building their own R-7 missiles erected as a cluster rather than staged rocket.

On October 4, 1957, the Russians shocked Americans by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. Sputnik was a metal sphere weighing 184 pounds that emitted a beeping sound to Earth that was embarrassingly picked up by U.S. global tracking stations. The effort was not only part of the Cold War, but also the International Geophysical Year in which scientists from around the world formed a consortium to share information on highly active solar flares and a host of other scientific knowledge. However, both the Soviets and Americans were highly reluctant to share any knowledge that might have relationship to military technology.

While American intelligence had predicted the launch, Sputnik created a wave of panic and near hysteria. Although President Dwight Eisenhower was publicly unconcerned because the United States was preparing its own satellite, the American press, the public, and Congress were outraged, fearing the Russians were spying on them or could rain down nuclear weapons from space. Moreover, it seemed as if the Americans were falling behind the Soviets. Henry Jackson, a Democratic senator from the state of Washington, called Sputnik “a devastating blow to the United States’ scientific, industrial, and technical prestige in the world.” Sputnik initiated the space race between the United States and Soviet Union as part of the Cold War superpower rivalry.

A month later, the Soviets sent a dog named Laika into space aboard Sputnik II. Although the dog died because it only had life support systems for a handful of days, the second successful orbiting satellite—this one carrying a living creature—further humiliated Americans even if they humorously dubbed it “Muttnik.”

The public relations nightmare was further exacerbated by the explosion of a Vanguard rocket carrying a Navy satellite at the Florida Missile Test Range on Patrick Air Force Base on Cape Canaveral. on December 6. The event was aired on television and watched by millions. The launch was supposed to restore pride in American technology, but it was an embarrassing failure. The press had a field-day and labeled it “Kaputnik” and “Flopnik.”

On January 31, 1958, Americans finally had reason to cheer when a Jupiter-C rocket lifted off and went into orbit carrying a thirty-one-pound satellite named Explorer. The space race was now on and each side competed to be the first to accomplish a goal. The space race also had significant impacts upon American society.

In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act to spend more money to promote science, math, and engineering education at all levels. To signal its peaceful intentions, Congress also created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a civilian organization to lead the American efforts in space exploration, whereas the Russian program operated as part of the military.

In December 1958, NASA announced Project Mercury with the purpose of putting an astronaut in space which would be followed by Projects Gemini and Apollo which culminated in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon. The space race was an important part of the Cold War and also about the spirit of human discovery and pushing the frontiers of knowledge and space.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence. 

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

While speaking on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower talked about the importance of reaffirming religious faith in America’s heritage and future, that doing so would “constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.” In 1864 during the Civil War, the phrase “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. coins. On July 30, 1956, “In God We Trust” became the nation’s motto as President Eisenhower signed into law a bill declaring it, along with having the motto printed in capital letters, on every United States denomination of paper currency.

The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.” George Washington, 1778.[i]

It becomes a people publicly to acknowledge the over-ruling hand of Divine Providence and their dependence upon the Supreme Being as their Creator and Merciful Preserver . . .” Samuel Huntington, 1791.[ii]

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Associate Justice William O. Douglas, 1952.[iii]

One of the most enduring battles in American politics has been over the question of whether America is or ever was a Christian Nation. For Supreme Court Associate Justice David Brewer the answer was simple: yes. The United States was formed as and, in Brewer’s 1892 at least, still was, a Christian Nation. The Justice said as much in Church of the Holy Trinity vs. United States. But his simple answer did not go unsupported.

“[I]n what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it…Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all…Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian Nation – in fact, as the leading Christian Nation of the world. This popular use of the term certainly has significance. It is not a mere creation of the imagination. It is not a term of derision but has substantial basis – on which justifies its use. Let us analyze a little and see what is the basis.”[iv]

Brewer went on, of course, to do just that.

Regrettably, it lies beyond the scope of this short essay to repeat Brewer’s arguments. In 1905, Brewer re-assembled them into a book: The United States a Christian Nation. It was republished in 2010 by American Vision and is worth the read.[v]  For the purposes of this essay I will stipulate, with Brewer, that America is a Christian nation. If that be the case, it should come as no surprise that such a nation would take the advice of Samuel Huntington and openly acknowledge its trust in God on multiple occasions and in a variety of ways: on its coinage, for instance. How we came to do that as a nation is an interesting story stretching over much of our history.

Trusting God was a familiar concept to America’s settlers – they spoke and wrote of it often. Their Bibles, at least one in every home, contained many verses encouraging believers to place their trust in God,[vi] and early Americans knew their Bible.[vii] Upon surviving the perilous voyage across the ocean, their consistent first act was to thank the God of the Bible for their safety.

Benjamin Franklin’s volunteer Pennsylvania militia of 1747-1748 reportedly had regimental banners displaying “In God We Trust.”[viii] In 1776, our Declaration of Independence confirmed the signers had placed “a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”[ix] In 1814, Francis Scott Key penned his famous poem which eventually became our national anthem. The fourth stanza contains the words: “Then conquer we must, when our cause is just, and this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’”

In 1848, construction began on the first phase of the Washington Monument (it was not completed until 1884). “In God We Trust” sits among Bible verses chiseled on the inside walls and “Praise God” (“Laus Deo” in Latin) can be found on its cap plate. But it would be another thirteen years before someone suggested putting a “recognition of the Almighty God” on U.S. coins.

That someone, Pennsylvania minister M. R. Watkinson, wrote to Salmon P. Chase, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, and suggested that such a recognition of the Almighty God would “place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed.” Watkinson suggested the words “PERPETUAL UNION” and “GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.” Chase liked the basic idea but not Watkinson’s suggestions. He instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to come up with a motto for the coins: “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition (emphasis mine).

Secretary Chase “wordsmithed” Director Pollock’s suggestions a bit and came up with his “tersest” words: “IN GOD WE TRUST,” which was ordered to be so engraved by an Act of Congress on April 22, 1864. First to bear the words was the 1864 two-cent coin.

The following year, another Act of Congress allowed the Mint Director to place the motto on all gold and silver coins that “shall admit the inscription thereon.” The motto was promptly placed on the gold double-eagle coin, the gold eagle coin, and the gold half-eagle coin. It was also minted on silver coins, and on the nickel three-cent coin beginning in 1866.

One might guess that the phrase has appeared on all U.S. coins since 1866 – one would be wrong.

The U.S. Treasury website explains (without further details) that “the motto disappeared from the five-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear until production of the Jefferson nickel began in 1938.” The motto was also “found missing from the new design of the double-eagle gold coin and the eagle gold coin shortly after they appeared in 1907. In response to a general demand, Congress ordered it restored, and the Act of May 18, 1908, made it mandatory on all coins upon which it had previously appeared” [x] (emphasis added). I’m guessing someone got fired over that disappearance act. Since 1938, all United States coins have borne the phrase. None others have had it “go missing.”

The date 1956 was a watershed year.  As you read in the introduction to this essay, that year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law (P.L. 84-140) which declared “In God We Trust” to be the national motto of the United States. The bill had passed the House and the Senate unanimously and without debate. The following year the motto began appearing on U.S. paper currency, beginning with the one-dollar silver certificate. The Treasury gradually included it as part of the back design of all classes and denominations of currency.

Our story could end there – but it doesn’t.

There is no doubt Founding Era Americans would have welcomed the phrase on their currency had someone suggested it, but it turns out some Americans today have a problem with it – a big problem.

America’s atheists continue to periodically challenge the constitutionality of the phrase appearing on government coins. The first challenge occurred in 1970; Aronow v. United States would not be the last. Additional challenges were mounted in 1978 (O’Hair v. Blumenthal) and 1979 (Madalyn Murray O’Hair vs W. Michael Blumenthal). Each of these cases was decided at the circuit court level against the plaintiff, with the court affirming that the “primary purpose of the slogan was secular.”

Each value judgment under the Religion Clauses must therefore turn on whether particular acts in question are intended to establish or interfere with religious beliefs and practices or have the effect of doing so. [xi]

Having the national motto on currency neither established nor interfered with “religious beliefs and practices.”

In 2011, in case some needed a reminder, the House of Representatives passed a new resolution reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States by a 396–9 vote (recall that the 1956 vote had been unanimous, here in the 21st century it was not).

Undaunted by the courts’ previous opinions on the matter, atheist activist Michael Newdow brought a new challenge in 2019 — and lost in the Eighth Circuit. The Supreme Court (on April 23, 2020) declined to hear the appeal. At my count, Newdow is now 0-5. His 2004 challenge[xii] that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violated the First Amendment was a bust, as was his 2009 attempt to block Chief Justice John Roberts from including the phrase “So help me God” when administering the presidential oath of office to Barack Obama. He tried to stop the phrase from being recited in the 2013 and 2017 inaugurations as well – each time unsuccessfully.

In spite of atheist challenges, or perhaps because of them, our national motto is enjoying a bit of resurgence of late, at least in the more conservative areas of the country:

In 2014, the Mississippi legislature voted to add the words, “In God We Trust” to their state seal.

In 2015, Jefferson County, Illinois decided to put the national motto on their police squad cars. Many other localities followed suit, including York County, Virginia, and Bakersfield, California, in 2019.

In March, 2017, Arkansas required their public schools to display posters which included the national motto. Similar laws were passed in Florida (2018), Tennessee (2018), South Dakota (2019) and Louisiana (2019).

On March 3, 2020, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill that would require all public buildings in the state to display the motto. Kansas, Indiana, and Oklahoma are considering similar bills.

But here is the question which lies at the heart of this issue: Does America indeed trust in God?

I think it is clear that America’s Founders, by and large did – at least they said and acted as though they did. But when you look around the United States today, outside of some limited activity on Sunday mornings and on the National Day of Prayer, does America actually trust in God? There is ample evidence we trust in everything, anything, but God.

Certainly we seem to trust in science, or what passes for science today.  We put a lot of trust in public education, it would seem, even though the results are quite unimpressive and the curriculum actually works to undermine trust in God. Finally, we put a lot of trust in our elected officials even though they betray that trust with alarming regularity.[xiii]

Perhaps citizens of the United States need to see our motto on our currency, on school and court room walls to simply remind us of what we should be doing, and doing more often.

“America trusts in God,” we declare. Do we mean it?

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10 ESV

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people. CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text. Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes periodic essays published on several different websites, and appears in period costume as James Madison, explaining to public and private school students “his” (i.e., Madison’s) role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Gary can be reached at, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[i] Letter to Thomas Nelson, August 20, 1778.

[ii] Samuel Huntington was a signer of the Declaration Of Independence; President of Congress;
Judge; and Governor of Connecticut.  Quoted from A Proclamation for a Day of Fasting, Prayer and Humiliation, March 9, 1791.

[iii] Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952).

[iv] Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457 (1892).


[vi] Examples include: Psalm 56:3, Isaiah 26:4, Psalm 20:7, Proverbs 3:5-6 and Jeremiah 17:7.

[vii] “Their many quotations from and allusions to both familiar and obscure scriptural passages confirms that [America’s Founders] knew the Bible from cover to cover.” Daniel L. Driesbach, 2017, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers, Oxford University Press, p.1

[viii] See

[ix] Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, July 1776.



[xii] Newdow v. United States, 328 F.3d 466 (9th Cir. 2004)


Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In 1919, Dwight Eisenhower was part of a U.S. Army caravan of motor vehicles traveling across the country as a publicity stunt. The convoy encountered woeful and inadequate roads in terrible condition. The journey took two months by the time it was completed.

When Eisenhower was in Germany after the end of World War II, he was deeply impressed by the Autobahn because of its civilian and military applications. The experiences were formative in shaping Eisenhower’s thinking about developing a national highway system in the United States. He later said, “We must build new roads,” and asked Congress for “forward looking action.”

As president, Eisenhower generally held to the postwar belief called “Modern Republicanism.” This meant that while he did not support a massive increase in spending on the federal New Deal welfare state, he would also not roll it back. He was a fiscal conservative who supported decreased federal spending and balanced budgets, but he advocated a national highway system as a massive public infrastructure project to facilitate private markets and economic growth.

The postwar consumer culture was dominated by the automobile. Americans loved their large cars replete with large tail fins and abundant amounts of chrome. By 1960, 80 percent of American families owned a car. American cars symbolized their geographical mobility, consumer desires, and global industrial predominance. They needed a modern highway system to get around the sprawling country. By 1954, President Eisenhower was ready to pitch the idea of a national highway system to Congress and the states. He called it, “The biggest peacetime construction project of any description every undertaken by the United States or any other country.”

In July, Eisenhower dispatched his vice-president, Richard Nixon, to the meeting of Governors’ Conference to win support. The principle of federalism was raised with many states in opposition to federal control and taxes.

That same month, the president asked his friend, General Lucius Clay, who was an engineer by training and supervised the occupation of postwar Germany, to manage the planning of the project and present it to Congress. He organized the President’s Advisory on a National Highway Program.

The panel held hearings and spoke to a variety of experts and interests including engineers, financiers, construction and trucking companies, and labor unions. Based upon the information it amassed, the panel put together a plan by January 1955.

The plan proposed 41,000 miles of highway construction at an estimated cost of $101 billion over ten years. It recommended the creation of a federal highway corporation that would use 30-year bonds to finance construction. There would be a gas tax but no tolls or federal taxes. A bill was written based upon the terms of the plan.

The administration sent the bill to Congress the following month, but a variety of interests expressed opposition to the bill. Southern members of Congress, for example, were particularly concerned about federal control because it might set a precedent for challenging segregation. Eisenhower and his allies pushed hard for the bill and used the Cold War to sell the bill as a means of facilitating evacuation from cities in case of a nuclear attack. The bill passed the Senate but then stalled in the House where it died during the congressional session.

The administration reworked the bill and sent it to Congress again. The revised proposal created a Highway Trust Fund that would be funded and replenished with taxes primarily on gasoline, diesel oil, and tires. No federal appropriations would be used for interstate highways.

The bill passed both houses of Congress in May and June 1956, and the president triumphantly signed the bill into the law creating the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways on June 29.

The interstate highway system transformed the landscape of the United States in the postwar period. It linked the national economy, markets, and large cities together. It contributed to the growth of suburban America as commuters could now drive their cars to work in cities or consumers could drive to shopping malls. Tourists could travel expeditiously to vacations at distant beaches, national parks, and amusement parks like Disneyland. Cheap gas, despite the taxes to fund the highways, was critical to travel along the interstates.

The interstate highway system later became entwined in national debates over energy policy in the 1970s when OPEC embargoed oil to the United States. Critics said gas-guzzling cars should be replaced by more efficient cars or public transportation, that American love of cars contributed significantly to the degradation of the environment, and that America had reached an age of limits.

The creation of the interstate highway system was a marvel of American postwar prosperity and contributed to its unrivaled affluence. It also symbolized some of the challenges Americans faced. Both the success of  completing the grand public project and the ability to confront and solve new challenges represented the American spirit.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Dan Morenoff

You can count on one hand the number of Supreme Court decisions that normal people can identify by name and subject. Brown is one of them (and, arguably, both the widest and most accurately known). Ask any lawyer what the most important judicial decision in American history is, and they will almost certainly tell you, with no hesitation, Brown v. Board of Education. It’s the case that, for decades, Senators have asked every nominee to become a judge to explain why is right.

It’s place in the public mind is well-deserved, even if it should be adjusted to reflect more accurately its place in modern American history.

Backstory: From Reconstruction’s Promise to Enshrinement of Jim Crow in Plessy

Remember the pair of course reversals that followed the Civil War.

Between 1865 and 1876, Congress sought to make good the Union’s promises to the freedmen emancipated during the war. In the face of stiff, violent resistance by those who refused to accept the war’s verdict, America amended the Constitution three (3) times, with: (a) the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery; (b) the Fourteenth Amendment: (i) affirmatively acting to create and bestow American citizenship on all those born here, (ii) barring states from “abridg[ing] the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States[,]” and (iii) guaranteeing the equal protection of the laws; and (c) the Fifteenth Amendment barring states from denying American citizens the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Toward the same end, Congress passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871, and the Ku Klux Klan Act. They created the Department of Justice to enforce these laws and supported President Grant in his usage of the military to prevent states from reconstituting slavery under another name.

Until 1876. To solve the constitutional crisis of a Presidential election with no clear winner, Congress (and President Hayes) effectively, if silently, agreed to effectively and abruptly end all that. The federal government removed troops from former Confederate states and stopped trying to enforce federal law. And the states “redeemed” by the violent forces of retaliation amended their state constitutions and passed the myriad of laws creating the “Jim Crow” regime of American apartheid.  Under Jim Crow, races were separated, the public services available to an American came to radically differ depending on that American’s race, and the rights of disfavored races became severely curtailed. Most African Americans were disenfranchised, then disarmed, and then subjected to mob-violence to incentivize compliance with the “redeemer” community’s wishes.

One could point to a number of crystallizing moments as the key point when the federal government made official that it and national law would do nothing to stop any of this. But the most commonly cited is the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of the Supreme Court, issued in 1896. It was a case arising out of New Orleans and its even-then-long-multi-hued business community. There, predictably, there were companies and entrepreneurs that hated these laws interfering with their businesses and their ability to provide services to willing buyers on the (racially integrated) basis they preferred. A particularly hated law passed by the State of Louisiana compelled railroads (far and away the largest industry of the day) to separate customers into different cars on the basis of race. With admirable truth in advertising, the Citizens Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law formed and went to work to rid New Orleans of this government micromanagement. Forgotten in the long sweep of history, the Committee (acting through the Pullman Company, one of America’s largest manufacturers at the time) actually won their first case at the Louisiana Supreme Court, which ruled that any state law requiring separate accommodations in interstate travel violated the U.S. Constitution (specifically, Article I’s grant of power to Congress alone to regulate interstate travel). They then sought to invalidate application of the same law to train travel within Louisiana as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. With coordination between the various actors involved, Homer Plessy (a man with 7 “white” and 1 “black” great-grandparent(s) purchased and used a seat in the state-law required “white” section of a train that the train company wanted to sell him; they then assured a state official knew he was there, was informed of his racial composition, and would willingly arrest Mr. Plessy to create the test case the Committee wanted. It is known to us as Plessy v. Ferguson.[1] This time, though, things didn’t go as planned: the trial court ruled the statute enforceable and the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld its application to Mr. Plessy. The Supreme Court of the United States accepted the case, bringing the national spotlight onto this specific challenge to the constitutionality of the states’ racial-caste-enforcing laws. In 1896, over the noteworthy, highly-praised, sole dissent of Justice John Marshall Harlan, the Supreme Court agreed that, due to its language requiring “equal, but separate” accommodations for the races (and without ever really considering whether the accommodations provided actually were “equal”), the separate car statute was consistent with the U.S. Constitution; they added that the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended “to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social … equality … of the two races.”

For decades, the Plessy ruling was treated as the federal government’s seal of approval for the continuation of Jim Crow.

Killing Jim Crow

Throughout those decades, African Americans (and conscientious whites) continued to object to American law treating races differently as profoundly unjust. And they had ample opportunities to note the intensity of the injustice. A sampling (neither comprehensive, nor fully indicative of the scope) would include: Woodrow Wilson’s segregation of the federal work force, the resurgence of lynchings following the 1915 rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan (itself an outgrowth of the popularity of Birth of a Nation, the intensely racist film that Woodrow Wilson made the first ever screened at the White House), and the spate of anti-black race riots surrounding America’s participation in World War I.

For the flavor of those riots, consider the fate of the African American community living in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the spring of 1921, Greenwood’s professional class had done so well that it became known as “Negro Wall Street” or “Black Wall Street.” On the evening of May 31, 1921, a mob gathered at the Tulsa jail and demanded that an African American man accused of attempting to assault a white woman be handed over to them. When African Americans, including World War I veterans, came to the jail in order to prevent a lynching, shots were fired and a riot began. Over the next 12 hours, at least three hundred African Americans were killed. In addition, 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half dozen private airplanes, and a bus system were utterly destroyed. The Tulsa race riot (perhaps better styled a pogrom, given the active participation of the national guard in these events) has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”[2]

But that is far from the whole story of these years. What are today described as Historically Black Colleges and Universities graduated generations of students, who went on to live productive lives and better their communities (whether racially defined or not). They saw the rise of the Harlem Renaissance, where African American luminaries like Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston acquired followings across the larger population and, indeed, the world. The Negro Leagues demonstrated through the national pastime that the athletic (and business) skills of African Americans were equal to those of any others;[3] the leagues developed into some of the largest black-owned businesses in the country and developed fan-followings across America. Eventually, these years saw Jackie Robinson, one of the Negro Leagues’ brightest stars, sign a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945 and “break the color barrier” in 1947 as the first black Major Leaguer since Cap Anson successfully pushed for their exclusion in the 1880s.[4] He would be: (a) named Major League Baseball’s Rookie of the Year in 1947; (b) voted the National League MVP in 1949; and (c) voted by fans as an All Star six (6) times (spanning each of the years from 1949-1954). Robinson also led the Dodgers to the World Series in four (4) of those six (6) years.

For the main plot of our story, though, the most important reaction to the violence of Tulsa (and elsewhere)[5] was the “newfound sense of determination” that “emerged” to confront it.[6] Setting aside the philosophical debate that raged across the African American community over the broader period on the best way to advance the prospects of those most impacted by these laws,[7] the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (the “NAACP”) began to plan new strategies to defeat Jim Crow.”[8]  The initial architect of this challenge was Charles Hamilton Houston, who joined the NAACP and developed and implemented the framework of its legal strategy after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1922, the year following the Tulsa race riot.[9]

Between its founding in 1940, under the leadership of Houston-disciple Thurgood Marshall,[10] and 1955, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund brought a series of cases designed to undermine Plessy.  Houston had believed from the outset that unequal education was the Achilles heel of Jim Crow and the LDF targeted that weak spot.

The culmination of these cases came with a challenge to the segregated public schools operated by Topeka, Kansas. While schools were racially segregated many places, the LDF specifically chose to bring its signature case against the Topeka Board of Education, precisely because Kansas was not Southern, had no history of slavery, and institutionally praised John Brown;[11] the case highlighted that its issues were national, not regional, in scope.[12]

LDF, through Marshall and Greenberg, convinced the Supreme Court to reverse Plessy and declare Topeka’s school system unconstitutional. On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren handed down the unanimous opinion of the Court. Due to months of wrangling and negotiation of the final opinion, there were no dissents and no concurrences. With a single voice the Supreme Court proclaimed that:

…in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

These sweeping tones are why the decision holds the place it does in our collective imagination. They are why Brown is remembered as the end of legal segregation. They are why Brown is the most revered precedent in American jurisprudence.

One might have thought that they would mean an immediate end to all race-based public educational systems (and, indeed, to all segregation by law in American life). Indeed, as Justice Marshall told his biographer Dennis Hutchison in 1979, he thought just that: “the biggest mistake [I] made was assuming that once Jim Crow was deconstitutionalized, the whole structure would collapse – ‘like pounding a stake in Dracula’s heart[.]’”

But that was not to be. For the Court to get to unanimity, the Justices needed to avoid ruling on the remedy for the violation they could jointly agree to identify. So they asked the parties to return and reargue the question of what to do about it the following year. When they again addressed the Brown case, the Supreme Court reiterated its ruling on the merits from 1954, but as to what to do about it, ordered nothing more than that the states “make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance” and get around to “admit[ting children] to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed.”

So the true place of Brown in the story of desegregation is best reflected in Justice Marshall’s words (again, to Dennis Hutchison in 1979): “…[i]n the twelve months between Brown I and Brown II, [I] realized that [I] had yet to win anything….  ‘In 1954, I was delirious. What a victory!  I thought I was the smartest lawyer in the entire world. In 1955, I was shattered.  They gave us nothing and then told us to work for it. I thought I was the dumbest Negro in the United States.’”

Of course, Justice Marshall was far from dumb, however he felt in 1955.  But actual integration didn’t come from Brown. That would have to wait for action by Congress, cajoling by a President, and the slow development of the cultural facts-on-the-ground arising from generations of white American children growing up wanting to be like, rooting for, and seeing the equal worth in men like Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson, and Larry Doby.

Dan Morenoff is Executive Director of The Equal Voting Rights Institute.

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[1] In the terminology of the day, Mr. Ferguson was a “Carpetbagger.”  A native of Massachusetts who had married into a prominent abolitionist family, Mr. Ferguson studied law in Boston before moving to New Orleans in 1865.  He was the same judge who, at the trial court level, had ruled that Louisiana’s separate cars act could not be constitutionally applied to interstate travel.  Since Plessy’s prosecution also was initially conducted in Mr. Ferguson’s courtroom, he became the named defendant, despite his own apparent feelings about the propriety of the law.

[2] All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education, by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. W.W. Norton & Company (2004).

[3] In 1936, Jesse Owens did the same on an amateur basis at the Berlin Olympics.

[4] Larry Doby became the first black American League player ever weeks later (the AL had not existed in the 1880s).

[5] There were parallel riots in Omaha and Chicago in 1919.

[6] See, All Deliberate Speed, in Fn. 2, above.

[7] The author recommends delving into this debate.  Worthy samples of contributions to it the reader might consider include: (a) Booker T. Washington’s 1895 Address to Atlanta’s Cotton States and International Exposition (; and (b) W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk.

[8]  See, All Deliberate Speed, in Fn. 2, above.

[9] Houston was the first African American elected to the Harvard Law Review and has been called “the man who killed Jim Crow.”

[10] Later a Justice of U.S. Supreme Court himself, Justice Marshall was instrumental in the NAACP’s choice of legal strategies.  But LDF was not a one-man shop.  Houston had personally recruited Marshall and Oliver Hill, the first- and second-ranked students in the Law School Class of 1933 at Howard University – itself, a historically black institution founded during Reconstruction – to fight these legal battles.  Later, Jack Greenberg was Marshall’s Assistant Counsel was and hand-chosen successor to lead the LDF

[11] The Kansas State Capitol, in Topeka, has featured John Brown as a founding hero since the 1930s (

[12] This was all the more true when the case was argued before the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court had consolidated Brown for argument with other cases from across the nation.  Those cases were Briggs v. Elliot (from South Carolina), Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (from Virginia), Belton (Bulah) v. Gebhart (from Delaware), and Bolling v. Sharpe (District of Columbia).

Juneteenth’s a celebration of Liberation Day
When word of emancipation reached Texas slaves they say.
In sorrow were we brought here to till a harvest land.
We live and died and fought here
‘Til freedom was at hand.

They tore apart our families
They stole life’s nascent breath.
Turned women into mammies
And worked our men to death.

They shamed the very nation
Which fostered freedom’s birth
It died on the plantation
Denying man his worth.

But greed and misplaced honor
Brought crisis to a head
And Justice felt upon her
The weight of Union Dead.

They fought to save a nation.
And yet they saved its soul
From moral condemnation
And made the country whole.

But when the war was waning
And the battle was in doubt.
The soldiers were complaining
An many dropping out.

There seemed but one solution
Which might yet save the day.
Although its execution
Loomed several months away.

The Congress was divided.
The Cabinet as well.
Abe did his best to hide it.
And no one did he tell.

He meant to sign an order
To deal the South a blow.
The Mason Dixon border
And the Rebel states below

Would now have to contend with
The Freedman on their land.
For slavery had endeth
For woman, child and man.

The time 18 and 63
The first day of the year.
But June of 65 would be
The time we would hold dear.

For that would be when Freedom’s thought
First saw full light of day.
And justified why men had fought
And died along the way.

Now every June we celebrate
What Lincoln had in mind
The day he did emancipate
The bonds of all mankind.

Copyright All rights reserved

Noah Griffin, America 250 Commissioner, is a lifelong student of history and is founder and artistic director of the Cole Porter Society.

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Don Ritter

Little focused the public’s mind in the early 1950s like the atom bomb and the potential for vast death and destruction in the event of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Who can forget the classroom drills where students dropped to the floor and hid under their desks ostensibly to reduce exposure to an exploding atomic bomb? It was a prevailing subject of discussion amongst average people as well as elites in government, media and the arts.

The Soviet Union had attained “the bomb” in 1949, four years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the atom bomb at their disposal, the leadership of the Soviet Union was likely emboldened to accelerate its deeply felt ideological imperative to spread communism opportunistically. Getting an A-bomb led to a military equality with the United States that far reduced the threat of nuclear retaliation against their superior land armies in the event of an East-West military confrontation. The blatant invasion of South Korea, supported by the U.S. by communist North Korea in 1950 with total Soviet political and logistical commitment and indeed, encouragement, was likely an outcome of the Soviets possessing the atomic bomb.

In January of 1950, British intelligence, on information provided by the FBI, arrested East Germany-born and a British-educated and citizen, atomic scientist, Klaus Fuchs, who was spying for the Soviet Union. Fuchs had worked at the very highest level at Los Alamos on the American project to develop an atom bomb and was passing secrets to American Communist Party members who were also spying for the Soviet Union. He admitted his espionage and provided names of his American collaborators at Los Alamos. Those connections led to the arrest of Julius Rosenberg in June of 1950 on suspicion of espionage and two months later, his wife Ethel on the same charge.

Julius Rosenberg, an electrical engineer, and his wife Ethel were dedicated members of the Communist Party USA and had been working for years for Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) delivering secret American work on advanced weaponry such as radar detection, jet engines and guided missiles. In hindsight, that information probably exceeded the value of atomic secrets given to the Soviet Union although consensus is that the Rosenbergs’ bomb design information confirmed the direction of Soviet bomb development. Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass was working at Los Alamos and evidence brought to light over the years strongly suggest that Ethel was the one who recruited her brother to provide atom bomb design secrets to her husband and worked hand-in-glove with him in his espionage activities.

The Rosenbergs, never admitting their crimes, were tried and convicted on the charge of “conspiracy to commit espionage.” The Death Penalty was their sentence. They professed their innocence until the very end when in June 1953, they were electrocuted at Sing Sing prison.

Politically, there was another narrative unfolding. The political Left in the United States and worldwide strongly supported the Rosenbergs’  innocence, reminiscent of their support for former State Department official Alger Hiss who was tried in 1949 and convicted in 1950 of perjury and not espionage as the Statute of Limitations on espionage had expired. The world-renowned Marxist intellectual, Jean-Paul Sartre called the Rosenberg trial a “legal lynching.” On execution day, there was a demonstration of several hundred outside Sing Sing paying their last respects. For decades to follow, the Rosenbergs’ innocence became a rallying cry of the political Left.

Leaders on the political and intellectual Left blamed anti-communist fervor drummed up by McCarthyism for the federal government’s pursuit of the Rosenbergs and others accused of spying for the Soviet Union. At the time, there was great sympathy on the Left with the ideals of communism and America’s former communist ally, the Soviet Union, which had experienced great loss in WW II in defeating hated Nazi fascism. They fervently believed the Rosenbergs’ plea of innocence.

When the Venona Project, secret records of intercepted Soviet messages, were made public in the mid-1990s, with unequivocal information pointing to the Rosenbergs’ guilt, the political Left’s fervor for the Rosenbergs was greatly diminished. Likewise, with material copied from Soviet KGB archives (the Vassillyev Notebooks) in 2009. However, some said, (paraphrasing) “OK, they did it but U.S. government Cold War mentality and McCarthyism were even greater threats” (e. g. the Nation magazine, popular revisionist Historian Howard Zinn).

Since then, the Left and not only the Left, led by the surviving sons of the Rosenbergs, have focused on the unfairness of the sentence, particularly Ethel Rosenberg’s, and that she should have not received the death penalty. Federal prosecutors likely hoped that such a charge would get the accused to talk, implicate others and provide insights into Soviet espionage operations. It did not. The Rosenbergs became martyrs to the Left and likely as martyrs, continued to better serve the Soviet communist cause than serving a prison sentence. Perhaps that was even their reason for professing innocence.

Debate continues to this day. But these days it’s over the severity of the sentence as just about all agree the Rosenbergs were spies for the Soviet Union. In today’s climate, there would be no death sentence but at the height of the Cold War…

However, there is absolutely no doubt that they betrayed America by spying for the Soviet Union at a time of great peril to America and world.

Don Ritter is President and CEO Emeritus (after serving eight years in that role) of the Afghan American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) and a 15-year founding member of the Board of Directors. Since 9-11, 2001, he has worked full time on Afghanistan and has been back to the country more than 40 times. He has a 38-year history in Afghanistan.

Ritter holds a B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering from Lehigh University and a Masters and Doctorate from MIT in physical-mechanical metallurgy. After MIT, where his hobby was Russian language and culture, he was a NAS-Soviet Academy of Sciences Exchange Fellow in the Soviet Union in the Brezhnev era for one year doing research at the Baikov Institute for Physical Metallurgy on high temperature materials. He speaks fluent Russian (and French), is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and recipient of numerous awards from scientific and technical societies and human rights organizations.

After returning from Russia in 1968, he spent a year teaching at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he was also a contract consultant to General Dynamics in their solid-state physics department. He then returned, as a member of the faculty and administration, to his alma-mater, Lehigh University. At Lehigh, in addition to his teaching, research and industry consulting, Dr. Ritter was instrumental in creating a university-wide program linking disciplines of science and engineering to the social sciences and humanities with the hope of furthering understanding of the role of technology in society.

After10 years at Lehigh, Dr. Ritter represented Pennsylvania’s 15th district, the “Lehigh Valley” from 1979 to 1993 in the U.S. House of Representatives where he served on the Science and Technology and Energy and Commerce Committees. Ritter’s main mission as a ‘scientist congressman’ was to work closely with the science, engineering and related industry communities to bring a greater science-based perspective to the legislative, regulatory and political processes.

In Congress, as ranking member on the Congressional Helsinki Commission, he fought for liberty and human rights in the former Soviet Union. The Commission was Ritter’s platform to gather congressional support to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion and occupation during the 1980s. Ritter was author of the “Material Assistance” legislation and founder and House-side Chairman of the “Congressional Task Force on Afghanistan.”

Dr. Ritter continued his effort in the 1990’s after Congress as founder and Chairman of the Washington, DC-based Afghanistan Foundation. In 2003, as creator of a six million-dollar USAID-funded initiative, he served as Senior Advisor to AACC in the creation of the first independent, free-market oriented Chamber of Commerce in the history of the country. Dr. Ritter presently is part of AACC’s seminal role in assisting the development of the Afghan market economy to bring stability and prosperity to Afghanistan. He is also a businessman and investor in Afghanistan.

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Don Ritter

World War II ended in 1945 but the ideological imperative of Soviet communism’s expansion did not. By 1950, the Soviet Union (USSR) had solidified its empire by conquest and subversion in all Central and Eastern Europe. But to Stalin & Co., there were other big fish to fry. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, the USSR was asked to participate in ending the war in the Pacific against Japan. Even though Japan’s defeat was not in doubt, the atom bomb would not be tested until July and it was not yet known to our war planners if it would work.

An invasion of Japan, their home island, was thought to mean huge American and allied casualties, perhaps half a million, a conclusion reached given the tenacity which Japanese soldiers had defended islands like Iwo Jima and Okinawa. So much blood was yet to be spilled… they were fighting to the death. The Soviet Red Army, so often oblivious to casualties in their onslaught against Nazi Germany, would share in the burden of invasion of Japan.

Japan had controlled Manchukuo (later Manchuria).  The Korean peninsula was dominated by Japan historically and actually annexed early in the 20th century. Islands taken from Czarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 were also in play.

Stalin and the communist USSR’s presence at the very end of the war in Asia was solidified at Yalta and that is how they got to create a communist North Korea.

Fast forward to April of 1950, Kim Il Sung had traveled to Moscow to discuss how communist North Korea, might take South Korea and unify the peninsula under communist rule for the communist world. South Korea or the Republic of Korea (ROK) was dependent on the United States. The non-communist ROK was in the middle of the not abnormal chaos of establishing a democracy, an economy, and a new country. Their military was far from ready. Neither was that of the U.S.

Kim and Stalin concluded that South was weak and ripe for adding new realm to their communist world. Stalin gave Kim the go-ahead to invade and pledged full Soviet support. Vast quantities of supplies, artillery and tanks would be provided to the Army of North Korea for a full-fledged attack on the South. MIG-15 fighter aircraft, flown by Soviet pilots masquerading as Koreans would be added. Close by was Communist China for whom the USSR had done yeoman service in their taking control. That was one large insurance policy should things go wrong.

On June 25, 1950, a North Korean blitzkrieg came thundering down on South Korea. Closely spaced large artillery firing massive barrages followed by tanks and troops, a tactic perfected in the Red Army’s battles with the Nazis, wreaked havoc on the overpowered South Korean forces. Communist partisans infiltrated into the South joined the fray, against the ROK. The situation was dire as it looked like the ROK would collapse.

President Harry Truman decided that an expansionist Soviet communist victory in Korea was not only unacceptable but that it would not stop there. He committed the U.S. to fight back and fight back, we did. In July of 1950, the Americans got support from the UN Security Council to form a UN Command (UNC) under U.S. leadership. As many as 70 countries would get involved eventually but the U.S. troops bore the brunt of the war with Great Britain and Commonwealth troops, a very distant second.

It is contested to this day as to why the USSR under Stalin had not been there at the Security Council session to veto the engagement of the UN with the U.S. leading the charge. The Soviets had walked out in January and did not return until August. Was it a grand mistake or did Stalin want to embroil America in a war in Asia so he could more easily deal with his new and possibly expanding empire in Europe? Were the Soviets so confident of a major victory in Korea that would embarrass the U.S. and signal to others that America would be weakened by a defeat in Korea, and thus be unable to lead the non-communist world?

At a time when ROK and U.S. troops were reeling backwards, when the communist North had taken the capital of the country, Seoul, and much more, Supreme UN Commander, General Douglas McArthur had a plan for a surprise attack. He would attack at a port twenty-five miles from Seoul, Inchon, using the American 1st Marine Division as the spearhead of an amphibious operation landing troops, tanks and artillery. That put UNC troops north of the North Korean forces in a position to sever the enemy’s supply lines and inflict severe damage on their armies. Seoul was retaken. The bold Inchon landing changed the course of the Korean war and put America back on offense.

While MacArthur rapidly led the UNC all the way to the Yalu River bordering China, when Communist China entered the war, everything changed. MacArthur had over-extended his own supply lines and apparently had not fully considered the potential for a military disaster if China entered the war. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) counterattacked. MacArthur was sacked by Truman. There was a debate in the Truman administration over the use of nuclear weapons to counter the Chinese incursion.

Overwhelming numbers of Chinese forces employing sophisticated tactics, and a willingness to take huge casualties, pushed the mostly American troops back to the original dividing line between the north and south, the 38th parallel (38 degrees latitude)… which, ironically, after two more years of deadly stalemate, is where we and our South Korean allies stand today.

Looking back, airpower was our ace in the hole and a great equalizer given the disparity in ground troops. B-29 Superfortresses blasted targets in the north, incessantly. Jet fighters like the legendary F-86 Sabre jet dominated the Soviet MIG-15s.  But if you discount nuclear weapons, wars are won by troops on the ground, and on the ground, we ended up where we started.

33, 000 Americans died in combat. Other UNC countries lost about 7,000. South Korea, 134,000. North Korea, 213,000. The Chinese lost an estimated 400,000 troops in combat! Civilians all told, 2.7 million, a staggering number.

The Korean war ended in 1953 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was the U.S. President. South Korea has evolved from a nation of rice paddies to a modern industrial power with strong democratic institutions and world-class living standards. North Korea, under communist dictatorship, is one of the poorest and most repressive nations on earth yet they develop nuclear weapons. China, still a communist dictatorship but having adopted capitalist economic principles, has surged in its economic and military development to become a great power with the capacity to threaten the peace in Asia and beyond.

Communist expansion was halted by a hot war in Korea from 1950 to 1953 but the Cold War continued with no letup.

A question for the reader: What would the world be like if America and its allies had lost the war in Korea.

Don Ritter is President and CEO Emeritus (after serving eight years in that role) of the Afghan American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) and a 15-year founding member of the Board of Directors. Since 9-11, 2001, he has worked full time on Afghanistan and has been back to the country more than 40 times. He has a 38-year history in Afghanistan.

Ritter holds a B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering from Lehigh University and a Masters and Doctorate from MIT in physical-mechanical metallurgy. After MIT, where his hobby was Russian language and culture, he was a NAS-Soviet Academy of Sciences Exchange Fellow in the Soviet Union in the Brezhnev era for one year doing research at the Baikov Institute for Physical Metallurgy on high temperature materials. He speaks fluent Russian (and French), is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and recipient of numerous awards from scientific and technical societies and human rights organizations.

After returning from Russia in 1968, he spent a year teaching at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he was also a contract consultant to General Dynamics in their solid-state physics department. He then returned, as a member of the faculty and administration, to his alma-mater, Lehigh University. At Lehigh, in addition to his teaching, research and industry consulting, Dr. Ritter was instrumental in creating a university-wide program linking disciplines of science and engineering to the social sciences and humanities with the hope of furthering understanding of the role of technology in society.

After10 years at Lehigh, Dr. Ritter represented Pennsylvania’s 15th district, the “Lehigh Valley” from 1979 to 1993 in the U.S. House of Representatives where he served on the Science and Technology and Energy and Commerce Committees. Ritter’s main mission as a ‘scientist congressman’ was to work closely with the science, engineering and related industry communities to bring a greater science-based perspective to the legislative, regulatory and political processes.

In Congress, as ranking member on the Congressional Helsinki Commission, he fought for liberty and human rights in the former Soviet Union. The Commission was Ritter’s platform to gather congressional support to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion and occupation during the 1980s. Ritter was author of the “Material Assistance” legislation and founder and House-side Chairman of the “Congressional Task Force on Afghanistan.”

Dr. Ritter continued his effort in the 1990’s after Congress as founder and Chairman of the Washington, DC-based Afghanistan Foundation. In 2003, as creator of a six million-dollar USAID-funded initiative, he served as Senior Advisor to AACC in the creation of the first independent, free-market oriented Chamber of Commerce in the history of the country. Dr. Ritter presently is part of AACC’s seminal role in assisting the development of the Afghan market economy to bring stability and prosperity to Afghanistan. He is also a businessman and investor in Afghanistan.

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Don Ritter

When Time Magazine was at its heyday and the dominant ‘last word’ in American media, over a ten-year period, Whittaker Chambers was its greatest writer and editor. He was a founding editor of National Review along with William F. Buckley. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously from President Ronald Reagan in 1984. His memoir, Witness, is an American classic.

But all that was a vastly different world from his earlier life as a card-carrying member of the Communist Party in the 1920s and spy for Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) in the 1930s.

We recognize Chambers today for the nation’s focus given to his damning testimony in the Alger Hiss congressional investigations and spy trials from 1948-50 and a trove of documents called the Pumpkin Papers.

Alger Hiss came from wealth and was a member of the privileged class, attended Harvard Law School and was upwardly mobile in the State Department reaching high-ranking positions with access to extremely sensitive information. He was an organizer of the Yalta Conference between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. He helped create the United Nations and in 1949, was President of the prestigious Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In Congress in 1948, based on FBI information, a number of Americans were being investigated for spying for the Soviet Union dating back to the early 1930s and during WW II, particularly in the United States Department of State. These were astonishing accusations at the time. When an American spy for the Soviets, Elizabeth Bentley, defected and accused Alger Hiss and a substantial group of U.S. government officials in the Administration of Franklin Roosevelt of spying for the Soviet Union, Hiss vehemently denied the charges. Handsome and sophisticated, Hiss was for a lifetime, well-connected, well-respected and well-spoken. He made an extremely credible witness before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Plus, most public figures involved in media, entertainment and academe came to his defense.

Whittaker Chambers, by then a successful editor at Time, reluctantly and fearing retribution by the GRU, was subpoenaed before HUAC to testify. He accused Hiss of secretly being a communist and passing secret documents to him for transfer to Soviet Intelligence. He testified that he and Hiss had been together on several occasions. Hiss denied it. Chambers was a product of humble beginnings, divorced parents, a brother who committed suicide at 22 and was accused of having psychological problems. All this was prequel to his adoption – “something to live for and something to die for” – of the communist cause. His appearance, dress, voice and demeaner, no less his stinging message, were considered less than attractive. The comparison to the impression that Hiss made was stark and Chambers was demeaned and derided by Hiss’ supporters.

Then came the trial in 1949. During the pre-trial discovery period, Chambers eventually released large quantities of microfilm he had kept hidden as insurance against any GRU reprisal, including murder. Eliminating defectors was not uncommon in GRU practice then… and exists unfortunately to this day.

A then little-known Member of Congress and member of HUAC, one Richard Nixon, had gained access to the content of Chambers’ secret documents, and adamantly pursued the case before the Grand Jury. Nixon at first refused to give the actual evidence to the Grand Jury but later relented. Two HUAC investigators went to Chambers’ farm in Westminster, Maryland, and from there, guided by Chambers, to his garden. There in a capped and hollowed out orange gourd (not a pumpkin!) were the famous “Pumpkin Papers.” Contained in the gourd were hundreds of documents on microfilm including four hand-written pages by Hiss, implicating him as spying for the Soviet Union.

Hiss was tried and convicted of perjury as the statute of limitations on espionage by then had run out. He was sentenced to two five-year terms and ended up serving three and a half years total in federal prison.

Many on the political Left refused to believe that Alger Hiss was guilty and to this day there are some who still support him. However, the Venona Papers released by the U.S. National Security Agency in 1995 which contained intelligence intercepts from the Soviet Union during Hiss’ time as a Soviet spy showed conclusively that Hiss was indeed a Soviet spy. The U.S. government at the highest levels knew all along that Hiss was a spy but in order to keep the Venona Project a secret and to keep gathering intelligence from the Soviet Union during nuclear standoff and the Cold War, it could not divulge publicly what it knew.

Alger Hiss died at the ripe old age of 92, Whittaker Chambers at the relatively young age of 61. Many believe that stress from his life as a spy, and later the pervasive and abusive criticism he endured, weakened his heart and led to his early death.

The Hiss case is seminal in the history of the Cold War and its impact on America because it led to the taking sides politically on the Left and on the Right, a surge in anti-communism on the Right and the reaction to anti-communism on the Left. At the epicenter of the saga is Whittaker Chambers.

Author’s Postscript:

To me, this is really the story of Whittaker Chambers, whose brilliance as a thinker and as a writer alone did more to unearth and define the destructive nature of communism than any other American of his time. His memoir, Witness, a best-seller published in 1952, is one of the most enlightening works of non-fiction one can read. It reflects a personal American journey through a dysfunctional family background and depressed economic times when communism and Soviet espionage, were ascendant, making the book both an educational experience and page-turning thriller. In Witness, as a former Soviet spy who became disillusioned with communism’s murder and lies, Chambers intellectually and spiritually defined its tyranny and economic incompetence to Americans in a way that previously, only those who experienced it personally could understand. It gave vital insights into the terrible and insidious practices of communism to millions of Americans.

Don Ritter, Sc.D., served in the United States House of Representatives for the 15th Congressional District of Pennsylvania. As founder of the Afghanistan-American Foundation, he was senior advisor to the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) and the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC). Congressman Ritter currently serves as president and CEO of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce. He holds a B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering from Lehigh University and a M.S. and Sc. D. (Doctorate) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.I.T, in Physical Metallurgy and Materials Science. For more information about the work of Congressman Don Ritter, visit

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Don Ritter

It was a time when history hung in the balance. The outcome of a struggle between free and controlled peoples – democratic versus totalitarian rule – was at stake.

Here’s the grim picture in early 1948. Having fought for 4 years against the Nazis in history’s biggest and bloodiest battles, victorious Soviet communist armies have thrown back the Germans across all of Eastern and Central Europe and millions of Soviet troops are either occupying their ‘liberated’ lands or have installed oppressive communist governments. Soviet army and civilian losses in WW II are unimaginable, and soldiers killed number around 10 million. Perhaps 20 million when civilians are included. Josef Stalin, the murderous Soviet communist dictator is dead set on not giving up one inch.

Czechoslovakia has just succumbed to communist control in February under heavy Soviet pressure. Poland fell to the communists back in 1946 with Stalin, reneging on his promise to American President Roosevelt and British Prime Minster Churchill at Yalta for free elections, instead installed a Soviet puppet government while systematically eradicating Polish opposition. Churchill had delivered his public-awakening “Iron Curtain” speech 2 years earlier. The major Allies, America, Great Britain and France, are extremely worried about Stalin and the Red Army’s next moves.

Under agreements between the Soviet Union and the allies – Americans, British and French – the country of Germany is divided into 4 Economic Zones, each controlled by the respective 4 countries. The Allies control the western half and the Soviet Union (USSR), the eastern. Berlin itself, once the proud capital of Germany, is now a wasteland of rubble, poverty and hunger after city-shattering house-to-house combat between Nazi and Soviet soldiers. There’s barely a building left standing. There’s hardly any men left in the city. They are either killed in battle or taken prisoner by the Red Army. Berlin, a hundred miles inside the Soviet-controlled Zone in eastern Germany, is also likewise divided between the Allies and the USSR.

That’s the setting for what is to take place next in the pivotal June of 1948.

The Allies had for some time decided that a democratic, western-oriented Germany would be the best defense against further Soviet communist expansion westward. Germany, in a short period of time, had made substantial progress towards democratization and rebuilding. This unnerved Stalin who all along had planned for a united Germany in the communist orbit and the Soviets were gradually increasing pressure on transport in and out of Berlin.

The Allies announced on June 1 of 1948 the addition of the French Zone to the already unified Brit and American zones. Then, on June 18, the Allies announced the creation of a common currency, the Deutschmark, to stimulate economic recovery across the three allied Zones. Stalin and the Soviet leadership, seeing the potential for a new, vital, non-communist Western Germany in these actions, on June 24, decided to blockade Berlin’s rails, roads and canals to choke off what had become a western-nation-allied West Germany and West Berlin.

Stalin’s chess move was to starve the citizens of the city by cutting off their food supply, their electricity, and their coal to heat homes, power remaining factories and rebuild. His plan also was to make it difficult to resupply allied military forces. This was a bold move to grab West Berlin for the communists. Indeed, there were some Americans and others who felt that Germany, because of its crimes against humanity, should never again be allowed to be an industrial nation and that we shouldn’t stand up for Berlin. But that opinion did not hold sway with President Truman.

What Stalin and the Soviet communists didn’t count on was the creativity, ingenuity, perseverance and capacity of America and its allies.

Even though America had nuclear weapons at the time and the Soviet Union did not, it had pretty much demobilized after the war. So, rather than fight the Red Army, firmly dug in with vast quantities of men, artillery and tanks in eastern Germany and risk another world war, the blockade would be countered by an airlift. The greatest airlift of all time. Food, supplies and coal would be transported to the people of Berlin, mainly on American C54s flown by American, British, French and other allied pilots. But only America had the numbers of aircraft, the amount of fuel and the logistical resources, to actually do what looked to Stalin and the Soviets to be impossible.

One can only imagine the enormity of the 24-7 activity. Nearly 300,000 flights were made from June 24 of 1948 till September 30, 1949. Flights were coming in every 30 seconds at height of the airlift. It was a truly amazing logistical achievement to work up to the delivery of some three and a half thousand tons daily to meet the city’s needs. Think of the energy and dedication of the pilots and mechanics, those involved in the supply chains and the demanding delivery schedules… the sheer complexity of such an operation is mind-boggling.

Stalin, seeing the extent of Allied perseverance and capability over a year’s time and meanwhile, suffering an enormous propaganda defeat worldwide, relented.

Think of the Americans who led this history-making endeavor, all the men and women, from the Generals to the soldiers, airmen and civilians and their achievement on behalf of creating a free and prosperous Germany. A free Germany that sat side-by-side in stark contrast with the brutal communist east. To them, known as the “the greatest generation,” we owe our everlasting gratitude for victory in this monumental first ‘battle’ of the Cold War.

Don Ritter, Sc.D., served in the United States House of Representatives for the 15th Congressional District of Pennsylvania. As founder of the Afghanistan-American Foundation, he was senior advisor to the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) and the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC). Congressman Ritter currently serves as president and CEO of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce. He holds a B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering from Lehigh University and a M.S. and Sc. D. (Doctorate) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.I.T, in Physical Metallurgy and Materials Science. For more information about the work of Congressman Don Ritter, visit

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

The fall of 1939 saw dramatic changes in world events that would alter the course of history. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland to trigger the start of World War II but imperial Japan had been ravaging Manchuria and China for nearly a decade. Even though the United States was officially neutral in the world war, President Franklin Roosevelt had an important meeting in mid-October.

Roosevelt met with his friend, Alexander Sachs, who hand-delivered a letter from scientists Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard. They informed the president that German scientists had recently discovered fission and might possibly be able to build a nuclear bomb. The warning prompted Roosevelt to initiate research into the subject and beat the Nazis.

The United States entered the war after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the Roosevelt administration began the highly secretive Manhattan Project in October 1942. The project had facilities in far-flung places and employed the efforts of more than half a million Americans across the country. The weapons research laboratory resided in Los Alamos, New Mexico, under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

As work progressed on a nuclear weapon, the United States waged a global war in the Pacific, North Africa, and Europe. The Pacific witnessed a particularly brutal war against Japan. After the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the Americans launched an “island-hopping” campaign. They were forced to eliminate a tenacious and dug-in enemy in heavy jungles in distant places like Guadalcanal. The Japanese forces gained a reputation for suicidal banzai charges and fighting to the last man.

By late 1944, the United States was closing in on Japan and invaded the Philippines. The U.S. Navy won the Battle of Leyte Gulf, but the Japanese desperately launched kamikaze attacks that inflicted a heavy toll, sinking and damaging several ships and causing thousands of American casualties. The nature of the attacks helped confirm the Americans believed they were fighting a fanatical enemy.

The battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa greatly shaped American views of Japanese barbarism. Iwo Jima was a key island for airstrips to bomb Japan and U.S. naval assets as they built up for the invasion of Japan. On February 19, 1945, the Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions landed mid-island after a massive preparatory bombardment. After a dreadful slog against an entrenched enemy, the Marines took Mt. Suribachi and famously raised an American flag on its heights.

The worst was yet to come against the nearly 22,000-man garrison in a complex network of tunnels. The brutal fighting was often hand-to-hand. The Americans fought for each yard of territory by using grenades, satchel charges, and flamethrowers to attack pillboxes. The Japanese fought fiercely and sent waves of hundreds of men in banzai charges. The Marines and Navy lost 7,000 dead and nearly one-third of the Marines who fought on the island were casualties. Almost all the defenders perished.

The battle for Okinawa was just as bloody. Two Marine and two Army divisions landed unopposed on Okinawa on April 1 after another relatively ineffective bombardment and quickly seized two airfields. The Japanese built nearly impregnable lines of defense, but none was stronger than the southern Shuri line of fortresses where 97,000 defenders awaited.

The Marines and soldiers attacked in several frontal assaults and were ground up by mine fields, grenades, and pre-sighted machine-guns and artillery covering every inch. For their part, the Japanese launched several fruitless attacks that bled them dry. The war of attrition finally ended with 13,000 Americans dead and 44,000 wounded. On the Japanese side, more than 70,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of Okinawan civilians were killed. The naval battle in the waters surrounding the island witnessed kamikaze and bombing attacks that sank 28 U.S. ships and damaged an additional 240.

Okinawa was an essential staging area for the invasion of Japan and additional proof of the fanatical nature of the enemy. Admiral Chester Nimitz, General Douglas MacArthur, and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were planning Operation Downfall—the invasion of Japan—beginning with Operation Olympic in southern Japan in the fall of 1945 with fourteen divisions and twenty-eight aircraft carriers, followed by Operation Coronet in central Japan in early 1946.

While the U.S. naval blockade and aerial bombing of Japan were very successful in grinding down the enemy war machine, Japanese resistance was going to be even stronger and more fanatical than Iwo Jim and Okinawa. The American planners expected to fight a horrific war against the Japanese forces, kamikaze attacks, and a militarized civilian population. Indeed, the Japanese reinforced Kyushu with thirteen divisions of 450,000 entrenched men by the end of July and had an estimated 10,000 aircraft at their disposal. Japan was committed to a decisive final battle defending its home. Among U.S. military commanders, only MacArthur underestimated the difficulty of the invasion as he was wont to do.

Harry Truman succeeded Roosevelt as president when he died on April 12, 1945. Besides the burdens of command decisions in fighting the war to a conclusion, holding together a fracturing alliance with the Soviets, and shaping the postwar world, Truman learned about the Manhattan Project.

While some of the scientists who worked on the project expressed grave concerns about the use of the atomic bomb, most decision-makers expected that it would be used if it were ready. Secretary of War Henry Stimson headed the Interim Committee that considered the use of the bomb. The committee rejected the idea of a demonstration or a formal warning to the Japanese in case it failed and strengthened their resolve.

On the morning of July 16, the “gadget” nuclear device was successfully exploded at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The test was code-name “Trinity,” and word was immediately sent to President Truman then at the Potsdam Conference negotiating the postwar world. He was ecstatic and tried to use it to impress Stalin, who impassively received the news because he had several spies in the Manhattan project. The Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration demanding unconditional surrender from Japan or face “complete and utter destruction.”

After possible targets were selected, the B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, carried the uranium atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy from Tinian Island. The Enola Gay dropped Little Boy over Hiroshima, where the blast and resulting firestorm killed 70,000 and grievously injured and sickened tens of thousands of others. The Japanese government still adamantly refused to surrender.

On August 9, another B-29 dropped the plutonium bomb Fat Man over Nagasaki which was a secondary target. Heavy cloud cover meant that the bomb was dropped in a valley that restricted the effect of the blast somewhat. Still, approximately 40,000 were killed. The dropping of the second atomic bombs and the simultaneous invasion of Manchukuo by the Soviet Union led to the Emperor Hirohito to announce Japan’s surrender on August 15. The formal surrender took place on the USS Missouri on September 2.

General MacArthur closed the ceremony with a moving speech in which he said,

It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past—a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice…. Let us pray that peace now be restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed.

World War II had ended, but the Cold War and atomic age began.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Joshua Schmid

‘A Date Which Will Live in Infamy’

The morning of December 7, 1941 was another day in paradise for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces stationed at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base on Oahu, Hawaii. By 7:30 am, the air temperature was already a balmy 73 degrees. A sense of leisure was in the air as sailors enjoyed the time away from military duties that Sundays offered. Within the next half hour, the serenity of the island was shattered. Enemy aircraft streaked overhead, marked only by a large red circle. The pilots—who had been training for months for this mission—scanned their surroundings and set their eyes on their target: Battleship Row. The eight ships—the crown of the United States’ Pacific fleet—sat silently in harbor, much to the delight of the oncoming Japanese pilots, who began their attack.

Since the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, the relationship between the United States and Japan had significantly deteriorated. Over the course of the ensuing decade, the U.S. imposed embargoes on strategic materials such as oil and froze Japanese assets to deter the Empire of the Rising Sun’s continual aggressions in the Pacific. For many in the American political and military leadership, it became not a question whether violent conflict would erupt between the two nations but rather when. Indeed, throughout the month of November 1941, the two military commanders at Pearl Harbor—Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lieutenant General Walter Short—received multiple warnings from Washington, D.C. that conflict with Japan somewhere in the Pacific would very soon be a reality. In response, Kimmel and Short ordered that aircraft be moved out of their hangars at Pearl Harbor and lined up on runways in order to prevent sabotage. Additionally, radar—a new technology that had not yet reached its full capabilities—began operation a few hours a day on the island of Oahu. Such a lackluster response to war warnings can largely be attributed to the fact that American intelligence suspected that the initial Japanese strike would fall on U.S. bases in the remote Pacific such as at the Philippines or Wake Island. The logistical maneuvering it would take to carry out a large-scale attack on Pearl Harbor—nearly 4,000 miles from mainland Japan—seemed ludicrously impossible.

Such beliefs, of course, were immediately drowned out by the wails of the air raid sirens and the repeated message, “Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill” on the morning of what turned out to be perhaps the most momentous day of the entire twentieth century. The Japanese strike force launched attacks from aircraft carriers in two waves. Torpedo and dive bombers attacked hangars and the ships anchored in the harbor while fighters provided strafing runs and air defense. In addition to the eight American battleships, a variety of cruisers, destroyers, and support ships were at Pearl Harbor.

A disaster quickly unfolded for the Americans. Many sailors had been granted leave that day given it was a Sunday. These men were not at their stations as the attack began—a fact that Japanese planners likely expected. Members of the American radar teams did in fact spot blips of a large array of aircraft before the attack. However, when they reported it to their superiors, they were told it was incoming American planes. The American aircraft that were lined up in clusters on runways to prevent sabotage now made easy targets for the Japanese strike force. Of the 402 military aircraft at Pearl Harbor and the surrounding airfields, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged. Only a few American pilots were able to take off—those who did bravely took on the overwhelming swarm of Japanese aircraft and successfully shot a few down. Ships in the harbor valiantly attempted to get under way despite being undermanned, but with little success. The battleship Nevada attempted to lumber its way out of the narrow confines but her captain purposefully scuttled it to avoid blocking the harbor after it suffered multiple bomb hits. All eight of the battleships took some form of damage, and four were sunk. In the most infamous event of the entire attack, a bomb struck the forward magazine of the battleship Arizona, causing a mass explosion that literally ripped the ship apart. Of the nearly 2,500 Americans killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, nearly half were sailors onboard the Arizona. In addition to the battleships, a number of cruisers, destroyers, and other ships were also sunk or severely damaged. In contrast, only 29 Japanese planes were shot down during the raid. The Japanese fleet immediately departed and moved to conduct other missions against British, Dutch, and U.S. holdings in the Pacific, believing that they had achieved the great strike that would incapacitate American naval power in the Pacific for years to come.

On the morning of the attack at Pearl Harbor, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saratoga was in port at San Diego on a mission. The other two carriers in the Pacific fleet were also noticeably absent from Pearl Harbor when the bombs began to fall. Japanese planners thought little of it in the ensuing weeks—naval warfare theory at the time was fixated on the idea of battleships dueling each other from long range with giant guns. Without their battleships, how could the Americans hope to stop the Japanese from dominating in the Pacific? However, within a year and a half, these three carriers would win a huge victory at the Battle of Midway and helped turn the tide in the Pacific in favor of the Americans and made it a carrier war.

The victory at Midway would give morale to an American people already hard at work since December 7, 1941 at mobilizing its entire society for war in one of the greatest human efforts in history. Of the eight battleships damaged at Pearl Harbor, all but the Arizona and Oklahoma were salvaged and returned to battle before the end of the war. In addition, the U.S. produced thousands of ships between 1941-1945 as part of a massive new navy. In the end, rather than striking a crushing blow, the Japanese task force merely awoke a sleeping giant who eagerly sought to avenge its wounds. As for the men and women who fought and died on December 7, 1941—a date that President Franklin Roosevelt declared would “live in infamy”—they will forever be enshrined in the hearts and minds of Americans for their courage and honor on that fateful day.

Joshua Schmid serves as a Program Analyst at the Bill of Rights Institute.

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Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

In 1992, United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor enunciated an axiomatic principle of constitutional governance, that the Constitution “protects us from our own best intentions,” dividing power precisely so that we might resist the temptation to concentrate that power as “the expedient solution to the crisis of the day.”[1] It is a sentiment that echoes through American history, as there has been a constant “push-pull” between the demands of the populace and the divisions and restrictions on power as laid out by the Constitution.

Before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term, the concept of a 100-Day agenda simply didn’t exist. But, since 1933, incoming new administrations have been measured by that arbitrary standard—what they plan on accomplishing in those first hundred days, and what they actually accomplished.

The problem, of course, is that public policy decision making should not only be a thorough and deliberative process, but in order to protect the rights of the public, must allow for significant public input. Without that deliberation, without that public participation, significant mistakes can be made. This is why policy made in a crisis is almost always bad policy—and thus Justice O’Connor’s vital warning.

FDR came into office with America under its most significant crisis since the Civil War. Nearly three and a half years into an economic disaster—nearly a quarter of the population was out of work, banks and businesses were failing, millions of Americans were completely devastated and looking for real answers.

The 1932 presidential election was driven by this crisis. Incumbent President Herbert Hoover was seen as a “do-nothing” president, whose efforts at stabilizing the economy through tariffs and tax increases hadn’t stemmed the economic tide of the Great Depression. FDR had built a reputation as governor of New York for action, and on the campaign trail raised a series of ambitious plans that he intended to enact that he called “The New Deal.” Significant portions of this New Deal were to be enacted during those first 100 days in office.

This set a standard that later presidents would be held to: what they wanted to accomplish during those first hundred days, and how those goals might compare to the goals laid out by FDR.

At the core of those enactments were the creation of three major federal programs: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the National Industrial Recovery Administration. Of these three, the FDIC remains in existence today, with its mission largely unchanged: to guarantee the monetary accounts of bank customers, and, in doing so, ensure that banks aren’t closed down because of customers suddenly withdrawing all their money from a bank and closing their accounts.

This had happened with great frequency following the stock market crash of 1929—and such panicked activity was known, popularly, as a “bank run.”[2]

FDR was inaugurated on March 4, 1933. On March 6, he closed the entire American banking system! Three days later, on March 9, Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act—which essentially created the FDIC. Three days later, on Sunday, March 12, FDR gave the first of his “fireside chats,” assuring the nation that when the banks re-opened the following day, the federal government would be protecting Americans’ money.

But there were massive questions over the constitutionality of much of FDR’s New Deal proposals, and many of them were challenged in federal court. At the same time, a number of states were also attempting their own remedies for the nation’s economic morass—and in challenges to some of those policies, the Supreme Court upheld them, citing a new and vast interpretation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, with sweeping ramifications.

In the Blaisdell Case[3], the Supreme Court upheld a Minnesota law that essentially suspended the ability of mortgage holders from collecting mortgage monies or pursuing remedies when monies had not been paid.  The court said that due to the severe national emergency created by the Great Depression, government had vast and enormous power to deal with it.

But critics have understood the serious and longstanding ramifications of such decisions. Adjunct Scholar at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute and NYU law professor Richard Epstein said of Blaisdell that, “trumpeted a false liberation from the constitutional text that has paved the way for massive government intervention that undermines the security of private transactions. Today the police power exception has come to eviscerate the contracts clause.”

In other words—in a conflict between the rights of private parties under the contracts clause and the power of government under the commerce clause, when it comes to emergencies, the power of government wins.

Interestingly enough, due to a series of New Deal programs that had been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, in 1937, FDR attempted to change the make-up of the court in what became known as the “court-packing scheme.” The proposal essentially called for remaking the balance of the court by appointing an additional justice (up to six additional) for every justice who was over the age of 70 years and 6 months.

Though the legislation languished in Congress, the pressure was brought to bear on the Supreme Court and Associate Justice Owen Roberts began casting votes in support of FDR’s New Deal programs—fundamentally shifting the direction of federal power towards concentration, a shift that continued until the early 1990s, when the high court began issuing decisions (like New York v. United States) that limited the power of the federal government and the expansive interpretation of the commerce clause.

But it’s the sweeping power for the federal government to act within a declared emergency, and the impact of the policies that are created within that crisis that is of continued concern. Much in the same way that the lack of deliberation during FDR’s first 100 days led to programs that had sweeping and lasting impact on public life, and created huge unintended consequences, we are seeing those same mistakes played out today—the declaration of a public emergency, sweeping polices created without any real deliberation and public input, and massive (and devastating consequences) to businesses, jobs, and society in general.

If we are to learn anything from those first hundred days, it should be that we shouldn’t let a deliberative policy process be hijacked, and certainly not for political reasons. Moreover, when polices are enacted without deliberation, we should be prepared for the potential consequences of that policy… and adjust those policies accordingly when new information presents itself (and when the particular crisis has passed). Justice O’Connor was correct—the Constitution does protect us from our own best intentions.

We should rely on it, especially when we are in a crisis.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty.  He teaches in the Public Policy program at the College of William and Mary.

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[1] New York v. US, 505 US 144 (1992)

[2] Bank runs were so engrained in the national mindset that Frank Capra dramatized one in his famous film, It’s A Wonderful Life. In it, the Bedford Falls Bank is the victim of a run and “saved” by the film’s antagonist, Mr. Potter.  Potter offers to “guarantee” the Bailey Building and Loan, but, knowing it would give Potter Control, the film’s hero, George Bailey, uses his own money to keep his firm intact.

[3] Home Building and Loan Association v Blaisdell, 290 US 398 (1934)

Guest Essayist: John Steele Gordon

Wall Street, because it tries to discern future values, is usually a leading indicator. It began to recover, for instance, from the financial debacle of 2008 in March of the next year. But the economy didn’t begin to grow again until June of 2009.

But sometimes Wall Street separates from the underlying economy and loses touch with economic reality. That is what happened in 1929 and brought about history’s most famous stock market crash.

The 1920’s were a prosperous time for most areas of the American economy and Wall Street reflected that expansion. But rural America was not prospering. In 1900, one-third of all American crop land had been given over to fodder crops to feed the country’s vast herd of horses and mules. But by 1930, horses had largely given way to automobiles and trucks while the mules had been replaced by the tractor.

As more and more agricultural land was turned over to growing crops for human consumption, food prices fell and rural areas began to fall into depression. Rural banks began failing at the rate of about 500 a year.

Because the major news media, then as now, was highly concentrated in the big cities, this economic problem went largely unnoticed. Indeed, while the overall economy rose 59 percent in the 1920s, the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased 400 percent.

The Federal Reserve in the fall of 1928, raised the discount rate from 3.5 percent to 5 percent and began to reduce the increase in the money supply, in hopes of getting the stock market to cool off.

But by then, Wall Street was in a speculative bubble. Fueling that bubble was a very misguided policy by the Fed. It allowed member banks to borrow at the discount window at five percent. The banks in turn, loaned the money to brokerage houses at 12 percent. The brokers then loaned the money to speculators at 20 percent. The Fed tried to use “moral suasion” to get the banks to stop borrowing in this way. But if a bank can make 7 percent on someone else’s money, it is going to do so. The Fed should have just closed the window for those sorts of loans, but didn’t.

By Labor Day, 1929, the American economy was in a recession but Wall Street still had not noticed. On the day after Labor Day, the Dow hit a new all-time high at 381.17. It would not see that number again for 25 years. Two days later the market began to wake up.

A stock market analyst of no great note, Roger Babson, gave a talk that day in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and said that, “I repeat what I said at this time last year and the year before, that sooner or later a crash is coming.” When news of this altogether unremarkable prophecy crossed the broad tape at 2:00 that afternoon, all hell broke loose. Prices plunged (US Steel fell 9 points, AZT&T 6) and volume in the last two hours of trading was a fantastic two million shares.

Remembered as the Babson Break, it was like a slap across the face of an hysteric, and the mood on the Street went almost in an instant from “The sky’s the limit” to “Every man for himself.”

For the next six weeks, the market trended downwards, with some plunges followed by weak recoveries. Then on Thursday, October 23rd, selling swamped the market on the second highest volume on record. The next morning there was a mountain of sell orders in brokerage offices across the country and prices plunged across the board. This set off a wave of margin calls, further depressing prices, while short sellers put even more pressure on prices.

A group of the Street’s most important bankers met at J. P. Morgan and Company, across Broad Street from the exchange.

Together they raised $20 million to support the market and entrusted it to Richard Whitney, the acting president of the NYSE.

At 1:30, Whitney strode onto the floor and asked the price of US Steel. He was told that it had last traded at 205 but that it had fallen several points since, with no takers.

“I bid 205 for 10,000 Steel,” Whitney shouted. He then went to other posts, buying large blocks of blue chips. The market steadied as shorts closed their positions and some stocks even ended up for the day. But the volume had been an utterly unprecedented 13 million shares.

The rally continued on Friday but there was modest profit taking at the Saturday morning session. Then, on Monday, October 28th, selling resumed as rumors floated around that some major speculators had committed suicide and that new bear pools were being formed.

On Tuesday, October 29th, remembered thereafter as Black Tuesday, there was no stopping the collapse in prices. Volume reached 16 million shares, a record that would stand for nearly 40 years, and the tape ran four hours late. The Dow was down a staggering 23 percent on the day and nearly 40 percent below its September high.

Prices trended downwards for more than another month, but by the spring of 1930 the market, badly over sold by December, had recovered about 45 percent of its autumn losses. Many thought the recession was over. But then the federal government and the Federal Reserve began making a series of disastrous policy blunders that would turn an ordinary recession into the Great Depression.

John Steele Gordon was born in New York City in 1944 into a family long associated with the city and its financial community. Both his grandfathers held seats on the New York Stock Exchange. He was educated at Millbrook School and Vanderbilt University, graduating with a B.A. in history in 1966.

After college he worked as a production editor for Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) for six years before leaving to travel, driving a Land-Rover from New York to Tierra del Fuego, a nine-month journey of 39,000 miles. This resulted in his first book, Overlanding. Altogether he has driven through forty-seven countries on five continents.

After returning to New York he served on the staffs of Congressmen Herman Badillo and Robert Garcia. He has been a full-time writer for the last twenty years. His second book, The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street, a history of Wall Street in the 1860’s, was published in 1988. His third book, Hamilton’s Blessing: the Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt, was published in 1997. The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power, 1653-2000, was published by Scribner, a Simon and Schuster imprint, in November, 1999. A two-hour special based on The Great Game aired on CNBC on April 24th, 2000. His latest book, a collection of his columns from American Heritage magazine, entitled The Business of America, was published in July, 2001, by Walker. His history of the laying of the Atlantic Cable, A Thread Across the Ocean, was published in June, 2002. His next book, to be published by HarperCollins, is a history of the American economy.

He specializes in business and financial history. He has had articles published in, among others, Forbes, Forbes ASAP, Worth, the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pages, the Washington Post’s Book World and Outlook. He is a contributing editor at American Heritage, where he has written the “Business of America” column since 1989.

In 1991 he traveled to Europe, Africa, North and South America, and Japan with the photographer Bruce Davidson for Schlumberger, Ltd., to create a photo essay called “Schlumberger People,” for the company’s annual report.

In 1992 he was the co-writer, with Timothy C. Forbes and Steve Forbes, of Happily Ever After?, a video produced by Forbes in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the magazine.

He is a frequent commentator on Marketplace, the daily Public Radio business-news program heard on more than two hundred stations throughout the country. He has appeared on numerous other radio and television shows, including New York: A Documentary Film by Ric Burns, Business Center and Squawk Box on CNBC, and The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. He was a guest in 2001 on a live, two-hour edition of Booknotes with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN.

Mr. Gordon lives in North Salem, New York. His email address is

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Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

An admirer of inventors Bell, Edison, and Einstein’s theories, scientist and inventor Philo T. Farnsworth designed the first electric television based on an idea he sketched in a high school chemistry class. He studied and learned some success was gained with transmitting and projecting images. While plowing fields, Farnsworth realized television could become a system of horizontal lines, breaking up images, but forming an electronic picture of solid images. Despite attempts by competitors to impede Farnsworth’s original inventions, in 1928, Farnsworth presented his idea for a television to reporters in Hollywood, launching him into more successful efforts that would revolutionize moving pictures.

On September 3, 1928, Philo Farnsworth, a twenty-two year old inventor with virtually no formal credentials as a scientist, demonstrated his wholly electronic television system to reporters in California on September 3, 1928. A few years later, a much improved television system was demonstrated to larger crowds of onlookers at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, proving to the world that this new medium could broadcast news, entertainment, and educational content across the nation.

Farnsworth had come far from his boyhood roots in northern Utah and southern Idaho. He was born in a log cabin lacking indoor plumbing or electrical power. His family moved to a farm outside of Rigby, Idaho, when Farnsworth was a young boy. For the first time, Farnsworth could examine electrical appliances and electric generators in action. He quickly learned to take electrical gadgets apart and put them back together again, often making adaptations to improve their function. He also watched each time the family’s generator was repaired. Soon, still a  young boy, he could do those repairs himself. Farnsworth was a voracious reader of science books and magazines, but also devoured what is now termed science fiction, although that term was not in use during his youth. He became a skilled violinist, possibly because of the example of his idol, Albert Einstein, who also played the instrument.[1]

Farnsworth excelled in his classes in school, particularly in mathematics and other sciences, but he did present his teachers and school administrators with a bit of a problem when he repeatedly appealed to take classes intended for much older students. According to school rules, only high school juniors and seniors were supposed to enroll in the advanced classes, but Farnsworth determined to find courses that would challenge him intellectually. The school resisted his entreaties, but one chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman, agreed to tutor Philo and give him extra assignments both before and after school.

One day, Farnsworth presented a visual demonstration of an idea that he had for transmitting visual images across space. He later claimed that he had come up with the basic idea for this process one year earlier, when he was only fourteen. As he was plowing a field on his family farm, Philo had seen a series of straight rows of plowed ground. Farnsworth thought it might be possible to represent visual images by breaking up the entire image into a sequence of lines of various shades of light and dark images. The images could be projected electronically and re-assembled as pictures made up of a collection of lines, placed one on top of another. Farnsworth  believed that this could be accomplished based on his understanding of Einstein’s path-breaking work on the “photoelectric effect” which had discovered that a particle of light, called a photon, that hit a metal plate would displace electrons with some residual energy transferred to a free-roaming negative charge, called a photoelectron.[2] Farnsworth had developed a conceptual model of a device that he called an “image dissector” that could break the images apart and transmit them for reassembly at a receiver. He had no means of creating this device with the resources he had at hand, but he did develop a model representation of the device, along with mathematical equations to convey the causal mechanisms. He presented all of this on the blackboard of a classroom in the high school in Rigby.   Tolman was stunned by the intellectual prowess of the fifteen year old standing in front of him. He thought Farnsworth’s model might actually work, and he copied down some of the drawings from the blackboard onto a piece of paper, which he kept for years.[3] It is fortunate for Farnsworth that Tolman held on to those pieces of paper.

Farnsworth was accepted into the United States Naval Academy but very soon was granted an honorable discharge under a provision permitting new midshipman to leave the university and the service to care for their families after the death of a parent. Farnsworth’s father had died the previous year, and Farnsworth returned to Utah, where his family had relocated after the sale of the farm. Farnsworth enrolled at Brigham Young University but worked at various jobs to support himself, his mother, and his younger siblings. As he had in high school, Farnsworth asked to be allowed to register in advanced classes rather than take only freshman level course work. He quickly earned a technical certificate but no baccalaureate degree. While in Utah, Farnsworth met, courted and eventually married his wife, “Pem,” who would later help in his lab creating and building instruments. One of her brothers would also provide lab assistance. One of Farnsworth’s job during his time in Utah was with the local Community Chest. There he met George Everson and Leslie Gorrell, who were regional Community Chest administrators who were experienced in money-raising. Farnsworth explained his idea to them about electronic television, which he had never before done to anyone except his father, now deceased, and his high school teacher, Justin Tolman. Everson and Gorrell were impressed with Farnsworth’s idea, although they barely understood most of the science behind it. Everson and Gorrell invited Farnsworth to travel with them to California to discuss his research with scientists from the California Institute of Technology (a.k.a., Cal Tech). Farnsworth agree to do so, and made the trek to Los Angeles to meet first with scientists and then with bankers to solicit funds to support his research.     When discussing his proposed electronic television model, Farnsworth became transformed from a shy, socially awkward, somewhat tongue-tied young man to a confident and articulate advocate of his project. He was able to explain the broad outline of his research program in terms that lay people could understand. He convinced Gorrell and Everson to put up some money and a few years later got several thousand more dollars from a California bank.[4]

Philo and Pem Farnsworth re-located first to Los Angeles and then to San Francisco to establish a laboratory. Farnsworth believed that his work would progress more quickly if he were close to a number of other working scientists and technical experts at Cal Tech and other universities. Farnsworth also wanted to be near to those in the motion picture industry who had technical expertise. With a little start-up capital, Farnsworth and a few other backers incorporated their business, although Farnsworth did not create a publicly traded corporation until several years later. At the age of twenty-one, in 1927, Farnsworth filed the first two of his many patent applications. Those two patents were approved by the patent office in 1930. By the end of his life he had three hundred patents, most of which dealt with television or radio components. As of 1938, three-fourths of all patents dealing with television were by Farnsworth.[5]

When Farnsworth began his work in California, he and his wife and brother-in-law had to create many of the basic components for his television system. There was very little that they could simply buy off-the-shelf at any sort of store that they could simply assemble into the device Farnsworth had in mind. So much of their time was devoted to soldering wires and creating vacuum tubes, as well as testing materials to determine which performed best. After a while, Farnsworth hired some assistants, many of them graduate students at Cal Tech or Stanford. One of his assistants, Russell Varian, would later make a name for himself as a physicist in his own right and would become one of the founders of Silicon Valley. Farnsworth’s lab also had many visitors, including Hollywood celebrities such as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, as well as a number of scientists and engineers. One visitor was Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian émigré with a PhD in electrical engineering who worked for Westinghouse Corporation. Farnsworth showed Zworykin not only his lab but also examples of most of his key innovations, including his image dissector. Zworykin expressed admiration for the devices that he observed, and said that he wished that he had invented the dissector. What Farnsworth did not know was that a few weeks earlier, Zworykin had been hired away from Westinghouse by David Sarnoff, then the managing director and later the president of the Radio Corporation of America (a.k.a., RCA). Sarnoff grilled Zworykin about what he had learned from his trip to Farnsworth’s lab and immediately set him to work on television research. RCA was already a leading manufacturer of radio sets and would soon become the creator of the National Broadcasting Corporation (a.k.a., NBC). After government antitrust regulators forced RCA to divest itself of some of its broadcasting assets, RCA created the American Broadcasting Corporation (a.k.a., ABC) as a separate company[6]. RCA and Farnsworth would remain competitors and antagonists for the rest of Farnsworth’s career.

In 1931, Philco, a major radio manufacturer and electronics corporation entered into a deal with Farnsworth to support his research. The company was not buying out Farnsworth’s company, but was purchasing non-exclusive licenses for Farnsworth’s patents. Farnsworth then moved with his family and some of his research staff to Philadelphia.   Ironically, RCA’s television lab was located in Camden, New Jersey, just a few miles away. On many occasions, Farnsworth and RCA could receive the experimental television broadcasts transmitted from their rival’s lab. Farnsworth and his team were working at a feverish pace to improve their inventions to make them commercially feasible. The Federal Radio Commission, later known as the Federal Communications Commission, classified television as a merely experimental communications technology, rather than one that was commercially viable and subject to license. The commission wished to create standards for picture resolution and frequency bandwidth. Many radio stations objected to television licensing because they believed that television signals would crowd out the bandwidth available for their broadcasts.   Farnsworth developed the capacity to transmit television signals over a more narrow bandwidth than any competing televisions’ transmissions.

Personal tragedy struck the Farnsworth family in 1932 when Philo and Pem’s young son, Kenny, still a toddler, died of a throat infection, an ailment that today could easily have been treated with antibiotics. The Farnsworths decided to have the child buried back in Utah, but Philco refused to allow Philo time off to go west to bury his son. Pem made the trip alone, causing a rift between the couple that would take months to heal. Farnsworth was struggling to perfect his inventions, while at the same time RCA devoted an entire team to television research and engaged in a public relations campaign to convince industry leaders and the public that it had the only viable television system. At this time, Farnsworth’s health was declining. He was diagnosed with ulcers and he began to drink heavily, even though Prohibition had not yet been repealed. He finally decided to sever his relationship with Philco and set up his own lab in suburban Philadelphia. He soon also took the dramatic step of filing a patent infringement complaint against RCA in 1934.[7]

Farnsworth and his friend and patent attorney, Donald Lippincott, presented their argument before the patent examination board that Farnsworth was the original inventor of what was now known as electronic television and that Sarnoff and RCA had infringed on patents approved in 1930. Zworykin had some important patents prior to that time but had not patented the essential inventions necessary to create an electronic television system. RCA went on the offensive by claiming that it was absurd to claim that a young man in his early twenties with no more than one year of college could create something that well-educated scientists had failed to invent. Lippincott responded with evidence of the Zworykin visit to the Farnsworth lab in San Francisco. After leaving Farnsworth, Zworykin had returned first to the labs at Westinghouse and had duplicates of Farnsworth’s tubes constructed on the spot. Then researchers were sent to Washington to make copies of Farnsworth’s patent applications and exhibits. Lippincott also was able to produce Justin Lippincott, Philo’s old and then retired teacher, who appeared before the examination board to testify that the basic idea of the patent had been developed when Farnsworth was a teenager. When queried, Tolman removed a yellowed piece of notebook paper with a diagram that he had copied off the blackboard in 1922. Although the document was undated, the written document, in addition to Tolman’s oral testimony, may have convinced the board that Farnsworth’s eventual patent was for a novel invention.[8]

The examining board took several months to render a decision. In July of 1935, the examiner of interferences from the U.S. Patent Office mailed a forty-eight page document to the parties involved. After acknowledging the significance of inventions by Zworykin, the patent office declared that those inventions were not equivalent to what was understood to be electronic television. Farnsworth’s claims had priority.   The decision was appealed in 1936, but the result remained unchanged.  Beginning in 1939, RCA began paying royalties to Farnsworth.

Farnsworth and his family, friends, and co-workers were ecstatic with the outcome when the patent infringement case was decided. For the first time, Farnsworth was receiving the credit and the promise of the money that he thought he was due. However, the price he had paid already was very high. Farnsworth’s physical and emotional health was declining. He was perpetually nervous and exhausted. As unbelievable as it may sound today, one doctor advised him to take up smoking to calm his nerves. He continued to drink heavily and his weight dropped.      His company was re-organized as the Farnsworth Television & Radio Corporation and had its initial public offering of stock in 1939.    Whether out of necessity or personal choice, Farnsworth’s work in running his lab and his company diminished.

While vacationing in northern, rural Maine in 1938, the Farnsworth family came across a plot of land that reminded Philo of his home and farm outside of Rigby. Farnsworth bought the property, re-built an old house, constructed a dam for a small creek, and erected a building that could house a small laboratory. He spent most of the next few years on the property. Even though RCA had lost several patent infringement cases against Farnsworth, the company was still engaging in public demonstrations of television broadcasts in which it claimed that David Sarnoff was the founder of television and that Vladimir Zworykin was the sole inventor of television. The most significant of these demonstrations was at the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows, New York. Many reporters accepted the propaganda that was distributed at that event and wrote up glowing stories of the supposedly new invention. Only a few years before, Farnsworth had demonstrated his inventions at the Franklin Institute, but the World’s Fair was a much bigger venue with a wider media audience. In 1949, NBC launched a special televised broadcast celebrating the 25th anniversary of the creation of television by RCA, Sarnoff, and Zworykin. No mention was made of Farnsworth at all.[9]

The FCC approved television as a commercial broadcast enterprise, subject to licensure, in 1939. The commission also set standards for broadcast frequency and picture quality. However, the timing to start off a major commercial venture for the sale of a discretionary consumer product was far from ideal. In fact, the timing of Farnsworth’s milestone accomplishments left much to be desired. His first patents were approved shortly after the nation entered the Great Depression. His inventions created an industry that was already subject to stringent government regulation focused on a related but potentially rival technology: radio. Once television was ready for mass marketing, the nation was poised to enter World War II. During the war, production of televisions and many other consumer products ceased and resources were devoted to war-related materiel. Farnsworth’s company and RCA both produced radar and other electronics equipment. Farnsworth’s company also produced wooden ammunition boxes. Farnsworth allowed the military to enjoy free use of his patents for radar tubes.[10]

Farnsworth enjoyed royalties from his patent for the rest of his life.   However, his two most important patents were his earliest inventions.  The patents were approved in 1930 for a duration of seventeen years. In 1947, the patents became part of the public domain. It was really only in the late 1940s and 1950s that television exploded as a popular consumer good, but by that time Farnsworth could receive no royalties for his initial inventions. Other, less fundamental components that he had patented did provide him with some royalty income. Before the war, Farnsworth’s company had purchased the Capehart Company of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and eventually closed down their Philadelphia area facility and moved their operations entirely to Indiana. A devastating wildfire swept through the countryside in rural Maine, burning down the buildings on Farnsworth’s property, only days before his property insurance policy was activated. Farnsworth’s company fell upon hard times, as well, and eventually was sold to International Telephone and Telegraph. Farnsworth’s health never completely recovered, and he took a disability retirement pension at the age of sixty and returned to Utah.   In his last few years, Farnsworth devoted little time to television research, but did develop devices related to cold fusion, which he hoped to use to produce abundant electrical power for the whole world to enjoy. As of now, cold fusion has not been a viable electric power generator, but it has proved useful in neutron production and medical isotopes.

Farnsworth died in 1971 at the age of sixty-four. At the time of his death, he was not well-known outside of scientific circles. His hopes and dreams of television as a cultural and educational beacon to the whole world had not been realized, but he did find some value in at least some of what he could see on the screen. About two years before he died, Philo and Pem along with millions of other people around the world saw Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. At that moment, Philo turned to his wife and said that he believed that all of his work was worthwhile.

Farnsworth’s accomplishments demonstrated that a more or less single inventor, with the help of a few friends, family members, and paid staff, could create significant and useful inventions that made a mark on the world.[11] In the long run, corporate product development by rivals such as RCA surpassed what he could do to make his brainchild marketable.   Farnsworth had neither the means nor the inclination to compete with major corporations in all respects. But he did wish to have at least some recognition and some financial reward for his efforts. Unfortunately, circumstances often wiped out what gains he received. Farnsworth also demonstrated that individuals lacking paper credentials can also accomplish significant achievements. With relatively little schooling and precious little experience, Farnsworth developed devices that older and more well-educated competitors could not. Sadly, Farnsworth’s experiences display the role of seemingly chance events in curbing personal success. Had he developed his inventions a bit earlier or later, avoiding most of the Depression and the Second World War, he might have gained much greater fame and fortune. None of us, of course, choose the time into which we are born.

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. He is the co-author of Institutional Constraint and Policy Choice: An Exploration of Local Governance and co-editor of Kentucky Government, Politics, and Policy. Dr. Clinger is the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board, a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, and a former firefighter for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department.

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[1]  Schwartz, Evan I. 2002. The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit, and the Birth of Television. New York: HarperCollins.


[3] Schwartz, op cit.

[4] Schwartz, op cit.

[5] Jewkes, J. “Monopoly and Economic Progress.” Economica, New Series, 20, no. 79 (1953): 197-214

[6] Schwartz, op cit.

[7] Schwartz, op cit.

[8] Schwartz, op cit.

[9] Schwartz, op cit.

[10]Schwartz, op cit.

[11]Lemley, Mark A. 2012. “The Myth of the Sole Inventor.” Michigan Law Review 110 (5): 709–60.


Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

Americans have long held the belief that they are exceptional and have a providential destiny to be a “city upon a hill” as a beacon for democracy for the world.

Unlike the French revolutionaries who believed that they were bound to destroy monarchy and feudalism everywhere, the American revolutionaries laid down the principle of being an example for the world instead of imposing the belief on other countries.

In 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams probably expressed this idea best during a Fourth of July address when he asserted the principle of American foreign policy that:

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

While the Spanish-American War raised a debate over the nature of American expansionism and foundational principles, the reversal of the course of American diplomatic history found its fullest expression in the progressive presidency of Woodrow Wilson.

Progressives such as President Wilson embraced the idea that a perfect world could be achieved with the spread of democracy and adoption of a greater international outlook instead of national interests for world peace. As president, Wilson believed that America had a responsibility to spread democracy around the world by destroying monarchy and enlightening people in self-government.

When World War I broke out in August 1914 after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Wilson declared American neutrality and asked a diverse nation of immigrants to be “impartial in thought as well as in action.”

American neutrality was tested in many different ways. Many first-generation American immigrants from different countries still had strong attachments and feelings toward their nation of origin. Americans also sent arms and loans to the Allies (primarily Great Britain, France, and Russia) that undermined claims of U.S. neutrality. Despite the sinking of the liner Lusitania by a German U-boat (submarine) in May 1915 that killed 1,200 including 128 Americans, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned because he thought the U.S. should protest the British blockade of Germany as much as German actions in the Atlantic.

Throughout 1915 and 1916, German U-boats sank several more American vessels, though Germany apologized and promised no more incidents against merchant vessels of neutrals. By late 1916, however, more than two years of trench warfare and stalemate on the Western Front had led to millions of deaths, and the belligerents sought for ways to break the stalemate.

On February 1, 1917, the German high command decided to launch a policy of unrestricted U-boat warfare in which all shipping was subject to attack. The hope was to knock Great Britain out of the war and attain victory before the United States could enter the war and make a difference.

Simultaneously, Germany curiously sent a secret diplomatic message to Mexico offering territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in exchange for entering the war against the United States. British intelligence intercepted this foolhardy Zimmerman Telegram and shared it with the Wilson administration. Americans were predictably outraged when news of the telegram became public.

On April 2, President Wilson delivered a message to Congress asking for a declaration of war. He focused on what he labeled the barbaric and cruel inhumanity of attacking neutral ships and killing innocents on the high seas. He spoke of American freedom of the seas and neutral rights but primarily painted a stark moral picture of why the United States should go to war with the German Empire which had violated “the most sacred rights of our Nation.”

Wilson took an expansive view of the purposes of American foreign policy that reshaped American exceptionalism. He had a progressive vision of remaking the world by using the war to spread democratic principles and end autocratic regimes. In short, he thought, “The world must be made safe for democracy.”

Wilson argued that the United States had a duty as “one of the champions of the rights of mankind.” It would not merely defeat Germany but free its people. Americans were entering the war “to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life.”

Wilson believed that the United States had larger purposes than merely defending its national interests. It was now responsible for world peace and the freedom of all.  “Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments backed by organized force which is controlled wholly by their will, not by the will of their people.”

At the end of the war and during the Versailles conference, Wilson further articulated this vision of a new world with his Fourteen Points and proposal for a League of Nations to prevent future wars and ensure a lasting world peace.

Wilson’s vision failed to come to come to fruition. The Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles because it was committed to defending American national sovereign power over declaring war. The great powers were more dedicated to their national interests rather than world peace. Moreover, the next twenty years saw the spread of totalitarian, communist, and fascist regimes rather than progressive democracies. Finally, World War II shattered his vision of remaking the world.

Wilson’s ideals were not immediately adopted, but in the long run helped to reshape American foreign policy. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries saw increasing Wilsonian appeals by American presidents and policymakers to go to war to spread democracy throughout the world.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable Michael Warren

Before outbreak of the American Revolution, colonies were deeply embedded in the patriarchal traditions and customs of the entire world. All cultures and civilizations had placed women in a subordinate position in the political and social realm. However, the Declaration of Independence raised the consciousness of at least some women and men about the inequality that was embedded in the legal and cultural regimes. Women became serious contributors to the American Revolution war effort, and some, such as Abigail Adams (wife of Colossus of Independence and President John Adams) questioned why they should not be entitled to equality declared in the Declaration.

Unfortunately, the idea of gender equality was scoffed at by most both men and women. For the most part, women were supreme in their social sphere of family and housekeeping, but were to have no direct political or legal power.

The political patriarchy did not consider women able to possess the correct temperament, stamina, or talents to be full participants in the American experiment. Justice Joseph Bradley of the United States Supreme Court, in a concurring opinion upholding the Illinois Bar’s prohibition of women from the practice of law, epitomized these sentiments:

[T]he civil law, as well as nature herself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life.

However, the hunger for freedom and equality could not be contained. With the strengthening of the abolitionist movement came a renewed interest in women’s suffrage. A groundbreaking women’s suffrage conference – the first of its kind in the world – was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others in Seneca Falls New York in 1848. At the heart of the conference was the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, written by Stanton and adopted by the conference on July 20, 1848. Paralleling the Declaration of Independence, the power of the statement is understood best by simply reading a key passage:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.”


Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation–in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

The Seneca Falls conference and declaration was just the beginning. During the lead to and aftermath of the Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement gathered strength and momentum. The Fourteenth Amendment, which gave all men the right to vote regardless of race or prior servitude, was bittersweet. The ratification of the amendment split the suffragists and abolitionists movements – some within both movements wanted women to be included in the Fourteenth Amendment, and others did not want to jeopardize its passage by including women in light of the overwhelming bias against women’s suffrage at that time. The suffragists lost, and the Fourteenth Amendment gave all men – but not women – their due.

It took several more generations of determined suffragists to enact constitutional change with the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment. The territory of Wyoming in 1869 was the first to give women the right to vote. It would take over 50 years before the women’s right to vote was a constitutional right. The movement only happened with the great tenacity, persistence, brilliance, and courage of the women and men suffragists that slowly but surely turned the nation toward universal suffrage. Parades, protests, hunger strikes, speaking tours, book tours, and countless other tactics were used to change the tide.

The Nineteenth Amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, ratified by the States on August 18, 1920, and effective on August 26, 1920.  It simply provides:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Short, but revolutionary. Honor the sacrifices of generations before us and defend – and exercise – the right to vote for women and all Americans.

Michael Warren serves as an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge and is the author of America’s Survival Guide, How to Stop America’s Impending Suicide by Reclaiming Our First Principles and History. Judge Warren is a constitutional law professor, and co-creator of Patriot Week

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

On March 3, 1917, 162 words changed the course of World War I and the history of the 20th Century.

Germany officially admitted to sending the “Zimmermann Telegram,” which exposed a complex web of international intrigue, to keep America out of World War I.  It was this, and not the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, that led to the U.S. entering the European war.

The Zimmermann Telegram was a message sent by Arthur Zimmermann, a senior member of the German Foreign Office in Berlin, to Ambassador Heinrich von Eckardt in the German Embassy in Mexico City. It outlined Germany’s plans to support Mexico in a war with the United States should America enter the European War:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.

The story of how this telegram became the pivotal document of World War I reads like a James Bond movie.

America was neutral during the early years of the “Great War.” It also managed the primary transatlantic telegraph cable. European governments, on both sides of the war, were allowed to use the American cable for diplomatic communications with their embassies in North and South America. On a daily basis, messages flowed, unfettered and unread, between diplomatic outposts and European capitals.

Enter Nigel de Grey and his “Room 40” codebreakers.

British Intelligence monitored the American Atlantic cable, violating its neutrality. On January 16, 1917, the Zimmerman Telegram was intercepted and decoded. De Grey and his team immediately understood the explosive impact of its contents. Such a documented threat might force the U.S. into declaring war on Germany. At the time, the “Great War” was a bloody stalemate and unrest in Russia was tilting the outcome in favor of Germany.

De Grey’s challenge was how to orchestrate the telegram getting to American officials without exposing British espionage operations or the breaking of the German codes. He and his team created an elaborate ruse. They would invent a “mole” inside the German Embassy in Mexico City. This “mole” would steal the Zimmermann Telegram and send it, still encrypted, to British intelligence.

The encryption would be an older version, which the Germans would consider a mistake and assume it was such an old code it was already broken. American-based British spies confirmed that the older code, and its decryption, was already in the files of the American Telegraph Company.

On February 19, 1917, British Foreign Office officials shared the older encoded version of Zimmermann Telegram with U.S. Embassy officials.  After decoding it and confirming its authenticity, it was sent on to the White House Staff.

President Woodrow Wilson was enraged and shared it with American newspaper reporters on February 28. At a March 3, 1917 news conference, Zimmermann confirmed the telegram stating, “I cannot deny it. It is true.” German officials tried to rationalize the Telegram as only a contingency plan, legitimately protecting its interests should America enter the war against them.

On April 4, President Wilson finally went before a Joint Session of Congress requesting a Declaration of War against Germany. The Senate approved the Declaration on April 4 and the House on April 6.  It took forty-four days for American public opinion to coalesce around declaring war.

Why the delay?

Americans were deeply divided on intervening in the “European War.” Republicans were solidly isolationist. They had enough votes in the Senate to filibuster a war resolution. They were already filibustering the “Armed Ship Bill” which authorized the arming of American merchant ships against German submarines. German Americans, a significant voter segment in America’s rural areas and small towns, were pro-German and anti-French. Irish Americans, a significant Democratic Party constituency in urban areas, were anti-English. There was also Wilson’s concern over Mexican threats along America’s southern border.

Germany was successful in exploiting America’s division and its isolationism. At the same time, Germany masterfully turned Mexico into a credible threat to America.

The Mexican Revolution provided the perfect environment for German mischief. Germany armed various factions and promoted the “Plan of San Diego” which detailed Mexico’s reclaiming Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Even before the outbreak of the “Great War,” Germany orchestrated media stories and planted disinformation among Western intelligence agencies to create the impression of Mexico planning an invasion of Texas. German actions and rumors sparked a bloody confrontation between U.S. forces and Mexican troops in Veracruz on April 9, 1914.

After years of preparation, German agents funded and inspired Pancho Villa’s March 9, 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico. In retaliation, on March 14, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John “Black Jack” Pershing, along with 10,000 soldiers and an aviation squadron, to invade northern Mexico and hunt down Villa. Over the next ten months, U.S. forces fought twelve battles on Mexican soil, including several with Mexican government forces.

The costly and unsuccessful pursuit of Villa diverted America’s attention away from Europe and soured U.S.-Mexican relations.

Germany’s most creative method for keeping America out of World War I was a fifteen-part “Preparedness Serial” called “Patria.” In 1916, the German Foreign Ministry convinced William Randolph Hearst to produce this adventure story about Japan helping Mexico reclaim the American Southwest.

“Patria” was a major production. It starred Irene Castle, one of the early “mega-stars” of Hollywood and Broadway. Castle’s character uses her family fortune to thwart the Japan-Mexico plot against America. The movie played to packed houses across America and ignited paranoia about the growing menace on America’s southern border.  Concerns over Mexico, and opposition to European intervention, convinced Wilson to run for re-election on a “He kept us out of war” platform.  American voters narrowly re-elected Wilson, along with many new isolationist Congressional candidates.

“Patria,” and other German machinations, clouded the political landscape and kept America neutral until April 1917. Foreign interference in the 1916 election, along with chasing Pancho Villa, may have kept America out of WWI completely except that Zimmerman’s Telegram, outlining Germany’s next move, was intercepted by British Intelligence. It awakened Americans to a real threat.

Words really do matter.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.

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Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

Prior to World War I, oceanic travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans had to route dangerous passages around southern South America. Considerations for a way to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific were present for centuries. More recent among these include survey expeditions Ulysses S. Grant in 1869, who wrote as an Army Captain in 1852 of disease and other tragedies during military travels while crossing the Isthmus of Panama, “The horrors of the road in the rainy season are beyond description.” A survey by Grant  included Panama where it was found that the current route of the Panama Canal was nearly the same as what was proposed by Grant’s survey.

Other efforts by Count Ferdinand de Lesseps of France, who built Egypt’s Suez Canal, led the charge to begin construction on a canal across the isthmus of Panama in 1880. By 1888, challenges such as illness from yellow fever, malaria along with constant rain and mud slides resulted in ending plans by the French.

Further attempts to diminish the lengthy and costly trek began with a United States negotiation with Great Britain with Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer who served as British minister to Washington, and United States Secretary of State John M. Clayton. A sense that a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was viewed as necessary in order to maintain American strength throughout the world. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 allowed for the United States and Britain to maintain joint control by quelling rivals over a proposed canal idea for construction through Nicaragua, northwest of Panama. That agreement was replaced by the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty during President William McKinley’s Administration in 1901 by United States Secretary of State John Hay and British Ambassador Lord Julian Pauncefote. This agreement replaced the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 because movement toward building the canal was still had not occurred. Since no action was being taken toward construction after several decades, requests that the United States hold charge over the canal’s construction and control brought about the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty where Britain agreed the United States should take control of the project.

In June 1902, Congress passed H.R. 3110, the Hepburn Bill named for Representative William Peters Hepburn which also became known as the Panama Canal Act of 1902 and the Spooner Act. The bill approved construction of a canal in Nicaragua connecting the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific ocean. Senator John Coit Spooner offered an amendment to the bill that would provide the president, who was Theodore Roosevelt at that time, authorization to purchase the French company that canceled construction in the late 1800s and allow the United States to purchase the rights, assets and site for construction on land owned by Columbia for a canal through Panama not to exceed $40,000,000.

An isthmian canal was especially viewed as imperative by Congress by 1902 in order to improve United States defense. The USS Maine had exploded in Cuba and the USS Oregon that was stationed on the West Coast would need a long two months to arrive on the Atlantic side near the Caribbean to aid in the Spanish-American War. In a Senate speech, Senator Spooner mentioned:

“I want…a bill to be passed here under which we will get a canal. There never was greater need for it than now. The Oregon demonstrated [that] to our people.”

Conflicts regarding sovereignty over Panama continued past earlier agreements made. By 1903, The United States aided a revolution to help Panama gain independence from Columbia, establishing the Republic of Panama through the Hay-Herrán Treaty of 1903. United States Secretary of State John Hay and Tomás Herrán, Columbian Foreign Minister signed the treaty, but Columbia’s congress would not accept it.

That same year, Secretary Hay, and Phillippe Bunau-Varilla representing Panamanian interests signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903, and ratified by the Senate in 1904. While tensions still remained, the new agreement provided independence for Panama and the agreement allowed the United States to build and use a canal without limit. This increased the Canal Zone and gave the United States, in effect, sovereign power including authority to maintain order in the affected area.

Finally able to go ahead with the project, President Roosevelt selected a committee for an Isthmian Canal Commission to see the canal through, including a governor and seven members. The commission was previously arranged by President William McKinley who was assassinated in 1901. Other presidential involvement was especially present by Howard Taft who served as President after Roosevelt. As Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, Taft visited the canal more and participated the most over the longest time. The commission under Roosevelt was arranged to have a representative from the Army and Navy and the group would report to the secretary of war. The United States Army engineers were involved in the planning, supplies, and construction throughout. President Roosevelt argued that: “the War Department ‘has always supervised the construction of the great civil works and…been charged with the supervision of the government of all the island possessions of the United States.’”

Approved, yet fraught with many build challenges, the Panama Canal under control of the United States began in 1904 with construction at the bottom of Culebra Cut, formerly called Gaillard Cut, with 160 miles of track laid at the bottom of the canal. The track would need to be be moved continually to keep up with the shoveling of the surrounding ground and to keep construction materials arriving along the canal route using hundreds of locomotives. Locomotives were used to haul dirt, called dirt trains, along the route. Wet slides caused by rain and slipping of softer dirt were among many hindrances to construction. Other slides, some of which occurred during dry seasons, were caused by faults in the earth due to cuts in the sidewalls of the canal. The slides expanded into the cuts, but the workers kept at their tasks. Rock drills were used to set dynamite shots. Six million pounds of explosives per year were used to cut the nine mile canal. The first water to enter the Panama Canal flowed in from the Chagres River. The Chagres Basin is filled by the Gatun Lake, formed by the man-made Gatun Dam on the Atlantic end of the canal.

Led by Lt. Col. George Washington Goethals of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, improvements began for how the canal would work. The American engineers redesigned the canal so that two sets of three locks would have one set at the entrance of the Pacific side, and the other set on the Atlantic side. It was the largest canal lock system built at that time. The lock chambers were 1,000 feet long and 110 feet wide and up to 81 feet tall, equipped with gates, and allowed for two-way traffic. The large ships and containers are accommodated by the width of the canal. The locks were designed to raise and lower ships in the water controlled by dams and spillways. The engineering marvel of the locks and dam system proved cost effective by saving money, construction time and providing safety. An earth dam was designed with a man-made lake to limit excavation. It was also the largest dam in the world at the time of construction, intended to maintain the elevation of water level. The dam allowed millions of gallons of water to be released daily through the canal, with a top thick underwater spillway that offered protection from flooding.

Col. William C. Gorgas who served as Surgeon General of the Army during World War I, previously worked to prevent disease and death during construction of the canal. Col. Gorgas worked to eradicate major threats of yellow fever and malaria which was viewed as a much greater threat than all of the other diseases combined. He mentioned during a 1906 medical conference, “ malaria in the tropics is by far the most important disease to which tropical populations are subject,” because “the amount of incapacity caused by malaria is very much greater than that due to all other diseases combined.”

The total cost of the canal to America, as completed in 1914, is estimated at $375,000,000 dollars. The total included $10,000,000 paid to Panama and $40,000,000 to the French company. Fortifying the canal cost an additional $12,000,000. Thousands of workers were employed throughout construction from many countries. The jobs were often dangerous, but those overseeing the project made efforts to protect from injury and loss of life.

In 1964, Panama protested control over the canal by the United States which led to the Permanent Neutrality Treaty that Panama wanted in order to make the canal open to all nations, and a Panama Canal Treaty providing joint control over the canal by the United States and Panama. These treaties were signed in September 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian leader Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera. Complete control over the Panama Canal was transferred to Panama in 1999.

Engineers whose efforts to put forth unprecedented technological construction ideas overcame seeming insurmountable odds cutting the fifty miles of canal through mountains and jungle. Completed and opened on August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal offered a waterway through the isthmus of Panama connecting the oceans, creating fifty miles of sea-level passage. The American cargo and passenger ship, SS Ancon, was the first to officially pass through the Panama Canal in 1914. A testament to American innovation and ingenuity, the American Society of Civil Engineers has recognized the Panama Canal as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Amanda Hughes serves as Outreach Director, and 90 Day Study Director, for Constituting America. She is author of Who Wants to Be Free?, and a story contributor for the anthologies Loving Moments, and Moments with Billy Graham.

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

In 1788, as the United States Constitution was adopted, senators would be elected by state legislatures to protect the states from the federal government increasing its own power. Problems related to the election of senators later resulted in lengthy senate vacancies. A popular vote movement began as a solution, but it failed to consider importance of separation of powers as designed by the Framers to protect liberty and maintain stability in government. The popular vote was an attempt to hamper the more deliberative body that is the United States Senate, and succumb to the more passionate, immediate will of the people, so on April 8, 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted.

We’ve all heard the phrase: “shooting oneself in the foot.” reminds us: To shoot oneself in the foot means to sabotage oneself, to make a silly mistake that harms yourself in some fashion. The phrase comes from a phenomenon that became fairly common during the First World War. Soldiers sometimes shot themselves in the foot in order to be sent to the hospital tent rather than being sent into battle.”[i]

Can a state, one of the United States, be guilty of “shooting itself in the foot?” How about multiple states? How about thirty-six states all at once? Not only can they be, I believe they have been guilty, particularly as it regards the Seventeenth Amendment. Let me explain.

“Checks and balances, checks and balances,” we hear the refrain often and passionately these days. The phrase “Checks and balances” is part of every schoolchild’s introduction to the Constitution. In May 2019, when President Donald Trump exerted executive privilege to prevent the testimony before Congress of certain White House advisors, NBC exclaimed: “Trump’s subpoena obstruction has fractured the Constitution’s system of checks and balances”[ii] I’m not certain the Framers of the Constitution would agree with NBC as exerting executive privilege has been part of our constitutional landscape since George Washington,[iii] and if exerting it “fractures” the Constitution, the document would have fallen into pieces long, long ago. As we will see, a significant “fracturing” of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances did occur in this country, but it occurred more than a hundred years before President Donald Trump took office.

The impeachment power is intended to check a rogue President. The Supreme Court checks a Constitution-ignoring Congress, as does the President’s veto. Congress can check (as in limit) the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and reduce or expand the number of justices at will. There are many examples of checks and balances in the Constitution. The framers of the document, distrustful as they were of human nature, were careful to give us this critical, power-limiting feature.[iv] But which was more important: the checks or the balances?

Aha, trick question. They are equally important (in my opinion at least). And sometimes a certain feature works as both a check and a balance. The one I have in mind is the original feature whereby Senators were to be appointed by their state legislatures.

We all know the story of how the Senate came into being which was the result of Roger Sherman’s great compromise. It retained the “one-state-one-vote” equality the small states enjoyed with the large states under the Articles of Confederation while also creating a legislative chamber, the House, where representation was based on a state’s population. Their six-year terms allowed them to take “a more detached view of issues coming before Congress.”[v] But how should these new Senators be selected: by the people, as in the House, or otherwise?

On July 7, 1787 the Constitutional Convention unanimously adopted a proposal by John Dickinson and Roger Sherman that the state legislatures elect this “Second Branch of the National Legislature.”  Why not the people? Alexander Hamilton explains:

“The history of ancient and modern republics had taught them that many of the evils which those republics suffered arose from the want of a certain balance, and that mutual control indispensable to a wise administration. They were convinced that popular assemblies are frequently misguided by ignorance, by sudden impulses, and the intrigues of ambitious men; and that some firm barrier against these operations was necessary. They, therefore, instituted your Senate.”[vi] (Emphasis added)

The Senate was to avoid the “impulses” of popularly-elected assemblies and provide a “barrier”  to such impulses when they might occur in the other branch.

James Madison explains in Federalist 62 who particularly benefits from this arrangement:

It is … unnecessary to [expand] on the appointment of senators by the State legislatures. Among the various modes which might have been devised for constituting this branch of the government, that which has been proposed by the convention is probably the most congenial with the public opinion. It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”[vii] (Emphasis added)

Appointment by the state legislatures gave the state governments a direct voice in the workings of the federal government. Madison continues:

“Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the Senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people (in the House), and then, of a majority of the States. It must be acknowledged that this complicated check on legislation may in some instances be injurious as well as beneficial; ….” (Emphasis added)

For those with lingering doubt as to who the Senators were to represent, Robert Livingston explained in the New York Ratifying Convention: “The senate are indeed designed to represent the state governments.”[viii] (Emphasis added)

Perhaps sensing the potential to change the mode of electing Senators in the future, Hamilton cautioned: “In this state (his own state of New York) we have a senate, possessed of the proper qualities of a permanent body: Virginia, Maryland, and a few other states, are in the same situation: The rest are either governed by a single democratic assembly (ex: Pennsylvania), or have a senate constituted entirely upon democratic principles—These have been more or less embroiled in factions, and have generally been the image and echo of the multitude.[ix] Hamilton refers here to those states where the state senators were popularly elected.

The careful balance of this system worked well until the end of the 19th century and the beginnings of the Progressive Era.

Gradually there arose a “feeling” that some senatorial appointments in the state legislatures were being “bought and sold.”  Between 1857 and 1900, Congress investigated three elections over alleged corruption. In 1900, the election of Montana Senator William A. Clark was voided after the Senate concluded that he had “purchased” eight of his fifteen votes.

Electoral deadlocks became another issue. Occasionally a state couldn’t decide on one or more of their Senators. One of Delaware’s Senate seats went unfilled from 1899 until 1903.

Neither of these problems was serious, but they both provided fodder for those enamored with “democracy.” But bandwagons being what they are, some could not resist. Some states began holding non-binding primaries for their Senate candidates.

Under mounting pressure from Progressives, by 1910, thirty-one state legislatures were asking Congress for a constitutional amendment allowing direct election of senators by the people. In the same year several Republican senators who were opposed to such reform failed re-election. This served as a “wake-up call” to others who remained opposed. Twenty-seven of the thirty-one states requesting an amendment also called for a constitutional convention to meet on the issue, only four states shy of the threshold that would require Congress to act.

Finally, on May 13, 1912, Congress responded. A resolution to require direct elections of Senators by the citizens of each state was finally introduced and it quickly passed. In less than a year it had been ratified by three-quarters of the states and was declared part of the Constitution by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan on May 31, 1913, two months after President Woodrow Wilson took office.

The Seventeenth Amendment has been cheered by the Left as a victory for populism and democracy, and bemoaned by the Right as a loss for states’ rights or “The Death of Federalism!” Now, millions in corporate funding pours into Senate election campaigns. Senators no longer consult with their state legislatures regarding pending legislation. Why should they? They now represent their state’s citizens directly. The interests of the state governments need not be considered.

For the states to actually ask Congress for this change seems incredibly near-sighted. Much of the encroachment by the Federal Government on policy matters which were traditionally the purview of the states can, I believe, be traced to the Seventeenth Amendment.

We repealed the Eighteenth Amendment. What about repealing the Seventeenth?  Many organizations and individuals have called for it. Every year he was in office, Senator Zell Miller of Georgia repeatedly called for its repeal. A brief look at who supports repeal and who opposes it reveals much. In support of repeal are the various Tea Party organizations, National Review magazine and others on the Right. Opposed, predictably enough, sit the LA Times and other liberal organizations. Solon magazine called the repeal movement “The surprising Republican movement to strip voters of their right to elect senators.” Where this supposed right originates is not explained in the article.

The wisdom of America’s Founders continues to amaze us more than 200 years later. Unfortunately, the carefully balanced framework of government they devised has been slowly chipped away by Supreme Court decisions and structural changes, like the Seventeenth Amendment. Seeing that the states willingly threw away their direct voice in the federal government, my sympathy for them is limited, but repeal of this dreadful amendment is long overdue.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text. Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes periodic essays published on several different websites, and appears in period costume as James Madison, explaining to public and private school students “his” (i.e., Madison’s) role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Gary can be reached at, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[iv] See Federalist 51

[v] Bybee, Jay S. (1997). “Ulysses at the Mast: Democracy, Federalism, and the Sirens’ Song of the Seventeenth Amendment”. Northwestern University Law Review. Northwestern University School of Law. p. 515.

[vi] Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, 1788

[vii] James Madison, Federalist 62

[viii] Robert Livingston, New York Ratifying Convention, 24 Jun 1788.

[ix] Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, 1788

Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

During the summer of 1896, twenty-five-year-old Orville Wright was recovering from typhoid fever in his Dayton, Ohio home. His brother, Wilbur Wright, was reading to Orville accounts of a German glider enthusiast named Otto Lilienthal who was killed in a crash flying his glider. The brothers started reading several books about bird flight and even applying the mechanics of it to powered human flight.

Despite the dreams of several visionaries who were studying human flight, the Washington Post proclaimed, “It is a fact that man can’t fly.” The Wright Brothers were amateurs who might just be able to prove the newspaper wrong. They had tinkered with mechanical inventions since they were boys. They had owned a printing press and now a bicycle shop and were highly skilled mechanics. They did not have the advantages of great wealth or a college education, but they had excellent good work habits and perseverance. They were enthusiastically dedicated and disciplined to achieve their goal.

On May 30, 1899, Wilbur wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He stated, “I have been interested in the problem of mechanical and human flight ever since I [was] a boy.” He added, “My observations since have only convinced me more firmly that human flight is possible and practicable.” He requested any reading materials that the Smithsonian might be willing to send. He received a packet full of recent pamphlets and articles including those of Samuel Pierpont Langley who was the Secretary of the Smithsonian.

The Wright brothers voraciously read the Smithsonian materials and books about bird flight. Based upon their study, they first built a glider that allowed them to acquire vast knowledge about the mechanics necessary to fly. They knew that this was a necessary step toward powered flight.

The Wright brothers next found a suitable location to test out their glider flights in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, because that site had the right combination of steady, strong winds and soft sand dunes on which to crash land. They even flew kites and studied the flight of different birds to measure the air flow in the test area.

On October 19, 1900, Wilbur climbed aboard a glider and flew nearly 30 miles per hour for about 400 feet. They made several more test flights and carefully recorded data about them. Armed with this knowledge and experience, they returned to Dayton and made alterations to the glider during the winter. They returned to Kitty Hawk the following summer for additional testing.

The Wright brothers spent the summer of 1901 acquiring mounds of new data, taking test flights, and tinkering constantly on the design. The brothers experienced their share of doubts that they would be successful. During one low moment, Wilbur lamented that “not in a thousand years would man ever fly.” However, they encouraged each other, and Orville stated that “there was some spirit that carried us through.” During that winter, they even built a homemade wind tunnel and continued to re-design the glider based upon their practical discoveries in Kitty Hawk and theoretical experiments in Dayton.

During the fall of 1902, they made their annual pilgrimage to their camp at Kitty Hawk where they worked day and night. During one sleepless night, Orville developed an idea for a movable rear rudder for better control. They installed a rudder, and the modification helped them achieve even greater success with the glider flights. They knew they were finally ready to test a motor and dared to believe that they might fly through the air in what would become an airplane.

The Wright brothers spent hundreds of hours over the next year testing motors, developing propellers, and finding solutions to countless problems. Orville admitted, “Our minds became so obsessed with it that we could do little other work.” In December 1903, they reached Kitty Hawk and unpacked their powered glider for reassembly at their camp.

On December 17, five curious locals braved the freezing cold to watch Orville and Wilbur Wright as they prepared their flying machine. Wilbur set up their camera on its wooden tripod a short distance from the plane. Dressed in a suit and tie, Orville climbed aboard the bottom wing of the bi-plane and strapped himself in while the motor was warming up.

At precisely 10:35 a.m., Orville launched down the short track while Wilbur ran beside, helping to steady the plane. Suddenly, the plane lifted into the air, and Orville became the first person to pilot a machine that flew under its own power. He flew about 120 feet for nearly twelve seconds. It was a humble yet historic flight.

When Orville was later asked if he was scared, he joked, “Scared?  There wasn’t time.” They readied the plane for another flight and a half-hour later, Wilbur joined his brother in history by flying “like a bird” for approximately 175 feet. They flew farther and farther that day, and Wilbur went nearly half a mile in 59 seconds. They sent their father a telegram sharing the news of their success, and as he read it, he turned to their sister and said, “Well, they’ve made a flight.”

One witness of the Wright Brothers’ first flight noted the character that made them successful. “It wasn’t luck that made them fly; it was hard work and common sense; they put their whole heart and soul and all their energy into an idea, and they had faith.” President William Howard Taft also praised the hard work that went into the Wright Brothers’ achievement. “You made this discovery,” he told them at an award ceremony “by keeping your noses right at the job until you had accomplished what you had determined to.” The Wright brothers’ flight was part of a long train of technological innovations that resulted from American ingenuity and spirit.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In late January 1898, President William McKinley dispatched the U.S.S. Maine to Cuban waters to protect American citizens and business investments during ongoing tensions between Spain and its colony, Cuba. The event eventually sparked a war that dramatically culminated a century of expansion and led Americans to debate the purposes of American foreign policy at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Events only ninety miles from American shores were increasingly involving the United States in Cuban affairs during the late 1890s.

Cuban revolutionaries had fought a guerrilla war against imperialist Spain starting in 1895, and Spain had responded by brutally suppressing the insurgency. General Valeriano Weyler, nicknamed “the butcher,” forced Cubans into relocation camps to deny the countryside to the rebels. Tens of thousands perished, and Cuba became a cause célèbre for many Americans.

Moreover, William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, and other newspaper moguls publicized the atrocities committed by Spain’s military and encouraged sympathy for the Cuban people. Hearst knew the power he held over public opinion, telling one of his photographers, “You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war.”

During the evening of February 15, all was quiet as the Maine sat at anchor in Havana harbor. At 9:40 p.m., an explosion shattered the silence and tore the ship open, killing 266 sailors and Marines aboard. Giant gouts of flames and smoke flew hundreds of feet into the air. The press immediately blamed Spain and called for war with the sensationalist style of reporting called “yellow journalism.” The shocked public clamored for war with the popular cry, “Remember the Maine!” Hearst had also recently printed an insulting private letter from the Spanish ambassador to the United States, Don Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, that called McKinley “weak.”

President McKinley had sought alternatives to war for years and continued to seek a diplomatic solution despite the war fervor. However, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt repositioned naval warships close to Cuba and ordered Commodore George Dewey to attack the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines. Roosevelt thought McKinley had “no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.” Despite McKinley’s best efforts, Congress declared war on April 25. Roosevelt quickly resigned and received approval to raise a cavalry regiment, nicknamed the “Rough Riders.”

Roosevelt felt it was his patriotic duty to serve his country. “It does not seem to me that it would be honorable for a man who has consistently advocated a warlike policy not to be willing himself to bear the brunt of carrying out that policy.” Moreover, Roosevelt praised “the soldierly virtues” and sought the strenuous life for himself and the country, which he believed had gone soft with the decadence of the Gilded Age. He wanted to test himself in battle and win glory.

Roosevelt went to Texas to train the eclectic First Volunteer Cavalry regiment of tough western cowboys and American Indians and Patriotic Ivy League athletes. Commander Roosevelt felt comfortable with both groups of men because he had attended Harvard and owned a North Dakota ranch. His regiment trained in the dusty heat of San Antonio, in the shadow of the Alamo, under him and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Colonel Leonard Wood.

The regiment loaded their horses and boarded trains bound for the embarkation point at Tampa, Florida. On June 22, the Rough Riders and thousands of other American troops landed unopposed at Daiquirí on the southern coast of Cuba. Many Rough Riders were without their horses and started marching toward the Spanish army at the capital of Santiago.

The Rough Riders and other U.S. troops were suffering from the tropical heat and forbidding jungle terrain. On June 24, hidden Spanish troops ambushed the Americans near Las Guasimas village. After a brief exchange resulting in some casualties on both sides, the Spanish withdrew to their fortified positions on the hills in front of Santiago. By June 30 the Americans had made it to the base of Kettle Hill, where the Spanish were entrenched and had their guns sighted on the surrounding plains.

American artillery was brought forward to bombard Kettle Hill, and Spanish guns answered. Several Rough Riders and men from other units were cut down by flying shrapnel. Roosevelt himself was wounded slightly in the arm. He and the entire army grew impatient as they awaited orders to attack.

When the order finally came, a mounted Roosevelt led the assault. The Rough Riders were flanked on either side by the African American “Buffalo Soldiers” of the regular Ninth and Tenth cavalry regiments, commanded by white officer John “Black Jack” Pershing. The American troops charged up the incline while firing at the enemy. Roosevelt had dismounted and led the charge on foot. The Spanish fired into American ranks and killed and wounded dozens. Soon, they were driven off. When Spaniards atop adjacent San Juan Hill fired on the Rough Riders, Roosevelt prepared his men to attack that hill as well.

After much confusion in the initial charge, Roosevelt rallied his troops. Finally, he jumped over a fence and again led the charge with the support of rattling American Gatling guns. The Rough Riders and other regiments successfully drove the Spaniards off the hill and gave a great cheer. They dug into their positions and collapsed, exhausted after a day of strenuous fighting. The Americans took Santiago relatively easily, forcing the Spanish fleet to take to sea where it was destroyed by U.S. warships. The Spanish capitulated on August 12.

Roosevelt became a national hero and used the fame to catapult his way to become governor of New York, vice-president, and president after McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Although the 1898 Teller Amendment guaranteed Cuban sovereignty and independence, the United States gained significant control over Cuban affairs with the Platt Amendment in 1901 and Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904. The United States also built the Panama Canal for trade and national security.

In the Philippines, Admiral Dewey sailed into Manila Bay and wiped out the Spanish fleet there on May 1, 1898. However, the Filipinos, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, rebelled against the American control just as they had against the Spanish. The insurrection resulted in the loss of thousands of American and Filipino lives. Americans established control there after suppressing the revolt in 1902.

The Spanish-American War was a turning point in history because the nation assumed global responsibilities for a growing empire that included Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam (as well as Hawaii separately). The Spanish-American War sparked a sharp debate between imperialists and anti-imperialists in the United States over the course of American foreign policy and global power. The debate continued throughout the twentieth century known as the “American Century” due to its power and influence around the world.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

On February 15, 1898, an American warship, U.S.S. Maine, blew up in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. A naval board of inquiry reported the following month that the explosion had been caused by a submerged mine. That conclusion was confirmed in 1911, after a more exhaustive investigation and careful examination of the wreck. What was unclear, and remains so, is who set the mine. During the decade, tensions with Spain had been rising over that country’s handling of a Cuban insurgency against Spanish rule. The newspaper chains of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer had long competed for circulation by sensationalist reporting. The deteriorating political conditions in Cuba and the harshness of Spanish attempts to suppress the rebels provided fodder for the newspapers’ “yellow” journalism. Congress had pressured the American government to do something to resolve the crisis, but neither President Grover Cleveland nor President William McKinley had taken the bait thus far.

With the heavy loss of life that accompanied the sinking, “Remember the Maine” became a national obsession. Although Spain had very little to gain from sinking an American warship, whereas Cuban rebels had much to gain in order to bring the United States actively to their cause, the public outcry was directed against Spain. The Spanish government previously had offered to change its military tactics in Cuba and to allow Cubans limited home rule. The offer now was to grant an armistice to the insurgents. The American ambassador in Spain believed that the Spanish government would even be willing to grant independence to Cuba, if there were no political or military attempt to humiliate Spain.

Neither the Spanish government nor McKinley wanted war. However, the latter proved unable to resist the new martial mood and the aroused jingoism in the press and Congress. On April 11, 1898, McKinley sent a message to Congress that did not directly call for war, but declared that he had “exhausted every effort” to resolve the matter and was awaiting Congress’s action. Congress declared war. A year later, McKinley observed, “But for the inflamed state of public opinion, and the fact that Congress could no longer be held in check, a peaceful solution might have been had.” He might have added that, had he been possessed of a stiffer political spine, that peaceful solution might have been had, as well.

The “splendid little war,” in the words of the soon-to-be Secretary of State, John Hay, was exceedingly popular and resulted in an overwhelming and relatively easy American victory. Only 289 were killed in action, although, due to poor hygienic conditions, many more died from disease. Psychologically, it proved cathartic for Americans after the national trauma of the Civil War. One symbolic example of the new unity forged by the war with Spain was that Joe Wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee, former Confederate generals, were generals in the U.S. Army.

Spain signed a preliminary peace treaty in August. The treaty called for the surrender of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The status of the Philippines was left for final negotiations. The ultimate treaty was signed in Paris on December 10, 1898. The Philippines, wracked by insurrection, were ceded to the United States for $2 million. The administration believed that it would be militarily advantageous to have a base in the Far East to protect American interests.

The war may have been popular, but the peace was less so. The two-thirds vote needed for Senate approval of the peace treaty was a close-run matter. There was a militant group of “anti-imperialists” in the Senate who considered it a betrayal of American republicanism to engage in the same colonial expansion as the European powers. Americans had long imagined themselves to be unsullied by the corrupt motives and brutal tactics that such colonial ventures represented in their minds. McKinley, who had reluctantly agreed to the treaty, reassured himself and Americans, “No imperial designs lurk in the American mind. They are alien to American sentiment, thought, and purpose.” But, with a nod to Rudyard Kipling’s urging that Americans take on the “white man’s burden,” McKinley cast the decision in republican missionary garb, “If we can benefit those remote peoples, who will object? If in the years of the future they are established in government under law and liberty, who will regret our perils and sacrifices?”

The controversy around an “American Empire” was not new. Early American republicans like Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall, among many others, had described the United States in that manner and without sarcasm. The government might be a republic in form, but the United States would be an empire in expanse, wealth, and glory. Why else acquire the vast Louisiana territory in 1803? Why else demand from Mexico that huge sparsely-settled territory west of Texas in 1846? “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” painted Emanuel Leutze in 1861. Manifest Destiny became the aspirational slogan.

While most Americans cheered those developments, a portion of the political elite had misgivings. The Whigs opposed the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War. To many Whigs, the latter especially was merely a war of conquest and the imposition of American rule against the inhabitants’ wishes. Behind the republican facade lay a more fundamental political concern. The Whigs’ main political power was in the North, but the new territory likely would be settled by Southerners and increase the power of the Democrats. That movement of settlers would also give slavery a new lease on life, something much reviled by most Whigs, among them a novice Congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln.

Yet, by the 1890s, the expansion across the continent was completed. Would it stop there or move across the water to distant shores? One omen was the national debate over Hawaii that culminated in the annexation of the islands in 1898. Some opponents drew on the earlier Whig arguments and urged that, if the goal of the continental expansion was to secure enough land for two centuries to realize Jefferson’s ideal of a large American agrarian republic, the goal had been achieved. Going off-shore had no such republican fig leaf to cover its blatant colonialism.

Other opponents emphasized the folly of nation-building and trying to graft Western values and American republicanism onto alien cultures who neither wanted them nor were sufficiently politically sophisticated to make them work. They took their cue from John C. Calhoun, who, in 1848, had opposed the fanciful proposal to annex all of Mexico, “We make a great mistake in supposing that all people are capable of self-government. Acting under that impression, many are anxious to force free Governments on all the people of this continent, and over the world, if they had the power…. It is a sad delusion. None but a people advanced to a high state of moral and intellectual excellence are capable in a civilized condition, of forming and maintaining free Governments ….”

With peace at hand, the focus shifted to political and legal concerns. The question became whether or not the Constitution applied to these new territories ex proprio vigore: “Does the Constitution follow the flag?” Neither President McKinley nor Congress had a concrete policy. The Constitution, having been formed by thirteen states, along the eastern slice of a vast continent, was unclear. The Articles of Confederation had provided for the admission of Canada and other British colonies, such as the West Indies, but that document was moot. The matter was left to the judiciary, and the Supreme Court provided a settlement of sorts in a series of cases over two decades called the Insular Cases.

Cuba was easy. Congress’s declaration of war against Spain had been clear: “The United States hereby disclaims any disposition or intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for the pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.” In Neely v. Henkel (1901), the Court unanimously held that the Constitution did not apply to Cuba. Effectively, Cuba was already a foreign country outside the Constitution. Cuba became formally independent in 1902. In similar manner, the United States promised independence to the Philippine people, a process that took several decades due to various military exigencies. Thus, again, the Constitution did not apply there, at least not tout court, as the Court affirmed beginning in Dorr v. U.S. in 1904. That took care of the largest overseas dominions, and Americans could tentatively congratulate themselves that they were not genuine colonialists.

More muddled was the status of Puerto Rico and Guam. In Puerto Rico, social, political, and economic conditions did not promise an easy path to independence, and no such assurance was given. The territory was not deemed capable of surviving on its own. Rather, the peace treaty expressly provided that Congress would determine the political status of the inhabitants. In 1900, Congress passed the Foraker Act, which set up a civil government patterned on the old British imperial system with which Americans were familiar. The locals would elect an assembly, but the President would appoint a governor and executive council. Guam was in a similar state of dependency.

In Downes v. Bidwell (1901), the Court established the new status of Puerto Rico as neither outside nor entirely inside the United States. Unlike Hawaii or the territories that were part of Manifest Destiny, there was no clear determination that Puerto Rico was on a path to become a state and, thus, was already incorporated into the entity called the United States. It belonged to the United States, but was not part of the United States. The Constitution, on its own, applied only to states and to territory that was expected to become part of the United States. Puerto Rico was more like, but not entirely like, temporarily administered foreign territory. Congress determined the governance of that territory by statute or treaty, and, with the exception of certain “natural rights” reflected in particular provisions of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution applied only to the extent to which Congress specified.

These cases adjusted constitutional doctrine to a new political reality inaugurated by the sinking of the Maine and the war that event set in motion. The United States no longer looked inward to settle its own large territory and to resolve domestic political issues relating to the nature of the union. Rather, the country was looking beyond its shores and was emerging as a world power. That metamorphosis would take a couple of generations and two world wars to complete, the last of which triggered by another surprise attack on American warships.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at:

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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

The Massacre at Wounded Knee, part of the Ghost Dance War, marked the last of the Indian Wars and the end of one of the bloodiest eras in American History, the systematic and deliberate slaughter of Native American peoples and their way of life. It was an American Holocaust. During a 500 year period, approximately 100,000,000 Native Americans were killed as citizens of the United States pushed West in the name of manifest destiny and destroyed the Native American territories that had been their home for thousands of years. These events will never take a place on the front of our history books, but they must never lose their place in our national memory.

Armed conflict was still prevalent in the American West in the 1880s between the U.S. Army and the Native American population, even after most of the tribes there had been displaced or had their populations reduced in great numbers. The Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 had been the most fierce of the wars with the Sioux, which had started in the mid-1850s, when Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse had gone to war to defend the Black Hills after the U.S. violated the treaty that they had signed stating the land was the property of the Sioux. After the Battle of Little Bighorn, a gradual depletion of Sioux forces occurred and Crazy Horse surrendered in 1877.

The remaining Sioux were spread out in their reservations and eventually were placed onto a central reservation in the Dakota territory and were practicing a ritual known as the Ghost Dance. The dance was supposed to drive the white men from Native American territory and restore peace and tranquility to the region. Settlers were frightened by the dance and they said it had a “ghostly aura” to it, thus giving it its name.

In response to the settlers’ fears, U.S. commanders arrested several leaders of the Sioux, including Chief Kicking Bear and Chief Sitting Bull, who was later killed.

Two weeks after Sitting Bull’s death, U.S. troops demanded that all the Sioux immediately turn over their weapons. As they were peacefully doing so, one deaf Sioux warrior did not understand the command to turn over his rifle. As his rifle was being taken from him, a shot went off in the crowd. The soldiers panicked and open fired on everyone in the area.

As the smoke cleared, 300 dead Lakota and 25 dead U.S. soldiers were laying on the ground. Many more Lakota were later killed by U.S. troops as they fled the reservation. The massacre ended the Ghost Dance movement and was the last of the Indian Wars. Twenty U.S. soldiers were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions during this campaign. The National Congress of American Indians has called on the U.S. government to rescind some or all of these medals, but they have not yet taken action to do so.

The American public’s reaction to the massacre was positive at first but over time as the scale and gravity of the massacre was revealed, the American people began to understand the brutal injustice that occurred during this encounter. Today, we need to remember the Massacre at Wounded Knee for the human cost and to make sure that events like this never happen again in our nation. We also need to make sure to honor and remember all Americans and their histories, even when it is not easy to read or take responsibility. For how can we truly be a nation where all are created equal if the treatment of our histories are not?

Val Crofts is a Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches as Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin, and has been there 16 years. He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Paul Israel

By the time Thomas Edison began his effort to develop an incandescent electric light in September 1878, researchers had been working on the problem for forty years. While many of them developed lamps that worked in the laboratory and for short-term demonstrations, none had been able to devise a lamp that would last in long-term commercial use.  Edison was able to succeed where others had failed because he understood that developing a successful commercial lamp also required him to develop an entire electrical system. With the resources of his laboratory, he and his staff were able to design not only a commercially successful lamp but the system that made it possible.

At the time, Edison’s work on telegraphs and telephones largely defined the limits of his knowledge of electrical technology. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he did not even have experience with arc lights and dynamos. Yet he confidently predicted that he could solve the problem and after only a few days of experiment during the second week of September 1878 he announced that he had “struck a bonanza.”  He believed he had solved the problem of creating a long-lasting lamp by designing regulators that would prevent the lamp filament (he was then using platinum and related metals) from melting. Edison reached this solution by thinking of electric lights as analogous to telegraph instruments and lamp regulators as a form of electromechanical switch similar to those he used in telegraphy. Edison’s regulators used the expansion of metals or air heated by the electric current to divert current from the incandescing element in order to prevent it from destruction by overheating. Edison was soon designing lamp regulators in the same fertile manner that he had previously varied the relays and circuits of his telegraph designs.

Edison was also confident that his insights regarding high-resistance lamps and parallel circuits would be key to designing a commercial electric lighting system. Because the regulator temporarily removed the lamp from the circuit, he realized that he had to place the lamps in parallel circuits so that each individual lamp could be turned on and off without affecting any others in the circuit. This was also desirable for customers used to independently operated gas lamps. Even more important was Edison’s grasp of basic electrical laws. He was virtually alone in understanding how to produce an economical distribution system. Other researchers had been stymied by the cost of the copper conductors, which would require a very large cross section to reduce energy lost as excess heat in the system. However, large copper conductors would make the system too expensive. Edison realized that by using high-resistance lamps he could increase the voltage proportionately to the current and thus reduce the size and cost of the conductors.

Edison initially focused his work on the lamp because he saw it as the critical problem and thought that standard arc-lighting dynamos could easily meet the requirements of an incandescent lighting system.  However, after experimenting with one of these dynamos, Edison began to doubt their suitability for his purposes. With the expectation of funds from the newly formed Edison Electric Light Company, he ordered other machines and began to design his own generators as well. By January 1879, Edison’s understanding of generators had advanced sufficiently “after a few weeks hard study on magneto electric principles,” for him to start his machinists building a new design. Edison’s ability to experiment with generators was greatly enhanced by his new financial resources that enabled him to build a large machine shop that could produce not only fine instruments like telegraphs and lamps, but also generators—”in short all the means to set up & test most deliberately every point of the Electric Light.” With the new facilities, machinery, and assistants made possible by his financial backers, Edison could pursue research on a broad front. In fact, by the end of May, he had developed his standard generator design. It would take much longer to develop a commercial lamp.

Just as the dynamo experiments marked a new effort to build up a base of fundamental knowledge, so too did lamp experiments in early 1879 begin to reflect this new spirit of investigation. Instead of continuing to construct numerous prototypes, Edison began observing the behavior of platinum and other metals under the conditions required for incandescence. By studying his filaments under a microscope, he soon discovered that the metal seemed to absorb gases during heating, suggesting that the problem lay less in the composition of the metal than in the environment in which it was heated. The most obvious way to change the environment was to use a vacuum. By improving the existing vacuum-pump technology with the assistance of an experienced German glassblower, Edison was able to better protect his filaments and by the end of the summer he had done away with his complicated electromechanical regulators. The improved vacuum pumps developed by the laboratory staff helped to produce a major breakthrough in the development of a commercial lamp.

Although Edison no longer required a regulator for his platinum filaments and the lamps lasted longer, they were too expensive for commercial use. Not only was platinum a rare and expensive metal, but platinum filaments did not produce the high resistance he needed for his distribution system. With much better vacuum technology capable of preventing the oxidation of carbon filaments, Edison decided to try experimenting with a material that was not only much cheaper and more abundant, but which also produced high-resistance filaments.

The shift to carbon was a product of Edison’s propensity for working on several projects at once. During the spring and summer of 1879, telephone research at times overshadowed the light as Edison sought to improve his instrument for the British market. A crucial element of Edison’s telephone was the carbon button used in his transmitter. These buttons were produced in a little shed at the laboratory complex where day and night kerosene lamps were burned and the resulting carbon, known as lampblack, was collected and formed into buttons. The reason for turning to this familiar material lies in another analogy. Almost from the beginning of the light research, Edison had determined that the most efficient form for his incandescing element would be a thin wire spiral which would allow him to decrease radiating surface so as to reduce the energy lost through radiation of heat rather than light. The spiral form also increased resistance. It was his recognition that the lampblack could be rolled like a wire and then coiled into a spiral like platinum that led Edison to try carbon as a filament material.

Although Edison’s basic carbon-filament lamp patent, filed on November 4, 1879, still retained the spiral form, the laboratory staff had great difficulty in actually winding a carbon spiral. Instead, Edison turned to another form of carbon “wire”–a thread. During the night of October 21–22, the laboratory staff watched as a cotton-thread filament burned for 14 1/2 hours with a resistance of around 100 ohms. This date of this experiment would later be later be associated with the invention of the electric light, but at the time Edison treated it not as a finished invention but rather as the beginning of a new experimental path. The commercial lamp would require another year of research.

Nonetheless, by New Year’s Day 1880, Edison was able to demonstrate his system to the public. Over the course of the next year, he and his staff worked feverishly to bring his system to a state of commercial introduction. In the process, he turned the Menlo Park laboratory into an R&D center, with an emphasis on development. By spring, the staff which previously consisted of some twelve or fifteen experimenters and machinists, was greatly expanded, at times reaching as many as sixty men. Work on the various component was delegated to new members of the staff and over the course of the year, work progressed on each element of the system, including the generator, meter, underground conductors, safety fuses, lamp fixtures and sockets, and the commercial bamboo-carbon filament. By the time all these ancillary components were developed and manufacturing underway in the spring of 1881, Edison had spent over $200,000 on research and development.  Commercial introduction required several thousand additional dollars of research as well as $500,000 to install the first central station system in downtown New York City, which opened on September 4, 1882, four years after Edison first began his research. Though he claimed merely to “have accomplished all I promised,” Edison had done even more by starting a new industry and reorganizing the process of invention.

Historian, Dr. Paul Israel, a former Californian, moved East to NJ over 30 years ago to do research for a book on Thomas Edison & the electric light. Today he is the Director and General Editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University, the New Jersey State University. 

The Thomas A. Edison Papers Project, a research center at Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, is one of the most ambitious editing projects ever undertaken by an American university.

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Guest Essayist: Paul Israel

In mid-July 1877, while working to develop an improved telephone for the Western Union Telegraph Company, Thomas Edison conceived the idea of recording and reproducing telephone messages. Edison came up with this extraordinary idea because he thought about the telephone as a form of telegraph, even referring to it as a “speaking telegraph.” Thus, on July 18, he tried an experiment with a telephone “diaphragm having an embossing point & held against paraffin paper moving rapidly.” Finding that sound “vibrations are indented nicely” he concluded, “there’s no doubt that I shall be able to store up & reproduce automatically at any future time the human voice perfectly.”

At the time Edison was also working on his repeating telegraph known as the translating embosser. This device recorded an outgoing message as the operator sent it, enabling automatic, rapid retransmission of the same message on other lines. This would be particularly desirable for long press-wire articles that required very skilled operators to transmit and receive. The incoming, high-speed message recorded by the embosser at each receiving station could be transcribed at a slower speed by an operator using a standard sounder. Edison thought his telephone recorder could be used in a similar fashion by allowing the voice message to be “reproduced slow or fast by a copyist & written down.”

Busy with telephone and translating embosser experiments, Edison put this idea aside until August 12, when he drew a device he labeled “Phonograph,”  which looked very much like an automatic telegraph recorder he had developed a few years earlier. For many years, researchers were fooled by another drawing containing the inscription “Kreuzi Make This Edison August 12/77.” However, the text for this drawing, which was published twice in the mid-1890s without the inscription, was added during the 40th anniversary of the invention to represent the drawing from which machinist John Kruesi constructed the first phonograph.

Over the next few months, Edison periodically experimented with “apparatus for recording & reproducing the human voice,” using various methods to record on paper tape. The first design for a cylinder recorder, apparently still using paper to record on, appeared in a notebook entry of September 21. However, it was not until November 5, that he first described the design that John Kruesi would beginning making at the end of the month. “I propose having a cylinder 10 threads or embossing grooves to the inch cylinder 1 foot long on this tin foil of proper thickness.” As Edison noted, he had discovered after “various experiments with wax, chalk, etc.” that “tin foil over a groove is the easiest of all= this cylinder will indent about 200 spoken words & reproduce them from same cylinder.” On November 10, he drew a rough sketch of this new tinfoil cylinder design. This drawing looks very similar to the more careful sketch he later inscribed “Kreuzi Make This Edison August 12/77.”  It also resembles the large drawing Edison made on November 29, which may have been used by Kruesi while he was making the first phonograph during the first six days of December.

These drawings of the tinfoil cylinder phonograph looked very much like those for the cylinder version of Edison’s translating embosser while a disc design was based on another version of his translating embosser. The disc translating embosser can be found today at the reconstructed Menlo Park Laboratory at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  This device also became part of the creation myth for the phonograph when it appeared in the 1940 Spencer Tracy movie Edison the Man. In the movie an assistant accidentally starts the embosser with a recording on it, resulting in a high-pitched sound that leads Edison to the idea of recording sound.

Although Edison did not have a working phonograph until December, he had drafted his first press release to announce the new invention on September 7. Writing in the third person he claimed that

“Mr. Edison the Electrician has not only succeeded in producing a perfectly articulating telephone.…far superior and much more ingenious than the telephone off Bell…but has gone into a new and entirely unexplored field of acoustics which is nothing less than an attempt to record automatically the speech of a very rapid speaker upon paper; from which he reproduces the same Speech immediately or year’s afterwards or preserving the characteristics of the speakers voice so that persons familiar with it would at once recognize it.

This text and its drawings of a paper-tape phonograph would become the basis for a letter to the editor by Edison’s associate Edward Johnson that appeared in the November 17 issue of Scientific American. Not surprisingly, when this was republished in the newspapers it was met with skepticism.

On December 7, the day after Kruesi finished making the first tinfoil cylinder phonograph, Edison took the machine to Scientific American’s offices in New York City, accompanied by Johnson and laboratory assistant Charles Batchelor. He amazed the staff when he placed the little machine on the editor’s desk and turned the handle to reproduce a recording he had already made. As described in an article in the December 22 issue, “the machine inquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was very well, and bid us a cordial good night.”

By the New Year, Edison had an improved phonograph that he exhibited at Western Union headquarters, where it attracted the attention of the New York newspapers. These first public demonstrations produced a trickle of articles that soon turned into a steady stream and by the end of March had become a veritable flood. Edison soon became as famous as his astounding invention. Reports soon began calling Edison “Inventor of the Age,” the “Napoleon of Invention,” and most famously “The Wizard of Menlo Park.”

Edison had grand expectations for his invention as did the investors in the newly formed Edison Speaking Phonograph Company. However, Edison and his associates were unable to turn the tinfoil phonograph from a curiosity suitable for exhibitions and lectures into a consumer product. The phonograph’s real drawback was not the mechanical design on which they focused their efforts but the tinfoil recording surface.  Compared to later wax recording surfaces developed in the 1880s, tinfoil recordings had very poor fidelity and also deteriorated rapidly after a single playback. As a result, for the next decade the phonograph remained little more than a scientific curiosity.

Historian, Dr. Paul Israel, a former Californian, moved East to NJ over 30 years ago to do research for a book on Thomas Edison & the electric light. Today he is the Director and General Editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University, the New Jersey State University. 

The Thomas A. Edison Papers Project, a research center at Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, is one of the most ambitious editing projects ever undertaken by an American university.

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day!

Click Here to view the schedule of topics in our 90-Day Study on American History.

Guest Essayist: Dan Morenoff

Usually, breaking down history into chapters requires imposing arbitrary separations. Every once in a while, though, the divisions are clear and real, providing a hard-stop in the action that only makes sense against the backdrop of what it concludes, even if it explains what follows.

For reasons having next-to-nothing to do with the actual candidates,[1] the Presidential election of 1876 provided that kind of page-break in American history. It came on the heels of the Grant Presidency, during which the victor of Vicksburg and Appomattox sought to fulfill the Union’s commitments from the war (including those embodied in the post-war Constitutional Amendments) and encountered unprecedented resistance. It saw that resistance taken to a whole new level, which threw the election results into chaos and created a Constitutional crisis. And by the time Congress had extricated itself from that, they had fixed the immediate mess only by creating a much larger, much more costly, much longer lasting one.

Promises Made

To understand the transition, we need to start with the backdrop.

Jump back to April 1865. General Ulysses S. Grant takes Richmond, the Confederate capitol. The Confederate government collapses in retreat, with its Cabinet going its separate ways.[2] Before it does, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issues his final order to General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia: keep fighting! He tells Lee to take his troops into the countryside, fade into a guerrilla force, and fight on, making governance impossible. Lee, of course, refuses and surrenders at Appomattox Courthouse. A celebrating Abraham Lincoln takes a night off for a play, where a Southern sympathizer from Maryland murders him.[3] Before his passing, Abraham Lincoln had freed the slaves and won the war (in part, thanks to the help of the freedmen who had joined the North’s army), so saving the Union. His assassination signified a major theme of the next decade: some’s refusal to accept the war’s results left them willing to cast aside the rule of law and employ political violence to resist the establishment of new norms.

Leaving our flashback: Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln in office, but in nothing else. Super-majorities in both the House and Senate hated him and his policies and established a series of precedents enhancing Congressional power, even while failing to establish the one they wanted most.[4] Before his exit from the White House, despite Johnson’s opposition: (a) the States had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment (banning slavery); (b) Congress had passed the first Civil Rights Act (in 1866, over his veto); (c) Congress had proposed and the States had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment (“constitutionalizing” the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by: (i) creating federal citizenship for all born in our territory; (ii) barring states from “abridg[ing] the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States[;]” (iii) altering the representation formula for states in Congress and the electoral college, and (iv) guaranteeing the equal protection of the laws); and (d) in the final days of his term, Congress formally proposed the Fifteenth Amendment (barring states from denying or abridging the right to vote of citizens of the United States “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”).

Notice how that progression, at each stage, was made necessary by the resistance of some Southerners to what preceded it. Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery? Bedford Forrest, a low-ranking Confederate General, responded by reversing Lee’s April decision: in December 1865, he founded the Ku Klux Klan (effectively, Confederate forces reborn) to wage the clandestine war against the U.S. government and the former slaves it had freed, which Lee refused to fight.  Their efforts (and, after Johnson recognized them as governments, the efforts of the Southern states to recreate slavery under another name) triggered passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment. Southern states nonetheless continued to disenfranchise black Americans. So, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment to stop them. Each step required the next.

And the next step saw America, at its first chance, turn to its greatest hero, Ulysses S. Grant, to replace Johnson with someone who would put the White House on the side of fulfilling Lincoln’s promises. Grant tried to do so. He (convinced Congress to authorize and then) created the Department of Justice; he backed, signed into law, and had DOJ vigorously prosecute violations of the Enforcement Act of 1870 (banning the Klan and, more generally, the domestic terrorism it pioneered using to prevent black people from voting), the Enforcement Act of 1871 (allowing federal oversight of elections, where requested), and the Ku Klux Klan Act (criminalizing the Klan’s favorite tactics and making state officials who denied Americans either their civil rights or the equal protection of law personally liable for damages). He readmitted to the Union the last states of the old Confederacy still under military government, while conditioning readmission on their recognition of the equality before the law of all U.S. citizens. Eventually, he signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1875, guarantying all Americans access to all public accommodations.

And over the course of Grant’s Presidency, these policies bore fruit.  Historically black colleges and universities sprang up. America’s newly enfranchised freedmen and their white coalition partners elected governments in ten (10) states of the former Confederacy. These governments ratified new state constitutions and created their states’ first public schools. They saw black Americans serve in office in significant numbers for the first time (including America’s first black Congressmen and Senators and, in P.B.S. Pinchback, its first black Governor).

Gathering Clouds

But that wasn’t the whole story.

While the Grant Administration succeeded in breaking the back of the Klan, the grind of entering a second decade of military tours in the South shifted enough political power in the North to slowly sap support for continued, vigorous, federal action defending the rights of black Southerners. And less centralized terrorist forces functioned with increasing effectiveness. In 1872, in conjunction with a state election marred by thuggery and fraud, one such “militia” massacred an untold number of victims in Colfax, Louisiana. Federal prosecution of the perpetrators foundered when the Supreme Court gutted the Enforcement Acts as beyond Congress’s power to enact.

That led to more such “militias” often openly referring to themselves as “the military arm of the Democratic Party” flowering across the country.  And their increasingly brazen attacks on black voters and their white allies allowed those styling themselves “Redeemers” of the region to replace, one by one, the freely elected governments of Reconstruction first in Louisiana, then in Mississippi, then in South Carolina… with governments expressly dedicated to restoring the racial caste system.  “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, the leader of a parallel massacre of black Union army veterans living in Hamburg, South Carolina, used his resulting notoriety to launch a political career spanning decades. Eventually, he reached both the governor’s mansion and the U.S. Senate, along the way, becoming the father of America’s gun-control laws, because it was easier to terrorize and disenfranchise the disarmed.

By 1876, with such “militias” enjoying a clear playbook and, in places, support from their state governments, the stage was set for massive fraud and duress trying to swing a presidential election. Attacks on black voters, and their allies, intended to prevent a substantial percentage of the electorate from voting, unfolded on a regional scale. South Carolina, while pursuing such illegal terror, simultaneously claimed to have counted more ballots than it had registered voters. The electoral vote count it eventually sent to the Senate was certified by no one – that for Louisiana was certified by a gubernatorial candidate holding no office. Meanwhile, Oregon sent two different sets of electoral votes: one certified by the Secretary of State, the other certified by the Governor, cast for two different Presidential candidates.

The Mess

The Twelfth Amendment requires states’ electors to: (a) meet; (b) cast their votes for the President and Vice President; (c) compile a list of vote-recipients for each (to be signed by the electors and certified); and (d) send the sealed list to the U.S. Senate (to the attention of the President of the Senate). It then requires the President of the Senate to open the sealed lists in the presence of the House and Senate to count the votes.

Normally, the President of the Senate is the Vice President. But Grant’s Vice President, Henry Wilson, had died in 1875 and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment’s mechanism to fill a Vice Presidential vacancy was still almost a century away. That left, in 1876, the Senate’s President Pro Tempore, Thomas W. Ferry (R-MI) to serve as the acting President of the Senate. But given the muddled state of the records sent to the Senate, Senate Democrats did not trust Ferry to play this role. Since the filibuster was well established by the 1870s, the Senate could do nothing without their acquiescence. More, they could point to Johnson-Administration precedents enhancing Congressional authority to demand that resolution of disputed electoral votes be reached jointly by both chambers of Congress, which they preferred, because Democrats had taken a majority of the lower House in 1874.

No one agreed which votes to count. No one agreed who could count them. And the difference between sets was enough to deliver the majority of the electoral college to either major party’s nominees for the Presidency and Vice Presidency. And all of this came at the conclusion of an election already marred by large-scale, partisan violence.

Swapping Messes

It took the Congress months to find its way out of this morass. Eventually, it did so through an unwritten deal. On March 2, 1877, Congress declared Ohio Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, President of the United States over Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden of New York. Hayes, in turn, embraced so-called “Home Rule,” removing all troops from the old Confederacy and halting the federal government’s efforts to either enforce the Civil Rights Acts or make real the promises of the post-war Constitutional Amendments.

With the commitments of Reconstruction abandoned, the “Redeemers” promptly completed their “Redemption” of the South from freely, lawfully elected governments. They rewrote state constitutions, broadly disenfranchised those promised the vote by the Fifteenth Amendment, and established the whole Jim-Crow structure that ignored (really, made a mockery of) the Fourteenth Amendment’s guaranties.

Congress solved the short-term problem by creating a larger, structural one that would linger for a century.

Dan Morenoff is Executive Director of The Equal Voting Rights Institute.

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[1] Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican nominee, was the Governor of Ohio at the time who had served in the Union army as a Brigadier General; Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic nominee, was the Governor of New York at the time, and earlier had been among the most prominent anti-slavery, pro-union Democrats to remain in the party in 1860.  Indeed, in 1848, Tilden was a founder of Martin Van Buren’s Free Soil Party, who attacked the Whigs (which Hayes then supported) as too supportive of slave-power.

[2] CSA President Jefferson Davis broke West, with the intention of reaching Texas and Arkansas (both unoccupied by the Union and continuing to claim authority from that rump-Confederacy).  His French-speaking Louisianan Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin broke South, pretending to be a lost immigrant peddler as he wound his way to Florida, then took a raft to Cuba as a refugee.  He won asylum, there, with the British embassy and eventually rode to London with the protection of the British Navy – alone among leading Confederates, Benjamin had a successful Second Act, in which he became a leading British lawyer and author of the world’s leading treatise on international taxation.

[3] To this day, it is unclear to what degree John Wilkes Booth was a Confederate operative.  He certainly spied for the CSA.  No correspondence survives to answer whether his assassination of Lincoln was a pre-planned CSA operation or freelancing after Richmond’s fall.

[4] He survived impeachment by a single vote.

Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In the mid-nineteenth century, the providential idea of Manifest Destiny drove Americans to move west. They traveled along various overland trails and railroads to Oregon, California, Colorado, and the Dakota Territory in search of land and gold. Native Americans who lived and hunted in the West were alarmed at white encroachment on their lands, which were usually protected by treaties. The conflict led to several violent clashes throughout the West.

Tensions with Native Americans simmered in the early 1870s. The Transcontinental Railroad contributed to western development and the integration of national markets, but it also intruded on Native American lands. Two military expeditions were dispatched to Montana to protect the railroad and its workers in 1872. In 1874, gold was reportedly discovered in the Black Hills in modern-day South Dakota within the Great Sioux Reservation. By the end of 1875, 15,000 prospectors and miners were in the Black Hills searching for gold.

Some Indians resisted. Sitting Bull was an elite Lakota Sioux war leader who had visions and dreams. Moreover, Oglala Lakota supreme war chief Crazy Horse had a reputation as a fierce warrior. They resisted the reservations and American encroachment on their lands and were willing to unite and fight against it.

In early November 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant met with General Philip Sheridan and others on Indian policy at the White House. They issued an ultimatum for all Sioux outside the reservation to go there by January 31, 1876 or be considered hostile. The Sioux ignored it. Sitting Bull said, “I will not go to the reservation. I have no land to sell. There is plenty of game for us. We have enough ammunition. We don’t want any white men here.”

That spring, the Cheyenne, Oglala, and Sioux tribes in the area decided to unite through the summer and fight the Americans. In the spring, Sitting Bull called for warriors to assemble at his village for war. Nearly two thousand warriors assembled, many were armed with the latest repeating Springfield rifles.

That spring, Sitting Bull had visions of victory over the white man. In mid-May, he fasted and purified himself in a ritual called the Sun Dance. After 50 small strips of flesh had been cut from each arm, he had a vision of whites coming into their camp and suffering a great defeat.

After discovering the approximate location of Sitting Bull’s village, General Alfred Terry met with Colonel George Custer and Colonel John Gibbon on the Yellowstone River to formulate a plan. They agreed upon a classic hammer and anvil attack in which Custer would proceed down the Rosebud River and attack the village, while Terry and Gibbon went down the Yellowstone and Little Bighorn Rivers to block any escape. Custer had 40 Arikara scouts with him to find the enemy.

On June 23 and 24, the Arikara scouts found evidence that Sitting Bull’s village had recently occupied the area. The exhausted Seventh Cavalry stopped for the night at 2 a.m. on June 25. The scouts meanwhile sighted a massive herd of ponies and sent a message to wake Custer. When a frightened scout, Bloody Knife, warned they would “find enough Sioux to keep us fighting two or three days,” Custer arrogantly replied, “I guess we’ll get through them in one day.” His greater fear was that the village would escape his clutches. He ordered his men to form up for battle.

Around noon, Custer led the Seventh into the valley and divided his men as he had during the Battle of Washita. He sent Captain Frederick Benteen to the left with 120 men to block any escape, while Custer and Major Marcus Reno advanced on the right along the Sun Dance Creek.

Custer and Reno spotted 40 to 50 warriors fleeing toward the main village. Custer further divided his army, sending Reno in pursuit and himself continuing along the right flank. Prodding his men with some bluster, Custer told them, “Boys, hold your horses. There are plenty of them down there for all of us.”

Reno’s men crossed the Little Bighorn and fired at noncombatants. Hundreds of Indian warriors started arriving to face Reno. Reno downed a great deal of whiskey and ordered his soldiers to dismount and form a skirmish line. They were outnumbered and were quickly overwhelmed by the Native Americans’ onslaught and running low on ammunition.

Reno’s men retreated to some woods along the bank of the river to find cover but were soon flushed out, though fifteen men remained there, hidden and frightened. The warriors routed Reno’s troops and killed several during their retreat back across the river. Reno finally organized eighty men on a hill and fought off several charges.

Benteen soon reinforced Reno as did the fifteen men from the thicket who also made it to what is now called Reno Hill, and the pack train with ammunition and supplies arrived as well. No one knew where Custer was. The men built entrenchments made of ammunition and hardtack boxes, saddles, and even dead horses. For more than three hours in the 100-degree heat, they fought off a continuous stream of attacking warriors by the hundreds and were saved only by the arrival of darkness. Reno’s exhausted and thirsty men continued to dig in and fortify their barricades.

The attacks resumed around that night and lasted all morning. Benteen and Reno organized charges that momentarily pushed back the Sioux and Cheyenne, and a few men sneaked down to the Little Bighorn for water. The fighting lasted until mid-afternoon when the warriors broke off to follow the large dust cloud of the departing village. The soldiers on the hill feared a trick and kept watch all night for the enemy’s return.

General Terry’s army was camped to the north when his Crow scouts reported to him at sunrise on June 26 that they had found the battlefield where two hundred men of the Seventh Regiment had been overwhelmed and killed making a last stand on a hill. The next day, Terry arrived at Last Stand Hill and morosely confirmed that Custer and his men were dead. The bad news sobered the celebration of the United States’ centennial when it arrived in the East.

Despite the destruction of Custer and his men at Little Bighorn, the Indian Wars of the late nineteenth century were devastating for Native American tribes and their cultures. Their populations suffered heavy losses, and they lost their tribal grounds for hunting and agriculture. In the early twentieth century, the U.S. government restricted most Indians to reservations as Americans settled the West. Many Americans saw the reservation system as a more humane alternative to war, but it wrought continued damage to Native American cultures.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

An attorney representing Alexander Graham Bell and his business partner, Gardiner Hubbard, filed a patent application for an invention entitled an “Improvement in Telegraphy” on February 14, 1876. That same day, Elisha Gray, a prominent inventor from Highland Park, Illinois, had applied for a patent caveat for a similar invention from the same office. On March 7, Bell’s patent was approved by the patent office and the battle over the rights to the invention that we now know as the telephone began. The eventual outcome would shape the development of a major industry and the opportunities for communication and social interaction for the entire country.

The invention came from an unlikely source. Alexander Graham Bell was a Scottish-born teacher of elocution and tutor to the deaf whose family had migrated to Ontario, Canada, after the death of two of Bell’s siblings. Alexander Melville Bell, Alexander Graham Bell’s father, believed that their new home in Ontario offered them a better, more healthful climate. The elder Bell was a student of phonetics who had developed a system of “Visible Speech” to allow deaf people the chance to speak intelligibly. Melville Bell lectured periodically at the Lowell Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, and his son Alexander moved to Boston permanently to assume a teaching position at the Boston University.[1]

Though trained in acoustics and the science behind the sounds of the human voice, Bell did not have a strong understanding of electrical currents or electromagnetism. But early on he realized that the magnetic field of an electrical current was capable of vibrating objects, such as a tuning fork, which could create audible sounds. As he was learning of how electrical currents could be used for sound production, other researchers such as Joseph Stearns and Thomas Edison were developing a system of telegraph transmission in which multiple signals could be sent over the same wire at the same time. These systems relied upon sending the series of dots and dashes at different frequencies. Bell joined that research to find a better “multiplex” telegraph. In order to develop what Bell called a “harmonic telegraph,” Bell needed more funds for his lab. Much of his funding came from a notable Boston attorney, Gardiner Hubbard, who hired Bell as a teacher of his daughter, Mabel, who had become deaf after a bout with scarlet fever. Hubbard, who had a dislike for Western Union’s dominance in long-distance telegraph service, encouraged and subsidized Bell’s research on telegraphy. Hubbard and another financial backer, Thomas Sanders, formed a partnership with Bell, with an agreement that all three hold joint ownership of the patent rights for Bell’s inventions. Bell made significant progress on his research, and had more success in his private life. Mabel Hubbard, who was his student, became his betrothed. Despite the initial objections of her father, Mabel married Bell shortly after her eighteenth birthday.[2]

Other inventers were hard at work on similar lines of research. Daniel Drawbaugh, Antonio Meucci, Johann Philipp Reis, and especially Elisha Gray all were developing alternative versions of what would soon be known as the telephone while Bell was hard at work on his project.  Most of these models involved a variable resistance method of modifying the electrical current by dipping wires into a container of liquid, often mercury or sulfuric acid, to alter the current flowing to a set of reeds or diaphragm that would emit various sounds. Most of these researchers knew more about electrical currents and devices than Bell did. But Bell had a solid understanding of the human voice. Even though his research began as an effort to improve telegraphy, Bell realized that the devices that he created could be designed to replicate speech. His patent application in February of 1876 was for a telephone transmitter that employed a magnetized reed attached to a membrane diaphragm when activated by an undulating current. The device described in the patent application could transmit sounds but not actual speech. Months later, however, Bell’s instrument was improved sufficiently to allow him to convey a brief, audible message to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, who was in another part of his laboratory. In the summer of 1876, Bell demonstrated the transmission of audible speech to an amazed crowd at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Elisha Gray attempted to demonstrate his version of the telephone at the same exhibition, but was unable to convey the sound of human voices. The following year, Bell filed and received a patent for his telephone receiver, assuring his claim to devices that would both transmit and receive voice communications.[3]

In 1877, Bell and his partners formed the American Bell Telephone Company, a corporation that would later be known as American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). The corporation and Bell personally were soon involved in a number of lawsuits alleging patent infringement and, in one case, patent cancellation. There were many litigants over the years, but the primary early adversary was Western Union, which had purchased the rights to Elisha Gray’s telephone patent. The United States federal government also was involved in a suit for patent cancellation, alleging that Bell gained his patents fraudulently by stealing the inventions of others. The lawsuit with Western Union was settled in 1879 when the corporation forfeited claims on the invention of the telephone in return for twenty percent of Bell’s company’s earnings for the duration of the patent.[4] The other lawsuits meandered through multiple courts over several years until several were consolidated before the United States Supreme Court. Ultimately, a divided court ruled in favor of Bell’s position in each case. The various opinions and appendices were so voluminous that when compiled they made up the entire volume of United States Reports, the official publication of Supreme Court opinions.[5]

The court decisions ultimately granted vast scope to the Bell patent and assigned an enormously profitable asset to Bell’s corporation. The firm that became AT&T grew into one of the largest corporations in the world.[6] Years earlier, the telegraph had transformed communication, with huge impacts on the operation of industry and government. But although the telegraph had enormous impact upon the lives of ordinary Americans, it was not widely used by private individuals for their personal communications. Almost all messages were sent by businesses and government agencies. Initially, this was the common practice for telephone usage. But with the dawn of the twentieth century, telephones became widely used by private individuals. More phones were available in homes rather than just in offices. Unlike telegrams, which were charged by the word, telephone service for local calls were priced with a flat monthly rate. As a result, telephone service was enjoyed as a means of communication for social purposes, not just commercial activities.    Within a hundred years of Bell’s initial patent, telephones could be found in almost every American home.[7]

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. He is the co-author of Institutional Constraint and Policy Choice: An Exploration of Local Governance and co-editor of Kentucky Government, Politics, and Policy. Dr. Clinger is the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board, a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, and a former firefighter for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department.

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[1] Billington, David P. “Bell and the Telephone.” In Power, Speed, and Form: Engineers and the Making of the Twentieth Century, 35-56. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006.

[2] Billington, op cit.

[3] Stone, Alan. “Protection of the Newborn.” In Public Service Liberalism: Telecommunications and Transitions in Public Policy, 51-83. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

[4] MacDougall, Robert. “Unnatural Monopoly.” In The People’s Network: The Political Economy of the Telephone in the Gilded Age, 92-131. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.

[5] The Telephone Cases.  126 US 1.

[6] Beauchamp, Christopher. “Who Invented the Telephone? Lawyers, Patents, and the Judgments of History.” Technology and Culture 51, no. 4 (2010): 854-78.

[7] MacDougall, Robert. “Visions of Telephony.” In The People’s Network: The Political Economy of the Telephone in the Gilded Age, 61-91. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.


Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

Our National Parks are the most visible manifestation of why America is exceptional.

America’s Parks are the physical touchstones that affirm our national identity. These historical Parks preserve our collective memory of events that shaped our nation and the natural Parks preserve the environment that shaped us.

National Parks are open for all to enjoy, learn, and contemplate. This concept of preserving a physical space for the sole purpose of public access is a uniquely American invention. It further affirms why America remains an inspiration to the world.

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the law creating Yellowstone as the world’s first National Park.

AN ACT to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming … is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate, or settle upon, or occupy the same or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed there from …

The Yellowstone legislation launched a system that now encompasses 419 National Parks with over 84 million acres. Inspired by Grant’s act, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand established their own National Parks during the following years.

Yellowstone was not predestined to be the first National Park.

In 1806, John Colter, a member of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, joined fur trappers to explore several Missouri River tributaries. Colter entered the Yellowstone area in 1807 and later reported on a dramatic landscape of “fire and brimstone.”  His description was rejected as too fanciful and labeled “Colter’s Hell.”

Over the years, other trappers and “mountain men” shared stories of fantastic landscapes of water gushing out of the ground and rainbow-colored hot springs. They were all dismissed as fantasy.

After America’s Civil War, formal expeditions were launched to explore the upper Yellowstone River system. Settlers and miners were interested in the economic potential of the region.

In 1869, Charles Cook, David Folsom, and William Peterson led a privately financed survey of the region. Their journals and personal accounts provided the first believable descriptions of Yellowstone’s natural wonders.

Reports from the Cook-Folsom Expedition encouraged the first official government survey in 1870. Henry Washburn, the Surveyor General of the Montana Territory, led a large team known as the Washburn-Langford-Doan Expedition to the Yellowstone area. Nathaniel P. Langford, who co-led the team, was a friend of Jay Cook, a major investor in the Northern Pacific Railway. Washburn was escorted by a U.S. Cavalry Unit commanded by Lt. Gustavus Doane. Their team, including Folsom, followed a similar course as the Cook-Folsom 1869 excursion, extensively documenting their observations of the Yellowstone area. They explored numerous lakes, mountains, and observed wildlife. The Expedition chronicled the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins. They named one geyser Old Faithful, as it erupted once every 74 minutes.

Upon their return, Cook combined Washburn’s and Folsom’s journals into a single version. He submitted it to the New York Tribune and Scribner’s for publication. Both rejected the manuscript as “unreliable and improbable” even with the military’s corroboration. Fortunately, another member of Washburn’s Expedition, Cornelius Hedges, submitted several articles about Yellowstone to the Helena Herald newspaper from 1870 to 1871. Hedges would become one of the original advocates for setting aside the Yellowstone area as a National Park.

Langford, who would become Yellowstone’s first park superintendent, reported to Cooke about his observations. While Cooke was primarily interested in how Yellowstone’s wonders and resources could attract railroad business, he supported Langford’s vision of establishing a National Park. Cooke financed Langford’s Yellowstone lectures in Virginia City, Helena, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

On January 19, 1871, geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden attended Langford’s speech in Washington, D.C. He was motivated to conduct his next geological survey in the Yellowstone region.

In 1871, Hayden organized the first federally funded survey of the Yellowstone region. His team included photographer William Henry Jackson, and landscape artist Thomas Moran. Hayden’s reports on the geysers, sulfur springs, waterfalls, canyons, lakes and streams of Yellowstone verified earlier reports. Jackson’s and Moran’s images provided the first visual proof of Yellowstone’s unique natural features.

The various expeditions and reports built the case for preservation instead of exploitation.

In October 1865, acting Montana Territorial Governor Thomas Francis Meagher, was the first public official recommending that the Yellowstone region should be protected. In an 1871 letter from Jay Cooke to Hayden, Cooke wrote that his friend, Congressman William D. Kelley was suggesting “Congress pass a bill reserving the Great Geyser Basin as a public park forever.”

Hayden became another leader for establishing Yellowstone as a National Park. He was concerned the area could face the same fate as the overly developed and commercialized Niagara Falls area. Yellowstone should, “be as free as the air or water.” In his report to the Committee on Public Lands, Hayden declared that if Yellowstone was not preserved, “the vandals who are now waiting to enter into this wonder-land, will in a single season despoil, beyond recovery, these remarkable curiosities, which have required all the cunning skill of nature thousands of years to prepare.”

Langford, and a growing number of park advocates, promoted the Yellowstone bill in late 1871 and early 1872.  They raised the alarm that “there were those who would come and make merchandise of these beautiful specimen.”

Their proposed legislation drew upon the precedent of the Yosemite Act of 1864, which barred settlement and entrusted preservation of the Yosemite Valley to the state of California.

Park advocates faced spirited opposition from mining and development interests who asserted that permanently banning settlement of a public domain the size of Yellowstone would depart from the established policy of transferring public lands to private ownership (in the 1980s, $1 billion of exploitable deposits of gold and silver were discovered within miles of the Park).  Developers feared that the regional economy would be unable to thrive if there remained strict federal prohibitions against resource development or settlement within park boundaries. Some tried to reduce the proposed size of the park so that mining, hunting, and logging activities could be developed.

Fortunately, Jackson’s photographs and Moran’s paintings captured the imagination of Congress. These compelling images, and the credibility of the Hayden report, persuaded the United States Congress to withdraw the Yellowstone region from public auction. The Establishment legislation quickly passed both chambers and was sent to President Grant for his signature.

Grant, an early advocate of preserving America’s unique natural features, enthusiastically signed the bill into law.

On September 8, 1978, Yellowstone and Mesa Verde were the first U.S. National Parks designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Yellowstone was deemed a “resource of universal value to the world community.”

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.

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Guest Essayist: Brian Pawlowski

The stories of our history connect generations across time in remarkable ways. The same giddy fascination Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant held for the potential of the railroad in the nineteenth century is present in countless children today. They tear through books like Locomotive by Brian Floca until the pages are nearly torn from constant re-reading. It is a wonderful book that conveys both the magnitude and the majesty of the transcontinental railroad in an accessible way. A more thorough treatment of the railroad, Nothing in the World Like It: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, written by historian Stephen Ambrose perhaps summarized it best by noting that, “Next to winning the Civil War and abolishing slavery, building the first transcontinental railroad, from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California, was the greatest achievement of the American people in the 19th century.”[1] Making this achievement all the more remarkable is the fact that it was hatched as the Civil War was raging: a project to connect a continent that was at war with itself.

In 1862, only a few months after the Union victory at Shiloh and just a month before the battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act into law. It called for the construction of a railway from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California. It appropriated government lands and bonds to corporations that would do the work, the first time government dollars were granted to any entity other than states. The companies, the Union Pacific starting in Omaha, and the Central Pacific begun in Sacramento, were in direct competition to lay as much track as possible and complete the nearly 2,000 miles that would be necessary for the railroad.

Construction technically began in 1863 but the war demanded men and material in such large proportion that no real progress was made until 1865. After the war, the railroads became engines of economic development that attracted union veterans and Irish immigrants in droves to the Union Pacific’s efforts. The Central Pacific sought a similar workforce, but the population of Irish immigrants in California at the time was not a sustainable source of labor. Instead, thousands of Chinese immigrants sought employment with the railroad. Initially there was resistance to Chinese workers. Fears of racial inferiority pervaded much of California at that time and many felt the Chinese were listless and lazy. These fears dissipated quickly, however, as the Chinese worked diligently, with skill and ingenuity that allowed them to push through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Before it was done, nearly 20,000 Chinese laborers took part building the railroad, employing new techniques and utilizing new materials like nitroglycerin to carve a path for the tracks in areas where no one thought it could be done.

In the summer of 1867, the Central Pacific finally made it through the mountains. While the entire effort represented a new level of engineering brilliance and innovation for its time, the Central Pacific’s thrust through the mountains surpassed expectations. To chart a course for rail through granite, an impediment no one in history to that time had crossed on anything other than horse or foot, ushered in a new era of more rapid continental movement. Before the railroad era, it took nearly four or five months to get from the east coast to the west. Upon completion, however, the trip could take as little as three and a half days.[2] Absent the ability to go through the mountains, this would not have been possible.

Throughout 1867 and 1868, both rail companies worked feverishly to lay more track than their counterpart. Government subsidies for the work increased and more track laid meant more money earned. The amounts were different and were measured by the mile, thus reflecting the difficulty the Central Pacific faced in conquering the mountains. By not having mountainous terrain to contend with, the Union Pacific made incredible progress and reached Wyoming by 1867. But the Union Pacific had challenges of a different sort. Rather than conquering nature, they had to conquer humans.

Native American plains tribes, the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho, knew the railroad would be a permanent feature on land that was prime hunting ground for the buffalo. They saw the construction as an existential threat. As the railroad continued on into the plains, new settlements sprang up in its shadow, on territory the tribes claimed as their own.[3] There was bound to be a fight. The railway companies called on the government to send the army to pacify the territory and threatened that construction could not continue without this aid. The government complied and as work resumed, army soldiers protected them along the construction route.

As the summer of 1869 approached, a standoff occurred between the companies on the location where they would join the railroad together. Ulysses S. Grant, by then the President, threatened to cut off federal funding until a meeting place was agreed to and ultimately, with the help of a congressional committee and the cold, hard reality of needing cash, they agreed on Promontory Summit, Utah. On May 10, 1869, a 17.6 karat golden spike was hammered home, finishing the railway and connecting the coasts.

The completion of the transcontinental railway brought about an era of unprecedented western expansion, economic development, and population migration. At the same time, it caused more intense conflict between those moving and developing the west and the Native American Indian tribes. Years of conflict would follow, but the settlement of the west continued. And with the new railroad in place, it continued at a rapid pace as more and more people boarded mighty locomotives to head west toward new lands and new lives. As Daniel Webster, a titan of the era remarked nearly twenty years earlier, the railway “towers above all other inventions of this or the preceding age” and it now had continental reach and power.[4] America endured the scourge of Civil War and achieved the most magnificent engineering effort of the era only five years after the guns fell silent at Appomattox.

Brian Pawlowski holds an MA in American History, is a member of the American Enterprise Institute’s state leadership network, and served as an intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps. 

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[1] Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing in the World Like It: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), 17.

[2], Transcontinental Railroad, September 11, 2019,

[3] H.W. Brands, Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West (New York: Basic Books, 2019), 295.

[4] Ambrose, 357.

Guest Essayist: Kyle A. Scott

The Seventeenth Amendment was passed by Congress May 13, 1912 and ratified on April 8, 1913. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan certified the ratification on May 31, 1913. Once the Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution, citizens had the right to directly cast ballots for their state’s two senators. The Amendment changed Article I, Section 3, clauses 1 and 3 of the Constitution that had previously stipulated senators were to be elected by state legislatures. By allowing for the direct election of senators, a barrier was removed between the people and the government that moved the U.S. closer to democracy and away from a republican form of government.

At the time the U.S. Constitution was being drafted, there was a clear apprehension toward monarchy but also an aversion toward democracy. The founders were suspicious of the capricious tendencies of the majority and considered democracy to be mob rule. With direct elections of members in the House of Representatives every two years, representatives could be swept into and out of office with great efficiency and would therefore bow to the will of the majority. If some interest that ran counter to the common good, but nonetheless gained the favor of the majority, the House would be ill-incentivized to look after the common good. The Senate, as it was not directly elected by the people, could be a check on the passions of the majority. In Federalist Paper #63 Publius wrote, “an institution may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions.”

Prior to the formation of the United States it was assumed that republics could only be small in scale. James Madison refuted such luminaries as Baron de Montesquieu in offering a solution to the problem of scale by introducing multiple layers of checks and balances into a federal regime that included a check on democratic rule at the national level. With the senate serving as a bulwark against the threat of tyranny by the majority, every viable interest could be given representation in the national debate. Now that this bulwark has been replaced with democratic elections, the president is now the only elected official at the national level shielded—at least somewhat—from public opinion as the president is elected not by the people but through the Electoral College.

At the time the Constitution was being drafted, some in Philadelphia believed there was a strong push for states’ rights. The Articles of Confederation provided a weak central government and the new states were reluctant to give up their power to a central body as they had just thrown off the yoke of tyranny hoisted upon them by a centralized governing body. The election of senators by state legislatures was one way to assuage those concerns. In Federalist Paper #62, Publius writes, “Among the various modes which might have been devised for constituting this branch of the government, that which has been proposed by the convention is probably the most congenial to public opinion. It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government.” It was thought that the state’s interests would be represented in the Senate and popular interests would be represented in the House. With these sets of interests competing, the popular good would be represented in any bill that would be able to make its way through both chambers of congress. This was the very core of the theory of our constitutional government as envisioned and understood by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Both Madison and Hamilton argued that ambition should be made to counteract ambition and through the competition of ambitions the common good would be realized. It is only in republican government that the negative effects of faction can be mitigated and the positive aspects funneled into the realization of the common good. “The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater the number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.” (Federalist Paper #10).

The risks associated with democratization threaten the balance and principles republican regimes aspire to. Democracy aspires to nothing but its own will. Direct democracy offers too few safeguards against whimsy and caprice. In democracies, individuals are left to put their interests above all others and be guided by little more than immediate need as long-term planning is disincentivized.

Understanding the ramifications of further democratization is a timely topic as it is likely to be widely discussed in popular media in the upcoming presidential election. We see in every election a push for eliminating the Electoral College. With every passing election the cries for reform grow louder. Those who value republican principles should equip themselves to defend republican principles and institutions with evidence and theory and not rely on self-interest, cliché, or partisan allegiance. If interested, reread the Federalist Papers, but also, go back and read the press clippings from 1912-1913 and look for parallels to today. What you will find is a sense of connectedness with previous eras that will let the reader know these are permanent questions worth taking seriously.

Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA, currently works in higher education administration and has taught American politics, Constitutional Law, and political theory for more than a decade at the university level. He is the author of five books and more than a dozen peer-reviewed articles. His most recent book is The Federalist Papers: A Reader’s Guide. Kyle can be contacted at

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Guest Essayist: David Shestokas


It’s difficult to determine a precise moment when Russia came to dominate recent American news and politics. The events that may have spun Russia into part of America’s daily discussions may have been accusations of Russia’s involvement in the 216 elections.

Since then, Russia and the villainous Vladimir Putin have been a daily part of our political discourse. Even as the novel coronavirus raged, mentions of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Lt. General Michael Flynn broke through coverage of the pandemic.


Russia has not always been a mortal enemy in the American story. America’s Founders reached out to Russia in our earliest days. In December, 1780, the United States sent its first envoy to St. Petersburg, then Russia’s capital. The envoy, Francis Dana, brought a secretary with him.

The secretary was fourteen-year-old John Quincy Adams. Dana could speak no word of French, the language of the Russian court, and so John Adams[1] had lent Dana his son, who was fluent in French. Young John Quincy thus became a diplomatic interpreter.

Dana’s mission was to secure aid and support from Tsarina Catherine I for the American Revolution against England. The mission was unsuccessful, but for three years John Quincy became familiar with the workings of Russia’s ruling class. Catherine’s grandson was about the royal court during John Quincy’s tenure in St. Petersburg. In 1801, the grandson would become Tsar Alexander I.

Twenty-six years later, after John Quincy’s father had been President of the United States and Alexander’s father had preceded him as tsar, John Quincy returned to St. Petersburg. In November, 1809, Tsar Alexander I received John Quincy Adams as the first official United States Ambassador to Russia.

The Tsar greeted Adams warmly: “Monsieur, je suis charmé d’avoir le plaisir de vous voir ici.”[2] After this warm welcome, Ambassador Adams and Tsar Alexander spoke at length of trade, European politics, wars and Napoleon, the sometime ally, sometime adversary of both Russia and the United States.

The Tsar became ever more comfortable with his American guest, ultimately confiding the difficulties of managing his empire. Alexander revealed to John Quincy: “Its size is one of its greatest evils,” the Czar mused of his own country. “It is difficult to hold together so great a body as this empire.”

Ambassador Adams included the Tsar’s comment in his diplomatic dispatch to the State Department and President Monroe. It became part of the institutional memory of the United States, a country that only six years before had bought Louisiana from Napoleon.[3]


In July, 1741, Vitus Bering, a Russian naval officer culminated years of Russian eastward exploration with the sighting of Mount Saint Elias (a.k.a. Boundary Peak) on the North America mainland. The coming years would see periodic trips by Russian hunters and trappers.

In 1781 the Northeastern Company was established to organize and administer Russian colonies in North America. Company operations were directed from Kithtak (now Kodiak Island) and later from Novo-Arkhangelsk (now Sitka, Alaska).

For the next 70 years, Russian traders and trappers inhabited coastal Alaska. The Russian colonists regularly had violent confrontations with Native Alaskans. The Russian colonies grew in dependence upon both American and British traders for supplies. Alaska was not a profitable undertaking for Russia.


Then came the Crimean War (1854-1856) with Russia facing off against France, England and Turkey. The war did not end well for Russia; the loss was great in both blood and treasure. The monarchy needed to replenish its coffers, and the possible sale of Alaska seemed to hold an answer. Beyond the tsar’s need for cash, the Russians felt unable to defend Alaska should either the British or Americans move to take it.[4]

Even after the Crimean War, England remained a Russian adversary.  England was undesirable as an Alaskan neighbor, so the best scenario would be a sale to the United States.

In 1855, Tsar Alexander II had become emperor of Russia. He was the nephew of Alexander I who had confided to John Quincy Adams the difficulties of managing his distant empire. Given post Crimean War realities and aware of his uncle’s wisdom, a sale of Alaska to the United States appeared to be the best Russian course of action.

Russian Ambassador Eduard de Stoeckl was directed to actively pursue a sale in 1859. Stoeckl’s overtures included discussions with, among others, then New York Senator, William H. Seward. In 1861, the United States Civil War erupted. Discussions of Russia’s sale of Alaska to the United States fell silent.


The United States Civil War was not only of interest to the Union and the Confederacy. Both parties were actively involved in seeking either international support or neutrality. The Confederacy had courted both the British and French. The Rebels had a fair chance of receiving aid from either.

In Europe, relations remained tense between the Crimean War foes.  Although, Russia had lost that war, it had taken a devastating toll on all participants. In the short three-year span of the war, Britain had lost 22,000 soldiers. Against this background, the French and English entertained Confederate overtures.

The Russians viewed a strong unified United States as a counterweight to its European foes and a Union victory to be in Russia’s interests. In the summer of 1863, the Russian Baltic Fleet set sail for New York. The Russian Far East Fleet journeyed to San Francisco. President Abraham Lincoln sent the First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, to greet the Russians in New York in September, 1863.

Overt assistance for the Confederacy by England or France disappeared. The Russians had tilted the playing field in favor of the Union. In 1865, the Civil War ended with a Union victory and no active participation by the French, English or Russians.


After the Civil War, Alexander II resumed pursuit of an Alaskan sale. Stoeckl began negotiating with William Seward who became Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. Over the next two years, issues of reconstruction, Lincoln’s assassination and mid-19th Century communications hampered U.S./Russia negotiations.

Things changed the evening of March 29, 1867, while Secretary Seward was at his Washington, D.C. home, playing whist with his family. The whist game was interrupted by a knock at the door. It was Baron Eduard de Stoeckl, Minister Plenipotentiary and Ambassador of the Russian Tsar.

Stoeckl advised Seward: “I have a dispatch from my government. The Emperor gives his consent to the cession. Tomorrow if you like. I will come to the department and we can enter upon the treaty.”

Seward, with a smile of satisfaction responded: “Why wait until tomorrow? Let us make the treaty tonight.”

Stoeckl demurred: “But your department is closed, you have no clerks and my secretaries are scattered about the town!”

“Never mind that,” responded Seward, “if you can muster your legation together before midnight you will find me awaiting you there at the department, which will be open and ready for business.”

Carriages were dispatched around Washington and by 4 AM, March 30, 1867 the treaty was signed, engrossed and ready for presidential transmittal to the United States Senate for ratification.


President Andrew Johnson submitted the treaty to the Senate that same Saturday.

Seward had known that Congress was scheduled to adjourn for two months. Due to receipt of the treaty, the Senate set a special session for Monday, April 1, 1867. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings that entire week, then reported the treaty favorably.

Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, spoke in favor of the purchase for three hours. On April 9, 1867, just ten days after Stoeckl interrupted Seward’s whist game, the Senate ratified the treaty 37-2.

Though drafting and ratification took only ten days, it was nearly 68 years after Alexander I mentioned problems managing his empire to John Quincy Adams.

There remained appropriation of the $7.2 million for the purchase by the full Congress, which took place on July 27, 1867.

On October 18, 1867, in a formal ceremony, the United States took possession of Alaska. For the nearly 600,000 square miles, the United States paid about 2 cents an acre. Alaska was a better deal than Louisiana. October 18 is celebrated annually as a state holiday in Alaska.


The natural resources and strategic location of Alaska that came with the purchase cannot be understated. The gold rush that the Russians feared in 1855 came to pass in 1896. Alaska contributes to the American economy through its riches in oil, minerals, precious metals, seafood, timber, and tourism. Alaska is the second largest crude oil producer in the country and the salmon run in Alaska’s Bristol Bay basin is the largest in the world.

America’s Founders recognized the value of a cordial relationship with Russia and began working on it in 1780. The benefits of that effort came to fruition on October 18, 1867 with the peaceful acquisition of Alaska.

While the connotation of the mantra RUSSIA!!! RUSSIA!!! RUSSIA!!! differs greatly from 1780 to 2020, it has been part of the American lexicon through our entire history.

David Shestokas, J.D., is a former Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney and author of Constitutional Sound Bites and Creating the Declaration of Independence. Follow him on Twitter, @shestokas, and join his Facebook group, Dave Shestokas on the Constitution

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[1] The Second President and First Vice-President had been the fledgling country’s envoy to France from 1777 to 1779 and his son, John Quincy had been with him.

[2] “Sir, I am delighted to have the pleasure of seeing you here.”

[3] Napoleon needed money for war in Europe, France’s Louisiana territory was 828,000 square miles, and the $15 million purchase price was about 3 cents/acre.

[4] Alaska would prove to hold a wealth of natural resources, including gold.  Strangely, this was of actual concern to Russia. The 1848 gold discovery in California brought in more than 300,000 people in 7 years. The Russians had no ability to manage a similar event in Alaska. They would be better off to sell the land rather than have it taken.

Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

On September 5, 1867, the first Texas cattle were shipped from the railhead in Abilene, Kansas, with most of the livestock ending their destination in a slaughterhouse in Chicago, Illinois. These cattle made a long, none too pleasant journey from south Texas to central Kansas.   Their hardships were shared by cowboys and cattlemen who drove their herds hundreds of miles to find a better market for their livestock. For almost two decades, cattle drives from Texas were undertaken by beef producers who found that the northern markets were much more lucrative than those they had been dealing with back home. These drives ended after a combination of economic, legal, and technological changes made the long drives impractical or infeasible.

After the end of the civil war, much of the economy of the old Confederacy was in shambles. In Texas, the rebels returning home often found their livestock scattered and their ranches and farms unkempt and overgrown. Once the Texas ranchers reassembled their herds, they found that the local market for beef was very limited. The ranchers’ potential customers in the region had little money with which to buy beef and there was no way to transport livestock to distant markets except by ships that sailed off the Gulf coast. The major railroad lines did not reach Texas until the 1870s. Many of the cattlemen were “cattle rich but cash poor,” and it did not appear that there was any easy way to remedy their situation.[1]

Several cattlemen, cattle traders, and cattle buyers developed a solution.   Rather than sell locally, or attempt to transport cattle by water at high costs, cattle were to be driven along trails to railheads up north. Among the first of these was Abilene, Kansas, but other “cow towns,” such as Ellsworth and Dodge City, quickly grew from small villages to booming cities. This trek required very special men, horses, and cattle.   The men who drove the cattle were mostly young, adventurous, hardened cowhands who were willing to work for about $30 per month in making a trek of two months or more. Several Texas-bred horses were supplied for each cowhand to ride, for it was common for the exertions of each day to wear out several horses. The cattle themselves differed significantly from their bovine brethren in other parts of the continent.   These were Texas Longhorns, mostly steers, which were adorned with massive horns and a thick hide. The meat of the Longhorns was not considered choice by most connoisseurs, but these cattle could travel long distances, go without water for days, and resist many infectious diseases that would lay low cattle of other breeds.

Most cattle drives followed along the path of a number of trails from Texas through the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) into Kansas.   The most famous of the trails was the Chisholm Trail, named after Jesse Chisholm, a trader of cattle and other goods with outposts along the North Canadian River in northern Texas and along the Little Arkansas in southern Kansas. The drives ended in a variety of Kansas towns, notably Abilene, after some entrepreneurial cattle buyers, such as Joseph McCoy and his brothers, promoted the obscure train stop as a place where Texas cattle could be shipped by rail to market.[2] The cattle drives had emerged as an entrepreneurial solution to desperate circumstances where economic gains were blocked by geographic, technological, and legal obstacles.

The cow towns grew rapidly in size and prosperity, although many faltered after the cattle drives ended. The cattle and cowboys were not always welcomed. Many Kansas farmers and homesteaders believed that the Longhorns brought diseases such as “Texas Fever” that would infect and kill their own cattle. The disease known today as Babesiosis was caused by parasites carried by ticks that attached themselves to Texas steers. The Longhorn cattle had developed an immunity to the disease, but the northern cattle had not. The ticks on the hides of the Texas cattle often traveled to the hides of the livestock in Kansas, with lethal results.[3]   The Kansas farmers demanded and gained a number of state laws prohibiting the entry of Texas cattle. These laws were circumvented or simply weakly enforced until the 1880s. At first glance, these laws might appear to conflict with the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 3, which authorized Congress, not the states, to regulate commerce among states. Yet, the federal Supreme Court ruled in 1886 in the case of Morgan’s Steamship Company v. Louisiana Board of Health that quarantine laws and general regulation of public health were permissible exercises of their police powers, although they could be preempted by an act of Congress.[4]

The cattle drives faced many hazards on their long treks to the north.   Harsh terrain, inclement weather, hostile Indians, rustlers, and unwelcoming Kansas farmers often made the journey difficult.   Nevertheless, for about twenty years the trail drives continued and were mostly profitable. Even after the railroads reached Fort Worth, Texas, many cattlemen still found it more profitable to make the long journey to Kansas to ship their beef. Cattle prices were higher in Abilene, and the costs of rail shipment from Fort Worth were, at least in the 1870s, too high to justify ending the trips to Kansas.[5] Eventually the drives did end, although there is some dispute among historians about when and why the cattle drives ceased. By the 1880s, barbed wire fencing blocked the cattle trails at some points. The new railheads in Texas offered alternative routes to livestock markets. Finally, Kansas enacted a strict quarantine law to keep out Texas cattle in 1885. Of course, past quarantine laws had been weakly enforced. State officials seemed to take the 1885 law more seriously. Perhaps economic incentives encouraged stricter quarantine enforcement. The cattle herds of the northern plains had been growing gradually over the years. After the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, the United States Army largely pacified hostile tribes in the Rocky Mountain states, with the result that the cattle industry thrived in Wyoming and Montana. With bigger and more carefully bred livestock available to the Kansas cattle buyers, the need to buy Texas cattle diminished. Enforcing the quarantine laws became less costly to the cattle traders and certainly pleased many of the Kansas farmers who voted in state elections. The end came relatively abruptly. In 1885, approximately 350,000 cattle were driven from Texas to Kansas. The following year, in 1886, there were no drives at all.[6] The cattle drives had emerged in the 1860s as an entrepreneurial solution to desperate circumstances where economic gains were blocked by geographic, technological, and legal obstacles. In the 1880s, the marketplace had been transformed. New barriers to the cattle drive had appeared, but by then the cattlemen in Texas had safer and more cost-effective  means to bring their livestock to market.

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. He is the co-author of Institutional Constraint and Policy Choice: An Exploration of Local Governance and co-editor of Kentucky Government, Politics, and Policy. Dr. Clinger is the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board, a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, and a former firefighter for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department.

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[1] Specht, Joshua. “Market.” In Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America, 119-73. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019.

[2] Gard, Wayne. “Retracing the Chisholm Trail.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 60, no. 1 (1956): 53-68.

[3] Hutson, Cecil Kirk. “Texas Fever in Kansas, 1866-1930.” Agricultural History 68, no. 1 (1994): 74-104.

[4] 118 U.S. 455

[5] Galenson, David. “The Profitability of the Long Drive.” Agricultural History 51, no. 4 (1977): 737-58.

[6] Galenson, David. “The End of the Chisholm Trail.” The Journal of Economic History 34, no. 2 (1974): 350-64.


Guest Essayist: Kyle A. Scott

Notwithstanding the controversy over the causes of the U.S. Civil War, we do know that one of the outcomes was ending slavery through the Thirteenth Amendment. Congress passed the proposed Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865 and it was subsequently ratified on December 6, 1865 by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Upon its ratification, the Thirteenth Amendment made slavery unconstitutional.

Unlike amendments before it, this amendment deserves special consideration due to the unconventional proposal and ratification process.

The proposed amendment passed the Senate on April 8, 1864 and the House on January 31, 1865 with President Abraham Lincoln approving the Joint Resolution to submit the proposed amendment to the states on February 1, 1865. But, it was not until April 9, 1865 that the U.S. Civil War officially ended on the steps of the Appomattox Courthouse when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army to Ulysses S. Grant. This means that all congressional action up to this point took place without the consent of any state in the Confederacy taking part as those states were not represented in congress.

However, once the war ended, the success of the amendment required that some of the former Confederate states ratify the amendment in order to meet the constitutionally mandated minimum proportion of states. Article V of the Constitution requires three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify a proposed amendment before it can become part of the Constitution. There were only twenty-five Union and border states which meant at least two states from the eleven that comprised the Confederacy had to ratify.

The effort to get states to ratify was led by Andrew Johnson who assumed the presidency after Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865. There was a total of thirty-six states which meant at least twenty-seven of the state legislatures had to ratify. It was not guaranteed that all the states that remained in the Union would ratify. For instance, New Jersey, Delaware and Kentucky all initially rejected the amendment.

This is where things get complicated. When Johnson assumed the presidency in April, he ordered his generals to summon new conventions in the Southern states that would be forced to revise constitutions and elect new state legislators before being admitted back into the Union. This was essentially reform through military injunction thus casting doubt on the sovereignty of the states and the free will of the people.

Further complicating the issue of ratification was the Thirty-ninth Congress which refused the inclusion of all the Southern states except Tennessee. So, while the Congress did not recognize the former Confederate states as states—except Tennessee—all the states were considered legal for purposes of ratification as determined by Secretary of State William Seward. Thus, we are presented with a constitutional predicament in which an amendment is ratified by states recognized by the executive branch but not by the legislative branch.

No resolution was formerly adopted, nor reconciliation made, that could bring clarity to this constitutional crisis. Reconstruction continued, and the Thirteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution along with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments—collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments.

The ratification of the Reconstruction Amendments is most aptly characterized as a Second Founding. How the Amendments were ratified occurred outside any reasonable interpretation of Article V or republican principles of representation. Imagine the following scenario. Armed guards move into 51% of American voters’ homes and force them to vote for Candidate A in the next presidential election. If the homeowners do not agree, the armed guards stay. If homeowners agree, and vote for Candidate A, the armed guards leave. This is what occurred during Reconstruction in the South as a state’s inclusion in Congress, and the removal of Union troops, was predicated upon that state’s acquiescence to the demands of the Union which included ratifying the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

Because the amendments were passed in an extra-constitutional manner, we cannot say that they were a continuation of what was laid out in Philadelphia several decades before. This creates an ethical dilemma for historians and legal scholars to consider. Do the ends justify the means or should the letter of the law be subservient to the higher good? To state it more simply: Is ending slavery worth violating the Constitution? Or, should have slavery remained legal until an amendment could be ratified in a manner consistent with Article V and generally accepted principles of representation?

These questions are meant to be hard and they will not be resolved here. What I do propose is that in 1865 the United States decided that the pursuit of the higher good justified a violation of accepted procedures and those who accept the validity of the Reconstruction Amendments today must, at least tacitly, endorse the same.

Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA, currently works in higher education administration and has taught American politics, Constitutional Law, and political theory for more than a decade at the university level. He is the author of five books and more than a dozen peer-reviewed articles. His most recent book is The Federalist Papers: A Reader’s Guide. Kyle can be contacted at

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

Only five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, ending the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in a theater in Washington, D.C. John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate supporter, shot the president who succumbed to his wounds the next day. President Andrew Johnson took Lincoln’s place, and was less supportive of Lincoln’s anti-slavery policies, diluting the abolition of slavery Lincoln envisioned. Johnson was in favor of policies that further disenfranchised free blacks, setting political policies that would weaken the nation’s unity.

Imagine if President Donald Trump were to choose Senator Bernie Sanders as his running mate in November 2020. Would that shock you?

Americans of 1864 must have been shocked to see President Abraham Lincoln, leader of the Republican Party, choose Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as his running mate.

Nothing in the Constitution prohibited it, of course, and once before, America had witnessed a President and Vice from different parties. In 1796 it was accidental; this time it was on purpose.

Andrew Johnson was probably the most politically-qualified VP Lincoln could have chosen. Though totally unschooled, Johnson was the consummate politician. He started political life at age 21 as a Greenville, Tennessee alderman in 1829 and would hold elective office almost continuously for the next thirty-five years, serving as a state legislator, Congressman, two-term Governor of Tennessee and finally Senator from Tennessee.[1] When the Civil War began and Tennessee left the Union, Johnson chose to leave his state rather than break with the Union. Lincoln promptly appointed him Military Governor of Tennessee.

Heading into the 1864 election, the Democratic Party was bitterly split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats. Wars tend to do that. They tend to force people into one camp or the other. To bridge the gap and hopefully unify the party, Democrats found a compromise:  nominate pro-war General George B. McClellan for president and anti-war Representative George H. Pendleton for Vice President. The ticket gathered early support.

Lincoln thought a similar “compromise ticket” was needed. Running once again with Vice President Hannibal Hamlin was out. Hamlin was nice enough, a perfect gentleman who even volunteered for a brief stint in his Maine militia unit during the war, but Hamlin had not played a very prominent role in Lincoln’s administration during the first term. Hamlin had to go. Johnson was in.

To complicate electoral matters further, a group of disenchanted “Radical Republicans” who thought Lincoln too moderate formed the Radical Democracy Party a month before the Republican Convention and nominated their own candidates. They nominated Senator John C. Fremont from California for President and General John Cochrane from New York for Vice President. Two Johns on one ticket, two Georges on another and two men on a third whose first names began with “A.” Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Choosing, finally, to not play the spoiler, Fremont withdrew his nomination barely two months before the election. Under the slogan “Don’t change horses in the middle of a stream,” Republicans were able to sweep the Lincoln/Johnson ticket to victory. The two men easily defeated “the two Georges” by a wide margin of 212 to 21 electoral votes.

In his second inaugural address, Lincoln uttered some of his most memorable lines ever:

the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.” With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

And then disaster hit. A little over a month after he delivered these memorable lines, Lincoln was shot in the head by Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth on the night of April 14 while enjoying a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died the following day.  Booth’s conspiracy had planned to take out not only Lincoln, but his Vice President, and Secretary of State William Seward as well.  Seward was critically injured, but survived. Johnson also survived when assassin George Atzerodt got drunk and had a change of heart. The following day, two and a half hours after Lincoln drew his last breath, Johnson was installed as the seventeenth President of the United States.

Booth was quickly tracked down by Union troops and killed while attempting to escape. The rest of the conspirators were soon captured and the ringleaders hanged, including Mary Surratt, the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government.

Faced with the unenviable task of Reconstruction after a devastating war, Johnson’s administration started well, but quickly went downhill. The Radical Republicans were out for southern blood and Johnson did not share their thirst.

Although Lincoln is well-known for his wartime violations of the U.S. Constitution, Johnson is best known for sticking to it.

To show Johnson’s affinity for strict constructionism, there is this story: As a U.S. Representative, Johnson had voted against a bill to give federal aid to Ireland in the midst of a famine. In a debate during his subsequent run for Governor of Tennessee, his opponent criticized this vote. Johnson responded that people, not government, had the responsibility of helping their fellow men in need. He then pulled from his pocket a receipt for the $50 he had sent to the hungry Irish. “How much did you give, sir?” His opponent had to confess he had given nothing. The audience went wild. Johnson later credited this exchange with helping him win the election.

Johnson recognized the legitimacy of the Thirteenth Amendment, but he did not believe blacks deserved the right to vote. He vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which would give citizenship and extend civil rights to all regardless of race, but Congress overrode the veto. When the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act was challenged, the Fourteenth Amendment was proposed and Johnson opposed that as well. The Radical Republicans then passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Johnson vetoed it and the Republicans overrode his veto. Republicans then threatened reluctant southern states with a continuance of their military governance unless they ratified the Amendment. An unnamed Republican at the time called this “ratification at the point of a bayonet.” Johnson’s reluctance to support the Radical Republican agenda did not endear him to them.

The “straw that broke the camel’s back” came when Johnson tried to remove Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War despite the Tenure of Office Act which ostensibly, and unconstitutionally in Johnson’s view, prevented such action. Johnson fired Stanton. Threatened with impeachment, Johnson replied, “Let them impeach and be damned.” Congress promptly did just that – impeach, that is. After the House impeachment, the Senate trial resulted in acquittal. Johnson retained his office by a single vote, but still gained the notoriety of being the first United States President to be impeached.

The events surrounding President Lincoln’s assignation on April 15, 1865 changed the political landscape following the Civil War making it a significant date to learn about in America’s history.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text. Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes periodic essays published on several different websites, and appears in period costume as James Madison, explaining to public and private school students “his” (i.e., Madison’s) role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Gary can be reached at, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[1] After failing to be reelected President, Johnson was even elected Senator from Tennessee once again in 1875.

Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address that was a model of reconciliation and moderation for restoring the national Union. He ended with the appeal:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Later that month, Lincoln visited with Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman during the siege of Petersburg in Virginia near the Confederate capital of Richmond. As they talked, the president reflected on his plan to treat the South with respect. “Treat them liberally all around,” he said. “We want those people to return to their allegiance to the Union and submit to the laws.”

The Civil War was coming to an end as a heavily outnumbered Confederate General Robert E. Lee withdrew his army from Petersburg and abandoned Richmond to its fate. On April 5, 1865, Lee marched his starving, exhausted men across the swollen Appomattox River to Amelia Court House in central Virginia. Lee was disappointed to discover the boxcars on the railroad did not contain the expected rations of food. The Union cavalry under General Philip Sheridan were closing in and burning supply wagons. Lee ordered his men to continue their march to the west without food. Increasing numbers were deserting the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee realized that he would have to surrender soon.

On April 6, Union forces led by General George Custer cut off Lee’s army at Sayler’s Creek. The two sides skirmished for hours and then engaged each other fiercely. Lee lost a quarter of his army that became casualties and prisoners. He reportedly cried out, “My God! Has the army been dissolved?”

The next day, the Rebels retreated to Farmville where rations awaited but Union forces were close behind. The hungry Confederates barely had time to eat before fleeing again to expected supplies at Appomattox railroad station.

That day, Grant wrote to Lee asking for his surrender to prevent “any further effusion of blood.” Grant signed the letter, “Very respectfully, your obedient servant.”  Lee responded that while he did not think his position was as hopeless as Grant indicated, he asked what terms the Union Army would offer. When one of the generals suggested accepting the surrender, Lee informed him, “I trust it has not come to that! We certainly have too many brave men to think of laying down our arms.”  Nevertheless, Grant’s answer was unconditional surrender.

On April 8, Lee’s army straggled into the town of Appomattox Court House, but Sheridan had already seized his supply. He knew the end had come. He was hopelessly outnumbered six-to-one and had very little chance of resupply or reinforcements. Lee conferred with his generals to discuss surrender. When one of his officers suggested melting away and initiating a guerrilla war, Lee summarily rejected it out of hand. “You and I as Christian men have no right to consider only how this would affect us. We must consider its effect on the country as a whole.”

Lee composed a message to Grant asking for “an interview at such time and place as you may designate, to discuss the terms of the surrender of this army.”  Grant was suffering a migraine while awaiting word from Lee. He was greatly relieved to receive this letter. His headache and all the tension within him immediately dissipated. While puffing on his cigar, he wrote back to Lee and magnanimously offered to meet his defeated foe “where you wish the interview to take place.” The ceremony would take place at the home of Wilmer McLean, who had moved to Appomattox Court House to escape the war after a cannonball blasted into his kitchen during the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. Now, the war’s final act would occur in his living room.

Lee cut a fine picture impeccably dressed in his new gray uniform, adorned with a red sash, shiny boots, and his sword in a golden scabbard as he awaited Grant. The Union general was shabbily dressed in a rough uniform with muddy boots and felt self-conscious. He thought that Lee was “a man of much dignity, with an impassible face.” Grant respectfully treated his worthy adversary as an equal, and felt admiration for him if not his cause. They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.

Grant sat down at a small table to compose the terms of surrender and personally stood and handed them to Lee rather than have a subordinate do it. Grant graciously allowed the Confederate officers to keep their side arms, horses, and baggage. Lee asked that all the soldiers be allowed to keep their horses since many were farmers, and Grant readily agreed. Grant also generously agreed to feed Lee’s hungry men. Their business completed, the two generals shook hands, and Lee departed with a bow to the assembled men.

As Lee slowly rode away, Grant stood on the porch and graciously lifted his hat in salute, which Lee solemnly returned. The other Union officers and soldiers followed their general’s example. Grant was so conscious of being respectful that when the Union camp broke out into a triumphal celebration, Grant rebuked his men and ordered them to stop. “We did not want to exult over their downfall,” he later explained. For his part, Lee tearfully rode back into his camp, telling his troops, “I have done the best I could for you.” He continued, “Go home now, and if you make as good citizens as you have soldiers, you will do well, and I shall always be proud of you.”

On April 12, the Union formally accepted the Confederate surrender in a solemn ceremony. Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Gettysburg, oversaw a parade of Confederate troops stacking their weapons. As the Army of Northern Virginia began the procession, Chamberlain ordered his men to raise their muskets to their shoulders as a salute of honor to their fellow Americans. Confederate Major General John Gordon returned the gesture by saluting with his sword. Chamberlain described his feelings at witnessing the dramatic, respectful ceremony: “How could we help falling on our knees, all of us together, and praying God to pity and forgive us all.”

At the end of the dreadful Civil War, in which 750,000 men died, the Americans on both sides of the war demonstrated remarkable respect for each other. Grant demonstrated great magnanimity toward his vanquished foe, following Lincoln’s vision in the Second Inaugural. That vision tragically did not survive the death of the martyred Lincoln a few days after the events at Appomattox.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

Abraham Lincoln is usually considered one of our nation’s greatest presidents. But, what many people may not know is that Lincoln was not a very popular president during his first term and he nearly was not reelected in 1864. For many months leading into the presidential election of that year, Lincoln resigned himself to a simple fact that he was not going to be reelected. He told a visitor to the White House in the fall of 1864, “I am going to be beaten…and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten.”

Lincoln’s administration had presided over hundreds of thousands of young men killed and wounded in the then three-year-old struggle to give our nation, as Lincoln declared at Gettysburg, its “new birth of freedom” during the Civil War. The year 1864 had been the bloodiest of the war so far and Union armies were being decimated as Union General Ulysses S. Grant was making his final push to destroy the army of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and bring the war to an end. At the same time, General William T. Sherman was moving toward Georgia in the summer of 1864, hoping to destroy the Confederate armies in that region as well.

Lincoln was a tremendously unpopular president in 1864 inside and outside of his own political party. Democrats hated Lincoln and blamed him for the longevity of the war. Radical Republicans did not feel that he went far enough to extend equal rights to African-Americans. The war was unpopular and seemed unwinnable for the Union. Lincoln’s recent Emancipation Proclamation had also turned many Northern voters against Lincoln as they believed that equality for former slaves was something that would occur and they were not ready for it.

Between the Emancipation Proclamation and the casualty numbers of the Union army, Lincoln felt as though his administration would be leaving the White House in 1865. He urged his cabinet members to cooperate with the new president to make the transition of power easier, which would hopefully bring the nation back together quicker. A series of events were taking place in the Western theater of the war where one of Lincoln’s generals was about to present him with two gifts in 1864: the city of Atlanta and the reelection of his administration.

General Sherman met president Lincoln in 1861 at the beginning of the war and he was not overly impressed with him. He felt President Lincoln’s attitude toward the South was naive and could damage the Union’s early response to the war. Lincoln was not particularly impressed with Sherman at their first meeting either. But, those attitudes would change as the war progressed.

Sherman had achieved great success in fighting in the Western theater of the war from Shiloh to Chattanooga and was poised to strike a lethal blow into the heart of the Confederacy by marching his armies through the state of Georgia and capturing its capital city of  Atlanta. The capture of Atlanta would destroy a vital rail center and supply depot, as well as demoralize the Confederacy.

Sherman and his 100,000 troops left Chattanooga in May of 1864 and by July, Sherman and his army had reached the outskirts of Atlanta. On September 1, Confederate forces evacuated the city. The Northern reaction to the taking of Atlanta and victories in Virginia at the same time was jubilation. Instead of feeling the war was lost, the exact opposite opinion was now prevalent. It now seemed that the Lincoln administration would be the first reelected since Andrew Jackson in 1832.

President Lincoln won the 1864 election by receiving over 55 percent of the popular vote and winning the electoral vote 212 to 21 over his Democratic opponent, former general George B. McClellan. He was then able to manage the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, banning slavery in the United States forever. His presidency would be remembered as the reason why our nation is still one nation, under God, and dedicated to “the proposition that all men are created equal.” Washington created our nation, Jefferson and Madison gave it life and meaning with their ideas and  words, and Lincoln saved it. He may have not had the chance to do so without the military success of General Sherman and his armies in 1864.

Val Crofts is as Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches as Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin and has been there 16 years. He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

The Anaconda Plan of the Civil War, crafted by U.S. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, was designed to split and defeat the Confederacy by closing in on the coasts east and south, control the Mississippi River, then attack from all sides. Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant pressed through to take Vicksburg, Mississippi, get the final Confederate strongholds and control the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln believed taking Vicksburg was the key to victory. The Battle at Vicksburg would be the longest military campaign of the Civil War. Vicksburg was surrendered on July 4, 1863.

President Lincoln said of Vicksburg, “See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket. We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.” Lincoln well summarized the importance of Vicksburg, Mississippi, with both the Union and Confederacy determined to control the city. Along the Mississippi River, Vicksburg was one of the main strongholds remaining for the Confederacy. If the Union could capture this stronghold, it would cut off Confederacy states west of the Mississippi from those east of the Mississippi.

The location was ideal for defending, protected on the north by swamps of the bayou and was located on high bluffs that were along the river, and was given the name, the “Gibraltar of the South.”

General Grant developed a plan. After assuming command of the Union forces near Vicksburg on January 30, 1863, the Union having waged a campaign to take Vicksburg since the spring of 1862, he had been part of an initial failed attempt to take the city in the winter. In the spring of 1863, he tried again. This time, given the location of Vicksburg, he took the bold approach of marching south on the west side of the Mississippi River, then crossing over south of the city. He led troops south 30 miles south of Vicksburg, crossing over at Bruinsburg via Union fleet.

Once landed east of the river, he began to head northeast. On May 2, his troops took Port Gibson, with his troops abandoning supply lines and sustaining themselves from the surrounding countryside. Grant arrived in Vicksburg on May 18, where Confederate General John Pemberton was waiting with his 30,000 troops. Upon arrival, two major assaults on May 19 and 22 by the Union forces failed. Grant regrouped and his troops dug trenches, enclosing Pemberton and his troops.

Pemberton was boxed in with little provisions and diminishing ammunition. Many Confederate soldiers became sick and were hospitalized. In late June, Union troops dug mines underneath the Confederate troops and, on June 25, detonated the explosives. On July 3, Pemberton sent a note to Grant suggesting peace. Grant responded that only unconditional surrender would suffice. Pemberton formally surrendered on July 4. The nearly 30,000 troops were paroled, Grant not wanting to have to address the soldiers. The Union won at Port Hudson five days later.

Lincoln, who had noted how important Vicksburg was to the Union and the war, upon hearing of the surrender, stated, “The father of the waters goes unvexed to the sea.”

With the Siege of Vicksburg, Scott’s Anaconda Plan, designed at the beginning of the Civil War with the goal to blockade the southern ports and to cut the South in two by advancing down the Mississippi River, was complete.

The Siege of Vicksburg was a  major victory for the Union, giving it control of the Mississippi River. With the Battle of Gettysburg victory around the same time, it presented a turning point for the Union in the Civil War. July 4, 1863, the surrender of Vicksburg by Pemberton, is an important date in our nation’s history.

Dan Cotter is Attorney and Counselor at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC. He is the author of The Chief Justices, (published April 2019, Twelve Tables Press). 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.  

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

President Abraham Lincoln faced an important decision point in the summer of 1862. Lincoln was opposed to slavery and sought a way to end the immoral institution that was at odds with republican principles. However, he had a reverence for the constitutional rule of law and an obligation to follow the Constitution. He discovered a means of ending slavery, saving the Union, and preserving the Constitution.

President Lincoln had reversed previous attempts by his generals to free the slaves because of their dubious constitutionality and because they would drive border states such as Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland into the arms of the Confederacy. He reluctantly signed the First and Second Confiscation Acts but doubted their constitutionality as well and did little to enforce them. He offered compensated emancipation to the border states, but none took him up on his offer.

On July 22, Lincoln met with the members of his Cabinet and shared his idea with them. He presented a preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation on two pages of lined paper. It would free the slaves in the Confederate states as a “military necessity” by weakening the enemy under his constitutional presidential war powers.

The cabinet agreed with his reasoning even if some members were lukewarm. Some feared the effects on the upcoming congressional elections and that it would cause European states to recognize the Confederacy to protect their sources of cotton. Secretary of State William H. Seward counseled the president to issue the proclamation from a position of strength after a military victory.

The early victories of the year in the West by Grant at the Battle of Shiloh and the capture of New Orleans were dimmed by a more recent defeat in the eastern theater. Union General George McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign driving toward Richmond was thwarted by his defeat in the Seven Days’ Battles. Nor did Lincoln get the victory he needed the following month when Union armies under General John Pope were routed at the Second Battle of Bull Run.

In September, General Robert E. Lee invaded the North to defeat the Union army on northern soil and win European diplomatic recognition. He swept up into Maryland. Even though two Union troops discovered Lee’s plan of attack wrapped around a couple of cigars on the ground, McClellan did not capitalize on his advantage. The two armies converged at Sharpsburg near Antietam Creek.

At dawn on September 17, Union forces under General Joseph Hooker on the Union right attacked Confederates on the left side of their lines under Stonewall Jackson. The opposing armies clashed at West Woods, Dunker Church, and a cornfield. The attack faltered, and thousands were left dead and wounded.

Even that fighting could not compare to the carnage in the middle of the lines that occurred later in the morning. Union forces attacked several times and were repulsed. The battle shifted to a sunken road with horrific close-in fighting. Thousands more men became casualties at this “Bloody Lane.”

The final major stage of the day’s battle occurred further down the line when Union General Ambrose Burnside finally attacked. The Confederate forces here held a stone bridge across Antietam Creek that Burnside decided to cross rather than have his men ford the creek. The Confederates held a strong defensible position that pushed back several Union assaults. After the bridge was finally taken at great cost, the advancing tide of Union soldiers was definitively stopped by recently-arrived Confederate General A.P. Hill.

The battle resulted in the grim casualty figures of 12,400 for the Union armies and 10,300 for the Confederate armies. The losses were much heavier proportionately for the much smaller Confederate army. General McClellan failed to pursue the bloodied Lee the following day and thereby allowed him to escape and slip back down into the South. While Lincoln was furious with his general, he had the victory he needed to release the Emancipation Proclamation.

On September 22, Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It read that as of January 1, 1863, “All persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” If the states ended their rebellion, then the proclamation would have no force there.

Since the proclamation only applied to the states who joined the Confederacy, the border states were exempt, and their slaves were not to be freed by it. Lincoln did this for two important reasons. One, the border states might have declared secession and joined with the Confederacy. Two, Lincoln had no constitutional authority under his presidential war powers to free the slaves in states in the Union.

None of the Confederate states accepted the offer. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as promised. The proclamation freed nearly 3.5 million slaves, though obviously the Union had to win the war to make it a reality. The document was arguably Lincoln’s least eloquent document and was, in the words of one historian, about as exciting as a bill of lading.

Lincoln understood that the document had to be an exacting legal document because of the legal and unofficial challenges it would face. Moreover, he knew that a constitutional amendment was necessary to end slavery everywhere. He knew the proclamation’s significance and called it “the central act of my administration,” and “my greatest and most enduring contribution to the history of the war.”

One eloquent line in the Emancipation Proclamation aptly summed up the republican and moral principles that were the cornerstone of the document and Lincoln’s vision: “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Land-Grant Agricultural and Mechanical College Act, widely known today as the Morrill Act. The act was the culmination of work over many years by many legislators, notably the legislation’s author and chief sponsor, Justin Morrill of Vermont, who was one of the long-serving members of Congress during the 19th century. Congress had passed an earlier version of Morrill’s bill in 1857, but the bill was vetoed by President James Buchanan. An earlier bill sponsored by Henry Clay that would have used federal land revenues to support education and internal improvement was also vetoed by President Andrew Jackson. In each veto case, an argument was made that the federal government had no business involving itself in educational matters or other issues that were properly the province of state governments.[1]

The Morrill Act permitted participating states to make use of the sale, rent, and/or royalties derived from property granted to the states by the federal government. If a state did not have sufficient federal land situated within its borders, the state would be granted scrip representing proceeds from federal land in other states or territories. Somewhat similar land grants had been used by the federal government for a variety of purposes, but many of those programs did not attract a great deal of interest or cooperation from state governments. The Morrill Act required participating governments to produce annual reports regarding the use of funds from both the state governors and the recipient colleges and universities.[2]

Morrill pushed for a land grant program that would support education, a cause to which he was devoted for much of his career. Morrill had relatively little formal education himself, but he was dedicated to the effort to provide higher education to people of humble station. He also favored a very particular kind of higher education, one supporting agriculture and the “mechanic arts” (today generally known as engineering).[3] At the time, many colleges and universities in America and Europe largely emphasized the classics and humanities to the exclusion of more applied fields of study. Studies focusing on seemingly more practical and career-related topics were given little attention. The successful 1862 legislation, unlike the 1857 bill, also indicated that the funding would support the teaching of “military tactics.” In light of the on-going civil war, the emphasis on military training broadened the bill’s appeal.[4] The bill gained a co-sponsor in the Senate in the person of Ben Wade of Ohio, who later would serve as president pro tempore of the chamber. Wade is remembered today as the man who would have become acting president if the senate had voted to remove President Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial in 1868.

Opponents of the legislation included those who believed that education matters were solely the responsibility of the states. But many who took this position in 1857 were no longer in Congress in the 1860s. In fact, many were southerners who left Congress when their states seceded from the union. Other legislators, particularly from the western states, objected to the fact that land situated in their states sometimes was used to provide revenue to states in the east that lacked substantial amounts of federal land. Some objected to the legislation because they feared that the new funding would support new institutions that would compete with existing colleges and universities. As various iterations of the Morrill bill moved through Congress between 1860 and 1862, various amendments were approved to appease the objections of some critics.   Notably, the bill was amended to exclude mineral lands and to limit the amount of federal land that could be sold within any given state. Final passage was also delayed so that settlers granted federal land under the recently enacted Homestead Act could have their first choice of land.[5]

After enactment, many states used the land grant funds to support existing colleges and universities, both public and private. While the land grant system overwhelmingly has favored public institutions, a few private schools, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cornell University, and Brown University, received land grant money for some considerable time, and some continue to operate as land-grant institutions to this day.[6] In most states, however, entirely new institutions were created, generally with some reference to agriculture in their titles. These institutions became what are now known as land-grant colleges, even though the total number of schools that receive land-grant support is far greater than most people realize.

The impact of the Morrill Act is hard to overestimate. It was not the first federal grant programs offering aid to state governments, but it was one of the most important and enduring programs. In comparison to categorical aid programs that became popular in the 1960s and later, the program attached few strings with which the recipient governments had to comply. However, in comparison to its predecessors, the land-grant act imposed significant requirements upon its benefactors, particularly regarding reporting obligations and the formal commitment of  resources to particular fields of study.

The act caused a great increase in the number of higher education institutions in the country, and greatly increased the accessibility of college for many Americans of limited income who often lived far removed from population centers or the locations of extant colleges and universities. The Morrill Act was amended in 1890 by new legislation that prohibited grants to states that excluded students from higher education on the basis of race. Recipient states were also required to create universities intended to serve African-Americans. Today these schools are generally called Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).[7]

The land-grant program had a huge impact in agriculture, engineering, and military science. The land-grant institutions conducted agriculture research and trained agricultural students. These institutions became a part of the Department of Agriculture’s extension service, which has disseminated research findings throughout the country.[8] By the early twentieth century, the military tactics classes that were supported by the land-grants had evolved into the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program.[9] The “mechanic arts” emphasis in the land-grant colleges built up the knowledge base and the professional identity of the engineering profession.[10] The economic implications of this support for both basic and applied science have been significant, although their exact magnitude is disputed. Research by Isaac Ehrlich, Adam Cook, and Yong Yin indicates that the returns from the land-grant schools had made the United States into an economic superpower by the early twentieth century, surpassing countries such as the United Kingdom that followed a much different higher education model.[11] In short, the Morrill Act and subsequent legislation regarding the land-grant colleges has had an astounding impact upon educational quality and access, economic growth and opportunity, and leadership in the nation’s military.

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. He is the co-author of Institutional Constraint and Policy Choice: An Exploration of Local Governance and co-editor of Kentucky Government, Politics, and Policy. Dr. Clinger is the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board, a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, and a former firefighter for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department.

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[1] Duemer, Lee S. 2007. “The Agricultural Education Origins of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862.” American Educational History Journal 34 (1): 135–46.

[2] Lieberman, Carl. “The Constitutional and Political Bases of Federal Aid to Higher Education, 1787-1862.” International Social Science Review 63, no. 1 (1988): 3-13.

[3] Key, Scott. 1996. “Economics or Education: The Establishment of American Land-Grant Universities.” Journal of Higher Education 67 (March): 196–220.

[4] Benson, Michael T., and Hal Robert Boyd. 2018.  College for the Commonwealth: A Case for Higher Education in American Democracy.  Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

[5] Lieberman, Carl. “The Constitutional and Political Bases of Federal Aid to Higher Education, 1787-1862.” International Social Science Review 63, no. 1 (1988): 3-13.

[6] Carstensen, Victor. 1962. “Century of the Land-Grant Colleges.” Journal of Higher Education 33 (January): 30–37.

[7] Wheatle, Katherine I. E. 2019. “Neither Just nor Equitable.” American Educational History Journal 46 (1/2/2019): 1–20.

[8] Duemer, Lee S. 2007. “The Agricultural Education Origins of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862.” American Educational History Journal 34 (1): 135–46.

[9] Benson, Michael T., and Hal Robert Boyd. 2018.  College for the Commonwealth: A Case for Higher Education in American Democracy.  Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

[10]Nienkamp, Paul. 2010. “Land-Grant Colleges and American Engineers.” American Educational History Journal 37 (1/2): 313–30.

[11] Ehrlich, Isaac, Adam Cook, and Yong Yin. 2018. “What Accounts for the US Ascendancy to Economic Superpower by the Early Twentieth Century? The Morrill Act-Human Capital Hypothesis.” Journal of Human Capital 12 (2): 233–81.

Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged development of farming on land as homesteads for western expansion. Heads of households could receive up to 160 acres to farm for five years, or purchase the land after six months. If homesteaders were unable to farm successfully, the land would go back to the government to be offered again to another homesteader. Pro-slavery groups feared a homestead act would give more power to anti-slavery families moving to new territories of privatized land that could become free states, so they fought passage. 

The Civil War, by May 1862, was just over a year old, having begun with the Battle of Fort Sumter. The Homestead Act of 1862 was a way for the Union to expand westward, and in some ways fulfilled the promise contained in President Abraham Lincoln’s message to Congress on July 4, 1861, when he wrote in part:

On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the Government for whose existence we contend.

According to the National Park Service website, the Act brought to life the “fair chance” to which Lincoln referred and the Act “was one of the most significant and enduring events in the westward expansion of the United States.”

The 1862 Act was not the first effort to expand westward, but prior efforts had been met with resistance from Southern Democrats, who feared European immigrants might inhabit the west. The Act was intended to make it easier for interested persons to move west, without the requirement of “squatters” on federal lands to pay per acre for retaining the property that was part of the Preemption Act of 1841.

The Act had minimal requirements to qualify. Any adult citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the United States, could apply for the grant. The citizen was required to improve the land by building a dwelling and cultivating the land. After five years, they obtained the deed to the 160 acres. An inhabitant had the option of a six-month residency with minor improvements and paying $1.25 per acre, the same price as existed under the Preemption Act.

Many could not afford to effectively build a farm and cultivate the land, which included obtaining the necessary tools as well as crops and livestock. One of the first registered homesteaders was Daniel Freeman, whose claim is the site of the Homestead National Monument of America. Freeman is said to have filed his claim ten minutes after the Act became effective on January 1, 1863.

With the Homestead Act of 1862, the westward expansion truly commenced. Over its history, more than 2 million individuals filed claims, with approximately 780,000 obtaining title to the lands. More than 270 million acres were granted while the law was in effect.

Lincoln’s signing of the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862 was an important day in our nation’s history.

Dan Cotter is Attorney and Counselor at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC. He is the author of The Chief Justices, (published April 2019, Twelve Tables Press). 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. 

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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

Abraham Lincoln traveled East in February of 1860. He was asked to deliver an address at the Cooper Institute in New York City on the momentous topic of the era, slavery. Lincoln had been a popular orator and politician in Illinois, but had yet to solidify himself as a national politician. His sense of humor, frontier charm and folksy wit appealed to his political and debate audiences in the West, but if he was going to attract a national following and possibly earn the nomination from the fledgling Republican Party as their presidential candidate, he needed to appeal to voters in different areas of the country.

Before he gave his Cooper Institute speech, Lincoln made his way to the New York studio of photographer, Matthew Brady. He was going to sit for a portrait that was going to introduce him to the American people. Brady’s portrait of Lincoln shows a confident, 51 year old Lincoln staring into the camera with his left hand resting on two books. He pulled his collar up in the portrait to partially obscure his long neck. He looks distinguished, but his hair is a bit disheveled as he stands ready to make arguably the most important speech of his life in a few hours.

A crowd of around 1,500 people crowded into the Cooper Institute on the night of February 27, 1860 to hear this Republican orator from the West deliver a carefully researched and crafted speech to explain to the nation why they should not fear a Republican president and why the views of the Republicans on slavery mirrored those of the Founding Fathers. Lincoln was about to reinvent himself as an orator and to establish himself as a national politician and serious contender for the presidency.

Some eyewitnesses claimed disappointment when Lincoln first stood to address the crowd. His tall (so tall as someone said) appearance with his arms and legs created an awkward appearance and some in the crowd expressed pity for how Lincoln looked that night. But then, he began to speak.

Lincoln began by informing his audience that 21 of 39 Founding Fathers felt that the federal government should be able to control slavery in territories of the United States and that the Constitution verifies this. The Republican Party had pledged to stop slavery from spreading into the Western territories and Lincoln felt that the basis for this decision came from the basis for our legal cornerstone, the Constitution of the United States.

He then denied that the Republicans were a Northern political party intent on inciting slave rebellions. He talked about how John Brown, the abolitionist who attempted to start a slave rebellion in Virginia, was no Republican and he urged the South to understand the Republican Party was an American party and not a sectional one. He was attempting to explain to the South that Republicans were allies and not enemies. He further explained that for the South to threaten to secede if a Republican president was elected, was similar to an “armed robbery” of the Union.

He then addressed fellow Republicans to leave the South alone and to convince the South that they would continue to do so. Southern fears of Republican interference was fueling the flames of rebellion and Lincoln urged it to cease. Lincoln felt that if Republicans were not able to stop slavery where it existed, because the Constitution did not give them power to do so, then they must stop it from spreading into the Western territories. Then, he ended one of his longest public speeches by saying, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

Lincoln laid out what he perceived to be the fears of the South and had done his best to calm them. He had also given his opinions on what Republicans could do to stop the further escalation of the division between the two regions. The speech was a huge success.

To capitalize on the speech and its success, Matthew Brady began to circulate the photo in several sizes for people to purchase. Harper’s Weekly converted the photo into a full page drawing of Lincoln which accompanied their story of the Cooper Institute speech and Lincoln’s success there. The image became the public’s first encounter with this rising star in the Republican Party.

Lincoln’s Cooper Institute speech was considered one of his greatest successes. If he had failed to engage and impress his New York audience, he may not have received the nomination as president in 1860. Had that not happened, he may have returned to Illinois to live out his days as a lawyer in Springfield and the history of our nation would have been very different. Lincoln credited Brady and the Cooper Institute speech with helping him to secure his nomination as the Republican candidate for president and ultimately putting him in the White House. Those two very important events in New York City in February of 1860 may have ultimately helped to preserve the Union.

Val Crofts is as Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches as Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin and has been there 16 years. He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. Shortly after, South Carolina became the first state to secede, doing so on December 20, 1860. Mississippi and Florida followed, with Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas joining them.  On April 12, 1861, the Civil War officially began at the Battle of Fort Sumter.

The South Carolina militia bombarded Fort Sumter, an island fortification near Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederate Army had not yet officially formed. The attack began in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, when Lieutenant Henry S. Farley fired a mortar round over Fort Sumter as a signal to the militia to begin firing on Fort Sumter. The militia, led by General P.G.T. Beauregard, had the upper hand. The Fort, led by Major Robert Anderson, had been designed and fortified to respond to, and defend against, naval attack, but over the ensuing battle proved to be no match for land bombardment.

Fort Sumter had a total of 60 guns but many of them were on top, where Anderson’s troops would be most vulnerable to being hit by incoming fire from the militia. The twenty-one guns on the lower level did not allow the trajectory needed to hit any of the artillery of the attackers.  Anderson and his troops did what they could, engaging in an exchange of fire that lasted for thirty-four hours. Because efforts by President Lincoln to resupply Fort Sumter had not been successful, and despite moving as many supplies to the fort as possible, Anderson and his troops were short on ammunition. They reduced the number of guns being deployed.

The militia began to fire heated shots at the fort, hitting some of the wooden structures within. Fires ensued, but on April 12th, a rain shower put those fires out. On April 13th, the heated shot barrage would resume and do substantial damage to the fort.

Early in the  morning of April 13, 1861, Gustavus V. Fox arrived, leading the supply relief expedition that President Lincoln had ordered.  But his arrival would do little to change the equation. Around 1 PM on April 13, the central flagpole was knocked down. Colonel Louis Wigfall, an aide to Beauregard, without authorization rowed a skiff to the island fort and met with Anderson. He is reported to have said, “You have defended your flag nobly, Sir. You have done all that it is possible to do, and General Beauregard wants to stop this fight. On what terms, Major Anderson, will you evacuate this fort?”

Anderson agreed to a truce, proud of his troops and not having lost any of his men to the bombardment. After Beauregard’s initial contingent disavowed Wigfall’s settlement terms, Beauregard saw the surrender handkerchief and sent a second contingent, which offered similar terms to what Wigfall had. With that, Anderson surrendered, and the South had won its first battle. Over the next almost four years, the Confederate troops would hold Fort Sumter, withstanding several Union army attacks.

The Battle of Fort Sumter caused many Northerners to strongly advocate for the assembly of volunteer troops to recapture the fort and to preserve our Union. The war would go on for four years, with approximately 750,000 casualties.

Dan Cotter is Attorney and Counselor at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC. He is the author of The Chief Justices, (published April 2019, Twelve Tables Press). 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. 

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

America’s bloodiest day was also the most geopolitically significant battle of the Civil War.

On September 17, 1862, twelve hours of battle along the Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, resulted in 23,000 Union and Confederate dead or wounded. Its military outcome was General Robert E. Lee, and his Army of Northern Virginia, retreating back into Virginia. Its political outcome reshaped global politics and doomed the Southern cause.

The importance of Antietam begins with President Abraham Lincoln weighing how to characterize the Civil War to both domestic and international audiences. Lincoln chose to make “disunion” the issue instead of slavery. His priority was retaining the border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) within the Union. [1]

The first casualties of the Civil War occurred on April 19, 1861 on the streets of Baltimore. The 6th Massachusetts Regiment was attacked by pro-South demonstrators while they were changing trains. Sixteen dead soldiers and citizens validated Lincoln’s choice of making the Civil War about reunification. Eastern Maryland was heavily pro-slave. Had Maryland seceded, Washington, D.C. would have been an island within the Confederacy. This would have spelled disaster for the North.

To affirm the “war between the states” nature of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, issued strict instructions to American envoys to avoid referencing slavery when discussing the Civil War. [2]

Explaining to foreign governments that the conflict was simply a “war between the states” had a downside. England and France were dependent on Southern cotton for their textile mills. “Moral equivalency” of the combatants allowed political judgments to be based on economic concerns. [3]

On April 27, 1861, Lincoln and Seward further complicated matters by announcing a blockade of Southern ports. While this was vital to depriving the South of supplies, it forced European governments to determine whether to comply. There were well established international procedures for handling conflicts between nations and civil wars. Seward ignored these conventions, igniting fierce debate in foreign governments over what to do with America. [4]

England and France opted for neutrality, which officially recognized the blockade, but with no enforcement. Blockade runners gathered in Bermuda, and easily avoided the poorly organized Union naval forces, while conducting commerce with Southern ports. [5]

Matters got worse. On November 8, 1861, a Union naval warship stopped the Trent, a neutral British steamer travelling from Havana to London. Captain Charles Wilkes removed two Confederate Government Commissioners, James Mason and John Slidell, who were on their way for meetings with the British Government. [6]

The “Trent Affair” echoed the British stopping neutral American ships during the Napoleonic Wars. Those acts were the main reason for America initiating the War of 1812 with England.

British Prime Minister, Lord Henry Palmerston, issued an angry ultimatum to Lincoln demanding immediate release of the Commissioners. He also moved 11,000 British troops to Canada to reinforce its border with America. Lincoln backed down, releasing the Commissioners, stating “One war at a time.” [7]

While war with England was forestalled, economic issues were driving a wedge between the Lincoln Administration and Europe.

The 1861 harvest of Southern cotton had shipped just before war broke out. In 1862, the South’s cotton exports were disrupted by the war. Textile owners clamored for British intervention to force a negotiated peace.

In the early summer of 1862, bowing to political and economic pressure, Lord Palmerston drafted legislation to officially recognize the Confederate government and press for peace negotiations. [8]

During the Spring of 1862, Lincoln’s view of the Civil War was shifting. Union forces were attracting escaped slaves wherever they entered Southern territory. Union General’s welcomed the slaves as “contraband,” prizes of war similar to capturing the enemy’s weapons. This gave Lincoln a legal basis for establishing a policy for emancipating slaves in the areas of conflict.

Union victories had solidified the Border States into the North. Therefore, disunion was not as important a justification for military action. In fact, shedding blood solely for reunification seemed to be souring Northern support for the war.

Lincoln and Seward realized emancipating slaves could rekindle Northern support for the war, critical for winning the Congressional elections in November 1862. Emancipation would also place the conflict on firm moral grounds, ending European support for recognition and intervention. England had abolished slavery throughout its empire in 1833. It would not side with a slave nation, if the goal of war became emancipation. Lincoln embraced this geopolitical chess board, “Emancipation would weaken the rebels by drawing off their laborers, would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition.” [9]

On July 22, 1862, Lincoln called a Cabinet meeting to announce his intention to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. It was framed as an imperative of war, “by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.” [10]

Seward raised concerns over the timing of the Proclamation. He felt recent Union defeats outside of the Confederate Capital of Richmond, Virginia might make its issuance look like an act of desperation, “our last shriek, on the retreat.” [11] It was decided to wait for a Northern victory so that the Emancipation could be issued from a position of strength.

Striving for a game-changing victory became the priority for both sides. The summer of 1862 witnessed a series of brilliant Confederate victories. British Prime Minister Palmerston agreed to finally hold a Cabinet meeting to formally decide on recognition and mediation. [12]

General Lee wished to tip the scales further by engineering a Confederate victory on northern soil. [13] Lee wanted a victory like the 1777 Battle of Saratoga that brought French recognition and aid to America. [14]

The race was on. General Stonewall Jackson annihilated General John Pope’s Army in the Second Battle of Manassas (August 28-30, 1862). Lee saw his opportunity, consolidated his forces, and invaded Maryland on September 4, 1862.

After entering Frederick, Maryland, Lee divided his forces to eliminate the large Union garrison in Harpers Ferry, which was astride his supply lines. Lee planned to draw General George McClellan and his “Army of the Potomac” deep into western Maryland. Far from Union logistical support, McClellan’s forces could be destroyed, delivering a devastating blow to the North. [15]

A copy of Special Order No. 191, which outlined Lee’s plans and troop movements, was lost by the Confederates, and found by a Union patrol outside of Frederick. [15] On reading the Order, McClellan, famous for his slow and ponderous actions in the field, sped his pursuit of Lee.

Now there was a deadly race for whether Lee and Jackson could neutralize Harpers Ferry and reunite before McClellan’s army pounced. This turned the siege of Harpers Ferry (September 12-15, 1862), the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862), and Antietam (September 17, 1862) into the Civil War’s most important series of battles.

While Antietam was tactically a draw, heavy losses forced Lee and his army back into Virginia. This was enough for Lincoln to issue his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, five days after the battle, on September 22, 1862. When news of the Confederate retreat reached England, support for recognition collapsed, extinguishing, “the last prospect of European intervention.” [17] News of the Emancipation Proclamation launched “Emancipation Meetings” throughout England. Support for a Union victory rippled through even pacifist Anti-Slavery groups who asserted abolition, “was possible only in a united America.” [18]

There were many more battles to be fought, but Europe’s alignment against the Confederacy sealed its fate. European nations flocked to embrace Lincoln and his Emancipation crusade. One vivid example was Czar Alexander II, who had emancipated Russia’s serfs, becoming a friend of Lincoln. In the fall of 1863, he sent Russian fleets to New York City and San Francisco to support the Union cause. [19]

Unifying European nations against the Confederacy, and ending slavery in the South, makes America’s bloodiest day one of the world’s major events.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.

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[1] McPherson, James, Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford University Press, New York, 1988) pp. 311-312.

[2] Foreman, Amanda, A World on Fire; Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War (Random House, New York, 2010) p.107.

[3] Op. cit., McPherson, p. 384.

[4] Op. cit., Foreman, page 80.

[5] Op. cit., McPherson, pages 380-381.

[6] ibid., pages 389-391.

[7] ibid.[8] Op. cit., Foreman, page 293.

[9] Op. cit., McPherson, page 510.[10] Carpenter, Francis, How the Emancipation Proclamation was Drafted; Political Recollections; Anthology – America; Great Crises in Our History Told by its Makers; Vol. VIII (Veterans of Foreign Wars, Chicago, 1925) pages 160-161.[11] Op. cit., McPherson, page 505.

[12] Op. cit., Foreman, page 295.[13] Op. cit., McPherson, page 555.

[14] McPherson, James, The Saratoga That Wasn’t: The Impact of Antietam Abroad, in This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), pages 65-77.

[15] Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red (Ticknor & Fields, New York, 1983) pages 66-67.

[16] Ibid., pages 112-113.

[17] Op. cit., Foreman, page 322.

[18] ibid., page 397.

[19] The Russian Navy Visits the United States (Naval Historical Foundation, Annapolis, 1969)

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

On the evening of Oct. 16, 1859, John Brown and his raiders unleashed 36 hours of terror on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia).

Brown’s raid marked a cataclysmic moment of change for America and the world. It ranks up there with Sept. 11, the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and the shots fired on Lexington Common and Concord Bridge during the momentous day of April 19, 1775. Each of these days marked a point when there was no turning back. Contributing events may have been prologue, but once these fateful days took place, America was forever changed.

Americans at the time knew that the raid was not the isolated work of a madman. Brown was the well-financed and supported “point of the lance” for the abolition movement.

He was a major figure among the leading abolitionists and intellectuals of the time. This included Gerrit Smith, the second wealthiest man in America and business partner of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Among other ventures, Smith was a patron of Oberlin College, where Brown’s father served as a trustee. Thus was born a 20-year friendship.

Through Smith, Brown moved among America’s elite, conversing with Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, journalists, religious leaders and politicians.

Early on, Brown deeply believed that the only way to end slavery was through armed rebellion. His vision was to create a southern portal for the Underground Railway in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The plan was to raise a small force and attack the armory in Harpers Ferry. There Brown would obtain additional weapons and then move into the Blue Ridge to establish his mountain sanctuary for escaping slaves.

Brown anticipated having escaped slaves swell his rebellious ranks and protect his sanctuary. He planned to acquire hundreds of metal tipped pikes as the weapon of choice.

The idea of openly rebelling against slavery was an extreme position in the 1850s. Abolitionist leaders felt slavery would either become economically obsolete or had faith that their editorials would shame the federal government to end the practice.

For years Brown remained the lone radical voice in the elite salons of New York and Boston. He looked destined to remain on the fringes of the anti-slavery movement when a series of events shook the activists’ trust in working within the system and shifted sentiment toward Brown’s solution.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forced local public officials in free states to help recover escaped slaves. The federally sanctioned intrusion of slavery into the North began tipping the scales in favor of Brown’s agenda.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 destroyed decades of carefully crafted compromises that limited slavery’s westward expansion.  The Act ignited a regional civil war as pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers fought each other prior to a referendum on the state’s status – slave or free. Smith enlisted the help of several of the more active abolitionists to underwrite Brown’s guerilla war against slavery in Kansas in 1856-57. This group, including some of America’s leading intellectuals, went on to become the Secret Six, who pledged to help Brown with his raid.

The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857, and its striking down of Wisconsin’s opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act in March 1859, set the Secret Six and Brown on their collision course with Harpers Ferry.

Today, Harpers Ferry is a scenic town of 300 people, but in 1859 it was one of the largest industrial complexes south of the Mason Dixon Line. The Federal Armory and Rifle Works were global centers of industrial innovation and invention. The mass production of interchangeable parts, the foundation of the modern industrial era, was perfected along the banks of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

Brown moved into the Harpers Ferry area on July 3, 1859, establishing his base at the Kennedy Farm a few miles north in Maryland. The broader abolitionist movement remained divided about an armed struggle. During August 19-21, 1859, a unique debate occurred. At a quarry outside Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Frederick Douglass and Brown spent hours debating whether anyone had a moral obligation to take up arms against slavery. Douglass refused to join Brown but remained silent about the raid. Douglass’ aide, Shields Green, was so moved by Brown’s argument, he joined Brown on the raid, was captured, tried, and executed.

The American Civil War began the moment Brown and his men walked across the B&O Railroad Bridge and entered Harpers Ferry late on the evening of October 16, 1859. Brown’s raiders secured the bridges and the armories as planned. Hostages were collected from surrounding plantations, including Col. Lewis W. Washington, great grandnephew of George Washington. A wagon filled with “slave pikes” was brought into town. Brown planned to arm freed slaves with the pikes assuming they had little experience with firearms.

As Brown and his small force waited for additional raiders with wagons to remove the federal weapons, local militia units arrived and blocked their escape. Militia soldiers and armed townspeople methodically killed Brown’s raiders, who were arrayed throughout the industrial complexes.

Eventually, the surviving raiders and their hostages retreated into the Armory’s Fire Engine House for their last stand. Robert E. Lee and a detachment of U.S. Marines from Washington, D.C. arrived on October 18. The Marines stormed the Engine House, killing or capturing Brown and his remaining men, and freeing the hostages. The raid was over.

Brown survived the raid. His trial became a national sensation as he chose to save his cause instead of himself. Brown rejected an insanity plea in favor of placing slavery on trial. His testimony, and subsequent newspaper interviews while awaiting execution on Dec. 2, 1859, created a fundamental emotional and political divide across America that made civil war inevitable.

Fearing that abolitionists were planning additional raids or slave revolts, communities across the South formed their own militias and readied for war. There was no going back to pre-October America.

Edmund Ruffin, one of Virginia’s most vocal pro-slavery and pro-secession leaders, acquired several of Brown’s “slave pikes.” He sent them to the governors of slave-holding states, each labeled “Sample of the favors designed for us by our Northern Brethren.”  Many of the slave pikes were publicly displayed in southern state capitols, further inflaming regional emotions.

On April 12, 1861, Ruffin lit the fuse on the first cannon fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The real fuse had been lit months earlier by Brown at Harpers Ferry.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In the 1850s, the United States was deeply divided over the issue of slavery and its expansion into the West. Northerners and southerners had been arguing over the expansion of slavery into the western territories for decades. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had divided the Louisiana Territory at 36’30° with new states north of the line free states and south of the lines slave states. The delicate compromise held until the Mexican War.

The territory acquired in the Mexican War of 1846 triggered the sectional debate again. In 1850, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky engineered the Compromise of 1850 to settle the dispute with the help of Stephen Douglas. But, in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act permitted settlers to decide whether the states would be free or slave according to the principle of “popular sovereignty.” Pro and anti-slavery settlers rushed to Kansas and violence and murder erupted in “Bleeding Kansas.” Meanwhile, southerners spoke of secession and observers warned of civil war.

The United States faced this combustible situation when Chief Justice Roger B. Taney sat down in late February 1857 to write the infamous opinion in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford that would go down as a travesty of constitutional interpretation and one of the greatest injustices by the Supreme Court.

Dred Scott was a slave who had been owned by different masters in the slave states of Virginia and Missouri. Dr. John Emerson was an Army surgeon who was one of those owners and brought Scott to the free state of Illinois for three years and then the free Wisconsin Territory. Scott even married another slave while on free soil. Emerson moved back to Missouri and brought his enslaved with him just before he died. Scott sued Emerson’s widow for his freedom because he had lived in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited.

Southern and Northern state laws and courts had long recognized the “right of transit” for slaveowners to bring their slaves while briefly traveling through free states/territories or remaining for short durations. However, they also recognized that residence in a free state or territory established freedom for slaves who moved there. In fact, Missouri’s long-standing judicial rule was “once free, always free.” Many former slaves who returned to Missouri after living in a free state or territory had successfully sued in Missouri courts to establish their freedom. The Dred Scott case made its way through the Missouri and federal courts, and finally reached the Supreme Court.

The attorneys presented oral arguments to Taney and the other justices in February 1856. The justices met in chambers but simply could not come to a consensus. They asked the lawyers to re-argue the case the following December, which coincidentally delayed the decision until after the contentious presidential election that allowed the Court to maintain the semblance of neutrality. But, Justice Taney sought to remove the issue from the messy arena of democratic politics and settle the sectional dispute over slavery in the Court.

After hearing the case argued for a second time, the justices met in mid-February 1857 to consider the case. They almost agreed to a narrow legal opinion that addressed Dred Scott’s status as a slave in a free state. However, they selected Chief Justice Taney to write the opinion. He used the opportunity to write an expansive opinion that would avert possible civil war.

On the morning of March 6, Taney read the shocking opinion to the Court for nearly two hours. Taney, speaking for seven members of the Court, declared that all African-Americans—slave or free—were not U.S. citizens at the time of the founding and could not become citizens. He asserted that the founders thought that blacks were an inferior class of humans and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” and no right to sue in federal court. This was not only a misreading of the history of the American founding but a gross act of injustice toward African Americans. Taney could have stopped there, but he believed this decision could end the sectional conflict over the expansion of slavery. He declared that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional because Congress had no power to regulate slavery in the territories despite Article IV, section 3 giving Congress the “power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.” According to his reasoning, slavery could become legal throughout the nation. Finally, Taney pronounced that Dred Scott, despite his residence in the free state and territory that allowed other slaves to claim their freedom, was still a slave.

The Dred Scott decision was not unanimous; Justices Benjamin Curtis and John McLean wrote dissenting opinions. Curtis’s painstakingly detailed research in U.S. history demonstrated that Taney was wrong on several points. First, Curtis convincingly showed that free African-Americans had been citizens and even voters in several states at the time of the founding. He wrote that slavery was fundamentally “contrary to natural right.” Furthermore, Curtis pointed out that by settled practice and the Constitution, Congress did indeed have power to legislate regarding slavery. He provided evidence that Congress had legislated with respect to slavery more than a dozen times before the 1820 Missouri Compromise.

The Dred Scott decision was supposed to calm sectional tensions in the United States, but it worsened them. Northerners expressed great moral outrage, and southerners doubled down on the Court’s decision that African Americans had no rights and Congress could not regulate slavery’s expansion. Indeed, the Court’s decision greatly exacerbated tensions and contributed directly to events leading to the Civil War. Instead of leaving the issue to the people’s representatives who had successfully negotiated important compromises in Congress to preserve the Union, Taney and other justices arrogantly thought they could settle the issue.

Taney’s understanding of American republican government was that only the white race enjoyed natural rights and consensual self-government. Abraham Lincoln continually attacked the decision in his speeches and debates. Lincoln stood for a Union rooted upon natural rights for all humans. He did not believe that the country could survive indefinitely “half slave, half free.” He argued that the Declaration of Independence “set up a standard maxim for free society” of self-governing individuals. Lincoln also opposed the Dred Scott decision because of its impact on democracy. If the Court’s majority gained the final say on political decisions, Lincoln thought “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”

The different views of slavery, its expansion, and the principles of republican self-government were at the core of the Civil War that ensued three years later. During the war, President Lincoln freed the slaves in Confederate states with the Emancipation Proclamation and laid down the moral vision of the American republic in the Gettysburg Address. He wrote: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” The bloody Civil War was fought so that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. He is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

Mr. President and fellow citizens of New York: –

The facts with which I shall deal this evening are mainly old and familiar; nor is there anything new in the general use I shall make of them. If there shall be any novelty, it will be in the mode of presenting the facts, and the inferences and observations following that presentation.

In his speech last autumn, at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in “The New-York Times,” Senator Douglas said:

“Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now.”

I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting point for a discussion between Republicans and that wing of the Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry: “What was the understanding those fathers had of the question mentioned?”

What is the frame of government under which we live?

The answer must be: “The Constitution of the United States.” That Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787, (and under which the present government first went into operation,) and twelve subsequently framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed in 1789.

Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution? I suppose the “thirty-nine” who signed the original instrument may be fairly called our fathers who framed that part of the present Government. It is almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether true to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of the whole nation at that time. Their names, being familiar to nearly all, and accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated.

I take these “thirty-nine,” for the present, as being “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live.”

What is the question which, according to the text, those fathers understood “just as well, and even better than we do now?”

It is this: Does the proper division of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to control as to slavery in our Federal Territories?

Upon this, Senator Douglas holds the affirmative, and Republicans the negative. This affirmation and denial form an issue; and this issue – this question – is precisely what the text declares our fathers understood “better than we.”

Let us now inquire whether the “thirty-nine,” or any of them, ever acted upon this question; and if they did, how they acted upon it – how they expressed that better understanding?

In 1784, three years before the Constitution – the United States then owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other, the Congress of the Confederation had before them the question of prohibiting slavery in that Territory; and four of the “thirty-nine” who afterward framed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on that question. Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas Mifflin, and Hugh Williamson voted for the prohibition, thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory. The other of the four – James M’Henry – voted against the prohibition, showing that, for some cause, he thought it improper to vote for it.

In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the Convention was in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory still was the only territory owned by the United States, the same question of prohibiting slavery in the territory again came before the Congress of the Confederation; and two more of the “thirty-nine” who afterward signed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on the question. They were William Blount and William Few; and they both voted for the prohibition – thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in Federal territory. This time the prohibition became a law, being part of what is now well known as the Ordinance of ’87.

The question of federal control of slavery in the territories, seems not to have been directly before the Convention which framed the original Constitution; and hence it is not recorded that the “thirty-nine,” or any of them, while engaged on that instrument, expressed any opinion on that precise question.

In 1789, by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution, an act was passed to enforce the Ordinance of ’87, including the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. The bill for this act was reported by one of the “thirty-nine,” Thomas Fitzsimmons, then a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and finally passed both branches without yeas and nays, which is equivalent to a unanimous passage. In this Congress there were sixteen of the thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution. They were John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman, Wm. S. Johnson, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Thos. Fitzsimmons, William Few, Abraham Baldwin, Rufus King, William Paterson, George Clymer, Richard Bassett, George Read, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, James Madison.

This shows that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, properly forbade Congress to prohibit slavery in the federal territory; else both their fidelity to correct principle, and their oath to support the Constitution, would have constrained them to oppose the prohibition.

Again, George Washington, another of the “thirty-nine,” was then President of the United States, and, as such approved and signed the bill; thus completing its validity as a law, and thus showing that, in his understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government, to control as to slavery in federal territory.

No great while after the adoption of the original Constitution, North Carolina ceded to the Federal Government the country now constituting the State of Tennessee; and a few years later Georgia ceded that which now constitutes the States of Mississippi and Alabama. In both deeds of cession it was made a condition by the ceding States that the Federal Government should not prohibit slavery in the ceded territory. Besides this, slavery was then actually in the ceded country. Under these circumstances, Congress, on taking charge of these countries, did not absolutely prohibit slavery within them. But they did interfere with it – take control of it – even there, to a certain extent. In 1798, Congress organized the Territory of Mississippi. In the act of organization, they prohibited the bringing of slaves into the Territory, from any place without the United States, by fine, and giving freedom to slaves so bought. This act passed both branches of Congress without yeas and nays. In that Congress were three of the “thirty-nine” who framed the original Constitution. They were John Langdon, George Read and Abraham Baldwin. They all, probably, voted for it. Certainly they would have placed their opposition to it upon record, if, in their understanding, any line dividing local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory.

In 1803, the Federal Government purchased the Louisiana country. Our former territorial acquisitions came from certain of our own States; but this Louisiana country was acquired from a foreign nation. In 1804, Congress gave a territorial organization to that part of it which now constitutes the State of Louisiana. New Orleans, lying within that part, was an old and comparatively large city. There were other considerable towns and settlements, and slavery was extensively and thoroughly intermingled with the people. Congress did not, in the Territorial Act, prohibit slavery; but they did interfere with it – take control of it – in a more marked and extensive way than they did in the case of Mississippi. The substance of the provision therein made, in relation to slaves, was:

First. That no slave should be imported into the territory from foreign parts.

Second. That no slave should be carried into it who had been imported into the United States since the first day of May, 1798.

Third. That no slave should be carried into it, except by the owner, and for his own use as a settler; the penalty in all the cases being a fine upon the violator of the law, and freedom to the slave.

This act also was passed without yeas and nays. In the Congress which passed it, there were two of the “thirty-nine.” They were Abraham Baldwin and Jonathan Dayton. As stated in the case of Mississippi, it is probable they both voted for it. They would not have allowed it to pass without recording their opposition to it, if, in their understanding, it violated either the line properly dividing local from federal authority, or any provision of the Constitution.

In 1819-20, came and passed the Missouri question. Many votes were taken, by yeas and nays, in both branches of Congress, upon the various phases of the general question. Two of the “thirty-nine” – Rufus King and Charles Pinckney – were members of that Congress. Mr. King steadily voted for slavery prohibition and against all compromises, while Mr. Pinckney as steadily voted against slavery prohibition and against all compromises. By this, Mr. King showed that, in his understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, was violated by Congress prohibiting slavery in federal territory; while Mr. Pinckney, by his votes, showed that, in his understanding, there was some sufficient reason for opposing such prohibition in that case.

The cases I have mentioned are the only acts of the “thirty-nine,” or of any of them, upon the direct issue, which I have been able to discover.

To enumerate the persons who thus acted, as being four in 1784, two in 1787, seventeen in 1789, three in 1798, two in 1804, and two in 1819-20 – there would be thirty of them. But this would be counting John Langdon, Roger Sherman, William Few, Rufus King, and George Read each twice, and Abraham Baldwin, three times. The true number of those of the “thirty-nine” whom I have shown to have acted upon the question, which, by the text, they understood better than we, is twenty-three, leaving sixteen not shown to have acted upon it in any way.

Here, then, we have twenty-three out of our thirty-nine fathers “who framed the government under which we live,” who have, upon their official responsibility and their corporal oaths, acted upon the very question which the text affirms they “understood just as well, and even better than we do now;” and twenty-one of them – a clear majority of the whole “thirty-nine” – so acting upon it as to make them guilty of gross political impropriety and willful perjury, if, in their understanding, any proper division between local and federal authority, or anything in the Constitution they had made themselves, and sworn to support, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. Thus the twenty-one acted; and, as actions speak louder than words, so actions, under such responsibility, speak still louder.

Two of the twenty-three voted against Congressional prohibition of slavery in the federal territories, in the instances in which they acted upon the question. But for what reasons they so voted is not known. They may have done so because they thought a proper division of local from federal authority, or some provision or principle of the Constitution, stood in the way; or they may, without any such question, have voted against the prohibition, on what appeared to them to be sufficient grounds of expediency. No one who has sworn to support the Constitution can conscientiously vote for what he understands to be an unconstitutional measure, however expedient he may think it; but one may and ought to vote against a measure which he deems constitutional, if, at the same time, he deems it inexpedient. It, therefore, would be unsafe to set down even the two who voted against the prohibition, as having done so because, in their understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory.

The remaining sixteen of the “thirty-nine,” so far as I have discovered, have left no record of their understanding upon the direct question of federal control of slavery in the federal territories. But there is much reason to believe that their understanding upon that question would not have appeared different from that of their twenty-three compeers, had it been manifested at all.

For the purpose of adhering rigidly to the text, I have purposely omitted whatever understanding may have been manifested by any person, however distinguished, other than the thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution; and, for the same reason, I have also omitted whatever understanding may have been manifested by any of the “thirty-nine” even, on any other phase of the general question of slavery. If we should look into their acts and declarations on those other phases, as the foreign slave trade, and the morality and policy of slavery generally, it would appear to us that on the direct question of federal control of slavery in federal territories, the sixteen, if they had acted at all, would probably have acted just as the twenty-three did. Among that sixteen were several of the most noted anti-slavery men of those times – as Dr. Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris – while there was not one now known to have been otherwise, unless it may be John Rutledge, of South Carolina.

The sum of the whole is, that of our thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution, twenty-one – a clear majority of the whole – certainly understood that no proper division of local from federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories; while all the rest probably had the same understanding. Such, unquestionably, was the understanding of our fathers who framed the original Constitution; and the text affirms that they understood the question “better than we.”

But, so far, I have been considering the understanding of the question manifested by the framers of the original Constitution. In and by the original instrument, a mode was provided for amending it; and, as I have already stated, the present frame of “the Government under which we live” consists of that original, and twelve amendatory articles framed and adopted since. Those who now insist that federal control of slavery in federal territories violates the Constitution, point us to the provisions which they suppose it thus violates; and, as I understand, that all fix upon provisions in these amendatory articles, and not in the original instrument. The Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott case, plant themselves upon the fifth amendment, which provides that no person shall be deprived of “life, liberty or property without due process of law;” while Senator Douglas and his peculiar adherents plant themselves upon the tenth amendment, providing that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Now, it so happens that these amendments were framed by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution – the identical Congress which passed the act already mentioned, enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. Not only was it the same Congress, but they were the identical, same individual men who, at the same session, and at the same time within the session, had under consideration, and in progress toward maturity, these Constitutional amendments, and this act prohibiting slavery in all the territory the nation then owned. The Constitutional amendments were introduced before, and passed after the act enforcing the Ordinance of ’87; so that, during the whole pendency of the act to enforce the Ordinance, the Constitutional amendments were also pending.

The seventy-six members of that Congress, including sixteen of the framers of the original Constitution, as before stated, were pre- eminently our fathers who framed that part of “the Government under which we live,” which is now claimed as forbidding the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories.

Is it not a little presumptuous in any one at this day to affirm that the two things which that Congress deliberately framed, and carried to maturity at the same time, are absolutely inconsistent with each other? And does not such affirmation become impudently absurd when coupled with the other affirmation from the same mouth, that those who did the two things, alleged to be inconsistent, understood whether they really were inconsistent better than we – better than he who affirms that they are inconsistent?

It is surely safe to assume that the thirty-nine framers of the original Constitution, and the seventy-six members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live.” And so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. I go a step further. I defy any one to show that any living man in the whole world ever did, prior to the beginning of the present century, (and I might almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the present century,) declare that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. To those who now so declare, I give, not only “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live,” but with them all other living men within the century in which it was framed, among whom to search, and they shall not be able to find the evidence of a single man agreeing with them.

Now, and here, let me guard a little against being misunderstood. I do not mean to say we are bound to follow implicitly in whatever our fathers did. To do so, would be to discard all the lights of current experience – to reject all progress – all improvement. What I do say is, that if we would supplant the opinions and policy of our fathers in any case, we should do so upon evidence so conclusive, and argument so clear, that even their great authority, fairly considered and weighed, cannot stand; and most surely not in a case whereof we ourselves declare they understood the question better than we.

If any man at this day sincerely believes that a proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories, he is right to say so, and to enforce his position by all truthful evidence and fair argument which he can. But he has no right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it, into the false belief that “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live” were of the same opinion – thus substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument. If any man at this day sincerely believes “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live,” used and applied principles, in other cases, which ought to have led them to understand that a proper division of local from federal authority or some part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories, he is right to say so. But he should, at the same time, brave the responsibility of declaring that, in his opinion, he understands their principles better than they did themselves; and especially should he not shirk that responsibility by asserting that they “understood the question just as well, and even better, than we do now.”

But enough! Let all who believe that “our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now,” speak as they spoke, and act as they acted upon it. This is all Republicans ask – all Republicans desire – in relation to slavery. As those fathers marked it, so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be extended, but to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity. Let all the guarantees those fathers gave it, be, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly, maintained. For this Republicans contend, and with this, so far as I know or believe, they will be content.

And now, if they would listen – as I suppose they will not – I would address a few words to the Southern people.

I would say to them: – You consider yourselves a reasonable and a just people; and I consider that in the general qualities of reason and justice you are not inferior to any other people. Still, when you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us a reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to “Black Republicans.” In all your contentions with one another, each of you deems an unconditional condemnation of “Black Republicanism” as the first thing to be attended to. Indeed, such condemnation of us seems to be an indispensable prerequisite – license, so to speak – among you to be admitted or permitted to speak at all. Now, can you, or not, be prevailed upon to pause and to consider whether this is quite just to us, or even to yourselves? Bring forward your charges and specifications, and then be patient long enough to hear us deny or justify.

You say we are sectional. We deny it. That makes an issue; and the burden of proof is upon you. You produce your proof; and what is it? Why, that our party has no existence in your section – gets no votes in your section. The fact is substantially true; but does it prove the issue? If it does, then in case we should, without change of principle, begin to get votes in your section, we should thereby cease to be sectional. You cannot escape this conclusion; and yet, are you willing to abide by it? If you are, you will probably soon find that we have ceased to be sectional, for we shall get votes in your section this very year. You will then begin to discover, as the truth plainly is, that your proof does not touch the issue. The fact that we get no votes in your section, is a fact of your making, and not of ours. And if there be fault in that fact, that fault is primarily yours, and remains until you show that we repel you by some wrong principle or practice. If we do repel you by any wrong principle or practice, the fault is ours; but this brings you to where you ought to have started – to a discussion of the right or wrong of our principle. If our principle, put in practice, would wrong your section for the benefit of ours, or for any other object, then our principle, and we with it, are sectional, and are justly opposed and denounced as such. Meet us, then, on the question of whether our principle, put in practice, would wrong your section; and so meet it as if it were possible that something may be said on our side. Do you accept the challenge? No! Then you really believe that the principle which “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live” thought so clearly right as to adopt it, and indorse it again and again, upon their official oaths, is in fact so clearly wrong as to demand your condemnation without a moment’s consideration.

Some of you delight to flaunt in our faces the warning against sectional parties given by Washington in his Farewell Address. Less than eight years before Washington gave that warning, he had, as President of the United States, approved and signed an act of Congress, enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory, which act embodied the policy of the Government upon that subject up to and at the very moment he penned that warning; and about one year after he penned it, he wrote LaFayette that he considered that prohibition a wise measure, expressing in the same connection his hope that we should at some time have a confederacy of free States.

Bearing this in mind, and seeing that sectionalism has since arisen upon this same subject, is that warning a weapon in your hands against us, or in our hands against you? Could Washington himself speak, would he cast the blame of that sectionalism upon us, who sustain his policy, or upon you who repudiate it? We respect that warning of Washington, and we commend it to you, together with his example pointing to the right application of it.

But you say you are conservative – eminently conservative – while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;” while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new. True, you disagree among yourselves as to what that substitute shall be. You are divided on new propositions and plans, but you are unanimous in rejecting and denouncing the old policy of the fathers. Some of you are for reviving the foreign slave trade; some for a Congressional Slave-Code for the Territories; some for Congress forbidding the Territories to prohibit Slavery within their limits; some for maintaining Slavery in the Territories through the judiciary; some for the “gur-reat pur-rinciple” that “if one man would enslave another, no third man should object,” fantastically called “Popular Sovereignty;” but never a man among you is in favor of federal prohibition of slavery in federal territories, according to the practice of “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live.” Not one of all your various plans can show a precedent or an advocate in the century within which our Government originated. Consider, then, whether your claim of conservatism for yourselves, and your charge or destructiveness against us, are based on the most clear and stable foundations.

Again, you say we have made the slavery question more prominent than it formerly was. We deny it. We admit that it is more prominent, but we deny that we made it so. It was not we, but you, who discarded the old policy of the fathers. We resisted, and still resist, your innovation; and thence comes the greater prominence of the question. Would you have that question reduced to its former proportions? Go back to that old policy. What has been will be again, under the same conditions. If you would have the peace of the old times, readopt the precepts and policy of the old times.

You charge that we stir up insurrections among your slaves. We deny it; and what is your proof? Harper’s Ferry! John Brown!! John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper’s Ferry enterprise. If any member of our party is guilty in that matter, you know it or you do not know it. If you do know it, you are inexcusable for not designating the man and proving the fact. If you do not know it, you are inexcusable for asserting it, and especially for persisting in the assertion after you have tried and failed to make the proof. You need to be told that persisting in a charge which one does not know to be true, is simply malicious slander.

Some of you admit that no Republican designedly aided or encouraged the Harper’s Ferry affair, but still insist that our doctrines and declarations necessarily lead to such results. We do not believe it. We know we hold to no doctrine, and make no declaration, which were not held to and made by “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live.” You never dealt fairly by us in relation to this affair. When it occurred, some important State elections were near at hand, and you were in evident glee with the belief that, by charging the blame upon us, you could get an advantage of us in those elections. The elections came, and your expectations were not quite fulfilled. Every Republican man knew that, as to himself at least, your charge was a slander, and he was not much inclined by it to cast his vote in your favor. Republican doctrines and declarations are accompanied with a continual protest against any interference whatever with your slaves, or with you about your slaves. Surely, this does not encourage them to revolt. True, we do, in common with “our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live,” declare our belief that slavery is wrong; but the slaves do not hear us declare even this. For anything we say or do, the slaves would scarcely know there is a Republican party. I believe they would not, in fact, generally know it but for your misrepresentations of us, in their hearing. In your political contests among yourselves, each faction charges the other with sympathy with Black Republicanism; and then, to give point to the charge, defines Black Republicanism to simply be insurrection, blood and thunder among the slaves.

Slave insurrections are no more common now than they were before the Republican party was organized. What induced the Southampton insurrection, twenty-eight years ago, in which, at least three times as many lives were lost as at Harper’s Ferry? You can scarcely stretch your very elastic fancy to the conclusion that Southampton was “got up by Black Republicanism.” In the present state of things in the United States, I do not think a general, or even a very extensive slave insurrection is possible. The indispensable concert of action cannot be attained. The slaves have no means of rapid communication; nor can incendiary freemen, black or white, supply it. The explosive materials are everywhere in parcels; but there neither are, nor can be supplied, the indispensable connecting trains.

Much is said by Southern people about the affection of slaves for their masters and mistresses; and a part of it, at least, is true. A plot for an uprising could scarcely be devised and communicated to twenty individuals before some one of them, to save the life of a favorite master or mistress, would divulge it. This is the rule; and the slave revolution in Hayti was not an exception to it, but a case occurring under peculiar circumstances. The gunpowder plot of British history, though not connected with slaves, was more in point. In that case, only about twenty were admitted to the secret; and yet one of them, in his anxiety to save a friend, betrayed the plot to that friend, and, by consequence, averted the calamity. Occasional poisonings from the kitchen, and open or stealthy assassinations in the field, and local revolts extending to a score or so, will continue to occur as the natural results of slavery; but no general insurrection of slaves, as I think, can happen in this country for a long time. Whoever much fears, or much hopes for such an event, will be alike disappointed.

In the language of Mr. Jefferson, uttered many years ago, “It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation, and deportation, peaceably, and in such slow degrees, as that the evil will wear off insensibly; and their places be, pari passu, filled up by free white laborers. If, on the contrary, it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up.”

Mr. Jefferson did not mean to say, nor do I, that the power of emancipation is in the Federal Government. He spoke of Virginia; and, as to the power of emancipation, I speak of the slaveholding States only. The Federal Government, however, as we insist, has the power of restraining the extension of the institution – the power to insure that a slave insurrection shall never occur on any American soil which is now free from slavery.

John Brown’s effort was peculiar. It was not a slave insurrection. It was an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate. In fact, it was so absurd that the slaves, with all their ignorance, saw plainly enough it could not succeed. That affair, in its philosophy, corresponds with the many attempts, related in history, at the assassination of kings and emperors. An enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people till he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures the attempt, which ends in little else than his own execution. Orsini’s attempt on Louis Napoleon, and John Brown’s attempt at Harper’s Ferry were, in their philosophy, precisely the same. The eagerness to cast blame on old England in the one case, and on New England in the other, does not disprove the sameness of the two things.

And how much would it avail you, if you could, by the use of John Brown, Helper’s Book, and the like, break up the Republican organization? Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed. There is a judgment and a feeling against slavery in this nation, which cast at least a million and a half of votes. You cannot destroy that judgment and feeling – that sentiment – by breaking up the political organization which rallies around it. You can scarcely scatter and disperse an army which has been formed into order in the face of your heaviest fire; but if you could, how much would you gain by forcing the sentiment which created it out of the peaceful channel of the ballot-box, into some other channel? What would that other channel probably be? Would the number of John Browns be lessened or enlarged by the operation?

But you will break up the Union rather than submit to a denial of your Constitutional rights.

That has a somewhat reckless sound; but it would be palliated, if not fully justified, were we proposing, by the mere force of numbers, to deprive you of some right, plainly written down in the Constitution. But we are proposing no such thing.

When you make these declarations, you have a specific and well-understood allusion to an assumed Constitutional right of yours, to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them there as property. But no such right is specifically written in the Constitution. That instrument is literally silent about any such right. We, on the contrary, deny that such a right has any existence in the Constitution, even by implication.

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

This, plainly stated, is your language. Perhaps you will say the Supreme Court has decided the disputed Constitutional question in your favor. Not quite so. But waiving the lawyer’s distinction between dictum and decision, the Court have decided the question for you in a sort of way. The Court have substantially said, it is your Constitutional right to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them there as property. When I say the decision was made in a sort of way, I mean it was made in a divided Court, by a bare majority of the Judges, and they not quite agreeing with one another in the reasons for making it; that it is so made as that its avowed supporters disagree with one another about its meaning, and that it was mainly based upon a mistaken statement of fact – the statement in the opinion that “the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.”

An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave is not “distinctly and expressly affirmed” in it. Bear in mind, the Judges do not pledge their judicial opinion that such right is impliedly affirmed in the Constitution; but they pledge their veracity that it is “distinctly and expressly” affirmed there – “distinctly,” that is, not mingled with anything else – “expressly,” that is, in words meaning just that, without the aid of any inference, and susceptible of no other meaning.

If they had only pledged their judicial opinion that such right is affirmed in the instrument by implication, it would be open to others to show that neither the word “slave” nor “slavery” is to be found in the Constitution, nor the word “property” even, in any connection with language alluding to the things slave, or slavery; and that wherever in that instrument the slave is alluded to, he is called a “person;” – and wherever his master’s legal right in relation to him is alluded to, it is spoken of as “service or labor which may be due,” – as a debt payable in service or labor. Also, it would be open to show, by contemporaneous history, that this mode of alluding to slaves and slavery, instead of speaking of them, was employed on purpose to exclude from the Constitution the idea that there could be property in man.

To show all this, is easy and certain.

When this obvious mistake of the Judges shall be brought to their notice, is it not reasonable to expect that they will withdraw the mistaken statement, and reconsider the conclusion based upon it?

And then it is to be remembered that “our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live” – the men who made the Constitution – decided this same Constitutional question in our favor, long ago – decided it without division among themselves, when making the decision; without division among themselves about the meaning of it after it was made, and, so far as any evidence is left, without basing it upon any mistaken statement of facts.

Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me – my money – was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle.

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them.

Will they be satisfied if the Territories be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not. In all their present complaints against us, the Territories are scarcely mentioned. Invasions and insurrections are the rage now. Will it satisfy them, if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not. We so know, because we know we never had anything to do with invasions and insurrections; and yet this total abstaining does not exempt us from the charge and the denunciation.

The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’ new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this way. Most of them would probably say to us, “Let us alone, do nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery.” But we do let them alone – have never disturbed them – so that, after all, it is what we say, which dissatisfies them. They will continue to accuse us of doing, until we cease saying.

I am also aware they have not, as yet, in terms, demanded the overthrow of our Free-State Constitutions. Yet those Constitutions declare the wrong of slavery, with more solemn emphasis, than do all other sayings against it; and when all these other sayings shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these Constitutions will be demanded, and nothing be left to resist the demand. It is nothing to the contrary, that they do not demand the whole of this just now. Demanding what they do, and for the reason they do, they can voluntarily stop nowhere short of this consummation. Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing.

Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality – its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension – its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.

Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.


Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

In 1834, Dr. Emerson, an Army surgeon, took his slave Dred Scott from Missouri, a slave state, to Illinois, a free state, and then, in 1836, to Fort Snelling in Wisconsin Territory. The latter was north of the geographic line at latitude 36°30′ established under the Missouri Compromise of 1820 as the division between free territory and that potentially open to slavery. In addition, the law that organized Wisconsin Territory in 1836 made the domain free. Emerson, his wife, and Scott and his family eventually returned to Missouri by 1840. Emerson died in Iowa in 1843. Ownership of Scott and his family ultimately passed to Emerson’s brother-in-law, John Sanford, of New York.

With financial assistance from the family of his former owner, the late Peter Blow, Scott sued for his freedom in Missouri state court, beginning in 1846. He argued that he was free due to having resided in both a free state and a free territory. After some procedural delays, the lower court jury eventually agreed with him in 1850, but the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852 overturned the verdict. The judges rejected Scott’s argument, on the basis that the laws of Illinois and Wisconsin Territory had no extraterritorial effect in Missouri once he returned there.

It has long been speculated that the case was contrived. Records were murky, and it was not clear that Sanford actually owned Scott. Moreover, Sanford’s sister Irene, the late Dr. Emerson’s widow, had remarried an abolitionist Congressman. Finally, the suit was brought in the court of Judge Alexander Hamilton, known to be sympathetic to such “freedom suits.”

Having lost in the state courts, in 1853 Scott tried again, in the United States Circuit Court for Missouri, which at that time was a federal trial court. The basic thrust of the case at that level was procedural sufficiency. Federal courts, as courts of limited and defined jurisdiction under Article III of the Constitution, generally can hear only cases between citizens of different states or if a claim is based on a federal statute or treaty, or on the Constitution. There being no federal law of any sort involved, Scott’s claim rested on diversity of citizenship. Scott claimed that he was a free citizen of Missouri and Sanford a citizen of New York. On the substance, Scott reiterated the position from his state court claim. Sanford sought a dismissal on the basis of lack of subject matter jurisdiction because, being black, Scott could not be a citizen of Missouri.

When Missouri sought admission to statehood in 1820, its constitution excluded free blacks from living in the state. The compromise law passed by Congress prohibited the state constitution from being interpreted to authorize a law that would exclude citizens of any state from enjoying the constitutional privileges and immunities of citizenship the state recognized for its own citizens. That prohibition was toothless, and Sanford’s argument rested on Missouri’s negation of citizenship for all blacks. Thus, Scott’s continued status as a slave was not crucial to resolve the case. Rather, his racial status, free or slave, meant that he was not a citizen of Missouri. Thus, the federal court lacked jurisdiction over the suit and could not hear Scott’s substantive claim. Instead, the appropriate forum to determine Scott’s status was the Missouri state court. As already noted, that was a dry well and could not water the fountain of justice.

In a confusing action, the Circuit Court appeared to reject Sanford’s jurisdictional argument, but the jury nevertheless ruled for Sanford on the merits, based on Missouri law. Scott appealed to the United States Supreme Court by writ of error, a broad corrective tool to review decisions of lower courts. The Court heard argument in Dred Scott v. Sandford (the “d” is a clerical error) at its February, 1856, term. The justices were divided on the preliminary jurisdictional issue. They bound the case over to the December, 1856, term, after the contentious 1856 election. There seemed to be a way out of the ticklish matter. In Strader v. Graham in 1850, the unanimous Supreme Court had held that a slave’s status rested finally on the decision of the relevant state court. The justices also had refused to consider independently the claim that a slave became free simply through residence in a free state. Seven of the justices in Dred Scott believed Strader to be on point, and Justice Samuel Nelson drafted an opinion on that basis. Such a narrow resolution would have steered clear of the hot political issue of extension of slavery into new territories that was roiling the political waters and threatening to tear apart the Union.

It was not to be. Several of the Southern justices were sufficiently alarmed by the public debate and affected by sectional loyalty to prepare concurring opinions to address the lurking issue of Scott’s status. Justice James Wayne of Georgia then persuaded his fellows to take up all issues raised by Scott’s suit. Chief Justice Roger Taney would write the opinion.

Writing for himself and six associate justices, Taney delivered the Court’s opinion on March 6, 1857, just a couple of days after the inauguration of President James Buchanan. In his inaugural address, Buchanan hinted at the coming decision through which the slavery question would “be speedily and finally settled.” Apparently having received advance word of the decision, Buchanan declared that he would support the decision, adding coyly, “whatever this may be.” Some historians have wondered if Buchanan actually appreciated the breadth of the Court’s imminent opinion or misunderstood what was about to happen. Of the seven justices that joined the decision that Scott lacked standing to sue and was still a slave, five were Southerners (Taney of Maryland, Wayne, John Catron of Tennessee, Peter Daniel of Virginia, and John Campbell of Georgia). Two were from the North (Samuel Nelson of New York and Robert Grier of Pennsylvania). Two Northerners (Benjamin Curtis of Massachusetts and John McLean of Ohio) dissented.

Taney’s ruling concluded that Scott was not a citizen of the United States, because he was black, and because he was a slave. Thus, the federal courts lacked jurisdiction, and by virtue of the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision, Scott was still a slave. Taney’s argument rested primarily on a complex analysis of citizenship. When the Constitution was adopted, neither slaves nor free blacks were part of the community of citizens in the several states. Thereafter, some states made citizens of free blacks, as they were entitled to do. But that did not affect the status of such individuals in other states, as state laws could not act extraterritorially. Only United States citizenship or state citizenship conferred directly under the Constitution could be the same in all states. Neither slaves nor free blacks were understood to be part of the community of citizens in the states in 1788 when the Constitution was adopted, the only time that state citizenship could have also conferred national citizenship. Thereafter, only Congress could extend national citizenship to free blacks, but had never done so. States could not now confer U.S. citizenship, because the two were distinct, which reflected basic tenets of dual sovereignty.

Taney rejected the common law principle of birthright citizenship based on jus soli, that citizenship arose from where the person was born. This was not traditionally the only source of citizenship, the other being the jus sanguinis, by which citizenship arose through the parents’ citizenship, unless a person was an alien and became naturalized under federal law. Since blacks were not naturalized aliens, and their parental lineage could not confer citizenship on them under Taney’s reasoning, the rejection of citizenship derived from birth in the United States meant that even free blacks were merely subordinate American nationals owing obligations and allegiance to the United States but not enjoying the inherent political, legal, and civil rights of full citizenship. This was a novel status, but one that became significant several decades later when the United States acquired overseas dominions.

After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was adopted. The very first sentence defines one basis of citizenship. National citizenship and state citizenship are divided, but the division is not identical to Taney’s version. To counter the Dred Scott Case and to affirm the citizenship of the newly-freed slaves, and, by extension, all blacks, national citizenship became rooted in jus soli. If one was born (or naturalized) in the United States and was subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, that is, one owed no loyalty to a foreign government, national citizenship applied. State citizenship was derivative of national citizenship, not independent of it, as Taney had held, and was based on domicile in that state.

The Chief Justice also rejected the idea that blacks were entitled to the same privileges and immunities of citizenship as whites. Although Taney viewed the Constitution’s privileges and immunities clause in Article IV broadly, if blacks were regarded as full state citizens under the Constitution, then Southern states could not enforce their laws that restricted the rights of blacks regarding free speech, assembly, and the keeping and bearing of arms. That, in turn, would threaten the social order and the stability of the slave system.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at:

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Dred Scott lost his appeal for a second reason, his status as a slave. The Court’s original, since-abandoned, plan had been to decide the whole suit on the basis of the Strader precedent that Scott was a slave because the Missouri Supreme Court had so found. That approach still could have been used to deal summarily with this issue in the eventual opinion. But Taney struck a bolder theme. He analyzed the effect of Scott’s residence in Illinois and Wisconsin Territory on his status. This allowed Taney to challenge more broadly the prevailing idea that the federal government could interfere with the movement of slavery throughout the nation.

Taney opined that the federal government’s power to regulate directly the status of slavery in the territories, including its abolition, was derived from Article IV, Section 3, of the Constitution, which authorized Congress to “make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory … belonging to the United States” and to admit new states. However, Taney claimed, this provision applied only to the land that had been ceded to the United States by the several states under the Articles of Confederation. Thus, Congress could abolish slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, reenacted in 1789, because it applied to such ceded land. Any territory acquired by the United States thereafter, such as through the Louisiana Purchase or the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo after the Mexican War, was held by the United States in trust for the whole people of the United States. Thus, white citizens who settled in those territories did not lose the rights they had acquired residing within their previous states. They were not “mere colonists, … to be governed by any laws [the general government] may think proper.” These rights would include that to property and extended to the property in slaves.

Lastly, Taney explained, the Fifth Amendment expressly protected against federal laws that sought to deprive a person of his life, liberty, or property without due process. Due process guaranteed not only a fair trial, but protected generally against arbitrary laws. A law that deprived a person of property, including slaves, simply because he moved into a territory controlled by the federal government, “could hardly be dignified with the name of due process of law.” This was a founding example of the doctrine of substantive due process that has been invoked by the courts in more recent cases to strike down laws against abortion and same-sex marriage. Taney’s distinction between the constitutional rights of citizens and colonists and his postulate that the Constitution limited Congress’s power of administering the territories settled by Americans reappeared in modified form a half century later in cases dealing with Congress’s control over overseas territory acquired after the Spanish-American War.

Scott did not become free by residing in free territory, because the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which excluded slavery from Wisconsin Territory, was unconstitutional. That decision was radical because it upset a long constitutional custom of geographically dividing free from (potentially) slave territory, beginning with the Northwest Ordinance, but which had been undermined in the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Nor could Wisconsin’s territorial legislature abolish slavery, in Taney’s analysis, through the newly-minted doctrine of “popular sovereignty.” That legislature was merely an agent of Congress, and had no more power to destroy constitutional rights than did its principal.

“Popular sovereignty” lay at the core of the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas- Nebraska Act. That doctrine, championed by Senators Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas, allowed slave holders to bring their property into all parts of the politically unorganized territorial area. Under the Northern view, once organized as a territory, the people acting through a convention or through their territorial legislature might authorize or prohibit slavery. Under the Southern view, only states could abolish slavery, and any such prohibition had to await a decision of the people when seeking statehood or thereafter. The Court thus endorsed the Southern perspective, further inflaming sectional tensions because the two federal compromise laws had always been a bitter pill to swallow for many in the North.

Four of the concurring justices wrote opinions that reached the same result via various other doctrinal paths. Two dissented. The main dissent, by Benjamin Curtis—whose brother George Ticknor Curtis was one of Scott’s attorneys—relied on the theory that state citizenship was the source of national citizenship. Therefore, once someone resided in a state, and was not merely a sojourner, he acquired the rights of citizenship in that state. Scott, having resided in a free state, had shed his status as a slave and could not be reduced to that status merely by returning to Missouri. Once free, he was also entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens, which included the right to travel freely to other states. Curtis’s theory, by focusing on states as the source of all citizenship, was even more inconsistent than Taney’s with the eventual language of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embodied a national supremacy approach.

From the beginning, the Dred Scott Case was received poorly by the public. Its controversial, and to us odious, result also tarnished the legacy of Roger Taney. Viewed from our more distant historical perspective, perhaps a more nuanced evaluation is possible. Judged by intellectual standards, Taney’s opinion showed considerable judicial craftsmanship. Taney himself was an accomplished and influential Chief Justice, whose Court addressed legal and constitutional matters significant for the country’s development.

Why then did Taney opt for an approach that destroyed the delicate balances worked out politically in the Congress, and would have nationalized the spread of slavery? After all, the narrower route of Strader lay open to the Court for the same result. Part of it was sympathy for the Southern cause, although Taney by then was not himself a slave owner. Indeed, while in law practice, Taney had vigorously denounced slavery when defending an abolitionist minister accused of inciting slave rebellions. Mostly, it was the perception that the political process was becoming unable to negotiate the hardening positions of both sides on the various facets of the slavery controversy. Those facets included protection of the “peculiar institution” in the existing slave states, expansion of slavery into new territory, and recapture of fugitive slaves from states hostile to such efforts.

The relatively successful compromises of the late 18th and early 19th centuries with their attendant comity among the states were in the distant past. Congressional efforts were increasingly strained and laborious, as experience with the convoluted process that led to the Compromise of 1850 had shown. Southerners’ paranoia about their section’s diminished political power and comparative industrial inadequacy, as well as Northerners’ moral self-righteousness and sense of political ascendancy eroded the mutual good will needed for compromise. Presidential leadership had proved counterproductive to sectional accommodation, as with James Polk and the controversy over potential expansion of slavery into territory from the Mexican War. Or, such executive efforts were ineffective, as with Franklin Pierce’s failed attempt to act while President like the compromise candidate that he had been at the Democratic convention. Worse yet, eventually such leadership was non-existent, as with James Buchanan.

There remained only the judicial solution to prevent the rupture of the political order that was looming. Legal decisions, unlike political ones, are binary and generally produce a basic clarity. One side wins, the other loses. Constitutional cases add to that the veneer of moral superiority. If the Constitution is seen as a collection of moral principles, not just a pragmatic collection of political compromises, the winner in a constitutional dispute has a moral legitimacy that the loser lacks. Hence, Taney decided to cut the Gordian knot and hope that the Court’s decision would be accepted even by those who opposed slavery. Certainly, President Buchanan, having received advance word of the impending decision, announced in his inaugural address that he would accept the Court’s decision and expected all good citizens to do likewise.

Unfortunately, matters turned out differently. At best, the decision had no impact on the country’s lurch toward violence. At worst, the decision hastened secession and war. Abraham Lincoln presented the moderate opposition to the decision. In a challenge to the Court, he defended the President’s independent powers to interpret the Constitution. In his first inaugural address, Lincoln disavowed any intention to overturn the decision and free Dred Scott. He then declared, “At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, … the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

Scott and his family were freed by manumission in May, 1837, two months after the decision in his case. Scott died a year later.

In the eyes of many, the Court’s institutional legitimacy suffered from its attempt to solve undemocratically such a deep public controversy about a fundamental moral issue. A more recent analogue springs to mind readily. Many years after Dred Scott, partially dissenting in the influential abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, Justice Antonin Scalia described a portrait of Taney painted in 1859: “There seems to be on his face, and in his deep-set eyes, an expression of profound sadness and disillusionment. Perhaps he always looked that way, even when dwelling upon the happiest of thoughts. But those of us who know how the lustre of his great Chief Justiceship came to be eclipsed by Dred Scott cannot help believing that he had that case—its already apparent consequences for the Court and its soon-to-be-played-out consequences for the Nation—burning on his mind.” Scalia’s linkage of Taney’s ill-fated undemocratic attempt to settle definitively the slavery question by judicial decree to the similar attempt by his own fellow justices to settle the equally morally fraught abortion issue was none- too-subtle. Lest someone miss the point, Scalia concluded: “[B]y foreclosing all democratic outlet for the deep passions this issue arouses, by banishing the issue from the political forum that gives all participants, even the losers, the satisfaction of a fair hearing and an honest fight, by continuing the imposition of a rigid national rule instead of allowing for regional differences, the Court merely prolongs and intensifies the anguish.”

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at:

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

The cascade of events leading to John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid, and 700,000 dead on countless Civil War battlefields, began with a cynical ploy by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas to help land speculators and political donors.

America’s founding was an intricately crafted series of compromises and rules of engagement to balance regional interests. One of the fundamental points of conflict was slavery.

Slavery was integral to the economic vitality and culture of southern states. As America expanded westward, increasingly complex arrangements maintained the North/South regional political balance.  Western settlers quickly became a third regional interest.

For decades, three titans of the U.S. Senate: Daniel Webster representing Northern interests, John C. Calhoun representing Southern interests, and Henry Clay representing the West debated and compromised to keep America united. Their agreements were tested as the Louisiana Purchase, and then the Mexican War, created vast land masses for settlement, economic development, and political power.

Slavery became the epicenter of regional rivalries. The South wanted to maintain parity in the Senate, balancing adding a new free state with a slave state. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 maintained the political balance while avoiding confronting slavery. Most Americans, even Southerners, hated the institution. They hoped that slavery, if left alone, would somehow fade away over decades to come.

In the minority were Northern abolitionists, who wanted to end slavery in their lifetime. There were also Southern slavery advocates, who hoped to expand slavery westward and even southward by annexing Caribbean and Central American lands to bolster their power. The moderates held off both factions until the lure of land speculation, government contracts, and quick profits were added into the mix.

It began with the proposed trans-continental railroad to California. Southerners wanted the rail line to take a southern route. James Gadsden, President Franklin Pierce’s Ambassador to Mexico, negotiated the purchase of Mexican lands in what is now the southern border of Arizona and New Mexico on December 30, 1853 to assure sufficient railroad rights-of-way through less mountainous terrain.

The North wanted a northern route that began at St. Louis, Missouri and linked to Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. Most northern business leaders favored the northern route and felt that organization of the Nebraska Territory would facilitate this decision. However, rival business factions within Missouri wanted control of the route and the potential fortunes to be made from land speculation. Pro-slave forces threatened to block any efforts to organize Nebraska because Missouri would then be surrounded on its west, east, and north by free states.

Senator Stephen Douglas was a key architect of the Compromise of 1850 and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories. Douglas already had presidential aspirations, having lost the 1852 Democratic Party nomination to Franklin Pierce. He was preparing for another run in 1856. He wanted to help his Missouri-based political and financial allies, while avoiding a confrontation with Southerners. [1]

On January 4, 1854, Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850. It opened the entire territory to popular or “squatter” sovereignty for determining whether the territories would be free or slave. At this time the Nebraska Territory encompassed the entire Louisiana Purchase from the Missouri Compromise line to the Canadian Border. Indiana Representative George Washington Julian, who would serve as the Chairman of the Committee on Organization for the 1856 Republican Convention, commented, “The whole question of slavery was thus re-opened.” [2]

The Congressional debate on the Kansas-Nebraska Act was tumultuous. Ohio Senator, Salmon Chase, published, “The Appeal of the Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States,” in the New York Times on January 24, 1854. He declared the abandonment of the Missouri Compromise a “gross violation of a sacred pledge” and an “atrocious plot” to convert free territory into a “dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves.” [3]

Northerners, and many Westerners, felt Southern politicians were dealing in bad faith. The “Nebraska Act” was viewed as a bold Southern power grab that threatened the nation’s future. Protests against the “Nebraska Act” spread throughout the North. Highly charged emotions fractured the Democratic Party, destroyed the Whig Party, and launched the Republican Party. Sixty-seven-years of America’s civic culture was falling apart.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act passed the Senate in March and the House of Representatives in early May. President Pierce signed the bill into law on May 30, 1854.

New York Senator William H. Seward responded to victorious Southern Senators by stating, “Since there is no escaping your challenge, I accept it in behalf of the cause of freedom. We will engage in a competition for the virgin soil of Kansas, and God give the victory to the side which is stronger in numbers as it is in right.” [4]

Both pro-slavery and anti-slave forces moved into the Kansas territory engaging in brutal guerilla warfare over the next five years. This sporadic civil war became known as “Bleeding Kansas.” It even spilled into the U.S. Senate Chamber. On May 22, 1856, South Carolina pro-slavery Democrat Representative Preston Brooks assaulted Massachusetts anti-slavery Republican Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate Chamber, bludgeoning him into unconsciousness. [5]

The regional civil war that erupted among Kansas settlers attracted the attention of John Brown, a key leader within the abolitionist movement.  Wealthy and politically connected abolitionists funded and armed Brown, his many sons, and a growing number of paramilitary units, to enter the Kansas maelstrom.

Kansas became a killing ground, and a proving ground for Brown’s violent approach to ending slavery. The nation had embarked on a path leading to the most cataclysmic event in American history.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.

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[1] Mayer, George H., The Republican Party 1854-1966 Second Edition (Oxford University Press, New York, 1966) page 25.

[2] Julian, George Washington, Political Recollections; Anthology – America; Great Crises in Our History Told by its Makers; Vol. VII (Veterans of Foreign Wars, Chicago, 1925) page 212.

[3] McPherson, James, Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford University Press, New York, 1988) page 124.

[4] Ibid., page 145.

[5] Ibid., page 150.

Guest Essayist: James D. Best

On the evening of February 27, 1860, New Yorkers paid an exorbitant twenty-five cents to listen to a commonplace politician from some prairie state. The man had a reputation as a storyteller extraordinaire. Everyone expected to be entertained; few took the speaker seriously as a presidential candidate. Abraham Lincoln had earned a modicum of fame due to his debates with Senator Stephen Douglas two years previously, but he had lost that race and most believed the fledgling Republican Party would never nominate a loser. In fact, many wondered how this roughhewn storyteller wangled an invitation to a lecture series meant to expose serious candidates to the New York elite? Homespun yarns might draw crowds in the bucolic West, but New York City demanded a more elevated style of speechmaking.

The Republican Party was new and had failed in running John C. Frémont, a national hero, for president in 1856. Lincoln’s chances of ascending to the presidency under the Republican banner were slight. Lincoln, of course, had other plans. That afternoon, he had his photograph taken by Mathew Brady, and he intended his evening speech to be historic. It was. Lincoln often said that the Brady’s photograph and his Cooper Union address propelled him to the presidency.

What was so great about his speech at the Cooper Union? It was earth-moving because it was highly unusual. It was a call for his party to stand on principle—God’s principles, the Founders’ principles, and the founding principle of the Republican Party—the abolition of slavery.

Lincoln wanted to debunk the Democrats’ claim that the Founders would have supported the extension of slavery into the territories, so he presented a scholarly review of the voting records of the Constitution’s thirty-nine signers, showing that twenty-one of them had voted for bills restricting slavery in territories, and sixteen had left no record. Only two had made votes that supported the Democrats’ contention.

His speech had started slow, but as it picked up momentum, the energy in the hall lifted until the excited audience waited on the edge of their seats for the next opportunity to clap, yell, and bang out a rhythm with their shoes. Lincoln gave them plenty of opportunities. Below is a highly abridged selection from his speech.

We hear that you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that event, you say you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us!

That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you and then you will be a murderer!’

What the robber demands of me—my money—is my own; and I have a clear right to keep it; but my vote is also my own; and the threat of death to me to extort my money and the threat to destroy the Union to extort my vote can scarcely be distinguished.

What will convince slaveholders that we do not threaten their property? This and this only: cease to call slavery wrong and join them in calling it right. Silence alone will not be tolerated—we must place ourselves avowedly with them. We must suppress all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

All they ask, we can grant, if we think slavery right. All we ask, they can grant if they think it wrong.

Right and wrong is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy.

Thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield? Can we cast our votes with their view and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?”

Let us not grope for some middle ground between right and wrong. Let us not search in vain for a policy of don’t care on a question about which we do care. Nor let us be frightened by threats of destruction to the government.”

Prolonged applause kept Lincoln silent for several minutes before delivering his final sentence.

“Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it!”

When Lincoln stepped back from the podium, the Cooper Union Great Hall exploded with noise and motion. Everybody stood. The staid New York audience cheered, clapped, and stomped their feet. Many waved handkerchiefs and hats.

Great leaders speak and act on principle. People will not only follow a principled leader; they will labor mightily in a principled cause.

Abraham Lincoln went on to win the Republican nomination, the presidency, the Civil War, and the abolition of slavery.

Click here to read the text of Abraham Lincoln’s Address At Cooper Union.

(To learn more, I recommend Lincoln at Cooper Union by Harold Holzer.)

James D. Best, author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Principled Action, Lessons From the Origins of the American Republic, and the Steve Dancy Tales.

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

In the 1850s, America’s civic culture was crumbling. Decades of political compromise and avoidance on the issue of slavery had maintained an uneasy peace. The Mexican-American War (1846-47) added over 500,000 square miles to the U.S. and rekindled sectional competition. Ralph Waldo Emerson prophesied, “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.” [1]

The carefully orchestrated balance between Northern/Free states and Southern/Slave states in the U.S. Senate had only been maintained by tightly controlling the admission of new states to the Union. In 1820, Missouri was ready to be admitted as a “slave” state. Their Senate votes were to be off-set by separating the northern part of Massachusetts into the new “free” state of Maine. A key part of this Missouri Compromise of 1820 was to limit expansion of “slave states” to below a line, parallel 36°30′ north. However, after the Mexican War, Texas, California, and many other potential states, clamored for admission into the Union, reawakening the slumbering sectional strife and the “free” versus “slave” state controversy.

In 1850, a new Compromise was approved. This was a package of five separate bills that maintained the North/South balance in the Senate by allowing California to join the Union as a free state, even though its southern border dipped below the 1820 slave demarcation line. This was balanced by admitting Texas as a slave state. Other provisions balanced ending the slave trade in Washington, D.C. with establishing the Fugitive Slave Act, which required local officials in the North to aid in the capture and return of escaped slaves.

The Compromise of 1850 was the last great moment for the Whig Party. This party rose as a counter to the Jacksonian Democrats in the late 1830s. It thrived by broadly promoting westward expansion without a conflict with Mexico, supporting transportation infrastructure projects, and protecting fledgling American businesses with tariffs. The Whigs also benefited from having stellar leaders in the U.S. Senate, like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, and attracting popular war heroes to run as their presidential candidates. The reawakening of sectional competition ended their brief moment of political ascendancy.

In 1848, the Whig Party split on slavery with pro-freedom/anti-Mexican War “Conscience Whigs” and pro-slavery “Cotton Whigs” (“lords of the lash” allied with “lords of the loom”). [2] They still stumbled across the 1848 Presidential finish line with Mexican War hero Zachery Taylor. Unfortunately, food poisoning led to Taylor’s death on July 9, 1850 ushering in the Presidency of anti-immigrant Millard Filmore and his “No-nothing” nativist movement. In 1852, the highly divided Whig Party needed 53 roll call votes to nominate another war hero, Winfield Scott, only to lose in a landslide to Pro-slavery Democrat Franklin Pierce. Rep. Alexander Stephens, a “Cotton Whig” pronounced, “the Whig Party is dead.” [3]

The implosion of the Whigs, and the new sectional rivalry, launched new parties, and factions within parties. These reflected the wide range of opinions on slavery from zealous support of slavery everywhere possible to immediate abolition everywhere possible. In the middle were factions that wanted to maintain the Union through various forms of compromise, allowing slavery some places, but not others.

This cauldron of factionalism came to a boil in 1854 with consideration of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was intended to void the carefully crafted Compromises of 1820 and 1850.

Anti-slavery “Free Soil” party activists along with anti-slavery “Conscience Whigs” and “Barn Burner” Democrats held anti-Nebraska meetings and rallies across the north. One of the organizers of these anti-Nebraska protests was Alvan E. Bovay.

Bovay (July 12, 1818 – January 13, 1903) was a successful New York lawyer and an early abolitionist. He and his wife moved to Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1850, where he helped establish Ripon College. [7]

Bovay was an active Whig, but was disappointed in the Party’s disarray over slavery. He felt Party leaders had lost their way. Only a new party, uniting anti-slavery factions across the political spectrum would resolve the divisiveness facing America. In 1852, Bovay visited his friend, Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, to discuss a new party. They agreed a new party deserved a new name – Republican. [8] Launching this new party would have to wait until the Nebraska bill ignited wide-spread calls for strategic political change.

On March 1, 1854, Bovay announced an anti-Nebraska protest meeting in the local Ripon newspaper:

NEBRASKA. A meeting will be held at 6:30 o’clock this Wednesday evening at the Congregational church in the village of Ripon to remonstrate against the Nebraska swindle. [9]

After the meeting, Bovay posted in newspapers:

THE NEBRASKA BILL. A bill expressly intended to extend slavery will be the call to arms of a Great Northern Party, such as the country has not hitherto seen, composed of Whigs, Democrats, and Freesoilers; every man with a heart in him united under the single banner dry of “Repeal!” “Repeal!” [10]

Wisconsin anti-slavery activists became further inflamed when, March 9, 1854, protesters, led by abolitionist Sherman Booth, stormed a Milwaukee, Wisconsin jail to rescue Joshua Glover. Glover was an escaped slave awaiting extradition under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  A federal judge had refused to hear his appeal. [11]

Bovay then organized a second protest meeting:

The Nebraska bill. A bill expressly intended to extend and strengthen the institution of slavery has passed the Senate by a very large majority, many northern Senators voting for it and many more sitting in their seats and not voting at all. It is evidently destined to pass the House and become law, unless its progress is arrested by a general uprising of the north against it.

Therefore, We, the undersigned, believing the community to be nearly quite unanimous in opposition to the nefarious scheme, would call upon the public meeting of citizens of all parties to be held at the school house in Ripon on Monday evening, March 20, at 6:30 o’clock, to resolve, to petition, and to organize against it. [12]

Bovay and sixteen others met at the schoolhouse and decided to organize a Wisconsin state convention to endorse candidates for state and federal office. Bovay worked with anti-slavery Democrat, Edwin Hurlbut, to develop a platform for the “Republican Party.” They organized and managed a state convention in Madison, Wisconsin on July 13, 1854. That convention nominated the first slate of Republican candidates for that fall’s local elections. [13].

The Republican Party spread across America, coalescing diverse factions into a new political movement that would dominate American politics for the next 76 years, winning 14 of the next 19 Presidential elections. It also signaled the end of 36 years of political obfuscation on the issue of slavery in America, ultimately leading to the Civil War.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.

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[1] McPherson, James, Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford University Press, New York, 1988) page 51.

[2] Ibid., page 60.

[3] Ibid., page 118.

[4] Mayer, George H., The Republican Party 1854-1966 Second Edition (Oxford University Press, New York, 1966) page 25.

[5] Julian, George Washington, Political Recollections; Anthology – America; Great Crises in Our History Told by its Makers; Vol. VII (Veterans of Foreign Wars, Chicago, 1925) page 212.

[6] Op. Cit., McPherson, page 124.


[8] Pedrick, Samuel M. , The life of Alvan E. Bovay, founder of the Republican Party in Ripon, Wis., March 20, 1854. (Commonwealth Partners, 1950).

[9] Unity Weekly; Unity Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois; Volume LXI, Number 16, June 18, 1908, pages 245-246.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Legler, Henry E., Leading Events of Wisconsin History. Milwaukee: Sentinel, 1898. Pages 226-229.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Op. Cit., Mayer, page 26.

Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

Sent by President Millard Fillmore, Commodore Matthew C. Perry went on an expedition to Japan in 1853 to persuade, even pressure, Japan to end its policy of isolation and become open to trade and diplomacy with the United States. Japan signed a treaty with the U.S. in 1854, agreeing to trade and an American consulate. The Treaty of Kanagawa was the first by Japan with a Western nation. Among many accomplishments, Commodore Perry devised a naval apprentice system, assisted the Naval Academy, worked to develop naval officers to their fullest potentials, and helped found the New York Naval Lyceum.

Commodore Perry had a long and distinguished career in the United States Navy, with his commanding of ships in both the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War from 1846-1848, but was also instrumental at the end of his career in opening Japan to the West.

Perry was asked to travel to Japan in 1852, when President Fillmore sent Perry on a mission to open the ports of Japan for American trade. Perry embarked on his voyage on November 24, 1852, from Norfolk, Virginia.  After making various stops along the way, including at Cape Town and Hong Kong, on July 8, 1853, Perry and his contingent arrived at Uraga.  Despite demands by the Japanese to proceed to the only port open to foreigners at Nagasaki, Perry refused. Perry warned the Japanese that if forced to fight, the Japanese would suffer immense damage and that the Americans would conquer them.

After some delays caused by the illness of Japanese shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and debating what was to be done with the demands of Perry, the Japanese decided to accept his offered letter. Perry was allowed to land near Uraga, at Kurihama. Perry presented his letter to the Japanese delegates, and departed for Hong Kong.

Returning approximately six months later, rather than the year he had promised, Perry landed and after negotiations, the Convention of Kanagawa was signed on March 31, 1854. Perry signed on behalf of America. Signed under threat of force, the Convention contained twelve articles, including a provision for it to be ratified within eighteen months. The treaty was written in English, Japanese, Chinese and Dutch, and the text was eventually ratified by Emperor Komei. The treaty was ratified on February 21, 1855.

Perry earned the nickname or title “Father of the Steam Navy” for his advocacy of modernizing the United States Navy and pushing for wider use of the steam engine.

Perry’s efforts to open Japan to the west for trade and diplomatic relationships after many years of isolation was an important achievement, and his ability to land and present his letter on July 14, 1853, is an important date in American history.

Among others, the treaty provided which ports would be open and contained a provision that Japan would supply the United States with any advantages that Japan might negotiate with any foreign nation in the future.

Perry returned to the United States in 1855 and Congress awarded him the sum of $20,000 for his work in Japan.

Dan Cotter is Attorney and Counselor at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC. He is the author of The Chief Justices, (published April 2019, Twelve Tables Press). 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.  

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Guest Essayist: Dan Morenoff

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed shortly after James Wilson Marshall discovered gold flakes in the area now known as Sacramento. Border disputes would continue, but the treaty ended the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and added a large swath of western territory broadly expanding the United States. It would make up Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Texas, and parts that would later make up Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana. The new lands acquired from Mexico stirred sectional passions about the expansion of slavery in the West that helped lead to the Civil War after being temporarily settled by the Compromise of 1850.

Americans almost never think about the Mexican-American War. We don’t often pause to consider its justifications or results. We may know that it served as the training ground of just about everyone who became famous in the Civil War, but details of how, where, or why they fought that prequel might as well be myth. Most of us have no idea how many of our place names have their roots in its participants. Outside of a little-understood line in the Marine Hymn, we almost never hear anything about how we won it. And almost no American knows anything about the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that formally ended it: not its name, not its terms, not who signed it, and not the drama that went into creating a Mexican government willing to enter it.

We have good reason to studiously remember to forget these details.  Guadalupe-Hidalgo was an unjust treaty forced on a weaker neighbor to conclude our least-just war. It was also hugely consequential, and we spectacularly benefited from imposing it on Mexico.

The War Itself

The war’s beginnings lay in the unsettled details of Texas’s War of Independence. Yes, Mexican President Santa Anna had signed the so-called Treaties of Velasco while held prisoner after the Texian victory at San Jacinto in 1836, but Mexico both: (a) refused to ratify them (so never formally recognizing Texas’s independence); and (b) simultaneously argued that the unrecognized republic’s Southern border lay at the Nueces River, about a hundred and fifty (150) miles north of the Rio Grande (as Texas noted the Treaties of Velasco would have determined).

All this came to matter when James K. Polk won the Presidency in 1844.  He had campaigned on a series of promises that, for our purposes, included: (a) annexing Texas; and (b) obtaining California (and parts of five (5) other modern states) from Mexico.[1], [2]  Part one came early and easily, as he negotiated Texas’s ascension to the Union in 1845.  But when the Mexican government refused to meet with his emissary sent to negotiate the purchase of the whole northern part of their country,[3] in pursuit of a fallback plan, President Polk sent an army south to resolve the remaining ambiguity of the Texas-Mexico border. That army (contemporaneously called, with greater honesty than later sources usually admit, the “Army of Occupation”) under the command of Zachary Taylor went to “guard” the northern shore of the Rio Grande.  It took some doing, including the shelling of Matamoros (a major Mexican port city on the uncontested Southern shore of the river), but Taylor eventually managed to provoke a Mexican response. Mexican forces crossed the river to drive back the attacking Americans, in the process prevailing in the Thornton Skirmish and destroying Fort Brown.[4]

President Polk styled these actions a Mexican invasion of America that had killed American soldiers on American soil. On that basis, he sought and received a Congressional declaration of war. Days after receiving it (and in a time before even telegraphs, the distances involved – and coordination with naval forces in the Pacific make that timing revealing), American forces invaded Mexico in numerous arenas across the continent, seizing modern-day Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada; simultaneously, American settlers declared the “independence” of the Republic of California (the “independence” of which lasted no more than the twenty-five (25) days between their ineffective declaration and the arrival of the American military in Sonoma Valley).

But the achieving of Polk’s aims didn’t end the war.  Mexico didn’t accept the legitimacy or irreversibility of any of this. Polk ordered Taylor’s army South, to take Monterrey and press into the Mexican heartland.  Eventually, when that, too, failed to alter Mexican recalcitrance, President Polk sent another army, under the Command of Winfield Scott, to land in the Yucatan and follow essentially the same route Cortez had toward Mexico City. Like the conquistadors of old, that force (including Marines) would head for “the Halls of Montezuma” (the last Aztec king).

All this was controversial immediately.  Abraham Lincoln condemned the entire escapade from the floor of Congress as “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced.” Henry Clay called it an act of “unnecessary and [ ] offensive aggression.”  Fresh out of West Point, Ulysses S. Grant fought in the war, but after his Presidency would reflect that “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.” And as the war raged, Washington, D.C. became consumed with the question of what all this new territory would do to the delicate balance established by the Missouri Compromise; was the whole war just a scheme to create new slave states? It was still only 1846, with the war’s outcome still unclear, when Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot sought to amend an appropriations bill (meant to authorize the funds to pay for peace) with “the Wilmot Proviso,” a bar on slavery in any formerly Mexican territory.[5]

Victory and Then What?

Wicked or not, the plan worked.  American forces promptly took Mexico City in September of 1847.

As Mexico City fell (with its President fleeing and the Foreign Minister declared acting-President), the collapsing Mexican Government proposed terms of peace (under which Mexico would retain all of modern New Mexico, Arizona, Southern California, and much of Nevada), designed to further pique Washington’s emerging divide by giving the U.S. only territory north of the free/slave divide established by the Missouri Compromise. But the Mexican government’s ability to deliver even those terms (which would have reversed enormous battlefield losses) was highly suspect; Jefferson Davis, who had fought in most of the war’s battles before being appointed a Mississippi Senator, warned Polk that any Mexican emissaries coming to Washington to negotiate based on it would see the talks go longer than their government’s survival and the negotiators labelled traitors and murderers, should they ever try to return home. And he was pretty clearly right: the people of Mexico were not happy about any of this: not with the loss of more than ½ their territory, not with the conquest of their capital, and not with the collapse of the government that was supposed to prevent anything of the sort from happening.

So how do you end a war and go home when there’s no one left to hand back the pieces to?

That was the rub.  The Americans in Mexico City didn’t want to stay. The whole war had been controversial and America having to occupy the entirety of Mexico sat particularly poorly with its opponents. The Wilmot Proviso hadn’t gone away either and Senators were already arguing that it would need to be incorporated into any peace treaty with Mexico (whomever that meant).  And there was no one with the ability to clearly speak for Mexico to negotiate anything anyway.

Eventual Treaty with Mexico’s Acting Government

It would take almost all of the remainder of Polk’s presidency to resolve these problems. Eventually, the acting Mexican government became willing to sign what America had decided the terms of peace required.  Those terms?  America would pay Mexico $15 million.[6]  America would assume and pay another $3.25 million of Mexico’s debts to Americans.[7]  As the GDP of California, alone, is estimated at $3.1 trillion for 2019, the purchase price was a bargain, to say the least. Mexico would renounce all rights to Texas and essentially all the rest of the modern American West.  All of California (down to the port of San Diego, but not Baja), Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado (and almost all of Arizona)[8] would so change hands; the Republic of Texas’s territories were substantially larger than those of the modern State of Texas, so this renunciation also secured American title to parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming.


So America became the transcontinental republic Jefferson had dreamed of. Polk got to go home with his mission accomplished.[9]  America secured title to California weeks after settlers discovered what would become the world’s largest known gold deposits (to that date) at Sutter’s Mill, but before word of that discovery had made it to either Mexico City or Washington.

But America acquired something else with vast territories, and unforeseen riches.  It also acquired a renewal of fights over what to do with seemingly limitless, unsettled lands and how to accommodate the evil of slavery within them. Those fights, already underway before Mexico City fell, would scroll out directly into Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.

Dan Morenoff is Executive Director of The Equal Voting Rights Institute.

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[1] The complete set also included: (a) resolving the border with Canada of America’s Oregon territory; (b) reducing taxes; (c) solving the American banking crises that had lingered for decades; and (d) leaving office without seeking reelection.  Famously, Polk followed through and completed the full set.

[2] The targeted territory included lands now lying in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado.

[3] That was John Slidell, for whom the New Orleans suburb is named.

[4] Mexico so killed Major Jacob Brown, arguably the first American casualty of the war (for whom both the fort-at-issue and the town it became – Brownsville, Texas – were named).

[5] It failed in the House at the time, but exposed the raw power plays that success in (or perhaps entry into) the Mexican-American War would bring to the forefront of American politics.

[6] Depending on how one chooses to calculate the current value of that payment, it could be scored as the equivalent in modern dollars of $507.2 million, $4.04 billion, $8.86 billion, or $9.04 billion.

[7] The same approaches suggest this worked out to an assumption, in today’s dollars, of another $109.9 million, $876.1 million, $1.91 billion, or $1.96 billion in Mexican obligations.

[8] Later, the US would separately negotiate the Gadsen Purchase to acquire a mountain pass through which a railroad would one-day run.

[9] He promptly died on reaching his home in Tennessee; some have noted that this means he was not only the sole President to do everything he promised, but also the perfect ex-President.

Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

On January 24, 1848, James Marshall was overseeing some workers digging a millrace for a sawmill for his employer, John Sutter, along a tributary in the American River in the hills near Yerba Buena (modern San Francisco). While he was inspecting the project, the morning sun reflected off shiny pieces of yellow metal. Curious, he gathered a few pieces to examine them and showed the workers.

The group ran some tests on the metal to determine if it were gold. They hammered the malleable metal into thin sheets and then cooked it in boiling lye that cleaned it. Marshall was sure that he found gold but kept his composure as he rode his horse to share the news with Sutter. They tested it again with nitric acid and then its density. He smiled and told the group (which included a female cook), “Boys, I believe I have found a gold mine.”

Marshall and Sutter began hunting for gold but shockingly did not attempt to hide the discovery. Sam Brannan owned a general store near Sutter’s fort (modern Sacramento) and developed a scheme to get rich by selling provisions to miners. He filled a large jar with gold dust and nuggets and traveled to San Francisco.

Brannan went about the village showing its residents the contents of the jar and enticing them to become miners by yelling, “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” They did not need much encouragement. In the words of one person: “A frenzy seized my soul; unbidden my legs performed some entirely new movements of polka steps—I took several….Piles of gold rose up before me at every step; castles of marble, dazzling the eye….In short, I had a very violent attack of the gold fever.” The village emptied as people dropped everything and raced for the river.

Eight days after Marshall’s discovery, representatives of the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The treaty ended the Mexican-American War and delivered the West including California to the United States in exchange for $15 million. Because of American property rights, the miners need only work the land to lay a claim to the property including its valuable minerals.

The miners used a variety of methods for finding gold. Most were inexperienced and initially used the simple method of panning for gold. Others used a cradle that was similar and could sift through more material. They soon built sluices and ran water over dirt and collected the dense gold at the bottom of grates. Later, enterprising individuals with the means introduced hydraulic mining using pressurized water cannons to blast hills into slurry that ran through sluices. Miners became amateur geologists and searched for ancient streambeds that might hold massive gold deposits.

Gold fever induced a gold rush that gripped Americans as well as thousands of others from around the world. The telegraph, letter writers, and travelers spread the news quickly. The New York Herald announced the discovery of gold to readers with the astonishing news that, “There are cases of over a hundred dollars being obtained in a day from the work of one man” (at a time when workers made perhaps $500 a year).

In his December Annual Message to Congress, President James Polk added his voice to the frenzy when he stated, “The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers.”

Gold seekers known as Argonauts traveled to the American River from all over the world. They came from such distant places as Mexico, Chile, France, Hawaii, China, and Australia. In many cases, they risked everything they had voyaging thousands of miles for the chance to become fabulously wealthy. Ship captains had to find ways to prevent their crews from joining the passengers rushing to the mining camps.

More than 80,000 Americans of diverse backgrounds but with the same goal in mind headed west as part of the gold rush. They traveled overland for months along the Oregon Trail and other well-beaten paths where they hunted buffalo, traded with Native Americans, and risked cholera and starvation. Others of greater means selected travel aboard a Yankee clipper or other ships that sailed 15,000 miles around Cape Horn with its treacherous waters and storms. Others sailed to Panama, where they crossed the isthmus where tropical diseases claimed many, and then booked passage for the Pacific.

Besides the obsession with gold, the one thing that the Argonauts had was that almost all of them planned to get rich and return home. Very few planned to stay and build a permanent settlement. Almost 90 percent of the Argonauts were men.

The reality of the gold camps rarely matched people’s dreams. Many found only modest amounts of gold or had to settle for manual labor.  Any wealth was rapidly consumed by goods sold for astronomically inflated prices. Tensions between Americans and foreigners rose to a fever pitch due to nativism.

San Francisco grew rapidly though it had neither the government nor civil institutions to handle such growth. Saloons and gambling houses were ubiquitous where gold that was easily acquired was easily lost. Crime, ethnic gangs, and vice dominated the streets of the city. Justice was handled by vigilance committees that could order summary executions of frontier justice that was little more than mob rule and with the slightest pretense of due process.

California grew so rapidly due to the gold rush that it skipped the territorial stage and immediately applied for statehood. In September 1849, 48 delegates attended a constitutional convention in Monterey and drafted a state constitution and a bill of rights that banned slavery. The Pathfinder of the West, John Fremont, brought the constitution to Washington, D.C. where Congress considered it. Former Vice President and current U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun led the southern opposition to it because it banned slavery. He argued only Congress could decide the question.

The contentious issue was resolved only by the fragile Compromise of 1850 that included making California a free state and passing the Fugitive Slave Act. The gold rush thereby indirectly contributed to the growing sectionalism of the 1850s that led to the Civil War. The gold rush also helped create the American West and today’s prosperous sunbelt.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. He is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: David F. Forte

The tall, awkwardly boned, young Illinois legislator rose to speak. His thick hair, impervious to the comb, splayed over his head. The crowd at the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield leaned forward. They did not know it, but they were about to hear a prophet.

The title of Lincoln’s address was “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” It could have been subtitled, “Will this nation survive?” From the moment his high-pitched voice began to address the audience, Lincoln’s passionate embrace of the Constitution set his life out on an arc that would carry him a quarter century later to Gettysburg when he asked whether a nation conceived in liberty “can long endure.” He was asking it even now.

Yet 1838 was not such a bad year. True, the nation was struggling through the effects of the Panic of 1837, and it would be a few years before a recovery could take hold. But the wrenching crises of slavery and nullification that nearly severed the Union were in the past—at least many hoped so. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, it was thought, had settled the geographical boundary that separated the slave from the free.   And in 1831, Andrew Jackson had squelched South Carolina’s attempt at nullification. The trio of Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and most especially Henry Clay—Lincoln’s idol—had fashioned peace through compromise. The Annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott, and John Brown were still in the unknowable future.

But Lincoln was not mollified. He saw the nation falling apart right then and there. Vigilantism and brutal violence were everywhere rampant. There was a contagion of lynching. Lincoln reviewed what all knew had been happening. First, five gamblers in Vicksburg were strung up. “Next, negroes suspected of conspiring to raise an insurrection were caught up and hanged in all parts of the State; then, white men supposed to be leagued with the negroes; and finally, strangers from neighboring States, going thither on business, were in many instances subjected to the same fate. Thus went on this process of hanging, from gamblers to negroes, from negroes to white citizens, and from these to strangers, till dead men were seen literally dangling from the boughs of trees upon every roadside, and in numbers almost sufficient to rival the native Spanish moss of the country as a drapery of the forest.” A Negro named McIntosh, accused of murdering a white man, was tied to a tree and burnt to death. Abolitionist editors were slain and their printing presses thrown in the river. This, Lincoln said, was mob law.

The founders, who gave us a blessed government, were now gone– “our now lamented and departed race of ancestors,” he told his listeners. The last had only recently passed. (It was James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” who died in 1836). What can we do without them? Lincoln asked. What then can save us from dissolution, from turning ourselves into a miserable race, nothing more than a vengeful mob?

Lincoln paused, and then declared, “The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity swear by the blood of the Revolution never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and laws let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor — let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children’s liberty.”

On that day, January 27, 1838, Lincoln set his course. It was Lincoln’s charter of the rest of his public life. The Constitution. Only reverence for it and for the law can keep us from becoming divided tribes ruled by our passions, he told the crowd in the Young Men’s Lyceum, and other crowds in the coming decades. Reverence for the Constitution saved the Union in the bitter election of 1800. It energized Henry Clay and his political enemy, Andrew Jackson, to keep the states tied together. It steeled Lincoln in his perseverance to see the Civil War through to victory.

It can save us yet.

David F. Forte is Professor of Law at Cleveland State University, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, where he was the inaugural holder of the Charles R. Emrick, Jr. – Calfee Halter & Griswold Endowed Chair. He has been a Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the University of Warsaw and the University of Trento. In 2016 and 2017, Professor Forte was Garwood Visiting Professor at Princeton University in the Department of Politics. He holds degrees from Harvard College, Manchester University, England, the University of Toronto and Columbia University.

During the Reagan administration, Professor Forte served as chief counsel to the United States delegation to the United Nations and alternate delegate to the Security Council. He has authored a number of briefs before the United States Supreme Court and has frequently testified before the United States Congress and consulted with the Department of State on human rights and international affairs issues. His advice was specifically sought on the approval of the Genocide Convention, on world-wide religious persecution, and Islamic extremism. He has appeared and spoken frequently on radio and television, both nationally and internationally. In 2002, the Department of State sponsored a speaking tour for Professor Forte in Amman, Jordan, and he was also a featured speaker to the Meeting of Peoples in Rimini, Italy, a meeting that gathers over 500,000 people from all over Europe. He has also been called to testify before numerous state legislatures across the country. He has assisted in drafting a number of pieces of legislation both for Congress and for the Ohio General Assembly dealing with abortion, international trade, and federalism. He has sat as acting judge on the municipal court of Lakewood Ohio and was chairman of Professional Ethics Committee of the Cleveland Bar Association. He has received a number of awards for his public service, including the Cleveland Bar Association’s President’s Award, the Cleveland State University Award for Distinguished Service, the Cleveland State University Distinguished Teaching Award, and the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Alumni Award for Faculty Excellence. He served as Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Family under Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In 2004, Dr. Forte was a Visiting Professor at the University of Trento. Professor Forte was He has given over 300 invited addresses and papers at more than 100 academic institutions.

Professor Forte was a Bradley Scholar at the Heritage Foundation, Visiting Scholar at the Liberty Fund, and Senior Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Religion and the Constitution in at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. He has been President of the Ohio Association of Scholars, was on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Society, and is also adjunct Scholar at the Ashbrook Institute. He is Vice-Chair of the Ohio State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

He writes and speaks nationally on topics such as constitutional law, religious liberty, Islamic law, the rights of families, and international affairs. He served as book review editor for the American Journal of Jurisprudence and has edited a volume entitled, Natural Law and Contemporary Public Policy, published by Georgetown University Press. His book, Islamic Law Studies: Classical and Contemporary Applications, has been published by Austin & Winfield. He is Senior Editor of The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (2006), 2d. edition (2014) published by Regnery & Co, a clause by clause analysis of the Constitution of the United States.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

Remember the Alamo! The Battle of San Jacinto and Texan Independence

In December 1832, Sam Houston went to Texas. He had been a soldier, Indian fighter, state and national politician, and member of the Cherokee. Beset by several failures, he sought a better life in Texas. On the way, Houston traveled to the San Antonio settlement with frontiersman and land speculator, Jim Bowie, to San Antonio.

During the 1820s, thousands of Americans had moved to Texas in search of land and opportunity. The Mexican republic had recently won independence and welcomed the settlers to establish prosperous settlements under leaders such as Stephen F. Austin. These settlers were required to become Mexican citizens, convert to Catholicism, and free their slaves. The prosperous colony thrived, but Mexican authorities suspected the settlers maintained their American ideals and loyalties and banned further immigration and cracked down on the importation of slaves in 1830.

In 1833, Houston attended a convention of Texan leaders, who petitioned the Mexican government to grant them self-rule. Austin presented the petition at Mexico City where he was imprisoned indefinitely. Meanwhile, the new Mexican president, Antonio López de Santa Anna, took dictatorial powers and sent General Martin Perfecto de Cos to suppress Texan resistance. When Austin was finally released in August 1835, he asserted, “We must and ought to become part of the United States.”

Texans were prepared to fight for independence, and violence erupted in October 1835. When Mexican forces attempted to disarm Texans at Gonzales, volunteers rushed to the spot with cannons bearing the banner “Come and Take Them” and blasted them into Mexican ranks. Texans described it as their Battle of Lexington, and with it, the war for Texas independence began.

In the wake of the initial fighting, the Texans began to organize their militias to defend their rights with the revolutionary slogan “Liberty or Death!” Houston appealed to the Declaration of Independence and was an early supporter of an independent Texas joining the American Union.

Houston was appointed commander-in-chief of Texan forces. His fledgling army was a ragtag group of volunteers who were ill-disciplined and highly individualistic and democratic. His strategy was to avoid battle until he could raise a larger army to face the Mexican forces, but he could barely control his men. He opposed an attack on San Antonio, but his men launched one anyway. On December 5, Texans assaulted the town and the fortified mission at the Alamo. Texan sharpshooters and infantry closed in on General Cos’s army. Despite the arrival of reinforcements, Cos surrendered on the fourth day, and his army was permitted to march home with their weapons.

Santa Anna brought an army to San Antonio and besieged the Alamo held by 200 Texans under William Travis. The Texans deployed their men and cannons around the fort, and begged Houston for more troops. Travis pledged to fight to the last man. James Fannin launched an abortive relief expedition from Goliad, 100 miles away, but had to turn back for lack of supplies. The men at the Alamo were on their own, except for one recent American who came.

Davey Crockett was a colorful frontiersman and a member of Congress who said, “You can go to hell, I will go to Texas.” Crockett arrived in San Antonio in February and went to the Alamo. He proudly fought for liberty and roused the courage of the defenders.

Before dawn on March 6, the Mexican army assaulted the mission in four columns from different angles. The defenders slaughtered the enemy with cannon blasts but still they advanced. The Mexicans scaled ladders and were picked off by sharpshooters. Soon, the attackers established a foothold on the walls and overwhelmed the defenders. The Mexicans threw open the gates for their comrades, and the Texans and Crockett retreated into the chapel. They made a last stand until the door was knocked down and nearly all inside were killed.

Santa Anna made martyrs and heroes of the men who fought for Texan independence at the fort. “Remember the Alamo!” became a rallying cry that further unified the Texans.  At Gonzales only a few days before, on March 2, the territory’s government had met in convention and declared Texas an independent republic in a statement modeled on the Declaration of Independence. The delegates appealed to the United States for diplomatic recognition and aid in the war.

Later that month, James Fannin’s garrison of about 400 men was trapped by the Mexican army. The Texans courageously repelled several cavalry charges and fought through the night until they ran low on water and ammunition. The following day, they were forced to surrender, and Mexican forces executing the unarmed prisoners by firing four volleys into their ranks. The atrocity led to another rallying cry: “Remember Goliad!”

Houston only had 400 soldiers remaining and refused to give battle. Santa Anna chased the Texan government from Gonzales and terrorized civilians throughout the area with impunity. However, hundreds of Texans enthusiastically flocked to Houston’s camp, and he learned that Santa Anna’s force had only 750 men. Houston moved his army to the confluence of the Buffalo Bayou and San Jacinto River, where he deployed his force in the woods.

On April 20 the two armies squared off and engaged in an artillery duel with the Texans firing their canons, nicknamed the “Twin Sisters.” A group of Texan cavalry sallied out and ignored an order only to scout enemy positions. The cavalry exchanged fire with the Mexicans and narrowly escaped back to their lines. Both sides retired and prepared for battle the following day.

On the morning of April 21, General Cos arrived and doubled the size of Santa Anna’s army, but his men were exhausted from their march and took an afternoon nap. Houston seized the moment and formed up his army. They silently moved across the open ground until they started yelling “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” The shocked Mexican army roused itself and quickly formed up. The Texans’ “Twin Sisters” canons blasted away, and the infantry drove the Mexicans into the bayou while the cavalry flanked and surrounded them. In a little over 20 minutes, however, 630 were killed and more than 700 captured. Santa Anna was taken prisoner and agreed to Texan independence. The new republic selected Houston as its president and approved annexation by the United States.

Americans were deeply divided over the question of annexation, however, because it meant opening hostilities with Mexico. Moreover, many northerners, such as John Quincy Adams and abolitionists, warned that annexation would strengthen southern “slave power” because Texas would come into the Union as a massive slave state or several smaller ones. Eight years later, in 1844, President John Tyler supported a resolution for annexation after the Senate had defeated an annexation treaty. Both houses of Congress approved the resolution after a heated debate, and Tyler signed the bill in his last few days in office in early March 1845.

Annexation led to war with Mexico in 1846. Throughout the annexation debate and contention over the Mexican War, sectional tensions raised by the westward expansion of slavery tore at the fabric of the Union. The tensions eventually led to the Civil War.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. He is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

In early August 1831, Nat Turner, an African-American preacher and slave in Virginia, began planning and preparing a revolt against slavery. Beginning on August 21, Nat and others with him killed his master’s family, then mounted horses and continued the same on farms and elsewhere of slave owners and their families. After, the Virginia legislature received petitions urging the menace of slavery be dealt with as a cause of political and economic failure.

Turner was born on October 2, 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia, a slave held by Benjamin Turner. Turner at the time of the slave rebellion was owned by Samuel Turner, Benjamin’s son, who inherited Nat when Benjamin died. Nat was smart, learning to read and write at a very early age, and often read and preached the Bible. Nat claimed to have visions that he thought were from God. Fellow slaves gave him the nickname, “The Prophet.”

One of the visions Turner credited with motivating the rebellion. In August, after postponing the rebellion due to personal illness, he saw an August 7 solar eclipse, the second one in a six month period, as the final sign that the vision was to be implemented. The slave rebellion began on August 21, 1831, and was small at first, consisting of Nat and a few of his trusted fellow slaves. The rebels in the group traveled from home to home in the neighborhood, freeing the slaves they found at each home and killing any white people they found. The small group of rebels grew over the short-lived rebellion.

Governor John Floyd received a note on August 23, 1831, alerting him “that an insurrection of the slaves in that county had taken place, that several families had been massacred and that it would take a considerable military force to put them down.”

The rebellion led by Nat Turner led to the death of almost 60 white people, including men, women and children. In order to suppress the rebellion, whites formed militias and they in turn killed approximately 200 black people, including men, women and children, many of whom had no connection to the rebellion.

The rebellion lasted only a few days, but Nat avoided capture until October 30, when a farmer discovered him hiding. Turner was tried and was convicted and sentenced to death on November 5, 1831. Less than a week later, Nat Turner was hanged at Jerusalem, Virginia, his body flayed as an example to anyone who might be thinking of rebellion.  Turner’s attorney during the trial, Thomas Ruffin Gray, wrote The Confessions of Nat Turner: The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Va., a pamphlet that some have dismissed as not being accurate. Whatever its accuracy, nothing more detailed exists. One alleged statement of the vision that appears in the pamphlet was:

“I had a vision … I saw white and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened … the thunder rolled in the heavens and flowed in the streams. I discovered drops of blood on the corn as though it were dew from heaven.”

Nat’s slave rebellion appears to be the only United States one that was effective and sustained. One of the repercussions of the Nat Turner Slave Rebellion was that it led to a series of oppressive legislation that prohibited many slave activities, including education, movement and assembly. Laws also expanded against free blacks. Some states banned the possession of abolitionist publications, and in emancipation debates around the time of the rebellion and subsequently, slavery was defined by some as a positive good.

Nat Turner has been considered a patriot by some and Molefi Kete Asante listed him as on of the “100 Greatest African Americans.”  Others have noted his violence and slaughtering of many. For example, historian Scot French told The New York Times:

“To accept Nat Turner and place him within the pantheon of American revolutionary heroes is to sanction violence as a means of social change. He has a kind of radical consciousness that to this day troubles advocates of a racially reconciled society. The story lives because it’s relevant today to questions of how to organize for change.”

His rebellion made it clear that slaves were not content with their enslavement, and August 21, 1831, is an important date in American History.

Dan Cotter is Attorney and Counselor at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC. He is the author of The Chief Justices, (published April 2019, Twelve Tables Press). 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.  

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Guest Essayist: James S. Humphreys

The Indian Removal Act passed the United States House of Representatives by a vote of 102 to 97 and the U.S. Senate by a vote of 28 to 19. It was signed by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830.  Jackson, a Tennessean, held slaves and belonged to the Democratic Party. He first attracted national attention during the War of 1812, when his forces decimated the Creek Indians and later successfully defended New Orleans against the onslaught of an experienced and well-trained British army. Jackson’s reputation as the hero of New Orleans assisted him in his rise to the presidency. He signed the Indian Removal Act fourteen months after assuming office.

The act, consisting of eight sections, broadly outlined the conditions under which Native Americans would relinquish claim to their tribal land within the United States in exchange for territory west of the Mississippi River. United States officials would provide assistance to Native Americans during removal and would guarantee forever the migrants’ right to their western homeland. The act called for the allocation of $500,000 to cover the expenses incurred by the implementation of the measure. It also declared that earlier treaties negotiated with the Native Americans remained in force, disavowing any coercion of Native Americans on the part of U.S. officials. Removal was to be voluntary, not forced.[1]

The act targeted Native American groups living in the southern region of the United States. Whites referred to these groups as the “Five Civilized Tribes” — Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee — because the tribes had adopted many of the habits and practices of white Americans. Some members of the tribes were not full-blooded Native Americans. John Ross, a prominent Cherokee leader, for example, was only one-eighth Native American. Hoping to earn the respect of whites, the Cherokee developed a phonetic alphabet, printed a newspaper with articles in English and Cherokee, wrote a constitution, held slaves, and founded a capital in northern Georgia called New Echota. Many whites, nevertheless, coveted Cherokee land in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia and the other four “civilized” tribes’ territory in other southern states. The deep-seated racism of whites toward Native Americans; the admission into the United States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, all of which held prime cotton-growing land; and the discovery of gold in Georgia in 1829 whetted whites’ appetite for acquiring Native American territory. That is not to say that removal attracted the overwhelming support of whites. The Indian Removal act barely passed the House of Representatives. Many Whig party politicians, the most prominent of which was Kentuckian, Henry Clay, loathed Jackson and opposed the measure.

Andrew Jackson was not the first president to address the presence of large numbers of Native Americans living within the borders of the United States, but his removal policy stands out as the most aggressive strategy for dealing with them. Jackson viewed the policy as enlightened and benevolent, because, in his mind, the expansion of white civilization posed a lethal threat to Native American culture. The Native Americans, of course, viewed the policy differently, fearing that instead of saving their way of life, removal would destroy it. Cherokee leaders hoped to reach an agreement allowing them to remain on their land with U.S. officials, but Jackson’s unwillingness to yield eventually frustrated them.  Cherokee leaders, therefore, sought redress in the federal courts, where they found judges sympathetic to their plight. John Marshall, Supreme Court Chief Justice, issued two rulings favorable to the Cherokee in the cases of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia. The gist of each decision was that Cherokee lands belonged to the Cherokee, a fact U.S. officials were bound to respect. The court rulings failed to halt the implementation of the removal program, which dispensed with the earlier emphasis on voluntary migration.

The Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw Indians succumbed to pressure from federal officials to migrate to land west of the Mississippi River.  The removal of the three Native American groups took place from 1831 to 1837. The most wrenching removal occurred in 1838 during the administration of Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren. A relatively small group of Cherokee agreed to removal terms outlined in the Treaty of New Echota. Members of the “Treaty Party,” believing removal was inevitable, accepted five million dollars from federal officials to relinquish all claim to Cherokee territory. The treaty’s provisions aroused the ire of Cherokees, who opposed migrating. The resisters beseeched members of the Senate to reject the treaty, but to no avail.  The Senate ratified the treaty by one vote. As white settlers increasingly overran their territory, sometimes resulting in violence against Native Americans, the Cherokees held out bravely before being gathered into camps by U.S. troops prior to removal. The United States Army then oversaw the journey of twenty thousand Cherokees to the Oklahoma territory. The arduous trek, carried out during the winter, claimed the lives of four thousand Native Americans. The episode became known as the “Trail of Tears.” Seething with anger over what they considered betrayal, Cherokee resisters murdered several leaders of the “Treaty Party,” and the reputation of Andrew Jackson, once considered a great president, has declined over time as a result of his role in Native American removal.

James S. Humphreys is a professor of United States history at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky.  He is the author of a biography of the southern historian, Francis Butler Simkins, entitled Francis Butler Simkins: A Life (2008), published by the University Press of Florida.  He is also the editor of Interpreting American History: the New South (2018) and co-editor of the Interpreting American History series, published by the Kent State University Press.   

[1] “Indian Removal Act of 1830,” California History Social Science Project, accessed March 19, 2020,

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Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

Andrew Jackson started out as a lawyer and grew in politics. By the end of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, Jackson was a military hero of great influence. Former governor of Tennessee, he defeated John Quincy Adams in 1828, became the seventh president and first Democratic Party president, and helped found the Democratic Party.

Jackson’s biography reads larger than life. He was born in 1767 in a backwoods cabin, its precise location unknown. He was scarred by a British officer’s sword, orphaned at fourteen and raised by uncles. He was admitted to the bar after reading law on his own, one year a Congressman before being elected to the U.S. Senate, a position he then resigned after only eight months. He was appointed as a circuit judge on the Tennessee superior court. He became a wealthy Tennessee landowner, and received a direct appointment as a major general in the Tennessee militia which led, after military success, to direct appointment to the same rank in the U.S. Army. He was an underdog victor and national hero at the Battle of New Orleans, and conducted controversial military actions in the 1817 Seminole War. He experienced disappointment in the 1824 presidential election, but success four years later. He survived the first assassination attempt of a United States President and was the first President to have his Vice-President resign. He appointed Roger Taney (Dred Scott v. Sanford) to the U.S. Supreme Court. President Jackson died in 1845 of lead poisoning from the two duelist bullets he carried for years in his chest, one for forty years. You couldn’t make this biography up if you tried.

President Andrew Jackson is a constitutionalist’s dream. Few U.S. Presidents intersected the document of the U.S. Constitution as often or as forcefully during their terms as did “Old Hickory.” From the Nullification Crisis of 1832, to “killing” the Second National Bank, to his controversial “Trail of Tears” decision, Jackson seemed to attract constitutional crises like a magnet. When the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Worcester v. George, Jackson is purported to have said “Well, John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” It has not been reported whether Thomas Jefferson’s moldering corpse sat up at hearing those words, but I think it likely.

Jackson’s multiple rubs with the Constitution preceded his presidency. As the General in charge of defending New Orleans in late 1814, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which the Constitution gives only Congress the power to suspend,[1] unilaterally declaring martial law over the town and surrounding area. Habeas corpus, the “great and efficacious writ,”[2] enjoyed a heritage going back at least to Magna Carta in 1215, a fact Jackson found not compelling enough in the light of the civilian unrest he faced. As Matthew Warshauer has noted: “The rub was that martial law saved New Orleans and the victory itself saved the nation’s pride… Jackson walked away from the event with two abiding convictions: one, that victory and the nationalism generated by it protected his actions, even if illegal; and two, that he could do what he wanted if he deemed it in the nation’s best interest.”[3]

It would not be Jackson’s last brush as a military officer with arguably illegal actions. Three years later, during the First Seminole War, he found his incursion into Spanish Florida, conducted without military orders, under review by Congress. Later, when running for President, Jackson had to defend his actions: “it has been my lot often to be placed in situations of a critical kind” that “imposed on me the necessity of [v]iolating, or rather departing from, the constitution of the country; yet at no subsequent period has it produced to me a single pang, believing as I do now, & then did, that without it, security neither to myself or the great cause confided to me, could have been obtained.” (Abraham Lincoln would later offer a not dissimilar defense of his own unconstitutional suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1861).

After the ratification of the Adams–Onís Treaty in 1821, settling affairs with Spain, Jackson resigned from the army and, after a brief stint as the Governor of the Territory of Florida, returned to Tennessee. The next year he reluctantly allowed himself to be elected Senator from Tennessee in a bid (by others) to position him for the Presidency.

In the 1824 election against John Quincy Adams, Senator Jackson won a plurality of the electoral vote but, thanks to the Twelfth Amendment and the political maneuvering of Henry Clay, he was defeated in the subsequent contingent election in favor of “JQA.” Four year later, while weathering Federalist newspapers’ charges that Adams was a “murderer, drunk, cockfighting, slave-trading cannibal” the tide finally turned in Jackson’s favor and he won an Electoral College landslide.

As his inauguration day approached, I wonder how many Americans knew just how exciting would be the next eight years? On March 4, 1829, Jackson took the oath as the seventh President of the United States.

In an attempt to “drain the swamp,” he immediately began investigations into all executive Cabinet offices and departments, an effort that uncovered enormous fraud. Numerous officials were removed from office and indicted on charges of corruption.

Reflecting on the 1824 election, in his first State of the Union Address, Jackson called for abolition of the Electoral College, by constitutional amendment, in favor of a direct election by the people.

In 1831, he fired his entire cabinet.[4]

In July 1832, the issue became the Second National Bank of the United States, up for re-chartering. Jackson believed the bank to be unconstitutional as well as patently unfair in the terms of its charter. He accepted that there was precedent, both for the chartering (McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) as well as rejecting a new charter (Madison, 1815), but, perhaps reflecting his reaction to Worcester v. Georgia earlier that year, he threw down the gauntlet in his veto message:

“The Congress, the Executive, and the Court must each for itself be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution. Each public officer who takes an oath to support the Constitution swears that he will support it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others. It is as much the duty of the House of Representatives, of the Senate, and of the President to decide upon the constitutionality of any bill or resolution which may be presented to them for passage or approval as it is of the supreme judges when it may be brought before them for judicial decision. The opinion of the judges has no more authority over Congress than the opinion of Congress has over the judges, and on that point the President is independent of both. . .”[5] . (emphasis added)

Later that same year came Jackson’s most famous constitutional crisis: the Nullification Crisis. Vice President John C. Calhoun’s home state of South Carolina declared that the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of the state, thus “firing a shot across the bow” of Jackson’s view of federalism. The doctrine of nullification had been first proposed by none other than James Madison and Thomas Jefferson thirty-four years earlier and it retains fans today. South Carolina eventually backed down but not before Jackson’s Vice President, J.C. Calhoun resigned to accept appointment to the Senate and fight for his state in that venue, and not before Congress passed the Force Bill which authorized the President to use military force against South Carolina.

In 1834, the House declined to impeach Jackson, knowing the votes were not there in the Senate for removal and settled on censure instead, which Jackson shrugged off.

Yet in 1835, Jackson sided with the Constitution and its First Amendment by refusing to block the mailing of inflammatory abolitionist mailings to the South even while denouncing the abolitionists as “monsters.”

Today, some people  compare our current President to Jackson, including President Donald Trump himself.  Others disagree.  There are indeed striking similarities, as well as great differences. Although coming from polar opposite backgrounds, both are populists who often make pronouncements upon the world of politics without the filter of “political correctness.” Further comparisons are found in the linked articles.

Thanks to the great care taken by the men of 1787, the “American Experiment” has weathered many a controversial president, such as Andrew Jackson – and we will doubtlessly encounter, and hopefully weather many more.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people.   CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text. Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes periodic essays published on several different websites, and appears in period costume as James Madison, explaining to public and private school students “his” (i.e., Madison’s) role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Gary can be reached at, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

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[1] U.S. Constitution; Article One, Section 9, Clause 2

[2] Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England.


[4] Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, who had suggested the firing, resigned as well to avoid the appearance of favoritism.


Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

In 1817, construction on the Erie Canal began, opening in October of 1825. Initially a 363-mile waterway, 40 feet wide and four feet deep, it connected the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean flowing from the Hudson River at Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo, New York. The canal increased transportation of bulk commercial goods at a much lower cost, widely expanded agricultural development, and brought settlers into surrounding states as the free flow of goods to the stretches of Northwest Territory were availed through the Appalachian Mountains.

On Friday, July 13, 1787, “James Madison’s Gang,” otherwise known as the Constitutional Convention, approved a motion stating that until completion of the first census, showing exactly how many residents each state contained, direct taxes to the states would be proportioned according to the number of representatives the state had been assigned in Congress. A short time later, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania and Pierce Butler of South Carolina had a rather heated exchange over the issue of slavery and how to account for slaves in determining the state’s representation.

That same day, ninety-five miles to the northeast in New York City, the Confederation Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, creating the Northwest Territory and opening a significant new portion of the country to rapid settlement. The territory would go on to produce 5 new states and, more importantly to our story, produce tons and tons of grain in its fertile Ohio Valley. At the time, the only practical route to bring this produce to world markets was the long, 1,513 miles, voyage down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Cincinnati, Ohio to New Orleans, a voyage that could take weeks and was quite expensive. A cheaper, more efficient method had to be found.

The idea of a canal that would tie the western settlements of the country to the ports on the East Coast had been discussed as early as 1724. Now that those settlements were becoming economically important, talk resumed in earnest.

The first problem encountered was geography. The most logical western route for a canal was from the east end of Lake Erie at Buffalo, to Albany, New York on the Hudson River, but Lake Erie sits 570 feet above sea level. Descending eastward from the lake to the Hudson River would be relatively easy, but canals had to allow traffic in both directions. Ascending 570 feet in elevation on the westbound trip meant one thing: locks and lots of them. Lock technology at the time could only provide a lift of 12 feet. It was soon determined that fifty locks would be required along the 363 mile canal. Given the technology of the time, such a canal would be exorbitantly expensiv