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: 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: 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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REFERENCES

[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: 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: 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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NOTES

[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.

[7] https://www.jsonline.com/story/opinion/crossroads/2016/09/24/messitte-republican-return-ripon/90978702/

[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: Scot Faulkner

Alexander Hamilton was America’s first Chief Operations Officer (COO).

Along with James Madison, Hamilton crafted the best operating system ever devised in human history. The U.S. Constitution provided a framework for sharing power and resolving differences. Madison and Hamilton provided details for operationalizing the Constitution with their Federal Papers essays. These Papers remain integral to interpreting the original intent for court cases to this day.

America was blessed with George Washington, the most indispensable person in our nation’s history. However, Washington needed to augment his phenomenal leadership skills with Hamilton’s management acumen. During the American Revolution, Hamilton translated Washington’s military strategy into clear and concise orders to his commanders. Now as President, Washington needed Hamilton to translate the Founders’ vision, and his policies, into reality.

With Jefferson still conducting diplomacy in Europe, Hamilton became not just the first Treasury Secretary, but effectively functioned as Washington’s “prime minister.” Decisions and documents, down to minute detail, flowed from Hamilton’s pen, creating the Executive Branch.

Hamilton’s love of administrative detail was matched by his devotion to commerce.

He was the only “modern man” among the Founders. Hamilton grew-up outside the American colonies and had a full appreciation of how nations interacted. As an accounting clerk for various trading companies in the West Indies, Hamilton developed a deep understanding for the inner workings of international trade and finance. His was America’s first “capitalist.” The systems and institutions he put in place laid the foundation for America becoming the greatest economic power in the world.

Hamilton’s greatest achievement was managing the onerous debts arising from the Revolutionary War. Each state incurred debt as their individual state militias needed to be paid for back wages. Both national and state level soldiers were paid in bonds or “IOUs.” After the war, many cash-strapped soldiers sold these bonds/“IOUs” to speculators for a fraction of their worth. Countless suppliers of their armed forces sued for nonpayment. The paper currency issued during the war was “not worth a Continental” and legions of war veterans, farmers, merchants, and craftsman (like blacksmiths, barrel makers, and carpenters) demanded payment, declaring Continental scrip were “IOUs.”

The total debt was $79 million: $54 million owed by the national government and $25 million owed by the states. Hamilton saw repayment of this debt as a strategic and moral imperative: “States, like individuals, who observe their engagements are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of those who pursue an opposite conduct.”

Without a debt repayment strategy, the IOUs and lawsuits would continue to cripple America’s economy with unbridled speculation and uncertainty. Trust in the Federal government’s ability to meet its obligations had to be restored. Something had to be done. Hamilton declared, “In nothing are appearances of greater moment than in whatever regards credit.”

Repayment of debts would allow America to enter into international agreements and borrow funds for investing in business ventures and stimulate economic growth. Hamilton observed that the American economy was stagnating from a limited money supply, deflation of land values, and no liquid capital. He also was concerned that if America was seen as financially broke and politically fragmented, foreign governments may lure individual states with separate debt financing arrangements.

The solution was to consolidate all public debt and set aside some of the steady federal revenue to service interest and payoff the principal. These were revolutionary and futuristic concepts in 1790.

It was his conviction that, “an assumption of the debts of particular states by the union and a like provision for them as for those of the union will be a measure of sound policy and substantial justice.”

Hamilton determined that consolidating all the Revolutionary War debt would accomplish several things. [1] It would bring order from chaos with one large debt instead of thousands of smaller ones. [2] It would simplify the management and repayment of the debt. [3] It would establish loyalty among the creditors and bond/IOU holders who would promote the stability and success of the federal government to assure their claims were paid.

Another aspect of Hamilton’s solution was that the U.S. Constitution gave the federal government the exclusive right to collect import duties. The Federal Government assuming state debt would prevent states from trying to return to the Article of Confederation when states levied duties on interstate commerce. Hamilton wanted to unify America and forge a national economy.

The critical element in assuming all debt was to have a unified America attract foreign investment through issuing federal government bonds. Such bonded debt would create investment partners who would forge trade relationships that allowed the U.S. Government to raise the necessary revenue to meet its debt obligations.  Hamilton sought to create a web of economic loyalties and relationships that bound everyone to supporting everyone’s economic wellbeing. In doing so, Hamilton would establish America as a major player in the modern international financial system.

Hamilton’s vision and how to implement it, was at the core of his fifty-one-page “Report on Public Credit” to the Congress.  It was his hope that Congress would pass the necessary legislation to authorize implementation of this integrated plan.  Any editions or subtractions would ruin his delicate balance between the various economic interests. Hamilton worried, “Credit is the entire thing. Every part of it has the nicest sympathy with every other part. Wound one limb and the whole tree shrinks and decays.”

Many in Congress rejected the plan as confusing and overly complex. Some saw it as too much like the way England financed its wars. Others declared it a bailout for speculators. Even Madison refuted it. As the assumption plan related to spending, its first test was in the House of Representatives.

The House debate was a sensation. Packed galleries watched Madison rail against the plan as a “betrayal of the American Revolution.” Hamilton, a member of the Executive Branch, mustered his votes behind the scenes. On April 12, 1790, the House defeated the debt assumption plan: 29 ayes to 31 nays.

The death of debt assumption found resurrection in the future location of the nation’s capital. Hamilton and northerners wanted the capital to remain in New York or return to Philadelphia. Southerners wanted it in the South and located outside an existing urban area. Jefferson saw this as a struggle between his vision of an agrarian nation versus the grime of industry. Madison and Henry Lee had purchased land along the Potomac River in the hopes that Jefferson would prevail. All sides wanted a final decision on the future of the Nation’s Capital, and symbolically the character of the nation. To break the stalemate, the key players, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and several others gathered for dinner on June 20, 1790, at Jefferson’s townhouse in New York City.

After much food, libations, and discussion a deal was struck. The Nation’s Capital would be along the banks of the Potomac between Georgetown in Maryland and Alexandria in Virginia. In exchange for Hamilton convincing northerners to support this location, Jefferson and Madison would support passage of Hamilton’s Debt Assumption plan.

On July 10, 1790 the House passed the Residence Act moving the temporary Capital back to Philadelphia and designating a ten-square mile area along the Potomac as the permanent Capital. The House then passed the Assumption bill on July 26. The Senate approved the plan on August 4, 1790.

Senator Daniel Webster placed Hamilton’s achievement into historical perspective:

“The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton.”

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: Scot Faulkner

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Every year elections are held in the United States.

Federal and state elections every other year (except a few states who are truly “off-year” outside of the two-year cycle).  Local elections, county and municipal, are held somewhere every year.

There are approximately 88,000 local governments, districts, and commissions containing over 500,000 elected officials.

Many local offices are nonpartisan, meaning not party affiliated.  School Boards and small cities and towns assume local functions are not truly partisan.  Is there a Republican or Democrat way of collecting trash or plowing snow?

Local government is designed to be more intimately related to the people it serves. Ironically, few Americans understand its functions, and fewer know their local officials.

This is unfortunate, as local government is, in many ways, far more important than national and statewide offices.  Local laws and their enforcement can affect property values, quality of education, quality of water, and determine life or death when managing first responders.

This dichotomy of importance and ignorance creates numerous challenges and opportunities.

On the one hand there is less interest in running for these offices.  In smaller towns and cities, of importance and as many as 79 percent of local elections are uncontested.  There is also less interest in voting for these offices.  Stand alone local races, held in off-years, may experience voter turnouts of less than 20 percent.  Local elections held during regular cycles, usually county and school boards, may garner 30-40 percent less votes than for the high-profile state and federal offices.

On the other hand, smaller voter turnout means a dedicated group of activists can elect a candidate as change agent.  It also means a low threshold for a first-time candidate entering a local race.

21st Century campaigns have become extremely expensive.

In 2014, the average winning campaign for the U.S. Senate campaign spent $10.6 million.  In 2018, incumbent U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) spent $33.5 million in her losing re-election campaign.  In 2018, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) spent $25 million to lose his re-election, while Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) spent $68 million to defeat him.

Campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives can also be very expensive. Congressman Alex Mooney (R-WV) spent $1.8 million for winning his 2018 re-election.

These campaign finance numbers do not include the millions spent by “independent” organizations to promote or oppose candidates through direct mail and professionally produced radio and television advertisements.

Compare this with county-level campaigns where $5,000-$20,000 may be all that is required for victory.  Winning small town and School Board campaigns may only require a just few hundred dollars.

“Down-Ballot” offices are ideal for average citizens to run for office for the most idealistic of reasons – to help their community.  Many who run for these positions do not desire political careers.  They are motivated by seeing something that needs to be done and answer the call to do it.

Another aspect of local “down-ballot” campaigns is that they usually transcend partisanship.  This is certainly the case for officially nonpartisan offices.  Even partisan local campaigns will see bipartisan cooperation when community values, honesty in government, and civic reform is at stake.  There are countless examples of activists who may be deeply divided on national issues joining forces to “drain the swamp” of county courthouse insiders.

Successful “Down-Ballot” campaigns may include a few yard signs, but rarely include major advertising.  Social media, especially Facebook pages and groups, have been the winning edge for many of these first timers.  Some create their own Facebook and YouTube videos to introduce themselves or highlight issues.

The intimacy of local campaigns also allows for neighbors to help neighbors.  “Meet and Greets” in private homes and door-to-door face-to-face interactions are the purest form of grassroots campaigning.  Money is not as important.  One local candidate, who was revered for her charity work, won by a landslide despite being outspent 21-1.

This lack of interest in running and voting has, by design or chance, levelled the field for average citizens to make a difference.  Either as a candidate or as a supporter/voter of that candidate, “down-ballot” offices provide a way for caring members of the local community to get involved and contribute to the greater good.

What could be more American than that?

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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America’s 3,034 counties are the backbone of local government and form the core of our civic culture.

Counties are embedded in each state’s constitution and given explicit governing roles and responsibilities.  They arose during the Middle Ages as the domain of a Count or vassal serving a monarch, thus the name.  When the Normans conquered England, they supplanted the local Saxon shires, governed by chieftains, with “contés”, governed by agents of the Crown.

The core activities of counties have seen little change since Counts were given responsibility for maintaining law and order, providing for local roads, and arbitrating disputes, in their domain.

In his timeless masterpiece on American culture, “Democracy in America”, Alexis Clerel, Viscount de Tocqueville, described the functions of county government and the selection of local officials:

The town-meeting chooses at the same time a number of other municipal magistrates, who are entrusted with important administrative functions. The assessors rate the township; the collectors receive the rate. A constable is appointed to keep the peace, to watch the streets, and to forward the execution of the laws; the town-clerk records all the town votes, orders, grants, births, deaths, and marriages; the treasurer keeps the funds; the overseer of the poor performs the difficult task of superintending the action of the poor-laws; committee-men are appointed to attend to the schools and to public instruction; and the road-surveyors, who take care of the greater and lesser thoroughfares of the township, complete the list of the principal functionaries.

The United States currently has approximately 88,000 local governments, districts, and commissions comprised of approximately 500,000 elected officials. This is 20 times as many officials as exist at the federal and state levels. Local governments collectively spend over $1 trillion annually.

As de Tocqueville outlined in 1835, today counties provide the basic services we require in our daily lives:

  • Police, fire and public safety services
  • Sewage, water treatment and waste management
  • Schools, libraries, and other education resources
  • Roads, paths, and bridges
  • Public transportation
  • Planning, permitting, and enforcement
  • Public health services, including mental health, and services to the disabled
  • Tax collection and disbursement

The provision of these services requires close cooperation with “sister” jurisdictions, which may include the state, municipalities and townships embedded within the county, and adjoining counties. Sometimes regional commissions or authorities are established to formalize this cooperation.

County Commissioners or Supervisors act as a “board of directors” to establish policies and oversee these services.  In most cases, there are only 3-9 who are elected and serve in this capacity in each county. These are part-time positions, except in the most populated counties.

The Clerk is a fulltime elected official who is the keeper of all public records, from land ownership to births, deaths, and weddings.  Clerks, and their full staff, administer the settling of estates, or probate, when deaths occur.  Most importantly, Clerks manage voter registration, candidate filings and reports, creating the ballot, holding the election, and counting and reporting the vote.

The elected Sheriff is more than the chief law enforcement official.  Just like in “Robin Hood,” the Sheriff is the tax collector and manages the county’s finances.

Depending on the population of a county there are an array of other public officials, either elected or appointed, who handle assessing property for tax purposes, certifying the health and viability of water systems and food service establishments, coordinating emergency response, and providing parks and recreation.

Public Schools are governed by a separate and independently elected School Board of 5-9 members.  While schools are funded from the property taxes assessed by the Assessor, and collected by the Sheriff, the Board administers and disburses the funds themselves.

The detailed work of counties is conducted through boards and commissions. These include land-use regulation, building permits, water & sewer, and economic development.  Those serving on these boards are part-time volunteers appointed to the County Commission.

This is where local communities face a fundamental challenge.

Most Americans have poor awareness and understanding of local government.  The decisions and activities of the diverse array of elected and appointed officials go unreported, or under-reported.  Holding local power accountable is one of the greatest problems in America today.

In his groundbreaking book, “Bowling Alone”, Robert Putnam described the deterioration of communities in 21st Century America.  This is borne out in how few people volunteer to serve on local boards and commissions, how few attend local public meetings, and how few take actions when incompetence or corruption arise.

Corruption and incompetence are more prevalent than ever.  Land use can make or break fortunes, and help or harm a community, especially in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, conflicts of interest are predictable around land speculation.  Misuse of public funds, especially directing contracts to friends and family, or for unrecorded payments, is always possible.

Prior to the digital age, local newspapers were the bulwark against corruption and malfeasance.  Unfortunately, many of these newspapers are vanishing.  Recently, Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of the New York Times, told the World Congress of News Media that “The greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news”.  He predicted most local newspapers “are going to die in the next five years”.

Digital media remains more interested in national issues and popular culture.  The journalistic capacity for demanding accountability, or reporting basic information on county government, is vanishing.

It is up to local citizens to demand accountability. This means demanding transparency, including all public documents being public and all public meetings being public.

Few local officials, especially on appointed boards, support full accountability.  Countless citizen lawsuits have forced public notices to be on websites instead of posted on index cards on courthouse bulletin boards.  This is vital in “bedroom communities” where most citizens commute out of the county for work.

The citizen-led victories for accountability and transparency are based upon state laws that mandate public access. These laws are called “sunshine” laws and “freedom of information acts.”  It is important for those concerned about their communities to learn these laws and fully understand the importance of “adequate public notice” for public hearings and decisions.

America will remain a beacon of hope for freedom loving people everywhere only if Americans take their citizen responsibility seriously and actively participate in their local government.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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America is built on local government.  The future of our nation depends on local communities remaining at the core of representative democracy.

In 1831, the Frenchman, Alexis Clerel, the Vicount de Tocqueville, along with his colleague Gustave de Beaumont, was sent by the French government to study America.  While their mission was officially to review prisons, their nine-month journey produced one of the great classics on America’s civic culture.

“Democracy in America” was published in two volumes (1835 and 1840).  It remains a foundational document describing American exceptionalism.

At its core is de Tocqueville’s description of local government:

The village or township is the only association which is so perfectly natural that wherever a number of men are collected it seems to constitute itself. The town, or tithing, as the smallest division of a community, must necessarily exist in all nations….

….local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations. Town-meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty.

America has always been a nation of communities.  Its pattern of settlement, through Royal Charters, gave wide latitude for establishing local governance.  Being over 5,500 miles from London, made detailed oversight of colonies impossible.  By necessity, and by desire, colonists embraced local authority over distant rule from a capitol or nation.  When distant rulers attempted to increase their control, colonists ignited a Revolution.

As de Tocqueville explains:

The revolution of the United States was the result of a mature and dignified taste for freedom, and not of a vague or ill-defined craving for independence.

The first form of government was the Articles of Confederation, which created a very weak national government.  External threats and internal dysfunction led to the U.S. Constitution, with extensive safeguards for local sovereignty.

America established a federal government, which means power is shared between national and state government, and the majority of governmental actions take place at the local level.  This is institutionalized in the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Today, America is governed by 87,576 local units.  This includes 3,034 counties, 19,429 municipalities (cities, towns, villages), 16,504 townships, 13,506 school districts, and 35,052 special districts (such as water & sewer, fire, and conservation).

These independent, and interdependent, local governments reflect the diversity that is unique to America.  In America, the preferred government is one closest to those its serves.

de Tocqueville links local government to being fundamental to a free people:

In the township, as well as everywhere else, the people are the only source of power; but in no stage of government does the body of citizens exercise a more immediate influence. In America ‘the people’ is a master whose exigencies demand obedience to the utmost limits of possibility.

Municipal independence is therefore a natural consequence of the principle of the sovereignty of the people in the United States: all the American republics recognize it more or less;

de Tocqueville uses the townships of New England as his primary example of the effectiveness of local government and their role in establishing America’s unique democracy:

The native of New England is attached to his township because it is independent and free: his co-operation in its affairs ensures his attachment to its interest; the well-being it affords him secures his affection; and its welfare is the aim of his ambition and of his future exertions: he takes a part in every occurrence in the place; he practices the art of government in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to those forms which can alone ensure the steady progress of liberty; he imbibes their spirit; he acquires a taste for order, comprehends the union or the balance of powers, and collects clear practical notions on the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights.

While discourse over major national and global issues attract the most attention, it is local government that most directly affects our daily lives.  The quality of the school children attend, the condition of roads driven, the safety of neighborhoods, the taste and pressure of water coming from the tap, saving lives and property from fire or accident, are locally governed and provided.

de Tocqueville noted the benefits of locally focused government in America:

In no country in the world do the citizens make such exertions for the common weal; and I am acquainted with no people which has established schools as numerous and as efficacious, places of public worship better suited to the wants of the inhabitants, or roads kept in better repair.

He saw local government promoting individual initiative while restraining growth of a centralized state:

As the administrative authority is within the reach of the citizens, whom it in some degree represents, it excites neither their jealousy nor their hatred; as its resources are limited, everyone feels that he must not rely solely on its assistance…This action of individual exertions, joined to that of the public authorities, frequently performs what the most energetic central administration would be unable to execute.

Thanks to the strength of local government, America remains an inspiration for all those who seek free and open societies.

While chronicling America in its early years, de Tocqueville recognized how the United States’ embrace of local governance already served as a model for a better world:

I believe that provincial [local] institutions are useful to all nations, but nowhere do they appear to me to be more indispensable than amongst a democratic people.

The only nations which deny the utility of provincial [local] liberties are those which have fewest of them; in other words, those who are unacquainted with the institution are the only persons who pass a censure upon it.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

 

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Admitted June 20, 1863 by ratifying the U.S. Constitution, West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state. The West Virginia State Constitution in current use was adopted in 1872.

The origins of West Virginia, its current challenges, and its political dynamics are all embodied in a unique case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1870.

In Virginia v. West Virginia, 78 U.S. 11 Wall. 39 39 (1870) 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 39 two counties demanded to be reinstated into Virginia.  The Court ultimately prevented Berkeley and Jefferson Counties from returning to Virginia.  In the process, the Civil War and the battlefield origins of West Virginia were reviewed in detail.  Three Justices dissented, asserting that the birth of West Virginia was chaotic and violated the rights of local citizens in the Eastern Panhandle.

The three judge dissent reveals origins of the state’s current political tensions.  Citizens in the Eastern Panhandle continue to agitate against the highly centralized state government.

Virginian political leaders initiated a process to secede from the Union in January 1861.  As a Commonwealth, Virginia gave deference to county representation.  Initially, the 152 delegates were solidly pro-Union.  However, old regional rivalries surfaced.

Delegates from the western counties of Virginia raised the issue of unequal political power with the eastern sections of the state.  This east-west divide had been simmering since the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829.  That State Constitution required a property qualification for voting. This disenfranchised many yeoman farmers in the more mountainous western counties. It also embraced counting slaves on a three-fifths basis for apportioning representation. Every county beyond the Alleghenies, except one, rejected the 1829 constitution, which still passed with overwhelming eastern support. The issue of regional inequality erupted again during the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850-1851.

On the morning of April 12, 1861, Confederate cannons opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. After the Fort’s surrender on April 13, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to forcibly return the rebellious states to the Union.  This was enough for the secession proponents in the Virginia Convention to prevail on April 17, 1861.

A formal vote, by county, was scheduled for May 23, 1861. Secessionists took matters into their own hands and attacked the Federal Arsenal in Harpers Ferry on the evening of April 18.

The Eastern Panhandle became the site for over 60 Civil War Battles.  Local communities descended into chaos as Union and Confederate armies competed for control of this critical north-south gateway.  Some towns changed hands dozens of times.

Pro-Union forces in western Virginia formed a separate state in June 1861.  Former Virginia Governor, and Confederate General, Henry Wise reported that, “The Kanawha Valley is wholly traitorous…You cannot persuade these people that Virginia can or ever will reconquer the northwest.”

Early in the Civil War, Union forces solidified control of northern Virginia (Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax). President Lincoln and the U.S. Congress merged this Unionist beachhead with the western counties as the “free” state of Virginia.

On August 20, 1861, President Lincoln empowered this military-backed civilian entity to establishment the separate state of West Virginia from the pro-Union western counties that opted-out of the Secession Convention.

A “free” state convention met in Wheeling, November 26, 1861, and drafted the “Constitution of West Virginia.”  It designated forty-four counties, “formerly part of the State of Virginia,” to be “included in and form part of the State of West Virginia.” The Counties of Pendleton, Hardy, Hampshire, Morgan, Frederick, Berkeley, or Jefferson were not named as part of the state.

The new West Virginia constitution left open the possibility of adding additional counties:

“if a majority of the votes cast at the election or elections held as provided in the schedule hereof, in the district composed of the Counties of Pendleton, Hardy, Hampshire, and Morgan, shall be in favor of the adoption of this constitution, the said four counties shall be included in and form part of the State of West Virginia, and if the same shall be so included, and a majority of the votes cast at the said election or elections, in the district composed of Berkeley, Jefferson, and Frederick, shall be in favor of the adoption of this constitution, then the three last-named counties shall also be included in and form part of the State of West Virginia.”

Under the terms of this Constitution, an inclusion vote was held on the first Thursday in April 1862 for citizens in the original forty-four counties, and those living in Pendleton, Hardy, Hampshire, and Morgan.

Significantly, no one in the counties of Berkeley, Jefferson, or Frederick voted on the matter, because:

“from the 1st of June, 1861, to the 1st of March, 1862, during which time these proceedings for the formation of a new state were held, those counties were in the possession and under the absolute control of the forces of the Confederate States, and that an attempt to hold meetings in them to promote the formation of the new state would have been followed by immediate arrest and imprisonment.”

A series of laws were passed within the “free” state of Virginia authorizing the military-backed State Legislature to certify popular support for counties being added to the new state of “West Virginia.” On January 31, 1863, the “free” state of Virginia gave consent for the counties of Berkeley and Jefferson to be transferred to the State of West Virginia.  Frederick County, still under Confederate control, remained in the old Virginia.

At the national level, an enabling act was approved by President Lincoln on December 31, 1862 for admitting West Virginia, on the condition that a provision for the gradual abolition of slavery be inserted in the state constitution.

The West Virginia state convention reconvened on February 12, 1863, and passed a new constitution including the abolition provision. The revised constitution was adopted on March 26, 1863.  On April 20, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation admitting West Virginia as the 35th state effective on June 20, 1863.

West Virginians in the eastern panhandle bridled under being forcibly included in a Union state.  Rumors were rampant that the owners of the B&O Railroad engineered their inclusion because they did not want their rail line going through a southern state.  This led to the 1870 Supreme Court decision. As recently as the 1990s, the Mayor of Charles Town, the county seat of Jefferson County, explored reopening the case.

Unlike its origins, West Virginia chose not to be a Commonwealth.  It remains one of the most centralized state governments in America, possibly for maintaining unity among entrenched regional interests.  Only recently did the West Virginia legislature authorize limited home rule for certain municipalities.  The power of counties to control growth and levy impact fees is less than 20 years old.

West Virginia’s turbulent genesis, and its Charleston-centric political power, has led to the state earning a reputation for corruption and incompetence.  “Democrats are controlled by the coal mining unions; Republicans are controlled by the coal mining executives” observed a Republican legislator.

The state is challenged in finding its economic bearings as coal use declines.  It lacks internet access (West Virginia has the worst connectivity of the fifty states, while neighboring Virginia has the best).  Teacher unions and a bloated state bureaucracy make West Virginia one of the most expensive per-student school systems in the country, while consistently placing 49 or 50 in academic achievement.  The state steadily loses population, except for the eastern panhandle and the state Capitol of Charleston.

Except for recent Presidential elections, Democrats dominate the state.  In 2016, Republicans won control of both the House of Delegates and the State Senate for the first time in 82 years.  In Jefferson County, formed in 1803, it took until 2004 for the first Republican Clerk to be elected. The first Republican Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney was elected in 2018.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

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There are three ways Congress lives up to its mandate from the Founding Fathers – documenting their actions, recording their votes, and communicating with their constituents.  Each method has changed as technology evolved.  Each technological advance has expanded the availability of official records, and opened more avenues for communication and accountability.

America’s Founding Fathers understood the importance of communication and accountability between citizens and their elected representatives.

Even before the U.S. Constitution, the Continental Congress approved provisions for communicating with citizens, and assuring citizen accountability through knowledge of the actions of their elected representatives.

Articles of Confederation

…and shall publish the Journal of their proceedings monthly, except such parts thereof relating to treaties, alliances or military operations, as in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the delegates of each state on any question shall be entered on the Journal, when it is desired by any delegate; and the delegates of a state, or any of them, at his or their request shall be furnished with a transcript of the said Journal, except such parts as are above excepted, to lay before the legislatures of the several states.

James Wilson, a member of the Committee on Detail which compiled the provisions of the draft U.S. Constitution, was a follower of the great British parliamentary scholar Sir William Blackstone. He quoted Blackstone’s Oxford 1756 lectures, which underscored the importance of a public record for holding officials accountable, “In the House of Commons, the conduct of every member is subject to the future censure of his constituents, and therefore should be openly submitted to their inspection.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates open communication and documentation.

Article 1, Section 5, Clause 3

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

During its ratification, the importance of citizens interacting with their elected representatives was institutionalized in the Bill of Rights.

Amendment 1

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made communication between citizens and their elected representatives fundamental to the integrity of representative Democracy.

Federalist No. 56

February 19, 1788

It is a sound and important principle that the representative ought to be acquainted with the interests and circumstances of his constituents.

Every day the Congress approves the “Journal” of the previous session. This is the official outline of actions taken during the previous meeting of each Chamber, like a set of minutes. It is codified in Section 49 of Thomas Jefferson’s 1812 Parliamentary Manual that governs Congressional operations.

Staff of the House Clerk’s Office, and the Secretary of the Senate physically write, and now type, every word said during Congressional sessions.  These are transcribed and printed in the Congressional Record.  Printed daily editions of the Congressional Record were distributed to Legislative Offices. A very limited number of copies were also available through those offices to the public.

This changed in January 1995, when the Library of Congress made digital copies of the Congressional Record available on its website. Continuous improvements now allow for user friendly search of the Record and all legislation, by anyone on the web, anytime, anywhere.

The Congressional Record remains the official transcript of proceedings.  Since March 19, 1979 in the House and June 2, 1986 in the Senate, the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN), a nonprofit private entity, provides live coverage of each Chamber. The cameras are owned and maintained by the Architect of the Capitol, while their operations and broadcasts are operated by staffs of the Chief Administrative Officer in the House and the Secretary of the Senate. C-SPAN receives the signal and airs it on its various cable television channels.

Live television fundamentally expanded the Congressional audience. Instead of the small public viewing galleries, anyone can now watch what happens instead of reading about it.  Archived videos of each session can be accessed 24-7 on C-SPAN’s website.

Starting in 2007, every public hearing in the House is broadcast live, and archived as podcasts on each Committee’s website.  The Senate only provides the traditional list of witnesses and publishes opening statements.

For over 184 years Congress used voice voting.  The process of calling each Member’s name remains the Senate’s format.  The House started using an electronic voting system on January 23, 1973.  This reduced voting time from 45 minutes or more to 15 minutes.  Clustering votes on noncontroversial bills, under “Suspension of the Rules”, can reduce vote times to five minutes.  This saves as much as 400 hours a year in vote and “quorum call” time and provides immediate documentation of how each Member votes.

Every day, citizens learn about the actions of the Legislative Branch through a free and vibrant news media and through direct communication with their elected representatives. Credentialing and supporting journalists covering Congress began in 1838.  Today, the media galleries, operated by the House CAO and Secretary of the Senate, but managed by the media themselves, credentials over 6,000 correspondents from around the world.

Up until 1995, Members responded to their constituents’ requests and comments using paper, just like public officials had done for centuries.  Handwriting gave way to typewriters, which evolved into word processors.

That all changed in 1995.  Dramatic operational savings, achieved from strategic reforms in the House, gave Speaker Newt Gingrich the ability to invest in the CyberCongress.  Former executives from IBM and other technology companies were recruited by the Chief Administrative Officer.  They designed and implemented the most dramatic technology revolution in Congressional history.  This giant leap took House communications from the 18th Century into the 21st in one giant leap.

The epic leap changed the layout of Capitol Hill and the culture of Congress forever.

  • Five miles of fiber optics and thirty miles of T-1 lines, with all servers and switches installed through the Capitol Building and all five House office buildings and annexes.
  • A Pentium computer in each Member, committee, and leadership office. This allowed for paperless transactions from “Dear Colleague” letters, to Whip operations, to financial record keeping, purchasing, and work orders.
  • Uniform service contracts, equipment, training, and support to immediately make the entire system immediately operational.
  • Moving all operational documents and databases onto a compatible digital database.
  • A distributed architecture of secure servers, with sufficient firewalls to allow for Internet access, LAN, and intranet operations even to district offices, without fear of hacking or other security breaches.
  • A unified email system.
  • Enough server power and memory to support a 310 percent increase in electronic-based communications in the House in the first year, and doubling each year for ten years.
  • A decision support center allowing for virtual caucuses, virtual committee meetings, and strategic planning meetings accessing distant users.
  • Placing all Member support services online. This included all financial data, human resource data, and personal property inventory data being available electronically. It also allowed for desktop procurement and other forms of electronic commerce.

The CyberCongress took only ten months to be fully operational and came in under budget.

Today, Members and their staffs handle all constituent communication and case work over the web.  Members have also become very savvy regarding social media.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless Apps, generate virtual and real engagement on a vast scale.  Survey Monkey, Periscope, and other videos Apps, have reinvented the concept of town meetings.

Early on, some Members were terrified of Congress embracing the Information Age.  “I don’t want to be talking to my constituents all the time, I want to get real work done” groused one senior Member.

Thankfully, even the doubters have now realized that representative democracy must move with the times.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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Since the Roman Senate, there has always been a need for a smaller group of Members to focus on details before actions are considered by the entire assembly. This is a better use of time, as Members are not equally interested or versed in every topic under consideration.

Committees to support the legislative process in America’s colonies started in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1642.

The drafting of America’s Declaration of Independence was the act of a committee.

On May 15, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously passed a resolution calling on all thirteen colonies to form governments representing colonial interests independent of the British Crown. Congress then authorized the drafting of a preamble explaining the reasons for and purposes of this action. On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five” to draft this “declaration”. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman were appointed.

The work of the “Committee of Five” was presented to the Congress on June 28 and, after spirited debate, was adopted on July 2, 1776. The approved Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.

After the Revolutionary War, and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, newly elected Senators and Representatives quickly formed committees to support their legislative duties.

On April 2, 1789, the first House committee was established to “prepare and report” on rules and procedures.

On April 7, 1789, the first Senate committee was formed to establish rules of procedure. By 1816, the Senate had eleven standing committees, many of which operate to this day.

The formation of the House committee on Ways and Means, on July 24, 1789, marked Congress’ implementation of its most important relationship with the Executive Branch.

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”– U.S. Constitution; Article 1; Section 9

The “Consequences of Appropriations” is how representative government holds the Executive Branch in check. In the earliest days of the United States, unelected functionaries, allowing their positions to political patronage, had to be held accountable to Americans. Only through elected Senators and Representatives in “oversight” hearings could these public officials be reminded that their loyalty was to the law and Americans citizens, not just to the President.

Congressional Hearings are conducted to put actions and information on the public record.

Senators and Representatives use hearings to expand from focusing on legislative details to exposing and communicating facts.

Ideally, a Congressional hearing is well-scripted theater. Executive Branch officials work with Committee staff to prepare for publicly sharing information. When the hearing convenes, everyone knows their role. Witness testimony, followed by questions and answers, clarify intent of laws, explain programmatic and policy matters, and explore solutions. The outcome is action that supports passage of legislation or funding for government operations.

Majority and minority members of the Committee have equal time to speak and pose questions to witnesses. Depending on the issue, non-government experts, and at times, average citizens, may be witnesses, sharing their insights and experiences to illuminate the impacts of a given issue.

As government expanded, Congress needed help with its oversight. In 1921, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) was formed. It was later renamed the Government Accountability Office, using the same acronym – GAO.

The GAO’s accounting and management experts review how Americans’ tax dollars are spent, or misspent. Every year hundreds of investigative reports, filled with hundreds of recommendations are sent to the Congress. These reports support oversight hearings where Congressional committees hold public officials accountable and launch legislative efforts to curb abuse and facilitate efficiency.

That is how it is supposed to have worked.

Unfortunately, most Senate and House members find government oversight “boring”. Unless there is a headline-grabbing scandal, few news outlets cover improper payments, operational duplication, or mismanagement leading to wasteful spending.

This is unfortunate. In 2017, implementing just 52% of the 724 GAO management recommendations saved taxpayers $178 billion. During the final years of the Obama Administration, only 29% of the GAO’s recommendations were implemented.

Annually, the GAO, and the 73 independent Inspectors General within the Executive Branch, publish over 8,000 reports identifying approximately $650 billion in waste.

In the past, Appropriations Committees met to build the case for spending public funds. Administration witnesses made their case for spending. Appropriation Committee Members made their alternative case, opposing or supporting what the Administration witnesses proposed. Oversight reports and hearings guided spending and reforms.

What should occur is a dialogue designed to align Congressional intent, and Executive Branch actions. Representative government is fundamental to validating public spending.

What should emerge is legislation filled with spending numbers. Supporting these numbers should be a narrative, in the public hearing record and committee reports, building a compelling case for how and why public finds are being spent, or not spent.

None of this happens anymore. Few, if any Appropriation bills pass. Concurrent Resolutions or Omnibus spending bills are generated at the last moment to meet spending deadlines. Political expediency, not representative government, drives the legislation.

In 2015, there were 128 House Appropriation hearings prior to marking-up legislation. In 2016, there were only 88. The House listened to 253 Administration witnesses, but only seven of the 73 Inspector Generals. No one from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was involved. No one from private oversight groups, documenting government waste and abuse, were heard.

It gets worse. In the 1980s and 1990s, Appropriation hearings lasted three or more hours. Hearings in 2016 averaged 77 minutes. When you factor in the opening remarks from the Chair and Ranking Member and the opening statement of the main witness, less than 25 minutes were devoted to questioning witnesses at each hearing. Very few Members attend or participate.

House Committees broadcast their hearings online and archive them as podcasts. None of the 47 Senate Appropriation hearings were broadcast or archived. The public only knows that three Inspector Generals appeared, and there was no one from the GAO or government watchdog groups. The public remains uninformed as to what 121 Senate witnesses had to say beyond the text of their prepared remarks. Senators’ questions are also a mystery.

Congressional hearings, the embodiment of representative government, are deteriorating. This undermines the carefully crafted balancing of powers in the U.S. Constitution.

Representative government means its elected officials must do their duty. Even “boring” management oversight is important, especially to taxpayers concerned about how their hard-earned money is spent.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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A bill becomes a law only through collaboration, communication, and teamwork.

Members of Congress are pulled in many directions. Members must be Members, which means they attend hearings, participate in legislation via debate and voting, and communicate with their constituents. Members, who want to remain Members, must be perpetual candidates, which means raising funds, working with their campaign team, involving themselves with national, state, and local officials within their political party, and engaging organized special interests that provide funds, endorsements, and resources. Members are increasingly Ambassadors to a sprawling government, meaning their offices are “embassies” representing the interests of their constituents to federal officials and guiding their constituents through the federal labyrinth to obtain government benefits, regulatory relief, and due process.

No one person can handle all these roles. That is why Congressional Staff exist.

Members during the first seventy years under the U.S. Constitution, performed their diverse duties themselves. The Federal government was small and legislative sessions were short.

Just before the American Civil War, the size, scope, and complexity of the Federal Government had grown to a point where full-time staff began supporting Members. The first staff were attached to major committees. Many of these were clerical staff to take notes and help draft legislation. Even during the busy period of Post-Civil War Reconstruction and Westward expansion, such as 1867, the Congress only passed 30 bills and 41 resolutions a year.

By the end of the 19th Century Congress had only 146 staff members: 37 Senate personal staff, 39 Senate committee staff, and 62 House committee staff (37 of whom only worked during congressional sessions). In 1893, the House approved the first personal staff for its Members.

The Populist and Progressive movements ignited government regulation of America’s burgeoning economy. New federal agencies meant dramatic increases in spending and the need for vigorous Congressional oversight of Executive Branch activities.

Except for limiting government during the Administration of President Calvin Coolidge, the role, scope, and size of the federal activities grew rapidly and never stopped. Congress introduced, considered, and passed more and more laws facilitating this expansion. By the early 1970s over 26,000 legislative bills and resolutions were being introduced during each two-year Congress.

Congressional staff expanded to support Members. Members, torn by their multiple responsibilities, deferred increasingly to their staffs.

Today, approximately 14,000 employees work on House and Senate leadership, committee, and personal staffs.

Each Congress begins, on its first day of existence, with establishing its governing rules. This includes setting personal staff levels and authorizing a standard amount funding each office to pay that staff.

The personal staff of a Senator or Representative are people who take the lead in handling the multiple roles of each Member. Staff conduct “Case work” to help constituents receive the services, benefits, and due process they deserve. Receptionists welcome visitors and help them access special tours and events through the Nation’s Capital. Administrative and technical staff manage office operations and information resources. District staff provide similar services within the Members’ home area, including attending countless meetings with local officials and interest groups.

The heart of a Congressional staff is the legislative team. These individuals spend sometimes 100 hours a week carrying out the original purpose of representative government. A mix of young enthusiastic newcomers, fresh from college, work closely with seasoned professionals who may spend their entire careers working in Congress.

Ideally, a Senator’s or Member’s legislative team become the alter-ego of those they serve. They anticipate the Member’s needs. They become intimately knowledgeable of the issues most important to the Member and their constituents. As a Member gains seniority, the legislative team will grow with the Member and help them become a recognized leader on selected policies.

Legislative staff become the Member’s intellectual annex. They attend briefings, cultivate relationships with policy experts, and build their own collaborative networks among other Member staffs, lobbyists, and the media. They become invaluable in alerting the Member to opportunities and threats relating to the Member’s core interests and his or her constituents.

Legislative staff will collaborate with their network, including associates within Congressional leadership and committees, to manage the legislative process for their Member. At the basic level, legislative staff will “triage” pending legislation into its level of importance to the Member. This may include recommendations on how to vote on procedural motions and amendments, taking input from their Party’s leadership.

Legislation that is more important to a Member may require the legislative staff to draft amendments and speeches. The best staffers are ghostwriters, whose words so closely reflect the Member’s thinking and speaking, few will ever know where the staffers’ words end and the Members’ begin.

Ultimately, an issue requires the Member to take the initiative. The legislative staff will develop a strategy, which may include writing and introducing new legislation. At this level the legislative staff becomes a campaign team, mobilizing support from other Members, garnering endorsements and commitments from lobbyists and interest groups, engaging the media, and orchestrating hearings and media events to move the legislation forward.

It is no wonder that the most effective among the legislative staffers in Congress are highly sought after by outside interests and lobby groups. Such “super stars” can earn far more “on the outside” and some make the leap to the private sector.

Therefore, it is truly inspirational when a legislative staffer completes their career in Congress after many years of serving the Legislative Branch. They are the true “institutionalists” who maintain the culture of professionalism and pass their knowledge and commitment to the next generation.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlan Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

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Our U.S. Constitution (1787), and powers of the Legislative Branch, embody the distrust of concentrated power and establish mechanisms to hold that power in check.  This concern for “sovereign over reach”, and the ways to prevent it, flow from the Charter or “Carta” signed on the field of Runnymede in 1215.

On May 26, 1976, in a solemn ceremony at Westminster Hall in London, the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate received a gold-embossed reproduction of the Magna Carta.  On June 3, 1976, a second ceremony, in Washington, DC, installed the gold reproduction and the original Wyems copy of the Magna Carta in the Capitol Rotunda to celebrate America’s Bi-centennial.

While the original Magna Carta returned to England, the gold Magna Carta remains on permanent display in the Capitol. “Nothing could be more symbolically important to the people of the United States,” stated Speaker Carl Albert during the ceremony.

Why is the Magna Carta so firmly linked to America’s Legislative Branch?  How are the underlying principles of the Magna Carta embodied in the operations of the Congress?

Winston Churchill, in his masterpiece, “A History of the English Speaking Peoples”, explained,

Throughout the document [Magna Carta] it is implied that here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break.  This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it.

England’s King John was humbled by barons at Runnymede on June 15, 1215.  The King had over reached as an aspiring despot.  The barons had the military force, and the political will, to assert there were limits to even a King’s power.  Magna Carta was the contract that re-established the rule of law and re-asserted certain rights for the ruling class.  This included forbidding the King from compelling certain actions, and prevented him from imposing punishments and fines except through due process within narrowly defined cause.

England would expand upon these basic principles as Parliament gradually replaced the Monarchy in governing the nation.  This process required a Civil War (1642-1647), the beheading of King Charles I (1649), and the deposing of King James II (1688).

America’s Revolution (1775-1781) and Declaration of Independence (1776) arose from a similar concern over King George III’s “sovereign over reach”.

Magna Carta’s revolutionary concept of holding the King accountable for a breach of contract with England’s nobles was broadened in the Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson established rights above Common Law and Medieval precedents with the famous phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

The U.S. Constitution put this broader interpretation of Magna Carta into practice.  Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, writing in Federalist 84, explain:

It has been several times truly remarked that bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was MAGNA CARTA, obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John…Here [in America], in strictness, the people surrender nothing; and as they retain everything they have no need of particular reservations. “WE, THE PEOPLE of the United States, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Here is a better recognition of popular rights.

The U.S. Constitution builds upon centuries of Parliamentary precedent by placing the power of legislation, and the funding of government operations, clearly in the hands of the Legislative Branch.  This is why Article I begins, “All legislative Power herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…”

It is not a coincidence that Article I, the Legislative Branch, is more than double the size of Article II, the Executive Branch, in defining power and authority (2,282 words to 1,023 words). The final section on the Executive Branch establishes Congress’ ultimate sanction against “sovereign over reach”:

Section. 4. The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

From the very first, the Legislative Branch asserted its role in limiting Executive Power.  Senators quickly and effectively embraced the limitation of the President to appoint only with the “the Advice and Consent of the Senate” (Article II, Section 2).

The first test was rejecting President George Washington’s appointment of Benjamin Fishbourn to be a customs collector. On August 5, 1789, President Washington strode unannounced into Federal Hall in New York City, then the Capitol Building.  Vice President John Adams allowed Washington to sit in the presiding officer’s chair.  The President, according to Ron Chernow’s definitive biography on Washington, “proceeded to unbraid the twenty-two members of the Senate, demanding to know why they spurned his appointee.”

Senator Ralph Izard of South Carolina spoke for the institution asserting that “the Senate had no obligation to explain its reasoning to the President”. It was the last time Washington, or any other President, entered a Legislative Chamber without permission.

Battles over appointees, spending, and legislation have defined the balance of power between the Congress and the President.  In each encounter, Congress has ultimately reaffirmed its power to limit “sovereign over reach”.  This has included censuring President Andrew Jackson (1834) and impeaching Presidents Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998-1999).

The “Lincolnia” original of the Magna Carta was displayed at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.  It remained safe in America during World War II, even being stored in the vault of Fort Knox after the Pearl Harbor attack.

America kept the physical Magna Carta safe, and kept Magna Carta’s revolutionary legacy of holding power accountable.

Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also served on the White House Staff, and as an Executive Branch Appointee.

 

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Newt Gingrich is the most consequential Republican Speaker in history.  He revitalized a failed Republican Party, forging the first GOP Congressional majority in forty years.

During his tenure, Gingrich revolutionized House operations, including bringing the Legislative Branch into compliance with all federal laws.

Republican Speakers have a rich history of shaping Congress. Two of the three House Office Buildings are named after Republican Speakers.  Rep. Joseph Cannon (R-IL) remains the single most powerful Speaker in House history (1903-1911).  Rep. Nicholas Longworth (R-OH) broke with Teddy Roosevelt to defend the Republican Party in the 1912 election and then broke with President Herbert Hoover to defend American taxpayers against the growth of big government (1925-1931).

Rep. Thomas Reed (R-ME) comes closest to Gingrich’s impact on the Legislative Branch.  Reed was known for his communication ability, and his mastery of parliamentary procedure.  As speaker (1889-1891/1895-1899) he mastered both of these skills to bring the House of Representatives back into alignment with the original rules written by Thomas Jefferson. Many consider his success assured the “survival of representative government”. [1]

Newt Gingrich was born and raised in Georgia.  His early career as a professor of history and geography at the University of West Georgia well prepared him for the many times he would reference America’s founding principles during his political career.

In 1978, Gingrich became the first Republican to win Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.  Once in office, he learned parliamentary combat and the power of well-timed words from Rep. John Ashbrook and the conservatives of the Chesapeake Society. [2]

When many of Chesapeake conservatives followed President Reagan into the Executive Branch, Gingrich formed the “Conservative Opportunity Society” (COS). This became a rallying point for those wanting to make the House Republicans stand for something. [3]

COS members took the skills learned from Rep. John Ashbrook and the older conservative “street fighters” and added their own knowledge of using the media. Live coverage of House sessions had only been available to cable television audiences since March 1979 when CSPAN began to broadcast the House signal.

Through ingenious use of the one-minute speeches, that led the daily sessions, and the special orders, which ended the legislative day, Gingrich and the COS began to build a television audience. In the days before Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media personalities, the COS shows obtained a conservative “cult” following. The COS members became popular icons to a new generation of young conservative activists.  Speaker O’Neill, in an attempt to humiliate the COS, ordered the House cameras to show the empty chamber that the COS was addressing late at night. This only added to the COS mystique as activists outside of Washington saw the empty chamber as a metaphor for COS members standing courageously alone against the powerful forces of big government.

In 1988, Gingrich launched an ethics complaint against then House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX). He questioned the financial arrangements around Wright’s book, Reflections of a Public Man. Controversy swelled around Gingrich as Democrats attacked him for similar problems with his own 1977 book deal. Such attacks only added to Gingrich’s following among “grassroots” conservatives outside of Washington, DC.

The election of George Bush as president in 1988 led to a historic opportunity for Gingrich. Rep. Dick Cheney (R-WY) had been tapped to become Secretary of Defense. This happened in the wake of the unsuccessful confirmation fight for former Senator John Tower (R-TX). With Cheney leaving the Minority Whip’s position in March 1989, the opportunity presented itself for a conservative insurgency against Michel’s candidate, Rep. Edward Madigan (R-IL).

Madigan had been the chief deputy minority whip and was viewed as the natural successor to Cheney. Republicans tended to reward people in turn and to shy away from insurgency candidates. This tradition of planned succession was symbolized by having conservative Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX) act as Madigan’s campaign manager against Gingrich.

On March 22, 1989, the tradition was shattered as Gingrich was elected by a two-vote margin. “The issue is not ideology; it’s active versus passive leadership,” said Rep. Weber. [4]

Gingrich immediately set about reshaping the opposition of the House. Along with the organizational resources of GOPAC, his personal political action committee, Gingrich built what became known as “Newtworld”.  Joe Gaylord, Gingrich’s top lieutenant and then head of GOPAC, ran this interlocking structure behind the scenes. Dan Meyer moved from Gingrich’s personal office to head the Whip’s office. Tony Blankley, a veteran of the White House and active member of various conservative networks during the Reagan years, became the spokesman. A GOPAC consultant, John Morgan, an expert at tracking polls, began weekly assessments of how this new operation, and its aggressive strategy, were working.

The new organization moved the COS’s combative style to center stage. There were weekly “themes” for Members to focus on. This meant floor speeches backed up by fact sheets and talking points that Members could use back in their districts. An “echo-chamber” of opposition, linked to conservative grassroots groups, was becoming a machine. Its goal was to topple the Democrats in 1992 or ’94.

The elections of 1992 disappointed some House Republicans who had hoped for more voter outrage over the scandals of the 102nd Congress. The Republicans were left to ponder both their minority status in the House, and having to deal with a Democrat in the White House.

On December 7, 1992, the Republicans met to sort out their leadership in the 103rd Congress. Michel remained a declining figure among the insurgent House Republicans, but his popularity gave him another two years as minority leader. Gingrich would have to run his opposition effort as Minority Whip. However, Gingrich’s strategy of aggressive opposition received another major boost. Rep. Richard “Dick” Armey (R-TX) defeated Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) for Chairman of the Republican Conference. Another moderate/nonconfrontationalist was defeated and another conservative in favor of total warfare with the House Democrats was elevated to a key leadership position. [5]

Bolstered at the top by Gingrich and Armey, and by Rep. Jim Nussle’s (R-IA) House Reform group –  the “Gang of Seven”, the COS, the 103rd Congress witnessed daily exposes of Democrat scandals and malfeasance.

On September 27, 1994, Gingrich launched the first “European-style” parliamentary election, by crafting the “Contract with America”.  For the first time in American history, a party ran its Congressional candidates based on an inspirational and visionary manifesto.

The “Contract with America” ignited the Republican base, leading to a 54 seat swing propelling the Republicans into power for the first time since 1954.

As Speaker, Gingrich drove the House’s agenda to pass the major elements of the “Contract” within 100 days.  This was accomplished.  However, Senate inertia and President Clinton’s vetoes prevented most of the “Contract” from becoming law.

Two “Contract” items did become reality, and these changed the Legislative Branch forever.  HR 1, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 was the first order of business and the first bill passed in the 104th Congress.  For the first time, the Legislative Branch was required to comply with all the laws it had passed.  True accountability was achieved as Members had to live under the same laws they had thrust onto Americans. [6]

The other action was creating the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), which consolidated all non-parliamentary and non-security functions within one office.  Its mandate was to reinvent the operations of Congress to make it run like a business, while being completely transparent and accountable. This became the most comprehensive rethinking of Legislative Branch operations since the first Congress met in 1789.  Obsolete functions were abolished, others were privatized.

Business practices were institutionalized by a team of corporate transformation experts, with the assistance of major accounting firms.  Another team of computer experts implemented the “Cyber Congress”, which thrust House communications into the 21st Century in one giant leap. The result was a lean, customer-focused, accountable operation that saved $186 million and became the model for support services in 44 parliaments around the world.  The reforms were so thorough and effective, that they remain in place to this day.

Gingrich’s policy and budget confrontations with President Bill Clinton defined the balance of his tenure.  Government shutdowns and other brinksmanship forced reforms in welfare and taxes, and reduced the federal budget deficit.

Conservatives became concerned over Gingrich’s seeming loss of focus and the mounting attacks by Democrats. House Appropriators angered conservatives over being increasingly enamored with spending and earmarks. House “revolutionaries” tried to reverse things.  On July 16, 1997 a small band of “true believers”, along with Delay and Armey, mounted a revolt against Gingrich.  This ill-fated “palace coup” weakened both the plotters and the Speaker. [7]

In December 1998, after a disappointing showing in the November elections, Gingrich announced he would not seek re-election as Speaker and would resign from the House. [8]

The looming impeachment of Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal further confused the situation. Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), the Chair of the Appropriations Committee and assumed to be the next Speaker, shocked the Chamber by resigning as his own extramarital affair became public.  Amongst the chaos, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) became Speaker. [9]

Since leaving the House of Representatives, Gingrich remains an insightful commentator and provocative thinker.  Returning the House to the rule of law, and being highly responsive to the will of the voter, remain lasting historic achievements that strengthened our democracy.

Scot Faulkner served as Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and as a Member of the Reagan White House Staff.  He earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from American University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Government from Lawrence University

NOTES

[1] A vivid chronicle of Reed’s battle for parliamentary integrity and accountability can be found in Barbara Tuchman’s, The Proud Tower. Ballantine Books, 1962; pages 125-130

[2] Faulkner, Scot, Naked Emperors. Rowman & Littlefield, 2008; pages 81-82.

[3] Ibid., page 25

[4] Komarow, Steven (March 22, 1989). “House Republicans Elect Gingrich to No. 2 Spot, Chart Battle with Democrats”. Associated Press

[5] Op. Cit. Faulkner p. 27.

[6] www.Govtrack.us. “H.R. 1 (104th): Congressional Accountability Act of 1995”

[7] Op. Cit., Faulkner p. 294.

[8] Gingrich, Newt (1998). Lessons Learned the Hard Way. Harper Collins Publishers. pp. 159–160.

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/20/us/impeachment-overview-clinton-impeached-he-faces-senate-trial-2d-history-vows-job.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

 

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Patrick Henry cautioned, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”  In their respective chambers, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have developed unique ways to air differences and make sure information is shared.  The Legislative Branch’s culture of debate hold’s power accountable and preserves our nation’s civic culture.

The differences between the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives are very apparent after just watching them for a few minutes.

The U.S. Senate is informal.  Senators and staff wander about, mingle, and many conversations are happening at once.  Most procedural actions are by unanimous consent.  Speeches can go on and on.

The U.S. House of Representatives is very structured.  Everything is governed by rules that govern how time is spent, down to minutes.  It is the only way 435 voting, and five non-voting, Representatives can balance discourse with action.

Since the first Congress, the differences between the Senate and House have framed important national debates.

The Senate evolved into the chamber for debate.  Less people, drawn from the political elite until the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, allowed for greater latitude in allotting time for discussion.

The years 1810 through 1859, were a period known as the “Golden Age” of the Senate. Three of the greatest senators and orators in American history served during this time: Henry Clay (Kentucky) articulating the views and concerns of the West, Daniel Webster (Massachusetts) representing the North, and John C. Calhoun (South Carolina) representing the South.

During these years, these Senate “giants” debated and resolved major issues, holding a divided nation together before the Civil War: the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the nullification debate of 1830 (Haynes-Webster debates), and the Compromise of 1850.

During this “Golden Age” Washington’s elite gathered in the Senate chamber to watch the impassioned oratory and the great compromises take place. The public filled the Senate’s “Ladies’ Gallery” and even sat on couches along the walls of the Senate Floor.

A major step toward supporting this debate culture occurred in 1806, when the Senate dropped using a simple majority to move “Previous Question” to stop debate.  The first “filibuster”, from the Dutch term “vrijbuiter” – pirate or pirating the proceedings, happened on March 5, 1841 over the firing of Senate printers.  Grinding Senate proceedings to a halt was viewed as an important way to highlight concerns and force a more in-depth consideration of policy.

In 1917, the Senate established “cloture” as a way to limit debate.  Initially, cloture required a 2/3 vote. This was changed in 1975 to 3/5, the current 60 votes required.

The House found other ways to expand debate within its strict rules.  Members can “revise and extend” their remarks.  This means that a one minute speech can become a multi-page discourse in the “Congressional Record”, the permanent and official record of Congressional activities.

On March 19, 1979 the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN) began live broadcast of the House of Representatives.  Live coverage of the Senate began on June 2, 1986.  Television fundamentally expanded the Congressional audience.  Now people, beyond the small public viewing galleries, could watch what happened instead of reading about it.

Republicans embraced the role of television faster and more effectively than the Democrats.  They turned the opening one minute speeches into street theater.  They used posters and model war planes to create riveting moments highlighting major issues.  Republicans also took the obscure device of the “Special Order” to spend hours educating the electorate on issues after official House business ended for the day.

During the first years of C-SPAN Republicans strategically orchestrated their message through an informal group called the Chesapeake Society. This weekly gathering, co-lead by senior legislative staff and Members, developed themes, wrote talking points, and assigned roles for the House’s “Golden Age” of conservative advocacy.

Representatives John Ashbrook (R-OH), Bob Bauman (R-MD), and John Rousselot (R-CA), and their top advisors, collaborated with Phil Crane (R-IL), Bob Dornan (R-CA), Jack Kemp (R-NY), Larry McDonald (R-GA), Don Ritter (R-PA), Gerald Solomon (R-NY), Bob Walker (R-PA), and seventy other Members, to dominate C-SPAN in opposing President Jimmy Carter and House Democrats. Their effective use of the media is credited with helping lay the ground work for the Reagan Revolution.

A second “Golden Age” of House conservatives was led by Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and his Conservative Opportunity Society. They exposed an array of scandals that grew to symbolize the corruption of forty years of Democrat rule in the House.  Their most famous use of visuals came on October 1, 1991. Rep. Jim Nussle (R-IA) addressed the House wearing a paper bag over his head. He tore off the bag stating he was ashamed to show his face in the wake of House corruption.  These dramatic moments led to the 1994 landslide that propelled Republicans to power for the first time since 1954.

Democrats found their own ways to use the power of the camera.  On June 22, 2016, sixty Members staged a sit-in on the House Floor to dramatize the lack of gun control legislation.  Republicans turned off the cameras and the lights.  Democrats used their cellphone cameras in a social media phenomenon.  On February 7, 2018, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) used her unlimited time prerogative as Minority Leader to turn the usual “house keeping” procedures of the House into an eight hour marathon speech focusing attention on Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Formal procedures, precedents, and tradition, linked to ever evolving technology, guarantees that the role of debate remains a viable part of America’s representative democracy in the 21st Century.

Scot Faulkner served as Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and as a Member of the Reagan White House Staff.  He earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from American University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Government from Lawrence University

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The reason the U.S. House of Representatives is so different from the U.S. Senate is deeply rooted in the history of representative democracy.

Since the first time hunter gatherers sat around a campfire, leaders depended upon the advice of trusted counselors. These advisors evolved into a lord’s or noble’s Privy Council, and eventually into the “upper chambers” of many democracies, such as Britain’s House of Lords. These members were chosen “from above” – directly by the noble, not “from below” – by the people.  In America, the U.S. Senate was based on being chosen “from above” by State Legislatures until April 8, 1913, when the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandated that Senators be directly elected.

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Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

 

How Urbanism Forever Changed America

The 1928 Presidential Election remains the zenith of Republican political power.  Republican Herbert Hoover crushed Democrat Al Smith, winning 58 percent of the popular vote and 83 percent of the electoral vote. [1] The landslide was fueled by years of prosperity, affection for outgoing President Calvin Coolidge, and deep seated concerns over Smith’s Catholicism. Republicans also amassed majorities in the House and Senate not seen again until 2014.

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June 28, 2014 is an historic day in thwarting Presidential over-reach. On that day the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled President Obama’s recess appointments unconstitutional. NLRB versus Noel Canning, ET AL was a rare instance when the Judicial Branch acted as referee and reset the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative Branches.

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The world where House and Senate Chambers are packed with Members attentively listening to their colleagues ended long before films like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Advise and Consent” paid it homage.

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Expanding Presidential power usually erodes democracy, expands government, and facilitates the rise of an increasingly unaccountable “Imperial Presidency”.  Ironically, giving Presidents more power to control spending does just the opposite.

The struggle over government spending has been a fundamental point of contention since the earliest days of our Federal Government.  In the last twenty years, this issue has split the Democrats in Congress, frustrated Republican and Democratic Presidents, and generated numerous Supreme Court cases.  The 1974 effort to resolve the matter, once and for all, substantively contributed to the current explosion in federal spending.

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Scot Faulkner, Former Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and currently President of Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s right hand was trembling.  He had spent the morning shaking hundreds of hands as part of the traditional New Year’s Day greetings at the White House.  He remarked to Secretary of State, William Seward, that, “if my signature wavers they will say I was afraid to sign it.” He then took up his pen and wrote his name firmly on the Emancipation Proclamation.  As Seward co-signed the document, Lincoln mused, “Seward, if I am to be remembered in history at all, it will probably be in connection with this piece of paper”. [1] Read more

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner, Former Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives

The Republican Party Platform of 1856 is the most important political platform in American history.  It coalesced 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.  The Republican Party Platform of 1856, more than any other platform in American history, was designed to codify a new political philosophy and to solidify a coalition of highly fractious political forces into a cogent and compelling movement. Read more

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner, Co-Founder, George Washington Institute of Living Ethics, Shepherd University

In the last public communication of his life, Thomas Jefferson made it crystal clear why documents and actions have lasting consequences.  In his letter to Washington, DC Mayor, Roger C. Weightman, Jefferson eloquently asserts the legacy of the Declaration of Independence by declaring it: “the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.”

Jefferson was a student of history.  He understood its central role in our present and future.  Earlier he wrote: “History, by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; Read more

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner, Co-Founder, George Washington Institute of Living Ethics, Shepherd University

As 1776 began, America’s rebellion against British colonial rule was not yet a revolution.  Less than half the projected number of volunteers had enlisted in the Continental army with desertions mounting.  George Washington was entrenched, but stalemated in Cambridge outside of Boston. The British Commander, General John Burgoyne, mocked the situation by writing and producing the satirical play, “The Blockade”, which portrayed Washington as an incompetent flailing a rusty sword.  Then something amazing happened.

“Common Sense” was published on January 9, 1776.  It remains one of the most indispensable documents of America’s founding.  In forty-eight pages, Thomas Paine accomplished three things fundamental to America.   Read more

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner, Executive Director, The Dreyfuss Initiative on Civics

Article 1, Section 5, Clause 3

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Documenting public processes have been part of governing since the rise of early civilizations.  From the Sumerians in 2500 BC, to ancient Egypt and Babylon, governments have kept journals of their actions and public meetings. 

The Founding Fathers knew the importance of maintaining a Journal of Proceedings from the English House of Commons. James Wilson, a member of the Committee on Detail which compiled the provisions of the draft Constitution, was a follower of the great British parliamentary scholar Sir William Blackstone.  He quoted Blackstone’s Oxford 1756 lectures, which underscored the importance of a public record for holding officials accountable, “In the House of Commons, the conduct of every member is subject to the future censure of his constituents, and therefore should be openly submitted to their inspection.”

The Constitution’s “Journal of Proceedings” wording flows from the Articles of Confederation. In March 1781 the Continental Congress approved the following provision: “…and shall publish the Journal of their proceedings monthly, except such parts thereof relating to treaties, alliances or military operations, as in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the delegates of each state on any question shall be entered on the Journal, when it is desired by any delegate; and the delegates of a state, or any of them, at his or their request shall be furnished with a transcript of the said Journal, except such parts as are above excepted, to lay before the legislatures of the several states.”

But what is the Journal?  Every day the Congress approves the “Journal” of the previous session.  This is the official outline of actions taken during the previous meeting of each Chamber, like a set of minutes.  It is codified in Section 49 of Thomas Jefferson’s 1812 Parliamentary Manual that governs Congressional operations.  Members of Congress do not approve the Congressional Record.  That transcript of House and Senate proceedings has a colorful history.

The transcribing of Congressional debate was begun by private publishers.  House and Senate proceedings, roll calls, debates, and other records were recorded and published in The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (1789–1824), the Register of Debates in Congress (1824–1837), and the Congressional Globe (1833–1873).

During the 36th Congress [December 5, 1859 to March 3, 1861] it was decided that federal funds should be used for transcribing Congressional proceedings and that the Government Printing Office should publish the verbatim record. The Congressional Globe was contracted to provide stenographers in the House and Senate Chambers. In 1873, the Globe’s contract was not renewed, and the Congressional Record was born.  The Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate now oversee documenting and transcribing the verbatim proceedings of their respective chambers.

The Congressional Record is still not an accurate verbatim transcript of the proceedings and debate for each Chamber.  Members routinely insert remarks and documents after the fact.  While these “revised and extended remarks” help Members explain their actions, they are considered “secondary authorities” when it comes to determining legislative intent.  Secondary authorities are generally afforded less weight than the actual texts of primary authority during Judicial review.

The chronicling of Congress has come almost full circle.  While the Congressional Record remains the official transcript of proceedings, CSPAN, a nonprofit private entity, provides live coverage of each Chamber.  The cameras are owned and maintained by the Architect of the Capitol, while their operations and broadcasts are operated by staffs of the Chief Administrative Officer in the House and the Secretary of the Senate.  CSPAN receives the signal and airs it on its various cable television channels.  Live House broadcasting began on March 19, 1979 while Senate coverage commenced on June 2, 1986. 

Article 1, Section 5, Clause 4

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 made sure the two Congressional chambers had equity when it came of the operations of the Legislative Branch.  Neither the House nor the Senate may adjourn for more than three days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) without the concurrence of the other Chamber. The formal end of a Congress is when the Legislative Branch adjourns “Sine Die” (from the Latin “without day”) meaning “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing”.  The Constitution [Article 2, Section 3] also grants the President the authority to summon the Congress for a special session if circumstances require.  The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution also sets a formal start and end time for each Congress.

These various provisions have led to numerous unintended consequences.

One of the first instances was when the Southern states seceded from the Union.  They deprived the sitting Congress of a quorum.  In order to continue governing, President Abraham Lincoln issued the very first Presidential Order on April 15, 1861, Executive Order 1.

The most complex consequence of Clause 4 relates to when Congress takes a recess and when it adjourns. A recess is a temporary halt to activity on the floor. Everything stops, and when the recess ends, the chamber resumes from where it left off. A recess might last 10 minutes or it might last weeks. The length of time does not matter. An adjournment is a formal end to business in the chamber, and upon return the chamber does not resume from where it left off. Just like a recess an adjournment can be for one minute or for three weeks. However, unlike a recess, an adjournment creates a new legislative day (this is more relevant to Senate proceedings).

Certain things happen, under the standing rules of the House and Senate, precisely because it is a new legislative day. Much of it is routine business: the reading of the previous day’s journal, filing of reports, delivery of messages from the House, etc., but there are also consequential things.  In the Senate, during the first two hours of each new legislative day, motions to proceed are not debatable, and therefore cannot be filibustered.

Any formal break in Legislative Branch activity also opens the door for a President to take certain actions.  This includes making appointments which require Senate confirmation, and “pocket vetoing” legislation.  A pocket veto means that the Congress cannot override the veto because it is not in session.  An adjournment of the Legislative Branch also allows the President to reconvene Congress for a specific action [Article 2, Section 3].  Congressional leaders have devised ways to avoid inadvertently unleashing Presidential activism.

The Congress can take a break from legislative activity, and still avoid a formal recess or adjournment, by meeting in a “pro forma” session. Pro forma means “for the sake of formality”.  In recent years pro forma sessions have prevented Presidents from making recess appointments, and in the case of President George W. Bush in 2008, deprived him calling a special session to reauthorize the Protect America Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

As long as a Member convenes either the House or Senate to formally open and close a session there is no recess or adjournment.  Members sometimes compete to see how fast they can conduct a pro forma session.  The record is currently held by Senate Jack Reed of Rhode Island who completed the task in 12 seconds.

Scot Faulkner served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives.  He earned a Masters in Public Administration from American University, and B.A. in Government from Lawrence University.  He is the Executive Director of The Dreyfuss Initiative on civics www.TheDreyfussInitiative.org