Monthly Archives: November 2016

Don’t Belittle the Popular Vote Winner

(November 25, 2016) None of the four Presidential candidates had a majority of the popular or electoral vote after the 1824 Presidential election. Among the twenty-four states, eighteen held popular votes. Andrew Jackson led with 41% compared to 31% for John Q. Adams, with 28% divided between William Crawford and Henry Clay. The Electoral College tally for all states was 38% to Jackson and 32% to Adams, with Crawford and Clay finishing third and fourth respectively for the remaining 30%. Since nobody had an electoral majority, the 1804 Twelfth Amendment required that the House of Representatives select a winner among the top three candidates. Each state, however, was permitted only a single vote, which meant that at least thirteen states needed to agree upon a single choice.

Since Clay’s fourth place ranking blocked him from House consideration, he threw his support behind Adams who was elected by thirteen of the twenty-four states. After gaining the White House, Adams appointed Clay to Secretary of State, an office then commonly regarded as a Presidential stepping-stone. Since all five prior Presidents had been aristocrats, Jackson supporters suspected the appointment was part of a conspiracy to reserve the office for the upper classes regardless of the people’s choice for a commoner like Jackson.

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As President, Adams advocated federally funded public works that included roads, harbors, and even a national university. He planned to pay for them by increasing tariffs, which were then the chief source of federal taxes. Due partly to a weak political coalition, however, he accomplished little except to reluctantly sign a tariff in 1828 that even he felt was too high. Known as the “Tariff of Abominations” by its opponents, it boosted taxes on dutiable items to an average of 62% by 1830 as compared to an already high 50% when Adams took office in 1825.

Southerners particularly opposed the tariff because of the two ways it injured the region’s export economy. First, it increased the price of manufactured goods, which Southerners bought and were typically produced in Europe or America’s Northern states. Second, it provoked leading European countries to seek supply alternatives to American cotton and to threaten tariffs and quotas on U.S. cotton.

In the Jackson-Adams 1828 election rematch, Jackson won 56% of the popular vote and 68% of the electoral vote. His victory reflected a rise in populist sentiment, objections to high tariffs, and Adams’s mediocre record as President. Every Southern state voted for Jackson whose family roots were in South Carolina and Tennessee, while Adams’s support was mostly in the Northeast where his family had long been politically prominent.

Toward the end of Jackson’s first term, Congressional Northerners corralled enough support to pass an even higher tariff in 1832. They did so by adding protection for items produced in the present-day Midwest. South Carolina responded by passing a nullification ordinance that declared the 1828 and 1832 tariffs to be unenforceable in the Palmetto State. The action triggered a constitutional challenge that preceded the Civil War secession crisis by about thirty years. If Jackson acquiesced to South Carolina’s nullification the entire Union might unravel, but he instead responded decisively.

First, Jackson announced that no state had the power to nullify a federal law. Second, he obtained Congressional authority to use military force against his native state, which is something that Lincoln failed to do about thirty years later. Finally, he successfully asked Congress to pass a new compromise tariff.

In 1928 the U. S. Treasury Department honored Andrew Jackson by putting his image on the face of the $20 bill. At the time he was one of the best-known Presidents who had been long revered as a champion for the common man. According to Senator Thomas Hart Benton who observed as Jackson left the White House after his second term the former President was greeted by a great shout of approval while walking toward a waiting carriage.

[A cry of] such power [was] never…received. It was the affection, gratitude and admiration of the living age, saluting for the last time a great man. It was the acclaim of posterity breaking from the [hearts] of contemporaries.

Senator Benton’s posterity prediction, however, did not anticipate twenty-first century political correctness.

To commemorate the 2020 centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the vote, the Treasury originally intended to place a famous woman’s image on the face of the $10 bill while moving Alexander Hamilton to the back. The department dropped those plans after the creator of the current Broadway play Hamilton, among others, lobbied to keep the bill unchanged. Instead, Jackson will be moved to the back of the $20 bill and Harriet Tubman put on the face.

Although no official reason explains Jackson’s singling-out for demotion, media reports suggest the chief one is that he was a slaveholder. That labeled him a pre-1866 white Southerner, which is a category abhorred by the politically correct. Moreover, former Virginia Senator James Webb suggests a second sinister implication, “This dismissive characterization of one of our great presidents is not occurring in a vacuum. Any white person whose ancestral relations trace to the American South now risks being characterized as having roots based on bigotry and underserved privilege.”

In short, Jackson is devalued by the Treasury and demonized in the media for the unpardonable offense of being a man of his own time. Perhaps someday the memory of George Washington may be similarly demoted. Despite being a slaveholder, however, without Washington’s accomplishments there would be no reason to debate the choice of icons on our currency, because our country would likely be nonexistent.

According to venerable historian Gordon Wood the great majority of his academic colleagues fail to recognize the pernicious distortions caused by political correctness. “Much of their history,” he concludes, “is…essentially anachronistic—condemning the past for not being more like the present. It has no real interest in the pastness of the past. These historians see themselves as moral critics obligated to denounce the values of the past in order to somehow reform our present.”

Much as Wood cuts against the grain to state the truth about a corrupting attitude pervading his profession, Jackson defied the will of his native state to preserve the Union. Jackson and Wood put the interests of the entire country ahead of the delusions of their cohorts.

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Answering Shelby Foote Critics

(November 18, 2016) Although it’s been forty-two years since Shelby Foote finished the final volume of his three-volume Civil War narrative, some less popular authors still reach for axes to grind. Perhaps their biggest complaint is his avoidance of footnotes, although each volume contains a short bibliographic essay.

Prior to accepting the assignment from Random House in 1954, the thirty-seven year old author was a promising novelist, whose style was influenced by Shakespeare, the King James Bible, Dickens, Keats, Faulkner, Thackeray, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Wolfe, Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust, among others.

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Foote admitted from the beginning that he avoided footnotes because they distract from storytelling, which he felt is the best of all educational tools. We understand narrative, for example, long before we do trigonometry. We may not be able to recite the Ten Commandments, but we can explain the moral of The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. “Thou shalt not” is soon forgotten, but “Once upon a time” lives forever. Shelby Foote elaborated in an interview:

A fact is not a truth until you love it. You have to become attached to the thing you’re writing about…No list of facts ever gives you a valid account of what happened…[Some] historians…think good writing gets in the way…I believe the opposite. Facts told with narrative [are] absorbed into your being and understanding as [with] a great novel…

Now it sounds as if I’m making an all-out attack against academic historians. I am making some attack on them for their lack of concern about learning how to write. It is as if they thought it an onerous waste of time…The result sometimes is a prose that’s so dismal that the footnotes are…a welcome relief.

Although Shelby Foote never provided footnotes, the evolving Internet increasingly enables us to check his sources. Googling a phrase from a direct quote, for example, often leads to its source. Thus, Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” is easily found in the President’s first inaugural address. Similarly, an obscure quote by a wounded Arkansas Lieutenant who tells his captors after the Battle of Corinth “…we gave you the best we had on the ranch” is taken from a battle account written by the commanding Union general.

Perhaps because of his disregard for footnotes, some less popular historians delight in finding errors in Foote’s work, no matter how inconsequential. One example is his claim that Union cavalry commander John Buford’s division had repeating rifles at the start of the battle of Gettysburg, enabling the division to significantly delay the advance of larger Rebel infantry units.

To be accurate, Buford’s men were equipped with breach-loading carbines that enabled quick reloading with cartridges, instead of repeaters that need not be reloaded until a seven-shot magazine was empty. Thus, even though the breech-loaders did not have a firing rate as rapid as repeaters, Buford’s soldiers could still fire and re-load about two-to-three times faster than the opposing Confederates. Foote’s point that Buford’s unit had a per-man firepower advantage over the Rebels is the pertinent conclusion. Yet one critic at an online discussion group complains that Foote’s erroneous echo of “…the Buford repeating rifle legend…means I now mistrust everything he wrote.”

While my own books conform to the footnote convention, I am impressed with Foote’s overall accuracy, which Internet searches can often verify.

(This post was prompted after learning that Foote’s entire three-volume narrative is apparently available on the Internet at no charge.)

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Electoral College Fraud

(November 14, 2016.) About four o’clock on the morning following Tuesday’s Presidential election The New York Times received a request from two prominent Democrats for an update on the Electoral College vote. Nobody ever replied. Instead the editors and political writers sensed the Democrat victory that most everyone—including both candidates—had assumed, was actually in doubt. If leading Democratic politicians were privately uncertain, they reasoned, perhaps the Republican-loyal Times could transform their fears into a reality through creative reporting in the morning’s first edition.

A once insane Republican leader may have indirectly provided the basis for partial newspapermen to rationalize putting a biased interpretation of the front page. Years earlier Daniel Sickles was the first person to win acquittal for murder by using a temporary insanity defense after killing his wife’s lover. Shortly before midnight of Election Day he sent telegrams to Republican-controlled machines in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, which were the only three Carpetbag regimes remaining. He emphasized that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes would win the 1876 election against Democrat Samuel Tilden if each of the three delivered their electoral votes to Hayes. Tilden would lose the Electoral College despite holding a 51% to 48% popular vote majority.

Perhaps due to Sickles’ earlier telegrams, The Times learned of rumors that the returns from the three Southern states might be contested. As a result, the first edition declared the election to be in doubt. A front-page editorial arbitrarily put South Carolina and Louisiana in the Republican column thereby giving Hayes the lead. Thus began America’s most notorious election fraud.

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Regardless of the true vote, the returns from each of the Carpetbag states would be determined by Republican-controlled “returning boards,” which launched investigations into the legitimacy of popular votes in the applicable states. Although fraudulent votes were cast on both sides it was nearly certain that the boards would throw out enough Democratic votes to provide a fabricated Republican majority in each state thereby giving the election to Hayes.

The eventual fraudulent electoral vote was 185 for Hayes and 184 for Tilden. Thus, Tilden needed only one of the disputed states. He probably should have had all three, but most certainly Louisiana. According to historian Roy Morris, “The actions of the returning boards…would not bear close scrutiny; any reasonably impartial board was likely to reverse the findings, particularly for Louisiana…”

Since the electoral vote roll call was postponed until days before the new President’s inauguration, Democrats threatened to filibuster before the roll call was completed, thereby Preventing Hayes from taking office. Anticipating the maneuver, Republicans responded by secretly hinting to take two actions that would provide Southern Democrats incentives to stay out of a filibuster.

First, was to withdraw federal occupation troops from the three Carpetbag states. From one perspective the action removed federal military protection for black voters. From another it denied Carpetbag rulers an arbitrary tool for blocking Democratic white voters. Regardless of whether or not it was secretly a promise, Hayes removed the federal troops during his first year in office.

A second incentive was to provide more federal public works spending in the South, particularly for railroads. From 1865 to 1873, for example, the states of the former Confederacy received less than 10% of federal public works spending. Massachusetts and New York alone got more than twice as much as all of the former Rebel states. Whether or not such action was a second secret promise, it was never fulfilled. Southerners were told that “the Great Barbecue” originating with the 1863 Pacific Railroad Act was over. They were told it had to be ended because of the economic depression that followed the Panic of 1873, which was partially caused by liberal government railroad subsidies elsewhere.

Democratic governors soon replaced Carpetbag Republicans in the three disputed Southern states but Hayes arranged appointments of their former GOP governors and other state officials who helped him win the election. Louisiana’s 1876 gubernatorial candidate became the U. S. Counsel to Liverpool and the outgoing governor who signed the returns sent to Washington moved up to the U. S. Senate in a deal arranged by Ohio Senator John Sherman, who was a brother of General William T. Sherman.

The four—two white and two black—members of Louisiana’s election board were given federal posts. One of the white men was appointed the chief customs collector in New Orleans and the other became his assistant. (Tax collection posts were notoriously corrupt.) One of the blacks became a deputy naval officer at the port and the other got a customs house post for his brother. In total, sixty-nine men involved in the Republican-winning Louisiana count got federal appointments. In all, some fifty relatives and friends of the Louisiana Returning Board got positions at the New Orleans custom’s house.

After Hayes’s 1876 election, Washington Republicans virtually ignored the black electorate until the eve of the tightly contested reelection campaign of President Benjamin Harrison against Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1892. Anticipating a close vote, in 1890 Massachusetts Representative Henry Cabot Lodge introduced a “Force Bill” to empower the federal government to supervise elections in the South once again under the glitter of bayonets thereby optimizing Republican election prospects in the region. The bill, however, was dropped when the Republicans traded it away for Southern support of the McKinley Tariff, which raised import duties about 50%. Although Republicans claimed the Lodge Bill underscored the Party’s determination to protect black voters, the motive was evidently less powerful than their hunger for higher tariffs.

But that’s another story, and a good one.

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Southern Reconstruction, Part 3: Discriminatory National Policies

Provided below is the third and final installment of my Southern Reconstruction speech last Saturday in Tullahoma, Tennessee. It addresses national policies after the Civil War that delayed economic recovery in the South but promoted prosperity in the North. 

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During Reconstruction Southerners were required to pay their share of federal taxes for sizable budget items that if funded by an independent defeated foe would have constituted reparations. To be sure, reparations are not a rare form of a victor’s compensation, but it should not be assumed that the Southern states escaped equivalent penalties merely because they were readmitted to the Union.

The table below summarizes federal tax revenues and spending for a quarter century following the Civil War. More than half of federal tax revenues were applied to three items: (1) interest on the federal debt, (2) budget surpluses, and (3) Union veterans benefits. Although compelled to pay their share of taxes to fund them, former Confederates derived no benefit from the allocations.

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But the table does not tell the whole story.

First, the 1869 Public Credit Act required that federal debt be redeemed in gold. During the war, however, the great majority of investors used paper money to buy the bonds even though the paper currency traded at a discount to gold. The discount got as high as 63% while Grant was sustaining heavy casualties in 1864 only to be stalemated at the siege of Petersburg. In short, gold redemption was a huge windfall for the bondholders.

Southerners held few, if any, bonds. Some were held by national banks, which bought them to use as monetary reserves as mandated by the 1863 National Banking Act, but many Northern civilians also owned them. Federal debt jumped forty-fold from $65 million to $2.7 billion during the war. Since bonds and interest had to be paid in gold, the amount of paper currency needed pay them was significantly larger than the face amounts of the bonds and the nominal coupon interest rates. The difference was an extra cost to the taxpayer and a bonus to the bondholder.

The budget surpluses were caused by protective tariffs that generated more income than necessary to operate the federal government. As the table below documents dutiable items were taxed at about 45% until after President Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in 1913. They were increased again in the 1920s after the Republicans regained the White House. Rates generally remained high until after World War II when the manufacturing economies of the Northern states had no international competitors because of the World war’s destruction of European and Asian economies. In short, American finally became a free-trade advocate only after the manufacturing economies of the Northern states had no international competition.

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Protective tariffs were designed to restrict competition for domestic producers, almost none of which were in the South. The South’s was primarily an export economy. Even as late as the 1930s, 60% of its cotton was sold overseas. Foreign buyers, however, were unable to pay for Southern cotton unless they could generate exchange credits by selling manufactured goods into the USA, which protective tariffs impeded. By one estimate the post-war tariff imposed an implicit 11% tax on agricultural exports. As Cornell professor Richard Bensel puts it, “[The tariff] redistributed [wealth] from the periphery to the [Northern industrial regions] in the form of higher prices for manufactured goods and from the periphery to the national treasury in the form of customs duties.”

Finally, former Confederates derived no benefit from generous federal spending on Union veteran pensions. Ex-Rebel soldiers could only collect much smaller pensions from their respective states. Union veteran pensions were originally paid only to soldiers who sustained disabling injuries during military service, but Republicans gradually expanded eligibility to solidify veterans as one of the Party’s voter constituencies. In 1904 any Union veteran over age 62 was regarded as disabled thereby transforming the program into an old age retirement system instead of the disability-only program it was originally intended to be. In 1893 the pensions represented over 40% of the federal budget. Although dropping as a percent of the total budget thereafter, annual spending on Civil War Union veteran pensions did peak until 1921, which was over 55 years after the war had ended.

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While some federal spending items not specified in the preceding table benefitted the South, they were few, tiny, or funded by the Southerners themselves. From 1865 – 1873 the federal government spent $103 million on public works, but less than 10% went to the former Confederate states. New York and Massachusetts alone got more than twice as much as the entire South. Continue reading