Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Big New Orleans Lynching

(January 26, 2017) As explained in my last post, during his YouTube lectures Dr. Eric Foner erroneously identified the 1891 mob execution of “nineteen”—it was actually eleven—Italian immigrants in New Orleans as America’s biggest lynching. When lynching is defined as vigilante justice against anyone who has not been convicted of a crime, the biggest such episode happened in Los Angeles in 1871 when a crowd murdered eighteen Chinese immigrants. Nonetheless, the shameful New Orleans event warrants comment.

New Orleans had long been a destination for Italian fruit shipments. Sailors who accompanied the ships reported back to Italy that the New Orleans climate was more comparable to their homeland than was that of Boston or New York. Before the Civil War several thousand Italians lived in the city and by 1890 they totaled 25,000, which approximated 10% of the city’s population. Only a small minority became involved in crime, but they were not shy about representing—and misrepresenting—themselves as Mafia in order to be feared within their enclave.

Many Italians competed for work on the city’s docks, against whites, African-Americans, and Irish. Prior to 1888 the Provenzano family held a contract to unload all the fruit but they were completely displaced that year by the Matrangas. The result was a feud between the two Italian families, each of which accused the other of being Mafia.

In May 1890 three Matrangas were wounded in an ambush and six Provenzano men were convicted for the assault. Police chief David Hennessy was suspicious of some of the Matranga testimony and also suspected that they had murdered a witness. He therefore announced a new investigation. The Matrangas countered by accusing him of being corrupted by an alliance with the Provenzano’s.

While walking home one evening in October 1890 Hennessy was murdered. Before he died he identified his assassins as Italians. Although hundreds were rounded up and jailed, a “Committee of Fifty” leading citizens hired the then-prestigious Pinkerton Detective Agency to identify the culprits. Pinkerton sent Frank Dimaio who was an agent of Italian descent from their Philadelphia office. Dimaio pretended to be one of the many suspects and was jailed with the rest.

Dimaio’s weight dropped from 185 to 140 pounds as he remained in the vile prison long enough to gain the confidence of his jail mates. One simple-minded prisoner finally revealed the details of the assassination, which Dimaio wrote down in detail on scraps of paper. As a result, nineteen men were indicted and nine were put on trial. Among them was Joseph Macheca who was one of the city’s wealthiest Italians. In addition to Macheca’s resources contributors from other cities raised a $75,000 defense fund.

Frank Diamio

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Word was out that a juror could make a bundle of money by voting to acquit. Ultimately the jury acquitted six of the nine and announced it could not decide on the remaining three. The public was stunned. About six thousand gathered outside the jail the following morning and soon stormed the building. Initially police prevented them from gaining access, but a large African-American man among the mob hurled a paving block against a side door thereby splintering it open. The police released the prisoners from their individual cells and told them to hide as best they could. Some went to the women’s quarters.

Eventually eleven, including Joe Macheca, were hunted down and killed. Although Macheca was a victim of racial violence that time, he had earlier been a leading perpetrator of anti-black violence in the city. In 1868 he led a group of Italian volunteers known as the Innocenti against blacks who were dubiously trying to re-convene a state constitutional convention. In 1874 he also fought alongside the White League against black militia in the battle of Liberty Place.

Newspapers across the country praised the lynch mob. “Slayers slain” blared The Los Angeles Times. The Chicago Daily Times headlined, “Mafia Murderers Slain: Eleven Sicilian Butchers Lynched at New Orleans.” The New York Times proclaimed Hennessy’s death avenged: “Eleven of His Assassins Lynched by a Mob.”

Boston Brahmin, prominent historian, and Republican Party leader Henry Cabot Lodge responded by recommending that immigration from Europe be made more restrictive:

Whatever the proximate causes of the shocking event at New Orleans…the underlying cause…is found in the utter carelessness with which we treat immigration.

The killing of the New Orleans prisoners was due chiefly to the fact that they were supposed to be members of the Mafia, but it would be the greatest mistake to suppose that the Mafia stands alone. Societies…which regard assassination as legitimate have been the product of [European] repressive governments. They are wholly alien to the people of the United States.

When Italy recalled her ambassador and sent a sharply worded note to Republican Secretary of State James G. Blaine, the “man from Maine” responded that the United States “had never taken orders from a foreign government and was not gong to start now.” Nonetheless, eventually the federal government paid $25,000 to three of the families of the eleven lynched men and President Harrison expressed his regrets.

Pinkerton agent Dimaio later went on assignment to hunt down Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He was among the posse about whom Butch and Sundance asked in the 1969 movie version of their story: “who are those guys?” He followed them to South America. During the first half of the twentieth century he worked undercover as “The Raven” to become a prime authority on the American Mafia. At the time of the 1957 Apalachin conference, which was a Mafia summit mimicked in The Godfather movie, the ninety-year-old Dimaio was alert enough to provide background for newspaper reporters.

In sum, at least three points about the 1891 New Orleans lynching don’t fit the habitual Foner race narrative. First, at least one of the most instrumental members of the mob was African-American. Second, at least one of the Italian victims was a leading perpetrator of racial violence against blacks in 1868 and 1874. Third, much of the reaction to the event outside the South was hostile to the victims. While none of the points excuse the lynch party, they do suggest that racism and xenophobia were not concentrated in New Orleans or among members of any single race, geographic, or ethnic group.

Sources: Thomas Reppetto American Mafia (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2004); Adam Serwer “These People are Among us but not of Us”, BuzzFeed (August 5, 2016)

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America’s Biggest Lynching

(January 25, 2017) During his YouTube lectures on Reconstruction, Professor Eric Foner cites the 1891 mob execution of “nineteen” Italian immigrants in New Orleans as America’s biggest lynching. As shameful as the event was, it was not America’s largest lynching. Moreover, Foner’s inaccuracy and failure to provide context creates a misleading impression about the presence of xenophobia and racism outside the South.

First, eleven—not nineteen—victims were lynched in the New Orleans episode when the city’s population was about 242,000.

Second, assuming a lynching is defined as vigilante justice without a court conviction, America’s biggest lynching happened in Los Angeles in 1871 when eighteen Chinese were murdered. A spontaneous mob retaliated to avenge a white resident who was killed during the crossfire between two Chinese gangs. Since the town’s population was only about 6,000 at the time, the Los Angeles affair was sixty-five times larger relative to the applicable population than was the New Orleans incident twenty years later.

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Dr. Foner’s failure to acknowledge the Los Angeles incident is puzzling for four reasons.

First, it was undeniably a racially motivated injustice, which is normally his foremost interest.

Second, the California law prohibiting the Chinese from testifying in court violated the three-year-old Fourteenth Amendment. Dr. Foner teaches that the Amendment was partly, but specifically, intended to overrule all state laws that restricted a person’s right to testify on the basis of race. Therefore, it is surprising that California’s violation did not merit the professor’s attention, especially considering that the state long delayed ratifying the Amendment until 1959.

Third, there was little consequence to the perpetrators of the lynching. Although eight men from the lower classes were originally convicted of manslaughter, the convictions were overturned on a technicality by the state Supreme Court.

Fourth, the federal government helped Californians discriminate against residents of Asian descent for generations thereafter. California racists did not need to defy federal law or resort to “terrorism,” because the federal government was complicit in their racism. The first racially discriminatory immigration law was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which did not affect peoples of any other race. It suspended Chinese immigration for ten years. It would be followed by a series of acts that are commonly labeled the “Chinese Exclusion Acts.”

Six years after the 1882 act, the Scott Act prohibited lawfully residing Chinese who had temporarily departed from returning. The 1892 Geary Act extended the 1882 act for another ten years. It also required that all lawful Chinese Americans obtain certificates verifying their legal status. In 1902 the restrictions were made permanent. The 1917 Immigration Act was similar to the 1882 Act except it extended immigration restrictions to a broader “Asiatic zone.”

The Exclusion acts also prohibited any state or federal court from granting citizenship to Chinese Americans, even if they were permanent legal residents. California used the provision as a means to deny the right to vote to Chinese Americans. Not until 1942 were the Exclusion Acts repealed thereby enabling Chinese nationals to become American citizens.

The federal government’s cooperation in helping California deny the right to vote to residents of Asian descent draws into question Foner’s habitual portrayal of the 19th century Republican push for black suffrage. If racial equality was the Party’s prime focus as Foner suggests, it should have applied to Chinese as well as blacks. If, however, the true Republican objective was to create a new Republican-loyal voter constituency that would enable the Party to retain control of the federal government, Republican disregard for Chinese racial equality is consistent with such an agenda. The blacks, after all, were almost certain to vote Republican, which was not true of the Chinese.

As for California per se, the state did not repeal a law that permitted school boards to single-out Chinese American students for segregated schools until 1947.

The context that Foner omits about the 1891 New Orleans lynching shall be addressed in a second post. Although the event was reprehensible, the full story shall show that racism was not limited to white Southerners just as does the Los Angeles episode and the ensuing decades of anti-Asian discrimination in California noted above.

Sources:
Adam Serwer “These People are Among Us, But Not Of Us” BuzzFeed (August 5, 2016); Erika Lee Review of “The Chinatown War” by Scott Zesch Journal of American History Vol. 100, No. 1 (June 2013); Alfred Avins “The Right to be a Witness and the Fourteenth Amendment” Missouri Law Review Vol. 31, No. 4 (Fall 1966);  “Major US Immigration Laws 1790-Present” Migration Policy Institute http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/timeline-1790; Joyce Kuo “Excluded, Segregated, and Forgotten” Asian American Law Journal, Vol. 5, Article 7 (1998); “The People’s Vote: Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) U.S. News and World ReportRon Hayduk The History of Immigrant Voting Rights in California

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President Carter Defies Fake History

(January 24, 2017) Provided below with permission is a copy of an article I wrote for the current (February, 2017) issue of Civil War News.

In November 2014 the Georgia Historical Society (GHS) placed an historical marker on the grounds of the Carter Center in Atlanta falsely suggesting that the Union army under Major-General William T. Sherman’s did not destroy many—or perhaps any—residential dwellings when it left for its March-to-the-Sea in November 1864. The exact wording was, “After destroying Atlanta’s industrial and business (but not residential) districts, Sherman’s 62,500 men marched over 250 miles, reaching Savannah in mid-December.”

Perhaps because he is old enough to have met survivors or family members of the conflagration, former President Carter knew fake history when he saw it. As Yale professor Carlos Eire who escaped Castro’s Cuba in 1962 as an 11-year-old observed in his National Book Award memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana, “Show me history untouched by memories and you show me lies. Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.” Consequently, Carter asked the Historical Society to either correct the marker or remove it. Months later they removed it.

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The tale of Carter’s intervention began shortly after The New York Times Disunion Blog published my “Who Burned Atlanta?” article on November 13, 2014. It explained that many of the city’s residential dwellings were, in fact, demolished. The day after my article was released a second newspaper story detailed the historical marker’s dedication and mentioned its erroneous claim that Atlanta residences were not affected.

Accordingly, I sent a postal letter to the GHS’s Executive Director, Todd Groce, providing sources documenting that many Atlanta homes were undeniably burned just prior to the March-to-the-Sea. It also asked that he reveal his sources to the contrary. I copied the Society’s Board Chairman with a “cc.” notation. Among the sources I cited was What the Yankees Did To Us by Steve Davis who is a columnist at Civil War News.

Since neither Groce nor the GHS Board Chairman replied, I sent similar letters to several outside Board Members informing them of the marker’s error. The only reply was a token one from Cocoa-Cola’s Public Relations Department on behalf of a Board Member who was also a Coca-Cola executive. As a last resort, in December 2014 I wrote President Carter who didn’t know me from Charlie Chan. Two months later I was pleasantly surprised by his postal reply, “I agree with you and was shocked when I saw the marker. Whom should I write?”

In February 2015 I sent Carter the Groce contact information. Carter answered, “I’ve already written the Ga. Historical Society. No answer yet. I asked them to remove or correct the marker.” Months later I wrote the former President a third time to learn how the Society had responded to his request. He answered, “The marker was removed.”

To be clear, the wholesale destruction of Atlanta was not Sherman’s official intention. He had officers prepare a plan to destroy military targets, which included a detailed map marking the structures. No private residences were among them. Sherman selected Captain Orlando Poe to execute the scheme because the general assumed engineers would be less reliant upon explosives and fire. Still, there was little doubt about the ultimate result: Six days earlier, when Poe first learned that Sherman wanted a demolition proposal, he wrote his superior engineering officer in Washington explaining that by the time his letter arrived, “Atlanta will have ceased to exist.”

At seven o’clock on the morning of November 16, 1864 when Sherman was with his army three miles down the road to Savannah, he stopped to look back. “Behind us lay Atlanta smoldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in the air and hanging like a pall over the ruined city,” he recalled. Presently a nearby infantry band struck up John Brown’s body. “Never…have I heard the chorus of ‘Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!’ done with more spirit.” The men were proud of what they had done.

Estimates of the physical damage Sherman left behind vary. Since only a few Confederate troops were at best sporadically nearby and few civilians were permitted to remain in the city to bear witness, most accounts available reflect the Union viewpoint from the official war records, the diaries and letters of federal soldiers and the newspaper accounts of Northern reporters. Such records might naturally have been prone to reflect favorably upon the conduct of Union soldiers and omit outrages that might otherwise have been seen by an opposing Rebel army or Southern civilians. Consequently, when Davis wrote What the Yankees Did to Us he consulted many diverse contemporary sources from both the Northern and Southern viewpoints.

Captain Poe later estimated that 37% of the city had been demolished. An Indiana soldier’s diary entry simply stated, “We have utterly destroyed Atlanta.” After Sherman left, Georgia’s governor sent a militia officer to prepare an assessment. The inspector spent four days systematically mapping every house left standing. He concluded that only 400 homes remained of 3,600 originally within a half-mile radius of the town center.

Although it is impossible to know the full extent of damage to the residential districts, many contemporary sources indicate that it was significant. One Michigan sergeant conceded getting swept up in the inflammatory madness, even though he knew it was unauthorized: “As I was about to fire one place a little girl about ten years old came to me and said, ‘Mr. Soldier you would not burn our house would you? If you did where would we live?’ She looked at me with such a pleading look that…I dropped the torch and walked away.” On 13 November—three days before leaving Atlanta to the South—an Illinois captain’s diary records that when his unit entered the city from the North, “The smoke almost blinded us.”

By 15 November the city seemed to be on fire everywhere. By three o’clock in the afternoon officers who were distributing supplies at the commissary instructed soldiers to simply take whatever they needed, because the out-of-control fires would inevitably consume the facility.

A Michigan engineer’s 15 November diary states that when he marched into town “large fires [were] Raging all over the City.” An Illinois military physician got to Atlanta the same day and wrote, “Many houses had been burned and all day long the fires kept increasing in number.” An Ohio captain who also came in that day added, “We arrived in the suburbs of Atlanta at 2:00 P. M.; no sooner did we arrive than the boys commenced burning every house in [the northwestern] part of the town. The wind was blowing hard at the time and soon that part of the city was gone.”

For several days prior to the 16 November departure for Savannah, the components of Sherman’s army north of Atlanta converged on the city, destroying railroad tracks and communities along the way. By the time they got to the city, demolition had become habitual. Sherman ordered that miles of track be destroyed after the last train left Atlanta for the North on 12 November. The next day a new staff officer, Major Henry Hitchcock, joined the general as the two witnessed soldiers destroy the rail town of Marietta slightly north of Atlanta.

After the fire spread to homes and shops Hitchcock commented to Sherman: “[The town will] burn down, sir.”

“Yes,” Sherman said. “Can’t be stopped.”

“Was that your intention?”

The general answered obliquely. “Can’t save it…There are men who do this,” pointing to a group of nearby soldiers. “Set as many guards as you please, they will slip in and set fire.”

From Sherman on down, many Northerners later justified Atlanta’s burning as a military necessity. Major Hitchcock overhead Sherman remark on the night of the 15th that the city deserved to be demolished because of its military manufacturing capacity. That same night an Indiana sergeant penned, “The entire city was destroyed [but] for a few occupied houses. It reminds me of the destruction of Babylon…because of the wickedness of her people.”

Other Union partisans falsely minimized the damage. Sherman speciously claimed thirteen years later in his memoirs that “the fire did not reach…the great mass of dwelling houses.” But he contradicted that belated appraisal only a month after leaving Atlanta in a congratulatory order to his troops following their entrance into Savannah: “We quietly and deliberately destroyed Atlanta.”

Although Sherman never ordered indiscriminate burning of the city, he did little to stop many of his increasingly undisciplined soldiers from escalating targeted destruction into a riot of arson. It is difficult to avoid concluding that the politically savvy general arranged matters so that he could deny responsibility if Atlanta’s destruction became morally condemned, but accept credit if it was celebrated.

Like fake news, however, fake history can be persistent. Last November the erroneous historical marker was installed on grounds outside the Carter Center.

Unfortunately putative experts sometimes discard valid conclusions merely because they contradict what the specialists were taught. The sinking of the Titanic is one example. Although many eyewitnesses said the ship broke apart on the surface, contemporary authorities overwhelmingly rejected the claim. An article in Marine Review itemized evidence that showed “conclusively that the immense hull held together without shearing her riveted longitudinal connections.” Similarly, International Marine Engineering wrote that “modern ship design” was calculated to withstand longitudinal stress more extreme “than that in which the Titanic was placed.” The list goes on and on. Such opinions were taken as Gospel truth for seventy-three years until the wreck was discovered in 1985. I know. I remember.

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Carpetbagger Confidential

(January 12, 2017) Twenty-four years after leaving office in 1877 the last Carpetbag governor, Daniel H. Chamberlain, wrote “Reconstruction in South Carolina” for Atlantic Monthly in 1901, which suggests that modern academic interpretations of the era have whitewashed the role of the national Republican Party. Republicans, he explains, were more driven by a craving for political power than by a desire to promote racial equality.

Chamberlain was born in Massachusetts in 1835 and graduated with honors from Yale University where he became a member of the prestigious Skull & Bones society. Late in the Civil War he led a regiment of black cavalrymen and moved to South Carolina when the war ended where he was a delegate to its 1868 Carpetbag constitutional convention and became the state’s Attorney General from 1868 to 1872.

He was elected governor on the Republican ticket in 1872 with 54% of the vote composed mostly of former slaves. Since his Republican predecessor had been notoriously corrupt, Chamberlain tried to clean up the government and reduce its operating expenses. That cost him the loyalty of many black political appointees who had become economically reliant upon the spoils system. As a result, former Confederate General Wade Hampton, who was a political reformer like Chamberlain but a Democrat, won the 1876 election. Although Chamberlain contested the results, the all-Republican state Supreme Court ruled against him. Hampton’s early post-war support for black suffrage and his direct appeal to such voters in 1876 enabled him to pick up enough African-American votes to win.

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Chamberlain’s Atlantic Monthly article begins by partly blaming the “Black Codes” adopted in some Southern states soon after the war ended for pushing Congress toward Radical Reconstruction. Although Southerners considered the codes to be a way of preventing the freedmen from declining into vagrancy and crime, most Northerners considered their singular application to blacks as establishing a condition nearly equivalent to slavery. As Congress debated how to respond, the voices calling for black suffrage in the South gained strength:

[Republicans considered] the black South…equal to all the needs of the hour; ignorant, to be sure, but loyal…Hardly anywhere else in recorded debates can be found so surprising a revelation of the blindness of partisan zeal as these [Congressional debates] disclose.

Underneath all the avowed motives…lay a deeper cause…the determination to secure party ascendency and control at the South and in the nation through the negro vote. If this is hard saying, let anyone now ask himself…if it is possibly credible that the [1867] reconstruction acts would have passed if the negro vote had been believed to be Democratic.

Sentiment carried the day, sentiment of a lower kind—hate, revenge, greed, [and] lust of power.

Although some statesmen could foresee problems with Radical Reconstruction, leaders such as Thaddeus Stevens pushed them along. Such leaders drove the reluctant, crushed and ostracized the doubtful, and brutally rode down anyone who dared to oppose them. “Not one of these leaders had seen the South, or studied it at first-hand. Not one of them professed or cared to know more. They had made up their minds…The one overshadowing item of their policy was…negro suffrage.”

Chamberlain explains that South Carolina’s most influential men were her war heroes like Wade Hampton who had urged cooperation with negro suffrage as early as 1868. Chamberlain admits, however, “nothing would have been more unwelcome in Washington than the knowledge that the whites in South Carolina were gaining influence over the blacks.” Having been a Carpetbag governor of the state, he reminds the reader, “The writer knows his ground here.”

He affirms that Radical Reconstruction was a “frightful experience” that no well-informed political leader should have expected to succeed.

In the mass of colored voters in South Carolina in 1867, what forces could have existed that made for good government? Ought it not to have been clear…that good government…could not be had from such an aggregation of ignorance, inexperience and incapacity?

If an inexperienced electorate was not a big enough challenge, the Carpetbaggers that arrived from the North only aggravated the situation. Such freebooters “had almost as little experience…as the negroes” to whom “they were not morally the equals.” Yet the blacks deferred to the Carpetbaggers with “natural docility.” The results were toxic state governments.

Prior to the Civil War the cost of a South Carolina legislative session was never more that $20,000 whereas in 1871 it was over $600,000. The state had less that $1 million in debt at the start of Reconstruction but had $17.5 million five years later. Despite all the borrowing and spending “the state had not a single public improvement of any sort to show.” All was wasted on plunder. “Public offices were objects of…bargain and sale. Justice…in the courts was bought and sold.”

Incompetence and corruption was routine, particularly in the lower offices. One county educational commissioner could neither read nor write his own name. Others signed documents for him with his x-mark. Since whites felt powerless to remove him at the polls, he was murdered. While Chamberlain was appalled by the violence, he was not surprised.

Such incidents…will lead…to deeds of violence. The…infamous KKK of 1870 was an organized attempt…to drive from office Republican state officers, and especially negroes. It was brutal and murderous to the last degree, being…in the hands almost exclusively the lower stratum of the white population. Yet it was symptomatic of…the gangrene, dishonesty and corruption in public office. No excuse can be framed for its outrages, but its causes were plain….It flourished where corruption…had climbed into power and withered where the reverse was the case.

What is certain is that a people of force, pride, and intelligence [when] driven to choose between [temporary] violence and lawlessness and [permanent] misrule will infallibly choose the former.

Chamberlain ultimately concludes that Radical Reconstruction was born of sinister motives, cruelly exploited Southern blacks and destined to die of its own inadequacies. In retrospect he was certain “there was no possibility of securing good government in South Carolina through Republican influences…The vast preponderance of ignorance…in that party, aside from downright dishonesty, made it impossible.” The blacks, he felt, were egregiously abused. “Race was used as the tool of heartless partisan leaders.” Blacks were “mercilessly exploited for the benefit of a political party, and heartlessly abandoned when the scheme had failed.”

While modern historians generally presume that racial equality was the chief reason that Reconstruction era Republicans promoted black suffrage, Chamberlain’s account flatly states that the true motivation was political power. The differing interpretations merit debate because the correct one should be the primary foundation upon which our perspectives of Reconstruction will be determined.

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Eric Foner Goes A Bridge Too Far

(January 9, 2017) From the first of his 212 YouTube Civil War lectures Dr. Eric Foner emphasizes:

The opinions of historians…[have] a practical impact on our lives…An earlier view of Reconstruction…was used to justify the exclusion of black people in the South from political rights.

He provides one example in his 207th lecture segment when endorsing an accusation that “racist” white Southern congressmen deliberately excluded blacks from benefits when Old Age Social Security was formed in 1935. “How do they do that?” the professor asks. “They eliminate the largest areas of black employment: agricultural laborers and domestic workers…representing 80% of black workers.”

Even allowing for Foner’s habitual anti-Southern spin, the accusation is a bridge too far.

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First, three-quarters of the 20 million workers excluded from Social Security in 1935 were whites.

Second, agricultural and domestic workers (household servants) were excluded because the Internal Revenue Service doubted that it could enforce the required payroll tax in those sectors. Many such workers were—and preferred to be—paid in cash. The IRS worried that poor tax compliance in such large sectors might trigger widespread non-compliance elsewhere.

Third, an administrative committee of President Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet—not Congress—designed the Social Security bill. Although the committee originally recommended that agricultural and domestic workers be included, Connecticut resident and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. cited the IRS objections and advised against their inclusion when he testified before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Fourth, Southerners did not control the two pertinent congressional committees. They represented only 6 of 21 Finance Committee members in the Senate. Similarly, they accounted for only 4 of 18 Way and Means Committee members in the House. Both committees approved Social Security and the applicable exclusions with almost no dissent.

Fifth, even though Jim Crow still predominated in the South fifteen years after the 1935 Act, agricultural and domestic workers were brought into the program in 1950.

Sixth, initially after the 1935 bill was passed many—perhaps most—workers and employers wanted to be excluded. Almost all of the early lawsuits, protests, and disputes were attempts to gain exclusion.

As late as 1955, The Wall Street Journal reported that few domestic workers and their employers wanted to comply. A St. Louis housewife said, “I’m not going to pay it until someone yells.” As late as 1993 Connecticut lawyer and visiting Yale scholar Zoe Baird failed to win appointment as President Clinton’s first Attorney General because she did not pay the tax for her domestic servant.

Seventh, Foner exaggerates a little when claiming that 80% of blacks were excluded from the 1935 Act. The fraction was actually 65%, which was slightly below 66% exclusion ratio of other non-whites.

In sum, Dr. Foner’s habitual one-sided interpretations of the Civil War and Reconstruction underscore the old adage, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail” as well as the corollary, “The protruding nail gets pounded down.”

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Source: Larry Dewitt, The Decision to Exclude Agricultural and Domestic Workers from the 1935 Social Security Act

Two of Eric Foner’s Good Guys Become Bad Guys

(January 8, 2017) In this lecture, Dr. Eric Foner applauds Ohio Congressman John Bingham for authoring the 14th Amendment with language that did not merely provide a list of civil rights, but affirmed the general principle that all “persons” are entitled to the same rights. His wording enabled future generations to provide for equality in ways often not anticipated in 1867 when the Amendment was written. Foner cites public school integration and gay rights as two examples.

Blanch Bruce

Blanch Bruce

Even though New York Senator Roscoe Conkling was also an architect of the Amendment, Foner instead singles him out with praise for officially presenting newly elected black Mississippi Senator Blanch Bruce to the Senate in 1875. By custom, the professor explains, Mississippi’s white senior Senator James Alcorn should have presented Bruce but declined. (Foner does not mention that Alcorn funded a black university presently known as Alcorn State. Instead the audience is left to assume that Alcorn was a garden variety Southern racist whereas he was actually the state’s first Republican Reconstruction governor and had endorsed the 14th Amendment.)

Although a strong supporter of the 14th Amendment, the professor laments that the Supreme Court issued rulings in the 1880s enabling the Amendment to be used as a tool to protect corporations from regulation instead of blacks from civil rights violations. The rulings basically defined corporations as “persons” thereby entitling them to the same rights as any “person” under the Amendment. Foner’s remarks are excerpted below:

Egregiously, the 14th Amendment has been used to create out of whole cloth a constitutional right to corporate personhood…There is no evidence that in 1866 [sic] that anybody thought [the Amendment] had anything to do with corporate personhood. That was a concept created in the 1880s by the Supreme Court and was long used to protect corporations from regulations by state governments.

Apparently, Dr. Foner does not realize that both Bingham and Conkling later said they had always intended for the 14th Amendment to protect corporations, as well as people, from “the encroachment of sate legislatures.” Bingham admitted a few years after authoring the document that he wrote the “due process” clause “word for word” to protect property rights as well as civil rights. When former senator Roscoe Conkling represented the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1882 before the Supreme Court with objections to California taxes, he argued that as an architect of the Amendment he labored to word it in a way to protect both private property rights and black civil rights.*

Although some historians conclude that the ex post facto statements of both Bingham and Conkling were lies, the fact that they spoke them should compel the professor to convert the men from heroes into villains in Foner-land since they “egregiously” corrupted the 14th Amendment.

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* Kenneth Stampp The Era of Reconstruction, 137; Louis Hacker & Benjamin Kendrick, The United States Since 1865: 4th Edition, 167