Some help for @GOP

Lincoln 1860Gentle Readers, a conventional post will come today but I wanted to put out this item separate from it. As you know, Abraham Lincoln hailed from the Republican Party. The Republicans today haven’t forgotten. I have it from Kevin Levin that for his birthday, the GOP’s official twitter offered up a fake Lincoln quote. This speaks volumes for their understanding of history, though I suppose we must give them credit for not attributing something from Alexander Stephens or Jefferson Davis to him instead. But I write this to help, not mock.

To replace the false Lincoln quote, I offer to the Republican Party this genuine article:

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes”When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].

 

Jim Crow Comes to Michigan

Gentle Readers, the triumphant story of the Civil Rights Movement ends in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Jim Crow died there, stabbed through the heart by Lyndon Johnson’s pen. Black Americans henceforth had protection against state governments that acted more as their jailers than their servants. Their laws did not say, in so many words, that no black person could cast a vote but the men who wrote them made sure it worked out that way. To grant the vote to subhumans would degrade actual people who, our most ancient creed holds, come exclusively in white skin. The Supreme Court has gotten at the law, cutting away many of its substantial protections. We must now believe that some states with a history of racial discrimination -a trait all fifty share- do not require special attention. As a result those same states have rushed to erect numerous obstructions to casting a vote, closing more than eight hundred polling places and writing laws against the phantom of voter impersonation fraud which they design to ensure black Americans don’t vote. The laws will not catch every black voter, of course, but they can swing close elections. Furthermore, their mere presence serves as a deterrent.

My state has had voter ID on the books since the Nineties. I disagreed with it then, on the grounds that the fraud it’s claimed to protect happens so rarely that these measures clearly constitute a solution looking for a problem. Even if someone went around to multiple polling places to cast votes under assumed names, complete with the correct addresses remembered on the spot and the person they posed as didn’t show up before or later and cast suspicion on the ballot by doing so, microscopic vote margins happen so rarely and unpredictably even in local races that they amount to statistical noise. An individual could cast no more than a handful of fake votes. As soon as you get enough people to really make a difference, things look more like territorial Kansas. Everybody who knows anything about elections already knows this.

But Michigan requires you to have identification so every time I go with my driver’s license in hand. I present it to one of my father’s old coworkers, a man who used to live less than a block from me. We know each other by sight. He passes it to his wife, who knows me just as well. They scan the license and compare my address and name with their records to discover, quelle surprise, I am who they thought I am. Then they mark my name off and hand me a ballot. The license adds no great security to the rest, but it does cost money and one has to go out and get a new one every now and then. If I lost my license or it was damaged and I could not get a new one before election day, I would have to swear an affidavit that I had the right to vote in my precinct and then proceed. More than eighteen thousand of my fellow Michigan residents did that this month. While not ideal, and clearly intended to deprive people of less means of their chance to vote, they state government hasn’t gotten all it paid for from this system. Black Michiganders still vote.

The Republicans who control the state government have had quite enough of that. The Party of Lincoln, founded in this state, has decided to throw in with Jefferson Davis and George Wallace. They insist that if you don’t have your ID, even if you have the right name and address and the risk of someone impersonating a voter is astronomically rare and unlikely to ever matter without being obvious to the dullest observer, you should have to cast a provisional ballot. They will cast it in the trash, only to rescue it if you provide your ID within ten days. In other words, if you have the misfortune of lacking an ID on election day you have less than two weeks to get fortunate enough, find out where and how you can prove your bona fides, and then get your vote counted long after the outcome has been announced.

Maybe people will do that, but the Michigan GOP hopes they will not. They have dug this law out of a drawer somewhere, in the lame duck session immediately after the election just as they did when they voted to eviscerate the right to unionize in our state. Now they rush to get it passed before opposition can mount. I suspect that, while their gerrymandering will keep them in control of the legislature, they worry about the governor’s race in 2018. Their incumbent poisoned thousands of black people, after all. Those people have families and friends who will vote, probably not for whoever they run for the top spot in the state.

This should remind us that Jim Crow disenfranchised black Americans by the millions because of their race, but also because of how they would vote. The Democratic party that erected the whole edifice knew full well that the freedpeople and their descendants would remember what party freed them and stood up for their rights. In much of the postwar South, if black men could vote then they would decide elections. In still more areas, they would have numbers enough to force white politicians to court their support or see it go to an opponent. We must remember segregation as a racial injustice, but we should not forget that racism doesn’t come down to pseudoscientific theories about superiority. Rather we invented white supremacy to justify an existing political and economic order against challenges to it. In suppressing the vote so they can keep winning elections, Republicans in Michigan and across the country have not departed from our most deadly creed; they have renewed it.

Was Lincoln A Third Party Candidate?

LincolnGentle Readers, I don’t intend today’s post as a commentary on the election come Tuesday. Anybody who reads me for any length of time can figure out who I think you should also support. But I do hope you vote, even if you vote differently. Refraining from exercising your franchise does not make you innocent of any consequences, upon yourself or others. When one doesn’t act to stop something, one has acquiesced in its happening. That’s true no matter how you would cast your ballot.

That said, you often hear that Lincoln ran as a third party candidate or that the Republicans constitute the nation’s only successful third party. These two claims rely on largely the same facts, so I shall treat them together.

When we refer to a third party, we mean a party beyond the big two of the Democrats and Republicans. Every other party counts as a third and just which of the big two holds the top spot can vary from cycle to cycle. The same definition would hold for the nineteenth century, which had its own plethora of small political movements. Lincoln and his generation came of age during the Second Party System, which pitted the Democrats against the Whigs. Most of the time, the Democrats had the upper hand and the Whigs had a remarkably poor run of luck with their presidential candidates. They elected two presidents, both of whom died in office and thus gave way to a vice-president of rather different ideological cast.

Knowing about the Democrats and the Whigs, and knowing Lincoln and many other Republicans as former Whigs, we might assume we have found a third party movement. A closer look reveals something different. The Whig coalition collapses over the course of the early 1850s. They elected a president, Zachary Taylor, in 1848. They tried to elect another, Winfield Scott, in 1852. Come 1856, no one runs for the White House on the Whig ticket.

The end of a movement always involves endless complexities and we can find old school Whigs holding on or trying to revive conservative Whiggery (by no means the only form) in various ways up through 1860. The Republicans themselves thought they had a chance at it during Reconstruction. But as a practical matter, the national party dies at some point between 1854 and 1856. Slavery in the territories killed it. The prolonged crisis over slavery in the Mexican Cession demonstrated to the Lower South that Southern Whigs could not control or restrain their antislavery counterparts in the North, gravely wounding a party that already had a northward tilt. The Kansas-Nebraska Act extended the process to the Upper South, if not quite so completely, and produced the nation’s first lasting and avowedly antislavery party: the Republicans.

The process by which that party came together involves quite a bit more than old Whigs just changing names. Former Democrats came over into the party, as did many supporters of the much more fringe Liberty Party. Together with northern Whigs, generally but not always those more to the left than the rest, they created a party which had plenty of Whiggery in it but also important infusions of Democratic antislavery thought. In the South, most ex-Whigs either quit politics or went into the Democracy, Alexander Stephens’ path, or joined with more conservative Whigs in the Know-Nothing movement in the middle years of the decade. Northern Know-Nothings usually ended up Republicans a bit further down the line. During the transition, a confusing morass of political labels abounded and it seemed for a time that the Know-Nothings might take the Whigs’ place as the nation’s second party. In the end, antislavery proved a more potent platform than nativism.

That leaves us with the Republicans, arguably as of 1856 and definitely by 1860, at least the nation’s second party. That they formed out of fragments of prior coalitions doesn’t materially change that. The GOP contended with the Democrats for control of the nation’s course, possessing as they did sufficient influence to shoulder aside and consign other competitors to marginal status, precisely as the principals in a two-party system do.

Of course, none of those means we should overlook the complexity of the 1860 election. Four men won electoral votes in that race, or rather two each won votes in two parallel races. In the free states, Lincoln faced off against Stephen Douglas of the northern Democracy. In the slave states, where for the most part Lincoln didn’t even appear on the ballot, John C. Breckinridge competed against John Bell of the Constitutional Union party. If one wants to find third party candidates in the race, then all three of Lincoln’s opponents have a case for them.

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas went to the Democratic National Convention at Charleston, South Carolina as the favorite for the nomination. However, he had turned against the proslavery government in Kansas and split from the national party over the issue. In order to prove his bona fides, southern delegates wanted Douglas to sign on to a slave code for the territories. Douglas refused and they walked out. Attempts to get the southerners back into the room failed, which eventually left a rump to nominate Douglas as arguably the regular Democratic candidate. His supporters didn’t walk out, after all. Douglas came in dead last in the electoral vote, winning only Missouri and part of New Jersey’s slate, a decidedly third party sort of performance. But Douglas did represent the ordinary Democracy and garnered second in the popular vote.

John C. Breckinridge

John C. Breckinridge

The Democrats who seceded from the party, most of them soon to secede from the Union too, nominated John C. Breckinridge. As a splinter of a still-extant party, Breckinridge’s looks like a third party movement. He came in third in the popular vote, but second in the electoral college. However, Breckinridge also represents the long-dominant constituency within the Democracy. If Douglas came to the polls at the head of the institutionally regular Democracy, then Breckinridge represented the beating heart of the coalition: Southerners committed to slavery’s perpetuation and expansion.

John Bell (Whig-TN)

John Bell

Which leaves us with John Bell. Bell, like Lincoln, hailed from the Whig Party back in the day. His Constitutional Union party aimed to revitalize conservative Whiggery and its platform as an alternative to the slavery question, containing and frustrating agitation on, and functionally against, the issue through a kind of revitalized Second Party System. Bell won his own Tennessee, as well as Virginia and Kentucky. Both of the latter had long Whiggish associations. While Bell would surely have liked to see a president in the mirror come March of 1861, the realistic hope of his movement involved denying both Lincoln and Breckinridge an electoral college majority. That would have thrown the presidency into the House, where his candidacy might seem like the best compromise to keep the Union together by the skin of its teeth rather than burst it asunder. If we consider third parties oriented around disruption of the dominant political system and aimed at reorienting it from its dominant issues, Bell makes the best third party candidate in the race.

Abraham Lincoln ran as and considered himself a Whig until the Whigs expired. He then made himself a Republican and remained with the party until Ford’s Theater. In both cases, he consciously chose a position as a regular, loyal party man for one of the two dominant parties of the era. Of all the men who sought the nation’s highest office in 1860, Lincoln deserves the third party title least of all. If a third party designation means anything useful at all and we care about understanding the past through it, then it must mean the opposite of Lincoln.

What does it take to be racist in America?

Political discourse always has its strange aspects, whether one finds it in the United States or elsewhere. Europeans will insist they have nothing like American racism, but then employ all the same arguments as American racists do against immigrants. Americans will declare they don’t have a racist bone in their body in the same breath as they recite theories of racial inferiority. You don’t need an education in the academic understanding of white supremacy to see through that one, but if we take people at their word then large numbers of Americans look downright slow. In this case, slowness pays. So long as we can tell ourselves that reasonable people disagree, no matter how contrived a disagreement we must construct, we need not consider what responsibility we might have for things that happen to real people in the real world.

For today’s specifics, I refer you to Hillary Clinton. I will not pretend to lacking a partisan interest here. Nobody who reads this blog for long would have any trouble figuring out my politics. Regardless of that, Clinton said this:

You know, just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.

The political press termed this a gaffe, which they sometimes say happens when a politician accidentally tells the truth. They haven’t taken much interest in whether or not Clinton did tell the truth, though. Let’s unpack the claims, focusing on the racial ones. I don’t know if I have the stomach just now to go into the sexism or homophobia too.

What do Trump supporters think of other races?

Nearly half of Trump’s supporters described African Americans as more “violent” than whites. The same proportion described African Americans as more “criminal” than whites, while 40 percent described them as more “lazy” than whites.

African Americans, distinguished from others only by their ascribed race, appear more violent, more criminal, and more lazy to at least a large contingent of Trump supporters. Racism, we all agree, means something like harboring the believe that human races have morally meaningful distinctions. We have real races, not just social categories, and they matter. Membership in one group makes you better than membership in another. Unless these same people think that greater propensities for violence, criminality, and laziness make for positive character traits, we have racism here.

Honestly demands we also admit that other Americans feel the same way:

In smaller, but still significant, numbers, Clinton backers also viewed blacks more critically than whites with regard to certain personality traits. Nearly one-third of Clinton supporters described blacks as more “violent” and “criminal” than whites, and one-quarter described them as more “lazy” than whites.

Any more than zero ought to trouble us, but the United States has never managed such a decent populace as that. If we had, the course of our history would have run on radically different tracks. But the difference between a quarter to a third and a third to forty or fifty percent does say something. So does the overwhelming unpopularity of candidate Trump with the non-white electorate. If these people, whoever they support, don’t count as racists then nobody can.

Islamophobic? Islamophobia generally means harboring negative opinions about both the religion of Islam and the behavior of Muslim adherents. Trump has that all wrapped up. Almost 60% hold “unfavorable” views of Islam, making it less popular than atheism. Almost 80% believe Islam more likely to encourage violence toward women than other religions, and nearly the same think that for homosexuals like your author too. I’d say that counts as pretty negative.

Both the Islamophobia and the racism count toward xenophobia, but let’s also note that Trump’s supporters favor a man who proclaimed immigrants from Latin America murderers and rapists. He wants a full ban on Muslims entering the country too. What more does it take?

I ask in earnest, Gentle Readers. How much does it take for white America to look in the mirror and realize that by our own most convenient definitions, those most alienated from the lived experience of minority Americans with injustice, we have a real, serious problem? If we believe in the things that we say we do, that we deplore racism, that people of all creeds, colors, and backgrounds deserve at the absolute least an even shake in life, then why do we tell pollsters otherwise? Even our cherished premise that overt racism has no place in our discourse looks like nothing so much as a self-serving lie in the face of all of this. If we really believe that, then why do so many of us seem bent on voting for a white nationalist candidate?

I do not think my fellow white Americans fools or dupes. I believe they, just like anybody else, understand their interests and values. They choose their candidates accordingly. The most recent polling I could find with a racial breakdown showed people who look like me preferring for Donald Trump 51-42. Most of us still believe, as we always have, that we live in a white man’s country. Others might exist in it with us, but do so at our sufferance and subject to whatever indignities we care to heap upon them. It’s not all of us, and not all of us to the same degree even among those counted, but it’s enough.

This held true in 1790, 1860, 1876, 1980, and keeps on holding true in 2016. The conviction has withstood a civil war, vast social movements, waves of immigration, and all that two centuries could throw at it. I don’t know what revolution it will take to undo something so foundational to who we are. The next time we care to pat ourselves on the back for ending slavery after only two hundred fifty years and Jim Crow after a century, we ought to look at what we left virtually untouched through all that. That, more than anything, is what we truly believe in. We lie to ourselves about the rest. That’s what it really takes to be a racist in America.

Holy Toledo in Ohio: The Committee on Territories Weights In, Part Three

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

 

Galusha Grow’s Committee on the Territories reported that Kansas’ irregular state government had precedent in the recent past. All of twenty years back, the people of Arkansas got together a state convention, wrote a constitution, and sent it on to Washington. At the time, no less an authority than Andrew Jackson’s attorney general signed off. They had the right to do so and the territorial legislature could not forbid them. Nor did granting statehood under such a constitution present any objections. Grow affirmed that even without precedent, Congress had the power to admit states at will, but the precise legal circumstances that the Congress grappled with now it had faced before. If Arkansas could do it, why not Kansas?

One could argue that Arkansas had some kind of unique situation. One might say that slave states get special rights. But Grow finished with Arkansas only to move on to Michigan, where I write this post. Some years back, Michigan celebrated its sesquicentennial. The territory felt fit for statehood well before it gained admission to the Union, but had disagreements with its neighbors. Michigan’s southern boundary ought to have run from the bottom of Lake Michigan to the bottom of Lake Erie. The legislators in Washington thought they shared a latitude. They don’t quite and Ohio and Indiana got statehood in advance of Michigan. When Ohio surveyed its northern border, it surveyed at an angle to include within itself the outlet of the Maumee river. Understanding the river and its port as an economic asset, and one which had been governed as a part of Michigan for some time prior, the territory commissioned its own survey that put the land right back with the Mitten. Between the two lines, you had the Toledo Strip.

This takes us up to 1833. Because Michigan doesn’t accept the Strip belonging to Ohio, the Ohio delegation blocks the territory’s application for statehood. Except for the boundary issue, Michigan followed the conventions: asking Congress for an Enabling Act before writing a constitution and all that. The Ohioans had some support in this from Indiana and Illinois, which had also revised their borders northward.

In 1835 the people of Michigan, after repeated failures to obtain an act of Congress authorizing a state convention, called one themselves without any such authority, elected delegates, formed and adopted a constitution, and under it elected State officers, United States senators, and a representative to Congress.

The governors of Michigan and Ohio also called out their militias, formed them up on either side of the Maumee, and took a few shots at one another. The sole injury came when an Ohioan named Two Stickney (yes, really) stabbed a Michigan sheriff. The Toledo War didn’t make for much of a war, but it did cost Michigan’s governor his job.

Congress finally agreed to take Michigan on as a state, provided that it accept the Ohio border. In exchange, the territory could have the lion’s share of the Upper Peninsula. The people of Michigan refused to trade an area with clear economic potential for an empty wilderness. This takes us into 1836. By this point the national coffers have a pleasantly full look to them, to the point that the Congress plans to pass the money out to the states. Michigan, meanwhile, has spent hundreds of thousands on militia expenses. It could use the cash but lowly territories would get nothing. Thus

Their action [rejecting the territory swap] was not satisfactory to a portion or a “party” of the people, and they, without any legislative act whatsoever, called another convention, and accepted the terms proposed by Congress though the people of large sections of the State refused to take any part in this convention, regarding it as illegal and revolutionary.

The proceedings from both conventions reached Washington, where Andrew Jackson forwarded them to Congress with the argument that the second convention, though not authorized by law, represented the will of “the people themselves”. Here we have an illegal convention that represents a minority, a party interest, making decisions for a territory without any formal authority to do so. What did Congerss do? It admitted Michigan on January 27, 1837. And so my grandfather’s favorite exclamation to use in front of children was born: “Holy Toledo in Ohio!”

Arkansas had an unauthorized convention and got into the Union. Michigan had that and dueling conventions. It received statehood. Why couldn’t Kansas?

 

“No legal objection” The Committee on Territories Weights in, Part Two

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow’s (R-PA) Committee on Territories reported that the territorial phase of government constituted a necessary evil. The white men of a newly colonized area simply could not afford a state government, nor could the poor state of infrastructure, communications, and the hazards of the frontier support one. Without federal largess, they would live long in anarchy. Thus Congress stepped in and established a government on the nation’s dime, filling the gap until the white colonists existed in sufficient number to pay for it themselves. In exchange, Congress took a supervisory role over the territory. That necessarily impinged on the self-government of the colonists, but since they hadn’t lost any of their natural capacity for self-rule the Congress had a responsibility to end the territorial stage and admit the territory as a state as soon as the circumstances justified it. Neither of these amounted to a Constitutional requirement, and Grow came armed with exceptions, but it did make for a kind of moral obligation to admit Kansas.

Provided, of course, Kansas had written a republican constitution and had the numbers. Grow turned first to the numbers. He cited an estimate that Daniel Woodson, Secretary of Kansas, had forwarded to Franklin Pierce and which Pierce duly transmitted over to Congress. Did twenty-five thousand suffice? If not, Woodson’s number had aged a six months. If the trends from then continued, then Grow expected “forty-five or fifth thousand” white people on the ground. “Each month,” he tactfully added

from excitement and stimulus given toe migration in all parts of the Union to this Territory, adds largely to its numbers.

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

Ely Thayer and Jefferson Buford don’t come up by name, but everybody knew exactly who and what Grow meant.

Grow stressed that, while the Congress might have certain conventions on the point, the Constitution laid out no hard number of white people that justified statehood. It, like the rest of the admission process, hung on Congress’ sovereign discretion. This “affords no uniform precedent.” For Tennessee, the Congress accepted a bit more than 32,013 (its population in the 1790 census). Louisiana came in with than 34,311 (1810 census). Indiana passed the finish line with less than 23,890 (1810 again). Mississippi shed its territorial status with less than 42,176 (1820). Missouri had 55,988 whites (1820), Arkansas 25,671 (1830). Florida finished up the list with 27,943 and change (1840 census). Nothing like a pattern emerges here, unless it sets a bar blurred across the low-to-mid tens of thousands. By Woodson’s estimate, Kansas had somewhere around as many people on hand as Indiana, Arkansas, and Florida did when Congress admitted them. Grow slid neatly into taking his projected growth as a given and pointed out that Kansas’ population exceeded that of “many of the States and the time of their admission into the Union.”

All of this makes Kansas petition for statehood, which it claimed to already half-possess by taking it on itself to write a constitution, sound very normal. Grow held that accepted conventions did not make for binding precedent, so the fact that Congress had not given leave for any such thing didn’t matter. His committee grappled with the issue all the same. “In a majority of cases” Congress gave advance permission for constitution writing, but not every one. Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan, Florida, and Iowa went on without an enabling act. The Constitution didn’t require one and its lack had produced no great evil. Congress retroactively endorsed them through the acts of admission. What it could do for five territories, it could do for a sixth.

Benjamin Franklin Butler of New York

Benjamin Franklin Butler of New York

Furthermore if one wanted a precedent, then Galusha Grow had one that neither ex-Democrats like himself nor present members of the Democracy could lightly set aside. Arkansas had a constitutional convention without the permission of Congress or their legislature. The governor wrote asking if he had a duty to put a stop to that. Andrew Jackson, through Attorney General Benjamin Franklin Butler (the New York lawyer, not the Massachusetts general), wrote back

They undoubtedly possess the ordinary privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States. Among these is the right of the people peacably to assemble and to petition the government for the redress of grievances. In the exercise of this right, the inhabitants of Arkansas may peaceably meet together in primary assembly, or in convention chosen by such assemblies, for the purpose of petitioning Congress to abrogate the Territorial government, and to admit them into the Union as an independent State. The particular form which they may give to their petition cannot be material so long as they confine themselves to the mere right of petitioning, and conduct all their proceedings in a peaceable manner. And as the power of Congress over the whole subject is plenary and unlimited, they may accept any constitution framed, which in their judgment meets the sense of the people to be affected by it.

Twenty years back, Old Hickory’s administration practically looked into the future and blessed the free state movement. Even if the petition came with a constitution attached, as Kansas’ had, Butler said

I perceive no legal objection to their power to do so.

“Left entirely to the discretion of Congress” The Committee on Territories Weights in, Part One

 

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

The Senate took a look at the memorial to Congress that James Lane brought back with him and Lewis Cass presented to the body. It took no time at all for the senators to recognize all the scratched out and rewritten bits of the memorial and the curious fact that all the signatures at the end came in the same hand. Clearly, Lane had perpetrated a fraud on the Senate of the United States. That he swore an oath to the contrary, and we know that the free state government actually did send him off with a memorial, didn’t matter. When he challenged Stephen Douglas to a duel for satisfaction, Douglas fobbed him off with senatorial privilege. Cass withdrew the petition and the Senate moved on.

It happened differently in the House, with its anti-Nebraska majority. They referred the report and its attached materials, including the Topeka Constitution, to the Committee on Territories on April 7, 1856. The Committee’s report doesn’t come dated in my version and I can’t find when they reported back, but it seems to have taken them at least into May. As usual, the Committee released a majority and minority report. They give us a useful window into what actual, if partisan, nineteenth century lawmakers thought of Kansas’ irregular situation.

Galusha Grow, a Democrat turned Republican from Pennsylvania, presented the majority’s findings. The accepted practice involved a territory organized by Congress, as Kansas and other places had been. That territorial government then received permission to write a constitution, which it did. It then forwarded the constitution to Congress, which approved or disapproved. Grow consideration of Kansas’ petition for statehood with a chronicle of past departures from that line that the Congress had seen fit to accept or overlook.

Of the eighteen states admitted to the Union, Grow’s committee reported that five skipped the territorial stage entirely. Among the thirteen others, five gained admission under constitutions they had no permission from Congress to write. Furthermore:

The power of Congress to admit States is of the most plenary character, and is conferred by the constitution (sec. 3, art. 4) in these words: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union.” The time, mode, and manner of admission, therefore, is left entirely to the discretion of Congress.

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The conventional way of making states amounted to only that, a convention. Congress had no obligation to treat them as binding precedent, but could do as it liked. The letter of the Constitution demanded only that states have a republican government. If someone named themselves King of Kansas and asked for admission, Congress would have to tell them no. Whatever high opinions they might hold of themselves, no one in Kansas seems to have thought themselves royalty. So did Kansas have a republican government? If so, Congress didn’t have to make it a state but might do so if that appeared the best course for Kansans and for the nation.

Grow noted that the territorial form of government denied the people the full range of self-governance that state possessed in the American system. They could not choose their governors and the Congress had a full veto over any enactments of their legislature. The plight of the initial settlers:

few in numbers, and widely separated […] contest[ing] with the savage and the wild beast, the dominion of the wilderness, and […] not of sufficient numbers, strength, or wealth to protect themselves alone against the uncivilized influences that surround them.

Hard times and meager means required federal subsidy, paying salaries, arranging the construction of public buildings, and otherwise facilitating the development of the territory justified “supervisory power.” Otherwise, Congress might end up on the hook for endless expenses and laws with which “it entirely disapproves.” One obviously couldn’t have that. The people who went to territories did not lose their capacity for self-governance or somehow diminish their moral strength, but they did put themselves in this situation willingly. They chose to leave states and hazard what the Congress might do with a territory.

But when the white settlers had the numbers and the money, and wanted it, they could upgrade to a state government. When they could, Grow’s report averred, they ought to as

there is no longer any occasion for the guardianship of Congress, and no reason why their request should be delayed or refused.

Steve King and the Maltreatment of Reverend William C. Clark

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

In looking over the officers at the meeting which established the Kansas Pioneer Association, George Brown’s Herald of Freedom found names he recognized from the Wakarusa War. Among them he spotted a Colonel Chiles, who had more recent adventures. He had somehow “maltreated” a Reverend William C. Clark.

Who did what now? I make a special effort to highlight occasions of actual and credibly threatened violence as signposts for how far things have gone in Kansas. Doing otherwise would make the whole affair sound like no more than the overexcited outbursts of politicians arguing over constitutional arcana, very much detached from the experience of people living at the time. They had real fears based on real events; what happened to others could very well happen to them. But I missed Clark’s travail. Let’s back up to the twentieth of September, 1855, and see what happened.

Clark had come to Lawrence, but gone back East for New England in September. Since then, he had tried four times to get in touch with George Brown about his travail

with the Algerines of America on the Polar Star. I [Clark] wrote and sent you [Brown] a long and full account the first thing I did after I was able to sit up. I should write more, but the hope of this ever reaching you seems so small that I am almost discouraged in trying.

Clark means the Barbary pirates when he says Algerines, who would abduct and enslave Europeans. They constituted a menace to maritime travel in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean for centuries, their exploits generating a whole genre of captivity narrative which he readers would have known well.

The Reverend knew that the papers had hold of his story, but travel and illness prevented him at first from setting the record straight. Clark told the reader that he traveled seven weeks in Kansas, finding its soil rich, its water pure, its scenery beautiful, and generally the best place in America. He then went home. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Clark went specifically to learn about and then promote Kansas to emigrants. On September 18, he took passage at Kansas City. The Polar Star would take him down to St. Louis.

In short order, Clark found that the other passengers had much to say about the Kansas question. Generally from the slave states, they had precisely the opinions one would expect. Clark let several untrue statements about the Free State party pass unremarked, “not wishing to have a controversy.”

On the second day of the Polar Star’s voyage, the topic of conversation turned to theology. I imagine Clark’s eyes lit up at the opportunity, much as mine do when someone wants to talk history. The discussion covered “modes of baptism, next the perseverance of the saints, &c.” People had murdered each other over such questions, but that happened long ago and far away. Nearer to home

one gentleman present objected to the divine authenticity of the Bible, on the ground that the five races of men never could have had one common parentage, objecting especially to the Indian and Negro races.

This made Clark’s objector quite the radical. Few antebellum Americans believed in separate origins for the races of humanity they imagined existing. The occasional proslavery theorist, particularly Josiah Nott, would make the argument but most thought the idea solidly unBiblical and consequently false.

Clark wouldn’t sit down and let that one pass:

Feeling an interest when I hear the Scriptures assailed, I took the liberty to reply to him, giving my views of the origin of the Indians found on this continent by Columbus, which seemed to be satisfactory to those present. His objection to the common origin of the Negro race was, that their minds had not a capacity for cultivation, and by nature were almost destitute of intelligence; and hence he thought they must have had another and inferior origin.

You can’t go very far in the United States today without hearing that theory of blackness. We don’t often phrase it in quite that way, but express the same meaning in more careful words. In noting that the Republican Party today has racial demographics not far out of line with the Ku Klux Klan, Representative Steve King asked

I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

“Than white people?” Hayes asked, clearly amazed.

“Than, than Western civilization itself,” King replied. “It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”

In other words, non-whites don’t deserve a place in a political party. Inferior by nature, their lacks proven by history, they could jolly well bugger off. Only whites count.

With the exception of Monday posts, and not all of those, I don’t try too orient this blog around contemporary America. But sometimes contemporary America comes on its own.

The Long Reach of American Fascism

I’ve written before that Donald Trump has a past. He has brought back to the forefront of American politics essentially open advocacy for white supremacy, after decades of white Americans pretending they didn’t have any real problem with black Americans. He has undone, at least for this moment, the work of Lee Atwater and his generation of PR men:

That distinction, and some others, do make the Trump campaign unique. We’ve known for decades that when fascism came to the United States it would come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. They didn’t tell us it would come in orange with a dodgy comb-over, but then fascists have a history of not living up to their own aesthetic standards; the rules apply to other people. Saying fascism would come also implies that we didn’t have it already. It appears, in fact, that Americans invented the ideology, attitude, aesthetic, or whatever thing one considers fascism best called. Before Mussolini’s train ran on time, the Ku Klux Klan crossed the finish line so early we didn’t have a name for it.

Just as we risk missing the forest for the tree in taking Trump as entirely sui generis, so we do the same in taking fascism in isolation. Fascist movements have never, so far as I know, come to power without cooperation from the mainstream right of their countries. That cooperation came come eagerly or with a general sense of disdain, but it does come. Never Trump never came to much. Nor will the ritual denunciations. We can’t know what goes on between an individual and their ballot, but even if all the famous people declaring they’ve changed parties follow through, they have shifted perhaps hundreds of votes. Had enough of them existed to stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination of the mainstream American conservative party, we would have seen it by now.

Trumpism, for all its thuggish bullying, open white supremacy, and admiration of street violence, has precious little but style to distinguish it from past runs for the presidency. I don’t need to dig back into the nineteenth century or root about in the dustbin of history for fringe candidates everybody has agreed, safely after the fact, to hate. If you want bellicose white supremacy in the vein of the murder victim getting what he had coming, take these remarks on the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

a great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they’d break.

King, you must understand, brought this on himself. By breaking the law to protest segregation, he produced the violent backlash that claimed his life. He ought to have known his place. The author of that statement then occupied no more exalted an office than that of governor, but he would go on to greater things.

Philadelphia, Mississippi has two claims to national fame. In 1964, the Klan, with help from the county sheriff and local police, murdered three civil rights activists there. I imagine that one doesn’t go on the tourist brochures, but it happened all the same. The deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodwin, and Michael Schwermer helped push the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through Congress. These laws abridged the power of state governments, particularly in the South, to behave abominably toward African-Americans.

Sixteen years later, a presidential campaign rolled into town. The candidate came fresh off his convention win, inaugurating his general election campaign in Philadelphia. I have no doubt that the people of Philadelphia, then and now, run the gamut just like people everywhere else. They deserve a presidential visit as much as anybody. But towns that even today boast only seven thousand or so people don’t have for national office candidates just drop by; I live in a town of ten thousand and we don’t get that. The campaign chose Philadelphia for a reason, and the man behind the podium made it clear just what they had in mind:

I believe in state’s rights.

I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level.

And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment.

And if I do get the job I’m looking for… (Cheers and applause)

I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

You don’t give a speech like this in a place like Philadelphia by accident. You do it because you want everyone to know that state’s rights means white power. The speaker didn’t wear a white hood and chant about the Klan getting bigger, but he didn’t need to. When you go to Philadephia, Mississippi and tell the town that murdered civil rights workers and so convinced the nation to pass laws curbing state power to abridge civil rights that you believe in state’s rights, you tell them that you’ve taken their side. You are no partisan for the victims, nor their cause, but the declared ally of their murderers. If elected, you will do all in your power to roll back civil rights and restore white supremacy’s untrammeled rule to its most murderous extent.

The speaker in question? Revered conservative statesman Ronald Reagan. I don’t see many conservatives, or many white Americans in general, willing to denounce him.

The Plantation at the Polls

Gentle Readers, if you go around the right parts of the internet you will very quickly learn that the Democratic Party today is a thoroughgoing anti-black organization. As a large, old American institution traditionally dominated by white Americans, the probability of that may approach one more closely than mathematics can describe. This could make for a great opportunity to look into the ubiquity of white supremacy in American life. If that happened with any regularity, I would have to write about something else. Rather one sees the accusation levied as part of a decidedly odd line of partisan attack. Black Americans have voted Democratic in presidential elections in very large numbers for as far back as I can find polling data.

That data counts all “Nonwhite” Americans together for some time and so we should keep in mind that it doesn’t cover only black Americans, but it certainly includes them. They gave Adlai Stephenson 79% of their vote back in 1952. They preferred Kennedy to Nixon 68-32% in 1960. They turned out to the tune of 94% for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Eight-four percent of non-whites supported Hubert Humphrey in 1968. George McGovern won 87% of them over in 1972. The pattern continues. Come 2000, Gallup breaks the category down better and we learn that 95% of African-Americans supported Al Gore. Everybody who follows American politics at all knows this. It begs for an explanation.

It stands to reason that people of all colors and creeds don’t neatly settle in with one major party or the other. One would expect to find liberals, conservatives, and moderates in similar proportions in every demographic. Likewise, it would stand to reason that for historical reasons you may see some clustering one way or another. But cultural inertia seems very inadequate to explain why such vast majorities of African-Americans in particular and non-whites in general prefer Democratic presidents. Nor would it account for how black Americans voted quite enthusiastically for Republican candidates for as long as they could vote back in the later nineteenth century. How can we explain these numbers?

Call me reductive, but I operate under the theory that voters know their own business. They consult their knowledge, their personal experience, and their values. These lead them to make the choices they do in the voting booth. They might not make the same choices we think we would make in their position, but we make those judgments out of our own values, not theirs. We should not go about assuming the world full of nothing more than confused clones of ourselves that need setting right, unless we aspire to a singularly pathological species of narcissism. Thus I believe that people who vote differently from myself have made conscious decisions, to the best of an ability equal to my own, in accord with their genuine and most important interests. If we disagree, then we do so out of real difference.

This does not paint a very pretty picture of the voting public. For American minorities to vote so heavily Democratic means they understand the party at at least the lesser of two evils, the one likely to mistreat them less and do more of the things they would like to see done. I know this sounds partisan of me. I vote Democrat, so of course I want to believe awful things about the Republicans. But I know how the Republican party, the party of Lincoln, lost my vote. If I tell people that I disagree profoundly with their policies, then few people will doubt it. I have that privilege written right on my skin. I, a white man, deserve serious consideration as a thinker. I can consult my own interest and make informed decisions. My alignment doesn’t require a special explanation.

My fellow white Americans don’t seem near so eager to accept that premise when someone else asserts it. Go back to those aforesaid corners of the internet and you will learn that the Democrats have duped black Americans in particular, and minority Americans in general. The party hates them and has it out for them, but has so brainwashed them that they refuse to leave “the plantation.” This only makes sense two ways. Firstly, the Democrats have a peerless propaganda operation that can control the minds of literally millions of people at a time and get them all to act against what they understand as their best interests, year after year for decades on end. Does that sound like any Democratic party you’ve ever heard of? If it wielded that kind of power, then how have those donkey-headed wizards managed to lose so many elections?

This leaves us with door number two: minorities are too stupid to know what to do with themselves. They, as profound inferiors, require the guiding hand of a white man to set them right. They can’t possibly possess agency of their own.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

I wrote “the plantation” two paragraphs back because I’ve seen the metaphor used exactly that way more times than I care to count. It tells us more about the speaker than that they’ve heard of the nineteenth century. The idea that black Americans in particular just don’t know and can’t know how to govern themselves, but remain content to let whites govern them right down to whipping, rape, and innumerable mutilations of body, family, and life, has the best of nineteenth century pedigrees; it comes right out of proslavery literature. There the enslavers tell us, chapter and verse, that no slave would run or resist, save from madness, unless “enticed” or “corrupted” by meddling whites. Take it from Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s Negro-Slavery, No Evil:

There were among us, too, a large number of free negroes, most of them, as usual, of bad character; their houses, the natural places of resort for abolitionists, at which to meet, and tamper with slaves, corrupt them, entice them to run away, and furnish them with facilities for escape.

I submit that black Americans and other minorities do not require liberation from the plantation the way that these sorts would have us believe. The only people who require corruption and enticement to depart it invented the metaphor. They, not the ancestors of slaves, refuse to depart the nineteenth century. But I grant them the courtesy they deny to others. I do not consider them dupes or fools. They know their interests, as whites, and vote to prosecute them to the fullest extent every time they go to the polls. If that comes at the cost of lives ruined and futures lost, then we shouldn’t view that as an accident any more than we should when we look at programs cherished by American leftists and see how they have systematically left black Americans out, or left them with mere scraps of what whites profited from. These things don’t just happen; we choose to make them happen.