Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Road To Pasadena

http://pac-12.com/content/varsity-days

On December 6, 2015, the Rose Bowl selection committee announced that the Stanford Cardinal (representing the Pac-12 Conference) would face the Iowa Hawkeyes (representing the Big Ten Conference) in the 2016 edition of their New Years classic. While this may not be a significant event for many people, it was for my 75 year old father who is a lifelong Hawkeye fan. Even though he had broken his shoulder recently in a fall while recently attending the Iowa-Nebraska game in Lincoln, he is still planning to get into a car with some friends for the 24+ hour trip to Pasadena. While this might seem like an odd way to start a History Rhyme, there is a good historical reason why we are discussing the New Year’s plans of my father’s favorite team. It has to do with the way that nearly equal periods of time can seem so different depending on: 1) whether events occurred on one’s lifetime, 2) the age when the events occur, and 3) how personally memorable past events were to the observer. So, lets take a journey back in time to when the University of Iowa has gone to the Rose Bowl and how some of those events are remembered by me.

Prior to this upcoming trip to Pasadena, the Hawkeyes were last in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1991, when they were defeated 46-34 by the Washington Huskies. From the upcoming game to then is a period of 25 years. At that time, George H. W. Bush was president and both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democratic Party. The average price of gasoline was around $1.16 that year. In the month prior to that game, the newly reunited Germany had its first parliamentary elections that kept the center-right Christian Democratic Union (and its coalition partners) in power, South Africa was moving towards a post-apartheid world as Nelson Mandela met for discussions with president F. W. De Klerk; the Middle East moved toward war as the United States gave Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw from Kuwait; Lech Walesa was sworn in as Poland’s popularly elected president on December 22th; on the day before the Rose Bowl, the Sci-Fi Channel began transmitting. At that time, I was a twenty year old college student (majoring in Physics – although soon to become a history major) at Iowa State University. On the day of the game, I was working my holiday break job as a doorman at a small movie theater that no longer exists in a southside Des Moines, IA indoor mall that is now mostly an outdoor mall. I was not an Iowa fan (which is partially why I was attending Iowa State) so I did not pay much attention to the game. I do recall seeing the game playing on the little thirteen inch TV that my manager had in his office. I also recall that my 49 year old father did not attend that game. He recently told me that he did not go since Iowa had been to the Rose Bowl three times in ten years so he decided to wait until the next time they went. He did not expect it to take this long.

Prior to the 1991 game, Iowa had been to the Rose Bowl two previous times in the 1980s – 1982 and 1986. I will not discuss the 1986 game much other than to mention that, as a person who did not like the Hawkeyes, the mid-1980s was not an easy time. The team was coached by the legendary Hayden Fry and was consistently successful. I was fifteen years old and do not recall watching that game. While researching that game, I came across a story that I had forgotten but now can remember quite well. In that game, Iowa was favored over UCLA and was led by their sure-handed running back Ronnie Harmon who had only fumbled once in the whole year. On January 1, 1986, he had four fumbles in the first half and dropped what appeared to be an easy touchdown pass. Iowa ended up losing 48-24 and rumors stared swirling that Harmon had thrown the game. In 2002, HBO’s Real Sports program looked into the controversy, but nothing was ever conclusively proven.

The Rose Bowl game that I remember especially and the whole reason why I made this History Rhyme about the “granddaddy of them all,” occurred on January 1, 1982. At this time, Ronald Reagan was president and both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democratic Party. The average price of gasoline was $1.13 that year. In the month prior to the game, President Reagan signed an executive order that allowed the CIA to engage in domestic counter-intelligence, the Polish government declared martial law and arrested Solidarity leaders (including Lech Walesa), civilian governments in Ghana and Argentina are overthrown by military juntas, and the musical “Dreamgirls” first premiered in New York at the Imperial Theater. At that time, I was a ten year old suburban Iowa kid who had not seen much of the United States except for trips to Disney World in Florida by plane and a trip through South Dakota by car.

This was the first time the Iowa Hawkeyes were playing in Pasadena since 1959. In most of the 23 years between those games, Iowa football teams were consistently dreadful. The 1981 season was the first winning season for the Hawkeyes since 1961. During that period, they had endured one zero-win season and three one-win seasons. Yet, despite all the ineptitude on the field, there was still strong support in the stands. I have a memory of attending an Iowa game in the late 1970s (prior to Hayden Fry’s arrival in 1979) where the stands appeared pretty full – a resimiscence that my father has confirmed. So, as you might imagine, there was great excitement when Iowa won the Big Ten title and was headed off to play the Washington Huskies. This game occurred 35 years prior to the upcoming game yet I have some exceptionally clear memories of it due to the fact that my father decided that he (then age 40), his wife (age 38), and his two young sons (ages 11 and 8) should join what seemed like everyone else in Iowa (the joke being “would the last person leaving Iowa please shut off the lights”) was coming to California. So, right after Christmas 1991, we packed up our 1980 Pontiac LeMans station wagon (with the genuine fake wood trim) and headed down the road. On that trip, I passed through new states for me – Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. I distinctly remember on that trip spending the night at an old motel in Liberal, KS and staying up late to watch “Johnny Carson” (otherwise known as The Tonight Show). We went to Disneyland (I loved Tomorrowland) and Universal Studios (before they had any roller coasters). We stayed at a cousin’s town home (which I had never seen before, but which seem ubiquitous now). I remember the morning of the game being rainy and that I really was quite bored watching the Rose Bowl parade. By the time of the game, it was a nice day. We sat way up in one of the end zones and (along with about 100,000 people) watched Iowa lose to Washington 28-0.

Iowa has gone to the Rose Bowl two other times – in 1959 and 1957. In those cases, Iowa won. Obviously, I have no memories of those games because I was not yet born. Since these events occurred prior to my birth in 1970, they seem quite different to the game I attended in 1982 – even though there is only a 23 year span between the 1959 and 1982 games but a 34 year span between the 1982 game and the one which will occur soon. I do not know if this is true for other people, but events which occurred for a time when I can say “at that time I was X years old and I was doing Y” seem more understandable than those which occurred before I took my first breath. I have a memory of Richard Nixon resigning when I was four years old that seems much more relatable than the Kent State shootings which occurred only a month before my birth in June 1970. We have talked about historical telescoping in a previous History Rhyme (Impatiance Day) so we are familiar with the ways our perceptions can shape our views of the past. I do not know if there is a specific term for the type of perception shifting I describe, but it does shape the way I view things. I have to work harder to understand those who breathed air that I did not. Then again, trying to understand them is what makes history so interesting for me.

Soon, there will be a new piece of historical data to be placed onto the Rose Bowl page of Sports-Reference.com. There will be a winner and a loser, but more importantly, there will be new memories for many people (including perhaps future historians) who can say “I was there!” I extend my best wishes for safe travels and enjoyable experiences to the participants and observers. Finally, even though I still am not an Iowa fan, I will on behalf of my father say “Go Hawks!”

The Naming Game

cape-kennedy-marx

One of the great things about being a historian who likes to write about connections and themes in the interaction between the past and the present, is that I will not ever run out of interesting topics as long as I am paying attention. As I write in late August 2014, there are numerous topics in the news that would be excellent ways to examine how a short-sighted approach to history or just a general lack of knowledge of the past can cause contemporary men and women to make conclusions and assessments that might not be shared by someone with a little more knowledge of the past. The awkward Russian subversion of Ukraine can remind a reader of similar actions in places as distant in time and space as the German efforts to gain influence in Slovakia in the months leading up the World War II or even the CIA’s attempts to undermine a variety of pro-Soviet regimes during the Cold War in places like Chile, Congo, or Iran. The way the Chinese and Russian press are using the violent events in Ferguson, Missouri are very reminiscent of the way the Soviet Union would use American racial tensions in the 1950s and 1960s as a way to focus attention on the flaws of the United States while diverting attention from their own dubious human rights track records. However, it is not just the larger events that are great examples of the kinds of similarities (or perceived similarities) in history that this History Rhymer enjoys examining. In this months edition, we will look at a relatively minor event in a community in New Jersey that says a lot about our current political climate and the tendency for people to forget the rhyming events in our past. In this case, it is the renaming of a recreational center in Willingboro, New Jersey for President Barack Obama and the controversy that has resulted.

At a September 2, 2014 Willingboro city council meeting, the decision will be made on whether to change the name of a local recreation center and former school from the “Kennedy Center” to the “President Barack Obama Center.” In normal circumstances, the naming or renaming of a street, building, or even geographic location after a president or other elected official would not be a tremendously interesting topic for a History Rhyme. After all, it happens all the time. Every president from the very great (e.g. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln) to the not-so-great (e.g. James Buchanan and Warren Harding) have had everything from plants to states named after them. Even most, if not all, of our vice presidents have been honored in a similar fashion. The current vice president, Joe Biden, has had a dwarf planet named after him. Even Franklin Pierce’s vice president, William Rufus de Vane King (who died before he ever made it to Washington D.C. or performed any of his official duties), had a county in Washington state named after him. The county was renamed in1986 after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but that still counts. However, since this is 2014 and the recipient of the honor is Barack Obama, it should be no surprise that someone is outraged in a very partisan manner. Two of the more colorful headlines to stories about the change are “Angry Reactions After Town Opts to Rename ‘Kennedy Center’ in Honor of Another President. (Hint: He’s Still Alive.)” from theBlaze.com; and “JFK Memorial Building To Honor Barack Obama Instead Because New Jersey City ‘Idolizes’ The President” from inquisitr.com. Although the mood of some local residents seem to be a mild form or opposition or even indifference, the online comments have been far from such views. The general tone of those comments, as seen in the comments section of a FoxNews.com story, concern the president’s unworthiness for such and honor (e.g. a person using the screen name your_kidding posting “I still don’t get it. He has done absolutely nothing useful.” or another using the screen name davestwin posting “The Barack Obama Unemployment/Disability Office (in every city) would be appropriate. Or how about having his face embossed on every SNAP’s card?”).

In addition to the posts in the comments section of the FoxNews.com story critical of the president, there are other posts that are of special interest to this edition of The History Rhyme. Those are the ones by avowed conservatives like the person using the screen name luvfreedomw68 who states that “To compare Obama with Kennedy is ludicrous and blasphemous. Not even close. Kennedy was a patriot and a gentleman,” or the person using the screen name azmanfromtx posting “Everybody is proud of JFK who has done more for this country than Obama every could.” However, the most interesting to me was the comment by the person using the screen name lydtoagin what asserted that the name change was because “JFK could not be welcome in Barry’s party.” Considering that the current Republican Party has moved to the right of Barry Goldwater, this last comment seems ill-considered at best. In any case, the positive views of Kennedy by these posters would imply that people did not oppose naming things after Kennedy in the aftermath of his assassination in 1963. While this is generally true, this History Rhyme will conclude with a short tale of when the “naming game” was not so favorable for our thirty-fifth president.

In the wake of the shocking assassination of Kennedy in Dallas, Texas in November 1963, President Lyndon Johnson was seeking ways to honor the memory of the fallen president and at the same time gain support for his new administration by the American people. One of the ideas that LBJ had was to rename Cape Canaveral (the whole region – not just the space launch facility) after Kennedy. The idea had originated from the slain president’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, but the scope of the change was all LBJ. On November 27th after just three hours of using the famous “Johnson treatment,” the new president was able to convince the Department of Interior’s Board of Geographic Names to rename the entire area Cape Kennedy. If we were to simply use the comments section entries to the various stories about renaming the Willingboro center, it would be unthinkable that someone would have opposed such a change. After all, even acknowledged Republicans love him now and think him worthy of such an honor. Certainly LBJ felt this way as shown in his fawning letter to Mrs. Kennedy when he noted that “I am delighted to see that the reaction at Cape Kennedy and at the Kennedy Space Center has been one of deep gratification. It is clear that once again you have hit with unerring taste on the right thing to do” (see note). However, looking at the newspapers of the time shows a different result. According to the Associated Press story of December 8, 1963 entitled “Cape Kennedy Remains Despite the Opposition” (which appeared in identical form in newspapers such as the Victoria (TX) Advocate and the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune) “many residents in Brevard County, in which the cape is located, protested the name change and flooded the desks of their congressman with telegrams and letters.” Local chamber of commerce groups protested the move and even the Florida Library and Historical Commission’s chairman stated that “the name of the geographical point – the cape – should not be changed.” The issue was not about whether Kennedy was deemed worthy or that naming the space center after him was inappropriate. Instead, it was that making such a wide-sweeping move to rename the whole area was more than locals wanted. Eventually, the geographical location would be rechristened Cape Canaveral in 1973 while the Kennedy Space Center remained to honor the president.

What can we learn from examining these two examples of playing the “name game” to honor our presidents? First, it tells us that it is unlikely that everyone will ever be pleased with the decision to honor someone by renaming an existing structure or location after them. If even renaming something after a popular president, who had just been assassinated in such a public way and whose memory had united the nation in the months after his death, would receive resistance; we should not be surprised that an effort to rename anything after an unpopular president in a deeply partisan nation would encounter even more resistance. Second, we can see that if a past leader is taken out of context, his accomplishments magnified, and his shortcomings ignored, it is easy to feel disappointment with our present leaders. In the case of the conservatives who praised Kennedy in the articles about the Willingboro center, it seems unlikely that they would have been so positive in their comments if Kennedy had been alive and was in office. Fortunately for those of us who love and appreciate the nuances of history, we can look at these events and see all that a study of the past has to offer for our understanding of our modern world. Keep looking and learning!

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Note 1: Lyndon B, Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), 19.

 

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

The Harvey Way

Harvey Girl

Here at the History Rhyme, we have come to the Summer vacation season. This is the time to get away from too much serious stuff and have a little fun. Unfortunately, it is the time when kids have way too much free time and start driving their parents crazy with a constant droning of “I am bored,” or “this is so boring.” After a few attempts to get the kids to do something educational like reading a book or going to a museum, it is not long before the idea of a vacation somewhere comes up. Depending on one’s budget, this could entail a flight or it could be a car ride. In any case, unless you are having a “stay-cation,” there will be some traveling involved. I do not know about all of you out there, but I do not want too many surprises when it comes to issues of food and facilities. Simply stated, I want to go from place to place and know that I will find safe food, clean bathrooms and friendly attendants. In other words, I want consistency. Thankfully, it is far easier to find that than it has been in the past. I tell myself that this has occurred recently in the Midwestern United States because of the expansion of Iowa-based convenience store chains like Casey’s and Kum & Go (yes, that is its name), but this Iowa boy is very biased. However, this trend of a safe food, clean facilities and friendly staff predates all of us. In fact, our modern idea of travel convenience dates back to the post-Civil War period. So, without further adu, in this month’s History Rhyme, we ask that you give us a tiny bit of our summer to help remember a pioneer in the type of consistent and convenient traveling experience that we have come to expect (and comment about on websites if we don’t) – Fred Harvey.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), one of the definitions for “convenience” is “freedom from discomfort.” When it came to traveling to the Southwestern United States in the decade or so after the end of the Civil War, the situation was anything, but discomfort free. When traveling on the rail lines across the region, it was very hard for a traveler to find a good meal and a clean place in which to eat it. Instead, it was not uncommon to find rancid meat and stale bread in dirty rail cars or at shacks along the tracks. Fred Harvey, a traveling freight agent with a background in the restaurant industry, recognized that something needed to be done and he felt he had the answer – provide clean and safe food prepared in a consistent manner, presented in attractive dining halls, and served by a well-mannered staff. That may sound rather obvious to us, but at that time it was a revolutionary concept. In 1875, Harvey was able to convince the head of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) to allow him to open a couple of eating houses along their tracks in Kansas. In 1878, he opened his first official “Harvey House” in Florence, Kansas. Eventually, he would branch out into operating AT&SF dining cars and even had a few Harvey House hotels. The Harvey Houses were a great success and Mr. Harvey’s methods were so consistent and admired that his method of operations was known as the “Harvey Way.” By the time of his death in 1901, Harvey had opened 47 Harvey House restaurants and 15 Harvey House hotels across the 12 states that the AT&SF covered, and operated 30 AT&SF dining cars. At its peak, there were 84 Harvey House locations. Harvey Houses continued to offer the service for which it was famous until the 1960s. (see note below)

The reason why this story is suitable as a History Rhyme is because some of the elements introduced by Fred Harvey and his company have strongly influenced our opinions of what a convenient and pleasurably travel experience should be. The most important of these elements are in the areas of logistics and hospitality. Just like any modern chain of restaurants, hotels or convenience stores, a consistent and reliable logistics plan is required. In our modern era in the United States of interstate highways, a logistical network is possible due to the vast fleets of trucks that supply locations. The reason why the Harvey House concept was possible was because of Harvey’s strong relationship with the AT&SF railroad which provided Harvey the ability to move meat and dairy products to the various locations at little or no cost. If not for the network of tracks upon which the Harvey Houses were originally located, the rapid growth of the first restaurant chain in America would have been immensely more difficult.

The other main aspect of the Harvey House story that has an influence on our modern world concerns Mr. Harvey’s ideas on what kind of people should be serving his safe and clean food in his attractive locations. He needed a work staff that was reliable, civilized and consistent. Starting in 1883, Harvey’s answer was to put advertisements in newspapers across the United States seeking young, single, white women to become what was eventually known as his “Harvey Girls.” These women were to be of good moral character, well mannered, and have at least an eighth grade education. These women were meant to serve as a civilizing influence on the region and their black and white uniforms were designed to purposefully minimize the feminine form. It can be argued that this was an early form of “branding” that is such an important aspect for companies in our modern consumer society. This concept was so successful that the “Harvey Girls” were the subject of a 1942 novel by Samuel Hopkins and an MGM movie in 1946 starring Judy Garland and Angela Landsbury. Of course, there are elements of the “Harvey Girl” concept that are at the very least problematic to modern eyes (e.g. discriminatory hiring practices, and the total control the company exerted over the girls lives while employed), but that does not change the fact that the Harvey Girl model was innovative for its time and its emphasis on professionalism of service has been emulated to this day. So, as you are traveling along the roads this summer and you are looking for a place to stop for some food or a place to sleep, remember the efforts of Fred Harvey and his army of Harvey Girls. If not for their efforts, the “freedom from discomfort” that so many of us crave when we are hungry, tired, or just simply in need of a clean bathroom, might be less convenient to find.

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NOTE: For more information on the development of Harvey Houses, there are several websites devoted to the subject. Examples are the Harvey Girl Historical Society, A Harvey House Home Page, and Harvey House Restaurants.

 

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

A Sterling Example

Sterling

When The History Rhyme was first established in Fall of 2013, a main goal was to use the past as a way to better understand the events of today. Without a wider context on what has happened before, it is very difficult to understand the significance of a particular event. All alone, one event would literally be simultaneously the “best” and “worst” of whatever measurement an observer was making. Another aspect that this blog tries to help fight is the lack of awareness of larger trends that can occur without a wider perspective on history. Were the “good old days” really that good? Are we making progress on issues of economic and social equality? How can we answer Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign question “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” if you do not know how you were four (or more) years ago? Fortunately for you and for me, this modern world and its 24-hour news cycle never fails to offer events that would be helped by a wider historical perspective and a good dose of rhyming events to offer us the chance to understand today and yesterday at the same time. The event that we will discuss is this edition of The History Rhyme is the case of a man who appears to have had more dollars than sense. A man who is so filled with contradictions that he can be condemned as a racist while getting awards for his support of the people he would rather not have around. Yes, we too will discuss the curious case of Donald Sterling and his fall from grace. To do so, we will use a couple of rhyming events from our unhappy past to help us consider how times have changed in one particular area and to see who has noticed this.

Just before the end of April 2014, few people who were not long-suffering fans of the Los Angeles Clippers had heard much of Donald Sterling. That quickly changed with the release on April 25th by the website TMZ of a recorded conversation between his biracial “girlfriend” and him where Sterling chastised her for bringing African-Americans to Clippers games and for posting pictures of herself with someone like Erving “Magic” Johnson on Instagram. In a bizarre twist, Sterling is heard on the tape telling her that “you can sleep with them, you can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that [Instagram] and not to bring them to my games” (slate.com). Perhaps this modern world has made me cynical but I must admit that when I heard these comments, I did not expect much to happen. These were comments from a private conversation that he did not record and which did not include any of the overtly derogatory phrases or terms. Yes, they were racist and offensive, but this would not be the first time someone’s private racism had slipped out into the public light. A prime example of this can be found in an April 1, 2013 slide-show on the Huffington Post entitled “11 Racist Remarks Made By Politicians: A Look Back.” In many of these cases, directly racist terms were used and nothing severe happened to most of these officials. It also became quite evident that this was not the first time that anyone had realized that Sterling was known for his objectionable behavior towards the African-American community. In fact, in 2006 he had been agreed to pay the United States Justice Department $2.725 million to settle allegations that he, as a landlord, had discriminated against African-Americans and Latinos. This story was reported along with other details about the Clippers owner on the none-too-subtle article by columnist Bomani Jones of ESPN entitled “Sterling’s Racism Should Be News.” After the settlement with the Justice Department and the article by Jones, nothing happened. In fact, Sterling had been awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP in 2009 and they were about to give him another lifetime award (much to Jon Stewart’s amusement).

So, it was with great surprise that this History Rhymer learned on April 29th that Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA), had fined Donald Sterling $2.5 million and banning him for life from any connections to the NBA for his comments which he labeled “deeply offensive and harmful.” In addition, he urged the NBA Board of Governors to force Sterling to sell the Clippers. The move, which has earned Silver and the NBA much praise, is unprecedented in its severity and scope. This had followed a weekend of general condemnation and a sudden abandonment of the Clippers by important sponsors like CarMax, Virgin America, and Sprint, and a suspension of sponsorship by Kia and State Farm (although State Farm was quick to note that it had not suspended ties with Clippers star Chris Paul). Such a sudden groundswell of opposition after years of apathy towards Sterling’s actions caught many including the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee by surprise (see their April 29th editorial “Only Surprise in Sterling Spewing Is the Swift Global Reaction”). Clearly something had changed in the few days since the TMZ story had been released. To answer the question of what had changed, we will now look at examples from the past of owners of sports teams in an effort to use the past to see the present in a wider perspective.

When comparing the current situation of Donald Sterling’s racism and the outrage expressed by many Americans and by the leadership of the NBA, modern commentators are easily drawn to the example of the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott. After all, was she not well known for her proclivity for offensive statements against working women, Jews, African-Americans, homosexuals, etc? Yes, she was (click here for examples). Was she not forced to sell the team by Major League Baseball after she said in an May 5, 1996 interview with ESPN that “everybody knows [Hitler] was good at the beginning, but he just went too far” (archive.adl.org). Yes, she was. However, this blog will not use her case as the rhyming event for two important reasons. First, Marge Schott was a woman. This opens up all sorts of questions about whether baseball felt free to remove a disagreeable woman at that time than they would have if Marge had instead been a man named Mark Schott. Second, we will not discuss her case because she is the extreme example of what Ta-Nehisi Coates referred to as “oafish racism” in his May 1, 2014 article in The Atlantic entitled “This Town Needs a Better Racist.” By his definition, an “oafish” racist “makes white people feel bad.” The opposite of this is what Coates calls “elegant racist” who “knows how to injure non-white people while never summoning the specter of white guilt” (theatlantic.com). In other words, the elegant racist knows how to use the worries and doubts of his/her time to gain support for their racist views and actions. Of course, this explanation of “elegant racism” runs the risk of falling into the trap of “presentism” that we have discussed in an earlier History Rhyme. However, in this case I am willing to take that risk because regardless of when someone lived, opposing someone simply because of his/her race is unequivocally racism.

To find a good (but not perfect) example of an “elegant racist” who knew how to use the sentiments and worries of the time to foster racist policies in the world or sports, we will now turn our attention to the man who owned the Washington Redskins from 1932 to 1969 – George Preston Marshall. Marshall was an astute businessman and showman who had turned the unprofitable Boston Braves football team in the unstable early years of the NFL into one of the economic cornerstones of the league. He was an innovator who helped shaped the game that is so popular today. He suggested the player draft (which now draws higher ratings that the NBA playoffs), called for the splitting of the league into two divisions with a championship game, moved the goal posts to encourage scoring, helped change the rules to allow passing at any spot behind the line of scrimmage, and crafted the rules that resulted in a tapered ball that helped to facilitate passing. These innovations are the main reason why Marshall was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. However, there was no denying that Marshall was also a racist owner that refused to have any black players on his team. He had a variety of stated reasons for this policy. Some of his arguments against integration were based on his idea of fairness such as when he stated that “we’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites” (espn.go.com). He also argued against integration on the grounds that it would not be safe for them because “white players, especially those from the South, would go to extremes to physically disable them” (nybooks.com). He could also argue that the fans of the team would not want to watch black players. After all, Washington was the most “southern” town in the NFL until the creation of the Dallas Cowboys in 1960. A sign of this anti-integration sentiment can be seen in the deliciously ironic signs that were displayed in a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1961 outside of the new D. C. Stadium (subsequently renamed Robert F. Kennedy Stadium) that read “Keep Redskins White!” However, the most important and most convincing argument used at that time had to do with money. The Redskins were the league’s “southern” team in what had been in the 1930s and 40s a very ardently segregationist Washington DC. Marshall could convincingly argue that he risked financial ruin for not only his team but also his broadcasting empire if he used black players. White fans would stay away as would the advertisers who paid for the broadcasting of team games.

Although Marshall may have felt himself to be reflecting the views of his team’s fans and his community, not all agreed. During much of the latter half of the 1950s, the woeful state of the all-white Redskins (which did not have a winning season from 1956 to 1961) made them an object of scorn of local sports reporters like Shirley Povich (father of Maury Povich and future father-in-law of Connie Chung) of the Washington Post who once mockingly noted in a report of a loss to the Cleveland Browns that “Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated the end zone three times yesterday” and at another time noted that the team colors for the Redskins were “burgundy, gold and Caucasian” (washingtonpost.com). Another source of opposition in the Washington area was the activist elements of the black community which at times boycotted Redskins games in conjunction with the NAACP and CORE – all to no avail. In the end, it took another financial issue, the unavailability of the new DC stadium to segregated teams, to force Marshall to relent from his segregationist policy. This occurred because the new DC stadium was built on land that was under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. President John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall, strongly opposed segregation and saw the threat of being unable to use the new stadium as the weapon that was needed to integrate the team. Although Marshall fought against Federal pressure throughout the 1961 season, he finally relented and agreed to draft black players in 1962. That year, the first black to be signed to the team was fullback Ron Hatcher. In a final sign that Marshall was not a man who had changed his views, he refused to pose with Hatcher for photographs because he did not wish to “exploit” the situation (washingtonian.com).

Now that we have looked at our two rhyming events, we can try to determine if the earlier event really helps us to understand the latter event. After all, both are examples of pressure being applied to a racist sports team owner to force the team to change either its policies or its leadership. However, upon closer examination the reason for these changes are not that similar. In the case Donald Sterling, the suddenness of public outcry was much more noteworthy and influential than any public opposition faced by George Marshall. In fact, the public outcry (especially from the black community) was irrelevant to Marshall and perhaps even helped him with the white, Southern fans that he claimed to represent. Instead, the reason why Marshall caved and the Redskins were integrated had to do with government pressure in the form of a threat of eviction from the new stadium. In an interesting twist of history, it is starting to appear that the real rhyming event for the integration of the Washington Redskins may be in the growing call for current owner, Daniel Snyder, to stop calling his team what many consider to be an offensive slur against Native Americans. Up until recently, there had been several examples of litigation and protests by various Native American groups. There had also been threats by government officials to punish the team if the name was not changed – not unlike the threats Udall used against Marshall in 1961 (cnn.com). Especially interesting for our discussion is that NBA Commissioner Alan Silver’s strong response to Donald Sterling is being held up by some such as Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (in a May 7, 2014 interview with Time magazine) as a model for how the NFL should deal with Snyder’s intransigence on the naming issue.

So, where does that leave us with the case of Donald Sterling? Is the past not useful in understanding the suddenness of the response against the racism of the owner of the Clippers? Actually it is but not as a “history rhyme.” It is more as a historical anti-rhyme or as a sign that some things have considerably changed since the early 1960s. Specifically there has been a pronounced change in the economic power of the African-American community. In the case of George Marshall’s refusal to integrate the Redskins, there had been attempts by the black community to boycott the team, these had been ineffectual because Marshall viewed white Southerners as his primary audience and he asserted that they did not want integration. Contrast that to the modern NBA which according to a Nielsen survey of the league’s demographics shows that 45% of its audience is African-American (theatlantic.com). Also of importance is that the buying power of African-Americans has risen sharply since 1990 from $316.3 billion to $1,037.7 billion in 2012. Undoubtedly of additional special interest to the NBA is the fact that there are significant African-American economic power bases in the most populated states – most of which have at least one NBA team. Although the companies that abandoned or suspended relations with the Clippers (most notably State Farm which did not drop Chris Paul as their spokesperson for their “Born To Assist” campaign) would be unlikely to say so publicly, they must be aware of the conclusions of the report “Black Buying Power Continues To Rise” on the website ReachingBlackConsumers.com (reachingblackconsumers.com) that “as African Americans’ share of the nation’s total buying power expands, business-to-consumer firms can be expected to devote more resources towards developing and marketing products that meet the needs and match the preference of black consumers.” Was the economics of outrage really what brought down Donald Sterling? Will this power continue to grow as the economic power of African-Americans grows? Time will tell and we will be there to do the telling.

 

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

Green & Gold

Colorado

In our monthly appraisal of the ways current and past events can “rhyme” with each other, we often begin by presenting the meanings of a word or two that set a tone for those events. This month, the term most appropriate to our discussions is “rush” – both because it conveys the emotional and enthusiastic aspects of our rhyming events and because it is in the generally accepted title applied to those events. According to Merriam-Webster, the term “rush” has several meanings. For our discussions, we will focus on the action aspect of the term where “rush” can mean “to do something too quickly and often with little thought, attention, or care” (merriam-webster.com). The reason for devoting an essay to this word is its growing prominence in the popular lexicon in connection to the recent legalization of recreational marijuana usage in Colorado – the so called “green rush” – which is launching American history, politics, laws, and societal views on the Reaganesque “war on drugs” in new and possibly unexpected directions. Of course, the use of such a phrase is a tip of the hat and a cultural shorthand of sorts to the “rush” that comes to mind for most Americans – the California “gold rush” of the mid nineteenth century – which dramatically thrust a remote far western part of North America to national prominence in the still growing United States of America. Our mission this month will be to determine if society’s attempt at creating its own History Rhyme is merited and what we might be able to predict of our future by looking at this part of our past. As with the case of many of our previous rhymes, we shall begin with the events of today and then use the events of the past to help us to have a wider context and possible outcomes for our present times.

On the first day of 2014, a remarkable change occurred in the social and legal history of the United States. It was on that date that the sale, possession and consumption of set amounts of marijuana became legal in the state of Colorado (see note 1). Back in November 2012, Coloradans had voted on whether to amend their state constitution to include a series of statements that are summarized in the following words: “In the interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes, and individual freedom, the people of the State of Colorado find and declare that the use of marijuana should be legal for persons twenty-one years of age or older and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol” (see note 2). Of the over 2.5 million Coloradans who voted on the amendment, just over 55% accepted the amendment. This victory for the proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana was not totally unexpected. The sale of medicinal marijuana has been allowed in Colorado since 2000 so by 2014 the sight of shops with a green cross (the sign for medicinal marijuana dispensaries) was not new or shocking. Yet, no-one could be certain of what would happen when 2013 became 2014. After all, it was still a Federal crime to possess marijuana. It was also a crime in all the states surrounding Colorado.

Prior to the beginning of 2014, national attention started to actively shift towards Colorado and the great social drama that was about to begin. At this early stage, the best way to try to anticipate how the legalization of recreational marijuana would look was to examine how the medicinal use industry had developed since 2000. An example of this was on December 22, 2013, when Steve Kroft of the iconic television news program 60 Minutes presented “Rocky Mountain High.” In that report, Kroft presented many of the themes we will examine – the tremendous enthusiasm that some had for the legal use of pot, the vast impact that the pot industry had directly and indirectly on the Colorado economy, and the continued uneasiness felt in Colorado about how the Federal government might decide to respond to such a flagrant disregard of the marijuana front of the “war on drugs.” However, a hint of what the local media thought might come and how much interest there would be was included with a little detail about a new position had been added to the Denver Post staff – marijuana critic. Yet, all of this was still speculation while the calendar read 2013 (cbsnews.com).

When the calendar changed to 2014, a phenomenon began that has had a remarkable impact on how Americans are looking at the issue of legalization of marijuana, how the various states are considering possible legalization and how the Federal government is considering such an undermining of its authority on drug legality issues. The first concrete evidence that the “green rush” was going to be strong and might be lasting could be seen from the videos and images broadcast across the country on January showing of long lines of enthusiastic men and women who endured hours in the cold for the chance to legally purchase marijuana for the first time. A January 3rd report by NBC’s Denver affiliate (KUSA) noted that first day sales in Colorado had been over $1 million dollars and that demand had been so high that inflation in the cost of pot was already apparent with high-quality marijuana that sold for $25 in the last days of 2013 now selling for $75 (rawstory.com). By the end of the month, other sources would report that the state of Colorado had experienced $14 million worth of pot-related sales and that the state took in $3.5 million in tax revenue(denver.cbslocal.com).

From that first day in 2014 to the time of this post (late April 2014), the American public has been barraged with a large number and variety of stories on all aspects of what is happening in the Centennial state. The impact that the “green rush” was having on the Colorado economy outside the points of sale was chronicled in a January 22nd article on Slate entitled “Need Room To Grow?” (which was part of a larger series of articles collectively called “Altered State: Inside Colorado’s Marijuana Economy”). In that report, Sam Kamin and Joel Warner looked at the significant but less sexy aspects of the booming pot economy – commercial real estate sales, investments in garden product stories by risk-adverse investors, and all the other items and services that are needed by those who were actually growing and selling marijuana. Of special interest for us is a comment by Ean Seeb, co-founder of a marijuana consulting company, when he compared the events in Colorado to the California gold rush. “For every chunk of gold, you needed picks and shovels, a pan and a sifter, and the same thing applies to cannabis. For every gram of marijuana, you need a bag, labels, receipts, exit packaging, point-of-sale, a way to pay for it, staff, uniforms, a payroll company, insurance, and so on” (slate.com).

The impact that the “green rush” has had on the employment rate was demonstrated in a March 14 report on CBS’s Denver affiliate (KCNC) on the “OpenVAPE Cannabis Job Fare” where we see hundreds of applicants (including a man they interviewed who had recently moved to Colorado for the new employment opportunities) who waited for hours in lines that stretched for several blocks to get in on what was referred as the state’s “budding” industry. While many of these jobs were retail in nature (“budtenders”), there were also openings for varied positions as graphic designer, accountant, and IT director. The high-tech aspect of selling marijuana is profiled in an April 14th article in the Slate entitled “Biometric Marijuana Vending Machine Unveiled In Colorado” (slate.com). The growing and lucrative field of pot-friendly vacations was examined in an April 20th report in the Denver Post. In that article, which also talks about the pot-focused “420 Festival” in Denver, a telling quote on the scope of the economic boon in Colorado comes from J. J. Walker who owns “My 420 Tours.” “Besides the DNC [Democratic National Convention in 2008], I can’t picture anything bigger that people have really all come together for… It’s going to be massive… The amount of money coming into town this weekend is astronomical” (denver.cbslocal.com).

In addition to all the positive reports on enthusiastic sellers and partakers of the newly legalized commodity, there were also some stories that cast a shadow over the party going on in Colorado. In a February 9th posting on the Washington Post blog “The Volokh Conspiracy,” by Ilya Somin noted that in Gonzales v. Raich (2005) “the [United States] Supreme Court ruled that Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce allows it to ban the possession of marijuana even in cases where the marijuana in question has never crossed state lines or been sold in a market anywhere.” Pressure to use this power does not seem likely at the moment but the future may change that. The pressures may come from the international community (washingtonpost.com).An example of this is a March 4 report from BBC News entitled “UN Body Criticizes US States’ Cannabis Legislation” where the president of the International Narcotics Control Board notes that the events we are chronicling in Colorado “contravene the provisions of the drug control conventions, which limit the use of cannabis to medial and scientific use only” and “urges the government of the United States to ensure that the treaties are fully implemented on the entirely of its territory” (bbc.com). A final concern is what will happen after the 2016 election when a Republican may once again inhabit the White House. Although a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press does show increasing support in all areas for legalization, those numbers are far lower for conservative Republicans than any other group (people-press.org). The worries over this unknown future and the impact it might have on issues such as the $40 million in pot tax revenue Colorado is allocating to school building projects can be seen in a comment from Mary Wickersham, a former board member of the state-run Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program the director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the University of Colorado Denver, who says “Obama is going to be out of office in a couple of years… What is going to happen with this revenue?” (denverpost.com).

While all of the articles and reports convey the excitement, dramatic changes and anxiety that have characterized the developments surrounding the legalization of recreational marijuana, they do not really help us to understand the possible long-term picture of the “green rush.” If we simply look at these first four months in 2014, it would be easy to assume all will go as smoothly for Coloradans as it has so far and that the excitement and opportunities will continue to multiply. While this may end up being the story we tell years from now, it is also possible that it may just be a passing craze. What is needed is a wider historical perspective and some comparisons to past events. There are probably no past events that are sufficiently close to the events in Colorado. It is tempting to look at the end of prohibition in America in the 1930s but that concerns a social act (the drinking of alcohol) which has been generally permitted since the dawn of recorded history. No, we need something that was rapid in development (in decades instead of millennia) and radical in its changes to society. Fortunately, American popular culture has already decided that the California “gold rush” will be our framework on which to base our analysis. So, without further ado, we will move to our rhyming event of the month – the California gold rush of the middle and late 19th century – to determine how prescient American popular culture might be. Anyone care to place any bets on that one?

The tale of the California gold rush is one of the few event that every summary of highlights of American history that every school child learns at an early age (see note 3 for a list of sources used for general information and totals in this section). It commonly begins with a rustic image of men building a mill for Captain John Sutter on the American River (Hollywood could not have picked a better river name for this story) when someone notices something very shiny in the water. There is great excitement as they run off to tell everyone “there’s gold in them thar hills” (or something quaint like that). Soon people from all over the world are coming to make their fortune panning for gold. In essence, this generalized and sanitized version of the gold rush is not too far from the basic elements of what happened. On January 24, 1848, James Marshall found a piece of gold glistening in the river and he showed it to John Sutter who was not excited about the news since he wanted to create an agricultural empire in the region. Unsurprisingly, the news did spread quickly. By March 12th, news had reached Sacramento. By March 15th, a notice of the discovery was printed in a San Francisco newspaper, The Californian. By July, rumors of a huge gold find were making their way to the east. By August 8th, a newspaper in St. Louis was reporting that gold was “being collected at random and without any trouble” and by August 19th, the most prominent newspaper in the United States, The New York Herald, reported that there was a gold rush in California. Finally all skepticism was removed when President James K. Polk included in his final address to Congress on December 5th that “the accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service” (full text of speech at dmwv.org). This was especially good news for the United States since it has just acquired California (unaware of the events along the American River) a short time after gold was discovered through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgowith vanquished Mexico on February 2nd, 1848. With this confirmation and the news of a gold rush, reports started appearing about people abandoning homes, jobs and family in a desperate rush to get to California to get their share of the “mother lode.” The first of these would arrive in the rapidly expanding port of San Francisco in 1849 and many of the crews of the ships bringing them there abandoned their vessels and headed for the hills.

The events of the first few years of the gold rush tell the tale of that that kind of enthusiasm can do to a country (both good and bad). In terms of population, the non-Native American total swelled from under 20,000 in 1848 to over 560,000 by 1870. In terms of wealth creation, gold production went from $10 million in 1848 to $80 million worth of gold in 1852 (the peak year). In terms of infrastructure, cities like San Francisco were quickly developed (parts of which was formed of wood from the abandoned ships), a transportation network to the east coast of the United States was developed though new steam ship lines and a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, and a large scale agricultural industry developed in the non-mining areas to support the growing population. In part because of these listed reasons, California was allowed quick entry into the United States as the 31st state in 1850. However, all was not completely rosy. An especially interesting description of the ills of the time period can be found in the recollections of Luzena Stanley Wilson, a gold rush entrepreneur, and the annotations that accompany her remembrances. From this source, we learn that: the Native American population was decimated by disease and mistreatment; non-white immigrants suffered great discrimination; many recent immigrants died from disease along the way or within months of arrival; there were over one thousand murders in San Francisco during the early 1850s but only one conviction; the military government was incapable to keeping order so local merchants formed vigilante committees and “popular courts”; there were approximately 500 bars in San Francisco and 1000 gambling houses; San Francisco burned down six times during a period of 18 months during the early days of the gold rush; price gouging on commodities were rampant and real estate values skyrocketed; and that by the mid-1850s the lone miner panning for gold had been replaced by corporate operations that dammed rivers, dug deep mine shafts and used strong hydraulic pumps to blast mountainsides in the hope of exposing the last ounces of gold. A modern reader would not be surprised to read that a high price was paid by the environment price to pay from the way mining evolved over time (digitalhistory.uh.edu). According to a report first published in 1997 by Pratap Chatterjee in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, it is estimated that over 12 billion tons of debris from mining operations ended up in the local rivers and that elevated acidity and mercury levels can still be found in those same rivers over well over a century after the gold rush ended (foundsf.org). It was not until 1884 with the case of Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company that widespread hydraulic techniques were discontinues in the area.

Now that we have a quick summary of the events of the two rushes, can we see these two as rhyming events? In some ways, these two events do fit our model for a rhyme – a dramatic increase in interest in a region, enthusiastic people flocking to the area to participate in the “rush” (albeit in different ways now than then), and an influx of money for the ancillary and supportive industries for the main aspects of these rushes. However, there are fundamental difference that make the gold and green rushes inadequate rhyming events. Most significantly, the gold rush dealt with a finite commodity and eventually either ran out in areas or became excessively costly (both in terms of money and ecological damage) for the rush to continue. Also, a significant difference is that the extraction of gold was not an illegal act in the rest of the United States and thus did not face the danger that it could come to a crashing halt at any moment. These differences prevent the gold rush from being used as a possible predictor of the eventual fate of the green rush. So much for popular culture and media being good creators of history rhymes. Instead, another event – the legalization of gambling in the United States and Canada – is a better potential predictor for what might happen with the green rush. Just like legalization of recreational marijuana, the legalization of gambling has been one of gradual acceptance that has taken gambling from a social evil to a miracle cure that economically challenged communities like little Jefferson, Iowa (population 4,345 as of 2010) covet in the hope of revitalizing their towns. In Jefferson, the argument presented was that the proposed casino will have 572,000 annual visitors and will create 275 jobs in the depressed region (carrollspaper.com). If legalized pot could gain a foothold, it is possible that it could see rapid expansion like Canada found with gambling which went from one casino in 1989 to 76 in 2003 (problemgambling.ca).Will this kind of growth and acceptance be the fate of legalized marijuana? If acceptance of marijuana continues to rise as it has in the last few years (as shown in a 2013 Pew study mentioned earlier), people continue to find ways to make significant amounts of money in the industry, and the Federal government continues look the other way or legalizes its use as suggested by retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in a late-April interview with National Public Radio (npr.org), then it is possible that someday all Americans might be experiencing their own versions of a mini “green rush.” Time will tell and people like you and me will be there to analyze and attempt to understand what happens so that we can help others do the same.

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NOTE 1: It also became legal in Washington but sales in that state, which were not set to begin until later in 2014, are not discussed in this essay.

NOTE 2: The complete text of Colorado Amendment 64 is available at fcgov.com.

NOTE 3: Below are the list of sources used for general information and statistics on the California Gold Rush

– “The California Gold Rush and the Controversy over the State Constitution” (users.humboldt.edu)

– “The California Gold Country: Highway 49 Revisited” (malakoff.com)

– “California Gold Rush – A detailed history of the California gold rush” (bilaras.hubpages.com)

– “The California Gold Rush: Luzena Stanley Wilson’s Memoirs” (digitalhistory.uh.edu)

 

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

Solid South

Southern-US-Map

The modus operandi of this blog is to look at history as if it were a novel or a long verse poem. In those forms, the message being presented cannot be fully understood unless read as a whole. The same is true of history. Taken one line or even one paragraph at a time, the events of today may seem to say one thing but say something quite different in the fullness of time. Taking this concept even further, the comparison of history to the written word allows us to use concepts of grammar and syntax to obtain a better understanding of the intersection of current and past events. It also allows us to use the full power of similes and metaphors to use concepts from different “genres” of human understanding to explain concepts that we see in our rhymes. For example, during my times as a graduate student at the University of Kansas, it was very popular to use medical terms such as “ossify” – to turn into bone – to describe how the Soviet Union became less and less adaptable over time. For today’s History Rhyme, we will combine these useful tools to better explain the seemingly drastic shifts that occurred in the politics of the American South in the last fifty years. To describe the change, we will begin by using the wonderful term “contronym.” Later, to attempt to explain the changes we discover, we will borrow from the concept and terminology of “plate tectonics.”

According to Dictionary.com, a contronym is “any word that can be its own antonym.” Examples of this are cleave, sanction, and (my personal favorite) consult. In a narrow context, it is sometimes extremely difficult to have a true understanding of what these words mean in a sentence. When you read “he consulted her,” it is impossible with current usage of the term to know who the person seeking knowledge is. When news stories mention a sanction in regards to the events in Crimea, it could be support or condemnation. The topic of today’s rhyme is “the Solid South” which is often used to describe the generally monolithic nature of politics in the American South. This concept is a contronym because the predominant party in power has changed over time. If you ask someone in their 20s or 30s which party controls the South, they will reply “Republican” and they would be essentially correct. If you ask them if Democrats have ever been able to have power in that part of the country, they probably would look at you strangely. To this audience, there is no hint that the term “Solid South” could be anything but a description of the type of unity that has given the South such a strong role in contemporary Republican politics and leadership. However, if you asked someone who remembers events before the 1980s, a different set of memories can be brought back with the roles reversed between the Republicans and Democrats. It is not until we look at the whole story (starting with the end of Reconstruction in the late 19th century) that we see contronymical nature of the term “Solid South.”

To understand the reasons why a modern viewer would see a “Solid South” as a synonym for Republican domination, an examination of various election results and a sprinkling of headlines from across the Internet are helpful. If we look at presidential elections since 1980 in the states that comprised the old Confederacy, the success of Democratic candidates (with the notable exception of Jimmy Carter’s and Bill Clinton’s “native son” factor) has been minimal at best.1 In some areas of the South, the dominance of the Republican Party can be seen even more strikingly. For example, in an April 2013 story on Alabama.com, we learn that the Alabama Democratic party is so bad off that it was nearly bankrupt because, according to Alabama Democratic state party chairman Mark Kennedy, “newly elected Republican Party super majority in late 2010 passed legislation that banned PAC-to-PAC transfers and in so doing effectively dried up new dollars coming into the party.”2 In fact, the Democratic Party which the Encyclopedia of Alabama refers to as “not particularly close-knit or active,”3 is such a non-factor that the Republican primary winner in Alabama’s first district was considered a lock for winning the November general election. That contest was between a mainline Republican, Bradley Byrne, who was strongly supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Dean Young who was supported by the Tea Party. A final sign of the dominance of some areas of the South by the GOP can been seen in a March 6, 2014 tweet by Washington Post reporter Reid Wilson (@PostReid) that “not a single voter cast a ballot for a Dem Gov candidate in 21 Texas counties.” While there are other areas of the South that are more favorable to the Democrats and some areas that are becoming decidedly “purple” (a combination of red and blue), there is still enough Republican domination in the region to make the term “Solid South” still valid in our quick news and talk radio world.

While the “solidity” of the South for the GOP in modern times may not be absolutely beyond questioning, the same cannot be said of the original version of the “Solid South.” In the presidential elections of 1880-1964, the overwhelming majority of electoral votes from the former Confederate states went to the Democratic nominee or to a Democratic regional candidate such as Strom Thurmond of the “Dixiecrats” in 1948.4 The level of Democratic dominance can been seen more clearly when you move in for a closer look. For example, in the state of South Carolina, there were only Democratic governors for a 100 year period after the end of Reconstruction in 1876. The list of Lieutenant Governors (several of which who ended up becoming governor) does not include a Republican until 1995. When you examine the list of Senators from South Carolina, there are no Republicans on that list from the end of Reconstruction until 1964 and that early date only occurred because Senator Strom Thurmond switched parties in protest against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you exclude Thurmond, it was not until 2003 that a Republican was elected to the Senate. Finally in the period between Reconstruction and the 1970s there were only four men elected to the U. S. House of Representatives who were not Democrats – none of which after 1897.5 That is not to say that all the Democrats were unified all the time. In South Carolina for examples, there were noteworthy feuds between those who supported and opposed the “New Deal” in the 1930s (e.g. Olin B. Johnson and “Cotton Ed” Smith) and the “War on Poverty” in the 1960s (e.g. Olin B. Johnson and Strom Thurmond). However, these divisions did not extend to the issue of segregation which was supported by all factions of the party in that period.

Now that we have established what the “Solid South” meant in its historical context and how it exists now, one final question begs asking – what happened? How could a region that was so monolithically Democratic up to the 1960s be significantly Republican now? The key to understanding this is to notice that while we have a shift in titles from one party to another, we do not have a shift in some of the general tendencies of those in power. The Democratic Party in the South during the previous period was physically and socially conservative, and deeply suspicious of the power of the bureaucracy in Washington (especially once the New Deal era began). The current Republican Party is most of those things. One major difference between the Democratic era of the South in the past and the Republican one now is the issue of segregation. Due to societal and legal changes since the 1960s, an overt policy of segregation is no longer possible. To explain such a change that on one level seems so drastic, but on the other does not; we will now borrow from the terminology and concepts of the field of plate tectonics. In that field there are three general types of interactions between plates – convergent boundaries, transform boundaries and divergent boundaries.

When considering “tectonic” activity, we think of the spectacularly violent events that occur in places like the Indian Ocean (e.g. the Christmas tsunami of 2004) or at the San Andreas Fault. It is tempting to think of the change in the South from a Democratic bastion to a Republican one in these terms. However, the wholesale movement of the power elites of the South from one side to another refutes this analogy. The transform boundary is also not a good metaphor. It exists when two plates slide by each other while going in different directions with limited interaction. That sounds more like the way that the United States and Canada have gone in different directions without too much strife (well at least since the War of 1812) than the American South. This leaves us with the divergent boundary. This model makes sense when you consider that the political parties of today are quite different than they were in the pre-WWII era, when parties were more of a “big tent” where vastly differing groups could co-exist. This meant on the Republican side you could have internationalists such as Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and isolationists such as Robert Taft of Ohio. On the Democratic side, you were able to have big-city machine politicians such as Edward Flynn or Jim Farley in the same party as rural segregationists such as Senators J. William Fulbright of Arkansas or Richard Russell of Georgia. However, after World War II ended, tensions that had been building with the growing Federal power created by the New Deal and the war led to rising tensions in the Democratic Party. The end result was a drifting away of the Southern Democrats into the Republican camp. Whether you view this as being due to a growing liberalism and big government focus of Northern Democrats or the Southern Democrats resentment at the end of legal segregation is a topic that may have to be addressed at another time. Regardless of the reason, the end result was that these two political plates in the old Democratic Party drifted apart and a new Southern and Republican continent was formed. How long that continent stays intact before it collides with issues such as the changing demographics of the Unites States population or in the growing push by some Republicans to purge those who are “insufficiently Republican”6 remains to be seen. We will know in the fullness of time. And so the story continues…

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1. The only other example of Democratic presidential success were Barack Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina, his 2012 victory in Virginia and his 2008 & 2012 victories in Florida. The latter examples way say more about the changing nature of Virginia and Florida politics than we will discuss at this time.

2. “The Alabama Democratic Party: Almost bankrupt and its Executive Board still doubles its travel budget” posted 4/11/13 by Charles J. Dean on Alabama.com (http://blog.al.com.wire/2013/04/the_alabama_democratic_party_a.html)

3. “Democratic Party in Alabama” (http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1561)

4. The exceptions were: Harding winning Tennessee in 1920; Hoover winning Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia in 1928; Eisenhower winning Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia in 1952; Eisenhower winning Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia in 1956; and Nixon winning Florida, Tennessee and Virginia in 1960.

5. The four were Edmund W. M. Mackey (1882-84), Robert Smalls (1882-87), Thomas E. Miller (1890-91) and George W. Murray (1893-97). Murray was the last African-American elected to US House from South Carolina until Tim Scott was in 2010.

6. “Insufficiently Republican? State GOP to consider challenges to 18 candidates for office” posted 2/17/14 by Brendan Kirby on Alabama.com (http://blog.al.com/wire/2014/02/insufficiently_republican_stat.html)

 

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

Ladies First

 

First Ladies

The raison d’être of the History Rhyme is the effort to help us learn more of our past and possibly helping us to find ways that the rhyming events of former years can help us to understand ourselves in our current day. In previous episodes, we have focused more on the fact that some people in our culture seem to have a very short-term perspective on the past. This leads to people talking about a movie as “the worst ever” or a winter like we are enduring as “the coldest ever.” As has been shown in earlier installments, such a limited understanding (or even awareness) of the past can make it difficult to understand the significance of current events or why we may react a certain way to such events. In its most innocuous form, we end up seeming provincial and foolish to our elders who have experienced a lot more than we have. At worst, it can lead us down paths that have been trod before without the instructive lessons learned by our fore-bearers. This is not to say that history repeats itself. It is to say that we might be able to learn from what was done before. However, this edition of History Rhyme is not about such a limited understanding of the past. Instead, we will look at the more refined and urbane cousin of historical arrogance, presentism, and how it can also shape our view of ourselves and our past.

Merriam-Webster defines presentism is “an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences.” According to Professor Lynn Hunt (former president of the American Historical Association) in her May 2002 essay “Against Presentism,”

Presentism, at its worst, encourages a kind of moral complacency and self-congratulation. Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find ourselves morally superior; the Greeks had slavery, even David Hume was a racist, and European women endorsed imperial ventures. Our forbears constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards. (www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/may-2002/against-presentism)

It is easy to assume that presentism is most often expressed by the young, the undereducated or the ill-informed. However, this is not always the case.

On Valentine’s Day, the results of a new survey was released by the Siena Research Institute ranking America’s First Ladies from best to worst on a variety of categories.[i] This is the fifth time in 32 years that the institute has released such a poll. The other surveys were in 1982, 1993, 2003 and 2008. This time the results are being released as a compliment to C-SPANs series First Ladies: Influence and Image. In a February 18, 2014 email to History Rhyme, a representative of the institute stated that the results of the poll were obtained by surveying 242 “scholars from colleges and universities across the country… experts in the field of First Ladies, Presidents, American History or to Political Science scholars that covered American studies.” Surely such a scholarly panel would be able to offer us a list that would be free of presentism and not swayed by popular perceptions. Perhaps not.

Before discussing some of the more interesting examples of presentism in this survey, a brief summary of the main findings are in order. The simplest way to do this is to examine the headlines that were released to the public:

“Eleanor Roosevelt Retains Top Spot as America’s Best First Lady”

“Michelle Obama Enters Study as 5th, Hillary Clinton Drops to 6th”

“Clinton See First Lady Most as Presidential Material”

“Laura Bush, Pat Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower, Bess Truman Could Have Done More in Office”

“Eleanor & FDR Top Power Couple”

“Mary Drags Lincolns Down in the Rankings”

(www.siena.edu/sri/firstladies)

There are several aspects of this survey that could be examined to demonstrate its presentism. At this time, we will limit our analysis to just two – one that shows the morally superior aspect of presentism that Professor Hunt mentions in her essay and another that shows the ways that modern popular culture may have affected the deliberations of the 242 scholars who participated in the survey.

In the survey results, there is a definite bias in favor of women who took on a stronger and more equal partnership role in their husbands’ presidencies. Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama are certainly prime examples of such partners. The converse of that praise is the assessment that Laura Bush, Pat Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower and Bess Truman “could have done more in office.” Even if you ignore the apparent bias shown when the women praised were all Democrats and all but one of those chastised were Republicans, the presentism of the assessments are hard to miss. Mamie Eisenhower and Bess Truman were well regarded in their roles as First Ladies when their husbands were in office and did not take active roles in policy or make public pronouncements on issues. For this they are dismissed from the highest rankings of the survey. Both of these women were raised in late 19th century Midwestern homes and reflected the beliefs and attitudes of their times. Eleanor Roosevelt, who is most highly praised by this survey, came from a privileged background and a well-known family (she was Theodore Roosevelt’s niece). She was expected from an early age to have a public presence. In addition, she had the advantage of being married to a man who greatly preferred to have her traveling the world as his “eyes and ears” than to having her nearby keeping tabs on his daily activities. As a side note, it is interesting that in such criticism the views of older stages of Feminism can be seen as opposed to newer feminists who acknowledge the different roles that women play in their lives and the value that they have towards the appreciation of the value of women.

The second and final aspect that we will examine is the way that popular culture has affected how certain First Ladies have been ranked in the current and previous surveys. The women that we will discuss are Mary Lincoln and Nancy Reagan. In the headlines for the survey, it is noted that “Mary Drags Lincolns Down in the Rankings.” The fact that Mary Lincoln has repeatedly scored quite poorly in the past surveys should not come as a surprise. The public perception of Mary was unfavorable during her lifetime and has only worsened since her death. The fact that she was ranked in the bottom five in their first four surveys (42nd in 1982, 37th in 1993, 36th in 2003 and 36th in 2008) is not remarkable.[ii] The thing that is remarkable is that in the most recent survey, Mary Lincoln is now only the 10th worst First Lady. Is it possible that the scholars were swayed by Sally Field’s “sympathetic” portrayal of Mrs. Lincoln in the recent movie Lincoln (2012)? Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute, said as much in a February 15, 2014 interview with the Christian Science Monitor when the poll was released.  (www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2014/0215/America-s-best-first-lady-Eleanor-Roosevelt-tops-the-list-again) A similar situation can be seen in the ratings of Nancy Reagan – a woman who was not well liked by many during her time as First Lady. When the first survey results were released in 1982, Mrs. Reagan was just above Ida McKinley (a woman, by the way, who had virtually no public role due to her debilitating epilepsy) in 39th place. Since that time Nancy has steadily climbed up the rankings until she is now listed at 15th. It seems quite likely that her distance from the spotlight has helped sap some of the venom that was expressed in earlier surveys.

In the end, any survey which looks to determine what was the “best” or the “worst” is really just an exercise in opinion. If you put together a different panel with different backgrounds you will end up with different results. Regardless of the results, such surveys can be useful because they draw attention to our history even if only in the slightest of ways. Perhaps they will spark debates and perhaps not. This specific survey might cause more people to examine the lives of those we have called “First Lady.” This History Rhymer sees nothing wrong with that; however, it is up to all of us to make sure that we see the biases that come from any opinions and take them into account when looking at the events of the past. We are all victims of our perceptions. We just need to know that about ourselves and try to see beyond them. As Isaac Asimov once noted, “your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”


[i] The survey ranked First Ladies on their value to country, integrity, leadership, White House steward, own woman, accomplishments, courage, public image & value to President.

[ii] In the 1982 survey, seven additional women were included, but have not been included since. Six of these women were the niece, sister or daughter of the President who was either unmarried or widowed. The seventh was the wife of William Henry Harrison who died one month into his term. For this reason, Mary Lincoln went from 42nd place in 1982 to 37th place in 1993 while remaining in last place.

 

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

Simply Murder

John Lennon

According to Merriam-Webster, a rhyme is “one of two or more words or phrases that end in the same sounds.” Rhyming (but not exact repetition) in history is the central concept of The History Rhyme. To understand and appreciate the “rhymes” that are presented here, an in-depth understanding of the events is not required and perhaps may even be detrimental (due to preconceived notions). What is essential is an understanding of the meanings of the main concepts that are being rhymed. What is a crisis? Who was a Progressive? What is a pardon? If you do not know those meanings in the context of the times being discussed, you may not catch the rhyme.

If one does not understand how words can be interpreted differently by various audiences, the ability to see events in a wider context may be lost too. In our rhyme analogy, if we think that we hear the words “hare” and “pair” we get a very different understanding of the story than if we hear “hair” and “pare.” In the case of history, such limitation often comes into mind when divisive issues such as political views, nationality, gender or religion come into play. Was Robert E. Lee a patriot or a traitor? Was Joseph Stalin a great leader or a monstrous butcher? Was Tomás de Torquemada a defender of the Catholic faith or a persecutor of innocent people? In all of these cases, it all depends on the perspective of the viewer and his or her willingness to consider other meanings. What is really interesting when studying history is that sometimes the answer is that both meanings can be true.

With the lengthy preamble out of the way, we come to the history rhyme question of the month – when is a murder an assassination and when is it simply murder? To answer this question, we will look at a few events in American history where people both well-known and forgotten were murdered and try to determine if those deaths were assassinations. According to the Oxford dictionary (I would not want you to think that I only use Merriam-Webster), to assassinate is to “murder (an important person) in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons.” We will examine a few situations in the paragraphs below to see which of the murders described are “assassinations” and which are “simply murder.” In the end, we will undoubtedly see that the answer depends in some cases a lot on the audience’s perspective.

The first murder that we will examine is that of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. This example is the easiest to declare an assassination. Kennedy was “an important person” who was “murdered” in a “surprise attack for political reasons.” The only real question that remains in some people’s minds is who was the assassin and why they did it? It does not really matter if the assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald or if others were involved. It does not matter if Oswald was working for the KGB, the Cubans, the Mafia, the CIA or even (as some extreme theories suggest) Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Kennedy was killed because he was the President of the United States and his death has a tremendous impact on the political world.

A second murder that we will examine is an extension of the first – the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. On the surface, it would be easy to say that the death of Oswald would be simply a murder, but that does not take into account some of the popular theories floating around the Internet. We could say that after Oswald was arrested in the hours following Kennedy’s assassination he did fit into a sub-category of “an important person” (of the infamous variety). We can more easily say that he was murdered “in a surprise attack” by Jack Ruby. The real crux of defining Oswald’s death is whether or not he was murdered “for political reasons.” If you believe in a wider conspiracy, then perhaps you might say that this was an “assassination” in order to shut him up before he talked. Even if I believed the theories floating around about Oswald and Ruby, I still would have a difficult time calling this murder an assassination. It stretches the limits of the definition we are using as a pivot point for this rhyme. Oswald’s importance was too brief for me to even consider that his death could be called an assassination.

A third murder that is sometimes called an assassination is that of John Lennon. On December 8, 1980 in New York, Lennon was shot outside his home by Mark David Chapman. While the generally accepted view of this event is that Chapman was insane, there are some who argue that the gunman had been hired by Yoko Ono, or Paul McCartney for personal or professional reasons. These theories do not fall into our discussion because there is no “surprise attack for political or religious reasons.” So, for most people the simple answer to whether John Lennon was assassinated would be “no.” However, if one believes the theories presented by Fenton Bresler in his 1989 book Who Killed John Lennon?*, then perhaps there might be a case for the “assassination” definition. He argues that Chapman had been brainwashed by the CIA or FBI to kill Lennon who was a magnet for leftist groups. If we were to agree with Bresler’s dubious theories, would this murder then be an assassination? The answer in such an extreme exercise in the suspension of reality is an extremely reluctant “I suppose so.” John Lennon was definitely an “important person” who was killed in a “surprise attack.” If the circumstantial evidence presented by Bresler is to be believed (e.g. Chapman was said by a New York police lieutenant to have looked “as if he could have been programmed” and the CIA had Lennon under surveillance), then there is a political reason for his killing. I will leave the final decision up to you.

The fourth murder that we will examine is that of Anton “Tony” Cermak who was shot in the lung on February 15, 1933 in Miami, Florida. At the time of the shooting (which would take his life on March 3, 1933), Cermak was the mayor of Chicago, a prominent member of the Democratic party and a powerful influence at the Democratic convention which had been held in his city the year before. He had sought to prevent Franklin D. Roosevelt from getting the nomination, but failed. He was shot by Giuseppe Zangara during an impromptu political speech from the back of an open car. Zangara told police that he shot because “I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” If we stopped at this point, the obvious verdict on whether or not this murder was an assassination would be “yes.” However, this was not the whole story. The important missing fact is who Mayor Cermak was standing next to who was actually giving the impromptu speech – then president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. Zangara’s target was not Cermak (although there were some theories at the time that disputed that point). The would-be assassin was simply too short to see clearly where he was aiming. After his first shot, his arm was deflected by a member of the crowd. So, instead of hitting Roosevelt he shot Cermak and four other people – including a woman who later died. While there are still articles on the Internet about the “assassination” of Anton Cermak, his death does not fit our full definition of that crime. Cermak was the target of those bullets no more than the poor woman who also died. Yet, nobody talks about Zangara assassinating two people. Was Tony Cermak assassinated?  Clearly the answer is “no” (as long as you don’t believe the conspiracy theorists) and that it was really more of a case of a series of unfortunate events that lands the mayor in this rhyme.

The final death we will example in our discussion of the point of when a murder becomes an assassination is the most obscure on the list – that of David Fulton Rice on February 28, 1929 in Centerville, Iowa. You may ask why I have chosen such an obscure death among the list of more well-known people. The simple answer is that Mr. Rice’s story caught my eye while looking through a fascinating website for political historians called “The Political Graveyard” (http://politicalgraveyard.com). I also chose it because it occurred in Centerville – the town where my mother was born and my grandparents lived. My grandfather was 20 years old at the time of Rice’s death and thus may have been aware of the murder. Unfortunately I was not thinking of these things while he was still alive in 1979. Nine-year-olds make such terrible historians. Anyway, why would this murder possibly be considered an assassination? First, Mr. Rice was a political figure in Centerville who had been elected to the Iowa state house of representatives for 1925 and was a member of several community organizations (Knights of Pythias, Freemasons, and American Legion). In the context of Appanoose County, Iowa, Representative Rice would most likely have been considered “an important person” and his death was a newsworthy event. Second, Mr. Rice was shot and killed by George Domyancich as Rice was leaving the Appanoose County courthouse. That certainly sounds like a “surprise attack” to me. The main tipping point is whether we can consider this murder to have been “for political or religious reasons.” According to The Political Graveyard, Domyancich was a “disgruntled law client” of his victim. On the surface, that would not seem like a political motivation. Yet, considering Rice’s seemingly prominent role in the community, more investigation will be required before we can be sure. Sounds like a trip to Centerville may be in my future to see if there might be more to the story than we now know. I will not go so far as to say there is more though. To do so would make me no better than those who throw around conspiracy theories so nonchalantly. So, for now, I will leave the verdict on this case as a “maybe.”

Looking at these varied murders and the circumstances, what can be said about the difference between a “murder” and an “assassination.” If we are to follow the Oxford definition used throughout this essay that to assassinate someone is to “murder (an important person) in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons” then the example of President John F. Kennedy is the only one we can say with certainty was an assassination. John Lennon and Lee Harvey Oswald were famous (or infamous) and their deaths were certainly a shock to the nation. However, it is only the conspiracy theorists that are pushing hard for the idea that these deaths were for political reasons. Tony Cermak was a known national political figure and his murder was sudden and shocking. However, since he was not believed to be the assassin’s target, it is not really what would be called an assassination. Finally David Fulton Rice was well-known in his community and having a prominent lawyer gunned down at the courthouse is certainly shocking, but we do not know if the motive of the gunman was political in origin. It may have been but we will have to wait and see on that one.

Regardless of the final verdict on whether any of these murders were actually assassinations, they are an interesting exercise in looking at the rhymes that weave their ways throughout the past. In this way, the death of a popular American president and a now-obscure politician from Centerville, Iowa can be discussed in the same breath. Are the two events similar? Not really. Yet, by looking at how someone might define their deaths they now are. That is why I enjoy history so much and why there will be many more rhymes to share in the year to come. Until next month…

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*Please note that I am merely presenting Fenton Bresler’s book in order to discuss our assassination definition. There are few who agree with Mr. Bresler’s main arguments and it is an interesting example of what can only be called scathing criticism in the professional reviews of these books. Publishers Weekly called it “an entirely circumstantial case without a shred of hard evidence” while the Library Journal said the book lacked “a jot of evidence to support this outlandish hypothesis.”

 

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

A Christmas Gift

Debs

As we come again to Christmas Eve, our thoughts turn towards tomorrow and all that Christmas will bring. Although gifts should not be the main focus of the day, it is a central part of the ceremony that many people will experience in their homes. According to Merriam-Webster, a gift is “something that is given to another person or to a group or organization.”  For the kid in us, this simple definition applies as when we visit family and friends to exchange gifts with each other in the hope of getting something “really good.” However, there is a more specific definition of gift that appeals to what Abraham Lincoln famously called “the better angels of our nature.” According to Dictionary.com a gift is “something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.” This definition is embodied in the noble way that not enough of us give as charity to those who are we know cannot every repay us equally. Examples of charity are helping at a food pantry or a homeless shelter. In all of these cases, the values of these gifts are somewhat dependent on the resources available to the gift-giver.

Nowhere is the need for great resources more apparent than when the gift is a pardon for past crimes or accusations of crimes or a commutation of a prison sentence. This type of gift, a pardon or commutation, takes much more power or influence than most of us will ever have. As seems appropriate for the season, these “gifts” have been given at Christmas Eve. A timely example of this is the giving of a posthumous Royal pardon today (12/24/2013) of British mathematician Alan Turing for the crime of “gross indecency” (i.e. homosexual acts). In this edition of the History Rhyme, we will look at two examples where American Presidents have exercises their power of pardon or commute sentences on Christmas Eve to see how these examples are noteworthy and what they say or even what they do not say about these powerful men.

Our first example of a Presidential Christmas Eve pardon occurred on 12/24/1992 when George H.W. Bush pardoned six men who had been who had been involved in the Iran-Contra Affair. The most well-known of the six was former Secretary of Defense, Caspar W. Weinberger. An interesting aspect of Bush’s pardon was that Weinberger had not yet been convicted of a crime. Instead, he was scheduled to stand trial on 1/5/1993 for lying to Congress. According to a Christmas Even story by David Johnston in the New York Times, the prosecution was going to focus their case “on Mr. Weinberger’s private notes that contain references to Mr. Bush’s endorsement of the secret shipments to Iran.” With the pardon, the case as well as an independent investigation of Iran-Contra by Lawrence Walsh ended.

Why did President Bush pardon his old associate? According Mr. Walsh, the answer was quite obvious. Although Bush was not a direct target of Walsh’s investigation, Walsh had been trying to obtain a diary that Bush had kept in 1986 that contained “highly relevant contemporaneous notes” on Iran-Contra but those efforts had been blocked by what Walsh called Bush’s “misconduct.” Walsh said that “in light of President Bush’s own misconduct, we are gravely concerned about his decision to pardon others who lied to Congress and obstructed official investigations” and that “the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.” Of course the President did not agree with the independent investigator’s assessment. According to a statement released along with the pardons, President Bush stated that the pardons were not part of a cover-up and asserted that “no impartial person has seriously suggested that my own role in this matter is legally questionable.”

Our second example of a Christmas Even Presidential pardon or commutation was when President Warren G. Harding commuted the sentence of American Socialist leader Eugene E. Debs on 12/24/1921. The reason Debs needed a pardon was that he had been imprisoned in 1919 for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 which outlawed speaking out against American involvement in the First World War. According to the terms of the law, Debs was guilty as charged for he did urge resistance to the military. So he, like Alan Turing, was in need of a intervention by those in power to be free (even if modern viewers might question the validity of the laws in question).

What is different from the Bush-Weinberger example was that neither of these men knew each other personally, worked with each other professionally or even shared the same political philosophy. To start with, Debs (still in prison at that time) and Harding (then a Republican Senator from Ohio) had been opponents in the 1920 Presidential election. Prior to that time, Debs had stated in 1919 that “from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet I am Bolshevik, and proud of it. Furthermore, Debs had stated in 1908 that “I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” Contrast these views to those of Warren Harding (R-OH) who was best known for saying “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; nor revolution, but restoration” and you can easily see that Harding had nothing to gain politically or personally from commuting Debs’ sentence.

So why did Harding let Debs out of prison? The simple answers according to the 12/24/21 White House statement about the commutation was that (1) “he was by no means as rabid and outspoken in his expressions as many others, and but for his prominence and the resulting far-reaching effect of his words, very probably might not have received the sentence he did,” and (2) “he is an old man, not strong physically.” So, despite Harding’s view that “he is a man of much personal charm and impressive personality, which qualifications make him a dangerous man calculated to mislead the unthinking and affording excuse for those with criminal intent,” Debs was set free and actually was greeted at the White House by President Harding who remarked to the Socialist leader “well, I’ve heard so damned much about you, Mr. Debs, that I am now glad to meet you personally.”

After examining these two examples of a Presidential Christmas Eve pardon what conclusions can we make other than that Warren Harding is more quote-worthy than George H.W. Bush? Are we to suggest that George H. W. Bush made poor choices while Warren Harding made good ones? From these two instances, it would be easy to think that way. Then again, these two events are arguably where we see Bush at his worst while we see Harding at his best. From this brief examination of the two events by someone who is not familiar with history, it would be tempting to think that Harding must have been a president who has been viewed well by history, while the elder Bush has not.

Well, that is why the History Rhymer is here. The answer, my dear readers, is that the opposite view has been held by history. Warren Harding was well-liked during his time and did make some efforts to return the United States to “normalcy” during his time in office. Unfortunately, he was not very good at consistently picking members of his government that were honest or honorable. Harding was aware of this as shown by one of my favorite quotes from him “I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But it is my friends, my goddamned friends, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights!” After his death in 1923, numerous scandals emerged such as the notorious Teapot Dome scandal (Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall took bribes in exchange for low-cost drilling leases in Wyoming) and even a personal scandal where it was alleged that Harding fathered an illegitimate child. All of these helped contribute to the generally poor rating Harding has received from historians. On the other hand, the Bush administration was not scandal prone and has been viewed more favorably by history than he was in 1992 when he was defeated by Bill Clinton in his bid for re-election. According to a 2009 C-SPAN survey of presidential rankings, Bush is now ranked 18th while Harding is near the bottom at 38th.

Perhaps in the end there are no real conclusions to make other than the reasoning behind Christmas Eve pardons or commutations are not consistent. History at times can be aggravatingly unhelpful in making conclusions on two events or even a series of events. The temptation is to see links when they do not really exist or to make comparisons that may not be valid in a wider context. Sometimes the most we can gain from looking at history is the ability to say “well, that is interesting.” What’s wrong with that? Sometimes the fact that we found some event memorable is what helps us to keep it present in our minds so that we are ready to see true linkages when the time is right. Keep looking and learning in the year to come and we will have more to look at together.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The History Rhymer

 

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.

“The Will of the People”

TR

According to Merriam-Webster, a homophone is “a word that is pronounced like another word but is different in meaning, origin, or spelling.” A well know example are the words pair and pare. One has at its core the concept of bringing things together. The other cuts them apart. While this definition applies to the world of individual words, for the History Rhyme it can have a much wider and more interesting usage – one that can help us to see how differing groups at different periods of history can appear to say the same things, but instead have very different meanings for their words and origins for their ideas. The example that we will examine now concerns a power that many Americans have had for decades, but used seldom if ever (that is until recently) – the power to remove judges from office (judicial recall) at election time.

This History Rhymer, like most Americans who have been of voting age for a while, had gone through many elections paying little attention to the list of judges at the end of the ballot. Beside that series of names were boxes in which the voter could check “yes” if he/she wanted to keep that person in office or “no” if he/she did not. Depending on my mood, I might have voted “yes” or “no” for all of them, but most often I just skipped over that section. It seemed like a quaint, albeit pointless, part of the ballot that was essentially irrelevant to most people’s lives. All of that began to change in the past few years when conservative social groups discovered the power behind the judicial recall process.

The issue that caught many people’s attention stemmed from the efforts of the Iowa-based Family Council in 2010 to remove from the bench three members of the Iowa Supreme Court whose terms were expiring and thus whose recall votes were on the ballot. The reason why the Family Council and its leader Bob Vander Plaats were so adamant on removing these justices was because, on April 3, 2009, the court had unanimously ruled in Varnum v. Brien that a ban on same-sex marriages as unconstitutional. This effectively made same sex marriage legal in Iowa. Thanks to an outpouring of grass roots support and donations from across the nation, the three justices were voted out of office.

What is notable for this addition of the History Rhyme is not so much that a conservative Christian group used a seldom-noticed part of the ballot to show displeasure for the actions of the courts. Instead it is more due the words used to explain why the Family Council acted. A good example of this can be found in a December 2010 interview of Vander Plaats on the news show Iowa Press. In that interview, he stated that that he had “asked for the resignation of the other four. I think it’s the honorable thing to do. I think it’s the right thing to do. It respects the will of the people.” It is that last phrase, “the will of the people,” that will lead us on our trip to the past in order to understand where the idea behind the need for judicial recall votes originated and the interesting examples of “history homophones” this journey will show us.

If we were somehow able to transport some of the members of groups like the Family Council or the Tea Party back in time to March 20, 1912, and directed them to an evening at Carnegie Hall in New York, they would have attended a speech by former President Theodore Roosevelt entitled “The Right of the People to Rule.” Many of the themes in this speech would have sounded familiar and welcome to our modern observers.

Roosevelt gave this address to discuss the “great fundamental issue now before the Republican party and before our people” which was to answer the questions “are the American people fit to govern themselves, to rule themselves, to control themselves?” Roosevelt, in his usual emphatic style said that the answer was yes but that changes were needed for this to occur. Roosevelt called for changes to the legislatures and courts so that “the servants of the people will come more quickly to answer and obey, not the commands of the special interests, but those of the whole people.” The problem as he saw it was legislatures that “refuse to carry out the will of the people” and “obstinately refuse the will of the majority “ and courts that had on occasion been known to “reverse the political philosophy of the people.”

If our modern observers were to stop at this point with these few quotes from Roosevelt’s speech, it would be very easy for them to see the old Rough Rider as a forerunner to their own conservative and Christian crusades. After all, he was a Republican who was outrages by elected officials who were more attuned to the will of special interests than the people and of judges in certain states who were blocking legislation that represented what the majority wanted. Furthermore, if they were to jump ahead to late June 1912 to Roosevelt’s speech at the Republican convention in Chicago the members of the Family Council would undoubtedly have been excited by Roosevelt’s speech where he ended with the proclamation that:

“The victory shall be ours, and it shall be won as we have already won so many victories, by clean and honest fighting for the loftiest of causes. We fight in honorable fashion for the good of mankind, fearless for the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.”

As you probably realize from my discussion of “history homophones,” that assessment would be quite wrong.

Theodore Roosevelt may have been one of the most well-known and successful Republican presidents in American history, but if alive today he would undoubtedly have been called a “RINO” (Republican in name only). To be sure, Roosevelt would not have cared what our observers called him unless they called him a drunk in which case he might be tempted to take them to court as he did the editor of the Ishpheming Iron Ore in 1913. Roosevelt called himself a “progressive” and actually ran as the presidential candidate for the Progressive Party (better known now as the “Bull Moose” party) in the 1912 election after her was denied the Republican nomination by the leaders of the party. The party that Roosevelt embodied advocated many of the main progressive “checks and balances” that were indicative of the wider movement (which had adherents in both the Republican and Democratic parties) – primary elections, the direct election of United States Senators, use of the ballot initiative, recall of elected officials, voting rights for women, and the review of judges.

Roosevelt was somewhat uncertain about some of these governmental reforms (especially the review of judges) but was definitely a progressive and was interested more in the rights of the working people than the owners of businesses. This can be seen by his comments in the Carnegie Hall speech that:

“We are today suffering from the tyranny of minorities. It is a small minority that is grabbing our coal-deposits, our water-powers, and our harbor fronts. A small minority is battening on the sale of adulterated foods and drugs. It is a small minority that lies behind monopolies and trusts. It is a small minority that stands behind the present law of master and servant, the sweat-shops, and the whole calendar of social and industrial injustice.”

What was especially annoying to Roosevelt was how the conservative judges of the time were using common law (e.g. Hoxie v. New Haven Railroad in 1909) and the “due process” clause “as if it prohibited the whole people of the State from adopting methods of regulating the use of property so that human life, particularly the lives of the working men, shall be safer, freer, and happier.” This definitely does not sound like a speech you would find at a modern Tea Party rally. Instead, the ideas he advocated required more government growth instead of the shrinkage many on the right demand today.

As we come back into the present, what can we learn from this example of “history homophones?” First, we can see how reforms that seemed so important to the empowerment of the people by some but dangerously radical by others, can lose their sting and become little noticed and quaint tools of a bygone era.  That was definitely the case of the judicial review elections in Iowa for most of the 20th century. Second, we observe that when the political climate changes and some forgotten electoral powers are rediscovered, the tools are not always used by the same people who created them and often for vastly different causes. Third, we learn that while political movements come and go and the political spectrum may shift to the right or the left, many of the core ideas of the “will of the people” still remain – even if the meanings of such phrases have changed to fit the times.

Excerpts of Theodore Roosevelt’s March 20, 1912 speech “The Right of the People to Rule” can be found at http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-rights-of-the-people-to-rule/

 

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