28 January 2012

CIVIL WAR: THE SEQUEL? The Election Of 2012 (Part 6)

INTERLUDE: 1865 to 1975 (continued)

After WWII, defense spending consumed a significant majority of the federal budget. In 1957, at the most intense part of the cold war, 70 per cent of the national budget went for national defense. By the time of the Kennedy administration, defense still accounted for 60 percent of the federal budget.

The Johnson administration lowered defense spending to about 42 per cent at its outset. Despite fighting a war in Vietnam, Johnson steadily cut the defense budget to 40 per cent when he left office. The defense budget, as a percentage of the federal budget continued to drop steadily to the point that today, before any of the Obama cuts are considered, defense spending is under 20 per cent of the federal budget.

“Social spending” and redistribution of wealth became the new paradigm, and to protect his social programs, Johnson’s national defense policy shifted. The war in Vietnam was “managed” by the aptly named Secretary of Defense, Robert Strange McNamara, rather than won. Fighting a reactive, rather than a proactive war, Johnson’s strategy was to send additional troops only after the North Vietnamese had reinforced their troops. “Let’s get by” replaced overwhelming force as a national principle.

Early in the Six Day War, Israel conducted a sneak attack on USS Liberty. Liberty was steaming independently in international waters when Israeli torpedo boats and aircraft attacked her, killing 34 and wounding 170 of her crew. Johnson refused to allow the Sixth Fleet to retaliate or to even put a defensive combat air patrol over the ship. She was left on her own for nearly 24 hours, open to the sea from a torpedo hit and holed by more than 800 rounds of 30mm or greater armaments, until she could rejoin the Sixth Fleet.

When the ship’s captain, then-Commander William McGonagle, USN, was nominated for the Medal of Honor, Johnson approved, so long as the Israeli government did not object. The Israeli’s demanded only that the award ceremony be non-public and low key. Captain McMonagle received the Medal of Honor from the Secretary of the Navy at the Washington Navy Yard, rather from the President at the White House.

Next, in January 1968, the North Korean government attacked and captured USS Pueblo, killing one member of the crew. Pueblo was steaming independently in international waters. The remainder of the crew was captured and held as prisoners of war for 11 months. Other than issuing a letter of apology, which was immediately withdrawn after the crew’s release, Johnson did nothing. No attempt was made to capture or destroy the vessel, and it remains in the hands of the North Koreans.

Appeasement and talk became the order of the day.

At the same time, a new word appeared in the American lexicon: “entitlement.”

Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the mid-30s, the strong central government that was the result of the Civil War began to take on responsibilities that had heretofore been personal or religious. When savings were destroyed by the banking collapse of 1929, which was caused, in turn, by middle class entre into the stock market and unscrupulous offers by brokers of low-margin trading, the government stepped in to establish a forced savings plan for retirement amongst workers. Workers paid a tax into the Social Security program and were guaranteed certain benefits at age 65.

In 1965, the nose of the camel of socialized medicine was pushed under the tent by the Johnson administration. The Medicare program was instituted and, with a companion program, Medicaid, government became a major health care insurer. While workers paid for their future Medicare benefits by a new tax, Medicaid was funded entirely by taxpayers. The recipients received the benefit at no cost to themselves.

Johnson’s approach to his domestic program was to increase social spending through taxation and borrowing., Following Democratic Party practice, it received a catchy name, “The Great Society.” Two new federal bureaucracies were created: the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Transportation which federalized two functions that were previously supervised by the States. Nothing was to interfere with increased federalization of American life. The seeds planted in 1965 grew and bloomed—disastrously-- in the next 45 years.

24 January 2012

CIVIL WAR: THE SEQUEL? The Election Of 2012 (Part 5)

INTERLUDE: 1865 to 1975

At the end of the Civil War, the North was prosperous while the South was demolished. Lincoln’s assassination and the assumption of the presidency by the hapless Andrew Johnson foreclosed any hope of a peaceful restoration of the South into the Union.

The Radical Republicans took control of the Congress and, ignoring any attempt on the part of the President to carry out the promise of Lincoln’s second inaugural address, imposed a harsh peace on the South. To thwart any attempt by the President to implement a more lenient reconstruction, Congress sought to reduce the power of the Chief Executive. Johnson balked, and for the first time, an American President was impeached by the House of Representatives. Although the Senate failed to convict (by one vote), the power of the presidency was diminished until Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. It would be a hard thirty years for the former Confederacy.

As the American frontier closed in the 1890s, the United States began to look outward. When War with Spain broke out in 1898, the Nation was dragged, kicking and screaming into a new world of modern colonialism. Europe, mainly England and Spain, but also the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and France were established colonial powers. The Indian sub-continent and large parts of Africa were under the British umbrella. Parts of Africa, many of the Pacific islands, and many Caribbean islands were Spanish colonies. France, Germany, Belgium, and Portugal maintained colonies in Africa. The Netherlands, France and Britain had colonies in southeast Asia, and all of the European powers had divided China into spheres of military and economic influence.

After opening Japan to western commerce, America had again lapsed into isolationism, concerned only with Mexico and to a lesser extent, Cuba. She was late in coming to the party.

The Spanish-American War changed the United States, albeit slowly. At the conclusion of the short war, the United States acquired new lands, including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. At this point, manifest destiny was reborn as a belief in an American mission to promote and defend democracy throughout the world.

It was best described in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Published in the February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, the poem coincided with the beginning of the Philippine Insurrection and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. The “open door” policy in China followed, demanding for the United States the same rights as the colonial powers in their respective spheres of influence.

The Theodore Roosevelt administration backed, and probably engineered, an insurrection in the Colombian province of Panama and then promptly recognized the Republic of Panana. Soon, construction of an American canal across the Isthmus of Panama was underway.

When the United States finally entered WWI in 1917, Britain, France and Germany were already bled white from three years of fighting Napoleonic tactics against 20th Century weaponry. To his credit, Wilson resisted British and French demands that American troops be provided as replacements for their depleted ranks. Instead, Pershing was given full authority to deny such requests and to fight the American Expeditionary Force as a separate command.

At the end of the War, however, isolationist forces once again seized control and refused to ratify the League of Nations. Wilson suffered a stroke from which he never really recovered.

The Great Depression followed, and the election of 1932 installed Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the White House for the next 12 years. After the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and Hitler’s inexplicable declaration of war on the United States four days later, the Nation was hurtled into two wars for which it was woefully unprepared. On the other hand, the demand for war materiel finally ended the Great Depression.

Democratic Party rhetoric to the contrary, the “New Deal,” with its expansion of the federal bureaucracy and domestic social programs, did not end the Great Depression. While recovery began early in 1933, the American gross national product did not return to the 1929 level until the very late 1930s. The unemployment rate in 1940 was still 15%.

By 1936, there was some improvement in the economy. At that time, Roosevelt had signaled that the government would stimulate the economy by increasing the money supply or by reducing taxes, which also portended a rise in nominal interest rates. The positive expectations of such anticipated actions were dashed when Roosevelt abandoned that tack, and the economy once again went into recession, when those policies were rescinded. Additionally, increased federal control over banks in the Banking Act of 1935, which raised reserve requirements, and a corresponding reduction in the money supply, helped to thwart the recovery. In fact, the nation actually slipped into another recession in 1937.

With the end of WWII, the first (and still only) use of atomic weapons in combat, the establishment of the United Nations, and the commencement of 45 years of “cold war,” the United States finally took on, in full, the role of international leadership. American foreign policy sought to promote and defend democracy throughout the world, looking to the vision of Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, Kennedy, and Reagan. Despite setbacks in Korea and Vietnam, the latter caused largely by a lack of political will on the part of the liberal establishment and an overabundance of partisan warfare in Congress, this new form of manifest destiny continued to have an influence on American political ideology until the Obama presidency.

Domestically, the United States came out of WWII as the strongest economy on earth. Saved from the physical damage of war, its manufacturing base easily transformed back into a commercial footing. The GI Bill, adopted in 1944, allowed men who only five years earlier could never have aspired to higher education, to get college educations. Guaranteed home loans allowed them to immediately purchase homes and provided employment in the construction trades for hundreds of thousands of recently discharged veterans. Road building hit a new boom that was reminiscent of road, canal and railroad building in the early 19th Century. Roads allowed establishment of suburbs. Gone were the neighborhood market, drug store, and church to which one could easily walk. Instead, the family automobile became a necessity—and Detroit flourished.

National confidence rose as President Kennedy pledged to send a man to the Moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the seventh decade of the 20th Century. The landing on the Moon on 20 July 1969 accomplished that goal.

But there was a growing undercurrent that also changed the Nation. The social state created by FDR's administration expanded. The descendants of the slaves freed by the Civil War began to demand the rights granted them by the 13th through 15th amendments, and earned by many of them on the battlefields of WWI, WWII, and Korea. Nominally free citizens, black Americans were actively denied the rights of citizenship in the South---and passively denied those same rights in the North.

While Northern liberals--the direct descendants of the New England abolitionists of the 1850s--talked of civil rights for all Americans, they were slow to support those rights. During the riots of the mid-60s, my Aunt, a native Nebraskan and transplanted Georgian, explained it thusly to my Mother: "In the South, we dislike the negro race, but find that we like individual negroes. "In the North, you like the negro race, but don't want to have anything to do with individual negroes."

The retributive post-Civil War policies of the radical Republicans, ensured that relations between blacks and whites would fester for decades. The Radical Republican agenda, on a smaller scale, foreshadowed the retribution of the European Allies on Germany after WWI. Just as the rise of Hitler can be attributed to British and French policies after WWI, so the violence of the American civil rights movement can be placed on the victorious North every bit as much as on the defeated South.

The assassination of Lincoln led to the harsh peace of 1865 and the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy led to the violence of 1965-1968.

19 January 2012

CIVIL WAR: THE SEQUEL? The Election Of 2012 (Part 4)

JAMES BUCHANAN (continued)

Not only was there internal unrest over slavery, but the economy took a downturn. The Panic of 1857 began in summer of that year. The causes of the Panic were several.

With the reduction of tariffs, over-consumption of goods from Europe caused a huge drain on the nation’s hard currency. Construction of railroads was so popular as an investment that it soon led to losses of investments when none of the competing railroads could turn a profit. Finally, as the west was opened, rampant land speculation took off, leading to losses of investment. Easy credit led to the failure of most state banks. The country was still on a hard currency standard, and banks often lent between five and ten dollars for each dollar of hard currency in their reserves. When a loan failed, loans were called and creditors sought payment in hard currency. Bank runs and failures were the norm.

The agricultural economy of the South was less severely affected than the manufacturing North. By the end of the Buchanan presidency in March 1861, the federal deficit was at $17 million, a debt that had been accumulated in less than 30 years since the Jackson Administration had actually paid off the national debt.

With the collapse of the Whigs, the newly-established Republican Party became the opposition. As the northern and southern wings of the Democratic party split over slavery, territorial expansion, and tariffs, the Republicans won a plurality in the House of Representatives in the election of 1858.

The Republicans quickly used their control of the House to block most of Buchanan's agenda, including his proposals for expansion of influence in Central America, and for the purchase of Cuba, which were seen as fertile grounds for slavery. Buchanan, in turn, vetoed several substantial pieces of Republican legislation. Relations between the White House and the Congress moved from frosty to openly hostile. Finally, in 1860, the Democratic Party exploded. At its national convention in 1860, the southern wing walked out and nominated Buchanan’s Vice President, John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, whom Buchanan supported. The northern wing turned from Buchanan and nominated, Stephen Douglas of Illinois.

Another faction made up of former Whigs and pro-Union southern Democrats established the Constitutional Union Party, nominating former Speaker of the House John Bell of Tennessee. Running on a platform of “recognizing no political principle other than the Constitution...the Union...and the Enforcement of the Laws,” Bell took no position on slavery.

Thus, facing not one but two “third parties, when the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, it was a near certainty that he would be elected.

Since 1857, Congress had ignored the requests of the Buchanan administration to strengthen the Army, allowing it to wither on the vine. While southern militias recruited and trained, the northerners chose to fund other more politically popular projects, and the Army was relegated to frontier duty and to civil engineering projects.

By early October, 1860. the Army's Commanding General, Winfield Scott, who had been commissioned a Brigadier General in 1812 and had captured Mexico City in the Mexican War, told Buchanan that Lincoln's election would likely cause at least seven states to secede. He recommended to Buchanan that large formations of federal troops and artillery be deployed to those states to protect federal property. The hollow Army, created by congressional dereliction, probably made this option nearly impossible.

Buchanan, however, distrusted Scott and ignored his recommendations, commencing a period of inaction that has made him a constant contender for the title of “worst President. After Lincoln's election, Buchanan did order Secretary of War Floyd to reinforce southern forts with such provisions, arms and men as were available; however, Floyd convinced him to revoke the order on the grounds that any such reinforcements and supplies would only fall into the hands of the South in the event of war.

Lincoln's victory enraged the South. State conventions were called across the deep South to consider the question of secession. The Country, north and south awaited news of how Buchanan would deal with the question in the four months between the election and Lincoln’s inauguration.

In his State of the Union message, Buchanan sent the most confusing of signals. He denied the legal right of states to secede. He also denied that the federal government could legally prevent secession. Offering no solutions to the crisis, he chose to blame the crisis solely on "intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States." He declared that if the North did not "repeal their unconstitutional and obnoxious enactments ... the injured [Southern]States, after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union."

[Historical Note: This last statement may sound ridiculous to 21st Century ears, but it should be remembered that many state constitutions then, and not a few still, recite that the States and the people reserve the right of armed insurrection in the event that a State or the federal government, becomes tyrannical. The only brake on such a right is that the people first use all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress. See, e.g., Bill of Rights to the Constitution of New Hampshire.]

Buchanan's only suggested solution to the crisis was "an explanatory amendment" reaffirming the constitutionality of slavery in the states, the fugitive slave laws, and popular sovereignty in the territories. Given that most of the Northern states would undoubtedly have refused to ratify such an amendment, this was probably just window dressing on Buchanan’s part.

The message was divisive rather than uniting. The North decried his refusal to condemn and take action to prevent secession. The South was outraged by the assertion that there was no right to secede.

South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860, followed by six other slave states in the deep South. By February 1861, they had formed the Confederate States of America. As Scott had surmised, the secessionist governments seized all U.S. property within their states. Scores of Army officers from the Southern States resigned their commissions and returned home to don the uniform of their States or of the Army of the Confederate States. Buchanan and his administration took no action to stop either the confiscation of government property or the mass resignations from the Army.

His cabinet advised Buchanan to request Congressional authority to call up militias and to assume emergency military powers. He actually made such a request on January 8, 1861, but Congress summarily rejected his requests.

On December 26, 1860, Major Robert Anderson, U.S. Army, moved his garrison located in Charleston, South Carolina to Fort Sumter, located in Charleston harbor. Southerners responded with a demand that Buchanan remove Anderson and his “foreign troops” from the South Carolina, while Northerners demanded support for the commander. On January 5, Buchanan sent civilian steamer, Star of the West, to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina state batteries opened fire on the ship, which returned to New York without attempting to moor and offload at Sumter. No warships or armed merchantmen were used in Buchanan's attempts to ease the garrison's situation.

Buchanan was again criticized by both sides. In the North, his failure to take action against the South Carolina artillery batteries was viewed as incredible, bordering on national cowardice or even treason. In the South, the attempt of a “foreign” nation to maintain and reinforce Fort Sumter enraged the State then in the glow of its “independence.”

Inexplicably, Buchanan made no further moves either to prepare for war or to avert it. My college American History professor once quoted a letter written by Buchanan at this stage; the President said “Mr. Lincoln will soon be President. It is up to him to resolve this.”

The history of the ensuing 150 years has all flowed from the events of the few years before 1860 and the Civil war that followed. Many of the issues remain the same. Civil rights for the sons and daughters of former slaves. The power of the central government over the lives and fortunes of the people. The privileges of citizenship and the issue of who shall become a citizen and by what process. The effects of divided government and political polarization.

Are there comparisons? Let us see.

16 January 2012

CIVIL WAR: THE SEQUEL? The Election Of 2012 (Part 3)

JAMES BUCHANAN President Buchanan, a Pennsylvanian, served from March 4, 1857 to March 4, 1861. Another "doughface", he battled with Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois for the control of the Democratic Party. As Buchanan assumed the presidency, the nation continued to boil.

At the outset of his presidency, in his inaugural address, he described the territorial expansion question as "happily, a matter of but little practical importance." He assumed that the Supreme Court was about to settle it "speedily and finally" in the near future and proclaimed that when the decision came he would "cheerfully submit, whatever this may be."

The Court spoke two days later, but, far from settling the question, it struck a spark near the fuse of an emotional and political powder magazine. The fuse burned throughout Buchanan’s term, exploding in its waning days. The Court's action may be the one thing for which the Buchanan presidency is best remembered: the decision in “the Dred Scott case.”

Dred Scott was a slave who, at the relevant 30 or so years, was owned by an Army doctor or his estate. As the doctor was transferred from post to post, he took his slave with him, from slave state to free state and back to slave state. The gist of Scott’s case was that, as soon as he was taken into a State whose laws prohibited slavery, he had become a free man. He sued in Missouri and won a verdict in his favor, inasmuch as Missouri precedent clearly established that the movement of a slave by his owner to a free state ended his involuntary servitude.

On appeal, however, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the trial court, overturning the precedents, and holding that by failing to sue for his freedom when he was in a free state, he could not, upon his return to Missouri, seek to overturn Missouri law which permitted slavery. The decision was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), first held that federal courts lacked jurisdiction in the matter, inasmuch as Scott, and all people of African descent for that matter, were not citizens of the United States. Under normal Supreme Court procedure, this should have been the end of the decision. Without “standing,” Scott’s case could not even be before the Court.

Quick lapse to lawyerese. Standard Supreme Court practice is to look for any non-Constitutional basis for deciding a case. If such a basis exists, the Court usually makes that the foundation for its decision and goes no further on the grounds that, having resolved the case, there is no need to go further. This is because the Court has always recognized that in holding the act of two other of the three co-equal branches of the government to be unconstitutional, it is treading on thin ice.

Thus, jurisdiction is one of the first nonconstitutional questions any court must determine. Having decided that it had no jurisdiction over the matter, the Court could have stopped right there. The decision would undoubtedly been unpopular, but it would have been less emotional. Chief Justice Taney, however, realized that the opponents of slavery would just look for another “test case.” He was looking for the magic bullet which would finally and completely settle the issue of slavery in the United States. As a result, he wandered into the dangerous territory of obiter dictum, taking five other Justices with him. [Obiter dictum (“said in passing”), is a remark or observation included in the body of the Court's opinion, but which does not form a necessary part of the court's decision and has no precedential value.]

Continuing, Taney’s majority opinion, for only the second time in the history of the Court, held an Act of Congress to be unconstitutional, concluding that the Missouri Compromise, and perhaps the Northwest Ordinance, were void because Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories, and that after States were admitted to the Union, they were free to make the decision as separate sovereigns. As if that were not enough, the Court also held that slaves were not citizens and that, inasmuch as slaves were property, they could not be taken from their owners without due process of law.

Every Justice wrote separately. Five also joined in the majority opinion and one concurred in the result. The seven were Taney, CJ and Wayne, Catron, Daniel, Campbell, Nelson and Grier, JJ. Taney was a Marylander, Wayne, a Georgian, Catron, a Tennesseean, Daniel, a Virginian, Campbell, an Alabaman, Nelson, a New Yorker, and Grier, a Pennsylvanian. The two dissenters were McLean, a New Jerseyian and Curtis, a Massachusettsman.

At least two were slave-owners (Taney and Catron) and it is likely that the other Southerners were as well (Wayne, Daniel, and Campbell). Two, McLean (1829) and Wayne (1835), were appointed, approved by the Senate, and seated on the Court in the space of three days from appointment to assumption of duty. One, Curtis, was a recess appointee, later confirmed, and three others, Nelson, Grier, and Campbell, were appointed only after two (Grier) or four (Nelson and Campbell) other candidates were blocked in the Senate by political opponents of the appointing presidents. Taney was appointed twice, first as an Associate Justice, which appointment was blocked in the Senate, and a year later as Chief Justice, at which time control of the Senate had changed and he was approved.

Later, at the behest of William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State-designate, Campbell was an intercessor in February-March 1861 between negotiators from the North and the upper South who tried, one last time, to prevent civil war. When war broke out, he resigned from the Court, went back home, and was appointed Assistant Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America.

So anxious was Buchanan for a legal, rather than a political, resolution of the slavery issue that shortly after his election in November 1860—four months prior to his inauguration--he wrote to Associate Justice Catron asking whether the case would be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court before his inauguration. It was his fervent hope that the decision would put the future of slavery beyond the realm of political debate. He later successfully pressured his fellow Pennsylvanian, Associate Justice Grier, to join the Southern majority in the Dred Scott decision, to prevent the appearance that the decision was made along sectional lines.

Republicans fueled speculation as to Buchanan's influence on the decision by publicizing that, just prior to administering the oath of office to Buchanan, Chief Justice Roger Taney had whispered in Buchanan's ear, giving him advance notice of the Court’s decision. A few moments later, in his inaugural address, Buchanan expressed his “hope” that the slavery question would "be speedily and finally settled" by the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, “Bleeding Kansas” was still bleeding. It became a powerful political weapon for the Republican Party.

During the Pierce administration, competing territorial governments—-pro-slavery in Lecompton and anti-slavery in Topeka—-were organized and adopted competing constitutions. In order to achieve statehood, the territory needed to submit to Washington a single state constitution adopted by all Kansans.

When Buchanan took office, he appointed Robert Walker as the territorial Governor with the specific assignment of reducing the divisiveness and ensuring a fair and full vote by all the people in forming a constitution. Walker was a poor choice, and the result was a census and vote corrupted by partisans on both sides.

The vote resulted in the adoption of the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution which was rejected by the anti-slavery forces. Wanting only to obtain the final admission of Kansas to the United States, Buchanan threw the support of his administration behind congressional approval of the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, infuriating the Douglas wing of his own party.

Senator Douglas, leader of the Democrats in the Senate, denounced Lecompton and the battle over Kansas escalated into a battle over the control of the Democratic Party. Buchanan made the political defeat Douglas and the admission of Kansas, a priority for the White House. He and his operatives offered political favors, patronage appointments and even cash in exchange for votes. The proposed Kansas (Lecompton) Constitution and the enabling act passed through the House, but it was blocked by Douglas in the Senate.

Congress then voted to call a new vote on the Lecompton Constitution, a move which now infuriated Southerners. Buchanan and Douglas then engaged in an all-out struggle for control of the Democratic Party in 1857–60, with Buchanan using his patronage powers and Douglas rallying the popular base. Douglas emerged victorious, and Buchanan was reduced to a narrow base of southern supporters. Kansas was finally admitted to the Union as a free state in January 1861, after Lincoln’s election but while Buchanan was still in office.

Rather than quelling unrest in the country over the slavery issue, the Dred Scott decision caused a firestorm in the Northern abolitionist circles and the continued tumult over Kansas fed the fire. Not only did the Court rule that slaves were property and could never be citizens, but, by negating the Missouri Compromise, it apparently opened to slavery the States that the abolitionists had presumed to be permanently free States.

Adding to the internal National tensions, John Brown, having left Kansas, poured gasoline on the fire. With the support of several prominent abolitionists and abolition societies, he acquired arms, ammunition and recruited a few followers The plan was for the small group to seize the United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry Virginia. With the captured weapons, he would arm slaves in the area and begin a slave insurrection—the single greatest fear of the ante-bellum South—and strike South to end slavery. (There is some modern thought that the intellectuals, academics, theologians, and other supporters of Brown’s efforts, probably unbeknownst to him, hoped more for a martyr than a success.)

The raid failed, the local slaves did not rise up and flock to Brown’s cause, and Brown was captured. Tried and convicted of treason, he was executed in December 1859. His failed effort convinced many in the deep South that the North would not cease and desist until slavery was abolished, by force of arms, if necessary.

14 January 2012

CIVIL WAR: THE SEQUEL? The Election Of 2012 (Part 2)

FRANKLIN PIERCE The Democrats displaced the Whigs in 1852, when their nominee, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, was elected. He took office on March 4, 1853. A Democrat, he was in the parlance of the times a "doughface," a Northerner with Southern sympathies. Not the overwhelming choice of his party, he was nominated as the party's candidate for president on the 49th ballot at the 1852 Democratic National Convention. Nonetheless, in the presidential election, the Franklin Pierce-William King ticket won by a landslide in the Electoral College.

As president, he was a poor leader, was apparently beholden to a fringe wing of his party, and was generally a divisive president. Many of his policies were widely criticized and earned him a reputation as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. Certainly, he was mediocre. I once met a judge advocate who was a graduate of the Franklin Pierce Law Center (now the University of New Hampshire School of Law). He told me that in honor of President Filmore, the students referred to the school as “Frank’s Pretty Good Law School.”

Every action taken by the Pierce administration was viewed through the pre-eminent political lens of the day: slavery.

When the administration, in conformity with the Monroe Doctrine, attempted to get Great Britain to abandon its colonies in Central America, anti-slavery factions saw the attempt as a means of acquiring new slave states for the South. Additionally, the administration was embarrassed when the Secretary of State ordered several US diplomats in the Netherlands to prepare what became known as “the Ostend Manifesto.” That document, which was submitted to the President, proposed that the United States purchase Cuba from Spain for $120 million . If Spain refused, the administration would wage a pretextual war to “wrest” the island from Spain. Abolitionists immediately saw a plot to add Cuba to the Union as a slave State. When the United States negotiated a treaty with Mexico to purchase a nearly 30,000-square-mile tract (which now makes up southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico), Northerners insisted on seeing it as a ruse to add to slave territory.

The land, known as the Gadsden Purchase after the US ambassador to Mexico who negotiated the treaty, was deemed necessary by civil engineers and the War Department to enable the construction of a transcontinental railroad. It provided flatter, less mountainous routes around the southern Rockies to California. Also including terms that reconciled outstanding border issues following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War, it should have been a victory for the Democrats and manifest destiny. Instead, because the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and other Southerners favored the purchase, it was condemned as a pro-slavery land grab.

I have always suspected that the Northern, especially the New England, opposition to the purchase was less an issue of morality and more one of self-interest. Northern manufacturing interests had long insisted on high protective tariffs to secure their internal markets, at the expense of Southern exporters, whose cotton was exposed to retaliatory tariffs. Part of the goal of the purchase was to construct a trans-continental railroad, via a southern, less mountainous route. As railroads grew, some business-oriented Southerners saw an opportunity to get their crops and products to the western coast. This was the age of the clipper ship and vast trade by New England, via Cape Horn, with rapidly growing California. While a southern railroad might be good for the Country, New England’s interests reigned supreme. Sacrifice for the Nation was demanded only of the South.

Pierce antagonized the North and pleased the South by diligently enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act which was a component of the Compromise of 1850. One case, in particular, involved the return of an escaped slave who was apprehended in Massachusetts.

But Pierce’s support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that presented a major political test. The thirty year old Missouri Compromise, which based free state-slave state decisions on a nominally objective bright geographic line, was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, the Democrats pushed through the Kansas-Nebraska Act which substituted the doctrine of “popular sovereignty” for geography. The territories of Kansas and Nebraska would determine whether they were to be free or slave states by plebescite.

Seizing the opportunity, both sides of the issue eagerly renewed the reopened debate over expanding slavery in the American West. This, in turn, led to a mini-civil war in Kansas as pro- and anti-slavery forces came into the territory hoping to sway the referendum. Bleeding Kansas, the Pottawatomie Massacre, and the John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia were all products of this political compromise, the last on the issue of slavery in the Nation.

The susceptibility of “popular sovereignty” to outside influence was positively 21st Century in its application. Fraud and deceit were viewed as a moral imperative.

The first organized immigration to Kansas Territory was by citizens of slave states, most notably neighboring Missouri, who came to the territory to secure the expansion of slavery. Pro-slavery settlements were established by these immigrants at Leavenworth and Atchison, both located on the west bank of the Missouri River. At the same time, several anti-slavery organizations in the North, most notably the New England Emigrant Aid Company, organized and funded several thousand settlers to move to Kansas and vote to make it a free state. Free-State settlements were established deeper into the territory, in Topeka, Manhattan, and Lawrence. The election to Congress of a single territorial delegate was rife with fraud. Significantly less than half the ballots were cast by registered voters, and at one location, only 20 of over 600 voters were legal residents. While Kansas had approximately 1,500 registered voters at the time, not all of whom actually voted, over 6,000 votes were cast. A similar vote elected a pro-slavery territorial legislature. It would have made a Chicago politician blush.

The Pierce administration recognized that slave-state body as the lawful territorial government. The Free Staters, called a separate convention and adopted the “Topeka Constitution,” establishing a shadow anti-slavery government. Pierce continued to recognize the pro-slavery legislature even after a congressional investigative committee found its election illegitimate. He declared the Free Staters to be in rebellion and ordered federal troops to break up a meeting of the shadow government in Topeka.

The national angst and polarization was moving from intellectual and philosophical to confrontational and violent. Abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher collected funds to arm like-minded settlers with Sharps rifles, which were shipped west in boxes labeled "Bibles" and "Religious Materials." These state of the art weapons came to be sarcastically referred to as "Beecher's Bibles." By the summer of 1855, approximately 1,200 New Englanders had made the journey to the new territory, armed and ready to fight. In October, John Brown came to Kansas Territory to fight slavery. Then, on May 21, 1856, a group of slave staters entered the Free-State stronghold of Lawrence, where they burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices and their printing presses, and ransacked homes and stores.

A few days later, John Brown led a group of Free Staters on an attack on the proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek. During the night of May 24, the group, which included four of Brown's sons, led five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords.

By August, thousands of proslavery men formed into armies and marched into Kansas. That same month, Brown and several of his followers engaged 400 proslavery soldiers in the "Battle of Osawatomie." The hostilities raged for another two months until Brown departed the Kansas Territory. In all, approximately 56 people died in Bleeding Kansas by the time the violence completely abated in 1859. Following the commencement of the Civil War, additional guerrilla violence erupted on the border between Kansas and Missouri.

[Historical Note: Your author’s great, great grandfather, Quartermaster Sergeant Pleasant Fountain (or Fontaine), Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant, 6th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, was killed in action in a skirmish with Confederate forces near Fidelity, Missouri. on April 7, 1863.]

Nor was the violence limited to the frontier. On the afternoon of May 22, 1856, Congressman Preston Smith Brooks (D. S.C.) physically attacked Senator Charles Sumner (D. Mass.) on the floor of the Senate chambers. Congressman Brooks was the nephew of Senator Andrew Butler (D. S.C.), whom Sumner had berated and ridiculed in a speech on the floor a few days earlier. Brooks repeatedly struck Sumner in the head with a heavy, gold-knobbed cane. Even after Sumner collapsed, Brooks continued to beat Sumner until the cane broke. Several other senators attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Rep. Laurence Keitt (D. S.C. , who held them back at gun point, shouting "Let them be!"

Sumner did not return to his Senate desk for three years as a result of his injuries. He later became a major player amongst the Radical Republicans in the Senate during the Civil War.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the events in “Bloody Kansas” outraged Northerners and provided the impetus for the formation of the Republican Party. That the country was stretched to the breaking point is evident in the aftermath of the Brooks-Sumner matter. Sumner was viewed as a martyr to the anti-slavery movement. Brooks was viewed as a hero and defender of Southern honor.

In the end, the continued deterioration of the national mood can be blamed in large part on Pierce. He surrounded himself with a cabinet and other advisors who were lockstep supporters. Thus, he was isolated from the growing national division and was unwilling to steer a steady, prudent course that might have sustained a broad measure of support. Having publicly committed himself to an ill-considered position, he maintained it steadfastly, but at disastrous cost to his reputation and, ultimately, the nation.

13 January 2012

CIVIL WAR: THE SEQUEL? The Election Of 2012 (Part 1)


As we look at an increasingly divided and partisan electorate in the run up to the election of 2012, I am concerned that this election is simply the continuation of the turmoil that divided the nation in the 12 years prior to the election of Abraham Lincoln. The basic questions are the same: the power of the federal government and the proper interpretation of the Constitution; the effect of the attempts of partisan groups and special interests to impose their particular solutions on the entire nation; taxation; and the proper role of the federal government in areas traditionally reserved to the States. The “usual suspects” are also present, individual and groups on the outer fringes of the political parties who have displaced the center. Does the comparison withstand closer scrutiny? Read on.


Between 1848 and 1860, the United States experienced a major failure of its political system. The result was the election of Abraham Lincoln, the secession of, ultimately, 11 of the 34 States (another two had both “confederate and Union “governments”), and a bloody civil war. That 12 year period included the final “compromises” on the question of the expansion of slavery, the replacement of the existing political parties by “movements” as the real movers and shakers of the Nation, and exceptionally poor presidents.

ZACHARY TAYLOR      President Taylor served from March 4, 1848 to July 9, 1850, the second shortest presidency in our history. He was a Whig. The Whigs were guided by the principle of a strong legislature and a weak executive, favoring the supremacy of Congress over the presidency and a program of modernization and economic protectionism. The party self-destructed when it split internally on the issue of the expansion of slavery. Its tariff policies also led to its disappearance in the South. After the election of 1852, the northern voter base mostly joined the new Republican Party.

Although nominally a Whig, Taylor refused to be a puppet of Whig leaders in Congress.

In the period 1820-1840, American protestantism underwent a "Second Great Awakening," which was marked by huge growths in Christian denominations and a view that God had created a pristine and fertile North American continent in which a new people, freed from ties to European traditionalism, could ignite and establish a new evangelism of the Christian faith. Old established American religious orders prospered and new ones were established and grew on the frontier. Manifest Destiny, while never an official policy of any administration, was an accompanying national grass roots belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. In quasi-religious terms, its proponents argued that national expansion was not only wise but that it was manifest (readily apparent) and pre-destined (inexorable).

As the population of the Nation grew, the Jacksonian Democrat-Republican Party, in particular, adopted the concept to justify the war with Mexico and the annexation of Texas. The Whigs, on the other hand, opposed expansion qua expansion, favoring instead deepening the economy rather than broadening its expanse. Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln, all Whigs, opposed national geographic expansion, as did John C. Calhoun, a notable Democrat who generally opposed his party on the issue.

It is interesting to note That Clay, Calhoun, and Webster were the same "War Hawks" of the early 19th Century who promoted the War of 1812 as an opportunity for territorial expansion through the capture of Canada.

At any rate, the idea of manifest destiny had all but died out by 1860. (It would rear its head again, in new clothes, in the mid-20th Century.) A skeptic might argue that the concept died just as its aims were achieved.

The dominant issue of American politics in the 1840s was whether slavery would be permitted in the western territories of the United States.

As early as 1787, the issue of the expansion of slavery had been the subject of legislative action. The Northwest Ordinance, adopted by the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, prohibited slavery in the lands north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi. With the advent of the new Constitution, the Northwest Ordinance was ratified by implication by the new national government. It was, however, a question that would not go away.

As the country grew geographically, especially as a result of the Louisiana Purchase, southern States looked to an expansion of slavery into new States and territories created out of that huge parcel.

The The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a limited act, designed to control the spread of slavery, taken before the United States had begun to expand west of the Missouri River. Feelings ran high on both sides of the issue. A slave-owner himself, Taylor nonetheless was a moderate on the territorial expansion of slavery, angering fellow Southerners. Although the Whigs were the anti-Jackson party, Taylor’s main concern was to preserve the authority of the presidency, akin to Jackson’s opposition to the Nullification Acts of the 1830s.

A four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican War, came to a head in Taylor’s presidency. The parties were divided. Compromise became possible with President Taylor’s sudden death when Henry Clay proposed an omnibus compromise, one which Taylor had opposed.

MILLARD FILMORE    President Filmore, Taylor’s vice president, served from July 9, 1850 to March 4, 1853. The change in leadership also signaled an abrupt political shift. Fillmore had very different views on the slavery issue. Before Taylor's death, Fillmore told him that, as President of the Senate, he would give his tie-breaking vote to Henry Clay’s proposal. His first act as president was to fire Taylor's cabinet and to fill it with men of like-mind to himself.

Clay’s omnibus compromise died in Congress, but another, the Compromise of 1850, passed in September 1850. While it postponed the Civil war by a decade, the Compromise of 1850 also inflamed passions on both sides of the issue and drove the separate factions further apart.

The northern wing of the Whig Party opposed the compromise. They favored a failed part of the legislation, the Wilmot Proviso, which would have outlawed slavery in any new territories or states, confining it to the existing slave states only. This was anathema to the South, which recognized that national expansion and the admission of new free States would dilute the power of the South in Congress, ultimately reducing it to a nullity and leaving its "peculiar institution" defenseless from legislative and executive attack.

In fact, the compromise that finally came before both Houses of Congress was a faint image of the original proposal, and Fillmore actually urged Congress to pass the original bill. In response, as historian Gerald Bahles notes, "forces for and against slavery fought over every word of the bill." It was only at this critical juncture, that Fillmore announced his support of what we know as the Compromise of 1850.

Enacted in five separate bills, the Compromise of 1850 gave each side just enough to calm passions for a few more years. California's application for admission as a free state with its was approved; a Southern proposal to split California at parallel 35° north to provide a Southern territory was not defeated. Popular sovereignty became the new norm for the newly created New Mexico and Utah Territories: the decision to accept or reject slavery would be subject to referendum in those (and by implication) other newly created territories, at least those south of the Missouri Compromise line. A stronger Fugitive Slave Act was adopted and the slavery remained lawful in the national capital, although the slave trade was banned there except in the portion of the District of Columbia south of the Potomac that had reverted Virginia.

Each measure obtained a majority, and, by September 20, President Fillmore had signed them into law. Whigs on both sides refused to accept the finality of Fillmore's law (which led to more party division, and a loss of numerous elections).

Fillmore's greatest difficulty with the fugitive slave law, hated in the North, was enforcing it without showing favor to Southern Whigs. His solution was to appease both northern and southern wings of his party. He called for enforcing the fugitive slave law in the North, and enforcing in the South a law forbidding involvement in Cuba (for the sole purpose of adding it as a slave state).

The developing trend of seeking compromise on principle’s went largely unnoticed among the political class in Washington, but the people in the various regions of the Nation were beginning to catch on.

06 January 2012


The headline on Drudge Reports said it all: “Drones Not Marines.” The report that the President has decided that the best thing for the Country in a dangerous world is to downsize our armed forces, adopt a strategy of using technology rather than preparedness, and readying ourselves to a “one-war “ structure raises images of the United States between 1920 and 1940. Any serious student of history ought be downright frightened by that image.

In the policy announced on Thursday, the current two-war strategy would be abandoned. Since at least the Korean War, the United States has sought to maintain a force that can fight and win two major wars at once. The Obama plan would change that to an ability to fight and win one war and, hopefully, still deter a second aggressor.

After our successful participation in WWI (which ended a bloody stalemate), the isolationists pulled us back to within our borders and unilaterally disarmed. Refusing to acknowledge that we were now a world power, they cut the Army and Navy, refused to participate in the League of Nations, and thought nice thoughts about the rest of the world. Britain and France followed suit, while ravaging Germany for reparations and setting the stage for Hitler to lead a new Germany to strength and internal horror.

Now the President assumes that there will be no more “real” wars, so we don’t need some dirty-faced Marine to win the day. We can be a world power using a few drones flown from the safety of Missouri to do the job. Mark my words, soon, the drones will be flown by contractors who have made donations to the party coffers and whose employees are all dues-paying members of SEIU.

In the period between the World Wars, we relied on two large oceans and our Navy to keep the world at bay. Roosevelt sent the Pacific Fleet forward to Hawaii to send a signal to Japan that we would not brook further aggression towards China and the far East.

In 1940, Roosevelt sent the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, to let the Japanese see them 2500 miles closer to Tokyo and thus be deterred. Admiral James O. Robinson, Commander in Chief, US Fleet at the time of the deployment of the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, wanted to keep the fleet in San Diego or at Lahaina Roads. Political pressure brought to bear on Washington by businesses in Honolulu forced the fleet to stay in Pearl Harbor so that large liberty parties could enjoy the pleasures of that city. Robinson was fired by FDR, the fleet stayed at Pearl, and we know how that worked out.

The military leadership in China, Iran, and Korea must be delighted to hear that. If China can sucker Korea or Iran into starting one war, the force the President proposes will not deter China!

Secretary Panetta down-played the differences, asserting that we can ignore the large conflicts of the past and focus, instead, on the conflicts the United States the Administration thinks are likely to occur in the 21st century.

As one who has been to Corregidor and seen the massive fixed gun positions placed to stop an enemy fleet from sailing into Manila Bay, as Dewey had in 1898, I agree that a policy of preparing to fight the last war is subject to valid criticism. As one who has personally seen the massive tidal range at Inchon, Korea, where the First Marine Division turned the tide of the Korean War in its amphibious landing in September 1950, I know that being prepared to continue to do things that worked in the past is also necessary. In 1949, Louis Johnson, President Truman’s Secretary of Defense, argued that the Marine Corps and amphibious warfare were obsolete when a single Air Force bomber could end a war with one A-bomb. A year later, he had to eat those words.

Secretary Panetta said, "Make no mistake - we will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time." Nice words, but the plan says just the opposite. The President plans to cut ground forces,that is, the dog-face with a machine-gun, the Leatherneck with his rifle, the people who actually fight and win wars, by 10 to 15 %, i.e., by 75,000 to 110,000 people. The policy assumes that from here on out, troop- and time-intensive operations are unlikely to occur. Thus, the force no longer needs to be sized, supplied or trained for large-scale, long-term missions.

Rather, the Administration assumes, cyberwarfare and unmanned drones, the single Air Force bomber of today, will win the day. And the Democrats thought SDI was crazy?

At least the President recognizes that countering attempts by China and Iran to block U.S. power projection capabilities in areas like the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz must still be part of our national strategy. How he will do that with drones is a mystery. It sounds more Rooseveltian to me.

So we will not actually be in the Straits of Hormuz or the South China Sea; we’ll be watching from afar via drones. But surely, the Chinese or the Iranians will get the idea, right?

Fortunately, the hollow, toothless force that we had available in 1940 was able to hold on, by the skin of its teeth, in a large two-front war until we could mobilize a 12 million man Army three years later (today, that would equal a 36 million man force). We will run out of drones and the few carriers we still have long before China runs out of its multi-million man army. Having a force with no teeth didn’t work in 1941 and will be similarly unsuccessful in the future The world and technology of the 21st Century simply will not give us that time, so we either have an adequate force ready to go or we lose.

I pray that the President and his advisors are right about this risky tack they are taking. I believe they are not and that bodes ill for the United States.

05 January 2012


One of the blogs I follow regularly is Gruntled Center. The author is William J. “Beau” Weston, PhD, a professor at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky . Dr. Weston is the Chair of Centre’s Anthropology and Sociology Program and is the College’s Van Winkle Professor of Sociology. A self-described “Democratic Party foot-soldier, and general busybody,” his blog is an interesting, thoughtful, well-written body of informal work, albeit, understandably, heavy on sociology. I commend it to thoughtful readers of any political persuasion. I write this introduction to assure Professor Weston of my respect for his writing and his approach to blogging and of my continued patronage of his blog.

That is why it pains me to say that his blog entry dated January 4, 2012—his most recent at the time I write this—ignores history and represents the worst of the writing associated with sociology and the other “fuzzy” sciences. I write this as one whose undergraduate comprehensive major was social science education, which included required a minimum of 45 hours of history, sociology, political science, and economics courses.

The blog entry, entitled “Obama Is Doing Something Wrong in Fighting Terrorists ,” caught my attention because on that point, the Professor and I agree. After reading the entire piece, however,I must say that that is the only thing on which we agree, at least on this topic.

His complaints are purely those of the left wing of his party, a group which apparently believes that the political world is rational and susceptible to reasoned argument. He writes

On his first day in office, President Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison within a year. He did not.

Last year he ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen, Anwar Awlaki, by a drone attack in Yemen.

Last week he signed the defense bill which allows the indefinite detention without trial of suspected terrorists.

Each of these acts is wrong in itself and dangerous as a precedent.

To which I respond, “Whoa, there, Cowboy.”

The view from the ivory tower of the academy is, in my experience, often suspect, but in this instance, the three examples cited are just plain wrong. Those of us who spent large parts of our adult lives and professional careers facing down the enemies of our Republic have an entirely different view of life.

To his credit, he also writes
I normally support President Obama, so I have tried hard to understand why he did these things, and what principle or theory might lie behind them. I have not come up with a good account. National security, especially when dealing with terrorists, necessarily includes facts that can't be revealed to the public. Perhaps there are good reasons for these acts that are now hidden.

Here are my best guesses.

Let’s look at his complaints and his “guesses.” Guess No. 1 says

Some of the Guantanamo prisoners were so badly tortured under the previous administration that they cannot effectively be put on trial or released. Since their testimony was acquired by torture, it is worthless. The Obama administration ended the torture, but cannot undue what was done before.

As pleasing as it may be to the left-wing base of the Democratic Party to blame everything wrong with the world on former President Bush, they ignore the fact that we are dealing with fanatics who have no respect for Western history and culture. They are people who would, if given half a chance, eliminate the left as the first order of business. After all, the left espouses the very things that the fanatics hate the most—freedom of thought and expression, personal liberty, and freedom to worship, or not worship, as one pleases.

I also doubt that any of the Gitmo prisoners was “tortured” so badly that they cannot be exposed to examination. I do not often disagree with Senator John McCain, who really was tortured by the North Vietnamese and their imported Cuban torturer, but waterboarding is not torture. It is extremely unpleasant, terrifying even, but after it is over, the subject does not need to reduce dislocated joints or set broken bones.

No, these are just bad guys who need to be isolated from the world. Sam Yorty was once asked if he thought the death penalty deterred murder.

“No,” he replied. “You don’t kill a rabid dog to deter other dogs from getting rabies. You kill him so he doesn’t bite anybody.”

In the case of Gitmo, we have locked up a bunch of people whose dearest goal in life is to kill as many Americans as possible. The President—in fact, our constitutional system—acknowledges that the first order of business of any government is to “provide for the common defense” of its people. I remember seeing President-elect Obama coming out of his first full-fledged national security briefing a day or so after the election. He had a deer in the headlights sort of look. I “guess” he was thinking, “Damn! They weren’t kidding. It is a dangerous out there. Maybe Gitmo is not so bad after all.”

Then there is Guess No. 2:

A very small number of American citizens, such as Awlaki, have indeed become enemy combatants. Awlaki himself openly proclaimed this. Since he was in hiding in enemy territory, it was not practical to capture and try him as a citizen has a right to receive. The drone attack was the only practical way to fight that enemy, as we have with many other non-citizen enemy individuals.

On this we agree, but I do not see this as anything to apologize for. Awlaki was a leader of a confederation of sorts who openly declared war on his own country. Abraham Lincoln led our country in our bloodiest war against people who he always claimed to be citizens of the United States. We specifically targeted Admiral Yamamoto in WWII, because if he was dead, the Japanese cause suffered. The same goes for Awlaki and anyone else who takes up arms against the United States.

As the Professor acknowledges by implication, all Awlaki had to do to avail himself of his rights of citizenship was to submit himself to its judicial process.  He did not.  To quote the old Crusader in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “He chose poorly.”

Then there is Guess No. 3:

When signing the National Defense Authorization Act, the president issued a statement that he objected to the provisions of the act that allowed for indefinite military detention and would not allow them on his watch. His opponents put this poison pill in the law precisely to embarrass the president. Since he had to sign the law in order to pay the troops, he accepted this compromise, while still rejecting this provision of the law.

This guess places me in a quandary. I like signing statements.   They have lengthy historical precedent dating back to the earliest days of the Republic. See, Presidential Signing Statements: Constitutional and Institutional Implications, at 1. (Congressional Research Service, September 17, 2007) [“Presidential signing statements are official pronouncements issued by the President contemporaneously to the signing of a bill into law that, in addition to commenting on the law generally, have been used to forward the President’s interpretation of the statutory language; to assert constitutional objections to the provisions contained therein; and, concordantly, to announce that the provisions of the law will be administered in a manner that comports with the Administration’s conception of the President’s constitutional prerogatives. While the history of presidential issuance of signing statements dates to the early 19th century, the practice has become the source of significant controversy in the modern era as Presidents have increasingly employed the statements to assert constitutional and legal objections to congressional enactments.” Id.]

By far, the most prolific user of such statements since 1980 has been President Clinton who issued 381 statements, two and one-half times as many as President George W. Bush. During his presidential campaign, candidate Obama rejected the use of signing statements. He was asked at one rally: "when congress offers you a bill, do you promise not to use presidential signing statements to get your way?" Obama gave a one-word reply: "Yes." He added that "we aren't going to use signing statements as a way to do an end run around Congress." A month and a half after taking office, President Obama issued his first signing statement.

As a proponent of checks and balances, I take the position that Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) has been misinterpreted since it was decided. In Marbury, the Court held that it has the power to declare a law enacted by Congress and signed by the President to be, nonetheless, unconstitutional. Such a right is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, but neither has the decision been seriously doubted, at least in the past 150 years.

What has been ignored is that the three branches of the national government are co-equal. Even the Court acknowledges that by means of the presumption of constitutionality of every federal law that comes before it.

I tend to side with President Jackson, in his view that the President has an equal right to disagree with the Congress and the Supreme Court and to ignore their decisions on constitutional grounds, albeit at the peril of impeachment. In Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515 (1832 (1832), the Court ruled that Georgia, which was in the process of evicting the Cherokee Nation from lands within Georgia’s borders, could not impose laws in Cherokee territory, since only the national government — not state governments — had authority in Indian affairs. President Jackson had no desire to get mixed up in that issue and, famously, said “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it! ... Build a fire under them. When it gets hot enough, they'll go.”

My real objection to Guess No. 3 is Professor Weston’s assumption that “[h]is opponents put this poison pill [the indefinite military detention provision] in the law precisely to embarrass the president.”

I suggest that it was Congress exercising its Constitutional authority to make laws. (Putting the President in a tough political position was just a side benefit.)

The President’s Attorney General has made no attempt to hide his desire for a high profile trial for terrorist leaders—one that, as a former prosecutor, I know lurks in the heart of every district attorney. This is understandable from a bureaucratic turf war perspective. It is inexcusable from the perspective of national defense. In this case, Congress exercised its right to curtail over-reaching by the executive branch and the President has exercised his right to disagree. Now we must wait to see what, if anything he will do to follow up on his signing statement.

In summing up, Dr. Weston makes the usual mistake that idealists make in stating their view of the world. He assumes, as do college kids arrested for drug offenses in a harsh Orient, that the Constitution is applied and approved of world-wide.  He says

. . . I believe that President Obama has not done enough to fight these enemy individuals and organizations in a way that is in accord with American constitutional principles. This is my biggest disappointment with the Obama administration.

Our enemies will use any weapon that they can in their single-minded hatred for America. If they can use our own Constitution against us, all the better. The very rights that they and their supporters—both active and benign—claim for themselves, they deny to us and their other enemies.

As I said earlier, it is nice up there in the ivory tower. It’s a lot messier in the real world, and Beau Weston is an intelligent observer.  He ought to know better.

04 January 2012


Apparently, one of the delays in counting the last four percent of the caucus votes in Iowa was caused by a man who was driving his precinct’s count to the election center. The folks at Fox had a couple of laughs about it, but the mental picture stuck. The first question my wife asked me this morning was, “Did the guy in the truck get there?”

It was an interesting night. There were indeed clichés spouted, and the focus immediately shifted to New Hampshire.

This morning, however, the Romney camp must be channeling the ghost of Hugh D. Daugherty. Duffy Daugherty was the first observer to note that “A tie is like kissing your sister.” Rick Santorum, who was polling miserably until the last week or so, came within eight votes of taking the lead. That is not the image that a candidate who consistently polled at 25 percent and won 25 percent should want to take into the next round.

The Iowa caucus goes into the record books and now it is on to the Granite State where Romney has nothing to gain and a lot to lose. If “Sis” gets another peck on the cheek, Romney could be in trouble.

What is absent from this process so far is any noticeable desire on the part of the people to ask for real debate. With the exception of Paul, whose ideas range from interesting to absolutely wacky, few of the candidates of either party are talking about any solution to the Nation's woes other than "elect or re-elect me."

I am particularly concerned that the Newt Gingrich we saw in Iowa was not Newt Gingrich, author and professor. He has good ideas, but the process we have developed does not want ideas. Ideas are dangerous because they don't fit into the few minutes allocated between commercial breaks. Cat fights and mud slinging make for easy headlines and ratings.

The American people have been turned into a race that despises real intellectual discourse and needs any discussion to come in 15 minute blocks. Read the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Today, Abe and Steve would have been back home in Illinois in a flash. And that is frightening.

It is time for candidates to get the courage to talk honestly with the American people rather than play it safe. As Duffy Daugherty also said, “When you are playing for the national championship, it's not a matter of life or death. It's more important than that.”

A NOTE FOR, AND WINK AND A HAT TIP TO, MY FRIEND JODY HARRINGTON: I tend to agree with your prayer "For those oppressed by sports analogies," although I allowed literary license to prevail in the last couple of blogs. I'll try to find a new angle. "It's more important than that."

03 January 2012


It is January in a year divisible by four, and you know what that means, sports fans. “The Olympics,” you say? I say “nay. nay.”

Today marks the formal beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign, the greatest show on earth. Now some out there, especially those fans in Iowa and New Hampshire, may suggest that the season really started last summer, or even earlier. As one who believes that the first day of Spring comes in mid-February—when pitchers and catchers report—I sympathize, but, to be brutally honest, the past eight months have just been the Florida Instructional League for the boys and girl.

Now, I may have shocked some of the fundamentalists baseball purists. How dare I compare a mere political campaign to baseball, they wonder? Well, consider this.

I am reminded of the scene in Bull Durham when Crash Davis works with Nuke LaLoosh on his clichés. “You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: ‘We gotta play it one day at a time.’"

Nuke replies, “Got to play...... it's pretty boring.

Crash nods. “'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.”

Thus, Nuke learns to respond with his stump speech clichés. “We have to play them one day at a time.” “I'm just happy to be here and I hope I can help the ball club.” “I just want to give it my best shot and the good lord willing everything will work out.”

Likewise, if you listen closely tonight and in the days to come, you will hear many of the following:

“The final score is the only statistic that matters.” [“Iowa is just one state. Wait ‘til the convention.”]

“We shocked the world today.” Santorum, Bachman, or Huntsman wins Iowa.

“They're in a must win situation.” [“(Insert candidate’s name) is going to have to pull out a win in (insert State) or he’s done for.”]

“Turnovers killed us.” Think Bachman on Concord, NH, or Cain on women, or Perry on “three agencies.”

“They made the big plays and we didn't.” [In every concession speech.]

“There is no tomorrow.” We’ll start hearing this one tonight for every candidate who decides to hang on for New Hampshire.

“This is a hard loss to swallow. I'm looking forward to the challenge. We need to turn it up a notch. We have to stay focused.” Listen for this one every time a front-runner comes in second (or worse.)

“We're just glad to get out of here with a win.” Any winning candidate who does less well than expected.

“We just have to put this loss behind us.” Ditto.

There is one you probably will not hear: "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Politically incorrect--it discriminates against dancers and other non-vocally musical artists.

That being said, ready or not, sports fans, here it comes—the campaign of 2012. I have often thought that if we could charge admission for the next year, we could pay off the national debt.

To quote that eminent American philosopher, Charles Dillon Stengel, “You look up and down the bench and you have to say to yourself, 'Can't anybody here play this game?'”

Or, as his disciple, Lawrence Peter Berra, once observed: “It’s déjà vu, all over again.”