Saturday, July 31, 2010

Even a Great Republican Left for the Union Party

Matthew Pinsker. Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldier’s Home. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

President Abraham Lincoln, during warm weather, preferred sleeping at the Soldier’s Home instead of sleeping at the White House. A quarter of his Presidency from 1862 to 1864 was spent there.

The Soldier’s Home was created in the 1850s for disabled veterans without sufficient means to live on their own. Its cottages rested in over 300 acres with much shaded hilly areas. President James Buchanan stayed there and reported being better able to sleep there than at the White House. Lincoln also saw Soldier’s Home as a place for a family retreat, especially after his 12 year old son William died and First Lady Mary Lincoln found it difficult to mourn in the bustling White House.

There are no official records of Lincoln’s staying or of what guest he had to Soldier’s Home. He often traveled there with his wife, son Tad, a cook, a housekeeper and maybe a valet. At first, he had no security protecting him. While there, Lincoln would wake early and be at the White House by 8 am. His last visit to Soldier’s Home was the day before he was assassinated.

Staying at the Soldier’s Home provided Lincoln some sanctuary that provided him a better balance in his life. Prior, the stain of his wartime office had caused him to lose some abilities to make calm and considered decisions.

Lincoln pondered the fate of calling 300,000 more to war while residing at the Soldier’s Home. He could hear the sounds of battle at Antietam while at the Soldier’s Home.

Mary Lincoln was in a carriage accident near the Soldier’s Home and almost died. This probably significantly contributed to accelerating her already deteriorating emotional unbalance. She left for Vermont for two months afterwards.

Lincoln held meetings at the Solder’s Home. One in September 1864 with Fernando Wood, a Copperhead New York Member of Congress and former Mayor, may have helped his reelection efforts that year by encouraging some opposition to reduce their efforts against him.

Lincoln left Soldier’s Home on a dangerous trip to watch a battle with Confederates at Fort Stevens. Concerns for Lincoln’s safety rose and bodyguards of former police detectives were assigned to guard him.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and his family also resided at Soldier’s Home. This helped cement a personal as well as working relationship between them.

Mary Lincoln often clashed with White House aide John Hay over White House activities. She decided it would be better to spend more time away from the White House and Hay. The war ended plans for a summer residence outside the Washington, D.C. area. Mary Lincoln grieved for her departed son, refused to let the Marine Band play White House concerts, and decided Soldier’s Home would make a nice place to escape.

Lincoln wanted the rebels attacked quickly and decisively and the Confederate states resumed into the Union. General George McClellan flanked the Confederates in northern Virginia with his best trained soldiers in the Army of the Potomac, doing so over Lincoln’s objections. This potentially exposed DC to Confederate troops led by General Stonewall Jackson.

Vice President Hannibal Hamlin recalled a meeting conducted at the Soldier’s Home where Lincoln first made the emancipation of slaves a goal of the war.

Lincoln learned the news of battles could be conflicting and biased. His decision to call 300,000 more for the war effort was dramatic. A month earlier he had told Governors he would need 100,000. Lincoln instituted the first compulsory draft to reach this goal.

Private John Nichols claimed someone tried to shoot President Lincoln while horseback riding near Soldier’s Home. He claimed to find Lincoln’s hat with a bullet hole in it. Nichols said Lincoln asked him to keep quiet about the incident. Presidential security increased after this incident.

Soldier’s Home was open to the public. While Andrew Jackson had been physically attacked, the idea of protecting the President’s security was not a high concern then. Anyone could walk up to President Lincoln at Soldier’s Home. General McClellan ordered Pennsylvania infantrymen fresh from training at Harrisburg to protect Lincoln and his family at Soldier’s Home.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin ordered bonuses of $25 then plus $75 at the war’s end to enlistees of two “Bucktail Brigades” that wore deerskin hats. Company K of the 150th Pennsylvania regiment, which was about 150 men, protected Lincoln and his family for the rest of the war.

Union soldiers intercepted General Robert E. Lee’s plan to invade Maryland. Lee learned his orders had been divulged and changed his plans. Lincoln had wanted the Antietam battle to decide the war. He was upset that General McClellan did not follow his orders and pursue the Confederates and destroy their army. McClellan noted the soldiers lacked experience and that pursuit of a fleeing arm was a complicated procedure.

Captain David Derickson from Meadville, Pa. became Lincoln’s favorite companion, even sharing beds, a common practice then. Abraham Lincoln, who had left friends behind in Illinois, needed friendship he found in a soldier.

Draft riots occurred in several places, including Meadville where Derickson came from. Lincoln agreed to reduce quotas for military draft recruitment by including 2,400 foreign born Confederate prisoners who agreed to fight for the Union in Western battles against Northern Americans.

Twice as many died from infection during the Civil War than died during battle.

Confederate Colonel Bradley Johnson claimed he developed a plan to kidnap President Lincoln from the Soldier’s Home. This idea was dropped when Colonel Johnson was ordered into service in the Shenandoah Valley.

A Confederate sharp shooter fired at what he thought was Lincoln’s personal physician while Lincoln was visiting Fort Stevens. The physician who was shot, while standing near to Lincoln, was an assistant surgeon from the 102nd Pennsylvania volunteers.

There were political manipulations to nominate another nominee other than Lincoln as the Union Party nominee in 1864. Lincoln stayed in the race knowing he would force either support for his Administration or for antiwar Democrats to win the Presidency.

Lincoln signed a bill creating Soldier’s Homes nationwide just a few weeks before he died. There was Congressional debate over closing the Soldier’s Home where Lincoln often stayed, but Lincoln did not enter this debate.

65% of the residents in the Soldier’s Home during the Civil War were foreign born. 24% of the Union army was foreign born. Immigrant soldiers were more apt to lack a supportive family that would take them on after their injuries. A third of Soldier’s Home residents were Irish and one sixth were German.

Absentee ballots from soldiers were a new innovation for the 1864 elections. Lincoln won almost 80% of the solders’ vote. Lincoln received 55% of the total vote.

Presidents Rutherford Hayes and Chester Arthur also stayed at the Soldier’s Home. The cottage where the Presidents stayed made the National Trust’s list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2000. President Clinton then declared it a National Monument.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Historic Document in Legislative Reform Supported By at Least Some Republicans Somewhere

John Burns. The Sometimes Governments: A Critical Study of the 50 American Legislatures. New York: Bantam Books, 1971.

This book is the product of research conducted by the Citizens Commission on State Legislatures that formed in 1969 to study what improvements can be made upon all state legislatures. This was done while recognizing that each state had its own legislative process. There was, circa 1971, a general consensus that legislative process standards were low and that little had been done prior to study these systems and analyze how to improve them.

Researchers found that many legislators lacked the resources to comprehend the complex and diverse issues before them. Legislatures began meeting more often and were holding more committee hearings to better comprehend issues. In 1971, 36 states had annual state legislative meetings while 14 met in sessions once every two years. In 1941, only four states had legislative meetings every year.

National commissions studying legislatures in the late 1960s identified several problems. The role of the Federal and state governments was under much debate. White House advisor Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed the Federal government was “rather good at collecting revenues and rather bad at distributing services.” City and state governments were being seen by people agreeing with Moynihan’s sentiments as organizations more aware of local and regional needs yet lacking the financial resources to deal with them. In these debates, others expressed fears of “excessive localization”, the need for nationwide uniformity in services, and their belief that the Federal government could better direct resources where needed. The author argues there was an unfilled need of an intermediary that could avoid over reliance on both centralization and localization. State governments, he advised, could fill that role. Daniel Elazar concluded “it is important that there be a sharing of power between the Federal government and state governments.” This would require expanding the powers of state governments.

States were recognizing their need for increased roles over public policies. 28 states, as of the early 1970s, had planning and community affairs offices and over a dozen had housing and urban development programs.

In the late 18th century, as state governments were forming, state legislatures often had greater than in the 20th century. A war against a King made people wary of the Executive branch of government. Several legislatures chose Governors and Judges who served only one term.

Jeffersonian questioning of all government powers plus Jacksonian individualism weakened legislative powers. Governor rarely abused powers, in part because they had few powers to abuse. Thus, Governors gained more public respect and slowly garnered more political influence. In contrast, numerous scandals where financial influences corrupted legislators caused diminished public respect for the legislative branch.

Budgetary control shifted from legislators to Governors. Half the states had Executive budget making by the 1920s, something now conducted by all Governors.

Alexander Heard found state legislatures had difficulties functioning as they should in setting policies on many complex issues. They lacked sufficient staff, space, technical assistance, and meeting times. They were lowly paid and were thus subject to bribes or employment from special interests.

The author states an “ideal legislature” is one that democratically decides, after reflecting all its societal views and values, on actions that effectively handles needs. The author concluded no such ideal legislature exists.

Many legislative issues concern only few people, yet it impacts those it impacts significantly. This tends to make legislatures skewed towards listening to the interests affected by these legislative matters. Most legislatures in the early 1970s lacked professional staff to analyze information independently from what outside interests provided them. Thus, many legislators lacked the ability to make independent decisions. Further, since many of those issues did not affect many, there also was a lack of general concern whether legislators were able to make more balanced decisions.

Often the Executive branch or lobbyists were the primary sources of information provided to legislators in the early 1970s and prior. Legislatures had difficulties in creating innovative policies, overseeing programs, engaging in long range planning, conducting evaluations of their own actions, and in making forecasts of what problems were emerging.

The Citizens Conference on State Legislatures recommended that legislatures have professional staff, clerical staff, sufficient pay, enough time to properly conduct work, and that legislatures have reasonable numbers of committees and committee members. Legislative work should be conducted with public agendas and records, using proper facilities to conduct such work, and with legislative leadership operating legislative business fairly and orderly. The legislative size should be small enough to operate effectively. Legislators should not have conflicts of interest and lobbyists should be regulated.

The Citizens Commissions ranked the 50 state legislatures. California ranked first, New York second, Illinois third, Florida fourth, Washington 19th, Pennsylvania 21st, Connecticut 24th,Colorado 28th, Texas 38th, Georgia 45th, Arkansas 46th, and Alabama 50th.

Kentucky had a very inconsistent rating, coming in 2nd in accountability, 7th in representation, 44th in independence, 48th in being informed, and 49th in functionality, for an overall 31st rating.

Pennsylvania was 5th in independence, 23rd in accountability, 23rd in being informed, 36th in representation, and 37th in functionality.

Many legislators stated the need to sufficiently study issues is very important, It was also noted by several studies, including one by the Pennsylvania Legislative Evaluation Study, that time management is also important. Both annual and biannual legislatures experienced “jam ups” of many bills that were not voted upon until the end of their sessions.

Many legislators, as of the early 1970s, lacked an office and did not have a secretary. Many legislatures did not have an electronic roll call system.

The author advises against having too many committees, thus leaving some committees with insufficient significant work. The author warns that legislatures too large in size may leave some legislators with little influence and their district lacking representation. He recommends legislatures be from 100 to 130 representatives with 15 to 20 House committees and 10 to 15 Senate committees.

Order should be a primary goal of the legislative procedures. Legislative committees should be able to consider and create legislation. Some legislatures allow a bill simultaneous introduction in both changers; something the author recommends every state adopt. Several states have their committees from both chambers meet in joint hearings. Some states require every committee to take action on every bill referred to them, thus avoiding the ability of one legislature (usually the Speaker of a committee chair) to unilaterally decide to kill a bill.

The author warns it is easier to amend a bill during floor votes by majority vote rather than by an extraordinary vote.

The author warns against making legislative leaders too powerful. Several states place a one term limit on being Speaker, although the author believes leaders should be allowed to serve more than one term as leaders.

Bernard McCormick, a Pennsylvania reporter, noted when interviewing the public that many did not know who their legislator was, what legislators did, but they felt they were “a bunch of thieves”. While this is more an image problem, the author does observe that legislators should be more accountable. The public should know and understand more what legislators do.

The author recommends that legislative leaders or a leadership committee choose committee chairs instead of choosing them by caucus elections. This will make leaders and chairs accountable for a proper work flow.

Legislatures should have rules and backup rules, such as Mason’s Manual. Rules should have provisions to prevent sending a legislature into limbo, the author argues.

Bernard McCormick also noted the press failed to “appreciate” good legislators. He provided the example of John Pittenger, who was well regarded by both parties for his intellect, who faced much opposition from his local press.

The author notes that legislatures with minority viewpoints should neither be able to unreasonably thwart the will of the majority nor should they be ignored. The author recommends that minority party legislative leaders should choose minority committee memberships.

Legislation should have fiscal notes estimating the costs involved should bills be enacted, the author advises. Legislatures should have staff capable of producing fiscal notes.

The author advises against restricting the length of times that legislatures can meet.

The legislature should not be dependent upon the Executive branch, the author argues. In some states then, it was tradition for Governors to prose legislation and legislators to usually agree with little questioning. The legislatures should have oversight over administrative functions.

A representative legislature is one where legislatures have strong ties reflecting their constituencies, diverse membership, and a process that allows legislators to effectively represent their constituents.

The Commission found the size of the Pennsylvania House at 203 as too large. It also declared that 23 House committees and 21 Senate committees were too many. It further stated that the legislative pay of $7,200 per year plus $4,800 expenses was too low. The Commission recommended centralizing the legal, research, and planning staff. It recommended each legislator have a separate office, as many shared offices then. It further recommended creating an audit oversight within the legislature.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Few Years Just Before Republicans Ruled, There Was King Tut

Zani Hawass. Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the pharaohs. Washington, D.C.: National Georgraphic. (2005)

This excellent photographic collection of Tutankhamu’s artifacts also yields information for history readers. The knowledge of such information that the Egyptian pharaohs learned to create peace treaties and use intermarriage with rival to tranquil relations presents examples of leadership from that era.

Nearly all of Egypt was ruled by one King, or Pharoah, around 3050 BC. Egypt had two distinct societies, each with their own religion. One society lived in the Nile Valley, known as Upper Egypt. The other society was in the Delta region, known as Lower Egypt. Over time, political power shifted from the central government of the king towards provincial leaders. Drought and famine may have spurred this power shift. This power shifted back to the king circa 1975 to 1640 BC. Invaders believed to be Asiatic, called Hykos, conquered part of Egypt. Kerma conquered Lower Nabia from Egypt.

Kamosis ruled as Egypt retook much of both lost lands from the Hykos and the Ker. Ahmosis ruled as the Hykos were finally defeated. Egypt expanded its boundaries to protect itself from future invaders. Prisoners were seized to fight in the Egyptian army.

The ruoe of Amenhoteol found much wealth from mines and quarries in the conquered Nubian lands. The next ruler,.Tuthmosis, won a final victory against Kerma, further extending Egypt’s borders southwards. Tuthmosis I then invaded into Syria.

Hatshepsut ruled as Regent under the title of God’s Wife of Amun and then claimed to be King, a position prior reserved only to males. She claimed an oracle from Amun gave her the power. King Tuthmosis III later became king and had Hatshepsut removed from all historic records. Tuthmosis III seized many goods from the Mitanni, a Syro-Palestinian coalition. His son Amenhotep II reached peace with the Mitann, making Amenhotep II the last of the warring leaders. His son Tuthmosis VI married the daughter of a former war enemy to bring peace between the two cultures. His son, Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti banished the worship of the existing religions and created a state religion with just one deity, Aten. This was received with much public dissent.

Tutankhamun became ruler by birth rite circa 1332 BC when Akenaten died. Tutankhamun was about 8 or 9 years old. Tutankhamun allowed the reestablishment of the banned religions. He died after ruling less than ten years. The cause of death is lost to history Leaving no heir, an advisor Aye took control. Aye also left no heir. There was an attempt to erase Tutankhamun’s rule from history. Ironically, the removal of his name from records also allowed his tomb to be untouched by the grave robbers of history. His tomb was discovered in 1922 in an expedition led by Howard Carter.

The photographs in the book are a superb record of what was found in the tomb. This is an excellent book for anyone wishing to see and read about “King Tut”.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Beginnings of Republicanism; It's Been Downhill Since

Colleen A Sheehan. James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government. Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

The author presents a political theory that James Madison was a significant contributor to our country’s move to republican self-governance. Madison battled the ideas of Federalism that were expressed by George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton and break through their opposition. This was both politically and personally difficult for Madison as he deeply respected Washington and he often found Hamilton in his camp, although they often became rivals within the same political party.

Madison expressed the spirit, principles, and ethos (as Aristotle would put it) of republican self-governance. The ethos of republican government is self-governance. Madison labeled this the “spirit” of a new nation’s governing system. The spirit thus drove the principles and activities of public expression that produced public policy changes. Madison concluded that it was America’s goal “to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of self-government.”

Some scholars have concluded that Madison was suspicious of democracy. The author argues that Madison’s principles of minimizing government’s role in society, of stressing private rights, and for protections of free markets are trademarks of republicanism.

There are scholars who observe Madison moved towards states’ rights and away from a strong central government in the 1780s. The author notes that Madison was always concerned about the abuses that could result from a large government without sufficient checks and of improprieties of a majority ruling over all. Madison was always a proponent of self-government, the author argues.

Madison wrote under the pen name of Publius. Madison was a Republican leader in their battle against the Federalists, a battle that led to Republican victory in establishing a republican participatory political system.

Madison believed the power of government belonged to the desires of the public. Madison believed the Constitution protected the people. A participatory democracy would give public opinion to shape political policy making.

Madison strongly opposed a strong executive government that represented the nation’s elites. Madison preferred that the people decide how they wished their government to decide. Public participation would allow the public will to overcome any tyranny resulting from majority rule.

Madison was influenced by the French Enlightenment. Madison read their works and has stated he derived inspiration from them. He appreciated their ideas of republican government, of the importance of public opinion, and of a strong constitution. He united these theories into a concept of representative government with checks and balances. The author sees Madison, more than Jefferson, as the leading republican philosopher of their times. The author traces Madison’s views of republican self-government to Baron de Montesquieu’s views on enlightenment and to Aristotle’s beliefs of the importance of public opinion.

Alexander Hamilton and John Adams were familiar with, and respected, the British form of government with a strong central authority. Madison objected to the fights between social classes and political parties that existed within the British form of government.

Madison opposed a national bank as he feared concentrating government power over the economy. He felt it would benefit a privileged few would could misuse government economic power for their own benefits.

Madison argued that Federalists did not trust that the people could govern. He thought the Federalists believed the people lacked the intellectual capacity and ability to reason well enough to reach governing decisions. Madison called for enlightening the public so they could create, follow, and support a government of their own creation.

The Federalists also viewed themselves as republicans.

Nicolas de Condorcet wrote how a free press could educate the public. He believed a free press could also correct itself from untruths. John Adams feared that public opinion could be driven to unreasonable actions and that opinions could be manipulated to lead to tyranny.

Hamilton admitted that wealthier economic interests would benefits from the debt issued by a national government. Hamilton saw this debt as the means to create a more productive economy. Hamilton favored a national bank that could fund new corporations for a growing nation. Hamilton also feared that representative democracy would create greater power within the more popular branch of government and that a few leaders from within this popular group could emerge and distort the use of power. Hamilton saw Britain’s House of Lords as consisting of permanent leaders who could counteract the abuse of majority rule. Hamilton proposed Senators serve lifetime terms.

Jacques Necker found many followers in France with his 1784 publicaiton embracing the idea that public opinion should decide government actions. This was an idea that had been gaining strength in France since the 1760s. Several French authors argued that public opinion resulted from a general sense of moral government that would create a stable government. Madison took the argument further in his belief that public opinion had sovereignty.

Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote prominently how he saw public opinion as establishing cultural norms. Yet he was sometimes critical of public opinion, especially when the public lacked enough knowledge of an issue to form a proper norm.

Jacques Peuchet noted that printing made public opinion a more viable factor in guiding government actions than before. Many prior political philosophers recognized that political conversations were often limited to a select community. Printing made information and debates available to the masses.

Madison developed his unique ideas of public opinion by placing these ideas as central to republican governance. Many prior to then saw public opinion as ideas passed from the more literate to the public. Madison believed the general public opinion would create a consensus that could improve governance. Madison noted that self interest would motivate people’s opinions. He believed that a general good would emerge.

Madison saw public opinion as emerging from the popular notion of what is right. Madison believed a representative government would check majority rule. Representation would provide a voice for the public will.

Madison argued that the Constitution was based on enumerated abilities to act according to the public will. He argued it was not a document where government was giving rights to the public. He argued that public opinion demanded that, in order for it to support the Constitution, there needed to be a Bill of Rights added.

Claude Helvetius noted a monarch determined by ancestry would likely be immune to the corruptions of foreign influence. He also noted a monarch would more likely improperly dominate the residents. Still, he feared an elected administrator could be corrupted by competing interests. Madison urged a republican government would operate according to the public will.

Madison argued that republican government would avoid being arbitrary by reaching out and involving all of society.

Hamilton believed the U.S. needed to become economically tied to England. Madison believed the U.S, should avoid becoming economically reliant on any other country.

Hamilton foresaw American as having many competing commercial interests. Madison foresaw American as becoming a predominately agricultural nation.

Republican believes Federalists acted against the public will when the successfully fought for the creation of the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 1790s.

Vice President Thomas Jefferson led the Republican Party, assuming this role from Madison. He created an alliance with Aaron Burr to build support from New York Republicans. Jefferson and many Republicans were upset at the limitations on free speech that resulted from passage of the Sedition Act.

Madison and Jefferson wrote of “an appeal to the public”. Madison meant it as a constitutional convention. Jefferson meant it as a revolution. Madison believed there should be periodic constitutional convention to make corrections to improve government powers. He proposed there should be a constitutional convention every 19 years.

Helvetius believed self-interest is what motivated people. Jefferson argued that people also had moral senses allowing them to appreciate the needs of others.

Madison did not believe everyone was destined towards each reaching a perfect world. Condorcet believed language could tell of ideas that would bring people together. Madison did not believe a great equilibrium could be reached. He did believe a unity could be reached.