Going Nuclear and One Vote’s Fallout

 

Wikimedia Commons
Supreme Court Building

Recently the United States Senate went nuclear on the filibuster concerning Supreme Court nominations.  Going nuclear for one vote sounds like trying to kill a mosquito with a shot gun; but it does makes a lot of sense when one man’s vote can decide the fallout of a Presidential election.

Samuel J. Tilden
Rutherford B. Hayes

 

 

The 1876 Presidential election,which got a lot of attention after the 2000 contested Presidential election, was one that was fraught with fraud and voter irregularities, intimidation, violence and shooting clubs, particularly in the South.  The Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden had a slight lead over Rutherford B. Hayes in both the popular and Electoral College vote. However, there were 20 disputed electoral votes. Tilden eventually needed just one of those votes to give him the majority needed to claim victory.

The Electoral College has been the bane of the Democratic Party. Thomas Jefferson first got ensnared with Electoral College when he and Aaron Burr tied for the 1800 election. It took the House of Representatives, which was full anti-Jefferson Federalist, 11 days and 35 ballots to realize they hated Burr more than Jefferson and that the Electoral College really wanted Jefferson as president. The Twelfth Amendment was passed to make sure that snafu would not happen again.

Henry Clay

In 1824 Andrew Jackson saw Henry Clay steal his election in the House when Jackson failed to win a majority of the electoral votes in what was called the “Corrupt Bargain.”  It was a deal that made John Quincy Adams president and Clay the Secretary of State. At that time, four of the first six presidents had served as Secretary of State and Jackson’s supporters believed this was Clay’s attempt to position him for a run at the presidency. When Jackson was elected president, he took out his revenge on his political opponents and moved his policies through with the help of the “spoils system.”

But in 1876, parts of the South were still under Radical Reconstruction.  Union troops were still garrisoned around the South to ensure that Reconstruction civil rights continued and to ensure Republican control of state governments.  The South was ready to throw off the yoke of Radical Republican rule and run Northern carpetbaggers and scalawags out of Dixie. In fact, there were Democratic majorities in all but three Southern States: Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana.

Former slaves voting in 1867 in New Orleans

The 1876 election was the first Presidential Election in 20 years where a Democratic Candidate won a majority of the popular vote. The close election was compounded by voting irregularities and was contested in the three Southern states where the Grand Old Party was barely holding on.  There was one electoral vote being contested in Oregon.

Flash back to 1869 when Congress passed a new Judiciary Act.  This Act expanded the Supreme Court to nine justices.  During the Civil War, and the years following the war, Court membership slipped to seven.  The following year President Ulysses S. Grant chose two new justices, William Strong and Joseph P Bradley, both were sworn in March of 1870 and both would play a role in the 1876 election, Bradley more so than Strong.

As Inauguration Day approached like a lumbering fire truck, attempts to settle the matter brought about an extraordinary committee.  For the first time since the Civil War, the Democrats were in control of the House of Representatives. The Republicans held the Senate with the White House up for grabs. It was the beginning of the “Solid South.”  The old Confederacy states were falling back into the hands of Democrats – except for the three contested states.

In a moment of bipartisanship, despite that the country was still waving the bloody shirt over the Civil War, Congress devised a sure-fire compromise to grid lock who would get the 20 contested electoral votes.  It created a 15-member Electoral Commission of seven Democrats and seven Republicans with one so-called independent member. To further complicate matters, the commission was composed of five Senators, five House members and five Supreme Court Justices.  A real All-Star team of who’s on first.  The swing vote in this ensemble was supposed to be Justice David Davis.

Joseph P. Bradley

With so much at risk, backroom  deals were being tossed around like horseshoes at a backyard barbecue. Illinois Democrats tried to get out in front of the deal. After the commission members were chosen, Illinois Democrats elected Davis to the Senate. Their thinking was that this might help solidify Davis’s Democratic leanings. Davis, however, recuses himself.  Enter the one man with the one vote or in this case 20 votes: moderate Republican and Supreme Court Associate Justice, Joseph P Bradley, as the crowd surfer in the political mosh pit.

In no great surprise, the commission voted strictly along party lines: eight votes for Hayes and seven for Tilden giving Hayes a 185-184 victory and the White House. Starting with Lincoln the GOP would control the White House for 56 of the next 72 years. Although they did impeach Andrew Johnson, supposedly one of their own. The Republicans would keep a firm hand on the White House through the Gilded Age and right up to the Great Depression.

The Democrats did not come away empty handed.  They got Federal troops withdrawn from the South, which ended Reconstruction. Enter the age of Jim Crow and any attempts at civil rights in the South for another 100 years. They also got a Southern Democrat in Hayes Cabinet, the Post Master General. Finally they got a promise that there would be federal support for the Texas Pacific transcontinental southern railroad route. The railroad never happened. Business will always trump politics.

The Senate may have nuked a big part of the filibuster enabling it to get one man’s vote on the Supreme Court. The fallout from the blast, however, may not be radiated for years to come.

 

Pictures Wiki Commons

Some websites to visit

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_election.html

https://millercenter.org/president/jackson/domestic-affairs

http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/compromise-of-1877

http://constitution.laws.com/election-of-1876

https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/reconstruction/essays/contentious-election-1876

https://books.google.com/books?id=_48uAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=joseph+p+bradley’s+nomination+hearings+in+the+senate&source=bl&ots=dvT5ChCZIm&sig=zk0RGc0ZQQZ5v_PND25JnlSRCMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjA5qanpKTTAhXIVyYKHWx9AcIQ6AEIRTAH#v=onepage&q=joseph%20p%20bradley’s%20nomination%20hearings%20in%20the%20senate&f=false

 

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April, a Divisive Month and part of a rough 100 Days

 

With an explosion that would echo through the next four years and a flash of light that would singe the soul of America, a 90 pound shell belched out from the mouth of 10 inch Seacoast Mortar into the early morning darkness.  Its parabolic arch and burning fuse moving upward and over the waters of Charleston Harbor and then descending downward, exploding over Fort Sumter signaling the near-by forts to commence firing.  This was April 12, 1861, 40 days into President Abraham Lincoln’s first administration.

Lincoln basically had to sneak into Washington to be inaugurated. This may have been a good indication how his first 100 days would go.  Today we argue over the size of the crowds at recent presidential inaugurations.  Lincoln won the election with less than 40 percent of the popular vote but had almost 60 percent of the electoral vote. Lincoln is the only president elected with less than 40 percent of the popular vote. He did not receive a single vote in the Deep South “cotton belt” States. Even as popular as President John Kennedy was, he won with less than 50 percent of the popular vote.

Lincoln’s Inauguration Day crowd. Not so huge by today’s standard.

So on March 4, 1861, when Lincoln took to the steps of the Capitol seven Southern states had already left the union — the most of any president before or since — with four more to follow after the bombing of Fort Sumter. April was a rough month for Lincoln and the next four years would be rougher.

In the 1800’s  politics went beyond Blue States and Red States.  Lincoln may not have been the first president to hear some form of “not my president.” But he was the first and only president to face  a real divided America.

Calhoun did not see eye-to-eye with Jackson.                                                             fabius maximus

 

The talk of states actually leaving the Union started with the Hartford Convention, New England states strongly opposed to the War of 1812.  Later during the Nullification crisis,  South Carolina threatened to leave the Union over tariff issues during Andrew Jackson’s administration.

As the North became more industrialized there was a need for a higher tariff to protect the growing commerce.  The South remained agrarian based and disagreed with the tariff.  John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina Democrat and Jackson’s former vice president, championed the idea floated by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that states could nullify laws that they considered unconstitutional. This was before Marbury v Madison where Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Supreme Court gets to rule on the constitutionality of laws not the states or the executive branch. The Nullification Crisis was settled with the Union intact.  But after leaving office, Jackson was asked if he had any regrets to which he replied that he regretted not hanging Calhoun when he  had the chance.

Dealing with divisive issues is part of American history. For Lincoln there was no repeal and replace.  It was preserve the Union.

The Civil War put to rest the concept that states can nullify federal law or can withdraw from the United States. It  also was the starting gun for the diverse economy that was to develop in the post war era as railroads linked the country. The diversity of the population continued to change as people from as far away as China and Scandinavia were following the Irish and Germans to America and filling in the land between the coasts. Soon people from Eastern and Southern Europe and from the Americas would pour into the country.

It may be ironic, and just possible, that America’s  integrated diversity: economically and culturally, has softened out the rough differences of conservative or liberal; rural or urban; or whatever one’s religious beliefs might be, that keeps America as one despite attempts to separate and divide.

en.wikipedia
Pryor in later years — if you cannot beat ’em,  join ’em            en.wikipedia

Nobody is quite sure who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter. Confederate lore has it that Edmund Ruffin, a 66 year-old  Virginia secessionist, yanked the lanyard that sent the first round down range after  Roger Pryor, a Virginia Congressmen, refused saying, “I could not fire the first gun of the war.”

 

Some say that Capt. George S. James of the South Carolina Artillery gave the order to fire but did not physically set the fuse that ended up destroying the South and killing a half-a-million Americans.

Ruffin was such a die-hard secessionist that he could not envision living in a post Civil War world with Yankees. On June 18, 1865 Ruffin wrote: “I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connection with the Yankee race.” He then committed suicide.

Ruffin had a strong dislike of Yankees.                            en.wikipedia

Pryor, on the other hand, became a Confederate brigadier general and moved to New York after the war where he practiced law and served  as a judge on the New York State Supreme Court.

As for James, he became a Lieutenant Colonel and was killed at Fox Gap on September 14, 1862 during Lee’s invasion into Maryland.

The shots fired at Fort Sumter just happened to be unloosed in April.  It is nothing against the month of April. All the “lost causes”  leading up to the Civil War were cast well before Ruffin, Pryor or Johnson stood on the parapets at 4 am looking out to Fort Sumter and debating who should have the honors of getting the shooting war started. Not only did the war start in April it basically ended in April with both Robert E. Lee and Joseph Johnston surrendering the main Confederate Armies.  Lee surrendered on April 9th and Lincoln was assassinated five days later.

Some web sites to visit:

http://moultrie.battlefieldsinmotion.com/Artillery-10inchMortars.html

http://www.civilwar.org/hallowed-ground-magazine/winter-2010/problem-in-charleston-harbor.html

http://www.ushistory.org/us/24c.asp

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showelection.php?year=1860

http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/george-sholter-james.html

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/sumter.htm

https://www.usconstitution.net/elections.html

http://www.factcheck.org/2008/03/presidents-winning-without-popular-vote/

http://www.knowsouthernhistory.net/Biographies/Edmund_Ruffin/