Jackson’s Veto

 

 

Jackson’s veto of the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States on July 10, 1832 was important well beyond the issue of the Bank.  Prior to Jackson’s term the veto had been used sparingly by presidents and usually because the president claimed that the proposed Act of Congress was unconstitutional.  During the Revolutionary Era, the Founding Fathers had good reason to be leery of executive authority, and they built a Federal system where they assumed that Congress would be the dominant branch.  Jackson upset this scheme of government  with his twelve vetoes, two more than all of his predecessors combined, and his explicit determination to veto bills on the ground that he believed them to be bad public policy.  The Jackson view of the president as having a role in shaping public policy is so engrained now, that few people are aware of what a revolution Old Hickory wrought.  Here is his veto message, interspersed with commentary by me: (more…)

Published in: on May 31, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Casablanca and Operation Torch

Something for the weekend.  Ah, the things you can find on YouTube!  An orchestral performance of the scene from Casablanca (1942) where a group of German officers are singing Die Wacht am Rhien, only to be ultimately drowned out by the French patrons in Rick’s Cafe singing La Marseillaise.  Go here for an excellent examination of this moving scene.  At the time the movie was made the Vichy regime had banned the song and it had become the anthem of de Gaulle’s Free French Movement.

The movie was rushed into release shortly after Allied, mostly American, troops had landed in North Africa in Operation Torch.  After some initial fighting, the French garrisons came over to the Allied side, so the film had a strong contemporary resonance for American audiences which was completely fortuitous.

Published in: on May 30, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Casablanca and Operation Torch  
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May 29, 1865: Amnesty Proclamation

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Eventually President Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans in Congress would come to bitter blows over the issue of amnesty for former Confederates.  However, for now they were in agreement, and the Presidential Proclamation of May 29, 1865 outlined the oath to be taken by former Confederates and the classes of individuals excluded from taking the oath:

Amnesty Proclamation

 

Whereas the President of the United States, on the 8th day of December, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-three, and on the 26 day of March, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-four, did, with the object to suppress the existing rebellion, to induce all persons to return to their loyalty, and to restore the authority of the United States, issue proclamations offering amnesty and pardon to certain persons who had directly or by implication participated in the said rebellion; and whereas many persons who had so engaged in said rebellion have, since the issuance of said proclamations, failed or neglected to take the benefits offered thereby; and whereas many persons who have been justly deprived of all claim to amnesty and pardon thereunder, by reason of their participation directly or by implication in said rebellion, and continued hostility to the government of the United States since the date of said proclamation, now desire to apply for and obtain amnesty and pardon:

To the end, therefore, that the authority of the government of the United States may be restored, and that peace, order, and freedom may be established, I, ANDREW JOHNSON, President of the United States, do proclaim and declare that I hereby grant to all persons who have, directly or indirectly, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, amnesty and pardon, with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves, and except in cases where legal proceedings, under the laws of the United States providing for the confiscation of property of persons engaged in rebellion, have been instituted; but upon the condition, nevertheless, that every such person shall take and subscribe the following oath, (or affirmation,) and thenceforward keep and maintain said oath inviolate; and which oath shall be registered for permanent preservation, and shall be of the tenor and effect following, to wit:

I, _______ _______, do solemnly swear, (or affirm,) in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the union of the States thereunder; and that I will, in like manner, abide by, and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves. So help me God. (more…)

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Hiram Johnson

 

Hiram Johnson was a very successful politician.  In 1910 he was elected Governor of California as a Progressive Republican.  In 1912 he ran as Theodore Roosevelt’s Veep on the Bull Moose Party Platform, which, although the ticket ultimately was defeated gave him national renown.  Re-elected as Governor in 1914, he was elected to the Senate in 1916, a seat he would hold until his death in 1945.  In 1920 he was hopeful that he could carry the banner of Progressiveness as the Republican nominee for President. Progressivism was a waning force in the Republican party, but Johnson was willing to roll the dice.

Published in: on May 27, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Hiram Johnson  
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May 26, 1865: Kirby Smith Surrenders

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The last major Confederate force to surrender, General Edmund Kirby Smith, the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, signed the articles of surrender on May 26, 1865 in Galveston, Texas.  Consisting of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, the Trans-Mississippi had been cut off from the rest of the Confederacy since the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in mid 1863.  Smith then conducted the War in his sprawling Department on his own initiative, his command becoming known in the rest of the Confederacy as “Kirby Smithdom”. (more…)

Published in: on May 26, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Memorial Day: Why?

 

Not long ago I heard a young man ask why people still kept up Memorial Day, and it set me thinking of the answer. Not the answer that you and I should give to each other-not the expression of those feelings that, so long as you live, will make this day sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth–but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories, and in which we of the North and our brethren of the South could join in perfect accord.

 

So far as this last is concerned, to be sure, there is no trouble. The soldiers who were doing their best to kill one another felt less of personal hostility, I am very certain, than some who were not imperiled by their mutual endeavors. I have heard more than one of those who had been gallant and distinguished officers on the Confederate side say that they had had no such feeling. I know that I and those whom I knew best had not. We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win; we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluable; we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough. But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred conviction that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every men with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief. The experience of battle soon taught its lesson even to those who came into the field more bitterly disposed. You could not stand up day after day in those indecisive contests where overwhelming victory was impossible because neither side would run as they ought when beaten, without getting at least something of the same brotherhood for the enemy that the north pole of a magnet has for the south–each working in an opposite sense to the other, but each unable to get along without the other. As it was then , it is now. The soldiers of the war need no explanations; they can join in commemorating a soldier’s death with feelings not different in kind, whether he fell toward them or by their side. (more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Memorial Day: Why?  
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May 24, 1830: Mary Had a Little Lamb Published

Mary Sawyer was born in 1806.  The daughter of a farmer who lived near Sterling, Massachusetts, in March of 1816 she became close to a lamb who had been rejected by her mother.  At age 83 she wrote about the incident.

I went out to the barn with father; and after the cows had been fed, we went to the sheep pen, and found two lambs which had been born in the night. One had been forsaken by its mother, and through neglect, cold and lack of food was nearly dead. I saw it had still a little life, and asked to take it into the house; but father said, No, it was almost dead, anyway, and at the best could live but a short time. But I couldn’t bear to see the poor little thing suffer, so I teased until I got it into the house. Then I worked upon mother’s sympathies. At first the little creature could not swallow, and the catnip tea mother made it could not take for a long time.

I got the lamb warm by wrapping it in an old garment and holding it in my arms beside the fireplace. All day long I nursed the lamb, and at night it could swallow just a little. Oh, how pleased I was! But even then I wasn’t sure it would live; so I sat up all night with it, fearing it wouldn’t be warm enough if there was not someone at hand to look out for its comfort. In the morning, much to my girlish delight, it could stand; and from that time it improved rapidly. It soon learned to drink milk; and from the time it would walk about, it would follow me anywhere if I only called it.

One day the lamb was following Mary as she and her brother walked to school:

The day the lamb went to school, I hadn’t seen her before starting off; and not wanting to go without seeing her, I called. She recognized my voice, and soon I heard a faint bleating far down the field. More and more distinctly I heard it, and I knew my pet was coming to greet me. My brother Nat said, “Let’s take the lamb to school with us.” (more…)

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Eternal Father

Something for the weekend.  Eternal Father (1861) seems very appropriate for a Memorial Day weekend, as we remember those who paid the ultimate price for the freedom we cherish.  Written in 1860 as a poem by William Whiting in England, the music to accompany the lyrics was composed by John B. Dykes in 1861.  The moving hymn has always been a favorite of those who serve in the military:

Eternal Father, strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, 

Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep  

Its own appointed limits keep;  

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, 

For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard

And hushed their raging at Thy word,  

Who walkedst on the foaming deep,

And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,  

For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood

Upon the chaos dark and rude,

And bid its angry tumult cease,

And give, for wild confusion, peace;  

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,  

For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!

Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;

From rock and tempest, fire and foe, 

Protect them wheresoe’er they go;

  Thus evermore shall rise to Thee

Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

(more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Eternal Father  
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Top Ten Civil War Movies For Memorial Day

 

 

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

Shelby Foote

It is fitting that Memorial Day arose out of our bloodiest war, our war without an enemy.   Films to watch over the weekend:

 

10.    Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)-The showcase of this film biopic of Lincoln is the above depiction of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.   The debate portrayed has remarks culled from all the debates,  is an excellent recreation of the main arguments made by each of the men, and is evocative of their speaking styles.

Ironically neither of the actors portraying Lincoln and Douglas were Americans.  The actor portraying Douglas was Gene Lockhart, a Canadian.  If his voice sounds vaguely familiar to you, it is probably because you recall him as the judge in Miracle on 34th Street.  His daughter June Lockhart, of Lassie and Lost in Space fame, carried on the thespian tradition of the family.

Lincoln was portrayed by Raymond Massey, also a Canadian.  Massey was one of the great actors of his day and bore a strong physical resemblance to Lincoln.  Massey served in the Canadian Army in both World War I, where he saw combat on the Western Front as an artillery officer, and World War II, becoming a naturalized American citizen after World War II.  Like Lincoln he was a Republican and made a TV ad for Goldwater in the 1964 campaign.

The film helps explain why the Civil War happened.  A nation like America could not endure forever denying freedom to millions of Americans on the basis of race.  That we did not free the slaves peacefully led to the most terrible war in our history.

9.    Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863.  When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him.  Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, “A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

8.    Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers, and Confederate prisoners, who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.

7.    The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.

John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest.

Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech:

“Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’? You think our boys are asleep down here?   Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it.” (more…)

May 21, 1865: Jeremiah Clemens

Jeremiah Clemens

 

 

A second cousin of Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain, Jeremiah Clemens led a colorful life that came to an end on May 21, 1865. Born in 1814 in Alabama, he became a lawyer and served in the Alabama House before enlisting as a volunteer during the Mexican War, rising to the rank of Colonel.  After the War he served in the United States Senate from 1849-1853.  He achieved fame as a novelist, writing Bernard Lyle in 1853 and Mustang Grey in 1857, the novels set during the Texan War for Independence and the Mexican War.  In 1859 he published The Rivals, a novelization of the Hamilton-Burr feud.  (more…)

Published in: on May 21, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 21, 1865: Jeremiah Clemens  
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