D-Day Defeated

 

 

This could easily have been the seventy-sixth anniversary today of Eisenhower announcing the defeat of D-Day.

What we tend not to recall today is what an immense gamble D-Day appeared to be from the perspective of the Allies.  Amphibious landings had a distinctly mixed record for the Allies up to the D-Day landing.  Sometimes they worked, but they were just as apt to be bloody shambles like the Dieppe raid in 1942, or Anzio, a costly stalemate for four months with the Allies coming close to being thrown back into the sea.  Eisenhower had good reason for drafting a press release shouldering all the blame in case the D-Day invasion was repulsed:

 

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

There were many ways the invasion could have ended in defeat.

  1.  If the Germans had guessed correctly that Normandy was the invasion site and positioned their troops accordingly.  Hitler, intriguingly enough, had long thought that Normandy would be the invasion site, but eventually bowed to his Generals who thought that the invasion would come at Calais.
  2. Worse weather.  The weather in the Channel was bad to marginal for a cross Channel invasion.  If the Allies had faced on D-Day storms of the severity that occurred on June 19, and wrecked the Mulberry harbor at Omaha Beach, the invasion would likely not have succeeded.
  3. The Omaha Beach landing did come close to defeat.  More German troops and the battle could easily have gone the other way.
  4. Of the ten panzer divisions in France, only one, the 21st, was in striking distance of Normandy on D-Day.  Considering the havoc the panzers wreaked in Normandy, after running the gauntlet of Allied air power, if the Germans had a third of their panzer divisions pre-positioned in Normandy they might have tipped the balance on D-Day.

The historical outcome should not blind us to the rolling of the dice the Allied leadership engaged in on June 6.  They had done what they could to ensure a favorable outcome, but the information they lacked made the entire operation a calculated risk.

 

Published in: on June 8, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on D-Day Defeated  
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The Kennedy-Goldwater Debates

 

The Kennedy-Goldwater debates have been called the seminal political event in modern American history.  Certainly their impact on how American presidential campaigns are conducted has been immense, with debates in the style of the Kennedy-Goldwater debates being conducted in every following presidential contest.  One initial question that puzzles when looking back at those debates is why President Kennedy agreed to them.  Unlike 1960, the 1964 presidential election did not appear to likely be a close contest.  The unemployment rate was five percent, and inflation, at one percent, was a non-factor.  Kennedy had earned quite a bit of popular sympathy due to the death of Mrs. Kennedy in the assassination attempt by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  Kennedy had been shattered by her death, and gave serious thought to not running for reelection in 1964, and retiring after one term.  However, he quickly realized that this would make his vice-president the all but certain Democratic nominee in 1964, a fact that Kennedy found distasteful for two reasons that Kennedy noted to his press secretary Pierre Salinger:  “The thought of Lyndon as the nominee frightens me.  First, he might lose and, second, he might win.”

Kennedy and Goldwater were friends.  Both World War II veterans, they each were elected to the Senate in 1952.  Despite their partisan differences, they quickly became the closest of political adversaries.  In 1963 they began to discuss a series of debates, modeled on the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

The nomination process for each of the parties was a study in contrasts.  Kennedy had no opposition for the Democrat nomination, while Goldwater’s nomination was the culmination of a long going feud in the Republican party between conservative and liberal factions.  By the time of his nomination, Goldwater was the leader of a badly fractured party, and the polls indicated he had no chance to win the election.  Kennedy advisors counseled him not to debate Goldwater at all, and if a debate were held, to do so in the 1960 format that had served Kennedy so well.  Kennedy rejected the advice.  He had promised Goldwater debates in the Lincoln-Douglas format.  Reneging now would cause him to go back on his word, and, perhaps, indicate that he was afraid to face Goldwater, an imputation that Kennedy could not allow.

Goldwater benefited greatly from the debates.  The Republican convention had been a disaster for him, and most of the media was attempting to portray Goldwater as a trigger happy ideologue who might start a nuclear war.  The debate format, where the candidates spent a fair amount of time asking each other questions directly without a moderator, allowed Goldwater’s essentially genial personality to shine through.  Kennedy also stumbled on the question of Vietnam, displaying a fair amount of ambivalence as to what should be done.  Kennedy won decisively, 54% to 46%, but the election was not the rout that the early campaign polls had predicted.  Polls indicated that the public loved the debate format, and the ratings for the debates indicated that the polls were accurate.

The torment of the Kennedy second term is well known, with the radical expansion of government under Kennedy’s New Frontier initiative, increasing racial turbulence over Civil Rights, but most of all Vietnam.  Initially Kennedy increased American involvement in 1965, sending American combat units to shore up the government of South Vietnam.  Kennedy was shocked at the vociferous reaction of his liberal base to this, and in 1966 attempted abortive negotiations with the government of North Vietnam.  His unilateral withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam in 1967, and the rapid fall of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to Communist insurgents, shocked the nation.  Pictures of desperate Vietnamese fleeing by sea to seek refuge led the nightly news for weeks.  One of the most vociferous critics of President Kennedy’s Vietnam policy was Senator Barry Goldwater.

1968 was the mirror image of 1964.  Goldwater led a united Republican party while Vice President Johnson helmed a badly divided Democratic party, a party whose divisions had been on full display both within and without the Democratic convention in Chicago.  Goldwater had no need to debate Johnson, but he did so in the Lincoln-Douglas debate style of 1954.  Commentators who knew the well earned bombastic reputation of Johnson were shocked that in the debates he came across as very carefully spoken, and quiet.  Wags wondered how many tranquilizer darts had been shot into Johnson.  In any case the debates did not help him, with Goldwater winning with 50% of the vote.  Alabama Governor George Wallace took 13% of the vote and 45 electoral votes in the deep south, running on a populist, and overtly racist, outsider platform.  What Goldwater did as President will be examined on another occasion.

 

 

Published in: on April 1, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Kennedy-Goldwater Debates  
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History: Great Events or Great Men and Great Women?

 

One of the abiding debates in History is whether it is shaped primarily by vast forces at work in human civilizations or by great, the term is not used in a moral sense, men and women who shape the times in which they lived.  It is tempting to fudge the question and say both, an easy answer and partially true.  Napoleon would doubtless have ended his career on half pay as a Major serving in the Royal artillery of France but for the French Revolution.  However, it is impossible to see the French Revolution morphing into the French Empire without the drive, extreme military genius and grandiose vision of Napoleon.  I think it is also impossible to see the French Revolution occurring or prevailing except for Louis XVI, a good man and perhaps the most incompetent of French monarchs being, on the throne of France in 1789.  No, I am fully in the camp of historians who believe history is shaped mostly by great individuals.  Behind the scenes of course all of this is being stage managed for His purposes, within the limits of human free will, by God, but that is to leave History and enter the realm of theology.

Recently I read the book Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the Twenty-First Century (2013) by Christian Caryl.  It is an astonishingly good book and shows how four figures:  Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Deng Xiaoping, Ayatollah Khomeini, each, in their own way, led counter-revolutions against the drift towards Socialism that was the dominant theme of the world post World War II up till 1979.  Of course there was a fifth figure at that time, perhaps the most important of them all, who was preparing a campaign which would drive from power an incumbent President and alter the course of American, and world, history, Ronald Reagan.  Reagan is a large figure in Caryl’s chapters on Thatcher, but I think he explored the other four individuals in making his argument, because they are much less well known, with the possible exception of Pope John Paul II, to most Americans than Reagan.

Thatcher made an odd Prime Minister of Great Britain, and not primarily because of her sex.  As she climbed the greasy pole of British politics, her opponents sneered at her lower middle class origins, calling her “the grocer’s daughter”.  I doubt if Thatcher minded.  Most of her world view she acquired from her father, an intensely religious and conservative man, who treasured hard work and drive, and preached the need for limited government and the importance of the free market.  He taught his daughter never to follow the crowd and to stand unhesitatingly for what she thought was right.  In her radical embrace of free markets and her intense Euro-skepticism, Thatcher stood in sharp contrast to the well bred elites who tended to dominate the Conservative Party.  What Thatcher proclaimed, they argued sotto voce, was well enough to say when stumping for votes, but to actually govern that way would be a disaster.  She proved them wrong and they never forgave her for it, ultimately replacing her in 1990 with the colorless non-entity John Major, who would lead the Tories to their worst electoral defeat ever in 1997 at the hands of Tony Blair and his more market oriented New Labor.  Thatcher died in 2013, her passing marked by displays of raw hate by the far Left in the UK.  (I suspect that Thatcher would have viewed these grotesque displays of bile as the finest tribute paid to her!)  The hatred was well earned.  Thatcher had planted well.  No British government could return to pre-Thatcher Socialism and her Euro-skepticism was prophetic of the Brexit vote in 2016.  Rather than being shaped by her times primarily, Thatcher shaped the times to come.

 

Published in: on January 13, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on History: Great Events or Great Men and Great Women?  
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USMC v. SPQR

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought the military history mavens of Almost Chosen People might have fun with it.)

Not quite as one sided as Napoleon having a B-52 at Waterloo, or the Allies confronting in World War II a Nazi reared Ubermensch.

 

Published in: on December 5, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on USMC v. SPQR  
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Theodore Roosevelt and the Almost Second Civil War

 

 

Theodore Roosevelt never made any secret of his detestation of Woodrow Wilson, thus it was small wonder that his campaign for President in 1920 was a crusade to eradicate the legacy of his successor in the White House.  This was congenial to almost all Republicans, and Roosevelt was coronated, rather than inaugurated, at the Republican national convention in 1920.  Forgotten was the schism in the Republican Party in 1912 between Progressives and Conservatives.  Roosevelt, in his acceptance speech, proclaimed that he knew not either Progressives or Conservatives, but only Republicans.  He sealed the deal by having Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding as his running mate, the man who had given the nomination speech for Taft at the bitterly divided Republican national convention in 1912.  The Democrats nominated Governor James M. Cox of Ohio, and, in one of the more flat footed moves in American political history, nominated as Vice-President former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a distant relative of Theodore Roosevelt, who was married to the niece of the former President.  Democrats earned ridicule with the campaign slogan:  Vote for our Roosevelt! and an embarrassed Franklin Roosevelt quickly announced that he held his uncle by marriage in the highest esteem and that he would not think of comparing himself to him.  Theodore Roosevelt campaigned like a human cyclone, and won in a historic landslide with 65% of the popular vote and 417 electoral votes, breaching the Old Confederacy by taking the state of Tennessee.  Roosevelt said on election night that he had never felt so good since the charge up San Juan Hill.

Behind the scenes however, concerns were being raised about the health of the President Elect.  Since 1918 rheumatism had plagued him, and the assorted injuries and illnesses of a tempestuous lifetime were grinding him down.  In public he still projected an air of robust vigor.  In private he was often exhausted and frequently unwell.

Nonetheless his administration started well.  He negotiated separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary so the US was no longer technically at war with these former members of the Central Powers.  He sent an American observer to the League of Nations, and announced that the US would join in League actions if such actions were in the interests of the US.

On the domestic front he once again made a strong plea for a Federal anti-lynching law, only to see it die in the Senate, once again, at the hands of Democratic Southern senators. This had happened before during his first go round as President, but he was not going to tolerate this outcome now.  Roosevelt had been deeply moved by the sight of the hundreds of thousands of blacks who served faithfully in the military during the Great War.  He had been disgusted by the segregation of the Federal civil service by Wilson, and he had been alarmed by the bloody race riots that occurred during the Great War and its aftermath.  Roosevelt was convinced that the nation could no longer afford the evil luxury of treating its black citizens as fifth class Americans.  Conferring with his old friend Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, President Roosevelt had the Republicans use their 9 seat majority in the Senate to do away with the Senate filibuster, which caused a considerable uproar around the nation, particularly in the South.  The uproar increased markedly in volume when the Senate passed the anti-lynching law and rose to typhoon level when the House and Senate passed what was popularly known as the Lodge Force Bill of 1921, which basically put the Federal government in charge of elections, the purpose of which was to ensure the right of blacks in the South to vote.  This was a revival of a bill that Senator Lodge first had proposed in 1890.

President Roosevelt expected that these moves would be unpopular in the South among whites, but he was stunned by the reaction that resulted.  Southern governors meeting in Richmond, Virginia drew up a proclamation that stated that the South would resist the Federal election takeover in the courts, and by force if necessary.   The proclamation further recited that Southern National Guard units would never be used against the white citizens of the South and that any efforts to federalize the Southern National Guard to enforce the will of the Federal government on white citizens would be null and void.  A conference of all Southern states was scheduled for January 19, 1922, the birthday of Robert E. Lee, in Montgomery, Alabama to consider what further efforts to make in response to the actions of the Roosevelt administration.

Never a man to back down from a fight, Roosevelt had Congress pass what became known as the Roosevelt Force Bill on November 1, 1921, which authorized the President to call for a million volunteers in the event of a domestic insurrection.  At the same time he gave a speech on November 11, 1921 in which he noted that the North and the South had spilled their blood together on the battlefields of the Spanish-American War and the Great War and that present passions must not allow them to see in their own day the horrible bloodshed of the Civil War played out again.

Who knows what might have happened if TR had not died in his sleep on November 15, 1921, worn down by the cares of office and his own poor health.  Vice President Warren G. Harding spoke for many Americans when he said:  Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight. 

As President, Harding now had to deal with a nation on the brink of a second civil war, less than sixty years after the first Civil War.  The newly formed American Legion began the process of compromise that ultimately led to the avoidance of War.  American Legion posts around the nation passed resolutions calling on Congress to resolve the differences between North and South peacefully, further announcing that no member of the post would ever fight against fellow Americans.  Veterans of Foreign War posts swiftly followed suit, as did the elderly veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic and the various Confederate veteran organizations.  The American Peace Society was founded, dedicated to the proposition that Americans would never fight against each other again.  Black Republicans were aghast, afraid that their long awaited deliverance from disenfranchisement in the South was to be taken away from them.  Their fears were prescient.

President Harding met with leaders of Congress from December 26, 1921 to January 1, 1922 and hammered out what came to be known as the Compromise of 1922.  The main provisions  were as follows:

  1.  The anti-lynching law would remain in effect.
  2. The Lodge Force Bill would be repealed.
  3. A Commission appointed by the President would be set up to study the issue of the civil rights of negroes in the South.
  4. The Senate filibuster would be reestablished and a constitutional amendment passed enshrining the Senate filibuster in the Constitution, with the proviso that the filibuster could be overridden in regard to legislation which would have passed in three consecutive Congresses, absent the use of the filibuster.

As with all compromises, no one was completely happy with it, especially black Republicans, but with the alternative being civil war the measure was passed overwhelmingly by Congress, and the Filibuster Amendment was approved by the requisite number of the states by Thanksgiving of 1922.  In his State of the Union address of December 8, 1922, President Harding praised the return to normalcy, a new word the President coined, in the nation.

Almost unnoticed in all the political furor over civil war, the nation had recovered from the post war slump, and the economy was roaring along.  In reaction to the avoidance of civil war and the good economy, an ebullient mood swept across the nation, and what historians called the Second Era of Good Feelings began.

Political prognosticators were predicting a landslide win in 1924 for the popular President Harding when a dazed country woke up on August 3, 1923 to learn that Harding had died of a heart attack in San Francisco the day before.  Two Presidents dying in a period of less than two years struck most Americans as an ill omen.  The new President, Senator Albert B. Cummins of Iowa, the President Pro Temporare of the Senate, would have his work cut out for him.

Published in: on April 1, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Theodore Roosevelt and the Almost Second Civil War  
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No World War I

Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars,
That make ambition virtue!

Othello, Act 3, Scene 3

 

 

Alternate history has always fascinated me, and Andrew Roberts, a great contemporary historian, I heartily recommend his recent biography of Churchill, does a good job of pointing out the traumas that arose in the wake of the grand blood-letting we call World War I, and how they may have been avoided if World War I had not occurred.  Do I think  World War I could have been avoided?  Well, certainly the crisis over Sarajevo could have been settled peacefully if a modicum of common sense by Austria-Hungary and Germany had prevailed.  However, Europe had enjoyed an unprecedented, up to that time, peace since Waterloo in 1815, interrupted only by relatively brief wars between the Great Powers, but by 1914 this vacation from history was manifestly breaking down.  The Balkans had produced, since the closing decades of the 19th century, a series of minor wars that were always threatening to get out of hand and involve the Great Powers.  For good reason Otto von Bismarck, the man who created Imperial Germany, had predicted the year before his death:“That one day the great European War would come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”   In the decades leading up to the Sarajevo Crisis, Europe had weathered a series of crises that threatened great power clashes.  Below the surface of the stability of the Great Powers were revolutionary movements, waiting impatiently in the wings of contemporary history for their forthcoming moment on center stage.  In retrospect it is not of note that the Great War came, but that its outbreak had been delayed so long by jury-rigged emergency diplomacy, a general hesitation among the Great Powers to risk all on a roll of the iron dice of war and, above all, good luck.  When peace depends primarily on luck, sooner or later the good luck will run out.

 

 

Darryl Bates : What started it?

Published in: on January 7, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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The Man in the High Castle Season Three: October 5, 2018

Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

Ecclesiastes 12:5

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61souSkwDk4

 

Well that took a while.  I have eagerly anticipated Season Three of the Amazon Prime Series The Man in the High Castle, and it will finally premiere on October 5, 2018.

The late Philip K. Dick, paranoid, left-leaning, mentally ill and drug abuser, was nevertheless a science fiction writer of pure genius.  His book The Man in the High Castle (1962) introduced me as a boy to the genre of alternate history, with his unforgettable evocation of a United States divided by the victorious Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  One of the main plot devices in the book is a novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which posits an alternate reality in which the Allies won World War II.  Like most of Dick’s work, the book suggests that the dividing line between alternate realities can be very thin.

Dick’s novel brings out the contingency of history, a factor overlooked by many people.  History is what has occurred.  While we are living it, making our contribution to what will be the history of our times, we understand that what will be is the result of many factors and predicting the future is a fool’s game.  The past seems rock solid by comparison.  Understanding however the events and circumstances that shaped the past, and also comprehending that different paths could easily have been followed, gives us a different view of the past and the present.    It is one thing to go through life with the philosophy that “what will be, will be” and quite another to appreciate that the future depends upon what we and our contemporaries do now.

Published in: on August 7, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Man in the High Castle Season Three: October 5, 2018  
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President John J. Pershing

 

It has long been thought by most historians that General John J. Pershing made a great mistake by agreeing to the Republican draft for President in 1920.  A national hero after World War I, he was no politician, a point he repeatedly made during his term in office.   A few revisionist historians have contended that Pershing was a highly effective President who saved the country much trouble and care down the road, but these historians are distinctly in the minority.  The current writer is firmly in the camp of the majority of historians who view Pershing’s Presidency as an unfortunate end to a glorious career.

Once Pershing had the Republican nomination in 1920, his election was a foregone conclusion even though he did almost no campaigning.  By 1920 the country was tired of the policies of the Democrats under Wilson and ready for a change.  The economic downturn after The Great War only increased the unlikelihood of a Democrat victory in November, and Pershing and the GOP won in a landslide.

Pershing ran his administration much as he ran the AEF.  Find the right men for the job, tell them in broad terms what to do, and then get out of their way.  The economy quickly rebounded and prosperity made the new administration popular, popular enough to get away with a move that most Republicans viewed with displeasure.  When the French and Belgians occupied the Ruhr to extract reparations called for under the Versailles Treaty from the recalcitrant Germans in January of 1923, Pershing gave his full-throated approval.  Pershing had always believed that the armistice which ended the fighting had been a mistake, and that Germany should have been occupied by the Allies to make plain to them that they had been beaten in the field, and that planning for a future war of vengeance was madness.  Pershing knew that he could never get Congress to appropriate funds for American troops to join in the occupation of the Ruhr;   he instead announced 25 new consulates in the Ruhr and sent a force of 2,000 Marines to protect them.  Isolationists in Congress howled, but Pershing responded that he had seen too many American boys die in the Great War and he would do whatever it took to to prevent that from happening in a second Great War.  With American involvement, the British also dispatched troops and spearheaded negotiations with the Germans to make the reparation payments more feasible for the Germans.

Perhaps things would have calmed down if not for the declaration of emergency in Bavaria by Bavarian Prime Minister Eugen von Knilling on September 26, 1923.  Pershing, over the strong objections of the German government, sent 1,000 Marines from the Ruhr to Munich to protect the American consulate.  This move led to ever increasing mass protests outside of the American consulate.  On November 9, 1923 a huge crowd attempted to storm the consulate.  The Marines opened fire and some 243 Germans were killed and 1523 wounded.  Among the dead were General Erich Ludendorff and an obscure Austrian politician and former corporal in the German army, Adolf Hitler, who led a small party calling themselves the National Socialist Workers’ Party.  The Munich massacre, as it came to be called, led to political convulsions in Germany with the German army seizing control and imposing martial law throughout the country. (more…)

Published in: on April 1, 2018 at 11:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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What If Abraham Lincoln Had Died Young?

 

 

On his 209th birthday it is perhaps appropriate to consider how the world would have changed if Abraham Lincoln had died young.  Unlike many great figures in history, Lincoln did not matter in a historical sense until around the last decade of his life.  Up to that time his political career had been mostly undistinguished and he had attracted little national notice.  If he had died in 1855 his name would now be unknown except in the pages of the most comprehensive histories of Illinois in the middle of the Nineteenth Century.  With his birth in the harsh conditions of a pioneer family, death was certainly not a stranger.  His brother Thomas died before he was three days old.  His mother died at the age of 34.  His sister died at age 20 in childbirth.  Lincoln came close to death when he was kicked by a horse in the head at 9 years of age in 1818.  He was clubbed in the head during a robbery attempt in 1828.  He contracted malaria in Illinois and had two bouts of it in 1830 and 1835.  He suffered from bouts of depression and some of his friends feared on at least one occasion that he might try to commit suicide.  Lincoln in 1838 may have published a poem,  authorship is still debated, called The Suicide’s Soliloquy:

 

Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

No fellow-man shall learn my fate,
Or where my ashes lie;
Unless by beasts drawn round their bait,
Or by the ravens’ cry.

Yes! I’ve resolved the deed to do,
And this the place to do it:
This heart I’ll rush a dagger through,
Though I in hell should rue it!

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I’m prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn’d on earth!

Sweet steel! come forth from your sheath,
And glist’ning, speak your powers;
Rip up the organs of my breath,
And draw my blood in showers!

I strike! It quivers in that heart
Which drives me to this end;
I draw and kiss the bloody dart,
My last—my only friend!

 

Lincoln was a remarkable man, and perhaps not the least remarkable feature about him is that he survived long enough to become a national figure and President.

Now let us assume that fate was not so kind, and Lincoln departed this Veil of Tears circa 1855 or earlier.  What would have been different in 1860?  The Democrats would still have been facing a party split.  Southern Democrats were unwilling to support a nominee who was not a forthright no compromise advocate of slavery.  The Northern Democrats, facing the rising Republican Party, realized this was political suicide and would still have rallied around Douglas as their political standard bearer.  On the Republican side, Seward of New York would likely have won the nomination unless a dark horse moderate on the slavery issue had arisen.  That of course is how Lincoln ultimately won the nomination, Republican party leaders viewing Seward as too radical on the slavery issue and potentially scaring away moderate Northerners and costing the Republicans their first win at the White House.  However, in the absence of Lincoln, who was a moderate on slavery but who gained a good deal of support from abolitionists due to confronting Douglas on the slavery issue in the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, I think it likely that Seward would have gained the nomination.  Seward would have gone on almost certainly to win the general election, the Democrat split making a Republican victory in 1860 almost a foregone conclusion.

If Seward had been elected would the South have seceded?  Almost certainly.  Lincoln was largely an unknown quantity in the South while Seward had been in the anti-slavery vanguard for many years.  Seward had been a devil figure in the South since his maiden speech in the Senate on March 11, 1850 with this passage:

I deem it established, then, that the Constitution does not recognize property in man, but leaves that question, as between the states, to the law of nature and of nations. That law, as expounded by Vattel, is founded on the reason of things. When God had created the earth, with its wonderful adaptations, He gave dominion over it to man, absolute human dominion. The title of that dominion, thus bestowed, would have been incomplete, if the lord of all terrestrial things could himself have been the property of his fellow- man.

With this appeal to natural law, Seward ever after in the South was viewed as an anti-slavery radical who regarded a higher law demanding freedom as putting the safeguards of the Constitution, that the South relied upon to protect their Peculiar Institution, as mere parchment barricades that could be breached instantly.  Secession likely would have been swifter under a President Elect Seward than it was under a President Elect Lincoln.

This of course would have been immensely ironic since Seward was quite willing to give the South virtually everything it wanted to avoid secession historically in early 1861.  Of course his vantage point would have been quite different as incoming President than as the incoming Secretary of State, but the urge to avert splitting the nation by surrender on the slavery issue would have been the same.  Would it have worked?  Almost certainly not.  Lincoln gave half-hearted support to a Thirteenth Amendment that would have enshrined slavery in the Constitution and that had zero impact on the desire of the South to form the Confederacy.  The South was not in a mood to accept anything short of independence.

Once compromise failed would Seward have fought to preserve the Union?  Likely no.  Seward historically was in favor of evacuating Fort Sumter.  He also thought that starting a foreign war with France or England would cause the Confederates to rejoin the Union.  That last idea was so divorced from reality, I suspect that Seward viewed a war to preserve the Union prior to the firing on Fort Sumter as being unthinkable.  A President Seward may well have evacuated federal installations in the South and adopted a policy of watchful waiting to see if the South would have come back voluntarily.  This policy would have ended in de facto recognition of the independence of the Confederacy, and probably a bitter civil war within the Republican party that would have led to Democrat victories at the polls in 1862 and 1864.  There would have been many areas where a Confederate States and United States would have come into conflict, including territories in the West, the border states, runaway slaves and further efforts at foreign expansion by both countries, but they are beyond the scope of the present exercise in musing on alternate history.  Thus we leave President Seward presiding over a rump United States and return to our reality.

 

Published in: on February 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on What If Abraham Lincoln Had Died Young?  
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United Socialist States of America

 

 

An exercise in alternate history.

The path to the creation of the United Socialist States of America began with the death of President Franklin Roosevelt on  April 12, 1944 and the accession to the Presidency by Vice-President Henry Wallace.  Personally favorable to the Soviet Union, the new President surrounded himself with fellow travelers and security risks.

In the Presidential election of 1944 Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican nominee, denounced Wallace as “soft on Communism”, a charge that Wallace vigorously denied. Wallace was elected in a close contest with Senator Glen Taylor (D.Id) as his Vice-President.

Following the conclusion of World War II, Wallace followed a policy of rapid demobilization which was quite popular, leaving only three divisions in Europe for occupation duties. General Eisenhower denounced this as being an inadequate force and resigned from the Army.  Wallace turned a blind eye to the Soviet imposition of Communist governments in Eastern Europe, with his inaction being denounced vociferously by the Republicans and by many Democrats, most notably Senator Harry Truman (D.Mo.).

Which member of the Wallace administration secretly provided the Soviets with the blue prints to build atomic bombs in 1945 remains unclear, but suspicion has usually focused on Secretary of State Alger Hiss.  Hiss was certainly instrumental in turning Werner von Braun and his associates over to the Soviets in 1945.  By 1948 Communist parties dominated all of Eastern Europe and Italy.

Wallace was defeated for re-election in 1948, running on the Progressive Party ticket after being denied the Democrat nomination which went to Harry Truman.  Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican standard bearer,  won in the fall with Truman a close second and Wallace a humiliating third with 2.4% of the votes.

The Wallace administration was history, but it left behind in the government bureaucracies many individuals who served as agents for the Soviet Union out of ideological conviction.  Steps to remove them were only partially successful, and throughout the ensuing Cold War they provided steady intelligence to the Soviet Union which allowed it to maintain a technological parity with the United States as the years passed.  Rising to senior positions in the various government bureaucracies they sheltered younger agents who joined them over the years.

With the defeat of US forces in Vietnam, the Henry Wallace wing of the Democrat party became dominant, with George McGovern narrowly defeating Ronald Reagan in 1976.  Embarking on a policy of a 37% reduction in military spending, which represented in practice a policy of unilateral disarmament, McGovern was not a knowing agent of the Soviet Union, although it is difficult to see what difference  it would have made in his policies if he had been.  He steadfastly ignored the toppling of governments of Central America by communist insurrections and the swarms of Soviet advisors that helped prop up the new regimes.  The beginning of a Communist insurrection in Mexico in 1978 alarmed many in the United States, but McGovern stuck to his policy of “Come Home America” and continued his policy of non-involvement in military struggles abroad. (more…)

Published in: on January 21, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on United Socialist States of America  
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