Monthly Archives: December 2013

The 1960 Presidential Election & the Lingering Effects of the Civil War

1960 presidential electoral map (JFK Library)

1960 presidential electoral map (JFK Library)

In my previous article, I explained how the Democrats’ implosion at the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Charleston, SC, opened the door to Lincoln’s election. This week, we will move ahead 100 years to see how the Civil War affected party politics well into the twentieth century. Some say it still continues to affect national elections. I would not contest the point.

It may be difficult to believe today, but in 1960, John Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, could not have won the White House without winning most of the South. Nixon took Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida, but Kennedy took North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. A third party candidate, Harry Byrd, took Mississippi. Kennedy and Byrd split the electoral votes in Alabama.

First-ever televised presidential debate in Chicago, Ill. (Source: NBC News)

First-ever televised presidential debate in Chicago, Ill. between Nixon and Kennedy (Source: NBC News)

Yes, having Texas United States Senator Lyndon Johnson contributed to Kennedy’s success, but Southerners’ antipathy to the Republican Party (the party of Lincoln), played the larger role.

One only has to look at Eisenhower’s landslide victories in 1952 and 1956. Although Ike was very popular as the World War II commander of the Allies’ European forces, Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson won his few electoral victories in the South, winning North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas in both elections (also winning West Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana in 1952, but not in 1956, and picking up Missouri in 1956).

So, what turned the tide? When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, outlawing discrimination in voting registration, schools, and employment, he knew he did so at the peril of the Democratic Party. Although Johnson won a landslide victory in 1964, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater took South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and his home state of Arizona. It seems white Southerners were more intimidated by the immediate prospect of African Americans with equal rights than by the more remote possibility of a nuclear war that might extinguish human life from the planet. (See Johnson campaign “Daisy Girl” commercial below)

Once the Republicans made inroads into the South, they employed a “Southern strategy,” successfully convincing many Southern Democrats that the Democratic Party had become hostile to Dixiecrats’ segregationist policies. The trickle of Southerners into the Republican Party became a flood. But in 1960, most white Southern voters viewed Republicans as the party of Lincoln, the party of “Northern aggression.” They had not yet abandoned the party of their ancestors.

To see electoral maps from Presidential elections, go to the President Elect website at http://presidentelect.us.

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Filed under 1960s, Civil Rights, Civil War, Elections, Presidential elections, Presidents

The 1860 Democratic National Convention: Seeds of Self-Destruction

1860 DNC in Charleston, SC (Source: Wisconsin Historical Society)

1860 DNC in Charleston, SC (Source: Wisconsin Historical Society)

It sounds outrageously preposterous today, a Democratic national convention held in Charleston, South Carolina. But the Democratic party of April 1860 was very different from the one of today.

Northern and Southern Democrats were fiercely anti-abolitionist, the primary difference being that Northern Democrats supported Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas’s Freeport Doctrine, whereby federal law would not protect slavery in any territory where the people did not want it. Southern Democrats would hear none of it, demanding a government that supported the rights of masters to employ their slaves wherever, whenever, and however they wished. They were accustomed to a Southern-dominated Supreme Court, a Southerner or a Southern sympathizer in the White House, and an equally divided Senate that protected slave owners’ rights as new states were admitted into the Union. They feared the prospect of new states tilting the balance in the Senate as Americans settled territory not conducive to a slave-based economy.

Senator Stephen Douglas (Source: The New York Times)

Senator Stephen Douglas (Source: The New York Times)

The Democratic delegates expected Senator William Seward of New York to win the Republican nomination. Republicans accepted slavery where it was already legal, but opposed its further expansion. A unified Democratic Party could win the White House only by winning some states outside the South’s borders.

Many Southern delegates saw little difference between Seward’s position and that of Douglas if future states were likely to outlaw slavery anyway. The Southern “Fire Eaters” wanted more and were prepared to go their own way if they didn’t get it. They demanded a plank in the party platform providing:

. . . that the Democracy of the United States hold these cardinal principles on the subject of slavery in the Territories; First, that Congress has no power to abolish slavery in the Territories; Second, that the Territorial Legislature has no power to abolish slavery in any Territory, nor to prohibit the introduction of slaves therein, nor any power to exclude slavery therefrom, nor any right to destroy or impair the right of property in slaves by any legislation whatever.

It was too much for the Northern delegates to swallow. The Douglas forces won a hollow victory when the plank was voted down. But Douglas needed two thirds of the delegates’ support to win the nomination. The Fire Eaters walked out when they did not get their way and the chairman ruled a candidate had to win two thirds of the delegates including in that number the delegates who had walked out. The delegates agreed to reconvene in Baltimore in June.

Senator William Seward (Source: About.com)

Senator William Seward (Source: About.com)

In Baltimore the Douglas forces got a new chairman, new rules, and pro-Douglas delegates from the cotton states, thereby securing the nomination. The Fire Eaters held their own convention, nominating the sitting vice-president, John Breckinridge. The party had split, paving the way for Lincoln’s, not Seward’s, election. Six months later, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.

Thus, although the first shots were not fired until April 12, 1861, the seeds of self-destruction were sown in the same city one year earlier.

For an excellent historical account of the Charleston convention, see chapter 1 of Bruce Catton’s The Coming Fury (1961). For a fictional account (with the same results), see chapter 62 of my novel, New Garden (2013), where one of the principal characters serves as a North Carolina delegate.

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Filed under 1800s, American history, Civil War, slavery, Uncategorized

Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight

A Vietnam War protest (Source: Haverford Blog)

A Vietnam War protest (Source: Haverford Blog)

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, I often heard the expression “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” in the context of the Vietnam War but gave little thought to the expression’s origins. The sentiment was given voice in numerous protest songs, perhaps most poignantly by Credence Clearwater Revival in Fortunate Son.

Those on the battlefront largely come from the less fortunate among us. It was true in the Mexican War, the Civil War, and the Vietnam War. It is true today.

In the 1840s, recruiting officers filled the ranks of the American army by going into German and Irish ghettos of America’s cities. The foreign born accounted for more than 40% of the army’s enlisted men. [John S.D. Eisenhower, So Far From God, U.S. War with Mexico 1846-1848, p. 35, Anchor Books (1990)] Recruiting strategy has changed very little since that time.

Volunteers filled the ranks of both armies early during the Civil War, but with one-year enlistments about to expire, the Confederates extended the enlistments and implemented America’s first draft in April, 1862. The conscription law provided exemptions for various professions, including civil servants.

Four months later, the Confederate Congress passed a more controversial exemption, one for owners of twenty or more slaves. Thus, those who had been the principal driving force for war, wealthy planters, now became exempt (although a number of course would serve in the Confederate ranks). At the eve of the war, the fair market value of twenty slaves was between $20,000 and $30,000, which is equivalent to between $400,000 and $600,000 in today’s currency.

Burning of an African-American orphan asylum (Source: New York City Draft Riots Blog)

Burning of an African American orphan asylum (Source: New York City Draft Riots Blog)

The Union followed with its own draft law in March, 1863, whereby a lottery was conducted in each Congressional district to meet that district’s quota. The law allowed a man to escape the draft if he paid a commutation fee of $300 (good until the next lottery drawing). He could escape the draft altogether by hiring a substitute. Both J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie escaped the battlefront by hiring substitutes.

The law met protests in the North. The worst degenerated into the New York City draft riots in July, 1863, culminating in the lynching of African Americans and the widespread destruction of property. [Iver Bernstein, New York City Draft Riots, Oxford University Press (1990)] Many Northern white workers resented being sent to the front lines to end slavery every bit as much as poor white Southerners resented having to fight so their wealthy neighbors could expand slavery beyond their borders.

The New York City draft riots (Source: New York City Draft Riots Blog)

An African American man is hanged and buildings are burned during the NYC Draft Riots (Source: New York City Draft Riots Blog)

Citizens north and south understood that while the rich and powerful had concluded only war could settle their differences, the poor among them would do most of the killing and dying that decided the contest.  And even today – over 150 years later – we see that these roles have not changed much in times of war.

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Filed under 1800s, 1900s, American history, Civil War, history, riots, Vietnam War