Fist Of History

September, 2015Archive for

George Wallace and the 1968 U.S. Presidential Election – spoiling for a fight

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

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The thing about third party politics in the United States is that often the efforts are wedge issue politics designed to enrage a population, and bring out the vote.  Such is the case in 1968 with the United States Presidential campaign of George Wallace, who ran for the Presidency as the official candidate of the American Independent Party.  The American Independent Party was a conservative party with fairly extreme views, Wallace ran on a platform aimed at addressing the social issues of 1968, with its central theme being a movement against racial integration, social justice, and civil rights expansions taking place throughout the United States.

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Running under the slogan “Stand Up For America” Wallace campaigned throughout the United States but aimed to gather his strongest support in the southern United States.  Wallace had no pretensions he’d actually win the 1968 United States Presidential election, his goal as a third party candidate was instead to run a “spoiling campaign” – gain enough votes to prevent either of the two major candidates getting the necessary votes in the Electoral College and then having the Presidential election be decided in the House of Representatives.  Had his strategy worked Wallace hoped to use the votes of Southern Representatives to sway one of the two candidates political parties – most likely Republicans – to agree to block further racial integration legislation in the United States south.

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Wallace ran with Curtis LeMay, a retired Air Force general who had strong views on foreign policy, Wallace lost supporters as the race advanced due, in part, to LeMay making statements about how Americans should not fear nuclear weapons and that the United States should use nuclear weapons in Vietnam.

Overall Wallace did not achieve his goal of “spoiling” in the 1968 election, but he did poll very well.  His sharply racist rhetoric combined with comments on declining American prosperity resonated with Southern voters in the United States, overall he captured 13.5% of the popular vote and carried five Southern states for a total of 45 solid electoral votes.  Wallace got an additional vote from a “faithless elector” in North Carolina who cast a vote for Wallace despite being sent to vote for Nixon.

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Wallace’s campaign played to racism and the call for law and order in a restless period in the United States.  Some prime quotes:

When asked the biggest domestic issue facing the United States he replied  “It’s people—our fine American people, living their own lives, buying their own homes, educating their children, running their own farms, working the way they like to work, and not having the bureaucrats and intellectual morons trying to manage everything for them. It’s a matter of trusting the people to make their own decisions.”

Wallace also stated that to his eye “What are the Real issues that exist today in these United States? It is the trend of the pseudo-intellectual government, where a select, elite group have written guidelines in bureaus and court decisions, have spoken from some pulpits, some college campuses, some newspaper offices, looking down their noses at the average man on the street.”

Wallace polled most strongly with males, with strong support from Southern males and also lower class Northern white workers, with an odd appeal to unionized labor.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the 1968 United States Presidential Election, George Wallace’s 1968 campaign, George Wallace himself, and finally on the American Independent Party

When elected officials kick ass in letters

Friday, September 18th, 2015

CA_Governor_Letter

Currently making the rounds for the 2016 United States Presidential Election is this letter from the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, to Dr. Ben Carson on the subject of global warming.  In short it informs Dr. Carson that there is evidence of global warming, and that an example of that evidence is included on the pictured thumb drive for his convenience.  Although polite snark is always fun to see spread around, this reminded me of an earlier moment of snark that took place in 1976 in the state of Alabama, when a staunchly pro-civil rights and human rights Attorney General named Bill Baxley got to play with a supremacist organization.

The incident that sparked the confrontation was Baxley announcing he was reopening a closed investigation into the 1963 16th Street Church bombing – specifically because Baxley was convinced there was more than enough evidence to actually prosecute the individuals responsible for the attack.  In response he got this charming letter:

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The part where he is named “an honorary NIGGER” is an extra level of charming.  This letter came in 1976, when the tumult of the 1970s was winding down but the nation was still struggling with very real internal stability issues from the early 1970s.  Bluntly put, it was not unreasonable for Baxley to fear for his life.  The extremist organization that sent this letter was connected to violent groups, mainly the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, so his response was rather brave and utterly delightful.

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What makes it doubly wonderful for me is the fact that he put it onto the official stationary of the Attorney General’s office and logged it publicly as a formal communication.

Oh and Baxley did successfully complete his prosecution.  I believe on the grounds he was a solid government official and a damn brave one, I’ll close with a period image of him.

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Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Bill Baxley, blog entry on Letters of Note

Victory Liberty Loan and “Little Zeb”

Monday, September 14th, 2015

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With the end of World War I the United States federal government faced a bit of a dilemma, it had borrowed significant amounts of capital to finance the United States war effort and with the war concluded it needed a bit more borrowed capital to square things away.  The U.S. federal government also wanted to borrow the money at attractive interest rates, to bring in financiers, but to do so without the risks of borrowing on the open capital market in what experts thought might be an economically difficult post-war transition period.  Hence the final liberty loan drive, the so-titled “Victory Liberty Loan.”

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Begun in April 1919 the goal of this bond run was for the U.S. federal government to raise a total of $4.5 billion with gold-backed bonds, paying 4.75%, and redeemable in four years.  (The government had an option to snap them back after three years if it wished.)  As a bonus all interest paid on these bonds was exempt from income taxes.  The bonds sold well, aimed mainly towards businesses and wealthier individuals look for save havens for their money, but the campaign was considered lackluster by people of the period.  Previous liberty bond issues had posters oriented towards patriotism, showing individuals fighting, striving, surviving and the evil Hun being blasted or defied.  As the top example shows, this bond run was more emphasized on a “Eh, I could get behind that” outlook.

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However the United States federal government, leaning on the army, did have one particularly darling promotional effort that did capture the hearts of the American people, “Little Zeb.”  “Little Zeb” was a Renault FT of French construction, deployed with American forces in World War I, that was shipped around the country by train to roll around the countryside and get people excited about buying the final bond issue.  The tank was used to not only drum up enthusiasm but also get small towns involved – “Little Zeb” put in several appearances in Colorado where pictures were snapped of it.

Little-Zeb-Tank

“Little Zeb” though was also more than a promotional piece, it was a window into the future of warfare, although few realized it at the time.  The Renault FT, and later US M1917, represented a revolution in tank design.  Prior to these vehicles tanks in World War I were based around the core of ideas of “big, heavy, massive armor, multiple guns, slow.”  The Renault FT was conceived of as a light tank, built and designed by the French, and to be used in “swarm tactics” to overwhelm the enemy.  It was more lightly armored, faster than other tanks, had a turret in which was mounted its main gun, and carefully designed tracks that could operate more effectively over difficult terrain.

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Take a good look at that design, although obsolete by World War II this light tank was the defining look for what a “tank” would become and its roots are still present in modern armor design.  The tactics also used for this vehicle were the opening examples of what would later become the modern version of Germany’s “war of movement” using armor in World War II.  (The misnamed “blitzkrieg” model of warfare.)

On a final note, although obsolete by World War II this tank was still in use by many nations in the early 1940s, it had been copied, both legally and illegally, the world over because it was a charming little tank.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on Liberty Bonds, the Renault FT tank, entry in “Birth of a Market” on U.S. securities, and Images of America, Early Glenwood Springs by Cynthia Hines and the Frontier Historical Society, pp. 120