Fist Of History

Posts Tagged ‘Get On Your Feet’

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:

baxley-letter-original-letter-recreated

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.

baxley-letter-crop

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.

baxley

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

Eugene V. Debs – Socialist Candidate Extraordinare

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Sanders-021507-18335- 0004

As the 2016 election cycle for the United States gets solidly underway the left is currently charmed with a Socialist-Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders, a long-serving Senator and solidly left/progress candidate running for the Democratic nomination for President.  Many argue Sanders is not really a viable candidate, but it seems an excellent time to remind the nation of the great “unifying candidate for the Socialists” of the early 20th century, Eugene V. Debs.

Debs_1912_Poster

Eugene V. Debs began his political career with a short term in 1894 with a successful run as a Democrat for the Indiana State Legislature, but he grew disillusioned with politics under the conventional parties and slowly shifted towards support of Socialism as both a political ideal and a political party to support.  Debs had been on the radical side of politics for his entire life, as a founding organizer for various labor groups, a major leader in the Pullman Strike of 1894, and by 1900 a candidate for President running with the newly fledgling Socialist Party of the United States.

Debs_Button

Debs lost, of course, getting only around 89,000 votes or 0.6% of the total popular vote.  Debs ran again in 1904, 1908, 1912, and his last Presidential run was in 1920.  The number of popular votes he gained during that period rose, by 1912 he topped out at over 900,000 votes, winning approximately 5.99% of the total popular vote.  Debs all time high vote count was in 1920, when he again topped over 900,000 votes, an impressive vote total considering his entire campaign was run while he was serving a ten year sentence in federal prison for violating the Espionage and Sedition Act of 1918.

Debs_Prisoner_President

Debs overall was an unsuccessful candidate and was released from prison in 1921 by the winner of the 1920 election, Warren G. Harding.  Debs though throughout his campaigns was known as a fiery orator, a passionate believer in the cause of social equality, and with the Socialists Debs was able to put significant pressure upon both the Republican and Democratic parties to embrace reform in several key areas including:

  • Voting rights for women
  • Child labor laws
  • Workers right to organize unions

Overall Debs, and the Socialists, successfully performed the role of gadfly for the elections of 1912 and 1920, pushing both parties slightly more towards the left than they otherwise might have moved, and in the 1912 election taking part in one of the most complicated elections in modern United States presidential history.

Debs_Canton_1918

I’d like to close though by focusing your attention on the 1912 and 1920 elections – in which Debs got over 5% of the total popular vote.  According to the regulations of the current Federal Election Commission:

Minor party candidates and new party candidates may qualify for partial general election funding, based on their party’s electoral performance. Minor party candidates (nominees of parties whose Presidential candidates received between 5 and 25 percent of the vote in the preceding election) may receive public funds based on the ratio of their party’s vote in the preceding Presidential election to the average of the two major party candidates in that election. New party candidates (nominees of parties that are neither major parties nor minor parties) may receive public funds after the election if they receive 5 percent or more of the vote. The amount is based on the ratio of the new party candidate’s vote to the average vote of the two major party candidates in that election.

If Debs had run as successful a campaign today as he had run in 1912 and 1920, a period when his vote gains were based solely on public rallies, whistle-stop tours, and newsletters the Socialist party would have fun public support, and media access, under current rules.  Furthermore the Socialist Party was denied access to the mass media super-star of the day, radio, and still managed to gain enough votes with a progressive sharp-left platform to be noticed on a national level.

The moral of this entry – and the moral each entry in this series will return to – minor parties can make a difference, and more critically, can have a real impact in United States politics.

Sources:  FEC regulations, Wikipedia on Eugene V. Debs, entry on Eugene V. Debs in the Debs Foundation, PBS entry on Eugene V. Debs

 

1964 Presidential Election – Candidate Margaret Chase Smith

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Margaret_Chase_Smith

1964 was an interesting year in United States Presidential elections, Richard Nixon declined to seek the Republican nomination against the anticipated candidate for the Democratic party, Lyndon Johnson, so the Republican party nomination was considered fairly open.  Many individuals tossed in their hats to run but one candidate in particular was unique, Margaret Chase Smith, who decided in January 1964 to make an attempt at the Republican nomination.  Senator Smith came from an established political career, she had begun serving in the House of Representatives in 1940 and served until 1948, when she successfully won a seat in the United States Senate.  Senator Smith remained in the Senate, as a Republican, from 1948 until 1972.  She represented the state of Maine and is particularly remembered as one of the few Senators who stood against Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s – she gave a famous speech on the Senate floor denouncing McCarthyism and the Communist witch hunts of the ’50s.

Try_A_Pair_1964

Senator Smith was particularly critical in 1964 because she represented not only the first woman making a serious attempt at the nomination from a major political party but she also represented the moderate wing of the Republican party.  In 1964 that wing of the Republican party openly battled with the more conservative faction supporting Senator Goldwater from Arizona.  The actual nomination convention was highly contentious, with both sides resorting to screaming at each other as they battled for control of the Republican party.  Senator Smith had campaigned in only two states, Maine and Illinois, and in her campaign she had worked hard to avoid normal political activities.  She undertook no major political rallies, conducted no fundraising, and paid her expenses out of pocket.  Her goal was to meet with individuals and rely on direct personal connections.

Smith_Campaign_1964

Senator Smith came in fifth in the Maine primary but came in second in Illinois, which provided her with a total of sixteen delegates for the nomination.  Although her being selected for the candidacy against the Senator Goldwater juggernaut was considered impossible at the Republican convention, Senator Smith attended and stood in the running until Senator Goldwater was nominated successfully.  Senator Smith did break with tradition and refused to release her delegates to vote for Senator Goldwater in the final ballot, so that he would not receive a unanimous nomination from the Republican party.

Despite this she did campaign for him actively during his 1964 run for the Presidency, this period ad has her explaining the Goldwater is not going to chop up Social Security despite rumors to the contrary spreading during the election.

Chase_Smith_President_Button

Had she done the incredible and carried the Republican nomination in 1964, I cannot help but wonder if she might have been able to give Johnson more of a run than Goldwater did.  Goldwater was prone to making off-the-cuff remarks and was overly blunt when dealing with the press, this partially helped to equate Goldwater with extreme (and dangerous) views about United States foreign policy.   Could Smith have overcome popular perceptions of a “woman’s place” in society?  I think she might have been able to do so, when asked in 1948 if it was proper for a woman to run for the Senate, this was her response:

“Women administer the home. They set the rules, enforce them, mete out justice for violations. Thus, like Congress, they legislate; like the Executive, they administer; like the courts, they interpret the rules. It is an ideal experience for politics.”

It may be framed in the words of the period but I like to think Smith might have had a chance in 1964.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Margaret Chase Smith, NPR segment on Margaret Chase Smith, Maine history entry on Margaret Chase Smith’s Presidential run

Presidential Election of 1892 and the People’s Party

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Populist-logoIt is 2015 and with several presidential candidates for the 2016 campaign announcing their intentions already in April, it is time to begin my irregular series of short articles this election season to outline moments in the 19th and 20th century when the United States was rocked by third party and independent candidates.  This is to show people that the modern view of politics in the United States, where two parties dominate the system and independent action cannot have any measurable impact, is inaccurate.  Third party political organizations have dominated local elections and been a presence with force in national politics repeatedly in United States history.  Furthermore history is replete with oddballs, independents, and mavericks that successfully tweaked the system.  My main goal in writing this irregular series is to provide a counter point to the idea that often circulates in social media that “a viable third party is needed but impossible to create/vote for/support because Awful Horrible Thing will happen instead.”  My only point in response to that is your predecessors in the past faced the same problem, often in worse political systems, and yet still managed to kick back.

James_Weaver_-_Brady-Handy

Meet James Weaver, third party Presidential Candidate in the 1892 election and nominated by the People’s Party.  The People’s Party was a progressive leftist political party that appeared in the late 1880s from an alliance of southern farmers with midwestern farmers who combined around the idea that gold-backed currency was bad, big business even worse, and tariff protection for industry the devil’s work.  They also rallied behind some other wacky ideas, like:  progressive income tax, the eight hour work day, the direct election of United States Senators, civil service reform, as well as nationalizing the telegraph industry and the railroads, and breaking up large banks.

Some of these crazy ideas you might recognize as now being the law of the land, and others as being concepts being bandied around today by modern leftist progressives.  (Although the idea of nationalizing the transportation industries appears to have fallen in favor in the 21st century, probably due in part to how cheap shipping of goods and personal travel are these days compared to the past.)  Weaver ended up doing surprisingly well in the election, capturing 8.5% of the popular vote, 22 electoral votes, and carrying five states in the election.  He was stomped by the other candidates solidly, but his turnout showed a strong sentiment against the viewpoints of the Democrats who gained an unexpected win in this election cycle.

William-Jennings-Bryan-speaking-c1896

In 1896 and 1900 the Democrats quietly began to absorb some of the platform goals of the People’s Party which, in turn, backed the nomination of William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896.  (Pictured above looking sexy mid-speech at 36 years of age.)

The People’s Party faded after the 1896 election but managed to place Representatives into national office successfully until 1902.  A total of 39 Representatives, 6 Senators, and 11 governors during its period of power served under the banner of the People’s Party.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the People’s Party, the United States Presidential Election of 1892, and James B. Weaver