Showing posts with label Andrew Jackson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Andrew Jackson. Show all posts

09 July 2020

Fine! If He Can't Be Treasury Secretary....


"The pure ermine of the Supreme Court is sullied by the appointment of that political hack."
The New York American, March 17th, 1836


The bust in question.
Today's post kicks off with a quick reference back to Monumentgate: namely, the debate on whether or not to remove the bust of former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney from its current perch in the U.S. Capitol building. And then I'm going to try to tie all three posts together with the theme which clearly connects them.

First: Taney (pronounced "Tawny"), who served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1836 until his death at age eighty-seven in 1864. The current debate is whether to remove the bust of him which resides on the old Supreme Court chamber in the U.S. Capitol, and replace it with a bust of the first African-American justice, Thurgood Marshall.

Like a number of the men memorialized in those statues currently causing such a commotion both here and abroad, Taney was a Southerner (born and raised in Maryland). Also like so many of them, he was a member of the planter aristocracy (Taney's family holdings produced mostly tobacco). There can also be little question that Taney believed, as did so many of these other men, that slavery was the bedrock on which "Southern culture" rested, and therefore must be protected.

However, unlike most of these other monumental (see what I did there?) subjects, Taney freed his slaves. Also unlike so many of his fellow Southerners occupying positions of authority in the United States government, Taney did not resign his position when secession came (as one of his fellow Supreme Court justices did). And like fellow slave-holders such as Thomas Jefferson, he seems to have had mixed feelings about slavery, however important he may have felt it was to the Southern way of life. 

Now bear in mind that Taney's home state of Maryland never actually seceded from the Union. What's more, Taney was in his eighties by the time hostilities broke out in December of 1860. It's not like he was going to join the army. What's more, his public writings and statements during the Civil War make clear Taney's opinion that the Southern states possessed the inherent right to secede from the Union, and what's more, he also clearly blamed Abraham Lincoln for said secession in the first place.

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney
It makes you wonder how, if given the chance, Chief Justice Taney might have ruled on the myriad court challenges to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the constitutional amendments which eventually enfranchised all native-born Americans and granted them both citizenship and the right to vote.

It shouldn't.

Because the existing record of Taney's legal work both as a trial lawyer and as a federal judge paints a pretty clear picture of how Taney felt about the legal status of both slavery and of enslaved peoples of African descent. Let's look at this record.

Taney famously stated in open court in 1819 that slavery was "a blot on our national character." Of course, he was defending an abolitionist against a charge of incitement to riot at the time. So does that statement really count? 

After all, Taney, wasn't just a lawyer. He was also a politician. And, as the quote which kicks off this blog post notes, something of a political hack, at that.

Initially a Federalist, Taney changed his party affiliation in 1828, in the middle of a four-year term as State Attorney General for Maryland. This was in coordination with his support for the presidential candidacy of Democrat Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. When Taney left office as Maryland's attorney general in 1831 he quickly found himself filling a succession of positions in Jackson's cabinet.

Jackson lost most of his cabinet over the "Petticoat Affair."
First he spent six weeks serving as acting Secretary of War, replacing John Eaton, who resigned as part of the infamous "Petticoat Affair." Then Jackson gave Taney plenty to do as Attorney General of the United States. 

Jackson had come to power at the head of a coalition of Southern and Western state interests intent on curbing federal overreach and asserting states' rights. Taney supported the view that local governments (in the form of the states) were the bedrock of good government, and that these institutions were more inherently aligned with the direct will of "the people."

Of course, "the people" did not mean all people. In a May, 1832 court appearance in his capacity as U.S. Attorney General Taney argued in support of a South Carolina law stating that free black sailors who came ashore while their ships were in South Carolina ports could be imprisoned. Taney reasoned that:

The African race in the United States even when free, are every where a degraded class, and exercise no political influence. The privileges they are allowed to enjoy, are accorded to them as a matter of kindness and benevolence rather than of right...And where they are nominally admitted by law to the privileges of citizenship, they have no effectual power to defend them, and are permitted to be citizens by the sufferance of the white population and hold whatever rights they enjoy at their mercy. They were never regarded as a constituent portion of the sovereignty of any state... They were not looked upon as citizens by the contracting parties who formed the Constitution.

How do you think the guy who wrote that would have viewed the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments? Remember these words. More on them below.

After a couple of years of representing the Jackson administration's interests in court, Taney found himself in line for an even more powerful position when Jackson fired his Treasury Secretary over a difference of approach in getting rid of the Bank of the United States. Jackson believed the Bank was illegal and wanted to destroy it. Taney supported the notion of independent "State" banks, and was more in line with Jackson on this than his predecessor. So Jackson named Taney as his new Treasury Secretary.

The only problem was that the Anti-Jacksonian ("Whig") party controlled the Senate, and Taney would need to be confirmed by the Senate in this new position as Treasury Secretary. Partly because of his (and Jackson's) stance on the Bank of the United States, and partly because of their loathing for Jackson personally, the Whigs managed to block Taney's confirmation. He bears the dubious distinction of being the first executive branch nominee on the history of the United States to fail to gain Senate confirmation.
Was Jackson EVER really this placid?

Furious, Jackson attempted to appoint Taney to an open position on the U.S. Supreme Court. Again, the Whig-controlled Senate blocked his appointment. But Jackson, not known for being either forgiving or a quitter, wasn't done.

It should be noted that during his eight years in office Andrew Jackson succeeded in completely remaking the Supreme Court, with an unprecedented five appointments. How this came to pass I intend to address in my next blog post. For now, suffice to say that the next time a position on the Court came open, it was that of the Chief Justice, on the occasion of the death of the long-serving John Marshall.

Third time was a charm, mostly, because there had been an election in the interim and Jackson's Democrats now controlled the Senate, so he got Taney on the bench in March of 1836. The quotation that leads off this entry was published in response to Taney's appointment.

Taney quickly developed a reputation for careful, nuanced reasoning during his tenure on the Court. He might have come up as a political hack, but he was also clearly very concerned with being taken seriously as a legal theorist. His rulings in landmark cases throughout his first two decades on the Court won him respect on this front. 

They also constitute a clear-cut record of Taney's thinking on the issue of slavery and the role of both it and of African slaves in American society. Time and again Taney and the Jackson-appointed Southern majority on the Supreme Court ruled to support what Southerners termed their "peculiar institution."

This all came to a head with the historical event for which Taney is probably best known: his authorship of the Supreme Court's notorious majority opinion in the federal case of Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857). In this sweeping ruling, dealing with the question of whether a slave taken by his owner into a state or territory where slavery was outlawed was to be considered free, Taney went far beyond the narrow scope of the question before the court, and attempted to settle the broader questions of the legality of slavery and the role of African-descended peoples, be they slave or free, in American society.

As he had argued twenty-five years earlier in the South Carolina port case quoted above, Taney maintained that because their status had not been expressly spelled out by the framers of the Constitution, African Americans had no legal status in the American legal system, and thus, were inherently barred from becoming citizens (never mind that when the Constitution was drawn up in 1788 five of the original thirteen states already afforded free blacks the right to vote). As a result blacks–free or slave–were legally disqualified from bringing suits in federal courts. Under the Constitution, Taney ruled, blacks possessed "no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

You probably know what happened next. Rather than settling the slavery question "once and for all," Taney's decision brought down a firestorm of criticism on his and the Court majority's heads. If anything the Dred Scott  decision helped bring about the violent sectional conflict so many–including Taney's political benefactor Andrew Jackson–had worked so hard to forestall. 

In the words of historian Daniel Walker Howe: "Taney's blend of state sovereignty, white racism, sympathy with commerce, and concern for social order were typical of Jacksonian jurisprudence...
Ironically his devotion to state sovereignty and white supremacy in the long run contributed to the dissolution of the Union Andrew Jackson loved."

So should that bust of Taney in the U.S. Capitol come down? Should it be replaced with one of fellow Marylander, the Baltimore-born, brilliant lead attorney in the ground-breaking Brown v. the Board of Education civil rights case, and eventual first African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall?

Of course.

But don't just take my word for it. Ask the Maryland State Assembly and the Baltimore City Council. Both entities removed bronze statues of Taney from their grounds back in 2017.

Tune in next time when I take on the question of how Andrew Jackson managed to get five of his own hand-picked justices placed on the Supreme Court in a mere eight years.

See you in Two Weeks!

13 September 2018

Politically Profitable Predators


by Eve Fisher
“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them, but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are.  These aren't people. These are animals." President Trump, May 16, 2018 (USA Today)
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Candidate Trump, June 16, 2015
"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population." Candidate Trump, written statement, December 7, 2015. (Source)
And no, I'm not using this as a segue way into criticism of our current President.  What I want to talk about is how various peoples have been made into politically profitable predators in American history.  From Native Americans to Blacks to Mexicans to Irish to Italians to Asians to Blacks to Native Americans and back to Mexicans to...  fill in the blank.  And the question always is, Who's next?

Native Americans, of course, have always considered a problem.  Back in 1702, Cotton Mather wrote of the Native Americans:
Cotton Mather.jpg"The Natives of the Country now Possessed by the New-Englanders, had been forlorn and wretched Heathen ever since their first herding there; and tho' we know not When or How those Indians first became Inhabitants of this mighty Continent, yet we may guess that probably the Devil decoy'd those miserable Salvages [sic] hither, in hopes that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his Absolute Empire over them." (The New English History), Book III, p. 190 (1702)
Ignoring, of course, the fact that the Native Americans actually fed the original settlers from England and taught them how to plant maize, squash, and other New World foodstuffs... Without their help, the original settlers would not have survived.  Ingratitude, thy name is Mather.

Then there's this 1803 painting by American painter John Vanderlyn - Death of Jane McCrae - well, it's obvious what this tells us about the horrors of Native Americans in early America.  The story behind this is classic propaganda, classic use of the death of a beautiful white woman to justify whatever comes next.  There were two versions of the story:

(1) Jane (who was a Loyalist in the American Revolution) was on her way to meet with her fiance at the British camp at Ticonderoga, escorted by two Native American warriors.  (Remember that at this time the British were hiring Native Americans to fight on their side.)  The two got into a fight over how much they'd be paid for delivering her safely. So one of them killed and scalped her.

(2) Jane McCrea was killed by a bullet fired by pursuing Americans.  19th century historian James Phinney Baxter supported this version of events in his 1887 history of Burgoyne's campaign, saying that there was an exhumation of her body which showed she died of bullet wounds, and had no tomahawk wounds.

Guess which one got the most press?  The first version, of course.  It got spread around in newspapers, pamphlets, and letters.  British General Burgoyne wrote a letter to American general Horatio Gates, complaining about ill-treatment of British POWs. Gates' response was widely reprinted:
"That the savages of America should in their warfare mangle and scalp the unhappy prisoners who fall into their hands is neither new nor extraordinary; but that the famous Lieutenant General Burgoyne, in whom the fine gentleman is united with the soldier and the scholar, should hire the savages of America to scalp europeans and the descendants of europeans, nay more, that he should pay a price for each scalp so barbarously taken, is more than will be believed in England. [...] Miss McCrae, a young lady lovely to the sight, of virtuous character and amiable disposition, engaged to be married to an officer of your army, was [...] carried into the woods, and there scalped and mangled in the most shocking manner..."  (Wikipedia)
It also entered American legend thanks to James Fennimore Cooper, who used it in 1826's The Last of the Mohicans.  

And let's talk about Andrew Jackson, who launched the Indian Removals of the 1830s:  
"Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country and philanthropy has long been busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth.… But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another.… Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?"
In other words, we want the land, so they've got to go.  And then, to justify it, consider the American Westerns, both in penny dreadfuls, novels, and movies:  until 1970's Little Big Man, most of them are all about chasing down and killing all the "savages" John Wayne and his buddies could find.  

Meanwhile, there have been constant waves of immigration, and constant opposition to each and every wave:
WW1 propaganda
anti-Hun poster

In 1775, before the United States had gained its independence, Benjamin Franklin warned against the destructive forces of German immigration: 
“A Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them and will never adopt our Language or Customs any more than they can acquire our Complexion." (Source)  
Who knew that Germans were so alien?  Before WW1?  

There were the Irish, presented as drunk gorillas who should be banned
from immigrating to the US and once here, should certainly never be employed:  

             

Do you notice a theme here?  Comparing various groups / people to apes?  Or other animals?

Meanwhile, there were also the Italians, who were also seen as subhuman, either importers of anarchism or - of course - the Mafia.  Did you know that the largest lynching in the United States was in New Orleans, and the victims were Italians?  A popular police chief named Hennessey (Irish) was shot on his way home, and when he was asked, dying, who did it, he gasped, "Dagoes".  So they rounded up the usual suspects, 11 Italians, and tried them - and there was a mistrial!  So the mob went wild, and started killing people...  No one was ever tried.  And, in language that is tragically familiar, a NYT editorial called the victims “desperate ruffians and murderers. These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins…are to us a pest without mitigations.” Read the rest at the History Channel.  

But at least they weren't Chinese:

For a long time China was known as the Yellow Peril.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibiting all immigration of  Chinese laborers, was followed up by massacres (Rock Springs, 1885, Hells Canyon 1887), and a general stereotyping of Chinese (and other Orientals) as apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers, and who commonly kidnapped white women into white slavery, opium addiction, and eventually murdered them.  (Wikipedia)

Besides propaganda posters like the one to the left, white slavery was presented as a hideously common peril for white women in stories by Frank Norris (author of McTeague), Sax Rohmer (whose Chinese villain Fu Manchu threatened the world and its white women from 1913-1959) and True Confessions.  All of this propaganda was the basis for a series of American Immigration Acts that barred almost any Asian immigration of any kind to America until the 1960s.  Women had to be protected from the evil Orientals, and the only way to do that was to ban them entirely.
NOTE:  This is why both the 1960s movie and musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, and an impossibly bad movie from the 1980s, Angel III:  The Final Chapter, could STILL use white slavery by opium-smoking Asians as a major menace to the heroine(s).  
Birth of a Nation theatrical poster.jpgOf course, even the Chinese didn't / don't make such fearsome villains as blacks, going back to D. W. Griffiths' 1915 Birth of a Nation, (first titled The Klansman, BTW).  In that movie, Elsie (played by Lillian Gish) is saved by the KKK from the lustful mulatto Lynch (who came up with that name?), while the virginal white young Flora is forced to leap to her death to avoid being raped by a "freedman".  (Sounds like a rip-off of Last of the Mohicans to me, but then again, if it works with one ethnic group it'll work with any, I suppose.  Apes and other animals, you know.)  "There is no doubt that Birth of a Nation played no small part in winning wide public acceptance" for the KKK, and that throughout the film "African Americans are portrayed as brutish, lazy, morally degenerate, and dangerous." (History.com)  It was the perfect movie to reinforce the need for Jim Crow laws everywhere across the South, not to mention the holocaust of lynching.  And, as late as the 1970s, David Duke used the film to recruit members to the KKK.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Willie Horton.  Horton was released on a weekend furlough in June, 1986, and didn't come back.  In April, 1987, he raped a white woman.  In October, 1987 he was arrested and sentenced to 2 life sentences.  In 1988, Republican Presidential candidate George H. W. Bush's campaign put out the "Willie Horton" ad against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis (who had been Governor of Massachusetts at the time, but was not the founder of the furlough program) to prove that Dukakis was weak on crime, i.e., would not protect [white] women.  It played into the stereotype that black men were big, ugly, dumb, violent, and dangerous, so let's stay super tough on crime.  It worked.  But I, for one, don't believe that anyone in the Bush campaign believed they were protecting women:  they were winning an election.

     HortonWillie.jpg

Sounds familiar to me.



P.S.  In case you're wondering about antisemitism, the long, long, long history of antisemitism in America begins with Peter Stuvaysant, the last Director-General of New Amsterdam.  During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11 expelling Jews from areas under his control in western Tennessee, "as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled …within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order."  Lincoln rescinded the order ASAP, but.  Discrimination against Jews was standard and the cartoons and jokes horrific.  Watch Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement some time, which was extremely controversial when it came out in 1947, because it exposed the standard discrimination against Jews in employment, education, housing, travel, restaurants, clubs, etc.

A short list of famous antisemites includes:  Charles Coughlin, Louis Farrakhan, Henry Ford, FDR (never forget he turned away the ship carrying 907 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany), Joe Kennedy, Sr. (read his correspondence with Viscountess Astor), General Patton ("lower than animals"), Richard Nixon, Billy Graham (he's on the Nixon tapes saying things like "This [Jewish] stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain", and when Nixon mentioned that Graham was a friend of the Jews, Graham replied "But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country."[72]), and, of course, almost every troll on Breitbart and every white supremacist site you can stomach.  Some of them showed up for the Charlottesville, VA, August 11, 2017, "Unite the Right" rally, where they carried tiki torches while chanting Nazi and white supremacist slogans, including "White lives matter" and "Jews will not replace us." 

The depressing thing about humanity is that you have to educate each and every generation to be moral, compassionate, tolerant, kind, decent...  And obviously, we have a lot of work to do.