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Coronavirus quarantine fights not a first for U.S.

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Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 presidential address to Congress is famous for bringing us the Roosevelt Corollary, which warned European nations from involving themselves in the affairs of Latin America. What is not as well-known is a small paragraph sandwiched between two other issues. In the address Roosevelt said: “It is desirable to enact a proper national quarantine law. It is most undesirable that a state should, on its own initiative, enforce quarantine regulations which are in effect a restriction upon interstate and international commerce. The question should properly be assumed by the government alone. The Surgeon-General of the National Public Health and Marine-Hospital Service has repeatedly and convincingly set forth the need for such legislation.” As early as 1905, years before the now famous Spanish Flu, and over a century before our current crisis, the government and the states already were arguing over jurisdiction and legality for public health.

Before the Spanish Flu or COVID-19, southern Americans feared Yellow Fever epidemics that sprung up every couple of years. States like Louisiana suffered many of the same calamities we have today as people became so sick that businesses began to fail and their lives were turned upside down. It was estimated that the Louisiana economy suffered the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in those years.

Believing the fever was spread by germs, the state and towns’ boards of health did all they could to prevent the spread by ordering quarantines of towns and homes where the disease was, making it difficult to conduct business in such towns. As the numbers of dead reached into the thousands, contagious cities could not even hold funerals as the dead were rushed away too quickly for burial before the contagion could spread. Another way to stop the spread was to order every ship entering the state to be checked and cleared by medical personal. Ships suspected of fever were quarantined for 10 days before they could continue up river.

During this time, the federal government, under the Marine Hospital Service instituted in the John Adams’ administration, tried to coordinate with the Louisiana state health boards. The problem was the national health boards were being blocked by similar state health boards. Not far removed from the Civil War, the gulf coast states did all they could to boost their own quarantine laws so as to reject national help and push out any federal oversight.

The year 1897 was a particularly bad year for Yellow Fever and New Orleans solution was basically a shelter in place order and quarantine for anyone suspected of infection. They even put guards at homes containing Yellow Fever. The city split in two over the decision. Some, including prominent doctors, argued that keeping people in their homes surmounted to imprisonment without trial. They wanted quarantines limited to those who showed symptoms only. The state board disagreed. The board argued Yellow Fever was simply too dangerous to allow people to congregate. The board recognized the injury to workers and business, but insisted credit was made available to assist them.

In 1898, just a year after the deadly epidemic, a French ship, the SS Britannia, carrying mainly Italian passengers arrived in Louisiana. That arrival led to an important legal precedent for quarantines. All 408 passengers cleared the state-run quarantine center and made their way up river. However, when they reached New Orleans they were informed of a new decree meant to stop the spread of Yellow Fever. The decree forbade the passengers entry into the city or any other city in the quarantine area. The ship’s owners tried to get a judge to block the decree, but were denied. The ship ended up taking their passengers to Florida. The ship’s owners, trying to sue for redress, took their case to the Supreme Court in what became known as the 1902 Compagnie Francaise de Navigation a Vapeur v. Louisiana Board of Health Case. The high court sided in favor of the Louisiana Board of Health and ruled quarantines fell under the authority of state’s police power to protect their state. The judges used as part of their argument the 1824 Gibbons v. Ogden Supreme Court case. That case not only helped define quarantine laws in Louisiana, but effects the federal government today when dealing with COVID-19.

This was a commerce case dealing with interstate shipping. Chief Justice John Marshal said that the Commerce Clause in the Constitution gave the federal government power over shipping on rivers that were interstate. However, he also said the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limited police powers to the states, including quarantine powers. If Congress or the Trump administration attempts a national quarantine, they would run into issues with the courts because of Gibbons v. Ogden. However, the Gibbons ruling, combined with the Louisiana Board of Health decision, gives the states’ power to do so.

What we saw in the beginning of this article was, however, a push for a national quarantine law in 1905. The idea for federal quarantines started becoming popular in the 1880s with the progressive movement and a large influx of immigrants. Knowing the government could not replace state quarantine laws, they focused on quarantine of immigrants. Laws passed in 1891 and several later years even put a 40-day quarantine of ships knowing the price it would cost the shipping companies. Most states supported this decision; one that did not was Louisiana. The Federal government by 1906, using the Commerce Clause, had established a federal quarantine for international and interstate travel. Yet, the role of local quarantines still resided with the states, and the laws differed state by state.

This was the situation in 1918 when the devastating Spanish Flu ravaged the world. The federal government could control entrance into the U.S., but it was up to the states to contain the virus within their borders. The Spanish Flu took the lives of around 675,000 Americans and created a situation not unlike ours today. It was during this time towns and states took unprecedented steps to stop the spread of the flu. To try to curb the spread, or as we say today flatten the curve, they not only issued quarantine orders, but mandated stay at home orders. In my own state of Oklahoma, local principalities like Sapulpa, OK began to mandate stay at home orders. However, like today, eventually the State got involved with its own orders, to the ire of Sapulpa. On October 18, 1918 Dr. John M. Duke, the state health officer, ordered all schools, theaters, and other places of gathering closed. He went on to say, “All gatherings of more than 12 persons must be avoided. People do not seem to realize that the influenza is extremely infectious and is an extremely dangerous disease.”

“This is a great mistake and has done much harm to speak of this disease as the “Spanish Flu” because it is not a disease to be taken lightly. The present epidemic is the worst that has been known for a century, with the possible exception of the epidemic of 1889-90, and it must be remembered that the present epidemic is still at its height.”

“It must be borne in mind that in a considerable portion of cases the influenza tends to turn into pneumonia. When pneumonia developed form influenza the death rate is about 45 percent. By comparison with almost any other disease, this death rate is extremely heavy.” A similar statement was reported in another paper. This time Duke said, “Had not the statewide quarantine been imposed, the epidemic would have been deadlier. This is not theory, but amply proven by comparing the experiences of localities which were quarantined and those which were not”

The Sapulpa Herald called the state action drastic. The town had planned to reopen schools and churches the next day believing the spread of the disease had been curbed. They did not like the fact that the state government overstepped their bounds.

They did not have to wait long for redress. About three weeks after the state quarantine was issued it was retracted on November 9. The Norman Transcript newspaper in Norman, OK opened their story with one that would probably sound familiar today: “Much to the displeasure of the school children, possibly, but to the extreme satisfaction of almost everyone else in the state, the influenza quarantine order…will be lifted…There has been a great deal of inconvenience caused by this quarantine, at least until we became accustomed to it. We have now been quarantined longer than three weeks, I wonder if any of us feel accustomed yet?” Now, it’s 2020. Just like in Roosevelt’s day, there are those calling for national quarantine laws to fix our current situation.

I am far from a constitutional lawyer, but from what I can tell any federal national quarantine effort will never get past the courts. There is too much precedent leaving that remedy to state policing power. The federal government can make laws such as they did when banning Chinese travel to the US, which by the way the U.S. has done plenty in past epidemics.

A real question for today, however, is can state governments shut down healthy businesses during a pandemic? Clearly, they can quarantine those sick or suspected of being sick. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of that.

What is not clear is can they stop all businesses and churches from functioning and force social distancing? It is alluded to in Louisiana and was clearly done for about three weeks in 1918, but there is no evidence of the rule ever being challenged. There is a case in California where the First Church of Christ Scientists sued for the right to practice. Four members of the church board were arrested with hopes of getting a court decision in their favor. It is difficult to find more information on the case, but from newspaper accounts the charges were dropped on the groups because closing their church was unconstitutional. Yet the order to close churches continued to be enforced.

I am not saying there were not more challenges; I just found no evidence of it. There are possible issues with the First Amendment rights of religion and assembling. So, historically speaking, this controversy is, once again, really nothing that we have not seen before. The biggest difference may end up being in scope and, if this goes on much longer, there could possibly be legal challenges to the states’ authority to keep everyone in their homes.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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The Last Shall Be First

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When I last wrote and referenced Black Lives Matter, I left out something crucial.

In the post-Vatican II Catholic Church there arose a concept termed “a preferential option for the poor.”  It means that God’s favor rests preferentially on the most injured people in any society. When I first heard the term, I asked what about me?  Doesn’t God love me?  I am not poor.

I have a brother and a sister and if one of them had a terminal illness I would pray for the one who is sick.  My preference would be the sick one.  Any parent would do the same. That does not mean that I do not love both of them equally.  It means the situation is not equal, not God’s love.

It is the same with Black Lives Matter.  White people hearing this phase rather naturally asked, “Don’t all lives matter? – Are you saying that my life does not matter?

All lives do matter, but history, especially recent history, tells us that some lives matter significantly more than others in many societies.  That is the essence of Black Lives Matter – the demand that white people recognize the profound cultural difference between the inherent value put on their lives, versus that of racial or other ethnic minorities.  Racism is a sickness, a disease and a crime, and its victims are black people and other minorities.  To continue to ignore racism’s consequences and its victims is to favor those who commit the crime of racism over the victims of that crime.

God’s favor rests with the victims of the crime of stripping the dignity from human beings, always has and always will.

Tom Howarth
Warren County, Virginia

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Lexington and Concord Battle: When the American Revolution Began – A day to be commemorated by the American Patriot

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Two hundred and forty-six years ago on 19 April 1775, the “shot heard round the world” was fired at the battle of Lexington and Concord. A handful of American farmers, shopkeepers, clergymen, men, and boys engaged the British Army, whose objective was to take and destroy patriot property, powder, and weapons.

Depiction of the Battle of Lexington by William Barnes Wollen, 1910, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Eight of our men, American Patriots, were killed right away defending their rights. Fed-up with the status quo they were determined that they would no longer be molested, abused, brutalized, restricted to their homes, weapons taken, not allowed to speak freely, not allowed to elect their own government leaders… have no representation to determine their taxes, barred from earning a living…nor would they continue to have a standing foreign Army rule their communities and live in their homes, taken by force! They resisted and confronted their oppressors.

There were more than 1,500 British soldiers that they faced that day. A handful of Americans faced the British at dawn. By the end of the battle, nearly 4,000 civilian patriots had joined the fight. Hearing the gunfire they ran toward it. Not away from it. The enemy retreated. Forty-nine Patriots were killed 39 wounded, and 73 British Redcoats killed, 174 wounded. Among our leaders was a young doctor, Dr. Joseph Warren, the man for whom this county, Warren County, Virginia, is named. He arrived at the Lexington Green after hearing gunfire bringing his medical bag to minister to the dying and wounded.

Here in Warren County Dr. Warren’s picture and history now hang in every school and government building. (I am honored to have had a small part in having him remembered in our county.) Two months after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, on June 17, Joseph Warren age 34, would die a martyr’s death fighting at Bunker Hill, so that you and I could live free under a Constitution…a free people… not ruled by a tyrant King! We live free because our forefathers shed their blood for US! Let us never forget them.

The Rev. Larry W. Johnson
Aka Liberty Man-Teacher and Living Historian of the American Revolution History
 Front Royal, VA 

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Clarifying the historical record on voting rights and modern politics

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James Finck’s article has some valid and helpful insights, but he is wrong on his overall argument regarding Voting Rights.  In sum, we need to be reminded that we are not living in 1789 or 1963.  Society and technology have made some advances since then.

Mr. Finck observes that Democrats for many years in the “Solid South” kept blacks from voting.  Let’s be clear.  Senator Richard Russell told President Lyndon Johnson that when the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forwarded after “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, was enacted, the Democrats would lose the South forever.  Russell was right. Even currently, 56 years later with the exceptions of Virginia and Georgia, all the Senate seats in the states of the old Confederacy are now Republican held.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prevented changes in voting laws from being imposed with pre-clearance by the Justice Department.  The Act had its intended effect.  Blacks voted and many black citizens were elected to public office throughout the South.

Voting Rights became the Democratic Party’s issue while voter suppression has of late emerged as a Republican strategy.  As late as the administration of George W. Bush, Congress passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act. Ronald Reagan approved an extension. Rep. Bob Goodlatte was a moderate on voting rights in the Congress but toward the end of his career, as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he would not even hold a hearing on the subject.

Did Bob Goodlatte change?  Perhaps, but what clearly changed was the Republican Party.  When the Supreme Court approved the Shelby decision striking down the pre-clearance provisions of the 1965 law, states primarily, but not exclusively, in the South rushed to impose voter suppression laws.

Donald Trump had it right when he said if everyone voted, Republicans would have a hard time winning elections.  Trump didn’t want people to vote in Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia because they had a high number of black voters.  Black voters heavily favor the Democratic Party.  How to beat them?  Prevent them from voting.

Some states have long used mail-in voting.  Military personnel deployed in foreign lands use mail-in voting.  Tom Paine never imagined that the U.S. military would be based in Iraq or anywhere else.  Yes, the Founders wanted it to be hard to vote.  Voting rights for women or blacks, unthinkable.  Mail-in ballots were never an issue until Donald Trump and the Trump Party made it an issue.  Voter fraud was rare, but it became the thin reed on which to base voter suppression.

Has Jim Crow left the building?  Most certainly not and that is why we need a new voting rights law that makes it easier, not harder to vote.  It is alarming that so many of our fellow citizens do not bother to vote.  Voting is the foundation of our democracy.  Those who undermine voting rights undermine democracy itself.

Tom Howarth
Warren County, Virginia

(Note: Tom Howarth holds a Masters’ Degree in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin; he taught constitutional government at Northern Virginia Community College; and is a former aide to the late Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, D-NJ.)

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Jim Crow Voting?

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Possibly one of the most important fights of this new century is being waged right now in the halls of Congress, in state houses across the nation, and with lesser significance on social media. The question is about voter accessibility and who has the right to determine it.

With COVID-19, voter accessibility was expanded and quite possibility responsible for Biden’s victory. The Democrats who benefited from COVID rules want to make those changes permanent on the federal level, while Republicans who suffered want to return to traditional rules through state governments.  President Biden weighed in last week, calling Republican attempts a return to Jim Crow.

It is worth taking a look at Jim Crow voting practices, but historically speaking, what seems ironic is during Jim Crow Democrats tried to keep Black Americans from voting booths while today Republicans are trying to force them to have to use them.

First things first. What does the Constitution say about voting practices? According to Article I, Section Four, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.” In other words, voting laws are made state by state. The Federal government has passed amendments dealing with who can vote, but not how. Even then, as discussed in an earlier column, the Constitution does not say voting is a right, only that you cannot deny voting based on race, sex, or age. The Constitution does not prohibit states from blocking voters for different reasons.

Gender a good example of this. Before the passage of the 19th Amendment, states could choose for themselves if they wanted to allow women to vote. In fact, starting with Colorado, thirteen states, mostly in the west, gave women the right to vote before the Federal Government forced the rest to catch up.

Because states can decide who votes, they can also decide who does not, as long as the reason is not illegal. So, for Jim Crow, the 14th Amendment stated you could not deny anyone the right to vote based on their race, skin color, or condition of previous servitude (used to be a slave). What southern states did was establish poll taxes or education tests as requirements for voting. Since most Black Americans at the time were poor and uneducated, this legally stopped the vast majority of Blacks from casting a ballot. To be legal, states that wanted to stop Blacks from voting also had to stop poor and uneducated White Americans from voting as well. There is some suggestion that some poor whites were willing to give up some political power to retain white supremacy.

With this in mind, are new proposed voting laws in Republican states the same as Jim Crow laws? Biden clearly thinks so. It seems like at the heart of all the laws are two things: mail-in voting and voter IDs. On the surface, these new state laws are saying that in-person voting with an ID is the only way to stop voter fraud. Below the surface, however, they are saying that mail-in voting is allowing Democrats to go door-to-door to collect ballots from those who traditionally do not vote. Democrats are arguing that Republicans are trying to restrict voters, especially Black voters, by making them show up in person. This assertion is that it is harder for the poor to make it to voting stations and afford IDs, while Republicans claim voting is the only official activity allowed without an ID.

Is it like Jim Crow? Yes and no. Republicans are not trying to pass new laws per se. They are trying to retain the laws from before COVID. It is actually Democrats trying to change or keep new election laws. But yes, it is true, Republican laws will limit participation. However, the laws are really just a screen for the real issue that needs to be addressed. Should all people be allowed to vote? This is a difficult question because our instinct in a democracy is to say yes, but we also get the question confused with should all people have the opportunity to vote? Those are different questions.

The Founding Fathers did not find the question difficult. They believed that all people should have the opportunity to vote but that did not mean that all people should be able to. The Founders limited voting only to men who had a stake in society. This was shown by owning property or controlling their own means of survival. If you worked for someone else, then you were not truly free and so did not have voting rights. Property requirements did not deny citizens the opportunity to vote. It was seen and even hoped that all Americans could become property holders and hence vote, but it took some effort on the part of the person.

One other requirement we see across all thirteen states was that the men had to show up. They had to. Most early voting was done by voice. Early in the 19th Century, voters would turn in a piece of paper with their vote, but even then, the votes were published.  At the time, it was believed voters should openly support who they voted for. Even though transportation was more difficult in early America than today and they had a functioning postal service, part of a stake in society was the expectation of showing up.

No person who wants to vote should be denied the privilege to do so. Extending voting days to up to a week should guarantee access, yet the process, at least according to the Founders, should be done in person as intended. Thomas Paine once said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Voting should not be easy. It should be important. As a bare minimum, voters should at least show up. As for Jim Crow, there are some similarities, but there are those who risked their lives in the 1950s and 1960s for the opportunity to vote in person. Let’s be careful not to compare them to those who want to be able to sit at home and mail in their ballot instead of having wait in line.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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Where are you this Easter season?

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Jesus said the greatest commandment is that; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). Jesus also said; “…Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ya shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3). In my letter (Jesus In Valentine’s Day), I suggest that in showing His great love for us by going on the cross, He is saying “Be Mine”; “Love me, too”! So, seeing Him there, where do you stand? God is asking where you/we are. He actually does know; so what He is REALLY asking is if you/we know!

In this regard, imagine a very young child sitting on a couch beside “Mama” while watching intently as a manly figure enters the room. A big smile appears and its little heart “jumps” with sheer joy; for this man is known as “Daddy”! Sitting down across from the couch, Daddy lovingly and adoringly observes his wife and child. And then it happens; His eyes meet with those of his “little one” and instantly, the child turns over on its stomach and slides down off the couch! He then begins to quickly crawl towards Daddy. The father, while watching his little darling, is wondering what the child is up to. Upon reaching Daddy, a hand grabs his pants leg and pulls to stand up. Daddy’s heart is then “captured” as he sees his child struggling mightily with both hands and feet to climb his leg! Still wondering what the child will do, Daddy helps his little darling onto his lap. And so, onto Daddy’s tummy, and the pulling at a shirt pocket to stand up. The child’s intent is now apparent, and there is a “swelling” in Daddy’s heart as two little arms reach around his neck and pulls him close. Tears of love and joy follow, for he hears his “little one’s” small, soft voice; although imperfectly and yet, unmistakably say, “I Love You Daddy!”

Seeing and feeling such a display of love, this father surely would willing LAY DOWN HIS OWN LIFE FOR HIS CHILD!

Folks, the way to get the attention of our Lord Jesus Christ is to love him! He first loved us, and besides commanding us to love Him; He loves to be loved!

Why love Him? There is a song that speaks of broken vows and the saddest words of parting; so nothing will ever be the same except in memory. This is the “picture” of what happened in the Garden of Eden, but because of His great love for us, He could not be satisfied with only memories of what used to be. Therefore, His desire to bring us back home took Him to the cross to die for us!

Can you see, hear, and perhaps feel, the anguish and pain from the cruel whipping and the nails driven into His hands and feet; His body covered by blood; and perhaps groaning as His arms are yanked from their shoulder sockets? His desire and intent is now evident; for we hear Him say; “Father Forgive Them…”!

So have you, will you, go to Him and tell Him that you love Him? And believe and trust Him as your Lord and Saviour? God is indeed asking, “Where are you this Easter season?”

Rev. Jess Shifflett
Front Royal, Virginia

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Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards reflect on Arbor Day

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Dear Editor,

Twenty years ago, on Arbor Day 2001, the Front Royal/Warren County Stewards “adopted” the Happy Creek Arboretum. For 20 years, the Tree Stewards have planted and labeled trees and shrubs, and planted perennials and bulbs to beautify the Arboretum. Throughout these 20 years we pruned, mulched, watered, sprayed, and fertilized these plants, thus saving the Town hundreds of dollars in man-hours. We also arranged to have installed dog refuse bag stations, a water fountain, an information Kiosk, and other amenities to make the Arboretum attractive to visitors.

From left to right: 2001’s Public Works Dir. George Shadman; Tree Stewards Secretary Kevin Flickinger, Tree Stewards President Mike Kenyon, Mayor Clay Athey, Town Manager Rick Anzolut, and Planning Director Kim Fogle.

Although the Tree Stewards have worked on many other Town and County projects throughout our 24-year existence, our work at Happy Creek Arboretum is our longest focus on a single project. We invite the public to visit the Arboretum and enjoy this beautiful spot within the Town.

A. Joan Brubaker, Tree Steward
Warren County, Virginia

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