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.
Just when you thought our political leaders could not divide us any further, they have now turned on themselves. Right now, both parties are dealing with internal conflicts. The Democrats are struggling between the so called “progressives” (I still believe they are not using that term correctly) and the “moderates.” One recent difference is between how to respond to problems in Israel. As for the Republicans, they seem to have the bigger conflict right now, as seen by the removal of Liz Chaney from Republican leadership over her beliefs about Trump. Historically speaking, this is not new. During the Republicans’ most dominant period in history, they twice splintered into competing factions and both times allowed the Democrats to crack their control of the White House.
There have been two great runs in political history, one by each party, but the Republicans had the larger of the two. Between Abraham Lincoln who won in 1860 and FDR who won in 1932 and ended the Republican’s run, there were only two Democratic presidents. In other words, for a 72-year span, Republicans controlled 64 years and Democrats only eight. Yet instead of being satisfied with their dominance, the Republicans split into factions.
During the Gilded Age (1870s-early 1900s), three Republican factions emerged, two revolving around prominent figures. The first group were the Mugwumps. In a time of political corruption, mostly from the spoils system or rewarding political supporters, the Mugwumps were calling for reform. They wanted to see civil service exams so government jobs could be based on merit instead of patronage. The Mugwumps were the weakest of the divisions.
Then there were the Stalwarts, led by the very powerful New York Senator Roscoe Conklin. These were the most traditionalist who wanted to keep the spoils system intact. It was this group that supported a third term for President Grant because they were profiting from the corruption in his administration. Finally, there were the Half-Breeds, led by the most powerful of them all, the Senator from Maine James Blaine. They took a page from the Mugwumps and called for reform, but in reality, they were no different than the Stalwarts, except they wanted Blaine as president.
The Republican party was able to stay together in 1880 when it compromised with Garfield, a Half-Breed presidential nominee who was not Blaine and Chester Arthur, a Stalwart for V.P. The partnership did not last long as Garfield was assassinated by what many thought was a Stalwart plot. However, before Garfield died, he pushed for some civil service reforms. When Arthur took over, he went against his own faction and pushed through the Pendleton Civil Service Act. Pendleton was a good start but not enough for the Mugwumps.
In the 1884 election, one of the more interesting that I have discussed many times, the Half-Breeds were tired of messing around. They dumped Arthur and succeeded in running Blaine for president. The Democrats took advantage of Blaine’s ties to corruption and cover-ups by courting the Mugwump vote when they ran a true reformer in Grover Cleveland. The move gave the Democrats just enough votes for the rare victory.
The next couple of elections danced around some as the Republicans took back the White House in 1888, only to lose again to Cleveland in 1892. Starting in 1896 the Republicans regained their control with McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, then Taft. However, even though the old three-way split in the party had dissolved some time earlier, a new division had grown by the 1912 election. Teddy Roosevelt left office after a term-and-a-half, and he handpicked his successor to follow through with his progressive reforms. (These were the real progressives, who wanted reform but slow moderate changes.)
By this point, both parties were divided between progressive and moderate wings. Complicating matters was that there were more internal conflicts than external between groups. The problem was TR’s replacement, who, though a good progressive, was willing to compromise too much with the moderates for TR’s liking. In 1912, Roosevelt decided to retake his party and ran for the presidency. Yet when Taft was re-nominated instead, TR stole away the progressive wing of his party and formed a third party, the Progressive Party, which became better known by the best party name in history, the Bull Moose Party. Of course, with the Republicans divided, the Democrats ran their own progressive, Woodrow Wilson, and won.
We will have to watch over the next few years to see if history will repeat itself. Will the divide between the progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party sink the party’s chances for reelection? If Trump runs again, will he cause a third-party split from the Republican party led by Republicans like Chaney and Romney. Time will tell, but, historically speaking, this could be a bumpy couple of years ahead for both parties.
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.
The day (June 6, 1944) in World War II
The greatest mobilization of military forces in the history of the world. 10,000 casualties… 4,414 dead that day.
Let us remember the Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Boatmen, Chaplains, Medics, Corpsmen, Nurses, Doctors, Cooks…. all that served!
And the wives, children, mothers, dads, loved ones back home with blue stars in windows…many of which would turn to Gold amid a tidal wave of tears…weeping mothers, dads, children, brothers, and sisters…relatives…aunts, and uncles…sweethearts. They gave that we might be Free. God bless their ever-lasting Souls. And God help US TO REMEMBER!!
In Jesus, we pray to be worthy of their sacrifice, AMEN
I was a small boy and saw the tears and heard the crying. Our next-door family lost their dad. His children were my playmates. My dad and uncles served. Thankfully they came home.
The Rt. Rev. Larry W. Johnson
Front Royal, VA
On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foothold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.
Let us honor and remember the brave men and women who laid down their lives to preserve our freedom
This Memorial Day, we pause with solemn gratitude to honor and remember the brave men and women who laid down their lives to preserve our freedom, and we pray for lasting peace throughout our Commonwealth, our nation, and the world so that future generations may enjoy the blessings of liberty.
Since the founding of our great Commonwealth, Virginians have proudly answered the call to duty and given their lives in heroic service to our nation. These patriots were bound by their love of country and united in their quest to uphold our founding ideals. Their selfless acts of courage and patriotism embody the very best of our Commonwealth and our nation, and it is our responsibility to ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain. We must come together as they did, to continue their work and to build a brighter and better future for everyone.
Today, and every day, we honor the extraordinary service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. Let us pray for the fallen and for the loved ones they left behind. Let us continue our enduring mission of building a Commonwealth and a nation worthy of the patriots we honor today.
Memorial Day – May 31, 2021: Remembering the service of the fallen
On Memorial Day, we take time to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by those who fought for our country.
Many of those who died in the service of our country are known to us personally. They were our sons, our fathers, our uncles, aunts, or cousins, or they were our friends.
The heroes of wars long past are not forgotten. Veterans group walk the old graveyards to place flags on the tombstones of those who died in battles long past but still remembered. Their great sacrifices and honorable service helped our country become the nation it is today. We can never forget.
Many of their names are on tombstones in our own country and in cemeteries across the globe.
Some cannot be named specifically, and they are honored in a special way: at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
It is guarded by faithful sentinels night and day.
The importance of this duty is expressed in the “Sentinel’s Creed”:
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance, my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect, his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored Glory rest under my eternal vigilance.
— Sentinel’s Creed of the Guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Crime and Policing Patterns
One key job of historians is to find patterns. Most things in history are circular and come and go throughout time. The majority of what I do with this column is to try to show that current events have happened before and that nothing is new. Knowing this can help us make better decisions in the future. One such circular event is crime and policing.
Crime and policing in some way are as old as time itself, yet there have been periods in American history where crime was more common or at least thought to be. The first period that comes to mind is the so-called “Wild West.” Whether the cow towns were actually violent is debated, but Hollywood has engrained in our collective minds the wildness of towns like Dodge City, Tombstone, and Deadwood. What brought order to these towns were men as tough as iron. These sheriffs were quick with a gun but sometimes were accused of being as violent as the men they arrested. To make the west safe, they had to enforce tough laws with a strong hand. Hollywood has capitalized on men like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Bill Hickock.
Another period known for lawlessness was the 1920s. Prohibition was the law of the land but that only opened the door to criminals who saw easy money in bootlegging. Gangsters became household names like Al Capone, “Baby Face” Nelson, and John Dillinger. There were also men like “Lucky” Luciano who helped organize the Five Families in New York. Then there were crimes that are not as famous today but were know at the time like the Osage Murders in Oklahoma. The crimes of the 1920s helped turn the new and undermanned Bureau of Investigation into the modern trained and efficient Federal Bureau of Investigation. The man responsible for the turnaround was the ruthless J. Edgar Hoover. Before the 1920s, the public feared a national police force that could turn into secret police. However, the crime wave in the ’20s and the inability or unwillingness of the local police to confront it, resulted in a public demand for help, even if some of the police tactics reminded some of a police state.
The Osage murders are a good example. As shown in David Grann’s book Killers of the Flower Moon, which is currently being turned into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Osage Indians were being murdered in 1921. The local police were unable or possibly unwilling to find the murderers. In one of their first big high-profile cases, the FBI solved the crime. I don’t want to give away more, but it’s a book worth reading.
Hollywood has always taken advantage of these times to make a bit of cash and that is no different than with the next major crime wave. In 1971 America was introduced to a new character and catch phrase, when Dirty Harry first asked the bad guy, “Do you feel lucky?” The movie about a crime-ridden city and an ineffective police force resonated with the public. It took an old school cop, one not afraid to use violence, to finally catch a sniper terrorizing the city. However, the sniper was released because Harry had not followed all the rules. Harry eventually catches him again, this time killing him, then throwing his badge into the river in protest to how crime was being handled.
Dirty Harry was not finished, however. His style of policing became so popular that he made four more movies and inspired several other similar movies. Another standout was 1974’s “Death Wish.” In this film, Charles Bronson’s character was a happy family man until thugs broke into his home and killed his wife and left his daughter barely alive. After the police could not help, Bronson began walking the streets at night in Central Park hoping to get mugged so he could bring his own form of vigilante justice to the city.
Movies like “Dirty Harry” and “Death Wish” reverberated with people who were themselves afraid to walk in places like Central Park. Crime rates had been on the rise since the 1960s but then started to fall in the 1990s. The reasons for the decline in crime are still being debated today, but many give credit to men like New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who started controversial but effective policies to reduce crime. (Yes, he had a career before Trump.) One thing he did was to greatly increase the number of cops on the street. Giuliani was attacked as a racist and his policies as Gestapo tactics, but people were able to walk the streets at night. What we have seen in all these cases is that the population tolerated more policing for safety. Yet over time, people became less tolerant, forcing less policing, and the cycle continued.
We are watching this cycle currently play out again. Not only are we seeing calls to defund the police, but in cities like New York, police officers retiring is up more than 400% from the previous year. Most are citing anti-police attitudes for the cause. It has become so bad that NYC now restricts the number of officers who can retire each month. Look at some of the movies that started coming out in the 2000s –”Training Day” in 2001, “Crash “in 2004, “The Departed” in 2006. All these depict police as corrupt and violent. Yet at the same time, starting in 2020, we have seen an increase in crime.
Time will have to tell if crime on the rise is a matter of COVID or new attitudes towards policing. Historically speaking, the attitudes towards policing and lower numbers of law enforcement will be followed by continuing higher crime rates until they get high enough that the next version of “Dirty Harry” will be required to clean up the streets. Who knows how long that will take, but until then the only question to ask yourself is, “Do you feel lucky?”
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 www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.
A ‘Rush to Judgement’ of Lord Fairfax in community college renaming effort?
After 50 years of orogenic calm, suddenly the directors of Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) are trying to change the college name, and the school’s public relations cadre has been in full-blown smackdown and smearing of the deceased namesake, Lord Fairfax the 6th.
We know Mr. Fairfax was a slave owner, but let’s look at the other things they have been saying about him.
The former college president said he was a “very minor historical figure”. Yet, Mr. Fairfax was responsible for the settling of over 5 million acres locally! Like it or not, he was the face of local colonial rule, and he helped-along George Washington, who grew-up to protest the colonial slave trade and lead the army which ended that rule.
They said Fairfax was an out-of-touch, stingy aristocrat, and “never had to work”. However, he donated land and performed civic duties, serving as a Frederick County Justice of the Peace and County Lieutenant. Historian Bishop Meade wrote, “It deserves to be mentioned of Lord Fairfax, that, titled as he was, and rich, he never failed to perform his duty as a citizen and neighbor”.
While, yes, through the colonial system, he came unto his land holdings, he did not sit in a recliner playing Xbox. That land had to be surveyed, appropriated and governed, by foot and horseback. Fairfax eschewed English castle life and settled in something visually similar to a horse barn, in the then-wilderness of White Post, Virginia.
Regarding privilege, it is only fair to note that the annual salary for the head of the Virginia Community College system is an aristocratic $481,045!
Moreover, LFCC’s website states: “There are historical records indicating he also engaged in long-term sexual abuse of enslaved women”. One member of the re-naming board said he “partook in a pay-for-rape scenario”. Where is the proof for these outrageous statements?
Similar claims are circulating on the Internet and likely derive from Stewart Brown’s biography on Lord Fairfax, published in 1965, a book referenced by the Board’s re-naming committee. Let’s take a closer look at it.
In the appendix, Brown said he had in-hand a receipt written by Fairfax’s clerk, to wit: “February 27, 1777: Received of Curtis Corley ten shillings on the Lord’s ship account, for bring a negro wench to bed. Cary Balengar”. Let’s assume that is an exact quote from receipt, because accuracy matters here.
Elsewhere in his book, Brown altered the included phrase into, “bedding down a negro wench”, and remarked that this meant Fairfax was paying for sex. He further speculated that this was evidence on a rumor that Fairfax had children by numerous slave women, and that at the age of 83, was thus “sufficiently virile” not to be near death. However, Brown gave no foundation for the rumor or his opinion.
Yet, the Collins Dictionary says “to be brought to bed” is an archaic British English expression meaning “childbirth”. Given that, does it make better sense that this was simply a receipt for delivering a baby, as others have already suggested?
Before we neuter and vandalize Fairfax’s name, let’s do OUR homework.
Rockland, Warren County, Virginia