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Mail in Voting

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historically speaking

With mail-in voting becoming such an important political issue today, it is worth the time to examine similar issues in history. I have written on this before, but with the blocking of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, it is worth reexamining. The debate is between protecting voting, not from just fraud but from corruption, and allowing all people more access to voting. Then add to the debate the subtext of race and discrimination. This is a difficult dispute, yet, historically speaking, it is not a new one. The last major shift in the voting process had a similar debate between corruption and discrimination.

I have shared this before, but you can never share the Constitution too much. Article I. Section 4 reads, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” In other words, voting practices are controlled by the states and different states can have various practices. This is important to remember as we debate a law about national voting rights. Various amendments have revised the Constitution and have limited the state’s power, but all of these are about who cannot be excluded. None say that all must be included. Right now, you cannot deny the vote to anyone based on race, color, sex, or age. Nothing in the Constitution says you cannot deny voting for other reasons. An I.D. requirement does not go against any of these restrictions, hence why the Democrats are trying to pass a new law. They believe the restrictive voting rules inexplicitly curbs minority voters. This is the same argument made against reformers in the late 1800s.

The progressive movement that grew in America towards of the end of the Nineteenth Century revolved around the idea that Government could make a positive change in people’s lives. The movement was dominated by native WASPS who saw the growth of big business and their influence on Government as corruptive and wanted to take some power back. They saw that reform was going to happen whether they wanted it or not and so chose to lead the reforms themselves instead of leaving it to the masses. This way they could stop any radical reforms and make change more conservatively.

One of the most consequential reforms they championed was a secret ballot. Progressives believed that the masses were being treated as pawns in the political struggle. By this time all men were allowed to vote. However, with an open ballot there was nothing to stop employers from pressing employees to vote a certain way. For many of the poor, but especially immigrants, they were under pressure from political machines to vote for their candidates. When immigrants arrived in America, they were met on the docks by the political machines who set them up with lodging and jobs. It was the machines that took care of most of their needs. However, they were expected to vote how they were told.

In early America, ballots were not provided; you were expected to bring your own. You could make your own ballot, but a popular way to vote was to take an already filled out ballot provided by your political party, not unlike the sample ballots found at some polling stations today. Usually, these ballots were color coded so that foreign speakers or illiterate voters could make sure they voted for the correct party. However, color-coded ballots also made it easy for political bosses to make sure you voted for the correct person.

I am guessing that most reading this probably are thinking that going to a secret ballot was the right thing to do, as it actually increased democracy for the masses. While it allowed for them to vote their own conscience, however, these reformers came under attack as being racists and xenophobic. The problem was that now, to make sure ballots were not compromised, they were provided at the ballot box instead of voters being allowed to bring their own. Ballots now had to be filled out at the polling booth. The issue was that now foreign speakers and illiterates, who accounted for a higher percentage among minority populations, had to fill out a ballot without help. This led to a cry of racism.

Notice that the progressive reforms were not taking on an illegal issue with the secret ballot. It was not illegal for a political machine to give an immigrant a filled-out ballot; they claimed they were just assisting a non-English speaker. This has similarities with today as there are no calls to stop illegal actions. Democrats want to see restrictions removed for in-person voting and allowing more mail-in voting, giving those who can’t make it to the polls a chance to vote. Republicans want to stop illegal fraud, but there not many examples of actual fraud being committed. For many on the right, it is not just fraud, but corruption they want to stop.

Democrats say that political organizers who go door-to-door to help people vote by mail are expanding Democracy, while Republicans, though not using the same words, are seeing mail-in voting the same as political machines distributing filled-in ballots. In both cases is not about illegal voting but voting integrity.


Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.

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The Forgotten Variable in Pending Overturn of Roe v Wade – Unwanted Children

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I sat in church Sunday and heard my pastor say abortion is immoral and we should be okay with Roe v. Wade being overturned. It was hardly a trailblazing announcement, but it made me look around and assess the women in that room, many of whom I’d lay money on having had one. There were women of all ages but not too much diversity. Mostly white and mostly middle class. Mostly.

In the immediacy, this likely development doesn’t affect me personally. My uterus is safely on the other side of its sell-by date. The young women that I personally know seem largely indifferent to the fall of Roe v Wade (kind of reminds me of the Iraqis that wouldn’t fight for their own skin.) My two daughters are generally viewed as extremely ill-advised in the reproducing department.

Amelia tells me repeatedly that she has no desire for a baby. I blame Sofi for that. Sofi is 7 years old and who knows what she’ll want? Developmentally she’s about 2.5 years old (according to UVA) so with any luck, she’ll be menopausal before she chooses to be a biological mom.

So, what does this mean to me? Several things. It means Pro-Lifers are delusional if they think they’ll be good at caring for this new onslaught of unwanted children. They’ve done very poorly thus far. There will be more unwanted children languishing in substandard conditions. When a woman has an abortion she’s saying, “I can’t do this.” She means it, people. She always has. Legal and safe abortions tidied that up for all of society.  Orphanages were common until the mid-60s but less so afterward. So, there will still be babies to save. There always have been.

As for Pro-Choicers, well maybe these 50 years were an anomaly. Maybe what the world (or simply America) DOESN’T want for women dwarfs what it does. It DOESN’T want us to be equal financially because we’ve never been, and children are the why for that. It DOESN’T want us thinking we are equal without a willingness to reproduce – a common complaint among my childless women friends.

Legal abortion had its flaws (damnation being a common belief aimed at those unfortunate repeat offenders.) Far more interesting to me is the who, when, and why regarding those who do manage to step up to solve an unsolvable problem – unwanted children. The prevention of and care for will ALWAYS be battles that need fighting. The high-horse attitudes of both sides are laughable in the face of the misery that unwanted children cause, and indeed endure.

Ann Deans Masch
Fauquier County

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Do the homework – and pray for all oppressed peoples

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Shireen Abu Aqla, a Palestinian Christian, reporter, and the mentor and close friend of a dear Palestinian Christian, reporter, and friend of mine of over 25 years, was brutally gunned down recently by the government of “God’s Chosen People”, despite clearly wearing a visible “PRESS” vest. Do your own homework.

While trying to hold a peaceful funeral, the officers of “God’s Chosen People” kicked and beat the pallbearers. Where is the outrage from “Christian” America? Where is the outrage from those who claim to be a “child of God”?, yet remain silent while one of your own is brutally slaughtered? Do your own homework.

So many had no problem jumping on the “Save Ukraine” bandwagon. By the way, I support the people of Ukraine 100%!! – I also happen to support the people of Palestine. I support the beautiful peaceful native Tibetans. For that matter, I support those in Russia who are eager for genuine peace, yet who are stuck with brutal and soulless regime, run by well-known thugs. Do your own homework.

I have to ask: have any of you who say you support Israel actually read that Bible you say you believe in? Please give it a try. Cool book! I’m a huge fan. Enlighten yourselves to the many times that “God’s Chosen People” turned their hearts against God, and God left them to deal with the consequences. Stop making excuses for the thugs and punks that operate against their supposed God at will, just because of a culture they cling to out of convenience, as opposed to purpose. Do your own homework.

Granted, one could say the same about the manner in which U.S. politicians support this brutal government and their paid assassins, all in the name of convenience, while possessing zero value for true faith in a loving and compassionate God, whom I choose to believe sent his son to die for my sins. I want nothing to do with the God of murderers, thugs and the politicians who support them all for self-serving convenience. Do your own homework.

While we all pray for the beautiful people of Ukraine, please (after doing your own homework) also pray for the beautiful people of Palestine. The horrors which the people of Ukraine have been subjected to have been part of Palestinian life for over 70 years. Don’t they, also, have a “Right To Life?!?”

Michael Sean Williams 
Front Royal, Virginia

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All in the training

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As an observer of the video on Mr. Ennis’s arrest, I have to agree with Mr. Candenquist’s letter to the editor.

There was no reason for the officer who came up behind Mr. Ennis to handle Mr. Ennis in the manner of which he did.

Could the officer have been a rookie, just out of training class? Did the officers not know who they were dealing with? I believe they had another encounter with Mr. Ennis before this encounter. Being at night does make an officer warier of approach, but there was enough light from cars and the parking lot to see this man did not even show a threat! WCSO and FRPD need not let officers that seem a little zealous make certain calls to certain situations.

We citizens need to have the utmost respect and trust in our law enforcement; this is one place, if not the last place, for defense against the bad guys and gals. Mr. Ennis was not a bad guy.

Tenia Smith
A former resident of Front Royal

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Shameful behavior exhibited in Mr. Ennis’s arrest clearly undermines the trust and respect that our police agencies deserve

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Having read the Police Report by Corporal Lowery, as reported in the Royal Examiner, filed on the occasion of the arrest of Ralph Ennis on April 2nd, it strikes me (no pun intended) that the law enforcement officers who made the arrest used excessive force when taking Mr. Ennis into custody. Mr. Ennis, according to the report, clearly posed no threat to the officers. I did not know Mr. Ennis, nor do I know his family and friends; my feelings are entirely objective as a point of fact.

It was observed by Cpl. Lowery, in his report, that Mr. Ennis was elderly and seemed confused. The report shows that Mr. Ennis did not exhibit any threatening behavior. What was the reason why the deputy ran up behind Mr. Ennis, strongly restraining him, and “jerked him around,” slamming his face into the camper top of his pick-up truck? Was it perhaps a broken tooth or teeth that Mr. Ennis apparently spit out onto the ground? Why was it necessary to apparently shove Mr. Ennis in such a way that he tripped over the hitch on the rear of the truck, causing this collection of apparent flailing individuals to fall to the ground, at which time Mr. Ennis struck the back of his head on the pavement?

Moreover, the vehicle video footage and the body-cam footage of the arrest of Mr. Ennis confirm that Mr. Ennis was simply standing still when the police officer ran up behind him, restrained him from behind, and slammed him into the back of the pick-up truck. Moreover, in the body-cam footage, a police officer clearly stated, when he got back into his car, that the manner in which Mr. Ennis was arrested “was uncalled for.”

Based on the police report and the footage, was all of this physical force necessary to arrest an elderly and obviously confused man who apparently posed no threat to anyone? His apparent dementia aside, might have Mr. Ennis have been exhibiting signs of a diabetic emergency, which mimic the behavior that Mr. Ennis was reported to have shown, based on the police report? There have been instances where drivers with a diabetic emergency have been roughly treated by law enforcement, with serious consequences; the training for an encounter with a potential motor vehicle operator with a diabetic emergency has been included in some law enforcement agencies.

It seems to me that the written reported and video recorded manner in which Mr. Ennis was arrested, and his subsequent death, led to the apparent nationwide mistrust of law enforcement agencies by the public in recent years. In these perilous times, when crime and complete disregard for any type of lawful authority is thoroughly out of control, we cannot abide from having our local law enforcement agencies exhibit unnecessary behavior when the situation, as indicated in the police report and in the video footage, clearly does not call for excessive and unwarranted force.

On the contrary, had Mr. Ennis exhibited threatening behavior or in any way resisted arrest, then the manner in which he was arrested could have been justified. What transpired in this particular case was, in my opinion, clearly unwarranted and clearly unnecessary.

Our police agencies have a very difficult time as it is to uphold the law and the rights of the public; they deserve the utmost respect as they perform their sworn duties. Such shameful behavior exhibited in Mr. Ennis’s arrest clearly undermines the trust and respect that our police agencies deserve.

I hope that such behavior, as demonstrated in the police report and video footage, is an aberration of the normal performance by our local law enforcement agencies, and those who were responsible for the manner in which Mr. Ennis was arrested are or will be appropriately handled. I attend church and occasionally shop in Warren County, and I do not like to be nor want to be especially wary of the police and deputies in Front Royal and in Warren County. The Sheriff in Warren County and the Police Chief in Front Royal are ultimately responsible for what happens with their employees in their respective jurisdictions, and it is their responsibility to ensure that such actions as this response to arrest Mr. Ennis do not happen.

Arthur Candenquist
Amissville, Rappahannock County

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Brother Against Brother, Again

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Right and left. How did we come to this? We’re starting to hate each other and we think we know why but we’re not really sure. Lately it seems the ideology is irrelevant. Whatever the other side is for, my team must be against. Yes, we’re like teams. But some of the fans have gone overboard and are tipping the boat too far, dragging us down with them.

Full disclosure: The following is not an even-handed viewpoint because I’m so far to the left that I make a complete circle and come back to where I started, but I can see there is enough blame at either end to make a case for sharing the responsibility for the spiraling predicament in which we now find ourselves. America is falling apart in divisive anger and bad ideas. The extreme on the left wants to eliminate the police. Think about that. And the opposing fringe on the right insists that Trump won the election. But saying so doesn’t make it so. Let’s not let the ‘Big Lie’ become our new Pledge of Allegiance.

Why do we invest ourselves in illogical dogma with such vehemence? That’s what’s happening. Worst of all, we now see those deep divisions in many of our families, a malevolent spell cast on those we love.

Civil discourse seems to be mimicking the angry, yelling talking heads in the media. They are whipping us up. It seems to me that each of them appears to be running for office, or pulling for ratings that translate to advertising income, for them. Their platform is partisan division. Why do we let them get away with it? America is beautiful. Don’t let anyone scare you into thinking otherwise.

Thriving in a democracy equates to disagreements. That’s healthy, moves us along nice and slowly. Perfect. Don’t need threats, hucksters, autocrat wannabees or media induced histrionics. Why let violent agitators on the right or left spoil the barrel? They are bad apples, not your well-intentioned friends and relatives. We don’t have to rush the barricades at their instigation.

Our families on the right want respect, respect for the working man or woman, the lineman splicing your power line in a snowstorm. He or she should get the same respect AND income as the IT techie waiting at a warm cozy desk for the wireless connection to come back on. And the left wants equal rights and respect for the ‘others’ amongst us – LGBT, immigrants (from whom we all originate), people of color, and anyone else who is different. What do we care if someone is LGBT or Ronald McDonald? It has nothing to do with you or me. I don’t know a binary from a strawberry and don’t care. Why do you? We can’t catch ‘gay.’ They won’t hurt us. Respect.

Banning books may be the first step on the stairs to witch trials. No one is forcing you to read the books. Chill out. Go to a movie, a comedy. Watch reruns of Seinfeld. He’s hysterical. Better yet, keep ambitious politicians out of our schools and libraries. They’re making a mess of it.

Brother and Sisters, we’re all on the same team. Let’s root for America together.

Jay Buckner
Warren County, Virginia

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PSYWAR in the valley

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There’s a line in the 1968 “Green Beret” movie where John Wayne says, “Put PSYWAR on it.”  That’s essentially what the Confederacy did when things looked bleak 160 years ago. In case you missed that last point – this spring is the 160th anniversary of Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Just so you know, Front Royal is probably the only town in America that can claim a run and gun shootout between opposing armies in its streets. Urban engagements were a rarity in the U.S. Civil War.

As a former Intelligence officer, I was intrigued with the military deception and Information warfare exhibited in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 – and in particular – the effects of said campaign. So much so, that I moved from Washington to the Valley in 2007 to have a closer look. I have yet to depart. Today most of us glance at the Civil War historical signs from time to time but rarely do we pause and visualize what the Valley must have been like in yesteryear. Our collective culture and technology have matured so much that it takes an in-depth imagination to construct such a visual. Meanwhile military classrooms around the world continue to regal their students with captivating tales and lessons learned from maneuvers that occurred on the very streets and grounds we walk around on every day in the Valley.

The Visual: The spring of 1862 was much like the one in 2022 – colder than most with lingering snow. The future dawned dark for the Confederates as Federal progress threatened to make this conflict a brief footnote in U.S. history. The combined U.S. Army offensive driving westward between the James and York Rivers was coordinated with another U.S. force moving southward along what is now the I-95 corridor from Fredericksburg. This one-two punch comprised the hammer and anvil smash General McClellan had in mind for the Southern capital. All told, the U.S. army had a force of 200,000 closing in on Richmond. The Confederate defenses had roughly 60,000 troops to oppose this enormous force. The numerical disproportion was increased by the North’s vast material resources.

For a gambling man, this is not a difficult wager here. Take the United States to win by 4 touchdowns – no brainer. No doubt a smart bet if the U.S. had not succumbed to a masterful influence operation. As Houdini said, “What the eyes see and the ears hear – the mind believes.”  The brain trust of the rebel alliance found a weakness in the Lincoln Administration’s thinking and the results shocked the world. Lincoln and advisors were very concerned about protecting their capital. General Lee and President Davis would exacerbate those fears by way of a little-known soldier at the time.

For the next three months, General Stonewall Jackson crisscrossed the Valley wired hot with dispatches from General Lee to cause havoc and remain foremost in the mind of the Lincoln Administration. Jackson’s objective was to tie up as many Federal forces as possible thereby relieving pressure on the rebel capital while feigning towards Washington if possible. It was a tall order but if successful, Jackson’s maneuvers would divert troops at the very moment McClellan needed them for the combined offensive against Richmond. This would require fake newspaper stories, deceptive marches eastward to get on train transport westward, operational security and speed.

Advertisement for 150th Anniversary of Jackson’s Valley Campaign in 2012, on display at the Warren Rifles Museum in midtown Front Royal. Acknowledgement of the 160th Anniversary of the Valley Campaign and the Battle of Front Royal will be held at 6:30 PM, Monday, May 23, at Soldier’s Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery weather permitting, with the author as featured speaker. In event of bad weather the ceremony will be moved indoors to the Warren Rifles Museum at 95 Chester St. Photos of Museum materials by Roger Bianchini

Stonewall’s antics in the Valley did not get inside General McClellan’s head but his actions clearly had effects on the National Command team headed by President Lincoln in Washington. The impact on the President and his advisors caused the redirection of three Federal armies totaling over 50,000 troops away from Richmond at a critical juncture. He essentially removed the anvil portion of the equation. Lincoln re-directed those forces to converge on the Valley with the aim of destroying Jackson and preventing him from threatening Washington. Jackson’s infantry force of about 15,000 was way too small to cause harm to Washington but the U.S. leadership did not know that. Deception is everything in warfare.

One of the advantages Jackson used was a hyper-accurate survey of the Valley’s floor in collusion with cavalry screening and deception to keep the Federal opposition guessing wildly. Federal and Southern newspapers sounded the alarm further enhancing the impact of his exploits – in some cases providing misinformation. Jackson’s troops were known as foot cavalry trudging 40 miles a day. Washington could not make sense of the reports stating Jackson was 60 miles from the last report, so calculations of his troop strength rose exponentially with each report. Federal forces were lulled to sleep by the effective use of cavalry along the valley corridors and mountain gaps. Against Union General Banks, Jackson segregated his force from the protection of his cavalry in order to deceive the opposition as to his location. One minute the Federal forces are exchanging fire with his cavalry diversion in Strasburg and the next minute Banks and staff are reading reports that Jackson is blitzing through Front Royal – seizing Federal supply wagons on his way to Harper’s Ferry. All this was quite alarming to Lincoln and his staff as Harper’s Ferry is in proximity of Washington especially for a force that moves as rapid as Jackson’s appeared to be – and especially since there is minimal protection between them. So Lincoln pulled more troops from McClellan thereby further impeding McClellan’s moves against Richmond. Jackson had no intention of attacking Washington.

Meanwhile Jackson’s use of operational security was so effective that his own brigade commanders had no idea where they were going next. That caused a few problems, as you can imagine, but it also meant that stragglers and the Valley citizens could not reveal what they did not know. We call that OPSEC today. The Richmond papers promoted the idea that Richmond defenses were ringed by an enormous force of two hundred thousand. Interestingly, these numbers were confirmed by McClellan’s chief of Intelligence – a man named Pinkerton. As noted above, there were barely sixty thousand. The results of this disinformation cautioned the Federal leviathan’s movements toward Richmond while Lincoln redirected more troops toward the protection of the capital. In modern parlance – this is called “effects based PSYOP at its best!”

There’s an ole saying, it’s not the years in one’s life that matter but the life in one’s years. Prior to the U.S. Civil War, few had ever heard of Stonewall Jackson. In fact, the following summer Jackson would be killed in battle. But in the spring of 1862, in the span of three months, Stonewall Jackson would become the most famous officer in the world. His forces marched hundreds of miles, fought 5 pitched battles and tied up over 50,000 Federal troops in three months’ time. He effectively saved the Confederacy from certain destruction in 1862. His campaign altered the course of the war, forcing U.S. war planners to vector brigades earmarked for the hammer and anvil out to the Valley to crush him.

The strategic results of the Valley campaign followed up by General Lee’s audacious maneuvers along the Chickahominy provide history with the biggest turnaround ever witnessed in warfare. Within weeks of the Valley exploits, the Confederates were at the gates of Washington staging for the invasion of Northern territory. Unreal. But it all started right out here in the Shenandoah Valley 160 years ago.

How about that.

(Editor’s note: Author John Paul Morgan will be the featured speaker at May 23rd ceremonies sponsored by the Warren Rifles Museum commemorating both the Battle of Front Royal and the 160th anniversary of Jackson’s Valley Campaign. The event will begin at 6:30 PM, weather permitting at Soldiers’ Circle in the Prospect Hill Cemetery. In the event of bad weather the event will be moved indoors to the Warren Rifles Museum at 95 Chester Street in midtown Front Royal.)

Soldier’s Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Front Royal where 275 confederate soldiers were laid to rest.

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