Saturday, September 30, 2023

the last book I ever read (President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear, excerpt six)

from President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:

Now finally glimpsing New Orleans for himself, however, Garfield was smitten. “The thing that strikes a northern man most forcibly is the wonderful vegetation which abounds everywhere,” he wrote. Ferns sprang from cracks in the pavement, while in the garden of his host (a veteran of the Forty-Second, who had evidently decided Sodom wasn’t so bad) Garfield beheld an unimaginable bounty of fruit and flowers: pear, plum, banana, and fig, alongside honeysuckle, jasmine, and twenty types of rose, all within a single acre of land. Manmade structures also drew his interest—the steam-powered waterwheels heaving water toward nearby Lake Pontchartrain, the “curious” French Quarter buzzing with an equally curious, foreign-sounding people.

Yet the scenery could not distract him from noticing and describing the nastier aspects of local society. “You would naturally think that people ought to be very good who live in such a place,” Garfield hinted to his kids. “But… it is unfortunate the people here are not so beautiful as their trees and flowers.” He was more explicit with Crete; Louisiana’s whites, Garfield wrote, “smile in the morning and commit murder at night.”

Friday, September 29, 2023

the last book I ever read (President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear, excerpt five)

from President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:

Paunchy with a dense, dark, mustache, Sickles had already made himself infamous as a man unafraid (proud, even) of taking extreme measures if the moment demanded them. As a congressman in antebellum Washington, he had shot his wife’s lover (the district attorney) dead in the street before pleading temporary insanity. It was the first time such a defense had been pulled off in America. But, post hoc, Sickles did not stick to it. “Of course I intended to kill him,” Sickles admitted to friends. “He deserved it.” The murderer-cuckold later became a Union general. While galloping across Gettysburg, he was clipped in the leg by a Confederate cannonball, shredding the limb below the knee. Sickles had the bones collected in a tiny coffin and sent to museum curators. For years to come, he brought friends to pay respects to the shards on display.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

the last book I ever read (President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear, excerpt four)

from President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:

It hit the South especially hard. The region’s industrial base remained brittler than the North’s, and the Panic ensured this would remain the case for the foreseeable future. The Texas and Pacific Railway buckled before almost any track had been laid. Frederick Douglass’s Freedman’s Bank failed, causing millions of dollars in savings deposited by Black Americans to disappear. Nor was agriculture spared: cotton’s price folded in half, causing land values throughout the South to drop precipitously. Such a depression would have been difficult for any ruling party to survive. This was doubly true for the remaining Republican governments of the South; amid the prior year’s great scandals, Reconstruction had once again begun to sputter.

This was most evident in Louisiana. In April 1873 (as Garfield was writing his Salary Grab letter), the Supreme Court ruled against a coalition of New Orleans butchers who were suing the state for violating their Fourteenth Amendment privileges. In disagreeing, the court’s majority gelded the amendment—deciding its privileges and immunities clause only applied to a citizen’s federal rights (like access to waterways), not the more important ones vested by states. Such phrasing effectively ruined the amendment’s ability to provide full citizenship for Black Americans in the south, as the Radicals had drafted it to do.

Almost concurrently, Klansmen killed an assembly of more than one hundred Black and white Republicans, who claimed to represent the lawful government of the settlement of Colfax, Louisiana. The atrocity’s very site had a bleak significance: Colfax was the namesake of Vice President Schuyler Colfax, and it had been built in Grant Parish, named for the president. He reacted furiously. “The so-called conservative papers of the State not only justified the massacre,” Grant seethed in a Senate message, “but denounced as federal tyranny and despotism the attempt of the United States officers to bring them [the perpetrators] to justice.”

Marshals rounded up the killers for prosecution under a precursor to the old Ku Klux Klan Act, but the Supreme Court would again disappoint—ruling that only states, not individuals, could be prosecuted for violating Fourteenth Amendment rights. The murderers walked free, another disastrous legal precedent having been set, and another nail having been put in Reconstruction’s coffin.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

the last book I ever read (President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear, excerpt three)

from President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:

Options dwindling, and feeling “bound to do all in my power to save these noble Indians from the mistake they will make if they refuse,” Garfield deliberately circumvented the opposition of the third chief, Charlo. He concluded Charlo would eventually decide to relocate his followers as more whites continued reaching the Bitterroot, anyway, and so wrote a letter advising Secretary of the Interior Delano to have the government proceed as if “all is now in a fair way for satisfactory settlement [in the Bitterroot].”

Despite admiring his counterparts’ “aristocracy of personal prowess,” Garfield assumed by thus disregarding their will he was nudging the Salish toward their best possible destiny in America—one of industry, safe distance from whites, and even suffrage (which he predicted would be Indians’ “salvation”). In practice, however, he was making a crucial contribution to their genocide.

The Department of the Interior would act in accordance with Garfield’s guidance to ignore Charlo’s refusal—even forging the chief’s name on its articles of agreement with the Salish. The subsequent publication of this forgery, per one Montanan official, “created the impression that all trouble was over… and a large white emigration poured into the Bitterroot.” The remaining Salish suffered greatly in the following years; Chief Charlo would understandably refuse to ever trust federal promises again. (“For your Great Father Garfield put my name next to a paper I never signed.”) And yet, it did not matter; an army escort forcibly removed the Bitterroot’s last Salish in 1891.

By that point, Garfield was dead and American history had already cast him as a heroic martyr. The Salish, however, would rightly immortalize him as a great villain of theirs.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

the last book I ever read (President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear, excerpt two)

from President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:

Garfield and the draft took mutual possession of each other from that point onward. He practically ran to place it before the House. A bipartisan special committee, swiftly formed, mostly rubber-stamped the plan White sketched out in the Garfield home. One key change was made, however; the committee—headed by Garfield—decided the new authority should be named a “Department.”

This rang as a mighty title for what was, per the fine print, a modest proposal; if Congress went along with Garfield’s pet project, America’s first Department of Education would pop into being as little more than a few statisticians based in Washington—its purpose, to gather educational data from states for distribution among the country’s teachers, academics, and lawmakers. A lone commissioner (retained for a few thousand dollars a year) was to be entrusted with overseeing such work.

Yet Garfield’s speeches defending the measure showed he thought its potential return to be boundless. He made the novel argument that improving the education of citizens was the wisest expenditure a government could make. “A tenth of our national debt expended in public education fifty years ago would have saved us the blood and treasure of the late war,” Garfield told the House in June.

Monday, September 25, 2023

the last book I ever read (President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear, excerpt one)

from President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:

Experienced soldiers had well-founded doubts about such officers; it was hard to put faith in a commander who had bought a uniform yesterday, and whose grasp of military strategy came mostly from borrowed library books. A stereotype soon formed of a small-town politician buckling on a sword, rushing to the frontlines, then hurrying home to trade their brief, dubious service for higher office—as a gambler might cash in a hastily won stack of chips. A name was attached to this caricature: “‘Political general’ became almost a synonym for incompetency, especially in the North,” a historian would judge.

Yet from the instant Garfield learned of the attack on Fort Sumter, he set himself on becoming just such an officer. Nor was Garfield the only politician in Columbus to do so; he and Jacob Cox had a confidential conversation “over the prospects of the country and the future of our own lives.” Recognizing that joining the army would benefit both causes, the pair then divvied up books on battlefield tactics and Napoleonic history—dabbing the finishing touches on an image of two would-be political generals getting to work.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

the last book I ever read (Jimmy Carter: The American Presidents Series: The 39th President, 1977-1981, excerpt seven)

from Jimmy Carter: The American Presidents Series: The 39th President, 1977-1981 by Julian E. Zelizer:

Caddell called Jordan at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of the 1980 presidential election. Jordan, initially disoriented, soon realized that Caddell wanted to give him the final poll results. Caddell told Jordan that “it’s all over—it’s gone!” When Jordan asked him to explain what he meant, Caddell responded, “The sky has fallen in. We are getting murdered. All the people that have been waiting and holding out for some reason to vote Democratic have left us.” He somberly predicted, “It’s going to be a big Reagan victory, Ham, in the range of eight to ten points.” He said that it was the “hostage thing” that did them in with “all these last-minute developments about the hostages and all the anniversary stuff just served as a strong reminder that those people were still over there and Jimmy Carter hasn’t been able to do anything about it.”

Although the race had been close until the final week, Reagan won a larger Electoral College total than any other president except for Roosevelt in 1936 and Nixon in 1972. Reagan received 51 percent of the popular vote, with Anderson winning 7 percent and Carter 41 percent. A whopping 489 electoral votes went to the president-elect, as Carter received a meager 49. Carter did not perform well with the traditional Democratic constituencies, including blue-collar workers, Catholics, Jews, and southerners. On the night of the election, Carter admitted, “I spent a major portion of my time trying to recruit back the Democratic constituency that should have been naturally supportive—Jews, Hispanics, blacks, the poor, labor, and so forth.” Carter won only in the District of Columbia, Georgia, Maryland, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Minnesota. Even New Jersey and Massachusetts went Republican.