6 Ulysses Grant

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

Ulysses Grant became president due to his service during the Civil War, winning the first post war election. Grant is generally portrayed as an amicable dolt that allowed the country to drift from one scandal to the next. This narrative was created mainly by the Dunning school and “lost cause” southern sympathisers. Grant had three strikes against him in their eyes: He defeated the south in the civil war, he was a republican and he fought for the rights of the recently freed slaves. The true Grant is quite different from the caricature created by the Dunning school.

The biggest issue facing Grant upon becoming President was Reconstruction. During Andrew Johnson’s term, Johnson and Congress clashed over reconstruction, with Johnson defying Congress the entire way. Unfortunately Johnson’s defiance of reconstruction emboldened former confederates in the south to be defiant as well. Grant’s goal for reconstruction was to readmit the former confederate states while ensuring their state constitutions protected every citizen’s voting rights. Grant pushed for passage of the 15th Amendment, which prohibits the federal or state governments from denying their citizens from voting based on race, color or previous condition of servitude. It was ratified in 1870. Grant also created the Department of Justice in 1870 to fight paramilitary groups in the South. That department immediately started prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan. Grant further passed three enforcement acts to further protect the rights of former slaves:

  • The Enforcement Act of 1870, also known as The Civil Rights Act of 1870, prohibited discrimination in voter registration and established penalties for interfering in a person’s right to vote. It also gave the President the right to employ the army and to use federal Marshalls to uphold the act.
  • The enforcement Act of 1871 permitted federal oversight of local and state elections if any two citizens asked for it in the local area. The act also more severe punishments and larger fines than the act of 1870.
  • The Second Enforcement Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, made state officials liable for depriving anyone of their rights or equal protections under the law. The act also made a number of the KKK’s intimidation actions federal offenses, allowed the president to call in the militia and to suspend habeas corpus to suppress KKK activities if need be.

Grant oversaw the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided for equal treatment in public accommodations, public transportation and prohibited exclusion from juries. It was the last civil rights act passed until the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The act was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1883, but was very similar to the Civil Right Act of 1964.

Grant was able to break the Klan, which was later revived during Wilson’s presidency, but overall Reconstruction wasn’t successful. Northerners soon lost interest in upholding civil rights for southern blacks, and once Grant left office reconstruction ended. Andrew Johnson’s defiance of congress set an example that former confederates followed by passing Jim Crow laws and instituting segregation.

When Grant became President many in the press and public felt that Indians should be exterminated, but Grant felt that all Indians should be made U.S. citizens. Grant appointed Ely Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, as his Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Parker helped Grant work out the details of his Indian policy, which had the main goal of Indian citizenship. Parker appointed military officers as superintendents, which upset many in Congress, who had been used to appointing their supporters to these plum jobs. Many in the west were upset, stating that Grant was siding with the Indians rather than his own countrymen. Reformers wanted to impose radical changes and wanted to divide reservations into individual plots and do away with tribal identities. They were upset that Grant allowed the Indians to move at their own pace. The Board of Indian Commissioners supported Congresses efforts to overturn Grants Indian policies. In 1870 Congress banned active duty military from serving in government posts, so that Congress could appoint their supporters to the positions. To counteract this move, and to prevent the Indian services from sliding back into the corruption of political patronage, Grant appointed missionaries as superintendents of the reservations. Chairman of the Board of Indian affairs William Welsh falsely accused Parker of corruption in order to take Parker down. Congress obliged Welsh, and Parker was forced to submit to a public trial. Even though Parker was exonerated, Congress passed legislation making the Board of Indian Commissioners as supervisors of Indian affairs. With his powers stripped away, Parker resigned as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1871, and Grant’s Indian Policy fell apart.

Grant was a fiscal conservative and sound money man that believed that the governments money should be backed by gold. When Grant entered office there was a question as to whether the United States would back its money by the gold standard, a bi-metal standard of gold and silver both or through greenbacks. The first step Grant took towards the gold standard was passage of the Public Credit Act of 1869. This act stated that bondholders who bought bonds to help finance the Civil War would be paid back in gold. The Coinage Act of 1873 further enforced the gold standard by eliminating the coinage of the standard silver dollar. During the civil war the government issued paper currency that was not backed by either silver or gold. These notes were called greenbacks because they were printed on the back in green ink. While these notes were needed to finance the war, once the war was over it made sense to remove them from circulation due to their inflationary properties. At the end of the civil war there were $450 million greenbacks in circulation, this number was reduced to $356 million by 1867. Redemption of greenbacks was stopped due to fears that they were being removed too quickly with detrimental effects on the economy. When the Panic of 1873 hit, Congress passed the Inflation Bill, to put $100 million in greenbacks in circulation as a way of stimulating the economy. After much thought, Grant saw that the bill could lead to a downward spiral where inflationary currency would be added to the economy during any downturn, and he wisely vetoed the bill. The veto was quite courageous, as the bill was very popular. Grant further strengthened the currency by signing the Specie payment resumption act 1875, which stated that the U.S. Treasury would redeem all notes in specie as of January 1st of 1879. Since the greenbacks were now backed by gold, there wasn’t a mass stampede to redeem them for gold as was expected. These four acts stabilized the United States currency on a sound backing paving the way for long term economic growth through the end of the 19th century.

After the Civil War there was a boom in railroad construction which was largely fueled government land grants and subsidies. These subsidies were given based on the amount of track laid rather than on selection of optimal routes, which fueled overinvestment, which eventually would need to be liquidated. In September of 1873 Jay Cooke & Company went bankrupt when it was unable to market bonds to build the Northern Pacific Railroad. This triggered a domino affect in which 89 of the 364 railroads in the country went bankrupt. Many banks in the country highly invested in railroads, and once the banks started failing, the country was thrown into the Panic of 1873. Before the panic, the railroad business was the second largest component of the economy, after the agricultural sector. With so much of the economy collapsing at once, there was little Grant could do to stop a recession, except not to panic and allow the economy to rebuild on a solid foundation, which he did.

During the Civil War the Confederacy outfitted several commerce raiders in Great Britain, which was against British neutrality laws. Overall Confederate raiders built in Britain sank or captured over 150 Northern merchant vessels, the most successful of these was the CSS Alabama, which captured 58 U.S. Merchant ships. After the war the United States demanded compensation from Britain for the lost shipping due to vessels outfitted in their ports. After years of unsuccessful diplomatic initiatives by the United States Secretary of State Hamilton Fish worked out an agreement for a joint commission to meet in Washington DC. This commission met in 1871 and came to an agreement known as the Washington treaty. The treaty set an important precedent of using arbitration to settle international disputes. The treaty greatly improved U.S. and British relations as well. The arbitration committee ordered Britain to pay the United States $15.5 million in damages for the Alabama claims.

By the 1860s Spain only had two colonies left in the Americas: Cuba and Puerto Rico. In October of 1868 revolution broke out on Cuba. As the rebellion drug on, sympathy for the Cuban rebels grew in America. In August of 1870 John Patterson purchase a captured Confederate blockade runner that he renamed the Virginius. For three years the Virginius was used to transport men, arms and supplies to aid the Cuban Rebels, until it was captured by the Spanish on October 30th of 1873. Spain tried and convicted the entire crew, which was made up of American and British citizens, of being pirates and sentenced them to death. The Spanish executed 53 crew members until the British stepped in and stopped further bloodshed. The executions made the U.S. newspapers and war fever swept the country. Protest rallies across the nation took place encouraging intervention in Cuba. Secretary of State Fish sent a cable to Spain demanding the remaining crew members be released, the return of the Virginius, reparations for the family members of the executed crew members, a salute of the American flag and punishment of the perpetrators. War was averted through negotiation, as Spain returned the crew, the Virginius and agreed to pay reparations for the families of the victims. Grant & Fish both agreed that the Salute of the flag would be dispensed if the Virginius was found to not have legal private U.S. ownership. Attorney General George Henry Williams ruled that U.S. ownership of the Virginius had been fraudulent and it had no right to fly the American flag, however the Spanish had no right to capture the ship in open waters.

In 1869 Santo Dominga, known today as the Dominican Republic, asked to annexed by the United States. Grant wanted to annex the country for several reasons:

  • The U.S. Navy wanted Samaná Bay as a coaling station
  • He feared a European Power would take the island as a colony
  • He thought that it could be a safe haven for recently freed slaves suffering persecution in the south.
  • He speculated that U.S. control of Santo Domingo would compel Brazil, Cuba and Puerto Rico to end slavery

The treaty stated that the United States would annex Santo Domingo, assume its $1.5 million in debt, offer the republic the ability to be come a state and the federal government would lease Samaná Bay for 50 years at $150,000 a year. Before submitting the treaty, Grant visited Senator Charles Sumner, who was chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, to get his support for annexation. Grant left the meeting optimistic as Sumner left Grant with the impression that he favored annexation. Once the treaty was presented to the Senate, Sumner came out in opposition to the treaty. Without Sumner’s backing, the treaty died in the Senate.

Grant is generally faulted with the amount of corruption during his term, and it is true that a lot of corruption came to light during his term, but that is due to the fact that he actively sought ad rooted out corruption. Andrew Jackson‘s creation of spoils system under which government jobs were given out in return for political favors naturally led to corruption in almost every department of the federal government long before Grant became President, yet Grant gets the blame. Lets take a look at the scandals that Grant is generally tarred with:

  • Gold Ring Jay Fisk and James Gould tried to corner the Gold market in 1869, to do this they enlisted Grant’s brother in law Abel Corbin, who was not a member of the Grant Administration. When Grant found out what Fisk & Gould were up to, he sold $4 million of gold on the open market to foil the scheme.
  • Crédit Mobilier This was a sham construction company created by the Union Pacific Railroad that Bribed Congressmen and overcharged the government for construction of the line. This scandal completely transpired before Grant was president, and only involved members of Congress, but because it came to light while Grant was president, he gets blamed for it.
  • Tweed Ring This involved corruption in New York city in which millions of dollars were embezzled. Even though no members of the Federal Government were involved, Grant gets the blame because the Tweed Ring was caught on his watch.
  • Star Routes This was a scandal in the postal service in awarding mail routes in isolated area. Bidders on the routes colluded to overcharge the government and divide the profits. The entire bidding process was put in place in 1845, and was part of the scandals arising out of the spoils system. They were first investigated in 1872 & 1876 and were shut down temporarily, but they reemerged in 1878 only being permanently ended under President Author
  • Salary Grab This was a law passed by Congress in 1873 that increased the pay of the President and Congress that was passed as an Amendment to the governments general appropriations bill. Had Grant vetoed the bill, the government would have had to shut down. The increase for Congress was repealed in 1874. Oddly enough, Congress increases it’s pay today and it’s not considered a scandal.
  • Whisky Ring This one dated back to at least the Lincoln administration, but was an outgrowth of the spoils system. Whisky distillers were evading taxes by bribing Treasury Department agents. Due to its ties within the government, many thought that the ring was impenetrable. On May 13th 1875, on orders from Grant, Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow hit the ring hard, seizing distilleries and making hundreds of arrests. Among those indicted was Grant’s personal secretary Orville Babcock. Babcock was exonerated of all charges and was only guilty by association, as he had knew others that were involved in the ring.
  • Trader Post Scandal Secretary of War William Belknap had accepted kickbacks, which were originally set up by his first wife, from the Fort Sill tradership. These traderships held monopolies to sell wares in army camps. Once Belknap was found out, Grant accepted his resignation. All Presidents make a few bad appointments.

As you can see, the accusations of an overly corrupt administration are wildly exaggerated. In most cases Grant actually reduced corruption that had been long standing. The focus on corruption is an outgrowth of the Dunning School trying to discredit Grant. In 1871, Grant signed legislation creating the Civil Service Commission as a way to fight the spoils system and corruption. The original commission outline what would become the Pendleton Civil Service Act in 1883.

Grant was quite an adept President that work to secure the rights of all Americans at home, he sought peace abroad, built the economy on a solid foundation and fought against corruption. The time has come for Grant to take his place amongst the top presidents.

 

 

 

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7 William McKinley

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

William McKinley was a transitionary president, serving as the last president of the 19th century and the first president of the 20th century. McKinley was the last Civil War veteran to serve as president, as well as the last guilded age president and the first modern president. The United States also became a world power during his term.

The Panic of 1893 was one of the worst recessions in American history, only rivaled by the Panic of 1837 and the Great Depression. When McKinley had entered office in 1897 the recession was still raging on. It was caused by governmental interference in the economy through railroad subdies. The subsidies were awarded by the mile of track laid which encouraged overbuilding of railroad lines. Eventually this overinvestment would have to be liquidated which caused railroad failures starting with The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in February of 1893, which was soon followed by the bankruptcy of the Union Pacific and Northern Pacific.  These failures set off a ripple effect through the economy. The banks were heavily involved with the railroads and the railroad bankruptcies soon led to bank failures and eventually a recession. Whereas the initial recession wasn’t Cleveland’s fault, his mishandling of the situation was.

To fight the depression McKinley signed the Dingly Tariff in 1897. The tariff raised rates overall, but it allowed the president to reduce duties up to 20%. McKinley also put the country solidly on the gold standard with the Gold Standard Act. This act established gold as the only redeemer of paper currency and set the value of gold at $20.67 per ounce. These two actions brought back prosperity. 

In February of 1895 a war of independence broke out in Cuba. Spain started taking draconian measures, including “reconcentration camps” in Cuba to quell the rebellion. Spanish General Valeriano Weyler forced one third of Cuba’s population into these camps. These camps lacked sanitary conditions, food and medicine, causing over 400,000 Cubans to die there, roughly 30% of the camp inhabitants. With such atrocities happening so close to the United States, the press inevitably took notice. McKinley tried to negotiate with the Spanish government, but Spain was unwilling to grant independence and the rebels would settle for nothing less. When consul Fitzhugh Lee reported riots in Havana, McKinley agree to send the American Battleship the USS Maine to protect American citizens. On February 15th 1898 the Maine sank with 266 men killed. An inquiry into the explosion by the US Navy concluded that the ship was sank by an external explosion. Physical evidence regarding the vessels keel and bottom plates, which had been driven upwards into the ship, proved it was an external explosion and ruled out the theory of an internal explosion. In 1910 a second investigation into the explosion, the Vreeland Boards Court of Inquiry, confirmed the findings of the original naval report.  In 1998 a National Geographic study, which used computer modeling added addition proof of an external explosion. It noted that the size and soil depressions below the Maine are explainable by a mine and not by an internal explosion alone. At the time of the explosion, the Spanish government posited the theory that the Maine was sunk by an internal explosion, which several anti-McKinley historians have ran with to call the war unjust, even though the evidence points otherwise.

Regardless of who set the mine that sank the Maine, it was clear that Spain had lost control of the situation in Cuba. Even after the explosion of the Maine, McKinley tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution, but Spain refused all of his proposals. On April 20th 1898, Spain cut off diplomatic relations with the United States and declared War on April 24th. Upon hearing of Spain’s war declaration, McKinley asked Congress to declare war on Spain which it did on April 25th, with the resolution declaring war retroactively to April 21st.

The expansion of the telegraph and development of the telephone gave McKinley greater communication and management ability over the war than any previous Presidents had. McKinley used these new abilities to direct the movements of military units as much he was able to. The war was a smashing success, and Spain was forced to surrender in four months. Spain was forced to give up control of Cuba, and the United States gained Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guan from Spain. The war also made future president Theodore Roosevelt a hero after his charge up San Juan Hill.

The Spanish-American War exposed the difficulty in maintaining a two ocean navy during times of war. McKinley saw the necessity of building a canal across Central America and dispatched Secretary of State John Hay to negotiate with Britain. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, signed with Great Britain in 1850, forbid either the United States or Britain from maintaining full control over a canal across the Central American Isthmus. The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty was negotiated that agreed to allow the United States to build a canal under its control providing that all nations were allowed access. This treaty made the construction of a U.S. owned canal across Central America a foregone conclusion.

Before the war with Spain ended McKinley pushed for annexation of Hawaii. With the outbreak of the Spanish-American war, the strategic location of Hawaii became even more evident. During Harrison’s term the Hawaiian monarch was overthrown and the new Republic of Hawaii asked to be annexed into the United States. Harrison submitted a Treaty to Congress but it couldn’t be ratified until after he left office and Grover Cleveland withdrew it from consideration. Foreseeing the difficulty in getting 2/3rds of the Senate to agree to a treaty of annexation, McKinley annexed Hawaii through a joint resolution of Congress, like John Tyler had done with Texas.

During Grover Cleveland’s first term the United States and Germany nearly went to war over Samoa. Cleveland was against allowing Germany to turn Samoa into a colony and sent a fleet of ships to the islands. Nature intervened and a cyclone hit wrecking both fleets before a battle could commence. Benjamin Harrison was able to negotiate the Treaty of Berlin that divided the islands into a three way protectorate between the United States, Germany and Great Britain. The Tripartite Convention of 1899 concluded the second Samoan Civil War with the division of the islands. The United States got the eastern section of the islands, Germany got the western section and Great Britain got the Northern Solomon islands. The German half is now the independent nation of Samoa, the American half has voluntarily remained an American colony.

The new lands in the Pacific Ocean, especially the Philippines, made trade with China all the more important. China faced the imminent threat of being partitioned between several powers during the first Sino-Japanese war of 1984 to 1895. These countries set up “Spheres of Influence” where they would claim exclusive rights, control ports and gain economic control of the area within the sphere. In 1899 Secretary of State John Hay sent notes to the main powers: Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia asking them to uphold Chinese territorial and administrative integrity and allow free trade within their spheres of influence. Each power replied that they couldn’t commit unless the others agreed. In 1900 Hay announced that the major powers had consented in principle. Treaties made after 1900 refer to the Open Door Policy, which was a de facto agreement. International involvement in China led to the Boxer rebellion, which was an anti-foreign, anti-imperialist and anti-Christian uprising. In June of 1900 the Boxers converged on Beijing. In response to reports of the armed invasion an eight nation alliance between the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy and Japan was formed to lift the siege . McKinley sent 5000 troops to the alliance to protect American citizens in China as Commander and Chief of the armed forces without consulting Congress. The Boxers were quickly defeated and the United States reaffirmed its commitment to the Open Door Policy in China.

On September 6th of 1901 William McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz while attending the Pan-American convention in Buffalo New York and he died on September 14th 1901. McKinley shepherded the nation on its ascent to world power. He steered the country out of the Panic of 1893 and set it on the path to long term prosperity.

 

 

8 James Madison

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

James Madison was one of the most important founding fathers. He wrote the Virginia Plan, which was the foundation for the Constitution, and earned him the nickname “Father of the Constitution”. He also drafted the Bill of Rights and was one of the three authors of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay were the others. Even though other presidents tend to get a ratings upgrade for positive acts outside of office, especially Jefferson and the two Adamses, Madison gets no special consideration from historians. My rankings are based purely on what a president and his subordinates did while he was in office.

During Jefferson’s term in office both Great Britain and France had been harassing American shipping. This searching and seizing of American ship was a cause of the War of 1812. The other main causes of war was that British impressment of American sailors, which was forced service in the British Navy, and the Britain armed and incited Native Americans to attack U.S. citizens. Eventually the British infractions got so bad that Madison was forced to ask Congress for a declaration of war.

The War of 1812 is generally not seen as a successful war, because it ended in a negotiated peace rather than a resounding victory. Militarily the war was a draw, but if you look at war as a means to an end, it was a success. Britain stopped impressing sailors, they stopped seizing American ships and they stopped arming and inciting Indians. Two heroes from the war became president, Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. James Monroe increased his status as a statesman by pulling double duty as Secretary of State and Secretary of War as well. During the war Madison committed no infractions against the citizens rights under the Constitution as has happened many other times during a crisis.

The Hartford Convention was a secret meeting of Federalist politicians appointed by the New England states that met from December of 1814 to January of 1815 in opposition to the war. There were talks of succession and Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong had sent a secret mission to Britain to negotiate a seperate peace. In the end the convention came out with a series of proposed Constitutional Amendments that were unlikely to be adopted. The convention sent a delegation to Washington, but the Treaty of Ghent and news of Andrew Jackson’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans had reached Washington by that time. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Antiwar delegation slipped out of the city without presenting its demands.

The Second Barbary Pirates war started due to Britain encouraging the Barbary Pirates to attack American shipping during the War of 1812. Once the war with Britain concluded Congress authorized deployment of naval power against Algiers. A squadron under the command of Stephen Decatur left on May 20th 1815, and by July 3rd the Dey of Algiers was forced to capitulate. After the surrender of Algiers, Decatur went to Tunis and Tripoli and got similar terms, ending the payment of tribute and ransoms to the Barbary Pirates forever.

Madison had been against the First Bank of the United States of America, and when its charter came up in 1811, he let it lapse. During the War of 1812 the government had trouble financing the war. By 1814 Madison had realized the need for a national bank, but it failed to gain support in Congress. After the war economic chaos ensued. The government was having issues paying its debts and some state banks had stopped redeeming their bank notes. The need for a unified, stable paper currency was apparent. After much debate, Madison signed the bill rechartering the Second Bank of the United States of America in April of 1816.

By the end of Madison’s term the Federalist Party was no longer a viable national party. This was due to three main reasons:

  1. The Sedition Act passed under John Adams, which undermined the First Amendment.
  2. The Hartford Convention, which made the Federalist look unpatriotic
  3. Madison had moved the Jeffersonian-Republicans to the center of the political matrix, squeezing the Federalist out

The accomplishment of single party rule should not be underestimated, even though it could not last. Single party rule led to the era of good feeling under James Monroe, that was shattered with the election of 1824.

The Cumberland Road, started in 1811, was the first road built with federal funds. The road originally stretched from Cumberland Maryland to Wheeling West Virginia on the Ohio River and was built to aid settler’s heading west. The road eventually extended to Vandalia Illinois. There was much debate in Congress over the constitutionality of the road. There was also resistance from areas that felt that the road would not benefit their region of the country. The road started the debate on federal funding of internal improvements which was a major point of contention between the political parties during the 19th century.

The Tariff of 1816 was the first tariff designed for the protection of American industry. It was also seen as a way to shore up budget deficit and the federal debt, which had ballooned during the war. The tariff met with wide support, even in the traditionally anti-tariff south, as it was seen as needed for national security. The British had successfully blockaded the United States’ shores, showing the need for domestic manufacturing in times of war. The tariff was passed as a temporary measured for three years and was not renewed when it lapsed in 1820. Thereafter tariffs were another point of contention between the parties until the great depression.

When James Madison left office the country was entering the “Era of Good Feelings” which his administration was largely responsible for creating. He had helped defeat the opposition political party, oversaw two successful wars and helped set up the economy with the Second Bank of the United States of America.

9 George H W Bush

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

George Bush became president after serving eight years as Ronald Reagan’s Vice-President. He was the first sitting Vice-President to be elected President since Martin Van Buren in 1836, and only the third sitting Vice-President to be elected overall. During his time as Vice-President and Ambassador to the United Nations Bush had made several contacts with foreign leaders, which served him well as President.

George Bush presided over the end of the Cold War and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. In November of 1989 East Germany opened its borders and the Berlin Wall was torn down. Bush had a restrained response so he wouldn’t antagonize Easter Block countries or endanger negotiations with the Soviet Union. Once the Berlin Wall came down, German reunification became a possibility. Bush pushed for reunification, but the Soviets were wary, wanting either a neutral Germany or two separate countries. Even Britain and France were against a unified Germany, which had been divided after World War II into a free west and Communist east. Due to the settlement of WWII, the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union had input into the future of Germany. Bush made a statement in a press conference at NATO headquarters saying that Germany’s future on reunification and alliances must be decided by the free will of the German people. The idea was to keep other countries from meddling in German reunification. In the end an agreement was negotiated and Germany was unified as a member of NATO.

Bush met with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev several times early in his presidency to iron out the details of the START arms treaty agreement which was finally signed in July of 1991. The treaty removed 80% of all strategic nuclear weapons in existence at the time. The agreement also had provisions for verification to ensure that it was being followed. After the Soviet Union broke up, it left four of its former members states with nuclear weapons: Russia, Belarus, The Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The United States and the four former Soviet states signed the Lisbon Protocol that made all five countries party to the START treaty.

Major changes were happening in the Soviet Union and eastern block during Bush’s term. The Warsaw Pact, The Soviet Unions alliance with its satellite states in Europe ended in early 1991. In August of 1991 there was a coup attempt against Gorbachev by hard line members of the Soviet communist party. Bush condemned the coup and the attempt failed, but the coup showed the weakened position that Gorbachev was in. A few days after the coup, the Ukraine and Belarus declared independence from the Soviet Union. In December of 1991 Boris Yeltsin, the president of Russia and the leaders of Belarus and the Ukraine met in Brest and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States, declaring an official end to the Soviet Union. As all of these events unfolded in Eastern Europe, Bush made measured responses and had a calming affect, as not to incite any violent revolutions. Bush is partially responsible for the Cold War ending in a whimper rather than a bang.

In 1989 the situation in Panama was deteriorating quickly. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega fought off two coup attempts, and nullified an election between March of 1988 to October of 1989. Noriega was further indicted in the United States on several different drug related offenses. On December 15th 1989 Panama passed a resolution that stated that a state of war existed between Panama and the United States. The next day four U.S. servicemen were attacked by the Panamanian military, one died and one was injured. The United States invaded on December 20th 1989. Noriega sought refuge in the Vatican’s diplomatic mission, but was eventually forced out on January 3rd of 1990. Noriega was convicted of several charges and sentenced to a 40 year prison term and the elected government of Panama was restored.

In August of 1990 Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait and took control of the country. The United States, the United Nations and the world community condemned the invasion. After taking Kuwait, Saddam Hussein soon massed troops on the border of Saudi Arabia, signaling his intention to take over that country as well. Bush responded by stationing troops in northern Saudi Arabia to discourage an invasion. Bush tried negotiations with Hussein, but they went nowhere. Bush was able to use his years of diplomatic experience to build a wide coalition against the Iraqi dictator. Operation desert storm started January 17th 1991, and was a major success. The cease fire was signed March 3rd, less than two months later. Bush was questioned later as to why he didn’t remove Saddam from power, and he stated that it would have taken a lengthy military engagement to topple Saddam, a long term occupation to stabilize the area and  that the original war aim was the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, not a takeover of Iraq.

In April of 1989 Chinese students started protesting in Communist China for democracy and greater intellectual freedom. In June troops with assault rifles and tanks fired on the demonstrators. Bush protested the Tiananmen square massacre, but he did not want to make relations irrepairable between the United States and China. The United States did impose sanctions and Bush further convinced Communist China to release imprisoned dissidents. This measured response allowed for a continuation of future relations between the United States and China.

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 was passed with bi-partisan support. If a deal wasn’t reached on deficit reduction, it would trigger automatic, across the board budget cuts to discretionary spending under the Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 first failed in Congress when liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans teamed up to defeat the bill. Bush forced a federal shutdown over Columbus Day weekend to force Congresses hand, which worked. The act increased some excise taxes and raised the top tax rate from 28% to 31%, but left all other marginal rates the same. It also included the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 that had two main provisions:

  • It Introduced spending caps on discretionary spending. If the caps were breached through new legislation, they would trigger sequestration and across the board spending cuts.
  • It introduced pay as you go aka “PAYGO” procedures that required any new spending increases or tax cuts to be offset by spending cuts or new tax increases. Once again sequestration was the enforcement device.

This budget reduction act was the most successful deficit reduction act passed, saving the targeted $500 billion over five years, and greatly contributing to the budget surpluses of the Clinton years. The act expired in 2002, removing the required restraint in spending. Bush’s willingness to increase taxes to fix the budget issue should be commended, especially since he knew it would hurt him politically. Members of his party were against any tax increases and wanted all the savings in budget cuts. Bush had further promised not to raise taxes during his 1988 campaign, and he had to know reversing on that promise could come back to haunt him in the next election. Bush did what he felt was best for the country rather than what was politically expedient.

Early in Bush’s term the crisis in the Savings and Loan (S&L) industry came to a head. The Savings and Loan industry was set up by The Federal Home Loan Bank Act of 1932. This act strictly regulated the S&L industry. S&Ls were only allowed to make long term fixed rate home loans and only allowed to have low interest rate deposit accounts. The government capped the amount of interest rates and didn’t even allow for checking accounts. As long as interest rates remained low, the program worked, but once interest rates started increasing in the 1960s, the inadequacies of the program became apparent. The stagflation of the 1970s hit S&Ls particularly hard and by 1982 they were losing $4 billion a year. In an attempt to save the industry the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act was passed, but it was too late. The new act removed interest rate caps and allowed commercial and consumer loans. Unable to make up the loses of the stagflation era, 1000 S&Ls out of 3200 failed by 1989. This led to the enactment of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989. This act reduced non-mortgage related holdings of S&Ls to 30% and forced the divesting of junk bonds. It further created the Resolution Trust Corporation to sell off defunct bank assets. The crisis cost the tax payers $132 billion. The failure of the S&Ls combined with an overly restrictive monetary policy led to a short mild recession of 1990. The economy pulled out of the recession by 1992, but the effects weren’t quick enough to help Bush’s reelection chances.

One of the accomplishments that Bush was most proud of was the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Act gave disabled people the same protections that other groups got under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also required employers and public places to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled.

In 1992 Bush ran for a second term against Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and Texas Billionaire Ross Perot. Bush’s loss in this election came down to several factors. The recession had ended months before, but many Americans had still thought that the economy was in a recession. By the time Clinton took office the economy was booming. Bush had successfully dealt with all the lingering foreign policy issues of the day, taking foreign policy out of consideration for many voters. Exit polling at the time showed that Ross Perot diverted far more voters from Bush than Clinton, which accounted for the difference in several states. Clinton successfully used Bush’s “no new taxes” pledge against him to paint Bush as a dishonest politician, which helped to minimize Clinton’s personal shortcomings.

After losing the election, Bush’s approval ratings quickly shot up above the opponent who defeated him. Did the voters have buyers remorse? Could Bush have pulled a Grover Cleveland and served two non-consecutive terms? We will never know. What we do know is that at a very dangerous time in history, the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, we had the right man at the right time.

 

10 Warren Harding

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

Warren Harding is generally ranked near the bottom of presidential polls, but these rankings aren’t based on reality, but on a façade perpetrated by Harding’s political enemies. The real Harding was a very capable president that faced the issues of the day admirably.

Woodrow Wilson’s bequeathed to Harding a rapidly disintegrating economy. There was rampant inflation from 1917 to 1920, with a cumulative increase of 56%, followed by a deep recession and price deflation. Wholesale prices dropped 36.8%, the most severe drop since the American Revolution. Unemployment shot up to 12%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped from 119.6 in November of 1919 to 63.9 in August of 1921, a 47% loss. How did Harding and his Secretary of Treasury, Andrew Mellon, respond to this recession? Through the following actions:

The Revenue Act of 1921 – cut taxes across the board, lowering the top rate from 73% to 58%, removed the excess profits tax, raised the personal exemption by $1000 and exemptions for dependants from $200 to $400. Excessive wartime taxes were strangling economic growth. These cuts have been demonized, but the top marginal rate before the war was only 7%.

Tariff Laws – Emergency Tariff of 1921 imposed temporary duties on agricultural goods due to price collapses and loss of European markets. The Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 readjusted rates on a permanent basis.

Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 – created the Bureau of the Budget, now called the Office of Management and Budget. This led to the first unified budget, which helped keep spending under control. Previous to this act each executive department would submit seperate budgets to congress. Harding, along with bureau director Charles Dawes, cut spending from $6.4 billion in 1920 to $3.1 billion in 1923. 

What was the result? Rather than a decade long depression, like in the 1930s, there was a short sharp recession followed by unprecedented growth. That 12% unemployment in 1921 dropped below 3% by 1923.

The agricultural sector faced difficulty during the roaring twenties, but it was coming off of unprecedented prosperity in the 1910s. Once European farms were restored after the war, American farmers faced issues of overproduction. Historians compare the agricultural economy of the 1920s to that of the 1910s, but this is a dubious comparison, the 1910s were a “golden age” of farming. Harding helped farmers by encouraging The Capper-Volstead Act of 1922, sometimes called the “magna Carta” of cooperatives, which gave farm cooperatives exemptions from antitrust laws. Before this act the Clayton Antitrust Act and Sherman Antitrust Act had been used to break up farming cooperatives.

The Federal Highway Act of 1921, which foreshadowed the interstate highway program under Eisenhower, gave 50/50 matching funds to states to build a state highway system. In 1922 General John Pershing was commissioned to draw up a map of roads to show which roads were most important in the case of a war.

When congress passed a generous bonus bill for veterans of World War I Harding objected because it was passed without any mechanism to fund it. The Veterans Bureau was established in 1921 and veterans had already been paid for their service during the war. When Congress passed the Bonus Bill in 1922, Harding vetoed it, citing that we owed gratitude to those that served, but also stating:

“To add one-sixth of the total sum of our public debt for a distribution among less than 5,000,000 out of 110,000,000, whether inspired by grateful sentiment or political expediency, would undermine the confidence on which our credit is [built] and establish the precedent of distributing public funds whenever the proposal and numbers affected make it seem politically appealing to do so.”

Harding took a very unpopular stand, and even received heat from his own party, in doing what he felt was right. Few Presidents would have the courage to veto such a popular bill.

Even though the armistice ending fighting had happened twenty-eight months before Harding entered office, the United States was still technically at war with the Central Powers, as Wilson was unable to get any treaties ratified. Harding signed the Knox-Porter resolution in July of 1921 ending the United States involvement in WWI, and signed seperate treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary by the end of the year.

In November of 1921 Harding convened the Washington naval conference. The three main reasons behind the conference was to end the naval arms race, relieve tensions in East Asia, and to prevent another war. Harding wisely involved members of the Senate from both parties in the negotiations to aid in the Treaties passage. Three major treaties came out of the conference:

  1. Five Power Treaty – limited tons of naval war ships to a set ratio of 5:5:3:1.75:1.75 between the US, Britain, Japan, France & Italy. It didn’t cover small classes of ships. This was the first arms control treaty ever negotiated.
  2. Four Power Treaty – the US, Britain, Japan and France agreed to consult with one another before taking action in the event of an East Asian crisis. This voided the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of 1902, which could have obligated Britain to come to Japan’s defense.
  3. Nine Power Treaty – Was between the US, Britain, Japan, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal & China. It internationalized the Open Door Policy to China and promised that all parties of the treaty would respect China’s territorial integrity

Harding started healing ruptured relations with Latin America that were badly strained by Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt generally gets credit for the “Good Neighbor” policy in Latin America, but it was initiated by Warren Harding and continued under Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. In April of 1921 he signed the Thomson-Urrutia Treaty, which granted Colombia $25 million and apologized for the United States’ meddling in Colombia’s internal affairs and fomenting Panamanian rebellion in 1903. Harding worked to improve relations with Mexico and towards official recognition of the Mexican government, which didn’t occur until four weeks after Harding’s death. Harding also withdrew troops from Cuba in 1921 as a first step to removing American military presence in Caribbean countries.

In his first address to Congress Harding asked for an anti-lynching bill. From 1882 to 1951 over 4700 people were lynched, the vast majority of which were African-Americans. It took until 1922 for the Dyer Anti-lynching Bill to pass the House of Representatives, which would have classified lynching as a federal felony. Harding came out in support of the act, and though it passed by a large majority in the house, it was filibustered and killed in the Senate by Democrats. Wilson had segregated the Federal government and fired most black workers. In response, Harding asked his cabinet members to find positions in their departments for African-Americans. Warren Harding was also the first to speak in favor of civil rights in the south, when he spoke in Birmingham Alabama at its semi-centennial celebration. Harding spoke to a segregated crowd, where African Americans were kept behind a chain link fence. When speaking of voting rights Harding stated: “Whether you like it or not, our democracy is a lie unless you stand for that equality”. Harding spoke of equality in education, labor and voting concluding the speech by stating that Birmingham’s next fifty years could be more glorious if the people of the city had “the courage to be right.”

During the war Wilson jailed several political prisoners under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. By June 30th of 1923 Harding had pardoned or commuted the sentences of  548 people convicted under these acts, and when Harding died there were only 31 people still incarcerated under them. Harding should be given great credit for reversing some of the most egregious violations of Constitutional liberties ever done by a President. Harding showed great courage in the face of continuous opposition in persevering in his task.

Historians tend to focus on corruption during Harding’s term, the levels of which have been greatly exaggerated. Harding never participated in, nor gained from any of the corruption. The two instances of proven corruption were of personal greed, in which appointees enriched themselves at the governments expense. Whereas any corruption is bad, this type of corruption doesn’t even compare to actions that undermine the Constitution or break the citizens basic rights. Generally I don’t discuss theft of government funds in my essays, I will in this instances, since they are so ingrained in people’s opinions of Harding.

The Teapot Dome scandal involved leases of oil reserves held by the federal government that had been awarded without competitive bidding, which was legal under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. When Wyoming oilman and future Democratic Governor Leslie Miller found out that Harry Sinclair had secured the rights to drill in Teapot Dome, he asked fellow Democrat, U.S. Senator John Kendrick, to look into the deal. Kendrick started an investigation of the oil leases, which eventually led to the fact that Albert Fall had received $100,000 from Edward Doheny, who obtained the rights to drill in the Elk Hills, and $200,000 from Harry Sinclair, who obtained the rights to drill in Teapot Dome. Fall asserted that the payments were loans, but he was convicted of taking bribes. Oddly, both Doheny and Sinclair were acquitted of paying bribes. It seems shaky at best that Fall could accept bribes from Sinclair and Doheny when they were not guilty of giving the bribes. Doheny foreclosed on Fall’s New Mexico ranch when Fall was unable to pay the loan, lending credence to Fall’s claim that the money was a loan. During Doheny’s trial he let it slip that he had several of Wilson’s cabinet members on his payroll, including William McAdoo (Treasury), Franklin Lane (Interior) and Thomas Gregory (Attorney General). When pressed, Doheny stated that he “paid them for their influence”. Doheny did build the enormous storage tanks at Pearl Harbor as part of the deal that were of inestimable value to the Navy during World War II. Fall has been painted as a “crony”, but Fall was the first cabinet appointee to be confirmed by acclamation in Senate history. If Fall fooled Harding, he fooled everyone else as well. Outside of Teapot Dome, Fall was a very capable cabinet member, reorganizing the interior department and increasing efficiency.

Charles Forbes, originally appointed by Wilson to build Pearl Harbor, was a decorated World War I veteran, promoted to be Director of the Veterans Bureau by Harding. Forbes was guilty of taking kickbacks in the building of hospitals and selling of surplus supplies from WWI at a loss. When Harding found out Forbes was stealing he slammed him against a wall in the White House and called him a “double-crossing bastard”. Harding forced Forbes to resign, taking care of the corruption when found it. While taking kickbacks is wrong, it’s pretty standard practice in the government today, they have just found a better way to hide the evidence. How else can one explain a $10 hammer costing the government over $400.

Harding’s Attorney General, Harry Daugherty, has been accused of crimes, but after two congressional investigations and two criminal trials, he was always acquitted. When Daugherty got an injunction to stop the great railroad strike of 1922, he drew the ire of union leaders who vowed to get him either impeached or fired. It seems that this vendetta against Daugherty’s is where the charges of corruption were manufactured.

Every President makes a few bad appointments and historians focus on the few bad ones Harding made, ignoring several excellent ones. Charles Evan Hughes (State), Andrew Mellon (Treasury), Herbert Hoover (Commerce), Henry Wallace (Agriculture) and James Davis (Labor) in the cabinet as well as four distinguished Justices to the Supreme Court: George Sutherland, Pierce Butler, and Edward Terry Sanford and William Howard Taft as Chief Justice.

Harding’s reputation was further tarnished by three books:

  1. The Presidents Daughter by Nan Britton, which told a salacious, but possibly untrue account of an affair with the president.
  2. The Strange Death of President Harding by convicted con artist Gaston Means that spun an incredible tale that Harding was poisoned by his wife.
  3. Revelry, by Samuel Hopkins Adams, was a sensationalized fictitious version of the Harding administration.

Thinking Harding’s wife destroyed his presidential papers, historians used these books to create the false narrative of the Harding presidency. The time has come for the real Warren Harding to replace the false caricature.

 

11 John Tyler

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

John Tyler became president upon the death of William Henry Harrison. When Tyler took office it wasn’t clear whether he became the president or just an “acting” president. Tyler insisted that he was in fact president, and set the important precedent of what happens if the president is unable to finish his term.

Amongst the first bills passed under Tyler was the repeal of the independent treasury. The independent treasury had the affect of restricting credit and the money supply, which exacerbated the panic of 1837. With the independent treasury repealed, congress passed a new bill to bring back the Bank of the United States of America. Tyler vetoed the bill, and Congress failed to override the veto. Congress passed another Bank bill, with changes to meet Tyler’s objections, and he vetoed the new bank bill as well. Tyler did recommend an “exchequer” system that would be overseen by government officials appointed by the president and it would store government funds and issue bank notes, but it was never considered by Congress. The exchequer system was recommended to Congress several months after the second bank veto. The idea of re-chartering a national bank died after Tyler’s second veto, leaving the United States without any official banking system until Polk brought back the Independent Treasury. In place of a national banking system, government deposits were put into state banks, which was the system that was largely responsible for the  panics of 1819 & 1837. By vetoing both bank bills, Tyler drove an irrevocable wedge between himself and the Whig party, leading to Tyler’s expulsion from the party. Tyler does deserve demerits for both leaving the country without a national banking system and alienating himself from his own party, especially within his first year in office.

The Distribution Act of 1841 allowed squatters on public land to buy up to 160 acres of land for as low as $1.25 an acre before the lands were put up for public sale. The money from the sale of these lands would be distributed back to the states for the purpose of internal improvements. The act also placed a ceiling an tariffs of 20%, but raised rates to 20% on goods with lower or no tariffs on them, which was the rate set by the Tariff of 1833. Due to the ongoing economic calamities caused by the Panic of 1837, the government was running large deficits. Tyler saw that the Tariff would need to be raised, but was unwilling to do so as long as states were being dispersed money from public land sales. Congress passed a temporary tariff that continued the distributions, Tyler vetoed the bill. Congress then passed a permanent tariff with a continuation of distributions, Tyler vetoed that bill as well. Whigs in the House, led by Milliard Fillmore, passed a tariff without distributions that raised rates to 40%, which Tyler signed. Congress also passed a separate bill restoring distribution, but Tyler vetoed that bill, putting an end to distribution. With an end to the independent treasury and the passage of the new tariff prosperity returned.

In June of 1842, after Tyler vetoed the second tariff bill, the House of Representatives commenced the first impeachment proceedings against an American president. The committee was chaired by current congressman and former president John Quincy Adams, who condemned Tyler’s use of the veto, stating that he should be impeached. Adams then proposed a constitutional amendment that would have changed the requirement to override a veto from a 2/3rds vote to a simple majority. On January 10th 1843 a resolution was brought before the house charging Tyler with nine impeachable offenses. It was obvious that the charges were all political in nature, and that they didn’t rise to the standards laid out in the constitution. The resolution failed to pass by a vote of 83-127.

Trouble heated up in Rhode Island because of its constitution, or lack thereof, in the winter of 1841, which led to the Dorr Rebellion. Rhode Island had retained its old royal charter from 1663 as its basis for it’s state laws. The main dispute was the law that required that only white males that owned at least $163 in land could vote, which disenfranchised 60% of white males. Calls for reform were rejected by the charter government, so the suffragist held their own constitutional convention and elected their own “people’s” government. The People’s government under Thomas Dorr, and the charter government under Samuel King, both sent for help from the federal government. King sent a delegation asking Tyler for military assistance to put down the “rebellion”. Tyler responded in a public letter, that he couldn’t interfere in the matters between a state and its residents in anticipation of an insurrection, which was a warning to the People’s Government. He further stated that the Charter Government was the legitimate government, but that it had a major problem on its hands, and it needed to deal with it’s citizens justifiable grievances. To ensure federal property, Tyler sent reinforcements to New York and had General Winfield Scott keep an eye on things. Rhode Island wrote a new constitution in November of 1842 removing the land requirement for native born citizens, but not for immigrants. Tyler deftly diffused the situation by playing the middle ground and letting both side know that their actions could have severe consequences.

The Second Seminole War, started under Andrew Jackson, was the longest and costliest Indian war in American history. It started in 1835, raged through the entire term of Van Buren, until Tyler decided to just end the fighting unilaterally in 1842, without signing a treaty. The Seminoles practiced guerilla warfare and easily disappeared back into the Florida swamps. The war cost the United States around 2000 troops and $40 million, the entire federal debt when Tyler left office was $16 million. The war also tied down American troops that could be needed elsewhere.

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty was negotiated to settle several issues that went unresolved during the Van Buren years. The “Aroostook War” was a border incident between Maine and New Brunswick. No actually fighting took place, but Canada arrested some U.S. citizens and Maine called out the militia. The treaty set the border between Maine and New Brunswick as well as the border east of the Lake of the Woods through the Great Lakes. The Oregon Country boundary was left for another day. The treaty further called for the United States and Great Britain to both enforce an end of the international slave trade. The U.S. agreed to station ships off of the coast of West Africa to inspect any ships carrying the American flag. The third major point of the treaty was to set up terms for extradition of people accused of crimes. The Caroline Affair involved the 1837 Canadian rebellion. Americans sympathetic to the Canadian cause had aided the rebels, and the American ship the Caroline was captured by the British carrying men and supplies across the border. An American was killed, the ship was set afire and sent over Niagara falls. Alexander McLeod, the sheriff of Niagara Falls, Canada had bragged about his participation in the Caroline Affair and that he had killed a man while in New York. He was arrested and tried, but Britain protested as McLeod had been acting on direct orders from the government. New York wouldn’t release McLeod, and he  was eventually dismissed of charges, but sore feelings persisted. This led to a provision that federal judges could discharge any person acting under the orders of a foreign country.

With the Webster-Ashburton treaty ratified, Tyler started the process of annexing Texas. Daniel Webster, not being in favor of annexation, decided to resign as Secretary of State. Abel Upshur replaced Webster, and immediately got to work negotiating with Texas. Texans were hesitant to pursue a treaty without guarantees of defense from a possible Mexican attack. Upshur gave the Texas government verbal guarantees of military defense if the treaty got bogged down in Congress. Upshur had also been secretly negotiating with Senators, and by early 1844 he was able to assure Texas officials that he had the votes of 40 out of 52 senators. The treaty of annexation was in its final stages when tragedy struck. On February 28th 1844, a gun on board of the USS Princeton exploded. There was a gala onboard the ship as it cruised down the Potomac River, and when the gun exploded six people died. Among the dead were secretary of state Upshur and secretary of navy Thomas Gilmer, two of the biggest supporters of annexation. Tyler then made a major mistake, he nominated John C Calhoun to replace Upshur as Secretary of State. Calhoun was a well respected statesman, but he was an ardent defender of slavery, calling it a positive good. Bringing Calhoun in at this stage of negotiations changed the optics of annexation. Instead of annexation being seen as something for the good of the whole country, it was now seen as playing to the slave interests. Without Upshur around, and Calhoun in place, many senators changed their votes and the treaty failed miserably. Tyler resubmitted the bill on annexation this time not as a treaty, but as a joint resolution in Congress, so that it would only take a simple majority to pass. Tyler signed the annexation bill on March 1st 1845, three days before leaving office.

Tyler made two important initiatives in the Pacific Ocean. The first was in the Hawaiian islands. Timoteo Haalilio, the first diplomat from Hawaii, came to the United States trying to gain diplomatic recognition for Hawaii. Haalilio let slip that Great Britain, or another European power, might make Hawaii a protectorate without U.S. recognition. Noting that most of the ships going into port in Hawaii were American, Tyler saw the importance of the islands to America’s Pacific trade. In his annual message to Congress in December of 1842, Tyler extended the Monroe Doctrine to Hawaii, telling other nations to keep their “hands off”. The second initiative Tyler took was to open trade with China. Tyler sent Caleb Cushing to China to open trade between the two nations. American merchants had grown weary of British dominance of Chinese trade. Cushing was eventually able to agree with China on the Treaty of Wanghia, which gave the United States the same trading status as Great Britain.

Many historians reduce Tyler down to the first “accidental” president only focusing on his fight to assert that he was in fact the actual President, and not just an “acting President”, and a few other trivial facts of little consequence. This does a great disservice to Tyler and American History, as Tyler did quite a bit as President and was quite a consequential President.

12 James Monroe

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

James Monroe was the last of the founding fathers Presidents and the last of the Virginia dynasty. Monroe’s term in office was known as the “Era of Good Feelings”, as the opposition Federalist party had collapsed, leading to one party rule.

The most important piece of legislation passed during Monroe’s term was the Missouri Compromise. In 1819 a bill to allow Missouri to draft a constitution as a step to statehood came before the House of Representatives. In these proceedings James Tallmadge, a congressman from New York, offered the Tallmadge Amendment. The amendment would have banned the introduction of new slaves into Missouri, and the requirement that all children of slaves be freed on their 25th birthday. The bill passed the House with the amendment, but was rejected in the Senate. The debate raged on for a year until Maine applied for statehood. Speaker of the House Henry Clay maintained that if Maine were given statehood, then Missouri should be given statehood. From this came the idea that states should be admitted in pairs, one free and one slave. A compromise bill was passed where Missouri was able to enter the Union as a slave state, with Maine entering as a free state, preserving the 50-50 slave/free balance in the Senate. The bill further prohibited slavery in the Louisiana territory north of 36°30′ north except in Missouri. The Missouri Compromise settled the slavery question until it was reopened by the Mexican-American War. Some people, including Thomas Jefferson, disagreed with the compromise because he felt the better way was through diffusion, which would have allowed for eventual emancipation by spreading slavery to thin. The Missouri Compromise also split the country along sectional lines, which could be seen as a cause of the Civil War.

In 1824 the Supreme Court decision in the case Gibbons v Ogden ruled that the commerce clause gave the federal government authority over interstate commerce. This ruling also settled the question of whether or not internal improvements were constitutional. This led to three important laws passed under Monroe regarding internal improvements. The first was the General Survey Act, which allowed the President to have surveys made for roads and canals of national or military importance. Monroe decided to have the army corps of engineers do the job. The second act was an appropriation to improve navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers by removing sandbars and other obstructions. Monroe assigned the army corps of engineers to this task as well. The third bill was an extension of the Cumberland Road from Wheeling West Virginia to Zanesville Ohio.

Monroe was faced with the Panic of 1819 not long after assuming office. This panic had its roots in the government allowing the charter of the First Bank of the United States of America to lapse. Without a central bank, several private banks filled the void. These banks flooded the market with easy credit and an expansive monetary policy, which led to excessive land speculation. Once the Second Bank of the United States of America was chartered, it reigned in the easy money policies to put the country back on a sound currency. This restriction of the money supply and credit led to the panic of 1819, which was a necessary correction of the market.

For years Spanish controlled Florida was a haven for pirates and runaway slaves. The Seminole Indians were also leading raids into the United States. In order to put an end to the raids, Monroe sent General Andrew Jackson to the border of Florida in 1818. Jackson interpreted his orders as liberally as possible, and invaded Florida, disposed the governor and hung two British citizens he accused of inciting the Seminoles. The incident showed both Monroe and the Spanish that Spain lacked control of the area, and that the United States could take it at anytime. The incident led to the Adams-Onis treaty. Under this treaty the United States gained Florida and Spain relinquished all claims to the Louisiana territory and Oregon Territory. In return the United States relinquished claims to Texas and assumed $5 million in debts that Spain owed to American citizens. The treaty further set the boundaries between the United States and Spain’s American colonies.

Wanting to foster better relations with Great Britain, Monroe entered into two treaties with that country. The first was the Rush-Bagot Treaty, which limited armaments on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. The second was the Treaty of 1818, which fixed the border of the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel from the Lake of the woods to the Rocky Mountain. It also set up a ten year joint occupation of the Oregon Country.

The achievement that had the longest lasting impact of Monroe’s administration was the Monroe doctrine. In March of 1822, Monroe recognized the governments of Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina, all of which had won Independence from Spain. Britain also had a strong interest in seeing Spain’s colonial demise, due to the trade restrictions of mercantilism. British foreign secretary George Channing proposed that the United States and Great Britain make a joint statement warning against future intervention in Latin America. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams vigorously opposed cooperation with Britain and pushed for a unilateral decree. While Monroe thought that Spain was unlikely to retake its colonies, he didn’t want another European power to step in. On December 2nd 1823, Monroe announced the doctrine in his annual message to congress. The doctrine laid out multiple principals

  1. The United States would not accept recolonization of former colonies.
  2. The United States wouldn’t interfere in any existing colonies
  3. The United States would stay out of European affairs
  4. That the Americas weren’t open to new colonization. 

The American Colonization Society was formed to deal with the issue of the number of free blacks within the United States. Both abolitionist and slaveholders joined the society for differing reasons. Slaveholders feared that free blacks might help in inciting a slave revolt. In 1818 Representatives from the society set out for West Africa to find a suitable place for resettlement. Freed slaves, as well as Africans removed from slave ships were settled in the area they found, which became the modern country of Liberia. As president, Monroe provided funds for resettlement and the capital of Liberia was named Monrovia in his honor.

Monroe built up coastal defenses as well as adding several ships of the line and frigates to the Navy. Combined with the treaties with Britain and Spain, it makes a good case that Monroe was the first national security president.

Monroe’s served during an era between two storms: After the War of 1812 and the Barbary Pirate Wars, but before the turbulent “Age of Jackson” when sectional strife was heating up. The”Era of Good Feelings” was shattered with the election of 1824 and the return of political parties. None the less, Monroe served admirably during this calm between the storms.