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As the presidential election year of 1896 began, things were looking rosy for the Republicans. But the emergence of a brash, young politician, William Jennings Bryan, soon turned the tide. Bryan’s campaign laid bare the diverging interests of those whose livelihoods were linked to urban institutions and those who lived by the land in rural America.
With the nation mired in the aftermath of a serious economic depression and a deeply unpopular Democrat incumbent—Grover Cleveland—in the White House, the GOP had surged back in the most recent midterms to win control of both the House and Senate. Governor William McKinley of Ohio easily won the Republican presidential nomination, and seemed poised for a smooth ride to the White House on his platform of economic protectionism and support for the gold standard, which defined the value of the nation’s currency in terms of how much gold it had in reserve.
But in an unexpected turn of events, the young Democratic Nebraska lawyer and former congressman Bryan challenged McKinley in 1896. Bryan’s appeal to America’s farmers and the working class, his passionate support of the free silver movement and his powerful speaking style galvanized both disaffected Democrats and members of the People’s (or Populist) Party, turning the election into one of the most hard-fought and consequential in the nation’s history.
READ MORE: Populism in the United States: A Timeline
Backdrop: Panic of 1893
The battle between McKinley and Bryan took place during an economic downturn that had begun in 1893, when two of the nation’s biggest employers, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the National Cordage Company, collapsed, setting off a stock market panic. Thousands of businesses closed, and the nation suffered more than 10 percent unemployment for more than five straight years.
While President Cleveland favored the gold standard, many in the Populist Party and the rural, agrarian wing of the Democratic Party—including many farmers in the South and West—supported the Free Silver Movement. Rather than rely on gold to back the nation’s money supply, they believed the country should use silver, which was much more abundant at the time. This would inflate the currency, increasing the prices farmers would receive for their crops and helping them pay back their debts more easily.
READ MORE: How the Gold Standard Contributed to the Great Depression
William Jennings Bryan and the ‘Cross of Gold’
When the Democrats convened in Chicago to choose their presidential candidate in July 1896, they repudiated Cleveland and changed courses dramatically, making free silver a central plank of their platform. At 36 years old, with two terms in Congress and a failed 1894 run for Senate under his belt, Bryan was the party’s most outspoken and effective champion of silver. During the convention, he delivered what would become one of the most famous political orations in U.S. history, known as the “Cross of Gold” speech.
Bryan’s eloquent call for an end to government favoritism toward business interests and the wealthy at the expense of farmers and the working class, and his defense of agrarian democracy against a backdrop of the nation’s growing urbanization, would resonate for generations to come. The most electric moment of his speech came at the end, when he drew on his evangelical Christian faith.
“We will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns,” he cried, placing an imaginary crown on his head. “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
The crowd of more than 20,000 at the Chicago Coliseum went wild, and Bryan went on to clinch the nomination, becoming the youngest presidential nominee in history. The Populists, who had won several states in the 1892 election, also nominated Bryan, who shared their free silver views.
WATCH: America’s Book of Secrets: The Gold Conspiracy
Bryan’s Barnstorming vs. McKinley’s Front Porch
Bryan traveled nearly 20,000 miles by rail around the country during his campaign and gave hundreds of speeches, often out of the back of his railroad car. Huge crowds greeted him, drawn by his oratorical skills and the passion he inspired in his supporters.
For his part, McKinley stayed home in Canton, Ohio, addressing large delegations of Republican supporters from his front porch. His campaign mastermind, Cleveland businessman Mark Hanna, attracted 750,000 people to Canton during the campaign and enlisted thousands of speakers to stump elsewhere on McKinley’s behalf. Foreshadowing a new style of campaign financing, Hanna solicited major contributions from fellow industrialists, raising some $4 million in total.
In the end, despite Bryan’s best efforts, his campaign failed to broaden its support beyond its Populist, agrarian Democratic base. More conservative Democrats, who favored the gold standard, split from the party to nominate their own National (Gold) Democratic candidate, or even threw their support to McKinley. Republicans managed to attract some urban progressive voters by attacking Bryan as a religious fanatic, in addition to painting a dire picture of what abandoning the gold standard would mean for the economy.
McKinley’s Decisive Victory
On Election Day, voter turnout topped 79 percent, reflecting the high stakes of the contest. McKinley won some 600,000 more popular votes than Bryan, the widest margin since 1872, while his win in the electoral college (271 to 176) was even more decisive. In addition to his core support in the urban Northeast, McKinley gained strength from prosperous Midwestern farmers, industrial workers, and many ethnic voters. For his part, Bryan swept most of the South, the only region of the country where the economy remained predominantly agricultural; he also did well among farmers in the West and Midwest.
Like the elections of 1800, 1860 and 1932, the presidential election of 1896 marked a fundamental shift in American politics, and the emergence of a new political reality to reflect the nation’s changed circumstances. McKinley’s win began an era of Republican dominance, and economic prosperity, that would last for nearly four decades. It also spelled the beginning of the end for the Populist Party, which didn’t dissolve entirely but would never regain its former level of success.
Perhaps most importantly, the 1896 election marked the decisive triumph of the nation’s urban interests—banking, manufacturing and industry—over its agrarian past. With Americans migrating to cities at a rapidly increasing rate in the last decade of the 19th century, Bryan would be the last candidate to run by appealing exclusively to the country’s rural population.
Bryan ran for president and lose twice more, in 1900 and 1908, before serving as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson, the era’s only Democratic president. Just before his death, the man many called “the Great Commoner” employed his oratorical skills one last time, arguing against the teaching of evolution in the Scopes Trial.
The election of 1896 and the restructuring of Civil War memory.
The country is in greater danger than it has been since 1861. This is not merely our opinion, and is not merely a party opinion. It is the profound belief of patriotic men without distinction of party and in every section of the country.
New York Daily Tribune, Oct. 30, 1896
Gilded Age Republicans were notorious for attacking their Democratic opponents by waving the bloody shirt, a campaign tactic designed to activate the historical remembrance of the Civil War among Northern voters. Carefully selected, the wartime memories used by bloody-shirt Republicans became as familiar as the scriptures: GOP candidates reminded Northern voters of the party of Lincoln's firmness in the face of secession and portrayed the wartime Democratic party as treasonous, hijacked by Southern fire-eaters during the secession crisis, and closely associated with Northern Copperheads during the fighting itself: They also dramatically recalled the suffering of Union soldiers, especially prisoners-of-war, in the struggle to save the nation. Speaking directly to the North's enormous cohort of Union veterans, GOP candidates exhorted, "Vote as you shot." The tactic of waving the bloody shirt, always controversial within the GOP--many in the party thought its heated rhetoric needlessly inflamed sectional tensions between North and South--became even more contested in the 1880s, when the rhetorical focus shifted toward memories of the GOP's role in emancipation and in securing African Americans the right to vote. The last stand of bloody-shirt Republicans came in January 1891 with the defeat in Congress of the Force Bill, legislation designed to use Federal police power to enforce black suffrage in the South. By 1896, then, the day when Republican party candidates could marshal remembrance of the Civil War to win elections seemingly had become a thing of the past. (1)
Yet a striking feature of the momentous 1896 presidential campaign was the role that Civil War-era memory played in the successful effort of William McKinley to defeat William Jennings Bryan. By the mid-1890s the GOP was led by a new generation intimately associated with the emergent corporate capitalist elite--most notably Mark Hanna, a successful Cleveland industrialist, McKinley's closest adviser and presidential campaign manger--and its political language had shifted away from the racial commitments of the previous generation of party leaders. Stunned by Bryan's nomination and alarmed by his appeals to both rural and working-class laborers, the 1896 Republican campaign crafted an electoral strategy that emphasized a renewed nationalism based on sectional reconciliation. Speaking to a group of Confederate veterans visiting his Canton home in October 1896, McKinley articulated the new Republican creed when he proclaimed, "Let us remember now and in all the future that we are Americans, and what is good for Ohio is good for Virginia." (2) Tragically, however, the GOP's shift from a sectional to a national strategy was predicated upon the party's acceptance of the racial apartheid that by the mid-1890s had taken firm hold in the South. Most tellingly, the 1896 Republican platform, for the first time since the end of the Civil War, omitted any demand that the Federal government use its police power to guarantee black suffrage in the South. This omission, the New York Times noted approvingly, was an important indication of McKinley's "sagacity . in depreciating sectional division and appealing to a common patriotism to protect the Nation's honor." (3) In 1896, then, GOP leaders, indifferent to the intensified attacks on the social and political rights of African Americans and eager to promote a patriotic nationalism based on the reconciliation of whites in the North and South, distanced the party from its historical role in revolutionizing U.S. race relations during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
In restructuring the public remembrance of the Civil War to further its nationalist message, the McKinley campaign mobilized a potent but racially neutral historical memory, the secession crisis of 1861. In comment typical of GOP rhetoric Henry Cabot Lodge wrote shortly after Bryan's nomination that those aligned against the Democratic candidate were "fighting to save the country from a disaster which would be only second to 1861." (4) A Bryan presidency posed a renewed threat to national solidarity in two ways. First, his pro-silver monetary policies promised once more to tear the nation apart along sectional lines. Writing in The North American Review, Republican senator William Chandler argued that the Democratic convention "deliberately, in the year 1896, undertook to organize the solid South with a few states of the West, to menace the prosperity of the North and East, by as wicked a movement as that after which is was deliberately patterned, the Southern rebellion of 1861." (5) For the millions of Americans who remembered the staggering amount of death and destruction resulting from the Civil War, the dangers of sectional division remained very real. In 1896, however, McKinley's campaign paired sectional conflict with a new and deeply ominous threat to a nation undergoing rapid urban and industrial growth: class warfare.
Seizing on Bryan's statement that the "sympathies" of the Democratic party "are on the side of the struggling masses," prominent McKinley supporters accused the Democratic candidate of fomenting social strife among the expanding population of working-class Americans. (6) October 1896 John Ireland, archbishop of St. Paul, issued a public letter, reprinted and widely circulated by the Republican National Committee, cautioning that the "movement which had its expression in the Chicago [Democratic] convention . is, in its right logical effects, revolution against the United States: it is secession, the secession of 1861." Ireland concluded with the grim warning, "The war of class against class is upon us." Speaking at a rally in New York City a few nights before the election, General Horace Porter reminisced, "During the heroic age of the country, in 1861, the old soldiers went to the front to save the nation's life." But, he warned, the times "were more perilous" than in 1861. "The only words in the English language that can describe the threatened situation are 'redhanded anarchy.'" (7)
The GOP's restructuring of Civil War memory to include the dangers of class division was especially concentrated in the key electoral battleground states of the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ireland's home state of Minnesota. The Midwest had seen some of the most violent labor strife of the 1890s. This region also was home to one of the largest concentrations of Union veterans in the nation, a key GOP constituency. By stirring historical remembrance of the secession crisis of 1861 in this and the country's other regions, the Republican party was able to position itself as the patriotic defender of the nation-state against political forces that in 1896, or so McKinley and his campaign surrogates claimed, threatened to divide the country along the explosive fault lines of section and class.
The GOP's use of a wartime remembrance that elided emancipation and evoked instead the public memory of sectional divide supports David Blight's argument that in the battle to define the historical meaning of the Civil War the "inexorable drive for reunion . trumped race." Unlike the nation's white population, African Americans viewed the secession crisis of 1861 as a largely positive historical event, because the coming of the Civil War marked the beginning of the end of chattel slavery. During the secession winter the great fear of Frederick Douglass was not war between North and South he feared that white politicians would leave the institution of slavery intact by agreeing to "peaceful disunion." Soon after Southern artillery shelled Fort Sumter, the brilliant African American physician and abolitionist James McCune Smith wrote, "circumstances have been so arranged by the degrees of Providence, that in struggling for their own nationality they [white Northerners] are forced to defend our rights." (8) In the decades after the Confederate surrender, Douglass and other African American leaders articulated what Blight calls an "emancipationist" memory of the Civil War, a vision that defined the conflict as a struggle for black freedom, citizenship, and constitutional equality. The emancipationist vision of the Civil War, however, ran counter to strong reconciliationist currents in the national culture, and as early as 1875 Douglass wondered aloud, "If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to blacks, what will peace among the whites bring?" (9)
Douglass's apprehension proved justified. By the mid-1890s, Blight argues, the "forces of reconciliation [had] overwhelmed the emancipationist vision in the national culture . [and] delivered to the country a segregated memory of the Civil War on Southern terms." (10) In its drive to gain control of the White House, the nationalist rhetoric of the powerful and well-financed McKinley campaign played an important role in solidifying the reconciliationist vision within American culture. With very few exceptions, white America remembered the sectional crisis of 1861 as a national catastrophe. Drawing from this well of collective memory among the nation's white population, in 1896 the Republican party attacked Bryan's monetary policies by deploying a historical remembrance that highlighted the perils of sectional division while at the same time ignoring the party's role in the transformation of U.S. race relations during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Sectionalism, then, remained a vitally important national concern in 1896, and Blight offers a convincing argument that white America's acceptance of a reconciliationist memory of the Civil War played a key role in facilitating sectional reunion by the time of World War I. In addition to sectionalism, however, by the mid-1890s, a decade marked by industrial depression and violent labor conflict, many Americans were also deeply concerned about an emerging threat to the nation's solidarity, class warfare. Seizing upon Bryan's convention statement that the Democratic party sided with the "struggling masses" against the "idle holders of idle capital," the GOP accused the Democratic candidate of fomenting civil strife and deployed the public recollection of 1861 as a stern warning against social division. (11) Focused on race as "the central problem of how Americans made choices to remember and forget about their Civil War," Blight's model deemphasizes the capacity of the McKinley campaign to restructure the memory of the Civil War to buttress the GOP's combined goals of sectional and class solidarity. Establishing the links among public memory, partisan ideology, and campaign strategy will reveal a Civil War memory that warned against sectional division and, transcending race as the "central problem" of wartime remembrance, allowed the Republican party to brand political protest against America's growing social and economic inequalities as unpatriotic threats to national unity.
In July 1896, when the Democratic party gathered in Chicago to nominate its candidate for president, the United States was a nation in distress. The repercussions of the business depression that began with the bankruptcy of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company in February 1893 continued to haunt the nation's economy, with an estimated 15 percent of the nation's workforce still unemployed in 1896. With hard times came social and political unrest. In 1894, a group of jobless workers, under the leadership of Jacob S. Coxey, marched to Washington demanding Federal assistance. Coxey's desperate "army" of the unemployed was easily dispersed but, paired with the nation's growing industrial labor unrest--in 1894, the year of the great Pullman Strike, there were one hundred industrial work stoppages averaging nearly fifty days in length and involving nearly 46,000 workers--his movement alarmed many middle--and upper-class Americans. (12)
Labor agitation, however, was only one problem facing the nation's comfortable classes in 1896. In the 1890s the Populist movement demanded stronger government intervention into the economy, including the free and unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of sixteen to one. Gaining the support of millions of Americans in the nation's western and Southern states, the Populists offered a powerful agrarian challenge to the nation's two-party system. In 1896, then, the political status quo was under attack in both the industrial and agricultural areas of the United States. It is no wonder that as the presidential election approached many Americans feared that the nation was, once more, about to tear itself apart. (13)
If the United States was a nation in distress in July 1896, the Democratic party was a political organization in disarray. In 1892 the Democrats captured control of the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government for the first time since 1856. As a consequence of hard times, however, the party suffered staggering congressional losses in the mid-term elections of 1894. By the summer of 1896, discontent with Grover Cleveland and the conservative Bourbon Democracy was rampant among the party faithful, and a new generation of party leaders had emerged. One such leader was Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina. Speaking in favor of the free coinage of silver at the Chicago convention, Tillman maladroitly interjected the memory of the Civil War into the 1896 campaign.
In the words of his biographer Stephen Kantrowitz, Tillman regarded bimetallism as a "bridge between disaffected producers in the Democratic South and their brethren in the Republican West." The senator believed that this regional alignment would "redefine American sectionalism and rally white producers everywhere against their common enemies in the seats of monopoly [and] finance." Tillman's attempt to redefine sectionalism in Chicago, however, proved disastrous. Speaking during the early part of the convention, days before Bryan's surprising nomination, Tillman opened with the words, "I come from the South, from the home of secession." This defiant opening startled his listeners, who greeted his remarks with loud hisses from the convention floor. The senator's statements haunted the Democratic national campaign until election day. But there was more to come. (14)
Raising his voice to be heard over shouts of disapproval from members of his own party, the undaunted Tillman continued, "Some of my friends from the South and elsewhere have said that this is not a sectional issue. I say it is a sectional issue." "We of the South," he continued, "have turned our faces to the West, asking our brethren of those States to unite with us in restoring the government, the liberty of fathers, which our fathers left us." (15) Tillman left the speaker's podium to a torrent of boos Kantrowitz argues that this speech "destroyed his chances to become a national candidate," but the damage to the party was done. (16)
Coming from a senator representing South Carolina, Tillman's intemperate remarks on secession and section offered opponents of bimetallism an opportunity to attack free silver as both financially unsound and as a new threat to national unity. They wasted no time in exploiting the opening. On July 9, the day before Bryan's nomination, the staunchly Republican Chicago Tribune warned that the convention's "Southern fire-eaters . are just as rancorous now as they were in 1861, when they repudiated their debts, confiscated Northern private and Union national public property, and proceeded upon their mad effort to destroy the republic." (17) Conservative Democratic newspapers, angry at the convention's rejection of Grover Cleveland's sound money policies, joined in the attack. The Chicago Chronicle argued that the "hothead silver leaders of the South . are of the same class who got the South to pass the secession ordinances in 1860-'61 and followed it by repudiation of public and private debts due the North." The Chronicle concluded ominously, "History repeats itself, and threatens a renewal of its calamitous episodes." (18) Even before Bryan's dramatic nomination, then, the proponents of sound money seized the opening provided by Tillman by aggressively reviving the public memory of the secession crisis of 1861 as a new front in their determined attack against the free coinage of silver.
Although it became apparent during the convention that the Democratic party would renounce the sound money policies of Grover Cleveland, the party's nomination of William Jennings Bryan still came as a shock to most Americans, including the leadership of the Republican party. The GOP had nominated William McKinley as their presidential candidate earlier that summer and planned a campaign centered on the message that protective tariffs would return economic prosperity by protecting American jobs and wage scales. Hearing the news of Bryan's nomination while yachting off the New England coast, McKinley's campaign manager Mark Hanna telegraphed the candidate, "The Chicago convention has changed everything. With this communist spirit abroad the cry of 'free silver' will be catching." (19) Hanna quickly regained his balance and even mocked other Republicans who were panic-stricken at the possibility of Bryan's election as "just a lot of damn fools," but even he was startled when the advance "sixty-day" polls he commissioned indicated that Bryan held a lead over McKinley. Reflecting the fluid political situation, Josiah Quincy wrote in the August issue of the North American Review, "With the old political fences so completely down, and in the face of conditions so chaotic, there is no warrant for any assurances as to the result of the election in November." (20) The prospect of a Bryan victory seemed, for a short time at least, very real to contemporary observers, and in response the anti-Bryan "counter-crusade" began organizing its extraordinarily well-financed and well-coordinated assault on the Democratic candidate. (21)
After the election, the GOP's national campaign committee reported that it had raised and spent nearly $4 million between July and November 1896 however, by some estimates, the party spent more than $16 million electing McKinley. (22) Most of this unprecedented campaign money came from the nation's corporate elite who, genuinely alarmed by Bryan's nomination, flocked to the McKinley banner. One of McKinley's most powerful supporters was railroad magnate James J. Hill, a conservative Democratic who was a political ally and close friend of Grover Cleveland. Outraged by the Democratic convention's renunciation of the sitting president and his pro-gold policies, Hill energetically opposed the Bryan campaign. In mid-July he wrote to J. P. Morgan, "I feel it is very important that the sound money men not waste a single day in getting to work." Hill, whose railroads purchased coal from Hanna's mines, introduced Hanna to New York City's leading industrialists and financiers. (23) In mid-August Hill accompanied Hanna "on a tour through the high places of Wall Street, and during the next five days they succeeded in collecting as much money as was immediately necessary." (24) John McCall, president of New York Life Insurance Company, authorized a $50,000 contribution to the GOP. (25) The J. P. Morgan Bank and Standard Oil contributed $250,000 each to the McKinley campaign. Declaring, "I can see nothing for else to do, to serve our Country and our honor," John D. Rockefeller sent Mark Hanna a personal check for $2,500. (26) The $500,000 contributed to the GOP by Standard Oil and the House of Morgan alone constituted more than the entire campaign chest of the Democratic party in 1896. Well organized under the watchful eye of Hanna, the GOP's "educational" campaign hired more than one thousand speakers to address targeted audiences throughout the United States and printed and distributed tens of millions of pieces of campaign literature, in up to a dozen languages, for distribution to the nation's voters. At the end of the campaign Theodore Roosevelt complained to a GOP official that Hanna had advertised McKinley "as if he were patent medicine." (27)
Given the GOP's overwhelming advantage in money and organization and the weakness of a Democratic party that bore the onus for the depression of the 1890s while being split over the nomination of Bryan, McKinley's election was not surprising. The GOP's aggressive deployment of Civil War memory was but one of many factors propelling McKinley into the White House. In addition to electing party candidates, however, presidential campaigns are in part mass movements of political education that exert great influence on the nation's understanding of its past. The makers of campaign rhetoric are architects of national and political consciousness, and presidential campaigns, especially in watershed elections such as 1896, are part of the continuing process of nation building and, in post-Civil War America, nation rebuilding. The overarching theme of McKinley's "shrewd campaign," in the words Bryan biographer LeRoy Ashby, emphasized "unity rather than social and regional conflict." (28) In crafting a campaign of national solidarity, GOP tacticians quickly initiated the practice of deploying a historical recollection that reminded voters of the perilous consequences of national division. In selecting this remembrance, the McKinley campaign, a political organization with the power to advertise its nationalist message into virtually every household in the nation, fundamentally restructured the meaning and memory of the Civil War in American culture.
In 1896 the Republican party waged its campaign of memory along two fronts. The first was the party's charge that Bryan's pro-silver policies endangered national unity by pitting the U.S. North and East against its South and West. Days after Bryan's nomination McKinley attacked the Democratic candidate by evoking public remembrance of the Civil War. "Then section was arrayed against section," McKinley declared. "Now men of all sections can and will unite to rebuke the repudiation of our obligations and debasement of our currency." In an editorial the New York Times noted approvingly that in his speech McKinley had "drawn clearly" the "parallel between the duties imposed by the civil war and those imposed" by the supporters of free silver. "He is moderate in saying," the Times concluded, "that never since that time have honest Americans had a 'greater duty.'" (29)
William Jennings Bryan, like Tillman and most other supporters of bimetalism, envisioned a political coalition of western and Southern states working together in the fight against the gold standard. Unlike Tillman, Elizabeth Sanders argues, Bryan "assiduously counseled tolerance and avoided divisive social issues." (30) Realizing that Republican charges of sectionalism were damaging his campaign, Bryan insisted that the Democratic platform was "not the platform of section. It is the platform of our common country, and appeals to those who love mankind to rise to its defense." Unlike his opponent, Bryan rarely discussed the war and, offering a different historical memory to voters, he argued that his party "breathes the spirit of the Declaration of Independence." (31) Bryan's reluctance to stir voters' memories of the Civil War echoed the desire of Populist leaders from earlier in the decade who, unsuccessfully, urged Americans to bury the passions generated from this fratricidal conflict.
Bryan ran for president on both the Democratic and Populist tickets. In the early 1890s, however, the Populist party existed solely as an independent third-party movement facing the immense challenge of appealing to Northern voters while simultaneously attracting white voters in the Democratic stronghold of the "Solid South." Determined to focus the nation's attention on the rapidly expanding economic and social dislocations resulting from the rise of unregulated corporate finance and industrial capitalism, Populist leaders called on American voters to transcend the sectional divisions growing out of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Leonidas Polk, president of the Southern Alliance, argued in 1891 that the modern struggle was not the conflict of twenty-five years ago, "but the gigantic struggle of today is between the classes and the masses." He concluded, "In the appalling presence of such an issue, buried and forgotten forever be the prejudices, animosities, and estrangements of that unfortunate war." (32) The party's 1892 Omaha platform argued that "the civil war is over . and every passion and resentment which grew out of it must die with it, and that we must be, in fact, as we are in name, one united brotherhood of free men." (33) That year the Populists, attempting to neutralize the politics of sectionalism and attract Southern voters, fielded a blue-gray ticket headed by Union veteran Gen. James B. Weaver of Iowa as its presidential candidate and, as his running mate, Confederate veteran James G. Field of Virginia. In 1892, the Populist party tried to convince voters to focus on current economic struggles in 1896 Bryan, who rarely mentioned the war, adopted the same tactic.
Ultimately, however, Bryan's attempt to overcome sectionalism by restraining public recollection of the war was no match for the tactics of his opponent. Possessing vastly greater resources, the McKinley campaign promoted sectional unity in the opposite manner, by mobilizing a remembrance of the Civil War that attacked Bryan's monetary policies by linking free silver with regional conflict. Writing in the North American Review, Republican Senator William Chandler argued that the "late Chicago mob, misnamed a Democratic convention . deliberately, in the year 1896, undertook to organize the solid South with a few states of the West, to menace the prosperity of the North and East, by as wicked a movement as that after which it was deliberately patterned, the Southern rebellion of 1861. "(34) Prominent Union army veterans were especially useful in the Republican effort to link the memory of sectional conflict with free silver. In September former Union major general Daniel Sickles argued in a speech that Bryan and "many of his supporters are trying to combine the South and West against the North and East. This is sectionalism--of which the rebellion was the offspring."(35) A few days later Sickles, who had lost his leg to a combat wound during the battle of Gettysburg, was the featured speaker in a giant veterans' rally for McKinley. Speaking to the aging Billy Yanks, Sickles argued:
Widely reprinted in the nation's newspapers, Sickles's grim warning of the dangers of sectional conflict was typical of the emotional rhetoric utilized by an aggressive Republican campaign determined to utilize historical memory of the Civil War in its assault on Bryan's economic plank.
In selecting a memory designed to stamp Bryan's free-silver policies as dangerously divisive, his opponents were careful to portray the affable Nebraskan as a mere figurehead, a dupe controlled by Southern politicians who were, like the fire-eaters of 1861, leading the nation once more into disaster. According to the Republican campaign narrative, national unity was threatened once more by a sinister campaign hatched by a group of radical Southern political leaders, a group which, in 1896, consisted of Tom Watson of Georgia--Bryan's running mate on the Populist ticket--Marion Butler of North Carolina, and, most notoriously, Tillman. The South Carolinian literally became the poster child of sectionalism: clutching his trademark pitchfork, he often appeared alongside Bryan in hostile political cartoons during the summer and fall of 1896. Speaking in Iowa, the ubiquitous Sickles, useful to McKinley because he was a conservative Democrat deeply opposed to bimetallism, noted: "I could not permit Jeff Davis to make a platform for me in 1861. I cannot permit Tillman to do so in 1896." (37)
The former Confederate president, of course, did not make a platform for Sickles, or anybody else for that matter, in 1861. Sickles's statement illustrates the practice, characteristic of the McKinley campaign, of merging memories of the election campaign of 1860 with the secession crisis of 1861. Historical accuracy aside (in 1860 Davis was considered a moderate on secession), the important link between these two events in the GOP's campaign narrative was the allegation that in both 1861 and 1896 the people of the South were held hostage by the disastrous policies of a radical political leadership determined to wreck the Union. This attack on the Southern political elite offered a tactical advantage to the Republican campaign by separating the Southern people from the actions of the region's political leadership. Holding a tiny group of Southern political leaders responsible for secession absolved the vast majority of white Southerners from responsibility for the Civil War.
In the Republican efforts to reunite the nation's sections, the memory of 1861 offered another great advantage. It allowed the McKinley campaign to talk about the Civil War without talking about race. Focused on the memory of the secession winter--a historical event that occurred long before the war evolved into what Lincoln referred to as a "remorseless and revolutionary struggle"--the GOP was able to bracket off from public memory the racially charged historical issues of slavery, emancipation, and the crucial role African Americans played in the struggle to save the Union. (38)
The omission of race from the GOP's public remembrance of the war offers a clear illustration of the triumph of what Blight has named the "reconciliationist" vision of the Civil War. Like many Republicans of his generation, McKinley began his political career as a vocal advocate of the rights of African Americans. As governor of Ohio, for instance, he left his New Orleans hotel after it refused to allow a black delegation to meet with him. After the defeat of the Force Bill in 1891, however, McKinley abandoned his commitment to black equality in favor of a nationalist agenda predicated on the reconciliation of whites in the North and South. Expressing his desire for a revived nationalism based on sectional reunion, McKinley declared to a group of Confederate veterans, "Let us remember now and in all the future that we are Americans, and what is good for Ohio is good for Virginia." (39)
After McKinley's nomination, African American newspapers gratefully recalled his prior support for black rights. The Freeman, a black newspaper based in Indianapolis, argued that McKinley had always "leaned toward this portion of humanity," and it vigorously supported his candidacy. What black newspapers such as The Freeman did not realize, or what they were unwilling to admit, was that by 1896 McKinley had quietly distanced himself from the social and political struggles of African Americans living in the states of the ex-Confederacy. Writing in 1916, McKinley biographer Charles S. Olcott approvingly summed up McKinley's attitude toward the white South: "The demand for 'rights' gave way to brotherliness, and the desire to coerce melted before a flame a deep patriotism." (40) McKinley's desire for a patriotic reconciliation among white Americans at the expense of Southern black people was reflected in the Republican platform of 1896, a document that was silent on the question of Federal protection of the voting rights of African Americans. In October, the New York Times noted with satisfaction, "It is safe to say that the era of Force Bills and Federal interference [in Southern elections] has passed." The "fear of Force Bills," the Times argued, had kept the "South solid . and Major McKinley has given one indication of his sagacity [by] depreciating sectional division and appealing to a common patriotism to protect the Nation's honor." (41) Working for a candidate who was, in Blight's words, an "inveterate conciliator, especially toward the South," McKinley's campaign strategists attacked Bryan's pro-silver policies through a memory of the Civil War that highlighted the common danger of sectional division while erasing a remembrance of that conflict in revolutionizing, for a short time at least, race relations in the United States. (42)
Given the social unrest of the 1890s, in fact, the Republican party had no desire to stir up any memory that smacked of revolutionary change. In the previous decade the nation had witnessed three epic battles in the war of labor against capital--the Haymarket affair and the strikes at Homestead and Pullman--as well as numerous local skirmishes. The business depression that started in 1893 showed no signs of easing in 1896, and that year nearly 15 percent of the nation's urban workers remained unemployed. The Democratic convention is most often remembered for Bryan's sensational "Cross of Gold" speech, but in attempting to create a farmer-worker coalition the party's platform did not focus exclusively on the question of free silver. At the instigation of the party's urban-based reformers, including Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld, the Democratic platform decried the practice of suppressing strikes with Federal court injunctions. (43) Bryan's opponents found his appeals to urban workers as alarming as his appeals to farmers. When, in his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, Bryan defined the contest as conflict between the "idle holders of capital" and the "struggling masses," and declared the "sympathies of the Democratic Party . are on the side of the struggling masses," he thrilled the convention but terrified many Americans. (44) Soon after Bryan's nomination, Mark Hanna wrote to McKinley, "I consider the situation in the West quite alarming, as business is going all to pieces and idle men will multiply rapidly." (45) Determined to halt the Bryan bandwagon in its tracks, the McKinley campaign opened the second front in the war of memory against the Democratic campaign, one that paired the dangers of sectional division with an ominous new threat to national unity, the conflict between labor and capital.
Again and again during the summer and fall of 1896 anti-Bryan periodicals argued that a victory by Bryan would, in the words of Harper's Weekly, "mean national dishonor, the triumph of ignorance [and] a sectional and class war upon vested rights." The New York Mail and Express called Bryan's campaign a "hysterical declaration of a reckless and lawless crusade of sectional animosity and class antagonism." (46) In attacking the Democrats' platform as a document bent on setting the haves against the have-nots, Bryan's opponents often refrained from personally attacking the candidate himself. Instead, they focused upon another one of the new generation of Democrat reformers, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld. Much as the Republican press made Tillman the national symbol for "sectionalism," it painted Altgeld as the symbol of "anarchy." Praising Archbishop John Ireland, for example, one of McKinley's strongest supporters, the New York Times commented, "Like a patriotic American he rebukes the attempt of BRYAN and ALTGELD to array class against class, and the attempt of TILLMAN to array section against section." (47) The image of Altgeld standing beside Tillman and Bryan, often appeared in cartoons lampooning the Democratic campaign. The names of Bryan, Tillman, and Altgeld were often denounced in the same sentence as dangers to national unity. In early October, Harper's Weekly concluded, "well seconded by Senator Tillman and Governor Altgeld--Mr. Bryan's natural allies are the enemies of the state, the conspirators against the existing order--He would set the land on fire with class hatred and sectional strife." (48) In the campaign of memory against the Democratic campaign of 1896, then, sectional and class division were closely linked, with Tillman serving as a surrogate for sectional strife and Altgeld a surrogate for anarchy and class warfare.
Having paired sectional and class conflict as twin dangers to national unity, it was but a short step for Bryan's opponents to turn to the memory of secession as a means of attacking the Democratic campaign. In this effort Altgeld, like Tillman, was a natural target. He was the most prominent left-leaning politician of his day-closely allied with Hull House. Altgeld had appointed Florence Kelley as chief factory inspector of the state of Illinois and Julia Lathrop to the state board of charities. In the words of Morton Keller, Altgeld "rode to power on the first wave of urban Democratic liberalism." (49) Soon after his election to governor, he gained infamy among the property-owning classes by pardoning four anarchists convicted for their role in the Haymarket affair. In 1894 Altgeld, who wanted more time for Illinois authorities to resolve the Pullman strike, vigorously protested Cleveland's decision to order Federal troops into Chicago and sent a widely publicized telegram to the president arguing that "local serf-government is a fundamental principle of our Constitution." (50)
The governor's public rebuke of President Cleveland combined with his defense of the principle of local self-determination immediately stirred memories of the South's defiance of Washington during the secession crisis among the editorial pages of many of the nation's newspapers. The Philadelphia Telegraph denounced Altgeld's telegram as "an affront more abominable than the degradations submitted to by James Buchanan at the hands of Southern secession." The Indianapolis American Tribune argued, "This is the same States Rights rot that was the cause of the rebellion." (51) The spontaneous outpouring of Civil War memory in reaction to Altgeld's dispute with Cleveland illustrates how easily the public's remembrance of secession was stirred to a boil. Two years later, following the takeover of the Democratic party by reformers such as Bryan, Altgeld, and Tillman, McKinley's supporters mobilized the memory of 1861 in a more organized manner by accusing Democratic politicians of fomenting civil war along class as well as regional lines.
Algeld was instrumental in securing Chicago as the site for 1896 Democratic convention. Unlike Tillman, however, he made no inflammatory speeches. Instead, he played a key behind-the-scenes role in assuring that the Democratic platform called for the abolition of court injunctions against labor unions, and, in a thinly veiled censure of Cleveland's actions in 1894, denounced the "arbitrary interference by Federal authorities in local affairs as a violation of the Constitution." (52)
Describing the trajectory of the presidential campaign in early November, the New York Times pointed to the adoption of the Democratic platform as a crystallizing moment of the 1896 election. The Times argued, "When to the declaration for unlimited coinage of silver [was] linked to the . practical endorsement of the Altgeld doctrine of State rights and riot, and appeals to class and sectional passion," the line of battle was drawn. Echoing attacks during the Pullman crisis, newspapers and magazines opposed to Bryan wasted little time reminding voters that during the secession winter Southern Democrats had offered similar arguments against the reach of Washington's power. In September, Harper's Weekly, a fierce opponent of the Democratic party, argued, "In 1861 some of the States undertook to enforce the doctrine that the Federal government had not the power to prevent them from leaving the Union. Their attempt was defeated after a terrible war." The Democratic platform, this magazine continued, "seeks to revolutionize the government by destroying the results established by the war of secession for if [it] is right, Mr. Lincoln was wrong when he sent his troops into the South to restore the supremacy of the laws of the Union and to protect the property of the United States." (53) Perhaps the most damning statement against the Democratic platform came in October, however, when John Ireland, archbishop of St. Paul, publicly denounced Bryan's candidacy.
As part of its campaign of national unity, one scholar argues, the McKinley campaign "openly courted" Catholic voters, and one of the "major developments of the campaign was the announcement by Archbishop Ireland of the St. Paul diocese that he supported McKinley." (54) Ireland's letter ritually attacked the Democracy's support of bimetallism. Significantly, however, Ireland declared the "monetary question . a secondary issue in the campaign." For Ireland, free silver "has its importance, but it is of minor importance in the presence of other questions which are brought into issue." Turning to the real meat of his argument, Ireland insisted that the Democratic platform's denunciation of federal interference in local affairs was "the old secession doctrine that states are independent of the national government at Washington." "The movement," Ireland continued, "which had its expression in the Chicago convention . is in its logical effect, revolution against the United States it is secession, the secession of 1861, which our soldiers believed they had consigned to eternal death at Appomattox." Reaching across the Atlantic to revive the public's memory of the social convulsion of the Paris Commune of 1871, Ireland warned his readers, "The war of class against class is upon us. Many adherents of the movement do not perceive its full meaning: but let them beware. They are lighting torches, which, borne in the hands of reckless men, may light up the country in the lurid fires of a commune." (55) Widely reprinted in newspapers throughout the United States, Ireland's apocalyptic prophecy that Bryan's election would trigger a new Civil War pitting class against class created a public sensation. A Methodist minister in California wrote the archbishop that a reading of Ireland's letter as his Sunday sermon "brought the whole congregation to its feet." (56) Bryan's supporters, on the other hand, were furious at Ireland's overheated attacks on the Democratic candidate. William Randolph Hearst, publisher of the New York Journal and one of Bryan's most powerful backers, sent an angry cable to the Vatican's secretary of state demanding to know if Ireland was speaking officially for the Roman Catholic Church. (57)
The story behind the well-coordinated production and publication of Ireland's statement offers a striking opportunity to explore how, in the words of John Bodnar, political elites "selectively retrieve" historical memories to "advance [their] concerns by promoting interpretations of the past and present reality that reduce the power of competing interests that appear to threaten the attainment of their goals." (58) Archbishop Ireland was a close associate of James J. Hill. The wealthy and powerful Hill, whose Great Northern Railroad was headquartered in St. Paul, was an energetic supporter of McKinley. Concerned about McKinley's election chances in the Midwest, in July the railroad magnate had written J.P. Morgan to urge "those who are to manage the McKinley campaign that they to get to work at once and open the fight in St. Louis, Chicago, and all the leading Western cities and drive back the wave that is rising over the doubtful states." Hill performed a number of invaluable favors for the McKinley campaign in the region. Among these favors was his request to Ireland that the archbishop issue a statement denouncing Bryan. On September 30, Hill alerted Mark Hanna, "We are giving Archbishop Ireland, through a non-partisan letter signed by twenty representative men, an opportunity to state his views fully, which he is prepared to do, and I am sure he will cover the ground, stripping the [Democratic] platform to the bone." (59) Nearly two weeks later, on October 11, Ireland's statement was released.
Why did the archbishop agree to attack publicly the Bryan campaign? In his careful study of this affair, Marvin R. O'Connell notes that although Ireland's letter represented his personal views, the public statement was "extracted" from him by Hill as "partial payment for favors rendered [to Ireland] and favors he hoped for." Although Ireland never admitted to the origins of his public denunciation of Bryan, he certainly never regretted his role in the campaign. After looking into his actions, Vatican officials signaled Ireland their pleasure at this manifestation of his political clout, and soon after the election the archbishop was invited to McKinley's home in Canton where he fought for the inclusion of a Roman Catholic in the president-elect's cabinet. (60)
The national dissemination of Ireland's dire warning that the Democratic platform was the "secession of 1861" was as well coordinated as the letter's production. Circulated by wire reports, the contents of the archbishop's letter appeared on the front pages of many of the nation's newspapers the day after its release. Just as significantly, the Republican National Committee, which, thanks to Hill's communication to Hanna, had nearly two weeks to prepare its strategy for taking advantage of Ireland's statement and immediately set to work printing the letter in pamphlet form, ultimately distributing more than 250,000 copies to voters. (61) As the archbishop's words circulated through the national media, the cover story concocted by Hill--that Ireland had offered his remarks only at the request of a nonpartisan group of prominent Minnesotans--was accepted without question. An editorial in the New York Times commented that the "respect in which the Archbishop is held in his own diocese is attested by the fact that the public expression of his opinion on the political issue was not volunteered by him, but was elicited by written request for it, signed by twenty-seven of the leading citizens of Minnesota and representing both political parties." (62) One historian has observed that the "crafters of memory are eager to erase the origins of the memories they promote," and this was certainly true of Hill's role in the production and circulation of Ireland's famous attack against Bryan. (63)
By September 1896, the month Hill asked Ireland to issue his statement, the focus of the McKinley campaign had turned to the midwestern states of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the archbishop's own Minnesota. GOP strategists considered these states as key to victory and feared that the loss of any states in the region would prove disastrous for the Republican campaign. Indiana and Illinois, for example, had both gone for Cleveland in 1892. As the Review of Reviews noted about the election, "The East is conceded to McKinley, the South and extreme West to Bryan. The Central Western states are the battleground of the campaign." (64) Hanna himself chose Chicago as the site of the Republican national campaign headquarters. Leaving New York for Chicago in early October, Hanna announced that the "battleground is in the Middle Western States" and in this region the "hardest campaigning is to be done." (65) Given the GOP's obsession with winning the Midwest, the solicitation of an anti-Bryan statement from the Roman Catholic archbishop of St. Paul was a smart political tactic. Ireland's use of historical memory of the "secession of 1861" reflected the determination of the McKinley campaign to win the Midwest by linking the Democratic candidate with the rebels who had started the Civil War.
The decision to attack Bryan by supersaturating the battleground states of the Midwest with wartime remembrance came, in part, because of the presence of a large bloc of voters critical to the election: nearly four hundred thousand Union veterans. (66) Prodded by the veterans' newspapers, the North's ex-soldiers saw frightening parallels between the labor upheavals of the 1890s and the Civil War. This was especially true of veterans living in the Midwest. Chicago was a hotbed of labor unrest, and the violent Pullman strike angered many of the old soldiers. At the height of the Pullman crisis a local post of the Grand Army of the Republic wrote the mayor of Chicago volunteering the services of its two hundred men. "We were among those who responded to the call of our country in 1861 to defend our flag," the members of the Abraham Lincoln Post, No. 91 wrote, "we, therefore, now offer ourselves as ready to respond to a call from you to defend the fair name of our city." The Chicago Tribune wrote during the same period that the "soldiers of 1861 are as ready to fight the Anarchist rebels north of the Ohio as they were secession rebels south of it." (67) Veterans' newspapers, usually no friend of Cleveland, were virtually unanimous in praising the president's decision to put down the strike through force.
For many of the Midwest's veterans, the growing influence of Altgeld, who angered veterans by pardoning the Haymarket anarchists and challenging the legality of Cleveland's actions during the Pullman strike, offered a threat to the nation's law and order potentially as dangerous as the crisis they had faced a generation earlier. Philip Paludan has argued that many Northerners resisted secession in 1861 because they viewed it as a crisis of law and order. "Again and again," Paludan writes, "newspaper editors and political leaders discussed the degree to which secession was likely to produce disorder, anarchy, and general disrespect for democratic government." (68) Speaking at a rally of Union veterans' in Chicago, one prominent veterans' spokesman declared, "We are told in the Chicago platform, in vague language, but easily read between the lines, 'You may have more Chicago riots.' You may have them here, or in New York, or in Boston [and if] your Governor chooses to turn a deaf ear to the appeals of the people for protection of their rights of personal property, you are told, under those circumstances, 'Let havoc have its way.'" (69) Stuart McConnell, writing about the political philosophy of the Grand Army of the Republic, suggested that "when push came to shove the GAR was always to be found in the camp of order and property rights." Grand Army nationalism, he argues, "combined allegiance to a liberal capitalism of a distinctly ante-bellum variety . and loyalty first to the nation state rather than to race, class, gender, region, religion, or any other particularism. Operating within an established state, it functioned not only as an endorsement of that state but also as a negative statement about potential alternative nationalisms that sought to alter it." (70) The political views of powerful veterans' organizations such as the GAR, then, meshed perfectly with the memory of the Civil War promoted by the Republican party. With its high concentration of Union veterans, the Midwest featured the region that the GOP's reconfiguration of Civil War memory gained its greatest intensity for promoting the need for a patriotic unity between the nation's economic classes.
Writing soon after Bryan's nomination, the Chicago Tribune predicted that veterans will "recognize the danger which confronts the country from an anarchical, repudiating, and revolutionary mob, and they will do their duty in 1896 as they did it from 1861 to 1865. They will help again save the country." Prominent Union veterans joined in this attack. The former Union general Franz Sigel argued that Bryan's election would result in the "subversion of the social order, a war of the masses against classes for the possession of wealth." In an editorial aimed at the North's veterans, Harper's Weekly concluded: "We do not believe that the honest farmers and working men of this country, from whose ranks came the great mass of Union soldiers, are ready to join this motley throng in its assaults upon the institutions which they once defended." (71) McKinley's supporters thus linked the breakdown of law and order in 1861 with the nation's labor unrest in the more recent past to gain the veteran vote.
The GOP, however, had another potent card to play in its campaign of memory aimed at the North's ex-soldiers--one that combined historical recollections of 1861 with the economic self-interest of the aging cohort of Union vets. The "public liaison" between the GOP and the Grand Army of the Republic was, in the words of one scholar, "about as secret as the relations between Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton and just as understandable." (72) The Republican alignment with the GAR, one of the most successful special-interest groups in all of U.S. history, was based as much on hard economic calculations as it was on emotional appeals to wartime memories. What drew Union veterans again and again to the GOP was the combination of the party's calculated deployment of Civil War remembrance combined with its ability to deliver to the aging Billy Yanks a remarkably generous array of Federal benefits. The economic battle for the veteran vote focused around the question of Federal entitlements: government jobs for ex-soldiers, the creation of a system of institutional care for war-disabled and indigent vets, and, above all, the expansion of the number of veterans eligible for pensions. In each of these areas the GOP delivered. In 1882, for instance, nearly half of the Republican patronage appointments in Washington went to Union veterans. In the other two areas--institutional care and pensions--the achievements of the Republican party were even more impressive. By the mid-1890s, for instance, nearly one hundred thousand ex-soldiers had sought shelter in a branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, the federal institution created for the care of the old soldiers, and 65 percent of the surviving cohort of Union veterans received a pension check from Uncle Sam. (73) By the mid-1890s, then, the GOP was largely responsible for the creation of a comprehensive veterans' welfare state designed for the care and support of the men who served in the Union army.
By 1896, however, the ties between organized veterans' groups and the Republican party were seemingly attenuating. The Dependent Pension Act of 1890, a great victory for the GAP,, offered a pension to "every discharged soldier of ninety days' service who suffered from any disability that incapacitated him for manual labor, no matter what his financial situation and no matter how the disability had been incurred." This legislation virtually granted the North's aging veterans what was closest to their heart's desire: a service pension system. Between 1890 and 1896, the number of ex-Union soldiers receiving a quarterly pension check from the government jumped from 537,944 to 970,678. (74) With their central economic demand met, appeals to the wartime memories of veterans lost their potency, and a significant portion of the North's ex-soldiers drifted from the Republican camp. During the presidential election of 1892 the GAR leadership sensed a loss of public support and adopted a nonpartisan stance. In the key midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, all of which went for Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland, a significant number of veterans voted Democrat. In addition, by the mid-1890s the membership of the GAR itself declined, not because older veterans were dying, but because many members quit the organization. In 1895 the rolls of the GAR dropped by 56,956, and of that total only 7,368 had died. (75)
Despite the apparent weakening of the alliance between veterans' organizations and the Republican party, the machinery necessary to connect the two remained in place and was easily reactivated once a Bryan presidency began to seem real. Soon after Bryan's nomination, two experienced veterans' organizers, L. Edwin Dudley and Sickles, joined together to form the Veteran's National Committee. Sickles was soon busy making speeches throughout the country on behalf of McKinley, and his remarks were reprinted in circular form and distributed throughout the nation by Dudley. Branches of the Union Veterans Patriotic League appeared all over the country. In late August Dudley wrote, "The veterans and sons of veterans are responding in the most enthusiastic manner. We are appealing to the old sentiments of loyalty and patriotism and especially to the love and affection which the old veterans have for their comrade, Major McKinley." (76)
In appealing to this key voting bloc of veterans, McKinley once again combined the tried-and-true tactic of appealing both to the wartime memories and the pocketbooks of the North's ex-soldiers. Meeting with a delegation of veterans who came to his Canton home, McKinley noted that the total number of Union soldiers receiving Federal pensions was higher than the total number of American soldiers who had served in nation's army between 1776 and 1860, and he remarked that Union veterans were the "largest creditors of the government." But, he warned, the inflationary monetary policies of Bryan threatened to depreciate the value of pensions paid to the old soldiers. (77) The charge that Bryan's commitment to the free coinage of silver would result in a repudiation of the nation's debt to its creditors, including veterans, was a common theme among Republican spokesmen. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, noted that the "veterans recognize the danger arising from the conspiracy of the Populists, Popocrats, and free silver Republican bolters against the credit of the Nation." (78)
For rational economic reasons of their own, Union veterans proved a very attentive audience to the Republican message. For many old soldiers the pro-silver policies of the Democratic platform were deeply problematic. By 1896, 940,000 veterans and their dependents were receiving just under $140,000,000 in pension payments annually. The Democratic platform promised to "recognize the just claim of old soldiers," but the Chicago Tribune argued that veterans should consider that promise "a contemptible falsehood." (79) Republican newspapers and politicians argued time and again that the free and unlimited coinage of silver at the ratio of sixteen to one would halve the purchasing power of veterans' pensions. "Great numbers of the old soldiers are wholly or partially dependent on the pension they receive for their past services," the Chicago Tribune reminded its readers in mid-July. If Bryan's monetary policies were enacted, the newspaper warned, "the purchasing power of all the pensions will be cut down one-half. The pensioners will get 140 million 50-cent dollars instead of 140 million 100-cent dollars." The Tribune warned Union veterans about the dangers they faced if Southern political leaders such as Ben Tillman gained control of the Federal purse: "The Southern fireaters [sic] . have no love for the old Union soldiers. Those fireaters would take away their pensions altogether were it possible. As that cannot be done, it is proposed to cheat them out of half of the money which a million old soldiers, or their wives and children, are receiving from the government. They will feel that they have punished the old Union soldiers who licked them." (80) Like any aging cohort living on a fixed income, veterans viewed inflationary policies with a jaundiced eye. In 1896, then, the McKinley campaign worked to combine economic unease about Bryan's free-silver policies with the historical memory of 1861 as a means of gaining support among the large voting bloc of ex-soldiers living in the battleground states of the Midwest.
During the campaign Bryan, who had been far too young to serve in the Union military during the 1860s, proved unwilling or unable to mount an effective appeal to veterans, either emotional or economic. Unlike their opposition, the Democratic party refused to cultivate Union veterans as an interest group. One of the rare occasions that Bryan attempted to utilize historical memory to gain the support of Northern veterans came during a campaign stop in Milwaukee in early September. Beginning in an obviously reluctant tone--"You say you want to hear a little about the old soldiers"--Bryan argued that the "question before the country now appeals to the old soldiers as much as it did in 1861. I am not afraid that the men who were willing at that time to endure the dangers of war because they believed the black men should be free, I am not afraid that these men are going to allow the hosts of the gold standard to enslave 70 millions of people, whites and blacks, in this country." (81) One of the interesting ironies of the 1896 campaign, then, is that it was the Democratic candidate who employed the memory of emancipation, however briefly and clumsily, to gain the veteran vote. Given, however, the Democratic party's continued strength among white Southern voters and Bryan's political alliance with avowed racists such as Ben Tillman, Bryan's version of an emancipationist vision of the Civil War proved an evanescent moment. After this half-hearted attempt at winning the veteran vote by linking free silver with the freedom of the nation's slaves, Bryan seldom attempted to assuage the concerns of Union soldiers about the impact of his monetary policies on their pension checks. In 1896, for one last time, the generation-long effort of the Republican party to create a client group out of Union veterans by linking historical memory of the Civil War with a generous package of Federal benefits paid the GOP enormous political dividends in a presidential campaign.
In early September the McKinley-Hanna organization began a focused and determined campaign to win the veteran vote in the Midwest. At the heart of this effort was the GOP's argument that a Bryan presidency endangered the economic self-interest of the North's old soldiers in addition to threatening to divide the nation along class lines. The active support that the GAR offered the GOP in this effort proved crucial to the McKinley campaign. The involvement of many of the Union army's most famous surviving generals played an instrumental role in the party's effort to construct and disseminate a Civil War memory designed to stigmatize the Bryan campaign as a modern threat to the nation's unity. In early September 1896 the GAR held its National Encampment in St. Paul, Minnesota, a happy coincidence for McKinley because the city was the corporate headquarters of James J. Hill's Great Northern Railroad. Hill fought the Bryan campaign with all his possible means, which were considerable. (82)
In addition to instigating Ireland's attack on Bryan, Hill played a central role in another famous episode of the 1896 presidential campaign, a tour of Union generals who barnstormed on McKinley's behalf in states throughout the Midwest. During the National Encampment Russell Alger--a former commander-in-chief of the GAP,, ex-governor of Michigan, and McKinley's future secretary of war--lined up a group of Union veteran all-stars that agreed to combine forces and tour together promoting the Republican candidate. Hill immediately agreed to help. At the conclusion of the encampment an official of the Great Northern Railroad wrote Alger, "Mr. Hill told me to tell you that he will gladly haul you anywhere on his system at any time on the cause your are representing." Hill also discussed the veterans' tour with other railroads, and the official further informed Alger that the head of the Chicago Great Western Railroad had "evinced equal interest" in the proposed tour of Union veterans, "and gladly extends to you the courtesies of his line." (83)
"Patriotism akin to the spirit of'61 will flame in the city this evening" the Chicago Tribune announced to its readers on September 21. That evening the participants in what soon became known to the nation as the Patriotic Heroes' Battalion--the most prominent among them ex-Union Generals Daniel Sickles, O. O. Howard, and Russell Alger--gathered together at a giant rally at the Chicago Auditorium in preparation of their tour of the Midwest. "Every seat was taken," the Tribune reported on its front page the next day, "and hundreds stood in the side aisles and galleries." The famous old veterans onstage made quite a sight, the Tribune noting that "Howard has just as many arms as Gen. Sickles has legs." In his speech Sickles, a colorful figure who was always a crowd favorite, set the tone of their expedition when he declared, "up until the day of the Chicago [Democratic party] platform no party in this country ever dared to present for the approval of the American peoples the doctrines of anarchy, repudiation, and mob rule." (84) After this rousing sendoff, the old veterans began their tour throughout the Midwest. The campaign of the Patriotic Heroes' Battalion was aimed at more than just Union veterans. "The time was due," Richard Jensen in his classic study of the 1896 election wrote of their effort, "for a demonstration that the silent masses of the people did not support Bryan but stood behind sound money, law and order, and McKinley." (85) Aimed as much at defining the country's future as memorializing its past, the old generals peddled a memory of the Civil War that articulated the GOP's notion of a patriotic nationalism that legitimated over the rights of property over the rights of labor.
During the last weeks of the 1896 campaign the Patriotic Heroes' Battalion, a group of veterans who quite literally embodied the historical memory of the Civil War, moved rapidly and in tight formation around the countryside demanding that midwestern voters reject the Democratic party and its presidential candidate. Although the McKinley campaign kept its role in the tour quiet--some newspapers speculated that Alger paid for it out of his own pocket--its complicated logistics were handled by William Beer, a young Republican party official. William Hahn, head of the Republican National Committee's Speakers Bureau, ordered Beer to "transact all matters of business" pertaining to the veterans' "combination . in conjunction with the Committees of the states through which the party passes." Before the tour ended in early November, the old veterans had covered an astounding 8,448 miles, speaking at 276 meetings in 255 separate locations. Howard later wrote that the campaigning began at seven in the morning and often didn't end until eleven at night. (86)
The cars of the Patriotic Heroes' Battalion train were decorated with American flags, two thousand yards of red, white, and blue bunting, and giant pictures of McKinley. The flat car at the end of the train was used for speeches. Giant banners on each side of the train offered the countryside the following messages:
The tour was front-page news in the Midwest and closely followed by newspapers throughout the nation, even in Southern states. On October 10, for instance, the Galveston Daily News reported that the "famous soldiers' combination" had spoken to a crowd of 10,000 in Rushville, Indiana. In South Bend, Indiana, Alger denounced Bryan's political allies as "a dirty set . they represent the red flag." In Indianapolis, Alger claimed that Bryan's "assault upon the integrity of nation and upon the old flag has stirred up again the patriotic fire that called you to the front in 1861." Writing about his experience on the tour in a Boston newspaper, one of its participants, O.A. Marden wrote, "We believe that we have done something in stirring up the old veterans in a lively sense that a crisis is pending hardly second to that of 1861 to 1865." (87)
The tour of generals was a rousing success. Writing from McKinley national campaign headquarters in Chicago, Hahn informed Beer, "I feel assured that the result of the labors of these old war worn soldiers will be of the greatest benefit to our party." He continued, "I wish you would extend to them my congratulations, and on my behalf and in behalf of the National Committee thank them for their labors they have already performed." (88) By the end of the tour, the veterans had spoken to an estimated one million voters, and caused what one Republican weekly called "considerable consternation" among Bryan supporters. "Coin" Harvey, one of the most vocal proponents of free silver, called the veterans' campaign the "old wrecks of the rebellion who have lost all their honor and patriotism . [and are] the tool of political Shylocks." (89) Harvey's comments, predictably, backfired and served to increase the popularity of the old generals, but his frustration, as well as the frustration of Bryan supporters was understandable. A full generation after the Confederate defeat, the GOP was able, yet again, to utilize the link between Union veterans, public memory of the Civil War, and a Republican candidate to elect a president.
In the last weeks of the campaign GOP officials grew confident that McKinley would prevail in the election, yet party leaders continued to use Union veterans to rouse the public's remembrance of secession. The continued appeal by Republicans to Civil War memory is, one scholar suggests, best explained by the party's larger and more enduring objective in 1896, "to merge the Republican Party's past defense of the nation with contemporary notions of patriotism itself." "Such an approach," Lawrence Goodwyn continued, promised to fashion a "blend of the American flag and Grand Old Party that might conceivably cement a political bond of enduring civic vitality." As Cecilia O'Leary notes, by the mid-1890s the GAR was at the center of a drive to create a "nationalist consciousness" in the United States. (90) Among the rights and rituals of the GAR's "martial patriotism" were the organization's attempts to fly the American flag over every schoolhouse, have every schoolchild recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and its creation of a national flag day. (91) Hanna, who had chosen the American flag as symbol for the McKinley campaign, borrowed from the GAR and decided to have the McKinley campaign sponsor a flag day of its own on the Sunday before the election.
On October 30, 1896, the day before New York's great flag day parade, forty Union generals gathered at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan for a rally of the Union Veterans' Patriotic League. Many of the generals--Sickles and Howard most prominent among them--had campaigned as part of the Patriotic Heroes' Battalion. They gathered in Carnegie Hall to offer McKinley a final show of support. Presiding over the meeting, as he would over the following day's parade, was former Union general Horace Porter. Offering the now familiar attack against Bryan, that the Democratic candidate "stood for revolution and anarchy," Porter noted: "We are assembled here to greet the veterans of the war--the men who went to the front in 1861 to save the Nation's life, and who are going to the polls in November to save the Nation's honor." (92)
The next day 750,000 New Yorkers marched on the streets of New York. The New York Tribune reported that "many of those who marched yesterday have known what it is to march in war under the same flag that covered the city in its folds yesterday all day long." That same day in Des Moines, Iowa, 10,000 citizens marched in celebration of the American flag, with five hundred Union veterans afforded the honor of leading the line. A local newspaper reported, "The veterans were greeted with shouts and tears along the line their progress was a moving triumph from first to last." (93) In the election of 1896, then, the symbolic use of Civil War veterans combined with the GOP's restructuring of Civil War memory to produce a bellicose patriotism based on the cult of the flag. For one historian the central question of American nationalism in the late-nineteenth century was to "what extent would militarism and claims of safeguarding the nation-state take priority over democratic demands for social equality." (94) By election day 1896, the answer to that question was clear.
In its final appeal to veterans on the day before the election, the Chicago Tribune urged: "STAND TO YOUR GUNS, OLD SOLDIERS." "Time was," the Tribune reminded soldiers, "when some of you, moved by generous impulses, voted with the Democratic Party. That occasion no longer exists. The call to the peaceful battle of the ballots is to meet an insidious foe . whose success augurs as much disaster to your country as the ravages of bloody battles could entail." The Republican party, the Tribune argued, was the "natural home and rally point of the Union soldier. Never, since the rough edge of battle joined in 1861 were loyalty and honor more justly appealed to than now." And, this editorial concluded: "Your own interest, the interest of your immediate families and friends . all demand at this crisis the decided triumph of the Republican party at the polls. You were true to the Republic in the past, comrades, you will be true to her now." (95)
McKinley, of course, won the presidency in 1896, and the key battleground states of the Midwest fell into the Republican camp, including states such as Illinois and Indiana that Cleveland had claimed in 1892. Bryan won only four out of the forty-two electoral votes at stake in this region, and in Minnesota, home of Archbishop Ireland, McKinley won by sixty thousand votes out of 340,000 cast. (96) There are no exact records illustrating which candidate the Midwest's veterans supported, but veterans' newspaper boasted of the contribution of the North's ex-soldiers in the election result. The National Tribune declared, "Never since the war were the veterans so thoroughly united . on one side of a political question." (97) There were a number of significant reasons McKinley won the watershed election of 1896: the GOP's superior financial and organizational resources, a weak and divided Democratic party, a slight recovery in the prices of agricultural goods just prior to election, and the reluctance of urban workers to gamble on the free-silver monetary policies of Bryan. Among the many factors contributing to McKinley's success, however, was the campaign of memory waged by the GOP against its Democratic opponent. By firmly linking the Republican party to the values of "stability, nationalism, business prosperity and law and order," the McKinley campaign's deployment of the memory of secession helped create the formula which, in the words of one scholar, would allow the GOP to "dominate national politics for more than thirty years." (98)
In the early 1890s the Democratic party seemed on the verge of gaining control of U.S. national politics. The Depression of 1893 halted this brief Democratic ascendancy, and the election of 1896 hammered the final nail in its coffin. The election of McKinley, in addition, essentially ended the Populist insurgency, a movement which one scholar has called "nothing less than the last significant American challenge to industrial capitalism as a system of social, economic and political power." (99) After 1896 the GOP regained its position as the "dominant voice of industrial, middle class America," and maintained effective control of national politics for a generation. (100) A central component of the victorious 1896 Republican presidential campaign strategy was the selective retrieval and mass distribution of, in Archbishop Ireland's words, public memory of the "secession of 1861." In 1896, a new generation of Republican political leadership offered the nation a restructured remembrance of the Civil War. In addition to continuing the process of disengaging the party as the guarantor of the political and civil rights of African Americans, this restructured memory solidified the party's commitment to the country's industrial-capitalist order, stigmatized political critiques of class and class inequality as unpatriotic, and intensified a bellicose conception of a nation-state united along sectional and class lines just at the moment the United States stood ready to enter as an aggressive player on the world stage.
(1.) See Xi Wang, The Trial of Democracy: Black Suffrage and Northern Republicans, 1860-1910 (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1997) Stanley P. Hirshson, Farewell to the Bloody Shirt: Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877-1893 (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2962).
(2.) New York Times, Oct. 12, 1896.
(4.) Quoted in Stanley L. Jones, The Presidential Election of 1896 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1964), 293.
(5.) Senator William E. Chandler, "Issues and Prospects of the Campaign," North American Review 163:2 (Aug. 1896): 182.
(6.) William Jennings Bryan, The First Battle: The Story of the Campaign of 1896 (Chicago: W. B. Conkey Co., 1896), 205.
(7.) Des Moines Leader, Oct. 13, 1896 Chicago Tribune, Oct. 31, 1896.
(9.) Blight, Race and Reunion, 132.
(8.) David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2001), 2 David Blight, "They Knew What Time It Was: African Americans and the Coming of the Civil War," in Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War (Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2002), 28-52 Blight, "They Knew What Time It Was," 48.
(11.) Bryan, The First Battle, 205.
(12.) Paul Kleppner, Cross of Culture: A Social Analysis of Midwestern Politics, 1850-1900 (New York: Free Press, 1970), 179-92.
(13.) See Kleppner, Cross of Culture. For a discussion of the monetary question see Gretchen Ritter, Goldbugs and Greenbacks: The Antimonopoly Tradition and the Politics of Finance in America (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997). For works on the Populist movement see Elizabeth Sanders, Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1917 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1999) The Countryside in the Age of the Modern State: Politics Histories of Rural America, eds. Catherine McNicol Stock and Robert D. Johnson (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 2001) Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment: A Short History of Agrarian Revolt in America (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978) Robert McMath, Populism: a Social History, 1877-1898 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993).
(14.) Stephen Kantrowitz, Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2000), 245, 251.
(15.) The Nation, July 16, 1896.
(16.) Kantrowitz, Ben Tillman, 251.
(17.) Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1896.
(19.) J. Rogers Hollingsworth, The Whirligig of Politics: The Democracy of Cleveland and Bryan (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1963), 87.
(20.) Bryan quoted in Malcolm Charles Moos, The Republicans: A History of Their Part), (New York: Random House, 1956), 215 Josiah Quincy, "Issues and Prospects of the Campaign," The North American Review 163 (Aug. 1896): 194.
(21.) In his excellent discussion of the election of 1896, Richard Jensen defines the McKinley campaign as a "classic counter-crusade." See his, The Winning of the Midwest." Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971), 284, 288-89.
(22.) Elizabeth Sanders estimates that the GOP raised from $4 million to $16 million for its 1896 "educational fund." See Sanders, Roots of Reform, 140.
(23.) Joseph Gilpin Pyle, The Life of James J. Hill, vol. 1 (Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1917), 496 Herbert Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work (New York: Macmillan, 1919), 219.
(24.) Croly, Macus Alonzo Hanna, 219.
(25.) Morton Keller, Affairs of State: Public Life in Late Nineteenth Century America (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1977), 583.
(26.) Run Chernow, Titan: The Life of John 12 Rockefeller, Sr. (New York: Random House, 1998), 388. For the House of Morgan contribution, see LeRoy Ashby, William Jennings Bryan, Champion of Democracy (Boston: Twayne, 1987), 67.
(27.) Thomas Beer, Hanna (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1929), 165.
(28.) Ashby, William Jennings Bryan, 68.
(29.) New York Times, July 12, 1896.
(30.) Sanders, Roots of Reform, 144.
(31.) Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1896.
(32.) Lawrence Goodwyn, Democratic Promise, the Populist Movement in America (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976), 259.
(33.) Omaha Morning World-Herald, July 5, 1892.
(34.) Chandler, "Issues and Prospects of the Campaign."
(35.) Chicago Tribune, Sept. 19, 1896.
(37.) Souix City Journal, Sept. 27, 1896.
(38.) James McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1982), 269.
(39.) Charles S. Olcott, The Life of William McKinley, vol. 1 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.. 1916), 225 New York Times, Oct. 12, 1896.
(40.) Indianapolis The Freeman, an Illustrated Colored Newspaper, Sept. 12. 1896: Olcott, The Life of William McKinley, 226.
(41.) New York Times, Oct. 24, 1896. If McKinley's reconciliationist stance was a cynical ploy designed to gain him electoral votes in the South, his hopes remained unfulfilled: in 1896 he lost the states of the ex-Confederacy to Bryan. Yet the future shows that McKinley was sincere in his desire for sectional reconciliation. Even after losing the South, McKinley continued his determined, if racially insensitive, attempt at nation re-building. During the Spanish-American War he appointed two prominent Confederate veterans, Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E. Lee's nephew, and Joseph Wheeler of Alabama, as major generals in the United States Army. Soon after the war's end he traveled throughout the South promoting "the peace treaty and America's new territorial acquisitions in the Caribbean and the Pacific." Blight, Race and Reunion, 351.
(42.) Blight, Race and Reunion, 351.
(43.) A good discussion of Bryan's attempt to create a farmer-worker coalition and why it failed is in Sanders, Roots of Reform. 139-47.
(44.) Bryan, The First Battle, 205.
(45.) Hollingsworth. The Whirligig of Politics, 87.
(46.) Harper's Weekly, July 18, 1896, 698 H.W. Brands, The Restless Decade: America in the 1890s (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995), 282.
(47.) New York Times, Oct. 13, 1896.
(48.) Harper's Weekly, Oct. 10, 1896, 995-96.
(49.) Keller, Affairs of State, 581.
(50.) Ray Ginger, Altgeld's America: The Lincoln Ideal versus Changing Reality (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1958), 156.
(51.) Brand, Reckless Decade, 153 Mary Dearing, Veterans in Politics, the Story of the G.A.R. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press. 1952), 442-43.
(52.) Bryan, The First Battle, 408.
(53.) New York Times, Nov. 1, 1896 Harper's Weekly, Sept. 26, 1896, 933.
(54.) Jones, The Presidential Election of 1896, 290. McKinley's effort with Catholics, however, much like his appeals to Southern voters, failed. Richard Jensen notes, "The Catholics stayed with the Democrats in their hour of crisis, not in the hope of seeing Bryan in the White House, but with the intention of capturing full control of the party they had worked so long to build." Jensen, The Making of the Midwest, 296.
(55.) Des Moines Leader, Oct. 13, 1896. For a description of the reaction to the Paris Commune in the United States, see Philip Katz, From Appomattox to Montmartre (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1998).
(56.) James H. Moynihan, The Life of Archbishop John Ireland (New York: Arno Press, 1976), 261.
(57.) Marvin O'Connell, John Ireland and the American Catholic Church (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1988), 426-27.
(58.) John Bodnar, "Public Memory in an American City: Commemoration in Cleveland." in Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity, ed. John R. Gillis (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1994), 75
(59.) Pyle, The Life of James J. Hill, 497 O'Connell, John Ireland and the American Catholic Church, 426.
(60.) O'Connell, John Ireland and the American Catholic Church, 426-28.
(61.) Moynihan, The Life of Archbishop John Ireland, 261.
(62.) New York Times, Oct. 13, 1896.
(63.) W. Fitzhugh Brundage, "No Deed But Memory," in Where These Memories Grow: History, Memory, and Southern Identity, ed. W. Fitzhugh Brundage (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2000), 12.
(64.) The Review of Reviews, Nov. 1896, 525.
(65.) New York Times, Oct. 7, 1896.
(66.) Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest, 23. Jensen estimates that four hundred thousand Union veterans lived in the Midwest in 1888.
(67.) New York Times, Oct. 10, 1894 quoted in Dearing, Veterans in Politics, 444.
(68.) Phillip S. Paludan, "The American Civil War Considered as a Crisis in Law and Order," The American Historical Review 77 (Oct. 1972): 1017.
(69.) Chicago Tribune, Sept. 22, 1896.
(70.) Stuart McConnell, Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1992), 212, 223.
(71.) Chicago Tribune, July 26, Oct. 9, 1896 Harper's Weekly, Oct. 10, 1896, 955.
(72.) William Evan Davies, Patriotism on Parade." The Story of Veterans' and Hereditary Organizations in America, 1783-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1955), 189.
(73.) Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest, 25 for figures on veterans' pensions see Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policies in America (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1992), 109 for veterans' institutions, see Patrick ]. Kelly, Creating a National Home: Building the Veterans' Welfare State, 1860-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1997).
(74.) McConnell, Glorious Contentment, 153 Chicago Tribune, Sept. 22, 1896.
(75.) Dearing, Veterans in Politics, 434-35, 445-46.
(76.) Ibid., 457. McKinley enjoyed a distinguished record of service. Newspapers friendly to the Republican party invariably referred to him as Major McKinley, the rank he had attained before leaving the army.
(77.) Galveston Daily News, Sept. 30, 1896.
(78.) Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1896.
(80.) Ibid., July 18, July 9, 1896.
(81.) Galveston Daily News, Sept. 6, 1896.
(82.) Pyle, The Life of James J. Hill, 496.
(83.) Letter from M. C. Helion to Russell Alger, Sept. 7, 1896, Beer Family Papers, William C. Beer Correspondence, box 56, folder 15, Sept. 1896, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn.
(84.) Chicago Tribune, Sept. 22, 1896.
(85.) Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest, 290.
(86.) W. M. Hahn to William C. Beer. Sept. 21, 1896, Beer Family Papers, box 56. folder 15. Sept. 1896: O. O. Howard, Autobiography of O. O. Howard, Major General, United States Army (New York: The Baker and Taylor Co., 1907), 569. For William Beer's involvement, see Thomas Beer, Hanna, Crane and the Mauve Decade (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1941), 66-67.
(87.) Galveston Daily News, Oct. 10, 1896 South Bend Daily Tribune, Oct. 15, 1896 Indianapolis Journal, Oct. 14, 1896 Boston Morning Journal, Oct. 28, 1896.
(88.) W.C. Hahn to William C. Beer, Oct. z, 1896, Beer Family Papers, box 57, folder 16.
(89.) Howard. Autobiography of O. O. Howard, 569.
(90.) Goodwyn, Democratic Promise, 528 Cecilia Elizabeth O'Leary, To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1999), 5.
(91.) O'Leary, To Die For, 150-52. For a discussion of the GAR's creation of a national "flag day," usually on June 14, see Dearing, Veterans in Politics, 408.
(92.) New York Times, Oct. 31, 1896.
(93.) Jones, The Presidential Election of 1896, 292 Des Moines Leader, Oct. 31, 1896.
(95.) Chicago Tribune, Nov. 3, 1896.
(96.) O'Connell, John Ireland, 426.
(97.) Dearing, Veterans in Politics, 466.
(98.) For analysis of election results, see Sanders, Roots of Reform, 145-47 Ashby, William Jennings Bryan, 69.
(99.) Walter Dean Burnham, "The System of 1896: An Analysis," in Paul Kleppner et al., eds., The Evolution of American Electoral System (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981), 147-202.
(100.) Morton Keller, Affairs of State, 586.
PATRICK KELLY is the author of Creating a National Home: Building the Veterans' Welfare State, 1860-1900 (1997). He teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is working on a project that examines the network of trade between the Confederate Trans-Mississippi and Mexico during the American Civil War.
Explaining the Urban-Rural Political Divide
Our geographic divides are central to contemporary politics, including the election of Donald Trump. Election maps show dense liberal cities in a sea of sparsely-populated Red, advantaging Republicans in our geographic electoral system. Why are Democrats concentrating in cities?
Jonathan Rodden finds increasingly concentrated left parties around the world, disadvantaging liberal cities. It started with unionized industrial railroad hubs but accelerated with the changing cultural values of the party’s new coalitions. Will Wilkinson finds urban and rural areas are becoming economically and psychologically distinct, with cities concentrating those open to new experience and working in the technology-driven economy and rural areas retaining those averse to social and economic change.
Interviews: Jonathan Rodden, Stanford University Will Wilkinson, Niskanen Center
Rural Voters and the Polarization of American Presidential Elections
In political science, urban politics is a well-established subfield. And more recently, suburban political behavior has received a fair amount of attention (Gainsborough 2001 2005 McKee and Shaw 2003 Oliver 2001). But with a few exceptions (see Francia and Baumgartner 2005–2006 Gimpel and Karnes 2006), the political behavior of rural residents has been conspicuously absent thus far in a growing literature on the political role of place. This is quite surprising given the clamoring in the popular press about “red states” versus “blue states” in the most recent presidential contests. All of the post-presidential election maps that highlight red Republican counties and blue Democratic counties display a sea of red covering the vast swaths of rural, middle America. The ocean of Republican red is enough to make one ask: What's the Matter with Kansas? (Frank 2004)—one of those thinly populated plains states with hardly a glimmer of blue on a county-level map of the 2004 presidential election.
How the Rural-Urban Divide Became America’s Political Fault Line
Such a conflict isn’t unique to the U.S., but the consequences are far-reaching here.
More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald J. Trump, but more Americans live in a neighborhood won by Mr. Trump.
More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald J. Trump, but more Americans live in a neighborhood won by Mr. Trump.
Share of voters who live in a precinct that is .
Source: 2016 precinct data from Ryne Rohla
It’s true across many industrialized democracies that rural areas lean conservative while cities tend to be more liberal, a pattern partly rooted in the history of workers’ parties that grew up where urban factories did.
But urban-rural polarization has become particularly acute in America: particularly entrenched, particularly hostile, particularly lopsided in its consequences. Urban voters, and the party that has come to represent them, now routinely lose elections and power even when they win more votes.
Democrats have blamed the Senate, the Electoral College and gerrymandering for their disadvantage. But the problem runs deeper, according to Jonathan Rodden, a Stanford political scientist: The American form of government is uniquely structured to exacerbate the urban-rural divide — and to translate it into enduring bias against the Democratic voters, clustered at the left of the accompanying chart.
Yes, the Senate gives rural areas (and small states) disproportionate strength. “That’s an obvious problem for Democrats,” Mr. Rodden said. “This other problem is a lot less obvious.”
In a new book, “Why Cities Lose,” he describes the problem as endemic, affecting Congress but also state legislatures red states but blue ones, too. As the Democratic Party is tugged between its progressive and moderate wings heading into the next election, Mr. Rodden’s analysis also suggests that if Democrats move too far to the left, geography will punish them.
In the United States, where a party’s voters live matters immensely. That’s because most representatives are elected from single-member districts where the candidate with the most votes wins, as opposed to a system of proportional representation, as some democracies have.
Democrats tend to be concentrated in cities and Republicans to be more spread out across suburbs and rural areas. The distribution of all of the precincts in the 2016 election shows that while many tilt heavily Democratic, fewer lean as far in the other direction.
As a result, Democrats have overwhelming power to elect representatives in a relatively small number of districts — whether for state house seats, the State Senate or Congress — while Republicans have at least enough power to elect representatives in a larger number of districts.
Republicans, in short, are more efficiently distributed in a system that rewards spreading voters across space.
This helps explain why Republicans have controlled the Pennsylvania State Senate for nearly four decades, despite losing statewide votes about half that time. It explains why Republicans are routinely overrepresented in state legislatures, even in blue states like New York. It explains why Hillary Clinton carried only three of eight congressional districts in Minnesota — districts drawn by a panel of judges — even as she won the whole state.
In most European democracies, geography doesn’t matter in the same way. Legislators are elected from larger districts, each with multiple representatives, granting parties proportional power. If a party wins 50 percent of the votes, it doesn’t matter much if those votes are evenly spread around or tightly clustered.
Britain, Australia and Canada, unlike much of Europe, have the same majoritarian system the United States does, and urban-rural divides appear there, too. Underrepresentation of the left, Mr. Rodden argues, is a feature of any democracy that draws winner-take-all districts atop a map where the left is concentrated in cities.
In the United States, two features make this polarization even more powerful. Gerrymandering, a particularly American practice, allows Republicans to amplify their advantages in the political map. Democrats gerrymander, too, but often the most they can achieve is to neutralize their underlying disadvantage.
The U.S. also has an inflexible two-party system. That results in our political disagreements being drawn into the urban-rural divide. Today the urban party is also the party of gay marriage and gun control. The more rural party is also the party of stricter immigration and abortion restrictions.
We keep adding more reasons to double down on geography as our central fault line, and to view our policy disagreements as conflicts between fundamentally different ways of living.
Recent history has obscured the consequences of all this for the Democratic Party, which controlled the House for nearly all of the postwar period leading up to the Gingrich Revolution in 1994. Democrats were able to do that — and to retake the House in 2018 — by winning seats on what resembled Republican territory. Democrats need moderate “blue dogs,” Mr. Rodden argues, to overcome their geographic disadvantage.
Historically, split-ticket voting has been asymmetrical. Many districts that voted Republican in presidential elections supported moderate Democrats for Congress that year or in the following midterm. But the reverse has been more rare. Republicans have seldom picked off congressional districts that voted for the Democrat for president.
“They’ve not as a matter of survival needed to do that,” Mr. Rodden said. “Democrats need to do it even in a good year.”
In the wave election in 2018, Democrats eked out precisely such districts, many in suburbs that had long voted Republican, with candidates who were avowedly moderate.
However, split-ticket voting has become far less common, as the parties have more clearly staked out their differences, and as local elections have become nationalized. Both trends make it harder for individual Democratic candidates to separate themselves from the national party — to stand for both low taxes and abortion rights, say, or the Affordable Care Act and the Second Amendment.
Three red-state Democratic senators, Heidi Heitkamp, Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly, lost in 2018 in such an environment.
“You have this great strategy available to you as a Republican: Just talk about A.O.C. all the time,” Mr. Rodden said, referring to the progressive representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Talk about Nancy Pelosi. They say, ‘This is what it means to have a ‘D’ next to your name, you’re signing up for that team.’ That makes it so hard to be a suburban Salt Lake City, suburban Oklahoma City Democrat.”
The median congressional district in America looks ideologically more Republican, Mr. Rodden finds (the median precinct in the chart also voted slightly Republican). And so Democrats have to find a way to win in those places, even as the progressive wing of the party is ascendant and lobbying for control of the party’s message.
If Democrats hold on to some suburbs they recently flipped — a possibility as suburbia diversifies and as college-educated whites move toward the Democrats — Republicans could one day be as concentrated in rural areas as Democrats have been in cities.
In that situation, one where Republicans pack their votes more tightly in rural America and the median suburban district becomes slightly Democratic, the urban party might actually start to benefit from geographic polarization. But there will still always be the Senate.
The Great Partisan Divide Is Good for America
American democracy is healthier than ever, and partisanship is the reason.
Every four years the country’s political elite gets all worked up over politics—and hardly anyone else notices. In the midterm election years, that is. The midterms often feel more like a charity walk-a-thon than a Usain Bolt sprint sometimes it seems like no one is really “running” at all. The candidates’ names may change, but their policies remain the same. Sometimes even the names don’t change for decades on end.
This year is different. If you love Brett Kavanaugh, big coal, American manufacturing, tax cuts, and the stock market, vote Republican this November 6. If you hate Brett Kavanaugh, but love the Paris climate accord, peace with Iran, and big government—and want to see Donald Trump impeached—vote Democrat. Midterm voting hasn’t been this easy in decades.
A healthy democracy requires clear choices like these. Political pundits spend hours each day parsing candidates’ voting records, but ordinary voters don’t. Political pundits love to see the two major parties cooperating to pass major legislation, then going out to the same Washington bars to celebrate together. But for ordinary voters, that makes all politicians look pretty much the same. And if they’re all the same, why bother voting at all?
And for several decades, they all did pretty much look the same. There was an elite consensus in Washington that took issue after issue off the table and out of politics. Call it bipartisanship if you want, or call it conspiracy. Either way, for years the American people had little choice over key issues like free trade, bank bailouts, and the federalization of K-12 education. Democrats and Republicans came and went, but the elite agenda just kept moving forward. The return of partisanship threatens all that—and it’s about time, too.
Reasons to Vote
As American politics have slowly become more partisan, American voters have started to return to the polls. Voter turnout in was consistently high in the 1950s and 1960s as the country grappled with desegregation, civil rights, the Great Society, and the war in Vietnam. Back then, Presidential elections really did have consequences. No 1950s Democrat would have sent the 101st Airborne to integrate Arkansas schools, and no 1960s Republican would have given us Medicare.
Presidential elections mattered much less in the seventies, eighties and nineties. Pierce through the hazy feel-good (or feel-bad) memories of times gone by, and you’ll find that Richard Nixon gave us the Environmental Protection Agency, Jimmy Carter ordered the Army into Iran (it’s not his fault that their helicopters crashed), and Ronald Reagan of all people presided over one of the biggest expansions in the federal government in history. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton together gave us NAFTA and the WTO.
Amidst all this bipartisanship, voting in Presidential elections bottomed out. The only spark in Presidential voter turnout between 1972 and 2004 was the 1992 election contested by the independent Ross Perot. Since the return of partisanship in the 2000s, voter turnout in Presidential elections has climbed back to its postwar average of around 55 percent. That's because as elections have become more partisan, they have become more important. The Trump factor all but assures that voter turnout will soar to a new high in 2020.
Turnout in midterm Congressional elections, by contrast, never bounced back. In fact, it hit a new postwar low in 2014. The reason is simple: gerrymandering. Instead of fighting things out at the polls, the Democrats and (especially) the Republicans prefer to crack and pack the electorate into highly artificial “districts” that provide them with safe, noncompetitive seats. These days, when it comes to congressional elections, the voters don’t choose their representatives. The representatives choose their voters.
Bring on the Breitbart
Perhaps the biggest single factor behind the rise of partisanship in the 2000s was the birth of Fox News. Launched just before the 1996 elections, Fox News has been the dominant cable news channel in America since 2002. Its obvious partisan tilt has freed other news outlets, like MSNBC on cable to the New York Times in print, to become more openly partisan as well. The idea that the news should be “fair and balanced,” so dear to political scientists and media scholars, is now so old hat that it has even been abandoned by Fox News itself.
If you worry that television and newspapers have become too biased, don’t even look at the internet. Everyone knows how Breitbart’s Steve Bannon went to bat for Donald Trump. But on the other side of the partisan divide, fifty-seven out of fifty-nine major American newspapers endorsed Hillary Clinton, to say nothing of all the progressive websites that relentlessly promoted Bernie Sanders. It’s like a return to the 1890s, when the likes of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were battling it out for readers with hyper-partisan yellow journalism
Incidentally, voter turnout in the election of 1896 was 79.3 percent, a figure never again reached in U.S. election history. The election pitted the fiery progressive Democrat William Jennings Bryan against the arch-conservative Republican William McKinley. Everyone knew where the candidates stood on the big issues of the day, and they got what they voted for: McKinley, protective tariffs, and the gold standard.
Academics are still debating whether or not those were the right choices. But that they were popular choices was proved in 1900, when McKinley beat Bryan again, this time by an even wider margin. Democracy requires choices, and back then the two major parties offered real choices to the American electorate. Today’s return of partisanship means the return of choices. Whoever the Democrats put forward in 2020, one thing is clear: Trump will give the voters a clear choice. And that’s just what democracy needs.
Americans have had such political disputes stretching back to the nation’s founding. Thomas Jefferson, who envisioned the United States as an agrarian democracy, warned that, “when [people] get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.” The electoral college, which allowed Trump to win the presidency despite a sizeable loss of the popular vote, was established partly to prevent populous states from gaining too much power.
In the early 20th century, anti-urban backlash targeted crime and unhealthy living conditions as cities ballooned into overcrowded manufacturing hubs. That sentiment took on an anti-government flavour following the failure of misguided urban renewal policies, and then a racist tinge once many white Americans fled to the suburbs. Urban political corruption and financial mismanagement have only deepened tensions.
“Taken together, anti-urbanism adds up to an unwillingness to acknowledge the urban and metropolitan nature of American society and the refusal to embrace the essentially collective, rather than individual, nature of urban life,” writes historian Steven Conn, author of Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century.
But Brookings’ Berube sees cause for optimism in bridging the urban-rural divide in specific locations. “The states where there is more progress and potential,” he says, “are those where the pie is growing and people see that their communities are positioned OK, and don’t see themselves in a pitched battle for every last employment opportunity and investment dollar.”
One example might be found in the Sun Belt, where Austin’s long record of voting Democrat makes it a blue dot within Texas’s sea of red. The state capital’s unofficial motto, “Keep Austin Weird”, was coined nearly two decades ago as an impromptu ode to local funkiness in the face of breakneck economic growth.
Anti-Trump demonstrators gather in Austin, Texas. Photograph: Tamir Kalifa/AP
Since then, the university town and live music mecca has emerged as one of 21st-century America’s tech centres. And its liberal social culture, which is rare in the overwhelmingly conservative Lone Star State, has remained a selling point as multinational giants such as Google set up shop, highly educated millennials flood in, and new high-rises spring up. The influx of young professionals has added a generational dimension to the differences between city and state, though it doesn’t necessarily follow the usual party lines.
“That push-pull happens every legislative session, and it’s something that everybody has come to expect,” says Austin mayor Steve Adler, speaking generally of the Republican-controlled state government. “In those instances, Austin tries to first reinforce the liberty argument, which is to say the city government is the level of government that is closest to the people … Our economics and our people are a little bit different – though not necessarily better – than other cities.”
But the ascendent Austin, which is home to the seat of state government, may have more political clout than some of its urban counterparts across the country. In Michigan, ancestral home of the American labour movement, state Democrats have lost much of their power to dictate the state policy agenda – and it’s unlikely the balance of power will shift any time soon. States draw their own federal and state political maps after each decennial census, many of them putting governing parties in control. It’s no surprise, then, that new boundaries in Michigan and other states tilt the odds in the governing parties’ favour.
This has come at a pivotal time for Michigan’s largest city, Detroit. In 2013, residents watched as the state installed an emergency financial manager to bring the city back from the brink of financial collapse. The official guided Motown through bankruptcy, though his appointment arguably disenfranchised local voters from having a say in government.
‘Largely black residential neighbourhoods still suffer from the long-term effects of Detroit’s urban crisis.’ Photograph: Barry Lewis/Corbis via Getty Images
Such moves carry an ugly connotation. In Detroit, as with so many other American cities, racism cannot be dissociated from politics and development. Black workers were barred from enjoying the full fruits of Detroit’s manufacturing heyday, while black prospective homebuyers were prevented from pursuing the American dream of single family home-ownership. White flight wrought demographic devastation, with the city’s population falling from about 1.9 million in 1950 to 700,000 today.
Even now, largely black residential neighbourhoods still suffer the long-term effects of this urban crisis, despite the nascent resurgence of downtown Detroit. And to Jonathan Kinloch, a businessman and activist, the election made clear that many Americans haven’t even begun to grapple with that history.
“This was a test here in Michigan, in many black people’s opinions, of how far we’ve come,” Kinloch says. “The message that black people heard coming from Donald Trump, and what suburban and rural white folks heard, were two different messages. This set race relations back a long way.”
A Historian Reflects on the Rural-Urban Divide and Election '08
Mr. Herman is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Central Washington University. He is currently a research fellow at the Clements Center at SMU.
Yes, I admitted to my wife, history isn't as fun to read as John's book, which talks about his experiences on the road back in 1981, when he was going across the country with his own artist wife (my wife is also an artist) and drinking beer with the cranky, trash-talking, imaginative people he met on the way. Yes, I told my wife, a lot of what we historians write is tedious. Sometimes we offer a good narrative but we're not so interested in the sequence of events as in the interpretation of events. We shy away from popular histories that chronicle great men or women, or wars, or triumphs against the odds, not to mention cranky, trash-talking imaginative people who we meet on the road. We leave that stuff to journalists and beat writers like our neighbor, John. Once in awhile, however, the tedium of interpreting events becomes fascinating.
When she asked me to name one such occasion--when tedium became fascination--I was quick with an answer. We were driving through rural country-eastern Colorado, which called to mind Hal Barron's Mixed Harvest: The Second Great Transformation in the North, 1870-1930, a superb book on the origins of the rural-urban divide in U.S. history. In fairness, I should mention that I had the privilege of taking a course from Barron in my college days, but that is not why I liked the book.
In Mixed Harvest, Barron examined people historians usually ignore: ruralites. In particular, he examined the way rural people reacted to progressive reform efforts that emanated from cities. As one urban progressive argued in 1913, the "challenge" of the nation was to "teach [residents of] the country . . . the social efficiency of urban life." Barron found, however, that in the upper Midwest and North, rural people opposed reforms proposed by urbanites. Country people refused to pave roads, send ministers to seminaries, and replace one-room schools with modern "consolidated" schools. They refused not because they couldn't afford improvements--or not only because of that--but because they resented being told that they were inferior and behind the times.
By the 1920s, Barron found, rural Northerners (as well as Southerners) were tuning their radios to country music stations and, in general, defining their way of life as different from and better than that of urbanites. The idea of rural virtue was not new. Jefferson himself proclaimed that American farmers were better citizens than European factory workers and the industrialists who employed them. But there was no separate "rural culture" in the U.S. until the late nineteenth century. Rural culture could only come into existence in opposition to urban culture, and urban culture could only come into existence when city folk, having reached a critical mass, began to view themselves as different and superior to their rural cousins.
Barron's insights into the origins and nature of the rural-urban divide give new meaning to American social and political history. Even today--perhaps more so than a century ago--the U.S. is not merely split between white and non-white, male and female, or poor and rich it is split between people in cities and those outside them. In the 2000 and 2004 elections, the divide between red state and blue state was, demographically speaking, a divide between rural and urban. In red states, urbanites tended to vote blue, whereas in blue states, ruralites tended to vote red.
Evidence of that divide appears everywhere. Not too many months before our move to Texas, my wife and I were sitting in a café in rural Washington state when a man at the next table reported loudly that, while on the freeway, he had sped up his monster truck in order to pass some "tree-hugging hippy f***s" in a hybrid vehicle, spewing his diesel exhaust to taunt them. At another table in another local restaurant, we overhead a knot of old men--veterans--condemning John Kerry for treason. When I hear such things, they make me mad but they also make me reflect on the rural-urban divide. When I was a graduate student in Berkeley, California, I heard the same sort of animus, though it was directed at "middle America" rather than environmentalists and liberals.
One of my graduate school professors argued that "cultures form in opposition to one another." Though that's an oversimplification, there is truth to it. We--whether we are urban or rural, blue or red--participate in the creation of our enemies. Political opinions, those of conservatives and liberals alike, are the opinions of people riven by jealousies and resentments that they themselves don't understand fully, or only dimly understand. Being what we are, social animals, we define ourselves in relation to groups, and groups define themselves in relation to other groups.
Those observations became ever more acute to my wife and me as we drove endlessly through the heartland. When we hit Wichita, the ratio of steeples to people increased exponentially. By the time we got to Oklahoma, in the wee hours of the morning, we were making jokes about every church we saw. We were slap-happy, road-weary, giddy. We were also in enemy territory. Both of us consider ourselves to be vaguely Christian but we're not THAT kind of Christian! We're tolerant and easy they're authoritarian and spiteful. We like the sort of Biblical history written by John Dominick Crossan they prefer Biblical history by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson we think women should be in the clergy they think women should keep silent in church.
I am not condemning myself or my wife for feeling estranged and critical as we passed through the red miles of the heartland. The problem comes, however, when people of our ilk, urban, educated types, engage in that sort of behavior en masse, often without being aware of it. Sometimes we communicate slights to rural people intentionally but mostly we communicate slights through our demeanor, our speech (in acts as innocuous as using good English), our choice of automobile, our politics. We don't intend to act superior but we do it anyway, and rural people do the same to us. In the process, both sides do their ideals and values a disservice.
And in fact--I insisted to my wife and to the frightened cat that traveled with us, buried in some dark nook amid the tumble of luggage in the backseat--we rural and urban people, blue and red people, share ideals. Both sides believe in human rights, though there is an enormous difference in emphasis. We urban liberals may not like the fact that rural Christians define human life to include zygotes but, as Nicholas Kristof of the NYT keeps telling us, we should not disparage their efforts. Yes, they want to convert people, but they are also putting enormous amounts of money and manpower into helping the developing world, and they have often taken the lead in "progressive" causes like fighting genocide in Darfur.
If we learn anything from Mike Huckabee's campaign success, moreover, it is that the Christian right--the rural right--is not really all that far to the right except on issues like abortion or immigration. They, like liberals, often want to help the poor, even if that means taxing the rich. They are not necessarily opposed to a national health care plan. Nor are they necessarily in favor of capital punishment. Why then do rural people tend to appear on the right and urban people on the left? What separates us?
That question is one of the great riddles of American political history, and it helped make the case to my wife that academic history isn't invariably boring and pointless.
One of the most interesting things that history can help us understand, for example, is the instability of the rural-urban divide. As Barron tells us, ruralites and urbanites have had no use for one another since at least the turn of the last century but they don't necessarily coalesce around timeless left-right oppositions. A hundred years ago, I pointed out to my wife, much of the heartland was not red but bright blue whereas much of urban America was not blue but bright red. One might go so far as to say that the modern Democratic Party that attracts so many urbanites was born in a manger, whereas the modern Republican Party that attracts so many ruralites was born in the caverns of Wall Street. In the late nineteenth century, rural folks in the Midwest, West, and South tended to vote Democratic or Populist whereas urbanites, both wealthy businessmen and middle-class reformers, voted Republican. Only in the past few decades have ruralites swung decidedly to the right, though one might argue that urbanites began their swing to the left as early as the 1930s. Why has that great switcheroo occurred?
I glanced at my wife she was still listening. The cat had come out of hiding briefly to sit on a lap she too was listening. I was on a roll, I thought to myself. To understand why ruralites moved to the right, I continued, we have to understand why they once gravitated to the left. We have to understand, in other words, the problems faced by farmers after the Civil War. That is something that only historians can tell us, I assured my wife. Though the nation prospered between 1865 and 1900, farmers did not. They received low prices for crops due to overproduction and they paid high rates to railroads that shipped their goods. To address their problems, farmers lobbied legislatures to regulate freight rates set production quotas pooled capital to buy farm machinery wholesale and started their own banks. When those tactics fell short, farmers created the People's Party, or "Populist Party," which appeared in 1889.
As we U.S. historians well know, Populists were socialists. They demanded that the government nationalize railroads and abolish banks. They also promoted the direct election of senators, a progressive income tax, the introduction of initiative, referendum, and recall, and the 8-hour day. And they aimed their rancor at Wall Street and city people: investors, industrialists, bankers, lawyers, even small-town merchants, all of whom were identified with the Republican Party, and none of whom were "producers." City people--Republicans--it seemed, were tricksters, gamblers, and people of lax morality. If you don't believe me, read Hal Barron, or Richard Hofstadter, or John Hicks, or any of the newer works on Populism.
In 1892, the Populist Party reached its apogee, electing nearly four dozen congressmen, half a dozen senators, and four governors. Four years later, the Populists elected a governor in Washington and nominated a fundamentalist Christian, William Jennings Bryan, for president. His candidacy was perhaps the most anti-urban in U.S. history. "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor a crown of thorns you shall not crucify mankind on this cross of gold," inveighed Bryan, as he attacked the gold standard and the urban plutocrats who supported it.
How come is it, then, that ruralites moved so dramatically-or at least seemed to move so dramatically-to the right in later decades?
Here's what history can tell us, I informed my wife, and here's why history isn't boring. During the New Deal, Democrats took the nation off the gold standard, built massive irrigation and hydroelectric power projects, and championed subsidies for ailing farmers. Though subsidy programs have changed over the decades they have not diminished. In 1999, eight western states received agricultural subsidies that equaled 100% of their net farm income. Too, the GI Bill lifted thousands, maybe millions, of impoverished farmers (or their children) into the middle class. Eisenhower's interstate highway system meanwhile made it cheaper to transport goods.
With help from the government, farmers in much of the country, especially big farmers, have done well since the 1930s, despite occasional recessions. Farmers and the communities they support have thus enjoyed the luxury to focus on moral rather than economic issues, a luxury that Populists lacked (I think Richard Hofstadter and the consensus historians would agree with me on this point). Urbanites, at least those not trapped in ghettoes, have also enjoyed prosperity, which has similarly tilted their interests away from economic issues and toward moral issues like birth control, civil rights, gay rights, gun control, and peace. Prosperity, far from fostering solidarity, has helped create a politics of morality with urbanites on the left and ruralites on the right. Gerrymandering, moreover, has established lopsided congressional districts that favor partisan zealots over moderates. Result: intransigence, friction, and politicians who govern for their base, with ruralites on the right and urbanites on the left.
My wife was silent. "Well, what do you think?" I asked. More silence. She is thinking of enrolling in a history Ph.D. program the moment we get to Texas, I thought. Then the reply. "So the last time this country's ruralites saw eye-to-eye with urbanites was during the Great Depression and basically nothing short of another depression can bring us together again. Nothing changes unless there's a disaster. That's not a very exciting message." How my brilliant wife could be so recalcitrant, so pessimistic, so eager to dissolve the mystery of time in the damning accusation of teleology and materialism?
No, damn it! History doesn't run on tracks. It's not a train, whatever Howard Zinn thinks. History is mystery! People move in strange directions. People decide on their fates. I mean, consider the past seven years, since we supposedly elected GWB, he has made the urban-rural divide worse than it's ever been. He's a divider not a uniter. He's an exacerbater. Every time he speaks he sounds like he's a moralistic father lecturing teenage children. Pols on the left--Hillary Clinton is occasionally guilty of this--can be equally tendentious. I happen to agree with her politics, and even with some of the policies of John McCain, but the only people in the race who don't come across as superior and didactic are Barack Obama. Barack can change history! He can bring rural and urban back together!
Preaching, I was preaching, I was just like a Baptist minister, giving a call and expecting a response . and . my wife is not a demonstrative sort. She is meditative. She's an artist. This was no epiphany. She understood it all before I said it. We went back to making fun of steeples and reading aloud from our neighbor's book, and the cat moved back into the dark tunnels between suitcases, cynical, still afraid.
6 charts that illustrate the divide between rural and urban America
Editor’s note: We’ve all heard of the great divide between life in rural and urban America. But what are the factors that contribute to these differences? We asked sociologists, economists, geographers and historians to describe the divide from different angles. The data paint a richer and sometimes surprising picture of the U.S. today.
1. Poverty is higher in rural areas
Discussions of poverty in the United States often mistakenly focus on urban areas. While urban poverty is a unique challenge, rates of poverty have historically been higher in rural than urban areas. In fact, levels of rural poverty were often double those in urban areas throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
While these rural-urban gaps have diminished markedly, substantial differences persist. In 2015, 16.7 percent of the rural population was poor, compared with 13.0 percent of the urban population overall – and 10.8 percent among those living in suburban areas outside of principal cities.
Contrary to common assumptions, substantial shares of the poor are employed. Approximately 45 percent of poor, prime-age (25-54) householders worked at least part of 2015 in rural and urban areas alike.
The link between work and poverty was different in the past. In the early 1980s, the share of the rural poor that was employed exceeded that in urban areas by more than 15 percent. Since then, more and more poor people in rural areas are also unemployed – a trend consistent with other patterns documented below.
That said, rural workers continue to benefit less from work than their urban counterparts. In 2015, 9.8 percent of rural, prime-age working householders were poor, compared with 6.8 percent of their urban counterparts. Nearly a third of the rural working poor faced extreme levels of deprivation, with family incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line, or approximately US$12,000 for a family of four.
Large shares of the rural workforce also live in economically precarious circumstances just above the poverty line. Nearly one in five rural working householders lived in families with incomes less than 150 percent of the poverty line. That’s nearly five percentage points more than among urban workers (13.5 percent).
According to recent research, rural-urban gaps in working poverty cannot be explained by rural workers’ levels of education, industry of employment or other similar factors that might affect earnings. Rural poverty – at least among workers – cannot be fully explained by the characteristics of the rural population. That means reducing rural poverty will require attention to the structure of rural economies and communities.
– Brian Thiede, Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University
2. Most new jobs aren’t in rural areas
It’s easy to see why many rural Americans believe the recession never ended: For them, it hasn’t.
Rural communities still haven’t recovered the jobs they lost in the recession. Census data show that the rural job market is smaller now – 4.26 percent smaller, to be exact – than it was in 2008. In these data are shuttered coal mines on the edges of rural towns and boarded-up gas stations on rural main streets. In these data are the angers, fears and frustrations of much of rural America.
This isn’t a new trend. Mechanization, environmental regulations and increased global competition have been slowly whittling away at resource extraction economies and driving jobs from rural communities for most of the 20th century. But the fact that what they’re experiencing now is simply the cold consequences of history likely brings little comfort to rural people. If anything, it only adds to their fear that what they once had is gone and it’s never coming back.
Nor is it likely that the slight increase in rural jobs since 2013 brings much comfort. As the resource extraction economy continues to shrink, most of the new jobs in rural areas are being created in the service sector. So Appalachian coal miners and Northwest loggers are now stocking shelves at the local Walmart.
The identity of rural communities used to be rooted in work. The signs at the entrances of their towns welcomed visitors to coal country or timber country. Towns named their high school mascots after the work that sustained them, like the Jordan Beetpickers in Utah or the Camas Papermakers in Washington. It used to be that, when someone first arrived at these towns, they knew what people did and that they were proud to do it.
That’s not so clear anymore. How do you communicate your communal identity when the work once at the center of that identity is gone, and calling the local high school football team the “Walmart Greeters” simply doesn’t have the same ring to it?
Looking at rural jobs data, is it so hard to understand why many rural people are nostalgic for the past and fearful for the future?
– Steven Beda, Instructor of History, University of Oregon
3. Disabilities are more common in rural areas
Disability matters in rural America. Data from the American Community Survey, an annual government poll, reveal that disability is more prevalent in rural counties than their urban counterparts.
The rate of disability increases from 11.8 percent in the most urban metropolitan counties to 15.6 percent in smaller micropolitan areas and 17.7 percent in the most rural, or noncore, counties.
While rural-urban differences in disability have been analyzed previously, researchers have had little opportunity to further explore this disparity, as updated data on rural disability were unavailable until recently. Fortunately, the census released updated new county-level disability estimates in 2014, ending a 14-year knowledge gap.
The release of these estimates has also allowed us to build a picture of geographic variations in disability across the nation. Disability rates vary significantly across the U.S. Although the national trend of higher disability rates in rural counties persists at the regional and even divisional level, it is clear that disability in rural America is not homogeneous. Rates of rural disability range from around 15 percent in the Great Plains to 21 percent in the central South.
Data reveal notable differences between rural and urban America. Source: American Community Survey (ACS) 2011-2015 5 year estimates, Table S1810, CC BY. Image courtesy of The Conversation
A variety of factors may be behind these regional and rural differences, including differences in demographics, economic patterns, health and service access and state disability policies.
While this survey provides a glimpse into the national prevalence of disability and reveals a persistent rural-urban disparity, it is important to note its limitations. Disability is the result of an interaction between an individual and his or her environment. Therefore, these data do not directly measure disability, as they measure only physical function and do not consider environmental factors such as inaccessible housing.
– Lillie Greiman and Andrew Myers, Project Directors at the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana Christiane von Reichert, Professor of Geography, University of Montana
4. Rural areas are surprisingly entrepreneurial
The United States’ continuing economic dominance is perhaps most attributable to the very smallest elements of its economy: its entrepreneurial start-ups. Nearly 700,000 new job-creating businesses open each year. That’s almost 2,000 every day, each helping to create new market niches in the global economy.
Most people mistakenly believe these pioneering establishments occur in overwhelmingly in metropolitan areas, such as in the now-mythic start-up culture of Silicon Valley.
Yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is in fact nonmetropolitan counties that have higher rates of self-employed business proprietors than their metropolitan counterparts.
Furthermore, the more rural the county, the higher its level of entrepreneurship. Some of these counties have a farming legacy – perhaps the most entrepreneurial of occupations – but farmers represent less than one-sixth of business owners in nonmetro areas. Even for nonfarm enterprises, rural entrepreneurship rates are higher.
The reality is that rural areas have to be entrepreneurial, as industries with concentrations of wage and salary jobs are necessarily scarce.
Start-up businesses have notoriously difficult survival prospects. So it is perhaps even more surprising that relatively isolated nonmetropolitan businesses are on average more resilient than their metro cousins, despite the considerable economic advantages of urban areas, which boast a denser networks of workers, suppliers and markets. The resilience of rural start-ups is perhaps due to more cautious business practices in areas with few alternative employment options.
This resilience is also remarkably persistent over time, consistently being at least on par with metro start-ups, and regularly having survival rates up to 10 percentage points higher than in metro areas over 1990-2007.
– Stephan Weiler, Professor of Economics, Colorado State University Tessa Conroy and Steve Deller, Professors of Economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Left: A corn field is seen in DeWitt, Iowa, on July 12, 2012. Photo by Adrees Latif/Files/Reuters
What Happens If The Election Was A Fraud? The Constitution Doesn’t Say.
For all the headlines about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, no hard evidence has come to light, at least publicly, showing that President Trump or his team were involved. But suppose that such evidence did come to light &mdash what would happen if it became clear that Trump or his advisers colluded with the Russians? 1 This isn&rsquot the only type of wrongdoing the investigations could uncover, but it&rsquos among the most serious because it would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2016 result. So, is there a process for dealing with a finding that in essence invalidates an election?
When it comes to presidential elections, the answer is: not really. The laws and processes around national elections have grown up in a piecemeal fashion over time, with state and local laws governing the administration of presidential elections. And the Constitution itself focuses more on ensuring stability than on administering elections. As a result, there aren&rsquot clear procedures for how to handle questions of legitimacy after the fact &mdash especially when those questions involve the presidency.
Breaking this down requires taking a step back to think about the origins of the Constitution and the problems it was designed to solve. First off, the American presidency is kind of a strange office. It combines the duties of a head of state with duties of a head of government. (Many countries divide those duties &mdash for example, by having both a president and a prime minister.) The Constitution gives the president the power to lead the executive branch &mdash the responsibility to &ldquotake care&rdquo that the laws are faithfully executed &mdash and places that person in charge of the military (although Congress retains the power to declare war).
After some rocky years under the Articles of Confederation, many (though not all) political leaders were ready to make tradeoffs, allowing a more powerful central government that could ensure stability. That was one of the reasons for having a national executive under the new system &mdash the Articles of Confederation didn&rsquot have a president, which made it harder to enforce laws, deal with rebellions and forge national policy out of the demands of different states. There were a lot of considerations when figuring out how to select the right person for that new role, however. The substantial power of the office meant that the president needed to be a person of competence and character to be independent from Congress and to be able to represent the nation and not just a few states or population centers. Selecting such a person through a direct election was out of the question it was difficult for many of the founders even to imagine a national election, or that attempting one would achieve the intended goals. Furthermore, disputed elections are, by definition, destabilizing, so the Constitution is designed to maximize the chances of a conclusive outcome, particularly for the nation&rsquos most powerful office, the presidency.
The framers gave the Electoral College broad discretion to resolve disputes as it saw fit: The text of the Constitution pretty much says an election is legitimate when the Electoral College says it is. It doesn&rsquot lay out a process for do-overs. Occasionally, courts have ordered new elections for offices other than the presidency after a proven case of fraud or error. (Or gerrymandering &mdash a court in North Carolina ordered new state legislative elections, though this order has been put on hold.) And a Senate election was once redone in New Hampshire because it was too close to determine even with multiple recounts.
But whether this kind of re-do is allowed for presidential elections is a more complicated matter. Some legal scholars maintain that the language in Article II of the Constitution prevents holding a presidential election again, thus putting it beyond the power of the courts to order a re-vote, as they have occasionally done for other offices. Others suggest that there is legal precedent for a presidential re-vote if there were flaws in the process. One instance in which this question arose was the &ldquobutterfly ballot&rdquo from the 2000 election, which may have caused some voters to choose Pat Buchanan when they meant to vote for Al Gore in Palm Beach County, Florida. 2
If the 2000 election had taken some different twists and turns, the re-vote question might have come up in a serious way, and it&rsquos not clear what the courts would have decided. At least one federal court has suggested that the courts could order a new election. In 1976, a District Court in New York heard a case alleging voter fraud in several urban locations. The court&rsquos opinion maintained that federal courts had a role to play in ensuring free and fair presidential elections, arguing: &ldquoIt is difficult to imagine a more damaging blow to public confidence in the electoral process than the election of a President whose margin of victory was provided by fraudulent registration or voting, ballot-stuffing or other illegal means.&rdquo This assertion challenged the idea that presidential elections occupy a special category beyond such court remedies. However, in this case, the court didn&rsquot find sufficient evidence that voter fraud had altered the outcome, or even occurred at all. As a result, its claims about presidential elections were not evaluated by higher courts and have never really been tested.
So experts disagree about whether courts can order presidential elections to be held again. That&rsquos not great news for angry people hoping for a do-over. And even if it is constitutionally permissible, there&rsquos much broader agreement that the standard for invalidating an election result and holding another vote is quite high. University of Memphis law professor Steven Mulroy told me that courts will usually entertain this option only if they determine a violation of rules that would change the election outcome. In the case of the 2016 election, this would likely require proving tampering in several states where the vote was close &mdash enough to change the result in the Electoral College. In that case, a few states would vote again, not the entire country, Mulroy said. But this is new territory, and no one knows for sure.
It&rsquos worth noting that the U.S. has been through a number of challenging presidential elections. The 1800 election ended in an Electoral College tie, and some politicians mulled over the possibility of holding a new election. Critics alleged that the 1824 election was decided through a &ldquocorrupt bargain&rdquo among elites, allowing John Quincy Adams to become president even though he won neither the popular vote nor the electoral vote. The election of 1876 had irregularities (including alleged vote suppression) in several Southern states, and an imbalanced commission ended up handing the Electoral College vote to Rutherford B. Hayes even though he had lost the popular vote. People are still debating John F. Kennedy&rsquos razor-thin margin in 1960, the honesty of the votes in Texas and Illinois that year, and even Richard Nixon&rsquos decision not to challenge the results. And, of course, the 2000 election presented lots of problems &mdash confusing ballots, hanging chads, questions about recounts. Each of these instances was different from the questions hanging over 2016, but they offer some context for how our system handles questions of electoral legitimacy.
Sometimes these questions seriously undermine a presidency, as it did with John Quincy Adams and to a lesser extent Hayes, who had already promised to serve only one term. 3 Other times the noise fades from the public conversation and governing proceeds, fulfilling the constitutional goal of stability rather than months (or more) of electoral disputes.
In most of the historical cases, the main question was how the Electoral College votes would be allocated in each state. Once those have been cast, the case for questioning a presidential election or gauging which side really won becomes a lot more difficult. Of course, the Constitution does have one mechanism for undoing the results of an election: impeachment. That process, however, is focused on individual wrongdoing (or, through a separate process, inability), not electoral irregularities. In that sense, even if collusion revelations did lead to Trump&rsquos impeachment and removal from office, the process wouldn&rsquot really address the question of whether his election had been legitimate in the first place.
The lack of an established process for reviewing elections points to a larger issue: The structures established by the Constitution assumed a world in which the presidency and the Electoral College were not fully absorbed into a contentious national party system. That vision has long since been replaced by one in which presidential elections are national contests over policy agendas and ideas. The text of our Constitution has never been changed to reflect this reality. Instead, the Electoral College remains the final word on who gets to be president. When it comes to the possibility that the winning side colluded with a foreign power to influence the election outcome, the Constitution doesn&rsquot offer much in the way of a plan.