I Want My GOP

This post originally appeared in early 2016. Cassandra award?

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A divided national party . . . voices of extreme rhetoric . . . an ugly, contentious primary season. Does this spell doom for two-party system?

Sounds modern, doesn’t it? But the year was 1860, and the party in question was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and shaped in the image of Andrew Jackson: The antebellum Democratic Party.

On the eve of Civil War, the future of the Union appeared in fatal doubt. Political leaders in the Deep South: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida had all but washed their hands of the centrally powerful United States. Adding to the precarious atmosphere, a faction of Democrats in the North promoted a policy to permit slavery into the western territories under the principle of Popular Sovereignty, or direct vote. Others voices in the northern branch of the Democratic Party believed the Southern States should depart the Union in peace. And these pro-secession advocates became the most worrisome threat for Senate leader, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1860.

Douglas found himself in a hell of a spot. He fervently burned to lead his party to the White House and save his nation, dangerously poised on the verge of civil war. As the principal heir to Senate leadership, Douglas had spent over twenty years in Congress working to stave off Southern secession, taking over when Kentucky Senator, Henry Clay, the “Great Compromiser” died. Clay had also spent most of his earlier career drawing up one concession after another in a noble attempt to preserve the Union. Eventually the effort wore him out, and Senator Douglas pick up the cause.

As far as Douglas was concerned, slavery wasn’t a moral issue, merely a bump in the road. The issue could easily be decided by the good folks migrating west. Douglas believed if settlers didn’t want slavery, they would decline to establish laws necessary for supporting the “peculiar institution.” But the Senator was wrong—dead wrong. Slavery had, by 1860 become an issue impossible to fix. And it was this miscalculation, underestimating the power of the slave issue, that the Illinois Senator imploded both his party, and his career.

The new Republican Party had organized six years earlier in Wisconsin, founded on one central principle—slavery would not extend into the western territories, period. And this new party spread quickly. Composed of splinter groups, this now fully unified alliance insisted that free labor was an integral component to a flourishing free market economy. The presence of slavery in sprouting regions of the West would devalue free labor, and undermine future commercial growth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these Republicans did not sing Kumbaya or braid their hair. These men did not believe in equality between the races—they were not abolitionists. Economic principles drove their political platform, (Emancipation came later with the transformation of President Lincoln through the caldron of war).

For Stephen Douglas the approaching 1860 election meant vindication for his support of popular sovereignty, and reward for his faithful political service. And Douglas was no political hack. He fully understood the solvency of the Union lay in the delicate art of sectional balance, and his ascendancy to the White House as a Democrat would go a long way to placate the Southern hotheads. But this Illinois Senator failed, once again, to fully comprehend the temper of the nation, or of his own party. The era of seeking middle ground had passed—America’s course had been set toward industrial modernity with no place for an antiquated, barbaric labor system.

Charleston, South Carolina, was selected as the site of the 1860 Democratic convention. Chaos immediately broke loose on the convention floor. While Southern Democrats demanded strict, precise language guaranteeing the extension of slavery into the territories, Northern Democrats and those from California and Oregon pushed for Douglas’ popular sovereignty. This tense deadlock forced the latter faction to walk out and reconvene in Baltimore where party business could function.

Southern Democrats moved on without Douglas or his faction. In a separate, Richmond, Virginia convention, Southern Democrats proceeded to nominate Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge.

Back in Baltimore, Senator Douglas indeed gained the Democratic nomination, preserving his precious principle of local voters determining the western migration of slavery. Meanwhile, the Democrats in Richmond took a step further, adding the absolute protection of slavery to their platform. Middle ground had vanished.

Though a long shot, a third faction of the Democratic Party broke ranks with both Douglas supporters, and the Richmond faction. Calling themselves the “Constitutional Union Party,” this coalition nominated John Bell of Tennessee.

So what can we make of this 1860 fiasco today, in 2016? If I could attempt a bit of divination I would suggest that the political party that can present the most united front will prevail in the general election. If current Republican candidates continue to employ such wide-ranging, and scorching tones to their rhetoric, and stubbornly defend the innocence of their loose talk, the party may run head long into oblivion, as did the Democrats of 1860. If the roaring factions, currently represented by each GOP aspirant goes too far, the fabric of unity will shred, crippling the Republican’s ability to field serious candidates in the future.

Looking at the past as prelude much is at stake for the unity of the GOP. In 1860 party divisions nearly destroyed the Democrats, propelling the nation into a bloody civil war. And though Republicans at that time elected our greatest Chief Executive, Abraham Lincoln, the Democrats suffered for decades, marginalized as the party of rebellion. And even the best lessons left by the past are still forgotten in the heat of passion, by those who know better. (The Democrats shattered their party unity once again a hundred years later, splintered by the Vietnam War.) This is truly a cautionary tale for today’s turbulent Republican Party.

Zealots do not compromise, and leading GOP candidates are spouting some pretty divisive vitriol. Southern Democrats self righteously rejected their national party, certain it no longer represented them, and ultimately silenced the party of Jefferson and Jackson for decades. The lesson is clear for today’s Republicans. By tolerating demagoguery, extremism, and reckless fear-mongering in their field of contenders, the RNC may indeed face a similar demise.

Though it is true that no party can be all things to all citizens, malignant splinter groups should not run away with the party.

The American public demands measured and thoughtful candidates—and both parties are expected to field candidates of merit and substance.

We deserve leaders worth following.

As Senator Stephen Douglas refused to recognize that the political skies were falling around him, and his party, the modern Republican Party must not.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight a two-part memoir. Available on Kindle

Symmetry

This is one of my favorite twists in American history.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley has penned two plays, as well. “Clay” on the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” exploring the beginnings of racism and slavery.

The Worst White Man

This is an image from a college history text. The visual illustrates Southern society in years prior to the Civil War. There are plenty of inferences to derive from this chart; the most revealing being how little America has changed.

Although the election of Barack Obama in 2008 marked a high note in the story of America, our coming of age, so to speak, the violent reaction has exposed an old low.

In the aftermath of the Obama years, ugly ghosts have been summoned and let loose. Specifically, as in the years prior to the Civil War, the Southern aristocracy has, once again, activated yeoman, and lower class whites to fight their battles. How? Reinforcing the idea that a black president was one too many for today’s white aristocracy.

The depth of modern racism honestly feels surprising, proving that America actually hasn’t grown at all. In fact, a new civil war is underway, unleashing a fresh wave of fury from the most dangerous creature of all–an armed underclass white man. Planter society still reigns, and has incited those who believed they’ve been shortchanged by a complex, and changing country.

The link tying the 1860’s to the 21st Century? Convincing poor whites that the worst white man is still a better president than the best black man. (And I don’t mean Joe Biden.)

This needed to be said, so I said it.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January; Figure Eight.”

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Catch Up

A radical change in imperial policy between Great Britain and her American Colonies marked the beginning of the Revolutionary Era.

Well before the American Revolution an amiable, and profitable arrangement existed between the Colonials and Parliament. This mutually profitable connection quickly terminated after the French and Indian War, 1754-1763. That conflict, though a victory for the British, had cost the Royal Treasury plenty, and the Crown abandoned friendly relations by coercing Americans to share in settling that war debt .

Parliament began by imposing a number of taxes, all designed to force Americans to pay up. The Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townshend Duties, among other measures, had been designed to force Americans to cover the royal debt. Once proud to be British, Colonials were shocked to realize the Crown viewed them as a source of revenue, and nothing more.

Colonials had a long running smuggling network, importing cheaper commodities from the French islands, thus evading British tariffs. Those caught and arrested found fast acquittal by colonial juries of their peers, as locals were also customers of the accused. In Boston, tensions soon turned to bloodshed, followed later with tea spilled into the Harbor. The Crown, not amused, soon forbade traditional trials, and transported accused Americans to military courts, in particular to Nova Scotia. Next, British Red Coats were deployed to the New England colonies to impose martial law, and Parliament decreed American’s had to house and feed their own oppressors.  

These matters were met with vehement dissent, Colonials protesting they had no representative in Parliament, and would not tolerate taxation without their consent. “No Taxation Without Representation” and “Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God,” rang throughout Colonial America.

Tensions ripened, finally coming to a bloody confrontation in April of 1775, and the rest we mostly remember from school. 

Tasked with scribing a Declaration of Independence at the Second Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson vented American grievances through his quill. Working alone, Jefferson defended the violent actions carried out by Americans, and took pains to explain the radicalism. . . . “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” And for six years the Continental Army persevered.

In 1787, the subsequent creation and ratification of the U.S. Constitution set an enduring national blueprint of settled law. The Framers designed a government derived from the people, meaning we all are equal, and guaranteed representation in shaping law.

That brings this story to today. 

The election of a president from an opposing party is not a radical, nor sudden change of policy. Rather, this cyclic American ritual is as normal as the singing the Star Spangled Banner before a game. American voters have chosen our leaders in this manner since George Washington’s name first appeared on the ballot. 

To all of you who attacked our Capitol, it’s well past time for you to catch up. Put away those symbols of rebellion; of coiled snakes, hangmen gallows, and Viking horns. The Revolution ended two and a half centuries ago. The story of America is well underway.

In point of fact, those January 6th insurrectionists themselves attempted a radical change in American tradition. In pursuit of violence and chaos, these terrorists attempted a savage disruption of our deepest democratic traditions. Now that is unAmerican. In point of fact, we all have political representatives, and a right to a jury of our peers, and nary a soldier is found lounging on the couch.

Grow up and stand down.  

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.”

Chumbley has also penned two plays, “Clay” exploring the life of Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an examination of American slavery and racism.

chumbleg.blog

A Scandalous Life

And I didn’t include GW Bush

A video blog. Forgive the quality, but the point is clear.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle. In addition Chumbley has complete two plays, “Clay,” on the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears” exploring the beginnings of racism and slavery.

A Different Code

“He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.”Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Declaration of Sentiments 1848.

Nurse Margaret Sanger related an experience that inspired her career in family planning. Called to a dilapidated tenement building, Sanger found a pre-teen girl in the throes of childbirth.

Attempting to assist the girl, Sanger soon recognized the child was slipping away, bleeding out on a filthy mattress. Indifferent, the girl’s family crowded nearby in a small parlor appearing indifferent or resigned to the drama playing in the next room. 

Soon the bloody battle ceased, as both girl and infant were no more.

A mother herself, Sanger found her life’s work in promoting a woman’s right to choose if or when to bear a child. 

As for Sanger, she found herself arrested in 1916 for advocating sex education and birth control. The charge sheet read indecency. Still, despite legal obstacles, Sanger’s clinic, Planned Parenthood, found its beginnings that same year.

Today the Court decided women no longer have any choice. The government claims an overriding interest in American women’s reproduction. Plainly females are once again considered second-class citizens, leaving men free of any culpability for their actions. Justice Alito, in his majority opinion stressed moral judgement over legal. 

In fact, in overturning Roe has literally stripped women of self agency, holding true Mrs Stanton’s phrase in 1848, that “a different code” is alive and well. 

That Planned Parenthood offers so many other services is not the point. This is about equal protection. That neonatal disorders portend a fatal, and agonizing death for newborns isn’t the point, either.

One of the most precious American underpinnings is a right to privacy. And remember that Prohibition, too, attempted to police private practices. That fiasco ended in futility, because like it or not, people have the right to drink. 

The Supreme Court has not ended abortion in America. 

This isn’t over.

*Justice Thomas indicates he would go after birth control next. Does he realize he opens a pandora’s box that could threaten overturning Loving V. Virginia

A Scandalous Life

Through open doors down a long hallway, reminiscent of The Shining, a cacophony of noisy televisions competed. Soap operas, news reports, and talkshows spilled from empty uncleaned guest rooms. It was the summer of 1974 that I began a brief stint as a hotel maid in Spokane, Washington. Through the course of that summer I began to notice each maid had different approaches to their routine. Some girls stripped the beds, or beelined for the bathroom, but all, to the last dust mop, first switched on the television. 

And the biggest news that summer, outside of Expo ‘74, was the Watergate hearings. Chairman Sam Ervin, Senator Howard Baker, Congressman Pete Rodino, and others became my new favorite TV personalities. Watergate Burglar, Alexander Butterfield spilled the beans on Nixon’s White House taping system, and John Dean spoke of a ‘cancer on the presidency.” For me these hearings were riveting as I placed fresh towels on the rack, and changed toilet paper rolls.

By the end of that summer, August 9, 1974 Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. 

Fast forward 13 years later, and I had just given birth to my second baby, a girl, and she and I cuddled as the television introduced a whole new set of “off the books” operatives. This time the scandal concerned the Reagan Administration’s convoluted plot known as the Iran-Contra Affair. American arms were illegally sold to Iran, our sworn enemy, to continue their war against Iraq. The proceeds from those sales were funneled to anti-Communists fighters battling in Nicaragua. Both efforts violated the Boland Amendment, passed by Congress, explicitly prohibiting American meddling in Central America.

Reagan operatives had hoped that selling Iranians weapons would soften them up because the White House needed a favor. Would the Ayatollah Khomeini help encourage Lebanon’s jihadists to release American hostages secreted around Beirut? The Reagan people gambled that trading illegal arms would secure Tehran’s help. 

While rocking my infant I learned a litany of new names: NSA chief, Robert McFarland, Marine, Oliver North, North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, and the recently deceased mastermind, CIA director, William Casey. My take, as I patted my girl’s little back, was that the Reagan White House had privatized foreign policy in defiance of Congress through renegade agents.

In 1988 Ronald Reagan, in a video deposition, admitted he had done just that, but due to his failing memory, couldn’t recall. 

That brings me to my golden years. I tuned in to the January 6th hearings, as a retired grandma. My husband and I watched and listened to the evidence regarding the violent attack on our nation’s capitol. To say this hearing was electric would be an understatement. Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Capitol Police Officers, particularly Caroline Edwards, left me spell bound. Representative Liz Cheney owned the evening, making clear the person responsible for the attempted coup-the former guy. 

Donald Trump is the first sitting president in American History to be impeached twice.

So what element ties all three scandals together? For one, the course of a single life-from college kid, to motherhood, to grandmother. And I suppose one could conclude I’ve watched a helluva lot of television. 

But for me the message means something else. 

The modern Republican Party has undergone a long death spiral marked by greed, rot and decay. As Liz Cheney said, “there will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

For nearly 50 years, from 1974 to 2020 the Grand Old Party has cast off its once, principled moorings, slowly imploding before our eyes. As my generation grew from young students to senior citizens the party of Lincoln silently died. 

And like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, there is no redemption, nor any future, only relief these mercenaries can do no more harm.

Gail Chumbley is the author of a two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Chumbley had also completed to historic plays, “Clay,” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an examination of slavery and racism in America.

The Little Things

If you love . . .

Protecting a dim-witted, would-be dictator from legal consequences,

Suppressing a woman’s right to self-actuation and privacy,

Expediting white, unqualified patriarchs to the Supreme Court,

Rendering the US Senate inert,

Legislating so the wealthy have no tax burden,

The open targeting of Americans of color to brutality and murder,

The whole-sale destruction of the planet, and the rape of natural resources 

Abetting political misinformation and conspiracies through social media,

Targeting those of differing sexuality 

Pushing religion into American government,

Aligning apportionment and voter suppression to disenfranchise the poor, and people of color,

Withholding health care to the few with means,

The wholesale flood of firearms into civilian hands,

Cruelty dispensed upon desperate immigrants,

Coddling of white offenders over those of color,

Predatory treatment of consumers,

Blocking legislation to meet the dangers of the above list, and otherwise accomplishing nothing,

Vote for today’s Republican Party

Gail Chumbley, frustrated American History Educator.