Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Elections of 1868 and 2016

It is, thankfully, just nine days until Election Day. Earlier in the year this was touted as one of the most important elections in U.S. history. Much of the tension in the presidential election, though, has been erased by HRC’s huge lead in the polls.
However, which Party controls the Senate, and even the House, rides upon the outcome of the Nov. 8 election, so it remains an extremely important election.
As the first presidential election after the Civil War, though, the election of 1868 was perhaps even more important than the one this year. 
Background: Pres. Andrew Johnson
As you know, Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, was the Vice-President who was sworn into office on April 15, 1865, three hours after President Lincoln died from the assassin’s bullets. 
Johnson (1808-75) was born in North Carolina but lived in Tennessee from his teenager years. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1857 and became the Vice-President on March 4, 1865.
Even though he was not opposed to slavery, Johnson did not support secession and thus opposed Tennessee joining the Confederate States of America in June 1861. He was the only senator from a Confederate state not to resign his senate seat.
Johnson, however, was a southerner, and after the war he wanted to protect the interests of the whites in the South and to welcome them back into the Union quickly and easily. 
In 1866 Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill to protect the rights of the slaves who had been freed, but Johnson vetoed that bill.
Even though Congress overrode Johnson’s veto, he still did much to benefit the white southerners and to repress the equality of the freed slaves. As Hans L. Trefousse writes in Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1989), Johnson “preserved the South as ‘a white man’s country’” (p. 334).
1868: racist Democrats
Johnson’s main political opponents were not just the Republicans but those who were generally called Radical Republicans—men such as Rep. Thaddeus Stephens and Sen. Charles Sumner. They were the leaders in the impeachment of Pres. Johnson in February 1868.
Johnson was so unpopular that he was not chosen to be the Democratic candidate for President in the 1868 election. Horatio Seymour, a former New York governor, was nominated for the office, and Francis P. Blair, Jr., a former U.S. Representative from Missouri, became the nominee for Vice-President.
In his campaign Seymour advocated a policy of conservative, limited government. He also opposed the Reconstruction policies of the Republicans in Congress. His campaign was marked by pronounced appeals to racism with repeated attempts to brand General Ulysses S. Grant as the “Nigger” candidate and Seymour as the “White Man’s” candidate.
Likewise, V-P candidate Blair used “blatantly racist language” in his campaign speeches, setting the tone for what Eric Foner called (in 1990) “the last Presidential contest to center on white supremacy” (A Short History of Reconstruction, p. 145). 
Thankfully, Grant was elected President.

2016: racist Republicans
It is quite obvious that the position of the two Parties have completely reversed since 1868. This year Donald Trump’s main support, by far, is by white voters—and he has the overwhelming support of white supremacists. (See my June 5 article “Can Trump Make America White Again?”.)
While candidate Trump is not as blatantly racist as Seymour and Blair were in 1868, it seems clear that he and many of his supporters are racists. 

Like 1868, the election this year is partly about the equality of all Americans, and I am glad the result will most likely turn out the same way, against racism, as it did then.


  1. On Friday (10/28) The Atlantic posted an article titled "White Nationalists on Twitter." If you need some evidence about the support of Trump by white supremacists, you can access that article here.

    1. The link I had with the above comment didn't transfer, it seems. Here is the URL address:

  2. I am happy once again to post comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago.

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your stimulating comments. I was unaware that Johnson, Seymour, and Blair were as blatantly racist as you point out, but they were children of their era. I would like to think that we have moved beyond such attitudes.

    "I do not know whether or not Trump is a racist. Much of his political rhetoric seems to motivated by political marketing considerations rather than any core beliefs, if Trump has any core beliefs. He clearly has the support of white racists, however.

    "I am not sure what white racists hope to accomplish. Disenfranchisement of minority voters? An end to all immigration, except for white Europeans? Legalization of redlining in real estate, racial profiling by the police, and employment discrimination?

    "None of this will happen. History and demographics are running against the racists. My main problems with Trump are his appalling ignorance of the issues, disregard for truth, erratic temperament, and incredibly thin-skinned narcissism."

    1. Eric, I agree that people all tend to be "children of their era," but the question is why was that true for Seymour (from New York) and Blair (from Missouri) but not for Grant or Stevens or Seward.

      I agree that it is hard to see that Trump has recognizable "core beliefs," but his rhetoric, for whatever reason, seems to have repeatedly been on the side of protecting white privilege, and the underlying message of making America great again seems to have racist undertones of wanting to go back to the days when the country was mostly run by white men.

  3. Somewhat related to the above comments, let me give a little more information about Francis P. Blair, Jr. He was the younger brother of Montgomery Blair, who was in Lincoln's Cabinet (Postmaster General).

    (In passing, Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, is the largest high school in the state--and the school where my youngest son has taught for many years.)

    I don't know about Montgomery Blair's racism, or lack thereof--but he surely wasn't a strong racist if Lincoln chose him for his Cabinet. But his brother Francis was certainly a racist.

    In the book which I cited in my article, Foner says that Francis Blair "excoriated Republicans for placing the South under the rule of 'a semi-barbarous race of blacks who are worshippers of fetishes and poligamists' and longed to 'subject the white women to their unbridled lust'" (p. 145).

    This latter view was also held by the author of "The Clansman" (1905), the book that the 1915 movie "The Birth of a Nation" was based--and about which I plan to write about for my Nov. 25 blog article.

  4. I recently had occasion to read a chapter from a book titled "Dog Whistle Politics" (Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. by Ian Haney López) in which the author distinguishes four types of racism: a) individual racism = hatred, bigotry, expressed prejudice; b) implicit bias = unconscious or unintentional expressions of stereotypes, profiling, categorization, including the experiences of "white privilege"; c) institutional/systemic racism = bias or prejudice enshrined in social/political/economic institutions and systems in which most people participate without intention or malice; d) strategic racism = Actions in which race is used in a covert way to expedite a strategy for increasing the wealth and power of already wealthy and powerful people as individuals or groups. Coded language, or "dog-whistle politics" are utilized to make the strategy seem to be "common sense".

    The fourth type was new to me as a concept, but familiar to me from reading Kevin Gotham's study of J.C. Nichols & Co, in the "uneven development" of Kansas City from the 1930's on (Race, Real Estate, and Uneven Development, by Kevin Gotham, available at the public library). Nichols' "common sense" was that "people enjoy life and do better when they live among people like themselves." Using that language, Nichols and the National Association of Real Estate Boards effectively "racialized" geography in the metro area as they developed white enclaves protected by racially-defined "exclusive covenants", while consigning people of color to red-lined neighborhoods emptied of white folks by strategies such as "block-busting" (cf. Tanner Colby's book "Some of My Best Friends are Black"). I don't know if Nichols was an "individual racist", but he certainly was a "strategic racist", operating under a smoke-screen of "dog-whistle" advertising and promotion, taking Gotham's work at face value.

    1. Ed, thanks so much for reading my new blog article and for making such substantial comments.

      I was unfamiliar with both of the books you referred to, but I have now asked the local library to get copies for me so I can take a look at them.

    2. The four categories Kail references are quite useful, and most thinking people are at least vaguely aware of them. Unfortunately, this awareness does not spread to cover the people who need it most. Most such conversations take the form of "That is racism (b, c, or d)" to which the reply is "I am not a racist (a)." Perhaps we would be better served by being more precise in our discussions about which level we mean. One word titles might be something like a) racism, b) bias, c) privilege and d) imperialism.

      I am using "imperialism" for the last category because dog whistles are tools of "divide and conquer," which is one of the oldest tools in the imperialist kit. Unfortunately, Republicans have had a growing tendency to accuse Democrats of the very things the Republicans are doing themselves. Corruption, and rigging elections, for instance. From supply side economics to global warming denial, GOP misinformation is intentionally mass produced. Add to that the proud ignorance of the GOP base, and you have a dangerous combination. Even Scientific American is raising an alarm, finding Trump somehow straddling the misinformation and proud ignorance. See link here to article in current (November 2016) issue: