Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Farewell to a wonderful historian.

The New York Times reports that historian Edmund S. Morgan has died at the age of 97. One of my favorite biographies is his book The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop. If you are looking to learn a little bit about the early history of New England, check out one of his books. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

R.I.P. Evan S. Connell

According to the Washington Post, Evan S. Connell has died.  Mr. Connell's book Son of the Morningstar: Custer and the Little Bighorn is fantastic.  Actually it is Fan-flipping-tastic.  In any event, buy it check it out from your library now.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It was 150 years ago today. . .

that the largest mass-execution (or just plain execution, I assume) in United States history took place.  38 men were hanged in downtown Mankato, Minnesota of all places.  It was a mass hanging, so all 38 men were placed on a giant scaffold and hung at the same time.  Some reports say that the men held hands before the gallows dropped.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Did Richard Milhous Nixon win the popular vote in 1960?

A fascinating blog post by Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics says yes, although the real answer is that the question is incoherent because of the way Alabama voted for its electors.

Meanwhile, according to Nate Silver there is currently a 5.4% chance that Mitt Romney will win the popular vote but lose the election this time around (see "scenario analysis" in right sidebar at link).

And Ross Douthat wonders whether, in such an event, the Electoral College could survive.

I wonder, on the other hand, whether the Electoral College could ever be killed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth

I hope everyone has a happy Fourth of July.  Here are two random thoughts regarding the day:

Friday, May 6, 2011

How many traitors have served on the Supreme Court?

As I am sure you know, this year marks the start of the Civil War's sesquicentennial. As part of the celebration, the New York Times has started the "Disunion" blog. "Disunion" attempts to cover the events of the war from the perspective of what happened 150 years ago on the date of the posting. It is an interesting blog. Although, it does not capture my imagination the same way that the "Bicentennial Minute" did when I was 9 (I wish those were on DVD).

Anyway, last night the Disunion entry for April 29th caught my eye. Ostensibly, the post is the story of Thomas Dwight Witherspoon, a Presbyterian preacher who served with Company G of the 11th Mississippi Infantry. The article contains this paragraph:
Witherspoon enlisted in the Lamar Rifles, a local militia company named for Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, a member of the House of Representatives who resigned to join the Mississippi Secession Convention. Lamar drafted the ordinance that severed ties with the Union. He went on to serve in the Confederate army and government; later, despite his secessionist activities, President Grover Cleveland appointed him to the Supreme Court.
(emphasis mine). I read the highlighted sentence and thought, "Wait, what? The guy who drafted Mississippi's secession ordinance was appointed to the Supreme Court after the war?" Turns out the Times is correct. Not only did Justice Lamar draft the secession ordinance, check out this quote he made about the Confederacy. According to the Wikipedia page about Justice Lamar, the Ken Burns documentary "The Civil War" quotes Justice Lamar as saying this about Mississippi's secession, "Thank God, we have a country at last: to live for, to pray for, and if need be, to die for." Apparently prior to secession, Justice Lamar, who was a member of Congress until Mississippi left the Union, did not think the antebellum United States was a country worth living for, praying for, or dying for.

This got me wondering, what cases did this traitor to his country help decide? As Justice Lamar served from 1888 to 1893, he was an associate justice for the last year of the Waite Court and the first five years of the Fuller Court.

The Waite Court issued a number of cases that we read in law school. It is responsible for such classics as Pennoyer v. Neff, United States v. Cruikshank, and the Civil Rights Cases. However, by the time Justice Lamar joined the Waite Court, its most famous decisions were behind it. Unless you are a patent lawyer.

The Fuller Court is most famous for Plessy v. Ferguson. However, Justice Lamar was dead when that case was decided, so we can't blame him for that. During the brief time that Justice Lamar served, the Court's most notable decision was Davis v. Beason, which upheld a law requiring voters to swear that they did not belong to organizations that promoted polygamy from a First Amendment challenge. It also decided Nix v. Hedden which found that tomatoes, while not a de facto vegetable, are a de jure vegetable.

Learning about Justice Lamar also made me wonder if any other people who betrayed the Union later served on the court after the war. It turns out that three other justices either fought in the Confederate Army or had roles in governing the Confederate States of America. One of them, Edward Douglas White, was actually named Chief Justice by President Taft. Another, Horace Lurton, was apparently paroled from a Union prisoner of war camp due to the intervention of President Lincoln. The third, Howell Jackson, was appointed by Benjamin Harrison. Thus, it came to pass a former brigadier general in the Union Army (and grandson of a hero of the War of 1812) appointed to the Supreme Court a guy who once served the Confederate States of America as a receiver of property confiscated from Unionists during the Civil War and whose brother was a Confederate brigadier-general. Justice Jackson was appointed to replace Justice Lamar and Justice Lurton was appointed to the same seat following the death of Justice Rufus Wheeler Peckhamm(who was appointed to replace Jackson). Maybe this seat was viewed as the "Confederate Seat" or something.

Justice Lurton served on the court at the same time as Justice Holmes. One wonders what Justice Holmes, who was wounded three times while serving in the Union Army and who kept his blood stained uniform and the bullets that wounded him until his death in 1935, thought of serving on the court with somone whose rebellion caused his wounds.

I don't know about you but I find it very odd that these people were appointed. I would like to say that the Reconstruction policies that allowed these former rebels to fully participate in American life after the war were a merciful thing. However, I can't really do that because letting people who secceded from the Union back in power directly led to the creation of the Jim Crow era in the South. So what do we call it, misguided mercy?