This blog is dedicated to the cattiness surrounding the New Republic, reflections on a group of intelligent yet fallible men who could agree on nothing and yet are often quoted as a group, and just in general Founding Douchebaggery &c.
Quick Alexander Hamilton sketch
John Adams was a hero to the expatriate Ezra Pound (1885-1972), whose hatred of Hamilton was exceeded only by his hatred of Jews. Though not a Southern Agrarian, like them he an economic populist and, oddly enough for an expatriate, a nativist. Pound had a conspiratorial understanding of history, claiming that the corruption of the Western world was rooted in the practice of usury. The “usurocracy” was the source of what ailed America, particularly during the dramatic bank wars of the early Republic but also in Pound’s own time. His heroes were all opponents, to a great extent, of centralized banking, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and Thomas Hart Benton. A graduate of Hamilton College in New York (class of 1905), he spent a good part of his life trying to defame the reputation of his alma mater’s namesake.
A reader of Charles Beard and Claude Bowers, Pound greatly admired the latter’s Jefferson and Hamilton and mentioned Bowers in one of his poems (Canto 81). Pound was a close friend of W.E. Woodward and used him to try to send advice to Franklin Roosevelt. Pound was greatly impressed with Woodward’s work and shared his disdain for Hamilton’s manoeuvres, one of Pound’s more delicate descriptions of his financial policies. Hamilton was the “conservative agent of finance,” and in the midst of praising W.E. Woodward as a historian Pound observed that “it is hard enough for me to pardon Burr for not shooting Hamilton sooner…. Alex Hamilton served the devil.”
Not only did the three-fifths rule make a difference in the political lives of Taylor and Tallmadge, but it continued to make a difference in the years to come. In 1830, for example, Andrew Jackson rammed through Congress the Indian Removal Act to acquire the lands of great southern tribes living east of the Mississippi. The bill was never as popular as historians later made out in textbooks, nor was it merely a triumph for Georgia and the West as scholars have often assumed. The bill sparked a furious debate and barely got through Congress, failing to clear the House on several test votes, and passing by a margin of 102 to 97 on the final vote. The vote was largely sectional, with two out of three northerners voting against the bill and four out of five southerners voting in favor. Without the South’s twenty-three slave seats, Andrew Jackson would have had to twist the arms of ten to fifteen more Pennsylvania and Ohio Democrats to get the needed majority. Could he have done so? At what cost?
Similarly, ten years later, southern hotspurs wanted a tougher gag rule to stifle the antislavery movement. The previous gag, first passed in 1836, called for the automatic tabling of any petition dealing in any way with the subject of slavery. It was a temporary House rule, one that had to be renewed at each session of Congress, and thus there were a few weeks at the beginning of each session when it was not in effect. That irritated some southerners. They wanted permanent rule so that John Quincy Adams and other northern congressmen would never have the opportunity to legally present antislavery petitions. They also wanted a “more decided seal of reprobation” on such petitions.
In keeping with these desires, in 1840 William Cost Johnson of Maryland pushed for a more drastic gag rule, one that entailed the outright rejection of antislavery petitions and also made this measure a standing House rule. In the eyes of most northerners, the Johnson gag went too far, violating among other things the “sacred right to petition.” It passed by just six votes, 114 to 108. Without the South’s twenty-five slave seats, southern Democrats would have had to win the support of ten more northern Democrats on this vote. Could they have done so? Again, at what cost?
Sometimes one has to remind people that historically-speaking, antislavery was not synonymous with pro-black. From the Federal Era to the Civil War, antislavery arguments could be summarized into three different grounds of opposition: humanitarian (“slavery is wrong”); racist (“slavery brings black people to America”); and political (“fuck you, South”); and frequently any combination thereof. As to what was the “true” motive at any given time, it usually depended on the decade, state, and person doing the criticizing.