The Nineteenth Century: This Time in Color!

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In
1800 and 1824, the House of Representatives had to vote on who would
be the next president. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln didn't even appear
on the ballot in a number of Southern States. In 1876, Rutherford
B. Hayes had to promise to end Reconstruction in order to get a
committee to let him into the White House. In 1888, Benjamin Harrison
moved into the White House after losing the popular vote.

The
Presidency in the nineteenth century was filled with intrigue and
instability. Between Jackson and Grant (forty years), not a single
president served two terms. Two died in office and one was assassinated.
The major political parties were bitterly divided and about half
the country despised any given President at any given time. Divisions
were often based on geographic differences and there often arose
a battle between rural and urban interests.

As
a result of all of this, a president had to spend much of his time
balancing factions within the country and trying to smooth over
serious disagreements between representatives from different parts
of the nation. Andrew Jackson had to spend a considerable amount
of time trying to keep South Carolina from seceding in response
to high tariffs. Jackson eventually won, but South Carolina never
renounced the legality of secession. Polk's annexation of Texas
created all kinds of problems for the Presidency since the North
was immediately suspicious of a Southern Conspiracy to extend slave
territory. The Missouri compromise was yet another balancing act
the president had to oversee in an effort to unite a deeply divided
country. In the 1850's, Kansas broke out into outright warfare as
locals tried to decide whether or not the state would be slave or
free. In fact, every time a state was added, emotions ran high and
distrust abounded. The federal government (especially the Presidency)
was seen as an institution that was not to be trusted and to be
viewed with keen suspicion any time it passed any major legislation.

All
of this started to break down after the Civil War. The south was
politically castrated (and rural interests with it), and federal
policy was left to run riot on issues of fiat money, military policy,
and social policy. With the absence of the slavery problem, the
feds had free reign in the territories and proceeded to eradicate
the Indians as quickly as possible. The federal government instituted
the first large-scale welfare program with pensions for all Union
soldiers from the War. Pension fraud was widespread. All the while
the vision of empire became more and more clear in the minds of
national leaders. With the coming of the 20th Century,
the vision of empire spread to the entire globe. The Filipinos were
brought under our control. The Hawaiians had been fully pacified,
and the Puerto Ricans were set straight. Teddy Roosevelt sent a
great fleet of warships around the world to show people how powerful
we were.

The
troublesome dissenters in the U.S. had finally been dealt with,
so the U.S. could get on with the business of reining in everyone
else in too. The South was kept nice and poor, so they couldn't
give us any trouble anymore. The West was full of Union soldiers
with Army pensions and their descendants who owed the Feds for running
out the Indians and for financing the railroads. Everyone owed something
to the feds and the "national consensus" was born. Before
we knew it, we were meddling in every little conflict (and every
big one) that we could find. We managed to find a permanent enemy
with the Soviets, and the feds found that any number of federal
grip-tightening measures could be justified by saying it was to
fight the communists. We were told that if government were not given
a free hand to promote the "greatness" of the United States,
we'd all end up freezing in a nuclear winter. The old geographic
differences had broken down. Sure, there were still large differences
between the ideologies of rich and poor, and whites and blacks.
Nevertheless, these interests were spread out in all kinds of places,
and no clear regional differences were discernible. The President
who once had to act as National Arbitrator was now free to engage
in social engineering, and making the world "safe for democracy".

This
federal snow job lasted pretty well until the Soviet Union collapsed
in 1991. The cloud of communism could no longer be used to force
Americans to love whatever federal policies were forwarded as being
necessary for the defense of the "free world". Then another
strange thing happened: White Southerners suddenly became conservative
Republicans instead of conservative Democrats. The balance of power
changed in the congress for the first time in decades. The federal
government became sharply divided culminating in the impeachment
of a President. Sure, the U.S. kept on meddling with and bombing
other countries, but such things were only supported by a fairly
small minority of the population. Clinton was not able to muster
50% of the vote in either 1992 or 1996. His Congress remained in
Republican hands. All the while, the urban centers on the West coast
and in the Northeast grew plenty liberal while the South and West
became solidly conservative.

Then
came the election of 2000. Any casual look at the results of the
election show that the geographic divisions of the 19th
Century have returned. As with Slavery, the main division is along
lines of social policy. Matters of religion, morality, and local
values rule. Economics is not to be discounted though. The net tax
receivers live in places like California, New York, and Illinois.
The tax producers live in the technologically advanced West and
the newly recovered South. Southerners and westerners are tired
of being forced to endure regulations and taxes which benefit people
hundreds of miles away who ridicule their religions and way of life.
Mistrust and suspicion has begun to resurface in the American landscape.
Major changes in federal policy are a thing of the past. Juggling
American factions has become difficult and time consuming. The president
can no longer simply defer to American "greatness" or
the Communist threat or to the "will of the people" to
install massive federal programs.

As
these geographic blocs begin to solidify, the rhetoric will undoubtedly
become even more biting and even more savage. Presidents will be
lucky to get anything other than cosmetic bills passed, and gridlock
will be a way of life. With the census over and reapportionment
taking place in Congress, changes will reflect population movements
to the West and South. Places like Colorado, Nevada, and Texas will
receive more seats in Congress and more electoral votes diminishing
the relative power of the liberal urban areas. The balance of power
will become more even. Compromise will again become a common term
in American politics. No matter who ends up in the White House this
year, he will have to spend most of his time begging for support
from Congress and the American electorate. Moderation will be his
middle name. "Greatness" will be far out of reach.

Lovers
of liberty everywhere should cheer this development. We're looking
at a possible rebirth of 19th century style political wrangling
and gridlock. The more time Washington politicians spend trying
to screw each other, the less time they have to screw us. With an
evenly divided electorate, there is no mandate. There is no clear
vision of "greatness" and there is no consensus. Let's
all pause for a moment and cheer the return of the 19th
Century. We've been waiting a long time.

November
14, 2000

Ryan
McMaken is a graduate student in American politics at the University
of Colorado. He edits the Western
Mercury
.

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