October 19, 2019
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Our ROGUE CONGRESS, Impeachment, and Movement Conservatives: Some History from the Reconstruction
In the midst of the present grotesque attempt by the administrative state—the Deep State managerial class—to overthrow a president and negate the results of the 2016 elections, some writers and commentators have reached back into American history for analogous precedents. Indeed, there have been instances when one branch of the American government attempted to overawe, subvert, and even displace another branch, and essentially to destroy the precarious balance of powers established in the Constitution.
Certainly, the present “silent coup,” with all its foul and insidious zealotry, its prevarication and verifiable madness, is unique and unparalleled in many ways. In particular, there is an incredible fanaticism in the present effort to unseat a duly elected president not seen in the United States for well over at least a century, to, as it were, “put the [Trump-inspired] genie that threatens the managerial elites back in the lamp.” Not even during the Clinton impeachment hearings, nor the Watergate crisis—not during the raucous debates over the Vietnam War nor the potential for revolution during the Great Depression—have we witnessed the specter of perhaps one-third, maybe more, of our population wallowing in the real, palpable and often violent lunacy that we see currently.
This state of affairs did not simply spring up like the Greek goddess Athena, from “Zeus’s head, full-grown and clothed in armor.” Those we behold today arrayed against us, those we confront who call themselves variously “progressivists,” “democratic socialists,” “anti-racists,” and so forth, have been carefully groomed and incubated over decades by an increasingly noxious and pervasive environment. They are the products of an educational system which is rotten through-and-through (especially in higher education), they experience conditioning daily from large and constant doses of media and entertainment which is ideologically driven and geared to support the template, and they live in a poisonous society which confirms and ratifies the views and ideas that have been instilled in them.
At the base of this ongoing process is the rampant and triumphant “Idea of Progress” and the identification by the Progressivists with it. It is they, and in particular their academic minions and educators, who have made their causes synonymous with an inevitable and ineluctable “progress.” Anyone opposing their designs and programs is labeled anti-progressive, reactionary, bigoted, and worse. Thus, for the history of the United States (and even before its establishment) there has been a constant struggle between the “forces of reaction” (read here: “Southern slave holding,” “anti-feminism,” “racism,” “white supremacism,” “male domination,” “anti-gay rights,” and so on) who have stood in the way of inevitable “Progress,” and those “on the side of history” who represent enlightenment and freedom.
The foundation of this never-ending Progressivist movement, undergirding it is the essential magic talisman: egalitarianism. For that, progressivists cry in loud voice and demand that the “oppressed” receive complete and full “equality.”
Far too many times so-called conservatives, and certainly “Movement Conservatives,” buy into this template and join this narrative as well, and by accepting its fundamental premises and parameters, they inevitably lose any debate or discussion, and remain, as the Seventeenth Century English author Sir Thomas Browne wrote, “prisoners of the errors to which they proclaim their opposition.”
This is particularly true of those denominated “Neoconservatives,” whose genealogy draws heavily from their intellectual history and foundations over on the progressivist Left. During the late 1950s, 1960s and into the 1980s the Neocons, largely but certainly not entirely consisting of socialist and Marxist Jewish intellectuals centered around New York and a few other large Eastern cities, began moving “right.” In part, although certainly not exclusively, it was an opposition to Stalinism and Soviet Communism (and perceived persecution of Russian Jews) that steered important thinkers like former socialists Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol into the ranks of the Conservative movement—and their votaries into the Republican Party. But though they brought their fierce and at times expert critique of Communism with them, they did not relinquish their philosophical commitment to the same “Idea of Progress” which, at base, remained at the heart of their belief system and praxis.
Accordingly, American history had to be re-written and re-interpreted ex post facto to be consistent with the narrative of a struggle between the “reactionaries” and those epigones of always-expanding equality and democracy (including in foreign policy). And in so doing, the Necons implicitly accepted the terms of debate, in many cases the very same terminology, as their supposed opponents over on the further Left.
Unlike many older conservative writers (e.g. the late Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver) now the Union cause, 1861-1865, and Abraham Lincoln were incorporated as Icons in the new Pantheon of (revised) American Conservatism. The Confederacy—John C. Calhoun (who had been featured in Kirk’s monumental Conservative Mind as a pivotal conservative thinker)—John Randolph of Roanoke—the superb Southern Agrarian writers—and the brilliant Mel Bradford were exiled, expelled from the “movement.” Just as with the further Left, the Neocons embraced the “Idea of Progress” template and an egalitarian narrative in which there was no room for dissent…even if the entire American founding had to be “re-interpreted” to somehow make it agree with their views.
Thus, the specter of Bush adviser Karl Rove declaring that his favorite historian of the War Between the States and slavery is the Communist historian Eric Foner. Although they may disagree vociferously over how much change or what kind of change is needed, or who should be president or what laws should be enacted, their agreement historically, on the reading of American history, should be extremely troubling—and revealing—for conservatives.
Is it likely that such leaders of the current “Conservative Movement” can mount a vigorous defense of President Trump? Indeed, where are the Republican opponents of the current farce parading before us: secret Congressional “star chamber” hearings, brazen connivance by the media (including at times Fox News), faked stories, manipulated headlines, items taken out of context….? Will they—can they—stand up to the enemies of the Constitution, the Inside-the-Beltway Establishment to which far too many of them belong?
That remains to be seen.
One-hundred and fifty plus years ago there was another rogue Congress. And author Philip Leigh has written about it. I think his comments and perhaps analogies may be useful as we watch the unfolding coup in Washington.
When Congress Trampled the Presidency and the Supreme Court
The Reconstruction era was rife with congressional abuses. Let’s not let it happen again.
by October 8, 2019, 12:03 AM
Two years after the Civil War ended in 1865, a Republican Congress gained a veto-proof majority in both chambers. They almost immediately began trimming the powers of the executive and judicial branches. First, they replaced President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plan with their own. In order to restrict his ability to interfere, they passed a number of bills over his veto. Although targeted at Johnson, the acts also weakened future presidents. Second, they defied the Supreme Court and manipulated its membership in order to limit judicial intervention with congressional Reconstruction.
From , Reconstruction proceeded under President Lincoln’s guidance. After he died, President Johnson attempted to follow in Lincoln’s footsteps. Neither Lincoln nor Johnson required that the former Confederate states adopt black suffrage. While both had hoped that blacks who were “highly intelligent” or Union veterans might be enfranchised, none were. Nonetheless, on the day he died Lincoln said, “ in all the Southern states. Their people must do that — though at first I reckon some of them may at first do it badly.”
Although some historians assume that the congressional Reconstruction that began in March 1867 was a noble attempt to promote racial equality, most of the evidence suggests it was designed to ensure that the Republican Party retained control of the federal government. When the Civil War ended, the party was barely 10 years old. It might have been strangled in its cradle if the re-admittance of Southern states failed to be managed in a way that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government.
Consequently, Republicans settled on two goals. First was mandatory black suffrage in all former Confederate states. Party members reasoned that the new, inexperienced voters could be manipulated to consistently support Republican interests. Second was denying political power to the Southern whites most likely to oppose Republicans. A combination of the two factors enabled the infant GOP to form carpetbag puppet regimes in the Southern states. Initially obtained through the 1867 , the goals were incorporated into the Constitution through the 14th and 15th Amendments. Only by means of the carpetbag regimes did the amendments cross the required 75 percent-of-states ratification threshold.
Although Congress limited President Johnson’s authority in various ways, the best-known example was the 1867 , which restricted his ability to dismiss presidentially appointed executive officers. Specifically, it stipulated that if such appointees had been subject to the advice and consent of the Senate upon appointment, then the president could not dismiss them without Senate approval. The purpose was to keep War Secretary Edwin Stanton in the cabinet as a Republican spy. Johnson thought the act was unconstitutional, which the Supreme Court later confirmed in 1926. Intending to test it before the contemporary Supreme Court, however, Johnson dismissed Stanton while the Senate was out of session. He temporarily replaced Stanton with Gen. Ulysses Grant until the question of the act’s legality could be settled.
After returning to Washington, on January 13, 1868, the Senate voted 36 to 6 to reject Stanton’s removal. The next day a surprised president learned that Grant had resigned earlier that morning and Stanton had reoccupied the office. Johnson had understood that Grant would let the president litigate the case before Stanton could retake the office. Instead the general was swayed by the power of a Republican Congress intent upon and sided with them. In return, four months later the party nominated him as their winning 1868 presidential candidate. Three days after Johnson attempted to remove Stanton a second time on February 21, 1868, with another temporary appointee, the House of Representatives impeached him rather than let the Tenure Act be tested in the courts. Most of the 11 impeachment charges involved the Tenure Act. Two that did not, however, were complaints about Johnson’s verbal criticisms of Congress. The Senate declined to convict Johnson by a single vote.
In order to deny President Johnson any opportunity to appoint a single Supreme Court justice, Congress . As soon as President Grant took office in 1869, Congress , where it has since remained. The change enabled Grant to promptly appoint two new Republican justices.
Finally, Congress ignored the court’s 1866 Ex Parte Milligan ruling, which denied military tribunals jurisdiction over civilians wherever civil courts were functioning. Nonetheless, when a Mississippi newspaperman appealed to the Supreme Court under the ruling to seek a civil trial on a freedom-of-speech dispute with the military district commander, on matters involving the Reconstruction Acts. Since one of those acts had dictated military occupation in Mississippi and nine other Southern states, Congress was imposing military courts on civilians throughout the South even though civil courts were available there. Notwithstanding that the law was ex post facto and unconstitutional, the court was too cowed to challenge Congress and declined to hear the newspaperman’s case.
The era of abusive congressional domination ushered in crony capitalism and Gilded Age immorality. It culminated with President Grant’s corrupt administration after he had become a pawn of the congressional Republicans. In Reconstruction: The Ending of the Civil War, Avery Craven writes of Grant during the 1868 election: “Grant never quite knew what was taking place around him or what it all meant. He became a pathetic, bewildered, shuffling figure whom others used for ends he never understood.”
At least 10 scandals stained Grant’s presidency. Among them was the 1873 bankruptcy of Jay Cooke & Company, which triggered a five-year depression. Cooke was Grant’s largest campaign contributor. Despite receiving land grants equal in size to the entire state of Missouri, Cooke’s Northern Pacific Railroad also went bankrupt. Its intended St. Paul-to-Seattle line had only laid track from St. Paul to Bismarck.
Recent biographers fail to appreciate Grant’s conflicted civil rights motives. , for example, concludes he was “the single most important president in terms of civil rights between Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.” But Chernow minimizes Grant’s self-interest. Although he won the 1868 presidential popular vote by a 53-to-47 percent margin, Republican politicos correctly anticipated that black Southern votes would be important. , although he would have still won the Electoral College. In contrast, he did nothing for minorities that were unimportant to the party. Examples include Chinese Americans and Native Americans.
Federal laws started marginalizing Chinese Americans during his presidency in and and continued afterward with a mostly under Republican administrations. In 1876, Grant secretly provoked a war with Great Plains Native Americans. He wanted to give white men access to dubious Black Hills gold deposits as a way to help America recover from Cooke’s depression. Sioux descendants litigated the matter until 1980, when the Supreme Court awarded eight tribes $106 million. Regarding the incident and “President Grant’s duplicity,” a lower court concluded in 1975, “.” Such were the ramifications of a rogue Congress.
Philip Leigh is the author of two books on the Reconstruction era: and .