Friday, November 21, 2008

The Funniest Show No One is Watching

I just have one question. What is so funny about the Office? I have tried several times to watch it, I know everyone thinks it is the funniest show in TV, but I do not find it funny at all.

On the other hand one show that I do not hear anyone talking about is The Big Bang Theory. In my opinion this is the funniest show right now. I still enjoy How I Met Your Mother, but I find that I can not stop belly laughing at Big Bang. The character of Sheldon played by Jim Parsons is a classic, I wonder who the writer is who is smart enough to write his part. If you have not seen the show, it is about four very intelligent but nerdy guys and their dealings with the normal world. Maybe by admitting how much I like this show I am exposing my own inner nerd, that I try to hide, but I can not help it. I cannot understand why The Office get so much attention, and the Big Bang Theory gets so little. If you have never watched Big Bang, do your self a favor and give it a chance.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Letter to President Bush

I have been thinking for a while about writing a post about President Bush, but then I thought I might as well write him a letter. I have no idea if he ever reads any of the letters sent to him, but he has been ripped on for so long, I thought I might as well as try and say something nice. I know he is not popular right now, but for one, I still have some respect for him and for keeping us safe. I thought instead of writing a separate post, I will just post the letter here:

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,
At the conclusion of your tenure in office I want to write to express my appreciation for the work you have done in the service of our nation. I know these last few years have been trying ones, but you handled a difficult situation with the dignity and grace that your office deserves. I am an American history professor and as such I believe one day history will tell a different story about the presidency of George W. Bush, one much different than what is being told now. After this generation passes away, I believe your administration will be looked upon as one of character and courage. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been asked to endure so much: the attacks on 9/11, the worst natural disaster in American history, and the collapse of our economy. The difference was that the Americans alive in Roosevelt’s time, rightfully referred to as the “Greatest Generation” rallied around the President, while my own self engrossed generation looked to find fault. Today we praise Roosevelt for steering the ship during harsh waters and my hope and belief is that someday we as a people will recognize your leadership in waters just as rough.

I am not so na├»ve as to believe things were always perfect, as I am sure you have some regrets. Yet, I respect the fact that you could have improved your approval rating if you were willing to compromise your character, which you never did. I can only guess how you must have felt in the days following 9/11, knowing that so many died on your watch, and I listened as you promised to do everything in your power to make sure it never happened again, and that you would never forget. I believe you lived up to that promise, even to the sacrifice of your popularity. You fought an unpopular war, knowing that it would make us safer. I believe you could have made excuses to pull out of Iraq by now; lesser men may have done so to save their reputation. Yet you always stayed on course. I just wanted you to know that you have my respect and my gratitude. Thank you for keeping us safe and for doing what you thought was right. I know Presidents care about their legacy, and just so you know there will always be at least one college history class where your legacy is protected. I am just beginning my career, but for the last few years I spend my last day of class lecturing on terrorism, I feel it is an appropriate end to the semester, and introduces the students to the crisis we are and will be facing for some time. We end the class with the attacks on 9/11 and then I play for them your speech on September 20, what I believe to be the highlight of your tenure, and then I emphasize the line in which you say, “I will not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.” I then close the class with, “and I believe he may be the only one in power today who has kept his promise.”

So once again Mr. President, on behalf of myself and my family, I want to thank you for your service, and may God continue to bless you and your family, and may God always bless America.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Revolution Book List

Today’s blog is a request. I have a friend, who like many of you was inspired during this last election to become more involved and informed about politics. I think that was the best part about the election, to see so many care about the political system. My friend wanted to do some reading about the founding of our country and so has asked for a book list, and I thought it would make a good blog.

The first few books about the revolution can be very tedious, but have the best information. One of the big questions when it comes to the American Revolution is: was it a revolution? The French Revolution came quickly after the American one, and with the French there is no doubt it was a revolution. For one, America’s lack of bloodshed (not armies, but overthrowing and killing the old establishment), have led many to claim a revolution never happened. Some well respected historians have even made these arguments. Charles Beard claimed that the revolution was fought by the wealthy to maintain and improve their wealth. Others such as Arthur Schlesinger have argued that the rich and powerful Americans kicked out the rich and powerful British only to set themselves up in power, and how can that be a revolution?

One of the first to challenge this perspective and one of the books I would suggest is Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, 1967. Bailyn claims that the revolution was in how Americans saw themselves. Before the Revolution the colonists were embarrassed by their low status, their lack of social hierarchy and established religion. Yet over time the colonists realized these were positive traits and fought to preserve them.

One of Bailyn’s students wrote the other great piece, Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution, 1991. Wood said the lack of blood should not stop us from seeing the radicalism of our Revolution. If we focus on the events directly after the revolution then we are missing the larger picture. We need to look down the road a bit. Before the Revolution we were ruled by a King in England and the local aristocracy. We had a large division between rich and poor and an understood social hierarchy. Yet after the Revolution the constitution replaced the King with a republic were we were ruled by our betters (our own elite). However, Wood’s argument is that once freedom was unleashed the framers could not stop democratic forces, and in fact many of them were very upset with the direction of our nation as we entered mass democracy during the Jacksonian period. If we keep going we eventually freed the slaves and gave women the right to vote, all of which would have been radical to the framers.

As for the why we fought the Revolution, my favorite book is Pauline Maier’s, From Resistance to Revolution, 1972. I think she gives the best account of how the colonists went from resisting the British to deciding to revolt. She explains how the colonists really did not want to break from Britain, but were fighting for their rights as Englishmen until they were pushed too far. What most do not understand was that we were into the Revolutionary War about a year before we decided to declare our freedom. Up till then we were still hoping our resistance would bring the British to their senses and give into our demands.

A few other books that are a bit easier to understand and much more interesting to read have come out lately. They deal more with what actually happened and less with theory of why. I loved David McCullough’s John Adams, not only do you learn about a very important man, but he explains the thinking behind the revolution and the Constitution. McCullough also wrote 1776 which I would suggest. Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers does an excellent job explaining the relationship between the founders, one that is not always very positive. If you want more from the military side, I would recommend David Hacket Fisher’s Washington’s Crossing or Paul Revere’s Ride. Right now I am reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. I will write a full review of this when I am finished, but so far it gives excellent detail into the Revolution, but more importantly detail into the founding of your government. As I have said in earlier blogs, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were the most important for our independence, but Hamilton may be the most influential in the shaping of our government.

If you truly want to understand the Constitution, by far the best reading is The Federalists Papers. These can be difficult to read, but they were written by the men themselves who wrote the Constitution (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay). Just because the framers wrote the Constitution, did not mean that the American people were going to accept this new government (the Articles of Confederation had been our government for a few years and many were happy with it). When it looked as though the Constitution was not going to be approved, Hamilton, along with the other two, wrote a series of pieces published in newspapers that explained why the Constitution was important, spelled out what they were thinking, and answered any question they thought the peoples might have. So I would suggest that anyone who truly wants to understand the Constitution must first read the Constitution, then read the Federalist Papers to get the background as to why they did what they did (you can buy it on Amazon for under $10).

So I hope these books can help your study of the Revolution and its outcome. I am glad to see peoples interest in such important topics. I would love to discuss any of these if you would like to have a virtual book club. I hope this does not sound arrogant, but I would love any other recommendations for blog topics, I find this fun.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Is Racism Over?

With the election of our new president, I think it is time for an interesting debate: is racism over? I do not mean are there still racists, yes of course there will always be, but can we still call our nation a racist one. The charge of racism has been leveled against the US for years, and has picked up steam over the last eight years. Men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have made a living calling the US racists. The best example of accusing the US of racism came from hurricane Katrina. I am sure no one has forgotten Kanye West’s statement at an event to raise money, when he said on national TV, “George Bush Hates Black People.” I for one never blamed Bush for Katrina (I truly believe some think he created the storm and sicked it on New Orleans). It was a storm like we have never seen and it caught us unprepared. No other president could have done better. When disasters hit, it is always the poor who get hurt the worst. The ones who could afford it got out early. And much of the poor tend to be minorities, it is just a fact for now. So the question is, if another tragedy occurs over the next four year (and once again it will be the poor that suffer) can be blame the president? Will West show up again and say President Obama hates black people. When the black Americans are upset at their lot in life can they blame “the Man” for keeping them down, even when “the Man” is black? I think this is a discussion we need to have, even though many will be scared to have it. When I asked my classes what they thought (95% of my students are Hispanic) they were mixed and it led to interesting discussions. I do not think men like Jackson and Sharpton will ever stop, if they do they would be obsolete, but what approach will they take? Will they accuse Obama of not being black enough or an Uncle Tom for selling out to “the Man,” oh, but wait, the “the Man” is black. With 75% of Obama’s supporters being white, I think it is time to consider claiming the civil rights movement has achieved its victory, that Dr. King’s dream has come true. Yet I do not believe this debate is over, it is just beginning. So the question is, Is Racism Over? I would love to hear what you have to say.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Would the Founding Fathers Say about President Obama

I think if the founding fathers could speak, they would express their shock and disappointment at our new president, and for the most part it would not be because of his race. Yes it is true, the idea of a black man winning the presidency would be shocking to most of the men who wrote the Constitution. Many of the men at the convention were anti-slavery (most notably Alexander Hamilton) but that did not mean that they saw blacks as equal to them. I think this is the most positive aspect of Obama’s win. Two hundred years ago blacks were considered in no way equal to whites, in fact the Constitution only considers a black man 3/5s of a white man when it comes to population to determine how many representatives from each state. Yet now we have a black president, what a great accomplishment.

But even if Obama were white, the most disappointing part of his victory, I believe for the founders, is that Obama is what they would have referred to as a demigod. To understand what I mean you must understand the men who framed the Constitution and why they created what they created. To understand the Constitution, you must understand that the men who made a strong federal government, were scared of a strong federal government, or at least the American people who had to approve of it were scared of a strong central government. America had just fought a war to break away from a strong government that was ordering them around, now the individual states worried that if they created a central government they would just be replacing a British despot with an American one. So as you read the Constitution, it helps to understand it by understanding they were trying to make a government that was strong enough to keep peace and order yet not too strong to take away our rights. This idea is clearly seen in the three bodies that would be elected under the Constitution: The House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President. The founders wanted to make sure that neither of the three were elected by the same group of people, at the same time, or for the same length of time. This would guarantee that the masses did not run the country. Remember we are a republic not a democracy, in fact the framers feared democracy as can be seen in our Constitution. One of the framers, Fisher Ames, once said the biggest problems we face in this nation come from too much democracy.

First they wanted to make sure elected officials were elected at different times. The House of Representative are voted on every two years, the Senate every six, but only 1/3 of the Senators are up at any given election. The reason for this is clear this year. If we had elected all 100 Senators this election, the major issue that would have given them victories would have been the economy. Now say in two years the economy is running great and we have some other pressing issue, our Congress might be full of economists who would not know how to handle the new issue. Secondly with only 1/3 of the Senate seats open, some new political whim would not allow for the entire Senate to be cleared out. Just think if all 100 Senators were up this year, there may by 95 Democrats and only 5 Republicans. Even if you are a Democrat I hope you see how a government made up of all Democrats can be dangerous. The founders understood this and did not want every new fad (ideology or person) that came along right before the election to decide the fate of our nation.

Secondly the framers wanted to make sure all three were elected for different lengths. As we have already seen the House is elected for two years, the Senate for six and the president for four. Again this was done to guarantee fads would not ruin the nation. They also made sure the one group with the closet tie to the masses were only in for two years, and this is where a demigod come into play. The framers feared that if the people had too much power they would vote in a person solely on this appeal to masses, which appeal tended to be for all the wrong reason. They wanted to guarantee that someone would not rise up quickly from no where without any experience and capture the peoples attention simply for reasons of his charisma, speaking ability, or promises to the people. So if this did happen they would be out in two years.

Lastly, and most important for his argument, is that all three were elected by different groups. To guarantee the masses did not have too much power the framers set up a system where the people only voted for one of the three, the House of Representatives. This was the only group under the original Constitution where the people had a direct vote. According to the Constitution, Senators were elected originally by the state legislatures. In other words, the people elected legislators to their state government and those legislators voted for the Senators to the federal government. The 17th Amendment in 1913 changed this to our current system of direct election of Senators. As most know after an election, the people themselves do not vote for the president, but instead the Electoral College makes the decision. So each state is assigned a certain number of electors whose job it is to vote for the president (just for information, the number of electors is decided by the states number of congressman plus the number of Senators). The point of the Electoral College was not to confuse us today, but was created to take away the vote from the masses in order to avoid a demigod from winning the highest office. They feared someone like Obama who was unheard of two years ago by most people and that over night could rise to fame with no experience and win the presidency based on nothing but popularity and not because he was the best for the nation. I am not suggesting Obama will be bad for the nation, lets see what he can do, but I am suggesting his rise and popularity is for all the wrong reasons. Most still do not know exactly what he stands for, or even his background. He has made a lot of promises without explaining how he is going to accomplish anything, which would lead the framers to see that he cared more about winning the election and less about the nation.

So I believe that the framers would not approve of Obama as president, which does not mean he should not be the president. They would not approve of a black man, which now should not bother us. As for him being a demigod, that is a personal choice. He will not be the first demigod to be elected. Andrew Jackson was the first to base his presidency not on issues but solely on personality. Jackson was a good president, but had to go against much of what he believed in when he ran. He ran as a small government Republican but ended up making the power of the president stronger than any president to that point. I believe Obama will have to follow suit in order to be successful. Like Jackson, to protect our nation and keep us together, he will have to do things that are unpopular. And this is the problem of a demigod, when you get all your support from being popular, doing unpopular things will be hard. Yet having our nation hurt during his watch will not help his political success in four years either. It looks like the founders not wanting a demigod might have been a smart ideology; we need a leader who will make tough decisions, even when those decisions are unpopular. Lets just pray Obama can live up to the office and care more about nation than his ratings.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Depressing Night

I have to say I was much more depressed last night than I thought I would be as the returns came in. I thought I was better prepared for the inevitable, knowing months ago that a Republican victory was slim, no matter who ran. History is very clear that when a president is as unpopular as President Bush, the other party can coast into the White House. My only hope was that the Democrats would do something stupid and run someone so bad that they could not possibly win. I guess I got my hopes up that the Democrats seemed to do just that, for surely Americans were smart enough to realize the emperor was not wearing any clothes, but I guess I was wrong. As I spoke to my classes I realized at least the young were hypnotized by his speaking and cited that as the major reason they supported him. Imagine that, vote for a man because he sounds good. He always said the right thing, even if his record did not back his words. Well there is nothing that can be done about it now. I just hope the old adage is not true: be care what you wish for, you just might get it.

The funny part about my depression is that I would have been sad with a McCain victory, and in the long run I have tried to convince myself a McCain victory would be even worse. I disagree with McCain in so many areas, and do not believe he has the answers to change things, so a McCain victory would just be more grounds for criticism against Republicans. At least now, if any problems happen, and they will happen, then the Democrats will have to take responsibility for it (more on this in a bit). Now the Democrats have to put up or shut up, and if they fail, than a better candidate can take over in four years.

Now all we can do is wait. I do want to remain positive, lets see what Obama can do. If he turns out to be an effective president then great, lets bring him back for four more years. I am just struggling with my optimism. One of the reasons I have doubts comes from his acceptance speech. Last night, or more like this morning, as he addressed the crowd he already began to make excuses as to why he will not make all the changes he promised. He has begun to run for reelection telling his supporters that it may take more than one term to do all that he has promised and that they should be patient if not everything works out. I just wonder how long he will continue to use Bush as his scapegoat. He is now the president, and will quickly have to learn that it is on his shoulders. He is the president and the Congress is controlled by the Democrats, so if things go wrong, he is the only one to blame. Lets see if he is more like Truman who had a sign on his desk that read “The Buck Stops Here” and lived up to it, or will be more like Clinton who blamed everyone else (even a great right wing conspiracy) for everything bad in his administration, I pray for the former.

I believe in this country, and I still believe in the American people. I know it will take more than one man or even one president to really hurt us. As a strong Christian, I believe God had a hand in creating this nation and that he watches over us today. As long as at least some Americans still believe we are one nation under God, and still strive to follow his commandments, than this nation will continue to be strong. I still have strong fears about attack from outside forces and believe our enemies will challenge this new young president. I have already written a comparison between Obama and JFK challenges here, so will not dwell on them again. I just pray that God will give Obama wisdom and strength, and that God will continue to bless and protect us.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Top Five Most Important Elections--#1, 1800

#1. 1800 Election, Thomas Jefferson (R) v. Aaron Burr (R) v. John Adams (Federalists) v. John Jay (Federalists) v. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (Federalists).

I believe the 1800 election easily has the title of our most important election. First to understand why there were so many men running you must know that before the passage of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution in 1804, the president and VP did not run on the same ticket as they do today with McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden. The founders detested the ideas of factions (parties) and so did not for see the need for a party ticket. The way it worked was each member of the Electoral College cast two votes, the man with the most votes became president and the second most votes was VP. You can imagine why this had to change or today we would have President Bush and Vice-President Kerry. However as early as 1796, the first year Washington did not run, parties had developed and so both parties ran two men hoping their first choice would win and their second choice was VP.

In 1800 the incumbent president was John Adams who was finishing his first term and planned on a second. Adams was not an entirely popular or effective president leaving him on an uphill battle, especially because he was feuding with Alexander Hamilton who controlled the Federalists party to which Adams belonged. With Adams not falling in line with Hamilton’s views, Hamilton had decided to block Adams from a second term and so encouraged Cotesworth to also run. In 1800 there were two clear-cut distinct choices to pick from, represented in the Federalists and the Republicans (note, this is a different Republican party than the one formed in 1854 and is still around today). The difference was what course should the young nation take to guarantee its survival and make us great. Jefferson, who embodies the Republican point of view, envisioned a nation of small yeoman farmers, with everyone owning their own small farm. He believed this was the only way to make us great. You must understand that freedom today means something different today than in 1800. The founders put property restrictions on who was free enough to vote. This was before the secret ballot, and so when it came to voting, if your relied on anyone else for income than you may be forced to vote the way they wanted. The only way to be truly free and to care enough about the future of this nation was to own your own means of production (farm, shop, tavern). This is how we justified not allowing women, slaves, or children to vote, they were not smart enough or in control enough to make these important decisions on their own. Lastly Jefferson and the Republicans believe the best kind of government was the kind that did very little and left the real power to the states.

The leader of the Federalists, Hamilton, had a completely different point of view. Hamilton believed that in order to become a great nation, we needed to be more like the nation we just broke from, England. And what made England great was its order and industry. Hamilton wanted us to become self-sufficient and in order to do that we needed to industrialize. He pushed for high tariffs to help support American industry and he ultimately wanted a large strong federal government that could support our industrial power and to keep law and order. He also wanted to tie the wealthy to the government. This is an aspect of government we all hate, yet if smart realize its importance. In 1800 the US was still an experiment, no one knew if we would survive another ten years. Hamilton believed that if you made the wealthy dependent on the survival of the nation they would do all in their power (money, influence) to keep it going. If the masses wanted the government to survive and yet the rich did not, what chance would we have had? The masses are important, but the wealthy have the power. This is why today both parties claim to be the party of Jefferson, but no one wants to be the party of Hamilton (he was not a big fan of democracy). Jefferson feared Hamilton’s view of industrialization, because under his plan we would have a nation of owners of production and a majority of workers who worked in factories and had no freedom. What makes this election so interesting is unlike today; both parties honestly thought if the other won, the nation would be over. Today we may not like the other party and say brash statements to how the other guy will ruin this nation, but in the end after all the threats, no one is really going to move to Canada. We know the nation will continue to function. Back then, they did not have 200 years of experience under them, they really did not know we would last this long.

So the first reason this is the most important election is that the very nature of what we will become and our survival was at stake, which made it a very vicious campaign. Adams and Jefferson did not hold back, even though Jefferson himself got pretty dirty Adams stayed out of it, but his supporters did not. Interesting enough, back in the Revolutionary War, these two were very close friends, and both essential to our freedom. The problem with our revolution was that the founders did not decided on what kind of nation we would become after the revolution, before we decided to revolt. So in the process of nation building, Jefferson and Adams had strong disagreements leading these once great friends to become bitter rivals.

On the day of the election, things did not turn out the way everyone was hoping. With the problems in the Federalists party, the Republicans easily won the day. However when the votes were counted Jefferson and Burr were tied with both having 73. Who ever was supposed to not vote for Burr once making sure Jefferson would win, must have forgotten, leaving the Republicans in a awkward situation. Everyone knew what was supposed to happen, Jefferson led the party and Burr was supposed to step aside. Yet I guess Burr must have decided he liked the sound of President Burr and remained in the race. With a tie in the Electoral College, the decision was up to the lame duck congress that was still controlled by the Federalists. Once left to the Congress the Federalists realized they could win some sort of victory by at least blocking Jefferson, their principle rival, from the Presidency. The states voted as a block, so the Federalists states decided to vote for Burr while the Republicans voted for their champion, Jefferson. However, in order to elect the next president a majority must be reached, so nine states must approve and for the first 35 ballots case, neither side could achieve a majority.

The man responsible for breaking the stalemate was Hamilton. As much as Hamilton disagreed with Jefferson, he believed he was at least honorable. Burr was a different story. Burr and Hamilton were both from New York, and over the years had developed into a bitter ugly feud. Hamilton thought Jefferson truly wanted to help the nation, but was misdirected, where as Burr was a power hungry man who would destroy the country. With the deadlock, Hamilton began pushing for his party to support Jefferson. On the 36th ballot, two federalists states changed to Jefferson. Jefferson would become the 3rd president. The influence of Hamilton to help Jefferson win is one of the issues that led to the duel between Hamilton and Burr causing Hamilton’s death.

So Hamilton helped Jefferson to win, the man who disagree with all Hamilton’s views of the course of the nation. Yet one thing that is most fascinating is that in the end Hamilton won. Jefferson may have won the presidency, but we quickly turned into one of world’s leading industrial powers. We all praise Jefferson, but Hamilton may be the most influential man when it comes to our country. Adams and Jefferson were the most important to us become a free nation, but Hamilton decided what kind of nation we would be.

However, none of this is the major reason why the election of 1800 is the most important. What clearly set this at number one is that for the first 12 years of our government the Federalists were in change under Washington and Adams. Then in 1800 we switched control of the government, and what is most important is nobody died (well maybe Hamilton). I would argue that even in the world today, there are few times that nations switch powers peacefully. Take much of the third world, and for one group to take over power it requires revolutions, chaos, and bloodshed. In 1800, I would argue the US was the only place in the world where there could be a peaceful change of power. In a world full of Kings and Queens, even in England, bloodshed was required to overthrow the ruler and bring in a new one. And in only a few years after the election of 1800, France would switch powers several times beginning with the French Revolution, and every time a new group took over in France, many people would die. Yet in America, when Jefferson won and the Federalists lost, Adams and the Federalists did not raise and army to keep control, they peacefully turned over power. Yes, they thought the Republicans would destroy everything the revolution created; yet they did not stop it. Every four years we as Americans need to understand just how impressive this is. We not only have the right to pick our leaders, we constantly have a peaceful transition between the two sides. On Nov 4 we may have a Democrat come to power, and once again it will be peaceful. As you watch the returns come in, take a moment to realize how exceptional we are to live in such a great nation. The precedent set by our leaders in 1800 of not resisting the change of power, is my reason the election of 1800 is the most important in our history.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Top Five Most Important Elections--#2, 1860

1860 Election. Abraham Lincoln (R) v. John C. Breckinridge (D) v. Stephen Douglas (D) v. John Bell (Constitutionalists Unionists).

The 1860 election is, I believe, the second most important election, even though it happens to be my favorite. The first two chapters of my book (hopefully out next year) deal with this election. In 1860 the incumbent president was James Buchanan (D), but he had no plans of running for a second term. One thing that sets this election apart from most is that there were four viable candidates running. Over the previous 40 years before this election, politically the country was divided between Democrats and Whigs. However in the ten years leading up to 1860 these two parties were breaking down leading to political chaos. By 1860 the Whig party had fallen away and the Democratic party had split into southern and northern wings over the issue of slavery. In 1854 a new party was created, the Republicans, which differed from any other political party before this time in that its membership was comprised solely from the north. The major plank in their platform was to stop the expansion of slavery.

So in 1860 the Northern Democrats ran Stephen Douglas. His major issue was called popular sovereignty, or in other words he believed that new states themselves could choose whether they wanted to enter the Union as free states or slave states. The southern Democrats disagreed with popular sovereignty, claiming it went against their constitutional right to private property and that the Supreme Court had ruled in Dred Scott that slave owners could bring their slaves into any state. The Southern Democrat’s main issue was that they wanted a Constitutional guarantee for slavery. The New Republican party ran Abraham Lincoln and pushed to keep slavery out of all new states. Most Republicans did not want to outlaw slavery everywhere, just not allow it to spread. Normally with the Republicans only supported in the north and the Democrats in both north and south, the Republicans would not stand a chance. However the fear was that with the Democratic party split, it gave the Republicans a good chance for victory. Since there was no way of bringing the two wings of the Democrats together and since the old southern Whigs could not bring themselves to either support the Democrats or Republicans they formed a new party called the Constitutional Unionists. They had one major plank on their platform: A Lincoln victory would lead to Civil War, so everyone should vote for John Bell and the Constitutional Unionists as the compromise candidate and keep the peace.

On the day of the election Lincoln won 18 states including every northern state where the majority of the population lived giving him a surprising 118 electoral votes. Breckinridge came in second capturing all the lower south and Maryland but only giving him 11 states and 72 Electoral College votes. Bell came in third after winning the border states of VA, TN, and KN. Douglas was last with only Missouri.

What makes the 1860 election the second most important was the consequences of Lincoln’s victory. Before the election the southern states had threatened that a Lincoln victory would mean the end of the Union and the creation of separate southern nation. Since the creation of the US the two sides had been at odds over the issue of slavery, however in the years after the Mexican war and addition of new territory preparing to become new states, the differences between the two sections had come to an impasse. Events such as Bleeding Kansas, Dred Scott, and John Brown’s raid had gotten each side so worked up that they had convinced themselves that they could no longer live together. Lincoln and the Republican had had become a particular thorn to the South. In 1858 Lincoln gave his “House Divided Speech” in which he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.” The South took this speech to mean that if elected, Lincoln would try to free the slaves. The other problem the South had with the Republican party was that it did not represent the views of the south, in fact Lincoln had not even been on most ballots in the South, so if he won, the South could expect him to only support wishes from the North. So the election of Lincoln was the final insult to the south and beginning with South Carolina seven southern states broke from the Union and created the Confederate States of America. A few months later in April of 1861 Lincoln order the Union to Fort Sumter, located in Charleston harbor, to be re-supplied. Before the Fort could be replenished, the new CSA opened fire on Sumter beginning the American Civil War. After Lincoln called for 75.000 volunteers to put down the rebellion, the states of VA, TN, AR, and NC all broke their ties with the Union and joined the Confederacy.

1860 is the second most important election, in that it led to America’s most tragic and bloody war. Because of this political crisis, 600,000 Americans lost their lives. What made it so tragic was both sides were fighting for freedom.