Millard Fillmore: Hawaii, "The Saudi Arabia of the 19th Century"

Whale oil fueled the industrial revolution before the process of refining petroleum was discovered.

It not only powered the street lights of the cities in the Midwest that seemed to be growing exponentially overnight, but it also was used to lubricate the machines that were required for the new mass production economy.

It's no surprise that as a resource, it became a political subject. Whaling fleets in New England eventually hunted whales off their coast to the point of exhaustion and were required to look elsewhere.

In the early 1850's, it would be nearly 100 years before Hawaii became a state, but this was the time that diplomatic relations really were established with the ruling monarchy. U.S, British and Japanese whaling fleets started to span the globe looking for suitable whaling. Both the U.S and Britain competed for fishing rights over the Hawaiian islands and sent offers of protection, threats and bribes to the ruling monarchs of the islands.

Things continued to escalate, with the major powers including the confederates during the Civil War sending privateers after competing nations' vessels. Like the oil industry, it was both public and private.

Hawaii's status as a mineral rich, remote kingdom allowed it to play the major powers against each other, using one side's negotiations against the other. It would eventually fall victim to the fate of most colonies and have much of it's wealth and resources annexed, but for the time being, it's remoteness allowed it to be the Saudi Arabia of it's times, amassing enormous amounts of wealth and power for it's ruling and connected families.

It only lost this status when petroleum oil replaced whale oil as the driver of industry.

This will be the fate of Saudi Arabia not if, but when something better than petroleum is discovered.


Millard Fillmore: Where the Whigs Came From

It's fascinating to understand the origin of political movements.

The cool thing about political parties in the 1800's was that they tended to be conglomerations of different movements rather than the well rehearsed national talking points we're used to. The Whig party that Fillmore belonged to was originally made up of several smaller, more focused interest groups.

The Whigs pulled together supporters in the Northeast that were fearful of immigrants and catholics (the No Nothing Party), northerners and westerners opposed to slavery because of various moral and economic reasons (the Free Soil Party) and anti aristocratic movements (the Anti Mason movement).

The other groups that eventually merged into the Whig party were manufacturing interests that were supportive of tariffs on imports and citizens that felt the county needed to be governed in a more modern matter that didn't match with Jefferson's original vision of an agrarian, egalitarian society which the Democrats still held. In the South, they tended to attract supporters who were skeptical of the expansion of Executive power under Jackson who wanted Congress to be the most powerful branch of government.

The one thing that united all Whigs was that they hated Andrew Jackson. For the entire life of the Whig party which was from around 1830 to 1865, 'King Andrew' remained their manifestation of what they should fear the most, even years after his death.

This is similar to the modern incarnation of Republicans rising up against FDR and his liberal, new deal policy. Powerful movements can be started from love or more often hatred of a powerful personality.


The Hitler Comparison Tradition

It seems in vogue lately to compare anyone you don't agree with 'Hitler'. You might think that the tea partiers clever photo shopped posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache are a new thing, but this seems to stretch back at least to the cocaine and pop rocks infused days of the 1980's.

Everyone from punk rockers to right wing 'patriots' seem to feel more and more free to use this choice of words. I even found a liberal blogger that seemed to think the founders were Nazi's as well. This all seems a bit of a stretch, I mean it's understandable that people can passionately disagree about issues concerning the redistribution of wealth, foreign policy, hot button issues like abortion etc., but I fail to see the correlation between political rivals and accusing someone of being a Nazi.

As I was trolling the right and left wing nut job sites for Hitler presidential pictures, a curious trend emerged. Recent presidents- Obama, W. Bush, Clinton and Bush Senior all were relatively easy to find Hitler caricatures for. As I searched for Reagan, I could only find a few punk albums from the 80's that implied Reagan was a Nazi. As I moved on to the 70's, no Carter Nazi pictures emerged (although I found several screeds by Michael Savage calling him an anti Semite). I had to cheat on this one with a picture of Carter with a Hamas head band (close enough to Nazis I guess).

Believe it or not, no Ford or Nixon caricatures were to be found. I thought was odd (Nixon and Ford were called Fascists by many protesters after all) but came up with a few possible reasons for this.

1) Language has become diluted. Swear words are common in every day speech now when they used to be reserved for the most extreme situations, maybe the willingness to pull out the Nazi or Communist card is a symptom of that trend.

2) Politics has become more 'viral' and less civilized. I don't want to make it out that politics ever was civilized- The pamphleteers of the early 1800's used to print things that would make the writers of mother jones or redstate.com blush. You have to wonder why I couldn't find the Nazi accusations about former presidents in the 70's- a much more divided decade than any time in the last 30 years.

3) The Statute of Limitations has passed on the Nazi's. Maybe the 50's, 60's and 70's didn't see a lot of the Hitler comparisons being thrown around because the war was still fresh and most veterans were still living. As the baby boomers and generation x grew up, maybe they felt less need to show the restraint the greatest generation did for this topic.

4) Less political pictures from the 70's were able to be put on the web. This really is the most boring possibility, but I'm sure that it's at least partly right.

Whatever the case, calling people Hitler is unproductive and eliminates the possibility of intelligent debate.