The Political Movements

The post Civil War years were times of great change for American politics. Between Abraham Lincoln's Vice President Andrew Johnson mismanaging the post war occupation in the South so badly and the public (northern) anger towards the Democrats (most confederate sympathizers were Democrat) the Republican party enjoyed political support higher than America has ever seen before or since the war.

As political parties or movements are prone to do though, they overplayed their hand and became corrupt. They took full advantage of the spoils system under the pretense of patriotism and installed their friends and family in what would seem non political positions (post office workers, sheriffs etc.)

They also 'waived the bloody shirt' whenever they could. This term was coined by the Democrats and basically meant they tried to whip up anger over the Civil War during rallies in the North and tried to direct that anger towards the Democrats since most southerners were Democrats. This strategy worked for a while after the war, but as the actual veterans of the war started to die out and the public became preoccupied with the industrial revolution, this strategy seemed stale and out of date. Kind of like the public now is tired of Vietnam dominating the tired debates of Congressional ex hippies and cold war soldiers.

Just like now we have crusty old politicians looking at the culture and cold war issues as the 'real' debate who refuse to address the real issues that face the country such as preventing another financial crisis, the crushing national debt or the country's over response to terrorism threats, those politicians of the 1870's and 1880's tended to spar over who could out Civil War one another and which side was responsible. The public, even in the south had moved on to more pressing issues such as what the governments role should be in managing the industrial revolution and whether there should be a safety net for citizens.

As the Democrats rose back to power, the Republicans declined. The political machines which were at the height of their power in the gilded age of the post reconstruction years gradually gave way to national parties with parties based more on ideas than the geography of their members. The national parties would become so entrenched in American politics that the presidency would be challenged only a handful of times by a non major party ticket. The only ready examples I can think of for credible third party runs are the Bull Moose party of Teddy Roosevelt and Ross Perot's run as an independent.

It makes me nostalgic for the days of the Whig, Liberty and Anti Mason parties.

Garfield: The Middle Civil War President

The Civil War defined generations of Americans and decades of politics from its end in 1865 well into the twentieth century.

In addition to catapulting the Republicans into political dominance on the national level for years after the war, it set up the issues to be debated for the next century.

There are the obvious ones that came directly after the war:

What is the status of freed slaves?
What is the Federal Government's responsibility in protecting the rights of freed slaves?
What is the status of the states that seceded from the Union? Are they states or are they a conquered territory? Do they have the right to self government anymore?
If Southern territories are made states again, can they be made to pay reparations for the war they started?

There were the ones that came later:

What is the financial obligation of the Federal Government to the Union Veterans? Should it take care of their retirement and medical care?
Can politicians and generals that served in the Civil War for the Confederacy serve again in the Congress and U.S. Army?
How long should the Democrats be kept out of power in the voting box? (Almost all Confederate Sympathizers in the South were democrats)
Should hay be made of politicians that didn't serve in the Civil War because they purchased 'substitutes' to serve in there place? (Think of Vietnam and Clinton not serving)

And the ones that would come much later:

Is the Confederate flag something that can be flown with pride or is it just a racist symbol? (South Carolina has it on its state flag to this day.)
If the Southern states will not suppress the KKK terrorizing its black and non democrat citizens, is the Federal Government obligated to send agents and troops to intervene? (again)
At what point could Southerners call themselves patriotic Americans again without being chastised by their friends? (for the generation in the South that fought the Civil War, the federal government was still viewed largely as the enemy.

Many of these questions are still being asked and Garfield fit squarely in the middle of the presidents that served in the Union military, with Johnson, Grant and Hayes before him and Arthur, Benjamin Harrison and McKinley after him.

While World War II largely defined America's place in the world, the Civil War defined domestic policy debates we have to this day.


Presidential Nicknames: Number 1-22

I wanted to publish some presidential nicknames I've come across in the biographies I've read so far. I owe a debt of gratitude to Wikipedia for jogging my memory on some of the more obscure names.

Of note, Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory) inspired the nicknames of two later presidents; James Polk (Young Hickory) and Franklin Pierce (Young Hickory of the Granite Hills). Jackson's tough guy populism made him a kind of Ronald Reagan figure for the next generation, with many candidates claiming to be his legacy.

Five of the first 22 presidents' nicknames were preceded by 'Old', showing a trend where the second and third generation of Americans wanted to be less known as revolutionary and known more for being established.

I think that my personal favorite nickname remains 'The Careful Dutchman' (Van Buren) closely followed by John Quincy Adams (Old Man Eloquent).

Here's the list:

The American Cincinnatus
The Survivor of Monongahela (used mostly during the revolution)

The Duke of Braintree
King John the Second

The Sage of Monticello
The Negro President (for his victory in the election of 1800 since he won because of the 3/5's compromise)
Mad Tom

Little Jemmy (he was only 5'4'')
His Little Majesty

Nothing too creative

John Quincy Adams:
Old Man Eloquent

Andrew Jackson:
Old Hickory
The Hero of New Orleans

Van Buren:
The Careful Dutchman
The Little Magician
Old Kinderhook (O.K)
Martin Van Ruin (by his Whig opponents)

Old Tippecanoe

His Accidency

Young Hickory

Zachary Taylor:
Old Rough and Ready

Millard Fillmore:
The American Louis Phillepe

Franklin Pierce:
Young Hickory of the Granite Hills

James Buchanon:
Ten-Cent Jimmie (because he once said a man should be able to live on 10 cents a day)

Abraham Lincoln:
The Rail Splitter

Andrew Johnson:
The Tennessee Tailor

U.S. Grant:
Unconditional Surrender Grant

Rutherford B. Hayes:
Granny Hayes

James Garfield:
Boatman Jim

Chester Arthur:
Gentleman Boss

Grover Cleveland:
The Hangman of Buffalo