The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Friday, June 24, 2005
The Force Bill of 1890 and another Southern Strategy
Henry Cabot Lodge's  Federal Elections Bill is (I find) a useful way into an underexposed neck of the historical woods.
My text is taken from the 2003 paper Congressional Modernization and the Federal Elections Bill of 1890 by Richard Valleley - the only substantial online source, that I can find.
The essence of it is that, with the election of Benjamin Harrison in 1888, the GOP regained control of both elected branches for the first time in a good long while. And it identified a key reason for its failure to take control of the House in electoral fraud and coercion in the South by Democrats.
The Lodge bill provided for a beefing-up of the regime of Federal supervision of elections enacted during Radical Reconstruction. It passed the House, but, in what was the first of the big Southern filibusters on race matters, it was eventually dropped in favour of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act when some Western silverite Republicans jumped ship.
(Unfortunately, the paper's description of the Senate proceedings is brief.)
When GOP unified control returns in 1897 (lasting until the Republicans lost the House in the 1910 elections), the issue of Democratic subversion of Southern elections slipped off the agenda, it's suggested, simply because the creation of so many new, Western, states had made GOP control of the House secure regardless.
Can you say 'shortsighted'?
No doubt, the new states, added to the electoral methods of Marcus Hanna, seemed too comfortable a cushion.
In fact, says the paper, GOP administrations between 1897 and 1911 actually unpicked most of what remained of the Federal election laws.
Nemesis came - appropriately enough - with that son of the South and arch-segregator, Woodrow Wilson, and thanks to a GOP schism, too.
The 51st Congress is interesting as the one in which, by the introduction of Reed's Rules, the House limited debate and tightened up discipline, thus making a clear distinction between itself and the Senate. The paper suggests that, as a result of its experience with the filibuster on the Lodge bill, the Senate might itself have chosen to introduce some kind of cloture rule.
There's something of a parallel in Western intervention (or lack of it) in Southern affairs in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 in which Western senators (including Frank Church of Idaho) were helpful to the cause in exchange for getting a bill for a Hells Canyon dam passed the Senate. (Keith Finley's thesis has the gen in Chapter 4.)
My understanding is that the Sherman Act did nothing much to reflate the economy (the silver purchased was not monetised) as desired by the farmers of the West; and the Hells Canyon dam bill failed in the House.
But silvermania worked to let McKinley into the White House; and that anemic Civil Rights Act did much the same for Lyndon Johnson. (Some reaching involved there, but an element of truth, too!)
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