The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Fugitive Slave Act again

The QED (August 9) is to find a QED: a sensible question that can be answered by the fast-breeding spreadsheets that any RCV analysis (even the least competent!) inevitably generates.

I considered one or two possibilities:

Were free-state senators who voted for the FSA (or failed to vote against it) punished electorally for their votes?

The noise problem is terrible! The numbers are small; the extinction of the Whigs was imminent; senators in that era just didn't rack up Thurmond-like Senate careers [1].

Of 29 free-state senators at the time of the vote for the bill on passage [2], four voted for the bill, 11 voted against and 14 did not vote.

Of the four, so far as I can see [3], two (Davis (W-MA) and Sturgeon (D-PA)) did not seek re-election, one (Dodge (D-IA)) resigned to take up a government post, and the other (Jones D-IA) was re-elected.

Of the 11, none of the seven Whigs were re-elected; two seem to have run for re-election and been defeated, the rest to have chosen not to seek re-election. One of the three Dems (Dodge (WI)) was re-elected. The Free Soil Salmon Chase (OH) resigned to run as governor.

Of the 14, one Whig (of five), Seward (NY), was re-elected, as was Bright (IN) and Douglas (IL) of the eight Dems. The rest resigned or did not seek re-election, as did Free Soiler Hale (NH).

If fear that, however much logit and probit one applied, little value is to be had from such stats.

Second, I looked at the cases where, in the votes where a sectional line could be discerned [4], senators voted against their section.

The largest number of such votes (42 from the 10 RCVs) came from Northern Democrats. Of these, 17 were given by the Iowa delegation, 7 by Sturgeon and 5 by Cass (MI).

Why Iowa? This piece fills in some background, blaming the fact that Iowa had a significant proportion of Southerners in its population.

I suspect that this is an artefact: Illinois had its Southern element, for instance, but Douglas, though responsible for bringing the Compromise safely to harbour after Clay had failed, contrive to register in none of the ten FSA RCVs. The other senator, Shields, voted proslavery five times, but not on passage [5].

In sum, my QED is that I don't think there is one: not to be gained from the numbers alone, at least [6]. Genuine historical research would be needed to divine the reasons for the Iowa senators' votes. Delving into newspapers, and personal papers and all that pre-online jazz.

(Channelling Giles, it seems.)

  1. Using the Congressional Bio page, it seems that the senators in the 31st Congress who were also senators in the 24th numbered precisely seven (out of 71 senators in the 31st).

    By comparison, I make it that no fewer than 35 senators in the 109th have served since the 102nd - and that's not counting Lautenberg and others with broken service.

  2. The third reading vote - as close to a RCV on passage as they got.

  3. Most of these folks have a slim online footprint and sketchy Congressional Bio entry.

  4. That is, a bias in favour of, or against, the interests of slavery discernable in the tenor of the amendment in question. (Rather than examine the amendments themselves, for this preliminary exercise, I used the characterisations given by Basinger in his summary!) I omitted RC 239 as not being clearly sectional.

  5. Shields was the subject of a dispute about his qualifications. He came in, was refused membership, was re-elected and finally let in. The membership dates in his Congressional Bio do not tally with the dates he's shown as a member by Voteview.

  6. More numbers might help. A state-by-state breakdown of Free Soil Party votes in the 1848 presidential election, for instance. Though, I believe I've read somewhere that, in some states, deals were done to give freesoil votes to other parties. Horribly messy!

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