Remember the old adage about history repeating itself? See if any of this sounds familiar?
Following the American Revolution, it was by no means certain that the United States would survive as a single country. It was only by virtue of a series of compromises that the United States became a viable nation. The glue that brought it all together was Alexander Hamilton’s offer to assume the war debts of the states in exchange for the establishment of a single currency. The states that had already paid their debts thought it unfair. Why should those who had been profligate get a bailout?
· The election of 1800 is regarded by historians as the first “contested” election. The incumbent, John Adams, represented the federalist view that embraced a strong central government. Adams’ opponent was Thomas Jefferson who favored states rights and thought a strong central government was anathema to our founding principles. The once great friends hurled epithets at one another. Pamphleteers aroused the voting public with slogans and insults. In the end, Jefferson prevailed following a tie in the Electoral College with the House of Representatives deciding the final outcome.
By 1819, the US suffered its first financial crisis. To make matters worse, corruption was abundant. Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, the great orator, received fees for services rendered to the Second Bank of the United States. The country’s richest man, John Jacob Astor, paid a retainer to Thomas Hart Benton, Senator from Missouri, to push through laws that benefited him financially; and, President Monroe himself received loans from wealthy patrons that were never repaid. Andrew Jackson, who had no experience of Washington, DC, campaigned to “turn the rascals out”.
Jackson himself was very controversial in his day. He was accused of behaving like “a Bonaparte” for having attacked the Spanish territory of Florida without Congressional approval, a clear violation of the Constitution. His fiercest critic was Henry Clay who said of him, “I cannot believe that killing 2500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult and complicated duties” of President. Jackson was thought a rube – too inarticulate and poorly educated to be President.
Following the Civil War, it was the railroads that made the western US a viable part of a national economy. But, not before a stock scam contributed to the Panic of 1873. Securities fraud by the Northern Pacific Railroad brought down Wall St. firm, Jay Cooke & Co., the preeminent investment bank of its day.
Before the 1930’s, the Panic of 1873 was called the Great Depression because it lasted so long and brought down not only the economy of the United States but also that of Europe. It was left to President Rutherford B. Hayes to put in place reforms that turned things around. He tied US currency to gold and silver thereby tightening the money supply, increasing interest rates and attracting investors anew.
Hayes’ election was controversial. A Republican, he lost both the popular vote and the Electoral College. But, 20 electoral votes were in dispute and Congress appointed a commission to decide the outcome. Congress was controlled by Republicans and they decided in his favor.
Many have pointed out that this election is the most divisive in our history. Do they remember what happened after the election of 1860?
But, divisive might be the word of the year. “Cruz Wins Divisive GOP Runoff” was the headline in July 31’s USA Today. British newspaper, The Guardian, ran a headline Sunday, “In Paul Ryan, Romney Makes a Risky and Divisive Choice”. In May, the New York Times ran an article titled "How Did Wisconsin Become the Most Political Divisive Place in America" The Huffington Post featured a blog by author Warren Adler titled "The Most Divisive Political Campaign in History". Mr. Adler has written 32 novels including “War of the Roses”. If you’ve read it or seen the movie starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, you know that Mr. Adler knows what divisive means.
If this year’s election is the most divisive in our history, it will be because we want it that way. We, as consumers, choose to watch the Sunday morning talk shows and cable news nightly opinion shows and embrace the divisive phrase of the moment. We pass on derogatory emails about the candidates, some meant to be jocular others not so much. We post our one sided views on our Facebook pages, read political blogs and editorials argue vehemently while hiding behind pseudonyms.
Why? Perhaps, it’s because the candidates haven’t given us anything new to consider. All they have to talk about is what’s wrong with the other guy.
So, what do we do? Rutherford B. Hayes isn’t around anymore. So, you have to ask:
WHO WILL LEAD?