Wednesday, January 5, 2011


And now to tackle the second half of What Hath God Wrought:

(I make no claim that Daniel Walker Howe would actually agree with me that his book was mostly about Whigs and the Mexican-American War. It's about a lot of things. These are the things that I grabbed onto and thought about and wanted to write posts on)

The Whigs. Even though I just claimed not to claim that Daniel Walker Howe's book is about Whigs, and even though he explicitly claimed that his book doesn't have one overriding thesis, certainly a unifying theme throughout it was that the description "Jacksonian America" really only applies to somewhere around half of the country during that period. The policies, like Indian Removal, that we find so hard to stomach now also experienced lots of opposition in their own time. Even slavery. One good point that I think he makes is that even though historians like to make a point of what a minority viewpoint abolition many people belonged to abolition societies then as belong to the Boy Scouts of America or the NRA now. So it's not like it was some unheard of thing. The Whig party coalesced around opposition to Andrew Jackson...I'm sure it's simplistic to think of them as "the good guys," but at the same time it's hard not to. One thing that I thought was particularly interesting is that the military ended up largely dominated by Whigs...even while most of the military action that the country was engaged in during the period was at the prompting of the Jacksonian Democrats. Actually, possibly because the military action of the time was prompted by the Jacksonians. Those who actually had to enforce Indian Removal were not enamored with it's justice.

The other thing that's striking about the Whigs though, and maybe the thing that has the most relevance to the modern day, is that the process by which vice presidents in this country are chosen borders on criminal negligence. The Whigs had the bizarre honor of electing both the first and second presidents who died in office, one right after  the other (with a Democratic president in between). Both times, the vice presidents who took over represented dramatic policy reversals from the men who had actually been elected. One guy even tried to switch parties. The exact same thing probably couldn't happen today, what with the maturation of the party system. Whatever else you might think about Sarah there any doubt that she would have pursued a conservative Republican agenda? (Ok, maybe a little doubt...sometimes she doesn't seem to be sure what the conservative Republican agenda is). But she's still an unsettling reminder that we haven't magically started taking the vice presidency seriously. I have a theory that the world would be a better place without the vice presidency, or at least the current conception of it. I think we'd be better off if Richard Nixon had never been vice president (not just because he might then have never been president, but also because being selected to be Eisenhower's more partisan counterpart & hatchet man so early in his career brought out the worst in him), and if Al Gore had never been vice president (was it really good for the Democratic Party to have it's 2000 nominee selected for them  in 1992?). I'm not really sure what good the vice presidency has ever done this country. Well, except for Harry Truman. Harry Truman was awesome. And Gerry Ford wasn't exactly evil. Or Papa Bush.

So, in summary....Whigs! And Gerry Ford! It all means something.

No comments:

Post a Comment