Friday 28 August 2015

Taking a fresh look at Warren Harding, Jimmy Carter and other US presidents

When I studied this subject at university I thought American historians were not up to much compared with British ones. It does seem as if judgements by historians on US presidents, and American historians are very keen indeed on awarding presidents marks, are wildly inaccurate.

Buchanan is unjustly maligned. He, rightly in my opinion, thought the Federal Government did not have the authority to prevent the South seceding and his view would have prevented the Civil War. I like Andrew Johnson for wanting to conciliate the South. Despite his racism and belief in eugenics Coolidge was in many ways a good president, who did very little. Hoover was an interventionist in economics who anticipated the New Deal - was this good or bad?

I read a persuasive article in the New York Times praising Mr Carter yesterday and a very interesting article today in the same paper that praises Warren Harding.
In October 1921, Harding traveled to Birmingham, Ala., where, in a powerful speech to a mixed-race (though segregated) audience, he demanded justice for African-Americans. In the first speech in the South by a sitting president on race, he argued for full economic and political rights for all African-Americans. Pat Harrison, a Democratic senator from Mississippi, was aghast. If Harding’s views “were carried to its ultimate conclusion,” he said, “that means that the black man can strive to become president of the United States.”
This is in sharp contrast to the views of Coolidge and Hoover as well as Democrats.  

Wilson of course was a great believer in segregation. Almost all presidents before Kennedy were opposed to racial equality including Lincoln. According to Ronald Kessler, Lyndon Lyndon Johnson told two unnamed Southern governors 

I'll have them nig-ers voting Democratic for the next two hundred years. 
If true this does not mean LBJ was insincere in his views on civil rights. Most African Americans had voted Democratic, in presidential elections, since 1936 (71% of them did so then) and certainly since 1948 so Johnson was not so much winning black voters as losing white ones.

Wilson told jokes about darkies, mimicking their accent, in cabinet. Coolidge thought the Nordic race deteriorated when mixed with other races. Hoover thought 

one white man was worth two to three coloured people even at simple tasks like shovelling. 
Truman, like Wilson and LBJ a Southerner, said he did not care to live near negroes and opposed the civil rights movement, which he considered, perhaps rightly, to have been instigated by communists. 

Eisenhower told jokes about blacks that would be considered racist these days but I think he was benign enough. He told Chief Justice Earl Warren that the southern whites 
are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes.
I stumbled today on what to me was news that Eisenhower's mother was of mixed race. I remember Americans have told me that in America, even if you are only one eighth black, you count as black (an octoroon) and that therefore Pushkin, by American standards, was black. It seems that so was President Eisenhower. He was probably an octoroon too.


  1. Ha ha; Eisenhower is only more octoroon than others. We all have at least ~1/5000 of black ancestry. And if yes, so what?
    What nonsense! How long will this old race subject be milked? It has been so abused, that it lost all meaning. The reality is that race conflicts in the US are presently being fueled/talked about mainly by old white democrats or blacks. The silent majority is living just fine in a highly diverse world, comprised of ALL RACES. An this is not the result of the affirmative action policies or the civil rights movement, it's the slow but steady evolution of the range of human contact. And this range has been profoundly enhanced by economic and technological evolution. I think that Darwin's evolution principles does no longer apply to humans as we don't evolve directly, but rather via the social and economic structures that we are integrated into. What is true, is that whoever doesn't wish to be part of the new multiracial structure (of any race), will evolve differently.

  2. Actually Republicans took about half the "black vote" (i.e. the votes of people who happen to be black) as late as 1960. So Mr Johnson's plan was (sadly) tactically sound - he did not want 51% (or whatever) of the "black vote" he wanted 90% of it (or more) and that is what his plan to get black peopel dependent on the govenrment achieved. See Walter Williams "The State Against Blacks" for how black communities were transformed.
    Paul Marks

    1. A propos of LBJ the Democrats had most black votes before his time. FDR got 71 percent of the black vote in 1936 and nearly that in the next two elections, but the number of blacks identifying themselves as Republicans was about the same as the number who thought of themselves as Democrats until 1948. Harry Truman took 77 percent of the black vote in 1948. In that year a majority of blacks reported that they thought of themselves as Democrats. Earlier that year Truman had desegregated the armed services and brought in regulations against racial bias in federal employment.

      Even after 1948, Republican nominees continued to get a large slice of the black vote for several elections. Dwight D. Eisenhower got 39 percent in 1956, and Richard Nixon got 32 percent in his narrow loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960.
      But then President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 (outlawing segregation in public places) and his eventual Republican opponent, Sen. Barry Goldwater, opposed it. Johnson got 94 percent of the black vote that year, still a record for any presidential election.
      The following year Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. No Republican presidential candidate has gotten more than 15 percent of the black vote since.

      Now thanks to immigration from Latin America it is hard to see how the Republicans will win many elections.

  3. I think you must mean "in contrast to Wilson and Hoover."

    The actions of the presidents came from a mixture of conviction and calculation in most cases. Truman may have distrusted the civil rights movement, but he integrated the military. Nixon favored civil rights, but he helped in the development of the Republican Party's "southern strategy". Theodore Roosevelt favored black or white wings of the southern Republican Party according to whether they were Mark Hanna's loyalists or his own. LBJ was southern bred and could use racial epithets with the best of them; yet without LBJ's management, the Civil Rights bill could not have been put through the Congress.

    As far as the "black vote" and 1960, one must remember that it was suppressed in much of the south then by a variety of means.

    1. Thank you very much for correcting my slip. Yes, in contrast to Wilson and Hoover. LBJ's and Nixon's use of the word nigger is beside the point. Both were in favour of civil rights. The obduracy of the South is a classic example of the counter productiveness of obdurately withstanding the spirit of the age. Wellington opposing the Reform Act is a similar case but his short sightedness had less long term consequences. Had the Southern states reformed themselves without compulsion the PC ideology might be less powerful today.

  4. The reassessment of Carter is jsutified. His bad luck was the failed hostage attempt at the end of his tenure, which left his presidency with a bad after taste. I cannot help to imagine how he would have been crucified had 140 US marines been blown up in their barracks in the Lebanon on his watch. History does not always just fairly if you have good spin doctors and slick PR.

    1. When I look at men like Lloyd George, Gladstone, Disraeli, the Pitts they seem far above any of the American presidents except Washington and Lincoln and I detest Washington and Lincoln for their unnecessary and unjust wars. I do not know much about Theodore Roosevelt. I admire Truman even though I have become a Republican in US politics. Of recent presidents Bill Clinton seems to have been reasonable. FDR one admires but I hate him for the way he destroyed the power of the British Empire. I am coming to agree with Pat Buchanan that Britain made a mistake going to war in 1939 but since we did so - and it was a decision of the British people not just of Chamberlain and the Conservatives - I am grateful to FDR.

    2. LBJ created the US welfare state. Was this good or bad? The Vietnamese war was a much juster war than the invasion of Iraq but had even more disastrous consequences - ask the Cambodians. Nixon or Eisenhower weren't bad - weren't they better than JFK or LBJ? Nixon for all his sins didn't win office by a rigged election and Nixon was cleaner than LBJ too.
      Presidents could be nonentities when government had few powers.
      Yet none of the post-war presidents up to GWB were bad except, clearly, GWB. I do not know what to think of the present man, who despite his skin colour is colourless. I suspect I am too far away to know.

    3. Nixon was a petty-minded, insecure two-bit crook. His foreign policy was bold and productive, but domestically he besmirched the presidency in a way that not even Republicans could overlook. His administration consisted of men with many convictions.

    4. I read that his biographers admit LBJ did things more crooked than Nixon, but did not get caught. I have no further information.

  5. it seems that you love empires...especially the british empire...u should be smarter than that...all empires eventually fade away...and they will constantly be the cause of world unrest... laur