Thursday, April 26, 2007

Abraham Lincoln's Corrupt Bargain

James Gordon Bennett, was the founder, editor and publisher of the New York Herald from 1835 until 1866 when the reigns were handed to his son.

Though Bennett will tell you that his newspaper was officially independent, he made it well known that he opposed Abraham Lincoln.

Consider this excerpt from an 1864 Herald, editorial:

President Lincoln is a joke incarnated. His election was a very sorry joke. The idea that such a man as he should be President of such a country as this is a very ridiculous joke. . . His inaugural address was a joke, since it was full of promises which he has never performed. His Cabinet is and always has been a standing joke. All his State papers are jokes. . . His intrigues to secure a renomination and the hopes he appears to entertain of a re-election are, however, the most laughable jokes of all.

Surely, first amendment rights take precedent, but allowing this in the paper is hardly the act of an 'independent' newspaper.

To win the 1864 nomination, Lincoln needed to win New York and needed support from Bennett and the Herald in order to do that. So Lincoln did what any good politician would do... he asked Bennett to name his price. Bribery? From Lincoln? This can't be...

Bennett, a newspaper tycoon, didn't need the money and simply wanted "attention" and "recognition".

A newspaperman before anything else, Bennett agreed to give Lincoln's administration "a thorough exposition in the columns of the Herald," provided that Lincoln and his advisers "occasionally... make known to him [their] plans."

It's important to note that the Herald was known for lacking in morals and respectability and Bennett was barred from polite New York society because he was "too pitchy to touch".

Lincoln, needing the votes, appointed the totally unqualified Bennett as minister to France. Bennett, who wanted the social recognition, accepted the position.

The bargain was done. The Herald no longer criticized the President, and New York's 33 Electoral Votes went to Lincoln.

Donald, David. Lincoln Reconsidered. 2nd ed. New York: Alfred a. Knopf, Inc., 1956. 74-75.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

We The People... Must Pay Taxes

Traditionally, April 15 is tax day. It is a day that lives in infamy as the one event that many Americans see as the Government's way to take advantage of the common man. Still others see it as a necessity to allow the government to take care of things we normally wouldn't want to do on our own, i.e. deliver mail, put out fires, fix the potholes, police our streets, dispose of waste, or mow the grass at the park.

In order for our government to establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty... We the People, must pay taxes. Plain and simple.

However, it wasn't always this way.

The fledgling United States did not originally have an income tax. The original tax was brought about because of the great debt the states were in after The Revolutionary War.

Coincidentally, The Revolutionary War was ended on April 15, 1783 when the Continental Congress ratified preliminary articles of peace with Great Britain.

There shall be a firm and perpetual peace between his Britannic Majesty and the said States,…wherefore all hostilities both by sea and land shall then immediately cease.

Originally, monies collected from Whiskey and tobacco taxes provided much of
the government's early revenues. However, financing the Revolutionary War was expensive and the young United States, under The Articles of Confederation, struggled to raise funds from the thirteen states.

The Articles of Confederation (AOC), left the power to the states, leaving the federal government and the executive branch very weak without the power to levy taxes.

The AOC, adopted in 1781, reflected the American fear of a strong central government, something Thomas Jefferson fought against. This fear of a strong central government left much of the political power in the hands of the States. Therefore, the national government had few responsibilities and no nationwide tax system, relying on donations from the States for its revenue. Under the Articles, each State was a sovereign entity and could levy tax as it pleased.

In other words, the States didn't have to pay the Nation.

To pay for the war, the post Revolutionary War era brought about many new taxes. To pay the debts of the Revolutionary War, Congress levied excise taxes on distilled spirits, tobacco and snuff, refined sugar, carriages, property sold at auctions, and various legal documents.

The government however, also decided to use taxes for social influence. In Pennsylvania for example, there was an excise tax on liquor "to restrain persons in low circumstances from an immoderate use thereof." Much like the tax on cigarettes today.

So what about the income tax? When did this come into play? The income tax was not issued until the Civil War. However there was talk of using it sometime before that. There was never a thought to use taxes to equalize income and wealth, or for the purpose of redistributing income or wealth. Although Thomas Jefferson had his opinions on such an idea.

Jefferson, to "promote the general welfare" once wrote:

To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his father
has acquired too much, in order to spare to others who (or whose fathers) have
not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first
principle of association, "to guarantee to everyone a free exercise of his
industry and the fruits acquired by it."
This sounds unfair doesn't it. It throws Darwinism out the window, like a colonial chamber pot. Which is why men would always walk on the building side of the sidewalk, so that they would receive the brunt of the mess, should someone decide to dispose of last night's eliminations at that juncture.

Today, we have the tiered tax system to "promote the general welfare". Sure, you can say its not fair, but that is how it is done. There are all sorts of arguments for a fair tax plan, and ideas to only tax consumer goods and do away with the income tax altogether. Who knows what is best? Who knows if the Fair Tax Act would actually work? I'll save the discussion for another time.

The income tax, as we know it today, was first exercised during the Civil War. When the Civil War erupted, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which in addition to restoring earlier taxes, also imposed a tax on personal incomes. Any person making more than $800 a year was levied a 3 percent tax. The tax was not enforced until the following year.

In the spring of 1862, it was now clear that the war would not end quickly, as originally thought, and the government would need additional revenue to pay for its $2 million daily growth in debt.

To remedy this Congress passed new taxes on playing cards, gunpowder, feathers, telegrams, iron, leather, pianos, yachts, billiard tables, drugs, patent medicines, many legal documents and once again... whiskey.

The 1862 law also introduced the first tiered tax system. Incomes up to $10,000 were taxed at 3 percent, while anything higher was taxed at 5 percent. There were standard deductions and taxes were withheld at the source by employees.

When the war ended, the need for a continuous Federal revenue stream declined and most taxes were repealed in 1868. The income tax was abolished in 1872.

By 1913, 36 States had ratified the 16th Amendment, which authorized an income tax. The new income tax law had rates beginning at 1 percent and rising to 7 percent for taxpayers with income in excess of $500,000. Less than 1 percent of the population paid income tax at the time. They used the 1040 form, which is something we all know and love.

World War One greatly increased the need for federal revenue generated through taxes. An act in 1916 raised the tax rate. It was raised again in 1918. The Roaring Twenties allowed the economy to boom, and Congress cut the tax rate 5 times.

Even after the crash of 1929, another tax hike was enacted in 1932, and so on and so forth. Each new war brought more money needed, more taxes, different taxes, sneakier taxes, etc...

We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union... must pay taxes.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Here's To You Mr. Robinson

On this date, April 10, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player to sign a major league contract.

Like the good businessman he turned out to be, Robinson signed a one-year contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dodger's general manager Branch Rickey personally recruited Robinson from the Negro Leagues to play with his ballclub. Robinson left baseball early, after 10 years of service to pursue other endeavors. He became the Vice President for Chock Full o' Nuts and then tried his hand in politics.

On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball, Commissioner Bud Selig announced that Robinson's #42 would be retired throughout baseball and would never again be issued to on-field personnel. (players currently wearing the number were grandfathered in and allowed to wear the number until retirement)

This year, to mark Robinson's 60th Anniversary, Major League Baseball will honor Robinson once again by allowing players to wear his retired #42 jersey. The idea apparently came as a result of a phone call that Reds' right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. made to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, requesting permission to wear it on the anniversary.

Each of the 15 games throughout Major League Baseball on April 15th will feature festivities to honor Mr. Robinson. The national celebration of Jackie Robinson Day will take place at Dodger Stadium with many VIPs, an on-field ceremony before the game Among those participating in the festivities will be Rachel Robinson, Jackie's wife and founder of The Jackie Robinson Foundation; their daughter, author Sharon Robinson; several of Jackie's former teammates; baseball executives and civic and industry leaders; Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars; and winners of the Breaking Barriers Essay Contest. (info. courtesy of

In his rookie season of 1947, Robinson won Rookie of the Year. He as the league's Most Valuable Player in 1949, and led the Dodgers to 6 pennants in his 10 seasons. For more information visit the Baseball Almanac for all of Jackie Robinson's Career Stats.

More than a great ball player, Robinson personifies courage, determination and perseverance. He, like so many black ball players after him had to endure a lot of hardship to play the game they loved. I applaud Jackie Robinson not only for his athletic prowess, but for his courage to be the first to step foot on a major league ball field. He could have said no, and left the name calling and death threats to someone else. But he didn't.

Like Robinson, I've all the respect in the world for Hank Aaron as well. He too received death threats and threats to his family if he dared to break the great Babe Ruth's home run record. Well, he dared. And he succeeded.

American history is perseverance. American history is courage. American history is baseball. American history is Jackie Robinson.


For historians, researchers, baseball fans and curious minds, check out ABNER, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Online Library Catalog...


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Too Proud to Fight: U.S. Involvement in World War I

On April 6, 1917, the United States formally declared war against Germany and entered The Great War in Europe.

Already in the war since the summer of 1914, Britain, France, and Russia welcomed news that American troops and supplies would be directed toward the Allied war effort, under the command of Major General John Pershing. Though the United States was already involved in the war and was already helping the Allied war effort.

What was supposed to be none of our business, quickly became our business when a British Cruise liner, the Lusitania, was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean. Of the 1,962 civilians on board, 1,198 of them died, 124 of whom were Americans.

An atrocity!! America claimed that the Lusitania was carrying innocent cargo and vacationers on a cruise ship... very brave vacationers I might add. The United States home front was stunned and demanded that Wilson go to war. But Wilson stood firm and continuously declared neutrality. What a crock! Wilson's actions were never neutral, and I secretly think he always wanted to go to war for economic reasons, but was looking for an excuse to enter the war. He would eventually get his excuse.

This, like many American conflicts was our own fault. President Woodrow Wilson had promised to stay neutral, but he hardly followed through with this promise. In fact, despite his comments, the United States was never neutral, and the Lusitania did not have 'innocent cargo'.

The United States had been shipping war materials to Germany's enemies for some time. The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 by Germany was justified.

After warning of "unrestricted submarine warfare" to ANY ships found in the Atlantic Ocean in an around Europe, the Germans had every right to torpedo the Lusitania.

Germany had already sunk a number of merchant vessels. Their ban of ships in this area was a simple war time tactic. They feared the US would supply their enemies with supplies on the sly.

Germany, sandwiched between France, Russia and Britain had almost no shot at winning the war. To remotely have a chance, Germany needed to make sure that Russia was not being sent supplies from the US or Britain for that matter. Taking Russia out of the war would eliminate the entire Eastern front and Germany could then focus on the West. Russia did eventually leave the war due to their troops' morale being low as a result of food and supplies not being replenished and the rapidly decreasing economy of their homeland. Russia's surrender was a big reason the United States joined the war... Wilson could not justify staying out of the war and allowing Germany to win.

The Lusitania's cargo, according to Howard Zinn contained the following:

1,248 cases of 3-inch shells
4,927 boxes of cartridges (1000 rounds per box)
2,000 cases of small-arms ammunition.

...hardly an innocent cargo.

Both Britain and the United States then lied about the cargo on-board, falsifying the manifests.

We were asking for it. Germany asked us not to get involved. Germany issued a warning that any ship in the area would be sunk. America claimed it was remaining neutral. As far as I'm concerned, shipping supplies to other countries is not staying neutral.

Perhaps Wilson was looking for an excuse to join the war, despite claiming that "There is such a thing as nation being too proud to fight." How about a nation, too proud to fight for the wrong reasons?

Wilson believed Germany's demands were intruding on the rights of American citizens to sail on the high seas. I believe that Wilson knowingly put American and British lives in danger by ignoring the unrestricted submarine warfare warnings.

This war was not about the United States. It was about European Alliances. It was about Nationalism, Imperialism and Militarism. The United States did not need to be involved. But there is an obvious contradiction to this neutrality with the delivery of supplies. This contradiction leads many to believe that Wilson was looking for a reason to get involved in the war.... but the US interest in the war was more about the future of the US Economy and less about the immediate defense of its citizens.

The United States would not stand to see Britain defeated by Germany. The United States' economy relied heavily on foreign markets to the tune of $3.5 billion. Britain was seen as a country that needed loans and the American companies like JP Morgan and Company were just what Britain needed.

Additionally, industrialists realized that involvement in the war would mean increased production and sale of their resources. Tycoons of steel, railroads, gun powder, automobiles and banks were sure to benefit from the US involvement in the war.

There is no doubt that a war is a good way to pull an economy out of a depression or a recession, but why can't our administrators be honest about why we go to war? It was not about the innocent lives of Americans but rather our posterity.

More to Explore:

World War I Lesson Plans/Primary Source Documents
Woodrow Wilson Lesson Plans/Primary Source Documents