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US Civil Liberties

Project: US Civil Liberties
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The British colonies in North America carry over the practice of “civil death,” a disenfranchisement stemming from ancient Greek, Roman, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon law and enforced against some convicted criminals. English law developed the similar punishment of “attainder,” which, law professor Debra Parkes will later write, “resulted in forfeiture of all property, inability to inherit or devise property, and loss of all civil rights.” Those civil rights will encompass the right to vote. When the first British settlement in America is established in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, the concept of “civil death” is carried over. The concept continues into the British colonies that will become Canada and the United States. [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

Lawmakers in the British colonies of North America debate whether voting is a right or a privilege under the law. Voting, like many other civil rights, can be denied to convicted criminals under the ancient concept of “civil death” and the English legal concept of “attainder” (see 1607-1776). History and social policy professor Alexander Keyssar will later write that the various colonies have “no firm principles governing colonial voting rights, and suffrage [voting] laws accordingly were quite varied.… In practice, moreover, the enforcement of application of suffrage laws was uneven and dependent on local circumstances.” Many American colonists argue that voting is a privilege and not a right, and thusly can be granted or taken away by the government. Keyssar will write: “Yet there was a problem with this vision of suffrage as a right… there was no way to argue that voting was a right or a natural right without opening a Pandora’s box. If voting was a natural right, then everyone should possess it.” Eventually, the Founders define voting as a constitutional issue. Keyssar will write, “Implicit in this treatment was the notion that suffrage requirements ought to be durable and difficult to change.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Alexander Keyssar

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. [Source: ecollision (.com)]Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and one of the creators of the as-yet-unwritten US Constitution, writes in his book Notes on the State of Virginia: “[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” The passage follows Jefferson’s introduction of a bill in the Virginia legislature that guarantees legal equality for citizens of all religions, or no religion, in the state. The bill stalls until 1784, when Virginia legislator Patrick Henry introduces a bill mandating state support for “teachers of the Christian religion.” Fellow legislator James Madison, another author of the Constitution, presents an essay titled “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” that explains why the state has no business supporting Christian instruction. Madison garners some 2,000 signatures of support, and his essay becomes a linchpin of American political philosophy, endorsing the concept of a strictly secular state that later gives the Constitution the concept of “the separation of church and state.” In the essay, Madison declares “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every… man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.” He also writes that government sanction of a religion is in essence a threat to the idea of religion: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Madison, a Baptist mindful of the persecution of Baptist ministers being arrested in Virginia, notes that Christianity had spread in the face of persecution from worldly powers, not with their help. Christianity, he contends, “disavows a dependence on the powers of this world… for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them.” Henry’s proposal directly challenges the idea of America as a refuge for the protester or rebel, he writes; instead, it is “a departure from that generous policy, which offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country.” Henry’s bill is roundly defeated, and Virginia establishes a law following Jefferson’s lead in mandating the separation between church and governmental affairs. After that law passes, Jefferson writes that the law “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.” The same mandate becomes part of Article VI of the US Constitution, which states that federal elective and appointed officials “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution, but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” In 2010, scholar Kenneth C. Davis will write, “This passage—along with the facts that the Constitution does not mention God or a deity (except for a pro forma ‘year of our Lord’ date) and that its very first amendment forbids Congress from making laws that would infringe of the free exercise of religion—attests to the founders’ resolve that America be a secular republic.” Towards the end of his life, Madison will write a letter summarizing his views: “And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” [Thomas Jefferson, 1782; James Madison, 1784; Smithsonian Magazine, 10/2010]

Entity Tags: Patrick Henry, Kenneth C. Davis, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms

After the failure of the US federal government under the Articles of Confederation, the men working to shape the new American government—later termed the “Founders”—determine that the new government must have a president with power equal to that of Congress and the Supreme Court. The federal government itself has far more power under the new Constitution than it had under the Articles, but many Founders worry that the government will have, or take upon itself, the power to constrain or even destroy individual rights and freedoms. The government, therefore, will have strict limitations on its functions, and will be divided into three co-equal branches. Debate over whether the new government should have a single president or an executive council rages, but eventually the Founders decide that a single president could best act decisively in times of crisis. However, Congress has the strength to curtail presidential power via legislation and oversight. One of the Founders’ most crucial decisions is to give Congress, not the president, the power to declare war and commit military troops to battle. Congress must also authorize any military actions that fall short of actual war, the creation and maintenance of armies, and exercise control over how the president can call on the armed forces in emergencies. Finally, the Founders, all too aware that until the English Revolution of 1688, the King of England could use his “prerogative powers” to dispense with a law that he felt unnecessary, move to ensure that the US president cannot use a similar usurpation of power to override Congressional legislation, writing in the Constitution that the president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In 2007, reporter Charlie Savage, drawing on James Madison’s Federalist Papers, will write: “Knowing that it was inevitable that from time to time foolish, corrupt, or shortsighted individuals would win positions of responsibility in the government, the Founders came up with a system that would limit anyone’s ability to become a tyrant or to otherwise wreck the country. And over the next century and a half, the system worked as the Founders had designed it to work.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 14-16]

Entity Tags: James Madison, Charlie Savage

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

The US Constitution connects voting in national (federal) elections and state voting law. Under the old Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1777, states retained control over citizen voting rights, including the ability of a state government to take the right of voting away from a citizen under certain circumstances (see 1764 - 1776). History and social policy professor Alexander Keyssar will later write that “the Constitution of the United States forged a link between state suffrage rules and the right to vote in national elections: those who participated in elections for the ‘most numerous branch of the State Legislature‘… there was no formal debate about the possibility of a national standard more inclusive than the laws already prevailing in the states. Indeed, the records of the federal convention and state constitutional conventions suggest that most members of the new nation’s political leadership did not favor a more democratic franchise.” Ultimately, the right to vote is codified by a compromise between the various authors of the Constitution. The right of American citizenship, as controlled by the federal government, does not necessarily grant the right to vote, which is held primarily by the states. [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Alexander Keyssar

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

George Washington.George Washington. [Source: VisitingDC (.com)]In a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, President George Washington writes in part: “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation.… It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.… May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” [George Washington, 8/1790; George Washington, 8/17/1790]

Entity Tags: George Washington

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms

Kentucky’s State Constitution is ratified. It provides that, under Kentucky law, citizens can have their right to vote taken away upon being “convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” [State Constitution of Kentucky, 1792 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

James Madison, one of the founders of the American system of constitutional government (see 1787), writes of the importance of Congress, not the president, retaining the power to send the nation to war. “Those who are to conduct a war cannot, in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges,” he writes, “whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded. They are barred from the latter functions by a great principle in free government, analagous to that which separates the sword from the purse, or the power from executing from the power of enacting laws.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: James Madison

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Vermont ratifies its state Constitution. Under the Vermont Constitution, the Vermont Supreme Court can strip a citizen of the right to vote upon conviction for bribery, corruption, or other crimes. [THE CONSTITUTION OF 1793 (Vermont), 1793 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010] Vermont is following the example set by Kentucky a year before (see April 19, 1792).

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

After two states, Kentucky and Vermont, include language in their constitutions allowing state officials to strip citizens of the right to vote upon conviction for various felonies and other serious crimes (see April 19, 1792 and July 9, 1793), a large number of other states follow suit.
Ohio - In 1802, Ohio leads the way, including language in its newly ratified state constitution that gives the legislature the right to “exclude from the privilege of voting” any citizen “convicted of bribery, perjury, or otherwise infamous crime.”
Louisiana - In 1812, Louisiana includes language in its newly ratified state constitution that disenfranchises citizens “convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.” The Louisiana Constitution also disenfranchises anyone convicted of participating “in a duel with deadly weapons against a citizen of Louisiana.” In 1845, Louisiana includes language in its constitution to disenfranchise a citizen “under interdiction” or “under conviction of any crime punishable with hard labor.”
Indiana - In 1816, Indiana ratifies its constitution, which grants the General Assembly the right “to exclude from the privilege of electing, or being elected, any person convicted of an infamous crime.”
Mississippi - In 1817, Mississippi’s newly ratified state constitution allows for the disenfranchisement of citizens “convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.”
Connecticut - Connecticut ratifies its state constitution in 1818. That instrument precludes from voting “those convicted of bribery, forgery, perjury, dueling, fraudulent bankruptcy, theft, or other offense for which an infamous punishment is inflicted.”
Alabama - Alabama ratifies its constitution in 1819, granting itself the right to disenfranchise “those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Missouri - In 1820, Missouri’s newly ratified constitution gives Missouri’s General Assembly the right to disenfranchise “all persons convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crime.” Citizens convicted of electoral bribery lose their right to vote for 10 years.
New York - New York ratifies its constitution in 1821. Like Indiana, it bars citizens from voting if convicted of “infamous crimes.” In 1846, New York rewrites the constitution to strip voting rights from those “who have been or may be convicted of bribery, larceny, or of any other infamous crime… and for wagering on elections.”
Virginia - Virginia ratifies its constitution in 1830. It follows New York and Indiana in barring voting by those “convicted of an infamous crime.”
Delaware - Delaware’s constitution, ratified in 1831, bars citizens from voting “as a punishment of crime,” and specifically disenfranchises citizens convicted of a felony.
Tennessee - In 1834, Tennessee’s newly ratified constitution bars those convicted of “infamous crimes” from voting.
Florida - Florida’s constitution is ratified in 1838, seven years before Florida becomes a state. Under Florida’s constitution, the General Assembly can disenfranchise citizens “who shall have been, or may thereafter be, convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crime or misdemeanor.… [T]he General Assembly shall have power to exclude from… the right of suffrage, all persons convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crimes.”
Rhode Island - Rhode Island ratifies its constitution in 1842, and bans citizens from voting once “convicted of bribery or of any crime deemed infamous at common law, until expressly restored to the right of suffrage by an act of General Assembly.”
New Jersey - Like Rhode Island, New Jersey’s 1844 constitution disenfranchises convicted felons “unless pardoned or restored by law to the right of suffrage.” The constitution specifically disenfranchises those “convicted of bribery.”
Texas - The Texas Constitution, ratified in 1845, states, “Laws shall be made to exclude… from the right of suffrage those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes.”
Iowa - Iowa’s constitution, ratified in 1846, disenfranchises citizens “convicted of any infamous crime.”
Wisconsin - Wisconsin’s newly ratified constitution, adopted in 1848, bars citizens “convicted of bribery, larceny, or any infamous crime” from voting, and specifically forbids citizens convicted of “betting on elections” from casting votes.
California - Like Florida, California adopts its constitution before it becomes a state. Its 1849 constitution strips voting rights from “those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes” as well as “those convicted of any infamous crime.” California becomes a state in 1850.
Maryland - Maryland’s constitution, ratified in 1851, bars from voting citizens “convicted of larceny or other infamous crime” unless pardoned by the governor. Anyone convicted of election bribery is “forever disqualified from voting.”
Minnesota - The 1857 ratification of Minnesota’s constitution gives that state the right to disenfranchise citizens “convicted of treason or felony until restored to civil rights.” The constitution comes into effect when Minnesota becomes a state in 1858.
Oregon - Oregon ratifies its state constitution in 1857, two years before it becomes a state. More strict than many other states, its constitution disenfranchises citizens “convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Joseph and Hyrum Smith.Joseph and Hyrum Smith. [Source: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church, more commonly known as the Mormon Church), is murdered in an Illinois jail along with his brother Hyrum. The Smiths have been unpopular since the founding of the Mormon Church in the late 1820s. In 1832, a Christian mob tarred and feathered Joseph Smith. In 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered all Mormons expelled from his state; three days later, rogue militiamen massacred 17 Mormons, including children, at the Mormon settlement of Haun’s Mill. In 1844, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were charged with treason and jailed in Carthage, Illinois. A mob breaks into the prison and murders both men. Though five are charged with the murders, none are ever convicted. [Smithsonian Magazine, 10/2010]

Entity Tags: Lilburn Boggs, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, Jr, Hyrum Smith

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion

During the Mexican-American War, Army General Winfield Scott forms a military commission to try 42 Irish-born deserters from the US military who had joined their fellow Roman Catholics in the Mexican army. All 42 are convicted. Twenty-seven are executed, 14 are flogged and branded, and one is pardoned. [USA Today, 11/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Winfield Scott

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes

The US Supreme Court rules in Dred Scott v. Sandford that African-Americans are not citizens regardless of their status as free or slave, and therefore cannot sue for redress in federal courts. The Court also rules that Congress has no power to ban slavery in US territories, and that the rights of slaveowners are protected by the Fifth Amendment because slaves are categorized as property. The origins of the case date to 1833 when Army surgeon Dr. John Emerson purchased Dred Scott, a slave, and moved him to a military base in Wisconsin. Slavery was banned in territories made free by the Missouri Compromise, and Wisconsin was one of these territories. However, Scott did not assert his freedom at that time. Instead, he lived in Wisconsin for four years, sometimes hiring himself out for work. In 1840, Scott moved with his family to Louisiana and then to St. Louis, Missouri, with Emerson. After Emerson died, Scott attempted to buy his family’s freedom from Emerson’s wife Eliza Irene Sanford, but was refused. (Sanford’s name was misspelled ‘Sandford’ in court documents.) Scott then sued Sanford in a state court, arguing that he and his family were free because they lived in a territory where slavery was illegal, and that he was owed back wages. A state court found in Scott’s favor in 1850, but Sanford’s brother John appealed the decision. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the original decision. Scott, alleging physical abuse, then sued John Sanford for damages in a federal court, but a jury disallowed Scott’s right to file a case in federal court. Scott appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. In a majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction to take the case because Scott is not a US citizen. Taney writes that Scott is “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves,” and, therefore, he is not a “member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution.” Taney also dismisses Scott’s assertion that his residence in a free state automatically grants him freedom and status as a US citizen, reasoning that states may choose to recognize the rights of freed slaves as citizens, but the federal government is under no obligation to do so. Lastly, the Court finds that, because slaves are property, Congress’s ban on slavery in the territories violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection of property rights. Justice Benjamin Curtis issues a powerful dissent to the Taney opinion. The Court’s decision will exacerbate tensions between Northern and Southern states, being widely seen as validating the South’s view of national power. It will also embolden pro-slavery Southerners and others to try to extend slavery into other areas of the nation, and will infuriate abolitionists, who will become powerful voices within the newly formed Republican Party. The three “Reconstruction Amendments”—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth (see February 26, 1869)—will render the Scott decision invalid. In modern times, all people born or naturalized in the US will be considered citizens who have the right to bring suit in federal court. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: Republican Party, Benjamin Curtis, Dred Scott, Eliza Irene Sanford, John Emerson, US Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, Missouri Supreme Court, John Sanford

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

President Abraham Lincoln, responding to a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, does not wait for Congress to begin its next session to make his response. Instead, Lincoln, wielding powers that the Constitution does not grant him and without a formal declaration of war, drastically enlarges the Union’s army and navy, blockades Southern ports, spends money not appropriated by Congress, and arrests Northern citizens suspected of being Confederate sympathizers. All of these steps exceed his authority under the Constitution and under federal law. Lincoln addresses Congress as soon as it reconvenes, admitting that he has exceeded his authority (see 1787 and 1793), and refusing to argue that his actions are lawful based on any “prerogative of power” inherent to the presidency. Instead, he explains that he felt he had to respond immediately to the sudden crisis, and asks Congress to retroactively authorize his emergency actions. He says, “These measures, whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be a popular demand and a public necessity, trusting then, as now, that Congress would readily ratify them.” Congress gives Lincoln the retroactive authorization he seeks. [Savage, 2007, pp. 16-17]

Entity Tags: Abraham Lincoln

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

President Abraham Lincoln warns that powerful corporations threaten to exert undue influence on American elections and upon society in general. In a letter, he warns of “a crisis approaching,” writing: “As a result of the [Civil W]ar, corporations have become enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow. The money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its rule by preying upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is concentrated in few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Abraham Lincoln

Category Tags: Voting Rights

During the Civil War, some 13,000 soldiers and civilians are tried before 5,000 military commissions. Among them are eight civilians with ties to the Confederacy. President Andrew Johnson, President Lincoln’s successor, signs the order for the commissions based on the recommendation of Attorney General James Speed, who argues that Lincoln’s assassination was an act of war against the US’s commander in chief. Historian Edward Steers will later argue that Johnson wants a military trial to avoid a jury of potential Confederate sympathizers drawn from the Washington, DC, populace. A panel of seven generals and two colonels finds all eight of the civilians with Confederate ties guilty of conspiring to assassinate Lincoln. Four are executed and four are jailed for lengthy prison terms. The proceedings are swift; the hangings take place less than three months after Lincoln’s assassination. Historian James Hall will later say of the commissions: “That’s the beauty of the thing… from the government’s perspective. Things move quickly, and from a legal standpoint it’s all self-contained.” [USA Today, 11/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Andrew Johnson, James Speed, James Hall, Edward Steers

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes

In the case of Ex parte Milligan, the Supreme Court strikes down a military tribunal used by former President Lincoln to prosecute Northern civilians, ruling that the Constitution limits a president’s power even during times of emergency. “The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people,” the Court writes, “equally in war and peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism.” The defendants, the Court rules, must be tried in civilian courts. [Coleman, 2005 pdf file; PBS, 12/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Abraham Lincoln

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Court Procedures and Verdicts

1867: First Campaign Finance Bill Passed

The federal government enacts the Naval Appropriations Bill, the first attempt to regulate campaign finance. The bill prohibits officers and employees of the government from soliciting donations from Naval Yard workers. [Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file] In 2006, historian Victor Geraci will refer to the solicitations as “shaking down” yard workers. [Connecticut Network, 2006, pp. 2 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Naval Appropriations Bill, Victor Geraci

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Campaign Finance

The Fourteenth Amendment, one of the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments,” is ratified. This amendment makes all persons born or naturalized in the US citizens. It also overturns the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which denied African-Americans, slave or free, the right to citizenship (see March 6, 1857). The amendment also places restrictions on state laws: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It grants the US Congress the power to enforce, through legislation, the provisions of the amendment. Beginning in the 1920s, the Supreme Court will begin applying the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce the provisions of the Bill of Rights in states as well as in matters concerning the federal government. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The US Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment, giving African-American men, and in theory men of other minorities, the right to vote. The Amendment reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Over a century later, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will write, “In addition to the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, the Fifteenth Amendment is one of the major tools which enabled African-Americans to more fully participate in democracy.” It will be ratified by the states in 1870. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Congress, American Civil Liberties Union

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The US Supreme Court uses the “Slaughterhouse Cases” to narrowly interpret the Fourteenth Amendment (see July 9, 1868). The combined cases have nothing to do with the rights of freed African-Americans, but center on disputes brought to court by white businessmen. The Court rules 5-4 that distinctions exist between federal and state citizenship rights, and that states have no obligation to provide their citizens with the same “privileges and immunities” they enjoy as national citizens. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

A handbill celebrating the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The phrase at the bottom reads: “Hip! Hurrah! The white man is on top.”A handbill celebrating the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The phrase at the bottom reads: “Hip! Hurrah! The white man is on top.” [Source: Monthly Review]The US Congress denies Chinese-Americans the right to vote or be citizens by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act. Historian William Wei will later write that the Exclusion Act was driven by decades of racism against Chinese immigrants, with the express goal of “driv[ing] them out of the country. This hostility hindered efforts by the Chinese to become American. It forced them to flee to the Chinatowns on the coasts, where they found safety and support. In these ghettos, they managed to eke out a meager existence, but were isolated from the rest of the population, making it difficult if not impossible to assimilate into mainstream society. To add insult to injury, Chinese were criticized for their alleged unassimilability.” The Exclusion Act is the first such legislation in US history to name a specific group of people “as undesirable for immigration to the United States,” and “marked a fateful departure from the traditional American policy of unrestricted immigration.” [Harper's Weekly, 1999; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012] The Exclusion Act will be repealed over 60 years later (see December 17, 1943).

Entity Tags: US Congress, William Wei, Chinese Exclusion Act

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Citizenship Rights, Voting Rights

The US Congress passes the Edmunds Act, which strips the right to vote from citizens convicted of polygamy. Those citizens also lose their right to hold elected office. The law is passed to restrict the polygamist practices of some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church, or the Mormon Church), who have been openly practicing polygamy since 1853. The Edmunds Act is a compendium of amendments to the Morrill Act of 1862, which banned polygamy and disincorporated the Mormon Church, but was never enforced due to the Civil War. The Edmunds Act leads to the dismissal of all registration and election officials in the Utah Territory, and a board of five commissioners is appointed to handle territorial elections. The Edmunds Act will not be the last attempt by the US Congress to stop Mormons from practicing polygamy. [Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Edmunds Act of 1882, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, US Congress, Morrill Act of 1862

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Congress passes the Civil Service Reform Act, also called the Pendleton Act, which expands on the previously passed Naval Appropriations Bill, which prohibited government officials and employees from soliciting campaign donations from Naval Yard workers (see 1867). This bill extends the law to cover all federal civil service workers. Before this law goes into effect, government workers are expected to make campaign contributions in order to keep their jobs. The law was prompted by the assassination of President James Garfield by a person who believed he had been promised a job in the Garfield administration. The law establishes a “merit system” in place of the old “patronage” system of receiving government posts. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Naval Appropriations Bill, Civil Service Reform Act, James A. Garfield

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

The US Supreme Court strikes down the provision of an 1875 civil rights law that prohibited racial discrimination by owners of hotels, theaters, and other forms of public accommodation. The Court consolidates a number of cases from four states into the “Civil Rights Cases,” and rules that the Fourteenth Amendment (see July 9, 1868) does not give the federal government the power to ban private discrimination. Further, the court rules that the denial of public accommodation does not constitute a “badge of slavery” and is therefore not prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery in the US. [PBS, 12/2006; U.S. Supreme Court, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms

In Elk v. Wilkins, the US Supreme Court restricts Native American voting rights by denying Native American John Elk the right to vote. According to the Court, Elk cannot vote in his home state of Nebraska because his intention to become a citizen requires approval from the government. Additionally, the Court finds that Elk is not a citizen because he does not “owe allegiance to the United States,” and thusly the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) does not apply to him. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John Elk

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Florida’s legislature passes a number of laws designed to disenfranchise African-American voters. The provisions include a poll tax and an “eight box law,” under which voters are required to place ballots in correct boxes which are then shifted throughout the day. Between 1888 and 1892, voter turnout among African-Americans will drop from 62 percent to 11 percent. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Florida State Legislature

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The US Congress passes the Dawes General Allotment Act, which grants US citizenship only to those Native Americans willing to give up their tribal affiliations (see November 3, 1884). The law passes because the federal government wishes to open Native American lands for white settlements, and to coerce Native Americans to assimilate into white American society. Two years later, the Indian Naturalization Act allows Native Americans to apply for citizenship. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Dawes General Allotment Act, US Congress, Indian Naturalization Act

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Citizenship Rights

An excerpt from a ‘Harper’s Weekly’ cartoon from 1876 showing two white men menacing a black man attempting to cast a vote. The cartoon illustrates the effect of the ‘grandfather clause.’ An excerpt from a ‘Harper’s Weekly’ cartoon from 1876 showing two white men menacing a black man attempting to cast a vote. The cartoon illustrates the effect of the ‘grandfather clause.’ [Source: Harper's / St. John's School]The Louisiana legislature adopts a so-called “grandfather clause” designed to disenfranchise African-American voters. As a result, the percentage of registered black voters drops from 44.8 percent in 1896 to 4 percent in 1890. Louisiana’s lead is followed by similar laws being passed in Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia. Louisiana’s “grandfather clause” requires voters to register between January 1, 1897 and January 1, 1898. It imposes a literacy test. Illiterate or non-property owning voters whose fathers or grandfathers were not eligible to vote in 1867 (as per the Fifteenth Amendment—see February 26, 1869) are not allowed to register. Almost all African-Americans were slaves in 1867, and were not allowed to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union will later write, “[T]he measure effectively disfranchises all black voters who cannot read or write or who do not own more than $300 in property.” [School, 2011; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Louisiana State Legislature, American Civil Liberties Union

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The presidential election is plagued with scandal and large monetary expenditures. William McKinley (R-OH) is the recipient of some $16 million in spending, a lavish amount for the time. The campaigns of both McKinley and his opponent, William Jennings Bryan (D-NE), are accused of bribery and poor ethical conduct. Mark Hanna, McKinley’s chief fundraiser and the chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), devises a system of quotas for large corporations. Hanna raises between $6-7 million in donations from corporations through this quota system, in return for strong support of a big-business agenda. McKinley promises to oppose the establishment of silver coinage, supports protective tariffs, and other pro-corporate positions. The campaign is so fraught with controversy that the public begins demanding regulation and oversight of campaign funding practices. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Mark Hanna, William Jennings Bryan, William McKinley, Republican National Committee

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

Justice Henry Brown.Justice Henry Brown. [Source: Wikimedia]The US Supreme Court rules 7-1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that a Louisiana law requiring “equal but separate accomodations for the white and colored races” is constitutional. Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man who sometimes “passed” as white, took part in a plan by a small number of black professionals seeking to have a court overturn the Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890. Plessy boarded a whites-only railroad car and was arrested, as per arrangement, by a private detective. The group intended to use Plessy’s light skin tone to demonstrate how arbitrary and unconstitutional the law was. Plessy’s lawyers argued that Louisiana’s segregation law violated both the Thirteenth Amendment, which bars slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law (see July 9, 1868). Louisiana courts consistently found against Plessy, and the case moved all the way to the Supreme Court. Writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Henry Brown rules that the law does not “discriminate” among legal rights by race, but merely recognizes a “distinction” between races “which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color.” He adds: “Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based on physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the differences of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane.” The ruling establishes the “separate but equal” doctrine that informs many states’ decision to segregate public facilities—schools, railcars, even drinking fountains. Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner and a pro-slavery politician, writes a fiery dissent that refutes Brown’s assertion that the Louisiana law discriminates equally among whites and blacks. Harlan writes, “Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose, not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks, as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons.” He disagrees with the majority opinion’s finding that segregation on railcars does not violate African-Americans’ constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. But Harlan does not advocate social equality among the races. Instead, he argues that legally imposed segregation denies political equality. Harlan writes: “The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage, and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” Harlan’s dissent becomes the underpinning of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision (see May 17, 1954). [PBS, 12/2006; PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: Homer Plessy, Henry Billings Brown, US Supreme Court, Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890, John Marshall Harlan

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The US Supreme Court upholds a Mississippi law requiring citizens to pass a literacy test before being allowed to vote. The Williams v. Mississippi decision holds that such tests do not violate the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) as long as they are applied equally to all prospective voters. The literacy test stemmed from a state “Constitutional convention” that codified a “compromise” between white slaveowners and those who opposed their iron control of the Mississippi state government. The compromise would declare all illiterate Mississippi citizens as ineligible to vote, but the real purpose of the convention—to disenfranchise blacks—was well known. James Kimble Vardaman, who would later become governor, said of the convention: “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. Mississippi’s constitutional convention was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n_gger from politics; not the ignorant—but the n_gger.” White Republican Marsh Cook challenged the Democrats for a seat to the convention and was murdered in response. The only African-American delegate to the convention, Isaiah Montgomery, was invited because of his willingness to support disenfranchisement. The convention established the literacy test, establishing as a proper test the reading of any selected section of the Mississippi Constitution, or giving a valid explanation of it once it was read to the voter. Registrars would interpret the success or failure of the voters’ attempts to pass the test. Since all Mississippi registrars are white, the likelihood that even a literate African-American would pass the test was slim at best. However, the Court ignores the intent of the law to disenfranchise blacks, writing: “[T]he operation of the constitution and laws is not limited by their language or effects to one race. They reach weak and vicious white men as well as weak and vicious black men, and whatever is sinister in their intention, if anything, can be prevented by both races by the exertion of that duty which voluntarily pays taxes and refrains from crime.” Other states, mainly Southern, will quickly adopt their own version of literacy tests. [PBS, 2002; PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: James Kimble Vardaman, Marsh Cook, US Supreme Court, Isaiah Montgomery

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Alabama modifies its state Constitution to expand criminal disenfranchisement. The state is one of more than 20 to disenfranchise citizens convicted of various felonies and high crimes (see 1802-1857). However, Alabama’s new policies are directly focused on retaining white citizens’ dominance in state and local government. The all-white 1901 Alabama Constitution Convention hears the convention’s president state that the purpose of the convention’s new policies is “within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution to establish white supremacy.” Since African-Americans have received the right to vote via the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Alabama, like a number of other Southern states, is moving to restrict black citizens’ votes in a variety of ways. According to the newly adopted language of the Alabama Constitution: “The following persons shall be disqualified both from registering, and from voting, namely: All idiots and insane persons; those who shall by reason of conviction of crime be disqualified from voting at the time of the ratification of this Constitution; those who shall be convicted of treason, murder, arson, embezzlement, malfeasance in office, larceny, receiving stolen property, obtaining property or money under false pretenses, perjury, subornation of perjury, robbery, assault with intent to rob, burglary, forgery, bribery, assault and battery on the wife, bigamy, living in adultery, sodomy, incest, rape, miscegenation, crime against nature, or any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary, or of any infamous crime or crime involving moral turpitude; also, any person who shall be convicted as a vagrant or tramp, or of selling or offering to sell his vote or the vote of another, or of buying or offering to buy the vote of another, or of making or offering to make a false return in any election by the people or in any primary election to procure the nomination or election of any person to any office, or of suborning any witness or registrar to secure the registration of any person as an elector.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

President Theodore Roosevelt, wielding what will become known as the theory of inherent power, declares that the presidency has a “residuum of powers” to do anything not specifically forbidden by the Constitution. Without asking Congress for its approval, Roosevelt launches the project to build the Panama Canal, sends the US Navy around the world, and sends US troops to the Dominican Republic. In 2009, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “Roosevelt’s views… contained the seeds of the imperial presidency that would arise during the first decades of the Cold War.” Roosevelt’s successor, future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft, will disagree, and Taft’s presidency will restore some of the limits on presidential power removed by Roosevelt. [Savage, 2007, pp. 17-18]

Entity Tags: William Howard Taft, Charlie Savage, Theodore Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

A 1902 portrait of President Roosevelt.A 1902 portrait of President Roosevelt. [Source: Library of Congress]In a speech given to an audience in Providence, Rhode Island, later entitled “The Control of Corporations,” President Theodore Roosevelt gives a passionate warning about the dangers of the nation’s prosperity being concentrated in the hands of the few, and particularly under the control of a few large corporations. Roosevelt says: “One of the features of the tremendous industrial development of the last generation has been the very great increase in private, and especially in corporate, fortunes.… Where men are gathered together in great masses it inevitably results that they must work far more largely through combinations than where they live scattered and remote from one another.… It is not true that the poor have grown poorer; but some of the rich have grown so very much richer that, where multitudes of men are herded together in a limited space, the contrast strikes the onlooker as more violent than formerly. On the whole, our people earn more and live better than ever before, and the progress of which we are so proud could not have taken place had it not been for the up building of industrial centers, such as this in which I am speaking. But together with the good there has come a measure of evil.… Under present-day conditions it is as necessary to have corporations in the business world as it is to have organizations, unions, among wage-workers. We have a right to ask in each case only this: that good, and not harm, shall follow. Exactly as labor organizations, when managed intelligently and in a spirit of justice and fair play, are of very great service not only to the wage-workers, but to the whole community, as has been shown again and again in the history of many such organizations; so wealth, not merely individual, but corporate, when used aright is not merely beneficial to the community as a whole, but is absolutely essential to the upbuilding of such a series of communities as those whose citizens I am now addressing.… The great corporations which we have grown to speak of rather loosely as trusts are the creatures of the state [the federal government], and the state not only has the right to control them, but it is in duty bound to control them wherever the need of such control is shown. There is clearly need of supervision—need to possess the power of regulation of these great corporations through the representatives of the public wherever, as in our own country at the present time, business corporations become so very powerful alike for beneficent work and for work that is not always beneficent. It is idle to say that there is no need for such supervision. There is, and a sufficient warrant for it is to be found in any one of the admitted evils appertaining to them.” Such government controls are rightfully difficult to put in place, Roosevelt says, because of the constitutional guarantees afforded both individuals and corporate entities, and because of the disparity of laws enacted in the various states. However, “I believe that the nation must assume this power of control by legislation; if necessary by constitutional amendment,” he says. “The immediate necessity in dealing with trusts is to place them under the real, not the nominal, control of some sovereign to which, as its creatures, the trusts shall owe allegiance, and in whose courts the sovereign’s orders may be enforced.” Such government regulation and oversight must be enforced with caution and restraint, he warns, but nevertheless, it must be enacted. [Theodore Roosevelt (.com), 8/23/1902; ed., 2003, pp. 20-21] Roosevelt’s position is ironic considering the vast corporate contributions he will accept to win the presidency in 1904 (he ascended to the presidency in 1901 after President William McKinley was assassinated). Roosevelt will accept large donations from railroad and insurance interests, and will make a personal appeal to steel baron Henry Clay Frick and other industrialists. Frick will later recall: “He got down on his knees to us. We bought the son of a b_tch and then he did not stay bought.” During his second term, Roosevelt will strive to pass significant campaign finance reform legislation that would ban some of the techniques he will use to regain office. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Clay Frick, William McKinley

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, in a speech given to the US Congress, proposes that corporations be expressly forbidden by law from contributing money “to any political committee or for any political purpose.” Neither should corporate directors be permitted to use stockholders’ money for political purposes. Roosevelt does not say that corporate owners should be so restricted. Roosevelt also says federal campaigns should be publicly financed via their political parties. Roosevelt’s proposal is made in part because he was accused of improperly accepting corporate donations for his 1904 presidential campaign. [Miller Center, 12/5/1905; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Roosevelt, who has made similar statements in the past (see August 23, 1902), will echo these proposals in additional speeches. [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file] Two years later, Roosevelt will sign into law a bill proscribing such donations (see 1907).

Entity Tags: Theodore Roosevelt

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

Senator Benjamin Tillman, an ardent segregationist who once said, ‘My Democracy means white supremacy.’ Senator Benjamin Tillman, an ardent segregationist who once said, ‘My Democracy means white supremacy.’ [Source: Black Americans in Congress]President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt signs the Tillman Act into law. The Act prohibits monetary contributions to national political campaigns by corporations and national banks. Roosevelt, dogged by allegations that he had accepted improper donations during his 1904 presidential campaign, has pushed for such restrictions since he took office (see August 23, 1902 and December 5, 1905). [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Senator Benjamin Tillman (D-SC), later described by National Public Radio as a “populist and virulent racist,” sponsored the bill. [National Public Radio, 2012] In 1900, Tillman was quoted as saying about black voters: “We have done our level best. We have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate every last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.” [Atlas, 2010, pp. 205] Unfortunately, the law is easily circumvented. Businesses and corporations give employees large “bonuses” with the understanding that the employee then gives the bonus to a candidate “endorsed” by the firm. Not only do the corporations find and exploit this loophole, they receive an additional tax deduction for “employee benefits.” The law will be amended to cover primary elections in 1911 (see 1911). [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Tillman, Theodore Roosevelt, Tillman Act

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

The Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), also called the Publicity Act, is passed. It will remain the backbone of American campaign finance regulation until expanded in 1925 (see 1925). It expands upon the Tillman Act’s prohibition against corporate and bank donations to federal election campaigns (see 1907) by enacting campaign spending limits on US House election campaigns. It also requires full disclosure of all monies spent and contributed during federal campaigns. In 1911, the FCPA will be amended to cover Senate elections as well, and to set spending limits on all Congressional races. However, the bill fails to provide for enforcement and verification procedures, so the law remains essentially useless. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] The law is rendered even less powerful after the Supreme Court overturns its provision limiting House and Senate candidate spending. [Pearson Education, 2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Corrupt Practices Act, Tillman Act

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Campaign Finance

Lawmakers concerned with political reform push for amendments to the Tillman Act (see 1907) and Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see June 25, 1910) that would extend those laws’ campaign finance restrictions to primary elections. Particularly strong in their support are reformers in the new Western and old Northern Republican-dominated states, who resent the Southern Democrats’ grip on their region of the country. Democrats have a powerful grip on the South, largely because few Southerners will countenance voting or campaigning as a Republican due to the Republican Party’s support for Reconstructionist policies after the Civil War. Southern Democrats are outnumbered in Congress, and unable to prevent the amendments from being passed. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999] The amendments will be found unconstitutional four years later (see 1921).

Entity Tags: US Congress

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Campaign Finance

The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution provides for the direct election of US Senators, as opposed to the previous practice of having them named by state legislatures. The new provision expands the election process and the need for political candidates and parties to raise money. [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27, 2012] Previously, Senate seats had often stood vacant for long periods of time due to “political disagreements.” [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Senate

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues

The US Supreme Court overrules Oklahoma’s “grandfather clause” law in the case of Guinn v. United States, finding the law unconstitutional. The Oklahoma law is similar to laws passed in Louisiana and other states (see 1896) in order to ensure that African-Americans cannot legally vote regardless of the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869). Illiterate males can vote only if they can prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Since almost all African-Americans were slaves during that time, it is impossible for almost all African-Americans to prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Illiterate white men, however, can often prove their grandfathers could vote. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The Minnesota Supreme Court denies Native Americans in that state the right to vote. The case, Opsahl v. Johnson, was brought by members of the Red Lake Chippewa Tribe. The Court finds that members of the tribe cannot vote in county elections because they have not “yielded obedience and submission to the [Minnesota] laws” (see November 3, 1884 and 1888). [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Red Lake Chippewa, Minnesota Supreme Court

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Women and men gather to protest for the right of women to vote, 1848.Women and men gather to protest for the right of women to vote, 1848. [Source: Declaration of Sentiments 1848 (.com)]The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress and ratified just over a year later, grants the right of women to vote. Because women now play a fundamental part in elections and campaigns, campaign financing and practices are dramatically expanded and changed. [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file; The Constitution: Amendments 11-27, 2012; Doug Linder, 2012] Women have been organizing for the right to vote at least since the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848. Women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony declared in 1852 that “the right women needed above every other… was the right of suffrage.” Suffragists tried and failed to win the right of “universal suffrage” during the debates on the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments” (see February 26, 1869) that granted the right to vote and other rights to male minority members. An amendment granting the right to vote has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1878. Western states such as Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho were the first to grant women the right to vote; former President Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party was the first to proclaim its support for women’s suffrage in its party planks. Southern states were the primary opponents to the amendment. The Amendment will be ratified by a single vote in the Tennessee state legislature in August 1920 (24-year-old lawmaker Harry Burns will cast the deciding vote, carrying a letter from his mother urging him to “be a good boy” and “vote for suffrage”), and will become law later that month. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Doug Linder, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Bull Moose Party, Harry Burns, Susan B. Anthony

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The North Dakota Supreme Court grants the right to vote to 273 Native American members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. In the case of Swift v. Leach, the Court rules that the tribesmen have abandoned their tribal affiliation (see 1888) and have “adopted and observed the habits and mode of life of civilized people.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Standing Rock Sioux, North Dakota Supreme Court

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

1921: Supreme Court Weakens Campaign Finance Laws

In US v. Newberry, the Supreme Court finds some amendments to campaign finance laws (see 1911) unconstitutional, weakening the body of campaign finance law even further. The campaign finance laws in force (see 1907 and June 25, 1910) were already ineffective and rarely enforced by state attorneys general. And corporations and other special interests find it quite simple to circumvent the laws via loopholes. The case involves a Northern Republican primary race for the US Senate. Popular and powerful businessman Henry Ford (R-MI) lost the race due to enormous campaign expenditures and advertising by his opponent, and asked the US attorney general to intervene. The case stemming from Ford’s request results in the Court decision. The Court finds that the amendments are invalid because neither political parties nor election primaries are mentioned in the Constitution. The Founders had not considered having a two- or three-party system in place, and had envisioned the US as being governed by a single party that represented all interests. A two-party system did not emerge in American politics on a national scale until 1828. The Court, by maintaining a strict constitutional interpretation, sorely weakens campaign finance regulation. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Henry Ford

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

The US Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Takao Ozawa v. United States, finds that persons of Japanese ancestry are prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens under a law limiting eligibility to “free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” According to the Court, Takao Ozawa is “a graduate of the Berkeley, California, High School, had been nearly three years a student in the University of California, had educated his children in American schools, his family had attended American churches, and he had maintained the use of the English language in his home. That he was well qualified by character and education for citizenship is conceded.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Takao Ozawa, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The US Supreme Court rules that “high caste Hindus” from India are not eligible to become US citizens because, under naturalization law, persons of Hindu ancestry are not “white.” Bhagat Singh Thind came to the United States in 1913, served in the US Army, and was granted permission to become a citizen by an Oregon official. However, a naturalization examiner objected and took the case to court. In Bhagat Singh Thind v. United States, the Court finds that Thind may not be naturalized because of his Hindu ancestry. Thind presented evidence that South Asians such as himself are scientifically classified as Aryans or Caucasians, and thusly should be classified as “white.” The Court rules that scientific evidence is secondary to the public perception of who is white and who is not. “It may be true that the blond Scandinavian and the brown Hindu have a common ancestor in the dim reaches of antiquity,” the Court finds, “but the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences between them today.” In essence, the Court contradicts its findings from a ruling three months ago, where it accepted scientific proof that a Japanese man applying for American citizenship could not be classified as “white.” In 2003, documentarians for California Newsreel will write: “The justices never said what whiteness was, only what it wasn’t. Their implied logic was a circular one: Whiteness was what the common white man said it was.” Many South Asians who had been naturalized will be stripped of their citizenship and property as a result of the ruling. One, successful businessman Vaishno das Bagai, kills himself. He leaves a suicide note for his family and another one for the public that reads in part: “But now they come and say to me I am no longer an American citizen. What have I made of myself and my children? We cannot exercise our rights, we cannot leave this country. Humility and insults… blockades this way, and bridges burned behind.” The Court will later reverse itself and rule in Thind’s favor. [California Newsreel, 2003; United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind - 261 US 204, 2011; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: California Newsreel, Bhagat Singh Thind, US Supreme Court, Vaishno das Bagai

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts

President Calvin Coolidge stands with four Osage Indians after he signs the Indian Citizenship Act into law.President Calvin Coolidge stands with four Osage Indians after he signs the Indian Citizenship Act into law. [Source: Library of Congress]Congress passes the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which makes all non-citizen Native Americans born within the US citizens, thus granting them the right to vote. It will be signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge. Before the act takes effect, Native Americans had an unusual status under the law. Some had acquired citizenship by marrying white males, others received citizenship through military service, allotments, or through special treaties or statutes (see May 26, 1920). The act was less of a response to Native Americans petitioning for citizenship than an effort by the federal government to “absorb” Native Americans into mainstream America, a policy known by some historians as “assimilation.” Before the act is passed, Dr. Joseph K. Dixon, a proponent of “assimilation,” wrote: “The Indian, though a man without a country, the Indian who has suffered a thousand wrongs considered the white man’s burden and from mountains, plains, and divides, the Indian threw himself into the struggle to help throttle the unthinkable tyranny of the Hun. The Indian helped to free Belgium, helped to free all the small nations, helped to give victory to the Stars and Stripes. The Indian went to France to help avenge the ravages of autocracy. [Dixon is referencing many Native Americans’ service in the US military during World War I.] Now, shall we not redeem ourselves by redeeming all the tribes?” However, many states will ignore the act and use their statutes to deny Native Americans the vote. Many Native Americans will not be allowed to vote until 1948. [Nebraska Studies, 2001; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, Calvin Coolidge, US Congress, Joseph K. Dixon

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts

The federal government revises and expands the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see June 25, 1910), a campaign finance law that lacks any enforcement or verification mechanisms, in the wake of the Teapot Dome corruption scandal. The amended version codifies and revises the expenditure limits and disclosure procedures for US Congressional candidates. It will replace the original FCPA as well as its predecessor, the Tillman Act (see 1907), and will remain the backbone of American campaign finance law until 1971. All campaign spending is strictly regulated, with contributions of $50 and over during a calendar year mandated to be reported. Senatorial candidates can spend no more than three cents for each voter in the last election, to a maximum of $25,000. House candidates may also spend up to three cents per voter in the last election, up to a $5,000 maximum. Offers of patronage and contracts are banned, as is any form of bribery. Corporate contributions of all kinds are banned. However, the power of enforcement is entirely vested within Congress, and thusly is routinely ignored. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Pearson Education, 2004; National Public Radio, 2012] In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson will refer to the FCPA as “more loophole than law.” [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file; National Public Radio, 2012]

Entity Tags: Tillman Act, Federal Corrupt Practices Act

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Campaign Finance

The US Supreme Court reverses the conviction of the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine black men from Scottsboro, Alabama, who had been convicted of raping a group of white women and sentenced to death. In the case of Powell v. Alabama, the Court finds that the men had been granted inadequate representation—they had been given a court-appointed lawyer only on the morning of their trial, and thusly that lawyer had no time to prepare an adequate defense. The case is sent back to the Alabama state court, where despite testimony from one of the alleged victims that no rape had taken place, all are convicted again. The Supreme Court will again overturn their convictions, this time because no blacks were on the jury. The nine are tried for a third time: four are convicted, one pleads guilty, and four have charges against them dropped. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Franklin D. Roosevelt ushers in a massive expansion and reorganization of the federal government under his “New Deal,” in an attempt to counter the lasting effects of the Great Depression that began in 1929. Passed by Congress, the New Deal legislation greatly expands the federal bureaucracy (see September 8, 1939), and gives sweeping new powers over domestic issues to agencies contained within the executive branch and not always subject to Congressional oversight. The Supreme Court rules that many of these actions are unconstitutional, but when Roosevelt threatens to “pack” the Court by expanding its size and then appointing sympathizers to vote his way, the Court capitulates and upholds the New Deal legislation. In 2009, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that the Court’s decision “enabl[ed] the rise of the modern administrative state inside the executive branch.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Congress passes the Public Utilities Holding Act, which bars public utility companies from making federal campaign contributions. Essentially, the act extends the ban on corporate contributions (see 1925) to utility companies, as they are not covered under existing law, and, under the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt, are growing rapidly in power and influence. Roosevelt had been elected to office in 1932 on a platform of “good government,” a longtime staple of Democratic Party platforms. The message played particularly well with voters after the economic policies and political corruption of the administration of President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, were widely blamed for the Great Depression. Republicans, stung by the failures of the Hoover administration, also declare their support for campaign finance reform, and the act passes with little resistance. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Democratic Party, Republican Party, US Congress, Herbert Hoover

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Campaign Finance

The Supreme Court rules in United States v. Curtiss-Wright, a case revolving around Curtiss-Wright’s illicit sale of machine guns to Bolivia in violation of a joint resolution passed by Congress. The Court finds that Congress did not cede undue powers to the president in the resolution, and that the president has a wide array of powers in the area of foreign policy making that he does not have in the domestic arena. Justice George Sutherland, who writes the majority opinion, notes the distinctions between foreign and internal affairs, arguing that because “the president alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation,” Congress may provide the president with a special degree of discretion in external matters which would not be afforded domestically. In an aside to the decision, Sutherland notes what he calls the “plenary and exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations,” a power which, if correctly cited, gives the executive branch sole authority to conduct foreign relations in everything from treaties and trade agreements to launching and conducting wars. However, Sutherland’s statement is written as an adjunct to the majority opinion, or dicta, and therefore has no legal stature. In later examinations of Sutherland’s work, many legal scholars will determine that Sutherland is misquoting his original source, the Supreme Court’s first Chief Justice, John Marshall, who as a House member argued that the president has the duty to carry out the nation’s treaty obligations and is the exclusive channel for diplomatic communications. Marshall did not argue that the legislative or judicial branches had no authority over foreign policy, and never espoused that argument once ascending to the high court. Many advocates of the so-called “unitary executive theory” of presidential power will cite Sutherland’s erroneous dicta in making their own arguments for untrammeled presidential power. [Savage, 2007, pp. 141; Oyez (.org), 6/2007]

Entity Tags: George Sutherland, Curtiss-Wright, John Marshall, Roosevelt administration, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power

The US Supreme Court, ruling in Breedlove v. Settles, finds a poll tax implemented in Georgia law to be constitutional. The Court decision effectively abrogates the right of most African-Americans in Georgia to vote, as most of them cannot pay the poll tax. The Court ruling serves to disenfranchise many African-Americans for decades. Some Southern states will employ poll taxes well into the 1960s. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8248, reorganizing the Executive Office of the President. According to the order, “There shall be within the Executive Office of the President the following principal divisions, namely: (1) The White House Office, (2) the Bureau of the Budget, (3) the National Resources Planning Board, (4) the Liaison Office for Personnel Management, (5) the Office of Government Reports, and (6) in the event of a national emergency, or threat of a national emergency, such office for emergency management as the President shall determine.” The order creates the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), a civil defense unit responsible for protecting government functions in the event of a disaster. The President’s Secretary declares that in times of national emergency, “it has always been necessary to establish administrative machinery in addition to that required for normal work of the government.… Although these management facilities need be brought into action only when an emergency or serious threat of emergency exists, they must function in an integral relationship to the regular management arms of the President.” [Executive Order 8248, 9/8/1939; New York Times, 9/10/1939; New York Times, 3/28/1941; New York Times, 4/20/1941]

Entity Tags: Office of Emergency Management, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Continuity of Government

President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks that Congress amend the Neutrality Acts to allow the US to send military aid to European countries locked in battle against Nazi Germany. Roosevelt tells Congress that America’s neutrality laws might actually be giving passive “aid to an aggressor” while denying help to friendly nations victimized by the Nazis. Roosevelt has already overseen the shipment of arms and other materiel in violation of the Neutrality Acts, but, unlike some of his successors, he does not claim he has an inherent right as commander in chief to violate or ignore laws. In November, Congress will agree to Roosevelt’s request. [Savage, 2007, pp. 18; History (.com), 2008]

Entity Tags: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover orders the bureau to begin preparing a list of individuals to be closely monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency or war. The list is to be comprised of persons considered to have strong “Nazi” and “Communist tendencies.” The FBI is ordered to collect information on suspected individuals from employment records, school records, newspapers, and “confidential sources of information.” The list will become part of the FBI’s Custodial Detention Program in 1940 (see November 1940-1943). [New York Times, 10/23/1975; Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 412]

Entity Tags: J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments in US

Amendments to the federal Hatch Act of 1939, also known as the Clean Politics Act, set limits of $5,000 per year on individual contributions to a federal candidate or political committee. However, they do not prohibit donations from the same individual to multiple committees all working for the same candidate. The restrictions apply to primary elections as well as federal elections. Additionally, they bar contributions to federal candidates from individuals and businesses working for the federal government. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hatch Act of 1939

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

The FBI maintains a list of individuals that are to be closely monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency or war. The index of names, known officially as the “Custodial Detention Program,” is spawned from a list established in 1939 by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (see November 1939). The updated list is composed of persons thought to have a “Communistic, Fascist, Nazi, or other nationalistic background.” The list includes individuals that distribute “literature and propaganda favorable to a foreign power and opposed to the American way of life,” as well as “agitators who are adherents of foreign ideologies.” The names on the list are divided into two categories: those who are to be immediately detained in the event of war and those who are to be subject to close surveillance in the event of war. The program will be criticized for being unreliable and potentially illegal (see 1943). [Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 417]

Entity Tags: J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments in US

President Roosevelt signs the US declaration of war with Japan.President Roosevelt signs the US declaration of war with Japan. [Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum]President Roosevelt, recognizing that Congress has the Constitutional authority to declare war (see 1787 and 1793), asks the legislature for a declaration of war against Japan in retaliation for the Japanese air attack against US naval forces at Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt calls the date of the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941, “a day which will live in infamy.” He says, “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.” With a single exception—Representative Jeannette Rankin (R-MT)—every member of the House and Senate votes to authorize war against Japan. The next day, the US will declare war against Germany and Italy as well. [Savage, 2007, pp. 18; Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, 2/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Jeannette Rankin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

President Roosevelt, using what he calls his inherent power as commander in chief, creates a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs captured inside the US in the case of Ex parte Quirin. The eight are quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court later backs Roosevelt’s authority to have them tried by a commission. The Court’s decision is unusually hasty, and several of the justices who voted in Roosevelt’s favor later express regret for their approval. Roosevelt himself is unsure of the procedure’s legality, the Court’s decision and his own powers as president notwithstanding. When more Nazi saboteurs are captured later in the war, they are tried in criminal courts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power

Attorney General Francis Biddle abolishes the FBI’s Custodial Detention Program, which is designed to round up suspected dissidents in times of national emergency or war (see November 1940-1943). However, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover secretly re-establishes the list under a new name: the Security Index (see Early 1943-1971). Biddle clearly informs the FBI: “There is no statutory authorization or other present justification for keeping a ‘custodial detention’ list of citizens.… [I]t is now clear to me that this classification system is inherently unreliable.” The attorney general comments: “The evidence used for the purpose of making the classifications was inadequate; the standards applied to the evidence for the purpose of making the classifications were defective; and finally, the notion that it is possible to make a valid determination as to how dangerous a person is in the abstract and without reference to time, environment, and other relevant circumstances, is impractical, unwise, and dangerous.” But Hoover does not comply with the attorney general’s order. He instead changes the name of the list from the Custodial Detention Program to the Security Index. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will later report, “The attorney general and the Justice Department were apparently not informed of the FBI’s decision to continue the program.” FBI headquarters informs its field offices, “The fact that the Security Index and Security Index Cards are prepared and maintained should be considered strictly confidential, and should at no time be mentioned or alluded to in investigative reports, or discussed with agencies or individuals outside the bureau other than duly qualified representatives of the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Military Intelligence Division, and then only on a strictly confidential basis.” [Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 420-421]

Entity Tags: J. Edgar Hoover, Francis Biddle, Office of Naval Intelligence, Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments in US

The FBI maintains a “Security Index” of US citizens that are to be targeted for surveillance and/or detention in the event of a national emergency or war. The list is carried over from the FBI’s Custodial Detention Program, which was abolished by the attorney general in 1943 (see 1943 and November 1940-1943). A government source tells the New York Times that the purpose of the Security Index is to “assist in rounding up people who might commit sabotage or espionage” in the event of a disaster. The index is at first composed mostly of suspected communists, but is later expanded to include a wide range of political groups. By the 1960s, names on the list include professors, teachers, labor union organizers, authors, journalists, doctors, scientists, and clergymen. The names on the Security Index are broken down into three categories: leaders of “subversive” groups, supporters of such groups, and supporters of such groups considered to be violent. At its peak in the late 1960s, the FBI’s Security Index reportedly lists more than 26,000 citizens. FBI Special Agent M. Wesley Swearingen will later say the number is actually much higher, claiming 50,000 people are on the list in Chicago alone. Sources will later tell the New York Times that the list includes several people who pose “no genuine internal security threat.” The list is utilized by the FBI’s secret COINTELPRO program, which is used to discredit anti-war and other “New Left” groups. The Security Index will be transferred to the Administrative Index within the FBI in late 1971 (see Late 1971). [New York Times, 8/3/1975; New York Times, 10/23/1975; New York Times, 4/29/1976; Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 5/1976, pp. 420-421; Chicago Tribune, 3/2/1986]

Entity Tags: M. Wesley Swearingen, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments in US

The Smith-Connally Act restricts contributions to federal candidates from labor unions as well as from corporate and interstate banks (see 1925). The law is passed in response to the powerful influence of labor unions in elections beginning in 1936, where some unions used labor dues to support federal candidates [Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file] , and by public outrage at a steelworkers’ union going on strike for higher wages during the war, an action characterized by many as unpatriotic. The law was written both to punish labor unions and to make lawmakers less dependent on them and their contributions. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999] One example held up to scrutiny is the 1936 donation of $500,000 in union funds to the Democratic Party by John L. Lewis of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file] Motivated by anti-union and anti-liberal sentiment after the war’s end, the Taft-Hartley Act (see June 23, 1947) will make the ban permanent. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Smith-Connally Act, Democratic Party, Congress of Industrial Organizations, John L. Lewis

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

The Magnuson Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943, repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act signed into law in 1882 (see 1882). The act is passed in part to “give face” to the US’s World War II ally, China. Congress agrees to repeal the Exclusion Act and sets a quota of Chinese immigrants who may come to the US annually. It also grants those immigrants the right to become citizens via naturalization. [Library of the University of Washington, Bothell, 12/17/1943 pdf file; Harper's Weekly, 1999; University of Delaware, 2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943, US Congress, Chinese Exclusion Act

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights

The US Supreme Court upholds by a 6-3 vote the legitimacy of Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 that mandated all Americans of Japanese heritage to report to internment camps during World War II. Writing for the Court in the case of Korematsu v. United States, Justice Hugo Black finds that an executive order based on race is “suspect,” but says that the “emergency circumstances” of wartime make the order necessary and constitutional. Forty-four years later, in 1988, Congress will formally apologize and issue monetary reparations to Japanese-American families who had been forced into the camps. [PBS, 12/2006; Los Angeles Times, 5/24/2011] In 2011, acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal will state that his predecessor during the case, Charles Fahy, deliberately hid evidence from the Court that concluded Japanese-Americans posed no security or military threat. The report from the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) found that no evidence of Japanese-American disloyalty existed, and that no Japanese-Americans had acted as spies or had signaled enemy submarines, as some at the time believed. Katyal will say that he has a “duty of absolute candor in our representations to the Court.” Katyal will say that two government lawyers informed Fahy he was engaging in “suppression of evidence,” but Fahy refused to give the report to the Court. Instead, Fahy told the Court that the forced internment of Japanese-Americans was a “military necessity.” Fahy’s arguments swayed the Court’s opinion, Katyal will state. “It seemed obvious to me we had made a mistake. The duty of candor wasn’t met,” Katyal will say. [Los Angeles Times, 5/24/2011]

Entity Tags: Neal Katyal, Office of Naval Intelligence, US Supreme Court, Charles Fahy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hugo Black

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Detainments in US

1944: Labor Union Forms First PAC

The first “political action committee,” or PAC, is formed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), a powerful labor union, on behalf of the efforts to re-elect President Franklin D. Roosevelt. PAC donations come from voluntary contributions and not labor dues, and therefore the donations are not prohibited (see June 25, 1943). [Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; National Public Radio, 2012]

Entity Tags: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Congress of Industrial Organizations

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

The US Supreme Court stops political parties in Texas from discriminating based on race. In the case of Smith v. Allwright, the Court rules that the Texas Democratic Party may not prohibit African-Americans from membership and from participating in primary elections. The Court bases its ruling on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), and overturns its decision in the 1935 Grovey v. Townsend case. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Texas Democratic Party

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The NSA, working with British intelligence, begins secretly intercepting and reading millions of telegraph messages between US citizens and international senders and recipients. The clandestine program, called Operation Shamrock and part of a larger global surveillance network collectively known as Echelon (see April 4, 2001 and Before September 11, 2001), begins shortly after the end of World War II, and continues through 1975, when it is exposed by the “Church Committee,” the Senate investigation of illegal activities by US intelligence organizations (see April, 1976). [Telepolis, 7/25/2000] The program actually predates the NSA, originating with the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA) then continuing when that turned into NSA (see 1952). [Pensito Review, 5/13/2006] The program operates in tandem with Project Minaret (see 1967-1975). Together, the two programs spy on both foreign sources and US citizens, especially those considered “unreliable,” such as civil rights leaders and antiwar protesters, and opposition figures such as politicians, diplomats, businessmen, trades union leaders, non-government organizations like Amnesty International, and senior officials of the Catholic Church. The NSA receives the cooperation of such telecommunications firms as Western Union, RCA, and ITT. [Telepolis, 7/25/2000] (Those companies are never required to reveal the extent of their involvement with Shamrock; on the recommendations of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and presidential chief of staff Dick Cheney, in 1975 President Ford extends executive privilege to those companies, precluding them from testifying before Congress.) [Pensito Review, 5/13/2006] In the 1960s, technological advances make it possible for computers to search for keywords in monitored messages instead of having human analysts read through all communications. In fact, the first global wide-area network, or WAN, is not the Internet, but the international network connecting signals intelligence stations and processing centers for US and British intelligence organizations, including the NSA, and making use of sophisticated satellite systems such as Milstar and Skynet. (The NSA also builds and maintains one of the world’s first e-mail networks, completely separate from public e-mail networks, and highly secret.) At the program’s height, it operates out of a front company in Lower Manhattan code-named LPMEDLEY, and intercepts 150,000 messages a month. In August 1975, NSA director Lieutenant General Lew Allen testifies to the House of Representatives’ investigation of US intelligence activities, the Pike Committee (see January 29, 1976), that “NSA systematically intercepts international communications, both voice and cable.” He also admits that “messages to and from American citizens have been picked up in the course of gathering foreign intelligence,” and acknowledges that the NSA uses “watch lists” of US citizens “to watch for foreign activity of reportable intelligence interest.” [Telepolis, 7/25/2000] The Church Committee’s final report will will call Shamrock “probably the largest government interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.” [Church Committee, 4/23/1976] Shortly after the committee issues its report, the NSA terminates the program. Since 1978, the NSA and other US intelligence agencies have been restrained in their wiretapping and surveillance of US citizens by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, who will become the NSA’s director in 1977, and who testifies before the Church Committee as director of Naval Intelligence, will later say that he worked actively to help pass FISA: “I became convinced that for almost anything the country needed to do, you could get legislation to put it on a solid foundation. There was the comfort of going out and saying in speeches, ‘We don’t target US citizens, and what we do is authorized by a court.’” [Pensito Review, 5/13/2006] Shamrock is considered unconstitutional by many US lawmakers, and in 1976 the Justice Department investigates potential criminal offenses by the NSA surrounding Shamrock. Part of the report will be released in 1980; that report will confirm that the Shamrock data was used to further the illegal surveillance activities of US citizens as part of Minaret. [Telepolis, 7/25/2000]
bullet After 9/11, the NSA will once again escalate its warrantless surveillance of US citizens, this time monitoring and tracking citizens’ phone calls and e-mails (see After September 11, 2001). It will also begin compiling an enormous database of citizens’ phone activities, creating a “data mine” of information on US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes (see October 2001).

Entity Tags: Western Union, Pike Committee, National Security Agency, Bobby Ray Inman, Church Committee, International Telephone and Telegraph, Radio Corporation of America

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Other Surveillance

A federal court rules in King v. Chapman that whites-only primary elections in Georgia are unconstitutional. The court rules, “The exclusions of voters made by the party by the primary rules become exclusions enforced by the state and when these exclusions are prohibited by the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) based on race or color, the persons making them effective violate under color of state law a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States within the meaning of the statute.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

The Taft-Hartley Act makes permanent the ban on contributions to federal candidates from unions (see June 25, 1943), corporations, and interstate banks (see 1925), and extends the regulations to cover primaries as well as general elections. It also requires union leaders to affirm that they are not supporters of the Communist Party. President Harry S. Truman unsuccessfully vetoed the bill when it was sent to his desk, and when Congress passes it over his veto, he echoes AFL-CIO leader John L. Lewis by denouncing the law as a “slave-labor bill.” Taft-Hartley declares the unions’ practice of “closed shops” illegal (employers agreeing with unions to hire only union members, and require employees to join the union), and permits unions to have chapters at a business only if approved by a majority of employees. The law also permits employers to refuse to bargain with unions if they choose. And, it grants the US attorney general the power to obtain an 80-day injunction if in his judgment a threatened or actual strike “imperil[s] the national health or safety.” [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; U-S History (.com), 2001; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; John Simkin, 2008]

Entity Tags: John L. Lewis, Harry S. Truman, Taft-Hartley Act

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

A federal court invalidates South Carolina’s effort to save its whites-only primary elections (see April 1, 1946). South Carolina attempted to remove federal court jurisdiction from its primaries, and save its discriminatory primary system, by repealing all of its primary laws. However, the court ruling in Elmore v. Rice invalidates the whites-only system. George Elmore, one of the plaintiffs in the case, is an African-American elector forbidden by South Carolina law from voting in the Democratic primary election. NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall is one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs. [ELMORE v. RICE, 2010; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012] Elmore and his family are persecuted by members of the Ku Klux Klan after the ruling. [South Carolina African American History Calendar, 2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Thurgood Marshall, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, George Elmore, Ku Klux Klan

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

President Harry Truman signs the National Security Act of 1947, reorganizing the military and overhauling the government’s foreign policy-making bureaucracy. The act gives birth to three major organizations: the Department of Defense (DOD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Council (NSC). The DOD unifies the three branches of the military—the Army, Navy and Air Force—into a single department overseen by a secretary of defense. The act establishes a separate agency, the CIA, to oversee all overt and covert intelligence operations. The act forms the NSC to directly advise the President on all matters of defense and foreign policy. In addition, the act establishes the National Security Resources Board (NSRB) to advise the President “concerning the coordination of military, industrial, and civilian mobilization” in times of war. Should the nation come under attack, the NSRB will be in charge of allocating essential resources and overseeing “the strategic relocation of industries, services, government, and economic activities, the continuous operation of which is essential to the Nation’s security.” [US Congress. House. Senate., 7/26/1947; Trager, 11/1977]

Entity Tags: National Security Act of 1947, Harry S. Truman, National Security Council, US Department of Defense, National Security Resources Board, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Continuity of Government

A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia.A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia. [Source: Global Security (.org)]A test flight for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, located at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, is set for 8:30 a.m. Banshee is an attempt begun in 1946 to develop and deploy a long-range missile ahead of both the Soviet Union and rival US military branches. The airplane used in the test flight crashes less than an hour into its flight, killing 9 of the 13 aboard.
Maintenance Problems - The plane assigned for the flight is a B-29 Stratofortress, a bomber made famous by its delivery of the atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. B-29s are notoriously difficult to fly and maintain: their four wing-mounted engines almost routinely overheat and catch fire, causing engine shutdowns, sudden drops in altitude, and, often, crashes. The engines’ eighteen cylinders lack sufficient airflow to keep them cool, and the overheating often causes the crankcases, made of light but highly flammable magnesium, to burst into flames. Like so many of its brethren, the plane has suffered its share of maintenance issues, and is flying without numerous recommended maintenance and repair tasks being performed. Just five days before, it had been designated “red cross”—grounded and unfit for service. It was allowed to fly through an “exceptional release” signed by the squadron commander.
Crew Difficulties - The flight is moved back to the afternoon after some crew members fail to show up on time, and to allow last-minute repairs to be made. By takeoff, the flight crew is assembled: Captain Ralph Erwin; co-pilot Herbert W. Moore; flight engineer Earl Murrhee; First Lieutenant Lawrence Pence, Jr, the navigator; Sergeant Walter Peny, the left scanner; Sergeant Jack York, the right scanner; Sergeant Melvin Walker, the radio operator; and Sergeant Derwood Irvin, manning the bombsight and autopilot. The crew is joined by civilian engineers assigned to Banshee: Al Palya and Robert Reynolds from RCA, William Brauner and Eugene Mechler from the Franklin Institute, and Richard Cox from the Air Force’s Air Materiel Command. In violation of standard procedure, none of the crew or the civilians are briefed on emergency procedures, though Murrhee will later say that the crew were all familiar with the procedures; he is not so sure about the civilians, though he knows Palya and Reynolds have flown numerous test flights before. In another violation of Air Force regulations, none of the flight crew have worked together before. As author Barry Siegel will note in 2008, “The pilot, copilot, and engineer had never shared the same cockpit before.”
Engine Fire and Crash - Less than an hour into the flight, one engine catches fire and two others lose power, due to a combination of maintenance failures and pilot errors. The civilians have some difficulty getting into their parachutes as Erwin and Moore attempt to regain control of the aircraft. Four of the crew and civilians manage to parachute from the plane, but most remain on board as the airplane spirals into the ground on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, near Waycross, Georgia. Crew members Moore, Murrhee, and Peny survive, as does a single civilian, Mechler. Four others either jump at too low an altitude or die when their chutes foul the airplane; the other five never manage to leave the plane and die on impact.
Widows File Suit - Several of the civilians’ widows will file suit against the US Air Force, asserting that their husbands died because of Air Force negligence (see June 21, 1949). Their lawsuit will eventually become US v. Reynolds, a landmark Supreme Court case and the underpinning for the government’s claims of state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 3, 14-17, 33-49]

Entity Tags: Derwood Irvin, Barry Siegel, US Department of the Air Force, Walter Peny, William Brauner, Air Materiel Command, Richard Cox, Ralph Erwin, Robert Reynolds, Al Palya, Radio Corporation of America, Eugene Mechler, Earl Murrhee, Franklin Institute, Project Banshee, Melvin Walker, Lawrence Pence, Jr, Herbert W. Moore, Jr, Jack York

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Initial Associated Press reports of a crash in Georgia of a B-29 that had been on a test flight for the Air Force’s secret Project Banshee (see October 6, 1948) acknowledge that “the plane had been on a mission testing secret electronic equipment which RCA developed and built under an Air Force contract… Full details of the plane’s mission were not disclosed.… The Air Force would say only that the bomber was engaged in ‘electronic research on different types of radar…’” Local papers have a bit more detail, with survivor accounts hinting at confusion and some contradictions between their versions of events and that being given out by official Air Force spokesmen. Later reports from the Air Force will downplay the B-29’s involvement in Project Banshee. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 56-58]

Entity Tags: Associated Press, US Department of the Air Force, Radio Corporation of America, Project Banshee

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The Army Air Force’s Air Materiel Command receives the initial report on an investigation of a B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948). Perceptions of the crash are colored by the fact that the bomber was carrying equipment from Project Banshee, a secret Air Force missile development initiative. The initial report is meticulously factual, providing an almost minute-by-minute account of the events preceding the crash as told by the four survivors and intensive examination of the debris. The report concludes that it would benefit future B-29 pilots to have more training on flying the plane when it has lost both engines on one wing, and a general recommendation that the pilot and crew should give civilian passengers better instruction in emergency procedures. Though the report is circumspect in the extreme in finding fault with the pilot and military personnel for the crash, and gives only vague and generalized recommendations to help prevent future crashes, the Air Force will heatedly deny that the pilots or crew could have been in any way responsible for the crash. In 2008, reporter Barry Siegel will write, “Years later, this particular claim, in fact Air Materiel Command’s entire position, would cause various veteran aviators to hoot.” Pilot error causing the crash is obvious, they will conclude. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 62-65]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Barry Siegel, Air Materiel Command, Project Banshee

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Frank Folsom, the executive vice president of the Radio Corporation of America’s RCA Victor Division, writes a letter to General Hoyt Vandenberg, the commander of the US Air Force. Folsom is inquiring about the deaths of two RCA employees in a recent B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948). The plane had been on a secret test mission for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, a missile development project in which RCA is heavily involved. Folsom believes that the Air Force is downplaying the likelihood that pilot error caused the crash (see October 18, 1948), and tells Vandenberg that “certain steps will [need to be taken] if we are to participate in the future in Air Force flight test programs.” Folsom wants more pay and compensation for RCA employees participating in Air Force test programs, as well as newer and safer airplanes to be used in the test flights and a higher caliber of test pilots and crew members. Perhaps the portion of the letter that causes the most consternation among Air Force officials is Folsom’s request to read over the official accident reports. “When a crash has occurred, a copy of the official report… must be made available promptly to us,” he writes. “Needless to say, the report will not be disclosed except to those who are directly concerned.” Folsom’s letter will spark a new round of Air Force investigations into the crash, in hopes of mollifying Folsom. However, the report from this investigation will be classified at the highest level of security and not provided to RCA. Additionally, though the second investigation will find a strong likelihood of pilot error causing the crash, the Air Force will not admit any such findings to RCA. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 65-80] These accident reports will play a key role in the lawsuit filed against the US government by three widows of killed crew members (see June 21, 1949 and August 7-8, 1950).

Entity Tags: Hoyt Vandenberg, Frank Folsom, Project Banshee, Radio Corporation of America, US Department of the Air Force

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The National Security Resources Board (NSRB) adopts a national censorship plan designed to restrict the free flow of information to the public in the event of a national emergency or war. The government assumes the power to censor communications and suspend freedoms of the press. An NSRB document outlining the program says censorship may be activated in a “time of war or of national emergency proclaimed by the president and found by him to arise from the use or threat of force by a foreign power.” The new NSRB plan is an extension of a program established during World War II. Author Ted Galen Carpenter will later comment: “Although advocates of censorship habitually insisted that it would only by invoked during wartime, the guidelines contained no such limitation. A declaration of war was not required; merely a declaration of emergency arising from a perceived foreign menace.” [Carpenter, 1995, pp. 112-113]

Entity Tags: National Security Resources Board, Ted Galen Carpenter, Office of Censorship

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Continuity of Government

Phyllis Brauner and Elizabeth Palya, who both lost their husbands in the “Project Banshee” B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948), file a civil action lawsuit against the US government in regards to the crash. The lawsuit claims that the US Air Force, in the person of the pilot and military crew members of the B-29, caused the deaths of their civilian husbands by “the negligence and wrongful acts and omissions of the officers and employees” of the US. The widows’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, asks the government for $300,000 per family. A third widow, Patricia Reynolds, will join the lawsuit in September 1949. One of the biggest issues surrounding the case is the lawsuit’s request that Biddle and his lawyers be given access to the official accident reports, which the government will claim cannot be revealed because they may contain classified information (see October 18, 1948 and August 7-8, 1950). Biddle’s promise that no one else will see the reports makes no impression on the government’s lawyers. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 100-101]

Entity Tags: Elizabeth Palya, Charles Biddle, Patricia Reynolds, Phyllis Brauner, US Department of the Air Force, Project Banshee

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The FBI, led by director J. Edgar Hoover, begins to “accumulate the names, identities, and activities” of American citizens who are regarded as suspect. The information is gathered in a “security index,” which rapidly expands. In a letter to the White House during the Truman administration, Hoover will state that in the event of certain emergency situations, suspect individuals would be held in detention camps overseen by “the National Military Establishment.” By 1960, a congressional investigation will later reveal, the FBI list of suspicious persons will include “professors, teachers, and educators; labor-union organizers and leaders; writers, lecturers, newsmen, and others in the mass-media field; lawyers, doctors, and scientists; other potentially influential persons on a local or national level; [and] individuals who could potentially furnish financial or material aid” to unnamed “subversive elements.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover

Category Tags: Database Programs, Privacy

With the approval of President Harry S. Truman, the US government constructs a massive 200,000-square-foot underground facility along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, about seven miles north of Camp David and about 65 miles north of Washington, DC. Site-R at Raven Rock, officially known as the Alternate Joint Communications Center, is one of 96 bunkers being assembled around the nation’s capital in preparation for a potential nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union (see 1950-1962). Site-R is designed to serve as a complete backup to the Pentagon in times of war and is complete with state-of-the-art technology, alternate command posts, war rooms, and living spaces for top officials. The subterranean fortress resembles a small city, with all the basic necessities for sustaining a population in the thousands for months at a time. The site is equipped with its own self-generating power supply, offices, medical clinic, fire department, mail service center, dining halls, and dormitories. The facility is said to have its own a chapel, two fishing lakes, a barbershop, a drug store, and even a bowling alley. There are also rumors that an underground tunnel connects Site-R to Camp David less than 10 miles to the south. Decades later, Vice President Dick Cheney and other high-ranking officials will relocate to Site-R in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-2002). [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/7/1985; Washington Post, 5/31/1992; New York Times, 12/2/2000; Gannett News Service, 6/25/2002; Knight Ridder, 7/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Harry S. Truman, Site R, Camp David

Category Tags: Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret

Fears of a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union inspire the US government to construct a network of 96 nuclear-resistant fallout shelters around Washington, DC. The underground “Federal Relocation Centers,” collectively known as the “Federal Relocation Arc,” are designed to serve as both living quarters and command bunkers for a post-nuclear government. The underground installations will later be described as the “backbone” of the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency. Under Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US government spends billions of dollars carving out caves and assembling the underground fortresses in preparation for nuclear war. Upon completion, the bunkers are said to resemble small cities, each capable of sustaining a population in the thousands for months at a time. Each facility is equipped with its own self-generating power supply, fresh water source, living quarters, food rations, command posts, telecommunications equipment, and other requirements for housing officials and running the federal government from deep underground. In the event of a crisis, high-ranking officials, most notably the president and those in the presidential chain of command, are to be secretly whisked away to the underground installations in order to ensure the continuation of government functions. Some of the known underground locations include Mount Weather, fortified within the Blue Ridge Mountains about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1952-1958); Site R, along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border near Camp David (see 1950-1954); and the Greenbrier, underneath a hotel resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia (see 1959-1962). [Progressive, 3/1976; Time, 12/9/1991; Washington Post, 5/31/1992; Time, 8/10/1992; New York Times, 12/2/2000; Gannett News Service, 6/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Dwight Eisenhower, Mount Weather, Site R, Harry S. Truman, Greenbrier

Category Tags: Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret

President Harry Truman, without the approval of Congress, sends US troops to fight in the Korean War. Unlike his predecessor (see December 8, 1941), Truman asserts that he has the inherent right to do so as the commander in chief (see 1787 and 1793). Truman bases his decision in part on a UN Security Council resolution passed three days before—at the US’s behest—approving military aid to South Korea, which was invaded by North Korean troops on June 25. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write: “But the permission of foreign states was irrelevant to the domestic legal issue of who got to decide whether the United States would go to war. No president had ever before launched anything on the scale of the Korean War without prior permission from Congress, as the Constitution requires.” Savage will explain why Congress allows Truman to usurp its prerogatives: “[M]embers of Congress, eager to appear tough against Communism and to support a war effort, did nothing to block Truman.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 19; Truman Library, 3/2008]

Entity Tags: Harry S. Truman, United Nations Security Council, Charlie Savage

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power

A federal judge orders the Air Force to turn over copies of its classified accident reports about a B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948) as part of a lawsuit filed by three of the widows of crew members killed in the crash (see June 21, 1949). Claiming that the reports may contain classified information about a secret missile development project, Project Banshee, the Air Force not only refuses to turn over the accident reports to the widows’ lawyer, it refuses to allow even the attorney general to view the documents (see August 7-8, 1950). The lawyer for the widows, Charles Biddle, will continue to press for the release of the accident reports. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 120-123]

Entity Tags: Charles Biddle, Project Banshee, US Department of the Air Force

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

The Air Force refuses to meet the court-imposed deadline to turn over accident reports of a 1948 B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948) to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the government (see July 26, 1950). Instead, the Justice Department argues before the court that because the accident reports might contain “state secrets” that might imperil “national security” if made available to anyone outside the Air Force, the reports cannot be made available. “[T]he aircraft in question, together with the personnel on board, were engaged in a highly secret mission of the Air Force,” the government lawyers argue. “The airplane likewise carried confidential equipment on board and any disclosure of its mission or information concerning its operation or performance would be prejudicial to this department and would not be in the public interest.” Such a claim—that the production of the reports would “seriously hamper national security”—renders the reports “beyond judicial authority,” the Justice Department lawyers claim. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 124-126]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Weeks after the Justice Department refused to make accident reports of a 1948 B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948) available to the plaintiffs in an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against the government (see July 26, 1950) because the reports are so highly classified that their disclosure might “seriously hamper national security” (see July 26, 1950 and August 7-8, 1950), the Air Force, in a routine review, drastically lowers the classification of the accident reports from top-level “Secret” to third-level “Restricted.” Whereas “Secret” documents supposedly contain information that “might endanger national security” if revealed, “Restricted” documents are “for official use only” and should not be disclosed “for reasons of administrative privacy.” The Air Force apparently no longer considers the documents a threat to national security. However, neither the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the judge hearing the lawsuit, or even the Justice Department lawyers are aware of the reports’ reduction in status. They continue to argue the merits of releasing the reports as if they are still highly classified. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Federal judge William H. Kirkpatrick rules that the US government must turn over the disputed, and supposedly highly classified (see September 14, 1950), accident reports from a 1948 B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948)—not to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the crash (see July 26, 1950), but to Kirkpatrick himself. He wishes to review the reports to determine if they contain any information that might threaten national security, and, before turning the documents over to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, will personally remove that information. In mid-October, when the government again refuses to turn over the documents, Kirkpatrick will find in favor of the plaintiffs (see October 12, 1950). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 133-134]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, William H. Kirkpatrick

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

Federal judge William H. Kirkpatrick rules in favor of the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit against the US government (see October 6, 1948, June 21, 1949, and July 26, 1950), after the government refuses to turn over classified accident reports that have a direct bearing on the plaintiffs’ case (see September 21, 1950). Judge Kirkpatrick orders the government to pay the plaintiffs, three widows who lost their husbands in a 1948 plane crash, a total of $225,000. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, expects the government to balk at paying out the money, and to instead continue to challenge the court’s attempt to compel it to turn over the accident reports (see October 19, 1951). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 134-139]

Entity Tags: Charles Biddle, William H. Kirkpatrick

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 10186, shifting many responsibilities of the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), which oversees federal emergency planning, to a new civil defense organization, the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA). The FCDA is placed within the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), an agency established as part of the Executive Office of the President years earlier by President Franklin Roosevelt (see September 8, 1939). The purpose of the FCDA, according to President’s Truman’s order, “shall be to promote and facilitate the civil defense of the United States in cooperation with several States.” [Executive Order 10186, 12/1/1950] The Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 will be signed into law weeks later, establishing the FCDA as an independent agency and detailing the organization’s responsibilities (see January 12, 1951)

Entity Tags: Federal Civil Defense Administration, Harry S. Truman, Office of Emergency Management

Category Tags: Continuity of Government

President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 10193, establishing the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) within the Executive Office of the President. The ODM is granted a wide range of emergency powers in order to mobilize civilians, industries and government agencies to defend the country during a crisis. As part of a broad “mobilization” effort, President Truman calls for increasing the number of total armed forces, increasing defense spending, and expanding the economy to increase war production. President Truman declares a national emergency and delegates many of his war powers to the head of the ODM. According to the New York Times, “President Truman proclaimed a state of emergency this morning and delegated many of his own war powers to Charles E. Wilson, the new mobilization director.” Citing the threat of “Communist imperialism,” President Truman “signed the proclamation of emergency, which unleashed scores of additional executive powers, and issued an executive order granting virtually blanket authority to Mr. Wilson to carry out all aspects of war production and economic control he deemed necessary.” According to the order, the mobilization director “shall on behalf of the president direct, control, and coordinate all mobilization activities of the executive branch of the government, including but not limited to production, procurement, manpower, stabilization, and transport activities.” [Executive Order 10193, 12/16/1950; New York Times, 12/16/1950, pp. 1; New York Times, 12/16/1950, pp. 1]

Entity Tags: Office of Defense Mobilization, Charles E. Wilson, Harry S. Truman

Category Tags: Continuity of Government

President Harry S. Truman signs the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950. The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), established weeks earlier within the Executive Office of the President (see December 1, 1950), is transformed into an independent agency headed by a presidential appointee. The FCDA is placed in charge of providing emergency aid and assistance to local communities affected by disasters. The act also provides special emergency powers to the FCDA and the President in the event of a national crisis. According to President Truman, the act establishes a “basic framework for preparations to minimize the effects of an attack on our civilian population, and to deal with the immediate emergency conditions which such an attack would create.” According to the New York Times, “The measure directs the Federal Government to provide leadership to states and communities in developing arrangements to protect civilian life and property in the country’s 150 critical target areas against possible enemy attack by atomic bombs, biological or bacteriological warfare or any other technique.” The new civil defense plans are estimated to cost $3.1 billion. The FCDA will distribute brochures and produce television and radio segments aimed at preparing the general public for a nuclear attack. The FCDA will also stage drills and exercises to test public and government readiness for such a disaster. The agency will become infamous for encouraging civilians to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear strike. [Statement by the President Upon Signing the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, 1/12/1951; New York Times, 1/12/1951, pp. 7; Slate, 2/20/2003; Henry B. Hogue and Keith Bea, 6/1/2006, pp. 10 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Harry S. Truman, Federal Civil Defense Administration

Category Tags: Continuity of Government

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), tells the House Appropriations Committee that the FBI is prepared to arrest 14,000 purported communists inside the US in the event of war with Russia. James M. McInerney, assistant attorney general, refuses to provide the committee with details regarding those on the list, but says they are “either out-and-out Communists” or are “sympathetic toward the Communist cause.” The officials are apparently referring to the FBI’s Security Index, which was established in 1943 (see 1943 and Early 1943-1971). [New York Times, 4/28/1951]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, House Committee on Appropriations, J. Edgar Hoover, James M. McInerney, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments in US

The government, represented by a team of Justice Department lawyers, appeals the recent ruling against it in the ‘Banshee’ B-29 plane crash lawsuit (see June 21, 1949). In the Third US Circuit Appeals Court, the government argues that the lower court had no business demanding that the Air Force turn over classified accident reports about the crash, because the reports may contain information that would potentially compromise national security (see October 12-18, 1948 and September 14, 1950). The government had twice defied court orders to produce the documents, and as a result had lost the lawsuit (see October 12, 1950). The Justice Department’s arguments come down to the assertion that the judiciary has no constitutional right to compel the executive branch to turn over documents it considers privileged. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write, “For the first time in the B-29 litigation, the government directly argued that the judiciary could not review [the government’s] claim of privilege.” The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Charles Biddle, counters that the executive branch has no such sweeping claim of privilege, and that a judge should be allowed to review documents in dispute to determine both their bearing on a case and the possibility that releasing those documents could jeopardize national security (see September 21, 1950). Three weeks later, the appeals court will rule unanimously against the government (see December 11, 1951). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 149-153]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Charles Biddle, Barry Siegel

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

A three-judge federal appeals court unanimously rejects the government’s claim of unfettered executive privilege and secrecy in regards to classified documents (see October 19, 1951). In an opinion written by Judge Albert Maris, the court finds that the government’s claim that the judiciary can never compel the executive branch to turn over classified documents to be without legal merit. The plaintiffs in the case, three widows who lost their husbands in the crash of a B-29 bomber carrying classified materials (see June 21, 1949), had a compelling need for the documents in question, the downed B-29 accident reports, to further their case, Maris writes (see October 12, 1950).
No Legal Basis for Claim of Privilege - Maris goes further than the parameters of the single lawsuit, writing: “[W]e regard the recognition of such a sweeping privilege… as contrary to a sound public policy. The present cases themselves indicate the breadth of the claim of immunity from disclosure which one government department head has already made. It is but a small step to assert a privilege against any disclosure of records merely because they might prove embarrassing to government officials. Indeed, it requires no great flight of imagination to realize that if the government’s contentions in these cases were affirmed, the privilege against disclosure might gradually be enlarged… until as is the case in some nations today, it embraced the whole range of government activities.… We need to recall in this connection the words of [Revolution-era jurist] Edward Livingston: ‘No nation ever yet found any inconvenience from too close an inspection into the conduct of its officers, but many have been brought to ruin, and reduced to slavery, by suffering gradual imposition and abuses, which were imperceptible, only because the means of publicity had not been secured.’” He also quotes Revolutionary War figure Patrick Henry, who said, “[T]o cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man and every friend to his country.”
Rejecting Claim of 'State Secrets' - Maris is even less respectful of the government’s claim of a “state secrets” privilege. He notes that the government did not make that claim until well into the lawsuit proceedings (see October 19, 1951), indicating that it was a “fallback” argument used after the original government arguments had failed. Maris is also troubled, as author Barry Siegel later writes, in the government’s “assertion of unilateral executive power, free from judicial review, to decide what qualified as secret.” The lower court judge’s ruling that he alone should be given the documents for review adequately protected the government’s security interests, Maris writes: “[But] the government contends that it is within the sole province of the secretary of the Air Force to determine whether any privileged material is contained in the documents and that his determination of this question must be accepted by the district court without any independent consideration.… We cannot accede to this proposition. On the contrary, we are satisfied that a claim of privilege against disclosing evidence… involves a justiciable question, traditionally within the competence of the courts.… To hold that the head of an executive department of the government in a [law]suit to which the United States is a party may conclusively determine the government’s claim of privilege is to abdicate the judicial function to infringe the independent province of the judiciary as laid down by the Constitution.”
Fundamental Principle of Checks and Balances - Maris continues: “The government of the United States is one of checks and balances. One of the principal checks is furnished by the independent judiciary which the Constitution established. Neither the executive nor the legislative branch of the government may constitutionally encroach upon the field which the Constitution has reserved for the judiciary.… Nor is there any danger to the public interest in submitting the question of privilege to the decision of the courts. The judges of the United States are public officers whose responsibilities under the Constitution is just as great as that of the heads of the executive departments.”
Government Appeal - The Justice Department will appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court (see March 1952 and March 9, 1953). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 153-156]

Entity Tags: Albert Maris, US Department of Justice, Barry Siegel, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

1952: NSA Founded

The National Security Agency (NSA) is founded. It is the successor to the State Department’s “Black Chamber” and other military code-breaking and eavesdropping operations dating back to the earliest days of telegraph and telephone communications. It will eventually become the largest of all US intelligence agencies, with over 30,000 employees at its Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters. It focuses on electronic surveillance, operating a large network of satellites and listening devices around the globe. More even than the CIA, the NSA is the most secretive of US intelligence organizations, [New York Times, 12/16/2005] The agency will remain little known by the general public until the release of the 1998 film Enemy of the State, which will portray the NSA as an evil “Big Brother” agency spying on Americans as a matter of course. [CNN, 3/31/2001] After it is disclosed during the 1970s that the NSA spied on political dissenters and civil rights protesters, the NSA will be restricted to operating strictly overseas, and will be prohibited from monitoring US citizens within US borders without special court orders. [New York Times, 12/16/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, National Security Agency

Category Tags: Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

A roughly 200,000-square-foot facility known as Mount Weather, codenamed “Operation High Point,” is constructed deep within an isolated strip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, approximately 50 miles west of Washington, DC. The installation, finished in 1958 at the cost of more than $1 billion, will serve as the flagship of a secret network of nuclear resistant shelters currently being constructed around the nation’s capital (see 1950-1962). Mount Weather is designed to be the headquarters of a post-nuclear government in the event of a full-scale war with the Soviet Union. Construction of the facility is authorized under the highly classified Continuity of Government program, meant to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of extreme emergency. The enormous complex resembles a miniature city, capable of supporting a population in the thousands for months at a time. Mount Weather is equipped with its own streets and sidewalks, dormitories, offices, a hospital, television and radio studios, reservoirs of drinking and cooling water, dining halls, stockpiles of food, a power plant, a sewage treatment plant, a crematorium, government and military command posts—everything needed to sustain and run an underground government during and after a nuclear war. A parallel executive branch will be stationed at Mount Weather to take over the functions of the federal government in the event of a disaster (see March 1976). In the 1960s and 1970s Mount Weather will develop a “Civil Crisis Management” program, designed to monitor and manage potential resource shortages, labor strikes, and political uprisings (see 1967-1976). Mount Weather will be accused in the 1970s of spying on US citizens (see September 9, 1975). In December 1974, a passenger airliner will crash into the mountainside, drawing public attention to the secret installation for the first time (see 11:10 a.m. December 1, 1974). [Progressive, 3/1976; Emerson, 8/7/1989; Time, 12/9/1991; Time, 8/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Mount Weather

Category Tags: Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret

The Justice Department appeals the ruling of the US Appeals Court in the B-29 “Banshee” case (see December 11, 1951). The appellate judges found that the executive branch of government could not unilaterally refuse to hand over classified documents requested during the course of a trial, and justify its decision merely by its own say-so (see October 12, 1950). Solicitor General Philip Perlman argues that the appellate ruling erroneously interprets the law “so as to permit encroachments by the judiciary on an area committed by the Constitution to executive discretion.” The claim of “state secrets,” “executive privilege,” and, ultimately, “national security” must trump judicial concerns, Perlman argues, and he goes on to say that the judiciary should not be allowed to “substitute its judgment for the judgment of the executive.” The case will be labeled United States of America v. Patricia Reynolds, Phyllis Brauner, and Elizabeth Palya, and will usually be shortened to the more colloquial US v. Reynolds.
The Vinson Court - In 2008, author Barry Siegel, in his book Claim of Privilege, will note that the recent ascension of Fred Vinson as the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice does not bode well for the plaintiffs in the case. President Truman placed Vinson, whom Siegel calls Truman’s “poker and drinking buddy,” as Chief Justice to try to achieve consensus between the two contentious blocs of justices on the Court. Siegel notes that Vinson is widely considered an intellectual and legal lightweight, with a tendency to take the side of the government on issues in which he lacks a full understanding. Siegel will write that in many instances, Vinson functions “as part of the executive branch.”
'Dennis' Case Preview of Court's Tendency to Favor Executive Branch - Vinson had written the opinion in a 1951 ruling, Dennis et al v. United States, where the Court had upheld a lower court ruling that twelve acknowledged American Communists were sent to jail under the Smith Act—not for breaking the law, but for “teaching and advocating,” in the words of the original indictment. Siegel will call that ruling “the nadir of the Vinson Court.” According to Siegel, the Dennis ruling showed the Court’s predisposition to give the government, and particularly the executive branch, plenty of leeway in its findings in subsequent cases such as Reynolds. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 157-162]

Entity Tags: Fred Vinson, Elizabeth Palya, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Barry Siegel, Harry S. Truman, Phyllis Brauner, Philip Perlman, Patricia Reynolds

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, State Secrets

President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 10346, ordering the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) to coordinate “continuity” plans within the federal government. The plans will be designed to ensure the continuation of essential government functions in the event of a major disaster, such as a nuclear attack on Washington DC. According to the order, “each Federal department and agency shall prepare plans for maintaining the continuity of its essential functions at the seat of government and elsewhere during the existence of a civil-defense emergency.” In addition to the FCDA, the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), established by the National Security of Act of 1947, (See July 26, 1947), is to play an advisory role in the emergency plans. [Executive Order 10346, 4/17/1952]

Entity Tags: Harry S. Truman, National Security Resources Board, Federal Civil Defense Administration

Category Tags: Continuity of Government

The McCarran-Walter Act repeals the racial restrictions of the 1790 Naturalization Law and grants first-generation Japanese-Americans the right to become citizens. Senator Pat McCarran (D-NV) is one of the strongest anti-Communist voices in the US Congress, and led investigations of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Along with Representative Francis Walter (D-PA), another outspoken anti-Communist, McCarran introduced the legislation bearing their names. Aside from granting Japanese-Americans citizenship, the law stiffens restrictions on “entry quotas” for immigrants into the US, and broadens the federal government’s power to admit, exclude, and deport “dangerous aliens” as defined by the Internal Security Act of 1950, another signature McCarran legislative success. [John Simkin, 2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Francis Walter, 1790 Naturalization Law, Internal Security Act of 1950, McCarran-Walter Act, Pat McCarran

Category Tags: Citizenship Rights, Other Legal Changes

The US Supreme Court rules that the federal government cannot seize the nation’s steel mills. In April, President Truman, fearing a nationwide strike that could impact the US war effort in Korea, ordered the seizure of all US steel mills; the lawsuit that resulted, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, quickly made its way to the Supreme Court.
Rejection of 'Inherent Powers' Claim - During oral arguments, the justices grilled Acting Attorney General Philip Perlman, demanding to know what statutes he had relied on for his arguments and asserting that the president had limitations both on his emergency wartime powers and on his ability to claim that he is the “sole judge” of the existence of, and remedies for, an emergency. The justices are not convinced by the government’s arguments for the president’s “inherent powers.” They are also troubled by repeated refusals of the government to provide facts and documentary backing for its legal arguments, and its reliance instead on claims of “national security.” The attorney for the steel industry, John Davis, quoted Thomas Jefferson in his argument: “In questions of power, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Justice William O. Douglas noted that if the government’s claims were valid, there would be “no more need for Congress.”
Court Rejects Argument - In a 6-3 vote, the Court rules that the president has no inherent power to seize the steel mills. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black states: “In the framework of our Constitution, the president’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.… The founders of this nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times.… This is a job for the nation’s lawmakers.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Robert Jackson writes, “No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a president can escape control of executive powers by law through assuming his military role.” In his dissent, Chief Justice Fred Vinson (see March 1952) argues that “the gravity of the emergency” overrides the Constitutional arguments accepted by the majority of the Court. “Those who suggest that this is a case involving extraordinary powers should be mindful that these are extraordinary times. A world not yet recovered from the devastation of World War II has been forced to face the threat of another and more terrifying global conflict.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 123; Siegel, 2008, pp. 163-164] In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will observe that the Youngstown decision “turned out to be only a pause in the movement toward an increasingly authoritarian presidency.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, John Davis, Hugo Black, Charlie Savage, Fred Vinson, Harry S. Truman, Philip Perlman, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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