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Roman bathhouses use the sun to warm the chambers. In many areas such as Zippori, an ancient Roman city in what is now Israel, the sunlight is usually let in through south-facing windows. By the 6th century, sunrooms in houses and public buildings are so commonplace that the Justinian Code creates “sun rights” to ensure the citizens’ right to access sunlight. (Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology 6/26/1998; US Department of Energy 2002 )
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)
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)
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; Davis 10/2010)
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)
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)
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)
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 ; ProCon 10/19/2010)
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)
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 ; ProCon 10/19/2010) Vermont is following the example set by Kentucky a year before (see April 19, 1792).
With the advent of the “Enlightenment,” many countries ban the practice of waterboarding, with at least one calling it “morally repugnant.” Waterboarding has been around since the 14th century, known variously as “water torture,” the “water cure,” or tormenta de toca, a phrase that refers to the thin piece of cloth placed over the victim’s mouth. Officials for the Spanish Inquisition were among those who waterboarded prisoners; the Inquisition, recognizing the potentially lethal effect of the practice, required a doctor to be present when a prisoner was waterboarded. Historian Henry Charles Lea, in his book A History of the Inquisition of Spain, will describe waterboarding as follows: “The patient strangled and gasped and suffocated and, at intervals, the toca was withdrawn and he was adjured to tell the truth. The severity of the infliction was measured by the number of jars [of water] consumed, sometimes reaching to six or eight.” Waterboarding actually refers to two separate interrogation techniques: one involving water being pumped directly into the stomach, and another that features the steady streaming of water into the throat. The first, according to author Darius Rejali, “creates intense pain. It feels like your organs are on fire.” The second will be the method later preferred by US interrogators, who will use it on suspected terrorists. This method is a form of “slow motion drowning” perfected by Dutch traders in the 17th century, when they used it against their British rivals in the East Indies. In 2007, reporter Eric Weiner will write: “[W]aterboarding has changed very little in the past 500 years. It still relies on the innate fear of drowning and suffocating to coerce confessions.” (Weiner 11/3/2007)
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)
Robert Stirling applies for a patent for his “Economiser” at the Chancery in Edinburgh, Scotland. Stirling, a minister in the Church of England, is an amateur scientist and inventor. His “Economiser” is a “heat engine” that uses the sun’s thermal energy to produce small amounts of power. Lord Kelvin later uses one of Stirling’s working models to demonstrate the value of solar power in his university classes. The “Economiser” is later used as part of the design of the “Dish/Stirling System,” a solar thermal electric technology that concentrates solar energy to produce power. (US Department of Energy 2002 )
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. (Davis 10/2010)
Philadelphia is rocked by a series of conflicts that will become known as the “Bible Riots of 1844.” In the 1830s, Philadelphia, a large factory town, began simmering with conflicts and issues between a large and disparate number of groups, roughly divided into two: Irish and German immigrants, mostly Catholics, who are fighting for better working conditions and better treatments both through the Church and through the burgeoning labor movement; and “nativists,” a loose movement that has arisen in something of a backlash against the large influx of immigrants. Many of the Irish and German immigrants have become identified with urban Democratic political machines, sparking resentment among non-Democratic “native” Americans. The Irish in particular become targets of the “nativist” movement. In 1844, Catholics begin mounting complaints that their children are being forced to read from the Protestant King James Bible in public school every day. That version of the Bible (often abbreviated KJV) is required reading in Philadelphia public schools, in part because of the efforts of Pennsylvania legislator James Buchanan, who pushed through some of the country’s first legislation requiring public schools; however, the Pennsylvania legislature inserted language into the bill requiring daily Bible reading. Catholics see the mandated daily Bible readings as an attempt to undermine their religion, a view given credence when their requests that the KJV be substituted with Catholic Bibles are ignored. The complaints spark a series of riots that target Irish Catholic churches (no German Catholic churches are burned or vandalized, in part because Irish Catholics, a larger and more prominent group than the Germans, tend to be more vocal and are more closely identified with the “problem”). In response, groups of Irish Catholics target Protestant churches. The Philadelphia city government does little if anything to protect either group. Both sides accuse the other of vandalism and duplicity; the “nativists” insist that the Catholics want to install the Pope as the leader of the US government, and the Catholics accuse city officials of letting the “nativists” attack them at will. The riots result in a number of churches being partially or completely burned, at least 20 people dead, and the Irish Catholics becoming more forceful and more organized, taking a more aggressive part in politics and the labor movement. (Davis 10/2010; Patrick J. O'Hara 2011)
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. (Biskupic and Willing 11/15/2001)
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. (McBride 12/2006)
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)
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.” (Biskupic and Willing 11/15/2001)
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 ; PBS 12/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 17)
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 ) In 2006, historian Victor Geraci will refer to the solicitations as “shaking down” yard workers. (Geraci 2006, pp. 2 )
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)
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)
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)
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).
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)
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 ; Geraci 2006 )
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)
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)
The US Supreme Court rules that American courts are not interested in the manner in which a defendant comes to stand before them. The ruling is issued in the case of Ker v. Illinois, which concerns the rendition from Lima, Peru, of a suspect named Frederick Ker, wanted for larceny in Cook County, Illinois. Ker was seized by a federal agent who bypassed the extradition procedure and placed him on a series of ships that transported him home to face trial. Ker is convicted and the doctrine this case gives rise to—known as the Ker doctrine for a time—will go on to underlie the US’s rendition program at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. (Grey 2007, pp. 134-135)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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). (Konkoly 12/2006; PBS 12/2006)
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)
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)
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)
Future president Theodore Roosevelt, writing about the use of waterboarding as an interrogation method during the Spanish-American War, defends the practice. “The enlisted men began to use the old Filipino method: the water cure” (see 1800 and After), he writes in a letter. “Nobody was seriously damaged.” During the war, a US soldier, Major Edwin Glenn, was suspended and fined by an Army court-martial for waterboarding a prisoner. The Army judge advocate wrote that the charges constituted a “resort to torture with a view to extort a confession.” He recommended disapproval because “the United States cannot afford to sanction the addition of torture.” (Weiner 11/3/2007)
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 ; 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)
Article 43 of the 1907 Hague IV convention on “Laws and Customs of War on Land” states that “[t]he authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” Article 55 states, “The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.” Most legal experts interpret these provisions to mean that an occupying military power cannot change the laws of a country it occupies. (Hague Convention IV 10/18/1907; Whyte 3/2007, pp. 181)
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 ; 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)
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).
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. (Geraci 2006 ; 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)
Serbia begins a program intended to colonize Kosova and Macedonia with Serbian settlers, issuing a Decree on the Settlement of Newly Liberated and Annexed Regions of the Kingdom of Serbia. However, the program is soon interrupted by World War I. (Kola 2003, pp. 20)
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)
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)
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. (Geraci 2006 ; 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 ; Pearson Education 2004; National Public Radio 2012) In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson will refer to the FCPA as “more loophole than law.” (Geraci 2006 ; National Public Radio 2012)
Father Charles Edward Coughlin, an ordained Catholic priest, hosts what may be the first politically oriented national radio broadcast in US history. Coughlin, who started his political involvement as a supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, quickly becomes a virulent Roosevelt critic, calling Roosevelt’s economic policies “socialism.” By 1930, CBS broadcasts Coughlin’s weekly radio show nationwide. Coughlin’s harsh criticism of communist and socialist governments, such as the Soviet Union, widens to encompass the US government and many aspects of American life. He accuses the citizenry of “scorn[ing] the basic family and national doctrine of Jesus Christ,” citing divorce statistics as “proof” of his assertions. He does not spare the corporations, blasting them for treating working families unfairly and warning of the dangers of the “concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.” Coughlin begins claiming that American communists have infiltrated many levels of government and corporate leadership, and lashes out at what he calls the “Bolshevism of America.” In April 1931, CBS refuses to renew his contract, and Coughlin organizes his own radio network which eventually claims over 30 radio stations and some 30 million listeners. In 1936, Coughlin, who has grown disillusioned with Roosevelt over his administration’s failure to take over the nation’s banking system and other of Coughlin’s suggested reforms, forms a hardline anti-Communist, isolationist organization called the “Christian Front.” When the US begins publicly opposing the German Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, Coughlin turns on Roosevelt entirely, accusing him of advocating “international socialism or Sovietism,” and praising Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini as “anti-Communist fighters.” By 1940, according to playwright Arthur Miller, Coughlin is “confiding to his 10 million Depression-battered listeners that the president was a liar controlled by both the Jewish bankers and, astonishingly enough, the Jewish Communists, the same tribe that 20 years earlier had engineered the Russian Revolution.… He was arguing… that Hitlerism was the German nation’s innocently defensive response to the threat of Communism, that Hitler was only against ‘bad Jews,’ especially those born outside Germany.” Coughlin echoes Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels in claiming that Marxist atheism in Europe is a Jewish plot. He claims that America is overrun by “Jewry,” resulting in critics labeling him a “fascist.” Boston police discover that for several years Jewish youths in the city have been beaten and terrorized by what the Christian Science Monitor calls “Coughlinites and the Christian Front”; other assaults on American Jews are later found to have been carried out by people who support Coughlin, often with the complicity of local law enforcement and Catholic officials. The Christian Front collapses in January 1940 when the FBI raids its New York branch and finds a cache of weapons; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tells the press that the organization is planning the assassinations of a number of prominent Jews, communists, and “a dozen Congressmen.” Coughlin’s influence is badly damaged by the FBI’s claims, and Coughlin’s rhetoric continues to move to the extreme. By September 1940, he is calling Roosevelt “the world’s chief warmonger,” and in 1941 says that the US, not Germany or the Soviet Union, is the biggest threat to impose its domination on the world. “Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most,” he says, “the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination.” When the US enters World War II at the end of 1941, the National Association of Broadcasters arranges for Coughlin’s broadcasts to be terminated. At Roosevelt’s behest, the US Post Office refuses to deliver his weekly newspapers. And in May 1942, Coughlin is ordered by Archbishop Francis Mooney to cease his political activities or be defrocked. Although Coughlin will continue to write pamphlets about the dangers of communism until his death in 1979, his influence on American political thought ends in the first months of the war. (New York Times 1/21/1940; Dinnerstein 1995, pp. 132-133; Spartacus Schoolnet 2010)
The government of Yugoslavia introduces agrarian land reform. By decree, landholders lose their land to the government unless they have Yugoslav deeds. However, most Albanian landowners lack such deeds and lose their land. (Vickers 1998, pp. 105-108; Kola 2003, pp. 21)
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)
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)
White supremacist and ardent Nazi follower William Dudley Pelley, a New England native of what he calls “uncontaminated English stock,” founds the Silver Shirts, a neo-Nazi organization, in Asheville, North Carolina, the same day that Adolf Hitler ascends to power in Germany. Apparently Pelley funds the organization through the proceeds of a best-selling book, Seven Minutes in Eternity, in which he claimed to have died and gone to “the beyond” for a seven-minute period. Pelley and his followers, including Henry Lamont “Mike” Beach (see 1969), dress themselves in silver shirts emblazoned with a large cursive “L,” blue corduroy knickers, and gold stockings. Pelley considers himself a Republican, though he is not politically active in the usual sense.
Anti-Semitic, Anti-Government - His efforts attract members from pro-Nazi groups, Ku Klux Klan chapters, and others sympathetic to his anti-Semitic views. In August 1933, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) will warn: “The Silver Shirts came into existence the early part of this year. They are enrolling white Protestant Christians as members of a Christian militia, through a plan of State encampments that are reported to extend into various states of the Union, with posts in every community.” According to Silver Shirt documents obtained by the AJC, the group intends to bring about the establishment of a strictly Christian government in the US; accuses President Roosevelt of being a “dictator” and “set[ting] aside the Constitution, which they desire to restore”; intends to “save [the] United States from a state of Sovietism into which… the Jews are leading the country”; accuses Jews of being a “money power” bent on destroying the nation’s economy via their “control” of the Federal Reserve; and says that “a people who constitute only 2.5 per cent of the population [Jews] to be held down to a 2.5 per cent influence in the American government, and we propose to see that it is brought about, race prejudice or no!” The group also advocates a form of direct democracy, in which citizens mail in their votes for or against pending legislation, and proposes the reorganization of America into what it calls a “colossus corporation,” where “[e]very citizen shall be both a common and a preferred stockholder.”
Psychic Messages - Pelley claims to receive psychic messages from “the vastness of cosmos,” including two sets of documents, the “Esoteric Doctrines of the Liberation Enlightenment” and the “Liberation Scripts,” which set forth the “Christ government” he intends to establish. In a Silver Shirt newsletter, Pelley writes: “It is the order of things that those wicked and malignant spirits who have incarnated in certain sections of the Hebrew race trying to bring the downfall of the Christ Peoples, should meet a fearful fate in this closing of the Cycle of Cosmic Event. That contest is on-the-make and Hitler’s job it has been to do the advance work. But Hitler is not going to finish that work. THE FINISH OF IT COMES RIGHT HERE IN AMERICA!” Pelley writes that “the Jew” is possessed of a “nomadic character, making him an internationalist whose ultimate objectives may well mean the destruction and disappearance of the United States.” (American Jewish Committee 8/24/1933; Ian Geldard 2/19/1995; David Neiwert 6/17/2003)
Spike in Membership Will Dwindle - Pelley’s group will enjoy its largest membership of some 15,000 in 1934; four years later, the group will dwindle to around 5,000 members. (The Holocaust Chronicle 2009) Pelley will be convicted of sedition in 1942, and by the time he emerges from prison in 1950, his Silver Shirts will have long since disappeared.
'Christian Fascist' - In the early 1980s, graduate student Karen Hoppes will write extensively about Pelley. She will write of his Christian fundamentalism: “[T]he link with fundamental Christianity establishes the uniqueness of American fascism. The majority of fascist groups justified their existence by their desire to change the United States into a Christian society.… The relationship between the religious identity of these groups and their political demands can be shown by a careful survey of their rhetoric. The Christian fascist does not distinguish between the application of the terms anti-Christ, Jew, and Communist. Neither does he distinguish between Gentile and Christian.” (David Neiwert 6/17/2003)
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)
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)
The German Reich Ministry of Justice issues a secret memo following a meeting of several Justice Ministry lawyers and public prosecutors with senior Gestapo officers. The participants discuss the fact that Germany has been on a war footing for years, and the leaders’ worry that the citizenry is riddled with sleeper cells of subversives. The solution: detaining and torturing subversives. It is unclear whether torture will be used to terrorize other subversives, to extract information, or produce confessions. German law enforcement officials are balky at applying “more rigorous interrogation” techniques. Though some judges seem unmoved by defendants appearing in court with obvious marks of torture upon their bodies, the law enforcement officers are bureaucrats in a system that has always respected the rule of law and the Hitler government was originally elected on a law-and-order platform. The memo is the product of the top officials in the Gestapo and Justice Ministry, and lays out detailed instructions as to when torture techniques can be applied, the specific equipment used in such interrogations, and how many times particular techniques could be used on certain categories of detainees. Perhaps most importantly, the memo promises immunity from prosecution to any German interrogator who follows the rules as laid down in the memo.
Specific Instructions - It reads in part: “At present, we thus have a situation which cannot continue: a deficient sense of what is right on the part of judicial officers; an undignified position for police officers, who try to help matters by foolish denials [that torture has taken place in court proceedings].… [I]nterrogations of this kind [torture] may be undertaken in cases where charges involve the immediate interests of the state.… chiefly treason and high treason. Representatives of the Gestapo expressed the opinion that a more rigorous interrogation could also be considered in cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses, explosives, and sabotage.… As a general principle, in more rigorous interrogations only blows with a club on the buttocks are permissible, up to 25 such blows. The number is to be determined in advance by the Gestapo.… Beginning with the tenth blow, a physician must be present. A standard club will be designated, to eliminate all irregularities.” Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin must give permission for more “rigorous interrogation[s],” the memo continues.
Drawing Parallels to Bush Administration Torture - The memo will be the subject of a 2009 article by Shayana Kadidal, the senior managing attorney of the Guantanamo project at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Kadidal will draw parallels between the Nazi torture authorization and similar legal justifications issued by the American government after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Kadidal will write: “I realize that, as a matter of principle, there is a strong bias against making Nazi analogies to any events happening in our modern world.… But here we have: (1) a system set up to allow torture on certain specific individual detainees, (2) specifying standardized equipment for the torture (apparently down to the exact length of the club to be used), along with physician participation to ensure survival of the victim for the more several applications, (3) requiring prior approval of the use of torture from the central authorities in the justice department and intelligence agency in the capital, so as to ensure that (6) the local field officers actually carrying out the abuse are immune from prosecution.” (Kadidal 4/21/2009)
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)
The German-American Bund, the most influential pro-Nazi movement in the US prior to World War II, holds a rally in New York City’s Madison Square Garden that attracts some 20,000 participants. The rally is to protest for the rights of white Gentiles, whom the organization calls the “true patriots” of America. The Bund is led by Fritz Kuhn, an outspoken anti-Semite; at its height, the organization boasts some 25,000 members along with 8,000 “Storm Troopers.” Although the group portrays itself as patriotic Americans, even combining images of George Washington and the Nazi swastika, almost all of the members are German immigrants with ties and/or allegiances to Hitler’s Nazi movement. Public opinion polls show Kuhn is considered the most prominent anti-Semite in the nation. The party has little support outside of a few large cities. Shortly after the rally, Kuhn is investigated, found to have close ties to Germany’s Nazi Party, and eventually jailed for embezzling funds from the organization, causing many members to depart. In December 1941, the US government will outlaw the organization. (The Holocaust Chronicle 2009; US Holocaust Museum 2010; US Holocaust Museum 2010)
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)
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 )
In accord with the Vienna pact, Germany takes Trepca for its mines, as well as the Lab, Vucitrn, and Dezevo (Novi Pazar) districts, creating a territory called the Kosovo Department. Security forces composed of, and led by, Albanians are formed—a gendarmerie of about 1,000 and about 1,000 irregulars, called the Vulnetara. Bulgaria annexes the Gnjilane, Kacanik, and Vitin districts. Italy takes much of Kosovo and the towns of Debar, Tetovo, Gostivar, and Struga, about 11,780 square kilometers and 820,000 people. In May this area is merged with Albania, occupied by Italy on April 7, 1939. Albanian forces are raised by the Italian army, Albanian is spoken in government and education for the first time, and the Albanian flag flies in Italian Kosovo. Albanians are able to freely travel through Albanian areas. Serbs and Montenegrins are imprisoned, deported for forced labor, or killed by occupation forces. Many are deported to Pristina and Mitrovica to labor in the mines of Trepca, or to Albania for construction. According to Serbs, Albanian attacks, generally against settlers, force about 10,000 Slavic families to leave Kosovo. Collaboration and resistance groups form throughout the occupied Balkans. (Vickers 1998, pp. 121-122; Kola 2003, pp. 22-23)
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)
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)
Marine interrogator Major Sherwood F. Moran writes an informal memo for use by other interrogators. Moran is a legendary figure among Marines, renowned for his ability to coax information from the most reluctant or resistant Japanese captive, even during the height of battle, and often using his knowledge of, and respect for, Japanese culture to his advantage. His memo will remain relatively unknown outside the Marine Corps until the summer of 2003, when it will be included in the archives of the Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association. The memo, titled “Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters Based on Work in the Field,” is remarkable for its insistence that treating prisoners with humanity and respect works far better than “harsh” interrogation methods. Author Ulrich Straus, an expert on Japanese POWs held in US captivity during World War II, will later write that Moran “was a particularly effective interrogator because he treated each prisoner as another human rather than as the enemy.” In 2005, after the Abu Ghraib scandals become media fodder, military historian Stephen Budiansky will write: “Six months before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison broke into public view, a small and fairly obscure private association of United States Marine Corps members posted on its Web site a document on how to get enemy POWs to talk. The document described a situation very similar to the one the United States faces in the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a fanatical and implacable enemy, intense pressure to achieve quick results, a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seem to apply.… Moran, the report’s author, noted that despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them. Moran was writing in 1943, and he was describing his own, already legendary methods of interrogating Japanese prisoners of war. More than a half century later his report remains something of a cult classic for military interrogators.” (David R. Moran 2005)
Human-to-Human Attitude - Moran writes that the best interrogators (whom he says should consider themselves “interviewers”) become “wooers” of their captives, coaxing information rather than attempting to force confessions. Most important, Moran writes, is the interrogator’s attitude towards his prisoner. “Many people, I suppose, would on first thought think ‘attitude’ had nothing to do with it; that all one needs is a knowledge of the language, then shoot out questions, and expect and demand a reply,” he writes. “Of course that is a very unthinking and naive point of view.” Just as important, Moran writes, is a sympathy and understanding of the captive’s culture. A superior or demeaning attitude breeds nothing but antagonism and resistance.
Speaking the Language of the Captive - Almost as important, Moran notes, is the interrogator’s ability to speak directly to the captive in his own language, without the need for translators. An interrogator should speak the language fluently and idiomatically, or, when that is not possible, to at least have some command over common phrases. “After all, the first and most important victory for the interviewer to try to achieve is to get into the mind and into the heart of the person being interviewed,” he writes.
Hidden System - Fellow feelings and warm sympathy towards the captive are necessary, but not the entire package. While the captive, or an outside observer, might believe that the interrogator is merely indulging in friendly chit-chat, the interrogator must have an agenda and a plan in place at all times. “[I]n the workings of your mind you must be a model of system,” Moran says. “You must know exactly what information you want, and come back to it repeatedly. Don’t let your warm human interest, your genuine interest in the prisoner, cause you to be sidetracked by him! You should be hard-boiled but not half-baked. Deep human sympathy can go with a business-like, systematic, and ruthlessly persistent approach.”
Short-Circuiting Patriotic Defensiveness - To emphasize that your side, your nation, or your culture is superior—in essence, the “conquerors” of the captive’s military or his nation—is counterproductive, Moran writes. “To emphasize that we are enemies, to emphasize that he is in the presence of his conqueror, etc., puts him psychologically in the position of being on the defensive, and that because he is talking to a most-patient enemy and conqueror he has no right and desire to tell anything,” he writes.
Breaking Recalcitrant Prisoners - Sometimes even the best interrogators come up against recalcitrant prisoners who flatly refuse, for patriotic reasons or what Moran calls “conscientious scruples,” to give any information. In these cases, Moran writes, harsh or physical techniques of intelligence extraction are counterproductive. Instead, he writes, with his Japanese captives he is often able to shame the prisoner into cooperating. Reminding the captive that he has been treated humanely, has been treated with kindness and courtesy, implies a quid pro quo—not the threat of having this treatment withdrawn if cooperation is not forthcoming, but a matter of the captive returning the interrogator’s courtesy with information. (Moran 7/17/1943 )
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 ; Harper's Weekly 1999; University of Delaware 2006 )
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; Savage 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. (Savage 5/24/2011)
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 ; National Public Radio 2012)
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)
The Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Yugoslavia and Assembly of the National Liberation of Serbia pass the Law on the Administrative Division of Serbia into Provinces, which establishes the Autonomous Territory of Kosovo and Metohija and the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, an area inhabited by ethnic Bulgarians. Of Yugoslavia’s six constituent republics, only Serbia has autonomous regions for its national minorities. Most Serb historians will subsequently conclude that this is done for three reasons: to settle the status of Kosova, as a step to bringing Albania into Yugoslavia, and to balance Serbs and other Yugoslav nationalities under the idea of Weak Serbia-Strong Yugoslavia. (Vickers 1998, pp. 145-146)
The 1946 Yugoslav constitution and the 1947 Serb constitution give Vojvodina more self-rule than Kosovo. Serbia, under articles 90 and 106, allows Vojvodina, but not Kosovo, to have separate courts, including a supreme court, with elected judges, and more control over what are called businesses with “provincial importance,” as well as cultural and educational institutions. Each has an assembly that elects its executive committee and can create laws, but the laws have to be ratified by the Serb legislature, while republics can make laws without needing higher approval. Each autonomous area has 20 representatives in the Yugoslav parliament, while the six Yugoslav republics each have 30. (Kola 2003, pp. 65)
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)
Albania is allowed to participate in the Paris Peace Conference, regarding the post-war settlements between the Allies and Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Finland, but is not a full participant, instead being classed with Austria. The Albanian government argues that it was a full member of the Allied effort, fielding 70,000 Albanian Partisans, including 6,000 women, against around 100,000 Italians and 70,000 Germans. It says Italy and Germany suffered 53,639 casualties and prisoners and lost 100 armored vehicles, 1,334 artillery pieces, 1,934 trucks, and 2,855 machine guns destroyed or taken in Albania. Out of its population of one million, Albania says 28,000 were killed, 12,600 wounded, 10,000 were political prisoners, and 35,000 were made to do forced labor. Albania says 850 out of 2,500 of its communities were destroyed by the war.
Disputed by Greece - To oppose Albania’s demands, Greece argues that Albania is at war with it. Greece also claims Gjirokastra and Korca, south of the Shkumbin River, and there is some fighting along the border. By 11 votes to seven, with two abstentions, the conference votes to discuss Greece’s territorial claims. Italian King Victor Emmanuel III blames Albania for the invasion of Greece, and Greece points to a declaration of war by the Albanian occupation government after Daut Hoxha was found murdered at the border in summer 1940.
Hoxha's Address - Enver Hoxha addresses the conference. He points to hundreds of Albanians conscripted by Italy who deserted or joined the Greeks, who then treated them as POWs. Many were later sent to Crete and joined British forces who landed there. Others joined the Albanian Partisans or were captured by Italy, court-martialed for “high treason,” and imprisoned in the Shijak concentration camp. There are other cases of attacks on Italian forces by Albanian soldiers. Hoxha also mentions attacks on Albania by Greeks, such as the over 50 homes in Konispol burned by German soldiers guided by a captain under Greek collaborationist General Napoleon Zervas on September 8, 1943. His forces also joined German forces in their winter 1943-44 Albanian offensive. They invaded and burned again in June 1944. Hoxha refutes Greek claims that Albania is treading on the rights of the Greek minority, which Albania numbers at 35,000. There are 79 schools using Greek, one secondary school, autonomous Greek local government, and Greeks in the government and military. Between 1913 and 1923, Hoxha claims there were 60,000 Albanians in Greece, 35,000 of whom were classified as Turks and deported to Turkey in exchange for Turkish Greeks. In June 1944 and March 1945 Zervas’ forces attacked Greek Albanians, and at least 20,000 fled to Albania. Hoxha will later say that what Albania terms the “monarcho-fascist” Greek government commits 683 military provocations against Albania from its founding to October 15, 1948. Hoxha claims the Greek prime minister tells a Yugoslav official at the Peace Conference that he is open to dividing Albania with Yugoslavia, but Yugoslavia refuses. Hoxha tells the conference, “We solemnly declare that within our present borders there is not one square inch of foreign soil, and we will never permit anyone to encroach upon them, for to us they are sacred.” Italy is accused of harboring Albanian and Italian war criminals, including “fascists” who assassinated an Albanian sergeant at the Allied Mediterranean High Command in Bari in March. The Italian politicians are accused of threatening Albania during recent elections. In conclusion, Hoxha asks that the Peace Conference further limit Italy’s post-war military, claims Italy committed 3,544,232,626 gold francs worth of damage in Albania, and Albania wants to be classified as an “associated power.”
US, British Opposition - These requests are opposed by the UK and US. Albania afterward considers its share of the reparations to be too low. The UK and US will later oppose Albanian participation in the Moscow conference on peace with Germany, held in March-April 1947. An American delegate will say: “We are of the opinion that, first, Albania is not a neighbor of Germany, and second, it did not take part in the war against Germany. Only some individual Albanians, perhaps, took part in this war, but apart from this there were also Albanians who fought side by side with the Germans.” (PLA 1971, pp. 258; Hoxha 1974, pp. 539-542, 593-614; Hoxha 1975, pp. 90-91, 99)
In Belgrade, Nako Spiru, Albania’s economy minister, and Boris Kidric, Yugoslavia’s minister of industry, sign a 30-year treaty unifying Albania’s economy with Yugoslavia. They agree to coordinate economic planning, make the value of Albania’s lek dependent on the value of Yugoslavia’s dinar, equalize prices (not based on international market prices), and create a customs union under Yugoslavia’s rules. According to author Paulin Kola, Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha praises the treaty highly, while Hoxha will later say he had many reservations. According to the Albanian communists’ official history, the Albanian government and Hoxha think economic conditions make currency parity impossible to achieve on Yugoslavia’s schedule and they say Yugoslavia sets parity “on an altogether arbitrary basis to the advantage of the dinar.” Albania also has reservations about unifying prices. It says the customs union is set up to benefit Yugoslavia, later causing shortages and inflation in Albania. Joint companies are later set up based on the convention, and Albania will complain that it is providing the capital it promised, while Yugoslavia provides not “even a penny in the original funds” but still “appropriated half of the profits.” A joint commission to coordinate the economies is created, and the Albanian government says Yugoslavia tries to “turn it into a super-government above the Albanian government.” Yugoslavia is supposed to provide two billion leks of credit in 1947, but reportedly does not provide even one billion, and credit in goods is overvalued by two to four times more than their prices in international trade. Yugoslavia provides four factories, which Albania considers too small and decrepit. The Albanian government subsequently says that the withholding of promised credit hinders the economic plan for 1947, and Albania says that the 1948 credits are also lacking. (PLA 1971, pp. 306-309; Kola 2003, pp. 78-79)
In the aftermath of World War II, Japanese officer Yukio Asano is charged by a US war crimes tribunal for torturing a US civilian. Asano had used the technique of “waterboarding” on the prisoner (see 1800 and After). The civilian was strapped to a stretcher with his feet in the air and head towards the floor, and water was poured over his face, causing him to gasp for air until he agreed to talk. Asano is convicted and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Other Japanese officers and soldiers are also tried and convicted of war crimes that include waterboarding US prisoners. “All of these trials elicited compelling descriptions of water torture from its victims, and resulted in severe punishment for its perpetrators,” reporter Evan Wallach will later write. In 2006, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), discussing allegations of US waterboarding of terror suspects, will say in regards to the Asano case, “We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II.” (Pincus 10/5/2006; Weiner 11/3/2007)
Japanese soldier Chinsaku Yuki is tried by the US for war crimes involving, among other offenses, waterboarding Filipino civilians. One of his victims is lawyer Ramon Navarro. During the trial, Navarro recalls being waterboarded by Yuki. “When Yuki could not get anything out of me, he wanted the interpreter to place me down below,” he tells the court. “And I was told by Yuki to take off all my clothes, so what I did was to take off my clothes as ordered. I was ordered to lay on a bench and Yuki tied my feet, hands, and neck to that bench, lying with my face upward. After I was tied to the bench, Yuki placed some cloth on my face. And then with water from the faucet, they poured on me until I became unconscious. He repeated that four or five times.” Asked if he could breathe, Navarro says: “No, I could not, and so I, for a time, lost consciousness. I found my consciousness came back again and found Yuki was sitting on my stomach. And then I vomited the water from my stomach, and the consciousness came back again for me. [The water came f]rom my mouth and all openings of my face… and then Yuki would repeat the same treatment and the same procedure to me until I became unconscious again.” Navarro recalls he was tortured like this “four or five times.” He says he lied to Yuki to end the torment: “When I was not able to endure his punishment which I received, I told a lie to Yuki.… I could not really show anything to Yuki, because I was really lying just to stop the torture.” He describes the waterboarding as “[n]ot so painful, but one becomes unconscious—like drowning in the water.… Drowning. You could hardly breathe.” Yuki is sentenced to life in prison for a variety of war crimes, including his torture of Navarro. (Weiner 11/3/2007)
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 ; John Simkin 2008)
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 )
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)
Yugoslav representative Savo Zlatic meets with Albanian Prime Minister Enver Hoxha, Koci Xoxe, and Pandi Kristo and lays out the Yugoslav plan for a commission to coordinate the Yugoslav and Albanian economies. As Zlatic puts it, “Our governments should not quarrel with each other through the fault of a few directors or specialists of the economy.” The Yugoslavs appoint Sergej Krajger to chair the Commission, and Xoxe says Kristo should be the Albanian liaison. Hoxha is still concerned whether it will be “an organ above our governments.” Zlatic denies this, and says “…the commission will be engaged with the problems which have to do with common plans, with the most effective ways for the co-ordination of plans, with the definition and detailing of the budgets, investments and income, with checkup on the accomplishment of tasks and measures which will be allocated, hence with all the major problems in [the economic] field. After that let the government decide about the economy.” He also says “We came with the idea that the time was over when doubts and frictions began over every issue” and that Hoxha should trust Yugoslavia. Hoxha later recounts that the Commission did become “a kind of government over the government,” duplicating the Albanian government’s departments and allowing Yugoslavia to legally rob Albania. (Hoxha 1974, pp. 760-762; Hoxha 1982, pp. 421 - 427)
In response to a March letter from the Albanian government to Yugoslavia, Yugoslav representative to Albania Savo Zlatic meets with Albanian Prime Minister Enver Hoxha, Interior Minister Koci Xoxe, leading Albanian communists Hysni Kapo and Pandi Kristo, and Yugoslav economic planner Sergej Krajger. In what Hoxha sees as a retreat, the Yugoslavs focus on economic unification and say that Albania and Yugoslavia should coordinate their policies, but not unify politically at this point. Yugoslavia proposes coordination of foreign policy, economic planning methodology, trade, finance, laws, passports, education, and open borders. It says coordination commissions should be created in each country, the one in Albania having an Albanian minister and a Yugoslav deputy minister, and vice versa in Yugoslavia, as “the beginning of the future joint government.” Zlatic says they should draft a joint protocol at the meeting, and Hoxha asks why the Yugoslavs refuse to commit their proposals to paper. He says Albania wants to know why they should unify, not start working on it. Kraejger says the unification only covers economic matters, but Hoxha counters that the coordination commission has not streamlined things. Kraejger says Albania is making unreasonably large requests for tweezers, boot polish, and nails, pen nibs, beverage essence, etc., but Kristo says the Yugoslavs suggested it, because they had stock to get rid of. Hoxha demands that the Yugoslavs present a document. He will later recount that Albania still had not been informed of Soviet-Yugoslav tensions, and only receives a copy of a key March 27, 1948 letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the Communist Party of Yugoslavia two or three days after this meeting. (Hoxha 1982, pp. 477-484; Kola 2003, pp. 93-94)
Novelist and political activist Howard Fast, an avowed Communist who writes regularly for the pro-Stalinist Daily Worker, agrees to speak at a concert featuring baritone Paul Robeson and folk singer Pete Seeger. The concert is organized by a group called People’s Artists, and slated to take place at a picnic ground just north of Peekskill, New York. The concert is to benefit a group called the Civil Rights Congress, fighting for a stay of execution for six African-American youths sentenced to death in New Jersey.
Volatile Mix of Ideologies, Ethnicities - The Peekskill area is a well-known vacation place for African-Americans. The area itself is populated by large and antagonistic groups of conservatives of ethnic minority backgrounds, and leftists, most of them Jewish and many from New York City, who live in the area either all year or as summer residents. Parts of Peekskill, Fast later writes, have been “bypassed by the rush of American industrial development” and are home to large numbers of unemployed and underemployed rural Americans. Before the concert begins that evening, Fast learns that the Peekskill Evening Star has been running inflammatory editorials calling for the local populace to come out in protest at the “anti-American” and “subversive” concert—“every ticket purchased for the Peekskill concert will drop nickels and dimes into the basket of an un-American political organization… the time for tolerant silence that signifies approval is running out,” one editorial reads—and the American Legion is planning a march to “vehemently oppose” Robeson’s appearance. “Let us leave no doubt in their minds that they are unwelcome around here either now or in the future,” the local Legion chapter commander, Edward Boyle, writes in a letter published by the Evening Star. Fast reads through a week’s worth of editorials in the Evening Star, finding instances of what he calls “anti-Semitism and anti-Negroism… anti-Communism [and] anti-humanism.” (Fast 1951; Williams 3/1976; Courtney 9/5/1982)
Paul Robeson - Robeson is a vibrant figure among American leftists and radicals: the son of a runaway slave; an all-American football player at Rutgers; the first African-American to play the title role of “Othello” in a mainstream theatrical production; a world-renowned singer; and an avowed Marxist who has spent extensive amounts of time in the Soviet Union. Previously lionized by many Americans, his popularity soured when, after World War II, he began speaking out ever more forcefully in favor of the Soviet way of life, and against American capitalism and democracy. As a result, Robeson is now an extremely controversial and polarizing figure. Many perceive Robeson as author Roger Williams later describes him: “the personification of near-treasonous anti-Americanism.” (Williams 3/1976) The concert never takes place; instead, the grounds and audience are attacked by an angry, violent mob (see August 27, 1949).
A concert organized by various left-wing organizations and slated to take place at a picnic ground near Peekskill, New York (see Mid-August - August 27, 1949) never happens. Instead, the organizers and audience members are attacked by an angry, violent mob.
Mob Attacks - Novelist Howard Fast, who is slated to emcee the concert, arrives at the grounds, and, hearing reports of a mob gathering under the rubric of a “parade,” organizes some 40 “men and boys,” both white and African-American, to defend the women and children coming together in the hollow for the concert. Fast’s fears are quickly realized: a large mob of American Legion members and local citizens, and largely fueled by alcohol, as evidenced by the hundreds of liquor bottles later found strewn throughout the grounds, moves to attack Fast’s group with billy clubs, broken bottles, fence posts, and knives. More by chance than by strategy, Fast’s group finds itself in a defensible position, where it cannot be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Its members manage to beat back three separate assaults; Fast hears screams from the mob: “We’re Hitler’s boys—Hitler’s boys!” “We’ll finish his job!” “God bless Hitler and f___ you n_____ b_stards and Jew b_stards!” “Lynch Robeson! Give us Robeson! We’ll string that big n_____ up! Give him to us, you b_stards!” “We’ll kill every commie b_stard in America!” “You’re never going out!” “Every n_____ b_stard dies here tonight! Every Jew b_stard dies here tonight!” (Singer and activist Paul Robeson, the concert headliner, is unable to approach the concert venue, and is never in any real danger.) During the assaults, state and local police stand by and do nothing to intervene; local and national reporters jot down notes and take photographs. Late in the evening, someone sets a cross ablaze, prompting Fast’s group to link arms and sing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Later inquiries by the concert organizers will show that at least three different times during the violence, individuals were able to escape the riots and phone the local and state police, the state attorney general’s office, and the office of the New York governor, “all without result.” No arrests are made and no one is held for questioning, even though, the organizers will find, “14 cars were overturned and at least 13 people were hurt seriously enough to require medical attention.” (Fast 1951; Courtney 9/5/1982)
Book Burnings - The fourth and final assault of the night comes in the form of a barrage of rocks and other missiles. Fast’s group runs for the concert venue, where its members mount the platform and once again link arms. Fast and others see some members of the mob find the books and pamphlets brought by the concert organizers; the mob members make a huge pile and set it ablaze. Fast later writes: “[T]o crown our evening, there was re-enacted the monstrous performance of the Nuremberg book burning which had become a world symbol of fascism. Perhaps the nature of fascism is so precise, perhaps its results on human beings are so consistently diseased, that the same symbols must of necessity arise; for standing there, arms linked, we watched the Nuremberg memory come alive again. The fire roared up and the defenders of the ‘American’ way of life seized piles of our books and danced around the blaze, flinging the books into the fire as they danced.” (Upon revisiting the site two days later, Fast will note “at least 40” flashbulbs in and around the ashes, indicating that many photographs were taken of the book burning, but in 1951, he will write that he has yet to see any of those photographs.) (Fast 1951)
Law Enforcement Intervenes - Three of the most severely wounded of Fast’s group are escorted to safety by federal law enforcement officials, who had watched the proceedings without intervening. The rest are forced to sit while local law enforcement officials investigate the stabbing of one of the mob members, William Secor. (Evidence will show that Secor had been accidentally cut by one of his fellows.) Later, state police escort members of Fast’s group to their vehicles and allow them to drive away. No arrests are made and no one is held for questioning, even though, the organizers will find, “14 cars were overturned and at least 13 people were hurt seriously enough to require medical attention.” The head of the Peekskill American Legion, Milton Flynt, says after the riot, “Our objective was to prevent the Paul Robeson concert, and I think our objective was reached.” (Fast 1951; Courtney 9/5/1982) Author Roger Williams will later write of Fast’s descriptions, “Fast’s account, although marred by exaggeration and Marxist rhetoric, is substantially supported by other participants and eyewitnesses.” (Williams 3/1976)
Initial Media Responses Relatively Favorable to Mob - The first media reports and commentary about the concert are far more supportive of the mob (see August 28, 1949, and After) than later examples (see Mid-September 1949).
Second Attempt - Within hours, Fast and the concert organizers decide to reschedule a second concert, this time to be protected by large numbers of burly union workers (see September 4, 1949, and After).
After a concert organized by leftist groups in downstate New York is attacked by an angry, violent mob (see August 27, 1949), initial media reports tend to support the mob and blame the concert organizers for the violence. The New York Times writes that it “regretted” the actions by both the concert organizers and the mob in what it calls “the Peekskill affair.” The New York Herald Tribune says the mob violence was deplorable but “understandable.” Other papers celebrate the violence. Significantly, the New York News reports two days later: “Frank Niedhart, manager of the Niedhart Fife and Drum Corps, today said that his organization did not participate in Saturday night’s anti-Robeson [American Legion] parade because many of the members are minors. He said he did not want to bear the responsibility of possible injury to the youngsters if trouble should develop.” Subsequent media reactions are far more critical of the riots (see Mid-September 1949). (Fast 1951; Courtney 9/5/1982) The local district attorney will join the area media in blaming the concert organizers, not the mob, for the violence (see September 1949).
After the mob riots and attacks at Peekskill, New York, that disrupted a concert featuring left-wing activists Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger (see August 27, 1949), novelist Howard Fast, another activist who had successfully organized the concertgoers into resisting the mob attacks, takes part in an August 28 meeting to assess the situation and discuss whether the concert should again be attempted. The meeting attracts over 1,600 people. (One apparently impromptu attack on the group, mounted by what Fast calls “a dozen young hoodlums from Peekskill,” is easily driven back.) The organization behind the concert, People’s Artists, joins with Labor Party and trade union members in deciding to try a second time. Fast agrees to organize the defense. The group gives itself the name “Westchester Committee for Law and Order.” On August 30, Fast joins a large gathering of at least 3,000 people at a Harlem ballroom, where Robeson speaks movingly of the struggle for recognition and against repression.
Organizing for Battle - By week’s end, organizing on both sides is taking place. The local unions are bringing hundreds of brawny workers to the area concert grounds, while the local American Legion, Fast learns, has put out a call for 30,000 veterans to come to the concert and disrupt the proceedings, though as Fast later writes, only about a thousand protesters appear, and he has no way of knowing how many of them, if any, are veterans. A friend, whom Fast does not name, explains why the area’s people may be so willing to answer the mob’s call: “This is a funny neighborhood.… You know, there’s no real industry here except the railroad, and the kids grow up in these river towns with no jobs and no future—just a rotten, perverted petty-bourgeois outlook. They get a job at a gas station or a grocery store or a lunch wagon or with the fire department or some other political handout—or they don’t work and just scrounge around and live off the few dollars they pick up. They get twisted with bitterness, and they don’t know what causes it or where to direct it. Then they hate, and it’s easy for the Legion and the local Chamber of Commerce to use that hate. They’re using it now.” (Fast 1951; Courtney 9/5/1982; National Public Radio 9/5/1999) Announcing the second concert, Communist Party leader Ben Davis says, “Let them touch a hair of Paul Robeson’s head, and they’ll pay a price they never calculated.” (Williams 3/1976) The second concert will be successful (see September 4, 1949) but the audience is attacked, and over 100 injured, upon trying to leave the venue (see September 4, 1949, and After).
Left-wing activists make a second attempt at holding a concert outside of Peekskill, New York, featuring African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson. After the first one was disrupted by angry mobs (see August 27, 1949), organizers plan for a much more strongly defended second event (see August 28-30, 1949). The venue for the first concert is heavily damaged by the mob’s depredations, so a German-American landowner named Stephen Szego, who escaped Hitler’s Germany years before, agrees to let the concert take place at the now-abandoned Hollow Brook Country Club ground. (Activist and novelist Howard Fast, who helps organize the event and documents it, will later note that Szego will suffer an attempt to burn down his house and has bullets fired through his walls as a result of his generosity.) The defense, organized by dozens of trade union workers, is designed to be unique, Fast will write: “a defense without weapons, a defense, if possible, without a blow being struck, a defense which would achieve its purpose through the highest type of discipline and restraint.” As the opening of the concert approaches, some 25,000 people—far more than the organizers had anticipated—begin streaming into the country club’s grounds; outside the grounds, a large mob begins to grow. In addition, a large and well-armed police contingent is on hand. According to Fast, the opening salvo of rock-throwing from the mob is ordered by the police: “Backed by hundreds of laughing cops, the American Legion heroes lined the road and heaved rocks at our defense line.” The violence escalates when several carloads of latecomers, all African-Americans, are attacked by the mob, pulled out of their cars, and beaten. An apparent assassination attempt against Robeson is thwarted when union workers flush two mob members from what is apparently a sniper’s nest; both are found with high-powered rifles. When Robeson takes the stage to sing, 15 union workers surround him, providing a “human wall,” in Fast’s words, to defend him from any possible sniper’s bullet. Robeson, folk singer Pete Seeger, and other musicians are able to play successfully, even though a police helicopter hovers over the sound truck, apparently trying to drown out the music with the sound of its rotors. Seeger later recalls: “We heard about 150 people standing around the gate shout things like ‘Go back to Russia! K_kes! N_gger-lovers!’ It was a typical KKK crowd, without bedsheets.” (Fast 1951; Williams 3/1976; Courtney 9/5/1982; National Public Radio 9/5/1999) Concertgoers are attacked, beaten, and pelted with rocks by the mob as they attempt to leave the grounds (see September 4, 1949, and After).
The second Peekskill concert, organized by left-wing activists and featuring African-American singer Paul Robeson (see September 4, 1949), takes place successfully after the first was disrupted by a large, angry mob (see August 27, 1949). But another mob has gathered, and though they are unsuccessful in stopping the concert from taking place, they are ready for the audience and participants at the concert’s end.
Rock Attacks, Roadblocks - The audience members, with many women and children in their ranks, attempt to leave, mostly by car, and are told by security guards to roll up their windows as they are driving out, as the mob is apparently throwing rocks and other missiles. (A New York Times reporter later writes of the large piles of stones piled up about every 20 feet down one road, apparently placed their ahead of time for use as missiles.) However, the long, slow procession of cars attempting to leave the venue is halted when a small group of police officers attack the cars, including the vehicle bearing Robeson. None of the cars’ occupants are injured, though many windshields are smashed and fenders beaten in. Novelist and concert organizer Howard Fast, driving his own car, turns onto a secondary road to attempt to leave the venue, but his car is assaulted by a knot of six or seven rock throwers, accompanied by two police officers who do not throw rocks. Fast believes the police officers are there to protect the assailants if any of the cars stops to launch a counterattack. Fast will later learn that all of the secondary roads have similar knots of rock-throwing people in place to inflict damage on cars; some are blocked by piles of logs and boulders. He drives through several such ambushes, but he and the people with him escape injury.
145 Reported Injuries - Others are not so lucky; many people, including women and children, are seriously injured by rocks and broken glass. One concert goer, Eugene Bullard, is spat upon by a veteran and spits back; he is thrown to the ground and badly beaten by a group of police officers. Afterwards, Fast will report, the area hospitals quickly fill up with victims of the barrages, “the blinded, the bleeding and the wounded, the cut, lacerated faces, the fractured skulls, the infants with glass in their eyes, the men and women trampled and beaten, the Negroes beaten and mutilated, all the terribly hurt who had come to listen to music.” A union trademan, Sidney Marcus, is wounded so badly by a rock to the face that he requires weeks of reconstructive surgery. Fast later learns that approximately a thousand union workers had chosen to stay behind as something of a “rear guard” to protect the last of the audience members; they were assaulted by a combination of mob members and police officers, badly beaten, and threatened with incarceration. (Twenty-five were indeed arrested and taken away.) For Fast, the night ends when he returns to the area to look for a group of stranded audience members, and is shot at. He does not find the stranded people. The final tally is 145 concert-goers injured. (Fast 1951; Courtney 9/5/1982; National Public Radio 9/5/1999)
Arrests and Lawsuits - Twelve protesters are arrested; five later plead guilty to minor offenses. No one among the concert-goers and “Robesonites” is arrested. Author Roger Williams will later write: “As the victims of the violence they were hardly subject to arrest, except that the prevailing local attitude held them guilty of provoking the attacks made upon them. As the Peekskill mayor, John N. Schneider, put it, the responsibility ‘rests solely on the Robesonites, as they insisted on coming to a community where they weren’t wanted.’” Numerous civil lawsuits will be filed on behalf of groups of victims; none will be successful.
History Professor: Peekskill Becomes an 'Endorsement of ... Persecution' - Much later, history professor James Shenton will say, “Peekskill opened up what was to become extensive public endorsement of the prosecution and persecution of so-called Communists.”
Trying to Forget - Years later, the memory of the riots still haunts the area and intimidates many residents, according to Williams’s 1976 report. Residents refuse to discuss the riots, some for fear of reprisals even decades later. Williams will recount the story of one high school teacher, Anne Plunkett, who was amazed that her children knew nothing of the riots, even though some of them were the children of participants. But when she assigns her students the riots as an optional class project, as Plunkett will recall: “The first time, librarians wouldn’t give the kids access to the back newspapers. The next time, I was called to the principal’s office and told that parents had been telephoning to complain about my ‘upsetting and exciting the children unnecessarily.’” (Williams 3/1976)
In the days and weeks after the Peekskill riots (see August 27, 1949 and September 4, 1949, and After), four Yale Law School professors call for the New York attorney general to launch a federal investigation of the riot. They accuse Governor Thomas Dewey of “fail[ing] to take decisive action… from the beginning,” and write that “positive measures on behalf of the American tradition of political freedom must be taken now. If a situation of this sort is allowed to drift, without action from the leaders of our government, it can only too quickly get completely out of hand.” The president of the National Lawyers Guild issues a similar call: “Any idea that the present officials of the State of New York could be relied upon to vindicate the ends of justice and the principles of democracy without federal intervention should be completely set aside by the statement and action of Governor Dewey on ordering a grand jury inquiry.” (Fast 1951)
In the days and weeks after the Peekskill riots (see August 27, 1949 and September 4, 1949, and After), several veterans organizations denounce the mob violence at the two events, and condemn the participation of their local chapters and members who were part of the mobs. The national commander of the American Legion, George Craig, issues a statement repudiating his organization’s involvement in the riots. “The American Legion believes in the preservation of law and order and does not countenance violence in any situation short of war,” Craig writes. “The Legion will not give its official sanction to counter-demonstrations such as those at Peekskill. It prefers to leave pro-Communist demonstrations strictly alone.” The Jewish War Veterans issues a directive prohibiting its chapters from “initiating or participating in any public demonstration which poses potential consequence of riot or public disorder.” The American Veterans Committee (AVC) calls upon the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other veterans organizations “to prevent further outrages such as have occurred in Peekskill.” The AVC blames Peekskill veterans’ organizations for the “two disgraceful episodes.” (Fast 1951)
In the days and weeks after the Peekskill riots (see August 27, 1949 and September 4, 1949, and After), many newspapers condemn the violence that marred the two concerts. The New York Herald Tribune writes that “true Americans must feel deep shame and concern for the quality of citizenship that believes it is defending its country by catcalls and boos and rocks thrown at passing automobiles.” The New York Times writes, “Civil rights are rarely threatened except when those who claim them hold views hateful to the majority.” The New York Sun blames local law enforcement officials: “The local and county police clearly let the demonstration against the concert degenerate into a riot.” The New York Post calls the rioters “hoodlums” who “proclaim[ed their] contempt for democratic process, inflicting violence on real and alleged Communists and innocent bystanders with fine and frenzied impartiality.” The Christian Science Monitor says the rioters used the same tactics used by “Fascist[s]” and the “Ku Klux Klan.” Speaking of the main target of opprobrium, singer, avowed Communist, and African-American Paul Robeson, the Fort Wayne News Sentinel observes, “Whether or not Mr. Robeson follows the Kremlin manual is of less concern than that Americans shall not forget the First Amendment to the Constitution.” The Des Moines Register states: “Those who gathered at Peekskill to hear Robeson were entirely within the law in doing so. Those who provoked the violence repudiated the Constitution, the government, and those things which Americans have long prided themselves on—fairness and freedom.” And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes, “Veterans’ organizations in Westchester County, New York, lowered themselves to the level of the Ku Klux Klan.” (Fast 1951)
In the days and weeks after the Peekskill riots (see August 27, 1949 and September 4, 1949, and After), many members of the local clergy denounce the violence. Thirteen local Protestant and Jewish clergymen issue the following statement: “We, the undersigned clergy of Peekskill and surrounding communities, desire to express our attitude toward the recent disturbances at Hollow Brook and the aftermath in the community.… Acts of violence have been committed. Lies, malicious rumors about responsible citizens, vilification and inflammatory language about members of our minority races and faiths have been circulated. A vicious example of lawlessness has been held up to the world as our way of life.… There is no need to try to convince ourselves or the world that the ugliness is not real or that it is not here… we must admit our fault and mistake. Admitting them, let us show shame and contrition for these violent and unlawful acts and attitudes.” A separate statement from a local Catholic priest reads in part: “Acts of violence are contrary to the teachings of our church and the lawful procedure required by our form of government. While offended sensibilities are understandable they offer no excuse for violence. The use of force solves nothing. Instead it accentuates grievances and promotes discord and disunity.” (Fast 1951)
After the Peekskill riots (see August 27, 1949 and September 4, 1949, and After), First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Roosevelt, says: “This is not the type of thing that we believe in the United States. I dislike everything that Paul Robeson is now saying.… I still believe, however, that if he wants to give a concert, or speak his mind in public, no one should prevent him from doing so. No one who disagrees is obliged to stay or even to go to hear him.” (Fast 1951)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases the findings of its investigation into the Peekskill riots (see August 27, 1949 and September 4, 1949, and After). The report concludes, in part:
“There is no evidence whatever of Communist provocation… on either occasion.”
“While the demonstrations were organized to protest against and express hatred of Communism, the unprovoked rioting which resulted was fostered largely by anti-Semitism, growing out of local resentment against the increasing influx of Jewish summer residents from New York.” Some of the violence was triggered, the ACLU finds, by resentment left over from earlier attacks on a local Ku Klux Klan chapter. One of the buses used by the rioters carried a bumper sticker that read: “COMMUNISM IS TREASON. BEHIND COMMUNISM STANDS—THE JEW! THEREFORE, FOR MY COUNTRY—AGAINST THE JEWS.”
“The local press bears the main responsibility for inflaming, possibly through sheer irresponsibility, Peekskill residents to a mood of violence.”
“[Leftist activist and singer Paul] Robeson’s concerts were not an intrusion into Peekskill but were private gatherings held five miles outside of Peekskill, which were disrupted deliberately by invading gangs from nearby localities.”
“Terrorism was general against all who advocated freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and preservation of constitutional rights.”
“The evidence proves beyond question that the veterans intended to prevent the concerts from being held.”
“Effective police protection at the first concert was deliberately withheld.”
“Preparations to police the second concert appeared adequate; therefore, there was reason to believe that the concert-goers would be protected.… These preparations were largely a sham insofar as the Westchester County police were concerned and left the concert-goers undefended.”
“The wounding of William Secor, rioting veteran, occurred while he was assisting in the commission of a crime.” Secor, one of the rioters who attacked the concert-goers, was apparently the victim of an accidental knifing by one of his own colleagues.
“The evidence indicates that at least some of the state troopers honestly tried to preserve law and order while county police fraternized with the rioters.”
“There is strong indication that the initial violence was planned and was carried out according to plan.” The report details eyewitness accounts of veterans and locals filling the trunks of their cars with rocks. “The wide extent of the stoning indicates careful planning on the part of some person or persons. It can hardly be coincidence that, as cars with broken windows streamed down the county towards New York, they were met with volleys of stones in community after community through which they passed.”
“Terrorism spread over the whole area and included threats against private individuals, against their safety, lives, property, and business.”
“National condemnation has been the chief factor causing residents of the Peekskill area to question this action. The local clergy have joined in this denunciation.… Sentiment in the area is now sharply divided and there is evidence that the legal authorities are moving toward restriction of freedom of speech and assembly, presumably in violation of the Constitution.” (Atkinson et al. 1949 ; Fast 1951)
During Richard Nixon’s campaign to represent his California district in the US House, his campaign manager, Murray Chotiner, arranges to have the Mafia raise money for Nixon. Los Angeles mob boss Mickey Cohen raises $75,000 for Nixon in return for unspecified political favors. Cohen will later claim that he raised the money on orders from one of his own bosses, Meyer Lansky. Cohen will sign a confession to the money raising while in Alcatraz Prison in 1962. Chotiner, embarrassed by the revelation, will drop out of politics until 1968, when he rejoins Nixon in his campaign for president (see November 5, 1968). After Nixon’s victory, Chotiner will be named a special counsel for Nixon, joining Nixon’s White House staff. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
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)
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