Monday, January 23, 2012

Coolidge Becomes President

On August 2, 1923, President Harding died while on a speaking tour in California. Vice-President Coolidge was in Vermont visiting his family home, which had neither electricity nor a telephone, when he received word by messenger of Harding's death. Coolidge dressed, said a prayer, and came downstairs to greet the reporters who had assembled. His father, a notary public, administered the oath of office in the family's parlor by the light of a kerosene lamp at 2:47 am on August 3, 1923; Coolidge then went back to bed. Coolidge returned to Washington the next day, and was re-sworn by Justice Adolph A. Hoehling, Jr. of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, as there was some confusion over whether a state notary public had the authority to administer the presidential oath.

The nation did not know what to make of its new President; Coolidge had not stood out in the Harding administration and many had expected him to be replaced on the ballot in 1924. He appointed C. Bascom Slemp, a Virginia Congressman and experienced federal politician to work jointly with Edward T. Clark, a Massachusetts Republican organizer whom he retained from his vice presidential staff, as Secretaries to the President (a position equivalent to the modern White House Chief of Staff). Although a few of Harding's cabinet appointees were scandal-tarred, Coolidge announced that he would not demand any of their resignations, believing that since the people had elected Harding, he should carry on Harding's presidency, at least until the next election.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Settling the New World

As the colonies that would later become the United States grew, thousands of immigrants came, not only from Germany, but from Austria and Switzerland as well. The term 'Pennsylvania Dutch' was used then, and is still used today, to describe many of them. When asked which language they spoke, they replied by saying Deutsch, but this was misunderstood by some to be "Dutch" - the term lives on today, as do the misunderstandings. The actual Dutch settled mainly in the region around what is now New York City, not Pennsylvania. These settlers brought with them a diversity of beliefs, starting with the first arrivals in 1683: Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Calvinists, Amish, and others. Thomas Sowell describes their settling in Pennsylvania:
The early German settlers lived in self-isolation in farming communities made up of people of a particular religious denomination. They were socially separate from the larger society and internally separated by numerous religious divisions. The English language and the culture of the British settlers had little influence within the areas settled by Germans. They imported books from Germany and published newspapers and preached sermons in German. With the passage of time, English slowly began to creep in, often with German sentence structure, to produce a peculiar local dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch. The most isolated of these German settlers were - and are - the Amish, who today still live in farm communities very much like those of the early settlers. Pious religious people who dress in old-fashioned black clothes, the Amish avoid modern ways, drive horse-drawn black carriages, and keep their children out of public schools as a means of preserving their way of life.
Austrian, Swiss, and German immigrants soon outnumbered the English. Cengage's history book tell us that
Germany replaced England as the main source of voluntary immigrants.
Financing their trip to the America was not easy. Students of American history are familiar with 'indentured servants', but a slightly different concept was widely used to pay for trips to the New World:
Perhaps 70,000 of the free immigrants were Germans. Most of them arrived as families, often as redemptioners, a new form of indentured service that was attractive to married couples because it allowed them to find and bind themselves to their own masters. Families could stay together. After redemptioners completed their service, most of them streamed into the interior of Pennsylvania, where Germans outnumbered the original English and Welsh settlers by 1750. Other Germans moved to the southern backcountry.
As the Germans tamed the Pennsylvanian countryside, they looked for other areas in which they might be needed. Their reputation for excellence in agriculture made them welcome in most colonies. These "Pennsylvania Dutch," who were really
Germans, pushed west into the mountains and up the river valleys into the interior parts of Virginia and the Carolinas.
It was in this setting - the backcountry south and west of Philadelphia - that certain cultural images arose. The German settlers encountered farmers from Ireland and Scotland who had settled in and around the Appalachian Mountains, whose farming methods were less precise, and whose social concepts less refined.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Technology in the New World

Although we are inclined to think of iPhones, iPods, and laptops when we hear the word 'technology', working with iron and copper, using a printing press, making gun powder, or knowing how to turn wood into paper are equally important skills, and were central to the decades just before and after the United States declared its independence. Thomas Sowell writes:
Most of the early German immigrants had none of the highly developed scientific, technical, or intellectual skills associated with German achievements in the vanguard of Western civilization. What they did have were the discipline, thoroughness, and perseverance that made such achievements possible. They were renowned as "the nation's best dirt farmers." The highly successful German farmers were paralleled by the achievements by German skilled craftsmen in colonial America. Glassmaking was - and is - a skill associated with German Americans. The first papermill was also set up by a German. The first Bible published in America was printed by a German, in the German language.
The papermill was built in 1690 by William Rittenhouse, who had changed his named from Wilhelm Rittenhaus when he came to America. The German families who settled in Pennsylvania explained to their neighbors that they were 'Deutsch' - the German word for 'German'. But the local population misunderstood, and began to call them 'Dutch' - hence the phrase, still used today: "Pennsylvania Dutch".
The Pennsylvania Dutch were very un-German in two important respects: they were pacifists and distrusters of government. As Palatines, they were descendants of people from a province that had suffered especially severe and repeated devastations by contending armies during the Thirty Years' War. They were also refugees from autocratic tyranny and religious persecutions. Moreover, the religious freedom of Pennsylvania - rare even in America at that time - had disproportionate attraction to pious and pacific religious sects. Germans of that era took little or no interest in government or politics.
The Germans in Pennsylvania contributed to several key ingredients in America's political development: they distrusted governments, they strongly preferred peace to war, and they saw a connection between freedom of religion and faith's ability to empower people.

Benjamin Rush

Among the brilliant group of individuals called our 'Founding Fathers' is Benjamin Rush, from the city of Philadelphia. He signed the Declaration of Independence. He was a physician; he developed and sold medicine. In the field of psychology, he articulated one of the first clear theories of addiction, and noted that if mental patients in hospitals had meaningful tasks, they were more likely to recover. He worked against the British notion that mental patients should be kept in dungeons, and placed them in more cheerful types of hospital settings. He published the first American textbook on chemistry, and one on psychology.

Because of his deep Christian faith, he was strongly opposed to slavery. In addition to supporting the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, he helped to create the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. He encouraged people to read the Bible at home and study it in school; he believed that regular reading of the Scripture would advance the abolitionist cause.

He spent almost his entire life in and near the city of Philadelphia. Familiar with the countryside in southeastern Pennsylvania, he wrote:

A German farm may be distinguished from the farms of the other citizens of the state, by the superior size of their barns, the plain but compact form of their houses, the height of their inclosures, the extent of their orchards, the fertility of their fields, the luxuriance of their meadows, and a general appearance of plenty and neatness in everything that belonged to them.
The high efficiency and productivity of the German farmers in Pennsylvania impressed Benjamin Rush. As a scientist, he valued the high yields they got from their land. Although his own heritage was largely English, he learned to appreciate the skills of the German farmers, and soon realized that they were necessary to keeping Pennsylvania economically strong.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Agriculture Fueled America's Growth

The importance of agriculture during the first century of the United States can hardly be overstated. During that time, the majority of the nation's population lived and worked on farms. Feeding the country was the first necessary step to any greater achievement. Those who came to America - the German farmers whose abundant produce fed millions - laid the foundation for greatness. Historian Thomas Sowell writes:
However they came to America, and whatever their vicissitudes en route or after arriving, the early German settlers quickly established a reputation for hard work, thoroughness, and thriftiness. German farmers cleared frontier land more thoroughly than others and made it more productive. They often began by living in sod houses, then log cabins, then finally stone farmhouses. Their farm animals were not allowed to roam free but were also housed, in huge barns like those of their homeland.
The German farmers worked with attention to detail, neatness, and logical arrangements of their land and animals. Farming to maximize productivity and the land's yield was no casual or haphazard work. The sloppy image of farmers as "hillbillies" and ignorant rural bumpkins had perhaps some basis in the subsistence farming of Appalachia, but the breadbasket states productively supplying grain and meat to the continent were organized around an amazingly efficient and scientific pattern of agriculture.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Women Advanced Despite Progressivism

The progressivist views which flourished in certain circles around the turn of the century, and which were embodied in Woodrow Wilson, claim as their fruit the advent of women's suffrage, and the entry of women into full participation in the governing process. In short, the progressivist movement would have all women thank it, and consider themselves indebted to it, as it claims to have given them full civil rights.

But how true is this claim?

While it must be acknowledged that the first woman elected to congress, Jeannette Rankin, embraced progressivist policies, it must be pointed out that she ran for office with the sponsorship of the Republican party, and was elected by the voters of Montana in November 1916, a state not normally associated with the progressivist movement.

Beyond this, however, we note that the first five women elected to congress were Republicans, during an era in which that party was moving further away from progressivism. Eight of the first ten women elected to the House of Representatives were Republicans. During these years, the 1920's and 1930's, the party was moving away from the progressivism with which it had flirted during the years of Teddy Roosevelt. Yet it is during these years that it, and not the other party, moved women decisively into participation in government.

Even a progressive like Jeannette Rankin was nudged into active participation through her acquaintance with Jane Addams, who represented within progressivism a strand of that movement which sought to take action in the private sector - charities which were not funded by taxpayer dollars, but rather by donations - and a strand which was fueled by religious thought rather than political fervor.

The emergence of women into government is more accurately symbolized by Alice Mary Robertson, elected in 1921 from Oklahoma to the House of Representatives. She was not only the second woman, after Rankin, to be elected to Congress, but was also the first woman to preside over the House of Representatives.

"I came to Congress to represent my district," Alice Mary Robertson declared, "not women." Distancing herself from progressivist agendas, she took a common-sense view to legislation. Arguing against progressivist programs for pregnant women, she saw through the apparently benign benefits of offering instructions on parenting, and perceived instead "an autocratic, undefined, practically uncontrolled yet Federally authorized center of propaganda." She understood the dangers of a government telling parents how they should care for their children.

Congresswoman Alice Mary Robertson, and the women elected to Congress after her, had little use for progressivist ideas, and instead worked to secure individual liberty and personal freedom. Progressivist goals were certainly noble, but also were certainly better served by private sector funding and non-governmental organizations.