Sunday, December 28, 2014

Roosevelt and the Grape

The political history of Prohibition is complex. Before the Eighteenth Amendment took effect in January 1920, a nation-wide ban on most alcoholic beverages had been enacted and took effect at the end of June 1919.

Oddly, the ban had been legislated on the rationale that the nation’s grains were needed for the war effort. But the war ended in November 1918, more than six months before the moratorium came into force.

In addition, some individual counties and states wrote their own local bans into law.

Wineries, breweries, and distilleries were economically destroyed; distributors of beverages and operators of restaurants and bars were badly damaged in their ability to earn a living. By contrast, organized crime - “gangsters” and the Mafia - flourished.

In March 1933, legislation allowed for the manufacture, sale, and consumption of certain types of beer and wine. In December 1933, the constitutional amendment was repealed, making beer, wine, and distilled liquors fully legal.

But the economy could not instantly fix the devastation done to several different sectors. One historian, Leon D. Adams, writes:

Would the government, which had destroyed the industry, help to restore it? Some members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration thought it should. There was ample precedent for Federal assistance; the Department of Agriculture had encouraged winegrowing for more than a century, operating experimental vineyards and breeding wine grapes until Prohibition intervened. As late as 1880, the only Federal census statistics of state-by-state grape production were given in gallons of wine made, because the chief purpose of planting vineyards was to grow wine. This was always the case in other countries; nine tenths of the world’s grapes are grown for wine. Shipping of fresh grapes as a dessert fruit was unimportant until after refrigerated freight cars were adapted for fruit shipments about 1887, and the raisin industry remained small until the 1890s.

American vintners were honored by seeing their product served and consumed at official state banquets:

Promptly at Repeal, Eleanor Roosevelt began serving American wines in the White House, restoring the custom that had prevailed until “Lemonade Lucy,” the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, stopped it in 1877.

Given that the Roosevelt administration was spending massive amounts of money on various “public works” and “make work” projects, it seemed reasonable if a small sum were spent to encourage the nation’s winegrowing industry. Compared to other massive expenditures on Roosevelt’s projects, agricultural help for the vineyards was an insignificant amount. The science of winemaking, reports Leon D. Adams, found at least one friend in the Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Rexford Guy Tugwell, a member of Roosevelt’s famed “Brain Trust,” made elaborate plans to restore winegrowing as a nationwide industry. Tugwell, who then was the assistant secretary of agriculture, even favored exempting wine and beer from taxation in order to hold down the consumption of hard liquor. In 1933 he sent the Agriculture Department’s Dr. Charles A. Magoon to Europe to collect the newest wine yeast cultures. At Tugwell’s direction, two complete model wineries were built, one at the Government’s giant agricultural research center in Beltsville, Maryland, and the other at the Meridian, Mississippi, research station which served the southeastern states. Both wineries were fully equipped with crushers, presses, underground vats, and there was a brandy still at Beltsville.

But after a massive investment of taxpayer dollars, Democrat Congressman Clarence Cannon of Missouri organized resistance to government’s wine efforts. Both research locations and their equipped went unused.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Presidents and the Grape

Quite early in American history, attempts were made to grow vitis vinifera, a family of common European grapevines, in the thirteen colonies, starting with Virginia. Thomas Jefferson, with his many scientific interests including botany and agriculture, tried to get the vine to grow.

Importing wine from Europe was costly. Americans had already begun to brew their own beer, distill various liquors, and make a form of apple wine. But grape wine still eluded them.

George Washington apparently did not devote much effort to establishing wine production in America, content with imported wine and domestic beer. He did distill his own liquor. Historian Leon D. Adams write:

Virginia, as we have seen, was the first of the colonies to cultivate grapes for wine. The attempts to grow Vinifera, which began in 1619 under Lord Delaware, continued in Virginia for almost two centuries. Some of the vineyards succeeded in producing quantities of wine before plant diseases and insect pests killed the European vines. About 1716, historian Robert Beverley won a wager of seven hundred guineas from his neighbors by producing seven hundred gallons in a single vintage from his three-acre vineyard at Beverley Park in King and Queen County. But Beverley apparently made the wine from native wild grapes, which he cultivated together with his few French vines. The only Virginia wines of any note in the eighteenth century were the red and white Rapidan, made by a colony of Germans who settled on the Rapidan River in Spotsylvania County after 1770. George Washington planted a garden vineyard at Mount Vernon, but there is no record of his having made any wine, although he made cider and distilled considerable quantities of applejack. In 1773, Dr. Filippo Mazzei of Tuscany brought Italian winegrowers with ten thousand European vine cuttings in a chartered ship to establish winegrowing in Virginia. Most of Mazzei’s cuttings were planted at Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson, in what is now Albemarle County. For thirty years Jefferson continued trying to grow Vinifera, even importing some of his vines directly from Chateau d’Yquem, and he is said once to have even imported some French soil. An advocate of wine as a temperate beverage, he hoped to establish grape growing as an American industry, and while minister to France from 1785 to 1789, he made his own scientific studies of viticulture and winemaking. Jefferson finally admitted his failure with Vinifera when he recommended in 1809 that native vines, such as the Alexander, be planted instead.

Eventually, successful winemaking would succeed with other types of grapes in the thirteen colonies. The vitis vinifera would find its American home in California.

In due course, vitis vinifera would form hybrids with some of the native North American breeds, and these hearty plants were able to survive outside of California. Later vintners would also graft vitis vinifera onto the roots of native breeds. In the end, forms of vitis vinifera would grow in places like Michigan and New York.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

North America: Early Settlers Decide for Independence

By the time that the tyrant, George III of England, provoked, by means of his cruel injustices, the colonists in North America into open conflict with the British Empire, those thirteen colonies, and the other regions they controlled in the interior of the continent, were inhabited by diverse groupings of people.

They faced a profound question: would they actively support America’s bid for independence from England?

During the second half of the eighteenth century, enthusiasm for independence fluctuated among the residents of the thirteen colonies. At times, the majority was probably in favor of it; at times, the majority seemed indifferent or even hostile to the idea.

Polling data as it is known in the twenty-first century was not collected in those days. Estimates of support are made from what evidence exists. Such approximations are not exact.

It is, however, clear that support for independence varied from region to region, and varied within region by ethnic and religious groupings. Historian Thomas Sowell writes:

While other Americans split into Tory supporters of England and revolutionaries for independence in 1776, German Americans split into pacifists and revolutionaries. Mennonites and other German religious sects would not fight, but some paid extra taxes instead or engaged in medical or other duties consistent with their status as conscientious objectors. However, the largest denominations among Germans, the Lutherans and the Reformed, had no prohibitions against the military, and many Germans from these groups fought in the revolution.

Support for the independence effort varied with the colonial army’s victories or losses, with the economic impact of the war, and with shifting political moods. Stirring texts, like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and The American Crisis stoked the passion for independence; news of betrayal and defection, like that of Benedict Arnold, muted such fervor. Larry Arnn writes:

In the period leading up to the American Revolution, loyalists or Tories contested with revolutionaries, and these two groups alternated having the upper hand between 1763 and 1776, and even later, after the war had begun. The people were making up their minds about something fundamental, and a consensus was slow in forming.

Ultimately, the spirit of independence took permanent hold. A unique turning-point in world history, the United States would find the legitimacy for its founding, not in the hereditary claims of a royal dynasty, but in the consent of the governed.

Working out this Lockean vision, the inhabitants of the new nation reconceived citizenship and participation. Mark Levin describes this notion:

In the civil society, the individual has a duty to respect the unalienable rights of others and the values, customs, and traditions, tried and tested over time and passed from one generation to the next, that establish society's cultural identity. He is responsible for attending to his own well-being and that of his family. And he has a duty as a citizen to contribute voluntarily to the welfare of his community through good works.

In making a decision for independence, then, the residents of North America were making more than a decision about the sovereignty of a particular territory. They were making a decision about personal political liberty and the personal responsibliity which is necessary to maintain it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Coolidge, at Home and Abroad

The Coolidge presidency is marked by both foreign policy triumphs and domestic successes. In the area of foreign policy, Coolidge knew that his experience was limited. While he understood the global issues well, he knew that he needed to rely on experienced appointees who had the detailed expertise in diplomacy.

Among the foreign policy victories were the Dawes Plan and the Kellogg–Briand Pact. Both were aimed at calming troubled international relationships. Coolidge saw that WWI, which had just ended, had not exhausted the serious tensions in global relationships. Coolidge’s foreign policy initiatives were designed to ease tensions and avoid another world war.

In the early 1920s, people on both sides of the Atlantic, and around the world, were thinking about recovering from the war, and getting life back to normal. But Coolidge and other farsighted leaders could see that the motives for armed conflict had not exhausted themselves on the battlefields of WWI, and that international relations needed to be carefully managed to avoid another outbreak of massive violence.

When Coolidge took office in August 1923, the diplomatic and economic situation in Europe was teetering on the brink of collapse, and collapse might mean the outbreak, or resumption, of hostilities. Coolidge looked to Charles Dawes to find a way to stabilize the situation.

The overly-punitive reparations demanded by the French and British at the Versailles discussions in 1918/1919 needed to be moderated. If Germany declared bankruptcy and defaulted on its payments of these reparations, the situation would grow dire. In fact, Germany did so default.

The United States would lend, under the terms of the Dawes Plan, eight hundred million (800,000,000) gold marks to Germany to help it meet its obligations. Thereafter, the plan regulated the amount of payments per year to keep the financial burden on Germany manageable.

The Dawes Plan avoided a crisis and stabilized Europe, both economically and diplomatically. The Plan was accepted by the European nations in August 1924, and Coolidge rewarded Dawes by making him vice president.

Building on the gains of the Dawes Plan, Coolidge’s Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg, worked to build an international agreement. In early 1927, the French had proposed a similar but more limited idea, which had a lukewarm reception. Kellogg’s idea was bolder and went further. It created a framework for negotiations to avoid military conflict. Historian Amity Shlaes writes:

The treaty itself had crystallized in Kellogg’s mind as the administration had tried to decide what to make of Briand’s irritating bilateral plan. Briand had proposed that plant in the newspapers in April 1927, and for months after, Kellogg had made a show of ignoring him. But perhaps, Kellogg had begun to think, one could use Briand’s document as a basis for a treaty among the great powers, a “universal undertaking not to resort to war.” That “might make a more signal contribution to world peace by joining in an effort to obtain the adherence of all the principal powers of the world to a declaration renouncing war as an instrument of policy.” Such a declaration, he wrote in one State Department paper, “could not but be an impressive example.” With the word “example,” Kellogg knew, he might lure not only Briand but also Coolidge.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact was formally approved in August 1928. Although some observers criticized the treaty as ineffective because it lacked an enforcement mechanism, the next decade lacked major military conflicts.

Aside from the Spanish Civil War and Japan’s aggression in China, it seems that the Kellogg-Briand Pact delayed the next World War for ten years, but strict causality in this case is impossible to prove.

While managing these achievements in foreign policy, Coolidge was achieving equally great, or even greater, things in domestic policy.

The Coolidge presidency achieved amazing feat: reduction in national debt, reduction in taxes, reduction in government spending, and practical elimination of the deficit. By certain statistical metrics, Coolidge can be quantified as one of the most economically successful presidents. Citizens in all income categories enjoyed increased standards of living. All regions of the country and all industrial and business sectors experienced growth.

His enthusiasm for the free market was coupled with his sense of civic responsibility. Goodwill in the private sector, fueled by a sense of charity and duty, could accomplish as much and more than public sector programs. Historian David Greenberg writes:

Coolidge famously summarized this philosophy in his January 1925 declaration to the American Society of Newspaper Editors: “The chief business of America is business.” Although sometimes caricatured as a sign of Coolidge’s obeisance to corporations, the statement actually contained a more subtle though still pro-business message. No apologist for raw laissez-faire, Coolidge believed that public-spiritedness was needed to counter the corrupting temptations of the profit motive. He was reminding the editors that they had to remain high-minded if they commercially driven newspaper business was to benefit the public. “The chief ideal of the American people,” he explained, “is idealism.” And Coolidge’s economic outlook was indeed idealistic.

Meticulous in detail, personally supervising the use of office supplies in the White House, Coolidge was debt-averse in the extreme. This passion for avoiding financial obligations was part theoretical economics, and part family culture from his boyhood.

Attacking the debt and paying it down was Coolidge’s highest policy priority, domestic or foreign. Historian Robert Ferrell writes:

Coolidge liked the idea of living within one’s means. Perhaps ever since his father in 1880 refused to advance him a penny until the election of Garfield, he had thought about debt. As soon as he finished reading law in Northampton, he balanced income with outgo. After marriage in 1905 the Coolidge family always came up with a surplus. As president he watched over the national debt, bringing it down from $22.3 billion in 1923 to $16.9 billion in 1929, a major achievement of economy. Coolidge considered the national debt to be the same as a private debt. In his day, there was none of the intricate calculation that would later grace - or disgrace, depending on the observer and his or her political party - government account keeping, whereby the government debt became subject to management and became a positive good, a vital necessity for the nation’s economic well-being. No one ventured that a rising gross national product would shrink the debt in a relative sense, or that what shrinkage did not occur relatively could occur through inflation. To Coolidge, the debt was an unadulterated debit, an evil, something to be rid of. Retiring the debt was “predominant necessity of the country.” Retiring the debt was “the very largest internal improvement … possible to conceive.”

The significance of Coolidge’s achievements can be seen when one searches for another United States president who simultaneously reduced debt, deficit, spending and taxes, while growing the economy for all income brackets, regions and industrial sectors.