Archive for October, 2015

Halloween

October 31, 2015
Jack-o-lantern

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit:

The name “Halloween” is actually derived from “All Hallow’s Eve“, that is the day before “All Hallow’s Day” or All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day was and is a Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holy day which celebrates all the saints in Heaven and includes prayers for those in Purgatory.

Halloween, however, is not a Christian holiday. It seems to have come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a summer’s end or harvest festival. The Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires to ward off evil spirits and sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to their gods. This pagan heritage has made Halloween controversial among Christians at times. The Protestant Reformers in England did not like the holiday and tried to suppress it because of its pagan and Roman Catholic origins. The Scots were more lenient and Halloween is celebrated there more than in England. The Irish, of course, still celebrated it as they remained Catholic and true to their Celtic Heritage. Halloween was not much celebrated in America until large numbers of Scots and Irish immigrated here during the nineteenth century.

As for the customs which have grown up around Halloween, it would seem that carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is an American innovation. The Scots and Irish used turnips. Pumpkins, which are native to North American, turned out to be larger and easier to carve. Trick or treating seems to be derived from the Scottish custom of guising. Guising is the custom in which children would go from door to door in costume begging for treats and performing a trick or song in return. This custom was first noted in America in the early twentieth century. Trick or treating became the custom by the 1930’s. Haunted houses have also become popular since the 1970’s.

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.

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Saturday Night Trump

October 28, 2015

Donald Trump is scheduled to host Saturday Night Live next Saturday November 7 and it seems that some people are not particularly happy about this choice, especially Juan Escalante from Moveon.org.

Dear MoveOn member,

“Saturday Night Live” recently announced that Donald Trump would serve as host of the program on November 7, 2015, one year from the 2016 general election.1

The popular comedy show, which has been criticized for not adequately representing Latinos, is broadcast by NBC—the same network that terminated its relationship with Donald Trump over his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants.2,3

Now, just three months after cutting ties with Donald Trump, NBC is seeking to boost its ratings at the expense of Latinos and immigrants by allowing Trump to host one of its most popular shows.

Will you join me in calling on NBCUniversal Chairman of Content Matt Bond and “Saturday Night Live” Producer Lorne Michaels to dump Trump?

Mass deportation is not funny! By allowing Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” NBC is excusing and even validating Trump’s hateful comments about immigrants and Latinos. Tell NBC to dump Donald Trump as host of “Saturday Night Live!”Sign Juan’s petition

By inviting Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” NBC is demonstrating that it doesn’t care about its Latino and pro-immigrant viewers. It is providing a platform for Trump’s insulting attacks on immigrants and calling it entertainment—something we do not find funny.

It is shameful for NBC to allow Donald Trump to host “Saturday Night Live,” a comedy show, when one of the main policies he has promised would rip apart millions of immigrant and Latino families.

NBC cannot bill hateful rhetoric as comedy, much less entertainment. Tell NBC to drop Donald Trump as host of “Saturday Night Live!”

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thanks!

–Juan Escalante

 

What about the people who might actually want to see Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live? What about the people who watch shows on television to be amused and who do not much care about the political affiliations of the people they are watching? Juan Escalante and other activists have every right to object to Trump’s presence on Saturday Night Live, or any other show and they can best express that right by choosing not to watch the show. But that is not good enough for them. They want to make sure that no one watches the show by pressuring NBC to prevent Trump from hosting. Who are these people who get to decide for the rest of us who and what are acceptable to appear on television? Why do they get to decide what speech is so offensive that the speaker must be ostracised.?Normal people watch television for amusement. They do not see their television as a means of political indoctrination.  Normal people do not carefully count how many of each ethnic group is represented on each show. They do not organize boycotts or petitions whenever someone says something in public they happen to dislike. Normal people have lives and jobs and don’t really have the time or energy for this kind of activism, even if they were so inclined, which not being sociopathic control freaks, they mostly aren’t. Who are these people like Juan Escalante that do have the time and inclination to be busybodies, always protesting something and always ready and willing to destroy the lives of people who dare express an unorthodox, politically incorrect thought in their hearing? Why have we given these thin skinned, hyper sensitive bullies so much power?

It seems to be that the best response that NBC could give to this petition would be to laugh and then point out that for every person who signs the petition, ten will tune in to Saturday Night Live just to see if Donald Trump can be funny. They won’t do that, of course. They probably won’t drop The Donald, he will bring in the ratings, but they will probably issue some sort of non apology apology stating how sorry they are if anyone was the least bit offended. Too bad. I wish people would start just laughing at the busy bodies and petty tyrants.  We would have a better, and freer, country if they did.

Hitler’s Illness

October 26, 2015

Not long ago, I wrote about how Vladimir Lenin‘s poor health and untimely death after a series of strokes drastically effected the course of Soviet, and world, history. This time I want to write a little on how Adolf Hitler’s state of health influence the decisions he made just before and during World War II and whether his judgement was affected by  illness. Hitler clearly was not in very good health towards the end of World War II and it seems likely that even if the Germans had won the war, Hitler would not have lived to enjoy his Third Reich for very long. The precise nature of any illness that Hitler suffered from is unclear since he is not available for a medical examination and his body was not autopsied. There has been much speculation about Hitler’s health in the decades since his death, with theories that Hitler was afflicted with syphilis, suffered from the ministrations of his personal physician; a quack named Theodor Morell, or simply was consumed with the crushing stress of leading a losing war. The most likely theory to explain Hitler’s symptoms is that Hitler suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, as related in this article from the Daily Mail that I read recently.

Parkinson’s disease may have played a crucial role in Adolf Hitler’s defeat, according to a controversial new study.

The research claims the neurological disease influenced some of the dictator’s biggest decisions, making him reckless and ultimately losing World War II.

But it also goes a step further to say that Hitler’s horrific and inhumane murders were also influenced by his disease, exaggerating his ‘volatile temperament’.

The study was led by Raghav Gupta and a team at the University of Pittsburgh and recently published in the journal World Neurosurgery.

‘The possibility of Hitler suffering from Parkinson’s has long been the subject of debate,’ writes Gupta.

‘Video evidence depicts that Hitler exhibited progressive motor function deterioration from 1933 to 1945.’

By the end of his life, Hitler had a pronounced tremor in his hands, particularly his left hand, which has caused a number of scientists to question whether he had the disease.

Parkinson’s can also cause a slow gait, bent posture and a dull stare, along with cognitive disorders such as a lack of imagination and a general apathy.

The researchers suggest that Hitler’s condition may have led him to attack Russia prematurely in 1941, according to a report in Discover.

A previous study claimed that Hitler’s decision to invade Russia, before defeating Britain on the western front, was a direct result of his failing health.

The study points to other bad decisions of Hitler’s such the failure to defend Normandy in 1944, alongside keeping his forces in Stalingrad in 1942.

They say this was the result of the dictator’s ‘volatile temperament’ which may have been aggravated by his Parkinson’s.

The study also goes on to suggest that Hitler’s lack of remorse and sympathy can be associated with his Parkinson’s.

Assuming that Hitler did indeed suffer from Parkinson’s disease, how did it affect his judgement and the outcome of the war?

Did he have Parkinson's Disease?

Did he have Parkinson’s Disease?

 Hitler always was something of a gambler and a risk taker, preferring to improvise rather than making elaborate plans. This willingness to risk everything on a single throw of the dice, as it were, helped Hitler immeasurably during his rise to power in Germany and in the early years of his rule, especially since he could also be patient when it was necessary. Up until around 1937 Hitler was largely successful in obtaining his goals both inside Germany and in Germany’s relations with its neighbors. Germany seemed to have largely recovered from the Great Depression and regained its place as one of the leading nations of Germany. Had Hitler stopped then, he would possibly be regarded as a great statesman.  After 1937, Hitler seemed to become more impatient and reckless.

Consider the timeline leading up to the Second World War. In March 1938, Germany invaded and annexed Austria. Almost immediately, Hitler began pressing for the session of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia on the grounds that the majority of the population were ethnic Germans and therefore the region rightly belonged to Germany. After the Munich agreement in September 1938, the Germans occupied and annexed the Sudetenland. Then in March 1939 Germany annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Then Hitler demanded that Poland cede the city of Danzig to Germany and when Poland refused, he ordered the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, beginning World War II. Now, each step of Hitler’s path to the war was in itself reasonable and could perhaps be justified in terms of Germany’s national interest. No one in Europe really wanted a war, even Hitler. If he had allowed more time to elapse between his conquests, it is likely that he would have continued to lull France and Great Britain into inactivity. As it was, one move after another in quick succession thoroughly alarmed both Britain and France. They might have gone to war in any case after the invasion of Poland, but if Hitler had waited perhaps longer between conquests, Germany might have been more prepared for the war. As it was, the war really started too early for Germany. The Germans had been rearming almost since the Nazis had gained power but it would have been better if Hitler could have put it off until around 1942 or 1943, especially since Mussolini had advised Hitler that Italy could not be ready for war until at least 1945. Why the hurry?

By the end of 1940, Hitler had defeated France and was the master of continental Europe with only Britain still opposing him. Then on June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. This was not an entirely unreasonable course of action for Germany. Hitler had good reason to suspect that Stalin was biding his time waiting for the capitalist powers to exhaust themselves in war before swooping in to bring the revolution to Europe. Moreover, Stalin’s purges had badly weakened the Red Army and Hitler could reasonably consider that it would be better to invade before Russia recovered its strength. Still, why the hurry when Hitler was still at war with Great Britain and it was increasingly obvious that it was only a matter of time before the United States intervened? Surely Hitler could have waited another year. By that time the morale of the British people would likely to have decreased to the point that they would have been extremely receptive to some peace proposal. The Germans had also wasted valuable time in the spring and early summer of 1941 assisting Italy after its disastrous invasion of Yugoslavia. Why couldn’t Hitler have waited until the spring of 1942 to begin his invasion of Russia, giving the Germans plenty of time to conquer as much territory as possible before the cruel Russian winter began.

I suppose the answer is that Hitler knew by 1938 that he was not especially well and that he perhaps did not have much time left. It may be that the best thing Hitler could have done for the Third Reich would have been to retire from the day to day running of the country and appoint a successor. The problem is that Fuehrers really can’t retire, and Hitler was not willing to be known to history as the predecessor to the man who created the thousand year Reich. He did not want to play the role of Phillip the Macedonian to another man’s Alexander the Great.

It is a little strange that Hitler’s increasingly obvious lapses in judgment towards the end of the war did not lead to some sort of coup. There were attempts to assassinate the Fuhrer, most notably the plot by Army officers led by Claus von Stauffenberg, but no attempts to seize power by the members of Hitler’s inner circle who had direct knowledge of his increasing inability to lead the Third Reich. They schemed among themselves for Hitler’s favor right up to the end, but none of them ever seem to have seriously considered replacing him. Perhaps they realized that they were not strong personalities in themselves and their fates were inextricably tied to Hitler’s.

Whatever the precise nature of Hitler’s illness, I think we can all be grateful that Hitler did suffer from ill health that made him more impatient and reckless. A healthier Hitler might have been a more rational Hitler better able to lead his nation in war and peace and perhaps more likely to succeed in his goals. It maybe that Hitler’s illness is the major reason Nazi Germany is not the leading world power to this day.

The Future is Today

October 21, 2015

It has been a long time since I have seen any of the Back to the Future movies so I wasn’t aware of the significance of this date, October 21, 2015, until I happened to see articles about the classic trilogy in places like USA Today. This is the day in the future that Marty McFly travelled to from 1985 in the second movie. The future is today. Naturally, everyone seems interested in discussing what the thirty year old movies got right, and wrong, about 2015. I am not really so interested in how correct their speculations were myself, except that I really did want one of those flying cars. I am more interested in discussing how Marty McFly’s mission in the first movie is one that he had absolutely no chance of completing successfully.

BTTFIIdate

I trust by now the plot of the three Back to the Future movies is familiar enough that I need not rehash it in exacting detail. Suffice it to say that fifteen year old Marty McFly takes Doc Brown‘s time machine/DeLorean back to the year 1955 and accidentally prevents his parents from meeting and falling in love. This is a serious problem for McFly since if his parents never meet, he won’t exist so with the help of a younger Doc Brown, Marty spends the rest of the movie trying to get his parents together, a mission made more difficult by the fact that his father is a nerd who is being persecuted by the school bully, Biff Tannen and his mother has become infatuated with Marty. Of course, Marty succeeds in the end and even arranges for his father to stand up to the bully. He returns to 1985 and takes of his old life again.

The problem is that this is impossible. Marty has already interrupted the course of events that led to his conception and birth. Even though he managed to get his parents to fall in love with one another, the whole timeline in which they dated, got married, and conceived Marty has been changed. Even if by some miracle, Marty managed to arrange for his parents to have intercourse at the precise time and place he was originally conceived, it is still unlikely that he would be conceived. When a man ejaculates, he releases hundreds of millions of sperm cells. It is simply not possible for Marty to arrange for the precise same egg and sperm to unite to create Marty. No doubt his parents would have a child at about the same time as they did Marty in the original timeline and it may even be a boy they named Marty, but it wouldn’t be the same person as the original Marty McFly. It would be like a sibling

I want my flying car

I want my flying car

But even if Marty’s parents had a baby with the precise genes as the original Marty, it still wouldn’t be the same person. We are more than the genetic code we inherit at birth. The experiences we undergo as we grow up also shape us into being the person we are. At the end of the first movie, it was made clear that Marty’s intervention had changed the lives of his parents. By arranging for his father to stand up to Biff Tannen, he gave his father a confidence and self-esteem he lacked in the original timeline and instead of being a loser stuck in a dead-end job, Marty’s father was a successful science fiction writer. Obviously, Marty growing up in the home of a successful writer is going to have different experiences than the original Marty. For one thing, Marty’s relationship with the older Doc Brown might not have been the same. Brown was something of a substitute father for Marty and if his own father was more impressive, perhaps Marty would not have sought out Doc Brown’s company.

And Mr. Fusion

And Mr. Fusion

The most realistic end for the first Back to the Future movie then might have been for Marty McFly to get his parents together and then fade away as he realized that he didn’t exist in the new timeline, or maybe for Marty to get back to 1985 and find another Marty in his place with no one knowing anything about the original Marty. Or maybe the timeline presented at the end of Back to the Future was the real timeline and his parents had always been brought together by their son. In other words what the viewer sees as cause and effect is actually reversed. It is confusing paradoxes like that which lead most scientists to believe that time travel into the past is impossible.

Back to the Future is still a fun movie to watch, if you don’t think too much about it.

President Honorius

October 14, 2015

Recently Stephen Green of Vodkapundit wrote a post titled President Nero referring to President Obama’s seeming cluelessness on the state of the world under his leadership, particularly the president’s prioritizing action on climate change as post Cold War order is breaking up into chaos. Obama is fiddling while the Middle East burns. There is much worth reading here yet I think that Stephen Green is being more than a little unfair to Nero. Nero did not, after all, really play the fiddle, or his lyre as the violin had not yet been invented, while Rome burned down. In fact, Nero did everything that could be expected of an emperor in that disaster. Nero was not a particularly good emperor, to be sure, yet his reign was not a complete disaster, especially early on while his advisors Seneca and Burrus still lived. Despite the short civil war after his death and the rebellion in Judea, the Roman Empire was still strong and whole at the end of Nero’s reign. In fact, the next century was to prove to be the height of the Pax Romana under the Flavian Dynasty and the Five Good Emperors. Perhaps a better fit for President Obama might be a later emperor, Honorius who was emperor when the Visigoths sacked Rome in AD 410.

 

Honorius

Honorius

Honorius was Emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 395 to 423. The Roman Empire had been first divided into Western and Eastern halves by the Emperor Diocletian about a century earlier. After ending the period of incessant civil wars and foreign invasions that had nearly destroyed the Empire, Diocletian realized that one man was unable to meet the challenges of ruling the entire empire and so had divided it. The two halves were not seen as a division into two separate empires, simply a means to divide the labor of ruling but although strong emperors could rule over both halves of the empire, after the third century it was divided more often than not with the Greek speaking East and the Latin speaking West becoming more estranged over time.

085 Eastern & Western Roman Empires Map

The last emperor to rule over the whole Roman Empire was Honorius’s father Theodosius the Great. After his death in 395, the empire was divided for the last time between his two sons Arcadius and Honorius. Arcadius was the elder brother and so inherited the more desirable Eastern Empire where he ruled from Constantinople, while Honorius became the Western Emperor. Both emperors were minors when they acceded to their thrones and neither ever really showed much talent for ruling but the wealthier and more urbanized Eastern Empire proved to be better able to weather Arcadius’s inept rule. The West was not so fortunate and Honorius’s reign was a disaster from beginning to end with continuing invasions by the barbarian Germans and continual civil war by usurpers. At the beginning of Honorius’s reign the true ruler of the West was his guardian, Stilicho a Roman general of mixed Roman and German descent who had been related by marriage to Theodosius. Stilicho was perhaps the last Roman ruler who could have saved the Western Empire from destruction. He had some success in holding the Empire together but proved unable to prevent the invasion of Gaul by the Germans in 406 and the subsequent abandonment of Britannia. By this time, Stilicho’s enemies at court had persuaded Honorius that Stilicho was planning to supplant him and Honorius ordered Stilicho’s arrest and execution in 408, along with the execution of anyone he perceived to have been an ally of Stilicho, including a  large number of Germans living in Italy. This proved to be not a very good idea, since by then, the Roman army was largely made up of Germans, large numbers of Honorius’s soldiers simply deserted leaving Italy defenseless against the invading Visigoths under their king Alaric.

The Visigoths did not intend to capture Rome or conquer the Roman Empire. Indeed, they did not believe such a thing was possible. They, along with their kinsmen the Ostrogoths had fled into Roman territory to escape the Huns. Alaric wanted to negotiate with the Roman government for a homeland to establish an independent Visigothic kingdom allied to Rome. Alaric decided to threaten the city of Rome to compel the Roman government to negotiate in good faith. Honorius and his court were not greatly concerned however because it had been a long time since Rome was actually the capital of any part of the Roman Empire. He was safe in the city of Ravenna with its impregnable defenses and kept putting Alaric off until he was exasperated enough to sack Rome on August 24, 410.

Sack was perhaps too strong a word for the actions of the Visigoths. They did systematically take anything of value they could carry away, but there was no destruction of buildings or slaughter of the population. The Visigoths could not believe they had actually captured Rome and they acted more like awestruck tourist than barbarian plunderers. Meanwhile Honorius was distraught upon learning that Rome had been taken, until the messenger clarified that he meant the city and not Honorius’s pet chicken Roma. Then Honorius lost interest in the news.

Honorius managed to survive as Emperor until 423 while his empire crumbled around him. By the time of his death, Gaul, Spain, and Britannia were all lost to Rome and the Western Empire was limited to Italy and parts of Africa. The Western Empire itself lingered  under the rule of increasingly feeble puppet emperors and their German masters until finally the warlord Odoacer grew tired of the pretense in 476 and deposed the last Western Emperor.

We don’t have barbarians sacking Washington D.C. or New York, at least not yet, but it would be hard not to see that President Obama’s fecklessness has made the world a more dangerous place for us and our allies. He seems to be as little concerned about the collapsing international order previously upheld with American strength as Honorius was about the fate of the city of Rome. Unless the next president can repair some of the damage Obama has done, future historians may well identify Obama as the president who presided over the beginning of the end of the American Empire.

 

Columbus Day

October 12, 2015
Christopher Columbus, the subject of the book,...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Columbus day in the United States, celebrating the day that Christopher Columbus reached the New World. In Berkeley and some other Leftist enclaves it is Indigenous People’s Day, in which Western Civilization is condemned for its many crimes against humanity. Columbus Day is no big deal, just a three day weekend for banks and such. Still, should we honor Christopher Columbus with a day?

I think we can absolve Columbus of the destruction of many Native American cultures and peoples. That was inevitable. Europe’s sailing and navigation techniques were advancing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before someone stumbled across the Americas. Since the natives were millenia behind in technology, they were doomed. They weren’t entirely helpless victims though. One of the first things that any Indian tribe did when they were contacted by Europeans was to arrange to trade for firearms to use against their traditional enemies. It does not seem to have occurred to them to form alliances against the European invaders until it was too late.

Still, Columbus did set the pattern by enslaving the natives of the islands he discovered.From the Wikipedia article there is this excerpt from his log.

From the 12 October 1492 entry in his journal he wrote of them, “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.”[39] He remarked that their lack of modern weaponry and even metal-forged swords or pikes was a tactical vulnerability, writing, “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”[40

He seems not to have been a very good governor of Isabella, the first Spanish colony in the New World. He was charged with excessive cruelty and sent back to Spain in chains. These charges might be false though, since Ferdinand and Isabella felt they had promised him too much reward for his discoveries. Before he set out, they had promised him governorship of the lands he discovered. As it became obvious to everyone but Columbus that he had discovered a whole continent, the king and queen wanted a bigger share.

Maybe the biggest reason not to celebrate is that he was wrong. The popular view is of Columbus bravely asserting that the Earth is round against the scholars and intellectuals of his time who “knew” the Earth was flat. Of course everyone knew the Earth was round. The scholars and intellectuals knew about how large the Earth actually was and they knew perfectly well that Columbus was fudging his calculations to make his voyage seem feasible. If the Americas hadn’t been in the way, his voyage would have ended in disaster.

For all that though, I like Christopher Columbus. Despite his flaws, and he was only a man of his time, he was brave and he had vision, two qualities that are rare enough in any time, especially our own. So, by all means, let’s celebrate this man and his deeds.

The Election of 1844

October 5, 2015

Slavery was once again the issue that no one wanted to talk about during the presidential campaign of 1844. What people did want to talk about was the territorial expansion of the United States all the way to the West Coast. Manifest Destiny were the words on everyone’s lips, the destiny, nay duty, of the United States to take in as much of the North American continent as allowed by Divine Providence. This expansion could be accomplished in two areas. In the South, the expansionists wanted to annex the Republic of Texas, which had gained its independence from Mexico only a decade earlier and was eager to become a state of the Union. In the  North, there was the Oregon Territory with its disputed border with Great Britain’s Canadian territory. The more ardent expansionists wanted the United States to gain all of the Oregon territory under the slogan “54-40 or fight” referring to the latitude of the northernmost boundary of the territory and Russian Alaska.

800px-USA_Territorial_Growth_1820_alt

Although no one wanted to mention slavery in connection with the territorial expansion of the United States, in fact much of the impetus for expansion was due to the desire of the slave holding South to expand the territories open to slavery. The Missouri Compromise had restricted slavery to territories south of the latitude 36º 30′with the exception of the state of Missouri. Since most of the states that could be carved out of the territory gained with the Louisiana Purchase were North of this line, eventually the free states would outnumber the slave states, upsetting the careful balance that had been maintained between the number of free and slave states. Already the northern states with their greater population had more seats than the slave states in the House of Representatives. An imbalance in the Senate would give the North control of both houses of Congress. President John Tyler had submitted a treaty for the annexation of Texas in April 1844 but he was unable to get the two-thirds majority in the Senate that was needed for ratification, largely because because of opposition from anti-slavery Whigs. Tyler simply resubmitted the treaty as a joint resolution of Congress requiring a simply majority in both Houses, making annexation the major campaign in the election of 1844

There was no question of either party nominating the incumbent John Tyler for a second term. Although he had been a Whig as William Henry Harrison‘s running mate in the previous election, Tyler had been a Democrat before breaking with Andrew Jackson back in the 1830’s. Tyler had never really been a strict party man and while president he had managed to offend the leaders of both political parties. Tyler did make some effort towards building a third party of his supporters, but nothing came of it and he eventually agreed to drop out in favor of the Democratic nominee.

The Whigs met in Baltimore on May 1 and nominated their long time party leader and 1824 presidential candidate Henry Clay. Clay had initially opposed the annexation of Texas as he believed that any such action without an agreement with Mexico would surely provoke a war between the United States and Mexico. Clay also understood that the annexation of Texas would only increase the sectional tensions between the North and South and might well split the Whig Part and the nation. This stand was not particularly popular in the South and Clay almost immediately began to backtrack, stating that he would support the annexation of Texas, even in the absence of an agreement with Mexico provided both North and South supported it. Then, he changed his mind again, and finally stopped talking about annexation altogether, campaigning on domestic issues. It didn’t work.

For Clay’s running mate, the Whigs nominated Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Senator from New Jersey. The Whigs felt that the devout, Northern Frelinghuysen would provide a nice balance with Henry Clay, the Kentuckian who had become notorious for his drinking, gambling, and dueling. Frelinghuysen was perhaps too devout as his Evangelical Christian faith led him to oppose slavery, he wanted to send them all back to Africa, and Indian removal. Neither position was apt to win him support in the South and West. Frelinghuysen also happened to believe that Catholics should be encouraged to convert to Protestantism, which cost the ticket votes among the small but growing Catholic population in the North.

Martin Van Buren was, at first, the prospective nominee of the Democrats, who met at the Odd Fellows Hall in Baltimore late in May. Van Buren lost his support because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas. There was no other front runner for the Democratic nomination until the little known James Knox Polk was introduced on the eighth ballot. Polk had been Speaker of the House from 1835-1839 and governor of Tennessee from 1839-1841. He had acquired a reputation for being quietly competent and had made few enemies and this along with his strong support of the annexation of Texas caused Polk to be nominated on the ninth ballot. The Democrats, at first, had wanted Silas Wright from New York as Polk’s running mate, but Wright was a supporter of Van Buren’s and declined the honor. Instead, the Democrats nominated Senator George M. Dallas from Pennsylvania.

The election of 1844 had the usual amount of personal abuse which was becoming common in American presidential politics. The Democrats had ample material to denounce Clay for his loose morals, declaring him unfit to lead a Christian nation like America. The Whigs found it difficult to reply in kind, since Polk had apparently done nothing fun in his entire life. Instead, the Whigs emphasized Polk’s lack of prominence in national politics, implying that he lacked the experience to be president. The Northern Whigs tried to portray Polk as slave trader and a creature of the Southern Slavocracy. For his part, Polk cleverly linked the annexation of Texas with the Oregon Territory dispute, making the question one of national expansion rather than the expansion of slavery. In the end Polk won by a fairly narrow margin. The Democratic ticket gained 1,339, 494,  popular votes, or 49.5%, against the Whig’s 1,300,004 votes or 48.1%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty party got 62,103 votes or 2.3% of the popular vote, enough to have made a difference in some Northern states. In the Electoral College, Polk got 170 electoral votes, winning states both in the North and South. Manifest Destiny proved to be a popular platform. Clay won 105 Electoral Votes, winning his home state, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and a few Eastern states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The Election of 1844

The Election of 1844

The United States formally annexed Texas in March 1845, just before Polk took office. As expected, The Mexican War broke out the following year. Despite the bluster of the expansionists with their cry of 54-40 or fight, Polk was not so foolish as to fight both Mexico and Great Britain at the same time and negotiated a compromise with the British over the Oregon Territory extending the border at the 49th parallel to the Pacific Coast. As for Polk, he served one term, during which he worked very hard, to the point of exhaustion. He declined to run for a second term and died within three months of the end of his administration.


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