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Tags: politics | government | civility

Cure For Political Dysfunction? Bring Back Smoke-Filled Rooms

three men in suits smoking cigars and drinking bourbon


Ralph Benko By Monday, 09 January 2023 12:05 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Some bemoan the loss of civility in politics. Wrongheaded!

Politics is more civil than it used to be. Yet our governance is worse.

What gives? I detect no correlation between civility and good government. Good government derives from fine bourbon and good cigars.

Pre-mellow Donald Trump, back in his bellowing Twitter days, historically, was a lightweight at the insult racket. Take solace: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Incivility? Let’s talk … dueling.

And tarring and feathering.

American political traditions!

You know about the duel between (vice president!) Aaron Burr and (former treasury secretary) Alexander Hamilton. Back when.

Now? Impossible to imagine Vice President Harris challenging say, Steve Mnuchin, to meet her at dawn at the field of honor in Weehawken.

Meanwhile! Dueling has been legal in Florida since the repeal of its anti-dueling law in 1832. Yet, one cannot imagine the two leading Floridian statesmen, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, meeting at dawn to settle their differences via the Code Duello.

Congress failed to outlaw duels between Congressmen in 1838, “shortly after the fatal duel between House Members Jonathan Cilley of Maine and William Graves of Kentucky. Cilley was killed as a result of the duel on February 24, 1838. In 1826 Representative Sam Houston of Tennessee and General William A. White dueled, and General White was seriously wounded.”

Congress, eventually, prohibited dueling in the District of Columbia in 1839. Little matter.

Antagonists just popped across the Maryland border to Blood Run in Bladensburg, to duel it out … until 1868. And long gone are the days when an anti-slavery U.S. Senator could be thus dispatched: U.S. Sen. Broderick, killed in an 1859 duel with the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court David Terry, himself shot dead in 1889 “after threatening the life of [U.S.] Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field.”

One simply cannot imagine Chief Justice John Roberts, however now rhetorically horsewhipped by some conservatives, exchanging hot lead with a U.S. Senator. Our political brawls are far more civil than they used to be.

Tarring and feathering? Take me back! I grew up in Albany, New York, epicenter of the 19th century “Rent Wars.”

Young America, in the Hudson Valley, had been cursed with certain pernicious elements of feudalism. Something, almost forgotten, called “the Rent Wars” ended feudalism in America much as the Civil War ended slavery.

Per the New York Folklore Society’s Proquest:

Feudal tenure was, with chattel slavery, one of the most disfiguring sores on the face of American democracy, and the demand that the three hundred thousand dwellers on two million acres of Hudson Valley land, ruled over by virtue of colonial land grants by a few interrelated families, should be enable to acquire freehold titles at reasonable rates attracted the support of progressive forces in general.

Sweet! Ah for days before the progressives broke bad!

Back then, when you acquired land in the Hudson Valley your deed (possibly drawn by dueling victim Alexander Hamilton!) burdened you with “feudal incidents,” annual rents comprising “ten to twenty bushels of winter wheat per one hundred acres, four fat fowl, and a day's labor with a team of horses and wagon. In addition, the tenant was to pay all taxes and use the land for agricultural purposes only, while the patron kept all timber, mineral, and water rights….”

We supply-side peasants revolted. “Inspired by the Boston Tea Party, the farmers disguised themselves as ‘Calico Indians,’ with costumes made from their wives’ calico dresses and sheepskin masks…. They would sound tin dinner horns, and the ‘Indians’ would gather to meet, disrupt property sales, resist evictions, tar and feather opponents, and cause other acts of mayhem.”

Tarring and feathering goes way back, having first appeared in the 12th century. And Per J.L. Bell in the Journal of the American Revolution it lingered.

American culture came to associate tar and feathers with the Revolutionary period, but that simply lent the violent punishment a patriotic cachet when crowds revived it during other conflicts. And they did. In ante-bellum America, mobs tarred and feathered several people who spoke against slavery and threatened prominent abolitionists with the same treatment. Other crowds used tar and feathers on leaders of religious minorities: the Mormon leader Joseph Smith in 1832 and the Catholic priest John Bapst in 1851. When the U.S. entered the First World War, crowds attacked some citizens who refused to cooperate with the war effort. Those riots spilled over into assaults on labor organizers, especially the anti-war Industrial Workers of the World, and on civil-rights activists.

Hey, I’m as anti-tar-and-feather as the next paleoconservative! That said … as a recipe for restoring better government? Come on!

A less civil America was generally better governed. Want good government?

Bring back the bourbon and smoke-filled rooms.

Ralph Benko, co-author of "The Capitalist Manifesto" and chairman and co-founder of "The Capitalist League," is the founder of The Prosperity Caucus and is an original Kemp-era member of the Supply-Side revolution that propelled the Dow from 814 to its current heights and world GDP from $11T to $94T. Read Ralph Benko's reports — More Here.

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Some bemoan the loss of civility in politics. Wrongheaded! Politics is more civil than it used to be. Yet our governance is worse.
politics, government, civility
Monday, 09 January 2023 12:05 PM
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