Encore typewriter of the moment: Mencken and the 1948 conventions

September 4, 2012


Mencken at 1948 Democratic Convention

Mencken at 1948 Democratic Convention

Photo from the collection of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, at the Park Library, University of North Carolina.

H. L. Mencken at one of the 1948 political conventions (Thomas Dewey was the Republican nominee, Harry S. Truman was the Democratic nominee). Obviously the photo is a copy from the National Press Club Library. The Park Library site describes the photo and Mencken:

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) was a familiar figure at many national political conventions. This photo, taken at the one in 1948, was his last political convention. He is well known for his attacks on American taste and culture, or the lack of same. His magnum opus, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, was first published in 1919 and remains a classic. From 1906 to 1941, he worked chiefly as a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Baltimore Sun. (Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun Library.)

Assuming Mencken covered both conventions, this photo was taken at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in mid-July, 1948. We know it was taken in Philadelphia since both parties held their conventions there that year, the Republicans from June 21 to June 26, and the Democrats from July 12 to July 14.

Republicans nominated New York Gov. Thomas J. Dewey and California Gov. Earl Warren for president and vice president.

After a contentious convention that saw Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey propose a civil rights plank that got South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond to walk out of the convention and found his own States’ Rights (Dixiecrat) Party (with himself as the nominee for president), and former Vice President Henry Wallace walk out because the party platform was too conservative (Wallace ran on the Socialist Progressive Party ticket), Democrats nominated President Harry S Truman and Kentucky Sen. Alben W. Barkley for president and vice president. Truman narrowly defeated Georgia Sen. Richard B. Russell for the nomination. Had Thurmond not walked out, Truman may well have lost the nomination of his own party.

And the rest of the story?

Estes Kefauver on the cover of Time, with a coonskin cap

Sen. Estes Kefauver

  • Truman had a contentious second term, and was defeated in the New Hampshire primary in 1952 by Sen. Estes Kefauver; Truman ended his campaign for a second full term shortly after.
  • Earl Warren was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Truman’s successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in late 1953. Warren is remembered for engineering the 9-0 decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Educationwhich ruled “separate but equal” school systems to violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause, and for his chairing the commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

    Earl Warren on cover of Life Magazine

    Earl Warren on the cover of Life Magazine, May 10, 1948; copyright Time-Life

  • Hubert Humphrey moved on to the U.S. Senate, served as Vice President to Lyndon Johnson, and won the Democratic nomination for president in another contentious convention in 1968 in Chicago. Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon, and returned to the U.S. Senate two years later.
  • Strom Thurmond won election to the U.S. Senate in 1954, switching parties to Republican in 1964, and serving until his death in 2003.
  • Russell, who had served as Georgia’s senator since 1933, continued to serve to his death on January 21, 1971; he was a key member of the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Russell Senate Office Building is named in his honor, the oldest of the three Senate office buildings.
  • Barkley was the oldest vice president ever inaugurated, aged 71. He remarried in his first year as vice president (his first wife died in 1947). Barkley’s nephew suggested that he should be called “the veep” because “Mr. Vice President” was too long. The title was seized up on by headline writers. Considered too old to run for the presidency in 1952, Barkley won a U.S. Senate seat from Kentucky in the 1954 elections, serving from 1955 to his death in 1956. Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River is named in his honor, as is the lake behind it, Lake Barkley.
  • Henry Wallace finished a distant fourth in the 1948 election, behind Dewey and Thurmond. His political career was essentially over due to his inability or unwillingness to disavow communist support. He achieved success as a chicken breeder. In a daramatic turnabout, he wrote a book, Where I Was Wrong, disavowing communism and critical of Joseph Stalin, and endorsed Republican candidates in 1956 and 1960. He died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1965.
  • Dewey returned to his law practice. In 1952, Dewey helped engineer the nomination of Eisenhower over his old political nemesis Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, pushed Richard Nixon as the Vice Presidential nominee, and in 1956 first convinced Ike to run again, and then to keep Nixon on the ticket. Dewey politely refused offers of offices, including refusing a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, sticking to his law practice which made him very wealthy. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1971, at age 68.
  • Mencken suffered a stroke later in 1948 that left him unable to speak, or read, or write for a time. He spent much of the rest of his life working to organize his papers, and died in 1956. His epitaph, on his tombstone and on a plaque in the lobby of the Baltimore Sun, reads: “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner, and wink your eye at some homely girl.”

This is an encore post.  Some new links have been added — though, as you can see, I don’t yet have a better photo of Mencken at the conventions.  More news sources, below.

More, Other Sources:


Quote of the moment, again: Abraham Lincoln on job creators, ‘labor is the superior of capital’

September 4, 2012

Lincoln enters Coles County, Illinois, by Charles Turzak

Abraham Lincoln as working man, woodcut by Charles Turzak circa 1933 – Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum; caption on this image at the Lincoln Library site notes that Turzak portrayed Lincoln as the working man Lincoln himself never aspired to be, though he well respected those who did labor.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.

Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

President Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1861 (the “State of the Union”)

Abraham Lincoln took great inspiration from Americans and their striving to move up in the world.  He admired inventions and inventors, he admired working people and their drive to become their own managers and proprietors of their own businesses.  Lincoln had been there himself.

By the time he stopped at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1859 — a full year before his campaign for the presidency — Lincoln was a relatively wealthy lawyer, a good trial lawyer whose better-paying clients included the largest industrial companies of the day, railroads.  Lincoln grew up on hard-scrabble farms, though, and he had been a shopkeeper and laborer before he studied law and opened his practice.  Lincoln also owned a patent — a device to float cargo boats higher in the Sangamon River that served Sangamon County where he lived, the better to make the entire area a figurative river of free enterprise.

Lincoln was invited to comment on “labor,” at an exhibit showing new machines to mechanize America’s farms.  At the Wisconsin fair Lincoln complimented farmers, inventors, inventions, and all laborers.  Just over 24 months later, excerpts from that speech showed up at the close of his State of the Union declaration, his December 3 remarks delivered to Congress as the Constitution required.  Lincoln probably did not deliver the remarks as as a speech, but they appear in the Congressional Record as a speech, and it is often cited that way.  He spoke something like these words in Wisconsin, and they were his views at the end of the first year of the Civil War, expressing yet again his hope that the union would survive, and continue to prosper, for all working people.

Below is a more complete quoting of Lincoln’s remarks from the Message to Congress.

It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government– the rights of the people. Conclusive evidence of this is found in the most grave and maturely considered public documents, as well as in the general tone of the insurgents. In those documents we find the abridgment of the existing right of suffrage and the denial to the people of all right to participate in the selection of public officers except the legislative boldly advocated, with labored arguments to prove that large control of the people in government is the source of all political evil. Monarchy itself is sometimes hinted at as a possible refuge from the power of the people.

In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism. It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions, but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.

Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class–neither work for others nor have others working for them. In most of the Southern States a majority of the whole people of all colors are neither slaves nor masters, while in the Northern a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men, with their families–wives, sons, and daughters,–work for themselves on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them; but this is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

Again, as has already been said, there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.

From the first taking of our national census to the last are seventy years, and we find our population at the end of the period eight times as great as it was at the beginning. The increase of those other things which men deem desirable has been even greater. We thus have at one view what the popular principle, applied to government through the machinery of the States and the Union, has produced in a given time, and also what if firmly maintained it promises for the future. There are already among us those who if the Union be preserved will live to see it contain 200,000,000. The struggle of to-day is not altogether for to-day; it is for a vast future also. With a reliance on Providence all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed in the great task which events have devolved upon us.

[Excerpted here from the online Classic Literature Library, Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 5; the complete Message to Congress of December 3, 1861, begins here; the section quoted above can be found on pages 143 and 144.]

Yes, I should have reposted this yesterday, for Labor Day.  Lincoln’s words are good 365 days a year, 366 days in leap years.  Keeping the thought with us is what counts.  (This was originally posted in February 2012.)

See Also:

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Rude giant: Jail him, or make him a tax payer?

September 4, 2012

What do you do with someone who is obnoxious and rude, and a giant besides?  You can’t duke it out with him . . .

More than just a clever ad for an electricity company, this piece really gets at the heart of the differences between the Republican view of the world, presented by the Romney campaign, and the Democratic view of the world, as exemplified by the Obama administration.

Romney Signs Wind Turbine In Iowa

Yeah, but he didn’t think anyone was watching: Romney Signs Wind Turbine In Iowa (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service) (Now Mitt thinks he built it, ignoring the union guys and other laborers who did.)

First, the obvious comparison:  Romney promises to kill subsidies for wind power, doubling down on America’s dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil.  To the GOP platform, wind is a rude giant, perhaps worthy of ignoring, but in not case worthy of giving a job to do.  To the Obama administration, every watt of power generated by wind is a watt that doesn’t need to be generated by coal, oil or gas, freeing up those fuels for other work, and decreasing U.S. dependence on oil imported from Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Which treatment is more likely to increase the nation’s energy security and move the U.S. towards oil independence?

Second, the story carries metaphorical value, for the rest of the agendas of the two campaigns.  Consider the Rude Giant as an out of work person, someone who is unemployed.  The Romney campaign’s answer is that this fellow needs to become an entrepreneur, change his ways, change his behaviors, develop some other talents other than those God gave him, and maybe he’ll be successful; to encourage him to change himself, the Romney platform calls for pulling the rug out from under the poor guy so he’ll have to do something different or die.  Democratic platform stands for retraining, great education in the first place, good benefits and a safety net that works — to get the former taxpayer back on his feet and, coincidentally, paying taxes again soon.

Guess which plan is cheaper to taxpayers, in operation?

What’s the reality:  This past summer I drove through ten different states and the District of Columbia.  Only in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. did I not see vast new “wind farms” of windmills, or pass on the road the massive truck trailers carrying parts for wind turbine installations.  As it turns out, that was because I didn’t drive to the area of Maryland and Virginia with wind farms.  Only D.C. lacks a windfarm, out of the states I visited (Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado were the others).  Wind is big business and growing.

Why would any candidate try to choke off windpower growth, in tough economic times?

More:

Update on resources, September 13, 2012:


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