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Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Book Review: Unreasonable Men

Unreasonable Men by Michael Wolraich

Michael Wolraich's Unreasonable Men is an immensely readable account of the Republican Party's split leading up to the 1912 presidential election.

This Week in History: The Speech that Won Lincoln the Republican Nomination

Photograph of Abraham Lincoln

The most famous of the beardless poses, taken by Mathew B. Brady on Monday morning, February 27, 1860, only a few hours before Lincoln delivered his Cooper Union address. That speech and this portrait, Lincoln afterwards said, put him in the White House.

Last night, Daniel Day Lewis took home an Oscar for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln and became the first actor to win three lead Oscars. This week also marks an important milestone in the life of the real Abraham Lincoln, without which there likely would have been no president, and perhaps no movie or third Oscar for Lewis.

On February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that played a pivotal role in his gaining the 1860 Republican Presidential nomination. In the well-researched Cooper Union Address, President Lincoln argued that of the 39 signers of the Constitution, 21 had voted at least once, some more than once, for the restriction of slavery in National Territories, thus “showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything else, properly forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in federal territory.” The address was a stunningly effective argument demonstrating that the founding fathers intended Congress to regulate slavery and it provided a coherent justification for the Republican Party's opposition to slavery's extension.

Lincoln told the crowd of 1,500 New Yorkers, some of them prominent members of the Republican Party:

It is surely safe to assume that the 39 framers of the original Constitution, and the 76 members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called "our fathers who framed the government under which we live." And so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. I go a step further. I defy any one to show that any living man in the whole world ever did, prior to the beginning of the present century, (and I might almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the present century,) declare that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the federal government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. To those who now so declare, I give, not only "our fathers who framed the government under which we live," but with them all other living men within the century in which it was framed, among whom to search, and they shall not be able to find the evidence of a single man agreeing with them.

On the votes against Boehner

Check out GAGE Faculty Associate Jeff Jenkins' perspective on the historical defections in the vote for House Speaker in his guest post at The Monkey Cage.

Could Conservatives Overthrow Boehner? What History Can Tell Us

U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the 2011 State of the Union

U.S. President Barack Obama is greeted by Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the 2011 State of the Union Address. Official photo by Pete Souza. PD.

On Monday, the Republican Steering Committee, at the behest of Speaker John Boehner, removed four Republicans from prime committee assignments in advance of the convening of the 113thCongress: Justin Amash (MI) and Tim Huelskamp (KS) from the Budget Committee and Walter B. Jones (NC) and David Schweikert (AZ) from the Financial Services Committee.  Reports suggest that these members were ousted because of insufficient support for leadership positions (i.e., low leadership support scores) on a set of key votes in the 112th Congress.  See here, here, and here.  In addition, three of these individuals (Amash, Huelskamp, and Schweikert) are considered among the more conservative members of the Republican Conference, suggesting that Boehner is trying to rein in the rebellious Tea Party tendencies that were so apparent in the 112th Congress.

This committee “purge” has elicited considerable outrage in conservative circles inside and outside of Washington.  The most radical suggestion, offered by Ned Ryun on the conservative blog Red State, is that a small group of Republicans signal their unhappiness with Boehner by voting against him in the speakership vote on the House floor.  Ryun argues that if 16 Republicans abstain from voting for Boehner for Speaker, based on the assumption that there will be 233 Republicans in attendance when the 113th House convenes in January, then he will fail to receive a majority – and, in time (assuming repeated, inconclusive speakership balloting), the Republican Conference will be forced to choose a new speakership nominee, one more amenable to the preferences of the dissident faction (and, presumably, conservatives more generally).

(One aside: Ryun argues that dissident members should simply abstain from voting.  But the rule for electing Speakers has been interpreted differently over time. At times the requirement has been a majority of all members-elect, and at other times it has been a majority of all members present and voting “for a person by name.”  The most recent interpretation has been the latter. For example, in the 105thCongress, Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker with 216 votes, which constituted a majority of all members present and voting for a person by name, but not a majority of all members-elect.  So Ryun’s strategy, to be safe, should direct dissidents to cast their protest votes for one of their own, rather than abstain.)