Defending Feinstein; Weld-Romney Gambit? Seating Sen. Revels

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Hello, it’s Monday, February 25, 2019, the morning after the Academy Awards’ ceremony. Six years ago, also the day after the Oscars, was an occasion when thoughtful moviegoers (okay, I’m bragging) were trying to figure out why the award for Best Picture went to the wrong film. “Argo” was a terrific picture, but it wasn’t “Lincoln.” Many people felt that way last night about “The Green Book.” A really strong movie, but hardly as powerful as “Roma.” And don’t get me started on the snub of Glenn Close, whose performance in “The Wife” was a tour de force.

At least in 2013, the academy had enough wisdom to award the Best Actor award to the genius who played Lincoln. Politics is never far from anyone’s mind in Hollywood, and that year Liam Neeson, while introducing the nominees for Best Picture, mentioned the “congressional gridlock” faced by Abraham Lincoln.

The idea behind his allusion is that partisan fighting is not new in Washington. Although I must concede things have gotten worse in the ensuing six years, the gridlock in 1870 was even more pronounced. How much worse was it? Judge for yourself in a moment, when I describe the drama over the swearing in of the first African-American in the U.S. Senate, which took place 149 years ago today. I wrote about this six years ago, as well, but it’s worth reprising.

First, though, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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Let’s Have More Politicians Like Dianne Feinstein. Bill Scher defends the Democratic senator’s opposition to the Green New Deal, and her much-criticized encounter with students promoting it.

Is Bill Weld a 2020 Stalking-Horse for Romney? Frank Miele ponders the possible machinations behind the former Libertarian candidate for vice president’s interest in challenging Donald Trump in the GOP primary.

For 2020 Candidates, Smollett Story Shows “Woke” Perils. Phil Wegmann reports on strategists’ advice to presidential candidates who responded too quickly to the actor’s hoax.

Congress Must Join President in Cutting Spending. Acting OMB Director Russ Vought stresses the perils if lawmakers undo the administration’s 5 percent reduction in discretionary spending.

If Big Tech Can Censor Me, Imagine What It Can Do to You. Donald Trump Jr. writes that social media platforms have repeatedly targeted his posts for censorship and warns that broader targeting of conservatives may follow.

Are Senate Democrats in the Grip of TDS? Thomas Jipping spotlights a dramatic uptick in negative votes for District Court nominees since Trump took office.

Creating an Ivory Tower Welcoming to Conservatives. Peter Berkowitz advocates an antidote to universities’ suppression of the spirit of liberal education, which has largely purged academia of conservative scholars.

BP's “Peak Oil” Demand Prediction Falls Flat. RealClearEnergy editor Jude Clemente explains why the recent forecast doesn't add up. 

High-Speed Rail Myth. Also in RCE, Daniel Turner asserts that the key component of the Green New Deal would be a boondoggle.

Scientific Breakthrough Could Upend the Abortion Debate. RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy spotlights the development of the artificial uterus, which could drastically lower the age at which an unborn baby is viable.

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Hiram Rhodes Revels was born of mixed-race lineage in North Carolina in the 1820s. He was never a slave and apprenticed in the barbershop of his brother, also a free black man, before gravitating north to attend theological seminary.

When the Civil War broke out, Hiram Revels was an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an educator in Baltimore. He helped recruit troops for Maryland’s first colored regiment and was later commissioned in Mr. Lincoln’s Army as a chaplain.

Stationed in Mississippi after the war, Revels emerged as one of the nation’s most able and eloquent administrators during Reconstruction. He was appointed as an alderman for the city of Natchez, then ran successfully as a Republican candidate for state Senate. That body promptly elected him a United States senator.

His swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for February 23, 1870, but Hiram Revels was not administered the oath that day. First, Senate Democrats decided to litigate whether a black man was eligible for such a post. Leading the opposition was Maryland Democrat George Vickers.

Maryland was a border state during the Civil War, but Sen. Vickers left little doubt as to where his sympathies resided. To be a senator required being a citizen of the United States for nine years, Vickers explained; the 14th Amendment (which granted citizenship to persons of African descent) had passed in 1868, only two years earlier.

Prior to that time, he argued, the controlling precedent was the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision. Vickers, an attorney by trade, acknowledged to his colleagues that Dred Scott wasn’t held in any regard by a majority of U.S. senators in 1870; but the law is the law, he said.

This was absurd, but other Democrats cut to the heart of things with less legalistic arguments. Sen. Garrett Davis of Kentucky simply asserted that Revels’ race precluded him from serving in the Senate. This odd view, which sought to negate both the Civil War and the 14th Amendment, was echoed by Sen. Eli Saulsbury of Delaware.

Republicans were outraged. Nevada Sen. James Nye rebuked his colleagues for even invoking such a discredited judicial fiat as Dred Scott. Michigan Republican Jacob Howard pronounced himself “nauseated.” As usual, Massachusetts’ abolitionist warhorse Charles Sumner was the most acerbic lawmaker on this question.

The Dred Scott decision, he said on the Senate floor on this day in 1870, was “a putrid corpse” from the moment it was born. “A stench in the nostrils,” Sumner added, it should “be remembered only as a warning and a shame.”

With that, the vote was called for, and on a party-line roll call Revels’ appointment was accepted. As he approached the front of the chamber to take the oath of office, the packed audience in the Senate gallery rose to watch. During the raucous debate, there had been two outbursts among the crowd. Now, those in the gallery were utterly silent as they watched history being made. 

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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