Archive for October, 2020

Dead Letters Among the Laws

In 1920, it became illegal to drink alcohol. But during ancient Greek times, at certain celebrations it was illegal to be sober. How far we’d come.

From a 1920 New York Times article:

Laws which have been nominally enforced for decades have became dead letters, some of them without going through the form of repeal. Is it any wonder that the cynics among us are speculating whether prohibition will fall into this class?

Today, with the Volstead Act [the main law enforcing Prohibition] trying to be effective, it is refreshing to recall that at certain Bacchanalian festivals in pagan Greece it was a punishable offense not to be drunk, because a state of sobriety showed gross lack of reverence for the god of the grape.

Prohibition did “fall into this class” of largely unenforced laws, but it didn’t remain a dead letter permanently, getting repealed in 1933.

When a law is a dead letter, it can be funny. The real problem is when these troublesome vestigal laws are enforced.

In my home state of Virginia, a state law dating back decades still required couples to each fill out their race when applying for a marriage license — with the listed race options including such bygone terms as Aryan, quadroon, octoroon, and moor. In 2019, after three engaged Virginia couples filed a lawsuit against the state, the law was struck down as unconstitutional.

 

Dead Letters Among the Laws (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 24, 1920

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Written by Jesse

October 23rd, 2020 at 10:51 am

Posted in Life,Politics

How Woman Goes to Vote

When women could first vote in 1920, the resulting atmospheric changes at polling locations included no more fights, profanity, or smoking.

“And no trouble, never no trouble any more,” the Veteran regretted. “In the old days we could always run in a couple of guys, there was always rows. There’s nothing doing any more. Since the women’s been mixing in, politics ain’t the same.”

….

The proceedings everywhere had a most domestic flavor. Parenthetically it may be recorded that not a bit of profanity did [people] hear all evening, and in only one place did they see an election official smoking. “And he’s an old man — been with the party for years,” an official hastened to explain.

In 2020, you never really see physical fights or smoking at polling locations, and any profanity is surely murmured under one’s breath rather than shouted loud. Another change at polling locations from a century ago is the NRA-inspired prevalence in recent years and decades of open carry laws. According to an August article from the National Confederence of State Legislatures, 11 states explicitly ban guns and other weapons at polling places. That number is apparently now 12, since just yesterday Michigan joined their ranks.

In other words, 38 states have no such explicit ban — including a surprising number of blue states such as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, New York, Illinois, Washington, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. And the list of states which have instituted such a ban includes such surprising red or red-adjacent states as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas.

 

How Woman Goes to Vote: Her Ways at Polling Places, as Observed in the Recent Registration Lines (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 17, 1920

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Written by Jesse

October 17th, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Politics

Changing Fashions in Presidential Campaigns

At some point, the presidential “campaign biography” gave way to the “campaign autobiography.” 1920 fell between those two eras, with this contemporary article noting the demise of the former though the latter hadn’t yet become the norm.

From 1920:

At least four of these campaign biographies were written by authors of standing. No less a man of letters than Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the campaign life of Franklin Pierce in 1852; William Dean Howells prepared in 1860 a campaign life of Lincoln, and in 1876 a campaign life of Hayes; and in 1888 Lew Wallace [a biography of Benjamin Harrison]. There were a host of others in other elections, [including] E.D. Mansfield’s Scott, W.A. Crafts’ Grant, James S. Brisbin’s Garfield, G.F. Parker’s Cleveland, B. Andrews’s McKinley, [and] R.L. Metcalf’s Bryan.

At some point, that morphed into the modern-day tradition of the campaign autobiography. At what point did this change?

While a few presidents before 1920 had written autobiographies, such as Ulysses S. Grant, they were generally written after their presidency had concluded. John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage was released in 1956, four years prior to his successful 1960 presidential run, but that book was about other people rather than himself. (And besides, it was actually primarily written by Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen.)

It appears the autobiography trend may have started when Jimmy Carter released Why Not the Best? in 1975, in preparation for his successful 1976 run, as Carter hoped to boost his then-little-known national profile. Others followed suit: George W. Bush released A Charge to Keep in 1999, in preparation for his successful 2000 run, while Barack Obama released The Audacity of Hope in 2006, in preparation for his successful 2008 run.

In the past few years, though, the trend has become a full-scale onslaught.

Within two years prior to their 2016 runs, Hillary Clinton published Hard Choices, Bernie Sanders published Outsider in the White House, Donald Trump published not one but two books (Time to Get Tough and Crippled America), Ted Cruz published A Time for Truth, Marco Rubio published American Dreams, and Rand Paul published Taking a Stand, among others.

Same thing in 2020. Within two years prior to their 2020 runs, Joe Biden published Promise Me, Dad; Kamala Harris published The Truths We Hold, Bernie Sanders published Where We Go From Here, Elizabeth Warren published This Fight Is Our Fight, Cory Booker published United, Pete Buttigieg published Shortest Way Home, Amy Klobuchar published The Senator Next Door, and Andrew Yang published The War on Normal People.

And without books by presidential candidates, how else could we get such intellectual thought-provoking passages as this one from Donald Trump in The Art of the Deal: “I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music.”

 

Changing Fashions in Presidential Campaigns (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 10, 1920

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Written by Jesse

October 8th, 2020 at 11:01 am

Posted in Politics