Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

1 Volumes

Chapter Nineteen John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln

Chapter Nineteen John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln

Republican Convention in the Wigwam (1860)

There were no Republican National Conventions in Philadelphia between 1856 and 1872, but during this period the town became solidly Republican, and federal political patronage had its biggest impact on the region's economy. Pennsylvania threw the nomination to Lincoln in 1860, and Lincoln paid us back.

The 1860 Convention was held on Wacker Street in Chicago, in a building called the Wigwam. Abraham Lincoln was the favorite son on Illinois, and so his cronies had considerable influence on the convention arrangements. They used this influence, for instance, to counterfeit several hundred tickets of admission to the galleries. The strong favorite to win the nomination was Mr. Seward of New York, and it is fair to say he confidently expected to win. The galleries roared with applause and shouts of approval of any mention of New York, or Seward. On balloting day, the Seward supporters went out into the streets with a joyous noisy parade, which greatly stirred their fervor. However, when they returned to the Wigwam, they found their seats taken by the Illinois supporters of Abraham Lincoln. From that point forward, all mentions of Lincoln, Illinois, or the Great City of Chicago were greeted with thunderous applause and acclamations by the audience.

On the first ballot, as expected, Seward was in the lead,173 votes to Lincoln's 102, followed by about fifty votes each for Simon Cameron (of Pennsylvania), Salmon Chase of Ohio, and Edward Bates of Missouri. Since everyone knows that Lincoln eventually won, we can now look forward to Lincoln's cabinet, which was to contain William Seward as Secretary of State, Bates as Attorney General, Chase as Secretary of the Treasury, and -- Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania as Secretary of War.

The Pennsylvania delegates from Bucks and Chester Counties were than the rest of the state, and privately regarded their favorite son Cameron, as a crook. Having dutifully voted for their favorite son on the first ballot, the Pennsylvania delegation was then free to make deals. As the roll call of the second ballot moved down the line, there was not much changing of votes. The people in the galleries were shouting away as usual, but the delegates were carefully marking their lists with stubby pencils. When the vote came to Pennsylvania, the insiders were electrified with the realization it was all over. Pennsylvania threw essentially all its votes to Lincoln. Ohio and Missouri immediately got the message and stumbled along to climb on the bandwagon. Lincoln was in.

Historians have frequently noted the unexpected upset had a disproportionate effect on Southern opinion -- after all, scarcely any Southern candidates made it even to the first ballot, and no Southern boss was anywhere near the smoke-filled rooms where the leadership settled things while the ordinary delegates were out at parties. Furthermore, it was an anti-slavery sentiment that made Pennsylvania switch.

But somewhat less noted is that the highly political new President soon got a hard-minded new Secretary of War. Cameron wanted, and got, lots of factories to make boots and uniforms, guns and gunpowder, Army depots, Naval Bases -- and so on, and so forth. The Pennsylvania Republican machine was in business for decades to come.

Philadelphia's Republican Machine

From time to time, someone denounces big-city political machines, making the mistake of describing them as invariably Democrat. Debaters duly object, pointing to Philadelphia's Republican city machine lasting seventy-five years. It was, indeed, a very tough and corrupt organization. Whether it was Republican, is more debatable. The question might be re-phrased: How is it, with Democrats running every other big-city political machine, Philadelphia alone produced a Republican version? The explanation is buried in complex national politics just before the Civil War, when the last and final Whig convention was held in Philadelphia, following which the successors, the Republicans and also the Know-Nothing (American) parties, held their very first conventions here four years later.

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James Buchanan

To stir the Philadelphia pot still further, the person who actually won the 1856 Presidential election was James Buchanan, a Democrat from Lancaster County. Just about everything political was happening right here, all at once. Lots of deals were made. The Pennsylvania Republican delegation emerged as Abraham Lincoln's king-maker, and Lincoln as President rewarded Pennsylvania for its keen insight. Appointing cabinet members from Pennsylvania, the new administration naturally steered war contracts to our local industries. Philadelphia politics immediately became Republican in a big way, and after the war, the Republicans were then in charge of the national government for fifty years. Philadelphia had created a political machine, and it made no sense patronage-wise for many decades, for it to profess allegiance to any other party than the one it started with.

There thus exists a simple and coherent explanation for Philadelphia's exceptional behavior. A more difficult question to answer beyond dispute is: Why do big-city political machines almost invariably develop a Democrat affiliation? We're going to take a pass on that one, falling back on the observation that municipal politics usually have very little to do with national politics, no matter what Tip O'Neill may have said. Indeed, local politicians mostly wish national politicians would go back to Washington and leave them alone. National politicians certainly reciprocate that feeling, especially if they have a safe district.

But Party unity is periodically stimulated (some would say simulated) when the national figures must come back home from Washington seeking voter approval, searching out support in the clubhouses, fire stations and taprooms that are firmly in control of local warlords. Those warlords care little about foreign affairs, interest rates at the Federal Reserve, or globalization, becoming uneasy when the national politicians to whom they owe nominal fealty drag them into messy subjects like abortion and civil rights. In the clubhouses, there is a tendency to measure national leaders by patronage and pork barrel. In return, the national representative wants to be re-elected. He wants voter turnout, campaign funds, and gerrymandered districts. It's mostly the same in both parties, and in all regions.

Musical Fund Hall

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William Strickland

At the corner of 808 Locust stands a condominium building with a colorful history. It was originally the First Presbyterian Church, and then in 1820 the famous architect William Strickland converted it into the largest musical auditorium in the City. For several years, a group of music lovers had been meeting to discuss the problem of aging and retired musicians, most of them impoverished. The idea arose of giving several benefit performances each year to raise money for retired musicians, and the idea was enlarged to create a Musical Fund Society to put on regular concert series. Since it was by far the largest public auditorium, it also served for graduations, speeches, conventions.

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John C. Fremont

It thus came about that in 1856 the Republican Party held its first national convention there, nominating for President John C. Fremont, the famous explorer of the West. The Republicans had two main components, the advocates of the abolition of slavery, and the residual of the Whig Party, which had come apart. The Whigs were mainly concerned with using government effort to promote the economy, building canals and roads, and similar ideas for public benefit. Abraham Lincoln had been a fervent Whig.

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Musical Fund Hall

As a musical society, the Musical Fund was quite instrumental in persuading this Quaker City that music could be used for purposes other than religious incantations and frivolous entertainments. And it was useful in bringing the new instruments and musical concepts from Europe to the New World. Louis Madeira has written an interesting history of the early musical significance of the Musical Fund. When the Academy of Music opened in 1856, the old hall on Locust Street became a relic of the past. It had assets, however, and the organization continues to function as a granting agency for musical production and development in the Philadelphia area, even though it is itself no longer in the business of musical production.

And then the third strain of history in this old place is the development of Musical Unions. This is natural enough, in view of the original purpose of helping indigent musicians. But unfortunately, several competing unions appeared, most of them on Locust Street and the dissention was bitter and continuing. In 1871 Philadelphia was the scene of the creation of the National Musical Association, and although the local 77 became a part of the national movement, it was stormy. Competitive musical unions had a history of calling the police to shut down speakeasies run as private clubs by their competitors. During the Depression of the 1930's there were many accusations of Communist infiltration, and counter accusations that Joseph Petrillo, the national president, was a Nazi. An underlying theme among musicians was that foreign immigrants were willing to work for less than the standard wage, and hence many of the coercive features of the union were aimed at forcing immigrant musicians to become members and to refuse to work for substandard pay.

Some idea of the bitterness in the situation can be gained from the strike against the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1956. Ten years later, only one member of the union in ten was employed.


REFERENCES


Music in Philadelphia: and the Musical Fund Society, Louis C. Madeira ISBN: 1-932109-44-7 Ross and Perry Inc.
Musical Notes of a Physican: F. William Sunderman Sr. ISBN 0963292706 Alibris

Military School

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VFMS Crest

In the middle of the pacifist Quaker farm region, in fact in the middle of William Penn's Quaker Welsh Barony, sits Valley Forge Military Academy. Its location seems even stranger when you consider the nearest town, within easy walking distance, is Wayne, PA described by David Brooks in Bobos in Paradise as the East-Coast epicenter for yuppie education-based elitism, with all its air of entitlement. In fact, Brooks does not mention the Academy once in his three hundred page book about the town. What is VFMA and why is it located where it is? Three names, Baker, Mellon, and Annenberg pretty much explain it. Lieutenant General Milton Baker, a great friend of the Eisenhower family, was passionate about Valley Forge, its history, its parks, its military hospital, its renovation, and its preservation. If Baker founded a school (in 1928), it was going to be here. The money was Mellon and Annenberg money, but Baker was their man.

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Military school

Military schools are now in a period of decline. A flurry of a building after the Civil War created about 600 of them, in recognition that the North nearly lost the Civil War to the Confederate States who had a much stronger military tradition, especially in Virginia. It's therefore not surprising that Valley Forge wanders from Southern traditions, and is consciously modeled after Sandhurst, the British Royal Military College. Valley Forge competes with Canada, Australia and Great Britain for foreign students, while the Southern schools are more provincial. There seem to be two main reasons to send your son to a military boarding school.

The first is the tradition of military aristocracy, traceable in a sense to feudalism and the Knights of the Round Table. There's little patience with a politically correct speech in the military, who readily tell you that many rich families encourage their daughters to marry career military officers, as a way of strengthening loyalties between these two power groups. During the formative years of the American republic, the resounding emphasis was placed on having no standing army. That was a cloaked way of restraining a military aristocracy and seems to have provided the main reasoning behind the constitutional Second Amendment, which projects a general right of all citizens to bear arms. It follows the model of Switzerland where military service is universal, as contrasted with limiting firearms to specialists, whether police or military. If that was the goal, it seems to have been effective; military elites now seem most appealing to foreign cultures, like Latin America, Korea, Saudi Arabia. Tony DeGeorge, the current president of Valley Forge, tells of an astounding phone call from one Saudi prince, who responded to an alumni fund-raising appeal by offering to buy the whole school. The Saudi noticed one supposes, that "Storming' Norman" Schwarzkopf, the hero of the First Gulf War, was an alumnus of Valley Forge.

The other main reason to send your son to military boarding school, is because he's too unruly to handle at home. Here is another seemingly delicate matter the school makes no bones about. All new entrants must spend six weeks as "plebes", enduring a ferocious hazing discipline that weeds 'em out. The solution to cell phones and Internet games is to forbid them. Valley Forge confronts the matter of recreational drugs head-on. All students are subject to random drug testing, and a positive test means get off the school grounds -- permanently -- within four hours. The exercises program is not only mandatory, but it is also rigorous beyond description. The result is that fifteen alumni are currently playing professional football in the NFL, the polo team is regularly the national champion. Somewhere General Baker got the idea that playing music helps your mathematical ability, so every single 9th grader plays the violin. The marching band is internationally famous, and by gad, it better stay that way. Only about a third of the graduates go on to a lifetime military career, but another third of the alumni are CEOs of companies. Even what happens to the remaining third bears some thought.

{J.D. Salinger}
J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger and Edward Albee were both alumni of Valley Forge Military Academy. True, General Baker told Salinger that The Catcher in The Rye was rubbish, and one need not speculate much on how he would have reviewed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the collision between these two social misfits and the plebe hazing experience contributed significantly to the depth and power of the serious literature they produced. It is not easy to name two alumni of Andover, Exeter or Lawrenceville who have contributed as much to 20th Century American fiction. Salinger and Albee hated the place, but it made them what they became. "Whatever that was," you can almost hear the other two-thirds of the alumni mutter.

In a day that echoes No Child Left Behind, it is a little hard and it is certainly politically incorrect, to give this devil its due. But all Armies live by the slogan, that if you must take an objective, you must take some casualties.

 

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4 Blogs

Republican Convention in the Wigwam (1860)
Honest Abe got nominated for President in a raucous brawl.

Philadelphia's Republican Machine
Almost all big-city political machines have been part of the Democratic Party, except Philadelphia. There were reasons for that.

Musical Fund Hall
The Musical Fund started as a musician pension scheme, but its hall was used for many historic events. The musicians union has agitated Locust Street ever since; the Musical Fund Society still meets; William Strickland's building now contains condominiums.

Military School
Valley Forge Military Academy takes rambunctious boys and makes them into leaders. Even some of the misfits and dropouts seem to benefit from the difficult experience.