Three’s A Party

As optimism has diminished surrounding this year’s election, I’ve seen the following meme shared over and over:

This meme is wrong. In 1860, the Republicans were not a third party; they were the other major party next to the Democrats, a party that had existed since the days of Andrew Jackson in the 1820s. In fact, the Republicans were the farthest thing from a third party in 1860:


1860 Election Results (Republicans in red)

In 1860, the closest thing to a third party would actually have been John Bell’s Constitutional Union Party, which won the more moderate middle-South states, and in the process took votes away from the two other major party candidates.



Election of 1856 (Republicans in red)

Lincoln wasn’t even the first Republican presidential candidate. If the Republicans could ever be considered a third party, it could instead be in the previous election of 1856. But even here, they were already established as the alternative to the long-standing Jacksonian Democrats.


The point? Facebook memes don’t actually help with our political discussions. Now on to the main point:



Wait, what? The Lincoln story up there 👆🏽sort of suggests that third party candidates only take votes from the “real” candidates. Well, yes, that’s what they do in the short term, though usually it’s not enough to actually sway a national election.  

Instead of looking at the Lincoln meme, let’s look at a later example of third party politics that shows how important their role can really be. In 1912, people were mad. Politicians were mad. The Progressive Movement was in full swing. From 1901 to 1909, Theodore Roosevelt’s administration passed a number of significant laws protecting workers, consumers, and business owners. He is responsible for putting ingredient labels on food and drug products. He also passed widespread legislation that placed national parks and other natural areas under federal protection for the first time, and created the National Forest Service. I’m particularly fond of him for that reason alone.

When his successor, William Howard Taft, started to dismantle these policies during his 1909-1913 term, Roosevelt angrily came back into the national spotlight with his Progressive Party and aggressively campaigned against Taft. Awkward, considering that until recently they had both been Republicans, and best friends. Roosevelt took the progressive Republicans with him when this new party popped up. Uncomfortable with Roosevelt’s activism, the more conservative Republicans stayed loyal to Taft, and the classic third-party problem emerged: 


1912 Election Results


Wilson: 435

Roosevelt: 88

Taft: 8





Except, this wasn’t the classic third-party problem. Combining the Republican votes wouldn’t even come close to Wilson’s total, so it’s probably not accurate to say that Roosevelt stole the election for Wilson. Even if we accept that the Republican discord pushed away states that may otherwise have voted red, that’s a pretty large gap to overcome.

The more important information comes from the popular vote totals via The American Presidency Project:

Wilson: 6,294,327 / 41.8%                                Roosevelt: 4,120,207 / 27.4%

Taft: 3,486,343 / 23.2%                                      Debs: 900,370 / 6%

Wait. Who’s that fourth guy? There’s only three candidates on the electoral map.

Eugene V. Debs was a candidate from the Socialist Party, who did not win any states, and therefore does not show up on the electoral map. However, 900,370 people, representing six percent of the total votes cast, voted for him. That’s a lot. Especially in 1912, when the total population of the country was only about 92 million. And his support wasn’t isolated to a handful of states, either. Debs garnered a percent of the poplar vote in each of the forty-eight states, with support reaching double digits in some of the western agricultural states.

Here are some highlights of the Socialist Platform of 1912, as announced at the Indianapolis Convention of 1912:

  • The immediate government relief of the unemployed by the extension of all useful public works.
  • …forbidding the employment of children under sixteen years of age.
  • …establishing minimum wage scales.
  • The adoption of a graduated income tax…
  • Unrestricted and equal suffrage for men and women
  • The separation of the present Bureau of Labor from the Department of Commerce and Labor and its elevation to the rank of a department.
  • The enactment of further measures for the conservation of health. The creation of an independent bureau of health…

In 1916, with America’s entry into the Great War approaching, the Socialist platform, with a few amendments, repeated that of 1912, and the candidate received around half a million votes, representing about three precent of the vote.

What’s the point? IS HE ADVOCATING SOCIALISM?! 😱

Of course not. That’s a bad word in this country. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones that gets a check in the mail every month.

(As an aside, if you firmly believe that all forms of socialism are evil, I applaud your convictions. I’ll just be applauding from across the street while you inform the fire department of your philosophy as you go grab your bucket to put out your house.)

Anyway, even though Debs did not make any sort of dent on the election outcome in 1912, over 900,000 people voted for him;  1916 was more or less the same outcome: not enough to alter the election, but a pretty large number of people voting for an alternative party.

Since it didn’t affect the election, why does it matter?

It matters because, with the exception of some of the more radical planks, most of the Socialist platforms of 1912 and 1916 have become part of the modern government, whether as components of the two major parties’ platforms, or as new departments within the government framework itself.

  • We now have Cabinet-level departments of Labor, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Education.
  • We now have a graduated income tax, perhaps an inconvenience in modern society, but actually quite a progressive development when ratified in 1913.
  • Though inhibited by gerrymandering and other archaic forms of disenfranchisement that still persist, we now have legally protected voting rights for all Americans over the age of eighteen.
  • We have welfare and unemployment services for those in need.
  • We have labor laws that protect the rights and safety of workers and consumers.

There have been a few cases in the recent past in which third parties had a noticeable affect on a presidential election. In 1948, the Dixiecrat party ran on an anti-civil rights platform and took thirty-nine electoral votes away from Democrat Harry Truman, but in this case, since his support was entirely from sparsely-populated southern states, Strom Thurmond only collected about two and a half percent of the popular vote.  With the advent of the Civil Rights Movement, the Dixiecrats, along with their narrow-minded platform, disappeared. In 1968, George Wallace ran on an anti-Vietnam, anti-civil rights platform, collecting 45 exclusively-southern electoral votes along the way. Wallace’s is the only third party campaign to reach into the double digits of the popular vote (and 66% in Alabama!), but the election of Nixon, the end of the Vietnam conflict, and the assassination attempt on Wallace ended the threat to the two major parties.

More recently, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader made somewhat respectable showings at the polls; Perot gained about eight percent of the popular vote in 1996, but Nader only grabbed about three percent in 2000. Neither made a dent in the electoral vote count. In the elections hence, there has been no notable third party presence that took any of the popular vote. Perhaps a percent or two divided between different candidates.

No third party candidate has made a noticeable mark in a presidential election since  2000. In the elections following those of 1912 and 1916, people were upset, angry and scared, and willing to try something new. Perhaps it was just an effort to get reelected, but the parties listened. In 1933, Dr. Francis Townhend, a vocal critic of Franklin Roosevelt, published a letter criticizing the New Deal’s lack of provisions for the elderly, and proposed his own revolving pension plan.  Since election season was approaching, Roosevelt in 1935 proposed his Social Security Act. Kind of shady, but hey, the nation benefitted from it.

The point is this: if Americans can get out of this “one election at a time” mentality, perhaps real change can be implemented in our electoral system. When the Socialists ran two relatively successful candidates in two succeeding elections, the parties listened and eventually adjusted their platforms to incorporate pieces of the popular Socialist platform from previous years. It’s easy to share memes on Instagram and get in political arguments on Facebook, but unless Americans are willing to actually walk the walk and not just complain, nothing will change. Large numbers of Americans got up and voted third party in 1912 and made a long-term impact on the nation.

It is safe to say that Americans have never been more disillusioned with the electoral process than they are in 2016. The lesser-of-two-evils sentiment with the two major party candidates should be a call to arms for all Americans to send a message that they won’t stand for subpar presidential candidates any longer, and the parties will probably listen, just as they did after 1912.

The Pew Research Center estimates there to be over 275,000,000 registered voters in the 2016 election.Can you imagine the message it would send if six percent of them voted for a third party candidate? That’s sixteen and a half million voters. Even if no electoral votes are won from these voters, the major parties would surely notice such a large number of potential voters they could grab,

There is no such thing as a wasted vote, except that not cast. At the very least, you can rest better at night knowing that you voted your conscience and not for one who is just slightly less bad than the other.










V at XV: Neal Morse’s Prophetic Art

Excellent look back at one of my favorites. Even though Neal was still a few years away from his Christian music career, you can hear the seeds in the lyrics here, and can almost feel how badly he wanted to tell the world about his beliefs. The impact of the first Transatlantic album’s writing can be clearly heard on this album, which is a marked departure from the previous four Spock’s Beard albums.


Retrospective on Spock’s Beard, V (Metal Blade/Radiant, 2000).  Produced by Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard.  Tracks: At the End of the Day; Revelation; Thoughts (Part II); All on a Sunday; Goodbye to Yesterday; and The Great Nothing.

All tracks written by Neal Morse except Thoughts (Part II), written by the Morse brothers; and Revelation, written by the Morse brothers, NDV, and Okumoto.

Even the cover is brilliant, foreshadowing Neal Morse's forthcoming moment at Damascus.  Even the cover is brilliant, foreshadowing Neal Morse’s forthcoming moment at Damascus.

I was haunted continually by the cruel irony of it all; I had a gift to give to the world, but no recipient to pass it on to.

–Neal Morse, TESTIMONY (the book)

Two days ago, I posted my reflections on hearing Transatlantic’s SMPTe for the first time.  I treasure those memories.  At the time, I’d only been married about a year and half, I already had a one-year old son, and my wife was VERY pregnant…

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The Confederate Flag and Racism: A Historian’s Perspective

In the wake of last week’s tragedy in South Carolina, Americans, including myself, have dealt with the situation in the best way we know how: posting about it on Facebook. Against the advice of my wife, I decided to get into a couple of online debates about the propriety of flying the flag, and came away each time saddened by the results. Then today, my friend sent me a picture of about a half dozen kids, some of them my former students, standing along Main Street waving Confederate flags at passing cars, and in the process confirming every stereotype that the flag supposedly does not stand for.

After reading numerous flag debates, a common theme appeared from those who defend the flying of the Confederate flag: “You need to go read your history.” My response to these people is: “Ok, sure! Which books would you recommend I start with?”


The problem with this line of thinking is that there have been untold numbers of books written from each side of the historiographical divide muddying up the topic over the past one-hundred-sixty years, and it can be a little difficult to ascertain what is true, and what is armchair historian crap, of which there is a bunch. Instead, let’s look at the original primary sources and see if we can understand why people are so offended by the Confederate flag, which represents nothing more than heritage and pride to others.
In December of 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede following the election of Abraham Lincoln. Echoing the original colonies, South Carolina drafted a declaration of independence in which the state’s leaders justified their secession. According to the declaration, one cause of the rift was the election of a man “whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” Additionally, “they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery,” as well as “assume[d] the right of deciding upon the  of our domestic institutions.” In other words, South Carolina was leaving to protect slavery.

In March of 1861, Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the new Confederate States of AmAlexander_Stephenserica, gave a speech in Savannah, Georgia extolling the virtues of the new Confederate constitution. In this “Cornerstone Speech,” Stephens claimed that, “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution– African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization.” Furthermore, “This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution,” according to Stephens. Finally, and most significantly, the Confederate constitution had “its foundations… laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.” It should be noted that Stephens delivered this speech without notes, which suggests just how strongly he felt about his subject.

The Confederate Constitution itself is incredibly interesting. Ratified ten days before Stephens’s speech, it was nearly identical to the United States Constitution, with the single notable exception that it specifically clarified the status of slavery within the Confederacy. The new Constitution, supposedly created to protect states’ rights, even included a “necessary and proper” clause, which is the source of implied powers, completely invalidating the states’ rights defense of secession.

It is clear, then, why so many view the Confederate flag as a sign of white supremacy: those are its origins. Combined with its resurgence and usage in the early 1900s by the KKK, its adoption by the anti-civil rights Dixiecrat party in 1948 and its continued presence in racist propaganda, these sentiments can not be dismissed.

Why then, can so many people, many of my friends, former students, and coworkers… people that I have much love and respect for… proudly claim that it represents their heritage and not racism?

The answer is probably the longest and most tragic example of revisionist indoctrination that has ever occurred in this country.

Even before the Civil War ended, southern historians began to revise the origins of the Confederacy. This was prompted by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 in which the president officially changed the goals of the war from simple reunification into a crusade against slavery. They realized that the world, including European nations who might otherwise assist the Confederacy, would never support a war over slavery’s protection. As it turned out, they were right; Great Britain and France, who had been considering entering the war, changed their minds. In the long run, this change of war aims also became part of the Confederate histories, and in the past century and half has become truth to many people.

At the same time, thousands of poor Southerners fought in the war simply to preserve the status quo, which was the preservation of slavery and the culture that it created in the South. Southern political leaders pulled the wool over their eyes with the banner of states’ rights and protection of their homes. Unfortunately, most of them simply did not have any actual idea of why their states had seceded in the first place; they were too busy trying to make ends meet.

So, when people claim that the Confederate flag represents heritage and Southern pride, that is what it in fact means to them, without any intentional trace of racism. Unfortunately, for a significant amount of the American population, the flag has not undergone this metamorphosis over the decades, and still retains its original meaning of white supremacy, reinforced by years of violence, intimidation, Jim Crow laws, and segregation.

Not that this phenomena was limited to the South; Indiana had the most active KKK group in the 1990s, and Northern cities remain some of the most segregated places in the country.1024px-Flag_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America_(Third,_variant).svg

Flag_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America_(March_1861_–_May_1861).svgOf course, there are those that claim that the flag in question is not the Confederate national flag, but is actually the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. This is an amazing case of splitting hairs, and not helpful to the conversation at all. But for the sake of argument, let’s look at this. If true, then the implication is that the battle flag is not guilty but the national flag, the one raised over Fort Sumter and whose design was subsequently revised, is. Further, since the baConfederate_Rebel_Flag.svgttle flag is that which the Confederate army fought under, it is almost worse given tFlag_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America_(1863-1865).svghat the war resulted in the deaths of an estimated 600,000 and 800,000 Americans, and symbolizes very clearly the treason that is enumerated in the Constitution. I’m not sure the alternate flag argument is one worth having.

Others point out that the North was just as racist as the South, and in fact was just as complicit in slavery’s existence. While true in the early history of the Union, all states above the Ohio River outlawed slavery by 1849. The only slaves that remained were those that were, for lack of a better term, “grandfathered in.” Obviously, by twenty-first century standards this is still reprehensible, but was very progressive for the time. The states carved from the Northwest Territory never had slavery. Regardless, the sins of one section do no excuse the actions of another.

I read a Facebook comment from someone the other day in which he said that several northern states actually had legalized slavery during the Civil War, and wondered why no one ever mentioned that. The reason: because it’s untrue, and it is just bad history. The states in question were actually slave states that simply did not secede with the rest of the South, which is not the same thing. These states were actually the settings for some of the fiercest fighting in the war, as the South fought to bring them into the Confederacy, and the North fought desperately to keep them loyal.

Next week, South Carolina’s legislature will vote on whether or not to remove the flag from the State House grounds. Several other states, including Alabama and Mississippi, have taken similar steps. The general opinion in the country seems to be approval. I approve.

On the other hand, vocal minority groups with questionable motives, like the six flag wavers on Main Street, sustain the stereotype of the South from which we all are trying to escape. They have that right, but perhaps removing the Confederate flag from public grounds and buildings will help the rest of the nation see these fringe groups for what they are, that they don’t speak for the entire South, and we will be able to begin the healing process that is so overdue.

Perhaps the reason that this is all still such a sensitive topic is the simple fact that there are still people who have been abused by those flying the Confederate flag, including the recent tragedy in South Carolina. While slavery may be long dead, its legacy lives on in racist people, propaganda, and harassment, both North and South, an that is what this flag represents. As long as there are visible reminders of this legacy, it will continue on. While it is naive to think that its removal will solve racism, it would at least send the message that states are not condoning the actions of an ignorant few.


It’s also time to admit to ourselves that this flag has a horrible history, and though it has come to represent heritage and pride to some, it represents fear and oppression to many others. Ignoring this is like the ostrich hiding its head in the sand and pretending that there really isn’t anything wrong out there. Black/white relations is the most controversial and divisive topic in the history of the United States. Nothing else comes close with the possible exception of Native American relations. Why would we want a constant reminder of this flying from our government buildings?