Thursday, September 16, 2010
The More Things Change
Ever wonder why Wyoming, Montana, and North and South Dakota get to elect 15% of the U.S. Senate even though they only have about 1% of the United States' population? I suppose there is nothing shocking about the idea that Republicans pushed for the admission of these states to the Union late in the 19th Century as their pro-business policies had managed to dissipate the popular support the party of Lincoln had enjoyed in the years after the Civil War, but it wasn't something I knew until I read Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre by Heather Cox Richardson. Interestingly, while the disproportionate power of these sparsely populated states is most clearly felt in the Senate today, at the time they were admitted, the single Representative each state sent to Congress were even more highly prized by the Republicans. In those days, Senators were not yet popularly elected and Republican control of the Senate was secure. However, the House was much more evenly split and the extra Republican Congressmen made a big difference.
It was also interesting to see 19th Century Republican administration pursuing tax policies that favored the wealthy--in this case tariffs--while attempting to maintain popular support by whipping up fear that Americans were going to be attacked by members of an alien culture that in fact posed little threat. The Sioux Indians had been thoroughly subdued and the only reason there was unrest on the reservations was the governments failure to supply the food it had promised when it forced the Indians to give up their land. At the time of the Wounded Knee in December 1890, the results of the November mid-term election in South Dakota were still in doubt. Thus, President Harrison's administration was eager to show that it was prepared to do whatever it took to protect white settlers in the state. Simply treating the Sioux fairly would have been much more effective, but not nearly as impressive to voters as sending in the army.