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Joseph Kaminski

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November 21, 2019

American’ts: A Brief History in Regards to Our Inability to Compromise

Welcome to the United States of America, towards the beginning of the Civil War which dawns the cover of so many historical textbooks. During the American Civil War, many congressmen vacated their elected seats from both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. Some of these men decided to break away from the Union. We can label this generation of Americans as the American’ts…but we can label ourselves this unfortunate title as well.

Think about it, really. These representatives, who were once elected into legislative office, abandoned all concept of unity and compromise. The country, headed by Lincoln, was faced with a problem. Those who took part in the ‘rebellion’ were quickly expelled, and states that seceded from the Union were vacantly represented within the chambers. When those men – the congressmen who denied American unity – refused to serve their respected states is when they lost their titles, no longer being recognized by the United States government.

Now of course, many of the chairs that were vacated did not abandon their nation. Only those who belonged to elections not accepted or recognized by the Senate (such as the Kansas) or those who were expelled or withdrew from their positions (those states that dared to secede from the Union itself) take the unfortunate historical representation of vacating their seats in Congress.

Over seventy chairs would be vacant — abandoned, even — by 1861, but the reasons have various degrees of acceptability. Some of these men resigned to become ministers, secretaries in the cabinet, or ambassadors. A few, like George W. Scranton of Pennsylvania’s 12th district, died. Some even resigned to enter the Union Army itself. These chairs, of the seventy, would be filled after the short periods of incumbent elected periods ended. But, nevertheless, it seems like the 36th Congress of the United States would have been a considerably unproductive one, with multiple representatives resigning, being expelled, or withdrawing from duty. How can anything be done if there is no communication? How can politics continue without compromise and with secession?

In the beginning of this political conflict, the 36th Congress (which lasted from 1859 to 1861), slavery became the most politically divisive and problematic concern in the eyes of representatives across a once connected nation. A sectional gap tore through the paranoid strain of American politics, and, after 44 ballots, New Jersey’s William Pennington managed to win the election as House Speaker.

Both the House and the Senate, during this time period, investigated the failed raid on Harper’s Ferry, a rebellion controlled by historical martyr John Brown, before unsuccessfully attempting to pass a compromise before the country erupted into the great Civil War. Amid the incredibly tense lame-duck session throughout the winter of 1860 and 1861, South Carolina led the band of seceding southern states to a new hope. A new political dream for representation without compromise with the north.

They called it the Confederate States of America.

Then the country hits the 37th Congress (which, under Lincoln, lasted from 1861 to 1863). The rebellion to the south allowed Republicans to gain control of the legislative branch of the government. The Congress, led by vocal minorities of various radical Republicans, backed Abraham Lincoln on nearly every political front. The southern blockade, the call for volunteers, the federal budgeting blitz, and the suspension of habeas corpus were all side effects of a strained government losing all productivity before slamming into a prejudiced one-sided anterior. The government, which under the 36th Congress faced two opposing parties who did not wish to compromise for any reason, found itself free of southern obstructionism under the 37th Congress. Now, to some extent, America no longer needed a compromise; because it had a war, instead.

Just understand the vast shrinkage of government felt between the 35th and 37th Congresses. Only a mere five years span between the three, and yet the government found severe changes. A Democratic leadership was replaced with vacancies, which coexisted with a Republican-dominated hierarchy. Our government’s legislative branch went from 237 representatives and 7 delegates in the 35th Congress (made up of 132 Democrats, 90 Republicans, and 15 third party members) to 238 representatives and 5 delegates in the 36th (made up of 83 Democrats, 116 Republicans, and 20 third party members). The trend between the conflicting political parties continues to the 37th Congress, which was composed of 183 representatives and 7 delegates (made up of 44 Democrats, 108 Republicans, and 31 third party members). Notice the massive shift between political composability – the total amount of representatives decreased severely with the destruction of unity in America.

America has always been this format of partisanship, of such severe support towards political causes that lead to prejudice in the way our political machine thinks, that agreement in our great western society seems to…well…become nonexistent. With such a splintered mindset, politics cannot function properly in a democratic government such as what the Americans believe they have. How can bipartisanship, any form of cooperation between opposing political parties, occur in a country that is so willing to avoid compromise in any way, shape, or form? Well, a bit of a spoiler, no compromise can occur in a country with such conflicting interests that compromise becomes undesirable.

Now, even in the past, when America actually desired to take the middle ground and make all political parties happy in some form, Americans have not been good at compromising. The Missouri Compromise in 1820, the Compromise of 1850, the Three-Fifths Compromise which stated that slaves only counted as 3/5 of a person when being counted for representation. The mere concept of “compromising” within our own nation’s history tends to sway in the direction of keeping progress from occurring or creates a vacuum which forces the wrong kind of progress to take shape.

Back under Lincoln nearly a century and a half ago, America had the problematic occurrences of a government that didn’t have the capabilities of governing due to such vastly different ideologies that caused for a literal drop in attendance. The only congressional compromises that have managed to create a “successful” impact that benefited the world without further negative impact towards the social and political are those that did not have to compromise in such an extent as those unfortunate reincarnations of government.

But now, we face something new yet old at the same time. The 113th and 114th Congresses — both under Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and (until October 29th, 2015) John Boehner — are the least active government in our history. They get so little done that they put the 35th through 37th Congresses to shame. We’ve Rubio’d our American bipartisanship. We have distinct ideologies, two vastly different concepts of what we want for our society and our politics, yet nobody wants to even look at compromise anymore. Compromising would benefit them, the other side, and therefore can’t be good even if it also benefits us. That’s the modern Republican way of thinking — individuality against each other rather than unification of the states.

Is the bipartisan system a failure? Is it impossible for two political ideologies — especially those who have egocentric and ignorant issues with each other — to properly compromise in a system in which the people are supposedly in charge? What has history taught America when it comes to our inability to compromise with each other?

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