Thursday, April 23, 2015

Did you ever wonder...

...what the United States would be like without gridlock? What if all the red states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012 were to secede from the union? What would happen if the Democrats suddenly found themselves with overwhelming majorities in Congress? What would that be like?

Well, gives us a few clues in "37 maps that explain the American Civil War."

Now, I know what you're thinking: Who in the world has time to look at 37 maps? And that's a good question. But if you have a few minutes, check it out; it's interesting and informative. 

What really got my attention, though, was something I'm sure the authors, Timothy B. Lee and Matthew Yglesias, intended for the reader to take away from the piece. And that is this: What would the United States Congress be like without gridlock, specifically, without the modern-day Republican Party?

Take Map No. 16, for example, "Why the North's more extensive railroad network mattered":

The rail network helped the Union in concrete terms during the war, because it facilitated the movement of troops and supplies across the very large frontier. But it also signifies a larger set of Northern advantages. Those railroads were useful during wartime, but they existed long before it because the demand for them existed in the form of Northern factories and large Northern cities. The supply chain to create them existed, both in terms of metal and sophisticated financing. The same features of a modern industrial and financial capitalism that gave the North the capacity to construct such a vast rail network gave it formidable advantages in terms of shipbuilding, munitions supply, and other key sinews of war.  

Translation: A government-built infrastructure has advantages.

And then there's a whole section titled, "The Republicans' wartime agenda," which includes:

Map No. 24, "Raising the protective tariff" (all emphasis mine):

Both the Federalist Party and the Whig Party had generally argued for high taxes on imported goods in order to encourage the growth of American industry, but both were typically defeated at the polls by the Democrats. When the new Republican Party came to the fore, anti-slavery ideology was at the core of its appeal, but it retained the old Whig tariff policy. After the South seceded, the GOP suddenly found itself in possession of large majorities. Even before Lincoln took office, Congress passed Vermont Rep. Justin Smith Morrill's bill to impose a substantial tariff. The tariff question was in part an ideological one about the merits of statist versus laissez faire approaches to economic development...

Map No. 25, "Settling the West with yeoman farmers":

While Republicans offered a pro-manufacturing trade policy to Northern city dwellers, they offered a vision of free land for small farmers to Northern agriculturalists. Under the 1862 Homestead Act, western lands were surveyed according to the Public Land Survey System depicted in this diagram, and families were offered a quarter section of land at minimal cost provided that they occupied it for a set number of years and demonstrably invested in improving the land with structures and cultivation. Southern planting interests would have preferred to see large tracts of land sold off to cash-rich investors who could have worked it with slave labor. But once they seceded from the Union they no longer had a say in the matter in Congress, and the Republican vision prevailed.

Map No. 26, "Selling federal land to finance the creation of public universities":

Vermont Rep. Justin Smith Morrill's idea was that the federal government should make a gift to each state of a big bundle of land, and then instruct the states to use the proceeds of its sale to construct public universities. This was essentially the 19th-century version of a debt-financed infrastructure project, with Morrill calculating that the benefit to future generations of education would be greater than the cost to future generations of foregone land revenue. His bill passed in 1859, but was vetoed by Democratic President James Buchanan. With Lincoln in office, a new version of the same law passed in 1862. 

Map No. 27, "Creating a transcontinental railroad": 

The idea of a railroad to the Pacific Ocean was at least as old as the influx of American settlers to California. Things really picked up steam when the War Department, under the leadership of then–Secretary (and later CSA President) Jefferson Davis published an exhaustive multi-volume report detailing five possible routes. But congressional gridlock made it impossible to choose which route to take. With Davis's strong encouragement, Franklin Pierce's administration had purchased a swath of land from Mexico comprising what is now southern Arizona and southern New Mexico that would have facilitated the creation of a Southern-oriented version of the Pacific Railroad and encouraged settlement in territories that were open to slavery. Northern members generally favored the so-called "central" route that was eventually selected. With the departure of Southern legislators during the Civil War, the gridlock was broken, and the Pacific Railroad Act provided free land and subsidized loans for the construction of the railroad. 

I got the message, whether the two authors intended it or not (and I'll bet they did): Look at how the Republican Party of the Civil War years paved the way for growth in the United States by improving the nation's infrastructure. And just imagine what today's Democrats could achieve in the absence of gridlock.

Or, as Larry David put it in "The Acupuncturist," from Season 2, episode 6 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, "What’s the big deal with preserving the Union? Do we really need the South?”

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