Posted by: The Amoeba | February 12, 2009

John Gilmer’s Ghost

Yes, yes, I know, I know. “John who?!? And why should we care about his ghost? It’s not Hallowe’en.”

No, but it is Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday (12 February 2009). There’s a connection. Really. If you’ll give me a minute …

John A. Gilmer was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1856, and reelected in 1858, from a district in the State of North Carolina – a Southern state, and a slave state. In late 1860, therefore, John A. Gilmer was, by definition, not a member of Lincoln’s Republican Party – the Republican party was entirely Northern and vehemently anti-slavery. Abraham Lincoln’s name did not even appear on the ballot in the 1860 Presidential election in North Carolina, or most anywhere else in the South.

Nevertheless, Lincoln invited Gilmer to join his Cabinet. And Gilmer seriously considered it.

Lincoln sought to have as many different viewpoints as possible represented by his Cabinet appointees – including those of slaveholders, and of secession-minded southern states. And Gilmer stood for that minority of southerners who, whatever else they believed, supported the Union and opposed the Confederate Revolution.

Unfortunately, the men who became the leaders of the Confederate States of America saw this coming. As told in James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, they saw, in the “blandishments of office” from the new Republican administration, the possible undoing of the secessionist movement. They closed ranks. Gilmer, finding the risks to his career (and possibly his life) too great, declined the Cabinet post.

And the war came.

The tasks confronted by President Barack Obama in 2009 are more akin to those of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 than those of Abe Lincoln in 1861. Nevertheless, Obama’s approach has already drawn many comparisons to Lincoln, including the appointment of his main primary opponent, Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State (as Lincoln did with his principal opponent, William Seward).

And his efforts to include as many viewpoints as possible among the people who are paid to advise him – in contrast to the “loyalists only” appointments of the Bush Administrations, which, as it happens, was exactly the kind of cronyism practiced by James Buchanan, the President whom Lincoln succeeded, and which had much the same result (i.e., national disaster).

Hence, Obama’s tender of a Cabinet post to Republican Judd Gregg.

However, the parallels to Lincoln’s time don’t stop there – for they include the closing of ranks by an opposition party in support of their disastrously failed policies. The South in 1861; the Republicans (ironically) in 2009.

Judd Gregg is John Gilmer’s ghost.

I hope it doesn’t return to haunt us. The short-term prospects for these Untied States are bad enough as it is.

  O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions expressed are mine, as a private citizen.



  1. A couple of questions and points here.

    If I understand correctly, Gilmer didn’t accept. Gregg did, and then changed his mind. I’ve seen some very compelling arguments that say 2010 won’t be a great year for Republicans either, just because of the seats that are coming open. And 2012 may not be much better because of Obama’s voter turnout operation helping the Democrats. But Gilmer was in a different situation. The Sessecionists had to believe they would have succeeded, didn’t they? So ultimately, he’s stuck between what’s seen from his side as two different governments, rather than two different parties.

    So my point is this- Gilmer would find it hard to go home if he accepted. Gregg might, but he’s got different trouble. Though he’s voted with the Obama administration fairly often, that’s far different than making it that much more difficult for his party, especially when the political lifespan of a Commerce Secretary isn’t that long. So, he’s sitting there looking at the options, and sees that 2010 and 2012 are going to be bad for his party. He sees that there’s a fair chance he won’t even be Commerce Secretary by then, and he sees that even if a Republican is put in his place, that person might not be re-elected. Obama gets a small benefit by coming across as being bipartisan, but I’m really not seeing the benefit for Gregg.

  2. Perhaps even more to the point, IG, somebody may have taken the Senator aside and pointed out that his resignation to accept Commerce, and replacement by a (gasp!) Democratic governor in New Hampshire, would just about deliver a filibuster-proof majority in both houses of Congress to Obama & Co. I’m guessing here, of course, but I think near-term factors are more important that anything projected for 2010 and beyond. Such projectors need to remember how Clinton came to power – as a “throwaway” candidate in 1992 against the unassailable Bush The First.

    You are correct, by the way – Gilmer was offered and thought about it, but had never accepted a post. At the time, though, the secession bandwagon had not started rolling; one thing Lincoln had in mind (and the secessionists anticipated) was to use such an appointment to prevent secession from getting a head of steam.

    Gilmer would not have been completely alone in his decision, had he chosen to accept a Cabinet post. Andrew Johnson, later Vice-President, remained at his post in the US Senate; his anti-secessionist Tennessee electorate, to the point that it could (the CSA rather brutally suppressed Unionist sentiment in Knoxville), supported Johnson in his choice. Gilmer had not stood for re-election, but his constituency in North Carolina was, I think, likewise Union in its sentiments, and may have been behind Gilmer in a similar way that Knoxville was behind Johnson.

  3. Nice history lesson and an apt comparison. I do think, though, that Judd Gregg is a middling intellect who declined a middling cabinet position. Much worse news, in my opinion, is that banks accepting TARP funds are now required by law not to sponsor H1-B immigrant visas.

  4. Doug, didn’t Bierce say something about the expediency of hanging Hampshiremen? No, wait, that was Jerseymen. My bad …

    You’ll have to enlighten me about the TARP / visa business. A cynic might think that the purpose was to prevent the banks from importing credulous customers for their subprimes.

  5. I believe someone DID take Gregg aside and point out the filibuster proof majority problem. That’s why he demanded/insisted to his governor that he be replaced with a Republican. And though the governor is a Democrat, he agreed. Besides, that magic number of 60 has overinflated importance anyway. Snowe, Collins, and several others have voted with the Democrats on many issues. Besides, just because they do not support the bill does not mean they want a filibuster (and especially don’t want to be that one vote that keeps them filibustered). In other words, the Democrats effectively have 60 without needing 60 (and if they’re smart, they’ll back off overtly trying to achieve that number, for fear of overplaying).

    And I’m not so sure I agree with you about current factors being more important than 2010. To us, sure. But to politicians, everyone is always looking ahead to their next election. For the Republicans, if the stimulus fails, it will help them build the case for their next election. If it succeeds, they want to be seen as being bipartisan so they can spin it as being in favor of it. Hence all the talk about how they agree we need a stimulus, but want a different stimulus package. Not only is all politics local, but it also happens 2-6 years in the future. 😉

    Interesting though. I have to admit that my Civil War knowledge is lacking.

  6. The stated rationale is that corporations that are laying off American workers and taking taxpayer money should not be bringing in foreign workers to do the jobs that remain. How a laid off mortgage-seller is relevant to a hired quant escapes me. How an outsourced job is better than bringing the person who will do it here and paying them here escapes me. That our government is run by idiots and scoundrels, as expendable as Jerseymen, does not escape me.

  7. A Republican in the Snowe mold is a better Democrat than Joe Lieberman, IG. And with Gregg’s entire state having just swung in that direction, despite the seismic activity from William Loeb spinning in his grave, no wonder the GOP wished that Gregg would stay put.

    I’m not attempting to question the fact that pols are attempting to prognosticate the future vis-à-vis their reelection prospects. I’m questioning the wisdom of doing so, given the volatility of events. I would have something sharp to say about the likelihood of wisdom having congress with members of Congress, but so long as said members lack the ability to reelect themselves, any such remark would miss its true target.

    Doug, I can’t speak for banking, but in the sciences, foreign grad students and postdocs willing to work for the slave wages that these jobs offer (and which most Americans have been rejecting as being too much labor for too little cash) have been doing most of the actual work for decades now. These people then go home and generate scientific powerhouses in their own countries, while American institutions, having lost their edge through this brain drain plus social factors (including GWB’s budget-cutting in order to fund personal vendettas the Iraq war, and his efforts to politicize what public-funded research remained), fall by the wayside.

    In other words, firing Americans and replacing them with cheaper foreigners, even those of equivalent education and (likely, superior) capabilities may yield short-term windfall profits for a few corporations, and long-term damage to the nation. I’m with those who wish to put a stop to this, in the hopes that such action will give Americans time to restore what used to be a pretty solid work ethic.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand to wave in this direction. I know myself that, through a combination of exhaustion and disgust, my own productivity is down the tubes, and I don’t see when or how I’m going to get it back.

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