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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 August 2020
Through the 1880s, Senator Henry Blair (R-NH) spearheaded an effort to erode local control of education by turning Congress into a source of funds and oversight for state-level primary and secondary schools. The Blair Bill won support from an interregional, interracial, bipartisan coalition. It passed in the Senate on three separate occasions, was endorsed by presidents, and was a frequent topic of discussion among party elites. Yet in 1890 the bill failed for the last time, and local control would go largely unchanged until the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In this article we explore the decade-long battle surrounding Blair's proposal. Our analysis focuses on this lost opportunity as a way of highlighting the coalitional and institutional dynamics that work to prevent reform in an otherwise favorable environment. In this way, we contribute to a large literature on the uneven course of American state development.
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24. The federal government would set the conditions for appropriating the money, as well as the mechanisms to ensure it was properly spent.
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29. For more information on how black citizens viewed Blair's proposal, see Crofts, “The Black Response”; Bateman et al., Southern Nation, 143–44.
30. In the analysis to come we treat anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment as synonymous. This decision is defensible substantively because, as we demonstrate below, nativism was motivated by both impulses. It is defensible methodologically because the data on foreign-born citizens are more reliable than the data on the religious affiliation of American citizens.
31. Sustaining the tariff was just one part of the GOP's commitment to an economic program highly favorable to large business interests. By the 1880s many corporate leaders had come to embrace an anti-immigrant perspective. Nativism was, in other words, an economic and social concern. For more on business attitudes toward immigration, see Heald, Morrell, “Business Attitudes toward European Immigration, 1880–1900,” The Journal of Economic History 13 (Summer 1953): 291–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
32. In a recent analysis, Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek argue that scholars focusing their attention on the state's “programmatic interventions, are likely to downplay the historical significance of governmental arrangements that held out against reformers. This observation motivates our decision to highlight the impressive stability of “local control” in primary and secondary education. See Orren, Karen and Skowronek, Stephen, The Policy State: An American Predicament (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
33. Bateman and Teele, “A Developmental Approach to Historical Causal Inference,” 4. Capoccia and Kelemen identify counterfactual analysis as the consideration of “policy options that were available, considered, and narrowly defeated by the relevant actors.” We argue that the Blair Bill fits this definition. See Capoccia, Giovanni and Kelemen, R. Daniel, “The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism,” World Politics 59 (April 2007): 356CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
34. Kingdon, John W., Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd ed. (New York: Longman 2003)Google Scholar; Valelly, Richard M., “Partisan Entrepreneurship and Policy Windows: George Frisbie Hoar and the 1890 Federal Elections Bill,” in Formative Acts: American Politics in the Making, ed. Skowronek, Stephen and Glassman, Matthew (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 126–52Google Scholar.
35. Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 16.
38. For a general discussion of the Republican Party's strategy vis-à-vis the South during these years, see Higham, Strangers in the Land; Santis, Vincent De, Republicans Face the Southern Question: The New Departure Years, 1877–1897 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1959)Google Scholar; Hirshson, Stanley, Farewell to the Bloody Shirt: Northern Republicans and the Southern Negro, 1877–1893 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962)Google Scholar; Wang, Xi, The Trial of Democracy: Black Suffrage and Northern Republicans, 1860–1910 (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1997)Google Scholar; Calhoun, Charles W., Conceiving a New Republic: The Republican Party and the Southern Question, 1869–1900 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008)Google Scholar; Heersink, Boris and Jenkins, Jeffery A., Republican Party Politics and the American South, 1865–1968 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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41. Robison, Daniel M., Bob Taylor and the Agrarian Revolt in Tennessee (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1935), 73–103Google Scholar.
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43. Keller, Affairs of State, 137.
44. In the middle of the 1880s, for example, the average number of foreign-born residents of southern congressional districts was approximately 1.9 percent. The average number of Catholics was 1.5 percent. In northern districts the numbers were 17 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Data were taken from Parsons, Stanley B., Dubin, Michael J., and Parsons, Karen Toombs, United States Congressional Districts, 1883–1913 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Also see Higham, Strangers in the Land, 15–18.
45. Woodward, Origins of the New South, 45–46.
46. Hirshson, Farewell to the Bloody Shirt, 36.
48. Rutherford B. Hayes, “Inaugural Address,” https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/march-5-1877-inaugural-address.
49. Woodward, Origins of the New South, 45.
50. Hayes, “Inaugural Address.”
51. The South claimed 4.7 million illiterates, out of a total of 6.2 million nationwide.
52. Going, “The South and the Blair Education Bill,” 268; Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 28.
53. Congressional Record, 47th Congress, 1st Sess., June 13, 1882, 4831.
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58. Crofts, “The Black Response,” 44–45.
60. Edward McPherson, A Handbook of Politics for 1876: Being a Record of Important Political Action, National and State, from July 15, 1874 to July 15, 1876 (Washington, DC: Solomons & Chapman, 1876), 155.
61. Hayes and Garfield quoted in Keller, Affairs of State, 141.
62. Republicans in particular accused immigrants of “crime and immorality, of corrupting municipal government, of furnishing recruits for Catholicism and socialism.” See Higham, Strangers in the Land, 39.
63. Association, National Educational, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses: Session of the Year 1888, Held at San Francisco, CA (Topeka: Kansas Publishing House, 1888), 147–49Google Scholar.
64. According to Eric Foner, “Texas began charging statewide fees in its schools, while Mississippi and Alabama abolished statewide school taxes, placing the entire burden of funding on local communities. Louisiana spent so little on education that it became the only state in the Union in which the percentage of native whites unable to read or write actually rose between 1880 and 1900. School enrollment in Arkansas did not regain Reconstruction levels until the 1890s.” See Foner, Reconstruction, 589.
65. Foner, Reconstruction, 366.
66. Quoted in Harris, “The Creed of the Carpetbaggers,” 211.
67. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 86.
68. For more on the Readjuster Party, see Tarter, Brent, A Saga of the New South: Race, Law, and Public Debt in Virginia (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016)Google Scholar.
69. Woodward, Origins of the New South, 81.
71. In the House, they held an advantage of twenty-three seats. In the Senate they retained majority status thanks to the support of William Mahone (a Readjuster from Virginia) and the vice president's tie-breaking vote.
72. See De Santis, Republicans Face the Southern Question; Hirshson, Farewell to the Bloody Shirt.
73. For more on the fight over the federal elections bill, see Valelly, “Partisan Entrepreneurship and Policy Windows.” For more on the silver Republicans, see Wellborn, Fred, “The Influence of the Silver-Republican Senators, 1889–1891,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 14 (March 1928): 462–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
74. Lee, Frances, Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Lee, Frances, “Patronage, Logrolls, and ‘Polarization’: Congressional Parties of the Gilded Age, 1876–1896,” Studies in American Political Development 30 (2016): 116–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
75. Blair quoted in McKinney, Henry W. Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 54.
76. Congressional Record, 47th Congress, 1st Sess., December 6, 1881, 21.
77. Crofts, “The Black Response,” 42. According to data included in the 1880 census, eight of the eleven states of the Confederacy had illiteracy rates over 40 percent. Among freedmen specifically, the illiteracy rate topped 75 percent. For more, see “Support of Common Schools,” House Report No. 495, 48th Congress, 1st Sess., 1–5.
78. Congressional Record, 47th Congress, 1st Sess., December 20, 1881, 226–28.
79. Crofts, “The Black Response,” 43.
80. Congressional Record, 47th Congress, 1st Sess., June 13, 1882, 4833.
84. “Education in the South,” The Washington Post, March 29, 1884, 1.
85. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 91.
86. There is also evidence that these sorts of advocacy groups had a noticeable impact on state and local elections in North Carolina and Tennessee. See Dan M. Robison, “Governor Robert L. Taylor and the Blair Educational Bill in Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Magazine 2 (October 1931): 28–49; Gatewood, Willard B. Jr., “North Carolina and Federal Aid to Education: Public Reaction to the Blair Bill, 1881–1890,” The North Carolina Historical Review 40 (October 1963): 465–88Google Scholar.
87. Lee, The Struggle for Federal Aid, First Phase, 95.
88. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 55.
89. Congressional Record, 47th Congress, 2nd Sess., January 9, 1883, 1015.
90. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 55.
91. Congressional Record, 48th Congress, 1st Sess., December 5, 1883, 36.
92. In the 47th House, the GOP held a 151–128 majority; now they were at a significant minority (117–196).
93. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 92.
94. “The Blair Educational Bill: A Mass Meeting Held by Colored Citizens to Urge Its Passage,” Washington Post, April 16, 1884, 1.
95. “Douglass to His Race: A Notable Address Delivered by the Colored Statesman,” Washington Post, October 22, 1890, 7.
96. Gatewood Jr., “North Carolina and Federal Aid to Education,” 474.
97. Crofts, “The Black Response,” 51.
98. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 93.
99. Congressional Record, 48th Congress, 1st Sess., April 7, 1884, 2715.
100. Ingalls quoted in Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 64.
101. Congressional Record, 48th Congress, 1st Sess., March 26, 1884, 2285.
102. Wellborn, “The Influence of the Silver-Republican Senators,” 462–80.
103. “Why the Blair Bill Is Opposed,” Washington Post, March 26, 1884.
104. The platform can be read at the American Presidency Project, “1884 Democratic Party Platform,” http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29583.
105. “The National Campaign: Effect of the Failure of the Blair School Bill on the Democrats,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 24, 1884, 3.
106. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 67; “Republican Senatorial Caucus,” Washington Post, April 1, 1884, 1.
107. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 95.
108. Congressional Record, 48th Congress, 1st Sess., April 7, 1884, 2716.
110. Sherman's defense of this amendment can be found in ibid., 2692.
111. Evans, “Catholics and the Blair Education Bill,” 279.
112. The three Republican opponents were Angus Cameron (R-WI), Shelby Collum (R-IL), and James Wilson (R-IA), each of whom came from the party's western wing.
113. These data were compiled from Parsons et al., United States Congressional Districts.
114. While senators were not yet directly elected, we have reason to believe that state legislators responsible for choosing senators would be less likely to support those responsible for angering the political machines catering to immigrant voters. Note that at this moment in history, urban machines serving the interest of immigrant voters were themselves a subject of heated debate. For this reason, each member's NOMINATE score should be informed by his attitude toward the federal government's treatment of foreign-born citizens. In other words, our measure of foreign-born citizens tests for the impact of this category of voter above and beyond how their presence already influences a given member's revealed preferences.
115. DW-NOMINATE scores measure “revealed ideology”—or central tendencies—and are based on a multidimensional (psychometric) unfolding technique applied to the universe of roll-call votes in a given Congress. See Poole, Keith T. and Rosenthal, Howard, Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll-Call Voting (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)Google Scholar. For a basic primer on NOMINATE, see Everson, Phil, Valelly, Rick, Viswanath, Arjun, and Wiseman, Jim, “NOMINATE and American Political Development: A Primer,” Studies in American Political Development 30 (2016): 97–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
116. More specifically, the mean and median DW-NOMINATE score for House Republicans in the 49th Congress are 0.38 and 0.391. For Democrats the mean and median are −0.365 and −0.357. These data are available at Voteview.com.
117. Poole and Rosenthal, Congress, 50.
118. Because NOMINATE scores and party are so highly correlated, we estimate models that include these variables separately.
119. In Model 4, we also find a negative relationship, but the coefficient is not significant at conventional levels.
120. Higham, Strangers in the Land, 40.
121. Congressional Record, 48th Congress, 1st Sess., April 7, 1884, 2724.
122. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 71.
123. Barnes, James, John G. Carlisle: Financial Statesman (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931), 72Google Scholar.
126. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 97.
127. Blair quoted in Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 106.
128. Congressional Record, 49th Congress, 1st Sess., March 5, 1886, 2105.
129. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 113.
130. Congressional Record, 49th Congress, 1st Sess., February 17, 1886, 1561.
131. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 113.
132. Crofts argues that this amendment was authored by Senator William Allison (R-IA). After consulting the Congressional Record, however, we found that Hale was the amendment's actual sponsor. See Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 114–116; Congressional Record, 49th Congress, 1st Sess., March 5, 1886, 2102.
133. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 119; Congressional Record, 49th Congress, 2nd Sess., March 5, 1886, 2102.
134. The members of the House Education Committee, with their first-dimension NOMINATE scores, were James F. Miller (D-TX): −0.575; Allen D. Candler (D-GA): −0.521; Albert S. Willis (D-KY): −0.435; James N. Burnes (D-MO): −0.379; David Wyatt Aiken (D-SC): −0.308; William C. Maybury (D-MI): −0.249; Peter P. Mahoney (D-NY): −0.201; Beriah Wilkins (D-OH); Horace B. Strait (R-MN): 0.29; James O'Donnell (R-MI): 0.338; Jacob M. Campbell (R-PA): 0.346; William Whiting (R-MA): 0.361; and Isaac H. Taylor (R-OH): 0.446.
135. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 123.
136. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 121.
137. Congressional Record, 49th Congress, 1st Sess., March 29, 1886, 2881.
138. The members of the House Labor Committee, with their first-dimension NOMINATE scores, were John W. Daniel (D-VA): −0.457; William H. Crain (D-TX): −0.35; Timothy E. Tarsney (D-MI): −0.256; Frank Lawler (D-IL): −0.234; Martin A. Foran (D-OH): −0.191; John J. O'Neill (D-MO): −0.165; Henry B. Lovering (D-MA): −0.141; James B. Weaver (IA): −0.078; Darwin R. James (R-NY): 0.332; Martin A. Haynes (R-NH): 0.346; E. H. Funston (R-KS): 0.378; James Buchanan (R-NJ): 0.416; and Franklin Bound (R-PA): 0.475.
139. Crofts, “The South and the Blair Bill,” 275.
140. See Poole and Rosenthal, Congress, 48.
141. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 126.
142. Congressional Record, 49th Congress, 1st Sess., April 1, 1886, 3011.
143. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill, 132.
144. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 124.
145. The Republican Party's 1888 Platform can be read at the American Presidency Project, “Republican Platform of 1888,” http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29627.
146. Harrison voted yea on the final-passage vote in the 48th Congress, but only offered a “paired yea” in the 49th Congress.
147. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 159.
148. “Education and State Rights,” New York Times, February 15, 1888, 4.
149. “Editorial,” New York Times, February 19, 1888, 4.
150. Control of the Senate was divided during the 47th Congress (1881–1883).
151. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 124, 125.
152. Tourgee quoted in Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 235.
153. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 181.
154. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 127.
155. “Senator Blair's Speech,” New York Times, February 21, 1890, 4.
156. Congressional Record, 51st Congress, 1st Sess., March 12, 1890, 2149.
157. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 129.
158. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 198.
159. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 129.
160. Congressional Record, 51st Congress, 1st Sess., March 3, 1890, 1865.
162. Congressional Record, 51st Congress, 1st Sess., March 5, 1890, 1938, 1999, 2199, 2384.
164. Blair interview quoted in Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 199–201.
165. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 203; McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 128–29.
166. Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 208–10.
167. A “pair” occurs when two members on opposite sides of a bill agree to be absent when it comes to a vote so that their absence has no effect on its outcome. Pairing allows an absent member to have recorded (in the Congressional Record) how he would have voted had he been present.
168. The remaining GOP nay vote in the 50th Congress came from Cushman Davis (MN), a first-term senator; in the previous Congress, his predecessor—Samuel McMillan—offered a “paired yea.”
169. Blair lost on the roll call in the 51st Congress despite benefitting from the significant support (four yea votes against only one nay vote) of Republicans from three new states: North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington. These states were brought into the Union by an ambitious Republican Party, which saw the unified party control of government as a unique (and strategic) opportunity. See III, Charles Stewart and Weingast, Barry R., “Stacking the Senate, Changing the Nation: Republican Rotten Boroughs, Statehood Politics, and American Political Development,” Studies in American Political Development 6 (1992): 223–71Google Scholar.
170. McKinney, Henry Blair's Campaign to Reform America, 126; Crofts, “The Blair Bill and the Elections Bill,” 209.
171. Congressional Record, 50th Congress, 1st Sess., February 15, 1888, 1218.
172. Congressional Record, 51st Congress, 1st Sess., February, 20, 1891, 1546.
173. Gordon Canfield Lee attributes the reduction in petitions to “those who, in the late 1880s, were arguing that Southern self-help had begun to solve the educational problem and therefore federal funds were no longer needed. There is evidence here to indicate that the desire on the part of Southerners for federal assistance had noticeably decreased by 1890.” See Gordon Canfield Lee, The Struggle for Federal Aid, First Phase: A History of the Attempts to Obtain Federal Aid for the Common Schools, 1870–1890 (New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1949), 96.
174. Despite balking on the Blair Bill in the 51st Congress, the Republicans did enact education legislation in the form of the second Morrill Act, which applied specifically to the ex-Confederate states. (The first Morrill Act was adopted in 1862.) The Morrill Act of 1890 was aimed at higher (university) education, however, rather than the common schools. To receive federal aid, a state would need to show that race (color) was not a criterion for college admission, else a separate land-grant institution for persons of color would need to be established. The Morrill Act of 1890 eventually led to the creation of a number of “historically black colleges”—the so-called 1890 Institutions—throughout the South. The Morrill Act of 1890 passed, in large part, because both Democrats and Republicans would benefit from the additional federal aid and (importantly) leaders of both parties made sure there were no roll-call votes on the measure.
175. Keller, Affairs of State, 195.
176. Goldman, The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, 299. See also Zelizer, The Fierce Urgency of Now, 174–78.
177. Zelizer, The Fierce Urgency of Now, 177.
178. Valelly, The Two Reconstructions, 227.
179. Upchurch, Legislating Racism, 64.
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