No pecuniary consideration is more urgent, than the regular redemption and discharge of the public debt: on none can delay be more injurious, or an economy of time more valuable. – George Washington, 1793.
Benjamin Franklin Wade was not a nice man. In any sense. He was mean, he put the Radical in Radical Republicanism while supporting, with dog-with-rabies-like fervor, Women’s Suffrage, labor unions, Black male suffrage, Civil Rights.
He had no tolerance for those who did not agree with him and his circle of allies in the Senate. He never thought in grays, compromise was a four letter word, he spewed invective when his views were questioned, his presence in the Senate chamber was described as “grim as a bear in ill health.”
He may not have despised Lincoln, but he sure as hell despised everything he did and said, especially his stories
He was sarcastic, abrasive, personal, devoid of a sense of humor, and wielded power and influence in ways that would have intrigued and flabbergasted more than a few Roman statesmen.
Wade abhorred McClellan, demanded Grant’s removal during the siege of Vicksburg. Despite being unable to tell the difference between those two (akin to treating a koala and grizzly the same because they are both bears) he was in charge of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War – a Congressional group of second-guessers and couch generals so voracious as to make the Benghazi and IRS committees contemplative and compassionate in comparison.
Wade was President pro tempore of the Senate during Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, he would have become the 18th President of the United States had Johnson been convicted. That Johnson was acquitted was attributed almost solely to Wade’s bubbly personality. The Detroit Post wrote that “Andrew Johnson is innocent because Ben Wade is guilty of being his successor.”
Wade, then, was hardly a politician who believed in nuance. Perhaps James Garfield – a fellow Republican, and one who had actually fought in the war – summarized the man best: “a man of violent passions, extreme opinions and narrow views who was surrounded by the worst and most violent elements in the Republican Party.”
One can read the above and draw one’s own parallels to today’s Congressional paralysis . . . or not.
No one, however, can deny that Benjamin Franklin Wade was a black-white, no grays, no compromise, no hidden agenda, unsubtle, direct when not antagonistic political thinker and operative. . . who backed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to the hilt. That’s the one that reads, in part:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. . .
As straight and to the point as Wade himself. His reasoning for this provision: placing the debt “under the guardianship of the Constitution,” would protect our investors from being “subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress.”
As the amendment neared ratification the 1868 Republican Platform – of which Wade was a major contributor (he expected to be Grant’s Vice President, but ….) added:
Third—We denounce all forms of repudiation as a national crime; and national honor requires the payment of the public indebtedness in the utmost good faith to all creditors at home and abroad, not only according to the letter, but the spirit of the laws under which it was contracted.
The amendment and the GOP platform (not to mention Perry v. the United States in 1935) ferociously supported George Washington’s message to the House of Representatives in 1793. No one has really messed with it since . . . until. of course, now.
The House, Senate, and President can play all the games they like, but sometimes the past has a way of rising up and tearing a chunk out of one’s hide . . . All I can think at times like this is if Wade was that unpleasant in life, I wouldn’t mess with his ghost.