The Recent Upsurge of Anti-Abortion Sentiments and the Constitutional Right of Privacy

By John W. Johnson

This year has already emerged as the year that anti-abortion activists have achieved their greatest triumphs since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973). As of this writing, eight state legislatures–mainly in the South and Midwest–have passed laws in the last five months hostile to a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. Some of these laws have limited the grounds for abortion; some have stipulated that an abortion may only legally be performed in the very early weeks of a pregnancy; some have criminalized a physician’s performance of abortions; and others have placed onerous burdens in the path of women’s seeking abortions. A number of additional states are presently considering the passage of similar legislation.

Emboldened by the statements of President Donald Trump, who regularly voices the rhetoric of the right to life movement, and strengthened by the recent appointment and confirmation of over 100 “pro-life” federal judges, the constitutionally-established right of a woman to end a pregnancy is in question as it has not been for almost a half century.

Roe v. Wade would not have come to pass without a precedent enunciated in a 1965 Supreme Court decision known as Griswold v. Connecticut. About 20 years ago I became interested in the Griswold case, eventually completing a book published by the University Press of Kansas in 2005. In light of the current challenges to Roe v. Wade and the right to an abortion, it makes sense to recall the Griswold decision, its role in the run-up to Roe v. Wade, and the current state of constitutional issues serving as the foundation for both decisions.

Griswold emerged from a successful legal challenge to an 1879 statute forbidding the use of birth control in the state of Connecticut. The named plaintiffs in the case were Estelle Griswold, the director of the Planned Parent League of Connecticut (PPLC), and Lee Buxton, a Connecticut physician and Yale Medical School professor.

Griswold and Buxton saw injustices to Connecticut women presented by the old state anti-abortion law. For example, the law did not prohibit contraception out-right: it permitted efforts to block pregnancies for the purpose of preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), but it did not allow women to seek reproductive hegemony over their own bodies through medically-prescribed artificial efforts or devices. What this disjunction meant, in fact, was that a man or woman could walk into a gas station and, without any oversight or advice, purchase a condom from a dispenser for the purpose of preventing an STD; but a married couple could not seek a prescription from a licensed Connecticut physician for a diaphragm or birth control pills for the purpose of family planning. One of the least publicized services provided by the PPLC was to drive, in their personal automobiles, financially-strapped married couples to a state that permitted physician-supervised birth control (usually New York) to obtain contraceptive counseling.

Griswold and Buxton wanted to take birth control out of the shadows and make it routinely available to married couples. So, in 1961, they opened a birth control clinic in New Haven. They were shortly arrested for violating the state anticontraception statute and the clinic was shut down. The Connecticut courts upheld the conviction and Griswold and Buxton appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ultimate Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut was one of the most unusual and debated decisions of the 1960s. The Court’s 7-2 majority, in an opinion written by Justice William Douglas, held that the 19th century Connecticut anti-abortion law was unconstitutional as a violation of a newly enunciated “right of privacy.” Although privacy is not explicitly guaranteed by the words of the U.S. Constitution or its amendments, Douglas found that the “penumbras” and “emanations” of some of the Bill or Rights afforded a constitutionally-protected right of privacy. For example, Douglas wrote, a right of privacy was implied by the Fourth Amendment’s protections against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Justices joining Douglas in the majority found that the right of privacy could be teased out of other provisions of the Constitution, such as the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or the “certain rights . . . retained by the people” in the Ninth Amendment. A few years after Griswold, the right of privacy was extended to unmarried individuals seeking birth control information and prescriptions.

Ultimately, in Roe v. Wade, Justice Harry Blackmun ruled that the right of privacy in the first three months of a woman’s pregnancy was protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Since Roe in 1973, the Court has revisited the constitutional right to an abortion on several occasions. Notably, in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a Court majority determined that state regulations of the right to an abortion could not impose “undue burdens” on women seeking termination of pregnancies. Despite the nuances of Supreme Court abortion decisions of the last generation, the essential core of Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land.

Back to the present: What’s to make of the recent spate of anti-abortion legislation and the future of Roe v. Wade? Based upon my research on the right of privacy and Griswold v. Connecticut, I have some observations.

  • Is Roe v. Wade in jeopardy? Probably not. The precedent is well-established and, at the same time, malleable. The “undue burden” modification of the right to an abortion, for example, gives states some additional latitude to modify Roe. In addition, some of the new laws are more predicated on the language of state constitutions than the federal constitution. So, it bears watching whether the challenges to Roe emerge from state supreme courts or the federal courts.  At the Supreme Court level, my guess is that the strong institutional leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts will serve as a last gasp source of protection for what some have termed the “super precedent” of Roe v. Wade. Also, of course, any assault on the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade will be met by the resistance of well-financed and well-organized interest groups which will be quick to remind the justices that public opinion polls consistently show majority popular support for a woman’s right to an abortion.


  • Is the right of privacy imperiled by anti-abortion sentiment sweeping the country? In spite of the rather shaky emergence of the right of privacy in the “penumbra” language of Justice Douglas in Griswold, the right has found, in recent decisions, a more stable mooring in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.   The right of privacy has also gained traction in appellate court decisions involving LGBTQ rights; such protections would be hard to undercut or undo at this time in our nation’s history.  Americans will not give up without a major legal battle their recently-obtained right of privacy.


  • Even if Roe v. Wade survives impending legal challenges, has damage to abortion rights from the 2019 statutes already taken a toll? A qualified yes. Planned Parenthood is currently on the defensive, being forced by public and legal pressure in some states to curtail its reproductive health services. As of this writing, Missouri is about to shutter its Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, leaving no abortion providers in the state. Many largely rural states, such as Nebraska, now only offer abortions in small urban corridors. Moreover, ghastly accounts of rare late term abortions have somewhat undercut the support for reproductive rights among Americans. In addition, pregnant women with limited financial resources are finding it increasingly difficult to travel hundreds of miles to seek out a dwindling number of abortion-providers. Nevertheless, no matter what transpires in constitutional tests of the recently-enacted anti-abortion laws, organizations that support a woman’s right to control her own body will have powerful legal and emotional issues to present to the electorate in 2020 and beyond.


John Johnson is an emeritus professor of History at the University of Northern Iowa. In his 46-year academic career, he taught courses on Recent U.S. History, American Civil Liberties, and Critical Thinking.  He is also the author of a number of books and articles, including Griswold v. Connecticut: Birth Control and the Constitutional Right of Privacy (University Press of Kansas, 2005).

What Women Want? Women’s Representation and Reproductive Rights Legislation.

by Kaitlin Sidorsky, author of All Roads Lead to Power: Appointed and Elected Paths to Public Office for US Women

Last year we questioned whether a “Pink Wave” was coming for women’s representation in elected offices across the United States. This year, after seeing significant gains in the numbers of women serving in both Congress and the State Legislatures, we stand confused by recent abortion legislation passed in Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri. Across the United States, there are 2,129 women serving in our State Legislatures, putting the percentage of women legislators at 28.8 percent – the highest it has ever been in United States history (Center for American Women in Politics 2019). Over 23 percent of congressional members are women, up from 20 percent a year ago. Nine of our 50 governors are women, one of whom signed into law the Alabama abortion legislation. Despite the gains made in women’s representation since the 2018 election, we are still far from gender parity in our electoral institutions – an issue that has become painfully clear during this year’s state legislative sessions.

In an effort to take advantage of a potentially anti-Roe v. Wade Supreme Court, conservative states across the nation are writing restrictive abortion laws. Every day media outlets report on yet another state passing “the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.” These laws range from fetal heartbeat bills that ban abortions as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, (6-8 weeks, regardless if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest), to outright abortion bans (Alabama).

So much of our attention has been on the passage of these anti-abortion laws that we have overlooked the states that are trying to increase protections for a woman’s right to choose. In January, New York passed a law that allows abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, allowing doctors to avoid criminal prosecution as long as the fetus is not viable or the mother’s life is in danger. Vermont is working on a state constitutional amendment to protect a woman’s right to an abortion – the first state to ever do so. Maine is attempting to pass a law to expand the kinds of medical professionals who can perform abortions, and Nevada is legislating a bill that removes a requirement that forces doctors to tell their patients about the “physical and emotional implications” of having an abortion, as well as removing other restrictive requirements.

What makes these states different from states like Alabama, Ohio, and Georgia? A large part of the answer is representation. Only 15.7 percent of Alabama legislators are women, compared to 40 percent of Vermont legislators. In fact, besides Georgia, all of the states that have passed or are trying to pass anti-abortion legislation are below the national average of 28.8 percent of female legislators (30.5 percent of Georgia’s legislature are women). Over 32 percent of New York’s legislature are women, and 38.2 percent of Maine’s. Most importantly, the first state to ever achieve gender parity – Nevada – has 52.4 percent of its legislature as female.

Inevitably, the majority of women who serve are Democrats, meaning any legislation about women’s rights is not just one of gender, but party as well. Even with the recognition that party identification is a major driving force in this policy arena, we must consider the implications of legislatures that are overwhelmingly dominated by men making health care decisions for the countless women in their states. This does not mean that all women are pro-choice, Alabama Republican Governor Kay Ivey is the prime example of the significant percent of women who do not support access to abortions across the United States. But it is moments like these, when the policies are so gendered, the stakes are so high, and the numbers of women serving in elected office are so unequivocally low across the United States that we should consider the importance of women’s representation. This means both parties making concerted efforts in recruiting women to run, more women throwing their hat in the ring to seek elected office, and all constituents realizing the importance of women serving as their representatives.

Kaitlin N. Sidorsky has a Ph.D. and M.A. in Political Science from Brown University and a BA in Politics and Law from Bryant University. Sidorsky is an assistant professor of Politics at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. All Roads Lead to Power: Appointed and Elected Paths to Public Office for US Women is her first book.

A Quick Reaction to John Singleton’s Death

By Dr. Lisa Doris Alexander

(Photo by AP Photo)

I was late to John Singleton’s cinematic view of the world. When his critically acclaimed debut film Boyz n the Hood was released in 1991, I was fifteen years old and not quite old enough to see the film in theaters. The first film of his that I saw in theaters was Rosewood and I still remember the anger and sadness I felt watching that film. As cinephiles grapple with the loss of Singleton, I want to reflect on one of his films that flew under the radar.

Growing up in Chicago, I fell in love sports before I fell in love with film. Like many sports fans, I was drawn to ESPN’s 30 for 30 series which chronicles high-profile sports figures and events. In 2010, John Singleton directed and narrated the 30 for 30 episode “Marion Jones: Press Pause.” It was one of the few episodes that focused on a female athlete.

In retrospect, Singleton’s take on Jones is fascinating. The documentary doesn’t focus on Jones’ fall from grace due to her use of Performance Enhancing Drugs. At the time of the film’s release, that portion of Jones’ life story was well-worn territory. Instead, Singleton seemed to be interested in exploring whether Jones could redeem her legacy. Let’s be clear, there is no attempt by Jones or Singleton to downplay or dismiss Jones’ mistakes. Yes, she took PEDs. Yes, she lied about it to the public and to the feds. Yes, she paid a stiff price: Jones served six months in Carswell Federal Prison. Both Singleton and Jones want the audience to believe that Jones’ story doesn’t end there. As I re-watched the documentary, I thought about how much Jones must have trusted Singleton. Given her ordeal, I doubt Jones would have agreed to go back to Carswell with someone she did not trust. Jones and her husband probably wouldn’t share video of Jones in labor with their third child with someone they did not trust. The documentary doesn’t need either of those moments; however, they tell us as much about Singleton and his approach to filmmaking as it does about Jones. Singleton could have had Jones tell her story of spending more than 45 days in solitary confinement from any location. Having Jones tell that story while the prison itself looms large in the background makes the low point in Jones’ life even more visceral. Singleton doesn’t leave the audience in that low point; we move almost immediately to one of the high points of Jones’ life: the birth of her daughter. Jones could have faded into the background and devoted herself solely to her family. Instead, Jones begins another chapter of her life by signing to play professional basketball four months after giving birth. Singleton ends his documentary here showing the audience that the future looks bright for Jones (her WNBA career only lasted two seasons, but Singleton makes you root for her).

Like most, if not all of Singleton’s protagonists, Jones isn’t just one thing. Whether his work spoke to you or not, Singleton was not here for one-dimensional African American subjects. He was often interested in exploring the people that mainstream society wasn’t interested in or had written off. We will miss his voice and his vision.

Lisa Doris Alexander is associate professor of African American studies at Wayne State University. She is the author of When Baseball Isn’t White, Straight, and Male: The Media and Difference in the National Pastime. Her book Expanding the Expanding the Black Film Canon; Race and Genre across Six Decades will publish in September.

University of Kansas Receives NEH-Mellon Humanities Open Book Program Grant

With support from a two-year, $129,000 grant, the University of Kansas Libraries and the University Press of Kansas will convert out-of-print humanities texts into freely accessible digital resources.  This project is part of the Humanities Open Book grant program led by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“This grant offers the opportunity to advance several important priorities for the University of Kansas,” said Kevin L. Smith, dean of libraries. “The support from Mellon and NEH allows us to bring wider attention to some of the excellent scholarship in history and American political thought published by the University Press of Kansas.”

The grant is to be used over the next two years and will provide the university with a unique opportunity to digitize 70 humanities titles that would be otherwise inaccessible to the public. The proposed list of titles to digitize includes works that illuminate the history of important events; lives of important thinkers, like Leo Strauss, who continue to have tremendous impact on modern political thought; and movements, including populism and political conservatism, that still shape American politics.

“I am thrilled that the University Press of Kansas has been selected as a grant recipient,” said Conrad Roberts, director of the University Press of Kansas. “In collaboration with our Regents universities libraries, this grant will allow us to create an open access book collection that will dramatically increase the accessibility of information related to U.S. history, culture and politics to scholars and students in our nation and around the globe.”

David McKinney/KU

The digitized works are expected to be available by spring 2021 through MUSE Open, JSTOR Open, as well as the institutional repositories of all six Kansas Board of Regents universities — including KU, Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University and Wichita State University.

“In our increasingly complex and fragmented digital era, scholars, students and members of the public need access to reliable and authoritative information,” said Donald J. Waters, senior program officer at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “The Humanities Open Book initiative helps provide much-needed access to scholarly works that are now out-of-print but remain crucial invaluable resources.”

To learn more about the University Press of Kansas, please contact Michael Kehoe, marketing and sales director, at For more information about KU Libraries, please contact Leah Hallstrom, communications coordinator, at

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was created in 1965 as an independent federal agency. The NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the NEH and its grant programs is available at

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies. To this end, the Foundation supports exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work. Additional information is available at

Based at the University of Kansas, UPK represents a consortium of six state universities: Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University, Wichita State University and KU. UPK publishes scholarly books that advance knowledge and regional books that contribute to the understanding of Kansas, the Great Plains, and the Midwest.

One of the top 50 libraries in the Association of Research Libraries by volumes held, and the largest library in Kansas, the University of Kansas Libraries transform lives by inspiring the discovery and creation of knowledge for the university and our global community. KU Libraries are a place of welcome; a leader in the dissemination of knowledge; and a partner in connecting and engaging communities, fostering student success, and transformative research.

In Honor of Stephanie Mott; An Excerpt by CJ Janovy

After Kansas transgender activist Stephanie Mott’s sudden death on Monday, Gov. Laura Kelly called Mott “a champion for equality and a role model for the LGBTQ+ community,” adding that Mott would be missed, “but her advocacy to improve Kansas will be remembered.”

Mott is a key figure in C.J. Janovy’s No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas. In the condensed excerpt below, Mott tells her life story – it’s a story she told thousands of times, at rallies and groups large and small, wherever she was invited to speak. In this case, it’s during a brown-bag lunch at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Grain and Animal Health Research in Manhattan in June 2015. From No Place Like Home…

Short and round through the middle, Mott comes across as a warm prairie grandmother. She thanked the dozen or so government workers who were quietly unwrapping their lunches. “It’s always an honor to have an opportunity to talk about what it’s like to be transgender,” she said. “You have permission to ask me anything.” It might be rude to ask a transgender person some things, such as whether he or she has had surgery. “You can ask me that,” Mott said. “You can ask me about relationships. If I’m not comfortable answering something I’ll tell you, but so far that’s never happened. There are no inappropriate questions in this space.”

Born in Lawrence in 1957 and growing up on an eighty-acre farm along the Wakarusa River, raised by a mother who embodied unconditional love and a stereotypically strict 1960s father, the child then known as Steven knew by the age of six that he was less like his brothers and more like his sisters. Mott greeted each day with a mental adjustment she describes as “putting on my Steven suit” — going out into the world felt like walking onto a stage and pretending to be a boy. Mott was a teenager in 1976 when Renee Richards was denied entry into the US Open tennis tournament as a woman. “The news of this made it all the way out to the farm where I was growing up,” said Mott, who at that point realized an authentic life might be possible — for some people, anyway. “I thought you had to have money, fame, and connections, and as a Kansas farm kid I didn’t think it was possible for me.”

Mott graduated from Eudora High School and headed to business school at the University of Kansas. College life gave her more freedom, but also made her more aware of how others would react if she revealed her true self. “People I knew, people who loved me and I loved, all thought someone like me was displeasing. So I was dealing with fear and shame.”

Her life was traditional in at least one way, a fact she delivered with expert comedic timing: “I’m sure I’m the only nineteen-year-old student who discovered alcohol on a campus.” This earned the laugh. Mott thought about suicide but instead, she said, “alcohol may have saved me — although it was killing me at the same time.” For the next thirty years, drinking and drugs helped Mott hide from reality. And in an ongoing effort to learn how to be a man, Mott got married twice and had a son. Predictably, the marriages failed, and Mott figured she could never have a relationship because she would always hurt the person she loved.

By 2005 Mott was homeless in Pueblo, Colorado. As she had done before, she called her sisters in Lawrence and asked for money to come back to Kansas and get on her feet. “This time they said no. They knew I had something going on in the gender spectrum but didn’t know what it was — they knew someone was stealing their clothes — and they were tired of watching me kill myself with alcohol and didn’t want me around their teenage kids.”

She ended up at the Topeka Rescue Mission. It sounds sad, Mott said, but this was the best thing to happen to her. “For the first time in my life, I didn’t have anything left to lose.” If she knew anything at that point, it was that pretending to be a man wasn’t working. “I realized that ‘if I’m going to be okay, I’m going to have to figure this out, how to live authentically as the woman I’ve always been.’” Mott uses the phrase “if I’m going to be okay” frequently in her talk, and it is an effective way to connect with her audiences: people might not be able to understand being transgender, but an effort to simply be okay? That quest is universal.

“The rescue mission was probably not the place to start that little journey, but it was a great place for me to be,” Mott continued. The facility felt almost like a jail, and Mott was surrounded by potentially dangerous men. So she escaped to the chapel every day. On the third day, someone asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus as their savior. “I thought, sure, I’ll do that. I wanted to do something different because what I’d been doing wasn’t working.” Mott started going to a tiny Southern Baptist outreach church near the mission where the pastor seemed respectful of everyone. The congregation was only a handful of people, and when they found out she could play the piano, she became the pianist. By then she had gone several months without a drink. Mott moved into a residential drug and alcohol treatment program at Valeo Behavioral Health Care, a nonprofit mental health agency, where she met a counselor with “long braided hair, a careworn face, tired eyes, and a heart like gold.” Mott’s voice dropped almost to a whisper. “I sat down at the table across from him and he created a space where I could talk about what I needed to talk about without feeling judged. And I’d never had that.”

Next came Mott’s salvation. She met a woman who invited her to Topeka’s Metropolitan Community Church (the LGBTQ church) and took her to a thrift store. “She bought me a dress, and some shoes, and a purse, and just the right pair of earrings. I stuck them behind the seat of my pickup truck because I was living in a men’s halfway house — it did not seem like a good idea to get dressed at the halfway house,” she said, earning more laughter. On Sunday she drove to the church and spent fifteen minutes arguing with herself: she knew this was right for her; she worried about hurting others; this felt like her only chance. “I went in and got dressed in the basement of the church. Another transgender woman guarded the door because we didn’t want a cisgender woman” —  Mott had already explained that cisgender means having a gender identity that matches one’s biological sex, or, not transgender — “walking in and seeing a man in the bathroom. Turns out it wouldn’t have mattered because in that church everybody goes in there for the same reason” —  Mott waited another comedic beat — “to fix our hair.”

Newly dressed, Mott went upstairs where the pastor hugged her and people shook her hand. “I sat in a pew and looked up at the cross and I felt truly myself in the eyes of the Lord for the very first time.” When the attendance book came around, Mott signed her name as Stephanie.

“I can’t tell you what the pastor said because I was being Stephanie in front of God and everybody, and it was so amazing and so beautiful that I don’t even know if there was a sermon that day but there was communion. The pastor who served my communion put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘God, bless your daughter for the faith she has shown in you.’ And Stephanie was born. I was forty-seven years old.”

It was like walking through a door and “the nightmare was not allowed to follow.” Mott was a little nervous about telling her religious story to a room full of scientists. “My story is a Christian story,” she acknowledged.

“It’s a faith story. I needed a place and it didn’t need to be a church — it could have been a school classroom, could have been a conference room in the Agricultural Resource Services section at the USDA. I just needed someplace to be me and not feel judged. I’m not one of those people who believes it matters what you believe. I think it’s cool to have conversations with people who don’t believe and people who believe differently from me because I learn, I get to be a bigger person.”

The point is, Mott said, is, “when I took off all the facade, pretense, got down to the core of who I am and exposed her to the sunlight, I started growing and being alive and being happy. Amazing things have happened since then.”

Mott ticked off the tangible signs of a successful life: gainful employment as an office assistant, a return to school to earn a bachelor’s in social work, a master’s degree now nearly complete. Later that summer, she told the group, she would go back to Valeo Behavioral Health Care — where she first talked with that long-haired counselor with the careworn face who didn’t judge her — to do her master’s in social work internship. The scientists broke into applause. “I’ve been sober for nine and a half years, done hundreds of presentations like this, started a couple nonprofit organizations,” she continued. “I’m part of the world today, which is something I wasn’t before.”

CJ Janovy is Digital Content Editor at KCUR in Kansas City, MO

Huston Horn Discusses His New Book “Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy”

Now available: Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy

Leonidas Polk was a graduate of West Point who resigned his commission to enter the Episcopal priesthood as a young man. At first combining parish ministry with cotton farming in Tennessee, Polk subsequently was elected the first bishop of the Louisiana Diocese, whereupon he bought a sugarcane plantation and worked it with several hundred slaves owned by his wife. Then, in the 1850s he was instrumental in the founding of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. When secession led to war he pulled his diocese out of the national church and with other Southern bishops established what they styled the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. Polk then offered his military services to his friend and former West Point classmate Jefferson Davis and became a major general in the Confederate Army.

How would you describe your book in two or three sentences? The book covers the principal phases of Leonidas Polk’s life: West Point cadet, Episcopal priest/bishop, sugar planter, University of the South founder, and Confederate general. In many respects an estimable human being, Polk was infected by the virulent racism of his times. And as divisive as the Civil War was to most Americans, Polk took it one step further by dividing the Episcopal Church as well.

What was your inspiration to research and write about the “Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy?” Growing up in a Southern “Lost Cause” household, and becoming an Episcopal minister myself, I was struck by the commonalities between Leonidas Polk and me – and I reflected upon the differences.

What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing the book? The deciphering and copying over several years of Polk’s voluminous original and microfilmed correspondence. He once himself compared his daunting penmanship to hieroglyphics – but it was worse than that.

William C. Davis says that there are those who have maintained that General Leonidas Polk did more to bring about Confederate defeat than any other single man. Do you agree with that assessment? I am not a military historian, but I suspect such a blanket disparagement is overly harsh. What may be said in his favor was his bravery in combat (foolhardy, sometimes) and his abiding popularity with his rank and file soldiers.

Despite a lack of prior combat experience, General Polk was quickly promoted through the Confederate ranks by President Jefferson Davis. How has history viewed his military service and Davis’s decision to advance him? History knows that Davis and Polk were friends since their West Point days together: “a set,” they called it. That friendship covered many a flaw.

What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work? The disjuncture of Polk’s life as a Christian clergyman and the owner of slaves – albeit the most beneficent of masters, as he liked to think of himself.

If you could have any one person read your book, who would that be? Polly Lee Carroll, my wife and companion for 55 years who read numerous drafts and fixed plenty of footnotes, but died of lymphoma in 2013 before the final version was finished.

Huston Horn followed his career in journalism at the Nashville Tennessean, Sports Illustrated, and Time-Life Books with an ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. He lives in Pasadena, California.

Advice to Chicago Voters: Remember Mikva

By Rick Kogan, originally published in the Chicago Tribune on 02/20/2019

I was not young and I was not naïve when, on a cold day late in 2005, I decided that it would be a good idea to spend the upcoming year interviewing every one of the city’s 50 aldermen.

I decided to do this because I had recently had a conversation with an otherwise smart reporter who admitted that he did not know the name of the alderman in the ward in which he lived.

“I know, that’s horrible. I feel stupid,” he said. “But I’ll bet I’m not alone.”

I then conducted a random survey around the Tribune offices and at various taverns. Confirming my growing and uneasy suspicion, not one Chicagoan I asked could name more than a handful of aldermen and, indeed, a great number of these people did not know the name of their own alderman.

So I set out to meet and interview every alderman and write about him or her weekly for what was then the Tribune’s Sunday magazine. It was quite an experience, I will tell you, one that began with one of the people now running for mayor, Toni Preckwinkle, who had been elected 4th Ward alderman in 1991 by the thinnest of margins (109 votes). Her ward incorporated parts or all of such neighborhoods as Hyde Park, Kenwood, North Kenwood and Oakland, and she remained its alderman until moving on to other things in 2009. But in 2006, she told me, “When people come to me and say they are thinking about moving into the ward, there are two questions they ask: ‘Are the streets safe?’ and ‘Are the schools good?'”

My aldermanic odyssey ended 50 weeks later with Michael Chandler, the alderman of the 24th Ward, which was on the harsh West Side and included much of the Lawndale neighborhood. First elected in 1995 (he retired in 2015 and died in Arizona two years later), he told me, “I really do believe that there can be a good future for the children of this ward … For every negative story I can find 100 positive ones. There are beautiful people here, all over the city, and they are rich in spirit and hope.”

In between were 48 encounters that took us (my companion in this endeavor was former Tribune photographer Charles Osgood) to every corner of the city and provided us uncommon insights into how the city works — and doesn’t. The men and women we met were of varying degrees of intelligence, power and effectiveness. They were the City Council, the legislative body of Chicago, meeting at least once every month to debate and vote on all manner of things important to the way the city operates. But they also oversee, on a more intimate level, the needs, concerns and complaints of the 55,000 people, on average, who live in their wards.

I bring this up because not only Election Day is Tuesday and you might be wise to learn what you can about the people running for the opportunity to run the ward in which you live. More than one of the aldermen interviewed in 2006 viewed themselves as “little mayors.”

I also bring this up because there are two new books that remind me and will remind you that politics once attracted people worthy of admiration.

“Clear It With Sid!” (University of Illinois Press) is by Michael Dorf and George Van Dusen. It is about Sidney R. Yates, who was an Illinois congressman from 1949-1963 and 1965-1999. It tells the whole story—from his West Side childhood as the youngest of six children son of a Lithuanian blacksmith and his wife; his losing race for alderman of the city’s 46th Ward; his eventual rise to political power and influence — with particular emphasis on his savvy and strenuous battle to save the National Endowments for the Arts.

The authors have a deep knowledge of and affection for their subject and capture the many facets of this charismatic figure. He was durable and witty too. In his later years he said, “First the knees go. Then the nouns go. Then you go.” At 89, he became the oldest person to ever serve in the House. Yates died the next year, in 2000.

Durbin is the author of the preface to another fine new book, Conversations with Abner Mikva: Final Recollections on Chicago Politics, Democracy’s Future, and a Life of Public Service by Sanford D. Horwitt, a speechwriter for and friend of Mikva’s for decades.

In that preface, Durbin writes that Mikva “was a patriot in every sense,” calling him “my hero … a paragon of both progressive values and independence from party orthodoxy. In an era of cynicism and disappointment, [his] record of public service is proof that the good guys can win without selling their souls.”

The book is crafted from the monthly conversations Horwitt had with Mikva at various places during the last three years of Mikva’s life, which ended in 2016, after a career as Illinois state legislator, congressman, federal judge, White House counsel, professor and mentor to a generation or two of young people, including a fellow named Obama.

The first line of this book is, “Abner Mikva saw death coming but not Donald Trump,” and the following 180-some pages are peppered with frank observations and opinions about a gallery of politicians and topical matters, some of them controversial. Horwitt is a stylish writer and though this is not a conventional biography it will surely provide a rich and solid foundation for any yet to be written.

Together, these two books, these two politician’s lives, will make you wonder why, in the main, politics attracts too few people of character, intelligence and substance.

It will also remind you, as you go to the polls, of Chicago’s shady political image.

It was 1948 and Mikva, attending law school at the University of Chicago, walked into the 8th Ward Democratic headquarters to volunteer for an upcoming election.

Ward Committeeman Timothy O’Sullivan took a big cigar out of his mouth and said, “We ain’t got no jobs.”

Mikva said, “I just want to volunteer …”

“We don’t want nobody who don’t want no job,” said O’Sullivan. “Who sent ya?”

“Nobody sent me,” said Mikva.

O’Sullivan mulled the answer and then said, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

Now, if you haven’t already done so, go vote.

Benjamin L. Miller Discusses His New Book “In God’s Presence”

Now available: In God’s Presence; Chaplains, Missionaries, and Religious Space during the American Civil War

When thousands of young men in the North and South marched off to fight in the Civil War, another army of men accompanied them to care for these soldiers spiritual needs. In God’s Presence explores how these two cohorts of men, Northern and Southern and mostly Christian, navigated the challenges of the Civil War on battlefields and in military camps, hospitals, and prisons.

  1. 1. What’s your elevator pitch for In God’s Presence? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

This book highlights the extraordinary work of chaplains and missionaries, who promoted ecumenism within religious spaces during the American Civil War. Coming from a sectarian antebellum religious world, these individuals created a sense of spiritual community within different wartime spaces (camps, battlefields, hospitals, and prisons). In the wake of this work, they gained converts, expanded African American access to Christianity, and promoted civil religion.

2. What was your inspiration to research and write about the role religious figures played in the American Civil War?

I have always been intrigued by religious figures and religious studies more generally. Throughout college and graduate school, I have taken numerous courses covering several major religious traditions. Within each tradition, I was drawn to the leaders, trying to make sense of how they kept the faith of their flocks alive during tough times. Plus, I have been fascinated by the American Civil War ever since middle school. The study of clergy during the Civil War seemed like a perfect fit for my educational background and scholarly interests.

3. What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing the book?

The most challenging aspect of this book was conceiving of and applying my concept of religious space to the American Civil War. This frame has gone through many iterations and been expounded upon through a number of conference papers. Each time I received comments, I used them to enhance the analytical frame. I am happy with the final result.

4. Your book examines, among other things, the evolution of religious ceremony through the duration of the war. Was there a significant change in the desire for religious ceremonies and figures from the start of the war to the end?

I would say that desire for religious ceremony and access to spiritual leaders does not change over the course of the war. Soldiers were interested throughout the conflict. However, there are points when soldiers demonstrated heightened interest in spiritual matters. For example, these situations occur when soldiers are actively campaigning and being exposed to high casualty rates or in winter camps or hospitals, with ample spare time to devote to religion.

5. Can you discuss the lasting effects chaplains & missionaries returning from the war had on their congregations?

I argue that chaplains and missionaries promoted civil religion, brought many men back to the church, and helped enable independent African American churches to form. However, these post-bellum topics deserve a much more in-depth scholarly treatment. My book is a stepping stone for more analysis and discussion.

6. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?

I hope readers see that sectarian divides can be bridged. Civil War era chaplains and missionaries ministered to any men who desired spiritual aid. They were true leaders who tried to unify individuals under a shared belief in Christianity even while the nation was torn apart by the War.

7. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

I can’t think of any one person. However, I would like individuals training to join the U.S. military chaplaincy to read my book. It provides insight into how spiritual leaders dealt with the challenges of ministering to troops during warfare. In the end, my book depicts successful chaplains and missionaries as leaders who promoted a strong sense of mission and dedication to their flocks. I believe the best military chaplains today would have these same characteristics.

Benjamin L. Miller is an adjunct instructor of history at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland. His work has appeared in the New York Times’ Disunion: The Civil War blog, The World of the Civil War: A Daily Life Encyclopedia, and American Civil War, a part of the Gale Library of Daily Life series.

Hampton Newsome Q&A about “The Fight for the Old North State”

Now available: The Fight for the Old North State; The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864

On a cold day in early January 1864, Robert E. Lee wrote to Confederate president Jefferson Davis “The time is at hand when, if an attempt can be made to capture the enemy’s forces at New Berne, it should be done.” Over the next few months, Lee’s dispatch would precipitate a momentous series of events as the Confederates, threatened by a supply crisis and an emerging peace movement, sought to seize Federal bases in eastern North Carolina. This book tells the story of these operations—the late war Confederate resurgence in the Old North State.

1.What’s your elevator pitch for The Fight for the Old North State? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

This book is about the Confederate effort to retake key coastal positions in North Carolina during the first half of 1864. In launching these operations, rebel leaders sought to secure vital supplies for Robert E. Lee’s army and dampen a growing peace movement then threatening to pull the state out of the war. The ensuing engagements involved complex joint army and navy operations, daring raids, and deadly ironclads.

2.What led you to research and write about the late-war Confederate resurgence in the Old North State?

I was drawn to this project by the interesting mix of military and political issues behind the battles in eastern North Carolina. These clashes, which included Confederate attacks on New Bern and Plymouth, formed a compelling story that not only involved much marching and fighting but also other issues such as Unionist resistance to the Confederacy, emancipation, desertion, and a crucial gubernatorial election.

3. What were some of the challenging aspects of researching the book?

The search for material sent me far and wide. I’m grateful for the help from archivists at dozens of institutions around the country. There were many obstacles of course. One interesting challenge was the hunt for elusive information about Confederate supply efforts in eastern North Carolina during 1864. Most of the official Confederate commissary records from that period have not survived. However, I was able to find valuable information elsewhere, in period newspapers for instance. Another hurdle was the effort to find information about Union African-American recruits at Plymouth. In trying to track down several details, I scanned through regimental books and personnel files housed at the National Archives as well as records in the collections at Duke University. In the end, like a lot of research, I found more on these issues than I expected but less than I hoped for!

4. Your book offers a compelling account of Confederate efforts in early 1864 to turn the tide of the Civil War in eastern North Carolina. What would you list as the most important decision made by the rebel leaders in their efforts?

Confederate success stemmed in large part from the decision to delay the attack on Plymouth until the completion of the ironclad Albemarle. Once finished in April, that gunboat, which had been initially constructed in a cornfield, steamed down the Roanoke River, defeated Union naval vessels guarding the town, and poured fire into the unprotected flank and rear of the Federal fortifications, turning the tide of the battle.

5. Robert E. Lee’s proposal to take eastern North Carolina triggered one of the last successful Confederate offensives. What was the impact of these operations on the culmination of the Civil War?

In targeting Federal bases, rebel leaders sought to boost morale in the state and, in doing so, help Governor Zebulon Vance win reelection that summer and keep the state firmly in the Confederacy. The rebel victories in North Carolina also opened areas previously closed to Confederate commissary agents, allowing them to gather supplies for Lee’s army in the brutal campaigns that summer in Virginia. Though the precise impacts of these events on the overall war are difficult to gauge, the operations clearly aided the Confederate war effort.

6. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?

I hope readers gain an appreciation of just how complicated things were in Civil War North Carolina. In addition to the tactical and operational details highlighted in the book, many issues impacted the Old North State during the conflict including the enlistment of North Carolinians into Union regiments, Confederate desertion, guerrilla warfare, emancipation, and the peace movement.

Hampton Newsome is the author of Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864.

Robert Hutchinson (“German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler’s War to the Cold War”) Author Q & A

Now available: German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler’s War to the Cold War; Flawed Assumptions and Faulty Analysis

In the Allies’ post-war analyses of the Nazis’ defeat, the “weakness and incompetence” of the German intelligence services figured prominently. And how could it have been otherwise, when they worked at the whim of a regime in the grip of “ignorant maniacs”? But what if, Robert Hutchinson asks, the worldviews of the intelligence services and the “ignorant maniacs” aligned more closely than these analyses—and subsequent studies—assumed? What if the reports of the German foreign intelligence services, rather than being dismissed by ideologues who “knew better,” instead served to reinforce the National Socialist worldview? Returning to these reports, examining the information on enemy nations that was gathered, processed, and presented to leaders in the Nazi state, Hutchinson’s study reveals the consequences of the politicization of German intelligence during the war—as well as the persistence of ingrained prejudices among the intelligence services’ Cold War successors.

Closer scrutiny of underutilized and unpublished reports shows how during the World War II the German intelligence services supported widely-held assumptions among the Nazi elite that Britain was politically and morally bankrupt, that the Soviet Union was tottering militarily and racially inferior, and that the United States’ vast economic potential was undermined by political, cultural, and racial degeneration. Furthermore, Hutchinson argues, these distortions continued as German intelligence veterans parlayed their supposed expertise on the Soviet Union into positions of prominence in Western intelligence in the early years of the Cold War. With its unique insights into the impact of ideology on wartime and post-war intelligence, his book raises important questions not only about how intelligence reports can influence policy decisions, but also about the subjective nature of intelligence gathering itself.

1.What’s your elevator pitch for German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler’s War to the Cold War? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler’s War to the Cold War examines the reports prepared by the Nazi-era German foreign intelligence services and their Cold War successor organizations, and evaluates the politicization of the German foreign intelligence services in both periods. I argue that during the Second World War, the German intelligence services’ politicized intelligence reports on foreign affairs provided flawed evidence confirming the Nazi worldview that 1) Great Britain would “see reason” and exit the war quickly, 2) that the Soviet Union was a teetering colossus that would crumble in the face of the Nazi invasion, 3) that the United States, despite its enormous economic and military potential, would not decisively effect the outcome of the war in Europe, and, 4) that all three states were puppets in the hands of international Jewry.  Moreover, I argue that when former German intelligence officers endeavored to leverage their “expertise” on the Soviet Union into positions of prominence in West German and American intelligence institutions after 1945, their reports continued to reproduce the flawed wartime tropes of innate Russian military and racial inferiority well into the 1960s.

2. What led you to research and write about the German foreign intelligence services?

When I was just starting out in graduate school, I read Richard Breitman, Norman Goda, Timothy Naftali, and Robert Wolfe’s U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis, which did some fantastic work in the then-recently declassified files of the FBI, CIA, and other American government agencies, pertaining to what the U.S. government knew about the unfolding Holocaust, the role of German intelligence agencies in the Holocaust, and the connections forged between a number of former German intelligence officers and U.S. intelligence agencies during the Cold War. After reading U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis, I found myself wondering if the German foreign intelligence services’ role in the Holocaust was representative of a wider than expected ideological agreement with the Nazi worldview more generally. If so, what kinds of reports did these people write during the war? And if they continued working for the United States or other Western nations during the Cold War, apart from the moral aspects of that, in the absence of the Nazi dictatorship, did they continue to understand the world the same way? I was fortunate enough to do my graduate work at the University of Maryland, which is located in very close proximity to the National Archives in College Park, where the declassified American intelligence records are held (in addition to their captured German records collection, which also proved valuable in the early stages of this project at setting the scope of inquiry), and so I was off to the races.

3. According to Derek R. Mallett, your book demonstrates that Nazi ideology pervaded the German intelligence services and that their collective body of reports, rather than countering Hitler’s beliefs in fact supported and perpetuated them. Can you draw parallels between that time in German intelligence and any current regimes or agencies?

My expertise on the present is quite limited, but I can make a general point in response to this (excellent) question. The mechanism for how this worked – how the German intelligence agencies failed – during this period is that, during the Second World War and Cold War, when information on their opponent (particularly the Soviet Union) was scarce, the intelligence officers writing the daily and weekly reports increasingly relied on prejudices and national character as modes of analysis to fill the gap in hard data. This was not controversial, as there were certain things about “the Russian” that these people, given their cultural milieu “knew” to be true. “The Russian” was primitive, hard, brutal, cruel, indifferent to suffering, etc., and, as a result, the German intelligence services argued during the war and after that these innate characteristics defined Soviet political and military strategy, even down to the operational and tactical levels (“the Russian” preferred the defensive to the offensive, was not capable of operational brilliance or innovation and so on). So, why do I bring this up in reference to this question? There is some evidence that similar processes take place in foreign intelligence analysis today, where national and cultural stereotypes about some enemies can lead to broad, incorrect conclusions about the motivations or tactical and operational capabilities of jihadist insurgents, for example. Some of the language of the Cold War, to which my work is more directly linked, is rooted in these types of tropes and continues to be employed both in intelligence analysis and at the policymaking level – one aspect of the current debate about the proper American response to Putin is an all too familiar debate about whether force is the only language that “the Russian” leadership understands.

4. Your work reveals the consequences of the politicization of German intelligence during World War II—as well as the persistence of ingrained prejudices among the intelligence services’ Cold War successors. What steps can be taken (or have been taken) to de-politicize national intelligence in modern governments?

That’s a great question with a highly complex answer. Generally speaking, the modern understanding of the purpose and function of foreign intelligence services is to gather and contextualize information for policymakers. In the case of the United States and many other Western countries, while the head of the foreign intelligence services may be a political appointee there is a general assumption (in theory) that an ideologue or political party loyalist would be an inappropriate selection to head such a service. This reflects the view, particularly given the American historical context with J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, that intelligence services are politicized form the top down. In this regard, most of the public concern, to the extent that there is public concern on the matter of politicization, is limited to the leadership of these institutions. What I found striking about the German intelligence agencies I examined, is that he reports produced by these agencies indicated that “politicization” was not a matter of intelligence chiefs shaping reports to their personal preferences or the preferences of policymakers, but rather that the reports and analysis of mid-level career intelligence officers were themselves politicized. In some cases, these individuals’ careers long-predated the Nazi dictatorship or survived long after it was over. As a result, the politicization that is most important for my work is the politicization of cultural consensus and unquestioned, widely-held preconceptions of the world (anti-communist, anti-Russian, etc.), by analysts themselves. So I think more attention could certainly be paid to that – leadership is not always the deciding factor in whether or not an intelligence service is effective in objectively gathering and contextualizing information. This calls for rigorous self-examination. What are our internalized stereotypes, prejudices, and assumptions about the world and how does that subtly influence how we interpret world events?

5. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?

It may sound overly simplistic, but power of ideas and beliefs. The subjects I study were not stupid people. Many of them had country-specific university degrees, international language skills, and, in some cases, decades of experience in the countries they covered. Their prejudices and assumptions about how the world worked, however, undercut that, leading to, frankly, ridiculous interpretations of world events. The power of ideas led to one German Foreign Office representative who had lived and worked in the United States for decades to argue that the United States did not possess (either in peacetime or ona war footing) the economic or manpower resources to prosecute a war simultaneously in Europe and the Pacific and so the United States could be entirely discounted from a military planning perspective. There were German intelligence officers who really believed that Churchill was a captive of Jewish capital and that it was only a matter of time before the British people realized this betrayal and turned on his government. The power of ideas trumped the power of data, because no matter how adept the German intelligence services were at obtaining economic or military data during the war, the ideas and beliefs made a compelling case about why the data did not matter.

6. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

I cannot think of any one person, but I think aspects of my work would lend some potentially valuable perspective to PME (professional military education), especially the portions that touch on unconscious biases. Moreover, the lesson of the Cold War era collaboration between the ex-Nazi intelligence officers and American and West German intelligence institutions illustrates the great care that must be taken in trusting and learning lessons even from Allies.  Like their American counterparts, these officers were sincerely concerned about Soviet aggression, and, as the last military to engage the Soviet Union militarily, it was not unreasonable for the United States or other Western countries to seek out their experiences.  Setting aside the moral implications of that decision (turning a blind eye to war criminals or allowing war criminals to be rehabilitated), the fundamental mistake was not seeking allies in the Cold War, but a flawed assumption that the German experts on the Soviet Union were experts at all.  In strategic thinking, this is called “mirroring”: American intelligence professionals assumed that German intelligence officers were equally professional and non-political, and shared a practical worldview separate from that of the dictatorship from where they came. So a healthy skepticism about the value of the expertise the Americans were getting from their new allies was not always present.  This definitely has implications for any sort of multi-coalitional undertaking in contemporary affairs – where misinformation or disinformation can be amplified due to a lack of contextualization or skepticism.

Robert Hutchinson is a fellow in the Strategy and Policy Department at the U.S. Naval War College. Continue reading “Robert Hutchinson (“German Foreign Intelligence from Hitler’s War to the Cold War”) Author Q & A”