“A Solemn, Consecrated Act of the People Themselves:” Rep. Louis Ludlow and the Power to Declare War

Harris & Ewing, “Louis Ludlow,” 1937, photograph, Harris & Ewing photograph collection,  courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Describing the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt for the 2014 Ken Burns documentary The Roosevelts, conservative political writer George E. Will stated:

The presidency is like a soft leather glove, and it takes the shape of the hand that’s put into it. And when a very big hand is put into it and stretches the glove — stretches the office — the glove never quite shrinks back to what it was. So we are all living today with an office enlarged permanently by Franklin Roosevelt. [1]

Seventy-five years after President Roosevelt’s death, the debate continues over how much power the president should have, especially in regards to taking military action against a foreign power. On January 9, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to restrict that power, requiring congressional authorization for further action against Iran. The issue now moves to the Senate.

But the arguments over this balance of war powers are not new. In fact, in 1935, Indiana congressmen Louis Ludlow forwarded a different solution altogether – an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow a declaration of war only after a national referendum, that is, a direct vote of the American people. Had the Ludlow Amendment passed, the U.S. would only engage militarily with a foreign power if the majority of citizens agreed that the cause was just. Ludlow’s ideas remain interesting today as newspaper articles and op-eds tell us the opinions of our Republican and Democratic representatives regarding the power of the legislative branch versus the executive branch in declaring war or military action. But what do the American people think, especially those who would have to fight? According to Brown University’s Cost of War Project, “The US government is conducting counterterror activities in 80 countries,” and the New York Times reported last year that we now have troops in “nearly every country.” [2]  But what does it mean to say “we” have troops in these countries? And does that mean that we are at war? Do the American people support the deployment of troops to Yemen? Somalia? Syria? Niger? Does the average American even know about these conflicts?

Stephanie Savell and 5W Infographics, “This Map Shows Where in the World the U.S. Military Is Combatting Terrorism,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 2019.

Expanding Executive War Power

Many don’t know, partly because the nature of war has changed since WWII. We have a paid professional military as opposed to drafted private citizens, which removes the realities of war from the daily lives of most Americans. Drone strikes make war seem even more obscure compared to boots on the ground, while cyber warfare abstracts the picture further. [3] But Americans also remain unaware of our military actions because “U.S. leaders have studiously avoided being seen engaging in ‘war,’” according to international news magazine the Diplomat. [4] In fact, Congress has not officially declared war since World War II. [5] Instead, today, Congress approves “an authorization of the use of force,” which can be “fuzzy” and “open-ended.” [6] Despite the passage of the War Powers Act of 1973, which was intended to balance war powers between the president and Congress, presidents have consistently found ways to deploy troops without congressional authorization. [7] And today, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Joint Resolution, passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, justified an even greater extension of executive power in deploying armed forces.[8]

“To Give to the People the Right to Decide . . .”

Indiana congressman Louis L. Ludlow (Democrat – U.S. House of Representatives, 1929-1949), believed the American people should have the sole power to declare war through a national referendum. [9] After all, the American people, not Congress and not the President, are tasked with fighting these wars. Starting in the 1930s, Representative Ludlow worked to amend the Constitution in order to put such direct democracy into action. He nearly succeeded. And as the debate continues today over who has the power to send American troops into combat and what the United States’ role should be in the world, his arguments concerning checks and balances on war powers remain relevant.

“Portrait of Indiana Politician Louis Ludlow, Indiana,” photograph, 1929, accessed Indiana Album.

Ludlow maintained two defining viewpoints that could be easily misinterpreted, and thus are worth examining up front. First, Ludlow was an isolationist, but not for the same reasons as many of his peers, whose viewpoints were driven by the prevalent xenophobia, racism, and nativism rooted in the 1920s. In fact, Ludlow was a proponent of equal rights for women and African Americans throughout his career. [10] Ludlow’s isolationism was instead influenced by the results of a post-WWI congressional investigation showing the influence of foreign propaganda and munitions and banking interests in profiting off the conflict. [11]

Second, Ludlow was not a pacifist. He believed in just wars waged in the name of freedom, citing the American Revolution and the Union cause during the American Civil War. [12] He supported the draft during WWI and backed the war effort through newspaper articles. [13] Indeed, he even voted with his party, albeit reluctantly, to enter WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. [14] He believed a direct attack justified a declaration of war and included this caveat in his original resolution. What he did not believe in was entering war under the influence of corporations or propaganda. He wanted informed citizens, free of administrative or corporate pressure, to decide for themselves if a cause was worth their lives. He wrote, “I am willing to die for my beloved country but I am not willing to die for greedy selfish interests that want to use me as their pawn.” [15]

So, who was Louis Ludlow and how did he come to advocate for this bold amendment?

“I Must and Would Prove My Hoosier Blood”

Ludlow described himself as a “Hoosier born and bred” in his 1924 memoir of his early career as a newspaper writer. [16] He was born June 24, 1873 in a log cabin near Connersville, Fayette County, Indiana. His parents encouraged his interests in politics and writing, and after he graduated high school in 1892, he went to Indianapolis “with food prepared by his mother and a strong desire to become a newspaperman.” [17]

He landed his first job with the Indianapolis Sun upon arrival in the Hoosier capital but quickly realized he needed more formal education. He briefly attended Indiana University before becoming seriously ill and returning to his parents’ home. After he recovered, he spent some time in New York City, but  returned to Indianapolis in 1895. He worked for two newspapers, one Democratic (Sentinel) and one Republican (Journal) and the Indianapolis Press from 1899-1901. While he mainly covered political conventions and campaign speeches, he interviewed prominent suffrage worker May Wright Sewall and former President Benjamin Harrison, among other notables. He also became a correspondent for the (New York) World. [18]

In 1901, the Sentinel sent Ludlow to Washington as a correspondent, beginning a twenty-seven-year career of covering the capital. During this time, he worked long hours, expanded his political contacts, and distributed his stories to more and more newspapers. He covered debates in Congress during World War I and was influenced by arguments that membership in the League of Nations would draw the U.S. further into conflict.[19] By 1927 he was elected president of the National Press Club. He was at the height of his journalistic career and had a good rapport and reputation within the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Ludlows Vote Early,” Indianapolis Star, November 7, 1928, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

With the backing of Democratic political boss Thomas Taggart, Ludlow began his first congressional campaign at the end of 1927 and announced his candidacy officially on February 23, 1928. [20] The Greencastle Daily Herald quoted part of Ludlow’s announcement speech, noting that the candidate stated, “some homespun honesty in politics is a pressing necessity in Indiana.” [21] He won the Democratic primary in May 1928 and then campaigned against Republican Ralph E. Updike, offering Hoosiers “redemption” from the influence of the KKK. [22] Ludlow “swept to an impressive victory” over Updike in November 1928, as the only Democrat elected from 269 Marion County precincts. [23] He took his seat as the Seventh District U.S. Representative from Indiana on March 4, 1929. [24]

The Indianapolis Star noted that while Ludlow was only a freshman congressman, his many years in Washington as a correspondent had made him “familiar with the workings of the congressional machinery” and “well known to all [House] members,” earning him the “confidence and respect of Republicans and Democrats alike.” [25] The Star claimed: “Perhaps no man ever entering Congress has had the good will of so many members on both sides of the aisle.” [26] This claim was supported by Ludlow’s colleagues on the other side of that aisle. Republican senator James E. Watson of Indiana stated in 1929, “Everybody has a fondness for Louis Ludlow, and as a congressional colleague, he shall have the co-operation of my office in the advancement of whatever he considers in the interest of his constituency.” [27] Republican representative John Cable of Ohio agreed stating:

Louis Ludlow has character and ability. He is the sort of a man who commands the respect and confidence of men and women without regard to party lines. He will have the co-operation of his colleagues of Congress, Republican as well as Democrats, and no doubt will render a high class service for his district.[28]

Cable went so far as to recommend Ludlow for the vice-presidential candidate for the 1932 election.

Ludlow achieved some modest early economic successes for his constituents, including bringing a veterans hospital and an air mail route to Indianapolis. By 1930, however, he set his sights on limiting government bureaucracy and became interested in disarmament as a method to reduce government spending. Concurrently, he threw his support behind the London Naval Treaty which limited the arms race, and he became a member of the Indiana World Peace Committee. During the 1930 election, he stressed his accomplishments and appealed to women, African American, Jews, veterans, businessmen, and labor unions. He was easily reelected by over 30,000 votes. [29]

Back at work in the House, he sponsored an amendment to the Constitution in 1932 to give women “equal rights throughout the United States” which would have addressed legal and financial barriers to equality. He was unsuccessful but undaunted. He introduced an equal rights amendment in 1933, 1936, 1939, 1943, and 1945. [30] [A separate post would be needed to do justice to his work on behalf of women’s rights.] He also worked to make the federal government responsible for investigating lynching, as opposed to the local communities where the injustice occurred. He introduced several bills in 1938 that would have required FBI agents to investigate lynchings as a deterrent to this hate crime, but they were blocked by Southern Democrats. His main focus between 1935 and 1945 was advocating for the passage of legislation to restrict the government’s war powers and end corporate war profiteering.

 “To Remove The Profit Incentive to War”

[McAllen, Texas] Monitor, January 11, 1938, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
In 1934 the Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, known as the Nye Committee after its chairman Senator Gerald Nye (R-ND), began to investigate the undue influence of munitions interests on U.S. entry into WWI. Like many Americans, Ludlow was profoundly disturbed by the committee’s conclusions. As Germany rearmed and Hitler’s power grew during the 1930s, Ludlow worried that the threat of a second world war loomed and the U.S. government, especially the executive branch was vulnerable to the influence of profiteers, as highlighted by the Nye Committee reports. He stated:

I am convinced from my familiarity with the testimony of the Nye committee and my study of this question that a mere dozen – half a dozen international financiers and half a dozen munitions kings, with a complaisant President in the White House at Washington – could maneuver this country into war at any time, so great are their resources and so far reaching is their power. I pray to God we may never have a President who will lend himself to such activities, but, after all, Presidents are human, and many Presidents have been devoted to the material aggrandizement of our country to the exclusion of spiritual values . . . [31]

Although he admired President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s diplomatic abilities Ludlow thought, as historian Walter R. Griffin asserted, that “it was entirely possible that a future President might very well possess more sordid motives and plan to maneuver the country into war against the wishes of the majority of citizens.” [32] As a protection against the susceptibility of the legislative and especially the executive branches to financial pressures of the munitions industry, Ludlow introduced a simple two-part resolution [HR-167] before the House of Representatives in January 1935. It would amend the Constitution to require a vote of the people before any declaration of war. He summed up the two sections of his bill in a speech before the House in February 1935: “First. To give the people who have to pay the awful costs of war the right to decide whether there shall be war. Second. To remove the profit incentive to war.” [33] He believed that the resolution gave to American citizens “the right to a referendum on war, so that when war is declared it will be the solemn, consecrated act of the people themselves, and not the act of conscienceless, selfish interests using the innocent young manhood of the Nation as its pawns.”[34]

More specifically, Section One stated that unless the U.S. was attacked, Congress could not declare war without a majority vote in a national referendum. And Section Two provided that once war was declared, all properties, factories, supplies, workers, etc. necessary to wage war would be taken over by the government. Those companies would then be reimbursed at a rate not exceeding 4% higher than their previous year’s tax values. [35] This would remove the profit incentive and thus any immoral reasons for a declaration of war.

In an NBC Radio address in March 19235, Ludlow told the public:

The Nye committee has brought out clearly, plainly and so unmistakably that it must hit every thinking persons in the face, the fact that unless we write into the constitution of the United States a provision reserving to the people the right to declare war and taking the profits out of war we shall wake up to find ourselves again plunged into the hell of war . . . [36]

He added that “a declaration of war is the highest act of sovereignty. It is a responsibility of such magnitude that it should rest on the people themselves . . .” [37]

Ludlow’s resolution, soon known as the Ludlow Amendment, was immediately referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. During committee hearings in June 1935, no one spoke in opposition to the bill and yet the committee did not report on the resolution to the House before the end of the first session in August, nor when they reconvened in 1936. Ludlow attempted to force its consideration with a discharge petition but couldn’t round up enough congressional signatures. Congress was busy creating a second round of New Deal legislation intended to combat the Great Depression and was less concerned with the war clouds gathering over Europe. Despite Ludow’s passionate advocacy both in the House and to the public, his bill languished in committee. In February 1937, he made a fresh attempt, dividing Sections One and Two into separate bills. The same obstacles persisted, and despite gathering more congressional support for his discharge petition, these resolutions too remained in committee. [38]

Harris & Ewing, “Louis Ludlow,” photograph, Harris & Ewing photograph collection, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Library of Congress caption: Denouncing the present war-declaring mechanism as ‘autocratic,’ Rep. Louis Ludlow appealed for approval of a constitutional amendment requiring a Nat’l referendum on participation in a foreign war.

“What Might Have Been”

During a special session called by Roosevelt in November 1937 (to introduce what has become known as the “court-packing plan”), Ludlow was able to obtain the necessary signatures to release his resolution from committee. While congressional support for the Ludlow Amendment had increased, mainly due to the advocacy of its namesake, opposition had unified as well. Opponents argued that it would reduce the power of the president to the degree that the president would lose the respect of foreign powers and ultimately make the U.S. less safe. Others argued that it completely undermined representative government by circumventing Congress and thus erode U.S. republican democracy. Veterans’ organizations like the American Legion were among its opponents, and National Commander Daniel J. Doherty combined these arguments into a public statement before the January 1939 House vote. He stated that the bill “would seriously impair the functions and utility of our Department of State, the first line of our national defense.” He continued: “The proposed amendment implies lack of confidence on the part of our people in the congressional representatives. This is not in accord with the facts. Other nations would readily interpret it as a sign of weakness.” [39] The Indianapolis Star compared the debates over the resolution to “dynamite” in the House of Representatives. And while Ludlow had the backing of “1,000 nationally known persons,” who issued statements of support, his opponents had the backing of President Roosevelt who continued to expand the powers of the executive branch. In a final vote the Ludlow Amendment was defeated 209-188. [40]

Ludlow continued to be a supporter of Roosevelt and when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Indiana congressman voted to declare war, albeit reluctantly. He stated:

Japan has determined my vote in the present situation. If the United States had not been attacked I would not vote for a war declaration but we have been attacked . . . American blood has been spilled and American lives have been lost . . . We should do everything that is necessary to defend ourselves and to see that American lives and property are made secure. That is the first duty and obligation of sovereignty. [41]

[Indianapolis] Jewish Post, November 3, 1944, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
After the close of World War II, Louis Ludlow continued his work for peace at an international level, calling on the United Nations to ban the atomic bomb. But he no longer advocated for his bill, stating that with the introduction of the bomb and other advanced war technology it was “now too late for war referendums.” [42] He told Congress in 1948:

Looking backward, I cannot escape the belief that the death of the resolution was one of the tragedies of all time. The leadership of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth might have deflected the thinking of the world into peaceful channels. Instead, we went ahead with tremendous pace in the invention of destruction . . . I cannot help thinking what might have been. [43]

Ludlow continued his service as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives until January 1949 after choosing not to seek reelection. Instead of retiring, he returned to the Capitol press gallery where his career had begun some fifty years earlier. And before his death in 1950, he wrote a weekly Washington column for his hometown newspaper, the Indianapolis Star.

“The People . . . Need to Have a Major Voice in the Use of Force . . .”

Ludlow’s eighty-five-year-old argument for giving Americans a greater voice in declaring war gives us food for thought in the current debate over war powers. Today, the conversation has veered away from Ludlow’s call for a direct referendum, but the right of the people’s voices to be heard via their elected representatives is being argued over heatedly in Congress. Many writers for conservative-leaning journals such as the National Review agree with their liberal counterparts at magazines like the New Yorker, that Congress needs to reassert their constitutional right under Article II to declare war and reign in the powers of the executive branch. This, they argue, is especially important in an era where the “enemy” is not as clearly defined as it had been during the World Wars. Writing for the National Review in 2017, Andrew McCarthy argued:

The further removed the use of force is from an identifiable threat to vital American interests, the more imperative it is that Congress weighs in, endorses or withholds authorization for combat operations . . . to ensure that military force is employed only for political ends that are worth fighting for, and that the public will perceive as worth fighting for. [44]

Writing for the New Yorker in 2017, Jeffery Frank agreed, stating:

The constitution is a remarkable document, and few question a President’s power to respond if the nation is attacked. But the founders could not have imagined a world in which one person, whatever his rank or title, would have the authority to order the preemptive use of nuclear weapons – an action that . . . now seems within the realm of possibility. [45]

And in describing the nonpartisan legal group Protect Democracy’s work to create a “roadmap” for balancing congressional and executive powers, conservative writer David French wrote for the National Review that “requiring congressional military authorizations in all but the most emergency of circumstances will grant the public a greater voice in the most consequential decisions any government can make.” [46]

So, if many liberals and conservatives agree that Congress should hold the balance of war powers, who is resisting a return to congressional authorization for military conflicts? According to the Law Library of Congress, the answer would be all modern U.S. Presidents. The library’s website explains that “U.S. Presidents have consistently taken the position that War Powers Resolution is an unconstitutional infringement upon the power of the executive branch” and found ways to circumvent its constraints. [47]

This bloating of executive war power is exactly what Ludlow feared. When his proposed amendment was crushed by the force of the Roosevelt administration, Ludlow held no personal resentment against FDR. He believed that this particular president would always carefully weigh the significance of a cause before risking American lives. Instead, Ludlow’s feared how expanded executive war powers might be used by some future president. In a January 5, 1936 letter, Ludlow wrote:

No stauncher friend of peace ever occupied the executive office than President Roosevelt, but after all, the period of one President’s service is but a second in the life of a nation, and I shudder to think what might happen to our beloved country sometime in the future if a tyrant of Napoleonic stripe should appear in the White House, grab the war power, and run amuck. [48]

A bridge between Ludlow’s argument and contemporary calls for Congress to reassert its authority can be found in the words of more recent Hoosier public servants. Former Democratic U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton and Republican Senator Richard Lugar testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on April 28, 2009 on “War Powers in the 21st Century.” Senator Lugar stated:

Under our Constitution, decisions about the use of force involve the shared responsibilities of the President and the Congress, and our system works best when the two branches work cooperatively in reaching such decisions. While this is an ideal toward which the President and Congress may strive, it has sometimes proved to be very hard to achieve in practice . . . The War Powers Resolution has not proven to be a panacea, and Presidents have not always consulted formally with the Congress before reaching decisions to introduce U.S. force into hostilities . . . [49]

In 2017, in words that echo Rep. Ludlow’s arguments, Rep. Hamilton reiterated that “the people who have to do the fighting and bear the costs need to have a major voice in the use of force, and the best way to ensure that is with the involvement of Congress.”[50] While the “enemy” may change and while technology further abstracts war, the questions about war powers remain remarkably consistent: Who declares war and does this reflect the will of the people who will fight in those conflicts? By setting aside current political biases and looking to the past, we can sometimes see more clearly into the crux of the issues. Ludlow would likely be surprised that the arguments have changed so little and that we’re still sorting it out.

Further Reading:

Stephen L. Carter, “The Constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution,” Faculty Scholarship Series, January 1, 1984, accessed Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.

Richard F. Grimmet, “War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, September 25, 2012, accessed Federation of American Scientists.

Walter R. Griffin, “Louis Ludlow and the War Referendum Crusade, 1935-1941” Indiana Magazine of History 64:4 (December 1968), 270-272, accessed Indiana University Scholarworks.

___________________________________________

Footnotes:

[1] The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, A Film by Ken Burns, Premiered September 14, 2014, accessed Public Broadcasting Service.

[2] “Costs of War,” Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs, Brown University; The Editorial Board, “America’s Forever Wars,” New York Times, October 22, 2017. The Times cites the Defense Manpower Data Center, a division of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

[3] Sarah E. Kreps, “America’s War and the Current Accountability Crisis,” The Diplomat, June 8, 2018.

[4] Ibid.

Kreps writes that this “light footprint warfare,” made possible by technological advancement, creates a “gray zone” in which it’s unclear which actors are responsible for what results, thus fragmenting opposition.

[5] Official Declarations of War by Congress, The United States Senate.

[6] Garance Franke-Tura, “All the Previous Declarations of War,” The Atlantic, August 31, 2013; Robert P. George and Michael Stokes Paulsen, “Authorize Force Now,” National Review, February 26, 2014.

Franke-Tura wrote about congressional use of force in Syria in 2013: “If history is any guide, that’s going to be a rather open-ended commitment, as fuzzy on the back-end as on the front.” Writing for the National Review in 2014, Robert P. George and Michael Stokes Paulsen agreed that in all cases of engaging in armed conflict not in response to direct attack, the president’s power to engage U.S. in military conflict (without an attack on the U.S.) is “sufficiently doubtful” and “dubious.”

[7] “War Powers,” Law Library of Congress; Jim Geraghty, “Is There A War Powers Act on the Books or Not?,” National Review, August 29, 2013.

While the purpose of the War Powers Resolution, or War Powers Act, was to ensure balance between the executive and legislative branches in sending U.S. armed forces into hostile situations, “U.S. Presidents have consistently taken the position that War Powers Resolution is an unconstitutional infringement upon the power of the executive branch” and found ways to circumvent its constraints, according to the Law Library of Congress. Examples include President Reagan’s deployment of Marines to Lebanon starting in 1982, President George H. W. Bush’s building of forces for Operation Desert Shield starting in 1990, and President Clinton’s use of airstrikes and peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

Writer and National Review editor Jim Geraghty wrote in 2013: “There are those who believe the War Powers Act is unconstitutional – such as all recent presidents . . .” Journals as politically diverse as the National Review and its liberal counterpart the New Yorker, are rife with articles and opinion pieces debating the legality and constitutionality of the Act. Despite their leanings, they are widely consistent in calling on Congress to reassert its constitutional authority to declare war and reign in the war powers of the executive branch.

[8] Ibid.

According to the Law Library of Congress, in 2001, Congress transferred more war power to President George W. Bush through Public Law 107-40, authorizing him to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against nations, groups, or even individuals who aided the September 11 attacks.

[9] Louis Ludlow, Hell or Heaven (Boston: The Stratford Company, 1937).

[10] Walter R. Griffin, “Louis Ludlow and the War Referendum Crusade, 1935-1941,” Indiana Magazine of History 64, no. 4 (December 1968), 270-272, accessed Indiana University Scholarworks. Griffin downplays Ludlow’s early congressional career, however, he pushed for many Progressive Era reforms. Ludlow worked for an equal rights amendment for women, an anti-lynching bill, and the repeal of Prohibition.

[11] Ibid.; United States Congress,“Report of the Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry (The Nye Report),” Senate, 74th Congress, Second Session, February 24, 1936, 3-13, accessed Mount Holyoke College.

[12] “Speech of Hon. Louis Ludlow of Indiana, in the U.S. House of Representatives,” February 19, 1935, Congressional Record, 74th Congress, First Session, Pamphlets Collection, Indiana State Library.

[13] Ernest C. Bolt, Jr., “Reluctant Belligerent: The Career of Louis Ludlow” in Their Infinite Variety: Essays on Indiana Politicians, eds. Robert Barrows and Shirley S. McCord, (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1981): 363-364.

[14] Griffin, 287.

[15] Louis Ludlow, Public Letter, March 8, 1935, Ludlow War Referendum Scrapbooks, Lilly Library, Indiana University, cited in Griffin, 273.

[16] Louis Ludlow, From Cornfield to Press Gallery: Adventures and Reminiscences of a Veteran Washington Correspondent (Washington D.C., 1924), 1. The section title also comes from this source and page. Ludlow was referring to the Hoosier tendency to write books exhibited during the Golden Age of Indiana Literature.

[17] Ibid., 17; Bolt, 361.

[18] Bolt, 355-359.

[19] Ibid., 360-365.

[20] “Evans Wollen Is Best of the Democrats,” Greencastle Herald, November 7, 1927, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Charles J. Arnold, “Say!,” Greencastle Herald, February 24, 1928, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Bolt, 371.

[23] “G.O.P. Wins in Marion County,” Greencastle Herald, November 7, 1927, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Ludlow Wins Congress Seat,” Indianapolis Star, November 27, 1928, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[24] Everett C. Watkins, “Ludlow Will Leap from Press Gallery to Floor of Congress,” Indianapolis Star, March 3, 1929, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] “Republican Advances Ludlow’s Name as 1932 Vice Presidential Candidate,” Indianapolis Star, January 4, 1929, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

[29] Bolt, 376-377.

[30] “Discuss Women’s Rights,” Nebraska State Journal, March 24, 1932, 3, accessed Newspapers.com; “Women Argue in Favor of Changes in Nation’s Laws,” Jacksonville (Illinois) Daily Journal, March 24, 1932, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; “Woman’s Party Condemns Trial of Virginia Patricide,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 2, 1925, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Equal Rights Demanded,” Ada (Oklahoma) Weekly News, January 5, 1939, 7, accessed Newspapers.com; Bolt, 383.

The National League of Women Voters crafted the language of the original bill which Ludlow then sponsored and introduced. In 1935, the organization passed a resolution that “expressed gratitude  . . . to Representative Louis Ludlow of Indiana for championing women’s rights.”

[31] “Ludlow Asks War Act Now,” Indianapolis Star, March 13, 1935, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

[32] Griffin, 281-282.

[33] “Speech of Hon. Louis Ludlow of Indiana, in the U.S. House of Representatives,” February 19, 1935, Congressional Record, 74th Congress, First Session, Pamphlets Collection, Indiana State Library.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] “Ludlow Asks War Act Now,” Indianapolis Star, March 13, 1935, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

[37] Ibid.

[38] “To Amend the Constitution with Respect to the Declaration of War,” Hearing before Subcommittee No. 2 of the Committee on the Judiciary House of Representatives, 74th Congress, First Session, On H. J. Res. 167, accessed HathiTrust; Griffin, 274-275.

[39] Everett C. Watkins, “Ludlow Bill ‘Dynamite’ in House Today,” Indianapolis Star, January 10, 1938, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[40] Griffin, 285.

[41] “Indiana’s Votes Solid for War,” Indianapolis News, December 8, 1941, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.

[42] Congressional Record, 80th Congress, Second Session, Appendix, 4853, in Griffin, 287-8.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Andrew C. McCarthy, “War Powers and the Constitution in Our Body Politic,” National Review, July 8, 2017.

[45] Jeffery Frank, “The War Powers of President Trump,” New Yorker, April 26, 2017.

[46] David French, “Can Congress Get Its War Powers Back?,” National Review, July 5, 2018.

[47] “War Powers,” Law Library of Congress.

[48] Louis Ludlow to William Bigelow, January 5, 1936, in Griffin, 282.

[49] U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, War Powers in the 21st Century, April 28, 2009, Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 111th Congress, First Session, (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Press, 2010), accessed govinfo.gov.

[50] Bolt, 380-381.

The Shared Humanism of Clemens and Kurt Vonnegut

Clemens (Left) was the Vonnegut family patriarch and lifelong freethinker. Kurt, Jr. (Right) was the great-grandson who carried his humanist heritage into his writing. Images courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Archives and Collections/citelighter.com.
Clemens (Left) was the Vonnegut family patriarch and lifelong freethinker. Kurt, Jr. (Right) was the great-grandson who carried his humanist heritage into his writing. Images courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Archives and Collections/citelighter.com.

The German-American community in Indianapolis, largely a product of mid-nineteenth century immigration, had a strong heritage of freethought (open evaluation of religion based on the use of reason). In particular, Clemens Vonnegut, the patriach of the Vonnegut family and lifelong freethinker, openly displayed his religious dissent through writings and community activism. This, in turn, influenced his family and the literary style of his great-grandson, novelist Kurt Vonnegut, especially the younger man’s ideas concerning God, religion, science, and ethics. The junior Vonnegut’s own midwestern brand of freethought, in the form of what literature scholar Todd F. Davis called a “postmodern humanism,” displayed a deep sense of skepticism about the irrationalism of his time, while simultaneously championing an ethical responsibility to ourselves and each other devoid of supernatural influences. Yet, true to his form as a freethinker, Kurt forged his own humanist identity. [*]

The Vonnegut Hardware Store, circa 1878. Founded by Clemens Vonnegut, the store would be an Indianapolis stable for well over a century. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
The Vonnegut Hardware Company on Washington Street, circa 1878. Founded by Clemens Vonnegut, the store would be an Indianapolis stable for well over a century. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

Clemens Vonnegut was born November 20, 1824, in Münster, Westphalia. In his early years, he studied in German public schools and apprenticed as a mercantile clerk. As recorded in the Indianapolis Press, a young Vonnegut came to the United States in the early 1830s, on assignment from his employer, J. L. de Ball and Company, which sold specialty fabrics. His year in New York convinced the young Vonnegut that America would be his permanent home. He then traveled to Indianapolis with his friend Charles Volmer to start a new life.

The Socialer Turnverein, a social club co-founded by Vonnegut, was the home of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis. Image Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.
The Socialer Turnverein, a social club co-founded by Vonnegut, was the home of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis. Image Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Archives and Collections.

He founded the Vonnegut Hardware Store in 1852, and was considered by the Indianapolis Star as “one of the city’s most respected citizens….” Like fellow Hoosier freethinker Hermann Lieber, he was a co-founder of the Socialer Turnverein and a forceful voice for public education. Clemens founded the German-English Independent School and served on its board for over 30 years. He also served as the first president of the Freethinker Society from 1870-1875, gave lectures to the society on occasion, and even translated the celebrated agnostic orator Robert Ingersoll’s Open Letter to the Clergy of Indianapolis into German for publication. His actions and beliefs heavily impacted the inception and growth of the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis.

The German-English Indepdendent School, also co-founded by Vonnegut. He would work on multiple school boards for over thirty years.
The German-English Independent School, also co-founded by Vonnegut. He would work on multiple school boards for over thirty years. Image courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Archives and Collections.

After the end of the Freethinker Society in 1890, Clemens Vonnegut continued his activism more than any former member, mostly through writing. A Proposed Guide for Instruction of Morals, published in 1900, enunciated Vonnegut’s philosophy of freethought, both in theory and in practice. This treatise also displayed a rhetorical flourish that Kurt would later cite as an influence in his autobiographical work, Palm Sunday.  Echoing Ingersoll and Heinzen before him, Vonnegut declared that, “No religious creed has any real proofs. It rests simply on assertions.”

However, that does not mean that humanity cannot be moral. In fact, Vonnegut argued the opposite:

True virtue is its own reward, which is not enhanced but rather misled by belief. Belief deprives us of the joys of this world by teaching us that we must detest them, and instead of them we must hope for a heaven. Belief forms the germ for persecution of those who differ from us in their religious convictions.

A Proposed Guide for Instruction of Morals, 1900. Published in both German and English, this pamplet by Clemens Vonnegut argued for a moral and just society without the need of superstition or religious beliefs. Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.
A Proposed Guide for Instruction of Morals, 1900. Published in both German and English, this pamplet by Clemens Vonnegut argued for a moral and just society without the need of superstition or religious beliefs. Courtesy of IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.

Vonnegut saw morality as the wellspring of the “intrinsic quality of human character which ought to be nourished and cultivated early, continually, and carefully.” In subsequent pages, Vonnegut explained how such “cultivation” is achieved. Public education, family instruction, physical fitness, and social activities presented the means by which individuals perfected a moral life without the supernatural. Like Ingersoll, Vonnegut’s morality was clear, traditional, based in the family, and demonstrated a moral life without the need of God. While Clemens Vonnegut presented his philosophy clearly, the events surrounding his death were anything but.

Clemens Vonnegut’s death in 1906 created somewhat of a mystery for his family, and later his great-grandson. It was said that he died in the snow . . . or so the story goes. Kurt Vonnegut recalls this story in his autobiographical work, Palm Sunday. In the winter of 1906, Clemens Vonnegut supposedly went for a routine stroll. Having lost his way, he wandered the streets of Indianapolis for hours before he was found dead by the side of the road by a search party. This story bewildered Kurt, whose own freethought can be traced to his great-grandfather and his own extended family. However, as with many family stories, this one stretches the truth a little.

Clemens did not die by the side of the road, but was rather found unconscious. The Indianapolis News reported that C. W. Jones, a local construction worker, found the 82-year-old Vonnegut nearly five miles from the city on Crawfordsville Pike. He sustained injuries to his head and right shoulder, but doctors feared that exposure to the elements might be his biggest challenge. After fighting for his life for five days, Clemens Vonnegut succumbed to pneumonia on January 13, 1906. His obituary cited his charity and love for knowledge, his activities within the Socialer Turnverein and the Freethinker Society, and his 27-year service for a local school board. True to his iconoclastic nature, Vonnegut wrote his own eulogy back in the 1870s and asked for its recitation when he died. As recorded in the Indianapolis Star, he railed against the creeds of Christianity:

I do not believe in the atonement to the blood of Christ or in the sin of incredulity. I do not believe in a punishment in a future life. I believe neither in a personal God nor a personal devil, but I honor the ideal which man has created as the tenor of all virtues and perfections, and has named God.

Until the very end, Clemens believed in the power of humanity to throw off the shackles of religion and embrace the values of inquiry and human-based ethics.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in New York City, 1979. Photo by Marty Reichenthal. Courtesy of slopemedia.org.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in New York City, 1979. Photo by Marty Reichenthal. Courtesy of slopemedia.org.

Nearly a century later, famed author Kurt Vonnegut (born in 1922 in Indianapolis) wrote in Palm Sunday that his great-grandfather’s freethought was his own “ancestral religion” and that he was “pigheadedly proud” of the heretical nature of his family. Kurt Vonnegut, a future honorary president of the American Humanist Association, carried the torch of freethought for his grandfather, and in some respects, introduced his ideas to a new generation.

In many of his works, Kurt would openly criticize religion, spirituality, and faith, so much so that it even contributed to the end of his first marriage. Nevertheless, echoing his grandfather in a 1980 speech at the First Parish Unitarian Church, Vonnegut declared, “Doesn’t God give dignity to everybody? No—not in my opinion. Giving dignity, the sort of dignity that is of earthly use, anyway, is something that only people do. Or fail to do.”

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) would become Vonnegut's most well known novel. Its open understanding of the barbarity of war, coupled with many humanist themes, continues to enthrall readers. Courtesy of In These Times.
Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) would become Vonnegut’s most well known novel. Its open understanding of the barbarity of war, coupled with many humanist themes, continues to enthrall readers. Courtesy of In These Times.

His most popular novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), displays Kurt’s intense abhorrence of war (influenced by his own WWII POW experience) and a belief in a common humanity. Specifically, “so it goes” is a phrase that Vonnegut peppered throughout the novel, often after horrible events or even banal ones. This phrase conveys that no matter how bad things get, no matter how high one can get, the world (and indeed the universe) goes on. As an example, this passage from the novel, describing the protagonist Billy Pilgrim’s memory of a sculpture of Jesus, is fairly apt:

A military surgeon would have admired the clinical fidelity of the artist’s rendition of all Christ’s wounds—the spear wound, the thorn wounds, the holes that were made by the iron spikes. Billy’s Christ died horribly. He was pitiful.

So it goes.

“So it goes” becomes the novel’s panacea; a way for the narrator to deal with the grim realities of war without the comfort of religious beliefs. In some respects, it can be seen as a mantra for humanism.

Kurt's son Mark reading his late father's remarks of Clowes Memorial Hall in April, 2007. This event capped Indianapolis's "Year of Vonnegut" ceremonies. The author had died just weeks before he was to deliver this address. Courtesy of USA Today.
Kurt’s son Mark reading his late father’s remarks at Clowes Memorial Hall in April, 2007. This event capped Indianapolis’s “Year of Vonnegut” ceremonies. The author had died just weeks before he was to deliver this address. Courtesy of USA Today.

Kurt Vonnegut’s humanism continued until the end of his life, as displayed by an address he meant to give on April 27, 2007 for Indianapolis’s “Year of Vonnegut” celebrations (he died on April 11; his son Mark gave the address in his stead). In this address, from the posthumous work Armageddon in Retrospect (2008), Kurt espoused his continued commitment to humanism. He wrote:

Am I religious? I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves “Our Lady of Perpetual Consternation.” We are as celibate as fifty percent of the heterosexual Roman Catholic clergy.

Actually—and when I hold up my right hand like this, it means I’m not kidding, that I give my Word of Honor that what I’m about to say is true. So actually, I am honorary President of the American Humanist Society, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that utterly functionless capacity. We Humanists behave as well as we can, without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an Afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.

This emphasis on “community” squares nicely with Clemens’s own commitments to community, both with the Freethinker Society and with his advocacy of public education. Both Vonneguts believed that the values of sociality and comradery are essential to the flourishing of a community, and you can achieve that system without a supernatural element.

Clemens Vonnegut’s humanism carried through many generations of his family and left an indelible mark on Kurt Vonnegut. The two men’s rejection of religion and the supernatural reinforced their love for humanity, their desire for community, and their commitment to the truth, no matter how horrifying it may be. Kurt’s own success as a writer and social critic would have delighted Clemens, who participated in many of the same literary pursuits and civic activities decades before Kurt was born. As such, their two lives, separated by time, nevertheless became entwined by their ideals. Their humanist legacy reinforces the diversity of intellectual and moral philosophies that embody the American Midwest throughout the 19th, 20th, and early-21st centuries.

Both Vonneguts were proud to be from Indianapolis and the city proudly remembers them.

[*] Kurt Vonnegut’s humanism may also be described as “Modern Humanism,” or “Naturalistic Humanism, Scientific Humanism, Ethical Humanism, and Democratic Humanism, [is] defined by one of its leading proponents, Corliss Lamont, as “a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion.” Modern Humanism has a dual origin, both secular and religious, and these constitute its sub-categories” (Fred Edwords, “What is Humanism,” American Humanist Association, last updated 2008, accessed March 19, 2016, americanhumanist.org).