May 29, 2019

Memorial Day weekend is a time for, well, remembering, especially American history, and for honoring those who have sacrificed so much so that we can have so much and, apparently, be so unthankful for it.

I say “unthankful” because nearly every press outlet, TV station, and internet platform seems obsessed with what’s wrong with America, from one side or the other. Headlines seem determined to tell us that this is the “worst generation” for this or that, including the first generation to earn less than their parents (I’ve heard that for the last two generations), but I don’t think we’d want to live in any other generation.

To dramatize history, I produced a play last weekend in my hometown. It was set 100 years ago in 1919, at a meeting of the Woodmen of America, as they planned a Memorial Day tribute for returning soldiers of The Great War, while facing multiple challenges of that era – two Constitutional Amendments sifting their way through the states, one ultra-conservative measure for alcoholic Prohibition and one liberal measure for women’s suffrage. There was also a killer Spanish flu epidemic, an anti-immigrant mania, war resistance and trials for sedition, wounded veterans, new forms of dance and jazz, inflation, and more.

In my play, I contrasted a meeting of the all-male Woodmen of America with the all-female Maccabees, debating the virtues of Prohibition and women voting, the health challenges of flu, and the war wounded, but also a real-life story of a religious commune on our island, in which the pastor counseled evasion of the war draft, resulting in a sedition trial and a midnight escape by boat – all real historical events, which I reduced down to an intimate drama, “The Mystery of the Vanishing Quilt Lady,” who left with the pastor.

On the same day I was staging this play about the historical challenges of 1919 in rural Washington State, The New York Times published a similar historical survey of 1919 events by Dr. Matthew Avery Sutton, a professor of history at Washington State and author of “American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism.” The article tells how a meeting on May 25, 1919 in Philadelphia changed America.

Dr. Sutton sets the stage: “For many Americans, it was thrilling to be alive in 1919. The end of World War I had brought hundreds of thousands of soldiers home. Cars were rolling off the assembly lines. New forms of music, like jazz, were driving people to dance. And science was in the ascendant, after helping the war effort. Women, having done so much on the home front, were ready to claim the vote, and African Americans were eager to enjoy full citizenship, at long last. In a word, life was dazzlingly modern. But for many other Americans, modernity was exactly the problem. As many parts of the country were experimenting with new ideas and beliefs, a powerful counterrevolution was forming … Beginning on May 25, 1919, 6,000 ministers, theologians, and evangelists came together in Philadelphia…”

In short, these ministers believed these massive changes signaled an approaching Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen were saddling up. The Great War was the first Horseman. Another horse was the killer global plague, the flu. The reshaping of Palestine in 1917 served as another warning that the end was near. The prospect for a League of Nations was another landmark on the road to Armageddon. And women voting!?

President Wilson’s wartime Committee on Public Information validated their fears. “The demand of the State will leave no room for freedom of thought, or independence of action in any direction whatsoever,” wrote evangelist W.W. Fereday. “Practically everything and everybody,” he worried, would soon be under government control. The growing prominence of Darwinian evolution was another huge bugaboo.

Graphs are for illustrative and discussion purposes only. Please read important disclosures at the end of this commentary.

P.S. The Dow Jones Index rose 30.5% in 1919. The big rise began as deaths from the flu epidemic ended.

We Don’t Know History, So We Don’t Know How Good Things Are Today

Pundits on cable TV howl about how conditions are worse now than at any time in U.S. history, when they are by most measures the best ever. We also hear that Mr. Trump is our “worst President ever,” when 150 years ago we had scandal-ridden Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant, and 100 years ago we had a racist and semi-dictatorial Woodrow Wilson, who was incapacitated by a stroke in 1919 (his wife was effectively President for 17 months), and 50 years ago we had “Tricky Dick” Nixon running things.

In 1919, we also had general strikes in Seattle and Portland, a police strike in Boston, and the Red Menace threatening our coal and steel industries. And the 1919 World Series was fixed! Looking back further…

200 years ago, the financial Panic of 1819 swept America, triggering one of the worst depressions in American history. As one observer put it, “Nothing is to be seen but a boundless expanse of desolation! Wealth is impoverished, enterprise checked, commerce at a standstill, the currency depreciated.” Prices for basic goods plunged. Cotton prices dropped 50% in one year. Congress passed severely protectionist tariff legislation, to protect America’s “infant industries” and tariff levels grew throughout the 1820s.

Some recommended history books covering these three years:

150 years ago, we began the final months of the first impeached President, Andrew Johnson, and the first year of one of the most disgraced Presidents in history, Ulysses Grant, starting with the gold speculation ring. By mid-September 1869, the “gold pool” held many times the gold supply available on any market. President Grant was part of that pool! The North and South were bitterly divided under Reconstruction, but we also united the East and West with the Golden Spike linking the nation by rails on May 10, 1869.

I have picked three years that “rhyme with 2019,” but there were difficult times in almost every year in our distant past. Memorial Day is a time to honor past sacrifices, which made today’s prosperity possible.

About The Author

Gary Alexander

Gary Alexander has been Senior Writer at Navellier since 2009.  He edits Navellier’s weekly Marketmail and writes a weekly Growth Mail column, in which he uses market history to support the case for growth stocks.  For the previous 20 years before joining Navellier, he was Senior Executive Editor at InvestorPlace Media (formerly Phillips Publishing), where he worked with several leading investment analysts, including Louis Navellier (since 1997), helping launch Louis Navellier’s Blue Chip Growth and Global Growth newsletters.

Prior to that, Gary edited Wealth Magazine and Gold Newsletter and wrote various investment research reports for Jefferson Financial in New Orleans in the 1980s.  He began his financial newsletter career with KCI Communications in 1980, where he served as consulting editor for Personal Finance newsletter while serving as general manager of KCI’s Alexandria House book division.  Before that, he covered the economics beat for news magazines. All content of “Growth Mail” represents the opinion of Gary Alexander


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