We now officially have a vice presidential nominee, a native Californian raised in Oakland and Berkeley. Kamala Devi Harris is the third female major party vice presidential nominee in American history and the first woman of color. She certainly won't be the last.
Her acceptance speech lacked suspense and a crowd. It did not lack for passion or punch. Sen. Harris told Americans watching last night that our country is at an inflection point. "The constant chaos leaves us adrift," she said. "The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It's a lot. And here's the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more.
"We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work," she continued. "A president who will bring all of us together -- Black, White, Latino, Asian, Indigenous -- to achieve the future we collectively want."
Harris was preceded as a speaker at this virtual political convention by Barack Obama, our country's first African American president. Obama consciously chose Philadelphia for a backdrop -- the city, as he pointed out, where the Constitution creating our government was drafted and signed. Obama also noted that this document acquiesced to slavery and didn't grant women the vote.
"But embedded in this document was a North Star that would guide future generations; a system of representative government -- a democracy -- through which we could better realize our highest ideals," he said. "Through civil war and bitter struggles, we improved this Constitution to include the voices of those who'd once been left out. And gradually, we made this country more just, more equal and more free."
To underscore this point, I'd mention that the National Labor Union, the first federation of organized labor in this country, was formed a year after the end of the Civil War. And it was on this date in 1866 that the National Labor Union officially called on Congress to mandate an eight-hour workday.
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As it turned out, merely asking Congress to pass a sensible and humane labor law wasn't enough in 1866. It's not always enough today. In any event, by 1872, the National Labor Union, having achieved little traction on its demands, turned to electoral politics. The organization held a national convention in Columbus, Ohio, to devise a platform and choose a nominee to run as a third-party presidential candidate. Neither purpose was accomplished propitiously.
For starters, the platform was a mess, an amalgamation of pet peeves and ideological slogans that undermined the larger goal. The eight-hour workday was there -- the seventh out of 12 planks -- but the others were mean-spirited (calling for the prohibition of imported Chinese workers), impractical (insisting that the cost of waging war be borne during the war), or vaguely socialist (government must "establish a just standard of distribution of capital and labor").
Then came the task of choosing a nominee, and that's when things went from bad to worse. The man selected, on the third ballot, to be labor's standard-bearer in the 1872 presidential election was David H. Davis of Illinois.
Davis was an esteemed man; the only trouble was that he was not a member of the National Labor Union, was not in attendance at the Ohio convention, and had not advanced his own name as a sacrificial lamb trying to deny Ulysses S. Grant a second term in the White House. Moreover, Davis was a sitting justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Davis had been appointed to that position by his friend and fellow Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln. Judge Davis had helped Lincoln secure the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, and when Lincoln was martyred five years later, Davis served as the executor of the fallen president's estate.
David Davis was a political animal, but a canny one. He feuded with Mary Todd Lincoln, but only after her husband's death. Five years after declining the dubious honor bestowed upon him by the National Labor Union, which received only 18,600 votes out of 6 million cast in 1872, he maneuvered his way into a U.S. Senate seat, representing Illinois for a single term.
As for the National Labor Union, it withered away and is now forgotten. But a seed was planted.
In 1933, Congress enacted the National Industrial Recovery Act, a measure proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the crucible of the Great Depression. The legislation set minimum wages, established a 40-hour workweek, and granted workers the right to bargaining collectively. The statute was invalidated by David Davis' old institution, the U.S. Supreme Court, so FDR and Congress responded with the Wagner Act of 1935, which conferred upon American laborers the right to unionize. Sometimes "good trouble" just takes a while to bear fruit.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.