American Coup D’Etat
Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age
From James G. Hogue, a discussant at the upcoming conference:
At the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York there is a prominent bronze plaque on a wall outside of the Superintendent’s garden with the following inscription: “While many other nations have suffered military coups, the United States never has.”
The first half of the inscription is certainly true. One scholar who surveyed the problem of the coup d’état in modern global politics came to the conclusion that military coups accounted for more changes of governments in the twentieth century than any other method. That fact alone goes far in explaining both the pervasive distrust of armies in civil societies and the corresponding academic interest in many nations in the problem of civil-military relations. Armies may be necessary to defend the state in time of war, but they have historically presented a persistent, if usually latent, threat to the state in time of peace.
The second half of the inscription, claiming that the United States has never experienced a coup, is false. The United States has not only experienced a successful coup on its soil, that coup was actually led by a graduate of West Point: Francis Tillou Redding Nicholls, a Confederate general in the American Civil War and member of the class of 1855. Commanding a veteran militia force of thousands of his fellow Louisianans, General Nicholls became governor of Louisiana by force of arms, overthrowing the Republican state government in New Orleans in 1877 and installing a system of one race/one party rule that persisted for nearly a century.