Political Issues and Controversies

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Entry Category: Political Issues and Controversies

Act 401 of 1951

aka: Communist Registration Act
Also called the Communist Registration Act, Act 401 was approved in March 1951 during the tenure of the Fifty-eighth Arkansas General Assembly. It was subtitled “An Act to Require Members of Certain Organizations Advocating the Unconstitutional Overthrow of the United States or of the State of Arkansas to Register With the State Police.” Ostensibly directed against members of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and affiliated organizations, Act 401 was passed in the context of the Second Red Scare following World War II. Act 401 did not emerge in a political vacuum, nor was this law unprecedented in Arkansas history. Act 401 was consistent with federal, state, and local legislation against “subversive organizations.” The law joined a long line of federal …

Act 910 of 2019

aka: Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019
Act 910 of 2019 was a piece of signature legislation for Governor Asa Hutchinson, who sought to reduce the size of Arkansas state government and the number of agency heads reporting directly to the governor. In state government, an agency designated as a “department” is typically headed by a secretary who is appointed by the governor as part of the cabinet. Many of the changes brought about by Act 910 involved departments becoming “divisions,” such as the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) becoming the Division of Environmental Quality within the new Department of Energy and Environment. Hutchinson looked to Act 38 of 1971, the last large-scale reorganization of Arkansas state government, which consolidated sixty state government agencies into thirteen. …

Agricultural Adjustment Act

The experimental Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was the cornerstone farm legislation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda and was steered through the U.S. Senate by Joe T. Robinson, Arkansas’s senior senator. In Arkansas, farm landowners reaped subsidy benefits from the measure through decreased cotton production. Arkansas sharecroppers and tenant farmers did not fare as well, bringing about the establishment of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU). Upon taking office in 1933—during the fourth year of the Great Depression, on the heels of the Drought of 1930–1931, and amid the full force of the Dust Bowl—Roosevelt promised “a new deal for the American people” centered on “relief, recovery, and reform.” Counseled by advisors dubbed the “brain trust,” Roosevelt fashioned …

Amendments 19 and 20

aka: Futrell Amendments
Amendments 19 and 20 to the Arkansas Constitution, which are commonly referred to as the Futrell Amendments, sharply restricted the ability of the legislature to levy taxes, spend the funds, and incur debt. Ratified in the general election in 1934, the amendments went beyond the laws of any other state in limiting the fiscal powers of the legislature and were supposed to guarantee austere and limited government for posterity. The restrictions on borrowing stated in Amendment 20, which required a statewide popular vote before the state could borrow money for public improvements, were loosened in 1986 by Amendment 65, after the Arkansas Supreme Court handed down a strict interpretation that seemed to outlaw what were known as “revenue bonds,” which the …

Anthony, Joseph J.

Joseph J. Anthony, a soldier, politician, and Arkansas pioneer, fell victim to one of the most extraordinary and bizarre events in Arkansas political history. He became the only sitting member of the state legislature to be killed during a debate in the Arkansas House of Representatives. J. J. Anthony, born possibly as early as 1780, was a native of Virginia and the son of the Reverend Joseph Anthony, a Baptist minister, and his wife, Jane Ferris. The family moved to middle Tennessee shortly after 1800, and, by 1808, Anthony was living in Smith County. On the eve of the War of 1812, he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry. After the outbreak of hostilities, he …

Arkansas Freedom of Information Act

aka: Freedom of Information Act
aka: FOIA
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), signed into law by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller on February 14, 1967, is generally considered one of the strongest and best models for open government by investigative reporters and others who research public records for various purposes. The intent of the FOIA is to keep government business and government records open and accessible to the people of Arkansas. The Arkansas FOIA has been called “the people’s law” in that it provides the citizens of Arkansas open access to the conduct of the public’s business at every level of government, as well as ready access to public records on file with a host of custodians for those records in county courthouses, city halls, public schools, …

Arkansas Loan and Thrift

Arkansas Loan and Thrift Corporation (AL&T) was a hybrid bank that operated for three years outside state banking laws with the help of political connections in the 1960s before coming to a scandalous end. A U.S. district judge halted the operations and placed the company in receivership in March 1968, and a federal grand jury indicted three officers of the company, as well as a former Arkansas attorney general. AL&T became a symbol of the corruption and lethargy that were the products of Governor Orval Faubus’s twelve-year control of the statehouse and, in the opinion of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, the Democratic Party’s unfettered reign in government since Reconstruction. It was jokingly called “Arkansas Loan and Theft.” The grand jury indictment …

Arkansas Peace Society

The Arkansas Peace Society was a loose affiliation of local anti-Confederate groups that formed in response to Arkansas’s secession from the Union. These groups operated like secret societies in several north Arkansas counties until late in 1861, when local militias and the Confederate government of the state began carrying out large-scale arrests of perceived traitors in the region. The Arkansas Peace Society was quickly broken up, though north Arkansas contributed approximately ninety percent of soldiers from the state who fought for the Union, while jayhawkers and bushwhackers also roamed the area with some intensity. The upland counties of northern Arkansas, where slavery was not a major component of the local economy, contained a large number of people opposed to the …

Arkansas Plan

The 1976 proposal known as the “Arkansas Plan” represented an important innovation in the relationship between the state and its localities, and its defeat became one of the greatest policy failures for Governor David Pryor. At its core, the plan would have greatly expanded local control over important public policies as well as taxing authority, shifting such decision making from the state level. When the plan was introduced in October 1976, Pryor was in the midst of an easy reelection campaign. The energy that Pryor invested over the months following in a failed effort to get the plan passed became a major distraction from other aspects of his political agenda. Pryor’s Arkansas Plan was a follow-up to a 1974 amendment …

Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L)

The Arkansas Power and Light Company (AP&L) was the primary electrical utility company for much of Arkansas from 1913 to 1989. It was the predecessor to Entergy Corporation, the electrical company now serving much of the state in the twenty-first century. The company was founded in 1913 as the Arkansas Power Company by Harvey Crowley Couch, a native of Columbia County and a successful railroad and telephone utility entrepreneur. In 1914, Couch bought the power plants at Arkadelphia (Clark County) and Malvern (Hot Spring County) and then built a twenty-two-mile electrical transmission line running between them. The system had problems with electrical supply and ran exclusively at night, but it served as the only electrical transmission line in the state. …

Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal

The Arkansas prison blood scandal resulted from the state’s selling plasma extracted from prisoners at the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC). Corruption among the administrators of the prison blood program and poor supervision resulted in disease-tainted blood, often carrying hepatitis or HIV, knowingly being shipped to blood brokers, who in turn shipped it to Canada, Europe, and Asia. Revelation of the misdeeds and the healthcare crisis it created in Canada nearly brought down the Liberal Party government in 1997. In 1994, Arkansas became the last state to stop selling plasma extracted from prisoners. Arkansas’s prison blood program began in 1964 as a way for both prisoners and the prison system to make money. (Arkansas law forbids …

Arkansas Project

The Arkansas Project was a reporting venture in the mid-1990s undertaken with the aim of discrediting President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Writers and investigators—who were paid from a fund of more than $2 million provided by Richard Mellon Scaife, owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and billionaire heir to the Mellon fortune—delved into matters such as the Whitewater land deal in the Arkansas Ozarks, the suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr., mysterious deaths and drug schemes in Arkansas, and Governor Clinton’s alleged 1991 tryst with state employee Paula Jones. Much of the work was later discredited or else repudiated by the authors and others involved, including Scaife, who years later became an admirer of the former president and …

Arkansas Real Estate Bank

In 1836, the establishment of the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas became the initial act to pass the first state legislature. Momentum for a state-sponsored bank began during the territorial phase when planters and other lowland agricultural interests sought ways to enhance the availability of capital. The bank’s charter required the state to issue $2 million in five-percent bonds, the proceeds from which would serve as the bank’s capital. But the state held no authority for immediate supervision of the bank’s operations other than the appointment of a minority of the bank’s directors. From 1836 to 1855, when the state took over control, the Real Estate Bank proved to be a source of political corruption, financial mismanagement, and intense sectional …

Arkansas Scholarship Lottery

The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery is a system of games of chance, implemented to generate revenue to fund the state’s Academic Challenge Scholarship program for qualified high school graduates. The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery was made possible by the 2008 passage of Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 3, which amended the state constitution to make a statewide lottery program legal. By fall 2016, more than 200,000 students had received an Academic Challenge Scholarship to attend a two-year or four-year institution of higher education in the state of Arkansas. Although it was not until 2008 that Arkansas voters passed a constitutional amendment to allow the creation of a lottery, the topic had been debated in the state for a number of years. In 1990, …

Arkansas State Bank

The Arkansas State Bank (1836–1843) was one of two banks created by the newly formed Arkansas state legislature. It provided some funding for commercial projects, though most of its funds facilitated land sales. Its greatest legacy, however, was saddling the new state government with a burdensome debt and instigating several accounts of political corruption. In the end, the bank’s failure jeopardized both public and private banking in Arkansas due to the public outcry against its operation. Banking was one of the most prominent political issues of the early nineteenth century. Waves of banking mania spread across the country as advocates sang the praises of increasing available currency and spurring on economic development. On the western frontier, demands for banks ran …

Arkansas State Boundaries

Arkansas’s boundaries have been the subject of international treaties, treaties with Native American tribes, acts of Congress, and a multitude of decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Generally, Arkansas is bordered on the north by Missouri; on the east by Tennessee and Mississippi; on the south by Louisiana; and on the west by Texas and Oklahoma, but that is not entirely correct. Arkansas is also bordered on the east by Missouri and the south by Texas, but parts of the state are also north of Missouri, east of Mississippi, north of Oklahoma and west of Texas. Tennessee-Mississippi BoundaryAs early as the Treaty of Paris of 1763 ending the French and Indian War, the middle of the Mississippi River was established …

Back-to-Africa Movement

The Back-to-Africa Movement mobilized thousands of African-American Arkansans who wished to leave the state for the Republic of Liberia in the late 1800s. Approximately 650 emigrants left from Arkansas, more than from any other American state, in the 1880s and 1890s, the last phase of organized group migration of black Americans to Liberia. As early as 1820, black Americans had begun to return to their ancestral homeland through the auspices of the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization headquartered in Washington DC, which arranged transportation and settlement. The ACS founded the Republic of Liberia in 1847, with its flag and constitution emulating American models, and nearly 13,000 redeemed slaves and free blacks had settled there before the Civil War. With …

Benson, George Stuart

George Stuart Benson was the second president of Harding College (now Harding University) in Searcy (White County), but he is most remembered as a crusader against communism. He founded the National Education Program (NEP) at Harding to advocate for American values and the free enterprise system. George Benson, son of Stuart Felix Benson and Erma Rogers Benson, was born on his parents’ small Oklahoma farm in Dewey County on September 26, 1898. He attended several elementary and secondary schools in the area and then attended classes at Oklahoma A&M until transferring to Harper College in Harper, Kansas. In 1924, Harper College merged with Arkansas Christian College in Morrilton (Conway County) to form Harding College, a private school associated with the …

Big Lake Wars

Competition and contention over an abundant (and unregulated) storehouse of northeastern Arkansas wildlife from the mid-1870s until 1915 led to violence and controversy known as the Big Lake Wars. Big Lake refers to a section of western Mississippi County created by the massive New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812. “War” may be a misleading description of the events because there were no formalities, declarations, truces, or settlements. However, the conflict had a lasting impact on the state and even on the nation. The Big Lake Wars pitted local residents, who were mostly poor, against affluent northerners, chiefly from St. Louis, Missouri. Early Arkansas maps labeled the sparsely populated area between Crowley’s Ridge and the Mississippi River as “the Great Swamp.” After …

Black Power Movement

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) worker Willie Ricks coined the “black power” slogan in June 1966 during the March Against Fear in Mississippi. The term was subsequently popularized by national SNCC chair Stokely Carmichael. Those who used the slogan often left its precise meaning deliberately ambiguous. In general terms, the black power movement is usually taken to mark a shift in emphasis from the earlier civil rights movement by advocating black separatism and black nationalism over inter-racialism and racial integration, and by advocating armed black self-defense over a strict adherence to nonviolence. More recently, historians have questioned just how dramatic a break the black power era represented from the civil rights era. Instead, they have noted that many of the …

Blue Laws

Arkansas’s first blue laws, also called Sunday-closing laws, were enacted in 1837, only a year after Arkansas’s statehood. Though no blue laws have been in effect since 1982, they influenced the state’s culture and commerce for nearly a century and a half. Blue laws have been part of American history since people began emigrating from Europe, where the laws were common. Virginia established the first blue law in the American colonies in 1610. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbidding the establishment of religion may have called into question the legality of Sunday-closing laws, but it did not stop nearly all states from adopting them. Historically, courts have ruled that state legislatures could proclaim a weekly day of rest …

Boodle Prosecutions

aka: Boodle Scandal of 1905–1908
The Boodle Scandal of 1905–1908 dealt with pervasive bribery (“boodle” is a slang term for bribe money) in the 1905 Arkansas General Assembly uncovered by Lewis Rhoton, prosecuting attorney for the Sixth Judicial District (Pulaski and Perry counties). Rhoton’s unmasking of legislators’ corruption in Arkansas in these years advanced the rise of Progressivism as a political force. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Little Rock (Pulaski County) on October 25, 1905, he praised Rhoton’s effort to hold public officials to account. The president also decried difficulties in prosecuting the wealthy or influential, including difficulties created by the legal system itself. Problems with Arkansas’s law and judicial procedures were partly at fault for Rhoton’s lack of widespread success in proceeding against boodlers. …

Bracero Program

To ensure that U.S. farmers had sufficient labor, the U.S. State Department and the Mexican Foreign Affairs Department signed a bilateral agreement to create the Bracero Program in August 1942. Preceded by the similar Emergency Farm Labor Program, it aimed to supply landowners with laborers so they could meet increased wartime demand for their crops. Under the terms of the agreement, workers were contracted for a period of no more than ninety days, and they could reenlist in the program each year. The program was administered by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and hiring agents in cities such as Tijuana, Guadalajara, Chihuahua, Monterrey, and Mexico City. The majority of braceros worked in the West—primarily California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Texas, and …

Brooks-Baxter War

The Brooks-Baxter War, which occurred during April and May 1874, was an armed conflict between the supporters of two rivals for the governorship—Joseph Brooks and Elisha Baxter. The violence spilled out of Little Rock (Pulaski County) into much of the state and was resolved only when the federal government intervened. The result of the war, recognition of Elisha Baxter as the governor, brought a practical end to Republican rule in the state and thus ended the era of Reconstruction. Questions concerning the results of the state’s 1872 gubernatorial election brought about the Brooks-Baxter War. In that election, Joseph Brooks—a carpetbagger with a radical reputation and the leader of the party faction known as the “Brindletails”—ran as a Reform Republican, supporting …

California Gold Rush, Effect of the

The California gold rush did not have the positive impact on Arkansas envisioned by its promoters, who hoped for Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to become the hub of westward migration. It did force Arkansas out of its frontier status as people went farther west to California. It also shifted population. John L. Ferguson wrote that, following 1850, Arkansans searching out new opportunity were continuing to move westward; by 1860, some 2,000 Arkansans lived in California, while another 11,000 had emigrated to Texas. The Arkansas Gazette of May 14, 1852, noted that “it is calculated that out of every 100 persons who have gone to California, fifty have been ruined, forty no better than they would have been had they stayed …

Capital Punishment

aka: Death Penalty
The death penalty was practiced in Arkansas even before the state was admitted to the Union in 1836. According to the Arkansas News, “during the American Revolution several members of the garrison at Arkansas Post were convicted of having plotted on behalf of the English to massacre all the soldiers at the Post. They were executed by a firing squad in New Orleans.” These executions mark the first recorded death sentences for crimes committed in Arkansas. The Arkansas criminal code provides for the death penalty or life without parole upon conviction of capital murder or treason. Those convicted of rape were also subject to the death penalty until January 1, 1976, prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Coker …

Carpetbaggers and Scalawags

“Carpetbaggers” is a slang term denoting men who adhered to the newly formed Republican Party, which followed the demise of the Whig Party, and gained control of Arkansas politics and government after the end of Civil War. Many of these men were former Union soldiers. The correct term is Radical Republicans. Southerners coined the pejorative term carpetbaggers and claimed that these men came into the state with only what could be packed in a suitcase made from carpet scraps. The belief was that these men were uneducated opportunists who came to Arkansas only to plunder and take advantage of the bankrupt, defeated, and humiliated people of the state. Noted carpetbaggers included Thomas Meade Bowen, a lawyer, and Powell Clayton, an …

Chicot County Race War of 1871

aka: Chicot County Massacre
In late 1871, Chicot County was taken over by several hundred African Americans, led by state legislator and county judge James W. Mason. The murder of African-American lawyer Wathal (sometimes spelled as Walthall) Wynn prompted the area’s black citizens to kill the men jailed for their role in the murder and take over the area. Many white residents fled, escaping by steamboat to Memphis, Tennessee, and other nearby river towns. Like the Black Hawk War that occurred in Mississippi County the following year, the situation arose, in part, from the radical wing of the Republican Party exercising its power in choosing local officials. Both Mississippi and Chicot counties’ populations were primarily black, with blacks outnumbering whites four to one in Chicot County. …

Civil Rights Movement (Twentieth Century)

The 1957 desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) is often viewed as the most significant development in the civil rights struggle in Arkansas. However, this event is just one part of a struggle for African-American freedom and equality that both predates and outlasts the twentieth century. African Americans in Arkansas at the turn of the twentieth century were in an embattled state, as they were across the rest of the South. They were politically disfranchised and increasingly segregated in most areas of public life. In the Arkansas Delta, where the vast majority of Arkansas’s black population was concentrated throughout the twentieth century, blacks were often bound to the land by exploitative peonage contracts with white …

Cleburne County Draft War

The Cleburne County Draft War was one of three violent encounters in World War I–era Arkansas that occurred in the spring and summer of 1918 between local officials determined to enforce the Selective Service Act of 1917 and citizens who resisted conscription. In this episode, those resisting the draft were Jehovah’s Witnesses, then known as Russellites, who were widely viewed with suspicion and hatred because of their refusal to take part in civic and military affairs. The Cleburne County Draft War began before sunrise on Sunday, July 7, 1918, when Sheriff Jasper Duke led four men into an area of the county between Rosebud (White County) and Pearson (Cleburne County) in search of delinquents who had not registered for the …

Clinton Chronicles, The

The Clinton Chronicles: An Investigation into the Alleged Criminal Activities of Bill Clinton is a 1994 video produced by Patrick Matrisciana that accuses former president Bill Clinton of crimes in Arkansas. The video, which has been called a propaganda piece, put forward a conspiracy theory, the “Clinton Body Count,” regarding individuals whom Clinton was alleged to have had killed. The Clinton Chronicles was produced by a group called Citizens for Honest Government of Westminster, California. Partially funded by Arkansan Larry Nichols, its parent organization was Creative Ministries, Inc. According to the New York Times, Nichols had been hired in the 1980s by Governor Clinton as marketing director for the Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA). In 1988, Nichols was fired by …

Commonwealth College

Arkansas’s most famous attempt at radical labor education was the accidental by-product of natural beauty, cheap land, and desperation. Commonwealth College was established in 1923 at Newllano Cooperative Colony near Leesville, Louisiana. Its founders were Kate Richards O’Hare, her husband Frank, and William E. Zeuch, all socialists and lifelong adherents of the principles established by Eugene V. Debs. Drawing on their mutual experience at Ruskin College in Florida, where they had been impressed with the possibility of higher education combined with cooperative community, the O’Hares and Zeuch decided to create a college specifically aimed at the leadership of what they designated as a new social class, the industrial worker. As an established cooperative community, Newllano appeared to be the ideal …

Convict Lease System

The convict lease system was a way of operating state prisons adopted by Arkansas in the mid-nineteenth century. The Arkansas system mirrored that of other Southern states during this period and reflected the desire to reduce the cost and administrative problems of the state’s prisons. While the system achieved its economic goals, it was typified by corruption and the abuse of prisoners, problems that ultimately brought about its abolition. In Arkansas, the convict lease system originated during the Reconstruction era when, in 1867, the state contracted with the firm of Hodges, Peay, and Ayliff to provide work for prisoners in the penitentiary at Little Rock (Pulaski County). The state agreed to pay the company thirty-five cents a day for the …

Conway-Crittenden Duel

aka: Crittenden-Conway Duel
In 1827, Henry Wharton Conway and Robert Crittenden, both important figures in territorial Arkansas, fought a duel that had profound implications for the course of Arkansas history. Conway, a former naval officer and governmental employee originally from Tennessee, had relocated to Arkansas for a governmental post and eventually sought political office in Arkansas. Crittenden, originally from Kentucky, also served in the armed forces and later held political positions in Arkansas; he was originally a political supporter of Conway. Both were young, professional, and successful in their own right, but a conflict ensued between the two during an Arkansas election campaign, leading Crittenden to challenge Conway to a duel. Conway and Crittenden were friends and had worked together in an official …

Crawford, Maud Robinson

Maud Robinson Crawford, a lawyer with the Gaughan, McClellan and Laney law firm in Camden (Ouachita County), mysteriously disappeared from her stately Colonial home on Saturday night, March 2, 1957, at age sixty-five. U.S. Senator John L. McClellan, a former partner in the law firm, was at the time of her disappearance the chairman of a high-profile Senate investigation into alleged mob ties to organized labor. The disappearance of Sen. McClellan’s former associate was international news, a first assumption being that she had been kidnapped by the Mafia to intimidate the senator. When no ransom note appeared, however, the theory was rejected by law enforcement. No body was ever found, and the case was never solved. Maud Robinson was born …

Cuban Refugee Crisis

Arkansas played a part in the international drama of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans left their homeland for a new life in the United States. Roughly 25,000 of these Cuban refugees—called Marielitos because they had departed Cuba from the port of Mariel—were housed for a time at Fort Chaffee in Sebastian County. Their presence in Arkansas created social and political tension widely thought to have had an impact on the Arkansas governor’s race of 1980. Cuba and the Boatlift The crisis of 1980 began April 11 of that year, when Hector Sanyustiz, accompanied by five friends, drove a Havana city bus through a gate onto the grounds of the Peruvian Embassy to Cuba. The six intended to seek political asylum. By …