Was 1861 Really a Peaceful Transition of Power?

I wasn’t going to bother blogging about Lamar Alexander’s peculiar boast that today’s “peaceful, orderly” transfer of power was uniquely American, figuring that it’s just standard patriotic puffery and nothing to complain about. But Dylan Matthews reproduces the chart on the right to show that lots of countries have peaceful transfers of power, and that got my attention. I’m not sure where it came from, but the author appears to think the United States has had 43 peaceful transitions.

It’s true that Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States. But I’d say that 1861 was a decidedly non-peaceful transfer of power, leading as it did to a secession by half the country and four years of brutal civil war. Since then we’ve had 28 peaceful transfers—generously counting Andrew Johnson’s takeover as “peaceful”—which puts us just ahead of Canada and a bit behind Australia.

Not bad, really. But as it turns out, even less out of the ordinary than it looks at first glance—though we might look better if we counted years instead of changes of government. After all, I’m not sure Italy should really get a lot of props just because their government changes every six months or so.

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.