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5 Things Worth Knowing About Pork-Barrels

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With all the recent talk about pork barrels and earmarks in the news, here are five things that might help stir the debate... or not, but at least they make good water cooler convo.

1) The term has always been VERY derogatory. According to most sources, the saying was first used by a journalist named E.K. Hale in a story titled "Pork Barrel," published in 1865 by Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. In Hale's own words: "When plantation owners rolled out a barrel of salt pork into the slave quarters the desperate slaves engaged in a feeding frenzy to get the best pieces. It was a form of entertainment for heartless slavelords and their guests."

2) An early example of pork-barrel legislation is the Bonus Bill, introduced in 1817, way before the term was used to label it as such. The bill tried to finance highways linking the east and south to the western frontier using the earnings bonus of the Second Bank of the United States. But President James Madison vetoed the bill as unconstitutional.

3) Pork-Barrel legislation was rampant at the turn of the 20th century. I found this amazing statistic in a book published in 1921 called Principles and Problems of Government: "More than 80-percent of the building authorizations by Congress since 1789 have been since 1902. In other words, more than four times as many buildings have been provided for in 17 years under the sway of the pork-barrel system than under 113 years of unsystemic log-rolling."

4) In case you're now wondering about the origins of logrolling, which is basically the pioneers' way of saying quid pro quo, the largely accepted version goes like this: If neighbors had a pantload of timber that needed moving, they worked together rolling the logs out.

5) Pork-barrel legislation made at least one person famous in a good way: James Stewart was largely unknown until Frank Capra's classic 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was released. If you haven't seen the movie, I don't want to ruin it for you, but there's a pork-barrel bill in the plot, used to finance an unneeded dam. Good stuff. Be sure to add the Oscar-winning film to your Netflix.

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Chris Radburn—WPA Pool/Getty Images
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politics
The Secret Procedure for the Queen's Death
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Chris Radburn—WPA Pool/Getty Images

The queen's private secretary will start an urgent phone tree. Parliament will call an emergency session. Commercial radio stations will watch special blue lights flash, then switch to pre-prepared playlists of somber music. As a new video from Half As Interesting relates, the British media and government have been preparing for decades for the death of Queen Elizabeth II—a procedure codenamed "London Bridge is Down."

There's plenty at stake when a British monarch dies. And as the Guardian explains, royal deaths haven't always gone smoothly. When the Queen Mother passed away in 2002, the blue "obit lights" installed at commercial radio stations didn’t come on because someone failed to depress the button fully. That's why it's worth it to practice: As Half as Interesting notes, experts have already signed contracts agreeing to be interviewed upon the queen's death, and several stations have done run-throughs substituting "Mrs. Robinson" for the queen's name.

You can learn more about "London Bridge is Down" by watching the video below—or read the Guardian piece for even more detail, including the plans for her funeral and burial. ("There may be corgis," they note.)

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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