THUMBNAIL PERSPECTIVES ON THE CHARACTER OF THE STATE OF ARKANSAS

POPULATION DENSITY

Arkansas has about the same area as New York State and about the same population as the Bronx.

SOUTHERN, WESTERN OR MIDWESTERN

The Southernness of Arkansas is over emphasized. We had no grand antebellum period in the delta. Slaveowners wouldn't start plantations unless they were sure Arkansas would be admitted to the union as a slave state, so plantations were not founded until after 1836 and prior to the outbreak of the civil war didn't have time to amass the wealth of the multi-generational plantations of Mississippi or Louisianna. When southern states began seceding, an Arkansas convention voted twice to stay with the Union. The vote to secede came only when Washington demanded troops from Arkansas for the Union army fighting in eastern campaigns. Even so, entire regiments made up of Arkansas men fought to preserve the Union.

The cultural identities of neighboring states spills over into Arkansas. We're western like Oklahoma and Texas, southern like Mississippi and Louisianna, midwestern like Missouri, and plain country like Tennessee. Historically we have no great defining moment, like the Alamo or the Oklahoma land rush or the Battle of Vicksburg, no great romantic image like the riverboat gambler or the cowboy. We've got no national hero, no Mark Twain, no Daniel Boone, no Kingfish, no William Faulkner, no Jim Bowie. They all passed through here, but none are from here. Even Douglas MacArthur, born in Little Rock, always claimed that he was a Virginian, routinely quipping that he was born in Norfolk while his parents were out of town. As a result, nothing about us makes a lasting impression on the public consciousness. When most people think of Arkansas, they're actually thinking of something else.

THE RAZORBACKS

In football and basketball there are no distractions from the U. of A. Fayetteville teams. The Razorbacks are the only big-time college teams in the state and there are no pro teams, so when Big Red is playing that's who you're for, period. I graduated from Ole Miss, and most of the year I keep pretty quiet about it.

THE BEST THING ABOUT VACATIONING IN ARKANSAS

No Americans.

THE TEXAS/ARKANSAS RELATIONSHIP

Imagine you're a sunburned, patchy-pelted, snaggletoothed, blue-collar kind of guy and you've got a very very successful younger brother. That sums up the Arkansas/Texas dynamic pretty well. The war for Texas independence came out of Arkansas. It was organized here, and Old Washington was used as a mustering point and staging area. And when they won, what happened? They stole one of our counties. That little notch in the southwest corner is what we Arkies call "Old Miller County." More of that notch used to be ours. Some Texan redrew the map around 1840 or so, and since there were only a few people living there and the lack of good roads made it hard to collect taxes from them anyway, nobody said anything. Now it belongs to Texas.

TYPICALLY IGNORED

The largest civil war battle west of the Mississippi was fought at Pea Ridge. The capture of Helena and the battle of Arkansas Post were pivotal events in Grant's Vicksburg campaign; but Arkansas was not mentioned even once in Ken Burns' epic civil war documentary, even though skirmishes in waythehelloff New Mexico were included. If you've ever attended a party where you were not welcome, you know what it's like to be from Arkansas.

RTJ -- 4/9/2001

UPDATE RTJ -- 10/20/2001

ATHEISM

Article Nineteen, Section One of the Arkansas Constitution reads: "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court."

I called up the Secretary of State's office, the Ombudsman and the U. of A. law library with some questions and got the usual non answers. What I found out was that the law is still on the books, but nobody I asked knew of anybody who had been kicked out of office or suppressed in court because of it. I asked Ombudsman Bob Fisher if people claimed to be atheist in order to get out of jury duty. He said, "I wouldn't be surprised if people didn't try that sometimes." Not an answer, but that's the kind of response I got.

A thousand questions suggested themselves. What if somebody claims to be an agnostic? What if an employee of the State Crime Lab one day admits to being an atheist? Is all the evidence examined by him suddenly not admissable? If an atheist finds himself in court, is he not allowed to take the stand in his own defense? Is an atheist not allowed to sue anybody? After all, his claim has to be entered as testimony, and the constitution says his testimony is not allowed. How far down does the prohibition on atheist officeholders extend? Does it apply to elected officials, appointed officials, salaried state employees?

Mr. Fisher said that officeholders and witnesses take oaths that include words to the effect "So help me God" or "Do you swear before God and these witnesses...." Anybody denying the existence of god, by dint of a conflict in logic nullifies an oath which is supposedly legitimized by God's authority. You can't swear by a god you don't believe in. By their reasoning something had to be excluded. We either had to take God out of our oaths or atheists out of our government.

The sources I checked were reluctant to state an opinion lest somebody act on that opinion and get themselves into trouble. One person, whose identity I will protect, said "You could just lie." Well, there you go. Truthful atheists can't hold office, but if you lie and say you're a Baptist, you're just fine. So on your way to court, stop by the church and pick yourself up a six pack of Jesus.

RTJ -- 4/16/03

I got a note from an expatriate Arkansan lawyer: "....the U.S. Supreme Court overturned any and all state oaths demanding a belief in a deity, in Torasco v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961). The decision was based both on the First Amendment and Article VI, [3] of the U.S. Constitution.

Odd that the Arkansas Ombudsman didn't know this.

RTJ--4/25/03


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