December 7, 1941 USS Oklahoma

14 Marines and 415 sailors aboard Oklahoma lost their lives immediately, or in the days and weeks to come. Bulkhead markings would later reveal that, at least some of the doomed would live for another seventeen days in the black, upside-down hell. The last mark was drawn by the last survivor, on Christmas Eve.


It was literally “out of the blue” when the first wave of enemy aircraft arrived at 7:48 am local time, December 7, 1941. 353 Imperial Japanese warplanes approached in two waves out of the southeast, fighters, bombers, and torpedo aircraft.  Across Hickam Field and over the still waters of Pearl Harbor. Tied in place and immobile, the eight vessels moored at “Battleship Row” were easy targets.

In the center of the Japanese flight path, sailors and Marines aboard the USS Oklahoma fought back furiously, as holes as wide as 40-feet were torn into her side. Eight torpedoes smashed into her port side, each striking higher on the hull as the great Battleship began to roll.

She never had a chance.

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Bilge plates had been removed for a scheduled inspection the following day, making counter-flooding to prevent capsize, impossible. The ninth torpedo slammed home even as Oklahoma rolled over, and died. Hundreds scrambled out across the rolling hull, jumped overboard into the oil covered, flaming waters of the harbor, or crawled out over mooring lines in the attempt to reach USS Maryland, tied in the next berth.

The damage was catastrophic. Once the pride of the Pacific fleet, all eight battleships were damaged. Four of them sunk. Nine cruisers, destroyers and other craft were damaged, another two sunk. 347 aircraft were damaged, most caught while still on the ground. 159 of those, were destroyed. 2,403 were dead or destined to die from the attack, another 1,178 wounded.

Nine Japanese torpedoes struck USS Oklahoma’s port side, in the first ten minutes.

HT John F DeVirgilio for this graphic
The last moments of USS Oklahoma.  H/T John F DeVirgilio for this graphic

Frantic around the clock rescue efforts began almost immediately, to get at 461 sailors and Marines trapped within the hull of the Oklahoma. Tapping could be heard as holes were drilled to get at those trapped inside. Thirty-two were delivered from certain death.

14 Marines and 415 sailors aboard Oklahoma lost their lives immediately, or in the days and weeks to come. Bulkhead markings would later reveal that, at least some of the doomed would live for another seventeen days in the black, upside-down hell. The last mark was drawn by the last survivor, on Christmas Eve.

Of sixteen ships lost or damaged, thirteen were destined to be repaired, and returned to service. USS Arizona remains on the bottom to this day, a monument to the event and to the 1,102-honored dead who remain entombed within her hull. USS Utah defied salvage efforts. She too is a registered War Grave, 64 honored dead remaining within her hull, lying at the bottom not far from the Arizona.

Of necessity, such repairs were prioritized. For the time being, USS Oklahoma was beyond help. She, and her dead, would have to wait.

Oklahoma Diver

Recovery of the USS Oklahoma was the most complex salvage operation ever attempted, beginning in March, 1943.  With the weight of her hull driving Oklahoma’s superstructure into bottom, salvage divers descended daily to separate the tower, while creating hardpoints from which to attach righting cables.

The work was hellishly dangerous down there in the mud and the oil at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  Several divers lost their lives and yet, another day would come and each would descend yet again, into that black water.

21 giant A-frames were fixed to the hull of USS Oklahoma, 3-inch cables connecting compound pulleys to 21 electric motors, each capable of pulling 429 tons.

Two pull configurations were used over 74 days, first attached to these massive A-frames, then direct connections once the hull had achieved 70°. In May 1943, her decks once again saw the light of day, for the first time in over two years.

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USS Oklahoma, righting strategy

Fully righted, the ship was still ten-feet below water. Massive temporary wood and concrete structures called “cofferdams” closed cavernous holes left by torpedoes, so the hull could be pumped out and re-floated. A problem even larger than those torpedo holes were the gaps between hull plates, caused by the initial capsize and righting operations. Divers stuffed kapok into gaps as water was pumped out.

Individual divers spent 2-3 years on the Oklahoma salvage job. Underwater arc welding and hydraulic jet techniques were developed during this period, which remain in use to this day. 1,848 dives were performed for a total of 10,279 man hours under pressure.

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CDR Edward Charles Raymer, US Navy Retired, was one of those divers. Raymer tells the story of those men in Descent into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941 – A Navy Diver’s Memoir, if you’re interested in further reading.  Most of those men are gone now, including Raymer himself.  They have earned the right to be remembered.

Ken Hartle died in January 2017 in an Escondido, California Alzheimer’s and dementia center. He was 103, possibly the oldest of those divers. Before the age of SCUBA, Hartle and his fellow divers worked in heavy canvas suits and brass helmets weighing together, over 200 pounds. He regularly risked death, towing away unexploded bombs and torpedoes. He suffered the bends and nearly lost his life one day, when an anchor chain exploded into flying shards of metal. The part he’d never talk about even after all those years, was the hardest part. ‘Bringing up our boys’.

Salvage workers entered the pressurized hull through airlocks wearing masks and protective suits. Bodies were in advanced stages of decomposition by this time and the oil and chemical-soaked interior was toxic to life. Most victims would never be identified.

Divers standing in front of a decompression chamber, while they were working to salvage ships sunk in the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. Note warrant officer standing at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Twenty 10,000 gallon per minute pumps operated for 11 hours straight, re-floating the battleship on November 3, 1943.

Oklahoma entered dry dock the following month, a total loss to the American war effort. She was stripped of guns and superstructure, sold for scrap on December 5, 1946 to the Moore Drydock Company of Oakland, California.

The battered hulk left Pearl Harbor for the last time in May 1947, destined for the indignity of a scrapyard in San Francisco bay. She would never make it.

Taken under tow by the ocean-going tugs Hercules and Monarch, the three vessels entered a storm, 540 miles east of Hawaii. On May 17, disaster struck. Piercing the darkness, Hercules’ spotlight revealed the former battleship to be listing, heavily. Naval base at Pearl Harbor instructed them to turn around, when these two giant tugs suddenly found themselves slowing, to a stop. Despite her massive engines, Hercules began to move backward. She was being dragged astern with no warning, hurtling past Monarch, herself swamped at the stern and being dragged backward at 17 mph.

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Ocean-going tug Hercules, photograph by William Havle

Fortunately for both tugs, skippers Kelly Sprague of Hercules and George Anderson of Monarch had both loosened the cable drums connecting 1,400-foot tow lines, to Oklahoma. Monarch’s line played out and detached. Hercules’ line didn’t do so until the last possible moment. With tow line straight down and sinking fast, Hercules’ cable drum exploded in a shower of sparks directly over Oklahoma’s final resting place, the 409-ton tug bobbing to the surface like the float on a child’s fishing line.

Postcard image of USS Oklahoma (BB-37) from the service of AMM2c Durrell Wade“. H/T nationalww2museum.org

“Okie” was stabbed in the back, attacked and mortally wounded even before she knew she was at war.  The causes leading to her final descent, remain uncertain.  Most will tell you, her plates couldn’t hold.  The beating of six years earlier, was just too much.   Those who served on her decks, might tell you differently. Maybe she just preferred, to die at sea.

Afterward

Jesus Garcia of Guam died at age 21 on December 7, 1941, a sailor serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. William Eugene Blanchard of Tignall Georgia, was 24.

In 1947, “Okie’s” honored dead were disinterred. Dental records and dog tags were used to identify thirty-five. The other 391 including Blanchard and Garcia were reburied in 61 caskets, in Hawaii’s National Military Cemetery of the Pacific. Their names were known, only to God.

Nearly sixty years later, scientific advances in DNA analysis made further identifications, possible. Veteran Ray Emory was serving aboard the USS Honolulu on that day in 1941 and persuaded the D.o.D., to make the attempt.

Exhumations began in 2015. Mitochondrial DNA was enough for many identifications, but not all. Mitochondrial DNA comes from the maternal side. Shared ancestral lines means that sometimes, that’s not enough. One DNA sequence matched 25 victims.

Further DNA was collected from paternal lines, combining with the mitochondrial to identify many of Oklahoma’s dead. William Blanchard was laid to rest with full military honors on June 7, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

As I write this it is December 7, 2021. 80 years after the fact some ninety percent of those who gave their lives on board USS Oklahoma once again, have their names.

Jesus Garcia went to his final rest in San Diego on October 6, 2021. Gilbert Nadeau, 95, was the only WW2 veteran able to attend.

November 19, 1864 The Man who Shot the Man who Shot, Abraham Lincoln

Erethism mercurialis or “Mad hatter’s Disease” goes a long way toward an understanding, of Thomas Corbett.

Thomas Corbett was born in London England in 1832, emigrating with his family at age 7 and settling in Troy, New York. There he apprenticed to a hat maker, a profession he would hold off and on for the rest of his life.

19th century hat makers used an orange colored mercury solution to make felt from the fur of small animals, in a process called “carroting”.  Mercury attacks the nervous system causing drooling, hair loss, a lurching gait, difficulty in speaking, “brain fog” and a convulsive shaking called “hatter’s shakes”.

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Felt hat

There were plenty of “Mad hatters,” in Lewis Carroll’s time, long before Alice’s Wonderland.  Danbury Connecticut was once the hat making capital of the world, with 56 factories producing five million hats a year.  By the time of the Civil War, mercury poisoning had reduced countless numbers of factory workers, to physical wrecks.  Everybody knew the “Danbury shakes”.

Erethism mercurialis or “Mad hatter’s Disease” goes a long way toward an understanding, of Thomas Corbett.

Corbett married early in life.  It nearly broke him to lose his young wife in childbirth.  He moved to Boston and continued to work as a hatter, but heavy drinking left him unable to keep a job for long and eventually, homeless.  Corbett was confronted by a street preacher one night and the event, changed his life.

He immediately quit drinking and became fanatically, religious.  He was “the Glory to God man,” growing his hair long to emulate Jesus.  The “local eccentric” who took up his own street ministry and changed his name to “Boston” after the city of his own re-birth.

“God has called on you to preach, my son, about four blocks, that way”.

Corbett was propositioned by two prostitutes in 1858, while walking home from a church meeting. Deeply troubled by his own temptation, he returned to his boardinghouse room and took up the Gospel, according to Matthew: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee….and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake“.  He knew what he needed to do.  He emasculated himself, with a pair of scissors.  Then he ate dinner and he went to a prayer meeting, before seeking medical attention.

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In the early months of the Civil War, Boston Corbett enlisted as a private in the 12th Regiment of the New York state militia. Eccentric behavior quickly got him into trouble. He would carry a bible with him at all times, reading passages aloud and holding unauthorized prayer meetings.  He would argue with superior officers, once reprimanding Colonel Daniel Butterfield for using profane language and using the Lord’s name, in vain. That got the man a stay in the guardhouse, where he continued to argue.

Corbett decided an arbitrary date, on which his enlistment would end.  When that day arrived, he laid down his gun at midnight, and walked away.  That got him court-martialled and sentenced to be shot, but the sentence was reduced. He was discharged in August, 1863, and re-enlisted the same month.

Harper’s Weekly of May 13, 1865 described the annoying habit of adding “er” to his words, as in “O Lord-er, hear-er our prayerer.” His shrill, sharp voice would shout out “Amen,” and “Glory to God,” whenever anything pleased him. He was often thrown in the guard-house, with a knapsack full of bricks as punishment. There he would be, Testament in hand, “preaching temperance, and calling upon his wild companions to “seek the Lord.””

Boston Corbett

On June 24, 1864, fifteen members of Corbett’s company were hemmed in and captured, by Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s men in Culpeper Virginia.

They were sent to the notorious prison camp in Andersonville Georgia, where he escaped once, but the bloodhounds put an end to that.  Only two, ever returned.  Starving, skeletal, his body wracked with scurvy, Boston Corbett was paroled on November 19, 1864.

Following the Lincoln assassination, a twelve-day manhunt led to the farm of Richard Henry Garrett near Port Royal, Virginia. The life of John Wilkes Booth came to an end in a burning tobacco barn in the pre-dawn hours of April 26, the bullet fired through a crack in the boards and entering his spine, just below the point where his own bullet had entered the President’s head.

A bullet from the gun, of Boston Corbett.

The paralyzed, dying man was dragged from the barn and onto the porch of the Garrett farmhouse. In his dying moments, Lincoln’s assassin asked that his hands be lifted where he could see them.  John Wilkes Booth gazed at those hands as he uttered his last words. “Useless. Useless”.

In his report to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger recommended that Sergeant Boston Corbett be punished for disobeying orders that Booth be taken alive, stating that Corbett had fired “without order, pretext or excuse.”

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Thomas “Boston” Corbett

Despite Conger’s recommendation, Corbett was treated like a conquering hero.  He returned to making hats after the war, returning first to Boston and then to Danbury and finally, Camden New Jersey.  He could never hold a job for long.  Frequent pauses to pray for co-workers did little to endear him, to supervisors.

Women’s groups, tent meetings and Sunday schools clamored to hear from “Lincoln’s avenger”, but his speeches were wandering and incoherent.  Nobody ever asked to hear the man speak, a second time.

Corbett became increasingly paranoid, convinced that important men in Washington were out to “get him”.  Hate mail directed to Wilkes Booth’s killer, didn’t help.  At a Blue & Gray reunion in 1878, Corbett pulled a gun on several former soldiers during an argument, over whether Booth still lived.  He was hustled off before he could fire, but this was only one of several such episodes.

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Example of a dugout house, this one in New Mexico

He moved to Kansas in 1878 and built a dugout home, and tried his hand at homesteading.  That didn’t work out, either.

Corbett received an invalid’s pension in 1880. The Grand Army of the Republic appointed him a doorman to the Kansas state legislature, seven years later.  The man’s mental status was questionable even before the war and beyond dispute in 1887 when he entered the legislative chamber, with two loaded revolvers.  Lawmakers dove for the exits and hid behind garbage cans and doors, as Corbett shot up the Kansas House of Representatives.  Two guns, twelve bullets.  It was a miracle no one was hit.

The following day, a judge declared Corbett to be out of his mind and remanded him to the Topeka Asylum, for the Insane.  On May 26, 1888, Corbett was marching along a road with other inmates when he spotted a horse, tied to a post.  Corbett dashed from the line and jumped into the saddle, and rode into history.

Corbett is believed to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire on September 1, 1894, a conflagration which killed more than 400 and destroyed over 200,000 acres of Minnesota pine forest, but there is no proof.  Several men stepped forward in the years that followed claiming, to be Boston Corbett. A Dallas man claimed to be Boston Corbett while an Oklahoma patent medicine salesman, filed for the man’s pension benefits. The first was committed to an insane asylum the second, to prison.

In 1958, Boy Scout Troop 31 from Concordia Kansas erected a small memorial beside a dug hole in which Boston Corbett, had once lived. What became of the man who shot the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, is a mystery.

October 31, 1883 A Presidential Ghost Story

A Presidential ghost story for your Halloween enjoyment. But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Permit me a moment, for a Presidential ghost story. A true tale shared for your Halloween enjoyment, a narrative to reach out to that icy spot at the back of your neck. The one that makes you ask yourself…was that a ghost? But we are civilized women and men, are we not? We know there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Albany, New York businessman Jared Rathbone passed away in 1845, leaving a considerable fortune to his widow Pauline, and their four children.

New York Supreme Court Justice Ira Harris, himself a widower, joined his household with hers when the couple were married, in 1848.  His four were added to hers making eight, a regular 19th-century “Brady Bunch.”

Pauline’s son Henry and Ira’s daughter Clara became close friends and later, more.  Much more.  They were step-siblings, yes, but there was no “blood” between them.  Such a relationship seems not to have been so ‘odd’ back then as it may seem, today.

With the incoming Lincoln administration, Ira Harris was elected to the United States Senate, replacing Senator William H. Seward who’d been picked to serve in the new administration.

By the time of the War between the States Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone were engaged, to be married.

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Rathbone served for the duration of the war in the Union army, becoming Captain in the 12th Infantry Regiment and participating in the battles at Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  By the end of the war he’d attained the rank, of Major.

Meanwhile, Senator Harris’ daughter Clara formed a friendship with the First Lady of the United States, Mary Todd Lincoln.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, before and after photographs tell of the burdens, borne by the chief executive of a nation at war with itself. Making matters worse, by war’s end the Lincolns had lost two of their four boys, in childhood. The war was all but over in April 1865. A night out must have seemed like a welcome break. An evening at the theater. A play, the three-act farce by English playwright Tom Taylor. “Our American Cousin”.197030-Abraham-Lincoln-Before-And-After-Civil-War

The Lincoln’s companions for the evening were to be General Grant and his wife, Julia, but the General had other plans.  It was probably convenient, because the ladies didn’t get along.  Mary suggested her neighbor Clara Harris, of whom she was quite fond.  And besides, didn’t her fiancée cut a dashing figure, in his blue uniform.

The story of that night is familiar. The assassin creeping up from behind. The bullet to the head. The Major lunging for the killer but…too late.

John Wilkes Booth was himself one of the great performers of his day, with the actor’s impeccable sense of timing. The assassin had chosen his moment, carefully. Raucous laughter and applause could be expected to follow the line “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdolagizing old man-trap!

LINCOLN: ASSASSINATION, 1865. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre, Washington D.C., 14 April 1865. Lithograph, 1865.

The bullet was fired at point-blank range, entering the President’s skull behind the left ear and coming to rest, behind the right eye.  Rathbone sprang to the attack but the assassin was ready, the dagger slashing the major nearly bone-deep, from shoulder to elbow.  Rathbone made one last lunge, knocking Booth off balance as he leapt from the bunting to the stage, below.  Witnesses remembered the cry “Sic Semper Tyrannis”.  Thus always, to tyrants.  And then, he was gone.

In the President’s box, all was chaos. The first lady was inconsolable, sobbing, apoplectic, shrieking like a wildcat. Rathbone was losing blood at a prodigious rate, a major artery severed in the fight.

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John Wilkes Booth dagger, used to attack Henry Rathbone

Clara’s new dress was drenched in the blood of her fiancée, her face splashed and clothing soaked through layers of petticoats to the skin, beneath.  The small group was taken across the street to the Peterson house, the President laid out on a bed.  Henry Rathbone faded in and out of consciousness due to loss of blood, raving in his delirium how he should have caught the assassin, his head on Clara’s lap, her handkerchief stuffed into the void where the bicep, used to be.

She didn’t even have time to wash her blood-spattered face. Mary Lincoln would just begin to calm down when she’d turn and see Clara and fall apart, wailing “My husband’s blood!”.

It was the Major’s blood, but, no matter. Perception is reality, isn’t it? The death vigil lasted this way, for nine hours. The 16th President of the United States passed away at 7:22 the following morning, April 15, 1865.

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Major Rathbone would heal in time, but he never came to terms with his failure to protect the President.  He was tormented, distraught with guilt, unable to understand what he could have done differently, but, What!? Surely there must have been…Something.

Clara Harris couldn’t bring herself to wash that dress, nor even to burn it.  She hung it in a guest room closet, blood and all, in the family’s vacation home in New York.

What demons afflicted the mind of Henry Rathbone can only be guessed at, as a mental illness which had no name, crept into his soul.  He was possessed with that night.  Was I not quick enough?  Or brave enough?  Or Strong enough?  It was MY fault.  A Better Man would have taken that bullet.  Or Stopped that man.  No he wouldn’t…yes he would…but…I…what, the, hell, is WRONG WITH ME???!!!

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The dress

Washington DC was saturated with All Things Lincoln in April 1866, and Clara fled to the family home in Albany, to get away.  There in that closet hung the bloody dress.  On the anniversary of the assassination she heard laughter, she knew she did, coming down the hall.  Abraham Lincoln’s laughter.

Others reported the same thing in the following years.  The sound of laughter.  A single gun shot.  

But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Major Rathbone and Clara Harris were married in July 1867 and the couple had three children, Henry rising to the rank of brevet Colonel, in 1870.  That was the year he resigned from the army but work remained hard to come by, due to increasing mental instability.

Rathbone convinced himself that Clara was unfaithful, that she planned to take the kids away.   He would fly into rages with little or no provocation. She considered divorce but couldn’t bear the thought, nor the stigma.

Clara went so far as to have the closet bricked up with that dress inside, like Edgar Allen Poe’s Montresor bricked up Fortunato.  That changed, precisely, nothing.  The family traveled to Europe and back in search of a cure, but Rathbone’s condition only worsened.

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US Capitol as it looked, in 1872

Despite all this or possibly because of it, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Rathbone US Consul to the Province of Hannover in Germany, in 1882.

“Trick or Treating” had yet to take hold by this time, back in the United States.  For most, October 31, 1883 passed pleasantly enough:  Fall festivals, children bobbing for apples, young women consulting mirrors or tossing nuts into fires, to see whom they would marry.  Not so, Henry Rathbone.  He had Monsters in his head.

Two months later, December 23, Henry Rathbone shot his wife, and stabbed himself, in the chest.  Six times.  He lived.  She died.

He said he was defending his wife, against an attacker.

The three children, Henry Riggs, Gerald Lawrence and Clara Pauline went to live with relatives. Henry Reed Rathbone was convicted of their mother’s murder and committed to an asylum for the criminally insane in Hildesheim, Germany, there to spend the next twenty-eight years.

Henry Reed Rathbone died on August 14, 1911 and was buried, next to Clara.

In 1922, Henry Riggs Rathbone was elected to the United States House of Representatives.  Twelve years before he had unbricked his mother’s closet and burned the hated dress, the dress that had stolen his childhood, murdered his mother, and cursed his father.  

But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

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“The modern day home where Union Army Officer Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris resided”. Hat tip, HISTORIAN’S OFFICE, TOWN OF COLONIE.

Afterward

Burial customs are different in Germany, than in the United States.  Grave plots are generally leased for a period of 20 to 30 years, with an option to renew.  In 1952, officials with the city cemetery at Hanover/Engesohde looked over visitation records and determined there was no further interest, in Clara Harris or Henry Rathbone.  The couple was exhumed and their remains burned, and disposed of.  Like neither one of them had ever lived.

But there are no such things as ghosts.

Right?

October 27, 1810 The Bonnie Blue Flag, of West Florida

To this day, eight parishes in East Louisiana (“Counties” to the rest of us), are called the “Florida Parishes”.

This is a story of Independence, of Revolution. Of overthrowing a Spanish-speaking government and creating an Independent Republic in the American South. About a banner bearing a symbol recognizable to this day, depicting a single, five-pointed white star on a blue field. The Bonnie Blue Flag of the original, Lone Star Republic.

The Republic of West Florida.

Wait…What?

Spanish colonization of the Americas began when the Crown of Castille, Ferdinand and Isabella, sent an Italian explorer this way in 1492.

Motivated by the promotion of trade and of the Catholic faith throughout indigenous populations, the Spanish Empire expanded across South and Central America and much of North America including the Caribbean, Florida and a strip running through modern day Mexico to the Pacific Southwest.

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The French first came to America in 1524, colonizing vast expanses from Quebec to Green Bay in the north, Baton Rouge to Biloxi in the south. They sought wealth, territory and a route to the Pacific Ocean. What they got was endless conflict.

Following the French and Indian War in 1762, Louis XV signed the secret Treaty of Fountainebleu with King Carlos III, ceding “la Louisiane” to Spain.

The Treaty of Paris was signed the following year, ending the Seven Years War in Europe. There lies the crux of the problem. French colonists poured into Louisiana, wanting no part of the Brits. They wouldn’t learn until 1764 they had placed themselves under Spanish rule.

Rebellion was immediate and ongoing. Colonists expelled their first Spanish governor Alejandro O’Reilly (I love that name) in the Rebellion of 1768, and had to be put down by force.

The American colonies were soon convulsed in Revolution, after which both East and West Florida reverted to Spanish control. European Colonial Powers would have their turn ten years later, with the French Revolution and the rise of the Napoleonic Empire. Spain would cede much of the Louisiana Territory back to France during this period, but not all of it.

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President Jefferson purchased 828,000 square miles from the French in 1803, doubling the size of the United States, but the exact borders remained, unclear.

Spain claimed title to what they called “West Florida, a territory bounded by the Perdido River in the east, the modern border of Florida and Alabama, south of the 31st parallel, and running west to the Mississippi River.

What followed may be the shortest Revolution in history. Revolutionary War veteran Philemon Thomas led fifty “Americanos” through the early morning darkness of September 23, 1810, through the open gate of Fort San Carlos in Baton Rouge, while another 25 men on horseback rode through a hole in the fort’s wall. Soldados fired their muskets, and Thomas’ men responded with a single volley, killing or wounding five Spaniards.

Bonnie Blue Flag

That was about it. Surviving soldados fled, as the flag of the new Republic was unfurled over the fort: a dark blue field with a single white star. The whole thing was over, in about a minute.

Americanos had revolted back in 1804 without success. This time they would make it stick. Sort of.

The constitution of the Republic of West Florida was patterned on that of the United States, with government divided into three branches, Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.

The first and only Governor was Fulwar Skipwith, whose inaugural address seemed to make room for Union with the United States. “[T] he blood which flows in our veins”, he said, “like the tributary streams which form and sustain the father of rivers, encircling our delightful country, will return if not impeded, to the heart of our parent country”.

Skipwith’s overtures seemed to have been met with a yawn by the Madison administration, soon the new Republic was launching a raid, unsuccessfully, against the Spanish garrison at Mobile.

The Republic soon became accustomed to its newfound independence, a state of affairs President James Madison had no intention of recognizing.

President Madison proclaimed the territory annexed on October 27, 1810, and made part of the Territory of Orleans. William Claiborne, military governor of the Orleans Territory, was sent to take possession.

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Florida Parishes of East Louisiana

Governor Skipwith proclaimed himself ready to “die in defense of the Lone Star flag,” though his stance softened considerably when military forces entered the capital of St. Francisville on December 6 and Baton Rouge, four days later.

Florida itself, along with the eastern expanses of West Florida, reverted to United States control with the Onís-Adams Treaty of 1819.

To this day, eight parishes in East Louisiana (“Counties” to the rest of us), are called the “Florida Parishes”.

The taking stood on questionable legal grounds, but it was complete on December 10, when the legislature voted to accept annexation and dissolve the Republic. Twenty-Six years later to the day, the Republic of Texas adopted the “Burnet” or “Bonnie Blue” Flag, all but indistinguishable from that of the original Lone Star Republic.

October 26, 1918 Code Talkers

The history of the Navajo code talkers of World War 2 is well known but by no means, unique.  Indigenous Americans of other nations served as code talkers during WW2 including Assiniboine, Lakota and Meskwaki soldiers serving in the Pacific, North African, and European theaters of the war.

During the twentieth century, the United States and others specially recruited bilingual speakers of obscure languages, applying those skills in secret communications based on those languages.  Among these, the story of the Navajo “Code Talkers” are probably best known.   Theirs was a language with no alphabet or symbols, a language with such complex syntax and tonal qualities as to be unintelligible to the non-speaker. The military code based on such a language proved unbreakable in WWII. Japanese code breakers never got close.

The United States Marine Corps recruited some 400-500 Navajo speakers who served in all six Marine divisions in the Pacific theater.  Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima:  Navajo code talkers took part in every assault conducted by the United States Marine Corps from 1942, to ‘45.

160907143620-navajo-code-talkers-3-exlarge-169.jpgThe history of the Navajo code talkers of WWII is well known but by no means, unique.  Indigenous Americans of other nations served as code talkers during WW2 including Assiniboine, Lakota and Meskwaki soldiers who did service in the Pacific, North African, and European theaters of the war.

Fourteen Comanche soldiers took part in the Normandy landings.  As with the Navajo, these soldiers substituted phrases when their own language lacked a proper term.  Thus, “tank” became “turtle”.  “Bombers” became “pregnant airplanes”.  Adolf Hitler was “Crazy White Man”.

The information is contradictory, but Basque may also have been used, in areas where no native speakers were believed to be present.  Native Cree speakers served with Canadian Armed Services, though oaths of secrecy have all but blotted their contributions, from the pages of history.

The first documented use of military codes based on native American languages took place during the Second Battle of the Somme in September 1918, employing on the language skills of a number of Cherokee troops.

The government of Choctaw nation will tell you otherwise, contending that Theirs was the first native language, used in this way.  Late in 1917, Colonel Alfred Wainwright Bloor was serving in France with the 142nd Infantry Regiment. They were a Texas outfit, constituted in May of that year and including a number of Oklahoma Choctaws.

The Allies had already learned the hard way that their German adversaries spoke excellent English, and had already intercepted and broken several English-based codes. Colonel Bloor heard two of his Choctaw soldiers talking to each other, and realized he didn’t have the foggiest notion of what they were saying. If he didn’t understand their conversation, the Germans wouldn’t have a clue.

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Choctaw soldiers in training in World War I for coded radio and telephone transmissions

The first test under combat conditions took place on October 26, 1918, as two companies of the 2nd Battalion performed a “delicate” withdrawal from Chufilly to Chardeny, in the Champagne sector. One captured German officer later confirmed the Choctaw code to have been a complete success. We were “completely confused by the Indian language”, he said, “and gained no benefit whatsoever” from wiretaps.

Choctaw soldiers were embedded within multiple companies of infantry. Messages were transmitted via telephone, radio and by runner, many of whom were themselves native Americans.

As in the next war, Choctaw would improvise when their language lacked the proper word or phrase. When describing artillery, they used the words for “big gun”. Machine guns were “little gun shoot fast”.

Choctaw code talkers

The Choctaw themselves didn’t use the term “Code Talker”, that phrase wouldn’t come about, until WWII. At least one member of the group, Tobias W. Frazier, simply described what they did as, “talking on the radio”.  Of the 19 who served in WWI, 18 were native Choctaw from southeast Oklahoma. The last was a native Chickasaw. The youngest was Benjamin Franklin Colbert, Jr., the son of Benjamin Colbert Sr., one of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” of the Spanish American War. Born September 15, 1900 in the Durant Indian Territory, he was all of sixteen, the day he enlisted.

Another was Choctaw Joseph Oklahombi, whose name translates as “man killer” in the Choctaw language. Six days before Sergeant York’s famous capture of 132 Germans in the Argonne Forest, Joseph Oklahombi charged a strongly held German position, single-handed. Let Private Oklahombi‘s Croix de Guerre citation, personally awarded him by Marshall Petain, tell his story:

“Under a violent barrage, [Pvt. Oklahombi] dashed to the attack of an enemy position, covering about 210 yards through barbed-wire entanglements. He rushed on machine-gun nests, capturing 171 prisoners. He stormed a strongly held position containing more than 50 machine guns, and a number of trench mortars. Turned the captured guns on the enemy, and held the position for four days, in spite of a constant barrage of large projectiles and of gas shells. Crossed no man’s land many times to get information concerning the enemy, and to assist his wounded comrades”.

Unconfirmed eyewitness accounts report that 250 Germans occupied the position, and that Oklahombi killed 79 of them before their comrades decided it was wiser to surrender. Some guys are just not to be trifled with.

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October 19, 1778 The Road to Independence

Over the course of the Revolution, the Patriot cause received aid from sources both sought after and providential.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress declared a break from Great Britain. The former colonies were to be a free and independent nation. That same day and an ocean away, a business was formed to aid in the pursuit. An enterprise formed between the French House of Bourbon, and Spain.

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The Rodrigue Hortalez Trading Company was a ruse, a fictitious outfit organized by the French playwright, politician and spy, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais.

In May of 1776, Beaumarchais obtained one million livres from France and the same amount from Spain, weeks before the committee of five put pen to paper, to compose the Declaration of Independence. In addition to all that money there were muskets, cannon, gunpowder, bombs, mortars, tents and enough clothing for 30,000 men, traveling from French ports to the “neutral” Netherlands Antilles island of St. Eustatius.

The delivery could not have been more timely. When General Washington took command on July 3, 1775 the Continental Army faced the most formidable military on the planet with enough powder for something like nine rounds per man.

Here’s a great trivia question for you…what foreign government first openly recognized the fledgling nation? It was little St. Eustatius who first acknowledged American Independence, firing the traditional “First Salute” on November 16 of that year, an overt recognition that an independent nation state in the form of the brig Andrew Doria, had entered its harbor.

Hortalez & Co. was one of four channels of Spanish aid. New Orleans Governor Luis de Unzaga began providing covert aid to the American rebels in 1776, expanding the following year under his successor, Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez.  

It is he for whom Galveston Texas, bears that name.

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Meanwhile, the Spanish port at Havana was opened to the Americans under Most Favored Nation status, and further Spanish aid flowed in from the Gardoqui family trading company in Bilbao whose Patriarch, Don Diego de Gardoqui, would become Spain’s first Ambassador to the United States. According to the Ambassador, the House of Gardoqui alone supplied the American patriots with 215 bronze cannon, 30,000 muskets, 30,000 bayonets, 51,314 musket balls, 300,000 pounds of powder, 12,868 grenades, 30,000 uniforms, and 4,000 field tents. The Spanish Prime Minister, José Moñino y Redondo, Count of Floridablanca wrote in March 1777, “the fate of the colonies interests us very much, and we shall do for them everything that circumstances permit”.

The American Victory at Saratoga in October 1777 opened the door to more overt aid from the French, thanks largely to the tireless diplomacy of Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis du Lafayette. Representatives of the French and American governments signed the Treaties of Alliance and Amity and Commerce on February 6, 1778.

The “Southern Strategy” of 1778-80 cost the British army and its Hessian allies more casualties from disease, than from Patriot bullets. About 1,200 Hessian soldiers were killed in combat over the course of the war. By contrast, 6,354 more died of disease and 5,500 deserted, later settling in the fledgling United States.

In February 1781, General Washington sent Lafayette south at the head of a handpicked force of 1,200 New England and New Jersey troops, and 1,200 French allies.  Washington himself lead an army he himself described as “not strong enough even to be beaten”.

5,500 French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau landed in Rhode Island that summer, linking up with General Washington’s Patriot army. Meanwhile, Lafayette harassed and shadowed Cornwallis’ much larger force as it moved north through North Carolina and east toward the Chesapeake Bay.

Cornwallis was looking for a deep water port from which to link up with his ships. It was at this time that Lafayette received help from a slave named James, on the New Kent Armistead Farm. James pretended to serve Cornwallis in Yorktown while sending valuable military information to Lafayette and Washington, who was now moving south through New Jersey with Rochambeau. The man would later legally change his name to James Lafayette.

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“To the generous help of your Nation and to the bravery of its troops must be attributed in a great degree to that independence for which we have fought, and which after a severe conflict of more than five years have been obtained”.

Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, the Comte de Grasse, was in Santo Domingo, meeting with the representative of Spain’s King Carlos III, Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis. De Grasse had planned to leave several warships in Santo Domingo, now capital of the Dominican Republic, to protect the French merchant fleet. Saavedra promised assistance from the Spanish navy, enabling de Grasse to sail north with all of his warships. He needed those ships.  The crucial Naval battle of the Revolution took place on September 5 when de Grasse defeated the British fleet of Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves cutting Cornwallis off, from the sea.

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French Admiral de Barras arrived from Newport a few days later, carrying vital siege equipment, while de Grasse himself carried 500,000 silver pesos from Havana to help with the payroll and siege costs at the final Battle of Yorktown.

If there was ever a “window of opportunity”, the siege of Yorktown was it. Fully ½ of Cornwallis’ troops were sick with Malaria during the siege, a disease to which the Americans had built some degree of immunity. Most of the French were newly arrived, and thus had yet to encounter the disease’ one-month gestation.

Now out of options, General Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781, the day his relief force finally sailed out of New York Harbor.

Over the course of the Revolution, the Patriot cause received aid from sources both sought after and providential. Ben Franklin, John Jay and John Adams would negotiate through two more years and four British governments before it was done. The Treaty of Paris was at last signed on September 3, 1783. The American war for Independence, had come to an end.

October 12, 1994 Fort Mosé

Long before the famous “underground railroad”, the first such track pointed not north, but south, to St. Augustine.

From the earliest years of the “new world” period, every economy from Canada to Argentina was, to varying degrees, involved with slavery. Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the Americas in 1501, establishing the new world’s first international slave port in Santo Domingo, modern capital city of the Dominican Republic.

Hundreds of thousands of Africans entered the Americas through the sister ports of Veracruz, Mexico, and Portobelo, Panama, “products” of the “Asiento” system wherein the contractor (asientista) was awarded a monopoly in the slave trade to Spanish colonies in exchange for royalties, paid to the crown.

The first such contractor was a Genoese company which agreed to supply 1,000 slaves over an 8-year period, beginning in 1517. A German company entered into such a contract eight years later with a pledge of 4,000.

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By 1590, as many as 1.1 million Africans had come through the port of Cartagena, Colombia, sorted and surnamed under the “casta de nación” classification system.

In the American colonies, 17th century attitudes toward race appear to have been more fluid than they would later become. The first black Africans, 19 of them, came to the Virginia Colony in 1619 not as slaves, but as indentured servants. Their passage, involuntary as it was, was paid for by a term of indenture, a sort of ‘temporary slavery’, usually lasting seven years.

John Punch ran away from his term of indenture along with two Europeans, in 1640. The trio was captured in Maryland and sentenced to extended terms of indenture. Alone among the three, Punch was punished with indenture for life, effectively making him the first African ‘slave’ in the American colonies.

Meanwhile, black Africans both enslaved and free had arrived in the north American colonies, for nearly a hundred years.

ex black conquistadors

Juan Garrido moved from the west coast of Africa to Lisbon, Portugal, possibly as a slave, or perhaps the son of an African King, sent for a Christian education. Be that as it may, Garrido came to the new world a free man in 1513, with Juan Ponce de León. A black Conquistador who spent thirty years with the conquest, “pacifying” indigenous peoples and searching for gold, and the mythical fountain of youth.

He was not alone. Other black Africans entered Spanish society as free men, and joining the conquest as soldiers. Some did so in exchange for freedom, some for land, official jobs, or public pensions.  Ponce was fatally injured by a native arrow in 1521.  Garrido went on to marry and settle in Mexico city, where he is credited with the first commercial cultivation of wheat, in the new world.

Twenty years before the “Lost” English colonists first landed at Roanoke, Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St. Augustine, in the Spanish colony of Florida. Aviles’ colonial expedition included many black Africans, both free men and slaves, who remained a part of St. Augustine society, from that time forward. The first recorded birth in the New World of an American child of African descent took place in 1606 according to St. Augustine Catholic parish records, a year before the English settlement, at Jamestown.

The Spanish government in Florida began to offer asylum to slaves from British colonies as early as 1687, when eight men, two women and a three year old nursing child arrived there, seeking refuge. It probably wasn’t as altruistic as it sounds, given the history. The primary interest seems to have been disrupting the English agricultural economy, to the north.

The Florida governor required only that such runaways convert to Catholicism, and then he put the men to work for wages.

In 1693, King Charles of Spain officially proclaimed that runaways would find freedom in Florida, provided they would convert to Catholicism and perform four years of service to the Crown. Spain had effectively created a maroon colony (from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning “fugitive, runaway”, literally “living on mountaintops”), forming a front-line defense against English attack, from the north.

Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé (pronounced “Moh-say”), was a military fortification two miles north of St. Augustine, established by Colonial Governor Manuel de Montiano, in 1738. Spanish militia would place incoming freedom seekers into military service at the fort, under the leadership of an African Creole man known as Francisco Menendez.

Fort Mosé was the first legally sanctioned free black settlement, in what would become the United States.

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Long before the famous “underground railroad”, the first such track pointed not north, but south, to St. Augustine. Word of the settlement reached into Georgia and South Carolina to the north, attracting escaping slaves. It was probably the “final straw” that set off the unsuccessful 1739 slave insurrection known as the Stono Rebellion, in which several dozen runaway slaves attempted to reach Spanish Florida.

In the early phase of the War of Jenkins Ear, Fort Mosé was abandoned and occupied by General James Oglethorpe, colonial governor of Georgia, along with a force of British colonial rangers, Scottish Highlanders, enslaved black auxiliaries and native Creek and Uchise allies.

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The British garrison was caught by surprise in the pre-dawn hours of June 16, 1740 and all but annihilated, by a force of Spanish soldiers, free black militia and native Yamasee allies.  The coquina fortification was destroyed in the process, and would not be rebuilt until 1752.

In June of this year, Florida Living History, Inc. and the Fort Mosé Historical Society presented the latest in a series of re-enactments, celebrating the 277th anniversary of the “Bloody Battle of Fort Mosé “.  The site has seen several archaeological excavations in recent years, and is considered the “premier site on the Florida Black Heritage Trail.”  Fort Mosé was officially designated an Historic State Park on October 12, 1994.

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“1st Saturday militia”, H/T Fort Mosé Historical Society

September 25, 1789 Bill of Rights

Five states ratified the new constitution in quick succession. Others wanted the document to specify those powers left un-delegated to the Federal government, be reserved to the states.

The Founding Fathers ratified the United States Constitution on June 21, 1788.  In so doing, our forebears bestowed on generations yet unborn, a governing system unique in all history.  A system of diffuse authority, checks and balances and authority delegated but Never relinquished, by a sovereign electorate.

The American system is often described as “democracy”, but such a description is in error.  Four wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for dinner, is democracy.  The genius of the founders is demonstrated in a system which protects the rights of All citizens, including that one.  The proverbial lamb. The specifics are enumerated in our bill of rights, twelve amendments adopted by the first Congress on this day in 1789, and sent to the states for ratification.

bill-of-rightsEven at the Constitutional Convention, delegates expressed concerns about the larger, more populous states holding sway, at the expense of the smaller states. The “Connecticut Compromise” solved the problem, creating a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states themselves in the upper house (Senate).

The 62nd Congress proposed a Constitutional amendment in 1912, negating the intent of the founders and proposing that Senators be chosen by popular election.  The measure was adopted the following year, the seventeenth amendment having been ratified by ¾ of the states.  Since that time, it’s difficult to understand what the United States Senate even is, an institution neither democratic nor republican, but I digress.

Five states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut, ratified the document in quick succession. Some states objected to the new Constitution, especially Massachusetts, which wanted more protection for basic political rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and of the press. These wanted the document to specify, that those powers left un-delegated to the Federal government, were reserved to the states.

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A compromise was reached in February, 1788 whereby Massachusetts and other states would ratify the document, with the assurance that such amendments would immediately be put up for consideration.

With these assurances, Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by a two-vote margin, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. New Hampshire became the ninth state on June 21. The new Constitutional Government would take effect on March 4 of the following year.

Amendments 2-12 were adopted on December 15, 1791, becoming the “Bill of Rights”.

It’s interesting to note the priorities of that first Congress, as expressed in their original 1st and 2nd amendments.  As proposed to the 1st Congress, the original 1st amendment dictated apportionment of representation. It was ratified by only 11 states, and technically remained pending. Had the states ratified that original first amendment, we would now have a Congress of at least 6,345 members, instead of the 535 we currently have.

The original 2nd amendment was an article related to Congressional compensation, that no future Congress could change their own salaries.   The measure would in fact, pass, becoming the 27th amendment in 1992.  Following a ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 10 days.

September 24, 1789 The Supremes

From “separate but equal” to the rights of terrorists SCOTUS rulings are final, inviolate and sometimes imbecilic.

Article III of the United States Constitution establishes the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and “such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish”.

There is no mention of the number of justices. The first Congress passed the Federal Judiciary Act on September 24, 1789, specifying a six-justice Supreme Court.

Twelve years later, the presidency of John Adams was coming to an end. As a Federalist, Adams wanted nothing more than to stymie the incoming administration of Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Toward that end, Adams appointed the infamous “midnight judges” in the last hours of his administration: 16 Federalist Circuit Court judges and 42 Federalist Justices of the Peace.

The incoming Jefferson administration sought to block the appointments. Jefferson ordered then-Secretary of State James Madison to hold those commissions as yet undelivered, thus invalidating the appointments. One of the appointees, William Marbury, took the matter to Court.

The case advanced all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Marbury v. Madison that the provision of the Judiciary Act enabling Marbury to bring his claim, was unconstitutional.  Marbury lost his case, but the principle of judicial review, the idea that the court could preside Godlike, over laws passed by their co-equal branch of government, has been the law of the land, ever since.

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In the early days of the Great Depression, Federal agricultural officials conceived the hare brained idea that artificially introducing scarcity would increase prices, and therefore wages, in the agricultural sector. Six million hogs were destroyed in 1933. Not harvested, just destroyed and thrown away. 470,000 cattle were shot in Nebraska alone. Vast quantities of milk were poured down sewers, all at a time of national depression, when malnutrition was widespread.

With the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, Washington began to impose production quotas on the nation’s farmers. Ohio farmer Roscoe Filburne was ordered to grow 223 bushels of wheat in the 1941 season. Filburne grew 462.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution permits Congress “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”. That is all but, on this flimsy basis, the Federal Government took Roscoe Filburne to court.

The farmer argued that the “surplus” stayed on his farm, feeding his family and his chickens. Lower Courts sided with Filburne. The government appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that, by withholding his surplus, Filburne was effecting interstate market conditions, thereby putting him under federal government jurisdiction.

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Intimidated by the Roosevelt administration’s aggressive and illegal “court packing scheme“, SCOTUS decided the Wickard v. Filburne case, against the farmer. Ever since, what you don’t do can be held against you in a court of law. Get it? Neither do I.

Over time, SCOTUS has proven itself to be as imperfect as any other institution. There have only been 17 Chief Justices and 101 Associate Justices in the entire history of the court. Five Chiefs having previously sat as Associate Justices, there are only 113 in all.  Should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed, he would be #114.

Some among those 113 have been magnificent human beings, and some of them cranks. There have been instances of diminished capacity ranging from confusion to outright insanity. One justice spent part of his term in a debtor’s prison. Another killed a man. There have been open racists and anti-Semites.

There is no official portrait of the 1924 court because Justice James C. McReynolds wouldn’t stand next to Louis Brandeis, the court’s first Jewish Justice. One Justice was known to chase flight attendants around his quarters, while another spent his time in chambers, watching soap operas.

There’s the former Klan lawyer turned Justice who took a single phrase, “separation of church and state”, from a private letter of Thomas Jefferson, and turned the constitutional freedom OF religion into an entirely made up freedom FROM religion.

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The Supreme Court reinforced chattel slavery with the Dred Scott decision. The Korematsu ruling gave us the forced incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent. Buck v. Bell gave Americans the “gift” of forced sterilization, and Stenberg v. Carhartt enshrined the constitutional “right” to the hideous and detestable “procedure” known as partial birth abortion. From “Separate but Equal” to the “rights” of terrorists, SCOTUS’ rulings are final, inviolate, and sometimes imbecilic.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who once said “remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat,” invented a whole new definition of taxation, enshrining the “Affordable Care Act” as the law of the land.

The framers gave us a Constitutional Republic with co-equal branches of government, with power diffused and limited by a comprehensive set of checks and balances.

They gave us two distinct means to amend that Constitution, should circumstances require it.

Traditionally, Congress proposes amendments, submitting them to the states for ratification. The problem is that many believe Congress itself to be part of the problem, and a broken institution is unlikely to fix itself.

Article V gives us a way to amend the constitution, if we would take it. Instead of Congress proposing amendments, an Article V convention of state legislatures would propose amendments, to take effect only if ratified by a super majority of states. We could start with an amendment permitting 2/3rds of the People’s representatives in Congress, to overturn a SCOTUS decision. Then we could term limit these people.

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Unless, that is, you believe it’s fine for the Federal Government to prohibit a farmer from growing wheat for his own use, that one man in a black robe can force you to buy a product you don’t want and call it a “tax”, or you believe that “established by the state” means by the state or federal government, at the sole discretion of the man who says, “I’m from the Government. I’m here to help”.

September 22, 1773 An Edict from the King of Prussia

If the findings of a 2004 Pew survey are any indication, older and younger audiences alike turn to late night comedians as a source of political news. Whether anyone leaves such programs better informed may be a matter for conjecture, but one thing is certain. The use of satire in political commentary is anything but new.

If the findings of a 2004 Pew survey are any indication, older and younger audiences alike turn to late night comedians as a source of political news.

Whether anyone leaves such programs better informed may be a matter for conjecture, but one thing is certain. The use of satire in political commentary is anything but new.

Anything but new but highly, effective. In the 4th century BC the Greek comedic playwright Aristophanes lampooned the Athenian general Cleon as an unprincipled and warmongering demagogue. The playwright’s work was in no small measure a reason for the sentence of death, against the Great Socrates.

Seventeen centuries later the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri had the soothsayers and fortune tellers of his time walking through the inferno of purgatory with their heads screwed on backwards, rendering them no longer able to see what lay ahead.

On this day in 1773 the poison pen of one Benjamin Franklin skewered Great Britain’s King George III…writing as the King of Prussia, no less.

At the height of the revolution, public opinion remained essentially split in thirds with one part for independence, one for remaining and a third that didn’t care that much, either way.

The seven years war of 1754 was a world war for global supremacy between Britain and France with major ramifications, for the Spanish Empire. Britain’s North American colonies experienced the conflict as the fourth French and Indian war, pitting France and a coalition of first nations against Britain and her own following of native American allies.

“When you’re born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you get a front row seat.”

George Carlin

For British policymakers it all seemed quite reasonable to impose the costs of this “protection”, on King George III’s North American subjects. The Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Acts of 1767 and the Tea Act of 1773 were all measures enacted to extract ever greater taxes, from the American colonists.

The colonists themselves took a dim view of all of it and threw the tea off the boat, that December. Literally.

Political satire was nothing new to Benjamin Franklin. The teenage Franklin’s anonymously written Silence Dogood letters skewered the brahmins of Boston and generated proposals of marriage to a widow, who did not exist. The young Franklin’s ‘outing’ as the author earned him a beating from his older brother the publisher and a one-way trip out of Boston to Philadelphia, where an older Franklin was destined to enter the pages of history.

Benjamin Franklin was a man of words whose contributions to the coming revolution were the equal to that man of action, George Washington. In 1773 Franklin sat down to lampoon 100 years of American grievance against Great Britain writing as Frederick II, King of Prussia.

The choice was inspired. A growing power on the continent, Frederick “The Great” had recently seized large chunks of Poland and Silesia, claiming both to be rightfully his going back to the time, of the Teutonic knights. The treaty of Paris ending the seven years war settled territorial issues from Canada to the French sugar plantations of the Caribbean but left Britain’s ‘ally’ Prussia, out of the bargain. Suffering losses of some 260,000 men Frederick II was left to negotiate peace terms, on his own.

For these reasons Franklin’s hoax carried with it, a ring of authenticity. Published this day in 1773, An Edict from the King of Prussia made claims on Britain herself, in the name of the Prussian King:

“We have long wondered here at the Supineness of the English Nation, under the Prussian Impositions upon its Trade entering our Port…”

The edict went back to the 5th century Germanic brothers Hengist and Horsa who led the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the 5th century invasions of the British Isles and the 6th century Cerdicus, first of the Kings of Saxon Wessex who reigned from 519 to 534 AD:

“Whereas it is well known to all the World, that the first German Settlements made in the Island of Britain, were by Colonies of People, Subjects to our renowned Ducal Ancestors, and drawn from their Dominions, under the Conduct of Hengist, Horsa, Hella, Uffa, Cerdicus, Ida, and others…”

Fictitious “edict” from the King of Prussia
Frederick II “The Great, King of Prussia was the longest reigning monarch of the House of Hohenzollern reigning from 1740 until his death in 1786.

In 1,546 words the King’s edict went on to enunciate in “claims both antient (ancient) and modern”, Prussian rights to the lands, peoples, commerce and above all taxes of Great Britain, in the name of the Prussian state.

Back in England many swallowed the ruse whole as a bald pretext for war, with her former ally. The more perspicacious among them may have noticed a remarkable similarity between the Prussian King’s grievances, and those of the American colonies.

No matter. Insensate obstinacy doth dwell where humor and reason, fear to tread. Or something like that. The following year the “Liberty and Union” banner unfurled above the town green in Taunton Massachusetts, that first distinctly American flag as yet symbolizing a desire for greater autonomy and continued union, as loyal British subjects.

The “Intolerable Acts” also happened in 1774, that series of punitive measures passed by the parliament to punish the American colonies, in the wake of the Boston Tea Party.

There would as yet be olive branches and frantic supplications on both sides of the Atlantic, but to no avail. The “Shot heard ’round the World” lay such a short time in the future to make it known to all that the path, was now set.

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