April 16, 1933 A Fish Story

Future Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill faced the Cod in the direction of the majority party.  It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Bay State politics that the thing has faced Left, from that day to this.  For Massachusetts’ minuscule Republican delegation, hope springs eternal that the Sacred Cod will one day, face Right.

The American Revolution was barely 15 years in the rear-view mirror, when the new State House opened in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston.  The building has expanded a couple of times since then and remains the home of Massachusetts’ state government, to this day.

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On January 11, 1798, a procession of legislators and other dignitaries worked its way from the old statehouse at the intersection of Washington and State Streets to the new location on Beacon Hill, a symbolic transfer of the seat of government.  The procession carried with it, a bundle.  Measuring 4-feet eleven-inches and wrapped in an American flag, it was a life-size wooden carving.  Of a codfish.

For the former Massachusetts colony, the lowly cod was once a key to survival.  Now, this “Sacred Cod” was destined for a new home in the legislative chamber of the House of Representatives.

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Mark Kurlansky, author of “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World”, laments the 1990s collapse of the Cod fishery, saying the species finds itself “at the wrong end of a 1,000-year fishing spree.”

Records date back as early as AD985 when Eirik the Red, Leif Eirikson’s father, preserved Codfish by hanging them in the cold winter air.  Medieval Spaniards of the Basque region improved on the process, by the use of salt.  By A.D. 1,000, Basque traders were supplying a vast international market, in codfish.

By 1550, Cod accounted for half the fish consumed in all Europe.  When the Puritans set sail for the new world it was to Cape Cod, to pursue the wealth of the New England fishery.

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Without codfish, Plymouth Rock would likely have remained just another boulder. William Bradford, first signer of the Mayflower Compact in 1620 and 5-term governor of the Plymouth Colony (he called it “Plimoth”), reported that, but for the Cod fishery, there was talk of going to Manhattan or even Guiana:  “[T]he major part inclined to go to Plymouth, chiefly for the hope of present profit to be made by the fish that was found in that country“.

There are tales of sailors scooping codfish out of the water, in baskets.  So important was the cod to the regional economy that a carved likeness of the creature hung in the old State House, fifty years or more before the Revolution.

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Massachusetts’ old Statehouse

The old State House burned in 1747, leaving nothing but the brick exterior you see today, not far from Faneuil Hall.  It took a year to rebuild the place, including a brand new wooden Codfish.  This one lasted until the British occupation of Boston, disappearing sometime between April 1775 and March 1776.

The fish which accompanied that procession in 1798 was the third, and so far the last such carving to hang in the Massachusetts State House where it’s remains, to this day.  Sort of.

It was April 16, 1933 with the country mired in the Great Depression, when someone looked up in Massachusetts’ legislative chamber, and spied – to his dismay – nothing but bare wires.  The Commonwealth had suffered “The Great Cod-napping”, of 1933.

Newspapers went wild with speculation. What had happened to The Sacred Cod.

Suspects were questioned and police chased down one lead after another, but they all turned out to be red herring (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).  State police dredged the Charles River, (Love that dirty water).  Lawmakers refused to d’bait (pardon), preferring instead to discuss what they would do with those dastardly Cod-napper(s), if and when the evildoers were apprehended.

Soon, an anonymous tip revealed the culprits to be college pranksters. Three editors of the Harvard Lampoon newspaper, pretending to be tourists.  It was a two-part plan, the trio entering the building with wire cutters and a flower box, as other Lampoon members created a diversion by kidnapping an editor from the arch-rival newspaper, the Harvard Crimson.  The caper worked, flawlessly.  Everyone was busy looking for the missing victim, as two snips from a wire cutter brought down the Sacred Cod.

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On April 28, a tip led University Police to a car with no license plate, cruising the West Roxbury Parkway. After a 20-minute low speed chase, (I wonder if it was a white Bronco), the sedan pulled over.  Two men Carp’d the Diem (or something like that) and handed over the Sacred Cod, before driving away.

Once again the Sacred Cod ascended to its rightful place, and there was happiness upon the Land.  The Cod was stolen one more time in 1968, this time by UMASS hippies protesting some fool thing, but the fish never made it out of the State House.

Holy-Mackerel
The “Holy Mackerel” of the Massachusetts State Senate

Years later, future Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill faced the Cod in the direction of the majority party.  It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Bay State politics that the thing has faced Left, from that day to this.  For Massachusetts’ minuscule Republican delegation, hope springs eternal that the Sacred Cod will one day, face Right.

Not to be outdone, the State Senate has its own fish, hanging in its legislative chambers.  There in the chandelier, above the round table where sits the Massachusetts upper house, is the copper likeness of the “Holy Mackerel”.  No kidding.  I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.

Legend has it that, when you see those highway signs saying X miles to Boston, they’re really giving you the distance to the Holy Mackerel.

A tip of my hat to my friend and Representative to the Great & General Court David T. Vieira, without whom I’d have remained entirely ignorant of this fishy tale.

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Beacon Hill, seat of Massachusetts state government, where the author addresses an empty chamber. Who knows. Maybe The Sacred Cod™ was paying attention.

April 8, 1942 In the Zone

Rodman was no stranger to the brutal twists and the horrors of war. Nearly half his comrades were killed, fighting in the Philippines. The survivor’s guilt. What the man saw during WW2 changed his life, forever.

Military forces of Imperial Japan appeared unstoppable during the years leading to World War 2, attacking first Thailand, then the British possessions of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. The US military bases in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines all fell, in quick succession.

On January 7, 1942 Japanese forces attacked the Bataan peninsula in the central Luzon region, of the Philippines. The prize was nothing short of the finest natural harbor in the Asian Pacific, Manila Bay, the Bataan Peninsula forming the lee shore and the heavily fortified island of Corregidor, the “Gibraltar of the East”, standing at the mouth.  Before the Japanese invasion was to succeed, Bataan and Corregidor must be destroyed.

In early December, the Far East Air Force (FEAF) outside Luzon possessed more aircraft than the Hawaiian Department, defending Pearl Harbor. In the event of hostilities with Japan, “War Plan Orange” (WPO-3) called for superior air power, covering the strategic retreat across Manila Bay to the Bataan peninsula, buying time for US Naval assets to sail for the Philippines. 

In reality, the flower of American naval power in the pacific, lay at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  Eight hours after the attack on Oahu, a devastating raid on Clark Field outside of Luzon left 102 aircraft damaged, or destroyed. Army chief of staff general George C. Marshall later remarked to a reporter: “I just don’t know how MacArthur happened to let his planes get caught on the ground.”

General Douglas MacArthur abandoned Corregidor on March 12, departing the “Alamo of the Pacific” with trademark dramatic flair: “I shall return”.  Some 90,000 American and Filipino troops were on their own, left without food, supplies or support with which to fight off the onslaught of the Japanese 14th Army.

Starving, battered by wounds and decimated by all manner of tropical disease and parasite, the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” fought on until they could do no more. 

War correspondent Frank Hewlett was the last reporter to leave Corregidor, before it all collapsed. It was he who coined the phrase “Angels of Bataan“, to describe the women who stayed behind to be taken into captivity, to care for the sick and wounded. Hewlett wrote this tribute to the doomed defenders of that place:

Battling Bastards of Bataan

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces
And nobody gives a damn
Nobody gives a damn.

by Frank Hewlett 1942

Allied war planners turned their attention to defeating Adolf Hitler.

In the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the river gunboat USS Mindanao earned the distinction of taking prisoner the sole survivor of the midget submarine attacks carried out that day, Kazuo Sakamaki. Now short on fuel, Mindanao was reduced to harassing shore artillery and covering small boats evacuating soldiers, from the beaches. On April 8, 1942, Mindanao Executive Officer David Nash confided to his diary: “This has been a hectic day. It looks like the beginning of the end. The planes get nearer each day and this evening the word was received to get up steam and standby to get underway. Meanwhile Ft. Mills started shooting across our heads toward the Bataan lines. All night long our forces were obviously destroying equipment. It looks like evacuation from the Peninsula”.

Bataan fell the following day, some 75,000 American and Filipino fighters beginning a 65-mile, five-day trek into captivity known as the Bataan Death March. Lieutenant Nash was taken prisoner, surviving a captivity many did not to pass the remainder of the war at Bilibid, Davao, Dapecol and the infamous Cabanatuan prison camps.

With a commanding position over Pacific shipping routes, holding the Philippine archipelago was critical for Japanese war strategy. Capturing the islands was important to the US by the same logic with the added reason, this was a personal point of pride for General Douglas MacArthur. Two years almost to the day from that ignominious departure, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered MacArthur to come up with a plan to take the place back. Luzon would come first with the invasion of Leyte in the north, slated for early 1945.

That summer, US 3rd fleet operations revealed Japanese defenses were weaker than expected. The invasion was moved forward to October. Before it was over, the Battle of Leyte would trigger the greatest naval battle, of World War 2.

With deep-water approaches and sandy beaches, Leyte Island is tailor-made for amphibious assault. Preliminary operations for the invasion began on October 17. MacArthur made his grand entrance on the 20th announcing to the 900,000 residents of the island: “People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”

The fighting for Leyte was long and bloody involving 323,000 American troops and Filipino guerrillas. Day and night through mountains, swamps and jungles, by the time it was over some 50,000 Japanese combat troops were destroyed. Organized resistance ended on Christmas day. By the New Year there was little left, but isolated stragglers.

Not many can find humor in such a place as that. Private Melvin Levy was one who could. A member of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division, that November, Levy and his comrades were fighting as infantry. He was part of the 511th‘s demolition platoon, nicknamed the “Death Squad” for its high casualty rate.

The C-47 came in low that day, but this wasn’t your normal bombing run. The plane was armed with “biscuit bombs”, crates of food and provisions intended to resupply the 511th regiment. With a comedian’s sense of timing, Levy was holding court before an enthralled group of soldiers, resting under a palm tree. Laughter filled the air as Private Levy delivered the punchline and asked his best friend Rodman, for a cigarette. Rodman took the one out of his mouth and handed it over before turning, for the pack. The biscuit bomb came in at 200 miles per hour, tearing Levy’s head from his shoulders, where he stood.

As the only other Jewish guy in the unit, Rodman presided over Levy’s funeral, the following day. He spoke a few words and placed a star of David, on Levy’s grave.

Nearly half his comrades were killed, fighting in the Philippines. Rodman himself was wounded twice and finished the war, in occupied Japan. He was no stranger to the brutal twists and the horrors of war. The survivor’s guilt. What the man saw during WW2 changed him, forever. The human wreckage wrought by the atomic bomb, the fire bombing, the results of the aerial mining of Japanese harbors literally code-named, “Operation Starvation”.

Rodman Edward Serling had opened a door, never to be closed. A door unlocked, with the key of imagination. Beyond that door is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into, the Twilight Zone.

February 1, 1790 A Republic, if you can Keep it

Good judgement it’s been said, comes from experience. And experience? That comes from bad judgement.

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. That same day President George Washington appointed John Jay of New York as chief justice along with associate justices John Rutledge of South Carolina, William Cushing of Massachusetts, John Blair of Virginia, Robert Harrison of Maryland and James Wilson of Pennsylvania.

Two days later the Senate confirmed all six. The Supreme Court of the United States sat for the first time in the Royal Exchange Building on New York City’s Broad Street on February 1, 1790.

Twelve years later, the presidency of John Adams was coming to an end. As a Federalist, Adams was pleased to throw a speed bump in the path of incoming Democratic-Republican, Thomas Jefferson. To 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 appointee, William Marbury, sued.

The case advanced all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in Marbury v. Madison, 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 would preside God-like over laws passed by their co-equal branch, remains the law of the land from that day to this.

marbury-v-madison

Over time, SCOTUS has proven itself to be as imperfect as any other institution.

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 burned or plowed into the ground. 470,000 cattle were shot in Nebraska alone. Vast quantities of milk were poured down sewers, all at a time of national depression and widespread malnutrition.

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 during the 1941 season. He grew 462.

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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’s it but, on this flimsy basis, the Federal Government took Roscoe Filburne to court.

The farmer argued the federal government had nothing to say as any “surplus” stayed on his farm, feeding the Filburne family and their chickens. Lower Courts sided with the farmer. The government appealed all the way to the Supreme Court arguing that, by withholding his surplus from the market, Filburne was effecting interstate market conditions, thereby putting him under federal government jurisdiction.

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

Kelo v. City of New London ruled one private party’s judicial theft of another’s was a valid use of the takings clause. Two dozen Connecticut families were evicted and forced out of their homes. Their houses were bulldozed, neatly kept yards overgrown with weeds and left a dumping ground and home, for feral cats. Small matter to those homeowners the proposed “redevelopment” of their neighborhood, never happened.

In the entire history of the court there have only been 115 justices. 

Some among those 115 have been magnificent human beings. Some of them were 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 from a private letter of Thomas Jefferson, “separation of church and state”, and transformed the constitutional freedom OF religion into an entirely made up freedom FROM religion.

Separation-of-Church-and-State

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 unthinkable “procedure” known as partial birth abortion. Hammer v. Dagenhart supported the practice of children, put to work in the nation’s mines and factories.

From “Separate but Equal” to the “rights” of terrorists, SCOTUS’ rulings are final, infallible and sometimes, imbecilic.

Chief Justice John Roberts once said “remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat.”

He who invented a new definition of taxation enshrining the “Affordable Care Act” as the law of the land.

The constitution invests state legislatures with sole authority to determine state voting regulations. Yet recently, we had election officials and state courts changing key states’ voting rules while SCOTUS declined to intervene. Is there any wonder why half a nation questions the validity of that election?

Just don’t say it out loud or you’ll be de-platformed, or worse.

Today a man barely a week in office convenes a commission to recommend Supreme Court “reforms”, up to and including exhuming Roosevelt’s court packing scheme. It’s not hard to guess how that will turn out. Because it never really was about transparency, fairness or even democracy, was it. Just the raw exercise of power.

January 31, 1846 Milwaukee Bridge War

The skirmishes lasted, for weeks. No one was killed during the Milwaukee bridge War of 1845 though combatants on both sides, were injured. In the end even the hotheads had to admit it. The only path forward lay in unification.

Solomon Juneau was a fur trader.  Like the cousin who went before him to found Juneau, Alaska, Solomon left his home in Quebec and wound up in Wisconsin, settling on the east side of the Milwaukee River.  That was 1818.  The east side of the river would come to be known as “Juneau’s side” and later,”Juneautown”.

Byron Kilbourn was born in Connecticut, the son of a Colonel in the War of 1812 and later member of Congress from the state of Ohio.  Kilbourn left the family home in Ohio and traveled to Green Bay where he worked as a government surveyor.

By the 1830’s, Solomon Juneau knew that times were changing. As his fur trade diminished, Juneau turned to real estate. By the time Byron Kilbourn showed up on the other side with his surveying instruments, Juneau’s settlement was a small but thriving town.

Like Juneau, Kilbourne saw the commercial potential of the area.  This spot on the Milwaukee River could be a port city he thought, serving Lake Michigan and beyond, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

The land Kilbourn staked out on the west side belonged at that time, to the Potawatomi.  There followed accusations of sleazy deals and fudged land surveys.  Kilbourn soon emerged from land court with title to the area, around the time that politician and trader George H Walker settled his own parcel to the south at what would be known as, Walker’s Point.

Kilbourn’s side of the river became “Kilbourntown” and grew as quickly as Juneautown on the opposite side. 

Competition developed and deepened between the two sides as Kilbourn and his supporters did everything they could to isolate Juneautown.  You can see the animosity to this day in the way the street grids on opposite sides, fail to meet.

In 1840, the Wisconsin territorial legislature directed that a drawbridge be built across the Milwaukee river. 

That first bridge was built across Chestnut street now Juneau, with Solomon Juneau’s support. Kilbourn and his people built their own bridge, across the Menominee.

By 1845, there were five. That May, a schooner damaged the Spring Street bridge in Kilbourn’s west ward. West warders were furious and blamed Juneau for the damage. Kilbourn supporters retaliated, dropping the west end of the Chestnut Street bridge into the river.  East warders loaded a cannon with clock weights and aimed it at Kilbourn’s home but held off on learning the man had just lost a daughter.

Bridges favored by both sides were destroyed. Those caught on the “wrong” side were chased down and beaten. By June, bridge work was being done under armed guard.

The skirmishes lasted, for weeks. No one was killed during the Milwaukee bridge War of 1845 though combatants on both sides, were injured. In the end even the hotheads had to admit it.  The only path forward lay in unification.   Juneautown and Kilbourntown joined with Walker’s Point to the south, the three towns unifying to form the city of Milwaukee Wisconsin on January 31, 1846.  

Juneau was elected the city’s first mayor.

Solomon Juneau later founded the Milwaukee Sentinel, today the oldest continuously operating business in Wisconsin.  Six Menominee chiefs served as pallbearers at his funeral, in 1855.

Byron Kilbourne went on to found Kilbourn City in 1857, now known, as Wisconsin Dells. Allegations of sleaze seemed to follow him, wherever he went.  Kilbourne went on to serve as president of the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad from 1849-’52 until the railroad’s board of directors fired him for mismanagement and fraud.

The railroad he chartered in 1852 to compete with his former employer was ruined following a scandal alleging the use of railroad bonds to bribe state officials.  He fled to Florida to relieve his “arthritis” and passed away in Jacksonville, in 1870.

For 128 years, Milwaukee historic preservation types labored to reunite the city’s three founders in Wisconsin soil.  Historic Milwaukee, Inc. returned Kilbourne’s remains to Wisconsin in 1998 where he rejoined the city’s co-founders, in the Forest Home Cemetery.

Happy birthday, Milwaukee.

January 30, 1889 If Only

“What if” counterfactuals can be slippery. We can’t know how a story will end only by starting it out… “if only”. But still…

“What if” counterfactuals can be slippery. We can’t know how a story will end only by starting it out… “if only”. But still. How might the 20th century have played out, for example, had it not been for that day in Sarajevo, in 1914.

Perhaps the tinderbox already building by 1914 would have been lit, on some other day. But what if? Maybe two World Wars never happened, after all. Adolf Hitler remained a mediocre artist living in a flop house, in Vienna. All China became a free market, and not just Taiwan. What if the cold war, communism and everything that stemmed from that malevolent ideology was nothing more than the unpublished, nightmare imaginings of some crazy novelist?

In the wake of World War 2, a bipolar structure emerged in the world political order and remained so, for 40 years.

America was a minor player in pre-WW1 affairs, a period about which Germany’s “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck once explained: “All politics reduces itself to this formula: try to be one of three, as long as the world is governed by the unstable equilibrium of five great powers.”

After the downfall of French Emperor Napoleon I, 1814-’15, the Great Powers of Austria, Britain, France, Russia and Prussia met in Vienna to settle old issues and rebalance national boundaries in order to bring long-term peace, to Europe.

Austria declined over the next half-century leading to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, an accord between the Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. Ostensibly a constitutional union, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a kaleidoscope of fifteen distinct ethnic groups speaking at least as many languages and divided, along no fewer than six religious lines.

After the 1889 suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf, the only son of Franz Josef, the emperor’s younger brother Karl Ludwig became heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Ludwig’s death in 1896 left his eldest son, Franz Ferdinand, the new heir presumptive.

Otto von Bismarck once said the next European war would begin with “some damn fool thing in the Balkans”. Bismarck got his damn fool thing in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. We all know the story. The diplomatic visit of an heir presumptive. The open car. The wrong turn. The assassin.

There followed a series of diplomatic missteps, military mobilizations and counter-mobilizations called the “July Crisis of 1914″. By August there was no turning back. The “War to End all Wars” would shatter a generation, lay waste to a continent and erect the foundation, for the rest of the 20th century.

So, what about Rudolf and that “suicide”, in 1889. He was supposed to succeed Ludwig, not Ferdinand. What if the Emperor’s only son, had lived?

Political alliances came and went among the dynastic families of Europe, with treaties often sealed by arranged marriages.  On May 10, 1881, Crown Prince Rudolf married Princess Stéphanie, daughter of King Leopold, of Belgium.

Crown Prince Rudolf and his wife, Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold II

A child was born in 1883, Archduchess Elisabeth, but the union soon soured. Rudolf began to drink and pursue women, not his wife. He wanted to write to Pope Leo XIII to annul the marriage. The formidable Franz Josef, would have none of that.

Three years later, Rudolf bought a hunting lodge in the Austrian village of Mayerling. In 1888, the 30-year old crown Prince met and began an affair with 17-year-old Marie Freiin (Baroness) von Vetsera.

Marie Freiin von Vetsera preferred to go by the more fashionable Anglophile version of her name, Mary

On January 30, 1889, the bodies of the Crown Prince and the Baroness were discovered in the Mayerling hunting lodge, victims of an apparent suicide pact.

Mayerling

Emperor Franz Josef went on to reign until 1916, one of the longest-serving monarchs of the 19th century.

Now without male heir, succession to the imperial throne passed first to the emperor’s younger brother Ludwig and later to Franz Ferdinand, best remembered for his assassination, in 1914.

Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria, Rudolf’s mother, went into deep mourning.

She wore the colors of her grief, pearl gray and black, every day until her assassination at the hands of 25-year-old Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, in 1898.

132 years later we can only ponder. It may be the ultimate counterfactual. What if Crown Prince Rudolf had lived to succeed Franz Josef. Politically, the son was far more liberal, than his father. Rudolf would surely have held more conciliatory views toward the forces, tearing at the empire. The same could be said of Franz Ferdinand, so who knows. Perhaps a rock in a stream once moved, alters not the flow of events yet to come.

But maybe that fork in the road met on June 28, 1914, would have led to a road less traveled and perhaps, the history of the last century, never happened.

Afterward,

By special dispensation, the Vatican declared Rudolf to be in a state of “mental imbalance” as suicide would have precluded church burial. The Emperor ordered Mayerling transformed into a penitential convent and endowed a chantry ensuring that prayers would rise up daily, for the eternal rest of his only son.

Vetsera’s body was smuggled out in the dark of night and quietly buried in the village cemetery at Heiligenkreuz, her funeral so secret even her mother was forbidden to attend.

Stories of poison gave way to reports of murder-suicide. Rumors have surrounded the Mayerling incident, for 100 years. Such stories went unchallenged until 1946 when occupying Red Army troops dislodged the stone covering the crypt and opened Vetsera’s coffin, looking for jewels. Repairing the damage some nine years later the fathers of the monastery observed the small skull and noticed, the absence of bullet holes. Physician Gerd Holler examined the remains in 1959 and concurred. No bullet hole.

But Maria von Vetsera was shot by the Crown Prince who later took his own life. That was the story, right?

Stories came to life of defensive wounds. Of evidence the pair had been murdered, after all.

Obsessed with the tale, Linz furniture store owner Helmut Flatzelsteiner disturbed the remains yet again, in 1991. Rumors went wild but in the end, results were inconclusive. Flatzelsteiner paid the abbey €2,000, in restitution.

In 2015 a letter was found in a safe deposit box, in an Austrian bank. A suicide note from a young girl, to her mother

“Dear Mother
Please forgive me for what I’ve done
I could not resist love
In accordance with Him, I want to be buried next to Him in the Cemetery of Alland
I am happier in death than life”.

January 15, 1987 An Innocent Man

Wrongful convictions happen for many reasons. Prosecutors hide evidence. Incompetent defense counsel. Mistaken identity and ulterior motives, on the part of witnesses.

Were there a catalog of lies, there may be none more egregious than the false accusation.  No matter how he tries, the victim of such a falsehood will never prove a negative.

Wrongful convictions happen for many reasons. Prosecutors hide evidence. Incompetent defense counsel. Mistaken identity and ulterior motives, on the part of witnesses.

Interior views of traditional prison

Accurate numbers are all but impossible to determine, but we can make an educated guess. A study conducted by Ohio State University surveyed 188 judges, prosecutors, public defenders, sheriffs and police chiefs. The survey found that 75% of respondents believed that more than zero and less than 1 percent of convictions, were unjust. Taking the middle number of .5 percent and a rough estimate of 195,000 convictions per year works out to 9,750 wrongful convictions. Every year. (H/T Housley Law blog for these statistics, which states there have been 1,962 exonerations nationwide, since 1989).

Feel free to make any assumptions you like concerning these numbers but one thing is sure. To assume there are no wrongful convictions is to believe that government does everything right, all of the time.

Graduating from Allegheny College in 1961, Robert Budd Dwyer set his sights on elective office.  The future looked bright.

First elected State Rep in 1964, the Pennsylvania Republican ran successfully for state Senate in 1970 and then for state-wide office, elected Treasurer, in 1980.

In 1986, Pennsylvania officials discovered that state employees had overpaid millions in FICA taxes, due to errors in state withholding. Several accounting firms bid for the contract to determine, how much compensation was due each employee. The contract was awarded to California based Computer Technology Associates (CTA), owned by Harrisburg native, John Torquato Jr.

Governor Dick Thornburg received an anonymous memo a few weeks later, alleging bribery in the award of the CTA contract. R. Budd Dwyer was named as one of the people receiving kickbacks in the deal along with Republican committee member Bob Asher, and CTA attorney William ‘Bill’ Smith.

Anonymous accusations are such a cowardly tactic.

No money ever changed hands. The CTA contract was canceled two months after it was signed. Even so, prosecutors pushed the case for everything it was worth.

Most criminal cases end in plea deals, and not in trials. Smith pleaded guilty to offering Dwyer and Asher $300,000 in bribes and received a reduced sentence. Torquato also pleaded guilty and received a sentence, of 4 years. Adamantly proclaiming his innocence, Budd Dwyer refused a plea deal: a guilty plea on one count and a sentence, of five years. Dwyer was adamant, and demanded a trial. “I absolutely did nothing wrong”.

On December 18, 1986, Budd Dwyer was found guilty. Conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering. Eleven counts.

Judge Malcolm Muir hinted at a sentence, of 55 years. Many believe the man wanted to make an example, of Budd Dwyer. Sentencing was scheduled for January 23, 1987.

On December 15, 1987, Dwyer held a meeting at his home with press secretary James Horshock, and Deputy Treasurer Don Johnson. With a week to go before sentencing, Dwyer wanted to make a statement, to the press.

Budd Dwyer addresses the press on January 22, 1987. It would be his last press conference.

The meeting was scheduled for January 22, the day before sentencing.

In a rambling speech before the press, R. Budd Dwyer proclaimed his innocence. He said how much he’d enjoyed his life with his wife Joanne and the couple’s kids, Rob and Dyan. He reflected on what a bright future it could have been.

“I am going to die in office” he said, “in an effort to ‘…see if the shame[-ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.’ Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S.

Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don’t want to cause physical or mental distress.

Joanne, Rob, DeeDee [sic] – I love you! Thank you for making my life so happy. Goodbye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.”

Pandemonium broke out as R. Budd Dwyer took out a briefcase, and a .357 magnum pistol. He put the gun in his mouth and blew his brains out.

You can find the video online if you want, it was all on camera. I’m not going to show it.

Joanne never for a moment doubted her husband’s innocence but she never forgave herself for failing to notice, how the man was struggling. She took heavily to drink, perhaps to self-medicate and died in 2009, an alcoholic.

Former chair of the Dauphin County Republican Committee Bill Smith has made contradictory statements under oath and expressed regret for lying, and the role it played in Dwyer’s death.

Subsequent court proceedings never did overturn Dwyer’s conviction, but the Treasurer was able to provide for his family. Having died in office, Dwyer’s widow Jo received full survivor’s benefits of $1.28 million.

Dyan “DeeDee”, now a married mother of two, has lived a private life. Rob, now a realtor in Arizona, has been quite public about his own difficulties, in dealing with his father’s suicide. ‘I’d tell anyone thinking about suicide’ he said, ‘that the scars and the emotional toll that it leaves on those left behind, is immense.

January 13, 1920 Fake News

In the English Standard Version of the Bible, proverbs 12:15 translates: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice”. Socrates famously observed “I know one thing, that I know nothing. The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

It was a fine day in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. A good day to rob a bank. So thought 44-year-old McArthur Wheeler, but Mr. Wheeler was no ordinary crook. As they might say in the Shiddy o’ Bwahshtun, McArthur Wheeler was schmaht. Wikid schmaht.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”. – Charles Darwin

As any 10-year-old will tell you, lemon juice makes a great, invisible ink. What better way to make Yourself invisible to bank cameras, (thought McArthur Wheeler), than to smear your face with lemon juice. The man even ran an experiment. A Polaroid selfie. The experiment was a success, notwithstanding the polaroid’s tendency to “wash out” subjects photographed, too close-up. No matter. The photo showed an over-illuminated blob where the face was supposed to be. Hypothesis: correct. Lemon juice Did make your face invisible, to cameras.

With his face slathered in lemon juice, McArthur Wheeler robbed not one bank on that day in 1995, but two. Law enforcement released surveillance video. By the end of the day, Pittsburg police had their man, incredulous though he was, that such a well-laid plan could have somehow, come off the rails.

That video must have been faked.

Cornell University psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger got wind of the caper and thought they’d study the episode, a little more closely. PsychologyToday.com tells us: “The pair tested participants on their logic, grammar, and sense of humor, and found that those who performed in the bottom quartile rated their skills far above average. For example, those in the 12th percentile self-rated their expertise to be, on average, in the 62nd percentile”.

The article continues: “The Dunning-Kruger effect results in what’s known as a “double curse:” Not only do people perform poorly, but they are not self-aware enough to judge themselves accurately—and are thus unlikely to learn and grow”.

If you’re thinking that explains a lot about certain politicians, you’re probably not alone. And what of the ‘News’? The one thing we all expect whether Democrat, Republican or Libertarian, is accurate information. From our politicians and from our “News” media.

Are we then to believe an industry, merely because it buys ink by the proverbial barrel? After the last few years, I certainly hope not. From the Russia “Collusion” hoax to Fox News’ reporting that President Obama…”at the end of his rope…sent [a] rambling, 75,000-word email to the entire nation” (it was an Onion story), our news and information media have worked overtime to earn the epithet, “Fake News”.

In October 2019, ABC “News” broadcast man-on-the-street video from Syria, depicting an attack by the Turkish military, on Kurdish civilians. ABC later apologized that the video was shot…at a gun range in Kentucky.

In April 2020, CBS did its part to add to the national COVID-19 hysteria, using Italian footage as a stand-in for a story about the failure, of New York hospitals. A month later the company staged lines and faked “patients” at the Cherry Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But hey, it all made for some swell footage, right?

And who can forget NBC’s exploding truck video, concocted at the expense of General Motors. Worried that the crash test might not show the desired result, NBC rigged an incendiary device, just to be sure. The test worked swell and the sight of flaming pickup trucks, sure does make for some great “News”. But rest assured, Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips apologized, concluding that “unscientific demonstrations should have no place in hard news stories at NBC. That’s our new policy.”

There’s a knee slapper for you. “Unscientific demonstrations”.

Back to Dunning and Kruger. On this day in 1920, an unsigned editorial in the New York Times, made mockery of none other than Robert Hutchings Goddard. Yeah. THAT Robert Goddard. The guy with the space center, named after him.

Robert Goddard, a man who all but invented the space age, has 214 patents to his name. Two of them, a multi-stage rocket and a liquid-fuel rocket were patented as early as 1914.

On January 13, 1920, the New York Times opined that space flight was an impossibility, because propulsion systems had nothing to push against. Such a position seems defensible in 1920, but the Times just couldn’t resist that snotty, mean-girl touch, replete with sneer quotes: “That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”

“The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills”. – PsychologyToday.com

“The knowledge ladled out in high schools”. Good one.

In 1932, that same New York Times won a Pulitzer prize for Lying, about the systematic extermination by starvation of as many as ten million Ukrainians, by the Soviet government of Josef Stalin. To this day the “Grey Lady” has failed to repudiate that Pulitzer.

The “Newspaper of Record” printed 24,000 front page articles over the course of the second world war but oddly seemed oblivious to the Nazi holocaust, front page articles about which numbered precisely, twenty-six.

Front page, above-the-fold stories ran 44 days in a row about that mess at Abu Ghraib, just in case anyone missed the point. And the Times was certainly quick to defend that Dan Rather memo as Fake but Accurate. Never mind that the font didn’t exist, when the thing was supposed to have been written.

But fear not, the New York Times retracted that 1920 editorial. In July 1969. The day after the Apollo 11 launch. At that rate we can expect those East Anglia stories to come in, around 2050.

January 10, 1927 Poisoned Hooch

Not to be defied, federal officials poisoned industrial alcohol until the very last day, running up the tab to no fewer than 10,000 dead Americans. The government didn’t even pretend not to know, what was going on.


A French proverb comes down to us from 1742, attributed to one François de Charette: “On ne fait pas d’omelette sans casser des oeufs”. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was a big fan of socialism in his day and an enthusiastic supporter of the gulags, of Josef Stalin.“[The] unfortunate Commissar” he wrote, must shoot his own workers “so that he might the more impressively ask the rest of the staff whether they yet grasped the fact that orders are meant to be executed.”. 

Yikes

Connoisseurs of the animated series South Park will remember the Prime Directive of Mr. Garrison’s favorite third grader, Eric Cartman.  “You will respect my authoritah

All well and good for a cartoon.  Few would have guessed the real-world Federal Government would poison its own citizens. To enforce its own authoritah.

The Eighteenth Amendment establishing national prohibition of intoxicating liquors was passed out of Congress on December 17, 1917 and sent to the states, for ratification. The  “Volstead” act, so named for Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Andrew Volstead, was enacted to carry out the will of congress.

At last ratified in January 1919, “Prohibition” went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell intoxicating liquor, wine or beer in the United States.Prohibition-midnight-e1568752688531-1024x511 (1).jpg“Industrial alcohol” such as solvents, polishes and fuels were “denatured” and rendered distasteful by the addition of dyes and chemicals.  The problem was, it wasn’t long before bootleggers figured out how to “renature” the stuff.

The Treasury Department, in charge of enforcement at that time, estimated that over 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen during Prohibition.

war-propaganda

Not to be defied, the federal government upped the ante.  The Parasite Leviathan, was not to be defied.

By the end of 1926, denaturing processes were reformulated with the introduction of known poisons such as kerosene, gasoline, iodine, zinc, nicotine, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, quinine and acetone.

Treasury officials went so far as to impose a requirement of no less than 10% by volume of methanol, a virulent toxin used in anti-freeze.

You will respect my authoritah.

You can renature this stuff ’til the cows come home.  It will kill you.

Sixty people wound up at New York’s Bellevue Hospital on Christmas eve 1926, desperately ill from contaminated alcohol.  Eight of them died.  Within two days, the death toll stood at thirty-one.  The number soared to 400 by New Year’s Day , with no end in sight.

copper-still
A copper still and bucket, like those used in the creation and renaturing of alcohol at home. H’T allthatsinteresting.com, and Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Many who didn’t die, probably wished they had. Holiday revelers experienced hallucinations, uncontrollable vomiting, even blindness.

TIME Magazine reported a doubling in toxicity levels in the January 10, 1927 issue, compared with the old method:  “The new formula included “4 parts methanol (wood alcohol), 2.25 parts pyridine bases, 0.5 parts benzene to 100 parts ethyl alcohol”. TIME noted, “Three ordinary drinks of this may cause blindness. (In case you didn’t guess, “blind drink” isn’t just a figure of speech).”

To paraphrase Wikipedia, Pyridine is a highly flammable chemical structurally related to benzene, with the unpleasant smell of dead fish.

New York medical examiner Charles Norris was quick to understand the problem and organized a press conference to warn of the danger. “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol.  Yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.”

Norris pointed out that the poorest people of the city, were most likely to be victims: “Those who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low-grade stuff”.

The towering sanctimony of the other side, is hard to believe.  Teetotalers argued the dead had “brought it on themselves”.  Long-time leader of the anti-saloon league Wayne Wheeler proclaimed “The Government is under no obligation to furnish the people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this industrial alcohol is a deliberate suicide.”

You will respect my Authoritah.

prohibition_2

In its thirteen years of existence, Prohibition was an unmitigated disaster.  Portable stills went on sale within a week of enactment and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of Rhine” or “blocks of Port”. The mayor of New York City himself sent instructions to his constituents, on how to make wine.

Smuggling operations became widespread as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This lead in time to competitive car racing, beginning on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks. It’s why we have NASCAR, today.

alcohol_poison_passed

Organized crime muscled up to become vastly more powerful, due to the influx of enormous sums of cash. The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

Gaining convictions for breaking a law everyone hated became increasingly difficult. The first 4,000 prohibition-related arrests resulted in only six convictions and not a single jail sentence.

It’s hard to compare alcohol consumption rates before and during prohibition but, if death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption never went down by more than 10 to 20 per cent.

In the end, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce support for repeal.

On December 5, 1933, the state of Utah triggered the magic 2/3rds requirement to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing the Eighteenth and voiding the Volstead Act, returning control over alcohol policy to the states.

Not to be defied, federal officials poisoned industrial alcohol until the very last day, running up the tab to no fewer than 10,000 dead Americans.   The government didn’t even pretend not to know, what was going on.

You will respect my authoritah!

Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Seymour Lowman had the last word among those who would tell you, “I’m from the government.   I’m here to help”.  If deliberately poisoned alcohol resulted in a more sober nation Lowman opined, then “a good job will have been done”.

December 31, 1695 Fleeced

Tax revolts are nothing new. Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.


Somewhere in the English midlands during the reign of Edward the Confessor, there lay the Kingdom of Mercia. It was 1054 or thereabouts and Leofric, Earl of Mercia, had a problem. Leofric was the kind of ruler who never saw a tax he didn’t like, his latest the “Heregeld”, a tax to pay for the King’s bodyguard. Leofric’s wife was Godgyfu in the Olde English, meaning “Gift of God”.  Today we call her “Godiva”. Take pity on the people of Coventry, she said, they are suffering under all this oppressive taxation.

lady-godiva-statue

A guy can only take so much, even if he is an Earl. Tired of his wife’s entreaties, Leofric agreed to repeal the tax on one condition; that she ride a horse through the streets of town, dressed only in her birthday suit and her long hair. Lady Godiva took him at his word.  She issued a proclamation that all townspeople stay indoors and shut their windows, and took her famous naked ride, through town.

The story probably isn’t true, any more than the one about Tom, the guy who drilled a hole in his door so he could watch and lost his sight at what he saw.  But a thousand years later, we still use the term “Peeping Tom”.

Tax revolts are nothing new.  Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.

bricked-up-window

On December 31, 1695, King William III decreed a 2 shilling tax on each house in the land. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to “stick-it-to-the-rich”, there was an extra tax on every window over ten, a tax that would last for another 156 years.

It must have been a money maker, because the governments of France, Spain and Scotland followed suit with similar taxes. To this day, you can see homes where owners have bricked up windows, preferring darkness to the payment of yet another tax.

Czar Peter I returned from a trip to Europe in 1698, hot to “modernize” Russia. All those European guys were clean shaven, so Peter instituted a tax on beards. No, really. When you’d paid your beard tax of 100 Rubles, (peasants and clergy were exempt), you had to carry a “beard token”. Two phrases were inscribed on the coin: “the beard tax has been taken” and “the beard is a superfluous burden”. Failure to shave or pay the tax might lead to your beard being forcibly cut off your face. Some had theirs pulled out by the roots by Peter himself, all 6-foot 8-inches of him.

In Holland, they used to tax the frontage of a home, the wider your house the more you paid. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, narrow houses rise several stories, with hooks over windows almost as wide as the building itself.

singel-7
Singel #7

Those are used to haul furniture up from the outside, since the stairways are too narrow. The narrowest home in Amsterdam can be found at Singel #7, the house barely wider than its own front door.

You can find the same thing in the poorer quarters of New Orleans, where the “shotgun single”, a home so narrow you can fire a shotgun in the front door and pellets will go out the back, and the “Camelback” (second story out back) are the architectural results of tax policy.

shotgunsingle-camelback
Shotgun Single, Camelback

England has a “Telly Tax” paid in the form of a television license. There’s good news though; you only have to pay half if you’re legally blind. This is in addition to the council tax, income tax, fuel tax, road tax, value added tax, pasty tax, national insurance, business rates, stamp duty, and about a thousand other taxes. But hey, the health care is free.

 In Canada, makers of children’s breakfast cereal are tax exempt if their cereal contains a free toy. The exemption is limited to toys not containing “beer, liquor, or wine.” Good to know.

Sweden has had a “name ordnance” in effect since 1901, requiring parents to obtain blessings from the government for what they name their children.

In 1991, Elisabeth Hallin and Lasse Diding gave birth to a baby boy. The couple failed to register a name by the age of five and received a fine of 5,000 Kronor, equivalent to $1,206, US. The pair petitioned the court in 1996 to call the kid Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced “Albin) and failed to gain permission. The couple then tried to change the boy’s name to “A” (also pronounced Albin). The court rejected that one too, and upheld the fine.

Tennessee has a “Crack Tax” you’re supposed to pay on illegal drugs (don’t ask), and Massachusetts will charge you a “meals tax” on five donuts, but not 6. The state of Illinois taxes candy at a higher rate than food. Any item containing flour or requiring refrigeration is taxed at the lower rate, because it’s not candy. So yogurt covered raisins are candy, but yogurt covered pretzels are food. Baby Ruth bars are candy, but Twix bars are food. Get it? Neither do I.

The Roman Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from 69 to 79AD, levied a tax on public toilets.

vespasiani

When his son, the future Emperor Titus wrinkled his nose, Vespasian held a coin under the boy’s nose. “Pecunia non olet”, he said.  “Money does not stink”.  2,000 years later, his name is still attached to public urinals. In France, they’re called vespasiennes, in Italy vespasiani.  If you need to piss in Romania, you could go to the vespasiene.  History fails to record the inevitable push-back on Vespasian’s toilet tax, but I’m sure that ancient Romans had to look where they walked.

Environmentalists in Venice, Italy have been pushing a tax on tourism, claiming that the city’s facing “an irreversible environmental catastrophe as the subsequent increase in water transport has caused the level of the lagoon bed to drop over time”. Deputy mayor Sandro Simionato said that “This tax is a new and important opportunity for the city,” explaining that it will “help finance tourism”, among other things. So, the problem borne of too much tourism is going to be fixed by a tax to help finance tourism. I think. Or maybe it’s just another money grab.

As of December 2015, state and territory tax rates on cigarettes ranged from 17¢ per pack in Missouri to $4.35 in New York, on top of federal, local, county, municipal and local Boy Scout council taxes (kidding).  Philip Morris reports that taxes run 56.6% on average, per pack. Not surprisingly, tax rates make a vast difference in where and how people buy their cigarettes.  There is a tiny Indian reservation on Long Island, measuring a few miles square and home to a few hundred people. Tax rates are close to zero there, on a pack of butts.  Until recent changes in the tax law, they were selling 100 million cartons per year.

If all those taxes are supposed to encourage people to quit smoking, I wonder what income taxes are supposed to do?

antarctica-icebound-ship-1

Back in 2013, EU politicians were discussing a way of taxing livestock flatulence, as a means of curbing “Global Warming”. At that time there was an Australian ice breaker, making its way to Antarctica to free the Chinese ice breaker, that got stuck in the ice trying to free the Russian ship full of environmentalists.  They were there to view the effects of “Global Warming”, before they got stuck in the ice.

Honest, I wouldn’t make this stuff up.

December 16, 1773 Tea Party

7,000 gathered at Old South Meeting House on December 16th, 1773, the last day of Dartmouth’s deadline. Royal Governor Hutchinson held his ground, refusing Dartmouth permission to leave. Adams announced that “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country.”


In the time of Henry VIII, British military outlays as a percentage of central government expenses averaged 29.4%.   That number skyrocketed to 74.6% in the 18th century, and never dropped below 55 percent.

The Seven Years’ War alone, fought on a global scale from 1756 – ‘63, saw England borrow the unprecedented sum of £58 million, doubling the national debt and straining the British economy.

For the American colonies, the conflict took the form of the French and Indian War.  The British government saw its American colonies as the beneficiary of much of their expense, and wanted to be reimbursed.  For the colonists, the never-ending succession of English wars meant that they were largely left alone to run their own affairs.

Several measures were taken to collect revenues, as colonists bristled at the heavy handed taxation policies of the 1760s.. The Sugar Act, the Currency Act:  in one 12-month period, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, Quartering Act, and the Declaratory Act, and deputized Royal Navy Sea Officers to enforce customs laws in colonial ports.

The merchants and traders of Boston specifically cited “the late war” and the expenses related to it, concluding the Boston Non-Importation Agreement of August 1, 1768. The agreement prohibited the importation of a long list of goods, ending with the statement ”That we will not, from and after the 1st of January 1769, import into this province any tea, paper, glass, or painters colours, until the act imposing duties on those articles shall be repealed”.

gaspee-shippey

The ‘Boston Massacre’ of 1770 was a direct result of the tensions between colonists and the “Regulars” sent to enforce the will of the Crown.  Two years later, Sons of Liberty looted and burned the HMS Gaspee in Narragansett Bay, RI.

The Tea Act, passed by Parliament on May 10, 1773, was less a revenue measure than it was an effort to prop up the British East India Company, by that time burdened with debt and holding eighteen million pounds of unsold tea.  The measure actually reduced the price of tea, but Colonists saw it as an effort to buy popular support for taxes already in force, and refused the cargo.  In Philadelphia and New York, tea ships were turned away and sent back to Britain while in Charleston, the cargo was left to rot on the docks.

British law required a tea ship to offload and pay customs duty within 20 days, or the cargo was forfeit.  The Dartmouth arrived in Boston at the end of November with a cargo of tea, followed by the tea ships Eleanor and Beaver.  Sam Adams called for a meeting at Faneuil Hall on the 29th, which then moved to Old South Meeting House to accommodate the crowd.  25 men were assigned to watch Dartmouth, making sure it didn’t unload.

7,000 gathered at Old South Meeting House on December 16th, 1773, the last day of Dartmouth’s deadline.  Royal Governor Hutchinson held his ground, refusing Dartmouth permission to leave.  Adams announced that “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country.”

sons-of-liberty

That night, somewhere between 30 and 130 Sons of Liberty, some dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded the three ships in Boston Harbor.  There they threw 342 chests of tea, 90,000 pounds in all, into Boston Harbor.  £9,000 worth of tea was destroyed, worth about $1.5 million in today’s dollars.

In the following months, other protesters staged their own “Tea Parties”, destroying imported British tea in New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Greenwich, NJ.  There was even a second Boston Tea Party on March 7, 1774, when 60 Sons of Liberty, again dressed as Mohawks, boarded the “Fortune”.  This time they dumped 3,000lbs of the stuff into the harbor.  That October in Annapolis Maryland, the Peggy Stewart was burned to the water line.

For decades to come, the December 16 incident in Boston Harbor was blithely referred to as “the destruction of the tea.” The earliest newspaper reference to “tea party” wouldn’t come to us until 1826.

John Crane of Braintree is one of the few original tea partiers ever identified, and the only man injured in the event. An original member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati and early member of the Sons of Liberty, Crane was struck on the head by a tea crate and thought to be dead.  His body was carried away and hidden under a pile of shavings at a Boston cabinet maker’s shop.  It must have been a sight when John Crane “rose from the dead”, the following morning.

intolerable-acts

Great Britain responded with the “Intolerable Acts” of 1774, including the occupation of Boston by British troops.    Minutemen clashed with “Lobster backs” a few months later, on April 19, 1775. 

No one alive today knows who fired the first shot at Lexington Green. History would record that sound, as “The shot heard ’round the world”.