March 27, 1794 Quasi War

On this day in 1794, the United States Government established a permanent navy and authorized the building of six frigates..  One of them, USS Constitution, saw its first combat in the Quasi-War and remains in service to this day, the oldest commissioned warship in the United States Navy.

Imagine you consider yourself to be somewhere in the political center.  Maybe a little to the left. Now imagine that, in the space of two years, national politics have shifted to the point you find yourself on the “reactionary right”, subject to execution as such by your government.

And your personal convictions have never so much as wavered.

America’s strongest Revolution-era ally lost its collective mind in 1792, when France descended into a revolution of its own.    17,000 Frenchmen were officially tried and executed during the 1793-’94 “Reign of Terror” alone, including King Louis XVI and Queen consort, Marie Antoinette.  Untold thousands died in prison or without benefit of trial.

OSS-FrenchRevolutionMythsThe monarchical powers of Europe were quick to intervene.  For the 32nd time since the Norman invasion of 1066, England and France once again found themselves in a state of war.

France was the American patriot’s strongest supporter during America’s revolution, yet the US remained neutral in the later conflict, straining relations between the former allies.  Making matters worse, America repudiated its war debt in 1794, arguing that it owed money to “l’ancien régime”, not to the French First Republic which had overthrown it and executed its King.

Both sides in the European conflict seized neutral ships in the act of trading with their adversary.  The “Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation” with Great Britain, better known as the “Jay Treaty”, all but destroyed relations with the French 1st Republic.  France retaliated by stepping up attacks on American merchant shipping, seizing 316 American civilian ships in one eleven-month period, alone.

In 1796, the French Republic formally broke diplomatic relations with the United States, rejecting the credentials of President Washington’s representative Ambassador Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

The following year, President John Adams dispatched a delegation of two.  They were the future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, and future Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, he who lends his name to the term “Gerrymander”.  Their instructions were to join with Pinckney in negotiating a treaty with France, with terms similar to those of the Jay treaty with Great Britain.

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The American commission arrived in Paris in October 1797, requesting a meeting with the French Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.  Talleyrand, unkindly disposed toward the Adams administration to begin with, demanded money before meeting with the American delegation.  The practice was not uncommon in European diplomacy of the time, but the Americans blanched.

Documents later released by the Adams administration describe Nicholas Hubbard, an English banker identified only as “W”.  W introduced “X” (Baron Jean-Conrad Hottinguer) as a “man of honor”, who wished an informal meeting with Pinckney.  Pinckney agreed and Hottinguer reiterated Talleyrand’s demands, specifying the payment of a large “loan” to the French government, and a £50,000 bribe to Talleyrand himself.  Met with flat refusal by the American commission, X then introduced Pierre Bellamy (“Y”) to the Americans, followed by Lucien Hauteval (“Z”), sent by Talleyrand to meet with Elbridge Gerry.  X, Y and Z, each in their turn, reiterated the Foreign Minister’s demand for a loan, and a bribe.

Believing that Adams sought war by exaggerating the French position, Jeffersonian members of Congress joined with the more warlike Federalists in demanding the release of the commissioner’s communications.  It was these dispatches, released in redacted form, which gave the name “X-Y-Z Affair” to the diplomatic and military crisis which followed.

American politics were sharply divided over the European war.  President Adams and his Federalists, always the believers in strong, central government, took the side of the Monarchists.  Thomas Jefferson and his “Democratic-Republicans” found more in common with the “liberté, égalité, fraternité” espoused by revolutionaries.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling class enjoyed the chaos.  One British political cartoon of the time depicted the United States, represented by a woman being groped by five Frenchmen while John Bull, the fictional personification of all England, looks on laughing from a nearby hilltop.

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Adams’ commission left without entering formal negotiations, the failure leading to a political firestorm in the United States.  Congress rescinded all existing treaties with France on July 7, 1798, the date beginning the undeclared “Quasi-War” with France.  Four days later, President John Adams signed “An Act for Establishing and Organizing a Marine Corps,” permanently establishing the United States Marine Corps as an independent service branch, in order to defend the American merchant fleet.

At this point, the United States had no other means of fighting back.  The government had disbanded the Navy along with its Marine contingent at the end of the Revolution, selling the last warship in 1785 and retaining only a handful of “revenue cutters” for purposes of customs enforcement.  On this day in 1794, the United States Government established a permanent navy and authorized the building of six frigates..  One of them, USS Constitution, saw its first combat in the Quasi-War and remains in service to this day, the oldest commissioned warship in the United States Navy.

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American military involvement proved decisive.  Before armed intervention, the conflict with France resulted in the loss of over 2,000 merchant ships captured, with 28 Americans killed and another 42 wounded.   Military escalation with the French First Republic cost the Americans 54 killed and 43 wounded, with only a single ship lost.  That one, was later recaptured.

By the turn of the century, the naval power of the English speaking nations brought about a more agreeable negotiating position with the government of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. The Convention of 1800 ended the Quasi-War, asserting American rights and ending the alliance with France.

The entangling French alliance of 1778, was dead.   The Napoleonic Wars would be fought entirely on European soil.

 

A Trivial Matter
Between 1803 and 1812, the Royal Navy’s manpower needs greatly exceeded voluntary enlistment.  5,000 to 9,000 American sailors were forcibly “impressed” (kidnapped) into service, becoming a major casus belli for the war of 1812.
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March 22, 1790 Jefferson

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”. President John F Kennedy, addressing a White House Dinner honoring Nobel Prize recipients, 1962.

In April 1962, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy addressed a White House Dinner, to a group of Nobel prize winners.  Some of the greatest intellects of the era were assembled in that room.  The President began:

Ladies and gentlemen“, he said, “I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone“.

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Jefferson himself knew how he wished to be remembered.  He left specific instructions.  Three accomplishments the founding father himself saw as his own legacy, inscribed on the stone which marks his grave:

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson served two terms as President of the United States, but didn’t put it among his top three accomplishments.  That’s how much he couldn’t stand politics.

The public life of Thomas Jefferson reads like a timeline for the founding of this nation.

220px-Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)(cropped)In a time when colonists considered themselves to be Englishmen, Jefferson sought to disestablish the Anglican communion of the Church of England, seeking from the earliest days of his public career to establish a freedom from state-sponsored religion.

The preamble to the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom written in the man’s own hand, states “that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry“.

Jefferson expanded on the principle decades later, in a letter to the Baptist church of Danbury, Connecticut.  Referring to the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State“.

Jefferson drafted no fewer than 126 bills in three years as Virginia state legislator and later governor, introducing measures for public education and religious freedom. Alarmed at the growing power of the landed aristocracy, Jefferson took aim at laws of entail and primogeniture, that permanent, hereditary and near-feudal system of increasingly large plantations worked by white tenant farmers and African slaves.

Assigned to a committee of five to write the Declaration of Independence, it is Jefferson’s hand we see on our national birth certificate.

Jefferson fled when the Patriot turned traitor Benedict Arnold burned the city of Richmond at the head of a British Army, and narrowly escaped a cavalry force under “Bloody Banastre Tarleton”, sent for his capture.

Martha Jefferson
A 1965 oil portrait of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by artist George Geygan, based on contemporary descriptions of her physical attributes and executed 183 years after her death. H/T Firstladies.org

Martha Skelton, née Wayles, became Mrs. Jefferson in 1772, following the death of her first husband.   The marriage lasted ten years until her death in 1782 and produced six children, two of whom lived, to adulthood.

Jefferson was inconsolable on the death of his wife and withdrew for weeks, from the public eye.  He later burned their correspondence, leading some commentators to describe the relationship as “enigmatic’.

I don’t think so.  On his death some forty years later, Thomas Jefferson still wore a locket about his neck, containing a lock of Martha’s brown hair.

Jefferson was minister to France in the early days of the French Revolution, and witnessed the storming of the Bastille.  He was a regular companion of the Marquis de Lafayette and contributor to Lafayette’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.  It’s here in 1787, that Jefferson is believed to have begun a sexual relationship with one of his slaves, sixteen-year-old Sally Hemings.  Modern DNA analysis has demonstrated a connection along the male Jefferson line, with at least one of Hemings’ children.

Thomas Jefferson became the nation’s 1st Secretary of State on this day in 1790, serving the first administration of  President George Washington.

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Thomas Jefferson at 78

As President of the United States, Jefferson personally tutored Corps of Discovery Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, in the sciences of mapping, botany, natural history, mineralogy, and astronomy and navigation, and gave the man unlimited access to his library at Monticello, at that time the largest collection of geography and natural history books in the world.

In 1819, the 76-year-old Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, personally organizing its state charter and planning for the course curriculum, while designing the architecture for ten Roman and Greek pavilions forming a quadrangle connected by colonnades and surrounded by serpentine walls.

As if that wasn’t enough, the man cut 791 verses from the King James bible with a razor, and rearranged them into the 46-page volume The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, commonly known as the Jefferson Bible.  He then translated the thing into French, Greek, Latin and back to English.  It interested him to do so.

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The University of Virginia, Jefferson’s “Academical Village” H/T Wikipedia

On the subject of slavery, the man remains an enigma.  Jefferson referred to the “execrable commerce …this assemblage of horrors” while he himself owned slaves.  As many as 600, over the course of his life.

In an ending no fiction writer would dare to contemplate, Jefferson and fellow founder John Adams died on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day from the birth of the Republic they had helped create.

It is fashionable today, to judge the past by the standards of our day.  As if the present were somehow exempt from the just scorn of future generations.

The founder’s ideal of freedom Of religion has somehow morphed into an imagined freedom From religion.  Candidates argue for abolishing the Electoral College, transforming this self-governing Republic to a Democracy.  Somehow the image of five wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, comes to mind.

A week ago, a member of the United States House of Representatives criticized the third President, for believing African slaves to be 3/5ths of a person.

I would not condone the odious practice of one human being “owning” another, any more than I’d endorse those places where the practice continues, to this day.  I don’t know anyone who does.  It’s worth mentioning though, Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the new world, 275 years before the “Shot Heard ’round the World“.   Every New World economy from Canada to Argentina was engaged in slavery.  The first English colony to legally adopt the practice was Massachusetts, with the ironically named “Massachusetts Body of Liberties,” of 1641.

The 3/5ths compromise of the United States Constitution was a political concession.  The young nation was broke in the wake of the late Revolution, in need of new forms of taxation.  Southern states argued that slaves should be counted as persons for purposes of apportionment.  More seats meant more votes in Congress, more electors in the Electoral College.

6-three-fifthsThe more industrialized states to the north saw such a measure as placing a disproportionate burden of taxation, on themselves.  The 3/5ths compromise kicked the can down the road, passing the Gordian knot to be settled by another generation, in rivers of blood.

The connection between Jefferson and the 3/5ths compromise stems from the election of 1800.  Jefferson defeated Aaron Burr through disproportionate electoral support from the southern states, though it took 36 ballots, to do so.  The Congressman’s claim seems a bit of a stretch:  the third President was away in France while the Constitution was being written.

In a perfect world, our self-appointed ruling class would have cracked a book.  Candidates for political office would better understand our shared history.   The real thing is so much more interesting than the pop culture and political varieties.

 

A Trivial Matter
While a brilliant writer, Thomas Jefferson received no such gift when it came to public speaking. It’s not that his speeches were’t well written and meaningful, he was just a lousy speaker. His voice was halting and often inaudible, barely better than a mumble. John Adams once said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Unlike his predecessor, President Jefferson delivered the State-of-the-Union address in writing, beginning a practice which would continue until Woodrow Wilson’s first term, in 1913.

March 18, 1837 Big Steve

The Presidential election of 1884 was as close as any in history and Republicans made hay with the Halpin scandal.  “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa”?

Born this day in 1837, Stephen G. “Big Steve” Cleveland was 33 the day he left his practice of law to become Sheriff of Erie County, in western New York.

As Sheriff, Cleveland was responsible for carrying out the sentence of death, either with his own hands, or by that of a deputy. For this, the hangman was paid a fee of ten dollars.

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Stephen G. Cleveland in an undated photograph

Sheriff Cleveland took care of this job himself, personally releasing the trap door on September 6, 1872 and hanging one Patrick Morrissey, who’d been convicted of stabbing his mother to death in a drunken rage. He executed another convicted murderer six months later, hanging John Gaffeny on February 14, 1873.

The fees for these and other services were surprisingly lucrative, amounting to $40,000 over a two year term, equivalent to $836,556, today.

A lifelong Democrat, Cleveland had a reputation for ‘shooting straight” at a time of rampant political corruption, by both parties.

Elected Mayor of Buffalo in 1871, Cleveland was called upon to approve a street cleaning contract awarded to the highest bidder. The difference between high and low bids came to the considerable sum of $100,000, a pot of money which could be expected to find its way back to the politicians who’d approved it.

This sort of graft had long been a feature of political life in New York, but not now. Mayor Cleveland vetoed the measure, describing the scheme “as the culmination of a most bare-faced, impudent, and shameless scheme to betray the interests of the people, and to worse than squander the public money“.

This reputation for honesty propelled Big Steve’s political career from the Mayoralty of Buffalo to the Governor’s mansion, in New York.

Maria Halpin
Maria Halpin

Talk about corruption. Five years earlier, one New York city alderman’s committee estimated that Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall machine fleeced New York taxpayers to the tune of $25 to $45 million. Later estimates ranged as high as an astonishing $200 million, equivalent to a jaw-dropping $2.8 Billion, today. As Governor, Cleveland earned the ire of the city’s Tammany Hall machine, with eight vetoes in his first two months in office.

In 1884, the “Buffalo Hangman” found himself Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Boston Globe columnist and political commentator Jeff Jacoby notes that “Not since George Washington had a candidate for President been so renowned for his rectitude.”

Despite all that rectitude, the candidate was not without skeletons in his closet. One was a relationship with one Maria Crofts Halpin which produced a son, named Oscar Folsom Cleveland.

Halpin insisted to the end of her days, that she’d been raped. Big Steve claimed she was crazy and overly generous with her affections, accepting paternity only as a way of doing right by an old girlfriend. Cleveland did manage to get the woman involuntarily committed, for a time, and the boy taken away to be raised in anonymity, by his adoptive family.

Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa
1884 political cartoon asks “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa”

The Presidential election of 1884 was as close as any in history and Republicans made hay with the Halpin scandal.  “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa“?

Despite all of it, Stephen Grover Cleveland won the popular vote by one quarter of one per cent, and an electoral college victory of 219-192, leading to the rejoinder “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?  Gone to the White House, ha ha ha“.

Fun fact:  The only former executioner ever elected President of the United States, Grover Cleveland is best remembered for being the only President to ever serve two non-consecutive terms.  The 22nd and 24th President of the United States was also, something of a medical miracle.

President Grover Cleveland was inaugurated for the second time in the midst of a disastrous recession known as the Panic of 1893.  The nation suffered vast unemployment, with hundreds of businesses closing down.  The railroad industry was devastated.  With Americans struggling everywhere, many looked to the new President to provide hope and a new direction.

Early in his second term, the President noticed a bumpy and rapidly growing patch, on the roof of his mouth.   White House physician Dr. Robert Maitland O’Reilly took one look and pronounced:  “It’s a bad looking tenant, and I would have it evicted immediately”.

The health of the famously rotund, cigar chomping President was already a matter of public concern. Cleveland feared a cancer diagnosis would set off a panic.  The tumor would have to be removed and the whole procedure, kept secret.

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The only answer to the prying eyes of the press was to do it on the move, and there could be no scar.  President Cleveland  announced a four-day vacation aboard a friend’s yacht, a cruise through Long Island Sound to Buzzard’s Bay and on to the President’s summer home, on Cape Cod.

A surgical team of six boarded the yacht in disguise.  On July 1, 1893, the President was strapped into a chair and anesthetized, with ether.  The tumor was removed in a ninety minute procedure, along with the entire left side of the upper jaw, and five teeth.  For all that, there was no external incision.  The President’s life was saved, the trademark mustache undisturbed.

The operation remained secret until 1917, nine years after the death of the former President.  A medical miracle for the time, the President’s surgery is studied, to this day.

 

A Trivial Matter
Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to call the official residence, the “White House.” Prior to that, the building was called the Executive Mansion or the President’s House.

March 4, 1789  A Self Governing Republic

Even at the convention, many of the framers were concerned about the larger, more populous states governing at the expense of the smaller states. The proverbial five wolves and a lamb, voting on what’s for lunch. 

Early discussions concerning the American experiment in self-government began nearly twenty years before the Revolution, with the Albany Congress of 1754 and Benjamin Franklin’s proposed Albany Plan of Union. The 2nd Continental Congress appointed a drafting committee to write our first constitution in 1776, the work beginning on July 12. The finished document was sent to the states for ratification on November 15, the following year.

ArticlesOfConfederation (1)Twelve of the thirteen original states ratified these “Articles of Confederation” by February, 1779. Maryland would hold out for another two years, over land claims west of the Ohio River. In 1781, seven months before Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the 2nd Continental Congress formally ratified the Articles of Confederation. The young nation’s first governing document.

The Articles of Confederation provided for a loose alliance of sovereign states. At the center stood a congress, a unicameral legislature, and that’s about it. There was no Executive, there was no Judiciary.

In theory, Congress had the authority to govern foreign affairs, conduct war, and regulate currency. In practice, these powers were limited because Congress had no authority to enforce requests made on the states, either for money or for troops.

The Union would probably have broken up if the Articles of Confederation were not amended or replaced. Twelve delegates from five states met at Mann’s Tavern in Annapolis Maryland in September 1786, to discuss the issue. The decision of the Annapolis Convention was unanimous. Representatives from all the states were invited to send delegates to a new constitutional convention in Philadelphia, the following May.

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The United States had won its independence from England four years earlier, when 55 state delegates convened in Philadelphia to compose a new constitution.

Delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies met on May 25, 1787 at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.  Only Rhode Island abstained.  The building is now known as Independence Hall.

The assembly immediately discarded the idea of amending the Articles, instead crafting a brilliant Federal system of checks and balances over three months of debate. The Federal Republic crafted by the framers delegates specific, limited powers to the Federal Government, with authority outside those specified powers devolving to the states.

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Even at the convention, many of the framers were concerned about the larger, more populous states governing at the expense of the smaller states. The proverbial five wolves and a lamb, voting on what’s for lunch.  The “Connecticut Compromise” solved that problem, creating a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states in the upper house (Senate).

The Constitution was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates on September 17, 1787. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until ratified by nine of the 13 states.

Five states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut ratified the document in quick succession. Some states objected to the new constitution, particularly Massachusetts, which wanted more protection for basic political rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and of the press. They wanted it specified that powers undelegated to the Federal government, were reserved to the states. A compromise was reached in February, 1788 whereby Massachusetts and other states would ratify the document, with the assurance that such amendments would be immediately proposed.

The Constitution was ratified in Massachusetts by a two vote margin, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify on June 21. The new Constitutional Government would take effect on March 4, 1789.

On September 25, the first Congress adopted 12 amendments, sending them to the states for ratification. The states got rid of the first two, and so the Congress’ original 3rd amendment became 1st, of what we now call the “Bill of Rights”. Today, the United States Constitution is the oldest written national constitution in operation in the world.

united-states-founding-documents-vintage-american-flag-declaration-independence-constitution-america-58534238It’s interesting to note the priorities of that first Congress, as expressed in their original 1st and 2nd amendments. The ones that were thrown out. The first had to do with proportional representation, and would have led us to a 6,000-member House of Representatives, instead of the 435 we currently have. The second most important thing in the world, judging by the priorities of that first Congress, was that any future Congress could not change their own salaries. Any such change could affect only future Congresses.

That original 2nd amendment, reading that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened”, took effect in 1992 as the 27th amendment, following a ratification period stretching out to 202 years, 7 months, and 12 days. We must not be too hasty about these things.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

March 1, 1692 The Conduct of Public Affairs for Private Advantage

“Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”. – Ambrose Bierce

On this day in 1692, three residents of Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were charged with the illegal practice of witchcraft.  Twelve-year-old Abigail Williams and ten-year-old Elizabeth Parris were ill with some unknown sickness, and accused the trio of biting and pinching the girls, and poking them with knitting needles.

Massachusetts Governor William Phips established “Courts of Oyer and Terminer” (to hear and determine) to hear the charges.  Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, and an Indian slave from Barbados named Tituba, being the first so accused.  Five men and fourteen women were hanged as witches over the following seven months.  As many as 17 more died in the tiny, freezing stone compartments which then passed for jail cells.

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H/T The Crucible. Accused

According to the law of the time, the accused were required to enter a plea.  Guilty or not guilty.  Without such a plea, there could be no trial.  On March 19, 72-year-old Martha Corey was arrested for witchcraft.  Martha’s husband, 81-year-old Giles Cory, was so caught up in the hysteria as to join in the accusations against his wife.  Until he himself was accused.

Martha Corey: “I, sir, am innocent to a witch. I know not what a witch is”.
Judge Hathorne: “If you know not what a witch is, how do you know you are not one?” ~ The Crucible

Corey refused to plead, so he was subjected to the “peine forte et dure”  (French:  “hard and forceful punishment”).  Stripped naked and placed under a board, Corey was tied spread-eagle on is back, his arms and legs secured, by cords.  Stones of increasing size were heaped on top, to extract his plea.  This torture went on for two days, the man given nothing but the “worst bread” on day one, and “standing” water, the following day.

Knowing his possessions would be forfeit to his tormentor in the event of conviction, Corey’s only response was “more weight”.

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Giles Corey’s persecutor was Essex County High Sheriff George Corwin, he who signed warrants for the arrest and execution of those condemned of witchcraft.  It was he who (conveniently) received the belongings, of those so condemned.  In the end, Corwin himself was standing atop the pile of stones, shoving Corey’s tongue back into his mouth, with a cane.

The end came on Monday September 19, around noon.  One witness remembered the old farmer’s last words:  “Damn you. I curse you and Salem!”  Martha Corey was hanged, three days later.

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”. – Ambrose Bierce

Even then, George Corwin came after Corey’s adult children, to extort money from the Corey farm.  What a guy.  In 1710, Corey’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband John Moulton filed a lawsuit, seeking damages.  Elizabeth’s statement to the court said, “After our father’s death the sheriff threatened to seize our father’s estate and for fear we complied with him and paid him eleven pound six shillings in money.”

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The hideous nature of Giles Corey’s death did much to cool the ardor, for the persecution of witches.  Governor Phips dissolved the Courts of Oyer and Terminer a month later, around the time his own wife was accused of witchcraft.

Afterward

This George Corwin character must have been some 14-carat SOB but, he would get what he had coming, in the end.  Four years after the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, the High Sheriff died of an apparent heart attack, at the age of 30.  Salem resident Phillip English was accused in the earlier madness, when Corwin seized his property.  English put a lien on the corpse and delayed its burial, until he could be reimbursed.   The lien was eventually satisfied, and the debt paid back.  How long George Corwin was left to rot, is unknown to this writer.

Sometime in the 1830s, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “W” to his name, distancing himself from his twice-great grandfather and Salem witch trial judge, John Hathorne.  It didn’t do a lick of good for the poor collection of oddballs and outcasts who would not survive the witchcraft hysteria of 1692.

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For three hundred years, nineteen innocents were believed to have been hanged on Gallows Hill.  You can visit Gallows Hill Park if you like, in modern-day Salem.  Today it’s more of a skate park, than historic site.  In 2016, the Gallows Hill Project of Salem State University determined the place to have been Proctor’s Ledge, not Gallows Hill.  It’s an interesting story in itself, for those inclined to read more.  Salem State’s story, is linked above.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

February 27, 2014 To Err is Human

On this day in 2014, the Stockholm offices of the Swedish Public Employment Service erupted in chaos, as 61,000 people showed up for a job interview. The email was supposed to go out to a thousand select individuals. Instead, tens of thousands went out to registered job seekers, demonstrating the truth of the old adage:  To err is human. To Really screw up, requires a Government.

In 1999, the NASA space probe Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere and with it, three hundred million taxpayer dollars. Post-mortem examination revealed that NASA calculations used metric newton-seconds as a unit of measure, while prime contractor Lockheed Martin used pound-seconds.  Oops.

That’s up there with the multi-billion dollar Hubble Space Telescope, needing “glasses”.

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Images taken before and after “corrective lenses” were installed on the multi-billion dollar Hubble Space Telescope

Of all the powers citizens delegate to Government, few can be as fearsome as the power of arrest, the power to take our freedom, the power to take our lives.  Such awesome power must be wielded by the wisest of heads and subjected to the strictest of checks and balances, but such is not always the case.

According to the government’s own website, vault.fbi.gov:

The FBI began COINTELPRO—short for Counterintelligence Program—in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party. All COINTELPRO operations were ended in 1971. Although limited in scope (about two-tenths of one percent of the FBI’s workload over a 15-year period), COINTELPRO was later rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for abridging first amendment rights and for other reasons”.

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FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover

“Rightfully criticized”?  I should say so.  COINTELPRO tactics included smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and false reports, planted in the media.  There were instances of harassment, wrongful imprisonment and illegal violence, up to and including assassination. Director J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI harassed witnesses, withheld evidence, and publicly humiliated or falsely charged targets, with crimes.  Washington Light_bulb_votePost journalist Carl Rowan insists the FBI sent at least one anonymous letter to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., urging the man to commit suicide.

The program was exposed when an activist group burgled an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, stealing reams of information which were then exposed to news outlets. It was March 1971, the “fight of the century” between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali providing cover for the burglary. The irony is rich.  Ali himself was a COINTELPRO target, based on associations with the Nation of Islam, and the anti-Vietnam war movement.

It was the perfect crime.  No one was ever caught.

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Decades later, long after the statute of limitations had run its course, Keith Forsyth identified himself as one of eight burglars.  Knowing the office to be locked at night, one of the crooks wrote a polite note asking the door be left unlocked, and pinned it to the door.

It pays be nice I guess.  The last to leave the office, courteously obliged.  One burglar was so delighted, he proposed that a polite thank you note, be left on the door.  Lucky for him, cooler heads prevailed.

Speaking of savvy Government personnel.  On this day in 2014, the Stockholm offices of the Swedish Public Employment Service erupted in chaos, as 61,000 people showed up for a job interview. The email was supposed to go out to a thousand select individuals. Instead, tens of thousands went out to registered job seekers, demonstrating the truth of the old adage:  To err is human. To Really screw up, requires a Government.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

February 19, 1807 Burning Ambition

Behind the scenes, the vice president secretly corresponded with the British and Spanish Ministers to the United States, offering in the first case to detach Louisiana from the Union and in the second, to orchestrate an overthrow, of Mexico.  He himself would do nicely to found the new dynasty, thank you very much, for asking.

What would it be like to turn on CNN or Fox News, to learn that Former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew had been party to a duel, and he was near death after being shot by Vice President Mike Pence.

The year was 1804.  President Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President Aaron Burr, had a long standing grudge against Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington.

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Aaron Burr

The animosity between the two went back to the Senate election of 1791, and escalated during one of the ugliest election seasons in American history.  It’s been called the “Revolution of 1800”, the election pitting Democratic-Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson, against one-term incumbent John Adams, of the Federalist party.

Both sides were convinced beyond doubt, that the other side would destroy the young nation. Federalists attacked Jefferson as an un-Christian deist, a populist whose sympathies with the French Revolution would bring about a similar cataclysm in the young American Republic. Democratic-Republicans criticized the alien and sedition acts, and the deficit spending the Adams administration employed to support Federal policy.

At the time, electors cast two votes, the first and second vote-getters becoming President and Vice President.

“The father of modern political campaigning”, Aaron Burr had long since enlisted help from New York’s Tammany Hall, transforming what was then a social club into a political machine.  The election was a decisive victory for the Democratic-Republicans.  Not so much for the candidates themselves.

The electoral vote tied at 73 between Jefferson and Burr, moving the selection to the House of Representatives. Hamilton exerted influence on behalf of Jefferson, who was elected on the 36th ballot.  Aaron Burr was relegated to the vice-Presidency.

John Nance Garner served as 32nd vice president between 1931 – ’41. With precisely zero influence over Presidential authority, Garner described the position as “not worth a bucket of warm piss”.  The sentiment is cleaned up and commonly retold as, “warm spit”.

A man with the towering ambition of Aaron Burr could certainly relate.  Behind the scenes, the vice president secretly corresponded with the British and Spanish Ministers to the United States, offering in the first case to detach Louisiana from the Union and in the second, to orchestrate an overthrow, of Mexico.  He himself would do nicely to found the new dynasty.  Thank you very much, for asking.

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Justice Samuel Chase

We’re accustomed today to the idea of “Judicial Review”, the idea that Supreme Court decisions are final and inviolate, but that wasn’t always the case. The landmark Marbury v Madison decision established the principle in 1803, a usurpation of power so egregious to Democratic-Republicans, as to bring about the impeachment of Associate Justice Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

As VP, Burr presided over Chase’ impeachment.  It was the high point of the only term he would ever serve.

Relations were toxic between Jefferson and Burr.  The VP knew he wouldn’t be around for the 1804 re-election campaign, so he ran for Governor of New York, losing in a landslide to a virtual unknown, Morgan Lewis.

It was a humiliating defeat.  Burr blamed Alexander Hamilton over comments made during the election, and challenged him to a duel.  Dueling was illegal at this time but enforcement was lax in New Jersey. The pair rowed across the Hudson River with their “seconds”, meeting at the waterfront town of Weehawken. It was July 11, 1804. Hamilton “threw away” his shot, firing into the air. Aaron Burr shot to kill.

missedinhistory-podcasts-wp-content-uploads-sites-99-2015-07-hamilton-burr-660x357Murder charges were filed in both New York and New Jersey, but neither went to trial.

Aaron Burr went on to preside over Justice Chase’ impeachment, the high point of a career otherwise ended, the day he met Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken.

Burr headed for New Orleans where he got mixed up with one General James Wilkinson, one of the sleazier characters of the founding generation. At that time, Wilkinson was a paid agent for Spanish King Charles IV. 100 years later Theodore Roosevelt would say of Wilkinson, “In all our history, there is no more despicable character.”

Wilkinson took his payments in silver dollars, hidden in rum, sugar and coffee casks. All those clinking coins nearly undid him, when a messenger was caught and killed with 3,000 of them. The messenger’s five murderers were themselves Spaniards, who testified at trial the money belonged to the spy, James Wilkinson. Payment for services rendered to their King. Wilkinson’s luck held, as the killers spoke no English. Thomas Power, interpreter for the Magistrate, was another Spanish spy. He threw those guys so far under the bus, they’d never get out: ‘They just say they’re wicked murderers motivated by greed.’

The nature of Burr’s discussions with Wilkinson is unclear but, in 1806, Burr led a group of armed colonists toward New Orleans, with the apparent intention of snatching the territory and turning the place into an independent Republic. It’s probably safe to assume that Aaron Burr saw himself at the head of such a Republic.

Seeing no future in it and wanting to save his own skin, General Wilkinson turned on his former ally, sending dispatches to Washington accusing the former Vice President of treason. Burr was tracked down in Alabama on February 19, 1807, arrested for treason and sent to Richmond, Virginia, for trial.

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The size and shape of the “Burr Conspiracy” remain unclear, to this day.  Historians claim the Vice President intended to take parts of Texas and the Louisiana Purchase, forming his own independent Republic. Others claim he intended to conquer Mexico,  That Aaron Burr had a following among prominent politicians and soldiers is beyond question, but estimates of their numbers range from forty, to over seven-thousand.

Burr himself claims only to have wanted the 40,000 acres in the Texas Territory, deeded him by the Spanish crown.  On this there is no uncertainty.  The lease still exists.

Burr was acquitted on September 1, on grounds he had not committed an “overt act” as specified in the Constitution. He was not guilty in the eyes of the law, but the court of public opinion would forever regard him as traitor. Aaron Burr spent the next several years in Europe before returning to New York, and resuming his law practice.

The Vice President who killed the man on our $10 bill, died in obscurity on September 14, 1836, at the age of 80.

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.