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.

PCLEV001-009
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.

121015_HistoryofMedicine_PresidentCleveland

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.
Advertisements

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.

635800718776443557-signing-of-the-constitution

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.

bigstock-Declaration-of-Independence-20186213-1140x592

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.

crucibleaccused
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”.

gilescoreytrial

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.”

210d7ba514235b4587ef16cac39a0f1e

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.

Page break

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”.

ff85a527-c954-444a-e86e-34042da4b025
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”.

5bb8b3022200004301dd71d0
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.

FBI

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.

GettyImages-515414860-E
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.

chase2
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.

Classics-Burr-conspiracy-p-cropped

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.

150320191637-ten-dollar-bill-780x439

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 17, 1895 Yellow Journalism

Circulation wars were white hot in those days, competing papers using anything possible to get an edge. Real-life street urchins hawked lurid headlines, heavy on scandal-mongering and light on verifiable fact. Whatever it took, to increase circulation.

YellowKidMickey Dugan was “born” on February 17, 1895, a wise-cracking street urchin from the wrong side of the tracks.  “Generous to a fault” with a “sunny disposition” Mickey was the kind of street kid you’d find in New York’s turn-of-the-century slums, maybe hawking newspapers. “Extra, Extra, read all about it!”

With his head shaved as if recently ridden of lice, Mickey was one of thousands of homeless urchins roaming the back lots and tenements of the city, not so much an individual as an archetype. Mickey Dugan was a cartoon character, the child of artist and “Buster Brown” creator, Richard Outcault.

Outcault’s “Hogan’s Alley” strip, one of the first regular Sunday newspaper cartoons in the country, became colorized by May of 1895. For the first time Mickey Dugan’s oversize, hand-me-down nightshirt was depicted in yellow.  Readers soon forgot his name.  He was simply “the Yellow kid”.

000789.1LOutcault worked for Joseph Pulitzer in those days, owner of the New York World Newspaper. Arch rival William Randolph Hearst hired the cartoonist away to work for Pulitzer’s cross-town competitor Journal American, but the pair soon learned that there was no copyright protection on the Yellow Kid. Soon the character was simultaneously appearing in both competing newspaper strips, where he would remain for over a year.

Circulation wars were white hot in those days, competing papers using anything possible to get an edge.  Real-life street urchins hawked lurid headlines, heavy on scandal-mongering and light on verifiable fact. Whatever it took, to increase circulation.

The Yellow Kid ceased to be of interest by 1898, but he lived on in a way, in the style of newspaper reporting which came to be known as “yellow journalism”.

PulitzerHearstWarYellowKids.jpg

After two wars for independence from Spain, the Caribbean island of Cuba found its economy increasingly intertwined with that of the United States. From the Spanish perspective, Cuba was more of a province than a colony, they were not about to relinquish a foot of territory. When the Cuban Rebellion of 1895 broke out, don Valeriano Weyler’s brutal repressions killed hundreds of thousands in Cuban concentration camps.

In America, some saw parallels between the “Cuba Libre” movement, in their own revolution of a hundred-odd years earlier. Fearing the economic repercussions of a drawn out conflict, shipping and other business interests put pressure on President McKinley to intervene. Meanwhile, the yellow papers kept the issue front page, whipping up popular fury with tales of the noble Cuban revolutionary and the barbaric Spaniard. There were even tales of American women being publicly strip searched by Spanish authorities.

USS_Maine01
USS Maine

The armored cruiser USS Maine left Key West headed for Cuba in January 1898, to protect US interests and to emphasize the need for a quick resolution to the conflict. Anchored in Havana Harbor on February 15, a massive explosion of unknown origin rocked the Maine, sinking the cruiser within minutes and killing 266 of the 355 Americans on board.

The McKinley administration urged calm. Conditions in Cuba were bad enough, but front page headlines like “Spanish Murderers” and “Remember the Maine” accompanied sensationalized accounts of Spanish brutality. War became all but inevitable when US Navy findings were released that March, stating that an external explosion had doomed the Maine.

MaineThe Spanish-American War began the following month, directly resulting in the Philippine-American war.

There is a story, that illustrator Frederic Remington said there was no war brewing in Cuba. Hearst is supposed to have replied. “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” The story may be apocryphal. The media can’t tell us what to think, but they can certainly control what we think ABOUT. Hearst and Pulitzer had clamored for two years for war with Spain, and they were happy to take credit when it came. Besides, it was good for circulation. A week after the Spanish-American War began in April, Hearst’s American Journal ran the headline “How do you like the Journal’s war?” Front page, above the fold.

spanish-american
War Propaganda

It’s been said that you should never pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel. I disagree. I have broken that dictum myself and recommend the practice to anyone so inclined. For all the Wizard of Oz antics of the print and electronic media, there remains only the one man behind the curtain. President Reagan once said of the Soviet Union, “doveryai no proveryai” (trust, but verify). He might have said the same of an information industry whose business model it is, to rent an audience to a sponsor.

In 1976, a team of American naval investigators concluded that the Maine explosion was likely caused by a fire which ignited its ammunition stocks, not by Spanish mine or act of sabotage.

Small consolation it was to 3,289 Americans and an estimated 90,000 Spaniards, killed in “the Journal’s war”. Nor to the loved ones, they left behind.

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.

January 30, 1752 Founding Philanderer

Not that he could’ve have done anything about it, even if the husband did find out.  Morris walked with a peg, his left leg severed below the knee in a carriage accident, lost while running from an angry husband.

nyc-pdf-manhattan-street-map-printable-street-guide-4
Midtown Street Grid

To drive the streets of Manhattan is to realize that someone had a plan for this place. You might not be able to get there for the congestion, but you can figure out how to do it. Not like the rabbit warren that is her sister city of Boston, that all but unnavigable melange of neighborhoods, grown together as the city expanded into former marshlands and harbor.

In grade school, we all learned the preamble to the Constitution. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” It’s considerably snappier than the original version:

We the people of the states of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain, declare and establish the following constitution for the government of ourselves and our posterity.”

us-constitution

That West 53rd leads to East 53rd and runs next to 54th may be attributed to a committee of three, who fought (and won) the battle against the wide circles and grand plazas, once envisioned for “The City”. That we may be spared that stultifying recitation of our founding document may be laid at the feet of one member of that committee.

Today, his life is all but lost to history, among the familiar constellation of founding fathers.  If he’s remembered at all it’s for that funny name.  Gouverneur Morris.  And what a life it was.

morris_g
Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris was born this day in 1752, the son of Lewis Morris, Jr. and his second wife Sarah (Gouverneur) Morris. Abigail Adams informs us the name was pronounced “Governeer”.

Born to a wealthy New York land owning family, Morris was destined to a place among the founders. His half-brother Lewis signed the Declaration of Independence.  Nephew Lewis Richard served in the Vermont legislature and the US Congress.

As a member of the Continental Congress, Morris helped General George Washington secure funding, to keep the Continental Army in the field. A staunch ally of the Commander-in-Chief, Morris defended Washington against the “Conway Cabal“, the only serious effort to have the General unseated, as commander-in-chief.

gouverneur_morris_1789
Gouverneur Morris 1789

A staunch opponent of slavery, Morris derided the “peculiar institution” as “the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.”  Morris mocked the “3/5ths compromise”, that cynical effort to increase congressional representation based on “property”, who had no right to vote.

Upon what principle”, Morris asked, “is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included?”

And did I mention, Gouverneur Morris was a first-class Rake?

“Rake” is such a great word, short for “Rakehell” or Hellraiser’.  It’s a shame it’s fallen out of usage.  This isn’t the tool shed variety.  An 18th century Rake is a man habituated to dissolute conduct, a chronic libertine devoted to wine, women and song.  Emphasis on the Women and, no problem if they just happened to be married.

At a time when sexual attitudes were “buttoned up” to say the least, Gouverneur Morris was all but addicted to sex in public, given over to the excitement, of the risk at being caught.

As Minister Plenipotentiary to France in the wake of the American Revolution, Morris writes of one such dalliance in the hallway at the Louvre, then a Royal Residence.

wooden-leg-of-gouverneur-morris-new-york-historical-society-photo-by-the_adverse_possessors-cc-by-sa-2-5-426x640
Gouverneur Morris’ wooden leg

“Go to the Louvre… we take the Chance of Interruption and celebrate in the Passage while Mademoiselle (the woman’s daughter) is at the Harpsichord in the Drawing Room. The husband is below. Visitors are hourly expected. The Doors are all open.”

“Celebrate” was Morris’ code word for…well…you know.

Not that he could’ve done anything about it, even if the husband did find out.  Morris walked with a peg, his left leg severed below the knee in a carriage accident, lost while running from an angry husband.

That wooden leg actually helped him one time, as the French Revolution spiraled downward toward the homicidal madness  known as the “Reign of Terror“. While riding in a carriage, a sign of the aristocracy, a horde of sans coulotte attempted to seize the vehicle.  It may have cost Morris, his head.  Gouverneur Morris leaned out the window and shook the leg at them, momentarily shocking the mob into stunned silence. Whether the mob thought him a war veteran or just plain crazy is unknown, but the driver had just enough time, to get away.

800px-william_hogarth_027
18th century painting “A Rake’s Progress”, by English artist William Hogarth

Morris tried to raise enough to bribe the guards, to release King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  When that didn’t work out he bought the Queen’s furniture, and brought it home as a keepsake.

Morris finally “settled down” at age 57, but even that was a scandal.  That Anne Gary (“Nancy”) Randolph was twenty-two years younger than he was not so unusual, but marrying his housekeeper, was.  Worse still, the blushing bride had become pregnant by her own brother-in-law at age seventeen, and was tried for killing the baby.  On a plantation named “Bizarre’, no less.

Anne was acquitted of the charge of infanticide, but the scandal followed her, all her days.  Morris announced his marriage to her at his Christmas party.  In his diary, Gouverneur writes “I marry this day Anne Gary Randolph. No small surprise to my guests.”

1_bvbmve3hyozqr_ety3gckw
Whalebone

Toward the end of his life, Gouverneur Morris experienced problems with his urinary tract, probably the result of prostate cancer.  Believing there to be some blockage in his pipes, Morris tried the “Do-it-Yourself” approach to fixing the problem, with a piece of whalebone.

Unsurprisingly, the method caused himself considerable damage and massive infection.  The man who brought the Erie Canal to upstate New York died on November 6, 1813.  Six days later, the Columbian Centinal newspaper of Boston reported his death following “a short but distressing illness.”

I should say so.

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.