April 13, 1917 A Sealed Train

Not far from food riots of his own and loathe to unleash such a bacterium against his own homeland, a “Sealed Train” carrying Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and 31 dissidents departed from exile in Switzerland on April 9, complements of the Kaiser.  

The “War to End all Wars” entered its third year in 1917, seeming as though it would go on forever. Neither side seemed able to gain strategic advantage on the front. The great battles of 1916 seemed only yesterday, in which any single day’s fighting produced more casualties than every European war of the preceding 100 years, combined. At home, the social fabric of the combatant nations was unraveling.

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Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov

By 1916 it was generally understood in Germany, that the war effort was “shackled to a corpse”, referring to Germany’s Austro-Hungarian ally. Italy, the third member of the “Triple Alliance”, was little better. On the Triple Entente side, the French countryside was literally torn to pieces, the English economy close to collapse. The Russian Empire, the largest nation on the planet, was on the edge of the precipice.

With the American declaration of war in April 1917, both sides understood that the balance was about to shift. For Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, it was time to throw a knockout punch, before the US arrived in force.

Imperial Russia had seen the first of what would be two revolutions back in February, when food riots led to the overthrow and exile of the Imperial family.  Full scale civil war broke out in 1918, resulting in the Bolshevik murder of the Czar and Czarina, together with their children, servants and dogs.

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Lenin makes his way to the sealed train which would take him out of exile. April 13, 1917.

In the midst of this chaos, the Kaiser calculated that all he had to do was “kick the door in”, the Russian Republic would collapse, and they would be out of the war. He was right.

Following the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty, the more moderate Menshevik “Whites” vowed to continue the war effort. The split which had begun with the failed revolution of 1905 was more pronounced by this time with the more radical Bolsheviks (“Reds”) taking the more extreme road. While Reds and Whites both wanted to bring socialism to the Russian people, the Mensheviks argued for predominantly legal methods and trade union activism, while Bolsheviks favored armed violence.

In a small town in the northeast of Sweden, there is a train station.  A bronze plaque on a blue tile wall, proclaims: “Here Lenin passed through Haparanda on April 15, 1917, on his way from exile in Switzerland to Petrograd in Russia”.

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Lenin was in exile at this time, and Imperial Germany was at war with Russia.  British historian Edward Crankshaw writes, the German government saw “in this obscure fanatic one more bacillus to let loose in tottering and exhausted Russia to spread infection”.

Not far from food riots of his own and loathe to unleash such a bacterium against his own homeland, a “Sealed Train” carrying Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and 31 dissidents departed from exile in Switzerland on April 9, complements of the Kaiser.  Leaving Zurich Station amid the jeers and the insults of 100 or so assembled Russians shouting “Spies!” “Traitors!” “Pigs!” “Provocateurs!”  Lenin turned to a friend.  “Either we’ll be swinging from the gallows in three months, or we shall be in power.”

Sealed Train

North through Germany and across the Baltic Sea, the group traveled the length of Sweden, crossing at the border village of Haparanda into Russian-Occupied Finland.  The group arrived at Finlandsky Vokzal (Finland Station) in Petrograd on the evening of April 16, 1917. Like the handful of termites that brought down the mighty oak, that small faction inserted into the picture that April, would help to radicalize the population, and consolidate power on the Bolshevik’s side.

By October, Russia would experience its second revolution in a year.  The Kaiser’s Germany could breathe easier. The “Russian Steamroller”, was out of the war. Chief of the General Staff Paul von Hindenburg and his deputy Erich Ludendorff could move their divisions westward, in time to face the arrival of the AEF.

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Since the end of the Soviet era, Russian historians have come to believe that Vladimir Ilyich (Ulyanov) Lenin personally ordered the murder of the czar and his family, and that the Lenin era was every bit as bloody, as that of his successor Josef Stalin.

Lenin called for “Mass Terror” during the civil war of 1918, resulting in executions in the tens of thousands.  Historian Alexander Margolis had the last word on the subject, if not the understatement of the century:  “If they had arrested Lenin at the Finland Station, it would have saved everyone a lot of trouble”.

Sealed Train Locomotive
The locomotive which carried the ideological infection of Communism. from exile in Switzerland, to the Imperial Russian heartland
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 29, 2017 Vietnam Veteran’s Day

In the end, US public opinion would not sustain what too many saw as an endless war.

Since the late 19th century, the area now known as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam was governed as a French Colonial territory.  “French Indo-China” came to be occupied by the Imperial Japanese after the fall of France, at the onset of WWII.  There arose a nationalist-communist army during this period, dedicated to throwing out the Japanese occupier.  It called itself the “League for the Independence of Vietnam”, or “Viet Minh”.

images (40)France re-occupied the region following the Japanese defeat ending WWII, but soon faced the same opposition from the  army of Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. What began as a low level rural insurgency, later became a full-scale modern war when Communist China entered the fray in 1949.

The disastrous defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1953 led to French withdrawal from Vietnam, the Geneva Convention partitioning the country into the communist “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” in the north, and the State of Vietnam in the south, led by Emperor Bao Dai and Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.

Communist forces of the north continued to terrorize Vietnamese patriots in north and south alike, with aid and support from communist China and the Soviet Union.

The student of history understands that nothing happens in a vacuum.  US foreign policy is no exception. International Communism had attempted to assert itself since the Paris Commune rebellion of 1871, and found its first major success with the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917.

download (39)US policy makers feared a “domino” effect, and with good cause. The 15 core nations of the Soviet bloc were soon followed by Eastern Europe, as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia fell into the Soviet sphere of influence. Germany was partitioned into Communist and free-enterprise spheres after WWII, followed by China, North Korea and on across Southeast Asia.

This is no benign ideology.  Current estimates of citizens murdered by Communist  ideology in the Soviet Union alone, range from 8 to 61 million during the Stalinist period.

Agree or disagree with policy makers of the time, that’s your business, but they followed a logical thought process. US aid and support for South Vietnam increased as a way to “stem the tide” of international communism, at the same time that French support was pulling back. By the late 50s, the US was sending technical and financial aid in expectation of social and land reform. By 1960, the “National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam” (“NLF”, or “Viet Cong”) had taken to murdering Diem supported village leaders. JFK responded by sending 1,364 American advisers into South Vietnam, in 1961.

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The war in Vietnam pitted as many as 1.8 million allied forces from South Vietnam, the United States, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, Spain, South Korea and New Zealand, against about a half million from North Vietnam, China, the Soviet Union and North Korea. Begun on November 1, 1955, the conflict lasted 19 years, 5 months and a day. On March 29, 1973, two months after signing the Paris Peace accords, the last US combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed the remaining POWs held in North Vietnam.

images (38)Even then it wasn’t over. Communist forces violated cease-fire agreements before they were signed. Some 7,000 US civilian Department of Defense employees stayed behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting an ongoing and ultimately futile war against communist North Vietnam.

The last, humiliating scenes of the war played themselves out on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon on April 29 – 30, 1975, as those who could boarded helicopters, while communist forces closed around the South Vietnamese capital.

The “Killing Fields” of Cambodia followed between 1975 – ‘79, when the “Khmer Rouge”, self-described as “The one authentic people capable of building true communism”, murdered or caused the deaths of an estimated 1.4 to 2.2 million of their own people, out of a population of 7 million. All to build the perfect, agrarian, “Worker’s Paradise”.

images (39)Imagine feeling so desperate, so fearful of this alien ideology invading your country, that you convert all your worldly possessions and those of your family to a single diamond, bite down on that stone so hard it embedded in your shattered teeth, and fled with your family to open ocean in a small boat.  All in the faint and desperate hope, of getting out of that place.  That is but one story among more than three million “boat people”.  Three million from a combined population of 56 million, fleeing the Communist onslaught in hopes of temporary asylum in other countries in Southeast Asia or China.

They were the Sino-Vietnamese Hoa, and Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge.  Ethnic Laotians, Iu Mien, Hmong and other highland peoples of Laos.  The 30 or so Degar (Montagnard) tribes in the Central Highlands, so many of whom had been our steadfast allies in the late war.  Over 2.5 million of them were resettled, more than half to the United States.  The other half went mostly to Canada, Europe and South Pacific nations.   A half-million were repatriated, voluntarily or involuntarily.  Hundreds of thousands vanished in their attempt to flee.

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The humanitarian disaster that was the Indochina refugee crisis was particularly acute between 1979 – ’80, but reverberations continued into the 21st century.

Today, we remember John Ogonowski as Senior Captain on American Airlines flight 11, one of thousands killed by Islamist terrorists, on September 11, 2001.  When he wasn’t flying jumbo jets, John Ogonowski was a farmer.  For years, John mentored Cambodian farmers on his Dracut, Massachusetts “White Gate Farm“, helping them grow familiar crops, in an unfamiliar climate.  Just as those old Yankee farmers had mentored his Polish immigrant ancestors, years before.

There were 57,939 names inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the day it opened in 1982. Over the years, the names of military personnel who succumbed to wounds sustained in the war, were added to the wall. As of Memorial Day 2015, there are 58,307.

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In the end, US public opinion would not sustain what too many saw as an endless war.  We continue to feel the political repercussions, to this day. I was ten at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968.  I remember the way some of my fellow Americans conducted 47e9d75dc1c766456546bb7f54a5ede3themselves, and came to feel as I do to this day, that anyone who has a problem with our country’s war policy, needs to take it up with a politician.  Not with a member of the Armed Services.

In 2017, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) co-sponsored a measure to declare March 29 Vietnam Veterans Day, to honor US service members who served in the war in southeast Asia. The measure passed the House of Representatives on March 21 and the Senate on February 3. President Donald Trump signed the measure into law on March 28, designating the following day, March 29, Vietnam Veteran’s Day.

It’s about time.

Vietnam Veterans Day Tweet

March 21, 1905 Better Babies

By the height of the eugenics movement, some 30 states had passed legislation, legalizing the involuntary sterilization of individuals considered “unfit” for reproduction. All told, some 60,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized in state-sanctioned procedures.

In 380BC, Plato described a system of state-controlled human breeding in his Socratic dialogue “The Republic”, introducing a “guardian class” to watch over over his ideal society.

Ada JukeIn the 19th century, Francis Galton studied the theories of his cousin Charles Darwin on the evolution of species, applying them to a system of selective breeding intended to bring “better” human beings into the world.  He called it his theory of “Eugenics”.

Eugenics gained worldwide respectability in the early 20th century, when countries from Brazil to Japan adopted policies regarding the involuntary sterilization of certain mental patients.

images (35)“Better Babies” competitions sprang up at state fairs across the United States, where babies were measured, weighed, and “judged”.  Like livestock.  By the 20s, these events had evolved into “Fitter Family” competitions.

One of the leaders of the eugenics movement was the pacifist and Stanford University professor, David Starr Jordan.  After writing several books on the subject, Jordan became a founding member of the Eugenics Committee of the American Breeders Association.  The higher classes of American society were being eroded by the lower class, he argued.  Careful, selective breeding would be required to preserve the nation’s “upper crust”.

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Margaret Samger

Margaret Higgins Sanger believed that birth control should be compulsory for “unfit” women, who “recklessly perpetuated their damaged genetic stock by irresponsibly breeding more children in an already overpopulated world.”

An early advocate for birth control, Sanger has her supporters to this day, including former Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I admire Margaret Sanger enormously”, Clinton said.  “Her courage, her tenacity, her vision…”  Time Magazine points out that “Sanger opened the first birth-control clinic in the United States”, describing her as “An advocate for women’s reproductive rights who was also a vocal eugenics enthusiast…”

Detractors have described Sanger as a “thoroughgoing racist”, citing her own words in What Every Girl Should Know, published in 1910:  “In all fish and reptiles where there is no great brain development, there is also no conscious sexual control. The lower down in the scale of human development we go the less sexual control we find. It is said that the aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets”.

Admire or detest the woman as you choose, Sanger’s work established organizations which later evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Around the world, eugenics policies took the form of involuntarily terminated pregnancies, compulsory sterilization, euthanasia, and even mass extermination.

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Madison Grant, the New York lawyer best known for his work in developing the discipline of wildlife management, was a leader in the eugenics movement, once receiving an approving fan letter from none other than Adolf Hitler.

Public policy and academic types conducted three international eugenics conferences to discuss the application of programs to improve human bloodlines.  The first such symposium convened in London in 1912, discussing papers on “racial suicide” and similar topics.  Presiding over the conference was none other than Major Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin, with Harvard president emeritus Charles William Eliot serving as vice President.

Vermont Eugenics: A Documentary HistoryThe 1912 conference was followed by two more in 1921 and 1932, both held in New York City.  Colleges and universities delved into eugenics as academic discipline, with courses exploring the ethical and public policy considerations of eliminating the “degenerate” and “unfit”.

In Pennsylvania, 270 involuntary sterilizations were performed without benefit of law, between 1892 and 1931.  On March 21, 1905, the Pennsylvania legislature passed “An Act for the Prevention of Idiocy”, requiring that every institution in the state entrusted with the care of “ idiots and imbecile children”, be staffed by at least one skilled surgeon, whose duty it was to perform surgical sterilization.  The bill was vetoed by then-Governor Samuel Pennypacker, only to return in 1911, ’13, ’15, ’17, ’19, and again in 1921.

By the height of the eugenics movement, some 30 states had passed legislation, legalizing the involuntary sterilization of individuals considered “unfit” for reproduction. All told, some 60,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized in state-sanctioned procedures.

California forced Charlie Follett to undergo a vasectomy in 1945 at the age of 15, when Follett found himself abandoned by alcoholic parents.   He was only one of some 20,000 Californians forced to undergo such a procedure.

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Roadside Marker, Raleigh, NC

Vermont passed a sterilization law in 1931, aimed at what then-University of Vermont zoology professor Henry Perkins called the “rural degeneracy problem.”  An untold number of “defectives” were forced to undergo involuntary sterilization, including Abenaki Indians and French-Canadian immigrants.

Indiana passed the first eugenic sterilization law in 1907, but the measure was legally flawed.  To remedy the situation, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), founded in 1910 by the the former Harvard University Zoology Professor Charles Benedict Davenport, Ph.D.,  crafted a statute, which was later adopted by the Commonwealth of Virginia as state law in 1924.

That September, Superintendent of the ‘Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded’ Dr. Albert Sidney Priddy, filed a petition to sterilize one Carrie Elizabeth Buck, an 18-year-old patient at the institution whom Priddy claimed to be “incorrigible”.  A “genetic threat to society”.  Buck’s 52-year-old mother had a record of prostitution and immorality, Priddy claimed, and the child to whom Buck gave birth in the institution only proved the point.

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Carrie Elizabeth Buck was born into poverty in Charlottesville, Virginia, the first of three children born to Emma Buck. Carrie’s father Frederick Buck abandoned the family, shortly after the marriage. Emma was committed to the “Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded” following accusations of immorality, prostitution, and having syphilis.

Buck’s guardian brought her case to court, arguing that compulsory sterilization violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.  After losing in district court, the case was appealed to the Amherst County Circuit Court, the Virginia Supreme Court, and finally the United States Supreme Court.

Dr. Priddy died along the way, Dr. John Hendren Bell taking his place.  SCOTUS decided the “Buck vs Bell” case on May 2, 1927, ruling in an 8–1 decision that Carrie Buck, her mother, and her perfectly normal infant daughter, were all “feeble-minded” and “promiscuous.”

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“This photograph was taken on the eve of the initial trial of Buck v Bell in Virginia. Mrs. Dobbs appear to be holding a coin believed to be used as a test for alertness or mental acuity. Vivian appears to be looking elsewhere. It may have ben on the strength of this test that Arthur Estabrook concluded that she “showed backwardness.” H/T DNA Learning Center, dnalc.org

In the majority ruling, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., did more than just greenlight the Virginia statute.  He urged the nation as a whole to get serious about eugenics, and to prevent large numbers of “unfit” from breeding:  “”It is better for all the world“, Holmes wrote, “if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind“. In writing about Carrie Buck herself, her mother and infant daughter Vivian, Holmes delivered one of the most brutal pronouncements in all American jurisprudence: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

It was later revealed that Carrie Buck had been raped by a member of the Dobbs family, the foster family who had taken her in and later had her committed.  To save the family “honor”.  No matter.  Buck was compelled to undergo tubal ligation, later paroled from the institution to become a domestic worker with a family in Bland, Virginia.  Buck’s daughter Vivian was adopted by the Dobbs family.

In a later examination of the child, ERO field worker Dr. Arthur Estabrook pronounced her “feeble minded” saying that she “showed backwardness”, supporting the “three generations” theory expressed in the SCOTUS opinion.

Vivian died from complications of measles in 1932, after only two years in school.  Dr. Estabrook failed to explain in his report, how she seemed to do well for those two years, nor did doctor Estabrook reveal how she came to be listed on her school’s honor roll, in April, 1931.

March 17, 1621 First Encounter

Squanto would mediate between the settlers and the native tribes, teaching the Pilgrims to plant corn: several kernels in a mound, buried with a fish head to enrich the soil.  When planted together in a circle, the “three sisters” would support and thrive together, the corn stalks providing poles for the beans, and the squash leaves providing ground cover & holding in moisture, while keeping weeds at bay.

images (29)In 1620, the 60-ton Pinnace Speedwell departed Delfshaven, meeting with Mayflower at Southampton, Hampshire. The two vessels set out on August 15, but soon had to turn back as Speedwell was taking on water. Speedwell was abandoned after a second failed attempt, Mayflower setting out alone on September 16, 1620, with an estimated 142 passengers and crew.

66 days at sea brought the “Old Comers” up on the outer reaches of Cape Cod on November 11, near the present-day site of Provincetown Harbor.   There, the group stayed long enough to draw up the first written framework of government established in the New World, a “civil body politic” called the Mayflower Compact.

pilgrims_bwAs anyone familiar with the area will understand, a month in that place and time convinced them of its unsuitability.  By mid-December the Mayflower had crossed Cape Cod Bay and fetched up at Plimoth Harbor.

Words fail to describe the terrible conditions of that first winter.  Over half of these “Pilgrims” died during those first few months, eighty-two in all, of malnutrition, disease, exposure and starvation.  It was nearly as awful as the “starving time” of the Jamestown colony of ten years earlier, in which all but 60 of 214 colonists perished.

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Massasoit,

The morning of March 16, 1621 dawned fair and clear, warm for the season.  The settlers had long heard tales of their new neighbors, and even spotted a few back in November, at the modern-day “First Encounter Beach”, in Eastham.  There were wild stories of “cannibals” and “savages”, but none had yet been observed, at anything but a distance.  This morning, the newcomers realized that it was they who were being observed.

They were hurriedly arranging defenses when one of the “savages” approached the group, naked as the day he was born but for a leather fringe about his waist, holding a bow and two arrows.  Tall and straight with flowing black hair, the man walked straight up and introduced himself, to the astonishment of the group, in English.  He said his name was Samoset.

The following account appears in Mourt’s Relation (1622) written primarily by Edward Winslow and William Bradford:

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Samoset, “1st Friend” of the Pilgrims

Friday the 16th was a fair warm day….We were finishing our work, when a strange looking man, a man which caused us to be surprised becaused he seemed unafraid …. walked into the village. We stopped him. … He spoke to us in English, and was friendly. He said he had learned some English among the Englishmen that came to fish at Monhegan Island, and he gave us their names. He was a man who spoke freely and openly. We questioned him about many things. He was the first Indian we met. He said he was from Morattiggon (modern day Maine) and been 8 months in these parts…He asked for a drink and we gave him strong water and biscuit, and butter, and cheese, and pudding, and a piece of mallard (duck), all which he liked well. He said he had also eaten this food before with the English that had come before where he was from.

He told us the place where we now live was known as Patuxet by the Indians. Four years ago all the Indians who lived there died of a sickness and none were left, so they cannot hurt us, or to say the land where we now live belongs to them. All the afternoon we spent talking with him; we thought he would leave that night, but he did not leave. Then we thought to carry him on shipboard, and he intended to leave, but the wind was high and the water not deep enough so he could not return back that day. We lodged him that night at Stephen Hopkins house, and watched him.

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Southern New England tribal range, circa 1600

Samoset was a Sagamore (minor Chief) of the Abenaki tribe of modern-day Maine, visiting at that time with Ousamequin, the Pokanoket Sachem (leader) of the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) and Massassoit (Great Sachem) of the Wampanoag Confederacy of southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

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This plaque is all that remains of the Pilgrim’s 1620 raid on the Nauset’s corn stash, in modern-day Truro, MA

Samoset warned the newcomers to beware the Nauset, later called “Cape Cod Indians”, a tribal unit of some one-hundred individuals sharing the Massachusett (Natick) language and occupying modern-day Cape Cod and surrounding islands. Small wonder.  Long before the large-scale colonization of the New World, European seafarers had kidnapped some twenty Nausets, and sold them into slavery, leaving in their wake diseases with which the native immune system was ill-equipped to deal.  It was a Nauset corn cache the Pilgrims themselves had plundered back in November, a stash laid up to take their people through the long, barren winter.

Samoset departed the following day, March 17, but returned on the 22nd with Tisquantum, (Squanto), one of the few surviving Pawtuxet.  A man who spoke better English than Samoset himself, Squanto would mediate between the settlers and the native tribes, including Massasoit.  Squanto taught the Pilgrims to plant corn: several kernels in a mound, buried with a fish head to enrich the soil.  When planted together in a circle, the “three sisters” would support one another and thrive together, the corn stalks acting as poles for the beans, and squash leaves providing ground cover & holding in moisture, while keeping weeds at bay.

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The Pawtuxet Squanto taught the Pilgrims what and where to plant, where to fish and how to hunt beaver

The newcomers reciprocated, teaching the natives about their own crops, with the aid of European farming tools.

“Days of Thanksgiving” took place in the New World as early September 8, 1565, when a group of Spaniards lead by explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé invited members of the Timucua tribe to a day of Thanksgiving in Saint Augustine, Florida.  Yet, the harvest feast of 1621, shared between the Pilgrims and the Pokanokets, is generally considered to be the basis for our own Thanksgiving holiday.

In the following months, the debt of corn was repaid to the Nauset people, who returned the favor by restoring a small boy to the colony, who’d been found lost and wandering in the woods.  The Nauset would become Christianized in the following years, turning out to be the European’s greatest allies.

Fairfield-WPA-Mural-Tomilson-High-School-FMHC_2014_Pano_Pequot_-800x272-1Years later, colonists would go to war against the Wampanoag people and ‘King Philip’, the English name for Metacomet, the son of Massasoit.  The Nauset would act as warriors and scouts against the Wampanoag people in King Philip’s War, a conflict which killed some 5,000 New England inhabitants, three quarters of whom were indigenous people.

In terms of the percentage killed of the overall population, King Philip’s War was over twice as costly as the American Civil War, and seven times that of the American Revolution.  But that must be a story for another day.

Feature image, top of page:  First Encounter Beach, Eastham Massachusetts

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 16, 1914 A Crime of Passion

Think of the OJ trial, only in this case, the killer was a former First Lady. This one had everything: Left vs. Right, the fall of the powerful, and all the salacious detail anyone could ask for.  French public and media alike were riveted by the Caillaux affair, disinterested and unheeding of the European crisis barreling down on them, like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

We hear a lot in election years, about “Left” and “Right”.  “Liberal” and “Conservative”.

The terms have been with us a long time, originating in the early days of the French Revolution. In those days, National Assembly members supportive of the Monarchy sat on the President’s right.  Those favoring the Revolution, on the left. The right side of the seating arrangement began to thin out and disappeared altogether during the “Reign of Terror”, but re-formed with the restoration of the Monarchy, in 1814-1815. U5dtXeDhuSgqBYsRegyPZecZPy5MGQf_1680x8400By that time it wasn’t just the “Party of Order” on the right and the “Party of Movement” on the left. Now, the terms began to describe nuances in political philosophy, as well.

200 years later, philosophical differences between the Left and Right of the period, would be recognizable to political observers today.

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Joseph Cailloux

Joseph Cailloux (rhymes with “bayou”) was a left-wing politician, appointed Prime Minister of France in 1911. The man was indiscreet in his love life, even for a French politician. Back in 1907, Cailloux had paraded about with a succession of mistresses, finally carrying on with one Henriette Raynouard, while both were married to other people. By 1911, both were divorced.  That October, Henriette Raynouard became the second Mrs. Cailloux.

The political right considered Cailloux to be far too accommodating with Germany, with whom many felt war to be all but inevitable. While serving under the administration of President Raymond Poincare in 1913, Cailloux became a vocal opponent of a bill to increase the length of mandatory military service from two years to three, intended to offset the French population disadvantage conferred by France’s 40 million, compared with 70 million Germans.

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Madame Cailloux

Gaston Calmette, editor of the leading conservative newspaper Le Figaro, threatened to publicize love letters between the former Prime Minister and his second wife, written while both were still married for the first time.

Henriette Cailloux was not amused.

On March 16, 1914, Madame Cailloux took a taxi to the offices of Le Figaro. After being shown into Calmette’s office, the pair spoke briefly, before Henriette withdrew the Browning .32 automatic.  Cailloux fired six rounds at the editor. Two missed, but four were more than enough to do the job. Gaston Calmette was dead within six hours.

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said the next great European war would begin with “some damn fool thing in the Balkans”.  No one realized it at the time, but Bismarck got his damn fool thing on June 28, when a Serbian Nationalist assassinated the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Henriette_Caillaux (1)The July Crisis of 1914 was a series of diplomatic maneuverings, culminating in the ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to the Kingdom of Serbia. Vienna, with tacit support from Berlin, made plans to punish Serbia for her role in the assassination, while Russia mobilized armies in support of her Slavic ally.

There is a common but mistaken notion that Imperial Germany “started” World War I, but it isn’t so.  Kaiser Wilhelm was a famous “saber rattler”, but actually going to war with the other major European powers, was another matter.

It was Germany’s weaker ally Austria-Hungary which, having received vague assurances of German support, pursued a policy of unreasoning belligerence against  Serbia.

German Foreign Minister Gottlieb von Jagow was away on honeymoon, during key periods of the July crisis.  The Kaiser himself was out of touch, cruising the Norwegian fjords.  That cruise has been called the most expensive maritime disaster, in history.

On being informed of the decision to mobilize, the Kaiser told his General Staff “Gentlemen, you will regret this.”

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SMY Hohenzollern II, which Emperor Wilhelm II used on annual extended Nordlandfahrt cruises to Norway. All told, he spent four years living on board.

Meanwhile, England and France looked the other way.  In Great Britain, officialdom was focused on yet another home rule crisis concerning Ireland, while all of France was distracted by the “Trial of the Century”.

Madame Caillaux’s trial for the murder of Gaston Calmette began on July 20.  Think of the OJ trial, only in this case, the killer was a former First Lady. This one had everything: Left vs. Right, the fall of the powerful, and all the salacious detail anyone could ask for.  French public and media alike were riveted by the Caillaux affair, disinterested and unheeding of the European crisis barreling down on them, like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The trial ended in acquittal on July 28, the jury ruling the murder to have been a “crime passionnel”.  A crime of passion. That same day, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

542375879In the days that followed, the Czar would begin the mobilization of men and machines which would place Imperial Russia on a war footing. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany invaded Belgium, in pursuit of the one-two punch strategy by which it sought first to defeat France, before turning to face the “Russian Steamroller”. England declared war in support of a 75-year-old commitment to protect Belgian neutrality, a treaty obligation German diplomats had dismissed as a “scrap of paper”.

An event which could have resulted in little more that a policing action in the Balkans, was about to explode into the “War to End All Wars”.  Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon said “The lamps are going out all over Europe: we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” Eleven million military service members and seven million civilians who were alive in July 1914, would not live to see the other side.

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March 14, 1743 Town Meeting

The 19th century naturalist Henry David Thoreau captured the spirit of the age, in comparing town meeting to more top-down styles of government.  “On any moral question”, he said, “I would rather have the opinion of Boxboro than of Boston and New York put together…

When it comes to American politics, it has often been said that “All politics is local”.  The saying is commonly associated with former Speaker Tip O’Neill, but the notion goes back, long before his time.  When it comes to self-governance, it’s hard to know what could be more local, than the body known as Town Meeting.

The town meeting form of local government is found in parts of the United States, where some localities elect town meeting members, and others where citizens who simply “show up”.  The roots go back to 11th century Anglo Saxon England and before, the Old English “moot” or “mot,” deriving from the same root which gave us “meet”.  Most often used in “gemot,” meaning “community meeting to discuss public affairs and policies”, this parliamentary forebear was known as the “Witenagemot,” literally “meeting of wise men”.

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Foreign dignitaries appearing before an Anglo-Saxon King and the Witenagemot

The Basque region of northern Spain has held Town Meeting since the middle ages. Residents of a town would meet at the “Anteiglesia” (“in front of the church”) to vote on local matters, and to elect representatives to the regional assembly. All but the largest 10% of municipalities in Switzerland still use town meetings for their usual legislative body.

Southern American populations were more widely scattered in colonial America, where in New England, shorter distances encouraged regular town meetings, instilling in our forebears the belief that they could (and should) govern themselves.

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Town Meeting in Colonial America

The 1st American town meeting took place on March 14, 1743 in Faneuil Hall, Boston. Faneuil Hall was given to the city by the merchant Peter Faneuil in 1742.  Destroyed by fire in 1761, the place was rebuilt the following year.  It was here that colonists gathered to protest the Sugar Act in 1764, and here where you may have first heard the protest, “no taxation without representation.”  Faneuil Hall became the scene of Revolutionary meetings, today this Birthplace of the Revolution is described by many as “the cradle of liberty.” Charles Bulfinch enlarged the hall in 1806, and the building is still in use today as a market, gathering place, meeting hall, and living museum.

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Faneuil Hall Marketplace in 1944

The southern part of Burlington Vermont was re-chartered in 1971 as the City of South Burlington, the new charter providing that only budget increases of 10% or more annually be placed before town meeting. The results have been predictable and it’s unlikely that there will be any such exceptions in the future.

320px-Walden_ThoreauTown meetings have been more prevalent in New England states, but not exclusively.  Michigan was the first Midwestern state to adopt the system, and Minnesota townships of more than 25 regularly hold town meeting.

The town meeting continues today as a form of direct democratic rule, in which members of a community come together to legislate and direct policy and budgets for local government.

The 19th century naturalist Henry David Thoreau captured the spirit of the age, in comparing town meeting to more top-down styles of government.  “On any moral question”, he said, “I would rather have the opinion of Boxboro than of Boston and New York put together… When, in some obscure country town, the farmers come together to a special town-meeting, to express their opinion on some subject which is vexing the land, that, I think, is the true Congress, and the most respectable one that is ever assembled in the United States”.

William F. Buckley, Jr., was rather more pithy, when he said “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University”.

Feature image, top of page:  41 men sign the Mayflower Compact off Provincetown Harbor, the first written framework of self-government, in the New World.  November 11, 1620.

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March 6, 1857 Dred Scott

Dred Scott had lost at virtually every turn, only to win his freedom at the hands of the family which had once held him enslaved.

Dred Scott, his full name may have been “Etheldred”, was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia, sometime in the late 1790s.  In 1818, Scott belonged to Peter Blow, who moved his family and six slaves to Alabama, to attempt a life of farming. The farm near Huntsville was unsuccessful and the Blow family gave up the effort, moving to St. Louis Missouri in 1830, to run a boarding house. Around this time, Dred Scott was sold to Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon serving in the United States Army.

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Dred & Harriet Scott’s restored quarters, at Ft. Snelling

As an army officer, Dr. Emerson moved about frequently, bringing Scott with him. In 1837, Emerson moved to Fort Snelling in the free territory of Wisconsin, now Minnesota. There, Scott met and married Harriet Robinson, a slave belonging to fellow army doctor and Justice of the Peace, Lawrence Taliaferro. Taliaferro, who presided over the ceremony, transferred Harriet to Emerson, who continued to regard the couple as his slaves. Emerson moved away later that year, leaving the Scotts behind to be leased by other officers.

The following year, Dr. Emerson married Eliza Irene Sanford, and sent for the Scotts to rejoin him in Fort Jesup, in Louisiana. Harriett gave birth to a daughter while on a steamboat on the Mississippi, between the free state of Illinois and the Iowa district of the Wisconsin Territory.

images (25)Dr. Emerson died in 1842, leaving his estate to his wife Eliza, who continued to lease the Scotts out as hired slaves.

Four years later, Scott attempted to buy his freedom for the sum of $300, equivalent to about $8,000 today. Mrs. Emerson declined the offer and Scott took legal recourse. By this time, Dred and Harriett Scott had two daughters, who were approaching an age where their value would be greatly increased, should they be sold as slaves. Wanting to keep his family together, Scott sued.

Ironically, Dred Scott’s suit in state court, Scott v. Emerson, was financially backed by three now-adult Blow children, who had since become abolitionists. The legal position stood on solid ground, based on the doctrine “Once free, always free”. The Scott family had resided in free states and territories for two years, and their eldest daughter was born on the Mississippi River, between a free state and a free territory.

The verdict went against Scott but the judge ordered a retrial, which was held in January, 1850. This time, the jury ruled in favor of Dred Scott’s freedom. Emerson appealed and the Missouri supreme court struck down the lower court ruling, along with 28 years of Missouri precedent.

By 1853, Eliza Emerson had remarried and moved to Massachusetts, transferring ownership of the Scott family to her brother, John Sanford. Scott sued in federal district court, on the legal basis that the federal courts held “diversity jurisdiction”, since Sanford lived in one state (New York), and Scott in another (Missouri). Dred Scott lost once again and appealed to the United States Supreme Court, a clerical misspelling erroneously recording the case as Dred Scott v. Sandford.

On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the 7-2 majority opinion, enunciating one of the stupidest decisions, in the history of American jurisprudence:
“[Americans of African ancestry] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it”.

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Frederick Douglass

The highest court in the land had ruled that slaves were private property and not citizens, with no right to legal recourse. Furthermore, the United States Congress had erred in attempting to regulate slavery in the territories, and had no right to revoke the property rights of a slave owner, based on his place of residence.

The response to the SCOTUS opinion was immediate, and vehement. Rather than settle the issue of slavery, the decision inflamed public opinion, dividing an already fractured country, further. Frederick Douglass assailed Chief Justice Taney’s opinion, noting that:

“We are now told, in tones of lofty exultation, that the day is lost all lost and that we might as well give up the struggle. The highest authority has spoken. The voice of the Supreme Court has gone out over the troubled waves of the National Conscience, saying peace, be still . . . The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only power in this world. It is very great, but the Supreme Court of the Almighty is greater”.

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Dred Scott, photograph circa 1857

The Supreme Court had spoken, but the Dred Scott story was far from over.  Eliza Irene Emerson’s new husband was Calvin C. Chaffee, a member of the United States Congress, and an abolitionist.

Following the Dred Scott decision, the Chaffees deeded the Scott family over to Henry Taylor Blow, now a member of the United States House of Representatives from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional district, who manumitted the family on May 26. Dred Scott had lost at virtually every turn, only to win his freedom at the hands of the family which had once held him enslaved.

For Harriett and the two Scott daughters, it was the best of all possible outcomes.  For Scott himself, freedom was short-lived.  Dred Scott died of tuberculosis, the following year.

Nationally, the Dred Scott decision had the effect of hardening enmities already nearing white-hot, increasing animosities within and between pro- and anti-slavery factions in North and South, alike. Politically, the Democratic party was broken into factions and severely weakened,  while the fledgling Republican party was strengthened, as the nation was inexorably drawn to Civil War.

Slaves Issues Plague the Democratic Party

The issue of Black citizenship was settled in 1868, via Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside …”

Dred Scott is buried in the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. The marker next to his headstone reads: “In Memory Of A Simple Man Who Wanted To Be Free.”

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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.