April 23, 1982, Conch Republic

The Mayor’s response could best be summed up in the words of Bugs Bunny: “Of course you know, this means war!”

Except for the Naval Air Station at Boca Chica and Coast Guard installations in Key West, Marathon and Islamorada, most if not all economic activity in the Florida Keys comes from tourism. It’s no wonder then, that when the federal government shuts down the only road into town, the locals are going to get cranky.

On April 18, 1982, the Mariel boatlift was a mere two years in the past, and very much in the public memory. The United States still had a border in those days, or at least a federal government that tried to enforce it. Border Patrol set up a roadblock in front of Skeeter’s Last Chance Saloon in Florida City, blocking Rt.1, the only road into the Keys. Originally intended to intercept illegals entering the country, the roadblock soon morphed into a hunt for illegal drugs, as well.Conch Republic Flag

Cars waited for hours, in lines that stretched for 19 miles. Predictably, the attitude of federal officials was one of towering indifference, but not so local business owners. Robert Kerstein wrote in his Key West on the Edge — Inventing the Conch Republic, “No one in Key West doubted that drugs were trafficked widely in the Keys by road and by boat. But tourism’s boosters had little tolerance for interruptions to their business.”

Dennis Wardlow, then-mayor of Key West, contacted the chief of police, the Monroe County sheriff, and his State Rep, as well as Governor Bob Graham, demanding the roadblock’s removal. With none of the above having any knowledge of the barrier and lacking the authority to pull it down, Wardlow contacted INS directly. When the Border Patrol told him it was “none of his business,” the Mayor’s response could best be summed up in the words of Bugs Bunny: “Of course you know, this means war!”Key West Review Feb 2014 011

Suffering a blizzard of hotel cancellations, this “attack on Key West’s sovereignty” could not stand. On April 22, Mayor Wardlow, local attorney & pilot David Horan and Old Town Trolley Tours operator Ed Swift flew to Miami seeking legal relief. When District Court Judge C. Clyde Atkins failed to issue an injunction, the Key West delegation took to the courthouse steps.

“What are you going to do, Mr. Mayor”, asked the assembled media. Swift leaned over and whispered into the Mayor’s ear, “Tell them we are going to go home and secede” “We are going to go home and secede!”, said Wardlow, and that’s what they did.

Over the next 24 hours, a group of secessionist co-conspirators worked feverishly to form the new government, filling cabinet positions such as “Secretary of Underwater Affairs” and “Minister of Nutrition”.

Old Customs Building, Key West
Old Customs Building, Key West

On April 23, with federal agents on scene to monitor the proceedings, a crowd gathered before the old customs building. Mayor Wardlow and a gaggle of allies mounted the back of a flatbed truck to read the proclamation of secession. “We serve notice on the government in Washington”, it read, “to remove the roadblock or get ready to put up a permanent border to a new foreign land. We as a people, may have suffered in the past, but we have no intention of suffering in the future at the hands of fools and bureaucrats”.

Battle of the Conch Republic
“Great Battle of the Conch Republic”

With that, Mayor Wardlow declared “war” on the United States.  The “Great Battle of the Conch Republic” broke out in the harbor, when the Schooner Western Union commanded by Captain John Kraus, attacked the Coast Guard Cutter Diligence with water balloons, Conch fritters and toilet paper.  Diligence fought back with water hoses, as the new “Prime Minister” broke a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a Navy uniform. Others launched stale bread and conch fritters at federal agents, Navy sailors and Coast Guard personnel in attendance.

Conch Republic PassportsOne minute after declaring his “verbal shot” at the feds, Wardlow “surrendered” to a nearby naval officer, demanding a billion dollars in “foreign aid” in compensation for “the long federal siege.”

Apparently, that’s what it takes to get the attention of a federal bureaucrat. The roadblock lifted, and soon the restaurants, stores and hotels of the Keys were once again filled with smiling tourists. Key West never got their “foreign aid”, but they never received so much as a letter saying they couldn’t secede, either.

So it is that Key West celebrates its independence this day, April 23. The “Conch Republic’ issues its own passports, and sells t-shirts and bumper stickers with the slogan “We seceded where others failed”. And if the federal government ever comes back to mess with the micro-nation, they’d better be prepared to deal with the Conch Republic’s very own “Special Forces”, whose motto is “Sanctus Merda”.  “Holy Shit”.

 

Tip of the hat to

“Conch Republic Military Forces

The Official Site of the Conch Republic Military”

Linked Here

for the “Conch Battle Hymn of the Republic”

words by First Sea Lord, Admiral Finbar Gittelman • October 14, 2012 © Finbar Gittelman

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the sunshine and the sea
Right here upon our islands, where we love to live so free
But in April 1982, the peace was not to be
And we went rolling on

CHORUS
Glory glory Conch Republic
Glory glory Conch Republic
Glory glory Conch Republic
From Key to shining Key

They were setting up a check point, tween the mainland and the Keys
They had put a US Border, where it shouldn’t ‘oughta’ be
So that’s when we seceded, and declared our sovereignty
And the fun had just begun

(CHORUS)

We went forth into the harbor and a cutter we did spy
And we sailed up along side her and we took her by surprise
We hoisted up our battle flag, so proudly and so high
And we went sailing on

(CHORUS)

The water and Conch fritters and the Cuban bread did fly
Our bombers, they were raining toilet paper from the sky
Our cannons they did thunder to proclaim our victory
And we fought bravely on

(CHORUS)

We have faced the silly forces of misguided zealotry
We have stood up to their foolishness for all the world to see
And we’ve showed the other nations what America can be From
Key to shining Key

(CHORUS)

 

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April 16, 1917 The Sealed Train

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.

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.

WW1_DatabaseBy 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 breaking. The Russian Empire, the largest nation on the planet, was on the edge of the precipice.

The United States had declared its intention to enter the war barely ten days earlier. While no American forces had arrived as of yet, both sides understood that the balance was about to shift. For Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, it was time to throw a knockout punch.

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.

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.

After 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 Sealed Train Locomotivethe 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 work, 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”.

Lenin was in exile, and Imperial Germany was at war with Russia at this time.  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 inflict such a bacillus on 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.”

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.

Lenin's Journey
Lenin’s Journey from Zurich to St. Petersburg, April 1917

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 American’s arrival.

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, when he said:  “If they had arrested Lenin at the Finland Station, it would have saved everyone a lot of trouble”.

Romanov
Czar Nicholas II & family, colorized by the Russian artist Olga Shirnina, also known as ‘klimbim’

April 14, 1958 Laika

The day before the launch sequence, Vladimir Yazdovsky took her home to play with his kids. “I wanted to do something nice for her,” he explained. “She had so little time left to live.”

At the dawn of the space age, no one knew whether the human body could survive conditions of rocket launch and space flight. The US Space program experimented with a variety of primate species between 1948 and 1961, including rhesus monkeys, crab-eating macaques, squirrel monkeys, pig-tailed macaques, and chimpanzees.

Baker
“Miss Baker”

On May 28, 1959, a squirrel monkey named “Miss Baker” became the first of the US space program, to survive the stresses of spaceflight and related medical procedures.  A rhesus monkey called “Miss Able” survived the mission as well, but died four days later as the result of a reaction to anesthesia.

Soviet engineers experimented with dogs on a number of orbital and sub-orbital flights, to determine the feasibility of human space flight.  The Soviet Union launched missions with positions for at least 57 dogs in the fifties and early sixties, though the actual number is smaller.  Some flew more than once.

Laika
Laika

Most survived.  As with the early US program, those who did not often died as the result of equipment malfunction.  The first animal to be sent into orbit, was a different story.

Three dogs were plucked from the streets of Moscow and trained for the purpose.  “Laika” was an 11lb mutt, possibly a terrier-husky cross.  In Russian, the word means “Barker”.  Laika was chosen due to her small size and calm disposition.  One scientist wrote, “Laika was quiet and charming.”

First, were the long periods of close confinement, meant to replicate the tiny cabin of Sputnik 2. Then came the centrifuge, the highly nutritional but thoroughly unappetizing gel she was meant to eat in space, and then the probes and electrodes that monitored her vital signs.

sputnik-2-launched-a-month-later-and-carried-the-first-living-animal-a-dog-named-laika-into-space
Sputnik 2, Pre-Launch Propaganda

The day before the launch sequence, Vladimir Yazdovsky took her home to play with his kids.  “I wanted to do something nice for her,” he explained. “She had so little time left to live.”

Laika was placed inside the capsule for three days, tightly harnessed in a way that onlyLaika and capsule allowed her to stand, sit and lie down.  Finally, it was November 3, 1957.  Launch day.  One of the technicians “kissed her nose and wished her bon voyage, knowing that she would not survive the flight”.

Sensors showed her heart rate to be 103 beats/minute at time of launch, spiking to 240 during acceleration. She ate some of her food in the early stages, but remained stressed and agitated. The thermal control system malfunctioned shortly into the flight, the temperature inside the capsule rising to 104°, Fahrenheit.  Five to seven hours into the flight, there were no further signs of life.

There were official hints about Laika parachuting safely to earth, and then tales of a painless and humane, euthanasia.  Soviet propaganda portrayed “the first traveler in the cosmos”,  heroic images printed on posters, stamps and matchbook covers.   Soviet authorities concealed Laika’s true cause of death and how long it took her to die.  That information would not be divulged , until 2002.

Mach2Sputnik2In the beginning, the US News media focused on the politics of the launch.  It was all about the “Space Race”, and the Soviet Union running up the score. First had been the unoccupied Sputnik 1, now Sputnik 2 had put the first living creature into space.  The more smartass specimens among the American media, called the launch “Muttnik”.

Sputnik 2 became controversial, as animal lovers began to question the ethics of sending a dog to certain death in space. In the UK, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received protests before Radio Moscow was finished with their launch broadcast.  The National Canine Defense League called on dog owners to observe a minute’s silence.

Protesters gathered with their dogs in front of the UN building, to express their outrage.  In the Soviet Union, political dissent was squelched, as always. Of all Soviet bloc nations, it was probably Poland who went farthest out on that limb, when the scientific periodical Kto, Kiedy, Dlaczego (“Who, When, Why”), reported Laika’s death as “regrettable”.  “Undoubtedly a great loss for science”.Atomic_Robo_Last_Stop_Sputnik_Poster2

Sputnik 2 and its passenger left the vacuum of space on April 14, 1958, burning up in the outer atmosphere.

It was not until 1998 and the collapse of the Soviet tower of lies, that Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists who had trained the dog, was free to speak his mind. “Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us”, he said, “We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it.  We shouldn’t have done it…We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog”.

Afterward

belka-strelka-2As a dog lover, I feel the need to add a more upbeat postscript, to this thoroughly depressing story.

“Belka” and “Strelka” spent a day in space aboard Sputnik 5 on August 19, 1960, and returned safely to Earth.  The first Earth-born creatures to go into orbit and return alive.

Strelka later gave birth to six puppies, fathered by “Pushok”, a dog who’d participated in

Charlie, Pushinka
Charlie, (l) and Pushinka, (r)

ground-based space experiments, but never flew.  Nikita Khrushchev gave “Pushinka”, one of the puppies, to President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Pushinka and a Kennedy dog named “Charlie” conducted their own Cold War rapprochement, resulting in four puppies.  Pups that JFK jokingly referred to as “pupniks”.  Pushinka’s descendants are still living, to this day.

kennedy-dog-pushinka-puppies
Pushinka and her “pupniks”, enjoying a moment on the White House lawn

April 10, 1869 SCOTUS

There have been fewer justices in Supreme Court history than you might think. The recent passing of Antonin Scalia made way for only number 113

ConstitutionThe Stuart King James had judges riding into the countryside once a year to hear cases, saving many of his subjects the arduous journey to London.  The custom carried “across the pond” and, from the earliest days of the American colonies, judges could be found “riding the circuit”.

Article III of the United States Constitution establishes the judiciary as a coequal branch of the federal government, “vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish”. That’s about it.

Congress passed the Federal Judiciary Act in 1789, creating a six justice Supreme Court, and signed into law by President George Washington on September 24.  Principally written by Senator Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, the act established the office of Attorney General, and largely laid out the Federal court system, as it exists today.

United States Circuit courts were established in each federal judicial district, exercising jurisdiction over both original (first instance) matters and appeals, until the creation of the Federal Court of Appeals, in 1912.

Judicial Districts map
2017 Judicial Districts map

Supreme Court justices were not exempt from Circuit court duty, each justice “riding the circuit” to hear cases in his own district, in addition to his caseload, back at the capital.

Smaller districts may occupy a single federal courthouse, while larger districts stretch across thousands of miles.  This duty became increasingly onerous, until finally abolished by the Judiciary Act of 1891. Yet, the vestiges of this system remain. Today, each justice hears certain provisional appeals from specific circuits, which he or she may decide unilaterally, or refer “en banc” to the entire Court.

Increasing caseloads led Congress to increase the number of judicial districts to seven in 1807, and nine in 1837, finally raising that to ten during the Civil War.  With each new district, came another justice.

In one of the political skirmishes leading to President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment in 1868, Congress passed the Judicial Circuits Act in 1866, shrinking the number of justices to seven, thus preventing Johnson from appointing any new justices.

Congress raised the number to nine circuits with nine justices on April 10, 1869.  Today there are eleven federal judicial districts, while the number of justices remain at nine.

Supreme_Court_cartoonIn 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to increase the number of justices to 15. Then as now, the court was sharply divided along ideological lines, consisting of a four member conservative majority called the “four horsemen”, three liberals dubbed the “three musketeers” and two “swing votes”.

The conservative bloc became a roadblock to President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, preferring the federal government take a hands off approach to the economy.

Buoyed by his landslide reelection in 1936, Roosevelt proposed to provide retirement at full pay for all justices over 70.  Any justice refusing retirement would be provided with an “assistant” with full voting rights, providing Roosevelt with an overwhelming liberal majority.

Not even vice president John Nance Garner would go along with Roosevelt’s aggressive and illegal “court packing scheme”, nor would a democrat-controlled congress. Yet Roosevelt’s effort had the desired result, as former swing vote Owen Roberts became a reliable vote for the liberal minority. By the time of his death 1945, Roosevelt had appointed every justice on the court, except Roberts himself.

supremecourtThere have been fewer justices in Supreme Court history than you might think.  The recent passing of Antonin Scalia made way for only number 113.

A proponent of “Judicial Originalism”, justice Scalia and his conservative allies on the court seek to decide on the constitutionality of the laws before them, based on what the framers of the constitution intended when they actually wrote the thing. In contrast, the liberal majority believes in a “living constitution”, a form of jurisprudence whose supporters believe the Constitution is a document which adapts to the times.  Detractors believe that amounts to law-making from the bench, a job more properly left the legislature.

With the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court hanging in the balance, President Obama and his allies pulled out all the stops to get his nominee confirmed and seated before the end of his presidency. The Republican controlled Senate invoked the “Biden Rule”, as described in the former Vice President’s 1992 speech on the Senate floor:  “It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.”

Barack Obama himself tried to block the confirmation of Samuel Alito in 2006, saying Filibuster“There are some who believe that the president, having won the election, should have complete authority to appoint his nominee, that once you get beyond intellect and personal character, there should be no further question as to whether the judge should be confirmed. I disagree with this view”. The filibuster was joined by Senators Kennedy, Leahy, Durbin, Salazar, and Baucus.

In 2007, now-Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said “We should not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court, except in extraordinary circumstances”. That was 19 months before the next presidential inauguration.

The resulting conflict is great fodder for the bicker fest that passes for our national politics, from the legacy media and the talking heads of the punditocracy, to the endless and meaningless cage matches over the rhetorical anthills of Facebook.

CapitolSenator Schumer once said, “We have three branches of government. We have a house, we have a senate, we have a president.” He got that wrong, but he was part right.  We have three co-equal branches in our government, each having specific responsibilities as laid out in the Constitution.

The “advice and consent” clause contained in Article II grants the President authority to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.”  The Senate, for its part, will do what the Senate will do.

Later today, Justice David Kennedy will administer the oath of office to his former law clerk, judge Neil Gorsuch.  The 113th justice of the United States Supreme Court, and the first in history to serve alongside the justice for whom he once clerked.

April 6, 1917 Safe for Democracy

In 1916, German policy vacillated between strict adherence to prize rules and unrestricted submarine warfare. The first put their people and vessels at extreme risk, the second threatened to bring the United States into the war.

woodrow_wilsonIn the early days of WWI, Imperial Germany attempted to comply with standards of maritime warfare, as established by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.

Desperate to find an effective countermeasure to the German “Unterseeboot”, Great Britain introduced heavily armed merchant ships with concealed weaponry in 1915, phony merchantmen designed to lure submarines into making surface attacks. Britain called these secret countermeasures “Q-ships”, after their home base in Queenstown, in Ireland. German sailors called them U-Boot-Fälle. “U-boat traps”.

The “unprovoked” sinking of noncombatant vessels, including the famous Lusitania, in which 1,198 passengers lost their lives, became a primary justification for war.  The German Empire, for her part, insisted that many of these vessels carried munitions intended to kill Germans on European battlefields.

Underwater, the submarines of WWI were slow and blind, on the surface, vulnerable to attack.  In 1916, German policy vacillated between strict adherence to prize rules and unrestricted submarine warfare.  The first put their people and vessels at extreme risk, the second threatened to bring the United States into the war.q-ship-u-boat

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson won re-election with the slogan “He kept us out of war”, a conflict begun in Europe, two years earlier.

In a January 31, 1917 memorandum from German Ambassador Count Johann von Bernstorff to US Secretary of State Robert Lansing, the Ambassador stated that “sea traffic will be stopped with every available weapon and without further notice”, effective the following day. The German government was about to resume unrestricted submarine warfare.

Anticipating this resumption and expecting the decision to draw the United States into the war, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann delivered a message to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. The telegram instructed Ambassador Eckardt that, if the United States seemed likely to enter the war, he was to approach the Mexican Government with a proposal for military alliance, promising “lost territory” in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in exchange for a Mexican declaration of war against the United States.

Zimmerman noteThe “Zimmermann Telegram” was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence and revealed to the American government on February 24. The contents of the message outraged American public opinion and helped generate support for the United States’ declaration of war.

In the end, the German response to anticipated US action, brought about the very action it was trying to avoid.

President Woodrow Wilson delivered his war message to a joint session of Congress on April 2, saying that a declaration of war on Imperial Germany would make the world “safe for democracy”. Congress voted to support American entry into the war on April 6, 1917. The “Great War”, the “War to end all Wars”, had become a world war.

At the time, a secondary explosion within the hull of the Lusitania, caused many to believe the liner had been struck by a second torpedo.  In 1968, American businessman Gregg Bemis purchased the wreck of the Lusitania for $2,400, from the Liverpool & London War Risks Insurance Association.   In 2007 the Irish government granted Bemis a five-year license to conduct limited excavations at the site.   Lusitania, ammunition

Twelve miles off the Irish coast and 300’ down, a dive was conducted on the wreck in 2008.   Remote submersible operators discovered some 4,000,000 rounds of Remington .303 ammunition in the hold, proof of the German claim that Lusitania was, in fact, a legitimate target under international rules of war.  The UK Daily Mail quoted Bemis:  “There were literally tons and tons of stuff stored in unrefrigerated cargo holds that were dubiously marked cheese, butter and oysters’”.

Jeannette_Rankin
Jeannette Rankin

American historian, author and journalist Wade Hampton Sides accompanied the expedition.  “They are bullets that were expressly manufactured to kill Germans in World War I” he said, “bullets that British officials in Whitehall, and American officials in Washington, have long denied were aboard the Lusitania.'”

Montana Republican Jeannette Pickering Rankin, a life-long pacifist and the first woman elected to the United States Congress, would be one of only fifty votes against entering WWI.  She would be elected to her second (non-contiguous) term in 1940, in time to be the only vote against entering WWII, following the Japanese attack on the United States’ Pacific anchorage at Pearl Harbor.

April 2, 1722 Silence Dogood

On December 3, James Franklin ran an ad. “If any Person . . . will give a true Account of Mrs. Silence Dogood, whether Dead or alive, Married or unmarried, in Town or Country, . . . they shall have Thanks for their Pains.”

Franklin BirthplaceThe fifteenth child of Josiah and Abiah Franklin was born in a little house on Milk Street, across from the Old South Church, in Boston.

The family moved to a larger house at Union & Hanover Street, when little Ben was six. As the tenth son, Benjamin Franklin was destined to be “tithed” to the church, but Josiah changed his mind after the boy’s first year in Boston Latin School. In light of the small salary, it was too expensive to educate a minister of the church.

He was sent to George Brownell’s English school for writing and arithmetic where he stayed until age ten, when he went to work in his father’s shop making tallow candles and boiling soap. After 1714, “Dr.” Benjamin Franklin’s education came exclusively from the books he picked up along the way.

By twelve the boy was “Hankering to go to sea”, and his father was concerned about his running away. Knowing of the boy’s love of books, the elder Franklin apprenticed his son to the print shop of James Franklin, one of his older sons, where he went to work setting type for books. And reading them.  He would often “borrow” a book at night, returning it “early in the Morning lest it should be miss’d or wanted.”Benjamin Franklin, printer

By 1720, James Franklin began to publish The New England Courant, only the second newspaper to appear in the American colony.

Franklin often published essays and articles written by his friends, a group described as “The Hell-Fire Club”. Benjamin desperately wanted to be one of them, but James seemed to feel that sixteen-year-old little brothers should be seen, and not heard..

Sometime in March 1722, a letter appeared beneath the print shop door. “Sir, It may not be improper in the first Place to inform your Readers, that I intend once a Fortnight to present them, by the Help of this Paper, with a short Epistle, which I presume will add somewhat to their Entertainment”. The letter went on in some detail to describe the life of its author, Mrs. Silence Dogood.

That first letter was published on April 2.  True to her word, Silence Dogood wrote again in two weeks.  And then again, and again.  Once every two weeks, for 28 weeks.  Her letters were delightful, cleverly mocking the manners of Boston “Society”, and freely giving advice, particularly on the way that women should be treated. Nothing was sacred.  One letter suggested that the only thing students learned at Harvard College, was conceit.

dogood_illustrationJames Franklin and his literary friends loved the letters, and published every one. All of Boston was charmed with Silence Dogood’s subtle mockery of the city’s Old School Puritan elite. Proposals of marriage came into the print shop, when the widow Dogood coyly suggested that she would welcome suitors.

James was jailed at one point, for printing “scandalous libel” about Massachusetts Governor Joseph Dudley.  The younger Franklin ran the shop in his absence, when Mrs. Dogood came to his defense.  Quoting Cato, she proclaimed:  “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”

And then the letters stopped, much to the dismay of the Courant and its readership. One wrote to the editor, saying the paper had “lost a very valuable Correspondent, and the Public been depriv’d of many profitable Amusements.”

On December 3, James Franklin ran an ad. “If any Person . . . will give a true Account of Mrs. Silence Dogood, whether Dead or alive, Married or unmarried, in Town or Country, . . . they shall have Thanks for their Pains.” It was only then that his sixteen-year-old brother fessed up.  Benjamin Franklin was the author of the Silence Dogood letters.

benjamin--james-franklin-grangerAll of Boston was amused by the hoax, but not James. He was furious with his little brother, who soon broke the terms of his apprenticeship and fled to Pennsylvania.

And so it was that a future Founding Father of the Republic, the inventor, scientist, writer and philosopher, the statesmen who appears on our $100 bill, came to Philadelphia.  Within a few years Franklin had set up his own print shop, publishing the Philadelphia Gazette as well as his own book bindery, in addition to buying and selling books.

Benjamin Franklin’s efforts are in no small part a reason why literacy standards were higher in Colonial America, than among the landed gentry of 18th century England. Higher even, I believe, than today.

FranklinFranklin’s diplomacy to the Court of Versailles was every bit as important to the success of the Revolution, as the Generalship of the Father of the Republic, George Washington. Signatory to both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it is arguably Ben Franklin who broke the impasse of the Convention of 1787, paving the way for ratification of the United States Constitution.

By then too old and frail to deliver his own speech, Franklin had someone else read his words to the deadlocked convention.

“On the whole, sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it, would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument”.

As I witness the aftermath of this election year 2016, easily the most divisive of my two-score and eighteen years, I can’t deny the wish that I and my countrymen, too, might doubt a little of our own infallibility.

March 22, 1958 Bocephus

For the media, the business model depends on renting an audience to a sponsor. The “controversy” would be squeezed for all it was worth, but Bocephus would have the last word.

Hank WilliamsRandall Hank Williams was born May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, Louisiana, the son of country singer/songwriter, Hiram King “Hank” Williams. Surprisingly for a guy who could neither read nor notate music and died at the age of 29, the elder Williams has been described as “one of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century”.

His father called the younger Williams “Bocephus” after the ventriloquist’s dummy used by Grand Ole Opry comedian Rod Brasfield.

A lifelong problem with drugs and alcohol ended the elder Williams’ life, way too early. All that police found in his Cadillac, were empty beer cans and handwritten, unfinished song lyrics.

The younger Williams was raised by his mother Audrey, after his father’s untimely death in 1953.  The apple didn’t fall far from the musical tree. Audrey encouraged the boy to copy his father’s dress and musical style. “Hank Williams Jr.” made his stage debut in Swainsboro Georgia, on March 22, 1958, at the age of 8. Audrey Williams

Some of the top musicians, singers and songwriters of the era came to visit the family: Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Earl Scruggs, and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name a few. They all taught Bocephus a little of their musical instruments, and musical styles.

Bocephus was nearly killed in 1975, while climbing Ajax Peak in Montana. The snow collapsed beneath him, plunging him nearly 500 feet to the rocks below. There were multiple skull and facial fractures. Williams required several reconstructive surgeries, and had to learn to talk, and to sing, all over again. The signature look of beard, sunglasses and cowboy hat have all become part of his brand, but it all began to hide the scars from that mountain climbing accident.

Williams’ work in the 60s and 70s earned him a string of country music hits, but he wanted to be more than a “Hank Williams impersonator”.  A prodigously talented musician in his own right, Williams’ repertoire includes guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, steel guitar, banjo, dobro, piano, keyboards, harmonica, fiddle, and drums.

The country music establishment was slow to accept the new sound, but Hank Williams Jr. would not be denied. Sometimes recording and releasing two albums a year, Williams released 21 albums between 1979 and 1990, all certified “gold” by the Recording Industry Association of America. There were 44 Top Ten singles on the Billboard Country charts, including 10 No. 1 singles over the course of his career. In 1982, Bocephus had nine albums on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, simultaneously.HLN

From 1989 to 2011, a version of Bocephus’ song “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” opened Monday Night Football broadcasts. In an October 3, 2011 interview with Fox News’ “Fox & Friends”, Williams described a June golf game between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner as “one of the biggest political mistakes ever”.  Asked to explain, Williams said, “Come on. That’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu … in the shape this country is in?”

Predictably, the media outrage machine came to life – this would not do.  ESPN pulled the song from that night’s football game, the first of the season. Williams described his analogy as “extreme – but it was to make a point…I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me – how ludicrous that pairing was. They’re polar opposites, and it made no sense. They don’t see eye-to-eye and never will.” No matter. ESPN announced three days later that, after 22 years, Williams and his song were being pulled from all future broadcasts. ABC and the National Football League, were quick to follow suit. hank_jr_001

For the media, the business model depends on renting an audience to a sponsor.  The “controversy” would be squeezed for all it was worth, but Bocephus would have the last word.  He responded with a song, criticizing President Obama, ESPN and Fox & Friends, calling it “Keep the Change”.  As I write this, the song has had over 988,000 views on You Tube. Williams released the track on iTunes and via free download at his website, where it was downloaded over 180,000 times in just two days.

In the words of the song, Bocephus and all his rowdy friends were “outta there”.  A demonstration that, in an age of suffocating and humorless political correctness, even then, “A Country Boy will Survive”.