May 10, 1941 Prisoner #7

The last of the other inmates had left by 1966, leaving #7 the prison’s only occupant. Warden Bird wrote a book in 1974, titled “The Loneliest Man in the World”, about his relationship with Hess during his 30 years’ confinement.

At the end of WWI, Rudolf Walter Richard Hess enrolled in the University of Munich.  He’d been wounded several times in the Great War, serving in the 7th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment. As a student, Hess studied geopolitics under Karl Haushofer, an early proponent of “Lebensraum” (“living space”), the philosophy which later became a central plank in the Nazi Party political platform.

rudolf-hess-nazi rallyHess was an early and ardent proponent of Nazi ideology.  A True Believer. He was at Hitler’s side during the failed revolution of 1923, the “Beer Hall Putsch”. He served time with Hitler in prison, and helped him write his political opus “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle). Hess was appointed to Hitler’s cabinet when the National Socialist German Workers’ Party seized power in 1933, becoming Deputy Führer, #3 after Hermann Göring and Hitler himself. Hess signed many statutes into law, including the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, depriving the Jews of Germany of their rights and property.

Obsessed as he was with race theory, Hitler believed that, as fellow Anglo Saxons, the British people were meant to be natural allies to Germany.  If only they could get rid of Churchill, he believed, the two nations might be able to work things out. Churchill and Hitler deeply hated one another, but there were many in Great Britain, including much of the landowning aristocracy, London financiers and media moguls, who regarded the Soviet Union as the greater threat.rudolf-hess-plane

Rudolf Hess flew into Scotland on May 10, 1941, parachuting to earth as his Messerschmidt two-seat aircraft ran out of gas. It’s unclear whether the scheme was Hess’ own idea or if it had official sanction. It was a cockamamie scheme, in which he intended to arrange peace talks with Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton, believing him to be a prominent opponent of the British government. The Deputy Führer was immediately arrested, remaining in British custody until the end of the war, when he was returned to Germany for the 1946 Nuremberg Trials.

Hess mental state seems to have declined while under British custody and questions were raised about his sanity and fitness to stand trial.  Judges decided that he understood the charges against him and was capable of defending himself.  Hess did himself no good at trial, declaring his late Führer to be “the greatest son my Volk has brought forth in its thousand-year history”. He testified that he wouldn’t change a thing about having worked for the man, saying “I regret nothing.”Hess at Nuremberg

Nine months later, the court acquitted Hess of war crimes and crimes against humanity, apparently deciding that his earlier persecution of Jews to be insufficiently connected to their later annihilation.  Hess was convicted of conspiracy to wage aggressive war and of crimes against peace and sentenced to life in prison, transferred to Spandau Prison in West Berlin, and placed under the authority of the four major allied powers. Spandau had once housed as many as 600 prisoners.   There he was stripped of his name and given a number, #7, one of 8 former Nazi officials imprisoned there.  After July 18, 1947, those eight became the only inmates to occupy the facility.

Hess’ fellow convicts were gradually released from the prison, as their terms expired or on compassionate grounds. His main companion at this time was his jailer, warden Eugene K. Bird, with whom Hess became close friends. The last of the other inmates had left by 1966, leaving #7 the prison’s only occupant. Warden Bird wrote a book in 1974, titled “The Loneliest Man in the World”, about his relationship with Hess during his 30 years’ confinement.

Spandau
Changing the Guard at Spandau

Attempts by family members and prominent politicians to get him released were blocked by Soviet authorities, who believed him to be a principle architect of Barbarossa, the Nazi sneak attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. On August 17, 1987, #7 tied a lamp cord to a window latch and hanged himself with it. He was 93.

Spandau prison was demolished following the death of its final remaining prisoner, the rubble dumped into the North Sea to prevent the place from becoming a Neo-Nazi shrine,

May 1, 1863  Flags of the Confederacy

I find it infinitely preferable that we learn from our history, rather than hide from it.

Last week, New Orleans authorities took to the dead of night, to remove monuments to the history of their own city.   The recent fuss about the “Confederate Flag” has faded away, sort of, not so the political atmosphere that gave it birth.   For all that, it seems worth pointing out:  the “Stars and Bars” with which we’ve all become so familiar, never was the flag of the Confederate States of America.  It wasn’t even the real Stars & Bars.

Battle_of_Sullivans_Island
Battle of Sullivan’s Island, 1776

On June 28, 1776, British General Sir Henry Clinton ordered the ship Thunder to attack the Continental fortification on Sullivan’s Island, in Charleston Harbor. The fighting was furious and lasted 16 hours and more. At one point, a British shell tore the flagstaff away. In full view and under constant fire, Sergeant William Jasper of the 2nd South Carolina retrieved the fallen flag of his regiment and fixed it to an artilleryman’s sponge pole. There he stood on the parapet, holding the flag under fire until a new pole could be installed.

Jasper’s heroism had rallied his forces to fight on.  Governor John Rutledge gave him his personal sword, in recognition of his bravery.  The battle was a humiliating defeat for a British fleet that hadn’t been beaten in 100 years. It was four years before they’d take another run at Charleston.

SC secession flag
SC Secession Flag

The Liberty Flag or Moultrie flag became a standard for South Carolina militia. A palmetto was added in 1861, a reference to the palm trunks laid over the sand walls of Fort Moultrie, which had helped withstand that British bombardment of 85 years earlier. A variant of this flag appeared at South Carolina’s secession conventions, as did militia and state flags in all the state secession conventions.

Bonnie Blue Flag
Bonnie Blue Flag

When Mississippi seceded in January 1861, a blue flag with a single white star was flown from the capitol dome. This, the first and unofficial flag of the Confederacy, came to be called the “Bonnie Blue Flag”, closely patterned after the flag flown over the short-lived Republic of West Florida in 1810, and adopted by the Congress of the Republic of Texas on December 10, 1836.

 

The first national flag of the Confederate States of America, the real Stars and Bars, was similar in design to the United States flag. A blue field containing seven, nine, eleven and finally thirteen stars, depending on the period, appeared in the “canton”, or upper left corner. Three stripes of equal height ran from hoist to fly end, alternating red to white and back to red.

Stars and bars
Stars and Bars

Regiments of the era carried flags to help commanders observe and assess the progress of battle. At a distance, the Stars and Bars and the Stars and Stripes were hard to tell apart, particularly in still conditions, or when smoke clouded the view.

The similarity between the two national flags led to confusion at the first battle of Manassas, also known as the first battle of Bull Run. After the battle, Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard wrote that he was “resolved then to have [our flag] changed if possible, or to adopt for my command a ‘Battle flag’, which would be entirely different from any State or Federal flag”.

The star studded diagonal stripes of the St. Andrew’s Cross is what resulted, becoming Beauregard’s battle flag, as well as that of the Army of Tennessee, the Army of Northern Virginia, and the ensign of the Confederate Navy.

Most submissions for the second national flag incorporated the battle flag into the design. The winning design adopted on May 1, 1863, was called the “Stainless Banner”, placing the Saint Andrews Cross in the canton, the rest of the flag pure white. Visibility remained an issue with this design as with the first; as it was often misinterpreted as a flag of surrender.

stainless-banner-david-andrews
Stainless Banner

The third national flag, also known as the “Blood Stained Banner”, was adopted March 4, 1865. This last design retained the white background with the same canton as before, but now there was a vertical red stripe on the fly end.

The Confederate battle flag enjoyed renewed popularity during the first half of the 20th century. Several WWII military units with Southern nicknames, made the flag their unofficial emblem. The USS Columbia flew a Confederate Navy Ensign throughout combat in the South Pacific. A Confederate battle flag was raised over Shuri Castle after the Battle of Okinawa, by a Marine from Company A of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines; the self-styled “Rebel Company”. It was visible for miles and was taken down after three days on the orders of General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., son of Confederate general Simon Bolivar Buckner. “Americans from all over are involved in this battle”, said Buckner, replacing it with the US flag.

Blood stained banner
Blood Stained Banner

According to Civil War historian and native Southerner Shelby Foote, the flag traditionally represented the South’s resistance to Northern political dominance.

The symbol became highly controversial during the Civil Rights era, and disagreement continues over its symbolism. Supporters of the flag view it as a symbol of southern heritage and the independence of the distinct cultural tradition of the American South. Civil rights groups associate it with a history of racial discrimination and the institution of slavery.

Now, we have the current government in New Orleans, taking to the dark of night, to remove Confederate memorials from the streets of that city.

In writing these history essays, I hope to learn something new about a subject which interests me.  I enjoy the responses of those who feel the same way. There’s plenty of time for politics and I don’t intend that this blog be the place for it.  Except to say:  I find it infinitely preferable that we learn from our history, rather than hiding from it.

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)

 

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.