October 27, 1871 Tammany Hall

The Tweed ring at its height was an engineering marvel, strong and solid, strategically deployed to control key power points: the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot box. Its frauds had a grandeur of scale and an elegance of structure: money-laundering, profit sharing and organization

Before the first Europeans arrived in the “new world”, descendants of the Nanticoke inhabited a region from Delaware north through New Jersey and southern New York, and eastern Pennsylvania. The Europeans called them “Delaware”.  These indigenous Americans called themselves “Lenni-Lenape” which literally means “Men of Men”, but is translated to mean “Original People.” (Hat tip, http://www.nanticoke-lenape.info).

In the early 1680s, Chief Tammamend (“The Affable”) of the Lenni-Lenape nation took part in a meeting with the English colonists, where he is supposed to have said that his people and the newcomers would “live in peace as long as the waters run in the rivers and creeks and as long as the stars and moon endure.”

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Treaty of Penn with Indians, by Benjamin West

“Tammany” to the settlers, Chief Tammamend became a living symbol of peace and friendship, between the two peoples. He died in 1701, but his legend lived on. In the next one-hundred years Tammany societies were established from Georgia to Rhode Island.

8-22-TamanendTammany Societies adopted a number of native terms, with leaders calling themselves Grand Sachem, and meeting in halls called “Wigwams”. The most famous of these was incorporated in New York on May 12, 1789.

Within ten years, what had begun as a social club had morphed into a political machine. Tammany helped Aaron Burr counter Alexander Hamilton’s Society of the Cincinnati, and Burr went on to win New York’s two electoral votes in 1800. Without help from “Tammany Hall”, many historians believe that John Adams would have been re-elected to a second term.

Tammany Hall expanded its connections within New York Democrat party politics. After Andrew Jackson’s victory in 1828, the Tammany machine all but owned the government in New York city and state, alike.

Fun fact: On December 20, 1860, the Secession convention of South Carolina unanimously asserted an end to Union, proclaiming that “We…have solemnly declared that the union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State…” In the following days, the world waited to see who would follow. The next governing entity to actually do so was the state of Mississippi, but the first to discuss the idea (after South Carolina) was New York, in the person of Tammany Hall’s own mayor, Fernando Wood.

The 19th century was a time of massive immigration, providing an ever-expanding base of political and financial support for urban politicians. Political machines helped new arrivals with jobs, housing and citizenship, providing a patina of “constituent service” and hiding a dark under-belly of graft and corruption.

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Boss Tweed

In the 1860s, Tammany Hall politician William Magear Tweed established a new standard in public self-dealing. Biographer Kenneth Ackerman wrote: “The Tweed ring at its height was an engineering marvel, strong and solid, strategically deployed to control key power points: the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot box. Its frauds had a grandeur of scale and an elegance of structure: money-laundering, profit sharing and organization“.

New York contractors were instructed to multiply invoices. Checks were cashed through a go-between, settling with the contractor and dividing the rest between “Boss” Tweed and his cronies. This system of corruption inflated the cost of the New York County Courthouse to nearly $13 million, more than the Alaska purchase. One carpenter billed $360,751 (equivalent to $4.9 million today), for one month’s work. A plasterer got $133,187 for two days.

New York Corruption - New York Under Tweed's ThumbSome among the self-styled “Uppertens”, the top 10,000 amid New York’s socioeconomic strata, fell in with the self-dealing and corruption of the Tammany Hall machine. Others counted on an endless supply of cheap immigrant labor.

The system worked while Tweed’s Machine kept “his people” in line, until the “Orange Riots” of 1870-71 broke out between Irish Catholics and Protestants, killing 70.

Harper’s Weekly editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast, creator of the modern American Santa Claus and the Republican Elephant, was the scourge of Tammany Hall. Following the Orange riots, the New York Times added its voice to that of the cartoonist.

Boss Tweed, the third-largest landowner in New York City, Director of the Erie Railroad, the Tenth National Bank, and the New York Printing Company, Proprietor of the Metropolitan Hotel, former State Senator and former Member of the United States Congress, was arrested on October 27, 1871, and tried on charges of public corruption. An 1877 aldermen’s committee estimated that Boss Tweed’s graft cost New York taxpayers between $25 and $45 million. Later estimates ranged as high as $200 million, equivalent to an astonishing $2.8 Billion, today.

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Cartoonist Thomas Nast denounced the Tammany machine as a ferocious tiger, devouring democracy.

The Tammany Hall political machine, moved on. By the end of the 19th century, ward Boss Richard Croker ran a system of graft and corruption the likes of which Boss Tweed could have only dreamed.

In the end, three things killed the Tammany Hall system. Early Irish arrivals had been primary beneficiaries and major supporters of Tammany’s patronage system, but there are only so many favors to go around. Continued immigration diluted Tammany’s base, and later arriving Irish, Italian and eastern European immigrants found themselves frozen out.

y9AfutFuWoQMH-GAzYj6wjl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVvK0kTmF0xjctABnaLJIm9Next is the spoils system, itself. To this day, too many think it’s government’s job to “Bring home the Bacon”, not seeming to realize that they are themselves, the hogs. The Roosevelt administrations’ efforts to fix the Great Depression resulted in a blizzard of bacon from an increasingly Nationalized federal government, separating the local machines from their proximate base of support.

Last came “reformers” such as New York governor and future President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who occasionally built enough steam to hurt the Tammany machine. Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, he of the famous “Dewey Wins!” photograph, managed to put several Tammany Hall leaders in jail, along with such unsavory supporters as “Lucky Luciano”.

Republican Fiorello La Guardia served three terms as New York mayor between 1934-’45, the first anti-Tammany mayor ever, to be re-elected. A brief resurgence of Tammany power in the 1950s met with Democratic party resistance led by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, and party politician Herbert Lehrman. By the mid-1960s, the Tammany Hall system, was dead.

Tammany Hall was a local manifestation of a disease afflicting the entire country. Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Louis and others:  all suffered their own local outbreak.

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Tammany Hall, Union_Square

The Ward Boss still lives in places like Chicago but, like the Jeffersons, the corruption has “moved on up”. Today, rent seekers and foreign powers pay tens of millions in “speaking fees” and other “pay-for-play” schemes.

A hundred years ago, Ambrose Bierce (my favorite curmudgeon) described politics as “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage“.  Boss Tweed could tell you.   It’s as true now, as it was in his time.

Featured image, top of page:  Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast’s depiction of the Tammany ring:  Who stole the people’s money? T’was him!

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.
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September 30, 1918 Gold Star Mother’s Day

They are so few, who pick up this heaviest of tabs on behalf of the rest of us.

Today, Sunday, September 30, 2018, is Gold Star Mother’s Day.  I wish to dedicate this “Today in History”, to those women who have made the greatest sacrifice a mother can make, in service to the nation.  The rest of us owe them a debt which can never be repaid.

Suppose you were to stop 100 randomly selected individuals on the street, and ask them:  “Of all the conflicts in American military history, which single battle accounts for the greatest loss of life“.  I suppose you’d get a few Gettysburgs in there, and maybe an Antietam or two.  The Battle of the Bulge would come up, for sure, and there’s bound to be a Tarawa or an Iwo Jima.  Maybe a Normandy.  I wonder how many would answer, Meuse-Argonne.

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The United States was a relative late-comer to the Great War, entering the conflict in April 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson asked permission of the Congress, for a “War to end all wars”.  American troop levels “over there” remained small throughout the rest of 1917, as the formerly neutral nation of  fifty million ramped up to a war footing.

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US Marines during Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918

The trickle turned to a flood in 1918, as French ports were expanded to handle their numbers.  The American Merchant Marine was insufficient to handle the influx, and received help from French and British vessels.  By August, every one of what was then forty-eight states had sent armed forces, amounting to nearly 1½ million American troops in France.

After four years of unrelenting war, French and British manpower was staggered and the two economies, nearing collapse.  Tens of thousands of German troops were freed up and moving to the western front, following the chaos of the Russian Revolution.  The American Expeditionary Force was arriving none too soon.

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“Gun crew from Regimental Headquarters Company, 23rd Infantry, firing 37mm gun during an advance against German entrenched positions. , 1918”, H/T Wikipedia

Following successful allied offensives at Amiens and Albert, Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch ordered General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing to take overall command of the offensive, with the objective of cutting off the German 2nd Army. Some 400,000 troops were moved into the Verdun sector of northeastern France.  This was to be the largest operation of the AEF, of World War I.With a half-hour to go before midnight September 25, 2,700 guns opened up in a six hour bombardment, against German positions in the Argonne Forest, along the Meuse River.

Montfaucon American Monument, World War I, France
Butte de Montfaucon, today

Some 10,000 German troops were killed or incapacitated by mustard and phosgene gas attacks, and another 30,000 plus, taken prisoner.  The Allied offensive advanced six miles into enemy territory, but bogged down in the wild woodlands and stony mountainsides of the Argonne Forest.

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Meuse-Argonne American cemetery near Romagne, in France

The Allied drive broke down on German strong points like the hilltop monastery at Montfaucon and others, and fortified positions of the German “defense in depth”.

Pershing called off the Meuse-Argonne offensive on September 30, as supplies and reinforcements backed up in what can only be termed the Mother of All Traffic Jams.

MeuseArgonneTraffic

Fighting was renewed four days later resulting in some of the most famous episodes of WW1, including the “Lost Battalion” of Major Charles White Whittlesey, and the single-handed capture of 132 prisoners, by Corporal (and later Sergeant) Alvin York.

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Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, outside of Romagne, France

The Meuse-Argonne offensive would last forty-seven days, resulting in 26,277 American women gaining that most exclusive and unwanted of distinctions, that of being a Gold Star Mother.  More than any other battle, in American military history.  95,786 others would see their boys come home, mangled.

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Gold Star Mother’s Monument At The Putnam County (NY) Veteran Memorial Park, photograph by James Connor

In May of that year, President Woodrow Wilson approved a suggestion from the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defenses, that American women were asked to wear black bands on the left arm, with a gilt star for every family member who had given his life for the nation.

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Today, Title 36 § 111 of the United States Code provides that the last Sunday in September be observed as Gold Star Mother’s Day, in honor of those women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. (April 5 is set aside, as Gold Star Spouse’s Day).  Recently, both President Barack Obama and Donald Trump have signed proclamations, setting this day aside as Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day.

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At first a distinction reserved only for those mothers who had lost sons and daughters in WW1, that now includes a long list of conflicts, fought over the last 100 years.  At this time the US Army website reports  “The Army is dedicated to providing ongoing support to over 78,000 surviving Family members of fallen Soldiers”.

Seventy-eight thousand, out of a nation of some 320 million.  They are so few, who pick up this heaviest of tabs on behalf of the rest of us.

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.

August 8, 1974  A Third-Rate Burglary

Watergate prosecutor James Neal was convinced that the President hadn’t known in advance, and the later release of Oval Office tapes seem to bear that out.  At one point, you can hear the President ask “Who was the asshole who ordered it?”

The time was not yet 1:00am on June 17, 1972, when security guard Frank Wills noticed tape covering several door latches at the Watergate Complex in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC.  Wills removed the tape and thought little of it, but came back an hour later to see that the doors had been re-taped. This time, Wills called the police.

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Five men were discovered inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee.   These were Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James McCord, Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis.  All were arrested and charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications.

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Subsequent investigation incriminated Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) General Counsel G. Gordon Liddy, and former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt.  A grand jury indicted the lot of them for conspiracy, burglary and violation of federal wiretap laws.

During the investigation and ensuing trial, it became clear that all seven had ties to the 1972 CRP.  President Richard Nixon stated that his chief counsel John Dean had conducted a thorough investigation of the matter, though it later became clear that there had been no investigation at all.

Press Secretary Ron Ziegler dismissed the break-in as “a third-rate burglary attempt”.

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On September 29, it was revealed that John Mitchell had controlled a secret fund while serving as Attorney General, used to finance Republican campaign intelligence gathering operations against Democrats.  On October 10, the FBI reported that the Watergate break-in was only part of a comprehensive campaign of spying and political sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election committee. The Nixon campaign was never affected by the revelations.  The President was re-elected in one of the biggest landslides in American political history.

The Media wouldn’t let it go, particularly the connection between the break-in and the campaign.  Relying on anonymous sources, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered information suggesting that there was wide-spread knowledge of the break-in and the attempt to cover it up, knowledge running through the Justice Department, FBI, CIA, and all the way to the White House.

woodward-and-bernsteinThe animosity between the media and the White House grew as Nixon and administration officials discussed plans to “get” hostile media organizations.

The scandal blew apart, the following March.  Judge John Sirica, presiding over the burglary trial, read aloud in open court a letter from one of the burglars.  The letter written by John McCord claimed that trial testimony had been perjured, and that defendants had been pressured to remain silent.  The accusations led to the formation of a Senate select committee to investigate the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up, and the ultimate discovery of a secret taping system in the Oval Office.

Demands for the tapes were met with claims of Executive Privilege and refusal to hand them over.  Litigation made it all the way to the Supreme Court.  On July 24, 1974, the unanimous decision in United States v. Nixon voided all claims of executive privilege.

watergate_montage_2Within six days, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment:  obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress.

The President’s support in Congress collapsed after the release of the “Smoking Gun” tape, demonstrating that the President himself had entered into a criminal conspiracy with the goal of obstructing justice.  On August 8, Richard Nixon announced his intention to resign from office, effective at noon the following day.  The first American President in history to resign from office.  The Justice Department pondered an indictment, but that discussion ended a month later with a pardon from President Gerald R. Ford.

It isn’t clear whether Nixon had prior knowledge of the break-in.  Watergate prosecutor James Neal was convinced that the President hadn’t known in advance, and the later release of Oval Office tapes seem to bear that out.  At one point, you can hear the President ask “Who was the asshole who ordered it?”

Years later, the shoe was on the other foot, as the House considered impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for suborning perjury and obstruction of Justice.  Representative John Conyers said in a September 30, 1998 Time Magazine article that “We’ve been advocating the Watergate model (of prosecution).  I support it”.  Contradicting himself in the next paragraph, Congressman Conyers went on to say “The notion that this review should be open ended like Watergate, as the Speaker continues to insist, is preposterous”.

Tourists Reading Nixon Resignation Headline

At the time of the Watergate hearings, Jerry Zeifman was serving as Chief Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee’s permanent staff.  Zeifman has since claimed to have fired a junior member of the temporary Impeachment Inquiry staff for dishonesty and unethical behavior, though there remains some doubt as to whether he had that authority.   That staff member would continue on with the committee until its dissolution, in 1974.

Irrespective of the degree of his early involvement, Nixon himself was an active participant in the cover-up.  In the end, that would prove more damaging than the burglary itself.  One hopes that any such betrayal of public trust will always be worse than the underlying crime, but time will tell.   Years later, that junior member of the temporary Impeachment Inquiry staff would famously ask, “What difference, at this point, does it make”?

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.

July 22, 1937 Stacking the Deck

To Roosevelt, President Wilson’s age-70 provision was the answer to his problems, and the end to Supreme Court opposition to his policies.

United States ConstitutionArticle III, Section 1 of the United States Constitution creates the highest court in the land.  The relevant clause states that “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish“.  Nowhere does the document specify the number of justices.

The United States was in the midst of the “Great Depression” in 1932, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to office. Roosevelt had promised a “New Deal” for America, and immediately began a series of sweeping legislative reforms designed to counter the devastating effects of the Depression. Roosevelt’s initiatives faced many challenges in the courts, with the Supreme Court striking down several New Deal provisions as unconstitutional in his first term.

The Supreme Court was divided along ideological lines in 1937, as it is today. “Judicial Realist” or “Liberal” legal scholars and judges argued that the constitution was a “living document”, allowing for judicial flexibility and legislative experimentation. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. first referred to a “living constitution” in 1920 in speaking of  Missouri v. Holland, a case which overrode state concerns about abrogation of states’ rights arising under the Tenth Amendment.  The “case before us” Holmes wrote, “must be considered in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago”.

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“Judicial Formalists”, today we call them “Conservatives” or “Originalists”, seek to discover the original meaning or intent of the framers, of the Constitution. Formalist legal scholars and judges argue that the judiciary is not supposed to create, amend or repeal law; that is for the legislative branch. The role of the court is to interpret and uphold any given law, or strike it down in light of the original intent of the framers and the ratifiers.

In 1937, SCOTUS was divided along ideological lines, with three Liberals, four Conservatives, and two swing votes.

Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General, James Clark McReynolds, made a proposal in 1914 that: “(When) any judge of a federal court below the Supreme Court fails to avail himself of the privilege of retiring now granted by law (at age 70), that the President be required, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint another judge, who would preside over the affairs of the court and have precedence over the older one. This will insure at all times the presence of a judge sufficiently active to discharge promptly and adequately the duties of the court”.

To the President, this was the answer. The age 70 provision allowed Roosevelt to nominate 6 more handpicked justices, effectively ending Supreme Court opposition to his policies.

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Roosevelt’s “Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937” immediately came under sharp criticism from legislators, bar associations, and the public. Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings on the bill on March 10, 1937, reporting it “adversely” by a committee vote of 10 to 8. The full senate took up the matter on July 2, 1937, with the Roosevelt administration suffering a disastrous setback when Senate Majority Leader Joseph T. Robinson, a powerful supporter of the legislation, died of a heart attack.

1-new-deal-supreme-court-grangerThe full Senate voted on July 22, 1937, to send the bill back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where provisions for additional justices were stripped from the bill. A modified version passed in August, but Roosevelt’s “Court Packing” scheme was dead.

In the end, the President would have the last word. Over the course of an unprecedented four terms, Roosevelt would eventually appoint eight out of the nine justices, serving on the Court.

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July 4, 1826 Friends and Rivals

In an ending no fiction writer would dare put to paper, both men died on the same day, July 4, 1826.  Fifty years to the day from the birth of the Republic, they had helped to create. 

Delegates to the 2nd Continental Congress originally pushed for Richard Henry Lee to write the Declaration of Independence.  It was he who delivered the all-important resolution on June 1, 1776:  “Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States...”

committLee was appointed to the Committee of Confederation, assigned to write the Articles by which the fledgling nation would govern itself.  Lee believed that two such committees were too much and, soon, he would be called home to care for a critically ill wife.

So it is that a committee of five were appointed to write the Declaration of Independence, including Massachusetts attorney John Adams, and a young Virginia delegate named Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson had no interest in writing the Declaration of Independence and suggested that Adams pen the first draft. Adams declined, and described the following conversation, in a letter to Massachusetts politician Timothy Pickering:

“Jefferson proposed to me to make the draft. I said, ‘I will not,’ ‘You should do it.’ ‘Oh! no.’ ‘Why will you not? You ought to do it.’ ‘I will not.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Reasons enough.’ ‘What can be your reasons?’ ‘Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.’ ‘Well,’ said Jefferson, ‘if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.’ ‘Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.”

Thomas Jefferson would spend the following seventeen days, writing the first draft.  He and Adams had only just met during the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  The two would develop a close personal friendship which would last for most of their lives.

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The friendship between the two men came to an ugly ending during the Presidential election of 1800, in which the mudslinging from both sides rose to levels never before witnessed in a national election.

Jefferson defeated one-term incumbent Adams and went on to serve two terms as President of the United States.  Upon Jefferson’s retirement in 1809, one of the Declaration’s signers, Dr. Benjamin Rush, took it upon himself to patch up the broken friendship between the two founding fathers.

Dr. Rush worked on this personal diplomatic mission for two years.  In 1811, he finally succeeded.

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Jefferson Seal

There followed a series of letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, which together constitute one of the most comprehensive historical and philosophical assessments ever written about the American founding.

The correspondence between the pair touched on a variety of topics, from the birth of a self-governing Constitutional Republic, to then-current political issues, to matters of philosophy and religion and issues related to their advancing years.

Both men understood that they were writing not only to one another, but also to generations yet unborn.  Each went to great lengths to explain the philosophical underpinnings of his views, Adams the firm believer in strong, centralized government, Jefferson advocating a smaller federal government which was more deferential to the states.

By 1826, Jefferson and Adams were among the very last survivors among the founding generation.  James Monroe alone, would survive these two.

In an ending no fiction writer would dare put to paper, both men died on the same day, July 4, 1826.  Fifty years to the day from the birth of the Republic, they had helped to create.  Adams was 90 as he lay on his deathbed, suffering from congestive heart failure.  His last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives”.  There was no way of knowing.  The author of the Declaration of Independence had died of a fever,  five hours earlier at his Monticello home near Charlottesville, Virginia.  Jefferson was 82.

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John Adams son John Quincy was himself President at the time of the two men’s passing, and remarked that the coincidence was among the “visible and palpable remarks of Divine Favor”.

A month after the two men passed, Daniel Webster spoke of the pair at Faneuil Hall, in Boston.

“No two men now live, (or) any two men have ever lived, in one age, who (have) given a more lasting direction to the current of human thought. No age will come, in which the American Revolution will appear less than it is, one of the greatest events in human history. No age will come, in which it will cease to be seen and felt, on either continent, that a mighty step, a great advance, not only in American affairs, but in human affairs, was made on the 4th of July 1776″.

 

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.

November 14, 1902 Teddy Bear

In 1972, the weekly journal of the British veterinary profession, the Veterinary Record, ran an article in their April 1st edition. It described the diseases common to “Brunus Edwardii”, a species “commonly kept in homes in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and North America”. The article reported that “Pet ownership surveys have shown that 63.8% of households are inhabited by one or more of these animals, and there is a statistically significant relationship between their population and the number of children in a household”.

Theodore Roosevelt was in Mississippi in November 1902, helping local authorities settle a border dispute with Louisiana. There was some downtime on the 14th, when Governor Andrew Longino invited Roosevelt and some other dignitaries on a bear hunt.

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Holt Collier

The hunt was a high profile affair, attended by a number of reporters, and led by a former slave and Confederate Cavalryman, the famous bear tracker Holt Collier:  a man who had killed more bears than Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, combined. Yes, I meant to say that. He was a black man who fought, in uniform and by his own choice, for the Confederate States of America. Real history is so much more interesting than the political or pop culture varieties.

Late in the afternoon, Collier and his tracking dogs cornered a large female black bear. Roosevelt hadn’t “bagged” one yet, and Collier bugled for the President to join him. He would have ordinarily shot the bear when it killed one of his dogs, but Collier wanted the president to get this one. He busted the bear over the head with his rifle, hard enough to bend the barrel, and tied it to a willow tree.

TR-teddy_earRoosevelt declined to shoot the animal, calling it “unsportsmanlike” to shoot a bound and wounded animal. Instead, he ordered the bear put down, putting an end to its pain.

The Washington Post ran an editorial cartoon, “Drawing the Line in Mississippi”, by Clifford K. Berryman, depicting both the state line dispute and the hunting incident. Berryman first drew the animal as a large, fierce killer, but later redrew the bear, making it into a cute, cuddly cub.

Morris Michtom owned a small novelty and candy store in Brooklyn, New York. Michtom’s wife Rose had been making toy bears for sale in their store, when Michtom sent one of them to Roosevelt, asking permission to call it “Teddy’s Bear”. Roosevelt detested that nickname, but he said yes. Michtom’s bear became so popular that he went on to start what would become the Ideal Toy Company.

In 1972, the weekly journal of the British veterinary profession, the Veterinary Record, ran an article in their April 1st edition. It described the diseases common to “Brunus Edwardii”, a species “commonly kept in homes in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and North America”. The article reported that “Pet ownership surveys have shown that 63.8% of households are inhabited by one or more of these animals, and there is a statistically significant relationship between their population and the number of children in a household”.

Brunus Edwardii

It went on to describe some of them medical afflictions, common to this creature.  The article was overwhelmingly popular, except for the usual curmudgeonly contingent, who seem to experience life as a need to complain, in search of a target.

One such was A. Noel Smith, a zany funster if there ever was one, who sniffed, “I have been practising veterinary medicine for the past 12 years or more “across the pond” and my Veterinary Records arrive a month or more late. However, I still open them with interest and read what is going on “at home”. April 1st’s edition thoroughly soured my interest. How three members holding sets of impressive degrees can waste their time writing such garbage in a journal that is the official publication of the B.V.A. is beyond my comprehension, as is your effrontery to publish it under “Clinical Papers”.

I’ll bet he’d be a hoot to have a beer with.

For the record,”Brunus Edwardii”, is latin for Edward Brown. The internet dictionary etymologyonline.com explains the origins of “Brown” as, among others, Dutch, for  “Bruin”.

Edward Bruin. Edward Bear.  Author A.A. Milne’s proper name, for Winnie-the-Pooh.

November 6, 1860 A Peculiar Institution

From the earliest years of the “new world”, every economy from Canada to Argentina was, to varying degrees, involved with slavery.  Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the new world in 1501, establishing the new world’s first international slave port in Santo Domingo, modern capital city of the Dominican Republic.

From the earliest years of the “new world”, every economy from Canada to Argentina was, to varying degrees, involved with slavery.  Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the new world in 1501, establishing the new world’s first international slave port in Santo Domingo, modern capital city of the Dominican Republic.

Hundreds of thousands of African slaves entered the Americas through the sister ports of Veracruz, Mexico, and Portobelo, Panama, “products” of the “Asiento” system, wherein the contractor (asientista) was awarded a monopoly in the slave trade to Spanish colonies, in exchange for royalties paid to the crown.

The first such contractor was a Genoese company who agreed to supply 1,000 slaves over an 8-year period, beginning in 1517.  A German company entered into such a contract eight years later, with a pledge of 4,000.

Richard Schlecht
Painting by Richard Schlecht, National Geographic

By 1590, as many as 1.1 million Africans had come through the port of Cartagena, Colombia, sorted and surnamed under the “casta de nación” classification system.  To this day, black residents of the Colombian interior bear names like Kulango & Fanti, indicating their origins on the Ivory Coast or Ghana:  Musorongo, Loango & Congo, (Congo Region), or Matamba, Anchico & Ambuila (Angola).

In the American colonies, 17th century racial attitudes appear to have been more fluid than they would later become.  The first black Africans, 19 of them, came to the Virginia Colony in 1619 not as slaves, but as indentured servants. Their passage, involuntary as it was,  was paid for by a term of indenture, a sort of ‘temporary slavery’, usually lasting seven years.

John Punch ran away from his term of indenture in 1640, along with two Europeans. The trio was captured in Maryland and sentenced to extended terms of indenture. Alone among the three, Punch was punished with indenture for life, effectively making him the first ‘slave’ in the American colonies.

Born in Angola in 1600, Anthony Johnson was one of that original 19, captured by an enemy tribe and sold to an Arab slave trader.  Johnson was sold to a Virginia planter at the age of 21, paying off the cost of his passage with a seven-year term of indenture.  As a free man, Johnson himself became a successful planter, going on to “own” indentured servants of his own.

One of them, John Casor, sued for his freedom in 1655, claiming to have completed his indenture of “seaven or Eight years”, plus seven more.  The court ruled that Casor himself was considered “property” and not his contract, making him the first person arbitrarily ruled a slave for life.

Map-of-Slave-Trade

The unthinking view of history holds American slavery to have been a strictly southern-states phenomenon, but it isn’t so.  As late as the eve of the Civil War, “northern” slavery was more widespread than you might expect. The 1860 census reported 236 slaves in New Jersey, 90,368 in Maryland, 2,290 in Delaware, and 3,680 in Washington, DC. There were slaves as far north as New Hampshire as late as 1840. New York wouldn’t legally emancipate its last slave until the following year.

Massachusetts became the first American colony to legalize slavery in 1641, with the passage of the ironically named “Massachusetts Body of Liberties”.  Slavery was legal at one time or another, in all 13 original colonies and even before, when slavery of and by native Americans, was commonplace.

In 1637, the Pequot tribe of southeastern Connecticut was all but wiped out in a bloody war with an alliance of English colonists from the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth and Saybrook colonies, and their native American allies of the Narragansett, Mohegan, Niantic and Montauk tribes. Surviving Pequots were forced to become slaves in English households, or shipped to Bermuda or the West Indies, and exchanged for Africans.

Indigenous and African slave populations in northern climates were small compared with the more agricultural economies of the south, which were themselves a drop in a bucket compared with the slave economies of central and south America.

An essay from the New York Public Library (nypl.org) gives a sense of scale to the transatlantic slave trade. “As a whole, the transatlantic slave trade displaced an estimated 12.5 million people, with about 10,650,000 surviving the Atlantic crossing. Thus, even though a substantial number of Africans actually reached the United States, they were only a small proportion, about 3.6 percent, of the total number of Africans who were brought to the Americas. More Africans went to Barbados (435,000), while almost three times as many went to Jamaica (1,020,000). The number of Africans arriving in North America was considerably less than those who were taken to Brazil (4,810,000)“.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 opened vast new territories. The fight for which would be free and which would permit slavery, would go on for years.

The philosophical underpinnings of southern secession was borne of the Hartford Convention of December 1814 – January 1815.  There, delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, along with “unofficial” delegates from New Hampshire and Vermont, met to discuss New England’s secession over the War of 1812. The convention reported that New England had a “duty” to assert its authority over unconstitutional infringements on its sovereignty, putting forth a legal position very similar to the later nullification position taken by South Carolina.

reynolds-political-map

Protective tariffs were instituted in the wake of the War of 1812, intending to help domestic manufacturers compete with foreign imported goods. Instead, they tended to help northern manufacturing economies, while increasing the cost of manufactured goods to the southern states, and making it more difficult to export cotton.

By this time, cotton was becoming the chief cash crop in most southern economies, and tariffs hit South Carolina particularly hard. Throughout the colonial and early national periods, the Palmetto state climate sustained a strong agricultural economy. South Carolina’s fortunes were hit hard with the panic of 1819, and slow to recover as the gulf states increasingly entered the cotton markets.

The Tariffs of 1828 – ’32 lead to a nullification crisis in South Carolina, where the state told the federal government to pound sand, and mobilized military assets to defend itself against federal enforcement measures sure to follow.

That time the crisis was averted, but a pattern had been established for events to come.

CaningSectional differences grew and sharpened in the years that followed. A member of Congress from Kentucky killed a fellow congressman from Maine.  A Congressman from South Carolina all but beat a Massachusetts Senator to death with a cane, on the floor of the Senate. A fist fight involving at least 30 Congressman broke out on the floor of the US House of Representatives.

Southern states talked about secession as early as 1850. Senator Stephen A Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, in theory allowing a territory to determine its own free or slave status. This effort to “democratize” the issue led to the brutality of the “Bleeding Kansas” period, where pro-slavery Missouri “Border Ruffians” and anti-slavery Kansas “Jayhawkers” crossed one another’s borders, primarily to murder each others civilians and burn out one another’s towns.

Abraham Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech on June 16, 1858, in which he said “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.  A year later, John Brown was holed up at Harper’s Ferry, trying to start a slave insurrection.

After 57 ballots, the Democrat’s convention of 1859 adjourned without selecting a candidate for the Presidential election. Northern Democrats nominated Stephen A Douglas, while southern Democrats nominated John Breckenridge.

Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th President of the United States on November 6, 1860, on a platform confusingly specifying “That all men are created equal”, an “abhorrence of all schemes of disunion”, and “The maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively”.

One year later, to the day, former United States Senator and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was elected to a six-year term as the first President of the Confederate States of America.