Tuesday, February 9, 2016
On today's date, February 9 in 1825, John Quincy Adams (left) was elected President of the United States by the U.S. House of Representatives. It was the first election in which a candidate who had received minority of the initial tally of the Electoral votes, as well as the minority of the popular votes went on to win the office of President. But charges of a "Corrupt Bargain" would arise from this election and would go on to cripple the Adams administration.
The Election of 1824 - A MESS!
For those of you out there who are inclined to look a our present system of electing a President from too many candidates, you really should take a look at the situation faced by voters in 1824. The old system that had produced the victors of the last three presidents, all from the Democrat-Republican Party (and YES, that is exactly what it was called) had broken down. There were quite a number of aspirants for the top job. One reporter described them as a group of "Hasbeens, Cantbees, Mightabees," and "Wouldabeens" none of whom were really qualified (does this begin to sound just a bit like our current crop of 2016 candidates??). Nevertheless, the field broke down into five, count 'em FIVE candidates: John Quincy Adams who was Secretary of State to the outgoing President, James Monroe, and the son of our 2'nd President, John Adams, Henry Clay who was the Speaker of the House, and a great favorite of the western states, General Andrew Jackson, also a western-favored candidate, William H. Crawford, Monroe's Secretary of the Treasury, and John C. Calhoun a favorite in the southeastern states.
The Election Goes Into the House...
Unfortunately for everyone, the election, held in the Fall of 1824, solved nothing, although it did produce a clear leader in both the popular and the Electoral tallies: Andrew Jackson won 151,271 of the popular vote, with 99 electoral, Adams with 113,122 and 84 electoral, Crawford getting fewer popular votes than Clay, but more electoral with 41 to Clay's 37. Jackson (below), the fierce military hero of the Seminole Indian Wars and the victor of the Battle of New Orleans
"The Corrupt Bargain...."
Well however unhappy the Jackson faction was at this, they really went crazy, when three days after his election in the House, Adams did in fact offer the post of Secretary of State to Henry Clay. Adams knew and respected Clay, and Clay did not wish to give Adams a vote of "no confidence" by turning the offer down, so he accepted the job. There had in fact been no bargain between the two men. But
Jackson and his followers were having none of it. The two men had concluded a "Corrupt Bargain" afterall!! "The Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver. . . Was there ever witnessed such a bare faced corruption in any country before?" railed Jackson in a letter to his wife. "His end will be the same!!" The cries of corruption would be howled by Jackson and his supporters unrelentingly for the next four years, effectively crippling the Adams administration, until Jackson won the re-match with Adams, winning the Presidency himself in the election of 1828.
"Presidential Campaigns" by Paul F. Boller Jr., Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1984
Thursday, January 21, 2016
"The carriage proceeded thus in silence to the Place de Louis XV, and stopped in the middle of a large space that had been left round the scaffold: this space was surrounded with cannon, and beyond, an armed multitude extended as far as the eye could reach. As soon as the King perceived that the carriage stopped, he turned and whispered to me, 'We are arrived, if I mistake not.' My silence answered that we were."
This was how Henry Essex Edgeworth recalled one of the last moments of Louis XVI (above), who was executed by the guillotine on today's date, January 21 in 1793. Edgeworth was an Englishman, a priest living in France during this time, and had been requested by Louis as the man who would hear his final confession. Edgeworth heard the final confession of Louis, and then stayed with him on his ride to his place of execution.
The Fall of Louis XVI
Louis XVI was as Nicholas II (the last Czar of Russia) would prove to be a century and a quarter later, the wrong man at the wrong time. He ascended to the throne of France in 1774, a time when his country had been driven nearly to the point of bankruptcy by the excessive spending on luxurious living committed by his royal predecessors, Louis XIV, and Louis XV. Indeed it was Louis XV who was said to have spoken the
The Road to Execution
As the financial crisis deepened, there were calls for the King to call "the Estates General", an old legislative body, which had not met since 1614. Louis did in fact convoke that body, which met on May 1, 1789. In my Blog posting for July 14, "Bastille Day" I give a detailed account of why "the Estates General" didn't work ("France and Her Revolutionary Crisis"). For our purposes here let it suffice to say
"Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in Captivity"). When the royal family attempted to escape to Austria on June 21, 1791, they were recaptured (above) and thereafter were seen as plotting with a foreign government against France, thus losing any popular respect he still had. He was tried by the National Assembly for crimes against the people in 1792, and was convicted on Jan. 20, leading to his execution on January 21, 1793.
Louis Goes to the Guillotine
Edgeworth then describes how after an attempt was made to bind his hands Louis mounted the scaffold and went to the guillotine (a new form of execution named in 1789 for it's inventor, and was then hailed as a more humane form of capitol punishment) with bravery and dignity:
"The path leading to the scaffold was extremely rough and difficult to pass.... I saw him cross with a firm foot the breadth of the whole scaffold; silence, by his look alone, fifteen or twenty drums that were placed opposite to me; and in a voice so loud, that it must have been heard it the Pont Tournant, I heard him pronounce distinctly these memorable words: 'I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I Pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.'"
"Many voices were at the same time heard encouraging the executioners. They seemed reanimated themselves, in seizing with violence the most virtuous of Kings, they dragged him under the axe of the guillotine, which with one stroke severed his head from his body. All this passed in a moment. The youngest of the guards, who seemed about eighteen, immediately seized the head, and showed it to the people as he walked round the scaffold; he accompanied this monstrous ceremony with the most atrocious and indecent gestures. At first an awful silence prevailed; at length some cries of 'Vive la Republique!' were heard."
Marie Antoinette would follow her husband to the guillotine on October 19 of 1793. The body of Louis XVI was interred at the old Church of the Madeleine. On 21 January 1815 Louis XVI and his wife's remains were re-buried in the Basilica of Saint-Denis where in 1816 his brother, King Louis XVIII, had a funerary monument erected.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
"Nekkid" on which I drew in my Blog about the Polio vaccine back on April 12, 2014: "Salk Polio Vaccine Works". Here is Frank's poem written for best hopes in the New Year:
Time he sed is a friend of mine
a helpful guide that gives me
space to be who I am
and a marvelous stage
for me to practice
what I'll be someday.
But he sed
but time is also a dragon
relentlessly sucking down it's throat
a nanosecond at a time
til our last shiny toenail disappears
down that maw of wuz
My wish for you for the New Year
is that the dragon will swallow slowly
and that your life will blaze brightly
with the joy you make for yourself
and those you love or like a lot
with your precious time.
- Frank M. Lee
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
"December 22, 1944
To the German Commander,
N U T S !
The American Commander"
The Germans didn't know what to make of it. But to the American soldiers on whose behalf it was issued on today's date, December 22 in 1944 by Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe (above) the meaning of that one syllable reply was more than clear enough. It summed up the courage and fighting spirit of the American soldier, and their determination to stand fast against overwhelming odds.
The War in Europe in December, 1944
By the autumn of 1944, the morale of the Allies (the United States and Great Britain) was riding high. The summer of bloody fighting that began with the Invasion of Normandy, and the static fighting for yards at a time in the Hedgerow country* had given way to the breakout which had the Allies making a clean sweep across France. Paris had been liberated on August 24 to wild cheering and celebration (below).
The Surprise Attack, Bastogne, and "the Battle of the Bulge"
Little did the Allies know that under the greatest secrecy, and against the advice of his generals, the German leader Adolf Hitler had for months been diverting men and material from the Eastern (Russian) front, and bringing them west to make one last attempt to drive the Allies back. He had assembled 25 Divisions, including 250,000 men and over 340 Tiger Tanks. The Tiger (below) was a fearsome weapon
Bastogne is Surrounded; McAuliffe Speaks!
In spite of hard fighting on the part of the American troops, by December 20, the Germans had surrounded Bastogne. At 11:30 a.m. on the morning of today's date, a group of four German soldiers approached the American lines under the cover of a white flag. One of them, Lieutenant Hellmuth Henke, had a briefcase under his arm. They said that they had a message for the American Commander. They were blindfolded and taken to the Headquarters of the 101st Airborne's acting commander, General McAuliffe. Their message from the German commander read in part:
"December 22nd 1944
To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.
The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A.
forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong
German armored units... There is only one possibility to save
the encircled U.S.A troops from total annihilation: that is the
honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think
it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the
presentation of this note....If this proposal should be rejected
one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are
ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne.
All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would
not correspond with the well known American humanity.
The German Commander."
General McAuliffe was awakened from a nap to be told of the Germans
and their "offer". At first, coming out of his nap, he misunderstood and though that the Germans were offering to surrender to him. When their actual mission was explained, the General in frustration yelled "Us surrender? Awww, NUTS!" They discussed their situation for some time. Finally, the General was told that the Germans, having presented a formal written offer, were expecting a formal written reply. The story, as told by Kenneth J. McAuliffe on the U.S. Army's website (listed below)
"When (Col Bud) Harper arrived at the Headquarters, he was asked to wait outside of the closed door to McAulliffe's quarters. Inside, in the presence of his staff, McAulliffe wondered aloud, "Well, I don't know what to tell them." At that point, (Lt. Col. Harry) Kinnard said, 'What you said initially would be hard to beat.' McAulliffe asked 'What do you mean?' Kinnard, said, 'Sir, you said nuts.' All members of the staff enthusiastically agreed, so McAulliffe wrote it down on a message pad and said, 'Have it typed up.'"
This reply, given at the top of this posting left the Germans confused.
"...the Germans opened and looked at the reply. They asked, 'What does this mean?' They obviously didn't understand the American slang. Harper and (PFC Ernest) Premetz discussed how to explain it. Harper suggested, 'Tell them to take a flying s**t!' Premetz thought about it, then straightened up, faced the Germans and said, 'Du kannst zum Teufel gehen.' He told Harper it meant 'You can go to Hell.' Then Harper said, 'If you continue to attack, we will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city.'"
And that is how the story has come down to us. The Battle of the Bulge would go on for over a month, although General Patton's Third Army, having pulled out of it's own eastward attack to move 100 miles to the north an relieve the 101'st, did in fact break through to Bastogne on
December 26. Eventually the poor weather which had been protecting the German tanks cleared and left them exposed to Allied air attack. This and a huge amount of ground fighting by exhausted American infantry finally broke the back of the German offensive. And by January 25, the Germans had finally been pushed back to where they started. General McAuliffe's defiant and very terse reply to the Germans has since become the stuff of folklore... except that it really happened!!
* = A hedge or hedgerow is a line of closely spaced shrubs and tree species, planted and trained to form a barrier or to mark the boundary of an area. It was the division of Normandy into hundreds of such parcels of land that made the campaign in Normandy such a long, hard fight. The infantry would be able to take one after hours of fighting, and then another would be there, having to be taken in the same way.
"American Experience: Battle of the Bulge" Prod. by Thomas Lennon, written by Thomas Lennon and Mark Zwonitzer. Found at the following web address =
"NUTS! The Battle of the Bulge" by Donald M. Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon, and J. Michael Wenger, Brassey's, Washington, 1994.
Friday, November 27, 2015
On today's date, November 27, in 1954 Alger Hiss, a former official at the U.S. State Department was released from prison after serving 44 months (left). Hiss had been convicted of Perjury in lying to a Federal Grand Jury when he denied having stolen State Department documents and having passed them along to Whittaker Chambers and also when he denied having known Chambers after 1935. All of this was part of a highly-charged and very public scandal in late 1948 - 50. And it all got mixed up with a bunch of stuff involving "Pumpkin Papers" an old typewriter, and a bird called the "Prothonotary Warbler." WHAT?? And why is any of this important in this day of computers, and a modern global economy? Does the name Edward Snowden ring a bell?
Hiss -vs- Chambers: A Study in Contrasts
In August of 1948. The House Un-American Activities Committee was conducting hearings on possible communist infiltration into the American government. This was a very real threat in the minds of Americans who were for the first time facing a world where one bomb could destroy a city, and where the Soviets stood just a secret away from acquiring such a bomb. Richard M. Nixon, who was then an
But his information was anything but boring. He named several individuals who had been a part of this cell. One of the men he named was Alger Hiss. Hiss had risen to the highest ranks of the New Deal establishment of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. He had
He had advised FDR at the Yalta Conference. He was friends with Dean Acheson, the former Under Secretary of State. And he was presently the President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Hiss insisted on rebutting Chambers' charge and did so on Aug. 5 (above). Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose wrote: "Tall, thin, handsome, smartly dressed, the Carnegie Endowment president (above) carried himself with assurance, making the sharpest possible contrast with Chambers." "In a firm voice.." Nixon recalled, "...he said 'I am here at my own request to deny unqualifiedly various statements which were made... by one Whittaker Chambers.." He then went on to deny that he had ever been a communist, and that not only did he not know anyone called Chambers but as far as he could recall, he never had. At the close of his remarks his many friends crowded around him to congratulate him on his superlative performance.
The HUAC and Nixon Question Hiss Further
But Nixon objected to Hiss' attitude towards the Committee which he considered to be "insulting in the extreme." So he arranged for the two men to be questioned privately. On August 7, Nixon and HUAC members questioned Chambers who seemed to know quite a bit about Hiss and his home life. This was fine, but they needed something specific. Chambers also recalled their hobbies. "They used to get up early in the morning and go to Glen Echo, out the canal, to observe birds. I recall once they saw, to their great excitement, a
Chambers and "the Pumpkin Papers"
The HUAC published a report calling the testimony of Hiss "vague and evasive." Of course by the time the whole matter of a charge of espionage had become a moot point, as the Statute of Limitations had long since passed on any such indictment. But Hiss was open to a charge of lying before a House committee. Chambers produced documents with handwritten notes from Hiss proving that Hiss had in fact known him in the 1930's. But there was more. Chambers had
Hiss is Tried for Perjury
Hiss was charged with Perjury in a trial that began on May 31, 1949. There were charges that Chambers had indeed known Hiss, and character witnesses galore testifying to Hiss and his sterling character. There was also a lot of testimony as to the possession of an old typewriter - a "Woodstock" typewriter with keys that would jam up on the writer. Hiss was alleged to have written up some of the secret documents he had passed to Chambers on this machine, and there was testimony that the Hiss family had given the typewriter to a family - the Catlatt's - before Hiss could have written the secret
The Guilty Verdict on Hiss and Its Legacy
The guilty verdict on Hiss has remained controversial . Hiss maintained his innocence to the end of his life. Richard Nixon, receiving his first national fame as a result of the case, went on with his career, which culminated in his election to the presidency in 1968, and his forced resignation amidst the Watergate Scandal in 1974. Hiss held that his conviction had been a result of cold war paranoia, and that Nixon's forced departure was proof that he was innocent. But in 1976, Allen Weinstein wrote a book called "Perjury - the Hiss Chambers Case." Originally intended as the definitive proof that Hiss had been innocent, in reviewing the evidence, Weinstein instead came to the opposite conclusion. Further, documents released since the fall of the Soviet Union have made a strong case that Hiss was in fact a Soviet Spy during the 1930's. Whittaker Chambers died in 1961. Nixon died in 1994, and Hiss died in 1996. The case has long since faded from current memory. But as has been shown with the case of Edward Snowden (below), the problem of government operatives releasing classified
"RN - the Memoirs of Richard Nixon" by Richard M. Nixon, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1978
"Nixon - the Education of a Politician 1913 - 1962" by Stephen E. Ambrose Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987
Monday, November 23, 2015
"Had he gone more slowly and carried on his operations on a smaller scale, and been simpler in his habits and less ostentatious in his pleasures, he could have retained his power until now, and might have strengthened it and made his overthrow far more difficult. A villain of more brains would have had a modest dwelling and would have guzzled in secret. He found, however, the seizure of the government and the malversation of its funds so easy at the outset that he was thrown off his guard."
- The Nation Magazine on Tweed's death in 1878.
On today's date, November 23 in 1876, William Marcy Tweed, the one-time "Boss" of the corrupt Democratic Party political machine of Tammany Hall was handed over to New York City Police. Tweed had been recognized from one of the political cartoons of Thomas Nast while he was on the lamb in Spain.
The Rise of William M. Tweed
Born on April 3, 1823 in New York City to a third generation Scottish-Irish chair maker, Tweed rose rapidly through the ranks of local politics from an ax-wielding volunteer fireman to a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1852. In 1858 the New York City democratic party, in an attempt to block Republican reformers at the state capitol of Albany, appointed Tweed to the NYC Board of
Aaron Burr) which ruled NYC's democratic politics for many years. By the mid 1860s, Tweed (right) had risen to command the organization and through the “Tweed Ring,” which openly bilked millions from city contracts, bought votes, and which cultivated judicial corruption, he and his henchmen dominated the political life of New York City. For example, Tweed's Ring got a new charter passed which put NYC's finances under the control of the Board of Audit, which consisted of Tweed and his men. This meant that the Ring was able to vastly over charge vendors for doing business with NYC, and then they could pocket the extra cash.
Tweed -vs- Thomas Nast
Of course along the way to all of this ill-gotten gain Tweed, who actually held the office of a State Senator from New York, acquired a good many enemies. The New York Times attacked him vigorously. And most damaging of all were the illustrations of Thomas Nast,
But all of this activity came to a head with the New York Times reports on the cost overruns in the re-modeling of the City Courthouse in 1871. With the cost of the re-done NYC Courthouse reaching well over $3,000,000 and counting, greater scrutiny came onto the project than any other Tammany-backed project had ever seen before. In a series of articles, the Times made the greed of the Tweed Ring apparent, picking
"Boss" Tweed Goes to Jail
He got out on bail, and attempted to regain his position via elections. But the public had had enough of Tweed and his cronies. The election went very poorly, and Tweed was re-arrested. The jury at his first trial in January of 1873 was unable to agree on a verdict. But the second trial in November of that year returned a verdict of guilty on most of the counts. Tweed was locked up in the Ludlow St. Jail. But he was
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
“All over the United States and Canada, people changed their clocks and watches in synchronization with their zone’s standard time... In one moment the many different standards of time that had caused conflict and confusion, were resolved into four simple standards.”
- The Library of Congress
On November 18, 1883, at the stroke of midnight, the United States adopted Standard Time Zones throughout the country. This meant that instead of each town having its own time, the entire country would run according to four time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific. And all at once the confusion and chaos of time changes across the country became a thing of the past.
Time-Keeping Chaos Across America
For the most part in man's history, time was kept in towns according to the sundial. One had only to look up at the sun, and there was the standard time for the area you were in. Now this was fine, as long as man could travel no faster than he could on the back of a horse. And most towns did indeed keep their own time based on the sundial. But once the Telegraph was introduced, and the Railroads, and these new modes of transportation shrunk the amount of time it took to get from one place to the other scheduling became a nightmare. Railroad timetables in most of the major cities of the U.S. would be obliged to list several differing arrival and departure times for a single train each one linked to a separate time zone in a different locality.
The Effort to Standardize Time Zones
In order to keep an accurate schedule of when goods, services or passengers could be expected to arrive at a certain place at a certain time, railroads needed standardized time zones. It is a mark of the power possessed by railroads that they, and not the government brought about this fundamental change in everyday American life. In the 1870's international efforts to bring standardized time zones into use began being made. In 1870, Charles F. Dowd proposed running U.S. railroads on four different time zones based on a meridian that ran through Washington D.C. In 1872 he amended this
On November 18, 1883...
As Dennis Cummings has colorfully recorded:
"At noon on Nov. 18, the U.S. Naval Observatory adjusted its signals to reflect the new time zones. Crowds gathered near town clocks across the country to watch the clocks be changed. In many places where the time was moved back, it became known as the 'day of two noons,' while other areas 'lost' minutes."
There was consid- erable resistance to this change in certain localities, but the railroad was by this time the lifeblood of the country, and frequently the only link for many such towns with the rest of the world. So most Americans and Canadians fully embraced this new idea of time zones. But it was actually not until 1918 that Congress - then as now catching up with what the country was already doing - officially adopted the four tine zones, placing in the supervision of the Interstate Commerce Commission.