Sunday, December 17, 2017

John Adams During the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765

John Adams in 1762
In 1765 John Adams was a young lawyer struggling to make ends meet. When the Stamp Act shut down the courts, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Obviously, it caused him personal and financial pain. That showed in his diary. He said the Stamp Act was an “enormous engine, fabricated by the British Parliament, for battering down all the rights and liberties of America…In every colony, from Georgia to New Hampshire inclusively, the stamp distributors and inspectors have been compelled by the unconquerable rage of the people to renounce their offices.”[1]

And, it wasn’t just upper-class citizens who protested the Stamp Act. “The people even to the lowest ranks, have become more attentive to their liberties, more inquisitive about them, than they were ever before known or had occasion to be.”[2] No matter what their profession, Americans were up in arms about the negative effects of the Stamp Act. “Our presses have groaned, our pulpits have thundered, our legislatures have resolved, our towns have voted; the crown officers everywhere have trembled.”[3]

From the tone alone, it sounds as if John Adams is already a rebel, or poised to cross the line.

There was a significant principle at stake. One the colonists would repeatedly invoke over the next decade. Adams said if the colonies accept this tax, “if this authority is once acknowledged and established, the ruin of America will become inevitable.”[4] The real fear. The unspoken concern was that if the colonies were to lie down and accept the tax, more taxes would soon follow. Once the precedent was set, what was there to stop Parliament from taxing the water they drink, or the air that they breathe?

At present, everything was in disarray. The courts were shut down, the probate office was closed-up, and the customs house was shuttered. No one was able or willing to decide what should come next. “The executive courts have not yet dared to adjudge the Stamp Act void, nor to proceed with business as usual, though it should seem that necessity alone would be sufficient to justify business at present.”[5]

The date was December 18, 1765.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Modern Day Heroes: John Wayne

John Wayne in The Comancheros - 1961
John Wayne was the original movie tough guy.

He rode a mean horse. He carried a shotgun and a brace of pistols, and in most of his movies, he was pretty good with his fists, which meant he could punch out the bad guy’s lights without working up a sweat. 

Too bad his parents saddled him with a girl’s name. Marion Morrison[1] wasn’t a good name for a movie star. Especially, if he planned on specializing in tough guy roles.

Johnny Cash could very well have lifted the idea for "A Man Named Sue" from John Wayne’s life story. I have no doubt that name turned Wayne into the tough son-of-a-bitch that he became.

Not too long ago, another bad ass named David Morrell wrote a short book about John Wayne.[2] And, let me assure you, David knows a thing or two about tough guys. If you don't recognize the name, David is the man who wrote First Blood. That book unleashed John Rambo on the world. 

Johnny Rambo was a Vietnam veteran, who suffered from PTSD. In the book, Rambo got pushed a little too hard by a local sheriff because he had long hair. All I can tell you is big mistake. Rambo took out most of that town before he got taken down. 

John Wayne came from the same stock as John Rambo. 

He didn't take shit. From anyone.

I crossed paths with David Morrell back in the late 1970s when he taught Classical American Literature at the University of Iowa. The only grudge I hold against David is that he made me read Moby Dick.

If you never read Moby Dick, it’s this crazy ass book that rambles on and on for hundreds of pages about sperm. (snicker! snicker!) Or, more realistically about the sperm from a sperm whale. Only it wasn’t sperm. It was the white, waxy goo the sailors extracted from the whale’s head.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Washington Peace Conference. A last ditch chance to save the Union

President John Tyler
War was in the air.

Everyone sensed that it was coming. Oh, yeah! It was coming just like a plague of locusts or grasshoppers eating their way across the prairies. It was inevitable, just as it was inevitable that some fool would propose a plan to prevent it.

Prominent politicians authored two of the schemes that circulated early in 1861. The first, the Crittenden Compromise, was the brainchild of Kentucky Congressman John T. Crittenden. Former President John Tyler promoted the second one, known today as the Washington Peace Conference.

The Crittenden Compromise was a little too much for most Northerners. In essence, it guaranteed the rights of the slave states to continue owning slaves in perpetuity, to extend slavery into the territories north of latitude 36° 30’, and it ensured the enforcement of the fugitive slave laws. If the states thwarted slave owners in restoring their property, it provided for the Federal Government to reimburse them. The Crittenden Compromise contained more provisions, but none that the Union men could stomach.

It contradicted the entire Chicago Platform of the Republican Party. If adopted, it would reverse the course of the election and the will of the people. At least, that was the way Abraham Lincoln and his supporters viewed the Crittenden Compromise.

The House and Senate quickly rejected it.

Another plan that initially showed great promise was the Washington Peace Conference. Former President John Tyler conceived the Peace Conference as a last-ditch effort to prevent the impending crisis. Fourteen free states and seven slave states attended. None of the seven states that had seceded attended.

The Conference convened in the meeting hall of Willard’s Hotel in Washington, DC on February 1, 1861. Most of the participants, like John Tyler, were members of the old guard. They were old men and proven politicians. Of the 132 Peace Commissioners, the majority of them were over fifty years of age. Many of them were in their sixties and seventies.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Pratt Street Riot of April 19, 1861 and Anti-Union Sentiment in Baltimore

Massachusetts Militia Passing Through Baltimore ( From an
1861 engraving by F.F. Walker)
In his memoirs, Baltimore Mayor George William Brown recalled waiting on the platform to shake President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s hand and welcome him to the city during his inaugural journey. Little did he know Lincoln had abandoned the car in Harrisburg and secretly made his way to the Capitol City under cover of darkness.

He took it as a personal affront, as did the citizens of Baltimore. The implication that there was a plot to kill Lincoln in their city made the townspeople feel like criminals put under a magnifying glass.

Because Lincoln snuck into the town after dark, it left a bitter taste in their mouth similar to his sending troops through the heart of the city without alerting them.

If “Old Abe” had just come into town and shook hands like planned, Brown was sure everything would have been okay. If the army had informed city officials about the troop movements, proper precautions could have been taken to ensure their safety.[1]

The “real problem” was the government's lack of communication.

The day before the Pratt Street Riot, on April 18th, two companies of United States Artillery commanded by Major Pemberton, along with four companies of militia arrived on the North Central Railroad. They disembarked from their cars at Bolton Station in North Baltimore shortly after 2:00 PM.

Most of the soldiers were unarmed and without uniforms. They marched over a mile through the streets making their way to Washington Street Station.

Brown said the regular soldiers passed unmolested, but the militia was harassed and threatened mercilessly. If it had not been for Marshall Kane and the Baltimore police force violence would surely have erupted.

The difference between the two days was the army notified city officials on April 18th that the troops were coming. Because of that, the police force was on hand to ensure the soldier’s safety.

The circumstances behind the Pratt Street Riot on April 19th were entirely different. The city didn’t receive notice that the troops were coming until a half hour before their arrival.  Because of this, the city police were unprepared to protect the soldiers.

From hindsight, it’s hard to say what the correct move should have been. The evidence leaves no doubt that violence lurked at every turn on the streets of Baltimore.

That came as no surprise to the soldiers involved in the incident.

Colonel Edward Jones woke his men early on the night of April 18th to coach them about what lay ahead.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Santa Claus Pagan Origins of Everyday Christmas Traditions and Beliefs

By O. M. Spencer

The Christmas Tree
The angels in the Gloria in Excelsis have probably given us the best definition of Christmas, "On earth peace, good-will toward men." This Christian idea of Christmas, with its love, charity, and for­giveness, has probably found its most strik­ing realization in the Julafred, or Yule-peace of the Scandinavians — a custom, though ancient as the Runic stones, still existing in Sweden, by virtue of a Christian baptism, as a Christian institution. Extending from Christmas-eve to Epiphany, and solemnly proclaimed by a public crier, any violation of the Yule-peace is visited with double or treble punishment. The courts are closed; old quarrels are adjusted; old feuds are forgotten; while on the Yule-evening the shoes, great and small, of the entire house­hold, are set close together in a row, that during the coming year the family may live together in peace and harmony.

To this pacific, Christian conception of the Christmas-time not a few pagan elements have been added, which are clearly traceable, as we shall see, to the old German "Twelve Nights" and the Roman Saturnalia. Hence its mirth and festivity, its jesting and feasting, its frolic and license. The decoration and illumination of our Christian churches recall the temples of Saturn radiant with burning tapers and resplend­ent with garlands. The "Merry Christmas" responds to the "bona Saturnalia," and our mod­ern Christmas pres­ents to the dona amicis.

During the Sat­urnalia, which were intended to symbolize the freedom, equality, and peaceful prosperity of the golden or Saturnian age, all labor was suspended. The schools were closed; the Senate adjourn­ed; no criminal was executed; no war proclaimed. Slaves exchanged places with their masters, or, seated at the banqueting tables wearing badges of freedom, jested with them familiarly as their equals.

Doc Holliday – Frontier Gambler, Gunfighter, Sometimes Lawman

Doc Holliday
(public domain image)
Bat Masterson spoke admiringly about most of the big-name gunfighters of the old west, but he had a particularly low opinion of Doc Holiday. He said “I never liked him, and few persons did. He had a mean disposition and differed from most of the big gunfighters in that he would seek a fight…He had few friends anywhere in the west.” Virgil Earp told the Arizona Daily Star, “There was something peculiar about Doc…outside of us boys I don’t think he had a friend in the territory.”

Although Masterson didn’t come right out and call Holliday a coward, he did say, unlike Wild Bill and Wyatt Earp, who were as good with their fists as they were with their pistols, Doc Holliday was a “physical weakling.” His opinion was a fifteen-year-old could make easy work of him in a “go-as-you-please fist fight.” But, as soon as you put a gun in his hand, danger transformed Doc Holliday from a 98-pound weakling into a raging madman.

Like most legendary figures of the old west, so much of what has been written about Doc Holliday is contradictory at best. In the Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters (1942), Bill O’Neal credits Doc with just two kills in a total of eight gunfights, far from the dozens of kills and near kills most biographers attribute to him.

Doc Holliday was like a fish out of water in Dodge City, Tombstone, and the other cities he lived in. He was a dentist by profession, but a gambler, and a gunfighter by choice.

Not long after he graduated from dental school, Holliday took the equivalent of his first bullet when he learned he had contracted tuberculosis. Doctors informed him he had only a short time to live, and the best thing he could do would be to move to a drier climate. Doc took the news to heart, headed west, and set up a practice in Dallas, Texas. Not too many months after that he gave up dentistry. 

Apparently, patients didn’t appreciate his coughing spells. As word got around about the tubercular dentist, business dried up quicker than the weather.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Whiskey Insurrection – America’s First Organized Rebellion

Painted in 1795 by Frederick Kemmelmeyer
(public domain image - original portrait now in
Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The Whiskey Insurrection was the first test of the Federal Government’s right to impose and collect taxes, and to call out the militia to enforce those laws.
Farmers in western Pennsylvania tottered on the edge of rebellion during the early 1790s. The Whiskey Tax threatened their livelihood. Eastern and western Pennsylvania, were separated by an almost insurmountable barrier called the Allegheny Mountains. The market west of the Alleghenies was limited. In order to sell their grains east of the mountains, growers had to load their crops on pack horses and transport them across dangerous mountain terrain. The problem was twofold: 1) Grains were difficult to transport, and a tough sell once they got them across the mountains. 2) Whiskey was easier to transport, and easier to sell.
Because of this, a large number of stills operated in western Pennsylvania, transforming grain into whiskey.
In 1791 Congress passed a tax on distilled liquors. It based the taxes charged on the capacity of a brewer’s still, rather than the quantity of spirits actually produced, and it required the tax to be paid in cash. That put small producers at a disadvantage. Because they produced less whiskey, distillers in western Pennsylvania effectively paid a larger tax per gallon than eastern distillers, who could increase their whiskey production, and in effect cut the tax they paid per gallon. The other sticking point was the tax was required to be paid in cash. Barter was the currency of the western frontier. Most distillers paid their bills in whiskey—not cash.