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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BADGERS MAKE STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

I have always admired Alexander Hamilton. How could you not admire a man who could write, “A well adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous” That kind of self knowledge belies the life of a boy who was abandoned by his father at the age of ten, at twelve watched his mother die in the bed next to him, and was then adopted by a cousin who shortly thereafter committed suicide. Hamilton not only survived but within ten years became one of the most successful and powerful men in America, the man who invented the American economic system. But that childhood also goes a long way to explaining how such a smart man, a happily married man and a devoted father could fall for something as old and obvious as the Badger Game.In 1791 in Philadelphia, twenty-three year old Maria Reynolds, a lovely and avaricious mental midget, approached Hamilton, who was the Secretary of the Treasury. She told Hamilton that her husband, James Reynolds, had abandoned her and their daughter. Could the noble and handsome Secretary Hamilton provide her with the funds to return to New York? Smitten and horny, as his wife was in far off Connecticut, Hamilton agreed to deliver $30 to her rooms that evening, where the game began.The original badger game involved sticking a live badger in a box and then sending in a terrier. After a few seconds the owner would pull the dog out. If the dog held the badger in its jaws, it was marked as a plus. Then the badger would be returned to the box and the dog would be sent in again. This was repeated several times in front of a crowd, with the shouting and betting building to a crescendo. The similarity between the original sport (outlawed in England in 1835) and the blackmail performed on Hamilton was that the dog could be counted on to grab the badger every time, even though it was never allowed to actually keep the badger.Shortly after Hamilton’s first liaison with Mrs. Reynolds, Mister Reynolds made his re-appearance in the role of the wronged husband. He wrote Hamilton, “You have deprived me of every thing thats near and dear to me. … you have made a whole family miserable.” James was a born conman who had been one of Hamilton’s commissariats during the revolution, scrounging food, clothing and ammunition for the Continental Army despite the penury of Congress. But he was also a wife beater – if we believe Maria.
Eventually James got to the point; “…give me the sum of (a) thousand dollars and I will leve (sic) town and take my daughter with me…”. Hamilton paid, and James then wrote, “I have not the Least Objections to your Calling, as a friend to Boath (sic) of us”.
The dog now had the scent and Hamilton continued to visit Maria regularly...and to pay regularly – in April, $135, in May and June, $50, in August, $200. The game went on for two years, with Hamilton enjoying the nubile Maria in Philadelphia, while urging his wife to remain in Connecticut, and even borrowing from friends for the money to keep James silent. But the end of the game was predictable, given James’ character.Reynolds and his partner Jacob Clingman were arrested for cheating revolutionary war veterans out of their back pay - which congress had also been doing for years - and James expected his “friend” Alexander Hamilton to rescue him. Hamilton, however, was not willing to use his office to cover up his personal peccadilloes and refused to help. Angry, James started singing to anybody who would listen that Hamilton had given him inside information on Government bond sales.
In particular Clingman sang to Hamilton’s arch enemy, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson gleefully dispatched Congressmen James Monroe and Fredrick Muhlenberg to confront Hamilton in person. And to everyone’s stunned surprise Hamilton admitted to the affair but denied everything else. He even provided proof in the form of letters between himself and both of the enterprising Reynolds’. Muhlenberg and Monroe were so nonplussed they agreed to keep the affair secret, and Hamilton resigned from the cabinet (January 1795.) But Jefferson had made no promise of secrecy, and he filed the information away for use at some opportune future moment, which came in 1797 - which is how we know the entire sordid tale.
Shortly thereafter the lovely Maria divorced the imprisoned James and married his partner in crime, Jacob Clingman. The lovebirds moved to Alexandria, Virginia and dropped out of history. But Maria's divorce attorney back in New York had been Aaron Burr, who would in a very few years would shoot Alexander Hamilton down in a duel. And that, one way or another, is the way most badger games end.In contrast there was Mr. William A.E. Moore, a “friend” (meaning finanical supporter) of President McKinley. Mckimley appointed William as U.S. Counsel to Durban, South Africa. William was in route to Durban with his wife, Fayne Strahan, when they stopped in Paris. And it was while in a Paris hotel that William "surprised" Fayne while she was "engaged" romantically with a Russian nobleman. Mr. Moore offered to swallow his insulted pride for a mere $2,000. But the Russian chose instead to call the police. Mr. Moore’s appointment was revoked and he was forced to return to the United States.
Then in 1898 the pair tried the same gag on Mr. Martin Mahon, proprietor of the New Amsterdam Hotel, in New York City. (a bit of a comedown this, from a Russian nobleman to a mere hotel owner.) This time, when William burst into the room, he took the trouble to beat up the mark, i.e. Mr. Mahon, and steal $175 from his wallet. He then stuffed a cigar into the mark's mouth and walked him down the street as if they were friends.
Alas, the mark went to the police again and this time William Moore was sent to Sing Sing for several years. Fayne, meanwhile, moved to South Dakota where she got a divorce. Some years later she moved to London where she took to the stage, as a chorus girl in the hit musical, “The Messenger Boy”. William was eventually released from jail and inherited $125,000 from an uncle. Last heard of he was living in a luxury retirement. And that was the true wages of sin for what today would be called “Grifters.And in case you are thinking that these are historical footnotes, in 2007 in San Antonio, Texas, an attorney, Ted H. Roberts, was convicted of three counts of theft for a badger scam he ran with his wife, fellow attorney Mary Roberts, who was convicted of 5 counts of fraud. Mary trolled the internet looking for married men seeking sex, and engaged them in chat rooms until they either revealed their fantasies or actually met her for sex, whereupon Ted would inform the marks that he was going to sue them for “alienation of affection”, unless they agreed to “settle”. The couple netted something around $160,000 from five marks before they were caught.
The true punchline of this story, however, was delivered by a witness fir the defense; past president of the Texas Bar Association, Broadus A. Spivey. Mr. Spivey swore under oath that the hightec badger game was not illegal because it was not substantially different than the average lawsuit. “Litigation is coercive,” he testified, in case there was anybody left in this nation who did not already despise lawyers.
Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson understood the rules of this game as well as anybody today.
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