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The Billionaires Playground - 1890 - The Last Time the National Wealth was this Unbalanced

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

CHARACTER FLAW

I would suggest that in its beginings the life of Charles Edward Coughlin was marked with omens and portents, and by a smothering mother. In the end it was marked by farce and melodrama. And that ending may not have been entirely his fault. He wanted to be a politician. Instead his mother pressured him to put on the collar. In 1916 Charles was ordained as a Catholic Priest. He was assigned as a teacher to Assumption College, in Sandwich, Ontario. But on Sundays he crossed the border to preach at churches in Detroit.It was in Detroit that Charles used his God given talents for speaking and making political connections. His sermons impressed the Bishop of Detroit, Michael Gallagher, who made certain the young man met the right people – rich and important people - like City Councilman John Lodge and his niece, Evangeline Lindberg, and auto maker Henry Ford. In 1923 Bishop Gallagher offered the rising star his own parish, a new suburban church, “The Shrine of the Little Flower”, in Royal Oak. Initially there were only 25 members of the congregation, and Father Coughlin’s mother had to sell trinkets in the gift shop. Faced with empty coffers and pews, Father Coughlin used his connections with Mrs. Lindberg and her son, the flyer Charles, to convince the management of radio station WJR to provide him with a free hour on Sunday afternoons. His first broadcast, on October 3, 1926 produced only eight letters in response. But it was a beginning. It is interesting to note the commonality of the message supported by those powerful and wealthy names from Detroit; religious certainty, anti-communism, anti-Semitism, and an affinity for fascism. Certainly all these threads came together in Father Coughlin, but clearly they were aleady present in much of upper class Detroit of the 1920’s.By 1930 Father Coughlin’s audience numbered over 40 million and it was said you could listen to “The Fighting Priest” and his entire “Golden Hour of the Little Flower” through open windows as you walked down any residential street in America on a Sunday afternoon. Father Coughlin preached a practical Christianity with, said one observer, “…a voice of such mellow richness, such manly, heart-warming, confidential intimacy, such emotional and ingratiating charm,…A voice made for lies.” As the radio show grew in popularity he started a magazine, "Social Justice" and soon it had over 30 million readers. And the subscriptions that poured in built a new, magnificent octagonal edifice on Twelve Mile Road and Woodward, in Royal Oak, and paid for his network of broadcast stations.Coughlin blamed communism for the rising divorce rate and called for old age insurance for American workers, what would eventually become Social Security. He supported Roosevelt in the 1932 election (“Roosevelt or Ruin”), but by 1935 Coughlin was calling him “The great betrayer and liar…Franklyn Double-Crossing Roosevelt”. Coughlin renamed the “The New Deal” the “Jew Deal” and sent demonstrators into the streets to block the acceptance of any more Jews escaping Nazi persecution. They were thus returned to Germany for execution. And yet modern excusers like to say he was "accused" of anti-Semitism. Look at the art work from his weekly newspaper and make your own assessment. At the time Coughlin openly justified his anti-Semitism by claiming “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted” and promised, “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.” He preached the same strain of ugly hatred that underlay Charles’ Lindberg’s “America First” committee, and Henry Ford’s American publication of the Czarists fraud the “Protocol of the Elders of Zion”. Coughlin even serialized the fraud in his own newspaper. It is also clear in retrospect that Father Coughlin was not above enlightened self interest. After Roosevelt took America off the Gold Standard, Coughlin campaigned strongly for substitution of the Silver Standard. Few knew at the time that Father Coughlin was one of the largest private holders of silver in the America. An uncharitable depiction of the man might suggest he was as obsessed with money as a jew. But what really destroyed Father Coughlin was his support for “The Christian Front”. Coughlin's association with "The Front" was not merely philosophical. He spoke at Front rallies, and allowed his name and image on Front advertising.Then in January of 1940 (another Roosevelt election year) the F.B.I. swept into the Front's Brooklyn offices, arresting nine men and seizing 15 bombs, 18 cans of cordite, dynamite, fuses, incendiary chemicals, 16 rifles, 750 rounds of machine gun ammo and “one long sword”. At a press conference Director J. Edgar Hoover claimed that "The Front" was plotting to blow up a Jewish newspaper, a movie theatre showing Russian films, a Post Office, and the Federal Reserve Bank, and thus spark a revolution (Oh, and it was also alledged they wanted to assassinate President Roosevelt). The trial of "The Christian Front" conspirators was no easier than the trial of the Chicago Seven. There is a strain in American juries which, in the cool light of day, don't like to convict people for thinking about a crime. The Front's defendants were largely acquitted. But the revolations, the weapons seized and the attention to the language used by the Coughlin in support of the Front, caused much of the public support for Father Coughlin evaporate. Lord knows, the Catholic church had long wanted The Fighting Priest to shut up. And with Roosevelt's re-election in 1940 and the entry of the U.S. into the war in 1941, Democratic politicians no longer felt the need to handle Father Coughlin with care. First his radio network was squeezed under new fairness rules, and then the Post Office deemed his magazines as anti-American and stopped providing them with volume discounts on delivery.The final prop fell away when Bishop Gallagher died in 1942. The new Bishop of Detroit, Frances Mooney, immediatly ordered Coughlin to stop his public crusades. And he did. With the discovery of Hitler’s death camps in 1945, Coughlin's brand of virilent anti-Semitism was also finished as a mass movement in America, at least for the time being. Thus the curtain finally fell on the career of the first priest who wanted to be a mass media star. This bitter, hate spewing little man who had pledged his life in service of the "Prince of Peace" died in well deserved obscurity in 1979. By then it had become clear that if you removed the hatred from his message, Father Coughlin had nothing original left to say. For about ten years America seemed willing to go along with anything the “Fighting Priest” had to say. Why was he so full of hatred? Why did he hate people he did not know? Why was he so afraid of things he did not understand? I do not presume to know. But I do know that hatred always destroys its owner. And that is a fact. Hate is a character flaw. The Americas eventual rejection of “The Father of Hate Radio” may not have been so much about a sense of decency, as was about the public's fickle tastes. It is an enduring truth about both politics and religion, and twice as true twice as fast when the two are combined, that the hotest fad is usually the first to fade. Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
You can see a little hope in that, if you wish to. It’s up to you.
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Mr. LYNCH'S LAW

I find the number of prominent men by the name of Lynch associated with the piedmont country of Virginia in 1781, confusing. There was a William Lynch from Pittsylvania County who joined the militia and eventually was named a captain. Lynchburg was named after John Lynch who in 1781 was still running a ferry over the James River at that spot. There was a Thomas Lynch who died of wounds he received in March of 1781 at the battle of Guillford Courthouse, North Carolina, just 40 miles south of the Virginia border. And in October of that year, about a hundred miles to the east, there was a tavern operated by James Head Lynch near the French camps during the battle of Yorktown. But the Lynch I am most interested in was a Quaker who lived about 13 miles due south of Lynchburg. At 19 years of age Charles Lynch had married Miss Anna Terrell and moved into a story and a half log cabin which he called Green Level, and which he built into more than six thousand acres between the Roanoke and Otter Rivers. To work his fields Charles kept up to 24 human beings in bondage, which requied some moral gymnastics for a Quaker, and something we know bothered him - just not enough not to profit from it. Charles was now at the center of the local planter-class community. The tobacco Charles grew was exported to England. And in cash poor Virginia that made him an economic power. In 1766 Charles became a Bedford County Justice of Peace, and was required to sit at the courts in New London, the county seat, and the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg. With the coming of the American Revolution, the now forty year old Charles was appointed a Colonel in the Virginia Militia. And as a militia leader his immediate concern was not the British, but the Cherokees.While the Minute Men in New England were killing red coats at Bunker and Breed’s Hills, the Virginia assembly was worried about their own frontier settlements. There were a handful of opportunistic Indian attacks, but both the British and American agents were urging the Cherokee to stay out of the fight. However the Virginians felt they could not afford to be in a trusting mood. In October of 1776 a force of 1,600 Virginia and North Carolina militia, including Colonel Charles Lynch and men from Bradford and Pittsylvania Counties, mounted a preemptive strike. They burned over 50 Cherokee towns, murdered their inhabitants, turned the survivors out into the cold, ravaged their crops and slaughtered their livestock. In desperation the starving survivors retreated over the mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee, surrendering five million acres to the Americans. The expedition secured Virginia’s open flank, and for four years the state was secure. Then in the winter of 1780 that scourge of Independence, the traitor Benedict Arnold, leading a mix of red coats and loyalists (“Tories”), arrived to give Virginia the same treatment Virginia had given the Cherokee. The towns of Williamsburg and Richmond were captured. The state's new Governor, Thomas Jefferson, missed being captured by hair’s breath. Half the state legislature was captured. At the same time General Cornwallis was chasing Nathanial Green’s little Continental army clear out of Georgia and across the Carolinas. Virginia seemed caught between a hammer and an anvil. With Washington’s army encamped outside far off New York City, Virginia was almost defenseless. The local Tories saw this as the opportunity to strike at the Patriots who had been bullying them for 5 years - -or so said the rumors. Rumors flared across the piedmont of Tory plans to sabotage the lead mines owned by Charles, the iron works outside of Lynchburg, free the 4,000 British and Hessian prisoners held at present day Charlottesville, and worse, capture the Patriot arsenal at New London. The region seemed suddenly awash in counterfeit Continental dollars. Every sickened horse was presumed to be poisoned. Every house fire was assumed to be arson.As the newly appointed sheriff of Bedford County, Charles decided he had to act, if for no other reason than to galvanize the nervous Patriots. He deputized a core of supporters and began a series of lightening raids; arresting suspected Tories and bringing them to trial before a rump court in the front yard of Green Level. The punishments were swift and brutal. While none were executed, they were forced to swear allegiance to the patriot cause, or face being tied to a tree and receiving 39 lashes on a bare back, followed by imprisonment. It was effective, as no Tory uprising occurred - if there had ever been a real possibility of such an uprising. As the spring of 1781 approached, Governor Jefferson asked Charles to lead a regiment of riflemen to support Nathaniel Green when he made his stand against Cornwallis in North Carolina. Did Jefferson make that request, at least in part, to bring an end to the Lynch courts and their punishments at Green level? Jefferson never said so. He did send a letter thanking Charles for his "defence of liberty". But the courts also came to an end. And when General Green made his stand at Guilford Courthouse, in March of 1781, Charles was in command of the Patriot right flank. After Cornwallis’ costly victory, Green kept Charles in North Carolina; even after Cornwallis’ wounded army limped north into Yorktown. Thus Charles played no part in Cornwallis’ surrender that November, the Patriot victory which effectively brought combat in the American Revolution to an end. In 1782 the Virginia legislature voted retroactive approval of the rump courts (now called "Lynch’s Law"), and the decisions Charles had rendered in his front yard. But they set up no mechanism to repeat it during any future crises. And perhaps, in time, Charles too, felt some guilt over his actions.In 1792 and 1793 Charles freed five of his slaves, writing by way of explanation that it was, “…our duty to do unto all men as we would they should do unto us.” However he freed only those five and left the rest in bondage to be inherited by his children, like a barn or a favorite chair. Charles died in his home at Green level in 1796. He was sixty years old.
Some years after Charles' death a Captain William Lynch, then living just over the Virginia border in North Carolina, stepped forward to claim he had been the origin of the phrase “Lynch Law”. But there is no evidence William Lynch ever issued any justice which would have inspired such an appellation. The vigilante compact of the Pittsylvania County Alliance, supposedly signed by Captain Lynch in 1781, seems to have been an invention for a 1836 Southern Literary Messenger article by Edgar Allen Poe. And Poe was, after all, a known writer of invention (“Tell Tale Poe; August 2009 “The Public I”).And anyone who would claim credit to the creation of an invention used in the brutal extra-legal murders of more than 5,000 Americans between 1890 and 1960 alone, should not claim credit. He should be lynched.
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Monday, September 07, 2009

MUD IN YOUR EYE

I keep reading that the election of 1884 was one of the “dirtiest” in American history, which strikes me as saying that a sewer is dirtier than a septic tank. Still I have to admit that there was a lot of mud flung around by James Blaine and Grover Cleveland. And as usual, he who flung the most, won. Blaine got in the first shot.The Democratic convention in Buffalo, New York ended on July 11th 1884, after having nominated hometown hero, “Honest” Grover “The Good” Cleveland. Just ten days later the “Buffalo Evening Telegraph” reported “A Terrible Tale”; that in 1874 Cleveland had an affair with a young widow from New Jersey, Maria Helpin. In September Mrs. Helpin had given birth to a son she named Oscar Folsom Cleveland (Folsom was the name of Cleveland’s law partner). According to the “Telegraph”, Maria ended up in an asylum and the poor innocent boy had ended up in an orphanage. The Republican faithful began the chant, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” It was a great story, and parts of it were true. But Cleveland refused to panic and instructed his followers to “Just tell the truth”, which is easy to say at those rare times when the truth actually helps you. The truth was that Mrs. Helpin had affairs with several men (something that probably happened a lot more often than anyone in 1884 was willing to publicly admit), and there were several men who might have been the father. Cleveland never admitted parentage. But he had supported the infant after Maria started drinking. Later, when it became clear Maria was not going to get sober anytime soon, Cleveland had paid her $500 to give up Oscar, and the boy was adopted by a friend of Cleveland’s, and eventually ended up graduating from medical school. So, the initial Blaine attack had resulted in Cleveland sounding more honest than before. The second Blaine attack backfired even worse.There were two “third parties” in 1884; the Greenback Party and the Prohibition Party. The Greenback Party seemed likely to hurt the Democrats most, so Blaine’s supporters actually gave them money. “The Dry’s” had nominated John St. John, three time governor of Kansas. Blaine’s people were worried that St. John would siphon off Republican votes in upstate New York. They urged St. John to drop out of the race, and when he refused they spread the story that St. John had abandoned a battered wife and child in California. Again, the smear was true, sort of. After his parents had died (when St. John was 15) he had joined the ‘49ers, looking for his fortune in the gold fields. He didn’t find gold but at the age of 19 he had found a wife and fathered a child. And at his wife’s request he had “granted” her, to use the old phrase, a divorce, before returning, broke, to Illinois.Like most smears this one hurt St. John the most amongst his most fervent supporters. Prohibitionists were always a priggish bunch of humorless unforgiving bores, and they abandoned St. John as if they had just discovered the sacramental wine was actual wine. But St. John had that other trait you often find in prohibitionists; he considered revenge a matter of principle. Knowing he now stood no chance of even winning Kansas, St. John concentrated his efforts in upstate New York, just the place the Republicans were the most worried about.Meanwhile, James Blaine, the Republican candidate, had his own problems, with the “Mugwumps”. This was yet another group of holier than thou Victorian prigs, but these prigs were Republicans, and they had a hard time deciding whether or not to support Blaine because he was so…well, crooked. They took their name from a supposed Algonquin word for “big leader”, but it was "New York Sun" columnist Charles Dana who defined them as Republicans who had their “mugs” on one side of the fence and their “wumps” on the other. Republican commentators went so far as to imply that the Mugwumps were “effete”, or to use the 1884 vernacular, “Man millners”, or the 2004 vernacular, homosexuals.Meanwhile the Democrats were throwing everything they could think of at "James Blaine, the Continental Liar From the State of Maine", such as calling him "Slippery Jim". They dragged up the old charge of “Burn this letter after reading”. And the Indianapolis Sentinel even discovered that Blaine had married his wife only after her father had threatened him with a shotgun. Blaine sued for liable but the paper then produced the certificates showing the couple had been married in March, 1851 and their first child had been born less than three months later. Blaine came up with a story about two ceremonies, one private in 1850, and a public wedding a year later, but by the time he finish the audience had turned to the comic pages. But the final nail in Blaine’s coffin was supposedly driven in by the Reverend Samuel Burchard, who at a New York City Republican rally, with Blaine sitting at the dais, charged that the Democrats stood for “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion”. The press had a field day, implying the phrase was anti-southern and anti-Catholic, (which it was) and that by his silence Blaine had approved of it. But that last part was absurd. Blaine’s mother was a practicing Catholic. His sister was a nun. The Republicans had been hoping to attract some Catholic votes away from the Democrats. But none of that mattered to the press, or to the Democrats who publicly organized Catholic Democratic lawyers in case they had to contest the official election results from New York. The truth was none of that really mattered.In the end it is difficult to say precisely why Cleveland won and Blaine lost. The popular vote cast on Election Day, November 4, 1884, was four million eight hundred seventy-four thousand for Cleveland (48.5%) and four million eight hundred forty-eight thousand (48.2%) for Blaine. But as we all know the popular vote is meaningless. What counted was the Electoral College, and there Cleveland won two hundred nineteen votes to one hundred eighty-two for Blaine, giving Cleveland a 37 vote electoral victory. The difference was New York State’s 36 votes which Cleveland won by a mere 1,047 votes out of one million one hundred twenty-five thousand and forty-eight votes cast in that state. I think what made those 1,047 votes so powerful were the twenty-four thousand nine hundred ninety-nine votes cast for Prohibitionist Party candidate John St, John in upstate New York. It may have been the last time a prohibitionist could proudly say, “Here’s mud in your eye.”
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A POLITICIAN BY CHOICE

I blame the Democrats for what happened to James Gillespie Blaine. The donkeys were supposed to be doing their nominal job of keeping Republicans honest, but because the Democrats jumped the ideology shark and backed the South in the run up to the Civil War, there weren’t a lot of them around when James was first elected to congress in 1862 as a Republican. Nor was it James’s fault that his brother-in-law, Eben C. Stanwood, was so greedy. There was a lot of money floating around Washington during the civil war, the kind of money even a brother-in-law could get his hands on, and James Blaine would have been a saint if he hadn’t been tempted by the offer on the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. Of course Blaine didn’t have to jump in quite so enthusiastically… The Little Rock Railroad was supposed to have been completed before the war, but it went bankrupt. And that was when Boston speculator Josiah Fisher convinced a group of investors (including the brother-in-law Eben) to buy up the worthless stock. It was Eben - and another crooked “investor” named Joshua Caldwell - who dangled fat sales commission checks in front of the new Congressman Blaine. And from the second he heard about the idea Blaine wanted in. In fact, Blaine wrote to Fisher on the 10th of September 1867, in a letter marked “Strictly Private”, “…my position will enable me to render you services of vital importance and value….I do not feel I shall be a dead head....Are you not willing to aid me (elsewhere) where you can do so with profit to yourself at the same time?” Fisher did not reply to this crude solicitation, so evidently Blaine paid him a visit in person. We know about the agreement they reached because Blaine was helpful enough to lay out the details in a second letter he wrote to Fisher, which he helpfully marked “Burn after Reading.” By September of 1869 Blaine had sold over $130,000 in Little Rock railroad bonds (worth about $2 million today), mostly to other railroad barons. And he had been paid very handsome commissions for those sales. By then passengers could board the train in Little Rock. However they were required to cover the last fifty miles to Fort Smith in a stagecoach, a 3 ½ hour living hell of dust, mud and potholes. Not surprisingly, the railroad went bankrupt yet again. But despite this Blaine was still demanding that he be “compensated” for having done the favor for the bankrupt business venture. This was in addition to the commission checks he had cashed long ago. Fisher was reluctant to treat Blaine kindly, until one of the other robber barons reminded Fisher, “…it is important that he should be conciliated…However unreasonable in his demand he may appear to you…he should in some manner be appeased.” So Speaker Blaine was “appeased” with loans he was not expected to repay. But Banker Fisher was not likely to forget he had been made to feel like one of the suckers of his own scam. After serving three profitable terms as Speaker, James Blaine stepped down so he could concentrate on a run for the White House. As the campaign season of 1876 approached, he was a serious possibility. However, things had changed in Washington by then. The Democrats were back, and had captured control of the House of Representatives. That gave them the power of subpoena, and they used it to subpoena a certain Mr. James Mulligan, who was a Boston bookkeeper in the employ of Banker Josiah Fisher. Remember him?It seems that Mr. Mulligan had never burned an incriminating letter in his life. On May 31st , 1876 under the gentle guidance of Judiciary Committee Chairman, Democrat Proctor Knott (I love that name!), Mr. Mulligan casually admitted that he had in his possession “certain letters written by Rep. Blaine to Mr. Fisher”. Given the high sign by Blaine, the senior Republican on the committee immediately moved to adjourn for the day. That night Rep. Blaine appeared at Mr. Mulligan’s door at the Riggs House hotel, and proceeded to chase Mulligan all over his room, begging and whining and reminding Mulligan what disgrace would mean to Blaine's children. Finally, in the spirit of fairness and embarrassment Mulligan allowed the Congressman to read the letters. But once he had his hands on them Blaine announced that since they were “his” letters he was going to keep them, and left with the letters safely in his own pocket. On the floor of Congress the next day the Democrats demanded that Blaine hand the letters back over. Finally, on June fifth, James Blaine rose to speak in front of packed House galleries. He thundered, “I have defied the power of the House to compel me to produce these letters…but, sir,…I am not afraid to show the letters. Thank God Almighty, I am not afraid to show them.” As proof of his willingness, he showed the letters. He waved them over his head. “These are they…and with some sense of humiliation,…with a sense of outrage which I think any man in my position would feel, I invite the confidence of 44 million of my countrymen while I read those letters from this desk.” And so he did, with commentary and asides in his own defense. The Republicans were persuaded, but the Democrats were not. Having read the letters himself Chairman Knott knew that Blaine had avoided reading certain incriminating sections of the letters, and he rose to challenge Blaine’s version. And that was when James Blaine pulled the rabbit out of his hat. He quietly asked Knott if the committee had received a transatlantic cable from Joshua Caldwell (remember him??), supporting Blaine’s version of events. In fact Caldwell had sent such a cable. But Caldwell was a well known liar, and nobody in their right mind would believe anything he said - certainly Proctor didn't. Still, that was not the question. Rep. Blaine stomped right up to Proctor’s desk and accused him, nose to nose, of suppressing the Caldwell cable. Blushing, Proctor was forced to stammer that indeed they had received such a cable. The galleries erupted in thunderous applause for Blaine. Chairman Proctor Knott himself described it as “…one of the most extraordinary exhibitions of histrionic skill, one of the most consummate pieces of acting that ever occurred upon any stage on earth.” Blaine had so completely turned the tables on the Democrats that nobody except them seemed to notice that he had not, in fact, denied the basic allegations of bribery in the letters.Still, the effort had extracted a toll on Congressman Blaine. That Sunday he collapsed on the front steps of his church, and passed out. He was bedridden for several weeks and the committee investigation faded until it simply evaporated. But James G. Blaine's dreams of the White House had to be put off for the time being. Of course, being one of the biggest egomaniacs of his age, he never said never. And come 1884 he would try for the White House yet again. Which is when those letters would resurface.

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