JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Friday, August 20, 2010


I would say that John C. Fremont is proof of Garrison Keillor’s observation that, “God writes a lot of comedy. The trouble is, he’s stuck with so many bad actors who don’t know how to play funny.” And that was why God created Charles Preuss.
The 27 year old Lt. John C. Fremont (above) first met the 39 year old Charles Preuss just before Christmas of 1841. Fremont was an impulsive egomaniacal young officer with a character flaw, described succinctly by author Ferol Egan as, “He lacked character.” Typical of his spontaneous nature was Fremont’s hiring of the methodical and dour cartographer Preuss on the spot simply because the father of two was broke. But if Fremont had rescued this European urbanite from poverty, he had also sentenced Preuss to five months of intensive labor, trapped in the wilderness with a lunatic, i.e. Fremont. The straight man and his second banana had met.
“We set out on the morning of the 10th (of June, 1842)”, wrote Fremont, as his 21 men left the site of present day Kansas City, seeking to map the eastern half of the Oregon Trail. The expedition was “well armed and mounted, with the exception of eight men, who conducted as many carts, in which were packed our stores, with the baggage and instruments…” Once truly upon the sea of grass Fremont waxed poetic. “Everywhere the rose is met with…It is scattered over the prairies in small bouquets, and, when glittering in the dews and waving in the pleasant breeze of the early morning, is the most beautiful of the prairie flowers.”
The same terrain failed to find the poet in Mr. Preuss, writing in German for his personal diary. “Eternal prairie and grass… Fremont prefers this to every other landscape. To me it is as if some one would prefer a book with blank pages to a good story….I wish I were in Washington (D.C.)”.  And always hovering over Mr. Preuss there was the energetic and annoying commander. “There was such a hurry this morning, that Fremont became angry when my horse urinated. He whipped its tail when it had only half relieved nature.”
In Fremont’s record the expedition seems triumphant over every obstacle. “We reached the ford of the Kansas late in the afternoon of the 14th…(it) was sweeping with an angry current. The man at the helm was timid on water, and in his alarm capsized the boat…” The timid man at the helm was, of course, Preuss, who blamed his near drowning on the decision to chance the current at all. “It was certainly stupid of the young chief to be so foolhardy where the terrain was absolutely unknown.”
Unaccustomed to riding horseback, Preuss’ thighs quickly became chapped and Fremont gracefully put him on a cart. But the Prussian was not grateful. “I have bruised my nose in this cart because of the bumpy road….I miss my wife.” A few days later Preuss insisted on halting to sketch a distant cluster of trees, until the forest moved. He had spotted the expedition’s first sight of a buffalo herd.
This became the occasion for a feast described by Fremont (“At any time of the night might be seen pieces of the most delicate and choicest meat, roasting…on sticks around the fire”) and by Preuss (“We start with the bullion which is, of course, not skimmed off. If one could eliminate the dirt it would be a delicate broth. The marrow was too raw and too fat for my taste, the ribs, likewise, too raw”) It is almost as if they are on separate picnics.
On July 10th Fremont notes, “For a short distance our road lay down the valley of the Platte, which resembled a garden in the splendor of fields of varied flowers, which filled the air with fragrance.” Meanwhile Preuss struggled to learn the art of survival from men like scout Kit Carson. “I have decided to imitate one of our hunters by keeping my shirt on my body until it falls off.” But experience eventually lead him to a happier solution. “I was lucky to engage one of the men to do my laundry.” Still, by Fort Laramie in present day Wyoming, Preuss was wearing two pairs of pants at a time “…so that one can cover the holes in the other.”
In mid August, with Preuss having mapped the south pass through the Rockies, Fremont picked a mountain almost at random and draged the party on a six day, five night exertion through snow and ice to the peak.
"I sprang upon the summit, and…fixing a ramrod in a crevice, unfurled the national flag to wave in the breeze where never flag waved before….We had climbed the loftiest peak of the Rocky mountains, and looked down upon the snow a thousand feet below; and, standing where never human foot had stood before, felt the exultation of first explorers.”
It was an inspiring moment, soon to be recorded in paintings and poetry, but as Preuss suspected Fremont had not climbed the highest mountain in the Rockies. He had not even climbed the highest mountain in Wyoming. But the bold commander took the time while on the summit to insist his freezing companions suffer through to a speech. And only then was Mr. Preuss allowed time to read his barometer and sketch the landscape. Then, Preuss groused to his journal, “As on the entire journey Fremont allowed me only a few minutes for my work….After about fifteen minutes we started on our return trip.” On the way back down the mountain in the dark Preuss fell and tore his only pair of pants. He began to refer to Fremont as “The Field Marshal”.
On October 10th, the expedition returned to the mouth of the Kansas River, and by the end of October Fremont and Preuss were back in Washington. In the spring of 1843 Fremont’s report was released (AN EXPLORATION OF THE COUNTRY LYING BETWEEN THE MISSOURI RIVER AND THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS…), and “touched off a wave of wagon caravans filled with hopeful emigrants” heading west. Fremont became famous as “The Pathfinder”, even though all the paths he found had already been found, and it was Preuss who drew the first accurate maps of them.
But Preuss’ diary would not be translated and published until the 1950’s. And only then would it become clear that John C. Fremont, long ago written off as a pompous self promoter, was actually one of the funniest writers in American history. As a social commentator once observed, “Life is full of second bananas. But they are never really funny without a straight man.”
- 30 -

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I believe that Harry Croswell may be best explained by a story he told about himself. One of his victims, a local Justice of the Peace named Hagedorn, spotted the young newspaperman about to cross a street in the river port boom-town of Hudson, New York (above). It sat on the east bank of the river, about 30 miles south of Albany. Without warning Hagedorn, an enormous man, leapt from the driver’s seat and confronted the unsuspecting Harry. Standing toe to toe, Justice Hagedorn hotly accused Harry of slandering him in his newspaper, and threatened to whip Harry soundly. Harry calmly responded that he did not believe that Hagedorn would “whip” him. The offended justice exploded in a stream of profanity and insults, and without touching Harry, spun on his heels, remounted his carriage again and whipped his “poor horse” instead. As the mad Justice disappeared down the street a witness asked Harry how he could have been so certain the J.P. would not have used a horse whip on him, to which Harry replied, “Mainly because I planned to run away.”
Harry lived in a world not so different from our own. True, he never experienced the joys of indoor plumbing, nor the miracles of modern medicine, but his America was a land bitterly divided, plagued by partisanship, confused by conspiracy theories right and left, and afflicted with a media that fanned the flames of discord in the name of profit. Of course, the American republic of Harry Croswell’s day had a valid excuse for its childish behavior; it was little more than a child itself.
First, Congress had passed the Naturalization Act, of June 18, 1798. Openly supported by outgoing President George Washington, (above) it required that anyone applying for citizenship first be a resident for at least 14 years. (At this point it had only been 22 years since the Declaration of Independence)
Then there was the Alien Friends Act, of June 25, which authorized President John Adams (above) to deport any resident alien whom he personally considered dangerous. This was followed by the Alien Enemies Act of July 6, which allowed the President to deport any alien whose original nation was currently at war with the United States. And finally, there was the Sedition Act of July 14, 1798. This made it a crime to publish anything “false, scandalous, and malicious” about the government or its officials. Taken together these were the Alien and Sedition Acts, a sort 18th century version of the Patriot Act.
The acts were the creation of the Federalist President John Adams, supported by his Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton (above).
And few in the country had any doubt that they were aimed at the friends and allies of Vice President Thomas Jefferson (above).
To oversimply the situation, the Federalists were in favor of a strong central government, while Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans were in favor of strong states. The contest between the two philosophies seemed to have been decided in 1800 when Jeffereson was swept into office, succeding the one term Adams. But as soon as President Jefferson had the reins of power in his hands he began to beat the horse he rode into the White House on, just as President Adams had.
In fact most of this hysteria was started by the Republican side. James Callender, Jefferson’s personal attack dog, actually called George Washington, the father-of-our-country, a traitor. Philip Freneau’s “National Gazette” described Washington’s speeches as the “discharged loathings of a sick mind.” In response the restrained Gentleman of Mount Vernon canceled his subscription to Bache’s paper. But Bache paid for Washington's subscription himself, and continued to mail it to the President’s house.
I am tempted to describe the string of vitrial pouring from Jefferson’s publishers as a sort of Fox Network News of its day. But in fact the Federalists opposition in New York City, funded by Alexander Hamilton, had its own foul mouthpiece in NYC, the Evening Post, a newspaper which eventually became the New York Post, the current voice of Fox News in the big apple. In any case, having put himself in the drivers seat, the Sage of Montocello was not shy about using the Federalists weapons he had just denounced. And his first targer was 22 year old Harry Crosswell.
The “tall, and manly” Harry Crosswell, was the son of a Conneticut preacher. His tutor had been the old Federalists, Noah Webster, of the dictionary fame. Harry began his carreer as an assistant editor on the Hudson, New York Federalist newspaper the “Balance”. But in 1802 when Hudson Republicans started an attack sheet called “The Bee”, Harry convinced his publisher to fund a Federalist four page attack sheet in response, called “The Wasp”. He wrote under the pename of “Robert Rusticoat”, and pledged that “Wherever the Bee ranges, the Wasp will follow…Without attempting to please his friends, the Wasp will only strive to displease, vex and torment his enemies .” And he did.
Most of his really nasty material Harry reprinted from the pen of James Callender, the ex confidant of Jefferson himself. In 1801, when Jefferson refused to name Callender Postmaster for Virginia, Callender turned on his one-time master. In his own Virginia newspaper, Callander detailed how Jefferson had fed him word for word the vile attacks upon Washington. And it was Callander who first printed the story of Jefferson’s liaisons with his slave, Sally Hemings, and their many offspring. And Harry reprinted every one of the salacious details in The Wasp.
In January of 1803, Harry Croswell was dragged before three part-time Republican judges and charged with “... being a malicious and seditious man, and of depraved mind and wicked and diabolical disposition, and also deceitfully, wickedly and maliciously devising, contriving and intending, toward Thomas Jefferson, Esquire, President of the United States of America, to detract from, scandalize, traduce and vilify, and to represent him… as unworthy of the confidence, respect and attachment of the people of the said United States…”
Now this was nothing new for Harry. He was constantly being sued by his targets, such as the angry Mr, Hagedorn, J.P. But this time the Jeffersonians were determined to bring the full weight of their political power to bear. Harry’s lawyers requested copies of the indictments; denied. They requested a delay to bring James Callender up from Virginia, to testify; denied. They requested a change of venue; denied. After six months of motions and denials, the case was finally went to the jury, and Chief Justice Morgan Lewis’ instructions sealed Harry’s fate. “The law is settled. The truth of the matter published cannot be given in evidence.”
This was old English Common Law, the standard still in use. And under its rules, the jury retired at sunset, and at 8 A.M. the next morning convicted Harry. His lawyers immediately filed an appeal for a new trial, and while that was heard, at least Harry was out of jail. This was a blessing because over the summer his primary witness for the defence, James Callender, scorned confidant of Thomas Jefferson, and life-long alcoholic, fell into mud flats along the James River in Richmond, and drowned.
But speaking for the defense before the New York Supreme Court, on February 13, 1804, was Jefferson's nemises, Alexander Hamilton himself. He argued that the only restraint on publishers should reside not with the government and politicians, but with the “occasional and fluctuating group of common citizens” sitting on juries. Only if a charge was untrue, and only if the writer had reason to know it was untrue, should it be considered slander; or so argued Alexander Hamilton.
The New York State Supreme Court agreed. They overturned Harry’s conviction and ordered a new trial. But by then the political winds had shifted, and the vision of Republican politicians arguing they should be exempt from public criticism, was unappealing to Republican politicians. The New York Legislature re-wrote their libel and slander laws, and Harry was brought up on new charges. And he was convicted again. The jury awarded the plaintiff exactly six cents, which wasn’t a lot of money, even for 1804.
Harry Croswell was now made senior editor of the Balance. But the fire had gone out of the Federalists cause. In 1811, having served a short term in debtor’s prison, Harry retired from politics completely; he never even voted again. Instead, he became an Episcopal Minister and eventually was assigned the Trinity Church in New Haven. He preached there for 43 years. Said one of his flock of the man, “He was not a great preacher, but he had an extraordinary knowledge of human nature, and could ingratiate himself into every man's heart.”
Thus, the changed Harry Crosswell,  died on March 13th , 1858, at 80 years old..
- 30 -

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I have begun to wonder just how we can end will the war in Afgahnistan. In this endevor we are haunted by the old dictum from General U.S. Grant; "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender." But the reality is that when Grant demanded those terms at Fort Donaldson in 1862, they were rejected by the Confederate commander. And Grant immediately modified them. We issued the same demand in World War Two, and the “Greatest Generation” still expects all American wars to end like World War Two in Europe did. But like Fort Donaldson, even WWII did not end in "total" victory. No war does. So just how do you end a war, particularly after you back yourself into a corner by demanding "unconditional surrender"? Let me try to explain by looking at how we ended World War Two in the Pacific, the most heartless bloodbath America has ever been caught up in.
Logically, America and Japan's war in the Pacific should have ended on Sunday, July 9th, 1944. On that day, at 16:15 hours (4:15pm local time), Admiral Richmond J. Turner declared the island of Saipan secured. The battle had been decisive. In defending Saipan the Japanese Imperial Fleet had lost its offensive arm in the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, where three of their aircraft carriers were sunk and 600 aircraft and pilots were destroyed. The United States lost just 123 planes, and 80 of those experienced crews had been  rescued. On the ground 30,000 Japanese soldiers and 22,000 civilians had died for the emperor. The United States lost about 2,949 dead, and 10,364 wounded. And the Americans took the island.
While some Japanese soldiers would hold out in the jungles on Siapan until December of 1945, they were no more than a minor annoyance. Even before Admiral Turner’s pronouncement, U.S. Navy Construction Battalions (C.B.’s) had begun turning the island into the world’s largest airport, from which, eventually, 2,000 B-29’s would turn Japanese factories and cities into torches. The loss of the their fleet air power and the loss of the Marianas islands, Saipan, Guam and Tinian, meant that the Japanese had lost the war.
The Japanese knew it. Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, the architect of the war with America, and his entire cabinet resigned, nine days after Admiral Turner's pronouncement. It was clear to every Japanese  commander that the Japan could not withstand the American onslaught, that at Siapan Japan had lost the war. But Japanese leaders now held onto the idea that if they could bleed America enough, if the Japanese could kill enough Americans in just one more big battle, they would win a more favorable peace from the Americans. But as the war continued this would prove to be a fantasy. In conquering the Philippines the U.S. suffered 14,000 dead and 48,00 wounded, at Iwo Jima 8,621 dead and 19,189 wounded, and at Okinawa, on the threshold of Japan itself, America suffered 12,513 dead and 38,513 wounded And still the American military continued to advance.
And while it is true that Japanese losses were even higher, (336,000 dead in the Philippines, 21,000 on Iwo, and 130,000 on Okinawa), even after those bloodbaths, the Japanese made no attempt to even hint that they might be willing to negotiate a peace. And there was no evidence that America was having any second thoughts about "total victory" either. In my personal estimation, Japan's silence and unwillingness to negotiate, given the strategy they were following, amounted to mass murder of their own citizens and soldiers and of the U.S. forces closing in on them, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of civilians from occupied nations caught between the avenging Americans and the silent fatalistic fanatics of Japan.
It seemed impossible that the Japanese and Americans were going to find a way to end this war, before they were both destroyed by it.
- 30-

Blog Archive