AUGUST   2020


Friday, December 31, 2010


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 (above) 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 (above), 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 2011 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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Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I guess it all goes back to the bubbles. They are what attracted that feckless paranoid lunatic Philip IV. As King he was responsible for the economic collapse of medieval France. And the recovery, which finally came after 700 years of poverty and travails, can be traced directly to the Blanc de noirs stained front door of the Abby of Hauntvillers, bottlers of the monastic barfly’s inebriate of choice, the cheap bubbly booze of the pre-bubonic Benedictine generation, champagne.
You see, the Champagne plateau (about 100 miles Northwest of Paris) is so far north that the grapes ripen very late in the year. Now, in standard fermentation, the yeast eats the sugar in the grape juice. The sugar is converted into alcohol and the yeast farts cabon dioxide, until all the sugar is consumed and then the yeast dies. But the wine produced in Champagne was different in two ways. First, the grapes were very sweet to begin with, so sweet that the yeast farted so much CO2 that the wine was filled with bubbles. And second, the wine was bottled so late in the year that there was always yeast still surviving when temperatures dropped low enough to stop the fermentation in each bottle.
Usually the monks drank the juice while it was still saccharine, and what a sad bunch of alcoholics they must have been. But in the bottles and the casks the monks could not consume over the winter (and they tried to drink it all), the spring temperatures re-started the fermentation. Occasionally so much more CO2 built up in the bottles that come summer, they exploded.
Also, the stuff just did not taste very good. And other than the few souls who would have drunk aftershave if aftershave had been invented yet, the residents of Champagne mostly drank Burgundy. Even the vino impaired English resisted consuming the “weird and foaming” wine the Counts of Champagne tried to unload on them. I suspect, if the locals could have drunk the water without drying, they would have stomped the champaign grape vines. But they couldn't, so the vines themselves only survived because of tradition.
Once every generation a new French King was crowned in Reims, 37 Kings in all between 816 A.D. and 1825 A.D. They used the local effervescence to anoint their new monarch, and to drink a toast in his honor, a real test of their gag reflex, no doubt. But beyond that passing tribute, “dry and beggarly” Champagne remained a stagnant social backwater –until the importation of capitalism.
Did you know that the Muslims invented capitalism? The original dollar was the dinar. Muslims formed the first stock companies, the first banks and offered the first lines of credit. Very astute, these Muslims; because they were promoted based on talent rather than on blood lines. So the hereditary kings of Christendom were behind the eight ball on this one. Which is why it wasn’t until after the Northern Italians profited from the capitalist tricks they picked up from their Islamic trading partners that Northern Europe was finally opened for business.
The Champagne Fairs really got running smoothly about 1270, and they resembled the NASCA season. Every January the season opened at Lagny. This was followed by the Fair at Bar-sur-Aube, the May Fair in Provins, the “hot air” Fair at Troyes, then back to Provins for a second fair, a fair at Reims, and the “cold air” Fair at Troyes in November. Six towns and about a five weeks for each fair - a week for the set up; stocking the warehouses (the Fairs were strictly wholesale), establishing bank credit (everything was financed by the Italians), partnership contracts were signed, rates of exchange were agreed upon and stalls set up, where the actual business would be conducted. Then there would be a week concentrating on cloth sales (60 European towns sold their wool only at the Fairs), followed by a week of leather sales, a week for spices, and a closing week of hard commodities, grains, salt and metals. Then there would be a week taking delivery and paying debts and sharing profits, before moving on. It was a huge clockwork enterprise that developed over a century. But what made it all possible was that evil, evil, evil horror of all horrors to any modern capitalists – BIG GOVERNMENT!
As is noted in Wikipedia, the Counts of Champagne guaranteed “security and property rights of merchants…ensuring that contracts signed at the fairs would be honored throughout (Europe). The Counts provided the fairs with 140 Guards who heard complaints and enforced contracts…weights and measures were strictly regulated.…” The French King even granted free and safe conduct to merchants traveling to and from the fairs, for a cut of the profits, of course. It all functioned because the Counts of Champagne established the fundamental structure without which capitalism cannot exist; regulation.
It seems, having grown up in a capitalistic system, we assume a free market is the natural state of affairs. It isn’t. Regulations create the market. Regulations define the market. Regulations maintain the market. And when the regulations are not maintained and enforced, the market collapses. And the dinars hit the fan when control of Champagne passed from the reliable Counts to the King of France, Philip IV; the George W. Bush of medieval Europe.
You see Philip was drunk on his own hot air. To finance his dependency he spent his entire life looking for the next bank account to plunder. He gained control of Champagne province when he married 13 year old Joan I, the Countess of Champagne, in 1284. The Fairs supplied him with enough money for wars against the English and two wars in Flanders, one of which he won. The Guards became political appointees, who bought their offices from the King, and who became addicted to bribes just like the King. Tariff’s were now levied on every wagon load of goods bound to and from The Fairs. And internal border crossings, each exacting a tariff, began to multiply across France as Philip’s losses increased. Philip destroyed the Fairs by removing the regulations that defined the market, and piling on taxes not tied to their profits. And just as the profits from the Fairs began to drop off, about 1306, Joan died. There is some mystery about why. Some say it was while giving birth; some say that Philip had her poisoned. I’ll bet it was both.
A year later, Philip expelled the Jews from France - after seizing their property of course. A year after that, on October 13, 1307, Philip wiped out his debts to the Knights Templers by arresting all of them – and seizing their property, of course. Later, when their Grand Master refused to admit to even more hidden wealth which Phillip was certain the Knights had, Philip had him slowly barbecued, Texas style.
And then, because there wasn’t anybody left still doing business in France to steal from, Philip began seizing Church property. The church objected but that only slowed Philip down, it did not stop him. And when a French Cardinal was elected Pope, Philip had him placed under house arrest in Avignon, thus ensuring Philip could now plunder all the church accounts he could reach.
By the time Philip died of a stroke in 1314, he had reduced France and Champagne to a disaster area. The Fairs were history, France and the Champagne were broke. A bright, brief shinning light had been snuffed out by greed and stupidity wearing a crown.
Things did not begin to improve again for the backwater province until 1688, when the Abby of Hautvillers received a new treasurer and cellar master, Dom Pierre Perignon. Pierre did not invent champagne. He did not discover it. In fact he saw it as his personal obligation to turn the bubbly into a dull flat dark wine. He failed miserably – Thank God. Because it was Perignon who made champagne drinkable, by accident.
I should point out here the obvious, which is that until the 20th century far more people died drinking water than from drinking booze. Every drop of water was filled with pathogens, bacteria and assorted filth. ‘Passing water’ was not an idle description. You were safer drinking your own urine than from a clear rushing mountain stream. You still are. Without the addition of alcohol or chlorine, quenching your thirst with water is playing Russian roulette with bullets in five chambers.
Farmers, working the best soil available, grew wheat and hops to brew beer. And monks, who usually established their monasteries on poor soil, grew grapes and fermented wine. Without a source of potable water, meaning a drinkable fluid, a monastery could not survive. Without a decent tasting wine to sell, a monastery could not thrive.
After 47 years of – dare I say it? – religious attention to detail, Pierre turned the haphazard blending of wines in the Champagne region into an art. He perfected the making of a white wine from the best of dark grapes, the Pinot Noir mixed with the Chardonnay. Under Father Perignon the cuvee, or the vat, in which each blend was made, became the measure of Champagne, the equivalent of its vintage. He added an English bottle, stronger than the French ones, to restrain the 90 pounds of pressure per square inch generated by all that carbon dioxide farted out by the yeast. And by the time he died in 1715 Dom Perignon had created something close to the Champagne we drink today.
Today, just down the road from the Abby of Hauntvillers, lies the village of Epernay, on the banks of the river Marne. Within a few square miles of L’Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, in some 200 million bottles yeast is happily frarting away. Those bottles of that “weird and foaming” wine, make Epernay in “dry and beggarly” Champagne, the richest little village in France.
And they might have made it there sooner if Philip IV had just stuck to the rules, and gotten drunk on the vino, instead of the bubbles.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


“Love is often gentle, desire always a rage.”
Mignon McLaughlin
I suppose, if Leland Stanford had his way, the little village of Lathrop would have been one of the most important cities in California. Leland was one of the Big Four who built the California half of the first trans-continental railroad, supposedly completed in the summer of 1869. But rails did not reach unbroken to the western sea until November, when Leland’s own California Pacific Railroad finished a bridge over the San Joaquin River, just south of Lathrop. Only then could you travel by rail all the way from sea to shinning sea. That bridge is still in use. But Lathrop never grew beyond a village. And the hamlet’s only historical claim to fame, other than the bridge, is that Lathrop is where the insanity of Althea Hill and David Terry played out its dénouement.
“Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.”
Samuel Johnson
After their arrest and conviction for the courtroom outbursts of 1888, Althea and David Terry were not shy about their rage toward Judge Fields. During transport to Alameda county jail, Althea repeatedly said she intended to kill the judge. And David went so far as to invite a newspaper man, Thomas Williams, to conduct an interview while he served his sentence, announcing his intention of slapping the judge, and “…if Judge Field resists, I will kill him.” That interview, published in the San Francisco papers, and subsequent letters David Terry wrote other newspapers, made the couple’s rage unambiguous.
That is why, when Justice Field came back to California in the spring of 1889 to help out in the court, he was assigned to Los Angeles, far away from Terry’s old haunts in San Francisco, and he was given a body guard.
 The man chosen by Field’s friends was William Neagle, an ex-Marshall of Tombstone, Arizona, and the very same man, now a U.S. Marshall, who had disarmed David Terry in the courtroom confrontation. But after an uneventful summer, when Justice Field took the afternoon train from Los Angeles on Tuesday, August 13, 1889, bound for Sacramento to connect with the transcontinental train, Marshal Neagle was still traveling with him.
As the train headed north, at each station, Marshal Neagle stepped off to observe who was boarding the train. At about 3:00 a.m., when the train paused in Fresno, California, Neagle saw Althea and David Terry boarding. The Marshal immediately informed Judge Field, who was asleep in his compartment. The cantankerous old judge grunted, “Very well”, before adding, “I hope they have a good night.” With that Judge Field went back to sleep, and Neagle sent a telegram ahead to Lathop, to notify the railroad agent there, that there might be trouble in the morning.
“It is foolish to pretend that one is fully recovered from a disappointed passion. Such wounds always leave a scar.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Lathrop was where the rail line from Los Angles and the Central Valley of California, joined the line from Oakland, on San Francisco Bay. Here in Lathrop, in 1871, Stanford's California Pacific Railroad had opened the largest hotel in California, built for the astronomical sum of $50,000, with an enormous dinning room, to handle the 12 passenger trains a day that paused in tiny Lathrop to switch engines and crews. In 1886 the original hotel had burned down but it was quickly rebuilt, and dozens of independent hotels and restaurants sprang up to compete with the railroad for the new tourist business. And that was why it was in Lathrop that Althea and David Terry made their final stand.
“The only sin passion can commit is to be joyless.”
Dorothy Sayers
In the morning of Wednesday, August 14th , the Los Angeles train pulled into Lathrop (above). Judge Field was determined to have breakfast, and he and Marshal Neagle were the first two admitted into the dinning room, escorted to their seats by the restaurant manager, Mr. Stackpole. A few moments later, Stackpole guided Althea and David Terry past the two men to seats at a nearby table. Under Stackpole’s nervous eye, there was a moment of tension, before Althea whispered to David, and then proceeded to quickly leave the restaurant and return to the train.
As she did this, Mr. Stackpole, who had been warned by the earlier telegram, stepped forward to David and asked if the lady was about to do something “indiscrete”. David asked, “Why? Who is here?” Stackpole answered “Judge Field”. Was it possible they had not seen the Judge and his bodyguard as they came in? The big man stared at the judge for a moment and then urged Stackpole, “Go and watch her! Go and watch her.” Stackkpole rushed out of the room, and David’s way was now clear. The 66 year old strode up behind Judge Field.
“Subdue your passion or it will subdue you.”
Terry slapped the seated Judge across both cheeks, as if intending to precipitate a duel. But Marshal Neagle had no intention of observing social conventions. As he stood he shouted, identifying himself as a police officer, and ordered Terry to stop. Instead, Terry reached inside his jacket, where Neagle knew from personal experience, that Terry carried his bowie knife. It had been Neagle who had disarmed Terry in the courtroom a year earlier. Without further intercourse, Marshal Neagle drew his pistol and shot David Terry directly in the heart. The old fool dropped dead so fast that Neagle’s second shot, fired immediately after the first, only clipped Terry’s ear as he went to to the floor.
Right on cue, while the smoke still hung in the air, and the witnesses’ ears were still ringing, Althea reentered the dinning room. She shrieked and Stockpole, who was following her closely, grabbed her handbag. In the bag, the manager found a loaded pistol. Althea began to scream for vengeance, and fell upon her husband’s body. Marshal Neagle was convinced she used her body to shield her removal of David’s bowie knife. But whether she did or not, when Terry's body was examined later by local police, no weapons were found.
“Anger is the most impotent of passions. It effects nothing it goes about, and hurts the one who is possessed by it more than the one against whom it is directed.”
Carl Sandburg
The dead man had lived most of his life in Stockton, the next stop north on the rail line. The suddenly widowed Mrs. Terry was thus surrounded by friendly officials, who arrested Judge Field and Marshal Neagle for the murder. The governor immediately ordered Justice Field, a member of the Supreme Court,  released without bail, before his arrest became a “burning disgrace” to California. The marshal however was transported to jail in Stockton.
Judge Fields telegraphed the Marshals’ office in Stockton, which immediately notified the U.S. Attorney General, “David A. Terry grossly accosted Justice Field at Lathop station this morning and was shot dead by my deputy.” Shortly there after, Sheriff Thomas Cunningham of San Joaquin County was served with a writ of habeus corpus, to deliver Marshal Neagle to the Federal Court in San Francisco.
The California Attorney General appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling, which was required because Marshal Neagle had not been officially assigned to protect Judge Field. And the court, sitting with Justice Field abstaining, decided “…any duty of the marshal to be derived from the general scope of his duties under the laws of the United States, is ‘a law’ within the meaning of this phrase.” In short, defending judges is the duty of officers of the court, and does not require a specific statute. Althea would get nothing for her efforts except the life’s blood of the man who had defended her.
"In her first passion, a woman loves her lover. In all the others, all she loves is love.”
Lord Byron
Justice Field hung onto his position after his colleges were aware he was senile, merely because he wanted to set the precedent as the longest serving justice on the court. Evidently, being known as the best did not interest him. Having achieved his goal, he finally stepped down in 1897, and died in 1899.
In 1892, four years after David Terry’s death, Sarah Althea Hill (Sharon) Terry was committed to the Stockton State Hospital for the Insane. She was 33 year old, just about the right age for the full onset of schizophenia. Althea lived within that institution’s walls for the next forty-five years. She died at the age of 80, appropiately enough on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1937.  And then they got her name wrong on the tombstone. If I was the guy who carved  that, I would keep looking over my shoulder.
“Man is to be found in reason, God in the passions.”
George Lichtenberg
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