I do not doubt state Representative and ex-U.S. Senator James Jackson's resolve to overturn “the infamous” Yazoo Land sale. Privately he let it be known that he was prepared to challenge to a duel and shoot down every man who had voted for the sale. But in his public speeches from the floor of the assembly, he only swore to overturn the Yazoo sale, even if it cost him his life. The pledge carried weight, since Jackson was known as a duelist. But after the new state legislature convened in Louisville on 11 January, 1796, several of the members were threatened and challenged to duels unless they stopped trying to overturn the sale. Amazingly, they all forged ahead. These people were ticked off.
First things first; the assembly elected the logical Jared Irwin as the new Governor. Two years earlier this Revolutionary War hero had been called up to expel an organized group of of squatters who had occupied Indian lands just across the Florida border. Having gone to the expense and trouble to call up 1,200 militia, gathered supplies and crossed the Oconee river, everybody expected a bloody showdown. Instead, Irwin made the squatters an offer they couldn't refuse. If they would just go home, they could have amnesty for all their actions. Seeing the logic in not getting shot, and not facing jail time, the squatters went home. Clearly the logical Irwin would be a good balance to the emotional Representative Jackson.
A special committee was created – chaired by Jackson – to take testimony on the sale, and it was here that the whole sordid tale of bribery came out, under oath. If even half of the testimony was half true, a great crime had been committed in Louisville in the fall and winter of 1794-95. Jackson's report dripped with indignation. “The public good was placed entirely out of view, and private interest alone consulted;...the rights of the present generation were violated, and the rights of posterity bartered... and the principles of aristocracy established in their stead.” Now that is what a class war warrior really sounds like.
The Committee offered up what became the “Rescinding Act”, which spent a thousand words justifying itself. And then it declared the Yazoo land sales null and void. The buyers could have their money back (initial payments had been made). But Jackson insisted on going a step further. The act ordered that the government had 3 days to expunge any reference to the sale in public books. Any county officer or court clerk found with a reference to the Yazoo sale on his record books, even in the index, was to be fined $1,000 a day until the offending passage was removed. Accepting any new paperwork refereeing to the sale would result in a fine and firing. The courts were even ordered not accept any lawsuits involving the Yazoo sale. Georgia would not even respond to any future Federal lawsuits involving the sale, or so said the “Rescinding Act”. It was Orwellian two centuries before Orwell. The legislature of 1795 had all become “un-persons”, and the citizens of Georgia were in a condition the English futurist would describe as “Newspeak”.
On 13 February, 1796 both houses of the Georgia state legislature approved the Rescinding Act, by 43 to 3 in the house and in the Senate by 14 to 4. That same day Governor Irwin signed it. Immediately the state house swarmed with men wielding knives, slicing out all references to the sale. The Act also ordered what was to happen to all those edited references, three days hence. “A fire shall be made in front of the State House door, and a line to be formed by the members of both branches around the same. The Secretary of State... shall....then produce the ... usurped act... and deliver the same to... the... Messenger of the House, who shall then pronounce “God save the state! And long preserve her rights! And may every attempt to injure them perish as these corrupt acts do now!” And at about four on the afternoon of 15 February, 1796, that is exactly what happened.
The local papers published romanticized accounts of the bonfire that followed. In the Chronicle it was noted that a magnifying lens had been used to assist the sun in starting the fire. Thus, wrote the reporterr, “God Almighty is at last brought into the scrape.” But a Charleston, South Carolina newspaper also observed that the blaze was of “very little to the satisfaction of the bystanders.” It wasn't that they didn't approve of the conflagration, but they had a new worry - the entire world's economy had just dropped into the toilet. And the man who had dropped it there was the Philadelphia speculator, James Greenleaf.
Okay, maybe it wasn't all his fault. But this silver tonged liar does seem to have been at the center of all the distress in America. Mr. Greenleaf was the partner with Robert Morris and John Nicholson in the North America Land Bank. They were buying up as much land as possible to satisfy the anticipated demand from Dutch bankers, with whom young Greenleaf insisted he had intimate connections, He had proven this in 1788, when, within two weeks after arriving in Holland, the 22 year old American con man had met the Baroness Cornelia Elbertine Scholton van Ascht et Oud-Haarlem, and impregnated her. Shortly there after, he not only left town, he fled the continent.
When she turned up pregnant, her family insisted they marry, and the reluctant Greenleaf was somehow convinced, probably with money, to return to Holland, where he wed the Baroness. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson saw Greenleaf's abilities as a seducer as a diplomatic skill and appointed him America's envoy to Holland, and her bankers. Eventually the Baroness realized her new husband was an amoral sleaze ball, and she attempted suicide. When Jefferson called Greenleaf home, the Baroness remained in Holland, with their son. The now 25 year old Greenleaf convinced a judge in Rhode Island he had been “tricked” into the marriage, and was granted a divorce. James Greenleaf was once again free, still handsome and young enough to be a seducer of women, and speculators like Morris and Nicholson..
Within minutes of the Yazoo land sale being approved by the Georgia assembly, James Greenleaf was bound back for Holland, to offer the wealthy Europeans a “safe” place to invest their money. He arrived to find everybody in Europe investing their money in cannon and gun powder. His old Dutch banking contacts gave him the cold shoulder. The only two banks that were willing to offer his shares in the American Land Bank, Elsevier and Beelde-maker, did so halfheartedly, and attracted no buyers. There was no money coming from Holland to fund the Yazoo land scheme. Defeated, James Greenleaf returned home, and Robert Morris and John Nicholson had to figure out some way to replace all that money they had been counting on. Left out on a very long and skinny limb they sent Greenleaf out buying and selling of housing lots in the new Federal City.
The government was not supposed to move-in until 1800, but construction of the capital and the President's mansion had already begun. And of course there had to be buildings for a Post Office (a cabinet position in the new government), a State Department and a War Department. The government would build those, eventually. Somebody was else would have to supply housing for the workers, and places for them to buy groceries, restaurants to eat in, clothing, and 'entertainment' – everything from books to ladies of the evening. A city had to be established where there was no reason for it being, except politics insisted it be there. And Morris and Nicholson saw this new town as an opportunity to cover the debts they had incurred in buying the Georgia legislator.
At some point Robert Morris had given young James Greenleaf $7,000 in cash to pay for a section of city lots. But the money never made it to the seller. That drove Morris to take a closer look at the company books, where he discovered Greenleaf had signed all of his personal debts over to the North American Land Company, making Morris and Nicholson responsible for repaying them. The young seducer, had seduced two more victims, Morris and Nicholson.
Disingenuously, Morris later wrote to Benjamin Harrison, claiming, “Twas he (Greenleaf) that encouraged the very extensive land purchases which were made under a promise that he would procure in Holland the money necessary to support the same...” Suddenly the financial Mozart of the Revolution was claiming the entire Yazoo Swamp-Land Fraud, the wholesale bribery of an entire state legislature, had actually been the dastardly plan of a 28 year old serial Casanova. It was ridiculous, but I suppose such whining is a natural reaction when a “master of the universe” speculator ends up broke. It must be somebody else' fault. It can't be that the justification for the rules they were breaking eventually caught up with them. Blame it on the government regulators, or the greed of a business partner. It is never their greed that is blame. And by believing in such fairly tales we remain on the same foolish, childish economic yo-yo which we call the business cycle.
And then there is the legal cycle, in which everybody starts out friends, until somebody gets an eye put out. And then the suing starts.