NOVEMBER 2017

NOVEMBER  2017
The Rise of the Billionaires Leaves the Middle Class Stranded

Translate

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, June 01, 2012

A WOMAN SCORNED


I don’t know if Solomon Porcius Sharp (above) could have been President. But a man who had the job, John Quincy Adams, described the Kentucky lawyer as, “The brainiest man that ever came over the Allegheny Mountains.” The 38 year old Sharp had already served two terms as a Congressman, four years as Attorney General for Kentucky, and was now starting his second term as a state legislator – so the boy was not lacking for ambition, brains or talent. He spent his last day on earth, Sunday, November 5th, 1825, conferring with political allies as he prepared for the election as Speaker of the Kentucky House. Every indication was that come Monday morning, he would easily be elected. It seemed possible his next stop would be the United States Senate, and then, possibly, the White House; except, an ex-girlfriend of his, had other plans. 
Her name was Anna Cook, and in her youth she had been a real Southern Belle from Bowling Green, the same region and culture that would produce Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln's wife. Anna was educated, witty, flirtatious, with a passion for men and for gambling and for gambling on men. But she was never described as a great beauty. And like all gamblers, the more Anna gambled the more she lost. By 1825 she was a spinster approaching forty, and her rose had withered a bit. A critic described her as short, with dark hair and eyes, a few missing teeth, stoop shouldered and “in no way a handsome or desirable woman.” And yet inside Anna there still burned a passion, which had metamorphosed into a burning fierce hatred of her old boyfriend, Solomon Sharp. It is impossible to say with certainty why she came to obsess on the up and coming politician, but when Anna’s young suitor,  Jereboam Beauchamp, had proposed to her, Anna had said yes on the single condition that he first promised to kill Solomon Sharp.
Some five years earlier  Anna had attempted to derail Sharp’s political career by publicly charging he had fathered her stillborn child. But Sharp’s allies had responded quickly by claiming that the dead child had been born with black skin, and thus could not be the child of a white politician. In a slave state like Kentucky, in a bigoted nation such as America in 1820, it was a truly vicious attack. And with no living male relatives to defend her honor and challenge Sharp to a duel, Anna had no way to respond. In fact, her reputation was left in tatters no matter which side was believed. Ann had withdrawn into isolation to her widowed mother’s plantation, where Mr. Beauchamp had sought her out, for reasons left unexplained. He was a neighbor in Bowling Green and had been a law student in Sharp’s office. And to hear him tell it, the hypocrisy of the vicious attack against Anna had awakened an almost religious hunger for justice in the twenty-two year old...or so he said. To call their marriage an affair of the heart seems somehow to have missed the point. And after their 1824 wedding, as soon as it was convenient, Jereboam traveled to Frankfort, looking to settle the score with Mr. Sharp and thus fulfill his promise to his new bride.
Of course there might have been another explanation for the timing of Jereboam’s (above) expedition to Frankfort, besides convenience. The week before, on October 25, 1825, a warrant for Jereboam’s arrest had been issued by the sheriff in Bowling Green. It seemed a single woman named Ruth Reed was suing Jereboam for child support. Our defender of the honor of chaste womanhood was thus alleged to be a dead-beat dad of an illegitimate child himself. Do you get the feeling that the public morality of neither the times nor Mr. Beauchamp were not quite what they claimed to be?  Sort of just like today, yes?
Frankfort was a wooden town of just 1,500 souls when Jereboam arrived in November of 1825. It had been established at a ford across the Kentucky River, and was named for Stephen Frank, an early settler. The village became the state capital because local boosters contributed $3,000 in gold to the state treasury, and property for public buildings. It was not a generous act, as the boosters got rich selling house lots in the new burg. But thanks to their investment, Frankfurt was, in 1825, and remains to this day, one of the smallest state capitals in the Union. There were in 1825, a few brick structures in town, but fire was constantly updating the architecture of all the wooden buildings. Earlier in 1825 Frankfort had burned down its sixth state capital building, and was currently renting a Methodist Church for that purpose. Directly across the street from this temporary cathedral of democracy was the rented abode of Solomon Sharp and his wife and children.
Jereboam waited in the shadows of the church until Sharp returned to his Madison street home, sometime after midnight on November 6th, 1825. Then, as the clock approached two in the morning, he knocked on a side door. When Sharp responded, Jereboam identified himself as “Covington.” Having opened the door, Solomon was evidently suspicious and said he did not know any one by that name. Jereboam then cut the conversation short by thrusting a dagger into Solomon’s neck, severing his aorta. Solomon Sharp was dead shortly after he hit the floor. Jereboam then fled into the night. The first political assignation in American had just been committed.
 There were, of course, elaborate conspiracy theories which sprang up around the assignation of Solomon Sharp, spurred on the victim’s politics and the $4,000 reward offered. But the police stuck to what they could prove, and four nights after the murder Jereboam was arrestedr. They never even found the murder weapon. And although Sharp’s widow eventually identified Jereboam’s voice as the one she heard call out “Covington”, she had initially identified it as the voice of another one of her husband’s political opponents. But several witnesses testified that Jereboam had repeatedly threatened to kill Solomon, and after a 13 day long trial, the jury had no doubts. On May 19, 1826, after just one hour of deliberations, they returned with a verdict of guilty.
In his jail cell Jereboam dropped all pretense of innocence and wrote out a lengthy confession, filled with all the drama and heroics he clearly wanted to believe had characterized his life and reputation. According to his diatribe, Solomon had repeatedly admitted his crime against Anna, and in the final moments of his life had begged for mercy. Even if true (and considering his injuries, such a speech was physically not possible), how that justified the cold blooded murder of a father of small children (On his gravestone the word "father" had even been carved in stone), Jereboam did not attempt to explain. And in the end it did not matter, because, as one commentator has pointed out, it was at this point that the entire affair “went from tragedy to romantic melodrama.”
Anna was being allowed to share her husband’s cell each night, coming and going during the day. Into this place of confinement she slipped in a bottle of laudanum, a potent mixture of 89% grain ethanol, 10% opium and 1% morphine. The lovers intended a joint suicide, but instead produced only a double regurgitation marathon. The absurdity of that sickening episode was matched only by the ineptitude of the jailers, because, just two days later these pin-headed penitenciariests allowed Anna to carry a knife into the cell for another unregulated visit. Jereboam stabbed himself in the abdomen. Anna then grabbed the knife and stabbed herself in the stomach. If it was a race, she won. She died an hour later. Jereboam lived long enough that the jailers had to manhandle the wounded thespian up the thirteen steps of the scaffold, where he died, two hours after his wife.
They were buried together in the same grave, under a lengthy poem, composed by Jereboam, filled with noble words and maudlin sentiment. So the real cost of Anna Cook’s revenge was three lives; her own and the lives of two men she professed, at various times, to have loved. And I suspect she thought that was a fair trade. And that is the real tragedy in this Kentucky story.
- 30 -

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD


I can't make up my mind about William Huskinson. “Tall, slouching, and ignoble-looking”, he was
considered one of the best economic brains in England, and represented Liverpool in Parliament as a Tory (the conservative party). At the same time he also agitated for liberal issues, like equal rights for Catholics and Jews and election reform. But it wasn't William's contrariety in politics that confuses me, it was the way he kept falling over things. While on his honeymoon in April of 1799, a horse fell on him. Two years later he dislocated an ankle. He had broken his right arm so many times it was almost useless But was this genial scarecrow just a klutz, or did his bumbling rise to the exalted level of ironic? It was certainly ironic that the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was built only because of the enthusiastic intervention of the sixty year old. But it was also the L and M which was responsible for William's brutal demise. When, I wonder, does unfortunate become ironic?
William was effective in English politics because he was almost universally liked. His official biography described him as “extremely agreeable...generally cheerful, with a great deal of humor, information, and anecdote...As a speaker in the House of Commons...he had no pretensions to eloquence; his voice was feeble, and his manner ungraceful.” Still, because of his brains and his sense of humor, people tended to like him - important people, like Granville Leveson-Gower (above), the richest man in England. In Scotland, Granville, aka the Duke of Sutherland , aka the Marquess of Stafford, is reviled for his wholesale evictions of highland farmers, but in England he was respected because....well, because he was the richest man in England, and because of the two things he had inherited from his in-laws - his talent for “absorbing heiresses” (he outlived three wives) and what he had inherited from his third' wife's uncle, the first “true canal” in England, the Bridgewater.
After its opening in 1761 the 39 mile long canal had cut the price of coal powering the linen mills in Manchester by half, while making the first Earl of Bridgewater very wealthy. In 1776 a connection was cut to the river Mersey which allowed the finished Manchester fabrics to be inexpensively shipped out of the port of Liverpool, the transport taking only 30 hours, and thus making the Earl even richer. So it was no surprise that Granville, who inherited the canal in 1803, was not anxious to see Manchester wool merchants build a railroad and cut into his profits. Even with the canal, it cost as much to move the finish garments to Liverpool as it had cost to ship the raw cotton from America. Granville successfully fought the railroad for years, until the Liverpool MP (minister to parliament),William Huskinson, suggested to his fiend that it might be more profitable joining the Manchester merchants rather then fighting them. With Wilkinson’s adroit assistance, a deal was struck. Granville became a partner in the railroad. And on Wednesday September 15, 1830, a gala grand opening was staged for the 35 mile long Liverpool to Manchester Railroad, including a “whistle stop” visit from the man who had beaten Napoleon, the Prime Minister and ex-political ally of William Huskinson, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.
As a politician the Duke (above) was the perfect model of modern major General. He gave ground where it cost him little, as when he urged the repeal of laws restricting Catholics. But he dug in against repeal of the infamous Corn Laws. These slapped taxes on any grain exports from England, and just made things worse for the starving Irish during the potato famine. But the “Iron Duke” was a landowner and willing to defend the Corn Laws to the last Irishman. William Huskinson grew so frustrated with the Duke, he resigned from the government. However his resignation had not driven the Duke to back down, and William was hoping the ceremonies around the opening of the railroad would give him a chance to repair his relationship with his old friend Wellesley.
The Manchester and Liverpool railroad was the invention of George Stephenson, who had even manufactured a prototype locomotive – the Rocket - for the system. Stephenson had insisted on two tracks, one southbound from Manchester to Liverpool, and the other northbound, so the line could safely carry twice as many trains. It was a good idea, but doubled the cost of construction. So Stephenson had saved money by placing all four of the rails equal distance apart. His rational was that this not only eliminated an enormous amount of grading, but should a train have to carry anything wider than eight feet, it could simply shift to the two center rails, providing more elbow room on either side. What Stephenson could not know was that as speeds increased in the future, passing carriages would create a lower air pressure between them, which, without more space between the rails, would suck the carriages into each other. That was one of the things experience would teach railroad engineers like Stephenson. And what happened this opening day, would teach them a few other things.
There were eight separate inaugural passenger trains which left Liverpool beginning at eleven that morning, The Duke's train was first on the southbound tracks, pulled by the 14 horse power engine Northumberland, and made up of a car carrying a band, followed by six carriages each with 12 to 24 passengers. In the carriage just in front of the Duke's sat William Huskinson with his wife Emily, and several important politicians. The other seven trains, with about 60 passengers per car, traveled on the northbound tracks, leap frogging the Duke's train, to provide numerous opportunities for all the celebrants to cheer and laugh and stare at the victor of Waterloo as the trains climbed their way the 35 miles uphill toward Manchester.
The trains all paused at Parkside station, an hour out of Liverpool and about half way to Manchester.
Here the Duke's train stopped, while the Phoenix and the North Star trains passed ("like the whizzing of a cannon ball", said the Duke) with many shouts and cheers, to wait a few hundred yards beyond the station. As the water tanks of the Northumberland was slowly refilled, about 50 men disembarked between the rails to stretch their legs and probably unload their personal water  tanks, in a light drizzle. William Holmes, the Chief Tory Whip suggested this would be a prime opportunity for William to bond with the Prime Minister, and Huskinson agreed. The two men walked the few yards back to the Duke's carriage where William extended a hand. The Duke, happy at seeing his old friend again, grasped William's hand firmly. They were about to speak when a shout went out, “"An engine is approaching, take care gentlemen!”
It was the Rocket, Stephenson's prototype, pulling another train of passenger cars. The driver, Joesph Locke saw the men on the tracks about 80 feet ahead of him. There was plenty of time, except the Rocket had no brakes. Locke threw the little engine into reverse. There was still ample time to avoid injury, unless you were a major klutz – guess who. All the other men in the way managed to easily escape, either being pulled into the Duke's car, or running the ten feet or so across the tracks. But William Huskinson could not make up his mind. Initially the Duke tried to lift the scarecrow into his car, but William yanked free and started to dash across the tracks. Then, abruptly he changed his mind and returned to the car's side. The Duke shouted, “"For God's sake, Mr Huskisson, be firm!" and grabbed for him again. But William dodged rescue and bolted across the tracks again. Some one threw open the door of the Duke's car suddenly, and William reversed course once again and jumped for the swinging support. He grabbed onto it just as the Rocket smashed it to smithereens. Huskinson, said eyewitness Harriet Arbuthnot, “was... thrown down and the engine passed over his leg and thigh, crushing it in a most frightful way. It is impossible to give an idea...of the piercing shrieks of his unfortunate wife, who was in the car (ahead).”
They dumped the band, because their car was the only one with a flat bottom, and carrying the right Honorable Huskinson on a door ripped off a track side shack, placed him gently aboard. The rest of the cars were then detached, Stephenson opened the throttles full, and the engine, the coal car, the wounded man and two doctors headed for Manchester at 40 miles an hour. Crowds cheered as the speeding machine raced past them. It was perhaps the fastest humans had ever traveled, except for the few unfortunates fired from a catapult. At this rate they would have made it to Manchester in less than half an hour, except ….except the clouds opened up and a storm broke upon the desperate mission. As they approached the little village of Eccles, less than four miles from Manchester, the conditions forced them to stop, supported by Huskinson who said he had a good friend in the village, the Reverend Thomas Blackburne. They managed to lug William up the steep slope to the village, dropping William a couple of times before depositing him on a couch in the vicarage. The Reverend Blackburne was not there, of course. He was in Manchester, waiting with the crowds to welcome the triumphant voyagers. Mrs. Blackburne, who was home, served tea.
“Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine" noted that back at Parkside station, after much discussion, “The final decision being in favor of advancing, seats were resumed, and we moved on; but ...the whole now wore the sombre aspect of a funeral procession. The military band was left to return as it could; I saw them, crest-fallen, picking their way homeward through the mud and mire...” At about nine that night William Huskinson died in a generous laudanum haze - generally considered the first man ever killed by a locomotive.  An inquest was opened the very next morning, but the instant the jury seemed to show an interest in any failure by railroad staff or design, it was pulled up by the coroner. Within a few hours, the verdict was “accidental death”. It does not seem Emily Huskinson agreed.
Half the population of Liverpool, about 69,000 people, attended William Huskinson''s funeral on Friday September 24, 1830. Emily did not. She never returned to Liverpool again, and died in 1856, never having traveled on a train again, either. Meanwhile the publicity surrounding the accident attracted passengers to the new rail line. In the next year half a million people rode the Liverpool and Manchester line at 7 shillings for the two hour round trip. All future locomotives built by George Stephenson were fitted with hand brakes, and he never again built a two track line with so little room for error between the rails. But the question remains unanswered to this day - was William Huskinson's death merely a  tragedy, or was it ironic?
- 30 -

Sunday, May 27, 2012

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Pt. Five OUT IN THE OPEN

I can't figure out why James Reavis chose Saford, Arizona, capital of Graham County, to file his first claim related to the Peralita grant. The crude little town at the foot of the isolated Pinaleno Mountains was 165 miles east of Phoenix, only 30 miles west of the New Mexico border, and 100 miles north of the border with old Mexico. It sat in a fertile nook of the barren Sonora-Chihuahuan Desert. In short, it was not near anywhere else. At this time the county was just receiving a trickle of Mormon emigrants, but the entire county had less than 5,000 residents in October of 1882 when James Reavis chose this as his starting point. So why toss the first stone into the water here?
Reavis filed his papers with the probate court, laying claim to George Willing's ownership of the Peralta grant. But other then stamping the date on his filing, the probate court lacked authority to judge the validity of the Perlita Grant itself. And he never asked them to. The town was still within the confines of the grant, which ran into New Mexico, but there must have been places closer to Phoenix or the territorial capital of Prescott where James Reavis could have filed such paperwork unnoticed by the world at large. Why did he travel to such an out of the way spot to make his first move? Could it have been that the master forger was nervous? Or had he been traversing the empty dessert, leaving false clues to the grant's validity, and was now anxious to get started? We will never know now, especially since his next move made such a splash.
It was Tuesday, March 27, 1883, when an odd trio of villains stormed into the Tucson offices of Joseph W. Robbins, Surveyor General for Arizona territory, and demanded service. First came the bewhiskered well dressed James Reavis (above), followed by Cryil Baratt, a dis-bard California lawyer and alcoholic, serving as James' legal adviser. The story is that Reavis actually found Cyril in a San Francisco gutter and the kindred spirits had formed an immediate bond. Bringing up the rear was a fire plug named Pedro Cuervo carrying in three large trunks of documents, one after another. Pedreo was Reavis' new body guard and enforcer. And once those trunks were opened, Reavis would need all the protection his wealthy California backers could afford.
His filing began boldly; “The petition of James Addison Reavis respectfully sets forth: That he is owner, by purchase from the legal heirs and representatives of the original grantee of a certain tract of land (12 1/2 million acres from roughly Phoenix, Arizona to Silver City,  New Mexico),  granted on the third day of January, 1758, by the Viceroy of New Spain to Don Miguel Peralta, Baron of the Coloradoes under royal decree of the King of Spain, directing such grant to be made to the said Perlita in consideration of and as a reward for distinguished military services rendered to the Crown in the war of Spain...”
Now, Robbins had no experience with a theodolite,.and he knew almost nothing about Spanish or Mexican history. He'd been a newspaper owner in Wichita, Kansas and a good Republican before receiving his current position as a political reward. But as he watched his staff check in the seemingly endless series of documents, many with the official stamps and seals of Spain and Mexico, a panic began to build in this throat. These men were laying claim to an area larger than Maryland and the District of Columbia, and New Jersey, combined.
Next there came a typed translation of Phillip V's royal credula, dated December 20, 1740. This was followed by the report of the Mexican Inquisition favoring the grant, and the 1758 Mexican Viceroy's grant of the land, a statement in writing by Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda himself, describing the exact location of the grant. Then from the trunk was drawn the petition from Peralta to Carlos III of Spain, requesting confirmation of the grant, which confirmation was dated January 20, 1776. in Madrid. Next Reavis produced a letter to Don Meguel's son, signed by Santa Ana, President of Mexico. There were even three photographs of pages from the record book of the Mission of San Xavier del Bac, showing the originals of the previous documents. Then Reavis and Cryil Baratt, produced a copy of Miguel Peralta's will, dated January 1788, and the deed signing the grant over to George Willing, dated 1864. Last but not least, came the power of attorney from May Ann Willing to James Reavis. All of that was in the first trunk. And there were two more trunks of documents to go.
Public notice of the claim was now filed in newspapers in Tucson, Phoenix and Prescott. The reaction was strongest in Phoenix, which fell within the claim. Suddenly every landowner knew their property rights were in question. And the town's two newspapers, the Herald and the Gazette, declared war. Both papers doubted the validity of the grant, urged their readers not to sign any agreements with Reavis, and condemned any quitclaim sales. It looked for a time that the territory would present a untied front. But then there were three serious defections.
The first man to cut a deal with Reavis was Col. James M. Barney (above). He had bought the Silver King Mine a few years earlier, paying over half a million dollars. That mine was now digging on an 87 foot wide vein of silver ore, on three levels, the deepest 110 feet down, and was producing over $6 million of ore a year. In June of 1883 the old cavalryman paid Reavis $25,000 for a quitclaim on his mine. It was chump- change to Barney, and just good business. But it sent a shiver down the spines of every other property owner in the territory.
This was followed by word that the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was building its way eastward toward Phoenix, had also bought a quitclaim for a right-of-way into the territory for $50,000. What the terrified residents did not know was that the owners of the S.P. -  Huntington, Crocker and their partners, were also the men who were funding Reavis and his vultures. In essence, the S.P. was paying itself for the right of way into Phoenix. But the deal also funded an army of rift-raft hired by Reavis to begin posting notices on every business and small farmer on the Peralta Claim., and demanding cash to leave them alone.
The next major defector was an even harder blow to resisters. Homer H. McNeil was a significant property owner in Phoenix, and the owner and publisher of The Gazette. When notice of the Peralta Grant had first appeared, his paper had joined the Herald, in urging residents to remain united in opposition. But rumors started when the Gazette began to tone down its editorials against Reavis, and in November word was leaked to the Herald that McNeal had indeed bought a quitclaim for all his property, including the Gazette's office. McNeal was threatened on the streets, and friends stopped speaking to him, and he returned his quitclaim to Mr. Reavis But Reavis was not in town.
James Reavis and his lawyer Cryil Baratt were in Guadalajara, looking over the shoulder of the man
Surveyor General Robbins had sent down to Mexico to check out the claim; Rufus C. Hopkins. It would prove to be a terrible choice.
- 30 -

Blog Archive

Amazon Deals