JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, June 22, 2012


I recently heard a Tea Party politician called a "fire brand". The original definition is a piece of kindling, a piece of burning wood used to start a larger fire. It is a phrase you don't much hear anymore, in part because we are losing contact with the warmth and the agony fire can provide. It can preserve or consume our homes and our lives.  And thus, a firebrand is also a perfect description of a dangerous politician. And the original firebrand of American politics, the first self described political fire starter, was William Lowneds Yancey.
Yancey’s (above) South Carolina family were strongly pro-Federalist, and at an Independence Day celebration in 1834 the young man told a crowd, “Listen, not then...to the voice which whispers…that Americans…can no longer exist…citizens of the same republic…”  He also championed the Federal Union as editor of the newspaper the “Greenville Mountaineer”  - at least until 1835, when he married an Alabama widow with an Alabama plantation and 35 slaves. The ownership of human beings converted Yancey to pro-slavery. And then the Panic of 1837 wiped out cotton prices and with them William Yancey’s new found fortune and social status. This traumatic event also converted Yancy into a radical.
Yancey went back to the profession that he knew best, and in 1838 he bought a failing newspaper. Needing to make money quickly, Yancey's very first editorial was a passionate defense of slavery. In a followup editorial he even favored reopening the slave trade with Africa, which had been closed down by British Naval patrols since 1819. Yancey publicly opposed the compromises of 1850, which sought to establish a balance between slave states and “free” states within the Union. By now anything short of total domination by slave states was not a victory, in Yancey’s view.
Also in 1838 the true nature of the man was revealed, when an alleged political insult led to a street brawl between Yancey and his wife’s uncle. Yancey shot the man dead on the street. He later justified this hot blooded murder, writing he had been,  “Reared with the spirit of a man…and taught to preserve inviolate my honor…”,  which seems to me like lousy justification for murder. He was convicted of manslaughter but served only a few months before being pardoned. His reputation as a murderous hot head did nothing to prevent him from being elected to first the Alabama legislature and then, in 1844,  to the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1858 Yancey wrote what Horace Greeley called, ‘The Scarlett Letter’, in which he invented the term "fire eater" to describe himself.  He pledged that with like minded southerners, he would, “…fire the Southern heart – instruct the Southern mind - …and at the proper moment, by one organized, concerted action, we can precipitate the cotton states into revolution.” This was why Yancey was called the “Orator of Secession”. He worked hard to split his own (Democratic) party on the issue of slavery, believing the election of a Republican (anti-slavery) presidential candidate in 1860 would radicalize the south. He was, in the words of that genius Bruce Catton, “…one of the men tossed up by the tormented decade of the 1850’s (John Brown was another) who could help to bring catastrophe on but not do anything more than that.”
That the North had twice the population of the South, that the North had ten times the industrial and agricultural capacity, that slavery was already dieing in the South, that the North would not fight to end slavery but would fight to preserve the union, that Lincoln did not believe the Federal government had the power or the right to outlaw slavery, all this meant nothing to Yancey. Yancey wanted secession not despite the destructive effects it would have on the South, but, it seemed, almost because of them. President-elect Abraham Lincoln described the problem of dealing with hot heads like Yancey. "Not only must we do them no harm, but somehow we must convince them that we mean to do them no harm".
Once war broke out Jefferson Davis sent Yancey (above) to England to seek recognition. The Prime Minister eventually met with Yancey, but then asked if he had been serious about his call for a resumption of the slave trade. Yancey denied it, but that question indicated there was no chance that England would recognize the South. Yancey returned home in frustration and defeat. He now served in the Confederate Senate, opposing Davis’ power to draft troops and blocking Davis’ attempt to form a Confederate Supreme Court in the spring of 1863.
It was during debate over the court when Yancey and Benjamin Hill of Georgia got into a brawl on the Senate floor. It was almost a repeat of the 1838 shooting.  When the hot headed Yancy reached for his gun,  Hill grabbed the only weapon he had at hand - an inkstand. He beaned Yancey on the head with it, cold cocking him.. The Confederate Senate censured Yancey and took no action against Hill.
So it seemed that even his political allies and friends did not like William Yancey very much. And this was the man the South had staked its future upon. I believe it was William Yancey whom Jefferson Davis was thinking of when he said the epitaph of the Confederacy should be, “Died of a Theory.’
After censure, Yancey returned to Alabama,  where he died in July of 1863, just 2 weeks before his 49th birthday. He had lived just long enough to see the twin defeats of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, which together sealed the doom of the Confederacy. But even then the fire brands kept fighting.
The product of William Yancy's life’s work was the death of 750,000 young men and perhaps a million civilians - the vast majority of them southerners -  the  total abolition of slavery in America and the ultimate victory of Federalism over State’s Rights. It is an estate today's firebrand's of the right ought to take note of.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I believe the decision by the United States Post Office to leap into the 20th century of mail delivery was taken with all the alacrity and planning you would expect from the second oldest and most entrenched bureaucracy in the U.S. government. On May 6, eighteen years into the new century (and 15 years after the Wright Brother's first flight), U.S. Army pilot Major Reuben Fleet was summoned into the office of Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. There Baker announced that, together with the U.S. Postmaster General, he had decided that Major Fleet was to be responsible for setting up the first Air Mail Service between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. Further, the stunned Major was informed that the first plane of the new service would take off from Washington, D.C. at 11:00 a.m. on May 15th, just nine days hence.
Major Fleet was flabbergasted. This is the first he had heard of such an idea. He pointed out to the Secretary that the best plane in the Army’s inventory was the JN-4D, known as the Jenny, which was so under-powered that if you tried to execute a turn without first dipping her nose, the Jenny would stall.

Worse, the Jenny was a two seat trainer, capable of barely 65 miles an hour and had a range of less than 90 miles. In other words, a Jenny couldn’t reach Philadelphia non-stop from either New York or Washington. The Secretary explained that whatever the difficulties were, they had to be overcome because - and this was the kicker - the Postmaster General, Albert S. Burleson, had already issued the press release. As any military officer in Washington can explain, once the press release has gone out, you are committed to the policy.
Major Fleet (whose personal motto was, "Nothing Short of Right Is Right") immediately called the Curtiss Aeroplane Corporation on Long Island and ordered the emergency conversion of twelve Jenny’s - replacing the front seat controls with storage for mail bags, changing the 90 hp engine with a 150 hp one, and adding fuel tanks to increase the range. Curtiss promised to deliver the planes to Belmont Park airfield on May the 13th.
But as Fleet overcame each obstacle it seemed two more popped up. Originally he wanted to start the Washington flights out of College Park, Maryland, nine miles north of the capital (and thus saving nine miles on the first or the last leg). But the Post Office insisted on using Potomac Park, on the Tidal basin, (top of the above photo), right next to the middle of Washington, and ringed by huge trees. The Department of the Interior was insistent that not a branch of those magnificent trees be broken. Fleet then asked for six of the most experienced pilots in America to fly the routes.
He got four; plus two political "ringers". The two ringers were Lieutenants James Edgerton and George Leroy Boyle. Both men had just graduated from flight school in Texas (well, almost), and so far their solo flying experience consisted of one cross country flight of 15 miles. In Texas. In fact they had just crossed the country by train in order to get to Washington in time for the first flight. It seems they had received their travel orders before Major Fleet had received his.
On the other hand, Edgerton was the son of a Post Office purchasing agent and Boyle was engaged to marry the only daughter of Interstate Commerce Commissioner Charles McChord (above, holding the bag). That made both young men poltically if not avionically qualified for staring roles in the Air Mail drama. Major Fleet knew enough about the way Washington worked that he did not argue with their selection. So, after leaving instructions for the surreptitious removal of one particularly pernicious tree at the edge of Potomac Park, Fleet left Washington by train with what he judged were his best five pilots, headed to Long Island to pick up the planes. Fleet left his sixth pilot, Lt. Boyle, in Washington to entertain the lovely Miss McChord, and presumably her  father, Comissioner McChord, as well. Frankly, after having read the young man's record, and having met him, that was the assignment for which Major Fleet figured Lt. Boyle was best qualified.
At the aerodrome inside the Belmont Park race track outside New York City,  Major Fleet found his modified Jennys had been delivered as promised – but still in their crates. The mechanics and pilots spent the next two days desperately lashing the required six planes together. Two newly assembled Jennys were flown to Philadelphia. Two more planes were ready to go from Belmont. And early on the fifteenth, Fleet, exhausted and bone weary, flew the last plane assembled (Number 38262) from Philadelphia to Washington, landing at Potomac Park at 10:35 a.m., with barely twenty-five minutes to spare before the 11:00 a.m. takeoff deadline, as per the previously released press release.
The First Lady and President Woodrow Wilson, his hand still wrapped in a bandage, arrived. The previous day Wilson had rested his hand on a cannon barrel still hot from having fired a salute to him. Franklin Roosevelt, the under-Secretary of the Navy, arrived, as did the Postmaster General and the Secretary of the War. The makeshift airfield was filled with brass and political heavyweights. But where was Lieutenant Boyle? Fleet had just about decided to take the flight himself when a voice from the crowd boomed out confidently, “Never fear, because Boyle is here.”
Forward stepped the cocky young Lieutenant George Leroy Boyle (left), looking like a young Jay Leno, and followed by the lovely Margaret McChord, carrying a dozen roses she had gotten from somewhere. Boyle bravely tolerated the distribution of commemorative watches and nobly posed for offical handshakes. Then , ignoring the photographers, Major Fleet attempted to coach Boyle on how to follow the railroad tracks north from Union Station. By now the photos of the Lieutenant give the impression of a man prone to motion sickness who has just realized that he has volunteered to be abandoned on a life raft in the middle of hurricane. As he struggled to keep Boyles' attention, Major Fleet was interrupted by a wail of sirens. A mail truck, carrying 140 pounds of First class (24 cent) Air Mail in four bags had arrived.
The photographers were momentarily distracted, getting pictures of the bags being loaded into the Jenny. The noise and excitement did not help Boyles' concentration, and eventually Major Fleet simply taped the road map to the now almost catatonic Boyle’s leg. Boyle was now starting to resemble a hunter on his way to meet a firing squad of well armed pigeons.
There were more photos taken as Boyle climbed aboard the unfamiliar airplane and set the switches to start the engine. A sergeant windmill-ed the propeller three times to pull fuel into the cylinders. Lt. Boyle yelled, “Contact!”, and the sergeant pushed the propeller through again, hard. The engine coughed and died. Twice more Boyle and the sergeant tried to start the engine. But the motor stubbornly refused to engage.
The President was getting annoyed. The crowd was starting to giggle. Boyle was beginning to look as if he might pass out in the cockpit. Finally a sergeant thought to look in the gas tank. It was bone dry. Fleet had been lucky to arrive that morning before he ran out of gas. And no one, admidst all the whoopla, not even the exhausted Fleet, had thought to refuel the plane.
Fuel was borrowed from some planes in the nearby U.S. Naval Yard field (which raises the question why the army was not using their air field) and, 45 minutes late, Lt. Boyle turned his wings into the wind and roared down the open lawn. The crowd held its breath as he just cleared the trees at the end of the makeshift runway, by all of three feet. The U.S. Army was in the Air Mail business; sort of.
Meanwhile the flight from Belmont Park had gotten off on time, and arrived at Philadelphia two hours later. But after waiting for Boyle in Philly for almost an hour, the New York bound Jenny took off without any mail and headed north. When it arrived on Long Island everyone there was so excited they forgot to ask where the mail was. But eventually somebody thought to ask "What happened to Lt. Boyle?" The answer to that question arrived an hour later.
After finally getting into the air, Boyle came to the depressing realization that he could not read a map to save his life, even one taped to his own thigh. He mistakenly followed a branch line of railroad tracks for 20 miles to the southeast from Washington, the approximate opposite direction from New York City. By the time Lt. Boyle had realized his error, he had almost run out of gas. On crash landing near Waldorf, Maryland, the chastized Lt. Boyle flipped his Jenny onto her top.
Boyles’ mailbags were eventually delivered to Philadelphia the next day by another pilot. And thankfully, in a swell of patriotism, the wartime press corps chose to bury the lead of the story. The failure to refuel the plane, and Boyles inability to read a map, went unmentioned. And that should have been the end of that. But the Postmaster General was not inclined to let the story or Lt. Boyle fade into the crowded grey pages of history. Instead the Postmaster General urged Major Fleet to give Boyle another chance.
Which is why, on May 17th, Lt. Boyle took off from Washington, again. This time he was following another (more qualified) pilot, who guided the wandering pathfinder due north out of the national capital and up the four track wide main railroad line toward Philadelphia. Boyle faifully followed the guide plane for fifty miles. But eventually the guide plane turned back. And that was when, finally alone in the air, headed in the right direction, somehow, someway, the dashing but incompetent Lt. Boyle managed to get turned around yet again. All he had to do was not turn. And yet he did. And evidently, he did so almost immediatly. This time Boyle ended up flying for three hours and fifteen minutes the wrong way - due south. Not only could he not read a map, he couldn't read a compass. Eventually he set his ship down succesfully, safely, landing on Cape Charles, on the very Southeastern tip of Virginia, barely avoiding an excursion out over the open Atlantic only because he ran out of fuel first.
Determined not to fail this time, and having missed the Atlantic ocean by a hair's breath and a pint of petrol, Boyle bought gasoline out of his own pocket, got directions from a farmer, took off again and this time actually made it to Philadelphia; well, close to Philadelphia. He crash landed on the Philadelphia Country Club golf course, sheering both wings off his Jenny and bending the landing gear.
When the Postmaster General Burleson asked that Boyle be given a third chance, Major Fleet replied, “The conclusion has been reached that the best interests of the service require that Lieutenant Boyle be relieved from this duty.” And so he was. But it would appear that Lt. Boyd was such an incompetent pilot that he somehow managed to cause the man who replaced him to suffer five forced landings over the next three months. Whatever affliction Lt. Boyle was suffering from, it was catching.
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Sunday, June 17, 2012


I doubt James Reavis-Peralta (above) could have imagined a worse person to review his new filing for the Peralta grant than Royal A. Johnson. He was a lawyer, the son of a New York lawyer, and never expressed an interest in politics. He had come west out of curiosity, and stayed because he found a good job as a clerk in the Arizona Territory Surveyor General's office. He'd been one of the clerks who had received the original voluminous Perlata Grant filing in 1883. And from that morning he'd been suspicious of Reevis. Royal had risen to second in command of the office when his boss, Joseph W. Robbins, had died, and was universally approved as Robbins's replacement.
Then in 1884 Democrat Grover Cleveland won the White House, and in the wholesale shifting of political favors, Royal was replaced by the Democrat John Hise. Thus, when Reavis-Peralta filed his new claim, it was John Hise who was to pass judgment on the it. However, Hise was also suspicious of Reavis, and delayed making his decision. Reavis appealed to Hises' boss, looking to shake things up, but that failed. And then 1888 the Republican Benjamin Harrison was elected President, and in July of 1889 Royal Johnson, the one man who knew as much about the Peralta Grant as James Reavis-Peralta was back in as Surveyor General.
Even during his four years he was out of office, Royal had continued to investigate the grant. So in September, when the acting United States Commissioner of Land sent Royal a letter asking, “"please report to me the exact condition of said grant...and all the information you can obtain in regard to it.", Royal was loaded and ready to fire. His broadside landed on the public's desk on October 12th (Columbus day), and the title said it all; “Adverse Report of the Surveyor General of Arizona, Royal A. Johnson, upon the alleged Peralta Grant”. The word “alleged” must have stung Reavis.
First, Johnson noted that the Royal Cedula, the document which had supposedly started the entire enterprise, was written in a form different than every other Royal Cedula every issued, and in such bad Spanish that Royal suggested it must have been written by an American using “bad California Spanish”. In addition the seal on the Royal Cedula had been printed on the page, and not impressed into it, as it was in every other Credula. Finally, the signatures had been made with a steel pen, not invented until a century after 1748.
Considering the report of the Mexican Holy Inquisition, Royal observed that the seal was legitimate, but it had been glued on the page and not impressed, and it was cracked and had a brown tinge, suggesting it had been heated and removed from another document. And when discussing the Viceroy's decree directly awarding the grant, Royal wrote, “No certificate of a modern date nor any other reliable certification appears on the copies which would point to the originals being at present in the custody of some custodian of archives where they could be readily located and seen...to enable me to ascertain the whereabouts of originals or to prove their existence, and if they were to be obtained it is the duty of the claimants to produce them or to obtain and submit undoubted proof of their existence in their proper archives ... .”
In fact, at times the Surveyor General seemed to be scolding Reavis. “...it seems in poor taste that the old books of the San Xavier Mission, wherein were recorded the births, marriages and deaths of persons under the cognizance of the Church, should be selected to have inserted and rudely inserted among its withered leaves a copy of the grant of Peralta by the viceroy, and a copy of Peralta’s will. It must be borne in mind that these books have been out of the custody of the Church for many years, and that we know very little as to their history in that time. The photographs produced show that what appears to be the regular pages of the old book bear every indication of age...with the exception of the very sheet that the claimant Reavis relies so much on...In the first place, the sheet is pasted in at right angles to the other sheets and is one-third larger than the regular sheets. The upper end of the pasted in sheet is inserted in that part of the binding that holds the back of the large book together instead of being in regular order...”
It was clear that Royal had made a detailed study of this subject. He noted that under the laws existing the 16th century, the King would not have communicated to the Viceroy of New Spain, but rather through the bureaucracy, the Council of the Indies, who would have then contacted the Viceroy. And there was no copy of the Peralta Grant in the Council's archives. And, asked Johnson, why was there no record or even mention of the noble deeds achieved by Maguel Peralta anywhere in any records? Given that this was the largest individual land grant made in the Americas by the Spanish crown, should not the achievement equal its reward? And, noted Johnson, Spanish law required, “No memorial from any person whatever shall be received for services which shall not be supported by certificates from viceroys, Generals, or other chiefs under whom such services shall have been performed, except those persons who shall have served in the councils.” And, again, the Council of the Indies had no record of the Peralta grant.
Royal also noted that although the Inquisition was extremely powerful in Mexico, no obsessive Spanish bureaucrat – and any good bureaucrat is obsessive - would have asked that body to investigate the Peralta Grant. It should have been reviewed by the Audiencia Guadalajara Nuev Galidia. And in their records there was no mention of the Peralta Grant. Then, Royal Johnson dealt with the conflicts between the 1883 and 1887 claims. Noted the Surveyor General, if the 1864 Willing bill of sale was legitimate, then that superseded Sophia's inheritance. And as to the photograph of Sophia standing next to the “Inicial Monument” (above), Johnson showed that the Peralta family crest carved into the rock was, in reality, Indian holography.
The report went on to detail the vagueness of the boundaries of the claim, pointing out that under long established property law, you cannot claim what you cannot locate. “Speedy and final action should be had on this base claim in order that the people of this territory may enjoy their homes with peace of mind. And parties guilty of forgery or the fabrication of papers that have caused so much trouble should be vigorously prosecuted by the government and that without delay. I recommend that the alleged grant should not be confirmed as it is prayed for, it being to my mind without the slightest foundation in fact and utterly void.”
The Baron of Arizona, James Reavis-Peralta,  responded as any good con man would respond when he was caught red handed. He sued the United States government for $11 million.
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