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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, October 26, 2012

CRAZY MAN

I doubt that Charles Addison Boutelle was legally insane, but he was confined to an asylum - and was promptly re-elected to his ninth term as a Republican Congressman. Still, the voters must have suspected that something was not right with the contentious old sailor, since his margin of victory was well below his usual level. But sane or not, his whole life was a testament to the power of one crazy man in a world run by mostly sane people.
The dictatorial speaker of the House, Hoosier Joe Cannon opined that Charles Boutelle (above), “Could get into more controversies in shorter time than any man I ever knew.” And Boutelle's own daughter, in praising her father, asserted, “He could always command attention. No one ever dozed or attended to their correspondence when he was speaking.” Between those two quotes lies the shadow of a politician whose mouth (and pen) got him into a lot of trouble. And calling him “The handsomest man in the Congress”, as he was well known, seems the reverse to describing a woman as having a good personality. So, I'm pretty sure that Charlie was indeed a loony politician, the kind who drives friends and enemies absolutely nuts.
The young Lt. Boutelle had led the Union naval charge into the Confederate stronghold of Mobile Bay, in August of 1864. He came home to Bangor an official hero. After the war, first as editor and then from 1874 co-owner (along with his brother Edward) of the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Boutelle's dynamic and hyperbolic editorials made him a Republican power across New England. And his willingness to directly buy votes (there was no secret ballot, yet) built the Republican dominance of Maine over the post war generations.
Boutelle first threw his editorial support behind the ambitious and avaricious James Blaine (above, in shame), known accurately as “the continental liar from the state of Maine”. Mr. Boutelle attended the Republican convention in 1876, and in 1880 he was the national chairman of the Blaine Clubs. Blaine came within a handful of votes of being the Republican Presidential nominee both times. Finally in 1884 Boutelle 's unwavering support paid off. He was named the state Party Chairman, and heading into the Presidential campaign that year, the Bangor editor was considered Blaine's “right hand man...and is even now talked of for a cabinet position”. But the nation was saved this turn of events when Blaine lost the election to Grover Cleveland by ½ of 1% of the popular vote
In the meantime, the “robustly-conservative” Boutelle had decided to run for congress himself, selling a mix of jingoism and empire building. He lost his first attempt in September of 1880, by 855 votes. I guess he ran out of money. But two years later he threw his growing fortune into his election for Maine's “at-large” seat in Congress, and in September of 1884 he won Maine's 4th district seat, which he was to occupy for most of the rest of his life.
Boutelle was a supporter and friend of the legendary Speaker of the House, “Czar” Thomas Reed (above), also from Maine. Then in 1890, the New York Times observed election day in several small Maine towns, and noted that that Reed influenced the results with cash. “Boodle has elected him, operating directly in the purchase of votes and indirectly by discouraging the Democrats to such an extent as to keep hundreds of them away from the polls.” The story went on to say, “...the richest and most influential man in Wells, sat in the (city hall) with a pile of (dollar) bills in his lap and...in the presence of scores of people, exchanged money for votes for Reed...at least 300 votes (were) purchased in Biddeford”, a small town near the New Hampshire border, at up to $20 a vote. It was a smear, of course. No Republican needed to buy an election  in Maine. But by the following Sunday, preachers in pulpits across Maine were lecturing on the need for a secret ballot, as was used in Australia. When in 1891 the Maine legislature seriously considered the Australia ballot, Reed and Boutelle sent a joint letter, warning that such procedures were too complicated for the average voter. But they were swimming against the tide. Under the new system, in the September 1894 election, Reed won re-election by 17,383 votes. But by September of 1898 his margin of victory had slipped to 12, 380. Change was on the wind
And it shifted most dramatically during the 1896 presidential campaign, when a surrogate speaker for the Democrat candidate William Jennings Bryant (above), visited Maine. He was Alexander Troop, editor of the Democratic leaning New Haven Union newspaper. Well, Boutelle could not resist throwing some mud at his New England rival, running an uncredited story that Troop had once been arrested for indecent exposure. The outraged Troop filed a libel suite, demanding a retraction. As the trial date approached, friends convicted the bull headed Boutelle to leave the negotiations to his friend, Speaker Reed. Finding that Troop would not take a quiet payoff, Reed wrote out a retraction on the spot. Boutelle responded by telegraph that he would be “damned” if he would print anything like that in his paper. Even after Reed explained that without a retraction, it might not remain his paper for long, Boutelle refused to budge. The arguments swung back and forth until Reed threatened to walk away from their friendship. Boutelle ate crow on the front page of his newspaper. But by then the Democrat had been beaten, and both Reed and Boutelle were safely re-elected by the usual wide margins.
Then, on the afternoon of Thursday, December 21, 1899, Charles Boutelle was entertaining in the electrified Young's Hotel (above), on Court street, in the financial district of Boston. Charles had used the hotel for years as a lay over between his homes in Washington and Maine, and a place to make business and political deals out of the public eye. But this afternoon, after an otherwise normal morning, Charles collapsed in the 100 foot long dining room. Rather than taking him upstairs to his suite, he was carried unconscious into a parlor. Dr. F.W. Johnson, a well known surgeon, was sent for, but would only tell the press that Boutelle's condition was “serious, but not necessarily fatal”. Some considered that report optimistic. In fact Boutelle was delirious and ranting. Late that night Boutelle's brother Edward arrived from Bangor, and about midnight told the press Charles was suffering from “congestion of the brain, brought on by acute indigestion”, or as his Bangor Whig reported it, “by the strain and overwork in connection with his official duties”.
The next day Charles was carried via a private rail car to Bangor, but it was quickly realized that he was too violent to be treated at home. The 62 year old was transported back to Boston, and taken to the McLean asylum in Belmont. Seventy years earlier, it was McLean staff member Mary Sawyer, whose relationship with a pet had inspired the poem “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. But it was also the first psychiatric hospital in America which studied the biological causes of mental illness. Just five years earlier, under Superintendent Dr. Edward Cowles, the hospital moved to a new hill top “cottage plan” campus (above), where patents could be treated in a residential environment. At week's end the New York Times reported that although “officials are very reticent in the matter...(Congressman Boutelle was) not considered in any immediate danger.” But other than an occasional day trip, he would never leave the McLean again. And his medical bills would force his daughters and brother to sell the Whig Courier that March. Despite his condition, Charles would be re-elected back in Maine, while still a patient in his Boston mental hospital.
It wasn't that Maine was short of loyal Republicans eager to replace the “handsomest man in congress”, nor that Maine voters did not think it important they be represented by a functional congressman. But 1900 would be a Presidential election year, and Reed simply had too much else on his plate. So, at the end of December it was announced that the Navy committee which Boutelle chaired, would return to work in January, with the now hospitalized congressman still officially its chairman. His daughters still collected his salary, and his party still had the use of his patronage. Come September Charles Boutelle won his last election, probably already unaware he had ever held public office. He won it by only 10,000 votes, instead of his usual 18,000. And in November the powers of his office, exercised by his friend Thomas Reed, were able to help fellow Republican and fellow Maine man, William McKinley, to win the White House, defeating (again) the Democrat Bryant.
As soon as the election was over, Reed moved in the House to have Charles (above) retroactively appointed a retired captain in the U.S. Navy. Considering his Civil War record, and his dedication in creating the “Great White Fleet” which had just won the Spanish American War of 1898, this seemed a reasonable reward to an eight term congressman, who at the time had no other pension. To encourage the Senate to agree, Dr. Cowles up in Boston was authorized to issue a public statement on the first anniversary of Boutelle's admission to McLean's. “At the present time,” said the doctor, “the indications are not so favorable...for a degree of recovery.. .In my own opinion he should never resume the cares of active life or under take any business responsibilities, and he may live but a few years.”
It seems likely Charles was suffering from an advanced case of Altzeimers, first identified by Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer. In 1901 “Alois” began working in Frankfurt on the Main, Germany, with a 51 year old woman named Auguste Deter (above), who had suddenly begun screaming in the middle of the night. She was befuddled and had lost increasingly large chunks of her memory. When Dr. Alzheimer questioned her, she would repeat, “Ich hab mich verloren” - “I am lost”.  Her dementia progressed rapidly until her death on April 8, 1906. In a November 1906 speech, after examining slides of her brain tissue using a new staining technique, Dr. Alzheimer identified plaque build-up on the neurons in Auguste's brain as identifying the disease. In effect the disease destroyed her identity from the inside, as it had done five years earlier in America to Charles Boutelle.
On Wednesday, January 16, 1901, Charles' captain's pension went into effect. And on Sunday, March 3rd, Charles submitted his resignation from congress, the day before the new congress convened. It was a play, of course. By this stage of his disease, it is very unlikely Charles was capable of signing a letter. Still the smooth transition did honor to its probable architect, James Reed – call it the last act of friendship for an old argumentative ally. And as if part of the same plan, eleven weeks later, on Tuesday, May 21, 1901, Charles Addison Boutelle died of pneumonia, a build up of fluid in his lungs, caused by his inability to get out of bed.
He remains the only congressman on record, to be re-elected while confined in a mental institution. But the country is young, yet. Given us another 200 years, and I 'm sure we will get at least one more.
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

WAR AS WAS


I hate to admit it but that effete, arrogant, pompous intellectual snobbish Frenchman Marcel Proust was right about two things - first, when he observed that “We learn from history that we do not learn anything from history”, and second that “A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.” Both of those profound insights struck me again recently when I stumbled upon an article in an archeology magazine (Antiquity), which illuminated a forgotten memory of the work of a quiet rock artist, named Gerald C. Bond. It may seem a complicated train of events, but please bare with me, while I try to explain how my mind works. (Good luck - hope you enjoy the ride.)
Professor Bond collected and cataloged rocks from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. This may have once seemed an esoteric pursuit, (although as a life long rock hound it sounds like heaven to me) but in that seemingly meaningless melange of sediments Professor Bond stumbled upon layers of limestone pebbles which had nothing to do with the ocean floor. With extraordinary perseverance, Professor Bond identified the pebbles as having come from particular cliffs in Eastern Canada. How did they get thousands of miles out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Professor Bond concluded the only delivery method that made sense was that an ancient glacier had ground against the cliffs, carried the limestone out to sea when it calved icebergs, which then melted and dropped the pebbles into the abyss. When other rocks on the sea floor were identified as coming from the same areas on land, the professor's suspicions were confirmed, and with it a way to measure climate change. More pebbles in a given layer indicated more icebergs, which indicated more melting glacier ice, which hinted at warmer temperatures and rising sea levels world wide.
What Professor Bond was eventually able to describe were eight bursts of cooling (now called Bond Events) since the last ice age ended about 11,000 years ago. The bursts come in 1,500 year intervals, giving an almost respiratory aspect to our planet's atmosphere. And like a smoker who develops a cough, the deposits on the sea floor, as well as Greenland and Antarctic ice cores, recorded the increasing impact of burning fossil fuels on our planet's health. But they also record something else, equally as ominous and philosophically troubling.
When the weather cooled for Bond Event Seven, (ten thousand years ago) humans responded with the invention of agriculture. Bond Event Four occurred about six thousand years ago, and humans responded with the domestication of sheep and the invention of bronze. And Bond Event Three, which came four thousand years ago, brought on the collapse of great empires in Asia and Egypt, and, of more interest to this story,  in an act of war at a ford across a slow, meandering river in northern Europe.
The river is the somnambulist Tollense (above). For more than ten thousand years it has followed the same sinuous forty-two mile course across forest and marshland in northeastern Germany, now winding this way, now twisting that as it hesitantly approaches the Baltic Sea. There is no time scale in its current, but in the sediments piled along its course, about the year 1250 BC. the Tollense preserved a desperate fight for survival. And we now know know something about the loser and winner of that battle.
The invaders were from the forests to the south, members of the Unetice culture. They were armed with standardized mass produced bronze daggers and hand axes. They were adorned with engraved bracelets and their robes were held together with bronze pins with perforated round heads. They came mounted on horses, and carried millet, which did not grow this far north. That suggests rations, which suggests an organized raiding party which was crossing the Tollense River in the summer, when the water level was down.
The Frisian villages along the Baltic coast were the likely target. These peoples buried their dead in stone crypts, and prayed to the male earth god Inguz, who drove his chariot across the sky as easily as he dived beneath the sea. The villagers enjoyed probably the best diet in the world, with plenty of surf and turf. They fished from long plank canoes with curved and pointed bows. They raised cattle corralled behind their village palisades. But their weapons were stone axes and wooden clubs like baseball bats. The bronze age was late in coming to the Baltic Sea. Copper and tin had to be heated to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit before they would form bronze, and that takes a lot of dry wood, and a knowledge of ceramics. A culture cannot afford that kind of technology unless it has something to sell. And it was not until recently that these proto-Scandinavian tribes had discovered their “metallum sudaticum”, amber.
Every time the level of the Baltic rose and then fell, with each successive glacier pulse, whole coastal pine forests had been flooded. And with each storm tide more and more fossilized pine tree sap from those now long dead forests washed up on the sandy Baltic beaches. The Frisian villagers who gathered the amber up in hand held nets could not have known where this amber had originated from anymore than the Celts in England knew their Sea Coal had a companion under their feet. But both peoples knew enough to gather the bounty left by the tide. The Frisians fashioned the amber into jewelry and sold and traded it with their inland neighbors. And that made the neighbors envious.
Some time near the mid summer solstice around three thousand eight hundred fifty years ago, some fifty or sixty Unetice raiders were attacked on the banks of the Tollense. It seems likely they were crossing the river, perhaps on their return, when they were attacked by perhaps 150 Frisians. We don't know how long the assault took, or the tactics employed by either side, but we know it was horribly violent.
Of the 100 skeletons uncovered along the river so far, almost all are young male adults (draft age), with many carrying injuries inflicted shortly before death; broken faces, damaged skulls, an arrow head embedded in an arm bone, a thigh bone fracture which mimics that still commonly suffered by horseback riders. The skeletons of the horses were also detritus of this bronze age battle. None of these bodies were buried with funeral goods. They were not buried by family or friends or even enemies. They lay in the river unattended for some time before a flood carried them downstream and stuffed them into a mud bank, like an ancient memento  left between the pages of a forgotten diary. 
The archaeologists who discovered these skeletons want to go back to learn more about this no longer pre-historic life and death struggle. It seems important. It seems to provide proof that four thousand years ago, war had already become a standardized, ritualized young man's game, just as it is today. And in all probability, the leaders of the Uentice and Frisians spoke about the honor and nobility of battle, and the necessary sacrifices of their brave young men who died along the ancient banks of the Tollense.
The archaeologists are going back to the banks of the Tollense, because they think there is more to learn, more skeletons to be uncovered. And the most important question they want an answer to is why in God's name were these young men murdering each other? Was it amber or gold? Was it slavery or freedom? Was it fish or faith?  Four thousand years later the answer seems almost as important as it must have seemed to them.  But we already know the answer.
In truth, we are the answer to all those questions. Those men without names died to create our world. And not a single one of them would have willing made that sacrifice if it had been offered to them, because for our world to be born, theirs had to die. The Unetice and the Frisian languages, art, religion and culture all had to be devoured before our language, art, religion and culture could come into existence. All history is  cannibalism. No one willingly fights for a place at the table just to become the meal, but eventually we all are. The only ray of hope in Msr. Proust's dismal ethos is that it does not explain Professor Bond.
And in that I chose to find hope for humanity. Call me a romantic. Or maybe I'm still just a rock hound.
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Sunday, October 21, 2012

GEORGIA PEACHES Part Six

I think the villain of our story is now Senator James Gunn. He was a big man, and a vulgar bully with a quick temper, who cheated the citizens of George out millions of dollars, when a million was the equivalent of today's 12 billions. And when Gunn complained about “dishonorable interference of some of my associates”, the associate he was referring to was his fellow Senator from Georgia, James Jackson. That makes Jackson the hero of this story. But if the truth be told – and that is my goal, here – the personalities of Senator Jackson and Senator Gunn were not all that different. They were both rich and arrogant men. And they were both hotheads, known to fight duels over issues of “honor”. In fact the only real difference between Jackson and Gunn, was that Jackson was nominally fighting for the rich people of Georgia, and Gunn was fighting for rich people everywhere.
Gunn started off by offering his 'associate' a bribe. The ever dutiful Supreme Court justice James Wilson approached Senator Jackson with the promise of half a million acres of prime Yazoo lands, in exchange for his support, or at least his silence on the Yazoo swamp-land sale. Senator Jackson replied that he had fought the Revolution for the people of Georgia, and “the land was theirs, and the property of future generations” At least that was what Senator Jackson said he said. But Jackson knew what he was facing. As another observer noted, there was “nothing is going on here but land speculation...by northern sharks, together with a few Georgians who only act as lackeys.”
Jackson immediately knew he needed allies. In February of 1795 President George Washington sent a copy of the Yazoo land sale to Congress, and suggested it violated a treaty his administration had signed with the Indians. Not that Washington was looking to protect native American claims to the land they were living on. Washington just wanted the Federal government to be responsible for moving them off.  And Senator Jackson helpfully offered a bill authorizing Washington to negotiate a treaty to do just that.  Like I said, the good guys and the bad guys in most situations, are not all that different, personality wise. Its who profits from their actions that matters.
As word of the bribery and the low sale price leaked out, the public outrage exploded. On 28 March, 1795,  the Augusta Chronicle newspaper called the sale “a hellish fraud”.  Inspired, an organized mob marched the 30 miles from Augusta  to the capital of Louisville, intent upon lynching the Yazoo Gang - those members of the legislature who had voted for the sale. All of the gang still in Louisville ran for the hills, and the 'Augustinians' were reduced to hanging them in effigy.  In fact every member of the Yazoo Gang state wide was forced into hiding. Some had their homes burned. A few who were caught were beaten, a few tared and feathered and run out of town on fence rails. Some were shot at. One legislator, so the story goes, was even tracked down hiding in Virginia, where he was lynched - and not in effigy.
Jackson thought about resigning his seat in the U.S. Senate to fight the sale, but Gunn's rehearsed process preceded so quickly that it was over before Jackson could move. The depressed Jackson wrote to a friend, “I have really a good mind to...turn speculator...There is a damn sight more to be got by it”  But after being encouraged by the uproar in Georgia, he took heart again, resigned from the Federal Senate, returned home and began writing anonymous letters to the newspapers attacking the sale.
“The enormous gain of the speculator,” wrote Senator Jackson, “and the magical conversion of funds of the state into the funds of the individual” were destroying peoples' faith in their government. He told the citizens of Georgia that “It remains to you to decide whether you will nip this aristocratic influence in the bud, or leave it to be torn up by your children...thus rendering them subservient to the base and servile passions of a few Nabobs…Patience and moderation are no longer virtues, but the most infamous offices, and will be detested, with their owners, as the sycophants of a venal day.”
Grand juries were convened throughout the state to investigate the bribery and attempted bribery of their local representatives. Most towns held public meetings to denounce the sale. The general population was up in arms because since 1780 Georgia had followed the “head rights rule”, under which each head of a family had the right to 200 acres of unclaimed land, plus fifty acres per family member. With land ownership came the right to vote, and a rise in social status. The truth was the vast majority of Georgia's hoi polli would never take advantage of the head right rule. It required investment in an ax, a cow or goats or pigs, and some equipment, which not that many people had the funds to buy. And even with that investment, starting a head right farm meant clearing unclaimed land, which was back breaking work, and dangerous, and most who tried it failed. But in 1795 owning land was the American dream. And the Yazoo Gang had bought that dream, and cheaply at that.
This push and pull between the “haves” and the “want to be haves”, was resulting in the first political split in the American republic. Along with slavery, it was the original wound in America, and both are scars that we keep reopening because we continue to treat them as “absolutes”; i.e.. we call them the “haves” and the “have nots”. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, who were both land speculators, favored a strong central government, and called themselves Federalists. Thomas Jefferson, another land speculator, favored a weaker federal government, and his allies called themselves Democrats.  Senator Gunn, when he had a political philosophy, was a Federalists. Senator Jackson called himself a Democrat.  But those labels had very little to do with what had happened and what was about to happen in Georgia.  Gunn was an arrogant selfish hothead, and Jackson was an arrogant slightly less selfish hothead. The battle was between these two men who hated each other, not between doctrines.
The citizens of Georgia had already decided they needed a new Constitution, to match the new Federal one, but their constitutional convention which began on 3 May 3, 1795, was apoplectic over the Yazoo sale. The delegates could do little more than move the capital to Augusta, demand an investigation into the Yazoo sale, and then exhausted, adorned. Jackson won election to the Georgia Assembly in the fall of 1795.  In fact, in that election, all but two of the Yazoo Gang were voted out of office. The voters had spoken. In fact, the Yazoo Gang greatly strengthened the argument for universal suffrage. It turned out property owners were just as venal and prone to human failings as people who did not own property.
It was a spirit loose in the air, even in the heart of English minister and poet like Christopher Anstey. Ten years earlier this gentle man had been moved to write a long poem he called “Speculation”. “Whatever wild fantastic Dreams, Give Birth to Man's outrageous Schemes, Pursu'd without the least Pretence, To Virtue, Honesty, or Sense, Whate'er the wretched basely dare, From Pride, Ambition, or Despair, Fraud, Luxury, or Dissipation, Assumes the Name of—Speculation.” There was very little in Dr. Anstey's poem, written a decade before the French revolution, which does not apply to today's To-Big-Too-Fail bankers and hedge fund speculators.
Once in office, the new “Reform” Georgia Assembly would waste little time in dealing with the Yazoo gang. And that would open a whole new box of trouble, greed and lawyers.
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