JULY 2018

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


Friday, October 18, 2013


I don't much like John Stanly. Sure, he suffered from abandonment issues, when both his parents died in the yellow fever epidemic in 1789, leaving him an orphan at just 15. But any sympathy for him quickly evaporates under the bright hot glare of his grudges- inventing them and carrying them were his specialty. It is not a skill usually associated with politicians, who are traditionally blessed with short memories and a laissez faire morality. But John was a skilled marketer of hate. He had no foes or opponents, only enemies. A contemporary described him as “Small in stature, neat in dress, graceful in manner, with a voice well modulated, and a mind intrepid, disciplined and rich in knowledge, he became the most accomplished orator of the State.” And at 25 he acquired his most famous enemy – three time North Carolina Governor and two term congressman, Richard Spraight.
In John's envious eyes, the elder politician (Richard was almost twice John's age) had committed one fundamental sin above all others - in 1798 the Congressman had switch from the Federalist party of President John Adams, to Thomas Jefferson's insurgent Democratic-Republican party. John Stanly had made the same switch, but earlier, and been planing on running against Richard in the upcoming election of 1800. It seemed to John that Richard had switched especially to block his career. And there may have been some truth in that. But where most politicians would have marked it down to the rough-and-tumble rules of politics, John took it as a personal affront. Besides, John decided to run against him anyway.
It was a nasty campaign, during which John accused Richard of pursuing “the crooked policy of being occasionally on both sides” of an issue - in other words, he said Richard was a flip-flopper. The charge stuck and John won the election. But winning was not enough for the ambitious young lawyer. In 1802, when Richard Spraight was standing for election to the North Carolina state Senate, Representative Stanly felt the need to insert himself into that fight, too. On the Sunday afternoon of August 8, 1802, John arose on a street corner in their mutual hometown of New Bern, North Carolina ( the “Athens of the South”) to denounce his ex- Federalist opponent to the town's 3,000 residents. During his rousing speech he also found time to again question Richard Spraight’s loyalty to the Democratic-Republican Party, saying the Federalists knew they “could always get Mr. Straight’s vote”. It was pure meanness, and it burned.
Richard was infuriated when "friends" told him of this attack from a fellow Democratic-Republican. He immediately wrote John, telling him the allegations were “a direct attack on my character, and one that I will not suffer any man to make with impunity.” Richard demanded “that satisfaction which one Gentleman has a right to demand from another. ” In other words he was challenging John to a duel. Then, rather than send the note directly to John, he sent it to Edward Graham, a friend of John's, and ask him to forward it.
Edward did so immediately, and John, who was in the midst of his own tight re-election fight, decided it would be better to not appear to have precipitated this crises - which he had just done. So, in his reply he disingenuously reminded Richard, “you are a candidate, while I am a voter” and suggested, “I presume you will acknowledge my right to converse” on the positions of candidates for public office. But, per the code of dueling, John sent his response not directly to Richard but to Richard's friend, Dr. Edward Pasteur (a distant relation to the French scientist).
When he received John's missive, Richard decided to accept the younger man's unstated apology, writing back that he would like to publish their letters, as remarks made by supporters on both sides “may have made an improper impression on the public mind”. John agreed, and in the next week's edition of the New Bern Gazette the exchange of letters appeared, along with a few remarks on the affair by Richard.
John was out of town when the notes were published, 30 miles up the winding Trent River, attending to family business in the little brick courthouse in Trenton. It appears the business was unpleasant, because when he returned and saw Richard's comments and their notes in cold print, John was enraged. He believed he had made “humiliating concessions”, and sought to correct them in the next edition of the Gazette. His letter prompted Richard's correction of John's correction, which John then counter-counter-corrected, which Richard then corrected yet again. It all did wonders for sales of the Gazette, but the newspaper refused John's next reply, in part because the editor was John Pasteur, brother to Dr. Edward Pasteur, friend of Richard's, and because the language had begun to invite lawsuits for slander and liable.
But John was so determined to have the last word in this argument, that he paid for a handbill to be published and distributed around New Bern on Saturday, September 4th, 1802, in which he accused Richard of showing a “malicious, low and unmanly spirit”.  Richard immediately responded with his own flier (printed up that very afternoon) calling John “both a liar and a scoundrel.” The three time Governor than added, “I shall always hold myself in readiness to give him satisfaction”. And that finally did it, for John. He could now justify challenging the revered politician to a duel, “as soon as may be convenient”. The older man said tomorrow would be fine, after church of course.
At 5:30 on Sunday Afternoon, September 5, 1802, they met on the field of honor - in this case, in the vacant lot where people tethered their horses, behind the still unfinished Masonic temple and theatre. The location was just outside the cities' jurisdiction, but convenient enough that 300 spectators showed up (today, the corner of Hancock and Johnson streets). Richard was accompanied by Dr. Pasteur, and John's second was Edward Graham. Both flintlock pistols were loaded and locked, and the two combatants stepped out 20 paces apart. And at the dropping of a handkerchief, both men fired, and both men missed.
This was not unexpected. Accuracy with a flintlock pistol was so bad that one American cavalry officer noted during the revolution that his strategy was to ride “full tilt” toward the enemy and “heave” his weapon at them. Besides, this gave the aggrieved gentlemen a chance to come to their senses, call it even and go home. But neither John nor Richard were willing to let go of their pride. Their weapons were re-loaded, and they returned to their firing positions. Again the scarf floated to earth, and again they fired, and again they both missed.
A few observers suggested that the 'code duello' had been satisfied, but neither man was willing to admit it just yet. For the third time the two stood facing each other, and for the third time they both fired. This time a lead ball cut through John Stanly's shirt collar. But it drew no blood, and appeals to reason and common sense fell on the deaf ears of the proud southern gentlemen. For a fourth time the pistols were loaded and primed. For a fourth time the two adversaries took their positions, and for the fourth time the cloth floated to the ground, and both men fired. This time Richard was hit in the side by a ball, and immediately dropped to the ground, blood rushing from his wound. Honor had been satisfied. The duel was over. Once again, John had won
Richard died the next day. Two months later the North Carolina legislature voted “An Act to Prevent the Vile Practice of Dueling Within This State”. The law forbid anyone who had participated in a duel from holding elective office and it was aimed specifically at punishing John Stanly. John was forced to resign from congress, but he appealed to Governor Williams, claiming it was not possible for him to have “bowed myself to the opprobrious epithets of ‘liar & scoundrel’” Governor Williams, a gentleman and a Democratic Republican, agreed, and pardoned Stanly. After that the law was largely ignored. Gentlemen simply crossed into either Virginia or South Carolina to engage in the vile practice, and over the next 58 years Tar Heel politicians fought at least another 27 duels. And because of duels,  John Stanly would bury two of his own brothers, victims of their exaggerated sense of honor. Apparently the meek would inherit the earth, but not in North Carolina.
John Stanly was elected to another term in Congress, and had a distinguished career in the North Carolina house, elected Speaker three times. And he seemed to have made it his personal mission to taunt the son of his victim. When Richard Spraight Jr.was elected to the North Carolina House, an observer wrote, John “seemed to delight in torturing the son by look and gesture, and intonations of his voice, when other methods were not devised. Mr. Spaight, however, avoided an issue.” In 1820 the two ran against each other for the state senate seat, and Richard Spraight Jr. finally won - in 1835 he was even elected Governor.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, January 16, 1827, while leading a heated debate in the North Carolina House, John Stanly had suffered a stroke. He never held public office again. He was 43 years old, a year younger than Richard Spraight senior had been when John had shot and killed him. But John Stanly lived as an invalid for another 6 long years. He rarely left his home, and fell deeply in debt. He became a bitter and angry man, abandoned by many who had once trembled at his voice and threats. But given his argumentative character, that was inevitable.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I want to label the late Bob Lincoln as a shlimazel, but its a Yiddish term and not generally well known. Most people would probably call him a Jonah – but that would not be entirely accurate. See, according to chapter ten in the Qur'an, God gave Jonah a dangerous job, and to avoid the assignment he jumped ship for someplace else. God sent a terrible storm to swamp the boat, and when Jonah confessed his sin to the the terrified crew, after a few moments of theological discussion, they threw the wayward prophet overboard. That is when, in the words of the Christian hymn “...A whale came up and swallowed him whole.” During the three days Jonah was inside the great fish he prayed for forgiveness, and guided by God, the fish “threw Jonah out on a bar of sand.” Every year on Yom Kippur Jews read the Book of Jonah and ask for God's forgiveness. And now you know why Christians, Jews and Muslims have spent the last 2,000 years slaughtering each other; its because they share so many stories like this one, which differ only in the details. But as Newt Gingrich can tell you,  its the details that can cost you an election. But I digress...
Anyway, a Jonah is somebody you don't want on your boat, or babysitting your 401K. A Jonah is cursed, and he drags his curse around with him, rubbing it off on unsuspecting victims who are drowned because God is actually trying to punch the ticket of the guy in next stateroom. And a shlimazel is just like a Jonah, except that God is not involved. So, I think of the very late Bob Lincoln as a shlimazel. Allow me to explain.
On the day President Abraham Lincoln died, his eldest son, the late Robert Todd Lincoln, (above, called Bob by his father) had just gotten back from the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House. He was late, of course, and when his parents invited Bob to go to the theater with them, Bob begged off and stayed home. He went to bed early and had to be awakened when word arrived that his father had been shot. He made it to the bedside before his father died, but then Bob had to share his private grief with the grief of millions of strangers. And maybe that was what infected Bob, and turned him into a shlimazel..
As the son of Abraham, it was inevitable that Bob Lincoln would be drawn into Republican politics, but he resisted as long as he could - late again. He never stood for election, and when President Rutherford B. Hayes offered him the post of Assistant Secretary of State, Bob said “No, thanks”. But, finally in 1881, he accepted the position as Secretary of War under President James Garfield. That job lasted barely six months, because that was only as long as his boss lasted..
Just after nine on Saturday morning, July 2nd, 1881, at the very beginning of another disgusting hot, humid Washington three day holiday weekend, Bob Lincoln was pacing around the central waiting room of the Gothic eyesore that was the Potomac and Baltimore railroad station (above), at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 6th street. The late Bob Lincoln was early this morning, I guess because he himself wasn't going anywhere. He was there to log-in a little suck-up time with his boss, President James Garfield, who was about to leave for a two week vacation on the 9:15 train to Baltimore.
Yes, Garfield had only been on the job for about three months, and it seemed a little quick to be taking a vacation, but he was the boss and the rules are different for bosses. So here was poor Bob, wandering around this cavernous hothouse, pathetically hoping to make some headway against his biggest rival in the cabinet, the even bigger suck up, Secretary of State James Blaine, known about town as the “monumental liar from the state of Maine”. Blaine at this very moment was walking into the station arm and arm with President Garfield. And that was when Charles Guiteau fired off two rounds of a Bulldog .44 caliber pistol right into Garfield's back.
Bob was not a cop. He did not run to the sound of the gunfire. But when he heard people shouting that the President had been shot, Bob ran toward the Constitution Avenue entrance. Once again he was late. He found Garfield lying on the floor of the “Ladies Waiting Room”. Guiteau had already given himself up, eagerly confessing to everyone and anyone within earshot. Bob and Blaine and Garfield's two sons helped the President to his feet, and escorted him up stairs, away from the lookey-loos. Here he was examined, and since the wounds did not appear to be life threatening – because he was not already dead - it was decided the President should be taken back to the White House. Bob left him there, and returned to his weekend.
It had all the makings of an obscure footnote in history, until the doctors showed up. There were sixteen of them, and several of them shoved their dirty fingers into the President's wounds, looking for the bullets. They did not find them, but within a few days Garfield found he had a raging infection. What finished the poor schmuck off, on September 19, 1881, was a heart attack, which is what kills you after two months of fever and diarrhea. Bob Lincoln was not at the death bed. He had already done his part.
Bob left government service after that and went back into private industry, as a lobbyist for the railroads. And it was as President of the Pullman Cars Association that he was invited to a Presidential reception at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, on the afternoon of September 6, 1901. Bob was late again, and as he was just running up the short steps of the Temple of Music Pavilion (above - X marks the spot), he heard two quick gun shots.
William McKinley, the third President of the United States to be assassinated, had just been assassinated. Bob raced into the exhibit, in time to see McKinley drop to the floor. He needed to rush, because thanks to the advances in medicine in the intervening quarter of a century since Garfield's murder, McKinley suffered for only eight days, before the doctors helped him to die on September 14, 1901. Bob Lincoln slink-ed out of town, determined to avoid contributing to any further bloody historical events. It would be the last time an American President would be assassinated until 1963, and who can say that was not because Bob Lincoln chose to be circumspect about being near another President. When it was suggested Bob might wish to attend another Presidential speech, Bob responded, “No, I'm not going, and they'd better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.” But it turned out Bob's affliction not only affected Presidents.
Six years later, on Tuesday. August 9, 1910, Bob and his family boarded the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, in Newark, New Jersey. They were looking forward to a few weeks holiday touring Europe when in the midst of the bon voyage celebrations an angry ex-city worker took a shot at brand new New York City Mayor, William Gaynor – shades of Garfield's shooting!  Gayner was hit in the throat, and in the famous photograph taken just seconds after the shots (above), the old man in the white hat rushing to assist Mayor Gaynor, is none other than the late Bob Lincoln - and thus we  have photographic proof that Bob was a shlimazel!  The doctors largely left Mayor Gaynor alone, and he died of his wounds, three years later.
The only other public occasion which involved a living President and Bob Lincoln was on Memorial Day, Tuesday, May 30th, 1922. Bob (above, on the right) was 78 years old by then, when he attended the dedication of his father's memorial in Washington, D.C. In fact there were three Presidents present at that ceremony. The fat man, (above left) was Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been President in 1911 when he signed the bill authorizing the construction of the monument. He survived his close encounter with Bob by another eight years. Vice President “Silent Cal” Coolidge was also there (not shown). He would become President, after the death of President William G. Harding (above center), who gave a rousing speech at the dedication. But Harding would not die until August of 1923, fifteen months and a day after rubbing shoulders with Bob – which seems like a rather extended time frame for an effective curse. And Coolidge would last another nine years before he died. The curse, it seemed, had been either broken or maybe it was just exhausted. Bob sure seems to have been. 
In fact, Bob Lincoln himself (above) would die sooner than any of his final potential victims. He suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage in the summer of 1926. When he died Bob was the last surviving member of the Garfield cabinet, having outlived his rival James Blaine, who did not even make it out of the nineteenth century (he had died, January 1893) . Bob Lincoln was also the only man in American history to have been present at the murder of two American Presidents, not to mention his relation to a third, his own farther. Bob  was also the only child of Abraham Lincoln to reach adulthood, and to have children of his own.  But sadly his last heir - and thus Abraham Lincoln's last blood relative - died in 1985.  The line of Lincoln is no more. Bob could not be blamed for any of the unusual coincidences that marred his life, but neither could they be ignored. To call them bad luck seems a pathetic explanation. To call Bob a Jonah seems over-wrought. I think he was just an innocent shlimazel.
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Sunday, October 13, 2013


I have no doubt there were spies in Ravenna on January 11th. There are always spies in border towns, and traveling north out of Roman territory, the first town you reached in Cisalpine Gau (northern Italy)  was the little fishing village of Ravenna. A man could be a governor here, even a dictator. But just fifteen miles to the south in Ariminum, he would command no soldiers, no bureaucrats, he would be not the governor but governed by the politicians 200 miles to the southwest, the self described center of the civilized world; Rome. And the man the spies from Rome were watching this winter day in 49 B.C. E., was the governor of both CisAlpine and TransAlpine Gaul - Julius Caesar.
Caesar's stated reason for being in Ravenna was to check up on his investment in a gladiator's school. That was logical - given that the tens of thousands of slaves Caesar had captured in his conquest of Trans Alpine Gaul (i.e. France) and during his recent invasion of Britain, had be converted into cash. Laborers and house servants could quickly be sold, but gladiators required training. The reward was they could always be sold at a premium, so, of course, Caesar was here to inspect the construction of his school, and to witness a display of his gladiators in training. Then, after a light lunch, Caesar went to the baths, another public appearance for a Roman politician. And in the evening he sat down for a banquet, the kind of thing public officials are still expected to do almost daily. And as the sun set, according to Plutarch, “...he left the company, having desired them to make merry till his return, which (he assured them) they would not have long to wait for." It was enough to lull most spies to sleep. But the Romans were about to learn what the Gauls had learned before them - if you want to know what Caesar is about to do, you did not watch Caesar. You watch his troops.
Three years earlier, in December of 53 B.C., a member of the ruling First Triumvirate, and the primary ally of Caesar, Crassus, a had been killed in Parthia. At about the same time another Caesar supporter, Tribune Publious Clodius Pulcher, had been killed in a staged brawl – something which had become common in the dieing Roman Republic. The Tribune's angry supporters had built Plucher's funeral pyre in the Senate House, which had resulted in the Senate House burning down. The Senate aristocrats used this act of vandalism as justification to elect the second member of the Triumvirate, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, as Sole Consul, with powers to put down what was described as an insurrection. When some nervous Senators hinted that there were few soldiers in Rome to protect them, Pompey reassured them, “I have only to stomp my foot to raise an army” And while he began to arrest Caesar's supporters, on January 7th 49 B.C, the Senate voted to order Caesar to disband his own legions and return to Rome for trial. That law was vetoed by the two Tribunes who were were still loyal to Caesar, Mark Antony and Quintus Cassius Longinus. They were promptly driven out of the Rome at sword point.
Caesar (above), the third member of the Triumvirate, was still in Trans Alpine Gaul. And he offered a compromise. He was willing to give up his army and return to Rome, if Pompey gave up his new post as Sole Counsel. And, Caesar also requested the Senate allow him to stand for election as Counsel while he was still in Trans Alpine Gaul, with, presumably, Pompey standing for re-election as co-Counsel at the same time. It seemed a fair compromise. If elected (which was assured) both men would have immunity from prosecution in the courts, and would jointly rule the city of Rome for a year. Pompey could have accepted the deal simply by resigning. But he did not trust Caesar enough to take the offer. And the aristocrats in the Senate rejected out of hand their half of the compromise. Caesar's ten year term as Governor of both Gauls was about to run out, and as soon as he was no longer legally protected by his legions, the Senate could deal with him. So the Senate could afford to wait and watch
Caesar could not, and did not. His 6,000 veterans of the 12th legion were in winter barracks near the present day port of Trieste, Serbia, at the head of the Adriatic. Early in January, expecting the Senate would reject his compromise, Caesar had ordered these men to sail for Ravenna. The advance elements had arrived at the little fishing village a week later. And on the afternoon of the January 11th,  5,000 infantry and 300 cavalry marched out of the “Rimi” gate, headed south.
After dusk, having slipped out on his dinner party,  Caesar made his way on foot to a mill on the outskirts of the Ravinna. Here his aides had a hired carriage pulled by four mules,  waiting. Caesar's wagon followed a back road across the surrounding marshes. But they got lost in the dark, and the carriage got stuck in the mud.  Dawn found the great Caesar on foot, asking for help from a lowly farmer. By mid morning he had finally joined his men, on the banks of the River Rubicon (or the red river).
This was the traditional border of Rome. Beyond, in the village of Rimi, was the end of the 200 year old great “Northern Road”, the Via Flaminia (above), which wound its way across the Apennines, the central mountain spine of Italy, through narrow gouges and bridging rushing torrents, to the Field of Mars, through the Flaminia gate in the city's walls, right to the base of Capitoline Hill, the central citadel of Rome itself. Crossing this border at the head of an army had been forbidden for a Roman general for two hundred years. Crossing this border would brand Caesar and his soldiers as outlaws, subject to execution by any citizen at any time. So this called for a bit of theater.
The veterans of the 12th    legion  had followed Caesar from conquest to triumph across Gaul, had even crossed the Rhine and invaded Germania. But this was something different, this was an assault on the Senatus, Populusque, Romanus - the Senate and the People of Rome, symbolized by the S-P-Q-R atop every banner the soldiers followed, on the very coins they were paid with. Nervously the legionaries awaited the stirring speech they expected Caesar to give before asking them to become traitors and outlaws.
Instead, a man suddenly grabbed a trumpet from one of the musicians, raced across the shallow stream blowing “the advance”. Caesar turned to his officers, and said, “We can still retreat. But once we pass this little bridge, there is nothing left but to fight..” Then he turned toward the bridge, and called out, “Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us” As he crossed the bridge himself, he is supposed to have said, almost to himself, “ Alea iacta est”, the Latin phrase usually translated as “The die is now cast!”
Across the river Mark Anthony and Cassius Longinus waited, physical evidence of the arrogance of the Senate. Here Caesar drew the troops into a square, tore his robes in a show of humility, and led the soldiers in a personal pledge of fidelity to himself, to Caesar. The Roman Republic was now dead. All that had yet to be done was to bury it. According to Suetonius, his legion now “marched so fast the rest of the way that he reached Ariminum before morning and took it.”
Rome was electrified and terrified by the news. Caesar began his desperate march down the Via Flaminia, and it quickly became clear that the Senate's previous arrogance had turned it a triumphal parade. So great was the frustration with the Senate that city after city threw their gates open to Caesar. Forces sent to stop him, went over to him. '
Senator Favonius suggested it was high time that Pompey (above) stomped his foot. Pompey's own legions were in Spain. The city had raised two legions and was assembling a third, but they were new recruits, and Pompey was not interested in matching them against Caesar's veterans from Gaul.  Pompey did not increase his popularity when he informed the aristocratic members of the Senate that they should get out of town. Many denounced Pompey as a coward. But they still followed Pompey and their fellow aristocrats when they grabbed their wealth, and ran for Brundisium, the traditional port at the heel of the Italian boot. In their haste they left behind the treasury of Rome, the horde of gold and silver looted from Carthage, stolen from Egypt, taxed from Spain and Maccidonia. It was the first place Caesar went, when he got to town.
They couldn't find the keys to the vaults. So Caesar sent for locksmiths. A Tribune reminded Caesar he was violating the law. Caesar suggested, “If what I do displeases you, leave.” The doors were forced open, and Caesar had enough money to pay his soldiers, and build his empire. But his own murder stepped through that vault door, right next to him.
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