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Friday, November 08, 2013

THE GREAT ABSCONDING

I am sure you have heard of “Tricky Dick” Nixon, and probably “Slick Willy” Clinton, and maybe even Martin Van “Ruin”, or “Ruther-”fraud” B. Hays. I certainly believe Mitt “47%” Romney should have known about “Ten Cent” Jimmy Buchanan - who opined that a dime was a fair daily wage, and vetoed new colleges because “"there were already too many educated people -” because if Mitt had, old “47%” would have never said such a stupid thing...in public. But I'm willing to bet you have never heard of James William “Honest Dick” Tate, even if you are from Kentucky. But you ought to have.
 
Sans his nom de plume, there was nothing special about James Tate (above). He was of average height and average weight. His forehead was made large by his retreating jet-black hair line. But his bushy “coffee stainer” mustache was the fashion in his day. However, it did hide a down turned mouth, that perhaps hinted at the tragic death of Howard, his three year old son. Still his daughter, Edmonia Lloyd Tate, survived, as did his loving wife Lucy Hawkins Tate. Then in 1867, after 13 years in various appointed positions in Kentucky politics, the 36 year old James Tate had so “materially contributed, by his personal popularity, to the great success of the Democratic party"  the he was nominated and elected State Treasurer.
The Treasurer was responsible for all funds collected in fees, permits, taxes, fines and rents, managed the state's bank accounts, paid state employees and dispensed benefits and verified and paid all bills. And despite it being about now that James acquired his cognomen, I cannot escape the suspicion “Honest Dick” Tate was not chosen for his probity, but for his “popularity”. In fact it was Democratic Party supporters who actually bonded him, pledging their wealth as a guarantee of Tate's “rock sand honesty”, as required by law before he could assumed the position. But that guarantee was contingent upon other state officials verifying “Honest Dick's” work And there is no evidence anybody ever actually did that.
To the public, James “Honest Dick “Tate was an average man, making an average salary, just $2,400 a year (barely $60,000 today), with perks worth perhaps a thousand dollars more. Jame's average unassuming home, at Second and Shelby Streets in Frankfort, cost all of $6,000 (about $100k today). But James was moving in powerful circles now, re-elected every two years for the next two decades. He was the “Treasurer for Life”, and it became known in Frankfort Democratic circles that should a politician need to borrow a few thousand dollars, as Governor Preston H. Leslie did in 1872, then “Honest Dick” would be happy to accept their IOU, and not be too bothersome about demanding prompt repayment. So amiable was “Honest Dick” that he had a safe filled with personal checks, cashed for Democratic friends, but never submitted for reimbursement.
James Tate also chased his own financial Eldorado, investing in land in Indiana, Virginia and Tennessee, along with several coal mines in Kentucky. However the land he bought does not appear to have appreciated in value, and the mines never seemed to produce enough coal to justify their purchase price. James also tried speculating in stocks and, it appears, when those investments failed, more direct forms of gambling. And like all gamblers, losing was just another excuse to risk more.
All of this was below the surface, while in the public view the 1878 “Biographical Encyclopedia of Kentucky” noted that “Honest Dick” Tate was “successively re-elected by popular majorities, perhaps exceeding those obtained by any other candidate for office in the State...it would seem that his lease on the office might be regarded as a fixed fact.” And in 1886, John McAfee described James Tate as the “trusted and honored treasurer” with an “unblemished record for probity and principle...(James) is held in high esteem, and his integrity and forbearance are regarded as of the highest order.”. But rumors must have been floating about Frankfort, because during the 1887 campaign for governor, the perennial second Kentucky party Republicans brought the issue to the surface.
Their candidate that year was the ex-prosecutor from Garrard County, orator William O'Connell Brady, and in what may have been the first Republican use of a “Big Government” attack, Brady charged the Democrats had created unneeded extravagant new offices, like Railroad Commissioners and an Agricultural Bureau. And almost as an aside, Brady suggested the time was past due for an audit of “Honest Dick” Tate's books. The Republicans had no evidence, but the attacks were so successful that after just one debate, ex-Confederate General and Democratic candidate Simon Bolivar Buckner, invented a reason to avoid any further debates.
Democrat Buckner defeated Republican Brady, of course, but his August 3, 1887 margin of victory was just 5 points, compared with a 19 point Democratic win in the 1883 election. Brady had made the strongest Republican showing since the Civil War, and it scared the hell out of the Democrats. In the same election, James “Honest Dick” Tate won re-election for the 11th time, by a margin of 67,000 votes, far more impressive than Governor Buckner's 16,712 vote margin.
It was that fall, that newly elected Democratic State Senator John Kerr Hendrick, an ex-prosecutor from Livingston County, called for a full audit of “Honest Dick” Tate's books. But James Tate said a family illness required his attention, and he needed a little time to get the records together. Senator Hendricks thought Tate was stalling, but the Governor agreed to put the audit off until the spring of 1888.
It was than that a change appeared in “Honest Dick's” modus operendi. Some on his staff noted cash deposits in the state's bank accounts slowed to a trickle. And, if any had noticed, he paid in full a number of his personal debts. Then on Wednesday, March 14, 1888, Henry Murray, a Treasury Clerk, noticed his boss in the office vault, filling two tobacco sacks with gold and silver coins, and an approximately 4 inch thick roll of paper money. Murray assumed the Treasurer was preparing to make a bank deposit. And even after “Honest Dick” was found to have slipped out of the office unseen, no one was alarmed. A note left on his desk, informed the staff he was going to Louisville for two days. It caused little notice. Long time staffers knew better than to expect the boss to return to the office before Monday.
But “Honest Dick” did not return on Monday morning. A staffer dispatched to his home on Second Street, was told his wife Lucy had not heard from him since he left for Louisville, the previous Wednesday. Telegraphed inquires to the Ohio River town said the Treasurer was last seen on Friday evening at a bar, drinking heavily. Saturday, March 17th, he was seen boarding a train for Cincinnati. After that, James “Honest Dick” Tate simply vanished. Newspapers would call it the “Great Kentucky Absconsion”.
The scene left behind told the story of a desperately disorganized personality. Staffers said it had always been that way. The account books seemed written in barely legible hieroglyphics, filled with post dated transactions, erasures, corrections, and indecipherable notations. The safe contained women's beaded bags and purses, and a satchel belonging to a dead infant. It was also brimming with $150,000 in IOUs and “cold checks” from $5 to $5,000, some going back ten years. No hard cash was left behind except for a bundle of $1,000 in $10 bills, found under the safe. How long it had laid there in the dust, no one could say.
In the afternoon of Tuesday March 20th, 1888, the Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives, and the President of the state Senate, the Secretary of State, received the following message: “It having been learned this morning that said James W. Tate has been absent from his office since the 15th instant...there is in all probability a large deficit in his public accounts...we by virtue of the authority vested in us...hereby suspend said James W. Tate...” It was signed “S. B. BUCKNER, Governor”. From this day forward, “Honest Dick” Tate would be referred to as “The Defaulting Treasurer.”.
George Willis, a Democratic spin doctor was left spinning. “Such flash of lightning and peal of thunder as was never heard before or since came out of clear sky and rocked the state and the Democratic party as nothing had done since the (Civil) war." Kentucky's state historian noted that “almost everyone was under suspicion either as an accomplice of Tate or because of owing the treasury money, and those who had borrowed money from the treasury were numerous.” Briefly, and perhaps for the first time in Kentucky history, the politicians were ashamed. The Governor made a personal loan to keep the state afloat for awhile.
So inaccurate and confused was The Defaulting Treasurer's record keeping that it proved difficult to make an accurate account of the missing funds. And it was not in the interest of those with checks and IOU's in the safe to make an accurate accounting. A week later Governor Buckner announced the missing tally at approximately $247,128.50 (almost $6 million today). Within a week James “Honest Dick” Tate was impeached in absentia on six counts and removed from office, and then indicted by a grand jury. A reward of $5,000 was offered for his arrest. But the money was never claimed.
Luckily, daughter Edmomia had married a man named Martin, and was living free and clear in distant Kansas City, so the abandoned Lucy could live with her. Wife Lucy had to leave Frankfort because the state of Kentucky had seized the house and everything of value within it, all Jame's bank and stock accounts, including 100 barrels of “Big Spring” bourbon whiskey – another bad investment by the “Defaulting Treasurer”.
 
The house, the whiskey, the investments, were sold at auction, and collected $50,000 (over $1 million today.) But that left the bond holders on the hook for the remaining $200,000 (about $5 million today). They paid, but thanks to a Kentucky Supreme Court decision in 1895, none of those who had authored checks or IOU's found in the safe were required to reimburse the bond holders. That judgement was marked “Not to be officially reported”, and sealed. Most of the names on the IOU's never became public.
But what happened to the “Defaulting Treasurer”, “the Great Absconder”, AKA James “Honest Dick” Tate? He was rumored to be everywhere from Bremen, Germany, to Toronto, Canada. Some said he had joined the expiate Confederate community in Honduras, or Brazil, where slavery remained until May of 1888. In October of 1893 there was a brief flurry of excitement when a newspaper reported he was “Said to have been seen on the “Cotton Belt Train.” in Arizona Territory. But that proved to be mistaken identity, since the New York Times had reported “friends who should know” said he had died in China three years earlier. In 1894 Navy Ensign Hugh Rodman, who had known Tate back in Frankfort, reportedly had dinner with the “Defaulting Treasurer” in Japan, and said he was not well. That should not have been surprising, since he would have been well over sixty by then.
Edmonia later admitted to receiving letters from her father, posted from San Francisco, British Columbia and Japan. The last one read, in part, “I know I will be much denounced and by parties who forget former circumstances”. He professed to being interested in returning to denounce his partners in crime. In 1896 1,200 Kentuckians signed a petition asking the Governor to grant a pardon to James Tate, so he could return and name names.. No such pardon was ever offered. With time new scandals rocked Kentucky, and people forgot about “Honest Dick “ Tate. But we should remember our mistakes. That is how we learn.
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Sunday, November 03, 2013

ET TU Part Five, WINNER TAKE ALL

I wish I could have seen at least one of the parades in the first week of September, 46 B.C..E. They lasted over four days and the spectacle must have been magnificent. Each morning the units formed up on property once owned by the last King of Rome - renamed the Field of Mars. There were cohorts of unarmed soldiers, battalions of slaves, wagons piled high with booty and treasures, and bizarre animals from distant conquered lands. All four parades were to exalt just one man, Julius Ceasar. When all was ready each day, Ceasar, dressed in his Senatorial robe (called in Latin "a candidus") edged in divine purple and with a laurel wreath atop his bald head, would climb into his chariot, and enter the usually bared Gate of Triumph.  Just inside the city walls Ceasar would symbolically surrender his command to representatives of the Roman Senate and the Urban Praetir – the mayor. But if he bothered to notice each day, Ceasar would have seen increasing tension on the face of one man in particular, the Praetor and Senator, Marcus Junius Brutus.
The politician Cicero described his contemporary Brutus as having “the courage of a man but the brains of a child”. You see, Brutus suffered from daddy issues. His father had been a first rate lawyer and a second rate politician. In 78 B.C.E. Brutus the elder had gotten involved with the Catiline Conspiracy. How much Burtus the elder actually knew of the murky plot is debatable, but he ended up in the Cisalpine city of Mutina (modern Modena), besieged by an army loyal to the Senate. The elder Brutus worked out a deal to surrender the town and switch sides. But the Senate army commander, Pompey the Great, decided he couldn't trust the elder Brutus, and had him executed. Thirty years later Brutus the Younger took up to the sword to fight for the Senate and for his idol, Pompey - the man who had orphaned him.
The senators now led the Triumph along the Sacred Way, between cheering crowds. Behind them came the trumpeters, followed by the carts of booty, the slaves, and two white sacrificial bulls. Then came the stacks of captured arms, and then the political prisoners, the generals, kings and queens, staggering in their chains. And only then came Ceasar, under a shower of flowers. He was over 50 now, but still handsome to Roman eyes. Behind him came men from his legions, singing obscene soldier songs, mostly about their commander.
The widow of Brutus the Elder had become the mistress of the young Julius Ceasar. Their affair was so well known in Rome that it was rumored Ceasar was the younger Brutus' real father. It was an absurd claim. The year Brutus was born, Ceasar was just 15. Still, it was yet another reason for the rumors refused to die, and even gained popularity after Pompey's defeat at Physallus in 48 B.C. After fighting alongside Pompey in that battle, Brutus had written Ceasar a letter of apology. And amazingly, Ceasar had forgiven him, even adopting him and appointing him governor of TransAlpine Gaul, one of Ceasar's old posts.
Now, Ceasar's policy of magnanimity was an obvious attempt to make his one-time enemies beholden to him. But in the case of Brutus, Ceasar was also trying to avoiding hurting his old girlfriend, Burtus' mother. I get the feeling this is what passed for love with Ceasar, dispensing favors as a substitute for affection and intimacy. And if you were expecting more from the great man, you were certain to be disappointed. Open affection was not Ceasar's style. Besides, after Pompey's death, he was pretty busy.
Once each Triumphant parade had reached the Capitoline Hill, Ceasar climbed the steps to the Temple of Jupiter. Before entering he removed his laurel wreath as a sign of humility. Then, inside, he watched the two while bulls sacrificed, and their blood was smeared on his face. Then he handed over his political prisoners, such as Leader of the Gauls, Vercongetroix. In fact the big Gaul had spent the last five years held a few hundred yards away, in the prison atop Tullianum Rock. Now he was returned to the prison, lowered back into the dungeon, and tied to a post. A strung bow was slipped over his head and twisted until he was slowly strangled to death. Not all political prisoners were sacrificed during Ceasar's four triumphs. On day two Celepatra 7's younger sister, Arsinoe 4, was spared, but sent to a temple in Greece, which she was not permitted to leave for the rest of her life.
In October 48 B.C., after learning of the death of Pompey, Ceasar had taken possession of the royal palace in Alexandria, Egypt. He had then destroyed the army of the Pharoah Ptolemy 13 and his younger sister Arsinoe 4. He drowned, she had been captured. Then Ceasar set Cleopatra 7 on the throne, making a firm alliance with her to feed his armies and refill his purse. After a fertile diversion with Cleo, on June 23, 47 B.C., Ceasar had set off on a forced march, reminiscent of his quick invasion of Spain two years earlier. Ceasar had crossed the Sinai, marched through Judea and Syria, and the eastern half of modern day Turkey, covering 800 miles in just 47days. On August 2nd at Zile, Ceasar then crushed an army under the the rebellious King Pharnaces, and captured his Roman Senate advisor, Gaius Cassius Longinus. So smashing was his victory, that Ceasar's message informing the Senate was reduced to only three words - “veni, vidi, vici”. The translation reads, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” But in this case, Ceasar proved to be slightly optimistic.
His mistake was in underestimating Cassius, a smart and feisty aristocrat. Cassius had warned against the invasion of Parthia back in 53 B.C. The few legionnaires who survived the debacle of Carrhea, were saved because Cassius lead them to safety. After his own capture in 47 B.C., Caesar offered Cassius a command in the expedition to destroy the last of the Senates' forces in Tunisia. But Cassius said no. Almost any other Roman politician would have killed Cassius for that refusal. But again, Caesar was being magnanimous. He had then decided to risk leaving this hot head unattended, loose in Rome.
Back in his  Triumpate , and leaving the Temple of Jupiter, Ceasar now stood at the top of the steps while Marc Anthony held the laurel wreath over his head. The crowd cheered this ritual, meant to display the hero's rejection of an offer of Kingship. But it seemed to those with suspicious minds that on each of the four days, Ceasar had waited a little longer before rejecting the laurel wreath. Brutus wasn't certain he noticed such reluctance on Ceasar's part. But his brother-in-law Cassius, assured Brutus that he had indeed seen it.
From the Capitaline Hill, marching along the Sacred Way, the Triumpate parade led to the Circus Flaminius, an open space adjacent to the Tiber River and Mars' Field. Here the city held amateur chariot races, and public meetings. Now long tables were set for a banquet, where thousands of average Roman citizens could feast on exotic foods from the newly conquered lands. But this had been a civil war, Roman had killed Roman, and other than the first days triumph to celebrate Ceasar's conquest of Gaul (50 B.C.), the lands Ceasar had recently conquered had already been Roman lands. There were many within the Senate who did not feel Ceasar should have been granted those three days of triumph for his victories over Egypt (48 B.C.), over King Pharnaces (47 B.C.) and the Senate Armies in North Africa and Spain (46 B.C.)
But the promise of parades and free meals, and the hundreds of new Senators Ceasar had appointed, had swayed the Senate to vote to approve the unprecedented four Triumphs. As the sun set on the final Triumph, as the last tipsy guest staggered off to the vomitorium, Julius Ceasar was at the pinnacle of his power.
But of all men, Ceasar was the most likely to have known, there was nowhere left to go from here but down. 
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