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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, June 27, 2014

FIRST DISSENTER

I suppose someone had to be first, and John Billington was as  likely a choice as any other man. Rumor has it that John left England in 1620 to escape his creditors. That would not have been unusual in a time when debt was a crime. Still, if he was a Catholic, as others rumors indicate, that would have been enough to drive John Billington to abandon the world he knew for the dangers of a distant, unsettled shore, looking for what was to be a basic American right, religious freedom. He did not find it. What we know as fact, is that of all the voyagers who sailed on board the Mayflower with Billington, only forty could have been called "Puritans", or "Pilgrim Fathers". The majority, sixty-one men, women and children, were Anglicans or Catholics, who seem to have been despised by their despised shipmates.
John Billington was also middle aged, about 40 years old, rather old  for an adventurer. He brought with him a wife, Eleanor, and their two young sons, John Jr. and Francis. And together their family was beginning a great adventure they were not welcomed upon. 
The voyage had been organized by a group who called (and saw) themselves as “The Saints”. And they were not pleased to find the financial investors in their dream, interested only in profit,  had betrayed them, leaving "The Saints" in the minority to “The Strangers”, as they immediately began calling their new shipmates. 
"The Saints" found themselves stuffed aboard a leaky ship, just 90 feet long by barely 24 feet wide, giving them 2,160 square feet of living space (a moderate sized two bedroom house) for 102 passengers and a twenty man crew. Instead of escaping the horrors of a multi-faith nation, "The Saints" found themselves imprisoned with one, dragging it along with them. And they found the burden oppressive. 
After two and a half months of living hell on storm tossed seas the Mayflower anchored at the edge of the New World, sheltered by a sandy spit of land. And it was here that "The Saints" faced what they called a “mutiny”. Through the myopia of history, we choose to describe it as 'the birth of democracy'." It was unwelcomed by everybody . You see, "The Strangers" were not being landed where they had been promised, in the established colony of Virginia, but on unexplored and unprepared ground far to the north. And "The Strangers" were suspicious that this had been the intention of "The Saints" all along. And indeed that seems to have been the truth. Just to get "The Strangers" to disembark and to agree to work together in this unknown land "The Saints" were forced to compromise their faith, right on the edge of their religious paradise, and to sign the Mayflower Compact with "The Strangers", pledging to “…combine ourselves into a civil Body Politic…”
The key word was "civil".  "The Saints" had thus been forced to create a civil government in this new land, and not the religious domain they had intended to establish. And one of the signatures bought by that accursed compromise had been that of John Billington. 
As if in punishment for this compromise of their religious purity, only fifty-three souls survived that first winter. Amazingly, in spite of their sinful Godlessness, John Billington’s family of "Strangers" survived intact – including Eleanor, who was one of only five adult women in the entire colony who lived to see the spring. Both of John's sons also survived, another insult to the devotion of "The Saints", many of whom had buried children and wives over the bitter winter.  The Billington clan had become a daily reminder that God’s Chosen were not always chosen. More evidence was to follow. 
In the spring of 1623, the second full year the colonists had been ashore, pressure from the "Strangers" forced the Governor, William Bradford (a "Saint", of course) to divide all property equally among the survivors, one acre per family member, no matter what their religious affiliation. And thus the Billington clan received four acres of the best land, “…on the South side of the brook to the Bay wards”. It was yet another reminder of the success of "The Strangers", while so many of "The Saints" had not prospered and had even died. These insults to the faith of "The Saints" would not be forgotten. 
Meanwhile, "The Saints" back in England had begun spreading rumors about the failure of the Plymouth Bay Colony, to drive down the value of the stock,  making it easier for "Saints" to buy a controlling interest in the company. And with each year they sent more "Saints" across the Atlantic, meaning to overwhelm "The Strangers" in Massachusetts Bay.  By 1624, the colony had grown to over 180 people. But two of the new arrivals, meant to build a Saint's majority, had in fact fed the growing tensions.
The Reverend John Lyford and Mr. John Oldham were both nominally "Saints". In fact Lyford had been sent out as the official priest for "The Saints" in the colony. 
But Lyford's willingness to conduct an Anglican baptism for the new child of "Stranger" William Hilton offended "The Saints". These chosen by God saw no reason to tolerate religious tolerance for anyone but themselves. And Governor Bradford became convinced that Lyford and Oldham were both secretly corresponding with the stockholders back in England, contradicting the false rumors the English Saints had been spreading. 
Bradford was able to intercept some of those letters, and confront the traitorous "Saints", catching them unprepared at a public hearing. Both Lyford and Oldman were banished from the colony that very night. At the same meeting there was an attempt to also charge John Billington with being a member of the same "conspiracy", but there was little evidence against Billington, and since he was popular, (although it seems unclear how he could have been so, given the negative descriptions of him that survive) "The Saints" were forced to retreat and bide their time, yet again. 
The following year, 1626, James I of England died, and Charles I, a militantly devout Catholic, took the throne. The trickle of "Saints", escaping now from real religious oppression in England, became a steady flow.  John Billington still had allies in Plymouth, such as John Cannon and William Tench, but the pressures brought on by the constant arrival of new "Saints" drove both those men to leave the colony by 1627.
And in 1629 John Billington's eldest son died of illness. With his death, some of the flame went out of the old man. He was fifty years old now, and weary of the constant political fighting for his families' rightful place in the colony. By January of 1630 there were almost 300 citizens in Plymouth colony, the vast majority of whom were now, finally, "Saints". John Billington had become isolated. 
In the late summer of 1630 a man’s body was found in the woods near John Billington’s property. The body was identified in Governor Bradford’s correspondence only as "John New-come-er”. No rational for Billington to have murdered this mysterious man was ever offered on the record. Instead surviving documents allege that the motive was the result of “an old argument between the two men”. But this would seem to have been unlikely, given that the dead man was, by every account, a literal “New-come-er”". 
Despite this glaring omission of motive, a Grand Jury was quickly convened and John Billington was charged with shooting the man in the shoulder with a blunderbuss, thus causing his death. Since a blunderbuss was generally loaded with whatever material was handy, rocks or metal, and was used as a short range (and still highly inaccurate) shotgun, using it as a weapon for an assignation would have have been doubtful in the extreme. 
But by this time there was little patience left in the colony for reason where the Billingtons were concerned. A trial jury wasted little time in finding John guilty of murder. And yet despite the singularity of this crime and possible punishment - Billington was the first Englishman in the colony charged with murder, and would be the first colonist to be sentenced to death - there is no record of any defense arguments offered on his behalf. "The Saints" had won their war against John Billington, and they would write his history. And yet because there was a lack of any apparent motivation for the crime, Governor Bradford sought the approval for the execution of this "Stranger" from his own fellow "Saints" in the younger, larger and more purely Saintly Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered on Boston. Such approval was instantly supplied. 
On September 30, 1630, fifty year old John Billington was hanged according to the methods of the day. He climbed a ladder. The rope was placed around his neck and the noose pulled tight. The ladder was kicked away. And slowly the life was strangled out of him as he danced at the end of the rope. The drop that quickly broke the neck would not become standard in hanging for another two hundred years. Plymouth Colony was thus finally rid of its most troublesome "Stranger" in a congregation of "Saints". The only even mildly generous epitaph written for John Billington came from the poison pen of Thomas Morton, another man who irritated "The Saints" who surrounded him. Morton wrote, “John Billington, that was chocked at Plymouth after he had played the unhappy marksman...was loved by many.” And that is a piece of information not even hinted at in the history written by "The Saints" - that John had been loved by many. 
Sixty years later the "Saints" would have to clean house again, this time in the village of Salem, and this time against their fellow "Saints" who were not saintly enough. Fourteen women and five men were hanged or crushed by weights this time. Five others died in prison. All had been charged with being witches. What this re-occurrence of justice from "The Saints"  showed, was that even before there was religious freedom in America, there was religious hypocrisy.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BE KIND



I will now relate the life of a proud man. Two days after he died, on October 22, 1806, the Newburyport Herald carried his lengthy obituary. “Departed this life, on Wednesday evening last, Mr. Timothy Dexter, in the 60th year of his age — self-styled "Lord Dexter, first in the East." He lived perhaps one of the most eccentric lives of his time…Born and bred in a low condition in life, and his intellectual endowments not being of the most exalted stamp, it is no wonder that a splendid fortune, which he acquired by dint of speculation….(though perhaps honestly), should have rendered him, in many respects, truly ridiculous….His ruling passion appeared to be popularity, and one would suppose he rather chose to render his name "infamously famous (rather) than not famous at all." His writings stand as a monument of the truth of this remark; for those who have read his "Pickle for the Knowing Ones,"…find it difficult to determine whether most to laugh at the consummate folly, or despise the vulgarity and profanity of the writer. His manner of life was equally extravagant and singular.”Timothy Dexter never attended school. He had been sent to farm work at the age of eight and at 16 he became an apprentice. In 1769, at the age of 29, Timothy Dexter opened his own glove making shop in Newburyport, Massachusetts. A year later Timothy married the widow Elizabeth Frothingham; “…an industrious and frugal woman” who was nine years his senior. Besides having given birth to four children, Elizabeth ran a “Hucksters shop”, where she sold second hand items and local produce. After the wedding Timothy moved into her house at the corner of Merrimack and Green streets and opened his own shop in the basement; “…at the sign of the Glove, opposite Somerby's Landing.” There were some in Newburyport who disapproved of the uneducated Timothy Dexter, who were offended by his ambition and ignorance. They noted he drank too much, and spoke clumsily. They scoffed at his luck and were impatient for his fall.During the Revolutionary war Timothy was a patriot. But wartime inflation threatened all he had built. In July of 1777 a bushel of wheat cost eight Continental dollars. Just a year later it cost almost thirteen. Over the same year a pound of coffee rose from 48 Continentals to 120. It was no wonder then that many holding the shrinking Continentals sold them to speculators at a fraction of their face value, for quick gold or British pounds. But urged on by his savvy wife, Timothy gambled on the Continentals. He bought thousands of dollars worth, for hundreds. And to the surprise of many, in the “dinner table compromise” of 1790, Congress decided to buy all the outstanding Continentals at face value. Overnight Timothy was made a wealthy man. In fact, at the age of 49, Timothy Dexter was rich enough to retire.
With his new fortune Timothy invested in civic minded projects, like the 1792 Essex Bridge across the Merrimack River. Timothy bought ten shares toward the construction, and was given a prominent place in the opening ceremonies on July 4th. Afterward, he dared to make a public toast; “Ladies and Gentlemen, this day, the 18th year of our glorious independence commences...Permit me, then, my wife and jolly souls, to congratulate you on this joyful occasion. Let our deportment be suitable for the joyful purpose for which we are assembled --- Let good nature, breeding, concord, benevolence, piety, understanding, wit, humor, Punch and wine grace, bless, adorn and crown us henceforth and forever. Amen” Of course, Timothy’s remarks were delivered in French!It was a harmless speech, made, he supposed, amongst friends, and he sent a copy of it (translated into English) to the local newspaper. He explained the readers should not be surprised he could speak French because “…Frenchmen express themselves very much by gestures…”. But there were those present who were not Timothy’s friends, who insisted he had made a drunken, rambling and barley coherent speech (in English), and that more educated supporters had improved the English before committing it to ink. Wrote one critic; “He has been regarded as the most marked example of a man of feeble intellect gaining wealth purely by luck.” Then in 1795, when Timothy offered to construct at his own expense a public market house for Newburyport, these envious men and others who trusted them, voted to reject his offer, with thanks, of course. Stung by the insult Timothy decided to leave town.He sold his new house on State Street (now part of the public library) and moved to Chester, New Hampshire (that home now "The Dalton Club"). But he lived there for only two years. And when he returned to Newburyport in 1798 he was a changed man. Any hesitation for what others thought of him had evaporated. In fact he seemed determined to remind those who despised him, just why they hated him.He built himself a most unusual house on High Street. “He put minarets on the roof…(and)in front placed rows of columns fifteen feet high…each having on its top a statue of some distinguished man….and occupying the most prominent position were the statues of Washington, Adams and Jefferson, and to the other statues he gave the names of Bonaparte, Nelson, Franklin…often changing them according to his fancy. In a conspicuous place was a statue of him self, with the inscription, "I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western world." They were gaudily painted, and…attracted crowds, whose curiosity deeply gratified the owner, and he freely opened his grounds to them.”According to John James Currier in his “History of Newburyport”, Timothy “…would transact no business when intoxicated, and made his appointments for the forenoon, saying he was always drunk in the afternoon.” Timothy took to calling himself “Lord Timothy Dexter”, and had a coat of arms painted on the door of his carriage as if he were nobility. But those who missed the joke were unaware that his wife Elizabeth’s maiden name had been “Lord”. He claimed to have given Elizabeth $2,000 to leave him, and “hired” her back at the same sum two weeks later. He told other visitors that Elizabeth had died and that the "drunken, nagging woman" wandering about the property was her ghost. And then Timothy decided to write a book. He called it “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress”.
The first edition had 8,847 words, no punctuation and was filled with misspellings. That edition sold out. When the second edition was printed he added a page of random punctuation marks, explaining, “…I put in a nuf here and (the reader) may pepper and salt it as they please”.In the book Timothy claimed to have sold coals to Newcastle (at a profit), warming pans and mittens to the West Indies (at a profit), bibles to the East Indies and stray cats to Caribbean (both also at a profit). None of it was true of course, but anyone with a sense of humor got the joke. Many of his neighbors did not. That year, when a visitor finished a prayer for a meal, Timothy turned to his son and exclaimed, “That was a d----d good prayer, wasn’t it, Sam.”In 1805 Mr, James Akin did an engraving of Timothy as he was often seen about Newburyport, with hat and cane, and followed by his little dog. It is the only image we have of the man. Timothy Dexter died on October 26, 1806 at the age if sixty. He left an estate valued at about $36,000. (worth about half a million in 2007.) Elizabeth followed him in 1809, aged 72. Said Timothy’s biographer, Samuel Knapp, " Many who attempted to take advantage of him got sadly deceived. He had no small share of cunning, when all else seemed to have departed from him…In buying he gave the most foolish reasons to blind the seller, who thought that he was deceived, when deceiving.”The website devoted to honoring Timothy points to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice on living; “Be silly. Be honest. Be kind: for indeed, these were three simple dictates which guided Lord Timothy Dexter.”
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Sunday, June 22, 2014

COXEY'S ARMY CLIMBING MOUNTAINS

I said earlier that I would not enjoyed being there at the first day of the march of Coxey’s Army because it was cold and raining. But the second day, Monday, March 25th, was worse. It actually snowed. Marching to the northwest, the Army only reached Louisville, Ohio, a distance of barely six miles. The New York Times noted, “When the sun rose…this morning (March 26th) not a soldier….was visible… Fifty-eight of them went to the police station, where they were given lodgings on the cold stone floor.” 
"Oz, left to himself, smiled to think of his success in giving the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Lion exactly what they thought they wanted. "How can I help being a humbug," he said, "when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can't be done? It was easy to make the Scarecrow and the Lion and the Woodman happy, because they imagined I could do anything."
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
The plan laid out by Coxey and Browne to get their hoped for 100,000 man army over the 800 miles of bad roads between Massillon, Ohio and Washington, D.C. was to cover an average of 15 miles each day. But it took three days, until Wednesday, March 27th, for the Army to cover the twenty-seven miles through Alliance, to the Quaker settlement of Salem, Ohio. 
But with their arrival here things began improving – a little. The townspeople opened their homes and the weather turned warmer. However this last proved to be a two edged sword as on Friday, the 29th the army managed just ten miles through thick mud to Columbiana, where they were provided with 1,000 loaves of bread, or about ten for every man in Coxey’s Army. 
The goal was to establish a basic routine. Each morning the Army would leave camp at 10:30 A.M., and sought to achieve the planned 15 miles . This distance had been established by Sherman’s march through Georgia, as the Civil War dominated the culture of the 1890’s the way the history of World War Two dominated American culture for sixty years afterward.
The “Army Of Peace” as Browne called it in his pamphlets, was organized following guidelines from the same experience.  Each five men formed a "group" (squad), each designated by cloth badges. Twenty groups formed a "commune" (platoon), five communes a "community", (company) two communities a "canton" (battalion) and two cantons formed a "division", commanded by a marshal. It must have looked extraordinarily impressive on paper, but when the paper army was replaced with eighty hungry and desperate men, the privates must have been tripping over their officers. The press corps had not failed to notice this touch of farce,  and played it to the hilt. A half century later my mother would describe any unorganized ineffective endeavor by saying, "They were spread out like Coxey's Army."
After camping overnight in East Palestine and then in Waterford, Ohio, on April first, the Army crossed into Pennsylvania and was warmly received in New Beaver. Their numbers had now increased to 137, and one more day’s march brought them to the outskirts of Pittsburg. The Pittsburg Commercial Gazette headlined on April 4th that “enthusiastic crowds greet the pilgrims of poverty”. That night the Army camped on a baseball field in the suburb of Allegheny. Carl Browne announced a parade to be held right through the center of town, but the local politicians said no. Browne complained to the press, “They have not treated us decently and have penned our men up like a lot of cattle.” 
What Jacob Coxey meant was that the police locked the gates of the ballpark, confining the army inside, like the carriers of some infectious disease. But Coxey and Browne still made speeches standing on wagons in the center of the field, and the Gazette estimated that “15,000 to 20,000 people” stood outside the fence to hear. When the divisions formed in a steady drizzle the next morning, Browne announced that a local manufacturer had donated 500 pairs of shoes to the marchers. Noted the Gazette, “The army could hardly work its way through the crowd around the baseball grounds…” An impromptu parade was formed as the Army marched out of town. “All business had been suspended and everybody was out to see the army. ... “. By now the Coxey's Army had grown to over 400 men.
For the first time national politicians began to take notice of the march. Secretary of Agriculture J. Sterling Morton described the marchers he had never seen this way: “If a life history of each individual in Coxey’s Army could be truthfully written, it would show, no doubt, that each of them has paid out, from birth to death, more money for tobacco, whiskey and beer, than for clothing, education, taxes and food all put together.” The press dutifully reported the Secretary’s opinion, but never asked the marchers themselves, as the Professor from Chicago had done, and they never bothered to report his findings, either.
At the same time the press had begun to hound the Coxey relatives for dirt on the father of the rebellion. Jacob Coxey’s father refused to talk to them anymore. But before he had reached that point they quoted him as describing his eldest son as “stiff necked” and “pig headed”, and one Jacob’s sisters described the warrior for the unemployed as “an embarrassment”. To listen to such quotes you might not know that Jacob Coxey was one of the most successful and wealthiest men in Ohio, not from inheritance but by the sweat of his own brow and brain.

Snowfall  now delayed the army’s progress over the mountains. Noted the New York Times on April 11th, "Coxey's Commonweal Army is still encamped in a grove…and is likely to remain there some time unless the severe mountain storm prevailing subsides by noon to-morrow. The furious storm of last (night) continued though out the day.” Coxey himself had moved ahead into Maryland, to make arraignments for the future encampments, leaving Carl Browne in charge. And it quickly became evident that there was trouble brewing in the army. 
The greatest threat to Coxey’s Army and the social revolution it was seeking to inspire, would be internal.
"Don't you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a big beast like you, to bite a poor little dog!"
"I didn't bite him," said the Lion, as he rubbed his nose with his paw where Dorothy had hit it. 
"No, but you tried to," she retorted. "You are nothing but a big coward." 
"I know it," said the Lion, hanging his head in shame. "I've always known it. But how can I help it?" 
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
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