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The Capitalist Crucify the Old Man - 1880's


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Friday, July 18, 2014


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 was  loony, the kind of guy 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 Reed had 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 the presence of scores of people, exchanged money for votes for 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 un-credited 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 convinced 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 personal 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 back 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 Hospital again. And his medical bills would force his daughters and brother to sell the Whig Courier that March..
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 Speaker  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 Speaker 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 down from 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 had suffered for years 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 (above)  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, Speaker 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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I don't blame C.C. (Cadwallader Colden) Washburn for the tragedy of 1878. Forty years earlier, the ambitious 21 year old had arrived in Chicago with just $5 in his pocket. But by 1855 C.C. had passed the bar, had been elected to Congress from Wisconsin, and was worth at least half a million dollars. Not bad for a kid born with epilepsy. It was about then that his older brother Elihu wrote him, “I don't believe you will be happy until you could buy the entire world.” Elihu was teasing, because C.C. didn't actually have half a million dollars. That was how much he owed for the companies he had already bought. And now he was trying to rescue a cousin, Dorolus Morrison, who had invested in a money pit called the The Minneapolis Mill Company. The firm had water rights on the west bank of the Mississippi at St. Anthony Falls (above), and the idea was to lease access to mill owners. Within two years, the Mill Company was broke and going broker.
C.C. immediately saw the problem. There were only 4,000 people in Minneapolis, and space along the the falls was limited. In 1856 C.C. bought a controlling interest in the Mill Company, borrowed more cash to build a dam across the falls, and dig a 50 foot wide 14 food deep canal (above) down the west bank, more than tripling the available access to the power of the falling water. Then he brought in his younger brother William to run the company, while he concentrated on being a congressman. Older brother Elihu was already a congressman from Illinois and baby brother Israel, Jr. had been elected from Maine. They were a very ambitious family.
Within ten years the customers of C.C.'s Minneapolis Mill Company - grist mills, saw mills, cotton mills and woolen mills - were so profitable, that upon his return from service as a Union General in the Civil War, C.C. built his own flour mill. Against the advice of experts, who were predicting a post war recession, it was the largest flour mill in the world. And on William's advice, C.C. hired George Christian to run the Washburn “B” Mill. Quickly the “B” Mill was a success, in part because of Christian's management and in part because there was no recession.
After two more terms in Congress, and a single term as Wisconsin Governor, C.C. returned to his home in La Crosse,.Wisconsin. But he did not retire. On the advice of George Christian, C.C. decided in 1874, to build a second, even larger flour mill in Minneapolis. This one he called the Washburn “A “ Mill.
The “A” mill was 100 feet wide and 147 feet long. Wheat entered on the ground floor and a screw, powered by turbines in the basement, driven by falling water from the canal, lifted the grain seven and one half stories. Here the grain was fed into a container, into which hot air was blown. 
Once dry, the wheat was carried by another screw down to the sixth floor and crushed between the first horizontal millstones, which cracked the hard center and released the bran. 
Floor after floor the bran descended, with each successive grindstone, 24 pairs in all, crushing the wheat ever finer, and shakers (above) repeatedly shifting the flour...
...until it was returned to the ground floor where the employees bagged and loaded it into....
...railroad box cars waiting outside, along the 32 tracks that then carried it to a hungry nation - half a million barrels of flour shipped in 1873, three quarters of a million barrels in 1874, a hundred thousand more in 1875, and one million barrels in 1876 .
Just like every other day for the previous four years, at six in the evening on Thursday, May 2, 1878, 200 workers were released from their 12 hour day shift at the Washburn “A” Mill, leaving behind 14 men to clean up and ready the mill for Friday's shift. 
It is unknown if they faced any difficulties or problems that night, but at approximately 7:20 a man walking across the tenth avenue bridge (above)  reported seeing a flash in the twilight and a “stream of fire” leaping from the basement windows of the Washburn “A”.
He continued, “Then each floor above the basement became brilliantly illuminated, the light appearing simultaneously at the windows as the stories ignited one above the other...Then the windows bust out, the walls cracked between the windows and fell, and the roof was projected into the air to great height, followed by a cloud of black smoke, through which brilliant flashes resembling lightening passing to and fro.” It was later reckoned the massive roof was thrown 500 feet into the air.
Most said they heard three distinct, massive explosions. Reported the Minneapolis Tribune, “ a twinkling of an eye...the largest, the highest, and probably the heaviest stone structure in Minneapolis, the great Washburn mill...was leveled to the ground....Soon the burning buildings sent their messengers of flame on the wings of the merciless north wind on to other fields of destruction. ... the wonder is that the whole lower portion of the city escaped the fate with which it was threatened.” Great limestone corner stones landed in the back yards of homes eight blocks from the milling district.
The volunteer fire department reported all their alarms went off at the same instant, but if that was because some one near the “A” mill hit the alarm just after the first explosion, or if the blast short circuited the line, will never be known. Ten miles away, the explosions broke windows on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, whose Globe newspaper issued a special edition, saying, “"There is an 'earthquake’ was the expression and thought of hundreds ... and the word went from lip to lip, almost with the rapidity of lightning, that the Washburn mill, which has long and justly been the pride of Minneapolis, had exploded and was destroyed … It was a night of horror in Minneapolis.”
The 130 volunteers of the fire department dispatched every man, rig and horse they had, and quickly found an explanation to the three great crashes which had reverberated across the city. The exploding Washburn “A” mill had set off identical if smaller explosions in the adjacent Diamond and Humbolt mills. The horse drawn steam pumps of the fire department ran for ten hours, pumping over six million gallons of Mississippi River water on the smoldering wreckage of six flour mills, a cooper shop, a lumber yard, a grain elevator, a machine shop, a blacksmith shop, a planing mill and dozens of railroad cars. The entire fourteen man night shift at the Washburn “A” mill was killed, as well as four men at adjacent mills. Said the Tribune the next day, “Minneapolis has met with a calamity, the suddenness and horror of which it is difficult for the mind to comprehend.”
C.C. arrived by train the next day, and immediately announced he would rebuild. That calmed the bankers and citizens in a city which had just had the majority of its industrial base blown sky high. But massive explosions still had to be explained. Those who favored conspiracies suggested a railroad car loaded with nitroglycerin had been parked next to the Washburn “A” mill, but that was quickly dismissed because even that much nitro would not have produced a big enough blast. A Mill owner from Indiana suggested the spinning turbines had spun so fast they had separated the hydrogen from the oxygen in the water, leading to a hydrogen buildup in the mill. But George Christian, respected operator of both Washburn mills, scoffed at the idea. The cause, he explained, was simple flour dust.
The flour dust did not explode, Christian explained, it just burned very, very quickly. And Professors Peckman and Peck, from the University of Minnesota confirmed this, by experiment. They also suggested the initial spark had come during the night shift's clean up. It was likely a worker was running two millstones in the basement without flour between them, as a shortcut to remove any residue. And like most shortcuts, this one eventually blew up in their faces. Stone sparking against stone had ignited the flour dust raised by the cleaning crew. That is what killed eighteen men.
C.C. made sure his workers were kept on the payroll, by finding them jobs in the old “B” mill. And he did rebuild. But he did not do so by himself. He brought in new money, John Crosby, and as a silent partner added the technocrat William Dunwoody, who went to Europe as an industrial spy, and stole the best new ideas for milling, like getting rid of the horizontal grindings stones and using steel rollers instead. They gave off fewer sparks, lasted far longer, and by operating in sequence would allow the grain to be ground continuously. The bigger new “A” mill opened in 1879, under the name “Washburn Crosby “A” Mill”. With new dust scrubbers cleaning the air, it would run safely until 1965. under the company's new name, General Mills. And what is left of the building is today the “Mill City Museum.”
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Sunday, July 13, 2014


I would say that it is a dangerously romantic concept, this idea that government can be petitioned directly by its citizens. It had not been tried in America since the revolution. So working class Americans came out to have a look at Coxey’s Army, which was doing this odd thing. And they were not frightened by what they saw. But the stories of Coxey's Army did scare Congressmen and the President, and infuriated the wealthy and powerful, and worried local police officers and mayors. But it also provided a sense of excitement for those with a rebellious spirit. In the latter category was 14 year old Albert Hicks, of East 83rd street in Manhattan. According to the Brooklyn Eagle, Albert had a fight with his mother and ran away from home, saying he was going to join Coxey’s Army. Albert made it no farther than the Brooklyn Bridge, where a police officer took him into custody, and called his father to come to collect the boy. It was a common story, an angry fourteen year old running away from home, not worth repeating on the front page of a large newspaper, except for the connection to “Coxey’s Army”. 
"Once, indeed, the Tin Woodman stepped upon a beetle that was crawling along the road, and killed the poor little thing. This made the Tin Woodman very unhappy, for he was always careful not to hurt any living creature; and as he walked along he wept several tears of sorrow and regret. These tears ran slowly down his face and over the hinges of his jaw, and there they rusted. When Dorothy presently asked him a question the Tin Woodman could not open his mouth, for his jaws were tightly rusted together. He became greatly frightened at this and made many motions to Dorothy to relieve him, but she could not understand. The Lion was also puzzled to know what was wrong. But the Scarecrow seized the oil-can from Dorothy's basket and oiled the Woodman's jaws, so that after a few moments he could talk as well as before." 
1900  L. Frank Baum "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
On Sunday, April the 22nd , the Philadelphia recruits which the Army had been waiting for, arrived in Hagerstown. There were just 18 of them. This day, too, the Chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police in Washington, D.C., publicly announced that if the Army entered the Federal City, he would enforce an 1830 regulation making it illegal for anyone to enter the District who would likely become a “public charge’. It was an absurdly pompous threat on the face of it, since being arrested for violating the 60 year old ordinance would achieve the very object the ordinance was designed to discourage. Prisoners were by definition, in the public charge. There is a reason criminalizing poverty has been discarded. But, it seems, every generation must relearn that reason on their own.
But the commission that ran the District of Columbia went even further. Henceforth, they announced,  it was illegal to solicit funds without a license, even though no procedures had yet been written to qualify for such a license. In addition the commission announced it would now be illegal for there to be any public assembly on public property without a license (again, with no procedure for obtaining such a license.. And no obstruction of public roads would be permitted, either, said the commission. If these regulations were meant to discourage Coxey’s Army, they failed. In fact, the confrontational approach probably added to the Army’s numbers, as the unemployed, who before had just been desperate and rejected, now began to get angry.
Bright and early on April 23rd some 300 plus members of Coxey’s Army marched out of the Hagerstown camp, with flags and banners flying. But they only made about six miles that day, stopping for the night at the little community of Hyattstown, where some of the men were provided with home cooked meals by locals, and the rest were welcomed to camp along Little Bennett Creek. Thousands of people turned out for speeches and general festivities in the Army’s camp that night
One of the reasons the welcome was so warm for Coxey’s Army in Hyattstown was that the area had for generations suffered with what was described as “the deficient link of the Great National Western Road.”. This was one of the central causes for Coxey’s Army, the desperate need for improvements in the nation’s roads, and the desperately need for the work by the millions of unemployed. The section of the National Road beyond Hyattsville, between Rockville and Gaithersburg, Maryland, had been described as,  “Deeply rutted and dusty in dry weather, it became a muddy morass after a heavy rain. Often it was nearly impassable, and its dismal condition was disparaged and deplored by the local press and public.”   A generation before the American Revolution, the English General Braddock had almost been defeated by this very stretch of road, even before he was killed in Pennsylvania. A generation after that war, Thomas Jefferson’s road improvements bill had failed to fix the problem. Now, four generations later, the problem persisted. (In fact, this section would not be really fixed until 1925, when it was finally paved)
The mayor of Frederick, Maryland (above), John E. Fleming,  boasted that Coxey's Army would never set foot in his town. Forty additional deputies were sworn in to keep them out. However, on April 24th , Coxey’s Army, now 340 strong, marched into town, escorted by the deputies. And the world did not end. That night the press reported a “drunken brawl”, but the details were never confirmed. And the next day, when the Army marched out, their numbers were now 400 strong. 
It was on Saturday, April 28th that Coxey’s Army, reached the doorstep of their goal, Brightwood Riding Park – now the Brightwood Recreation Area - along Rock Creek, just outside of the border of the District of Columbia. Here they established what they called Camp Stevens. They were greeted by a crowd of 10,000 people. Also on hand were 1,500 federal troops (3 for every member of the Army), with more waiting in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Philadelphia, all ready to rush to the capital to put down the first signs of any rebellion. There was none.
Instead, over Saturday and Sunday, an estimated 6,000 unarmed curious citizens visited the encampment in peace. Coxey was quoted in the papers as explaining the march this way; “Congress takes two years to vote on anything…Twenty-millions of people are hungry and cannot wait two years to eat.”
On Tuesday, May 1st, 1894 perhaps 15,000 people crowded around as the Army of 500 left camp (above) for their final seven mile march on the Capital. The Baltimore Herald said “Such a fantastic aggregation never paraded itself in seriousness before the public.” 
First came Mrs. Annie L. Diggs, carrying the American flag. She was followed by Jacob Coxey’s 17 year old daughter on horseback, representing the goddess of Peace. Then came Carl Browne, dressed in his buckskin fringe. Then came Coxey in his carriage, ridding with his second wife and their infant child, “Legal Tender Coxey”. They were followed by an actress on horseback, Ms. Virginia Le Valette.  She was draped in an American flag. And only behind this final exhibit of female pulchritude, did the public at last get a view of the object of the entire discussion, the army of the unemployed, totting banners and signs. It must have been the most bizarre procession that ever walked down Washington's 16th street, not excepting the parade formed by Dolly Madison as she fled the White House in 1813, with wagons piled high with silverware and paintings, just ahead of the British arsonists.
As they had formed up for the final march, Carl Browne had told the men, “The greatest ordeal of the march is at hand. The eyes of the world are upon you, and you must conduct yourselves accordingly.” And they did.
Ahh, if they only knew the high drama and low comedy that was about to descend upon their heads.
"This will serve me a lesson," said he, "to look where I step. For if I should kill another bug or beetle I should surely cry again, and crying rusts my jaws so that I cannot speak." Thereafter he walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road, and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would step over it, so as not to harm it. The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything. "You people with hearts," he said, "have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful."
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" 
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