AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

Translate

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, August 29, 2014

SHOOTING YOUR MOUTH OFF

I don't much like John Stanly. Sure, he suffered from abandonment issues, when he was left 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 around 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.” But he was also a killer. 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, as a Republican. It seemed to John that Richard had only switched 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).
Well, 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 of  the Gazette 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 against the Gazette..
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, the vacant lot where people tethered their horses, behind the still unfinished Masonic temple and theater. The location was just outside the city limit, 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. Where intelligent people were evidently not welcome, either.
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. History has forgotten almost every cause he fought for, every person he influenced. What is remembered is that he killed Richard Spraight,  and shot his own reputation right in the mouth.
- 30 -

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ITS NEVER JUST A JOKE

I recently came across an old English music hall joke. A young Irish lad was warmly welcomed into an English pub , but after a few drinks the boy got a sad look about him. He explained he appreciated the comradeship, but missed his corner pub back home. “The first time you set foot in the place”, he explained , “they'd buy you a drink, then another, all the drinks you like. Then when you've finally had enough, they'd take you upstairs and make sure you get laid.” The English patrons were skeptical, and the barkeep asked how many times the Irish lad had experienced this welcome. “Never”, he admitted.“But it happened to my sister quite a few times.” Is that a racist joke?
After almost thirty years of successful publishing in Glasgow, Scotland, Belfast, Ireland, and Manchester and London, England, James Henderson finally hit the mother lode in a penny tabloid weekly magazine, “Our Young Folks Weekly Budget”. Its 16 pages of action art work and adventure fiction dominated the youth market through various incarnations for 26 years.( Henderson paid Robert Louis Stevens a pound per column for “Treasure Island”, which he serialized in “Young Folks”). And each noon, the savvy capitalist would meet with his editors, issuing detailed instructions for the flurry of newspapers and magazines – even a line of picture post cards - that cascaded from 169 Red Lion Court, Fleet street, each seeking to replicate “Young Folks” profit. Henderson had stumbled upon the concept of a speciality market.
A London Bobby asks two drunks for their names and addresses. The first answers, “I'm Paddy O'Day, of no fixed address.” And the second replies, “I'm Seamus O'Toole, and I live in the flat above Paddy.”
Beginning in 1831 royal taxes on newspapers were lowered by three-fourths. The response was instantaneous. New papers popped up like mushrooms after a rain. The industrial revolution was bringing people into the cities, and putting coins in their pockets. For the first time in history, that created consumers, which made advertising profitable (i.e. capitalism). More papers encouraged more people to read. By 1854, out of a population of 28 million, weekly newspaper sales in England had topped 122 million a year. In 1857 the last newspaper taxes were finally eliminated, triggering yet another wave – daily newspapers. It was this new customer vox populi that James Henderson and Sons were riding to success.
Paddy: Is your family in business? Seamus; Yes, iron and steel. My mother irons and my father steals
In December of 1874, Henderson created the first humor magazine in England, a sort of Victorian Daily Show in print, called “Funny Folks, The Comic Companion to the Newspaper”. The cover art for the first issue was drawn by John Proctor, who signed his work, “Puck”. “Funny Folks” proved so successful that Henderson released an entire line of humor magazines - “Big Comic”, “Lot-O-Fun” “Comic Life”, “Scraps and Sparks”. In 1892 came Henderson's most popular humor magazine, “Nuggets”
Bobby: “Madam, I could cite you for indecent exposure, walking down the street with your breast exposed like that.” Irish lass: “Holy Mary and Joseph, I left the baby on the bus.”
Like “Funny Folks”, Nuggets had its own featured artist, T.S. Baker, and his most popular creation was an Irish family living “in contented poverty” in South London - the Hooligans. The father, P. Hooligan, was a would-be entrepreneur, a member of the Shamrock Lodge. And his every scheme in some way involved his wheelbarrow, and the family goat. Mrs. Hooligan was fashion conscious, but always copying far above her economic station. And there were, of course, a hoard of unnamed ginger haired children about. It seems impossible to believe that the current term for violent law breakers, practitioners of practical anarchy, had its source with this gentle Irish family imitating proper Victorian society, but indeed, this is where the word originated - in the nine year run of a cartoon Irish family, drawn by an artist of ingenious and subtle talents. In person the Hooligans don't make an obvious racist image. But what did the intended audience see in this cartoon, that a hundred plus years later, we might not? And how is being called a Paddy in 1890, different from being hit with the “N” word, today?
Whats the first thing an Irish lass does in the morning? She walks home
The bigotry towards Ireland seems to have started about a thousand years ago, with Gerald of Wales, the ultra-orthodox chaplain to the English King Henry II, who joined his monarch in the church endorsed invasion of Ireland, and with his observation of the locals. “This is a filthy people, wallowing in vice. They indulge in incest, for example in marrying – or rather debauching – the wives of their dead brothers.” One would think a clergyman who had studied logic in Paris would have remembered Deuteronomy 25:5 - “...her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.” I guess it's easier to butcher people, if you can manage to despise them for whatever reason.
What do you call an Irishman with half a brain? Gifted
Illogically the English originally justified their oppression of the Irish because they were bringing them Catholicism. Then after their own Protestant reformation, the English used Catholicism to denigrate the Irish, calling them “cat licks” and “mackerel snappers” who ate fish on Fridays. With time the insults came to include local terrain (bog trotters) physical characteristics (carrot top), perceived laziness (narrow backs) and diet (potato heads, spud fuckers and tater tots for the children). Irish jokes (read insults) were standard fare in English music halls from the 1850's on, and always good for a laugh. And it was from this racism that the sophisticated simplicity of the Hooligans achieved something approaching an art form.
“What's the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake? One drink.”
James Henderson, and his son Nelson, may have been racists. History has failed to record their opinions outside of the business decisions they made. And it may be valid to label them with the black mark because of the Hooligans. And they did publish worse. But then they were publishers, not social activists. And like a music hall comic who told Irish jokes, they provided the public what the public wanted, or else they could not remain in business. Morality is an affect, not an effect. So were these purveyors of racist anti-Irish humor racists, or were they merely businessmen? And did the Hooligans transcend racism because it was so well done? You might as well ask Norman Lear if Archie Bunker made life easier for African Americans by calling them “jungle bunnies” on national television. In fact that question has been asked
“Paddy, he said you weren't fit to associate with pigs, but I stuck up for you. I said you most certainly were.”
Its hard for me to dismiss the Hooligans because they make me smile, and because they were a loving respectful family, and because they were always striving. But mostly because they make me smile. Why I laugh at them, tells a story about me, not them. It is a lesson every artist must learn at some point, the sooner the better. What is put on the page, is rarely what is seen there. It is the job of the artist to limit confusion. But you can never be completely understood. The most you can consistently hope to achieve is to entertain. Enlightenment is the responsibility of the reader, not the writer.
Bobby; "Where were you born?" Paddy; "Dublin". Bobby; "What part?"   Paddy; "All of me."
- 30 -

Sunday, August 24, 2014

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Part Five

I think it was very clever of James Reavis to choose tiny  Saford, Arizona, capital of Graham County, to file his first claim related to the Peralita grant. The entire county had less than 5,000 residents in October of 1882 when James Reavis chose this as the spot to start his game. The collection of bars and stables built around water wells sat in a fertile nook of the barren Sonora-Chihuahuan Desert, at the foot of the isolated Pinaleno Mountains, 165 miles east of Phoenix. But it was only 30 miles west of the New Mexico territorial  border, and just 100 miles north of the border with old Mexico.  In short, it was not near anywhere else, except an exit should anyone react strongly..
Reavis filed his papers with the probate court, laying claim to George Willing's ownership of the Peralta grant. But other then stamping the date on his paperwork, the probate court lacked authority to judge the validity of the Peralta Grant itself. And Reavis did want them to. The town was now  within the confines of the grant, which ran into New Mexico, but could it be that the master forger was nervous? Or had he been traversing the empty dessert, leaving false clues to the grant's validity, and was now anxious to get started? It did not matter for long, because his next move made a very large and well publicized splash.
It was Tuesday, March 27, 1883, when an odd trio of villains stormed into the Tucson offices of Joseph W. Robbins, Surveyor General for the Arizona territory, and demanded service. First came the bewhiskered well dressed James Reavis (above), followed by Cryil Baratt, a dis-bard California lawyer and alcoholic, serving as James' legal adviser. One story says that Reavis found Cyril in a San Francisco gutter and the kindred spirits had formed an immediate bond. Bringing up the rear was a fire plug named Pedro Cuervo, carrying in three large trunks of documents, one after another. Pedreo was Reavis' new body guard and  enforcer. And once those trunks were opened, Reavis would need all the protection his wealthy California backers could afford.
His filing began boldly; “The petition of James Addison Reavis respectfully sets forth: That he is owner, by purchase from the legal heirs and representatives of the original grantee, of a certain tract of land (12 1/2 million acres - roughly from Phoenix, Arizona to Silver City,  New Mexico),  granted on the third day of January, 1758, by the Viceroy of New Spain to Don Miguel Peralta, Baron of the Coloradoes under royal decree of the King of Spain, directing such grant to be made to the said Peralta in consideration of and as a reward for distinguished military services rendered to the Crown in the war of Spain...”
Now, Joseph Robbins, might be the Surveyor General for the Arizona territory, but he was a political appointee, with no experience with a theodolite, .and he knew almost nothing about Spanish or Mexican history. He'd been a newspaper owner in Wichita, Kansas and a good Republican before receiving his current position. But as he watched his staff notarize the seemingly endless series of documents, many with what looked like the official stamps and seals of Spain and Mexico, a panic began to build in this throat. These men were laying claim to an area larger than the combined states of Maryland and New Jersey, with the District of Columbia thrown in as well..
Second of the documents was the typed translation of Phillip V's royal credula, dated December 20, 1740. This was followed by the report of the Mexican Inquisition favoring the grant, and the 1758 Mexican Viceroy's confirmation, then a statement written by Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda himself, describing the exact location he chose for the grant. Then from the trunk was drawn the petition from Peralta to Carlos III of Spain, requesting confirmation of the grant, followed by that confirmation, granted January 20, 1776,. in Madrid. Next Reavis produced a letter to Don Meguel's son, signed by Santa Ana, President of Mexico. There were even three photographs of pages from the record book of the Mission of San Xavier del Bac, showing the originals of the previous documents. Then Reavis and Cryil Baratt, produced a copy of Miguel Peralta's will, dated January 1788, and the 1864 quick claim bill of sale signed in Black Canyon, selling the entire grant over to George Willing . Last but not least, came the power of attorney from May Ann Willing to James Reavis. All of that was in the first trunk. And there were two more trunks of documents to go.
Public notice of the claim was now filed in newspapers in Tucson, Phoenix and Prescott. The reaction was strongest in Phoenix, the largest town which fell within the claim. Suddenly every business owner, home owner, mine owner and farmer knew their property rights were in question. The town's two newspapers, the Herald and the Gazette, both declared war on James Reavis. Both papers questioned the validity of the grant, urged their readers not to sign any agreements with Reavis, and condemned the practice of "quit claim" sales. It looked for a time that the territory would present a untied front. But almost immediately there were three serious defections.
The first to cut a deal with Reavis was Col. James M. Barney (above). He had bought the Silver King Mine a few years earlier, paying over half a million dollars. That mine was now digging on an 87 foot wide vein of silver ore, on three levels, the deepest 110 feet down, and was producing over $6 million of silver a year. In June of 1883 the old cavalryman paid Reavis $25,000 for a quit claim on his mine. It was chump- change to Barney, and just good business. But it sent a shiver down the spines of every other property owner in the territory.
This was followed by word that the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was building its way eastward toward Phoenix, had also bought a quitclaim for a right-of-way into the territory for $50,000. What the terrified residents did not know was that the owners of the S.P. -  Huntington, Crocker and their partners, were also the men who were funding Reavis and his vultures. In essence, the S.P. was paying itself for the right of way into Phoenix.
The next major defector was an even harder blow to resisters. Homer H. McNeil was a significant property owner in Phoenix, and the owner and publisher of The Gazette. When notice of the Peralta Grant had first appeared, his paper had joined the Herald, in urging residents to remain united in opposition. But rumors started when the Gazette began to tone down its editorials, and in November word was leaked to the Herald that McNeal had indeed paid a quit claim for all his property, including the Gazette's office. McNeal was threatened on the streets, and even his friends stopped speaking to him. The newspaperman tried to return his quit claim to Mr. Reavis, and get his money back.  But Reavis was no longer in town..
James Reavis and his lawyer Cryil Baratt were down in Guadalajara, looking over the shoulder of the man
Surveyor General Robbins had sent down to Mexico to investigate the claim -  Mr. Rufus C. Hopkins. But Rufus would prove to be a terrible choice as an investigator.
- 30 -

Blog Archive

Amazon Deals