I do not doubt state Representative and ex-U.S. Senator James Jackson's when he let it be known that he was prepared to shoot down every man who had voted for the Yazoo Land sale. Jackson was known as a duelist. But after the new state legislature convened in Louisville on 11 January, 1796, several of the members were threatened and challenged to duels unless they stopped trying to overturn the sale. Amazingly, they all forged ahead. These people were ticked off.
First things first; the assembly elected the logical Jared Irwin as the new Governor, a good balance to the emotional Representative Jackson. Then a special committee was created – chaired by Jackson – to take testimony on the great Yazoo Yard Sale.
And it was here, under oath, that the whole sordid tale came out. Jackson's final report seethed with indignation. “The public good was placed entirely out of view, and private interest alone consulted;...the rights of the present generation were violated, and the rights of posterity bartered... and the principles of aristocracy established in their stead.” Now that is what a class war warrior really sounds like.
The Legislature offered up what became the “Rescinding Act”, which spent a thousand words justifying itself. And then it declared the Yazoo land sales null and void. The buyers could have their money back (initial payments had been made). But Jackson insisted on going a step further. The act ordered that the government had 3 days to expunge any reference to the sale in public records. Any county officer or court clerk found with a reference to the Yazoo sale, even in an index, was to be fined $1,000 a day until the offending passage was removed. It was made illegal for courts to accept any lawsuits mentioning the Yazoo Land sale. Georgia would not even respond to any future Federal lawsuits involving the sale. The Rescinding Act was Orwellian two centuries before George Orwell. The legislature of 1795 had all become “un-persons”.
On 13 February, 1796 both houses of the Georgia state legislature approved the Rescinding Act, by 43 to 3 in the house and in the Senate by 14 to 4. That same day Governor Irwin signed it. Immediately the state house swarmed with men wielding scissors, slicing out all references to the Yazoo sale. The Act also ordered what that three days hence. “A fire shall be made in front of the State House door, and a line to be formed by the members of both branches around the same. The Secretary of State... shall....then produce the ... usurped act... and deliver the same to... the... Messenger of the House, who shall then pronounce “God save the state! And long preserve her rights! And may every attempt to injure them perish as these corrupt acts do now!” And at about four on the afternoon of 15 February, 1796, that is exactly what happened.
The local papers published romanticized accounts of the bonfire. In the Chronicle it was noted that a magnifying lens had been used to start the fire. Thus, wrote the reporter, “God Almighty is at last brought into the scrape.” But a Charleston, South Carolina newspaper also observed that the blaze was of “very little to the satisfaction of the bystanders.” It wasn't that they didn't approve of the conflagration, but they had a new worry - the entire world's economy had just dropped into the toilet. And the man who had dropped it there was the Philadelphia speculator, James Greenleaf.
Okay, maybe it wasn't entirely his fault. But this silver tonged liar does seem to have been at the center of a lot of the distress in America. Mr. Greenleaf was the partner with Robert Morris, John Nicholson and James Gunn in the North America Land Bank. They were buying up as much land as possible to satisfy the anticipated demand from Dutch bankers, with whom young Greenleaf insisted he had intimate connections, He had originally proven this a decade earlier, when in 1788, within two weeks of his arrival in Holland, the then 22 year old American con man had met the Baroness Cornelia Elbertine Scholton van Ascht et Oud-Haarlem, and impregnated her. Shortly there after, he not only left town, he fled the continent.
When she turned up pregnant, the reluctant Greenleaf was convinced, probably with money, to return to Holland, where he wed the Baroness. It was Greenleaf's skill at seduction which convinced Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to appoint Greenleaf as American envoy to Holland. But eventually the Baroness realized her new husband was an amoral sleaze ball, and she attempted suicide. When Jefferson called Greenleaf home, the Baroness remained in Holland, with their son. The now 25 year old Greenleaf convinced a judge in Rhode Island he had been “tricked” into the marriage, and was granted a divorce. James Greenleaf was once again free, still handsome and young enough to be a seducer of women, and it turns out speculators like Morris, Nicholson and Gunn.
Within minutes of the Yazoo land sale being approved by the Georgia assembly, James Greenleaf was bound back for Holland, to offer the wealthy Europeans a “safe” place to invest their money. He arrived to find everybody in Europe investing their money in cannon and gun powder. His old Dutch banking contacts gave him the cold shoulder. The only two banks that were willing to offer his shares in the American Land Bank, Elsevier and Beelde-maker, did so halfheartedly, and attracted no buyers. There was no money coming from Holland to profit from the Yazoo land scheme. Defeated, James Greenleaf returned home, and the conspirators had to find their suckers some place else. So they sent Greenleaf out to buy and sell housing lots in the new Federal City.
The government was not supposed to move-in until 1800, but construction of the capital and the President's mansion had already begun. And of course there had to be buildings for a Post Office, a State Department and a War Department. And somebody would have to build housing for workers, and places for them to buy groceries, restaurants to eat in, buy clothing, and 'entertainment' – everything from books to ladies of the evening. A city had to be established where there was no reason for it being, except politics insisted it be there. And Morris and Nicholson and Gunn leveraged their almost worthless Yazoo shares into property in the new Washington, District of Columbia..
At some point Robert Morris gave young James Greenleaf $7,000 in cash to pay for a section of city lots. But the money never made it to the seller. That drove Morris to take a closer look at the company books, where he discovered Greenleaf had signed all of his personal debts over to the North American Land Company, making Morris and Nicholson and Gunn responsible for repaying them. The young seducer, had seduced 3 more victims.
Disingenuously, Morris later wrote to Benjamin Harrison, claiming, “Twas he (Greenleaf) that encouraged the very extensive land purchases which were made under a promise that he would procure in Holland the money necessary to support the same...” Suddenly the financial Mozart of the Revolution was claiming the entire Yazoo Swamp-Land Fraud, the wholesale bribery of an entire state legislature, had actually been the dastardly plan of a 28 year old serial Casanova. It was ridiculous, but I suppose such whining is a natural reaction when when a “master of the universe” gets the shaft - it must be somebody else's petard, never their own. Blame it on the government regulators, or the greed of a business partner. It is never their greed that is blame.
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