MARCH 2020

MARCH   2020
The Lawyers Carve Up the Golden Goose


Saturday, August 12, 2017


I often hear Tea Party and Alt-right Trumpet  politicians called  "fire brands". The original definition is a piece of kindling, a small bit of burning wood used to start a larger fire. And those who start such fires for a living used to be called "Fire Eaters." It is a title you hear with increasing frequency, and yet it seems the advocates of fires have forgotten the agony they cause, eventually consuming the arsonists own home and life.  And thus, a fire eater is also a perfect description of a dangerous politician. And the most famous fire eater of American politics, one of the first self described political fire starters, was William Lowneds Yancey.
Yancey’s (above) South Carolina family were strongly pro-Federalist, and at an Independence Day celebration in 1834 the young man told a crowd, “Listen, not the voice which whispers…that Americans…can no longer exist…citizens of the same republic…”  He also championed the Federal Union as editor of the newspaper the “Greenville Mountaineer”  - at least until 1835, when he married an Alabama widow with an Alabama plantation and 35 slaves. Profiting from the ownership of human beings converted Yancey to pro-slavery.  And then the economic panic of 1837 slashed cotton prices and wiped out  William Yancey’s new found fortune and social status. This traumatic event also converted Yancy into a radical.
Yancey went back to the profession that he knew best, and in 1838 he bought a failing newspaper. Needing to make money quickly, Yancey's very first editorial was sure to please the money people of Alabama - a passionate defense of slavery.  In a followup editorial he even favored reopening the slave trade with Africa, which had been closed down by British Naval patrols since 1819. Yancey publicly opposed the compromises of 1850, which sought to establish a balance between slave states and “free” states within the Union. By then anything short of total domination by slave states was a cowardly compromise,  in Yancey’s view.
Also in 1838 the true nature of the man was revealed, when an alleged political insult led to a street brawl between Yancey and his wife’s uncle. Yancey shot the man dead on the street. He later justified this hot blooded murder, writing he had been,  “Reared with the spirit of a man…and taught to preserve inviolate my honor…”,  which seems to me like lousy justification for murder.  He was convicted of manslaughter but served only a few months before being pardoned by the Governor.  His reputation as a murderous hot head did nothing to prevent him from being elected to first the Alabama legislature and then, in 1844,  to the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1858 Yancey wrote what Horace Greeley called, ‘The Scarlett Letter’, in which he invented the term "fire eater" to describe himself.  He pledged that with like minded southerners, he would, “…fire the Southern heart – instruct the Southern mind - …and at the proper moment, by one organized, concerted action, we can precipitate the cotton states into revolution.” This was why Yancey was called the “Orator of Secession”. He worked hard to split his own (Democratic) party on the issue of slavery, believing the election of a Republican (anti-slavery) presidential candidate in 1860 would radicalize the south. He was, in the words of that genius Bruce Catton, “…one of the men tossed up by the tormented decade of the 1850’s (John Brown was another) who could help to bring catastrophe on but not do anything more than that.”
That the North had twice the population of the South, that the North had ten times the industrial and agricultural capacity, that slavery was already dying in the upper South, that the North would not fight to end slavery but would fight to preserve the union, that Lincoln did not believe the Federal government had the power or the right to outlaw slavery, all this meant nothing to Yancey. Yancey wanted secession not despite the destructive effects it would have on the South, but, it seemed, almost because of them. President-elect Abraham Lincoln described the problem of dealing with the fire eaters like Yancey. "Not only must we do them no harm, but somehow we must convince them that we mean to do them no harm".  Does this sound anything like the "Do Nothing" Tea Party Congress of 2012 to 2016, or 2017?
Once war broke out Jefferson Davis sent William Yancey (above) to England to seek recognition from the British Government.   A diplomatic mission seemed like an odd choice for this violent aggressive  man, so perhaps Davis really had little hope of Britain ever recognizing the Confederacy, and he just wanted to be rid of Yancey.  Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, eventually met with Yancey, but then asked if he had been serious about his call for a resumption of the slave trade. Yancey denied it, but as it was in print that merely made him an obvious liar. And just asking the question indicated there was no chance that England would recognize a slave owning nation, at least as long as Yancey represented a significant political voice. Yancey returned home in frustration and defeat. He now served in the Confederate Senate, opposing Davis’ power to draft troops and blocking Davis’ attempt to form a Confederate Supreme Court in the spring of 1863.
It was during debate over the court when Yancey and Benjamin Hill of Georgia got into a brawl on the Confederate Senate floor. It was almost a repeat of the 1838 shooting.  Except, when the hot headed Yancy reached for his gun,  Hill grabbed the only weapon he had at hand - an ink stand.  He beaned Yancey on the head with it, cold cocking him.. The Confederate Senate censured Yancey and took no action against Hill.
So it seemed that even his political allies and friends did not like William Yancey very much. And this was the man the South had staked its future upon. I believe it was William Yancey whom Jefferson Davis was thinking of when he said the epitaph of the Confederacy should be, “Died of a Theory.’
After censure, Yancey returned to Alabama,  where he died in July of 1863, just 2 weeks before his 49th birthday. He had lived just long enough to see the twin defeats of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, which together sealed the doom of the Confederacy.  But even then the fire eaters kept up their arson. More southerners died in the last year of the war, than in the previous 3 years. 
The product of William Yancy's life’s work was the death of 750,000 young men and perhaps a million civilians - the vast majority of them southerners -:  the  total abolition of slavery in America and the ultimate victory of Federalism over State’s Rights. It is an estate today's fire eaters on the alt-right ought to take note of.  But I doubt they will.
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Friday, August 11, 2017


I don’t know the truth of what happened to Andrea Salsedo. His fellow prisoner, Roberto Elia, testified later he had jumped through a window of the 14th floor of the Park Row Building, in Manhattan (above). Some claimed that he was pushed. Some believe, to this day, that he was dropped while being dangled by his ankles. But there could be no doubt that both men had been beaten by officers of the Justice Department in that building for eight solid weeks. The Federal agents suspected that the two printers had helped publish an Anarchist-Communist pamphlet entitled “Plain Words”. The pamphlet in fact explained how to build bombs. 
Roberto claimed that Andrea (above) had thrown himself through the window to avoid being forced to implicate his friends. This suicide plunge cannot be taken as proof that Andrea had anything real to confess. It may have been simply despair and a refusal to lie, or even just to stop the beatings, but it may have been an admission of guilt. All we know for a fact is that at 4:30 A.M., on Monday, May 3, 1920, the little man with the passive eyes was found dead outside the headquarters of the U.S. Justice Department in New York City.
Far to the north, in Braintree, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, May 5th, four men, Nicola Sacco, Mario Boda, Riccardo Orciani and Bartolomeo Vanzetti attempted to pick up Boda’s sedan from the Elm Street Garage. But it was past closing time, and the garage was locked up. The four men crossed the street, to the home of the repair shop's owner, Simon Johnson. He put them off by explaining that the license plate on Borda’s sedan had expired. Legally Johnson could not allow the car to be driven off his property without a valid license plate. While he thus delayed the men, Mrs. Johnson scurried next door to call the Bridgewater police. They did not arrive in time. Boda and Orciani rode off in tandem on a motorcycle, while Mrs. Johnson watched. The mechanic followed Sacco and Vanzetti as they walked to a nearby streetcar stop. 
At about 10:00 P.M., as their streetcar arrived in Brockton, Sacco and Vanzetti (above) were arrested by two police officers. Searched, they were both discovered to be carrying loaded pistols. Vanzetti was also found to be carrying shells for a shotgun. They both denied knowing Boda or Orciani. It was the first of a series of stupid lies they would tell. After that the only question for the Braintree police, was what crime to charge the two men with. 
Meanwhile, May of 1920 was proving to be a most profitable month for another Italian immigrant in Boston. Where his compatriots were frustrated with American Capitalism, and seeking redemption in revolution, this cheerful little man saw American Capitalism as the American Dream. 
In order to gaze upon his dream you had to merely find the arch along Washington Street in Downtown Boston, cross under it and enter Pi Alley, also known as Williams Court. 
The narrow cobblestone passage lead to School Street, near the old City Hall. And at 27 School Street,  stood the granite walls and steel frame of the Niles Building. Up the stairs you would find Room 227. The painted door identified it as the offices of the “Old Colony Foreign Exchange Company”, the most extraordinary and successful investment program in all of 1920 America.
In February “Old Colony” had attracted $5,000 in new investments. In March the investors had coughed up $30,000. This May investors were forcing $420,000 into the companies’ coffers. The reason for such success was obvious. Profits for those investors were guaranteed, a return of 50% of their original investment within 45 days, a 100% return within 90 days. After that, every dime was pure profit. 
“Old Colony” bought and sold International Reply Coupons, (IRC’s), a now defunct form of international postage. Bought in bulk in Italy for 11 cents each, they could be sold in America for 44 cents each. That was a 400% profit. The tellers in the Old Colony's offices were taking in cash from eager investors so quickly, there was no time to count it. The tellers would take the cash being proffered, hand over a preprinted receipt, and then drop the dollars into a large barrel, before moving on to the next investor. Periodically, some one would take away the cash filled barrels and would later return with empties. Hour after hour, day after day, the cash rolled in. Some days the line of people desperate to hand over their life savings ran down the stairs, across School Street, down the Alley and snaked back along Washington Street. And week after week, the investors were paid their dividends. Few dared to withdraw their original investments. The payouts continued, like clockwork, like magic, like sheer genius.
The magician at the center of this investment genius, was a smartly dress little Italian immigrant, who went by the name of Charles Ponzi, AKA Charles Ponei, AKA Charles P. Bianchi, AKA Carl or Carlo Ponzi. And Charles indeed had a secret at the core of his investment machine. He had never bought or sold a single IRC in his life. 
On May 13, 1920 Mrs. Mary Wilcox (above, in an earlier family photo) arose to discover that during the night her 21 year old son Cyril Wilcox (center)  had committed suicide. In what was a fairly common method for 1920, the one time student at Harvard Collage had blown out the flame on the gas jets in his room. Without the cleansing illumination, the poisonous fumes had filled the unhappy young man’s bedroom until he passed out from lack of oxygen, and suffocated in his sleep.
Mary Wilcox was heartbroken. Her eldest son George was angry. Suicide has those effects on the survivors. The grieving mother ascribed her son’s death to his failure at Harvard. Cyril had been suspended after managing only five F’s, two C’s, one B and a  “passed” on his sophmore finals. But George was convinced he knew the real reason for Cyril’s unhappiness. 
George had read a letter addressed to Cyrll, delivered the day after his death. George and had then tracked down the author, Harry Dreyfus. He was an older man who owned a bar on Beacon Hill called "Cafe Dreyfus", as well as a restaurant in Cambridge frequented by Harvard students. 
George confronted the older man and then assaulted him, beating him badly until Dryfus admitted that he and Cyril had once been lovers. 
Then, on May 22, 1920, George called upon Harvard Acting Dean Chester N. Greenough. George shared the information he had been beaten out of Harry Dreyfus; that the cause of Cyril‘s suicide had really been his "victimization" by a "homosexual ring" at Harvard College. The ring,  charged George, was made up of students  Ernest Weeks Roberts , Eugene Cummings, Kenneth Day and a non-student named Pat Courtney.  The next day Dean Greenough asked five professors and deans to form a “court” to root out these homosexuals in the college. In the modern vernacular, it was to be a witch hunt.
During the bottom of the 4th inning, in a game between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park, on Thursday, May 27, 1920, New York Pitcher Bob Shawkey (above) had a melt down. With the bases loaded, Shawkey took offense when Umpire George Hildebrand called ball four and forced in a run. Shawkey shouted obscenities at the ump, who ignored the outburst. Shawkey then crouched on the mound and spent  five minutes tying his shoe. Again, Hildebrand ignored him. 
After striking out the next Boston batter (Harry Hooper) and retiring the side, Shawkey took off his cap and elaborately bowed to the umpire.  As Shawkey jogged to the New York dugout, Umpire Hildebrand quietly informed him that he had been thrown out of the game.  Shawkey then took a swing at the ump. The Yankees won the game, six to one. Shawky won a two week suspension and a $200 fine.  That was baseball, in 1920; class all the way - just like today.
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Thursday, August 10, 2017


I don't think JFK walked on water, but I also believe the world was lucky the lowly PT Boat Lieutenant was there to call Air Force General Curtis LeMay's bluff in October of 1962, else the world would have faced Armageddon over the Cuban Missile Crises. But speaking politically, it was also true that John Fitzgerald Kennedy played a crucial role in the formation of two American political myths. On the Democratic side, there is the myth of Camelot. And on the Republican side there is the myth of the bought election. To put it bluntly, J.F. K. did not steal the Presidential election of 1960 – no way, nadda, never happened.
The foundation of the “bought election” is the autobiography “Just Good Politics, the Life of Raymond Chafin, Appalachian Boss”, published in 1994 (but the story had been around for 30 years before that).
Chafin (above) was Chairman of the Logan county, West Virginia, Democratic Party Executive Committee. He was also known as "The King of Logan County".  In 1960 he was working for Democratic Presidential candidate Herbert Humphrey. Chafin's story, as described by reviewer Joe Savage in the December 1994 Washington Monthly, was that Chafin “received $35,000 cash in two briefcases at the Logan County airport from Kennedy operatives the week before the primary. While he says the amount was "a mistake"--he'd only asked for $3,500--Chafin reassures his readers that he spent it all on election activity, including illegal vote-buying, and did not pocket any of the cash himself.” But the only way to believe that story, is to ignore reality.
It was clear four years in advance the battleground for Democratic Presidential want-a-be's would be the 16 scheduled primaries. In those ancient days, when politics was merely tainted with money, none of the five Democratic candidates could afford to compete in all the primaries, not even the two strongest candidates; the liberal junior Senator from Minnesota, Herbert Humphrey, and the conservative junior Senator from Massachusetts, John (Jack) Kennedy. As early as January 1957, the Jack Pack, as the Kennedy team was called, had decided on a strategy.
It was assumed by the pundits that Humphrey would win the 5 April primary in his neighboring state of  Wisconsin. But Wisconsin had a large Catholic population, and if the Catholic Kennedy came in a close second in the cheese state, he could count that as a win. Beyond Wisconsin, the “Jack Pack” knew he would need a primary win in a strongly Protestant state. So early in 1958 pollster Louis Harris was hired to find a possible target.
His polls in West Virginia found Kennedy beating his probable Republican opponent Richard Nixon, by 14 points. And a full year before the primary, Kennedy had campaign chairmen in 39 of the state's 59 counties. Claude Ellis was named Kennedy chairman of Logan County.
Ellis told an interviewer in 2002, “First he sent (his) brother Ted and others - like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. - in here to try to help.”  Ellis  added that Teddy Kennedy (above), “spent several months traveling between Wisconsin and West Virginia campaigning...Logan county people liked Teddy and (we) wanted to keep him here as long as he could stay.”  A late 1959 Harris poll found JFK leading Humphrey by forty points in West Virginia, and the Kennedy team began to shift resources to back to Wisconsin, which produced JFK's surprising over whelming victory in the 5 April 1960 primary with 56% of the vote.
Humphrey (above, center) was now desperate to stop Kennedy in West Virginia, relying on his Logan county chairman, Raymond Chafin, to use the party machinery to help. That help included a local poll (not a Harris poll) which claimed Humphrey had jumped out to a 20 point lead. No other polls hinted at such a shift, but with little questioning, the press attributed Humphrey's “surge” to local suspicion of Kennedy's Catholicism.  Logan county was so poor, went the local joke, the schools only taught the three R's – Reading, R'writing and Route 23 to Columbus, Ohio”.  Winning the support of those bigoted anti-Catholic hillbillies could only be explained by a corrupt Kennedy machine.
Except...Chafin himself remembered the situation differently in a 1964 interview with William Young. Just four years after the election Chafin recalled, “In my traveling around (and) over the county, I could see that the Kennedy forces were gaining strength, and they had more young people, and they had a good organization.”  On Monday, 25 April,  Kennedy himself made a well attended speech in Logan (above), followed by a crowded parade through the center of town. Dan Dahill, a local pol, remembered, “It was a carnival atmosphere. Everyone came together—except for Raymond Chafin’s faction, that is.  Raymond and his candidates were all brooding up in their Aracoma Hotel headquarters that day,”
Monday 25 April was two weeks before the primary, and one week before the alleged pay off.  Why would Kennedy buy an election which every indicator, save for one errant poll, said he was already winning? Kennedy had already invested three years of time, money and effort in West Virginia. And while cash payments to political bosses might buy a close election, Kennedy would win the West Virginia primary on 19 May by 23 points – 61% to 39% for Humphrey. That was a landslide. And you don't buy those with one  bribe.
We also have two versions of a phone conversation between Claude Ellis and Chafin in the first week of May, 1960, after the parade in Logan County and about the time of the alleged payoff.  Both men agree on what was said, but Chafin's version – again from 1964 – was that Ellis asked, “Are we working on you, Chafin?” And I said, “Yeah, you’re working on us pretty rough. Looks like that some of our group would like to go along with you on this Kennedy thing.”
In other words, the experienced politician Chafin had followed the public, once he was convinced they were not following him. And the story he manufactured thirty-four years later was another example of the same thing. The public of 1994 – the year of Newt Gingrich's Republican “Contract With America” - wanted proof that a Kennedy conspiracy had stolen the West Virginia primary. But in fact, that had not happened, as Chafin admitted in 1960.
The general election on Tuesday, 8 November, 1960 produced a Kennedy victory in the popular vote by 1/10 of 1%, - a margin so thin the news organizations did not confirm the results until Wednesday afternoon, 8 November.
Republican National Committee Chairman, Senator Thurston Morton  filed suits in eleven states on 11 November, 3 days after the election.  The most extensive recount demanded was in Richard J. Daley's Cook County, Illinois.  Kennedy had carried the state by just 9,000 votes out of 4,750,000 votes cast.
The results from the recount of 863 precincts in the city, reported on 9 December, 1960, showed errors in almost every single percent.  But not a single outcome was changed. Over all Nixon gained just 943 votes, and in 40% of the precincts the recount showed errors had been made in favor of the Republicans. In other words, the recount uncovered not fraud but the mistakes you would expect to see when any large bureaucracy periodically makes a maximum effort - every line on every ballot was another opportunity for an error. 
Still the National Republican Party appealed to the Illinois State Board of Elections, chaired by two term Republican governor William “Billy the Kid” Startton. The four Republican and one Democratic board members rejected that appeal – unanimously. So the NRC filed a Federal lawsuit. That judge (a Democrat) ruled that based on the appeal filed, he did not have jurisdiction. The RNC could have refiled, choosing different legal grounds which might have given the judge grounds to consider the election, but they did not.
There were also issues in Texas, but Kennedy's margin of victory was even larger there, than in Illinois. And in Texas the political machinery was even more heavily tilted toward the party in power, which in 1960 was the Democratic party.  In the short run, Kennedy won victory by a razor thin majority, winning legally and morally. But the Republican Party stewed over the perceived injustice of the myth, which beget the 21st century voter suppression I.D. Laws, created to correct the myth of the stolen election of 1960.

If the Republican Party is to have a future in America, they need to surrender their myths, and begin reaching for the future, instead of re-litigating the past.
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Wednesday, August 09, 2017


I can prove the regularity of Senator William Blount's intestinal functions, because his Federalist enemies in the U.S. Senate, depended on the regularity of the Senator's lower intestines.  Their trap was sprung on a Tuesday morning, while Blount was visiting “The Necessity” behind Philadelphia's “Congress Hall”.  The Federalists conspirators gained time because Blount had to go all the way downstairs and out to the little shed, to do his business.  But they need not have rushed because he took his time – such things should never be hurried – and by the time he returned the letter had been read into the public record and William Blount's political career was toast.  It was Monday, 3 July, 1797, and if he were not so arrogant and regular Senator Blount (below) might gone on to great things. Or horrible things.  I'll bet even the “Spitting Beast of Vermont” wished Blount had been constipated, for once.
“Dear Cary”, the letter began, “I wished to have seen you before I returned to Philadelphia,...I believe  the plan...will be attempted this fall...(and) in a much larger way then we talked about....I shall probably be at the head of the business on the part of the British...You must take care...not to let the plan be discovered by...any other person in the interest of the United States or Spain...I am, and etcettera, William Blount.”
The plan was the invention of John Chisholm, who owned a tavern (above) across the street from Senator Blount's Knoxville, Tennessee mansion. And the way Chisholm explained his plan to Senator Blount was this....It was only a matter of time before Spain would be forced to sell their American colonies to France. And if France controlled Louisiana and Florida, they might deny American ships access to New Orleans.  That would bankrupt all of the western farmers, including those in Tennessee.  So Chisholm's plan was to use the Tennessee militia and Creek Indians to capture Pensacola and New Orleans, in the name of the British Empire - who would then promise to allow Americans to use New Orleans as if they owned it.
It was a fantasy of course, but the more Senator Blount thought about Chisholm's  idea, the more he thought it was his idea - particularly after he had improved it by creating a well paid job for himself as a British agent. So Blount wrote the letter to James Cary, who was a translator with the Creek Indian nation in eastern Tennessee.  Senator Blount expected Cary to convince the Creeks to join the conspiracy.  Instead, Cary shared the letter with his bosses in the War Department, who immediately shared it with President John Adams.  Adams was a Federalist and he saw a chance to embarrass his own Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, who presided over the Senate (above) and was also the leader of the opposition party, the Democrat-Republicans - of whom Senator William Blount was an important member.  So Adams sent a copy of the "Dear Cary" letter to Federalists in the Senate, but insisted it be kept secret until Senator Blount could do nothing to stop the public reading of the letter. Blount's toilet break provided that opportunity.
By noon the Federalist half of Philadelphia (above) wanted to hang Blount as a traitor, and the Democrat Republican half was trying to deny they had ever met him.  The President's wife even said it was too bad America did not have the guillotine. Senator Blount was arrested trying to slip out of town. Dragged in front of the Senate he denied writing the letter.  He was arrested anyway and posted bail. And once free  he hightailed it back to Knoxville – where the pro-midwest farmer conspiracy had made him something of a hero. But to the rest of the nation,, all of the nation, he was a traitor. A week later the Senate voted 25 to 1 to expel him.  For the next six months both parties downstairs in the House of Representatives, Federalists and Democrat-Republicans, tried to make the impeachment of Senator Blount work for them in the upcoming 1798 Congressional elections.  And that is how our story came to involve an expectorant infused Congressman from the Green Mountain State.
His name was Matthew Lyon, and he had been a Second Lieutenant in the Green Mountain Boys when they captured Fort Ticonderoga in 1776. The next year General Horatio Gates ordered Captain Lyon to take 60 men north to the Onion River. And just as they arrived, word came of a party of 500 Indians coming to attack them. Lyon said later, “The soldiers considered themselves sacrificed”, and they decided to get the hell out of the way.   Despite Lyon trying to talk his independent minded soldiers to stay, they marched to safety. Gates still ordered Lyon court martialed.   He lost his command, but he was not reduced in rank.  Captain Lyon later fought bravely in the battles of Bennington and at Saratoga, rising to the rank of colonel. After the war he twice ran for election to Congress from Vermont, and failed when the court martial was used against him. Third time was the charm, however, and in 1796 he won, running as a Democrat-Republican. Two years later he was even re-elected.
And that was how Lyon ended up delivering a speech from the well of the House chamber in Philadelphia (above)  on Tuesday, 30 January, 1798, chastising Connecticut Federalists for not defending the honor of their citizens by impeaching Senator William Blount fast enough.  That suggestion brought Federalist Connecticut Congressman Roger Griswald to his feet.  As Lyon stepped away from the podium, Griswald, in his best snarky voice, asked if Lyon would be defending the people of Connecticut with his wooden sword.
Now, Lyon never had a wooden sword. Occasionally, an officer convicted of cowardice would be required to wear a wooden sword, as a way of embarrassing him before the army. But that had not happened in Lyon's case, because he was not accused of running from the enemy, but was tried for not maintaining discipline among his men.  General Gates' later career provided ample evidence of his cowardice and incompetence, as Lyon's later career provided evidence of his courage. But that was reality, and politics is about image - just ask John Kerry who was Swift Boat'ed over 200 years later. Or maybe inquire of "Low Energy Jeb Bush".
Well, Lyon had been hearing this Federalist smear since the war.  It had been used to defeat him twice in his congressional campaigns. And hit in the back of the head with it, the Green Mountain boy in Lyon reacted instinctively.  He spun on Roger Griswald, and spit in his face. We can assume it was pretty disgusting logy. The forty year old Lyon was a tobacco user, and mouth wash and dentistry were still in their infancy.  And then, having expectorated his peace, Lyon turned his back on Griswald again.  In the words of an historian, from that moment “No man in the whole Republican party...(not even) Thomas Jefferson...was so hated and despised (by the Federalists) as Matthew Lyon.”  Griswald went ape and charged at Lyon.
Cooler heads from both sides rushed to separate the two. And then, this being Congress, the argument about the traitor Senator Blount became about the “spitting Lyon” and the hot head Griswald. Federalists wanted Lyon censured for “gross indecency” - for spitting on a college - making him the first Congressman honored with an ethics charge.  Democrat-Republicans wanted Griswald censured for the insult,  making him the second Congressman so honored.  In the end, both charges were dropped. So two weeks later, it got worse.
On Thursday 15 February 1798, Roger Griswold entered the house chamber carrying a cane he had been loaned by a friend. He walked directly to Matthew Lyon's desk, and began beating the Democrat-Republican with the stick.  Covering his head, Lyon struggled to his feet, and retreated toward the fire pit, meant to take off the morning chill.  He grabbed a pair of tongs from the wood pile, and began an insane fencing duel with his attacker (above). Again, cooler heads separated the two.
The spitting only made the attacks on Matthew Lyon's honor, louder. One bad Federalist poet even manged to include the insult into an ode to a theatrical Boston pig. “You boast your little pig can spell the hardest word; But did your little pig ever wear a wooden sword?....Though your piggy screws his snout in such learned grimaces, I defy the squeaking lout to spit in Christians’ faces...,Then tell us no more of your little grunting creature, But confess that the LION is the GREATEST BEAST in nature.”  As I said, he was a bad poet.
The Spitting Lyon so angered the Federalists members of Congress,  it made it easier for them to pass both the Alien and the Sedition Acts, the second of which was signed on 14 July, 1798, six months after the assault by and on the “Spitting Lyon.”  It's actual title was “An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes” (above), the crimes being writing or publishing anything false or malicious against members of the government.  It also forbid the defendant from pleading the truth of their writing. Three months later, on 10 October, Matthew Lyons was convicted under the Sedition Act, and sentenced to four months in jail.
But Representative Lyon had the last laugh.  Twice.  First he was re-elected from his jail cell, with 55% of the vote. Then, the Presidential election of 1800 was a tie, and thrown into the House of Representatives. The contest became a 35 ballot knock down drag out between Democratic Republican Jefferson and Democrat Republican Aron Burr, a self destructive circular firing squad engineered by the lame duck Federalist majority in Congress.  The issue was finally settled on the 36th ballot, when the Federalist Representative from Vermont abstained. This allowed Matthew Lyon, the Democrat-Republican from Vermont, to cast the deciding ballot making Thomas Jefferson Third President of the United States.
So it turned out, Senator Blount's act of betrayal did not end up preventing Jefferson from winning the White House. The arrogant Blount did not witness the victory, having died in his Knoxville home (above) during an epidemic in March of 1800.  The next year Matthew Lyon moved to Kentucky, and won election to Congress from that new state six times, finally retiring in 1811, and dying in 1822. The Spitting Lyon, the Green Mountain Beast, was then buried in the Blue Grass state (below). And what a shame we have allowed his memory to fade, in part because we insist upon neutering our "founding fathers" - denying them and us our shared humanity, warts and all. The lessons are usually in the warts, you know.
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