OCTOBER 2019

OCTOBER   2019
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Saturday, February 09, 2019

THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO

As I walk along the Bois Boolong with an independant air
You can hear the girls declare, "He must be a Millionaire."
You can hear them sigh and wish to die, You can see them wink the other eye
At the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo.
I hasten to point out that nobody has ever actually broken the bank in Monte Carlo. Should you be lucky enough to clean out a croupier, his table is covered in mourning cloth until a new employee arrives with more chips. This is referred to as "Faire sauter le banque", or blowing up the bank. Listen, if any casino in Monte Carlo should actually go broke, the residents would have to start paying taxes again, which they haven't done since 1869. I point this out so you can put Charles Schwab's behavior in context.
Thomas Edison (above, left) called his friend Charlie M. Schwab (center) a "Master Hustler". One of Charlie's public school teachers in the working class town of Loretto, Pennsylvania described him as "...a boy who...went on the principle of pretend that you know and...find out mighty quick.” Later in his life Charlie attempted to explain himself this way; "Here I am, a not over-good businessman, a second rate engineer. I can make poor mechanical drawings. I can play the piano after a fashion. In fact I am one of those proverbial-jack-of-all-trades, who are usually failures. Why I am not, I can't tell you."
 
It was Charlie's (above) boundless self-confidence which quickly brought him to the attention of his prudish boss, Andrew Carnegie (below). Carnegie became so fond of Charlie that when he sold out his steel  mills to J.P. Morgan for $480 million in cash and stock, Carnegie made sure that Charlie got $25 million.
In February of 1901, Morgan combined Carnegie's steel mills with those of nine other companies and formed U.S. Steel. This gave him a near complete monopoly - 231 steel mills, 78 blast furnaces, some 60 iron and coal mines, a fleet of ore barges, 1,000 miles of railroad track and 79% of all American steel sales. There was only one problem. Carnegie had agreed to the sale only if the 39 year old Charlie Schwab was made President of U.S. Steel. And even if Charlie was well qualified for the job, (and he was) Morgan did not like hiring anyone whose first loyalty was not to him. But Morgan was not worried.
An intuitive judge of men, Morgan (above) knew who Charlie Schwab really was; a gambler. Charlie was happily married to his home town sweetheart, Eurania Dinkey. But in all other regards Charlies' life had been built on calculated risks. He enjoyed fast cars, fast women and roulette. While J.P.Morgan knew that Charlie had never lied to Carnegie, he also knew that Carnegie assumed that every person he liked was a Puritan, just like himself. And just a year after Charlie had overseen the formation of U.S. Steel, Morgan used Carnegie's myopia to get rid of Charlie.
I, to Monte Carlo went, just to raise my winter's rent.
Dame Fortune smiled upon me as she'd never done before,
And I've now such lots of money, I'm a gent. Yes, I've now such lots of money, I'm a gent.
I'm the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo
Charlie arrived in France in January of 1902, for a "working vacation".  He was accompanied by Eurania, his doctor, and a fellow steel magnet. Stopping in Paris, he bought a roadster, and then drove the 430 miles south to Nice (in just 18 hours), where he met up with (among others) Henri Rothschild.  According to Charlie, they "made a jolly party … racing all over the Riviera”. Their diversions included, said Charlie, four visits to the casino 10 miles up the coast Azure at Monte Carlo.  In fact Charlie was having such a good time that he failed to notice the presence in the Hôtel de Paris of several American newspaper reporters.
The story of his visits to the casino appeared in half a dozen newspapers on Monday, 13 January, 1902.   The New York Sun trumpeted from Monte Carlo, "Charles M. Schwab is here and the lion of the day.  (He) has been playing roulette...broke the bank this afternoon.  He has had an extraordinary luck and repeatedly staked the maximum. ...the coupler pushed over to him $200,000, his winnings for the day....Mr. Schwab sauntered from table to table playing the maximums...." The New York Times editorialized, "A man who is at the head of a corporation with more than a billion dollars of capital stock...is under obligation to take some thought of his responsibilities...(and yet Charlie had joined) the intellectual and social dregs of Europe around the gaming tables of Monte Carlo, and there (made)..a prolonged effort to ‘beat’ a game which to a mathematical certainty cannot be beaten”  But he did!
Reading all of this in his West Fifty-first Street mansion, Andrew Carnegie immediately cabled Charlie in Nice, "Public sentiment shocked...Probably have to resign. Serves you right." Then he sent a letter to JP Morgan, " I feel...as if a son had disgraced the family...He is unfit to be the head of the United States Steel Company—brilliant as his talents are...Never did he show any tendency to gambling when under me, or I should not have recommended him...He shows a sad lack of...good sense...I have had nothing wound me so deeply for many a long day, if ever. Sincerely Yours, Andrew Carnegie."
I patronised the tables at the Monte Carlo, Till they hadn't got a sou for a Christian or a Jew;
So I quickly went to Paris for the charms of mad'moiselle,
Who's the loadstone of my heart - what can I do, When with twenty tongues that she swears that she'll be true.
I'm the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo"
Charlie issued the obligatory press statement. “I have been on an automobile trip through the south of France with a party of friends. ..I did visit the Casino at Monte Carlo, but the statements of sensational gambling are false.”   He insisted he had won no more than $36 on any occasion.  But it did not matter whether he had won at the tables or not. Charlie returned home on 16 February, 1902 (that's him, smiling), and now refused to even comment on the affair.  That did not matter, either. Carnegie would never support him again.  Morgan never said a word in public about the affair. He did not have to.  Now that Charlie was isolated from his mentor, he was easy prey for Morgan.
The next year, 1903, Charlie was forced to resign from U.S. Steel.  And without his dynamic leadership, Morgan's monopoly lost half of its market share by 1911. So much for J.P. Morgan's financial genius. Charlie went on to buy Bethlehem Steel (above), which he ran until shortly before his death, in 1939.  But like all gamblers, he died broke.  As Charlie himself said, "I have probably purchased fifty 'hot tips' in my career, maybe even more. When I put them all together, I know I am a net loser."
But what Charlie never did, as least publicly,  was to  ask what all those New York reporters were doing at the Casino in Monte Carlo, on that particular winter weekend in 1902.   If he had asked the answer might have been that the man who actually broke the bank in Monte Carlo, and his own US Steel company,  had been John Pierppoint Morgan (above and below),  And he wasn't even there.
I stay indoors till after lunch, and then my daily walk
To the great Triumphal Arch is one grand triumphal march,
Observed by each observer with the keenness of a hawk,
I'm a mass of money, linen, silk and starch - I'm a mass of money, linen, silk and starch.
I'm the man who broke the bank of Monte Carlo
- 30 -

Friday, February 08, 2019

WHEN THE COWS COME HOME

I admit that eventually we must all bow to the will of genetics, even if we aren’t common cattle. And when you come up against a human family like the Smith’s of Glastonbury, Connecticut, any argument of nature verses nurture seems almost pointless. Zephaniah Hollister Smith graduated an ordained minister from Yale, but he gave it up because he did not believe in mixing prophets with profits. Allegedly he excommunicated his entire congregation, and they returned the favor. Swinging to the other extreme Zephaniah then became a successful lawyer. His wife, Hannah Hadassah Hickock Smith was a linguist, a mathematician and a poet, all the more amazing an achievement since she lived in the second half of the 18th century when women were little more than chattel. The couple shared a fascination for astronomy, a passion for the abolition of slavery, and five girls.
 First there was Laurilla Aleroyia Smith, born in 1785, who painted portraits in her own studio on Main Street in Glastonbury. She also taught French in nearby Hartford. Then there was Hancy Zephina Smith, born in 1787. She was of a mechanical mind. She built her own boat, and invented a machine to shoe horses. Then there was Cyrinthia Scretuia Smith, born in 1788 with a green thumb. She raised fruit trees, grapes, strawberries, and grafted her own varieties of apple trees. In her free time she was also a scholar of Latin and Greek literature. But the real revolutionaries were the two youngest girls.
They told a story about Julia Evelina Smith (born in 1792.) While trapped during a long stage trip with a Chancellor and a professor, both from Yale, “Miss” Julia was insulted when the two men began an animated conversation in French, ignoring her completely. After listening for several minutes, Julia spoke up, saying “Excusez-moi, mais je comprends le français.” Without an acknowledgement of her presence, the two men immediately shifted their discussion to Latin, whereupon Julia interrupted again; “Excuse mihi , EGO quoque narro Latin.” The intellectuals were appalled at the continued interruption and shifted to Greek, and Julia responded with “Και κατανοώ επίσης ελληνική". Finally the Chancellor spoke to the lady directly, demanding, “Who the devil are you!?”
Julia also spoke Hebrew, and had been conducting her own study of both the Old and the New Testaments. You see, she had expected the world to end in December of 1843, and was determined to find it why it had not. Her younger sister, Abby Adassah Smith (born in 1797) was the quietest of the five, and much to everyone’s surprise (including herself) was perhaps the best public speaker of all. It seems a pity to point out that none of men in the area seemed to have been bright enough to garner any of the ladies’ interests in marriage.
It also seems a pity that of this entire family, all of them independently financially successful, intellectually powerful and culturally sophisticated, only the father, Zephaniah, was politically empowered. And when he died, on February 1, 1836, the richest, best educated family in central Connecticut, was no longer allowed to cast a single vote.
This oddity lay simmering beneath the surface until November of 1873. By now most of the female members of the Smith family had gone on to meet their maker, until only Julia, now aged 82, and Abby, now aged 77, were left to bear the Smith genetic code. It was then that the male officials of Glastonbury made the decision to raise the property tax assessment on the Smith farm by $100. The sisters would have no trouble meeting the obligation, but the increase bothered Abby, and she looked into it.
What she discovered was that in the entire town, only three properties had suffered the reassessment; the Smith farm, and the properties of two widows. Not a single male property owner had been reassessed. Abby was so incensed that she wrote a speech, which she delivered at the next town meeting. “…here, where liberty is so highly extolled and glorified by every man in it, one half of the inhabitants…are ruled over by the other half...All we ask of the town, is not to rule over them as they rule over us, but to be on an equality with them.”
Well, the male citizens at the meeting responded to the speech in the same way the Yale Chancellor and Professor in the coach had responded to Julia. They ignored the little lady. So, the sisters decided more radical action was required. They announced that until they received representation (the right to vote), they would no longer submit to any additional taxation. Oh, they paid their property taxes each year, and promptly, but they refused to pay the reassessment increase.
In response the tax collector, Mr. George C. Andrews, seized from the Smith farm seven cows. The bovines were almost pets of the Smith sisters -  named, Jessie, Daisy, Proxy, Minnie, Bessie, Whitey, and Lily. The cows were valued well beyond the $101.39 additional tax bill. So the determined sisters dispatched an agent to buy the beloved pets at auction, paying far in excess of the tax bill to save four of them. The remaining three were sold at auction, although I doubt they proved to be worth the price since none of the cows were willing to be milked unless Julia was present.
Meantime, the Springfield Massachusetts Republican newspaper reprinted Abby’s speech, and it was picked up and reprinted in newspapers nationwide. The story was even repeated in Europe. It was, wrote one newspaper, “A fit centennial celebration to the Boston Tea Party.”
In April Abby was denied time to speak again at the next town meeting. So she climbed on board a wagon out side and delivered her remarks from there, this time heard about equally by men and women. When tax time came around again, the sisters still refused to pay the additional assessment. This time Mr. Andrews seized 15 acres of Smith pasture, worth about $2,000. And this time he moved the location of the auction at the last minute, so the sisters could not even buy back their own land. The valuable property was bought by a male neighbor for less than $80.
In response the sisters sued Mr. Andrews in local court,  and they won. The court ordered the property (and the cows) returned to the sisters, and fined Mr. Andrews $10. The city appealed, and the case began the tortuous climb through the courts. In November of 1876, the old maids won at the Connecticut Supreme Court, and the city finally accepted it had been beaten by two lady spinsters.
Julia wrote an account of their adventure, “Abby Smith and her Cows”, published in 1877. That made the sisters famous, and they spoke at suffragette meetings until Julia’s death in 1878. Abby followed her in 1886. But women still could not vote in Connecticut until the 19th Amendment to the National Constitution was officially passed, in August of 1920. The Smith family home was finally made a National Historical Landmark, but not until 1974.
The story of  Julia and Abby Smith, and their cows,  ought to be considered by members of the modern Tea Party.  In the Smith case it was the right to vote that was denied by the government. While in the modern version of the tea party it is the obligation of citizens to support their government which is denied. The problem is, one is directly connected to the other. In the former case, it was brilliance of mind and spirit that drove the two ladies to protest and win. In the latter it seems it is arrogance and selfishness that fuels the protest, and in the long run it is doomed to lose. He - or she - who holds the purse strings, holds the power. And you can advocate the destruction of the political system for only so long, because if you succeed in destroying it, you lose.
- 30 -

Thursday, February 07, 2019

YET TO COME

I begin our story not where it began, nor, unfortunately, where it ended. Instead we begin just after eleven in the morning, Friday, June 20, 1913, with 29 year old Heinz Schmidt bounding up a staircase, carrying a heavy briefcase in his left hand. In his right hand he carried a gun.  The first person Heinz met at the top of the stairs was Maria Pohl She had never seen him before but he looked agitated, so she started to ask what was wrong. Without a word, Heinz pushed a Browning semi-automatic pistol into Maria's face. Instinctively Maria ducked, and when the gun went off it sent a .9mm lead pellet at 1,150 feet per second a quarter of an inch past her right ear. Maria continued her ducking movement, pushing open the door of classroom 8a. She locked the door behind her. Frustrated, Heinz pushed on the unlocked door of classroom 8b. He burst in upon 60, five to eight year old girls of Mrs. Pohl's class. He was the only adult in the room. He opened fire.
In 1884 French chemist Paul Vielle (above)  mixed nitrocellulose with a little ether and some paraffin and produced what he called pourdre blanche – white powder. When ignited it was three times as powerful as black powder, gave off very little smoke, left little residue behind to clog machinery, and would not ignite unless compressed. Thousands of gunsmiths scrambled to take advantage of Vielle's smokeless powder, in particular a mechanical genius, the son of a gunsmith, living in Ogden, Utah: John Moses Browning.
In Mrs. Poole's classroom, on the mezzanine level of the St. Marien Shule (St. Mary's School) in the Bremen, Germany, the Catholic girls were screaming, and diving under tables. One was heard to cry out, “Please, Uncle, don't shoot us.” But Heinz was not listening. He fired until his gun was empty, then reloaded a new clip, and continued firing. Two of the girls were shot dead on the spot, Anna Kubica and Elsa Maria Herrmann, both seven years old. Fifteen other girls were wounded. When his gun jammed,  Heinz pulled from his bag yet another Browning model 1900 semi-automatic pistol. In the momentary lull, the girls rushed out of the classroom, trying to escape down the stairs.
When John Moses Browning's own son asked if the old man would have become a gunsmith if his father had been a cheese maker, John pondered the question for a moment before admitting he probably would not have. Then he burst out laughing and assured his son, “I would not have made cheese, either.” But John's Mormon father had been a gunsmith, and a good one. And John was a better one, so famous he would eventually be known as “The Father of Automatic Fire.” He would hold, in the end, 128 patents and design 80 separate firearms. One website contends, “It can be said without exaggeration that Browning’s guns made Winchester. And Colt. And Remington, Savage, and the Belgium firm, Fabrique Nationale (FN). Not to mention his own namesake company, Browning”  John Browning developed the Browning Automatic Rifle (the BAR), used in two world wars, as well as both the thirty and “Ma-Deuce” fifty caliber machine guns still in use by the US military, almost century later, all of which he sold to the U.S. government for a fraction of their royalty value. But in the beginning, his most profitable work was his invention of semi-automatic pistols.
Heinz ran after the girls, firing from his fresh pistol - he had eight more in the bag, and a thousand rounds of ammunition. Eight year old Maria Anna Rychlik died at the top of the stairs. In her panic, little seven year old, Sophie Gornisiewicz, tried to climb over the stairwell banister. She slipped and fell and when she landed, Sophie snapped her neck. Following the screaming children, fleeing for their lives, Heinz ran down the first flight of stairs to the landing.
John Browning never worked from blueprints. In his own words, “A good idea starts a celebration in the mind, and every nerve in the body seems to crowd up to see the fireworks.” John would sketch rough designs of the tools he would need to make his gun, to explain them for assistants and lathe operators. Between 1884 and 1887, he sold 20 new designs to Winchester firearms. Explained one of the men who worked with him, “He was a hands-on manager of the entire process of gun making, field-testing every experimental gun as a hunter and skilled marksman and supervising the manufacturing. He was also a shrewd negotiator. He was the complete man: inventor, engineer and entrepreneur.”
On the landing, Heinz paused to lean out a window and fire at boys, who were running away from the school. He wounding five of them. A carpenter working on a nearby roof was hit in the arm. Several apartments in the line of fire were penetrated by shots from Heinz Browning guns. But as he paused to reload, the gunman was now interrupted when a school custodian named Butz landed on his back. The two struggled for a moment until Heinz shot the janitor in the face. Grabbing his brief case still heavy with guns and ammo, Heinz ran back up the stairs.
Browning's design philosophy on reliability was simple. “If anything can happen in a gun it probably will sooner or later.” In his new ingenious blow-back pistol, the breech which received the bullet's propelling explosion was locked in place by two screws. Instead, the “action” which converted the recoil was a reciprocating “slide”, attached front and rear to the gun's frame. When the gun was fired the barrel and slide recoiled together for two-tenths of an inch, and then the barrel disengaged from the slide. The barrel swung downward clearing the breech, so the spent shell casing could be ejected.
As Heinz reached the top of the stairs again, stepping over the bodies of the wounded girls, he was confronted by a male teacher, Hubert Mollmann. They struggled for a moment before Heinz shot him in the shoulder. Mollman fell, but the teacher still clawed at the shooter, tackling him and bringing him to the floor. Kicking free, Heinz sat up and shot Mollmann in the stomach. Heinz then stood over the moaning instructor, reloaded, picked up his brief case, and waked quickly down the stairs for a final time. Outside, a crowd of neighbors and parents had just reached the school.
The retreating slide compresses a recoil spring. Once fully compressed, this forces the slide back. As it does it strips a new round off the top of the magazine and rejoining the barrel, slides the new round against the breech. The gun is now ready to fire again. All that is required it to pull the trigger again. When the Belgium firm Fabrique Nationale tested a Browning prototype in 1896, it fired 500 consecutive rounds without a failure or a jam, far superior performance to any other gun then on the market. In July of 1897 FN signed a contract to manufacture the weapon, and over the next 11 years would sell almost one million of the small lightweight pistols to European military - and some 7,000 to civilians.
Cornered at last on the ground floor of the school, Heinz was swarmed by men, pummeling and beating him to the ground. The briefcase was wrenched from his grip, and the Browning pulled from his hand. The crowd dragged him outside and there the beating continued. It seems likely he would have been lynched, had not the police arrived to place him under arrest. As they dragged him off to jail, Schmidt called out, “This may be the beginning, but the end is yet to come.”
The United States Army liked the Browning 1900, and its improved model 1903. But they wanted more stopping power. So John Browning went back to his work bench and within a few months redesigned the weapon to fire a larger, forty-five caliber round. That weapon, the Browning model 1911 pistol, would be the standard American military pistol until it was replace by a 9mm weapon in 1985. Interestingly, when John Browning died of hear failure at his work bench (above), on November 26, 1926, the weapon he was designing would evolve into the gun that replaced the Browning 1911. In his obituary, it was said of John Browning, “Even in the midst of acclaim, when the finest model shops in the world were at his disposal, he preferred his small shop in Ogden. Embarrassed by praise, indifferent to fame, he ended his career as humbly as it started.”
The attack on the St. Mary's School in Bremen lasted no more than fifteen minutes, from first shot to last. During that time, Heinz Schmidt had fired 35 rounds. Eighteen children had been wounded, and five adults. Three girls had died instantly of gunshot wounds. Little Sophie with the broken neck, died within a day. Four days after the bloodbath, the four little girls were buried. Three thousand marched in their funeral procession (above) . Four weeks later, the fifth victim, five year old Elfried Hoger, succumbed to her wounds an died. All that has changed since 1913 is the technology used to design and make guns.  And yet we continue to pretend that nothing has changed.
“This may be the beginning, but the end is yet to come.”
- 30 -

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

IS ANYBODY THERE?

I think the basic problem with democracy is that humans are too darn clever for it to ever work efficiently. Consider the lesser genius of old John Q. Adams (above), son of a founding father, who, after one term in the White House, won a seat in the House of Representatives, which he occupied for another 17 years as “Old Man Eloquent”.  Congressman Adams first dragged slavery onto the House floor for open debate, and then engineered the first compromise which delayed the Civil War for forty years -  a pretty clever guy. But it was also J.Q. Adams who was clever enough to insist he should not be counted as “present” if he refused to respond when his vote was called for. It was a matter of principle to John Q, and a matter of temperament. He was just too old to stand up and walk out of the chamber every time someone asked him to vote on something he wanted to avoid voting on. How could he predict that two generations later, in the hands of hack politicians, this principle would be used to thwart democracy?
They called it a “Silent Quorum”. By October of 1893, when the Senate was trying to repeal price supports for silver, which were costing taxpayers millions of dollars every year, this procedure had become a monster whenever the majority was razor thin. Without a quorum present, (half the membership plus one) no vote was legal, so by remaining silent when their names were called, the minority could “fillibuster” any action they wanted to avoid losing on. It was a maneuver which one particular House member described as a “...peculiar art of metaphysics which admits of corporeal presence and parliamentary absence”. That year, over two days, the U.S. Senate tried 39 times to remove price supports for silver. And every time the quorum evaporated. A decade later the obstructionists had so honed their craft that the same particular House member calculated that the House of Representatives spent “...a whole month...calling over our own names”. Usually the bills being  filibuster were either dropped, or the delay and deal making required to get them passed held the Congress up to public ridicule. Who ever heard of such a thing as that?
The 'particular' Congressman who finally broke the filibuster of silence was a fourteen year veteran who knew the lower house of Congress well enough to describe it as “A gelatinous existence, the scorn of all vertebrate animals”. He owned the biggest head in politics (in more ways than one) and the sharpest wit in the Washington, at the time.  Fifty year old Thomas Brackett Reed (above) was, said a critic, as “ambitious as Lucifer”.  He was also a giant - 6'3” tall and 300 pounds – who inspired one who saw him strolling to say in awe, “How narrow he makes the sidewalk look.”  Republican Thomas Reed once lamented in his measured Maine drawl, “We live in a world of sin and sorrow. Otherwise there would be no Democratic Party.”  When accused of mockery by a Democrat, Reed responded, “I will say to the gentleman that if I ever ‘made light’ of his remarks, it is no more than he ever made of them himself.”   Reed described two politicians who annoyed him, this way; “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.” He was imperious and dictatorial even with friends - a small “d” democratic Robespierre.
Like all political revolutions, newly-elected Speaker Reed's, was inspired by necessity. Specifically, on 23 January 1890, he received the Committee on Elections report concerning the 4th district of West Virginia. The Democratic Governor had thrown out the results from two polling places and declared Democrat James Jackson the winner. The loser, Republican Charles Smith, had appealed to congress. The Congressional Committee's Republican majority had labeled the governor's actions so outrageous that it “seems like a farce to argue about it” and recommended giving the seat to Smith. As expected the Democrats wanted to argue about it. Technically Reed had three more than the 166 Republicans needed to push through Smith's election. But if three or more of his own party were out sick or away from the floor Reed's working majority would fall to the “tyranny of the minority”. Thomas Reed was determined to do something about that.
Before the session was to begin that noon, on Wednesday, 29 January, 1890, Speaker Reed called the two ranking Republican members of the election committee into the hallway behind the Speakers podium, known as the Speakers' Lobby. There Reed warned Joe Cannon from Illinois (above) and William McKinley from Ohio that even with two Republicans dragged from their sick beds, what with several still out sick, one dead and another home with a dying wife, the Democrats could be expected to use a 'Silent Quorum' to delay or even kill action on their report. But Reed had a plan. What he did not tell this allies was that he had recently secured a partnership in a private law firm, in case his plot blew up in his face and he was forced to resign from the Congress. Representative Cannon asked when the Speaker intended upon launching his plan. Reed responded simply, “Now”, and he strode into the chamber.
After the preliminaries for the opening of a session, Edward McPherson, the House clerk, called for a vote on the report of the election committee. The initial results were 162 yeas, 3 nays and 163 not voting. The Democrats immediately called for a “quorum call”. Again Mr. McPherson read out the roll call, pausing after each of the 332 names for a response. All 162 Republicans in the chamber answered “present”. Not a single Democrat in the room lifted his voice. The “Silent Quorum” had again triumphed - or so it seemed. But then Speaker Reed announced ponderously, “The Chair directs the Clerk to record the names of the following members as present and refusing to vote.” And slowly he began to read off the names he had marked down as being in the room.
According to the Associated Press reporter who was present, “Pandemonium broke loose...wild excitement, burning indignation, scathing denunciation...” When Reed called his name, the Democratic war horse William Breckinridge bellowed over the mob, “I deny the power of the Speaker and denounce it as revolutionary!” By now Democrats were spilling into the aisle and pressing toward the podium, “...as if they intended to mob the Speaker.” But imperious, “utterly fearless”, and (said the New York Times) as “cool and determined as a highwayman,” Speaker Reed deigned not to acknowledge their outrage. He just kept reading the the names of the no longer silent minority.
When he called out, “Mr. McCreary”, the sexagenarian ex-Governor of Kentucky and ex-Confederate Colonel, James Bennett McCreary (above), shouted up at the podium, “I deny your right, Mr. Speaker, to count me as present!” Unexpectedly, Thomas Reed paused, and the entire bedlam paused as well, sucking in a breath of anticipation. Gazing down impassively from atop the massive podium, the New England Buddha pronounced, “The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman is present. Does he deny it?” Representative McCreay was nonplussed. And calmly Reed continued with his roll call of the principled “absent”. And when he had finished, over the din and angry shouts which again tore the air, he announced he would now give his reasons for the revolution he had just launched.
The Constitution, in Article One, section five, said Reed, dictates that each house of Congress could “...compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each house may provide.”  Speaker Reed argued, “If members can be present and refuse to (be)....counted as a quorum, that provision would seem to be entirely negated. Inasmuch as the Constitution only provides for their attendance, that attendance is enough. If more was needed the Constitution would have provided for more.” His words were not going to sway the losing side, but then that was not whom Reed was speaking to.  Are elections a farce and is government by the people a juggle?” he asked. “Do we marshal our tens of millions at the polls for sport? If there be anything in popular government it means that whenever the people have elected one party to take control of the.House or the Senate, that party shall have both the power and the responsibility. If that is not the effect, what is the use of the election?”
Having said his peace, Mr. Reed intoned, “The Chair thereupon rules that there is a quorum present within the meaning of the Constitution.” Breckinridge demanded to make a point of order. Reed dismissed him, saying. “The Chair overrules the point of order”, without even hearing it. “I appeal the decision of the Chair,” shouted the old war horse. Interjected the Republican Lewis Payson from Ilinois' 9th district, “I move to lay the appeal on the table”. And with a Republican second, the Congress now debated the very idea of Reed's revolution.
It went on for three bitter, angry, frustrated days. And from atop the pyramid of the podium Thomas Reed sat impassive, “serene as a summer morning”, rendering Parliamentary decisions which kept the debate moving.  Speaker Reed used his gavel so often, he broke it (above).  Charles Landis, the Indiana Republican, insisted that Reed “...did not gag debate, he simply....thought that a man who had a private balloon to inflate should hire a field.”  If the Democrats “shouted until the acoustics bled,” wrote Landis, that was merely “prima facie evidence that they were in the vicinity”. In the beginning Republicans were not united, but the Democratic reaction had forced the doubters into the battle line. Even the one Texas Democrat who stayed seated while ominously wetting his bowie knife, helped to unite Reed's Republican troops.
Thomas Reed came out of this debate forever bearing the tag of “Czar Reed”. But he also won his point. On Monday, 3 February 1890, the Democrats admitted defeat and simply walked out of the chamber (above). This left the Republicans with just 165 votes - one short of a quorum. An hour later, Republican Joe Sweeny of Iowa, having raced from the train station, walked into the chamber and announced, “One more, Mr. Speaker”. And with that a quorum was achieved. And the reason for the drama (if anybody still remembered), Charles Smith, was officially elected to the 4th district House seat for West Virginia, by 166 votes to 0. Twenty-six days later the United States Supreme Court rejected the Democratic appeal, and the matter was settled for at least a generation.
"Reed's Rules" gave the Republicans the power to fully enact their programs. And the public fully rejected them. In the election of 1890 Democrats gained the clear and working majority both sides had wanted, and immediately discarded Reed's Rules.  Reed's observation on this was, “The House has more sense than anyone in it.”  Two years later, the Republicans re-gained ground and it was the Democrats who were facing a intransigent minority, lead by Thomas Reed. The Democrats were forced to now accept and use Reed's Rules for themselves. In response, Thomas Reed said only, “I congratulate the Fifty-third Congress.” And he meant it.
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