APRIL 2021

APRIL 2021
FEATHERING THEIR OWN NEST

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Thursday, April 22, 2021

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

I know we like to think our nation was founded by political geniuses armed only with the best of intentions. But the truth is, if the  founding fathers were to somehow magically reappear in today's political arena, they would probably be most comfortable as members of the Klu Klux Klan – sexists and white supremacists. 

Under the first constitution for South Carolina (signed in 1778) Catholics were not allowed to vote. Delaware's first constitution denied the vote to Jews, and Maryland did not permit the sons of Abraham to cast a ballot until 1828. And, of course, women and both sexes of African-Americans either were already or shortly would be arrested if they tried to vote.  But the most fundamental bigotry in America was and is not racial or religious. It is monetary. The most disenfranchised group in America has always been anyone who was “not rich”.
In ten of the 13 original United States you had to own at least 50 acres of land or $250 in property before you were judged qualified to vote. The official price for uncleared land along the frontier was set at just ten cents an acre, but was sold by the government in lots no smaller than a section of 640 acres. So a section of land cost $640. At the same time the average yearly income for a laborer in the north was about $90.  Few working people could ever hope to save enough to afford a section of land. 
Thus the land speculators stepped in. They already owned property (land and slaves) which they could use as collateral. This gave them access to credit, which they used to leverage hundreds of sections of land at a time, which they could then survey, subdivide and resell in plots which slowly shrank sale by sale down to 40 acres - generally considered the optimum size for a single family farm. It was a system rife with legal and illegal corruption. The speculators' profit margins tripled or quadrupled the price per acre to the yeoman farmers who usually borrowed to buy the land. One bad crop meant they could not make the payments and had to return the land to the speculators and were forced to move even further west to try again, still without the right to vote on the legality of such monetary rules.  This economic vice, and not wanderlust, was why Daniel Boone kept moving his entire life, as did Abraham Lincoln's father.
This explains why, forty years after the revolution, only half a million out of the ten million Americans could qualify to vote, and why, in the election of 1824, less than 360,000 actually cast a ballot.  The debacle of the 1824 presidential election being thrown into the House of Representatives, resolved by the so called “corrupt bargain” between Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, lead to the realization that the first objective of fair elections must be to keep the powerful from limiting the right to vote.  That was why, beginning in the new states beyond the Appalachian crest, the wealth restrictions on voting were dropped. And slowly this influenced the politics back in the original 13 states.  Very slowly, of course.
On 7 October, 1825, with John Quincy Adams ensconced in the White House for less than 8 months, Senator Andrew Jackson (above) rose in the Senate chamber. Nominally he was to comment on a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent another “corrupt bargain” from ever happening again. But, “I could not”, Jackson assured his fellow politicians, “consent either to urge or to encourage a change which might wear the appearance of being ...a desire to advance my own views” (He meant unlike Henry Clay, and President Adams, of course.)  And "reluctantly" he added, “I hasten therefore to tender this my resignation.”   
It wasn't that Jackson (above) was clearing his schedule for the upcoming 1828 rematch. Oh, no. He was resigning so “my friends do not, and my enemies can not, charge me with...intriguing for the Presidential chair.” As he walked out of the Capital that afternoon, it's a wonder his trousers did not burst into flames. The proposed amendment, which was unlikely to pass in any case,  was then quietly allowed to die. Besides, Jackson knew he might have to avail himself of the same deal making in 3 short years.  And he did.
On the same day, on the west fork of the Stones river, meeting in St. Paul's Episcopal Church on East Vine Street in Murfreesboro,  the Tennessee state legislature unanimously nominated Andrew Jackson to be the next President of the United States – three years hence. What a happy coincidence of timing, with those two events occurred a thousand miles apart, and on the same day – proof positive that no one could accuse Andrew “Jackass” of “intriguing” for the Presidency. And if any of you reading this are offended by modern pundits theorizing about the next election almost before the last one is completed, welcome to the brave new world of 1825
Of course, if you were looking for more hard evidence of intrigue you might journey to the 9th Congressional District of Virginia, tucked away in the south-western corner of the Old Dominion. The two term representative for this last gasp of the Shenandoah Valley and its encroaching mountains was a transplanted Pennsylvanian, a graduate of William and Mary named Andrew Stevenson (above).  He had been the Speaker of the House of Burgess, where he was considered a member of the “Richmond Junta” which ran Virginia politics. And now the dapper Congressman had tied his horse to Andrew Jackson's cart. So why would a member of the Richmond Junta decide to join forces with a Yankee from the Albany Regency, to support Andrew Jackson from Nashville, Tennessee, for President?
First, the south had something that New York Democrat Martin Van Buren (above) wanted – electoral votes. The institution of slavery was indeed peculiar because although those humans were treated as property with no rights, each slave did count as 3/5ths of a person for determining congressional districts and votes in the electoral collage.  The census of 1820 thus gave the south 22 additional congressional districts – and 22 additional electoral votes – which their white male population did not entitle them too. This was the deal with Satan the founding fathers from New England had been forced to make in order to form a “more perfect union.” Those 22 electoral votes were more than enough to throw an election in whatever direction Martin Van Buren, and the New York banking interests he represented,  wanted .
What Stevenson and other Southerners wanted in exchange for their votes, was a guarantee that the economy of the south, meaning slavery,  would be protected from the growing power of the North. Practically this meant low tariffs. The slave states produced few of the machines that were increasingly vital to modern life,  largely because slaves had no incentive to invent or invest of themselves more than was required.
Meanwhile, a little over two weeks after Jackson's resignation from the Senate, the Erie Canal (above) officially opened, cheaply connecting the produce of  Ohio to the markets of New York City.  It was visible evidence of the economic giant the free workers and consumers of the "Free States" were becoming.  But in a nation without an income or a sales tax, a tax levied on imported goods, or a tariff, was the only way to support projects like the canal, or a national highway, then approaching the eastern Indiana border.
The Bank of the United States was a vital part of the infrastructure which Federalists were  advocating for financing the National Road and canals connecting the great lakes with the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  But what Adams saw as government preforming the unprofitable investment in infrastructure so that business could use it as a base for their future profits, Stevenson and Van Buren saw “Big Government”, supported by tariffs, as a multi-head snake (above), big enough to regulate business and tangentially a threat to slave state economics.  And they were right.
In 1831 (six years hence) a young French official, Alexis de Tocqueville, would journey to America to observe the young nation.  And in perhaps his most famous passage he touched upon the effect of slavery on the south.  “The State of Ohio”, wrote de Tocquville,”is separated from Kentucky just by one river; on either side of it the soil is equally fertile, and the situation equally favorable, and yet everything is different...(In Ohio the population is) devoured by feverish activity, trying every means to make its fortune...There (in Kentucky) are people who make others work for them...a people without energy, mettle or the spirit of enterprise...These differences cannot be attributed to any other cause but slavery. It degrades the black population and... (saps the energy of) the white.”
So, a hundred years before the Republican Party adopted its infamous “Southern strategy” to convert segregationist “boil weevel” "Dixie-crats"  into a southern Republican voting block, the Democrats, at very the moment of their party's birth, made a much more vile  bargain – agreeing to protect real slavery in all its foul existence,  in exchange for gaining national power to protect the money interests of Wall Street.  
Jackson's  only real interest in seeking the Presidency in 1828 was in defeating those who had “cheated” him out of his victory in 1824.  Jackson was a slave owner, and his natural inclination was to support slavery.  But he needed the "moneyed classes" to win,  and  he also opposed the national bank, and Adam's program of “big government” investments.  The hard work of forming the party which would carry him to victory he left to men like Van Buren and Stevenson, who were binding Southern ruling elite to Northern ruling elite. And that accommodation between racism and greed would be the foundation of the new Democratic Party for the next 100 years. After that it would be adopted by the Republican Party as a way of holding on to power.  And both times, racism and white supremacy  was the devil the voters knew, and which was enshrined when Jackson took the oath as President in March of 1829.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

THE FUNDAMENTALIST CREED

 

began wondering, after reading “The Fundamentals; A Testimony to the Truth”, the seminal work of Christian fundamentalism, how such a document had come to exist. The very first sentence of the very first of the 90 essays sought to explain it all. “In 1909 God moved two Christian laymen to set aside a large sum of money for issuing twelve volumes that would set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith…” Upon further investigation I discovered that the two anonymous Christian laymen were Lyman Stewart and his younger brother Milton. And Lyman's personal history may provide some insight into cognitive dissonance he fathered and funded.
Lyman Stewart (above) was the deeply religious eldest son of a tanner. He hated his father’s business and wanted to be a missionary. But, as Jesus before him, Lyman would need funds to support his ministry. Then, on the morning of 28 August, 1858, almost in Lyman’s own backyard, the foreman of the Pennsylvania Oil Company spotted fresh oil standing in the 69 foot drill hole he had decided to abandon the night before. Within a few weeks this well, outside of Titusville, Pennsylvania  would be producing the unheard bounty of 20 barrels a day. Jonathan Watson, the man who had leased the site to Penn Oil, became the first oil millionaire. Lyman  saw the hand of God in this miracle of sudden wealth.
It was a risky business. The towers of Ancient Babylon may have been constructed in part with asphalt. But in 1859 there was no explanation of how petroleum, or “rock oil” was created, nor why it was found where it was. Even today three out of four oil fields are first located because of surface “seeps” of asphalt. And finding  oil beneath the ground remained a matter of pure luck and, if you asked Lyman Stewart, divine intervention.  Those whom God loved, found oil. 
On 5 December 1859,  Layman used his life savings of $125 (equivalent of $3,000 today) to buy an option on a section of land not far from Penn Oil’s big score. But Lyman’s lease proved to be a dry hole, and it took him two years of work to save up enough cash to finance a second try. In 1861 he joined with other investors in buying another lease. This time Lyman hit oil, but over-production had driven the price down to ten cents a barrel, and Lyman and his partners lost their money and eventually, their lease. 
By now chemical analysis had determined that oil had once been living plants and animals. From this it was theorized that oil was never found in the rocks in which it had formed, the “source rock”.  Instead it flowed into a permeable “reservoir rock”, which was always found beneath a layer of impermeable “cap rock”. 
If there were no cap rock and the oil made it to the surface, it formed a seep. Geologists still had no idea how old oil was.  But connecting the work of Scottish geologist James Hutton with the "Origin of Species", published in 1859 by the English Naturalist Charles Darwin, gave a strong hint that it might be unimaginably old. But you didn't need to believe Darwin to find oil. You just needed to be lucky, or faithful.
In 1866, after serving in the Civil War, Lyman returned to the oil fields. He opened an office in Titusville, helping other wildcatters negotiate leases from local farmers. On some of the better looking leases, Lyman waved his fee in exchange for a share of any oil found. By 1868 he had made a small fortune and a reputation as a savvy oil man. By 1869 he was broke again. But he remained convinced that God would not let him fail. 
In 1877 Lymen teamed up with a roustabout from the Pennsylvania and California oil fields, named Wallace Hardison. Hardison had made enough money in California to fund Lyman for one more try. And Layman hit the black gold again. This time, when they were on top, the pair sold out to Rockefeller’s Standard Oil.  In 1883 the Stewart brothers and Hardison packed their bags and moved to California.
The desperate search for oil drove capitalists to take a hard look at the pulverized rocks drawn up from both dry and successful holes. It was the only empirical evidence they had. They found these cores to be filled with the remains of microscopic Foraminifera. There are some 4,000 species of these single celled aquatic creatures in today’s oceans, from the surface to the bottom mud, from the Artic to the tropics. But the fossils of some 275,000 separate Foraminifera species were coming out of the drill holes.
Obviously the vast majority of these little creatures and plants had gone extinct. By studying which  extinct species had been found with the oil in past well cores, the capitalists could better judge their chances of finding oil in any new drilling hole. Eventually, oilmen would depend on Foraminifera fossil species to lead them toward the oil underground.
The move west did not change Lyman Stewart. He forbade his normally profane roustabouts from cursing on the drilling site, and earned his first California well the title of “Christian Hill”. Still, even with the Lyman’s piety, it took seven dry wells before Lyman and Harding produced their first gusher in Santa Clarita.  And by 1886 the Hadison and Stewart Oil Company was producing 15% of all the petroleum being pumped out of California. 
In 1890 they merged with three other local oil companies controlled by Thomas Bard, to form the Union Oil Company of California. Bard was named President of the new company, Lyman was named Vice President, and Hardison became the treasurer. The company’s headquarters was established in the pretty little town of Santa Paula, at the corner of Main and Ojai streets, surrounded by hundreds of nodding mechanical donkeys, pumping out profits for Layman and his partners. 
Success and wealth merely confirmed Lyman’s faith in his own righteousness. He had no doubt that God meant him to be wealthy and wanted him to expand his empire. Wallace Hardison was not so certain, and in 1892 he sold out. Then in 1894 Bard resigned after repeated fights with Lyman. Evidently, being pious did not make Lyman a congenial partner.  
But finally Lyman Stewart had reached the top of the mountain. He kept drilling, now following the extinct creatures to find new wells, to feed the growing demand for his product. 
He built pipelines and refineries. He built a fleet of tankers to carry Unocal Oil up and down the West Coast. He opened a string of service stations, to sell his gasoline.  Company profits went from $10 million in 1900 to over $50 million in 1908. 
California was now producing almost 78 million barrels of oil a year.  The following year, Wallace Hardison died in Sun Valley, California, when his car was struck by a train, and Lyman Stewart's last opponent was welcomed into heaven.  It seemed that God was truly smiling upon his favored son.
Now at last Lyman Stewart had the fortune to fund his ministry. The brothers, Lyman and Milton,  endowed $300,000 for the publication of 12 volumes (90 essays) written in defense of what they believed were the five fundamental tenets of Christianity; the total absolute accuracy of the bible, the divinity of Jesus, his death for humanities’ sins, and his second coming, which was expected soon, perhaps in the lifetime of people then living. 
However there were a few other points made in the fundamentals, in particular a listing of the enemies of Christianity, as detailed later by Robert Wuthnow, of Princeton University. These enemies included “…Romanism (Catholicism), socialism, modern philosophy, atheism...Mormonism, spiritualism,...and Darwinism, all of which, in the Stewart's belief appeared to "undermine the Bible's authority.”  Formed originally as a response to "modernism", the foundations of Fundamentalism are primarily negative, insisting upon what they against, rather than what they seek to be.  It is impossible to decipher early 21st century conservative politics without an understanding of “The Fundamentals; a Testimony to the Truth”, inspired by a 19th century ethos, and codified in the early 20th century.
The first target of the Fundamentalists was the growing acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection. William Riley, writing for the World Christian Fundamentals Association in 1922, declared “We increasingly realize that the whole menace in modernism exists in its having accepted Darwinism against Moses, and the evolutionary hypothesis against the inspired word of God." There are hundreds of teachers, Riley argued, who were pouring the poison of Darwinism into youthful minds where their evil teachings could "take root in the garden of the Lord.”
But seemingly in defiance of the Stewart's anti-Darwinism, by the 1920’s Union Oil geologists had realized that Foraminifera could be used to measure ancient ocean temperatures, and the amount of oxygen in the ancient seas. Both of which impacted the formation of oil. And they were now basing multimillion dollar drilling decisions at individual well sites on the fossilized shells of now extinct microscopic creatures found in drilling cores. All of which Fundamentalism said was a lie. And yet those lies were making Lyman Stewart and the other oil investors richer by the day. What would they do? Would they give the oil and the money back? 
No,  they would not. But thanks to Layman Stewart and his brother's largess, millions in profits from this oil provided for the Los Angeles Mission, which has helped to feed and shelter tens of thousands of homeless and lost souls, and a nearby Fundamentalist Christian College, which explicitly teaches that those creatures used to find that wealth which built that college, had all died in a great flood, which had occurred, just six thousand years ago.
In 1923 Lyman Stewart died at the age of 83., very rich and still insisting to all who trusted him that the creatures which had made him wealthy were myths.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

THE SPITTING LYON

I can prove the regularity of Senator William Blount's intestinal functions, because his enemies in the U.S. Senate depended on them. Their trap was sprung on Monday, 3 July, 1797, while Blount was visiting “The Necessity” behind Philadelphia's “Congress  Hall” (above).  The arrogant and regular Blount (below) had to go all the way downstairs and out to the little shed, But the Federalists need not  rush because Blount took his time – such things should never be hurried.  By the time he returned to his seat,  the letter had been read and William Blount's political career was in the toilet.  I'll bet even Matthew Lyon, the “Spitting Beast of Vermont”, wished he had.
“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.. signed, 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. Chisholm figured 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 the western farmers in Tennessee and Kentucky.  So Chisholm planned was to use local 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 sitting his heavily mortgaged Knoxville mansion (above) Senator Blount thought about this idea. And the more he thought, the more he thought it was his idea - particularly after he had improved it by creating a well paid job for himself as the British agent running New Orleans. So Blount wrote this 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 (above).  Now, Adams was a Federalist and he saw a chance to embarrass his own Vice President, Thomas Jefferson, who presided over the Senate 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 (above), but insisted it be kept secret until Senator Blount could do nothing to stop the reading of the letter in public. Blount's regular toilet trip provided that opportunity.
By noon half of Philadelphia (above) wanted to hang Blount as a traitor, and the other 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, despite everyone in the room recognizing his handwriting. He was arrested anyway and posted bail. And once free he hightailed it back to Knoxville – where being part of an anti-government conspiracy had made him something of a hero.  
A week later the Senate voted 25 to 1 to impeach and expel him (above), making him the first politician to be impeached in the new republic.  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, they heard rumors of  500 Indians coming to attack them. Lyon said later, “The soldiers considered themselves sacrificed”, and they decided to retreat.  Despite Lyon trying to talk his independent minded soldiers to stay, they high tailed it for safer climes. 
The prickly General Gates (above) ordered Lyon arrested and tried before a military court. Convicted of failing to maintain discipline among his men, Matthew lost his command. However 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 the Vermont hero twice ran for election to Congress. Both times the Federalists used the court martial to imply he was a coward. However, third time was the charm, and in 1796 he finally won election, as a radical 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 (above) on Tuesday, 30 January, 1798. In his speech Lyon chastised the Connecticut Federalists for not defending the honor of their citizens by backing the impeachment of Senator Blount. 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. That had not happened in Lyon's case, because he was not accused of running from the enemy. General Gates' later career provided ample evidence of his cowardice and incompetence, as Lyon's later career provided evidence of the reverse. But that was reality, and politics is about image - just ask John Kerry who was Swift Boat'ed over 200 years later.
Well, Lyon had been hearing this Federalist for twenty years.  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 piece, 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 Federalists) as Matthew Lyon.”  Griswald went ape and charged at Lyon.
Cooler heads from both sides rushed to separate the two combatants.  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 impeached 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, 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 without warning 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 the morning chill off the chamber. 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 managed 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 as a defense. Three months later, on 10 October, The Democratic Republican 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 Republicans Jefferson and Democratic Republican Aron Burr, all engineered by the lame duck Federalist Congressional majority.  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 and ambitious Blount did not witness the victory, having died in his 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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