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"Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout" is Moving to Blogger

In January 2005 I recklessly launched a new blog, Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout here at LiveJournal. Probably not the best choice in the world, but I didn’t know better. I have kept it up ever since. There have been some lean months here or there, but I have been amazingly faithful. Content has evolved. At first I thought I might become some kind of great commentator. But the blog-o-sphere was already crowded with smarter guys and gal. Sometimes it seemed fade back to just a bulletin board of meetings and activities I was involved in. I shamelessly inflicted poetry from time to time which almost no one ever read. In recent years I have run heavily to historical notes with an admixture of whatever the hell else I wanted to scribble about on a given day.

Despite its limitations—like most people now avoid it like the plague—LiveJournal was a functional platform. Recently, however it has become unreliable. Based in Russia for the past few years, their servers have come under attack for one reason or another occasionally interrupting service. I have been unable to post now for due to a severe Denial of Service Attack, which they do not seem to be able to deal with. That was the last straw.

I am moving my little pop stand and the far end of the cul-de-sac to Blogger. Look for Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout I hope long time readers will find and follow. Beginning now I will post all entries there.  And I hope to find a way to transfer my extensive blog archives to that site. I’m told it can be done, but several hours of trying to figure it out have left me anxious and exhausted. Maybe someday.

I will leave the LiveJournal blog up, so that the archives will remain available. 

Bookmark and visit our new home at 

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Black Bart Pulls First Stagecoach Robbery

Charles Boles a/k/a Charles Bolton, T. Z. Spaulding, and Black Bart after his arrest in San Francisco in 1883.

On July 26, 1875 the outlaw who became known as Black Bart committed his first known robbery.  He held up a stagecoach with a Wells Fargo strongbox in Calaveras County, California.  It was the first of a string of daring hold-ups that would continue until he was finally captured following a botched robbery of the same stage in the same location in 1883.

Black Bart was one of the few western bad men—or western lawmen for that matter—who lived up to his reputation.  Like others his adventures were exploited in dime novels and the popular press like the Police Gazette, but unlike others there was hardly any need for exaggeration.

And Bart defied all of the stereotypes.   While stagecoach robberies were common across the West, most were done by mounted gangs who counted on their horses to out run the law.   Deathly afraid of horses, Bart did all of his robberies and his successful getaways on foot taking advantage of the rugged territory of his preferred stage lines in northern California and southern Oregon.  He did not carry a pistol or a rifle.  He showed a shotgun which he never fired and which may never even have been loaded.  He wore a raffish derby hat and long duster and disguised his face with a flour sack with holes or his eyes.  He was unfailingly polite and courteous to drivers and passengers alike and never uttered a profanity.  On at least two occasions he left behind short poems celebrating his crimes. Yet he got away with tens of thousands of dollars of Wells Fargo gold and U.S. Mail in his long career.

If Bart’s appearance and methods were unorthodox, so was his background.  Born Charles Earl Bowles in Norfolk, England in 1829, his father relocated his large family to a Jefferson County, New York farm when he was two years old.

Like many a young man, he and two of his brothers were lured to the California gold fields in 1849. They worked claims along then American River in the heart of Gold Rush territory. After a discouraging year, Charley, as he was known returned east.  But the lure of gold got him again and returned with brothers David and Robert, who soon died of, probably of typhoid.  Charley continued mining with limited success until abandoning the fields in 1854

The same year Charley, now spelling his last name Boles, married Mary Elizabeth Johnson and established a home near Decatur, Illinois.  The couple soon had four children

Whatever happiness the couple may have had was interrupted by the Civil War.   Boles enlisted in Company B, 116th Illinois Regiment, on August 13, 1862.  He was evidently an excellent soldier and quickly advanced through the ranks becoming First Sergeant by the end of his first year of service.  Boles saw action in many battles, including Vicksburg where he sustained major injuries.  Later he was a part of the western army under General William Tecumseh Sherman on his March to the Sea.  Boleswas discharged having been brevetted to First Lieutenant in June 1865 in Washington and returned home.

Like many veterans Boles found it difficult to adjust to the hum-drum of the farming life.  In 1867 he lit out to Idaho and Montana to resume prospecting.  He remained in contact with his wife in Decatur until 1871.  A final letter in August of that year made cryptic reference to a grievance against Wells Fargo and a vow to seek vengeance.  He then stopped writing and seemed to vanish off the face of the earth.  Eventually his wife gave him up for dead.

Nothing is known of his activities from that point on until that July day in California.  Perhaps he committed other, non-attributed robberies in Montana, honing his skills.  Perhaps he just went deep into the Northern California gold country once again prospecting and learning the lay of the land.  He evidently took his inspiration not from the dashing outlaw gangs of the plains but from the legendary solo highwaymen of his native England.

He typically hid behind an outcropping of rock or just beyond a curve, usually on an upgrade where the stagecoach teams would be laboring.  He calmly stepped into the road leveling his shot gun in the direction of the driver and politely asked for the strong box and mail.  He never robbed passengers or the driver.

Bart committed 28 holdups of Wells Fargo stagecoaches in Northern California, most of them on the Siskiyou Trail to Oregon.  On his fourth and seventh stick-ups Bart left behind poems.  The first read:

I've labored long and hard for bread,

For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you've tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

—Black Bart, 1877

The second went:

Here I lay me down to sleep

To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I'll try it on,
My condition can't be worse;
And if there's money in that box
'Tis munny in my purse.

—Black Bart

These ditties, along with the outlaw’s cheerful disposition sparked the interest and attention of the press and public alike.  After the second note, he was famous.  Almost any robbery on the west coast was attributed to him, some by copy cats.  Most of his robberies were successful; some resulted in only a few dollars when an anticipated Wells Fargo shipment was not on board.  On one occasion he was scared off and lost his derby when a guard fired on him.  Posses chased him, but he melted into the mountains time and again.

By the 1880 the pressure to capture him was building.  And Bart felt it.  He told a driver that year, “Hurry up the hounds.  It gets lonesome in these mountains.”  In 1882 a driver asked how much he made as an outlaw.   “Not very much for the chances I take,” he said.

On November 3, 1883 Bart returned to the site of his first robbery on Funk Hill in Calaveras County.  That day a young passenger got off the coach to hunt in the brush, planning to meet back up with it on the other side of the hill.  He got to the road and waited.  When the stage failed to appear, he began to walk back.  He met the driver with the team, which Bart had order un-hitched from the wagon.  Armed with the boy’s rifle the two moved back to the coach, where Bart was struggling to get the strong box un-bolted from the floor—a new Wells Fargo security measure.  The driver fired at Bart with the rifle and missed.  Bart took off, grabbing some gold and a sack of mail.  The boy took the rifle and thought he shot Bart as he disappeared into the trees.  They found traces of blood and began to follow.

Bart stashed his some of his loot in a hollow log,  stuffed about $500 in gold coins into his pocket, and wrapped a bloody hand, his only wound, with a handkerchief.  He lost both the handkerchief and his glasses as he ran.  Still, he once again eluded his pursuers and seemed to make a clean get away.

Pinkerton Detectives hired by Wells Fargo recovered the items left behind.  The bloody handkerchief had a laundry mark on it.  Displaying the dogged diligence for which the Agency was famous, detectives visited more than 90 laundries before finding a matching laundry mark at Ferguson & Bigg’s California Laundry on Bush Street in San Francisco.  By co-incidence the detective, James B. Hume bore a remarkable resemblance to Bart with his massive handlebar moustash, bushy eyebrows and graying hair.  The laundry man pointed out Bart’s residence, a modest rooming house near-by.

Boles had evidently been living there for some years as T. Z. Spaulding.  He told the proprietors of the rooming house that he was a mining engineer.  His frequent business trips coincided with Bart’s robberies up north.

Boles’s true identity was only discovered when a Bible inscribed to him by his wife was found among his possessions.  Eventually he confessed to robberies committed before 1879 in the mistaken belief that he could escape prosecution by the statue of limitations.  The police report described him as, “a person of great endurance. Exhibited genuine wit under most trying circumstances, and was extremely proper and polite in behavior. Eschews profanity.”

News of Black Bart’s arrest and trial drew national attention.  Boles was photographed several times and illustrations appeared in national as well as California publications.

Wells Fargo chose only to prosecute for the first robbery, for which they had a firm confession.  Boles was sentenced to six year in San Quentin.  He served only four with time off for good behavior.  None the less harsh prison conditions broke his health.

Upon his release, he wrote at last to his abandoned wife.  He told her he was being constantly followed by Wells Fargo agents and felt helplessly harassed.  He expressed a desire to “get away from everything.”

In February 1888 Boles checked out of the San Francisco hotel where he was living.  Detectives traced him to the Palace Hotel in Visalia in the San Joaquin Valley far from Black Bart’s old stomping grounds.  He checked in and then just disappeared.  He was never seen or heard from again.

Later other robberies were attributed to Bart, including one in which a poem was left behind.  But Pinkertons proved that Boles was not involved.  Some stories had Boles retiring quietly to New York City under an assumed name where he may have died in 1917.  Others think he went back to prospecting in Montana or Nevada and probably died in the wilderness. 

Whatever the case, the legend of Black Bart the Gentleman Outlaw lived on.

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Geraldine Ferraro Broke Ground as First Woman and First “Ethnic” on a Major Party Ticket

A 1984 Campaign Button.

On July 19, 1984 the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco confirmed Walter Mondale’s choice of Geraldine Ferraro to be his Vice Presidential running mate.  She became the first woman, first Italian American, and one of the few Catholics ever to run on a major party ticket.

That summer Mondale, a liberal icon as a former Senator from Minnesota and Jimmy Carter’s Vice President, faced an uphill battle against a popular Republican incumbent, Ronald Regan.  Regan’s sunny disposition and morning-in-America patriotism had drawn many blue collar workers away from their traditional Democratic Party loyalties and had swept many former strongholds in the Northeast and Midwest in 1980.  Most observers felt he didn’t have a chance against the “Great Communicator.”

Mondale knew it, too.  He was under pressure to do something to “stir things up.”  Women, energized by the resurgent Women’s Movement, campaigns for equal employment and wages, the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, and for abortion rights, pressed the candidate to add a woman to the Ticket.  Mondale was publicly considering Ferraro and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein for the slot.  But Ferraro was a popular three term Member Congress from Archie Bunker’s District in Queens, a protégé of House Speaker Tip O'Neil, and a rising star on women’s issues.  She was also an ethnic Italian instead of a Jew and as a former prosecutor had reputation for being tough on crime.  Mondale picked Ferraro in the desperate hope that she could win enough support among Women, Catholics, and working class “ethnics” to win back at least some North Eastern States.

Ferraro was born Newburgh, New York on August 26, 1935 to immigrant parents.  Her father was the successful operator of two restaurants, but he died when she was 8 years old.  Her mother lost the family business and had to move to the hard scrabble South Bronx where she supported her family laboring in the garment industry.

With money from the sale of some inherited property in Italy, Ferraro’s mother was able to send her the respected Catholic boarding school, Marymount Academy in Tarrytown, New York where the young woman excelled academically.  She went on to college at Marymount Manhattan College working multiple jobs to pay her way.

While she was at school she met an Iona College student, John Zaccaro of Queens. The couple remained in a relationship while he served as a Marine Corps officer.  She married him when he got out of the service in 1959.

Ferraro graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in English in 1956 and followed the path of many women college graduates by becoming an elementary teacher in the New York City Public Schools.  But she wanted more and pursued law school at night at Fordham University School of Law, graduating with her Juris Doctor with honors in 1960.

Ferraro kept her birth name for professional usage but was Mrs. Zaccaro in private life.  She was soon the mother of three children.  While they were young she confined most of her practice to her husband’s business interests occasionally taking outside clients and often representing women on a pro bono basis.  She also became involved in community affairs and local level Democratic politics.  She gained the attention of rising star Mario Cuomo who became her political mentor.

In 1974 Ferraro got her first full time job as a lawyer when she was hired by her cousin Queens County District Attorney Nicholas Ferraro.  Despite understandable charges of nepotism, her performance on the job was outstanding and she won over many skeptics and critics.  She became one of the first prosecutors in the brand new Special Victims Bureau (sound familiar?) prosecuting child abuse and sex crimes.  By 1978 she had risen to head of the unit and was attracting press attention for personally and passionately arguing some cases with dramatic closings.  Despite her success she was incensed to learn that she was being paid less than first year male attorneys because, “she was married and her husband had a good income.”  She began to explore other options.

Cuomo, by then New York Secretary of State urged her to throw her hat in the ring for Congress when a seat opened up in Queens by retirement.   Ferraro was an underdog in a three way primary for the 9th Congressional District seat.  But hard campaigning and a generous infusion of cash from her husband led to an upset victory in the primary, where she ran as a “conservative with a small ‘c’ Democrat” and crime fighter.  In the general election she beat a Republican candidate by 10 points.

After the primary most of husband Zaccaro’s loans and donations to her campaign were ruled illegal by the Federal Election Commission.  She had to re-pay the loans just before the General Election by selling property she owned with her husband.  The next year Zaccaro and Ferraro’s campaign organization paid small fines for the irregularities.

Despite the controversy, Ferraro was a star in Congress, in which few women then sat, almost from the beginning.  Her quickness on her feet in debate and in committee work drew the attention of Tip O’Neil who helped her rise to the leadership position of Secretary to the House Democratic Caucus in her second term.  On the Steering and Public Works Committees she was able to “bring home the pork,” to her district helping her to greater margins of victory in her two re-election campaigns.

The general public got to know Ferraro first as an outspoken advocate for Women’s rights and the environment.  On other issues she could be conservative, reflecting her district.  She controversially co-sponsored a proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit “force bussing” to address school segregation.  On the whole, however, she moved from a self-proclaimed conservative to a “moderate.”  She got a 78% favorable rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and only 8% approval by the American Conservative Union.  The AFL-CIO rated her a solid 91% for her voting record.

It was on the strength of this record that Mondale chose her.

His gamble seemed to pay off.  Ferraro’s acceptance speech to the Convention, which emphasized her immigrant heritage brought many in the Hall to tears and was praised by the commentators who were still doing live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the big party meetings.  She said, “The daughter of an immigrant from Italy has been chosen to run for vice president in the new land my father came to love.”

She proved herself a tough and aggressive campaigner, forcefully taking on the Regan administration in ways Mondale could not.  Indeed the novelty of her position often led her to seem to overshadow the top of the ticket.  Voters seemed excited.  From down 16 points before the Convention the Mondale/Ferraro ticket surged even by late August.

Then the attacks and press scrutiny of her husband’s business dealings began.  First came questions about the couple filing separate Income Tax Returns and hints that it was to distance Ferraro from her husband’s alleged “shady business dealings.”  While the establishment press ran with the story, the generally kept away from a well orchestrated Republican whisper campaign that Zaccaro had “Mob ties.”  Much of Middle America was prepared to believe that any high profile Italians had to “connected.”

Meanwhile she slugged it out toe-to-toe in a Vice Presidential Debate with George Bush, which she was widely believed to have won handily.  The performance and her tough talk on the campaign trail caused Barbara Bush to describe her in an ungraded moment as “that four-million-dollar—I can't say it, but it rhymes with ‘rich’.”

Ferraro's steadfast support of legal abortion rights brought her into the cross hairs of the hierarchy of her Catholic Church.  She was publicly attacked by New York City’s John Cardinal O’Connor and other Catholic prelates.

Undeterred she pressed on racking up more public appearances than all three of the other top-of-the-ticket candidates combined.  Women who flocked to her speeches chanted “Geri! Geri! Geri!”

Despite her efforts, the Regan/Bush ticket began to surge ahead.  Then in October Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post reported that shortly before his death her father had been arrested for “holding numbers tickets” and that her mother was held but released after he died.  Furious, Ferraro slammed back that Murdoch “does not have the worth to wipe the dirt under [my mother's] shoes.”

On Election Day it wasn’t even close Regan won 59% of the popular vote and all of the Electoral College votes except for Minnesota and the District of Columbia.  Ferraro could not even carry her own Congressional District.

Post election analysis determined that at best Ferraro brought a net gain of less than 1% to the Democratic ticket.  But as Mondale acknowledged, no Democrats could have won that year.

After the election Ferraro weathered a Congressional investigation into her husband’s finances which found “innocent” irregularities.  No fines or action was taken as she was leaving Congress anyway.

Despite her election loss and travails, Ferraro’s future looked bright.  Her post election memoir of the campaign Ferraro: My Story was a best seller.  She found herself in wide demand as a speaker.  She even shot a Diet Pepsi commercial.  She founded Americans Concerned for Tomorrow specifically to raise money to get 10 women elected to Congress in 1986.  Eight of her candidates won, increasing her reputation as both a powerful fund raiser and the Godmother of a new generation of women politicians.  As she turned her attention to running against First term Republican Senate incumbent Al D'Amato she had every reason to expect success.

Then new scandals erupted around her husband’s business dealings.  Late in 1985 the Justice Department launched a new investigation Zaccaro’s finances and his relation to the 1984 campaign.  Ferraro was forced to opt out of the race against D’Amato.  Earlier that year her husband was convicted of using fraudulent documents to secure a loan and sentenced to 150 hours of community service.  The new Federal investigation resulted in an indictment in October 1986 for allegedly bribing Queens Borough President Donald Manes in a cable television contract case.  Although he would eventually be acquitted on the charge, it was a black cloud over Ferraro’s career.

Even more personally painful was the arrest of her son for possession of cocaine.  The young man was sentenced to four month in prison.  Ferraro feared that her high profile had attracted undue attention from prosecutors on her family.

Ferraro lowered her public profile some but remained a popular speaker and party fundraiser.  In 1988 she was named as co-chair of the Democratic Victory Fund for Michael Dukakis’s Presidential campaign.

In 1992 she entered a crowded multi-candidate field in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.  She surged ahead of her rivals based on her reputation, hard driving campaigning and strong support among both women and ethnic voters.  The election took a nasty tone when another leading feminist in the campaign, Elizabeth Holtzman unleashed a negative campaign based on claims of impropriety by Zaccaro.  The move split Jewish from Italian voters, divided the women’s vote and allowed State Attorney General Robert Abrams to edge past Ferraro by 1% of the vote.  Abrams at the head of a shattered New York party lost in November to D’Amato who polls indicate would have lost to Ferraro.

After her primary defeat Ferraro, threw her considerable energies into Bill Clinton’s campaign becoming close to both the Arkansas Governor and his wife Hillary.

In 1993 Clinton appointed her to the United States delegation to United Nations Commission on Human Rights.  In less than a year she was elevated to Ambassador to the Commission.  For the next three years she played a high profile role at international conferences and became the face of the Clinton administration’s Human Rights agenda.  She attracted wide spread attention by calling out abuses in China despite the growing trade relationship of that country with the U.S.

After her stint as Ambassador, Ferraro signed on with CNN to be the left anchor of its political debate program Crossfire arguing with the Right’s Pat Buchanan.  The job kept her in the public spotlight and she felt it set up yet another run for the Senate seat still held by D’Amato.  But this time the formidable fund raiser could not get an early start for fear of charges of conflict of interest over the CNN job.  When she quit the network she found another candidate with deep ties to Wall Street, Congressman Charles Schumer.  Schumer ended up out-spending Ferraro by more than five times and handily won a three-way primary.  Despite her defeat, she gladly endorsed Schumer the morning after the primary and actively worked for his election.  This time with a united party Schumer was able to beat D’Amato in November.

The race was Ferraro’s last hurrah at an active politician.  Soon after the election she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of bone cancer.  Although her prognosis was bleak, she did not publicly acknowledge her illness.  Fortunately she responded to new treatments including a bone marrow transplant and new drugs.  In the end she far exceeded her life expectancy with this form of cancer.

Ferraro kept busy with a variety of public service projects, business ventures, and some practice as a lawyer/lobbyist.  She worked part time as an occasional commentator on the fledgling Fox News Channel and she penned a memoir about the struggle of her immigrant mother and grandmother.

She was called back to the political fray by the candidacy of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination.  She was an ardent supporter and sometime informal advisor to the campaign.  She also used her pulpit as a Fox New commentator to support her friend and attack her main rival Barack Obama who she felt was unfairly allowing Clinton to be attacked by his surrogates.  Things got nasty when she said, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”  The statement drew howls of protest and charges that Ferraro was racist.  She attempted to explain her statement, but defiantly refused to apologize.  She kept up a barrage of criticism of Obama for the rest of the primary campaign season and was among Clinton’s ardent supporters who wanted her to go all the way to the Convention on the off chance that she could convince enough Super Delegates to snatch the nomination.  After Clinton conceded, she even publicly stated that she might not vote for Obama in November.  She also had kind words for Sarah Palin, the first Republican nominee for Vice President.

Eventually her friend Joe Biden and Clinton herself convinced Ferraro to give at least a tepid public endorsement of Obama in the General Election.  Despite all of the storm-und-drang she and other die hard Clintonistas really had no choice but to support the Democratic nominee.

All during this drams, Ferraro continued her treatment for cancer.  The disease was never in remission, only being managed by adjusting drug doses.  After the election she was in and out of hospitals receiving more and more dire treatments.  She rallied enough to rejoin Fox News with Sarah Palin to comment on the 2010 mid-term elections. 

The following March she was hospitalized in Boston with bone fractures and then came down with pneumonia.  She died there on March 26, 2011 surrounded by her husband and children.

Her funeral mass was held in New York’s Church of St. Vincent Ferrer despite rumors that Church authorities might deny her because of her continued support of abortion rights.  Both Clintons and Walter Mondale spoke at the funeral.  She was buried in consecrated ground within her old Queens Congressional District.  Tributes from political friends and foes poured in for a tough and formidable pioneer.

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A Black Chapter in American History— the Alien and Sedition Acts

Revered Founder John Adams severely tarnished his historical reputation with the enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

It may not have been entirely co-incidental that the United States Congress chose July 14, 1798 to pass the Sedition Act, one of a bundle of laws known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts.  It was, after all, also the 10th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille by the Paris Mob, a symbolic beginning to the French Revolution. 

That Revolution had terrified the dominant Federalist Party, staunch defenders of order, authority, and absolute property rights.  In the ten years since the Bastille event, the French Revolution had spun out of control—not only was the ancient monarchy deposed and the Royal Family mostly executed, but a series of new governments unleashed a broader Reign of Terror and an ever more radical agenda.  In fact the fledgling political parties—the Federalists of Washington, Hamilton, and Adams and the Democratic-Republicans of Jefferson and Madison had become largely identified with opposition to the French on one side and general support on the other.

As Washington left office tensions rose.  John Adams was elected President as a Federalist, but his former friend and collaborator Jefferson, the acknowledged leader of the Republicans, was elected Vice-President under the original Constitutional provision that gave those posts to the winner of the majority of votes in the Electoral College and the next highest vote getter respectively.  Federalists also controlled both houses of Congress and comprised virtually the entire federal Judiciary.

Despite calls by the Republicans for even handed neutrality in the war between Revolutionary France and the other European powers, especially the British, Anglophile Federalists tilted heavily toward their old colonial Mother Country and against former ally France.  They also refused to pay the American Revolutionary War debt to France on the ground that the commitment was to the former monarchy, not the revolutionary Republic.

This enraged French revolutionary authorities.  By 1796 France refused to accept a new American Minister and began raiding American shipping suspected of being in communication with the British.  Tensions mounted further with the XYZ Affair in which French diplomats demanded a large bribe to restore diplomatic relations with the U.S.

As commercial shipping losses mounted, Congress authorized the construction or purchase of a new Navy of up to 12 ships, including modern frigates mounting up to 22 guns.  The so-called Quasi War broke out in earnest when Congress rescinded all of its treaty obligations to France on July 7, 1798 followed a few days later with an authorization for the infant Navy to attack French warships.

To all of this the Republicans vigorously objected.  The highly partisan press on both sides were scathing in their denunciations of each other.  The always think skinned Adams was wounded and outraged by attacks on him as a British agent, monarchist, aristocrat, personally insulted his appearance and demeanor.  Members of Congress were hardly less abusive.  Adams called on Congress to act against his tormentors citing them as traitors in the war with France.

The Federalist Congress, over the voracious objection of the Republican minority, was glad to oblige.  The Alien and Sedition Acts were actually four separate measures.

·        The Naturalization Act extended the duration of residence required for aliens to become citizens of the United States from five years to fourteen years. 

·T   The Alien Act authorized the President to personally order the deportation of any alien he determined was “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.”  This provision was set to expire two years after being enacted.

·               The Enemy Alien Act authorized the President to order the arrest and deportation of any aliens from a nation at war with the United States.  This is the only one of the Alien and Sedition Acts still in full force today and was cited in the internment of Japanese, German, and Italian national during World War II.  Right wing commentators have argued that it could and should be used against Arab and other Islamic minorities as part of the War on Terrorism.

   The Sedition Act made it a Federal crime to “publish false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the government or individual officials.  By extension it was expected to bar similar verbal speech.  It had a sunset provision, set to expire on Adams’s last day in office in March of 1801.  This was obviously so that if Adam’s lost re-election a Republican president could not turn the law’s provisions against Federalists.

Adams was so distraught by criticism that he did not wait for the Sedition Act to pass Congress before ordering the arrest of Republican editor Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of his superior in the Mission to France during the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin.  Bache, in his newspaper The Aurora had criticized George Washington’s administration and attacked Adams as “blind, bald, crippled, toothless, querulous,” and a nepotistic aristocrat.  Bache was arrested on common law libel two weeks before the new law was enacted and then recharged when it came into effect.  The unfortunate journalist died of Yellow Fever later that year while awaiting trial.  Before a partisan Federalist judiciary he faced certain conviction, a hefty fine and long sentence.

In all twenty-five men were arrested under the Sedition Act and 11 came to trial.  All who faced Federalist judges were convicted.  Among the more noteworthy victims of the law were:

·         James Thomson Callender, a Scottish citizen exiled from home for his radical writings.  He was charged for his book The Prospect Before Us.  Tried before Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, the most voraciously partisan of Federalist judges, presiding in Circuit Court and as was then the custom.  Callender was not allowed to argue that the Sedition Act was unconstitutional.  He was convicted, fined $200, and sentenced to nine months in prison.  Like the others convicted, he was pardoned by Jefferson when he assumed the Presidency after the Revolution of 1800.

·               Congressman Mathew Lyon of Vermont was arrested for an article published in the Vermont Journal insulting Adams.  After his arrest the defiant Irish born Congressman began his own publication, Lyon’s Republican Magazine.  He was convicted, fined $1,000 and sentence to four month in prison.  While in jail he was re-elected to Congress in 1800.  He cast the deciding vote for Thomas Jefferson in the House of Representatives when the presidential election resulted in an Electoral College tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr, his Republican running mate.

The greatest miscarriages of justice were the prosecutions of ordinary citizens.  In Newark, New Jersey Luther Baldwin was in the crowd watching President Adams being welcomed to town.  When cannon salutes were fired someone joked, “There goes the President and they are firing at his ass,” to which Brown was overheard to reply “I don’t care if they fire through his ass.”  For this he was arrested and charged with “seditious words tending to defame the President and Government of the United States.”  He was fined $100.

But that was mild compared to the fate of David Brown of Dedham, Massachusetts.  In November 1798 he and his friends had the temerity to erect one of the symbols of the French Revolution, a Liberty Pole emblazoned with the words “No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President.”  Arrested and unable to stand bail of $4,000—a then astronomical sum that even the richest Americans would have had trouble raising in cash—he was taken to Salem, a Federalist stronghold.  He was held until his trial the following June.  When he refused to name those who assisted him in erecting the Liberty Pole, he was convicted, fined $480 and sentenced to eighteen months in prison—the longest sentence given to any victim of the law.

During the entire period in which the Sedition Act was in place, no charges were brought against Federalist journalists or speakers who attacked the Vice President and Republican law makers with every bit as much vigor and vitriol as Republicans did against the President.  Enforcement as clearly political.

Republican leaders Jefferson and James Madison struggled to find a way to counter the obvious tyranny of the law.  Despite Madison’s preferences for a stronger central government than Jefferson would have preferred they jointly drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions which denounced the Act as an attack on Constitutionally protected freedom of press, speech, and assembly and asserted the right of individual states to retain their natural rights which the voluntarily ceded to the Federal Government and to nullify Federal laws which breech those rights.  Although the Resolutions were never enacted, they became the philosophical foundation of subsequent Southern claims of state sovereignty and what became known as the Doctrine of Nullification.

Naturally, the Sedition Act became one of the hot button issues of the election of 1800.  Most Americans, including many moderate Federalists, were aghast at the overt attack on hard won liberties of speech and press.  The Republicans were swept to power by large majorities.  Not only did Jefferson ascend to the Presidency, but Republicans took both the House of Representatives and the Senate and won several governorships and control of state legislatures.  The Federalists were dealt a blow from which they never recovered.  Soon they were reduced to a New England regional rump party and they disappeared entirely after the War of 1812.

In office, Jefferson pardoned those convicted under the act.  He personally contributed to several of the victims were financially ruined by persecution.  But he could not repeal the Act, because it expired with the Adams’ administration.

The Sedition Act was never ruled unconstitutional.  Federal courts did not assert the right to make such a ruling until Chief Justice John Marshall asserted it in the case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803.  Which is probably a good thing because the overwhelmingly Federalist Judiciary would have undoubtedly upheld the act.

Various later Supreme Court decisions have mentioned the Act and assumed that it was unconstitutional.  As Justice William O. Douglas wrote in an opinion in 1964, “The Alien and Sedition Laws constituted one of our sorriest chapters; and I had thought we had done with them forever...Suppression of speech as an effective police measure is an old, old device, outlawed by our Constitution.”

Unfortunately the ghost of the Sedition Act will not stay still.  Neo-con intellectuals resurrected it as part of their theory of the Unitary Power of the Executive during the dismal reign of George W. Bush.  They asserted that in matters of “national security”  the President has virtually unlimited power in time of war or “emergency” to take whatever measures he deems necessary, including superseding “ordinary” Constitutional restraints, in the “protection of the homeland.” 

Many features of the Alien and Sedition Acts, including criminalizing certain speech and associations, were incorporated into the massive and complex Patriot Act hastily adopted after the 9/11 attacks and recently extended by Congress.


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Almanac When I Damn Well Feel Like It—Flo Ziegfeld Puts on a Little Show

They weren’t yet called Ziegfeld Girls but here is the first chorus from the inaugural Follies in 1907.

Showman Florenz Ziegfeld had the good sense to listen to his wife.  He had been named manager of the former Roof Garden theater in New York City, an intimate venue on the top of Oscar Hamerstein’s Olymipic Theater.  The new owners needed a hit to fill the seats and Ziegfeld need a new idea for a show to open the room which had be rechristened the Jardin de Paris. 

The showman’s wife was the Polish born curvaceous and highly successful stage performer Anna Held who Ziegfeld had wed in EuropeShe was a huge star in her own right in this country since her arrival here in the mid 1890’s.  Held suggested an American version of the famed Folies Bergères of Paris—a lavish production featuring beautiful chorus girls and top talent from the Broadway and vaudeville stage.  Held hoped to star in the show, but could not when she became pregnant.  Eventually she either lost or aborted the baby, but too late to be featured in the show.  The loss caused a rift with her husband who was soon busying himself with other beautiful actresses.  Anna never got to be a Ziegfeld girl, although she continued to have a successful career until her early death at the age of 45 in 1918.

The first edition of the Ziegfeld Follies opened on July 8, 1907.  The first cast included Grace La Rue, Emma Carus, Harry Watson, Helen Broderick and Nora Bayes.  Although only Bayes is much remembered now,  all were solid, well known performers if not yet top stars.  The show was a success.

But the Follies really established themselves as a Broadway fixture the next year when the lovely chorines were dubbed the Ziegfeld Girls for the first time.  Among the beauties was Mae Murray, who would be headlining the show in a few years and who became a leading star of the silent screen.  Nora Bayes returned, this time with her new husband John Northwood.  Together they introduced a little ditty of their own composition, Shine On, Harvest Moon.  It was the first of dozens of familiar tunes introduced in the Follies.

Over the years the biggest names in show business got bigger headlining the Follies.  The roll call included Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, Burt Williams, Ann Pennington, Ed Wynn, W. C. Fields, Ina Clair, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, Marilyn Miller, Gallagher and Sheen, Olsen and Johnson, Bert Wheeler, “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, Paul Whiteman, Ruth Etting, Billie Burke, Helen Morgan, John Bubbles, Ruth Etting, Jane Forman, Buddy Ebbsen, and Eve Arden. 

Irving Berlin wrote the songs for three Follies.  Jerome Kern and a parade of other notables contributed many more.

Many young performers got their starts as a Ziegfeld Girls including Murray, Marion Davies, Olive Thomas, Doris Eaton, Barbara Stanwyck, Louise Brooks, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Blondell.

Chicago born Ziegfeld was 40 years old when the first Follies opened in 1907.  He would continue to produce ever more elaborate editions of the show until his death in 1932.  He also produced many other acclaimed Broadway show most notably Sally in both 1920 and ’23; Rio Rita and Show Boat in 1927; and Rosalie, The Three Musketeers, and the Eddie Cantor vehicle Whoopie! all in 1928.

Ziegfeld suspended production of the Follies after 1927 to concentrate on the production of these plays and the construction of his own elaborate Ziegfeld Theater.

Despite all of his success, Ziegfeld lost his fortune in the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  He mortgaged his namesake theater to publisher William Randolph Hearst.

In an attempt to re-coupe his fortune he mounted a new edition of the Follies in 1931.  Although it was successful, as were films made from his stage plays,  Ria Rita, Show Boat, and Whoopie! it was not enough to repay his creditors.  The great impresario died broke in California in 1934 after a lingering illness.  Hearst foreclosed on the Ziegfeld Theater.  His second wife, the comedienne Billie Burke, was left in poverty.  She went on to work in films, usually playing ditzy matrons in comedies.  She is best remembered now as Glenda the Good in the 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz.

Two versions of the Follies were mounted with middling success after Ziegfeld’s death.  His memory was preserved in an MGM musical biography The Great Ziegfeld released in 1936.  William Powell played the producer, Louise Rainer as Anna Held, and a blonde Myrna Loy as Billie Burke.  The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Rainer took home the trophy for Best Actress.  The film featured many original Ziegfeld stars but is best remembered for its elaborate production number of A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.  The cost of that one scene was greater than the cost of any addition of the Follies on the stage.

In 1945 producer Arthur Freed tried to reproduce the feel of the original reviews in his MGM Technicolor extravaganza The Ziegfeld Follies.  Powell reprised his role as the showman and a parade of studio talent appeared in production numbers and sketches including Fred Astaire, Jean Kelly, Cyd Charise, Judy Garland, Katherine Grayson, Red Skelton, Lucile Ball, Lena Horne, and Esther Williams.  Only one star, Fanny Brice, actually ever appeared in the Follies while Ziegfeld was alive. 

All in all, Flo Ziegfled left a hefty show biz legacy.

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Guest Blogging, A Re-run—The One From Virginia Red and the Boys

Virginia Red (Second from Right) and the Boys, That Other Adams (John Adams), Nutmeg Sureman (Roger Sherman), Hudson River Bobby (Robert Livingston), and  Old Sparky (Benjamin Franklin).  Picture Courtesy Trumbull.

Note:  Four years ago today I posted this I posted a guest entry by bloger Virginia Red and his        associates with a brief introduction.  It wears well.  So here it is again:

VIRGINIA RED, or LONG TOM as he is known on the DAILY KOS, is a popular wordsmith.  The following political diatribe, of which he was the main author, has achieved something of a cult like following.  Although he generally gets authorship credit, a posse of associated bloggers contributed, edited and tweaked this political screed.  They include THAT OTHER ADAMS (so designated to differentiate him from his much better known cousin, a Boston ward heeler and disreputable rabble rouser named Sam) and OLD SPARKY, an elderly and eccentric Philadelphian.  Also involved were HUDSON RIVER BOBBY and Connecticut’s NUTMEG SUREMAN, whose main job seemed to be proofreading. 


The piece has been floating around for a few years and is frequently quoted, particularly its rousing introduction.  Its blatant hostility toward authority and its bold assertion of some kind of equality among humanity have long irritated conservatives and frightened those at ease with unlimited power in their own hands.  Malcontents of every stripe—abolitionists, suffragettes, trade unionists, civil rights marchers, even immigrants, “furiners,” and queers have taken the words to heart and incorporated them in their own agitations.


Most readers, however, will be unfamiliar with the bill of particulars RED and the boys drew up against George Rex, the reigning bad guy of the time.  A few years ago those trouble makers over at VETS FOR PEACE stumbled on the complete text and decided that most of it could apply—more or less—to George, the Resident of the United States.  They are even used the text as the basis for a proposed bill of impeachment against W., and they didn’t have to do much tinkering.


It just goes to show you what a hot potato this is.  Read for yourself.  Share with your friends and family between beers and brats this Fourth of July.


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


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Almanac When I Damn Well Feel Like It—The Birthday of the American Adhesive Postage Stamp

On July 1, 1847 the United States Post Office issued its first official adhesive-backed postage stamps.  This was only 7 years after the world’s first stamp, the famous Penny Black, was issued by the British.  Only a handful of countries, notably Switzerland and Brazil, had adopted pre-paid stamps.

The post office issued two stamps.  The 5¢ Benjamin Franklin covered the cost of a half   ounce letter addressed within 300 miles.  There was also a 10¢ stamp featuring George Washington for greater distancesLest you think that this was a great bargain, the 5¢ stamp would cost a little more than 90¢ at the current value of the Dollar.

The cost meant that most local letters were still hand delivered and that long distance ones were still often put in the hands of travelers to carry.  Still, the convenience did cause an increase in use of the Postal system and over time, with the introduction of amenities like home delivery and still later Rural Free Delivery, helped create a system that was reliable not just for personal messages, but importantly for business which boomed along with expanded postal use.

As the railroads and other means of modern transportation cut the cost of carrying the mail, the price of postage shrank both in real terms in terms of the relatively modest inflation over the next century.  In 1947, centennial of American postage, a First Class stamp good for up to one ounce cost only 3¢.  That price held steady from 1932-1958.

Prices have risen steadily since then until First Class postage is now 44¢.

The familiar lick-em adhesive back stamps have been phased out.  The United States Postal Service, heir to the Post Office, now issues only “self-adhesive” stamps with peel-off backs.  But the vast majority of first class postage moves without a conventional stamp but is metered or created and printed from programs sold by the USPS.

The rise of e-mail and other electronic communications have decimated the use of letters for personal communications.  Few people get or receive personal messages by post anymore.  Many bills are now paid on line or by automatic withdrawal drastically reducing both mailed bills and remittances.   The rising cost of Second, Third, and Bulk mailings have also put a dent in advertising, as business looks for cost effective alternatives to junk mail.


The result is a Postal Service in perpetual crisis, constantly raising prices to cut costs, saddled with a system designed for much greater volume, and considering severe cut backs including the reduction of home delivery to four, or even three days a week. 

The Postal Service is supposed to function as a profit making business, which is virtually impossible, and not as an essential public service.  So the future of the mail—and postage stamps is open to doubt.


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Almanac When I Damn Well Feel Like It—The Death of Henry II—It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy

On June 30, 1559 King Henry II of France met an unfortunate accident while pursuing a popular hobby.  More on that in a bit.

If your French history is not up to snuff here is a thumbnail of Henry’s biographical highlights.


·         Was born in 1509 as a younger son of Francis I.

·      After his Pop was captured by the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor in a disastrous battle in 1524 young Henry and his older brother the heir apparent were shipped off as hostages to be held by the Hapsburg King of Spain in their father’s stead.

·       After being sprung Henry was married to Catherine de Medici.  Both were 14 years old at the time.  But Catherine had important familial connections—she was the daughter of the late Lorenzo de Medici II, ruler of Florence and the ward of her kinsman Pope Clement VI who brokered the marriage deal.


·       Despite his comely young bride, Henry preferred 35 year old courtier Diane de Poitiers who remained his favorite mistress the rest of his life and who had enormous political influence over him.

·       In 1636 elder brother Francis died conveniently after a brisk game of tennis making Henry heir to the throne.

·       Nine years later his father died and Henry succeeded to the crown on his 28th birthday.

·       Henry busied himself with endless wars of conquest with the Hapsburgs in Italy and later Flanders and doing the Pope’s bidding by launching heavy persecution of the Protestant Huguenots.

·      Mary, Queen of Scotts, who inherited her throne in infancy, was raised in Henry’s household while Regents held sway in Scotland.  He took care to marry his son Francis to her so that his Valois dynasty would ultimately have claim to the Scottish throne—and potentially the English one as well.

·     Wrapped up his various wars with the Hapsburgs—now divided between Austrian and Spanish houses, in 1559 with The Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis with Elizabeth I of England, whose throne Mary had claim to, and Phillip II of Spain.  Various land claims were settled.  Henry won some, but had to give up Savoy.  But he married his sister off to the Duke of Savoy, so he kept a finger in that pie.  And he sent his daughter Élisabeth to be Phillip’s bride.

·       To celebrate the treaty, Henry through a giant party which included an epic Tournament featuring the most celebrated nobility and knights of Europe.



Which brings us back to our story.  Henry fancied himself a great knight and entered the Tournament.  His opponent in the joust was the dashing captain of his Scottish Guard, Gabriel Montgomery.  Somehow Montgomery’s lance penetrated visor of Henry’s helmet injuring him in the eyes.  The wound was gruesome, and would have blinded the king, but would not have been fatal today.  But without antibiotics blood poisoning set in and the King died ten days later in agony.

His wife Catherine kept his mistress Diane from his bed side, although Henry repeatedly called for her.  After the king died, Diane was sent packing in luxurious exile.  Catherine ruled as ruled as Regent for two of her young sons, Mary’s husband Francis II who lived only a year as king, and Charles IX who sat on the throne until 1570.  She was then a major advisor to her third son, Henry III, who ended up assassinated and was the end of the Valois dynasty.

By the way, Henry’s demise pretty much put an end to the sport of the Joust and has been called the last act of the Age of Chivalry.


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A Death and Some Thoughts on Family and Genealogy

It would be pretty damn hard to till out this tidy Family Tree for my family.
My daughter Carolynne’s husband Rodney Schauer died in his sleep of a massive heart attack early yesterday morning.  He was 34 years old. 
They were married in a beach ceremony last year in Orange County, California where they met and got together before the economic collapse brought them back to the Midwest to look for work.  They settled near Madison, Wisconsin with Carol’s youngest son Randy.  They got jobs, in Carol’s case a very good one, enrolled in the local community college, and were planning an exciting life together.
There were serious bumps on the way.  Carolynne fought a bout with cancer and was injured when her car was rear-ended.  Rodney survived a major heart attack last December.  But they loved each other dearly and thought that they had a lifetime together ahead of them.
Needless to say, Carolynne is devastated.  And my heart breaks right along with her.
Rodney’s death, among other things, caused me to mull on the nature of family—and even on genealogy tracing the histories of our families.  It seems to me that modern families have broken a lot of traditional expectations and with them the neat branches of the convention family tree. 
Take my branch of the Murfin family tree, left precariously dangling by the winds of time and history from Family Line #4 Decedents of Thomas Murfin and Kathleen Leach Murfin in Ed Murfin’s epic ongoing genealogical research on Murfins world wide.
My twin brother and I were born in Twin Bridges, Montana to a single mother on March 17, 1949.  By prior, private arrangement through the delivery doctor we were taken and adopted at birth by Willard Maurice Murfin and Ruby Irene (Mills) Murfin.  They had lost their only natural child in infancy shortly before World War II. 
Now many genealogists would lop off the branch right there with an asterisk noting that we were adopted.  Some will argue passionately that because we do not carry on the Murfin “blood” our decedents should not be traced as part of the family.   
Other experts will acknowledge that because we carry the Murfin surname it is best to keep folks like us listed and our decedents traced if only to distinguish them from “real Murfins”—plug in any family name here.  These family historians will not, however, generally follow female decedents who do not pass down the patriarchal name.
Luckily Cousin Ed took a more broadminded approach.  Perhaps he realized that “blood” or not, my brother and I were shaped by our Murfin heritage—by family yarns and stories, accumulated experience and wisdom passed down, and even those quirks of personality and speech that we pick up not genetically, but by constant exposure.  Tim and I could not be more thoroughly Murfin in this sense than if we were the recipients of a gene transplant.
And then things really get complicated.
In 1981 I married a young widow with two small children.  Carolynne was 8 and Heather was 6.  The oldest had vague memories of her biological father.  The youngest never knew him at all.  For better or worse—and there were many times in their young lives when they would have sworn it was for worse—I was the only father they every really had.  Although I never adopted them and they kept their biological father, Randy Larsen’s, last name they were always “my girls.”  Bringing them up with their mother was the typical roller coaster of moments of intense joy and episodes of stark terror and occasional despair.  Both girls could give me a run for my money and I made multiple parental errors along the way.  But we survived and bonded.  After the worst years of teenage angst, they each even admitted genuine affection for the clumsy old man who did the best he could.
In 1983 our family was rounded out by the birth of my only biological child, Maureen.  Being much younger than her big sisters, they thought she was spoiled.  They may have had a point.  But there was never a doubt that they were all sisters—or my daughters.
So did my failure to formally adopt the oldest two make them less my daughters?  Do their children deserve to be included on an official family roll-call or are they, in the terminology of some genealogists “virtual strangers?”
Like many younger women, my daughters’ lives were “complicated.”  Carolynne married young and gave birth to her first son Nicholas Jordan Bailey in 1990.  The marriage ended shortly after.  She went on to a string of relationships, including another brief marriage before finding Rodney Schauer.  She had two more sons, Joseph Gibson, now 19, and Randy Patrick Larsen, now 13.  For two periods she moved back home with the two oldest boys.  And both of them spent many weekends and holidays and Grandma and Papa’s house.  After Randy was born, she lived in apartments nearby and all of the boys were frequently at our house.
When Carolynne decided to move to California a few years ago, Nicholas did want to leave his friends, so he moved in with us while she took Joseph and Randy west.  Nick is still with us as he closes in on his 21st birthday.  Nick, especially, probably regards our house as his real home.  Although he has a relationship with his father, he only sees him a couple of times a year.  And after the parade of men through his mother’s life, I have been the most stable male in his life—dare I say a surrogate father.  Joey now lives with his Dad and visits us mostly when he needs cash.  I’ve always been Papa to Randy.
So at best Carolynne’s life messes up any tidy family tree.  What kinds of boxes and arrows are needed to explain the relationships?
Of course there were always challenges.  In days of wide spread deaths to communicable disease, when women often had annual childbirth, remarriage and what we now call “blended” families were common.  On farms and on the frontier women were often worked to death and weakened by repeated childbirth.  It was not uncommon for a healthy man to wear out three wives, have children with each, plus the children from later wives’ earlier marriages in his household.  Genealogists often find these relationships hard to unscramble.  Likewise many young men were killed in wars, work accidents, or—not uncommonly—simply abandoned their families for greener pastures elsewhere.  The widows or deserted, these women  had few practical choice but to seek new mates to support them and their children.
And marriage itself was often in the past a much more casual thing than we tend to believe.  The urban poor in Europe and the U.S. were often indifferent to the demands of the church.  Co-habitation was common and self-proclaimed common-law marriage even commoner.  The same often held true in frontier areas where both preachers and civil authorities were scarce.  Generally, if folks claimed to be married, they were taken at their word, but seekers of documentary evidence are often frustrated.
And then there was the very common occurrence of “fostering” the many orphans and foundlings without parents.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even more distant kin often took these children in.  Orphans were also freely given to families who simply wanted an extra pair of hands on the farm.  The foster families may—or may not—have officially adopted them, given them their last names, or treated them as family instead of as burdens or bond servants.
So I guess that a certain messiness in lives and family trees should not be surprising.  Still the modern variants of this familial chaos vexes some of the more prudish genealogists—generally the kind who are most interested in establishing how old, fine, and distinguished their family is.
Meanwhile my brother Tim changed his name to Peter, entered a religious order, and married a wonderful Jewish woman, Arlene.  Their son Ira Samuel Murfin is the last male with a connection to my father and thus the potential bearer of the “line” into the future.  My brother’s daughter Shani Colleen Murfin was born from a long term, but unconsecrated relationship.
My middle daughter Heather has made life simpler.  She married and stayed married to Ken Pearson and they have a wonderful daughter Caitlin.
Maureen, our youngest, was married and divorced within a year—and no, she doesn’t want to talk about it—and has resumed her maiden name.  She’s back home, working, and studying for her master’s degree.
Life goes on.
But first, there will be a funeral this Saturday and lots of tears to go around.

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March with PFLAG and Stand of the Side of Love in the Crystal Lake Independence Day Parade

Some of the colorful decoration from the 2009 PFLAG  entry in the Crystal Lake Independence Day Parade



I’ve been marching in the Crystal Lake Independence Day Parade almost every year for at least twenty years—usually with the McHenry County Democrats or the old McHenry County Peace Group.    This summer, an off election year, the Democrats are electing to take a pass on the parade season to concentrate on organizing for the 2012 elections. 



Which gives me a chance to join my many friends from PFLAG in their large, fun filled group.  Members of the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Woodstock will be on hand with our bright yellow Standing on the Side of Love signs.



Won’t you join us?


Below is full information from the great folks at PFLAG


Family and Friends!

The Crystal Lake Independence Day Parade  

this year is on 

SUNDAY, JULY 3, 2011 at 1:00 P.M.







Come join our unit at the staging area behind the Senior Citizens Services/Harvest Chapel 

-- a long one-story building with bright blue awnings -- 

at the intersection of Woodstock Street & Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake


This year we’re unit #63 (BOSS LOT).  Parade committee volunteers will help you find us.   


Come carry one of our great signs or make tons of bubbles with our bubble wands to delight the kids!


It’s a good idea to get to staging well before 11:00 A.M. to find free parking places 

at the train station on Woodstock Street 

or on tree-lined residential streets within two or three blocks from the staging area.  


Consider bringing a folding chair 

for the complimentary PFLAG Pre-Parade Picnic at 12N.

And YES, there are lots of port-o-potties in the staging area!


It will take about two hours for the 100 units to pass between the waves of spectators along Dole Avenue

   The Chamber of Commerce again expects a crowd of 10,000.  

The parade ends three blocks beyond the Grandstand at the Lakeand we’ll drive you back to your car. 


This is a powerful, wonderful, joyful day

for walking together in solidarity and celebration 

with gay and non-gay families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues!




Many of us will be gathering at the NEW Colonial Cafe* on  Rt. 14/Northwest Highway in Crystal Lake 

-- across the street and a block East of the Cafe’s former location --

to enjoy the after-glow in air-conditioned comfort wallowing in “kitchen sinks” full of ice cream.


PLEASE let us know if you’ll be joining us so we can count you for lunch! 

Jerry and Barbara            

815-943-5504   or


* We’ll give you “can’t-miss-it” directions when you arrive at the staging area.