Sunday, May 31, 2009

William M. Jenkins: big stick vic

Image from digital.library.okstate.edu

History has judged William Miller Jenkins as a capable politician. However, he may nevertheless have been too dependent on a political ally; a flaw that left him vulnerable after the sudden departure of that person.

Jenkins was born in Alliance, Ohio in 1856. He attended Mount Union College, taught from 1876 to 1878, and then began studying law. He was admitted to the bar in 1883 and started practicing first in Harlan, Iowa and then Arkansas City, Kansas.

In 1888, Jenkins attended the Republican National Convention for that year's presidential contest. There, he earned the distinction of being the first person at such a convention to cast a vote in favor of nominating William McKinley. At that time, McKinley was a congressman from Ohio. Though the Republican nomination for that year went to Benjamin Harrison, Jenkins had earned McKinley's favor with his support.

Jenkins was appointed an agent for the allotment of Pawnee lands in Oklahoma, and began the position in 1891. Two years later, he was able to claim a piece of property during the Cherokee Outlet land run. When McKinley was elected President in 1896, he must have still looked on Jenkins with favor. Midway through his first year in office, he appointed Jenkins to serve as territorial secretary under Governor Cassius M. Barnes. When Barnes' term expired in April of 1901 and he chose to retire, Jenkins was named his successor and the fifth Governor of Oklahoma Territory.

The biggest event under Jenkin's term was the opening of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache and Wichita-Caddo lands to settlement in August of 1901, part of the overall disintegration of what had once been a territory-wide Indian reservation. The move made 3,460,000 acres of new land available. In order to prevent a mad dash for property, a la the "sooners" who broke deadlines and settled ahead of time, the land was put up for grabs by lottery. Over 160,000 people applied for claims, and an estimated 50,000 new people came into the territory as a result of the opening of the reservations. About 1,725,647 acres remained the territory of four Indian reservations, and Jenkins advocated that this land be allocated to the tribes with the "residue" opened for settlement.

At this period in history, the Oklahoma Territory was expanding rapidly in population and businesses. A 1900 census put the population at 398,331, over 500 percent greater than the previous year's census. In addition to his official duties, Jenkins served on the Territorial School-Land Board and as a regent for three universities in the state. The Department of the Interior, summarizing a report made by Jenkins in 1901, described the educational system as "excellent," with easy access to public schools. Though statehood would not arrive until 1907, Jenkins was already pushing for it during his term. "In the little more than a decade which has elapsed since the creation of the Territory the people have accomplished here more than any other community had ever accomplished in a quarter of a century," he said in November of 1901.

Jenkins' 1901 report to the Department of the Interior is dry reading, a summary of different areas of the territory's infrastructure. He concludes by recommending a uniform measure to apply to all school, college, and public lands; the cession of 4 million acres of land in the west to the territory to make up for losses in the eastern part of the territory; and the expansion of the territory's supreme court from five to seven justices.

The report also includes a section on the care of the insane, which Jenkins said was done by the Oklahoma Sanitarium Company under contract in a facility near Norman. "The site is beautiful and healthy," he wrote. "The buildings are commodious and in excellent sanitary condition." Among other statistics, he noted that the sanitarium's population stood at 315 on July 1 of 1901, and that it cost the territory $56,369.90 for the care and transportation of the insane during the year. It was rumors of misconduct in the awarding of this contract that would eventually end Jenkins' governorship.

In September of 1901, McKinley was shot by an assassin and died eight days later; Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt took his place. With the loss of Jenkins' longtime friend, his political opponents began pressing for an investigation into the Governor's contract with the Oklahoma Sanitarium Company. Jenkins was summoned to Washington, D.C. for a hearing. At the end of November of 1901, Roosevelt removed him from office due to his "improper connection" with the contract. "The decision is based purely upon his own written statements, and his oral explanations of them at the final hearing," he added.

According to Roosevelt, the Oklahoma Sanitarium Company had reserved $10,000 in stock for Jenkins at his order in exchange for the awarding of the contract. The President said Jenkins then rewarded some friends, to whom he had political obligations, with the stock. Roosevelt said the only known sale of stock since the reward benefited the seller at twice what was paid for it. "The Governor's confessed relations to the matter disclose such an entire lack of appreciation of the high fiduciary nature of the duties of his office as to unfit him for their further discharge," said Roosevelt.

William C. Grimes, the territorial secretary, served in Jenkins' stead for 10 days. Roosevelt then chose Thomas B. Ferguson, a newspaper publisher, postmaster at Watonga, and chairman of the Republican Territorial Committee to become the new Governor. Ferguson is said to have declared that Jenkins had "suffered a great injustice."

Historians have also been sympathetic to Jenkins. "Those were the days when Teddy was carving his big stick," John Bartlett Meserve wrote in 1942. "William M. Jenkins was a man of high character and no taint of official corruption actually attended him before or during his term as governor of Oklahoma Territory." In their biographical profile, the Oklahoma Historical Society writes that an inquiry by the Department of the Interior had found no wrongdoing prior Roosevelt's decision to sack Jenkins. The profile adds that the Territorial Legislature exonerated Jenkins after an investigation between 1903 and 1905.

Jenkins remained in Oklahoma to do farming work, moved to Utah for awhile, and then came back to Oklahoma to reside in Sapulpa. He was elected court clerk of Creek County in 1920, and was able to hold a variety of other public offices. He died in 1941.

Sources: The Oklahoma Historical Society, "Plea For Oklahoma Statehood" in the New York Times on Nov. 19 1901, "President's Rebuke to Gov. W.M. Jenkins" in the New York Times on Dec. 1 1901, West of Hell's Fringe: Crime, Criminals, and the Federal Peace Officer in Oklahoma Territory 1889-1907 by Glenn Shirley, The International Year Book: A Compendium of the World's Progress During the Year 1901 edited by Frank Moore Colby, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 20 No. 3 by John Bartlett Meserve, A History of Oklahoma by Joseph Bradfield Thoburn and Isaac Mason Holcomb, Report of the Governor of Oklahoma to the Secretary of the Interior: 1901, Report of the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30 1901

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

William Stanbery: taking a licking

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On the morning of April 13, 1832, William Stanbery was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue when he was approached by Sam Houston. The former Tennessee congressman and Governor, and future president of the Texas Republic, asked Stanbery to confirm who he was. When the Ohio congressman did, Houston called him a "damned rascal" and proceeded to beat him with his hickory cane.

Stanbery struggled unsuccessfully to resist the assault, a task made more difficult by a right arm that had become basically useless after the Battle of Tohopeka. However, he was not completely unprepared. Stanbery pulled out a pistol, put it to Houston's chest, and fired.

One of the largest cities in the Lone Star State may well have had a different name if the gun had not misfired. Houston continued his assault, at one point lifting Stanbery up by his legs and striking him "elsewhere." He was finally dragged away from the hapless man by two companions he had been walking with, Senator Alexander Buckner of Missouri and Representative John Blair of Tennessee.

Stanbery was born in Essex County, New Jersey in 1788. After studying law in New York City, he moved to Ohio in 1809 and began practicing in Newark, in Licking County. He served as a member of the state senate from 1825 to 1825. After the death of Representative William Wilson in Newark in 1827, Stanbery was chosen as his replacement for the House of Representatives. A Jacksonian Democrat, he began serving in October of 1827 and was re-elected in 1828. He was also elected in 1830, but this time as an Anti-Jacksonian Democrat.

The incident on Pennsylvania Avenue had its roots in a statement Stanbery made in Congress in March of 1832. During the course of his criticism of President Andrew Jackson's Indian policy, he asked, "Was not the late Secretary of War [John Eaton] removed because of his attempt fraudulently to give Governor Houston the contract for Indian rations?" By some accounts, Houston attempted to enter the House after hearing of the remark, and was restrained by his friend James K. Polk, a Tennessee congressman and future President of the United States.

By all accounts, Houston sent Stanbery a letter demanding to know if his question, which had been printed in the National Intelligencer, had been accurately transcribed. Though a rather formal request, it was essentially the prelude to a challenge for a duel. Stanbery refused to acknowledge the letter, which only further enraged Houston by failing to acknowledge him as an equal. Stanbery must have been aware of this, as he started carrying two pistols for protection. The assault occurred about two weeks after he made his remarks in the House.

Shortly after the incident, Stevenson sent a letter to Andrew Stevenson, the Speaker of the House, letting him know the circumstances that had caused him to be absent from the chambers. The House voted 145 to 25 to arrest Houston on the grounds that he had violated congressional immunity by assaulting Stanbery for remarks made on the House floor.

The trial was seized upon by the press as a Jacksonian vs. anti-Jacksonian showdown. Members questioned whether Stanbery's remarks had been slanderous or if he was expressing freedom of speech, and whether Congress even had the authority to try Houston. Until President Jackson sent him a finer set of duds, Houston attended the hearing in his buckskin coat. He was represented by Francis Scott Key, the author of the national anthem, and argued that Stanbery's charges had been disproved at trial, that he had not been "lying in wait" for the congressman as some had suggested, and that he was upset over the newspaper report rather than the remarks themselves (a defense undermined by the fact that the proceedings were reported verbatim). Stanbery said that he did not mean to accuse Houston himself of fraud, though he later wavered on that point. He characterized Buckner's testimony of the assault as "destitute of truth and infamous;" he withdrew the statement and apologized soon after.

In a stirring final statement, Houston invoked his patriotism and received a good deal of support from the galleries; one woman even declared, "I would rather be Sam Houston in a dungeon than Stanbery on a throne." In their vote, the House convicted Houston of contempt of Congress in a 106-89 vote and gave him a reprimand.

Not satisfied, Stanbery managed to set up a committee to investigate Eaton and Houston for fraud in relation to the Indian rations, but the panel found both men innocent. He was more successful in getting a criminal assault indictment against Houston, for which Houston was given a $500 fine. Unfortunately for Stanbery, Jackson remitted the fine. In an editorial in the Globe, Houston declared of Stanbery, "Nothing but the blackest malignity can justify the perverseness and vindictiveness of this man!...His vices are too odious to merit pity, and his spirit too mean to deserve contempt."

Things went from bad to worse for Stanbery in 1832. In July, he aimed a barb at Speaker Stevenson by proclaiming, "And let me say that I have heard the remark frequently made, that the eyes of the Speaker are too frequently turned from the chair you occupy toward the White House." James Bates, a Jacksonian congressman from Maine, motioned for a vote to censure Stanbery for unparliamentary language.

Charles Mercer, an Anti-Jacksonian congressman from Virginia, disputed the censure. He said the remark had not been recorded, and that a day had gone past before the proceedings on the censure got underway. While the appeal was pending, Stanbery's mouth got him in trouble again: he declared, apparently to Stevenson, "I will make a motion that is in order; I make a motion that you leave that chair." Polk moved to censure Stanbery on those remarks, but withdrew the motion.

Bates' resolution was accepted in an 82-48 vote. Stanbery remained unrepentant, saying, "I neither deny, retract, nor explain the words I used the day before yesterday, but do now re-affirm the words I then used." In a curious incident, John Quincy Adams, former President of the United States and since a Republican representative from Massachusetts, asked to be excused from the vote on the censure. Adams said the vote was unconstitutional because it was based on inference rather than a recorded statement. He maintained his silence after the House refused to excuse him, and a committee was set up to determine if punitive action should be taken.

The vote to censure Stanbery was 93-44 in favor. He was the first member of Congress censured, and lost the nomination for Congress later in 1832.

Stanbery returned to law work, and apparently retained some of his old standoffishness. "Old Bill" sometimes didn't pay his debts on times, and at one point a sheriff approached him on the steps of the courthouse in order to arrest him. Glaring at the sheriff, Stanbery told him he would step inside the courthouse and handle the case. There, he drew up a document reading, "That William Stanbery, an attorney-at-law and officer of the court of the great State of Ohio, while engaged in the practice of his profession, had been wantonly and maliciously arrested on the steps of the court house, in violation of the Constitution and in contempt of the majesty of the great State of Ohio." The embarrassed sheriff said he would let Stanbery go if he didn't fall behind again.

In 1873, Stanbery died in Newark, Ohio.

Note: I'll be visiting friends in Minnesota over the weekend, so I won't be starting on another entry until I return. Apologies for the delay.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The Political Graveyard, "In Lieu of Manners" in the New York Times on Feb. 4 2001, Sam Houston by James L. Haley, State Centennial History of Ohio by Rowland H. Rerick, Memoirs of Lucas County and the City of Toledo edited by Harvey Scribner, Sam Houston: The Life and Times of the Liberator of Texas by John Hoyt Williams, The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston by Marquis James, Register of Debates in Congress, A Congressional Manual by Joel B. Sutherland

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Evan Mecham: the faux pas factory

Image from sonoranalliance.com

Governor Evan Mecham's legacy, such as it is, seems mostly to be his ability to offend any state resident who wasn't a white, straight, conservative male. While these embarrassments started his decline, it was financial scandal that removed him from office.

Mecham was born in Duchesne, Utah in 1924, and attended the Utah State Agricultural College. He left school before graduation to join the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, and became a fighter pilot. He survived being shot down on one occasion and was held prisoner for 22 days; he was later awarded a Purple Heart and Air Medal for his service.

In 1947, Mecham returned to school, this time at Arizona State University. Once again, he left early, this time to open up a car dealership in Ajo. It was successful enough that he moved to Glendale later on to open another one, and the business made him a millionaire. Less successful were several short-lived newspapers Mecham launched.

In 1952, Mecham took his first stab at politics with a run for the state house of representatives. In 1960, he was elected as a Republican to the state senate and served one term. In 1962, Mecham won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate on a platform critical of the United Nations and a recent Supreme Court decision limiting prayer in public schools. However, he failed to gain enough support from the party to succeed in the general election. Mecham also made four unsuccessful bids for Governor in 1964, 1974, 1978, and 1982.

It took a third party to help Mecham win the Governor's race in 1986. In that year, independent candidate Bill Schulz split the Democratic vote and brought Mecham into office despite the lack of a clear majority. Mecham ran on a platform of tax relief and political reform, and urged such measures as lowering taxes, encouraging economic development, establishing a 50-year plan to address the state's water needs, investing in solar power, decreasing state spending, and phasing out state offices that were not needed. While in office, he established an Arizona trade and tourism office in Taiwan, supported legislation allowing the Governor to choose pro-tem judges to handle drug cases, and advocated raising the highway speed limit from 55 to 65 miles per hour.

Mecham's most well-known and infamous decision was announced at his first State of the State address in January of 1987: he declared Martin Luther King, Jr. Day canceled as a state holiday. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan had signed a bill declaring the third Monday in January a national holiday to honor the late civil rights leader. However, the decision followed three years of debate in Congress, and the holiday did not officially go into effect until 1986. Mecham said he had been advised that the state could be sued for the $3.5 million in lost productivity from the new holiday if it remained in place. He further contended that his predecessor, Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt, had illegally created the state holiday by executive order after the state legislature had rejected the measure by one vote.

The result was a boycott of Arizona by civil rights and other groups, with 45 conventions leaving Arizona. These included the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represented 134 black-owned newspapers and canceled a convention in Arizona; the Democratic Party, which moved a finance council meeting from Tucson to California; and the National Black Nurses Association, which also moved its convention out of Arizona. Looking back on the debacle, Time reported that Mecham's attempt to avoid a possible $3.5 million lawsuit had resulted in a $25 million economic blow to Arizona due to boycotts.

Mecham was also criticized for nominating people with problematic backgrounds for state positions. There was a liquor commissioner suspected of involvement in a murder in Mexico, a special assistant who left upon being charged with extortion, a tax commissioner who had not filed his own state taxes, and a state investigator twice court-martialed while a Marine. Receiving the most attention was an education commissioner who said teachers should not contradict the beliefs of a student, even if the student believed the world was flat.

As Mecham's term progressed and more troubles befell him, newspaper articles began noting the increasing number of groups he offended with off-color remarks or other actions. The list included blacks, women, gays, liberals, Jews, Japanese-Americans, and Catholics. The Mechisms included saying that Jews should face up to the fact that they were living in a Christian nation; that working women led to increased divorce rates; and that the eyes of visiting Japanese businessmen "went round" when they heard of the country's golf courses. He defended himself against charges of racism, stemming from his decision over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and defense of a reference to black children as "pickaninnies" in a textbook. Time referred to him as a "veritable faux pas factory." A joke book began circulating with such quips as, "What do Meacham's political appointees have in common? Parole officers." Across Arizona, motorists sported bumper stickers reading, "Pickaninny: what we did for Governor."

With the appointments and statements for a basis, a recall effort began within the first year of Mecham's term. Political leaders, including former Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, Democratic Congressman Morris Udal, and Babbitt joined in the cry for his resignation. Mecham dismissed the recall effort, saying it was doomed to fail because the person who started it, Republican businessman Ed Buck, was gay. He also said he enjoyed the support of former Republican Governors Jack Williams and Paul Fannin, then a Senator.

Nevertheless, the recall signatures swelled to 350,000 by November of 1987: 6,000 more than the number of votes Mecham received in the general election and over 130,000 past the minimum limit needed to certify the petition and establish a recall election in May of 1988. Adding insult to injury was the "Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist International Conspiracy," a group named for the Governor that made its debut act in late 1987 by sabotaging ski lifts at a resort in Flagstaff. Despite his rising unpopularity, Mecham declared, "These people don't have a prayer of getting me out of this office because the people are with me."

The recall had been well underway, but it was spurred on in October of 1987 when it was revealed that Mecham had not reported a $350,000 loan to his campaign by developer and lawyer Barry Wolfson. State law required elected officials to report any debt of $1,000 or more, together with the identity of the lender. The money had been lent in 14 promissory notes, and it was questioned whether Wolfson's support had influenced two appointments to the State Housing Finance Review Board. The board's duties included awarding bids of industrial development bonds for low-income housing, and at the time Wolfson was being sued for fraud and racketeering in the alleged misuse of $368 million in such bonds. In January of 1988, Mecham was criminally indicted on six counts of perjury, fraud, and filing a false campaign report.

Both the house of representatives and senate in the state legislature were dominated by Republicans, but the legislators had had enough. In February of 1988, the house of representatives voted 46-14 to impeach him on the basis of the $350,000 loan. The house also charged him with inhibiting an investigation into a death threat against a former lobbyist who testified before the grand jury about the loan, as well as an illegal loan of $80,000 of state money to buoy up his car dealership. Mecham was removed from office, and Democratic Secretary of State Rose Mofford was named acting Governor.

In April, the state senate voted 21 to 9 to convict him on charges related to obstruction of justice and the illegal loan. It dismissed the charge related to the $350,000 so as not to inhibit the upcoming criminal trial on that issue. Mecham was officially removed from office, the first Governor impeached in 59 years, on the anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. However, a senate vote to prevent him from running for political office again failed to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to pass. The senate also approved payment of about $202,000 in legal fees to compensate Mecham for his defense. The recall election had been canceled due to the impeachment, and Mofford became the official Governor of Arizona.

Mecham had claimed that the failure to report the $350,000 loan had been an innocent mistake on the part of his brother and campaign manager, Willard Mecham. The prosecution argued that Mecham had been willingly trying to conceal the funds, but a jury acquitted him of all criminal charges. The loan itself had been repaid in full by the end of 1987.

Though Mecham's decision to cancel the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is seen as one of his biggest blunders, the issue over the holiday was not quite over. Three months after impeaching Mecham, the senate rejected a bill to establish the day as a state holiday by two votes, with some legislators complaining that Democratic efforts to create the holiday were heavy-handed. The holiday was finally ratified in Arizona in September of 1989 when Mofford signed it into law; at that point, Arizona was the 47th state to recognize the holiday.

Mecham tried unsuccessfully to run for Governor once more in 1990, and also failed to take the Republican nomination for Senate from incumbent John McCain in 1992. In 1995, he became the chairman of the Constitutionalist Networking Center, an organization advocating the election of people who were strict constructionists in regards to the U.S. Constitution. He appears to have spent much of his time saying that he was a victim of conspiracy, working for a time as a radio talk show host and newspaper columnist. In 1999, he published a book entitled Impeachment: The Arizona Conspiracy, where he said his impeachment was "pure and simple raw political power exercised by those who wanted to remain in control."

Besides the joke books and bumper stickers, Mecham's brief term also sparked an amendment to the Arizona constitution that required a runoff election in the event that no majority winner emerges, as was the case in Mecham's gubernatorial contest. In 2008, Mecham died in Phoenix after suffering for several years from Alzheimer's disease.

Sources: The American Presidency Project, National Governor's Association, "ML King: Slain Civil Rights Activist Is Finally Honored With National Holiday" in the Daily Collegian on Jan. 17 1986, "The GOP's Silver Lining" in Time on Nov. 17 1986, "Headliners: A Holiday Dispute" in the New York Times on Dec. 28 1986, "Newspaper Group Calls Off Meeting in Arizona as Protest" in the New York Times on Jan. 22 1987, "Black Nurses Shun Arizona" in the New York Times on Mar. 7 1987, "Mecham Campaign Loan Subject of Inquiry" in the New York Times on Oct. 22 1987, "Recall Backers Have The Signatures, But Mecham Just Scoffs" in the Deseret News on Oct. 25 1987, "Mecham Not 'Knowingly Guilty'" in the Deseret News on Oct. 26 1987, "Evan Mecham, Please Go Home" in Time on Nov. 9 1987, "Mecham Repays Controversial Loan" in the Washington Post on Dec. 13 1987, "House Impeaches Arizona Governor" in the New York Times on Feb. 6 1988, "Arizona Senate Ousts Governor, Voting Him Guilty of Misconduct" in the New York Times on Apr. 5 1988, "Senators in Arizona Vote to Pay Fees For Ousted Governor" in the New York Times on Apr. 7 1988, "Mecham Cleared of Concealing Loan" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jun. 17 1988, "Arizona 47th State to Honor Dr. King With Holiday" in the Los Angeles Times on Sep. 23 1989, "Evan Mecham, Ousted Governor, Dies at 83" in the New York Times on Feb. 23 2008, "King Holiday Loses Again in Arizona" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jul. 2 1988, "Evan Mecham, Ousted Governor, Dies at 83" in the New York Times on Feb. 23 2008, "Evan Mecham, 83; Was Removed as Arizona Governor" in the Washington Post on Feb. 23 2008, Encyclopedia of Terrorism by Harvey W. Kushner, Biographical Dictionary of American Newspaper Columnists by Sam G. Riley

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gerry E. Studds: on the wrong page

Image from usatoday.com

Successfully overcoming a sex scandal in 1983, Gerry Eastman Studds had the misfortune to see his old misconduct recalled by a similar scandal in Congress.

Born in Mineola, New York in 1937, Studds earned two degrees from Yale University. He briefly taught at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, and also worked as a foreign service officer with the Department of State. Studds began his transition to government work in the 1960s, serving as a member of President John F. Kennedy's staff from 1962 to 1963 and a legislative assistant to New Jersey Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr. in 1964. Studds was also a New Hampshire state coordinator of Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy's bid for President in 1968.

In 1970, Studds ran as a Democrat for a seat in Congress to represent a Cape Cod, Massachusetts area district. Though he narrowly lost the race in that year, he was elected in 1972, the first Democratic congressman to be sent to Washington from the district in 50 years. Studds solidified his popularity with constituents by sponsoring several laws to protect the seashore and create national parks along the Massachusetts coast. An advocate of the fishing industry, he successfully lobbied to prevent foreign fishing boats from operating within 200 feet of the U.S. shore. He also proved a staunch opponent to President Ronald Reagan, opposing support for Contra rebels in Nicaragua and the Strategic Defense Initiative, which he dubbed the "Edsel of the 1980s." He contested claims that El Salvador was improving human rights and led 93 congressmen in cosponsoring a bill to ban military aid to the country.

The turn in Studds' political fortunes came about almost accidentally in 1983. A House ethics committee conducted a one-year, $1 million investigation into sexual relationships between congressmen and pages in the Capitol after two former pages brought up accusations of wrongdoing. The committee found no evidence to substantiate those pages' claims. However, the probe did net three people in unrelated incidents. One was Daniel Crane, a Republican congressman from Illinois, charged with having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female page in 1980. Another was James Howarth, former majority chief page, who was charged with having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female page and purchasing cocaine in a Capitol cloakroom. The third was Studds.

Studds was also charged with sexual conduct with a 17-year-old, a male page, in 1973. The page said that he had gone to Studds' apartment with other congressmen and ended up staying up until nearly 4 a.m., drinking and discussing different topics. When the page noted that Studds was too drunk to drive him home, Studds suggested that he stay overnight. The page said they then engaged in sexual activity, and that the two had other trysts and went on a two-week trip to Portugal together.

Studds and Crane both admitted to the charges when they were revealed in July of 1983. "It is not a simple task for any of us to meet adequately the obligations of either public or private life," said Studds. "But these challenges are made substantially more complex when one is, as am I, both an elected public official and gay." He was the first member of Congress to publicly admit that he was a homosexual, and declared the relationship with the page "a serious error in judgment." He also admitted to making advances on two other male pages in 1973.

The ethics committee determined that while the sexual relationships between the congressmen and the pages were a "serious breach of duty," they were legal and consensual. It recommended that Studds and Crane be reprimanded, the lowest form of punishment. However, conservative members of the House urged a stronger punishment in the form of a censure. Newt Gingrich, a Republican congressman from Georgia, threatened to pursue the expulsion of Studds and Crane if the ethics committee didn't reconsider its recommendation. In July of 1983, both Studds and Crane were censured, with a 420-3 vote in Studds' case. As a result, Studds lost his chairmanship of his subcommittee on the Coast Guard.

Studds refused to resign or apologize after the scandal, saying the investigation had been an invasion of his privacy. He was met with support in his district, but also some challenges. In August, opponents presented two petitions with over 800 signatures seeking his resignation. During the Democratic primary for the 1984 elections, challenger Peter Flynn, the Plymouth County Sheriff, said Studds' affair was "child molestation."

Nevertheless, Studds went on to win the primary, as well as the general election against moderate Republican challenger Lewis Crampton. He was the sole survivor of the page scandal. Crane was defeated in his re-election attempt, and Howarth resigned from his position in November of 1983.

Following his outing, Studds became noticeably more supportive of measures for homosexual rights. He pushed for AIDS research, and also supported letting homosexuals serve in the military. In 1989, he released a Pentagon report saying that a person's sexuality was "unrelated to job performance in the same way as is being left or right handed." He regained a chairmanship on the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries between 1993 and 1995. In one hearing, he challenged the Coast Guard policy of excluding homosexuals, as the service was under the Department of Transportation but had implemented the policy to keep consistent with the military branches. Studds said it was strange that he could supervise the Coast Guard but not sail with them.

Studds opted not to run for re-election in 1996, the same year a marine sanctuary off Cape Cod was named for him. Following his retirement from Congress, he worked as a lobbyist for fishing and environmental causes. In 2004, he took advantage of Massachusetts' legalization of same-sex marriage and wedded his longtime partner, Dean T. Hara.

In 2006, a scandal similar to the 1983 one hit Congress when it was revealed that a Republican congressman, Mark Foley of Florida, had written sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to male pages. The incident brought back memories of Studds' censure, as well as charges from conservatives that Democrats had glossed over Studds' misconduct and criticism that Studds had not resigned as Foley did in September of 2006. Studds did not have much time to respond to the renewed interest in his misconduct; just weeks after Foley's resignation, he died in Boston of a vascular illness.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Republican Gains Offset by Gubernatorial Losses" in the Harvard Crimson on Nov. 5 1970, "Financing El Salvador's Reign of Terror" in the Harvard Crimson on Mar. 5 1981, "Overcoming the Doubts" in Time on Aug. 9 1982, "The U.S. Stays the Course" in Time on Feb. 28 1983, "2 Congressmen Admit to Affairs with Pages" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jul. 15 1983, "Stronger Punishment Sought in Sex Scandal" in the Deseret News on Jul. 19 1983, "Housecleaning" in Time on Jul. 25 1983, "Hard Choices on the Hill" in Time on Aug. 1 1983, "Studds' Resignation Sought" in the Evening Independent on Aug. 16 1983, "Studds 'Overwhelmed' by Support" in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 20 1983, "House Employee Quits in Sex Case" in the New York Times on Nov. 16 1983, "Foe of Studds Says Issue is 'Child Molestation'" in the New York Times on Jun. 27 1984, "The House: A Silver Lining For the Democrats--Sort Of" in Time on Nov. 19 1984, "Gerry Studds Dies at 69" in the New York Times on Oct. 15 2006, "First Openly Gay Person Elected to Congress Dies" in USA Today on Oct. 15 2006, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military by Randy Shilts

Sunday, May 3, 2009

John H. Mitchell: scandal smorgasbord

Image from bioguide.congress.gov

In the years following the Civil War, the United States began to fully capitalize on its resources and entered into a period of wealthy industrialists and excess. Humorist Mark Twain referred to the time, marked in large part by corrupt government officials, as "The Gilded Age." John Hipple Mitchell, a United States Senator throughout this period, is a good example of this age; it seems there was hardly any point during his career that wasn't touched by political turmoil and scandal.

Mitchell was born John Mitchell Hipple in Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1835. After graduating from the Witherspoon Institute, he worked as a teacher before being admitted to the bar in 1857. Two years later, he departed for California, staying only briefly in that state before moving up the coast to Portland, Oregon. Once there, Mitchell started practicing law again, albeit under the name John Hipple Mitchell.

Mitchell's rapid change of fortunes continued. After only two years in Oregon, he was elected to the state senate as a Republican in 1862. He served until 1866, and was named the senate president in 1864. The state legislature was charged with making appointments to the U.S. Senate in those days, and Mitchell missed the 1866 nomination by one vote. When the nomination came around again in 1872, Mitchell was successful in getting it.

The first accusations of political corruption against Mitchell involved his association with Ben Holladay, a transportation magnate whose interests had evolved along with the industry to include stagecoaches, steamships, and railroads. Mitchell was a legal advisor to Holladay, and supposedly turned down a $15,000 offer from the man during the 1872 Senate race to allow Holladay to capture the spot. Despite this action, Mitchell's opponents charged that Holladay had paid off members of the legislature, and that Mitchell was so much in the pocket of Holladay that he had declared, "Whatever is Ben Holladay's politics is my politics, and whatever Ben Holladay wants I want."

Mitchell was further dogged by opponents when he went to the capital. One issue was the transposition of his middle and last names, which some trumped up to "living under a false name." The more serious charges involved his past. Mitchell was accused of abandoning his wife and two children in Pennsylvania when he went West with a mistress, abandoning her in California and taking another wife in Oregon before divorcing his first one. His trip across the country, opponents charged, had also been sweetened by $4,000 stolen from his former law office.

The Oregon Historical Project states that Mitchell repaid the $4,000. However, Mitchell firmly denied the theft allegations when they surfaced, even producing dispatches from his former law partners as proof. "No man in Pennsylvania ever lost a cent by you," former partner John M. Thompson said. On the charges of bigamy and desertion, Mitchell was vaguer. He admitted to "domestic troubles of painful character, resulting in separation and divorce," but denied any wrongdoing. He referred to his decision to change his name as a way of trying to leave his past behind, "an indiscreet, ill-advised, and injudicious act; a great blunder, a foolish mistake." He was satisfied enough with his new moniker to legally change his name in 1874, however.

A Senate committee decided not to investigate the charges against Mitchell. Ironically enough, Mitchell was at the forefront of a debate on whether or not to seat the other Senator from Oregon in 1876. In that matter, he advocated that Lafayette Grover not be seated based on charges that bribery and fraud had brought Grover to office, as well as the basis of Grover's actions in the controversial Presidential election between Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes and Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden. Grover, who had been Governor of Oregon before resigning to take the Senate appointment, had tried unsuccessfully to disqualify a Republican elector due to his employment as a postmaster and replace him with a Democratic substitute. Grover was able to overcome the opposition and serve one term in the Senate.

Mitchell served until 1879, unsuccessfully ran for re-appointment in 1882, and was again sent to the Senate in 1885. Holladay still had two more years to live, and may yet have had some influence over the legislature's decision. Specifically, Mitchell was charged with giving payoffs financed by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company to 17 Democratic legislators to gain their votes. The New York Times printed a brief, bitter response to the affair from the Portland Oregonian in 1887: "'No United States Senator could keep his seat a single day if it was found that he had used money to secure one vote.' Thus says a Washington dispatch. It sounds well, but it won't go down in Oregon so long as John H. Mitchell is a Senator." Mitchell was re-appointed in 1891, but dissatisfaction with him and the legislature's politics prompted the formation of a populist People's Party the next year.

Despite the accusations of complicity with a transportation baron, Mitchell nevertheless served on numerous committees while in the Senate, including several related specifically to the nation's infrastructure. These included the Committees on Railroads, Transportation Routes to the Seaboard, Claims, Privileges and Elections, Coast Defenses, and Interoceanic Canals. He secured federal funding for the construction of lighthouses and the Cascade Locks in Oregon, as well as navigational improvements on the state's rivers. In what may have been a prelude to the final scandal that befell him, Mitchell also advocated the withdrawal of federal treaties for the Coastal Indian Reservation to open the land up for settlement.

Going against his own party, Mitchell was also a proponent of the free silver movement, which supported inflation and a withdrawal from the gold standard in favor of a less rigid monetary system. In a bizarre political move in his home state, a coalition of legislators opposed to the free silver movement refused to organize the state house in 1897. With no session to confirm him, Mitchell once again had to leave the capital.

The furor over the free silver movement had died down by 1901, when the legislature appointed Mitchell to a fourth term in the Senate. Three years later, investigators had discovered widespread land fraud in Oregon. Over the prior few years, such ignominious methods as false or forged affidavits and nonexistent persons had been used to lay claim to government-owned public lands, namely for timber uses. In December of 1904, a defendant by the name of S.A.D. Porter testified that he had paid Mitchell $2,000 to use his influence as a Senator to push the fraudulent claims through the United States General Land Office.

In January of 1905, Mitchell was indicted on charges of helping out Porter and others in the land fraud. Other government officials were also indicted, including a deputy sheriff of Multnomah County and Binger Hermann, who had been the Commissioner of the General Land Office when the fraud took place and had since become a Congressman. Other indictments came down against Mitchell, charging him with trying to fraudulently secure government lands, receiving $500 from Fred A. Kribs in 1902 and on six other dates to expedite timber claims on behalf of Kribs, complicity in an attempt to create a forest district in the Blue Mountains for the benefit of private individuals, and conspiracy in attempts to discredit the prosecutor, U.S. District Attorney Francis J. Heney. The New York Times reported that the state senate endorsed Mitchell for Senator in February 1905, despite the indictments (and despite the fact that Mitchell's term should have gone on until 1907).

Some of the most damning evidence against Mitchell came from his Oregon law partner, Judge Albert H. Tanner. A document provided to the grand jury showed that Mitchell had taken his return to government into account in 1901, and that the two men had altered their agreement to split the income to the firm and instead have it be paid solely to Tanner. However, investigators noticed that the document was a not-so-elaborate fake: it was printed on paper that had not been in production at the date of the purported document, had a different color of ink from that normally on the firm's correspondence in 1901, and had misspelled two words. With his son facing a possible perjury indictment for drawing up the document, Tanner crumbled and confessed that the document had been created when the accusations against Mitchell came out.

Mitchell was also not helped by a letter he wrote to Tanner in February, prior to one of his appearances before the grand jury. The letter strongly suggested to Tanner what the "facts" of the case were, including that Mitchell had no knowledge of the land fraud and did not benefit by any services. He conspicuously ended the letter with the instruction, "Burn this without fail."

Of the slew of accusations against Mitchell, it seems that only the ones related to Kribs' claims went forward. In July, Mitchell was found guilty of those charges; later in the month, he was sentenced to serve six months in prison and pay a $1,000 fine. Mitchell appealed the conviction. With a decision still pending in December, he died of complications following the extraction of four teeth. John M. Gearin, a Democrat, was appointed to replace him.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The Oregon History Project, The Bethel Historical Society, "Oregon; The United States Senatorship" in the New York Times on Oct. 14 1872, "Oregon; The Weather and the Crops; A New United States Senator" in the New York Times on Jan. 3 1873, "Senator Mitchell; The Charges Against Him" in the New York Times on Jun. 14 1873, "Forty-Fifth Congress; Summary of the Day's Proceedings" in the New York Times on March 8 1877, "Not Believed in Oregon" in the New York Times on Jul. 12 1887, "Senator Mitchell Indicted for Fraud" in the New York Times on Jan. 1 1905, "Oregon Stands By Mitchell" in the New York Times on Feb. 8 1905, "Burn This Letter, Said Mr. Mitchell" in the New York Times on Feb. 13 1905, "Mitchell Indicted Again" in the New York Times on Feb. 14 1905, "Mitchell Guilty" in the New York Times on Jul. 4 1905, "Senator Mitchell Dead, With Appeal Pending" in the New York Times on Dec. 9 1905, "New Senator From Oregon" in the New York Times on Dec. 14 1905, The Green Bag: A Monthly Illustrated Magazine Covering the Higher and Lighter Literature of the Law, Volume XVII edited by Sidney R. Wrightington, Land of Giants: The Drive to the Pacific Northwest, 1750-1950 by David Lavender, Looters of the Public Domain by Stephen A. Douglas Puter and Horace Stevens, The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811-1912 by Joseph Gaston and George H. Himes, The Oxford Companion to United States History edited by Paul S. Boyer