Wednesday, April 29, 2009

William W. Belknap: shell game

Image from

William Worth Belknap's argument was simple, if not a model defense: you can't impeach someone who is no longer in office.

Born in Newburgh, New York in 1829, Belknap graduated from Princeton University in 1848, studied law at Georgetown University, and was admitted to the bar in 1851. He moved to Iowa, briefly entering government work in 1857 when he was elected as a Democrat to one term in the state legislature.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Belknap joined the Union Army and became a major in the 15th Iowa Infantry. He fought at Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg before taking part in the campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta. In 1864, he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of the 4th division of the XVII Corps. Belknap joined General William Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas. When he was mustered out in 1865, Belknap was a major general; he had also switched parties to join the Republicans.

After the war, Belknap returned to Iowa and served as a collector of internal revenue from 1865 to 1869. In that year, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him to be Secretary of War after the death of John A. Rawlins. In a time of relative peace for the country, Belknap's activities in this position included starting preparation of historical reports by post commanders, advocating preservation for Yellowstone Park, launching a secretarial portrait gallery, and recommending that Congress fix May 1 as the start of the fiscal year. He was evidently not supportive of the Freedmen's Bureau.

Belknap's annual salary was $8,000, though he was known for living in a certain amount of luxury and throwing extravagant parties. The New York Times later reported that many acts of government corruption were considered unsubstantiated or invented, and investigations of wrongdoing were conducted "in an aimless, drifting manner." However, Belknap soon found himself fully exposed after the damning testimony in late February of 1876 by one Caleb P. Marsh of New York.

Marsh testified before the House Committee on Expenditures in the Department of War that Belknap's second wife, Carrie, encouraged him to apply for a post trader position at Fort Sill in Indian Territory. She asked for $6,000 a year to help convince her husband to appoint Marsh, though she also warned that Belknap had threatened to throw a man who offered $10,000 for a post trader appointment down the stairs. Such a position could be quite lucrative, with the New York Tribune reporting that a $15,000 investment could yield a $40,000 annual income. Not surprisingly, the current trader, John S. Evans, wasn't inclined to part with it.

Though Belknap was later charged with appointing Marsh to the position, Marsh never took the job. Instead, apparently with Belknap's consent, Evans and Marsh entered into a contract which would allow Evans to keep his job; he agreed to pay Marsh $12,000 each year, half of which he was to pay to Carrie. The amount was subject to a proportional decrease if the number of troops at the fort fell below 100. The first payment rolled out in the fall of 1870.

Carrie died of tuberculosis in 1870. Marsh kept sending the payments to Carrie's sister, Amanda, ostensibly to help support Carrie's infant child. Belknap, if he didn't know about the arrangement from the start, received some of the payments while Amanda was traveling. The child died in 1871; Belknap later married Amanda, and the payments kept coming. According to the articles of impeachment later handed down in Congress, Belknap received $24,450 between 1870 and 1876.

Following Marsh's testimony, things moved with surprising speed. On March 1, 1876, Belknap apeared before the committee. They offered to hear him the next afternoon, but he didn't show up. Instead, on the morning of March 2, Belknap handed in his resignation to Grant. The President accepted, appointing the Secretary of the Navy to replace him. Within a week, he had appointed attorney Alphonso Taft to the post.

The House of Representatives immediately took up the question of whether it had the authority to impeach Belknap, since impeachment cannot impose fines or imprisonment but only remove someone from office or disqualify them from holding office. Hiester Clymer, Democrat of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the War Department, described Belknap as "the proper outgrowth, the true exponent, of the corruption, the extravagance, the misgovernment that have cursed this land for years past." The House unanimously voted to have the Senate go ahead with the impeachment process.

As the impeachment process moved along, Marsh fled to Canada. Congressman Lucius Q.C. Lamar, a Democrat of Mississippi, said that Marsh's flight took with him any chance of a criminal indictment of Belknap. "Now, gentlemen, we have all the proceedings which have been been taken in this House and all the testimony which has been brought before it against William W. Belknap," said Lamar. "But with Marsh absent it is useless, and there is no way of criminally proceeding against William W. Belknap." A grand jury still managed to find enough to indict Belknap on bribery charges in May. The Times had reported prior to the indictment that he faced up to three years in prison and a fine three times the amount taken if convicted.

The Senate took up five articles of impeachment against Belknap, which included one colorful charge that he had been "basely prostituting his high office to his lust for private gain." When he was tried before the senators, he repeated the argument that the impeachment did not apply to him, since he was no longer a United States officer but simply a citizen of Iowa. The official Senate reply stated that his argument did not hold water, since the malfeasance occurred during his time as Secretary of War.

After over 40 witnesses came before the Senate, 35 senators voted that Belknap was guilty; 25 voted that he was not guilty, although 23 of them said that it was only because they felt that Congress did not have jurisdiction in the matter. The Times dubbed the whole impeachment affair "a rather stupid and uninteresting farce," and said that it set a precedent in allowing any civil officer to "escape the penalty fixed by the Constitution by hastening to resign as soon as his deeds are disclosed." The newspaper noted how the criminal indictment still stood, but guessed that it would not hold up in light of the "rather common robbers" involved in a $47,000 theft from the Treasury managing to avoid prosecution. The writers were prophetic in this matter, as the charges against Belknap were dismissed in February of 1877 for lack of evidence.

Belknap returned to practicing law, moving first to Philadelphia and then back to Washington. He died in 1890 of an apparent heart condition.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The Senate Historical Office, Secretaries of War and Secretaries of the Army by William Gardner Bell, "The New Secretary of War" in the New York Times on Oct. 14 1869, "Gen. Belknap's Career" in the New York Times on Mar. 3 1876, "The Case in the House" in the New York Times on Mar. 3 1876, "The Testimony" in the New York Times on Mar. 3 1876, "The Event at the Capital" in the New York Times on Mar. 3 1876, "The Belknap Impeachment" in the New York Times on Mar. 31 1876, "Belknap Indicted" in the New York Times on May 4 1876, "Acquittal of Belknap" in the New York Times on Aug. 2 1876, "The Suit Against Gen. Belknap" in the New York Times on Feb. 9 1877, "Belknap's Sudden Death" in the New York Times on Oct. 14 1890, Grant: A Biography by William S. McFeely, Lucius Q.C. Lamar: His Life, Times, and Speeches 1825-1893 by Edward Mayes, Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1876

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Charles J. Faulkner: the French connection

Image from

Suspected of assisting rebellion from abroad and later an aide to a well-known Confederate general, Charles James Faulkner was nevertheless able to make his way back to government work.

Born in Martinsburg, Virginia in 1806, Faulkner graduated from Georgetown University in 1822 before studying law and being admitted to the bar in 1829. Three years later, he was elected to the Virginia house of delegates, where he served until 1834. While there, he proposed the gradual elimination of slavery by a measure that would declare all children born to slave parents after July 1, 1840 to be free. The proposal was voted down, and Faulkner fell more into the pro-slavery camp due to his opposition to Abolitionists in the North. Faulkner was also a member of the state senate from 1841 until his resignation the next year, and returned to the house of delegates from 1848 to 1849. He was credited with introducing a bill that passed the house and formed the basis for the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

In 1850, Faulkner was elected to Congress as a Whig. He joined the Democrats and was elected to another three terms, chairing the Committee on Military Affairs in his last term.

One of Faulkner's biggest court cases, if perhaps one of his shortest-lived as well, was the representation of John Brown after the abolitionist's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859. Faulkner and fellow attorney Lawson Botts were assigned to defend Brown, two of six lawyers who would take up the case before Brown's conviction. Faulkner immediately asked to be dismissed from the matter, saying he had been at the scene and heard the confessions of the raiders, that Brown did not approve of his appointment, and that he doubted the authority of the court to assign him. He still served in the role for one day before taking his leave.

Also in 1859, Faulkner was appointed Minister of France by President James Buchanan. Buchanan had offered Faulkner the post after his election in 1856, but Faulkner declined out of deference to his friend John Y. Mason, who was already serving in the position. He accepted Buchanan's second offer, as it came upon Mason's death. While he was Minister, Faulkner was able to secure the right of expatriation for American citizens visiting the country.

When the Civil War broke out in April of 1861, Faulkner found himself in a foreign country with his home state joining the Confederacy. Given his potential sympathy to the new government (a feeling shared by the French government), President Abraham Lincoln recalled Faulkner to replace him with William L. Dayton of New Jersey. Faulkner returned to the Washington, D.C. in August, intending to formally end his association with the government. There, he was arrested by order of the War Department.

Faulkner was suspected of successfully negotiating arms sales to the Confederacy while in Paris, a charge the New York Times reported was substantiated by "conclusive evidence" that had arrived on another transatlantic steamer. He was also accused of planning to return to Virginia to take command of a contingent of rebels who had elected him colonel. Faulkner appealed to the War Department, but was rebuffed and told he was being held as a hostage to be exchanged for Pennsylvania state treasurer James McGraw, who had been captured after the First Battle of Bull Run while searching for a friend's body.

Imprisoned at Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor, Faulkner was not released when McGraw was returned, but rather transferred to the custody of the Secretary of State. Now a political prisoner, he also changed prisons and was taken to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. He refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Union, which would have led to his release. In a rather strange deal with Secretary of State William H. Seward, Faulkner agreed to a 30-day release in December to travel to the Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia to negotiate his own exchange for Republican Congressman Alfred Ely of New York. Like McGraw, Ely had been captured while observing the First Battle of Bull Run. Faulkner was able to secure Ely's release and remained in Richmond, where he was cheered by a crowd of thousands. Ely later credited him with advocating the improvement of Confederate prison conditions based on Faulkner's own treatment in a Union lockup.

Following his release, Faulkner joined the Confederate army and served as assistant adjutant general on the staff of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. In a letter to a Jackson biographer in 1876, he says, "He was always equal to the position in which he was placed, whether it was in command of a regiment, a brigade, a division, or an army; and he could have with as much ease have handled 100,000 men upon the battlefield as he did 10,000." Accounts are mixed as to whether Faulkner stayed in the army after Jackson's death in 1863 or if he went to reside at his son-in-law's house at Appomattox. The matter is no doubt complicated by the fact that Faulkner's son, also a Charles J. Faulkner, served as an aide to two Confederate generals, including one who surrendered at Appomattox. Following the war, Faulkner made a visit to Washington, D.C. and said that he had been misrepresented by some newspapers, that he favored a union between the North and South and had joined Jackson's staff as a personal consideration for the Confederate officers instead of a political reason.

For a short period after the war, little information is available on Faulkner. The ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited any person who had previously taken an oath of support for the Constitution as a member of the federal or state government from holding any government office if they had supported the Confederacy in the Civil War. Faulkner certainly qualified for this restriction.

However, he soon returned to public life. In 1870, he was elected president of the Martinsburg and Potomac Railroad. In 1871, he was elected president of the Berkeley County Agricultural Society and also successfully defended the claims of the newly formed state West Virginia to Berkeley and Jefferson counties before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a member of the West Virginia constitutional convention in 1872, the same year Congress voted to remove his Fourteenth Amendment disabilities. Faulkner was named a regent to West Virginia University, and the next year successfully ran for Congress.

After one term, Faulkner opted not to run for re-election and returned to law work. He wasn't quite done with government; in 1876 he ran for the U.S. Senate and in 1880 he tried for the nomination for Governor of West Virginia, but was unsuccessful in both attempts. He died at his estate, "Boydville," in Martinsburg in 1884.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "The Great Rebellion: Important News From The National Capital" in the New York Times on Aug. 13 1861, "Miscellaneous War News" in the Philadelphia Press on Dec. 20 1861, "From Washington" in the New York Times on Jul. 26 1865, "The Rebel View of the War; It Is Again Presented By Hon. Charles J. Faulkner, of West Virginia" in the New York Times on Dec. 31 1876, "Obituary - Charles J. Faulkner" in the New York Times on Nov. 2 1884, The Trial in American Life by Robert A. Ferguson, The Public Life of Captain John Brown With An Autobiography of His Childhood and Youth by James Redpath, Journal of Alfred Ely, a Prisoner of War in Richmond by Alfred Ely, The Political Register and Congressional Directory: A Statistical Record of the Federal Officials, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial, of the United States of America, 1776-1878 compiled by Benjamin Perley Poore, The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans edited by Rossiter Johnson, The Statutes At Large and the Proclamations of the United States of America from March 1871 to March 1873, The Life of William H. Seward by Frederic Bancroft, History of Berkeley County, West Virginia by Willis Fryatt Evans

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jack P.F. Gremillion: the den of iniquity

Entertainer Jimmy Durante, at left, with Jack P.F. Gremillion. Image from

First coming to trouble for criticizing a court proceedings as unjust, Lousiana's Attorney General, Jack Paul Faustin Gremillion, was to face justice twice during his 16 years in office.

Gremillion was born in 1914 in Donaldsville, Louisiana. He graduated from the law school at Louisiana State University in 1937 and worked in the local district attorney's office. Gremillion served in the Army during World War II, then returned to work as a prosecutor.

He was elected as a Democrat to serve as the state's Attorney General in 1956, and soon established himself as a staunch advocate of segregation. He led an effort to shut down the activities of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, forcing the organization to suspend its operations in the state for a time. Gremillion also helped draft a state statute allowing the state legislature to determine the racial demographics of the New Orleans schools rather than the Orleans Parish School Board. The move was a way of undermining a court order to desegregate the schools. It was upheld by a state court, as was a suit he filed to have the schools disregard the order. However, this victory came only a month before the first incident to throw the Attorney General into the national spotlight.

In the fall of 1960, Governor Jimmie Davis seized control of the New Orleans elementary schools to block a federal integration order. The move was contested by the NAACP and others, and the matter went before a hearing in federal court. During the testimony, Gremillion contested a decision to place some facts into the record by affidavit rather than by witness testimony. Saying he hadn't received the affidavits, Gremilion asked for a five day postponement in the hearing and was denied. Not long after that, he stormed out of the room, denouncing the proceedings as a "den of iniquity" and "kangaroo court."

The panel of three federal judges declared state laws state laws related to segregation unconstitutional, ordered state officials to cease interfering with integration, and returned control of the New Orleans schools to the school board, of which four of the five members supported integration. In addition, Gremillion was cited for contempt of court and later brought up on a criminal charge of the same. He was given a 60-day jail sentence, which was fully suspended, as well as 18 months of probation.

Gremillion was described as a colorful character. Among other things, he defended his right to not only bar convicted felons from voting but also the mothers of illegitimate children, whom he referred to as "bastardizing females." When two black men were freed from prison and escaped the death penalty after 13 years when they were found to have received an unfair trial on rape charges, Gremillion said he would appeal the decision and take it to the Supreme Court if necessary. "It looks like the court wants to give them a medal for staying in prison," he said. Protesting a Supreme Court ruling upholding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after he and representatives from five other Southern states said that it was unconstitutional, Gremillion bemoaned it as "another step in the total destruction of the rights of states to regulate their internal affairs" that would "also will undoubtedly lead to universal suffrage." Governor Earl Long, who served from 1956 to 1960, declared, "If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book."

In 1969, Gremillion was indicted on charges of fraud and conspiracy along with four other men involved with the Louisiana Loan and Thrift Corporation. They were charged with issuing bond investment certificates and lying to potential investors to increase the sale of the certificates. The company went bankrupt in 1968, owing its depositors about $2.5 million.

Gremillion was also indicted in 1970 on perjury charges stating that he lied to a grand jury by denying having a financial involvement in the company, owned stock in the company, and granted a proxy for his shares at a 1967 shareholders' meeting. He was acquitted at trial in 1971 on the fraud and conspiracy charges. Later in the year, however, he was convicted of five counts of perjury.

Gremillion was still able to show a bit of bravado in the face of these troubles. After his conviction, Governor John McKeithen declared, "I'm awfully embarrassed by our Attorney General. I don't know of anything else to do but shoot him." Gremillion responded by heading over to the steps of the Capitol and offering himself up as a target.

In 1972, Gremillion was sentenced to a three-year prison sentence. Federal circuit court judge Fred J. Cassibry declared, "In the United States no man is so small as to be disregarded by the law. Neither is any man so great as to be above it." The conviction doomed Gremillion's chances of winning the Democratic nomination for Attorney General, which went to William Guste Jr. (who went on to serve the next 20 years in Gremillion's place).

Gremillion served 15 months of the sentence before being released. In 1976, he was pardoned by Governor Edwin W. Edwards. Returning to law work, he died in 2001.

Sources: The Political Graveyard, the Federal Judicial Center, Louisiana Knights of Columbus, "Judges Order Integration in New Orleans" in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 28 1960, "Desegregation Prospects" in Time on Sept. 5 1960, "Challenge from the South" in Time on Jan. 28 1966, "Some Needed Nudges" in Time on Mar. 18 1966, "In the Shadow of the Chair" in Time on Aug. 26 1966, "Louisiana's Attorney General is Indicted on Fraud Count" in the St. Petersburg Times on Feb. 15 1969, "Grand Jury Indicts La. Attorney General" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jul. 7 1970, "Louisiana Attorney General Convicted" in the New York Times on Sept. 26 1971, "'Shoot Away, Big John'" in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 25 1971, "Attorney General Gets Three Years - Lied to Jury" in the Desert News on Jan. 6 1972, "Jack P.F. Gremillion; Louisiana Attorney General, 86" in the New York Times on March 6 2001, Fifty-eight Lonely Men: Southern Federal Judges and School Desegregation by Jack Walter Peltason

Sunday, April 12, 2009

H. Guy Hunt: the accidental governor

Image from

The first Republican to occupy the Governor's office in Alabama after a long post-Reconstruction Democratic domination, Harold Guy Hunt was also the first Governor in the state to be removed from office.

Born in 1933 at Holly Pond in Alabama, Hunt served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Working as an Amway salesman and farmer, he was ordained as a Primitive Baptist preacher in 1958 and worked part-time in that capacity. Though he did not go to college, Hunt received honorary doctor of law degrees from Troy State University, the University of North Alabama, and Alabama A&M in 1987.

After losing a bid for state senate in 1962, Hunt was elected probate judge of Cullman County in 1964 and held the post for the next 12 years. He supported Ronald Reagan during his presidential aspirations, serving as the state chairman of Reagan's campaign in 1976 and his successful 1980 race. In return, Reagan appointed him state executive director of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (a part of the Department of Agriculture) in 1981. Hunt ran for Governor as the Republican candidate in 1978, losing to Democratic candidate and former Republican Fob James, Jr.

Hunt left the agricultural post in 1985 to pursue another gubernatorial campaign in 1986. State politics up to this point had been dominated by the Democratic Party, with the last Republican Governor serving in 1874. Noted segregationist George Wallace, who had served four terms comprising 16 of the prior 24 years, announced he would not run that year. Attorney General Charles Graddick, a conservative and former Republican, faced off against Lieutenant Governor Bill Baxley and won the Democratic nomination by 8,756 votes out of about 900,000 cast.

The narrow victory was contested in federal court after a black couple filed suit, saying Graddick had used his position in the government to minimize the black vote. Shortly before the runoff, Graddick issued an opinion as Attorney General that Republican voters should not be barred from participating in the Democratic runoff, a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The court found that the move had attracted enough conservative support to sway the result to Graddick over Baxley, whose base relied more on black, liberal, and union voters. Graddick's name was removed from the ballot and the nomination was awarded to Baxley.

Hunt had won the Republican nomination from a pool of less than 33,000 voters. For a time, it seemed that even those supporters might be split by Graddick, who threatened to run as a third party candidate. Instead, Graddick decided to drop out of the race, and Hunt found himself appealing to Graddick's conservative white supporters. He won the election with 56 percent of the vote.

Hunt came into office with the goals of bringing more business into the state and improving education. He established a tax reform commission, as well as several committees to look into improvements in education. However, educational leaders in 14 of the state's poorer counties sued the government, arguing that government funds were not equitably distributed. The court agreed, ordering the state to start remedying the problem.

Hunt also pledged that his administration would be "color blind," but was criticized by some Democrats for appointing only one black person in the 23 cabinet positions. He was further criticizing for his support of flying the Confederate flag from the state Capitol building, a practice Wallace had started in defiance of the civil rights movement. The flag was later removed after a court decision. In 1990, Hunt won re-election over Alabama Education Association leader Paul Hubbert. In that race, Republicans were accused of playing off race fears by circulating photos of Hubbert with black political leaders.

Much of Hunt's second term was consumed by controversy over whether he had violated state ethics laws. The investigation began after Hunt was found to have used a state plane to travel to preaching engagements across the South, where he was paid with cash donations. Hunt wrote a check for the expenses and dismissed the controversy as party politics. He also tried to have the investigation stopped on the argument that the ethics probe compromised the separation of powers in the state government, but the court of appeals ruled the investigation legal in 1992. In December of that year, he was indicted on 12 theft and conspiracy charges and one ethics charge. Only the ethics charge could go forward, as the statute of limitations had run out on the other counts.

Hunt went to trial in April of 1993. The remaining felony charge accused him of diverting $200,000 of a tax-exempt $800,000 inaugural fund to banks near his home for personal use. The items ranged from mortgage payments and cattle feed to a riding lawnmower and marble shower stall. The defense argued that Hunt had used the inaugural fund to legally pay back money advanced for a gubernatorial campaign.

The jury found Hunt guilty; the felony conviction automatically expelled him from office and promoted Lieutenant Governor James E. Folsom, Jr., a Democrat (and, at the time of this article, Lieutenant Governor of the state once again). The judge had instructed the jury that excess campaign funds could not legally be used for personal payments, a statute Republicans argued was not regularly enforced. "For a year and a half now practically the whole emphasis of that office has been to try to find something on me," Hunt said. In May of 1993, he was sentenced to five years of probation, 1,000 hours of community service, and a $211,000 fine.

Hunt unsuccessfully appealed the case. In 1997, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted him a pardon on the basis of innocence. However, no judge or district attorney was willing to sign the order. The next year, Hunt sought to end his probation four months early. Instead, a judge extended it by five years because he had only paid about $4,200 off the fine.

One month after the judge's decision, Hunt's attorney produced a check paying off the remaining balance; the money had been collected from donors sympathetic to the ex-Governor. Things moved swiftly after that. One day after his probation was lifted, Hunt was granted a pardon, again on the basis of innocence. The day after that, he qualified to run for the Republican nomination for Governor. Strangely enough, he was challenging Fob James, Jr. The same man who had defeated Hunt in the 1978 gubernatorial election had changed his allegiance back to the Republican Party and been elected in 1994.

Hunt was unable to secure the nomination, and returned to preaching and working on his farm. In 2002, he made another unsuccessful bid for the state senate. He died on January 30 of this year of complications from lung cancer.

Sources: Alabama Department of Archives and History, National Governors Association, Encyclopedia of Alabama, "Wallace's Successor Ushers In Conservative Era" in the New York Times on Jan. 20 1987, "Alabama Governor Found Guilty of Ethics Charge and Is Ousted" in the New York Times on April 23 1993, "Ex-Governor of Alabama Loses Ruling" in the New York Times on April 22 1994, "Alabama Ex-Governor Gets More Probation" in the New York Times on Feb. 15 1998, "Elections 2002 - Around the Nation" in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on Nov. 7 2002, The New Politics of the Old South by Charles S. Bullock and Mark J. Rozell, Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1988-1994 by Marie Marmo Mullaney

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Daniel J. Flood: the dapper briber

Image from

An expert at bringing federal money into his district, Daniel John Flood's longstanding career was shattered when he ended up getting ahold of those funds the wrong way.

Flood was born in 1903 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and graduated from Syracuse University in New York in 1924. He initially made his career as a Shakespearean actor; in his later troubles, news reports found it irresistible to comment on this aspect of his life, along with his distinctive waxed mustache. Flood went on to attend Harvard University and the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1929. He was admitted to the bar the next year.

In the following years, Flood held numerous Pennsylvania state positions. He was the deputy attorney general and counsel to the Liquor Control Board from 1935 to 1939, and director of the Bureau of Public Assistance Disbursements and executive assistant to the state treasurer from 1941 to 1944.

In 1944, Flood was elected to Congress as a Democrat. He lost the next election, won two after that, lost again in 1952, and was re-elected in 1954 in the first of 13 returns to office. From 1967 to 1979, he chaired the subcommittee on Labor, Health, Education, and Welfare, part of the House Appropriations Committee.

Hailing from a depressed anthracite-producing region, Flood's popularity in his district was likely due to his ability to secure federal funds for a variety of projects. After Hurricane Agnes flooded parts of northeastern Pennsylvania in 1972, Flood was able to facilitate about $100 million in direct aid. He was also able to pressure the U.S. Army to accept coal from his district to heat their European bases. He encouraged federal loans and guarantees for industries to come to the area, military contracts during the Vietnam War, and the rerouting of a highway to run through the district. Other federal funding went toward an elementary school, rural health center, industrial park, and elderly center, all of which were named for Flood.

In 1978, a former aide of "Dapper Dan" brought into question the way the funds were obtained. Steve Elko, who had started working for Flood in 1970, left that role in 1976 after he was convicted of accepting kickbacks from favors from constituents and others who were seeking federal money. Elko was sentenced to serve two years in prison. In 1978, he began to cooperate with federal investigators, saying some of the money had gone to Flood. He quoted Flood as saying, "This is a business. Get all you can while you can get it." The state's Crime Commission suggested that Flood may have helped out a local contractor with ties to Russell Bufalino, head of a Mafia family. The scandal also roped in Joshua Eilberg, Democratic congressman from Philadelphia, to whom Flood had directed administrators of Hahnemann Medical College when they were looking to secure federal construction money. Eilberg was later convicted of his own set of crimes.

Flood was indicted in September 1978 on charges of bribery and perjury during the period Elko worked for him. He was accused of taking at least $50,000 in illegal payments and lying about the payments while under oath. While the indictment dented his momentum in the election year, Flood still won that year's election against Republican candidate Robert P. Hudock with 58 percent of the vote. The approach of criminal proceedings did lead Flood to give up his chairmanship of the HEW subcommittee in 1979.

During a 13-day trial in early 1979, several witnesses took the stand on behalf of the prosecution. Of the 21 witnesses called by the prosecution, three businessmen, a lobbyist, and a rabbi said they had paid bribes to Flood; another witness said he had given Flood 100 shares of bank stock. The defense called 37 witnesses, but Flood never took the stand.

The case took a surprising twist when the jury deadlocked with a single juror refusing to find Flood guilty of the five counts of bribery and three counts of perjury. The sole dissenter, retired Navy cook William Cash, said that he had heard from independent sources that Elko and three prosecution witnesses took $176,000 from Flood and were guiltier than the congressman. Indeed, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported during the trial that the rabbi was imprisoned, the lobbyist was living under a new identity after winning immunity from prosecution, one businessman had done two years for tax fraud and bribery, and another had been the subject of a fraud investigation and testified under the condition of immunity. Of the witnesses the Gazette listed that said they had given bribes to Flood, only banker and retired state legislator T. Newell Wood did not have a qualifier noting a criminal history.

Cash should not have been hearing anything from "independent sources," however, and he was subject to a jury tampering investigation immediately after a mistrial was declared. He failed two polygraph tests during the investigation, but it was determined that Cash had not deliberately tried to throw the verdict. Meanwhile, a second trial was delayed as Flood was hospitalized several times. In November of 1979, he announced that he would resign from Congress at the end of January 1980, citing the strain the criminal proceedings were having on his health.

Flood's lawyers said that he had become addicted to barbiturates, but he was found competent to stand a second trial in December 1979. In February of 1980, Flood pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate federal campaign laws by taking payoffs from the five accusers. He said he was entering the plea because he felt a jury could find him guilty. In April, a special election to fill the vacancy in the Congress chose Democratic state legislator Raphael Musto to fill the remainder of Flood's term.

Following the conviction, Flood disappeared into relative obscurity. He died in 1994 of pneumonia.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Theatrical Flood: Curtain Closing?" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Feb. 27 1978, "Flood's Election May Be His Last Hurrah" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Oct. 28 1978, "Flood to Testify in Bribery Trial" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 29 1979, "Defense Rests Case Without Calling on Flood" in the Daily Collegian on Feb. 1 1979,"Flood Jury Retires, No Verdict Issued" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Feb. 2 1979, "The Twelfth Man Hangs a Jury" in Time on Feb. 19 1979, "Flood Juror Fails 2 Polygraph Tests" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 4 1979, "Rep. Flood Resigns from House" in the Daily Collegian on Nov. 8 1979, "Doctors Judge Flood Competent for Retrial" in the Daily Collegian on Dec. 4 1979, "Flood Pleads Guilty in Conspiracy, Judge Gives Him Year's Probation" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Feb. 27 1980, "Democrat Wins Election to Rest of Flood's Term" in the New York Times on April 10 1980, "Daniel Flood, 90, Who Quit Congress in Disgrace, Is Dead" in the New York Times on May 29 1994, Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth by Randall M. Miller and William Pencak, Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Volume 3 edited by David Levinson

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Caleb Lyon: the great train robbery

Image from

Proving a capable politician on both sides of the country, Caleb Lyon was condemned to besmirched obscurity after an unsuccessful junket on the frontier.

Born in Lyonsdale, New York in 1822, Lyon graduated from Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont in 1841. Six years later, he was appointed as the U.S. consul to Shanghai, before traveling to South America and thence to California. There, he became a member of the California constitutional convention and designed a state seal.

Lyon went against the gold rush tide, returning in 1849 to New York. He was elected to the state assembly in 1850, but resigned after encountering opposition to enlarging the Erie Canal, a project he supported. In 1851, he served in the state senate, and was elected to the U.S. Congress as an independent for one term in 1852. His Lyonsdale home was destroyed by fire in 1860, and he moved to Staten Island.

By 1864, Lyon had become a Republican supporter and was appointed by Abraham Lincoln to be the second Governor of the Idaho Territory. The first Governor, William H. Wallace, had to leave after he was elected to Congress. Lyon held the office from March 1864 to June 1866, but by no means was he a consistent presence.

The Governor was also Indian superintendent of the territory, delegated to tour the land, make treaties where necessary, locate possible reservation sites, and send all pertinent information to the federal Indian commissioner. In October 1864, Lyon negotiated a treaty with a Shoshone Indian group where 23 Indian leaders consented to cede land for 30 miles along the Boise River along with all lands drained by tributaries of the river; the agreement also called for the Indians to turn over criminals they captured to U.S. authorities. In return, a reservation was to be set up along the river and the Indians were to have the same fishing rights as settlers. Criticized by the federal commissioner as not properly put together, the treaty was never ratified by the Senate.

Lyon was not a popular governor. Noted as a lecturer, poet, author, and foreign traveler, he was rather conspicuous in a roughshod Wild West territory populated mostly by miners. He referred to himself as "Lyon of Lyonsdale," a habit that led some critics to nickname him "Cale of the Dale." Another stance that did nothing to endear Lyon to at least some of the population was his support of moving the territory's capital from Lewiston in the north to Boise in the south. The matter proved important enough that some settlers persuaded a local judge to get an injunction against the move and keep Lyon under observation. Under the guise of a duck hunt, Lyon escaped the territory in a canoe on the Snake River. The territory's seal and archives were later moved under armed guard.

After his disappearance, Lyon returned to the East Coast. Back in Idaho, treasurer Clinton Dewitt Smith, also a native New Yorker, served for seven months before dying. The treasurer under Smith stole $4,000 in territory funds; Smith's replacement, Horace Gilson, looted some $33,000 (later sources say $41,000) from the treasury and fled the country.

It was in this atmosphere of embezzlement that Lyon was re-appointed as Governor in the fall of 1865, having been absent from the territory for 11 months. Admirably, he encouraged a peaceful relationship between the Indians and settlers and denounced those were were calling for attacks on Indian settlements. However, this stance did nothing to improve his popularity; the Idaho Statesman said only a "military escort could prevent him from violence or death." Further exacerbating matters was Lyon's support of a diamond mining venture which, a historian wrote in 1890, "ruined many a better man."

In April of 1866, Lyon negotiated a treaty with another band of Shoshone Indians. This agreement ceded lands south of the Snake River while leaving a 14-mile swath of the Bruneau Valley as a reservation. The treaty was also never ratified, as the reservation was deemed to be infeasible in an area of heavy settlement.

When he left the post again, this time for good, Lyon returned to Staten Island. Somewhere along the way, $41,148.40 that he was to give to the federal commissioner of Indian affairs went missing. Of that amount, $18,631 was to go to the Nez Perce Indians as compensation for their relinquishment of land. Lyon said that a thief had stolen the money while he was sleeping on the train during the trip from Idaho to Washington, D.C. The government sought to recover the money through Lyon's bondsman, but it wasn't until 1874 that a jury demanded that he repay the $50,000 bond he had given Lyon.

An official investigation against Lyon was evidently in the works around that time, but Lyon died in 1875 before any sort of prosecution. His tale of the theft was accepted enough that the New York Times reported it in his obituary with no hint of suspicion; however, secondary sources now generally dismiss the story as a fabrication.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Idaho Historical Society, "Heavy Judgment Against a Bondsman" in the New York Times on Nov. 21 1874, "Obituary; Caleb Lyon" in the New York Times on Sept. 9 1875, The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History by Carlos A. Schwantes, History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana by Hubert Howe Bancroft and Francis Fuller Victor, Official Opinions of the Attorneys General of the United States edited by J. Hubley Ashton, The Rockies by David Sievert Alexander and Duane A. Smith, History of Idaho: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People and Its Principal Interests by Hiram T. French, The Northern Shoshoni by Brigham D. Madsden, Index to the Executive Documents of the Senate of the United States Second Session Fortieth Congress 1867-68, Lyons Memorial - Massachusetts Families edited by Albert Brown Lyons and George William Amos Lyon and Eugene Fairfield McPike

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Toby Ziegler: space cowboy

Image from

While most political scandals result in the justice system weighing whether a person in power has committed a clear-cut act of wrongdoing, sometimes it is not so simple. The debate still rages over whether the actions of Tobias Zachary Ziegler were heroic or treasonous.

Born in Brooklyn in 1954, Ziegler attended City College of New York and went on to receive a doctorate in communications. He began working as a professional political operative for several Democratic races in the New York area: one city council race, one gubernatorial race, one Senate race, two House of Representatives contests, and one national campaign. Not one of the campaigns had resulted in a victory before Ziegler joined New Hampshire Governor Josiah Bartlet's presidential campaign as communications director. Notably, Ziegler was the one survivor of a shakeup of the New Hampshire Governor's campaign staff in 1997. Leo McGarry, Bartlet's campaign manager and later Chief of Staff, later said he thought Ziegler's idealism could help bring the fledgling campaign into the White House.

Following Bartlet's election in 1998, Ziegler joined the West Wing staff as communications director and senior domestic policy adviser. He wrote both of Bartlet's inaugural addresses and later served as de facto press secretary when C.J. Cregg was promoted to Chief of Staff. Known for noticing subtle signs in a person's behavior, Ziegler was the first senior staffer told of the President's multiple sclerosis after deducing patterns in his behavior. This quality could sometimes backfire, however. Ziegler was publicly embarrassed in 2004 when Republican Senator Steve Gaines of Illinois confirmed that the communications director had tried to persuade him to support cutting Social Security, perhaps as a political ploy. Ziegler turned in a letter of resignation after that incident, but Bartlet refused to accept it.

Presaging later events, Ziegler was "fired" for one week to manage a 2002 California congressional campaign. In a bizarre contest, Democrat Horton Wilde posthumously unseated Republican congressman Chuck Webb. Sam Seaborn, deputy communications director and and a native of the congressional district, was chosen as the Democratic replacement who unsuccessfully contested Webb in the special election. During this time away from Washington, Ziegler and Charlie Pace, personal aide to the President, were arrested after a bar scuffle. The fight allegedly started after a drunk patron began harassing Democratic Congresswoman Andrea Wyatt of Maryland, Ziegler's ex-wife, who was pregnant with his twins. No charges were pressed in the incident.

In 2005, a leak aboard the International Space Station led to a steady loss of oxygen. The lives of two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut were in peril, and no ships from either country were available for a rescue mission. After a few days of desperate measures to try to slow or fix the leak, the New York Times reported that a senior White House official had confirmed the existence of a military space shuttle based at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Forced to admit the shuttle's existence, the unnamed vessel blasted off soon after and brought the stranded men out of orbit. Furious at the breach of national security laws, Bartlet called for an immediate investigation into the source of the leak. Greg Brock, the Times writer who broke the story, went to jail after refusing to give up a name.

Ziegler privately confessed to Bartlet that he had tipped the press on the shuttle, and again offered to resign. Bartlet refused, instead firing Ziegler. He recounts that he said to Ziegler, "When you walk out of here, there will be people out there, perhaps a great many, who'll think of you as a hero. Just don't think that I'm going to be one of them."

Ziegler was replaced by William Bailey as both communications director and press secretary. Ziegler steadfastly refused to disclose where he had found out about the shuttle. It was later revealed that Ziegler's brother was a likely source, as he had been a NASA specialist before committing suicide upon a diagnosis of terminal cancer, but Ziegler has not confirmed this. Facing six years in prison, he was saved by a presidential pardon, Bartlet's last official act. Although her association with Ziegler significantly damaged Congresswoman Wyatt's chances in the 2006 election, she was re-elected by a narrow margin.

Ziegler has since become a professor of communications at Columbia University.

Sources: "Tobias Ziegler Named Communications Director" in the Washington Post on Nov. 20 1997, "White House Communications Director to Join Seaborn Ticket for One Week" in the New York Times on Jan. 3 2003, "White House Officials Arrested in Bar Fight" in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 6 2003, "Gaines Confirms White House Official Urged Social Security Cut" in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 8 2004, "Military Shuttle Could Save Astronauts" in the New York Times on April 14 2006, "Communications Director Ziegler Leaked Shuttle Info" in the Washington Post on April 29 2006, "Ziegler Silent on Source" in the New York Times on June 10 2006, "Ziegler Sibling was NASA Specialist" in the New York Times on October 24 2006, "Bartlet Pardons Ziegler as Last Official Act" in the New York Times on Jan. 21 2007, Bartlet for America by Josiah Bartlet,