Sunday, November 23, 2014

G. Harrold Carswell: representing the mediocre

When George Harrold Carswell's name was first put forward for a seat on the United States Supreme Court, some newspapers commented that his confirmation was all but assured. For one thing, he had no stocks or bonds at a time when financial conflicts of interest were affecting the high court. His decisions had not endeared him to labor groups, but observers considered their opposition to be little more than token.

The factor most in favor of Carswell's nomination, however, was the fact that the path had already been cleared for him. The Senate had already rejected President Richard Nixon's first nominee for the Supreme Court, and the chamber had not rejected a President's nominees twice in a row in 76 years. There was a perception that doing so would weaken the relationship between the President and Senate Republicans, and that it would delay decisions on important matters by leaving the Supreme Court deadlocked.

Carswell had already been confirmed by the Senate to three federal judicial posts over the course of his career. He had passed background checks by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on each these occasions. And he perfectly fit the profile for Nixon's ideal nominee: a Southern judge with a constructionist view toward the Constitution, or interpretation that the founding document limited the role of the government.

When he learned of the nominee's credentials, Attorney General John N. Mitchell enthusiastically recommended Carswell to Nixon. The judge, he declared, was to be "too good to be true." The statement was more accurate than he realized.

Carswell was born on December 22, 1919, in Irwinton, Georgia. His father, George Henry Carswell, served for 30 years as a state legislator. The elder Carswell was also secretary of state at one point and twice ran unsuccessfully in Georgia's gubernatorial elections. Carswell earned a bachelor of arts degree from Duke University in 1941 before attending the University of Georgia Law School, but suspended his studies to join the Naval Reserve after the United States entered World War II. He sailed in the Pacific aboard the heavy cruiser Baltimore and attended several universities as part of his officer training, including six months of postgraduate work at the U.S. Naval Academy. When the war ended in 1945, Carswell left the service with the rank of lieutenant.

Resuming his studies, Carswell earned a bachelor of law degree from Mercer University and graduated from the Walter F. George School of Law in 1948. He immediately started a private practice, then sought to follow in his father's footsteps by running as a Democrat for the Georgia legislature. After this bid failed, he moved his practice to Tallahassee, Florida.

Prior to the 1952 election, Carswell sought to persuade his fellow Democrats in Florida to vote for the Republican candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He soon switched his allegiance to the Republican Party. After he was elected, Eisenhower rewarded Carswell by appointing him U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. Carswell held this post until March of 1958, when Eisenhower nominated him for a seat on the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Florida. The Senate confirmed the appointment, and Carswell began serving the role the next month. He was only 33 years old, the youngest federal attorney in the country at the time. In 1969, Nixon nominated Carswell for a new seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, located in New Orleans. He was confirmed by the Senate in June.

Carswell began his new job at the same time that the Supreme Court was going through an upheaval. Justice Abe Fortas of the Supreme Court had resigned in May of 1969 after it was discovered that he had a connection to a discredited financier. Fortas had agreed to perform services for the family foundation of Louis E. Wolfson, who had been convicted of stock manipulation.

Nixon's first choice to fill the vacancy left by Fortas' departure was Clement F. Haynsworth, Jr. The conservative Democrat and South Carolina judge had been serving on the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Senators were concerned that Haynsworth had exhibited a conflict of interest in several cases where he owned stock in companies appearing before the court. Labor and civil rights groups added their voices to the opposition, saying Haynsworth had been biased against them in his decisions. On November 21, 1969, the Senate rejected the nominee with 55 senators opposed and 45 in favor; 17 of the 43 Republicans in the Senate broke ranks to vote down the President's first choice.

Unrepentant, Nixon blamed the defeat on an "anti-Southern, anti-conservative, and anti-strict constructionist" prejudice in the Senate, even though some constructionists had joined the opposition. He ordered an aide, Harry S. Dent, to "find a good federal judge farther to the South and further to the right." Carswell fit the bill, and Nixon put his name forward on January 19, 1970.

When the nomination went before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Carswell's attitude toward racial relations became an immediate point of concern. He had a distinctly mixed record on civil rights, applying Supreme Court decisions to his own district but showing less concern for equality if these precedents did not apply. In one case, he had ruled against his own barber in favor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, saying the shop could not deny service to black customers. He had also decided that the Tallahassee city commissioners could not make distinctions based on race in their decisions, and Yale professor James W. Moore credited Carswell with making the University of Florida Law School free of discrimination. However, he had also dismissed cases that sought to force a theater to sell tickets to black moviegoers and reopen swimming pools closed by a "wade-in" protest. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, charging him with a bias against blacks making civil rights claims, had formally opposed Carswell's promotion to the Court of Appeals.

Representatives of civil rights groups expressed their concerns before the committee. They painted Carswell as a judge who was openly hostile to civil rights claims and any Northern lawyers representing them, saying he had shouted at black lawyers while acting cordial toward white ones, delayed civil rights cases without cause, and even turned his back on civil rights lawyers in the midst of their arguments. Rutgers University law professor John Lowenthal said Carswell was "extremely hostile" to a 1963 habeas corpus petition to free seven people charged with criminal trespass for urging black citizens to vote. He said Carswell had eventually granted the petition but refused to let the court marshal serve the release order, forcing Lowenthal to deliver it to the sheriff. LeRoy D. Clark, a New York University Law School professor who represented the National Conference of Black Lawyers in his appearance before the committee, declared Carswell to be "the most hostile federal district judge I've ever appeared before with respect to civil rights matters."

Statements that Carswell made in his 1948 legislative campaign raised the question of whether Carswell was being blatantly racist in this behavior. In a speech, he had endorsed segregation as "the only practical and correct way of life in our states" and further declared that he was committed to a "firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy." Surprisingly, these statements proved only a minor hurdle. Carswell denounced his former statements as "obnoxious and abhorrent to my personal philosophy" and said he had lost the race in part because he was considered too liberal in spite of such declarations. His supporters said Carswell shouldn't be judged for statements he had made 22 years before the confirmation hearings.

Carswell's record showed a high rate of reversal when it came to his decisions, especially on civil rights. A study by students at the Columbia University Law School found that 58 percent of his decisions had been overturned on appeal. Among all federal jurists, Carswell had the eighth most cases reversed by appellate courts. Supporters dismissed this finding, arguing that Carswell considered civil rights cases fairly and that the reversals came about after the high courts set precedents for the speed required in integration.

Senators opposed to Carswell also questioned whether his record qualified him for the highest judicial post in the country. At the time of his nomination, he had only been on the Circuit Court for six months. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, described Carswell's judicial record as "utterly pedestrian" and said that Nixon should have recommended a nominee that could meet a standard of "singular excellence." Louis Pollack, the dean of the Yale University Law School, also dealt a blow to Carswell by describing him as having "more slender credentials than any nominee for the Supreme Court put forth this century."

Despite these shortcomings, the Judiciary Committee delivered a 13-4 decision on February 16 to send the nomination to the Senate with a recommendation that Carswell be approved. The committee's majority report concluded that his record on civil rights showed him to be even-handed. Carswell's opponents were outraged. Clarence Mitchell, director of the NAACP's office in Washington, said the decision was "a kick in the teeth of those of us who have sought to quell the fires of racism among Negroes in the United States." Senator Birch Bayh Jr., an Indiana Democrat, warned that Carswell's nomination would "encourage violent extremists." Senator George S. McGovern of South Dakota, who would go on to face Nixon as the Democratic candidate in the 1972 presidential election, said of Carswell, "I find his record to be distinguished largely by two qualities: racism and mediocrity."

The opponents had taken a strategy of delaying the nomination process to allow more thorough vetting of Carswell to take place. After the Judiciary Committee's nomination, they won some extra time due to lengthy debates over amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1970. It was enough to bring up more concerns regarding Carswell's character.

Additional racial issues surfaced. While acting as U.S. Attorney in 1956, Carswell had taken part in the transfer of a public golf club in Tallahasseewhich had received $35,000 in federal funds for its constructionto a private organization that barred black members. It was a rather transparent effort to skirt desegregation. Carswell had also signed papers incorporating a "whites only" boosters club for the Florida State University football team and sold property in 1966 with a restrictive covenant forbidding a sale to a black buyer. One paper found that in a speech to the Georgia Bar Association only two months before the nomination, Carswell had opened by saying, "I was out in the Far East a little while ago, and I ran into a dark-skinned fella. I asked him if he was from Indochina and he said, 'Naw, suh, I'se from outdo' Gawgee.'"

Carswell won significant support from his fellow judges, but it was not unanimous. Only eleven of the 15 judges on the Court of Appeals expressed their support in March. A month later, 50 of the 58 active federal district judges in the Fifth Circuit supported him. Meanwhile, thousands of lawyers and hundreds of law professors sent letters to the Senate saying they did not think Carswell was qualified for the high court. One public statement, signed by 350 practicing lawyers and law school professors, said he did "not have the legal or mental qualifications essential for service on the Supreme Court." Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg admitted that he considered Carswell unfit for the post.

Some of Carswell's supporters also blundered in their embarrassing defense of the nominee. Speaking to reporters about Carswell's record, Republican Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska sought to justify what detractors were calling a lackluster record. "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers," Hruska said. "They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't all have Brandeises and Frankfurters and Cardozos and stuff like that there."

Senator Russell Long, a Louisiana Democrat, also advocated for Carswell in a backhanded way, saying the Supreme Court already had enough "upside-down, corkscrew thinkers." He asked, "Would it not appear that it might be well to take a B or a C student who was able to think straight, compared to one of those A students who are capable of the kind of thinking that winds up getting us a 100 percent increase in crime in this country?"

When the vote went before the full Senate on April 8, Carswell proved to be more popular than Haynsworth. However, he did not get enough support for approval. The final tally was 51 against the nominee and 45 in favor; 13 Republicans had joined 38 Democrats in the opposition. For the first time since Grover Cleveland's second term, a President's Supreme Court nominees had been rebuffed by the Senate twice in a row.

Nixon again blamed the rejection on regional bias, commenting that he didn't think the Senate would approve any Constitutional constructionist from the South. Carswell and Haynsworth had both endured "vicious assaults on their honesty and their character," he said, and he would not nominate another Southerner if it would submit him to "the kind of malicious character assassination accorded to both Judges Haynsworth and Carswell."

Critics condemned the remarks as inaccurate and indicative of Nixon's own biases. Bayh said Nixon's determination to get a Southerner in the Supreme Court was "the most damning evidence of a Southern Strategy that we've had," referencing the President's appeasing the pro-segregation groups in the South to help him win the 1968 election. Some Southern senators who had voted against Carswell also disputed Nixon's accusation, saying he could have found better constructionist nominees from the South. Nixon would subsequently nominate Harry Blackmun, a Minnesota judge on the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit; he would be approved unanimously in May.

Less than two weeks after Carswell was turned down, he made a surprising decision. Though he had lifetime tenure on the Court of Appeals, he resigned on April 20 to pursue a Senate bid in the 1970 election. He had agreed to do so at the urging of Florida's Republican governor, Claude Kirk, who hoped he would take the place of retiring Democratic Senator Spessard L. Holland. Carswell said he would support Nixon's policies, agree to a withdrawal of troops from Vietnam if an "honorable settlement" could be reached, and advocate for "common sense and conservative approaches to problems of education, crime control, and fiscal matters." He also had an ax to grind with the chamber that had rejected him, saying the Senate needed "more deliberation and less ultra-liberalism."

The effort was for naught. Representative William C. Cramer defeated Carswell by a nearly two-to-one margin in the Republican primary, earning 220,553 votes to Carswell's 121,281. Cramer would ultimately lose to Lawton Chiles, the Democratic candidate whose campaign had included a lengthy hike through Florida to meet with residents across the state. Carswell resumed work as a private attorney.

Later in the 1970s, two incidents emerged suggesting that Carswell was a closeted homosexual. The first occurred in Florida in June of 1976, after vice officers staked out a men's room in a Tallahassee shopping mall following complaints from merchants that homosexual liaisons were taking place there. After meeting with a male vice officer at the mall, Carswell drove him to a wooded area north of the city. He was promptly arrested on charges of battery and attempting a lewd and lascivious act.

Carswell was briefly hospitalized for a nervous condition after the incident. He allegedly told the officers, "I'd rather be dead than in the clutches of vice officers under such circumstances. I may just kill myself tonight. This is not true. You've got it all wrong." Four months later, he pleaded no contest to the battery charge and was fined $100.

The second incident occurred in September of 1979. After meeting a man in the skating rink of an Atlanta hotel, Carswell invited him up to his room. Carswell told police that he was then attacked and struck several times with a sharp object.

Carswell continued practicing law until his death, of lung cancer, on July 13, 1992.

Sources: Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, "Floridian Picked by Nixon for Post on Supreme Court" in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal on Jan. 19 1970, "Carswell Abides by High Court Rulings" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Jan. 20 1970, "Supreme Court Nominee Carswell Rejects White Supremacy Speech" in the Observer-Reporter on Jan. 22 1970, "Judge Carswell Deeply Rooted in Old South" in the Milwaukee Journal on Jan. 25 1970, "Carswell Hearings Recessed" in the Daily News on Jan. 29 1970, "Senate Panel Ends Hearing on Carswell" in the Toledo Blade on Feb. 3 1970, "Supreme Court Position Carswell Likely to Win" in the Rome News-Tribune on Feb. 8 1970, "Senate Judiciary Panel Approves Judge Carswell" in the Rome News-Tribune on Feb. 17 1970, "Carswell's Confirmation Looks Certain" in the Rome News-Tribune on Feb. 26 1970, "Goldberg Says Carswell Unfit for High Court Justice Post" in the Observer-Reporter on Mar. 23 1970, "High Court Takes a Beating in Talk About Mediocrity" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Mar. 25 1970, "Eleven Judges Support Carswell" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Mar. 29 1970, "Fifth Circuit Judges Back Carswell" in the Toledo Blade on April 5 1970, "Court Nominee Harrold Carswell Rejected by 51-45 Senate Vote" in The Bulletin on April 8 1970, "Nixon Charges Anti-South Bias" in the St. Petersburg Times on Apr. 10 1970, "Carswell Runs 'On Own Merit'" in the Evening Independent on Apr. 25 1970, "Harrold Carswell" in the St. Petersburg Times on Sep. 3 1970, "Faubus Loses Contest; Carswell Defeated" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Sep. 9 1970, "Carswell Returns to a Life of Private Law Practice" in the Ocala Star-Banner on Dec. 30 1970, "Carswell to Face Battery Charge, State Attorney Says" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jun. 29 1976, "Carswell Arrested on Morals Charge" in the Morning Record on Jul. 1 1976, "Carswell Reports Beating" in the Tuscaloosa News on Sept. 12 1979, "G. Harrold Carswell, High Court Nominee" in The Hour on Aug. 1 1992, "G. Harrold Carswell, 72, Rejected as Nixon's Nominee to High Court" in the Seattle Times on Aug. 1 1992, Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Bush II by Henry J. Abraham, The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment that Redefined the Supreme Court by John W. Dean, Encyclopedia of the United States Congress by Robert E. Dewhirst

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bruce Bennett: chartering a disaster

Bruce Bennett and family. Source:

In a government career marked by corruption and harassment of civil rights groups, Bruce Bennett is somehow best remembered for his role in the debate over teaching evolution in schools.

The Arkansas state legislature crafted an anti-evolution law in 1928, making it unlawful for any teacher in the state's schools or colleges to include evolution in their courses. The law also banned textbooks featuring evolution and set a fine of $500 for anyone who violated the statute. Coming just three years after the fight over evolution in the Scopes Monkey Trial, backers of the bill said the legislation amounted to supporting the Bible over atheism and giving taxpayers control over what would be taught in schools. At the general election in November, voters overwhelmingly approved the measure with 108,991 in favor and 63,406 opposed.

The law was never strongly enforced, and attempts to repeal it were made in 1937 and 1959 as support for such fundamentalist measures waned. It wasn't until 1965 that the effort gained significant public attention. Susan Epperson, a high school teacher in Little Rock, became the plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the bill on the basis that evolution instruction was part of "the obligations of a responsible teacher of biology."

Bennett, the attorney general of Arkansas, was eager to take on the suit and even expressed his hope to disprove Darwin's theory during the proceedings. Maintaining the old argument that evolution promoted atheism and deprived the state's schools of choosing what they would teach, he asked, "Will our children be 'free' to choose their religion after their minds have been warped by anti-religious propaganda; or will they be forever captives of the Darwin theory, foisted upon them in their youth?"

Judge Murray O. Reed had no wish to see the state embarrassed by a Scopes-like circus more than four decades after that case. The case was scheduled to last only one day - April 1, 1966 - and the proceedings in the Pulaski County Chancery Court lasted only two-and-a-half hours. On May 27, Reed declared that the law was unconstitutional since it sought to "hinder the quest for knowledge, restrict the freedom to learn, and restrain the freedom to teach."

The ruling was subsequently overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court, then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The justices upheld Reed's ruling in a 7-2 decision, saying the Arkansas law was unconstitutional since it infringed upon the First Amendment. Justice Abe Fortas said in the majority report that the right of free speech "does not permit the state to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma" and that the law essentially gave preference to the creationist view by "seeking to blot out" the conflicting scientific theory.

The case set a precedent for the legality of other anti-evolution laws, establishing that public schools could not be forbidden from teaching Darwin's theory as a way of upholding religious doctrine. Bennett's grandstanding and loss in the lower court also contributed to the loss of his office, which in turn led to revelations that he had used his office for corrupt purposes.

Bennett was born on October 31, 1917, in Helena, Arkansas. Four years later, he moved with his family to the small city of El Dorado and completed school. He studied pre-law at El Dorado Junior College and Third District Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Southern Arkansas) in the nearby community of Magnolia.

Bennett joined the Army in 1940 and remained in the military after the United States entered the Second World War. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1942 and served 14 months in Europe before returning to the U.S. for pilot training. For the remainder of the war, he would be a commander of a B-29 in the South Pacific. Bennett flew 30 missions over Japan, coming home with the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, and Air Medal with three clusters. He resumed his studies and earned a degree from Vanderbilt Law School in 1949.

Three years later, Bennett began his political career. He was elected as a Democrat to be prosecuting attorney of the Thirteenth Judicial District in 1952 and 1954. He was elected as the state's attorney general in 1956 and re-elected in 1958.

The emerging civil rights movement would find that they had no friend in Bennett. Little Rock became the focal point of a standoff between Arkansas state officials and the federal government in September of 1957, when a federal court ordered the school district to integrate in compliance with the Supreme Court's "Brown v. Board of Education" decision. Governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering Central High School. Stymied by his failed attempts to negotiate the issue with the recalcitrant governor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and ordering the Army's 101st Airborne Division in from Kentucky to provide protection for the students and ensure order during the integration.

Bennett subsequently crafted several bills to harass civil rights activists, especially the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The measures prevented the NAACP from providing legal counsel or funding for lawsuits in the state and prohibited NAACP members from becoming state employees. With Faubus's support, Bennett also had the Arkansas NAACP's nonprofit status revoked in 1958 and banned it for nonpayment of taxes.

Six months later, Bennett went farther by accusing civil rights protesters and NAACP members of being "enemies of America" in league with an international Communist conspiracy. He ordered the organization's membership lists and personnel records to be opened for scrutinizing by state officials, then organized public hearings on the issue before the Arkansas Legislative Council's Special Education Committee. Bennett was so convinced that the civil rights movement was "riddled with Communists" that he appeared as an expert witness on the allegation in Tennessee and ran unsuccessfully as a segregationist for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1960, accusing Faubus of being a secret ally of NAACP state leader Daisy Bates despite Faubus's open resistance to desegregation.

Bennett remained popular enough that he was re-elected as attorney general in 1962 and 1964. He lost the primary to Joe Purcell in 1966, soon after his failed attempt to uphold the anti-evolution law. Ten days after taking office, Purcell set his sights on his predecessor by filing a lawsuit charging that the Arkansas Loan and Thrift had been selling securities illegally.

Bennett had helped found the AL&T in 1964, using the attorney general's office for the purpose. Along with used car dealer Ernest A. Bartlett Jr. and others, he incorporated the institute using a 1937 industrial loan charter from a defunct financial institution. The AL&T solicited investors for industrial development projects, luring people in with promises of high interest rates and deposit guarantees. In truth, the AL&T put investors' money into questionable developments while padding the accounts of the institution's officers. During his time as attorney general, Bennett held several shares in AL&T in his wife's name and collected regular legal fees from them. He also bought an inactive insurance company and sold it to the AL&T for $64,000; this organization was redubbed the Savings Guarantor Corporation and used to guarantee investors' deposits even though it was backed by no equity other than worthless AL&T stock.

The fraud crossed state lines, with Bennett and Bartlett taking a part in setting up a similar scheme in Louisiana. He made a hefty profit off the Louisiana Loan and Thrift, set up with the cooperation of Louisiana Attorney General Jack P.F. Gremillion, by borrowing $160,000 from the institution before canceling the debt by transferring his stock to another man. Between AL&T and its Louisiana twin, Bennett made some $200,000. He also used his official position to protect the AL&T from state regulation, issuing five secret opinions to state officials stating that Arkansas's securities laws didn't apply to the institution since it was operating under an old industrial loan charter rather than as a bank or savings and loan.

Purcell's suit sought to order the AL&T to stop representing itself as either a bank trust company or a savings and loan. Tom Glaze, a trial attorney in Arkansas during this time, recalls that this filing went nowhere because of a blatant conflict of interest in the Pulaski County Chancery Court. Claude Carpenter Jr., the business and law partner of the court's Chancellor Kay Matthews, enjoyed insider dealings with AL&T. The institute's founder, Ernest A. Bartlett Jr., even visited Carpenter soon after the filing and paid him a $23,000 retainer. Carpenter, who would be named a co-conspirator in the case, denied doing anything with the money other than fly to Las Vegas with Bartlett to gamble and chat with him about Arkansas Razorbacks football.

The cozy relationship stalled the matter for several months, with Matthews granting plenty of extensions. The delay finally prompted state officials to go over the court's head. Governor Winthrop Rockefeller had become the first Republican elected to the office since 1872 with his victory in 1966; his securities commissioner, Don Smith, appealed for help from the Securities and Exchange Commission. On March 13, 1968, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Miller ordered AL&T to be shut down and placed into receivership.

More than 2,000 people and two churches had invested over $4 million in AL&T. The investors would only recoup about one-quarter of what they had put into the fraudulent institution when its assets were liquidated. In one amusing exchange, a representative from the Booneville Lutheran Mission asked that the churches be the first to receive any recovered assets so they would be able to replenish their building accounts; the man explained, "This is not the people's money, this is God's money." In denying the request, Miller replied, "God should have looked after it a little better then." The AL&T was denounced as the "Arkansas Loan & Theft."

Bennett insisted that his only connection to the AL&T was that his wife briefly owned some shares in the institution. He was confident enough in his own chances of acquittal that he ran once again for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1968, although he finished a distant fourth. The investigation of the AL&T records soon uncovered his close connection with the institution, including the secret opinions on regulation of the AL&T.

In 1969, Bennett was indicted on 28 counts of securities violations, mail fraud, and wire fraud. Three other officers - Bartlett and brothers Afton and Hoyce Borum - were charged with the same crimes. Several other people, including Carpenter and some members of the Arkansas General Assembly, were named as unindicted co-conspirators.

Bennett was able to escape punishment because of his poor health, namely throat cancer. Bartlett would be convicted of some of the charges against him and receive a sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The Borum brothers would also be convicted, but receive shorter sentences. The charges against Bennett were dismissed on May 20, 1977, due to his ongoing health issues as well as difficulties in finding witnesses to testify against him. "I'd like to thank my friends and attorneys for their continued faith in me," he said after the court's decision.

Bennett died two years later on August 26, 1979.  

Sources: The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, Civil Rights Digital Library, National Parks Service, "Arkansas Battles to Save Ban on Darwin's Theory" in the Ellensburg Daily Record on Aug. 16 1966, Chronology of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy by Sehoya Cotner and Mark Decker and Randy Moore, Fulbright: A Biography by Randall Bennett Woods, The Arkansas Rockefeller by John L. Ward, Waiting for the Cemetery Vote: The Fight to Stop Election Fraud in Arkansas by Tom Glaze

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Oakes Ames: digging himself a hole


In his support of the transcontinental railroad, Oakes Ames also became one of the most significant figures in the Credit Mobilier financing scheme. Though he was perhaps the most helpful witness in implicating other legislators who were involved in the shady deals for the railroad, he was also one of the very few people punished for his actions.

Ames was born in Easton, Massachusetts, on January 10, 1804. He attended the public schools as well as Dighton Academy, but left at the age of 16 to begin working in his father's business, Ames & Sons. He and his brother Oliver would be the third generation of the Ames family to be involved in manufacturing shovels in North Easton, and they couldn't have entered at a more fortuitous time. Oakes and Oliver worked their way up to the head of the company in 1844, shortly before the demand for shovels went through the roof. The company supplied shovels to miners during the California gold rush and also provided them to people involved in agricultural development in the Mississippi Valley and another gold rush in Australia. The self-made fortune Ames earned from these sales got him the nickname "King of Spades."

Ames first became involved in railroads around 1855, when he joined in land speculation in Iowa. He became the principal stockholder and director of the Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska Railroad the next year. Ames also bought an interest in the Lackawanna Steel Corporation, knowing they would be primarily involved in the production on rails.

A founder of the Massachusetts Republican Party, Ames also joined the executive council of Massachusetts in 1860. Two years later, he was elected to the House of Representatives. That was the same year he became an early investor in the transcontinental railroad, loaning $200,000 to Central Pacific lobbyist Collis Huntington for that purpose. Ames also served on the committee that passed an amended Pacific Railroad bill in 1864. He became so closely associated with the railroad that a town in Iowa was named for him. Ames also recalled that President Abraham Lincoln told him early in 1865, "Ames, you take hold of this. The road must be built, and you are the man to do it. Take hold of it yourself. By building the Union Pacific, you will be the remembered man of your generation."

To secure funding for the transcontinental railroad, Oakes and Oliver joined with Union Pacific executive Thomas C. Durant to establish the Credit Mobilier. Taking its name from a defunct French firm, the Credit Mobilier would be used to generate support for the project in Congress and build the Union Pacific. Oliver was named president of that railroad in 1866.

The Credit Mobilier soon offered its founders an easy way to defraud the government. Durant arranged to have Herbert M. Moxie make the only construction bid for work on the Union Pacific. Since the government bonds were awarded to the Credit Mobilier, the firm was essentially paying itself for the work and subcontracting the actual labor out to builders. The estimates for the cost of the railroad were inflated, and the planned route out of Omaha was given several unnecessary twists and turns to increase profits.

The scheme nearly fell apart in a power struggle between Durant and the Ames brothers after the latter were able to oust Durant from the presidency of the Credit Mobilier board and replace him with Oliver. The board split into two factions, with construction on the railroad continuing at no profit. In October of 1867, Durant was readmitted as president and a revised construction contract brought in retroactive payments to the board.

The booming Credit Mobilier stock soon became popular among the legislators in Congress. "We want more friends in this Congress, and if a man will look into the law (and it is difficult to get them to do it unless they have an interest to do so) he cannot help being convinced that we should not be interfered with," Ames declared. He began distributing Credit Mobilier in blocks of 20 or more, usually keeping them in his own name for the sake of simplification. Union Pacific rounds also began making the rounds. It was a useful way to secure favorable legislation and derail any investigations into shady dealings with the railroad.

In the winter of 1866, Ames received 373 shares of Credit Mobilier stock and distributed 160 of them to nine members of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate. Another 30 went to a a private party. It's unclear what happened to the remaining 183 shares. Ames may have kept it for himself, or he may have given it to other legislators. The latter option seems less likely, as Ames kept a record of his transactions in a ledger.

The Credit Mobilier dealings came under more scrutiny in the 1872 election season when a lawsuit against the firm led to the revelation of a partial list of stock gifts. The list included a number of major political figures including Vice President Schuyler Colfax, vice presidential candidate Henry Wilson, Speaker of the House James G. Blaine, and future president James Garfield. The opposition press made much of the accusations. Charles Francis Adams Jr. wrote the initial expose on the affair in an article for the New York Sun, dubbing the Credit Mobilier "The Pacific Railroad Ring." The article, published on September 4, included a list of 13 congressmen accused of taking stocks. Despite the scandal, President Ulysses S. Grant, the Republican candidate, was easily re-elected. It did lead Congress to form an investigative committee (led by Rep. Luke Poland, a Republican from Vermont) in December of 1872.

Ames told the committee that the transactions involving the Credit Mobilier stock were "influenced by the same motive: to aid the credit of the road." He didn't consider the activity to be illegal, saying the shares were sold in a "strictly honest and honorable way." Some of the legislators had even returned the stock soon after. However, members of Congress backed away from Ames' testimony, considering that he had readily admitted that he had sold them a lucrative stock at an insider's price in order to guarantee favorable legislation for the railroad.

Shunned by the other accused members in the case, Ames produced his ledger and began naming people who had received the stock. One friend of Ames wrote, "Ames had been bullied and badgered till his patience and good nature were exhausted. Sorrow and determination were written in every line in his strong face. He looked broken." Ames' ledger cleared Blaine and Wilson, but implicated everyone else who had been named. Most of the legislators had sold the stock quickly, realizing minor gains. Rep. James Brooks, a Democrat from New York, had held onto his stock longer and made a considerable profit.

By the time the Poland Committee completed its work, Ames was already running down his days in Congress; he had chosen not to run for re-election in 1872. But when the committee made its recommendations for punishment, it asked for Ames and Brooks to be expelled from the House of Representatives.

On February 27, 1873, the House of Representatives voted 115-110 to accept Republican Representative Aaron Sargent's suggestion that Ames and Brooks be censured for "seeking to secure congressional attention to the affairs of a corporation in which he was interested, and whose interested directly depended upon the legislation of Congress, by inducing members of Congress to invest in the stocks of said corporation." The recommendation passed 181-36 in the case of Ames and 174-32 in the case of Brooks. There was some talk of keeping the Poland Committee in place to investigate the other members who had been named, but these efforts faded out and none of the other members named in the Credit Mobilier scandal was punished.

Ames died only a few months after receiving this punishment. He passed away in North Easton, Massachusetts, on May 8, 1873.

There was still plenty of sympathy for the late congressman. In 1883, the state legislature of Massachusetts passed resolutions of gratitude for his work and expressed its faith in his personal integrity. It asked the United States Congress to extend a similar recognition to Ames, but this appeal apparently fell on deaf ears. Both Oakes and Oliver are also memorialized on a curious granite pyramid in Wyoming. Once set alongside the high point of the Union Pacific railroad, the rerouting of the line over the years has left the monument isolated in a remote prairie near Laramie.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Oakes Ames biography on American Experience, "The Credit Mobilier Scandal" on American Experience, "The Credit Mobilier Scandal" on the Historical Highlights section of the House of Representatives website, Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad by David Haward Bain, The Complete History of Railroads: Trade, Transport, and Expansion edited by Robert Curley, Business Scandals, Corruption, and Reform: An Encyclopedia by Gary Giroux

Friday, May 16, 2014

Richard W. Leche: keep on trucking


When the political machine overseen by Huey P. Long was left leaderless after Long's assassination, Richard Webster Leche was selected to take the reins. Leche's time as governor of Louisiana would essentially mark the beginning of the end of the Long machine's power, as he retreated from some positions held by the late "Kingfish." Leche himself would be be best known for making good on a statement he made after his inauguration: "When I took the oath of office, I didn't take any vow of poverty."

Born in New Orleans on May 15, 1898, Leche attended the local schools before starting studies at Tulane University. The entry of the United States into World War I interrupted his education, as Leche volunteered for the Army. He fell ill in the outbreak of Spanish influenza and never saw active combat, but still managed to serve two years in the military and leave as a second lieutenant in the infantry. After some time as an auto parts salesman in Chicago, Leche returned to school and earned an LL.B from Loyola University in 1923. He began practicing law soon after.

Leche's first bid for public office came in 1928, when he ran as a Democrat for the Louisiana state senate. Though he was unsuccessful, the experience did bring Leche into the fold of Long's machine as it successfully sent the Kingfish into the governor's office. Two years later, when Long ran for Senate, Long managed his campaign as well as that of congressional candidate of Paul H. Maloney. Both men were elected.

Long refused to relinquish the governor's title even after his election to the Senate, continuing his state duties until January of 1932. When he left the state title, it kicked off a procession of short-lived governors. Though Lieutenant Governor Paul N. Cyr was in line to take Long's place, Long managed to maneuver state senate president Alvin O. King into the office. King served for only a matter of months before he was replaced by Oscar K. Allen, a former state senator.

Leche served as King's private secretary and legal adviser between 1932 and 1934. He left the position when he was appointed to the Louisiana Court of Appeals, Parish of Orleans. Leche may have happily left politics behind in favor of a judicial career but for an unexpected event in September of 1935. Long, nearing the end of his first Senate term, had recently announced that he would run for President. When visiting the state capitol in Baton Rouge, he was fatally shot by an assassin. Without the Kingfish, there was a vacuum at the top of the Long machine.

Leche was chosen to fill this void. With Allen's death in January of 1936, Lieutenant Governor James A. Noe reluctantly held the governor's office for the remainder of the term. Leche easily won the Democratic nomination, earning three times the number of votes as the anti-Long candidate. He ran unopposed in the general election in April and was sworn into office in May, becoming the first governor to have access to the significant executive powers the legislature bestowed upon the office after Long's death.

During his term, Leche kept up some of Long's initiatives to improve state infrastructure but also worked to improve Louisiana's relations with the federal government through stronger support of New Deal programs. He oversaw improvements to roads, bridges, and schools as well as the construction of new hospitals. Leche's term included the establishment of a department of commerce and industry, the passing of a state conservation bill, and the organization of a state mineral board. Leche also took some steps that Long had strongly opposed, including a 10-year tax exemption for new businesses and a one percent sales tax to support welfare programs.

Leche may have sought to abandon his role as governor before the completion of his term, as he had his eye on one of two new federal district court judge's positions created in Louisiana in 1938. By this time, however, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into possible financial wrongdoing and improper relations among state departments in Louisiana. Leche made only $7,500 a year as governor, but he had managed to purchase a yacht, country estate, and private hunting reserve during his short  time in office. Leche had also made the questionable decision to fund a lavish, air-conditioned cage for the Louisiana State University tiger mascot as the state's residents suffered the hardships of the Great Depression.

The Times-Picayune and its afternoon paper, States, joined in the offensive against state corruption. Articles exposed misdeeds among state officials, including a practice among Long stalwarts to force supporters in the state government to deduct from their salaries to support political causes. The coverage did not gain much traction until an article in 1939 which included a photo of an LSU truck delivering windows to a house construction site of Leche's close friends, James and Catherine McLachlan.

Leche resigned later in the month, citing poor health. He was succeeded by Earl K. Long, Huey Long's younger brother. The resignation came just as the widespread state corruption was exposed in a torrent of criminal charges that came to be known as the Louisiana Scandals. Some 250 people were indicted. Several Long supporters committed suicide, and LSU president James Monroe Smith fled to Canada in an unsuccessful effort to avoid punishment. Prosecutors estimated that about $100 million had been swindled from the state in the course of the scandals. The revelation of this corruption also allowed the anti-Long faction to break the machine's extended hold on the governor's office; though Earl K. Long would return for two non-consecutive terms in the late 1940s and 1950s, anti-Long Democrat Sam H. Jones defeated him in the 1940 gubernatorial election.

Leche was indicted later in 1939 and accused of complicity in a number of schemes. One charged that he conspired with businessmen Freeman Burford and Seymour Weiss to step up oil production and pipe the excess into Texas in violation of interstate commerce law, netting a $67,000 profit by dodging oil regulations. Leche was also accused of misusing money intended for LSU and using money from the Works Progress Administration, a federal program of the New Deal, to build his house. Another scheme involved the sale of 233 trucks to the State Highway Commission at inflated prices between 1937 and 1938; prosecutors charged that Leche's political allies had managed the sales and defrauded the state of $111,370, with the governor receiving $31,000 in kickbacks for his role.

Leche admitted to making money on the oil deal, paying only $10,000 for a house worth $75,000, and netting an income of $450,000 while in office. However, he argued that he had made this money through legal means. He said he had made a profit from oil and gas commissions as well as the sale of a Long-friendly newspaper called American Progress.

Though a jury acquitted Leche on bribery charges, he was convicted of mail fraud related to the truck scheme in June of 1940. Sentenced to 10 years in prison and disbarment, he began serving his jail time in December of 1941. Released on parole in 1945, Leche turned to agriculture and began running the Bayou Gardens, a nursery that still exists today. President Harry Truman, shortly before leaving office in January of 1953, granted Leche a pardon.

The presidential action allowed Leche to be readmitted to the bar, and he resumed his legal practice. He also began serving as a construction lobbyist in the 1960s. Leche died on February 22, 1965.

Sources: National Governors Association, Louisiana Secretary of State, The Encyclopedia of Louisiana, "Federal Jury Indicts Leche of Louisiana" in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 7 1939, "Leche in Penitentiary" in the Times Daily on Dec. 31 1941, "1939: Political Scandals Capture New Orleans Headlines" in the Times-Picayune on Nov. 12 2011, Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power, and Greed by Mark Grossman, The Governors of Louisiana by Miriam G. Reeves, Louisiana Governors: Rulers, Rascals, and Reformers by Walter Greaves-Cowan and Jack B. McGuire, I Called Him Grand Dad by Thomas T. Fields Jr.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Charles Christopher Sheats: wearing the Union label

When several southern states broke off from the United States after President Abraham Lincoln's election, the support for forming a new nation in the South was far from uniform. Charles Christopher Sheats, one of the most prominent "scalawags" of the Civil War, would never lend his support to secession. His stance made him an enemy of the Confederacy, but ensured him a political future when the Union triumphed in the conflict.

Sheats was born in Walker County, Alabama, on April 10, 1839. He was raised on a farm and attended the public schools, thought he spent time at Somerville Academy in Morgan County. At the age of 18, he became a local schoolteacher.

The secession crisis erupted just a few years into Sheats' teaching career. Winston County was a poor region, with most residents working subsistence agriculture. Few people were wealthy enough to own slaves, and the idea of breaking away from the United States proved unpalatable. When the state held a secession convention in 1860, Sheats easily defeated pro-secession planter Andrew Kaieser in a 515 to 128 vote.

The first vote at a convention in Montgomery was 53-46 against immediate secession. Sheats sided with the "cooperationists," who argued that secession shouldn't take place without giving Lincoln's policies a try and that it should only occur if approved at a popular vote. But increasing tensions and the secession of more states prompted Alabama to take another vote. On January 11, 1861, the convention voted 61-39 in favor of secession. Sheats not only opposed secession on the second vote, but refused to sign the ordinance of secession adopted at the convention.

Sheats would soon grow bolder, leading the opposition to the Confederacy in Winston County. After the CSA went to war with the Union, an anti-secessionist rally was held at Looney's Tavern. The date given for the rally was the symbolic day of July 4, 1861, though other scholars suggest the meeting may have been held as late as the early months of 1862. Sheats was the lead speaker at this rally, which ultimately passed three resolutions. One praised Sheats for his actions at the secession convention. Another denied that a state had the ability to secede, but proclaimed that a county could break away from its state if secession was recognized. The last resolution declared Winston County to be neutral in the conflict. The claims, particularly the second one, earned the region the nickname "Free State of Winston County," although it never formally seceded from Alabama.

Winston County was not without its pro-Confederate residents, who angrily called for Unionists like Sheats to be jailed. But Sheats remained a popular figure, and in 1861 he was elected to the Alabama state house of representatives. He never attended a session. Since representatives had to sign an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy to serve, Sheats opted to stay at home rather than pledge support for the secessionist government.

In 1862, amid increasing concerns that his Unionist statements would lead to his arrest, Sheats fled to the mountains of Morgan County in northern Alabama. This was a common refuge for Unionists who were seeking to avoid conscription into the Confederate military. Soon after Sheats arrived, Colonel Abel Streight led a contingent of Union soldiers into the area. Streight knew about the Unionist sentiment among the refugees, and he was looking for men who would fight for the Union.

Sheats was eager to help, encouraging others to join the Union Army. In one stirring speech, he declared, "Tomorrow morning I am going to the Union Army. I am going to expose this fiendish villainy before the world." He vowed to fight CSA "to hell and back" and said he would "stay here no longer till I am enabled to dwell in quiet at home."

A bad leg would prevent Sheats from ever joining the Union military, but he helped to get at least 150 men to go north. Then, in the autumn, Confederate troops arrested Sheats on the order of Governor John G. Shorter. Shorter accused Sheats of "having communications with the enemy, giving them aid and comfort, and inducing citizens of this state to enlist as soldiers in the army of the United States." The arrest prompted the legislature to expel Sheats in a 69-4 vote, but Winston County remained Unionist. Their choice to succeed Sheats was Zachariah White, a man who had also made pro-Union speeches, helped people join Union army, and proclaimed that he would have fought for the Union if he was younger.

Indicted on a charge of treason, Sheats was unable to get a trial and was transferred to prison in Salisbury, North Carolina. He was later returned to the Madison County jail before his release. However, he was again arrested in the middle of 1863 for his active role in the Peace Society, an organization urging Alabama to surrender to the Union. This time, Sheats would stay in jail until the Confederacy's surrender.

Sheats' consistent opposition to the Confederacy would save his political future. Having never sworn allegiance to the CSA, he was never subject to the postwar restrictions on holding office. He was an unsuccessful candidate, among four other Unionists, for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1864. A year later, he was elected to the Alabama constitutional convention. He turned his focus from education to the law, and was admitted to the bar in 1867 before starting a practice in Decatur.

Sheats was also a Republican elector in 1868 and 1872, the years Ulysses S. Grant ran for President. Grant rewarded him after his 1868 election by appointing him to be consul at Elsinore, Denmark, on May 31, 1869. Sheats remained in this role until 1872, when he was elected to the House. He served one term before he was defeated in the 1874 election.

Sheats was appointed appraiser of merchandise for the port of Mobile, and also served as the state's assistant collector of internal revenue. He held a few other minor offices and maintained a farm in his later years. He died in Decatur on May 27, 1904.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Encyclopedia of Alabama, Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Alabama in the Civil War by Ben H. Severance, Congressional Directory of the Forty-Third Congress by Ben Perley Poore, Northern Alabama: Historical and Biographical, Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. and the South's Fight over Civil Rights by Jack Bass

Sunday, February 16, 2014

William Augustus Barstow: three governor monte

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Though elections throughout United States are usually filled with close votes, a gubernatorial contest in Wisconsin is a strong contender for one of the strangest and most controversial in the country's history. In the course of three months, the state had three governors - including two who both claimed the office at the same time.

William Augustus Barstow's route to the capitol began in Connecticut. He was born in the rural town of Plainfield on September 13, 1813. His childhood alternated between schooling in the winter and farm work in the summer. Barstown ended his studies at the age of 16, when he went to work as a clerk for his brother's store in Norwich. Five years later, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to join another brother in a flour milling and forwarding business. When the enterprise failed in the depression of the late 1830s, Barstow moved to Prairieville, Wisconsin. He remained in the flour business, partnering with John Gale to run a mill. Barstow would also become involved in railroad investment, becoming one of the first directors of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad and working to secure the route's charter.

Once in the Badger State, Barstow also kicked off his political career. He took on roles in Prairieville's local government, serving as the town's highway commissioner and postmaster. He was also a member of the Milwaukee Country Board, and in 1846 he took an active role in the movement to separate Waukesha from Milwaukee County. In 1849, he was elected as the Wisconsin secretary of state on the Whig ticket. While in office, allegations of corruption were leveled against him. Barstow was accused of selling land tracts to speculators while serving on the Public Lands Commission, ignoring the requirement that potential buyers had to submit a bid first. He was also suspected of awarding state printing contracts to his friends while on the State Printing Commission. Barstow was never formally charged with a crime, but the suspicions contributed to his failure to win re-election in 1851.

In the ensuing years, Barstow switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party. It was a rocky transition, as he feuded with Milwaukee postmaster and party boss Josiah Noonan. In 1852, Noonan had Barstow arrested to compel payment of a $300 loan. Barstow retaliated after the election by trying to get President Franklin Pierce to remove Noonan from his office. When this effort proved unsuccessful, Barstow led an impeachment effort against Noonan's political ally, circuit court judge Levi Hubbell.

Despite this intra-party tension, Barstow still managed to secure the Democratic nomination for the 1853 gubernatorial race. He handily defeated the Whig and Free Soil candidates in the general election, becoming Wisconsin's third governor. While in office, Barstow fought efforts by Know-Nothings to deny citizenship to foreign-born residents. He also refused to support prohibition, vetoing a bill by the state legislature to ban alcohol sales.

But like his time as secretary of state, Barstow was soon plagued by corruption allegations including the bribing of lobbyists and misuse of funds. He was again accused of malfeasance in securing land grants and printing contracts. The governor joined eight legislators and the secretary of state, A.T. Gray, in the formation of the St. Croix and Lake Superior Railroad Company. Soon, there were suggestions that Barstow had used bribes to facilitate the exchanges between this company and the Milwaukee Railroad Company. Barstow also threatened to veto any legislation seeking to investigate the handling of land grants by the Fox-Wisconsin River Improvement Company, in which he owned stock. The state treasurer's account showed a mysterious loss of $40,000.

One Madison printer gave Barstow's enemies a catchphrase when a letter he wrote went public. The printer was keen on securing a state printing grant, even if he had to "buy up Barstow and the balance." Barstow was thought to be cozy with lobbyists and conspiring officials in corrupt deals, and "Barstow and the balance" soon became their nickname among the opposition parties. The group was also referred to as "the forty thieves," operating out of a headquarters known as "Monk's Hall."

Once again, Barstow escaped any formal charges but was weighed down heavily by the corruption accusations when his re-election bid came up in 1855. His main opponent was Coles Bashford, running on the newly formed Republican Party's ticket. Bashford's campaign eagerly sought to capitalize on Barstow's suspected corruption, portraying the GOP candidate as a reformer. But when the votes were tallied, Barstow had retained his office by the narrowest of margins. Out of 72,598 ballots, the governor had won re-election by 157 votes.

The Republicans did not believe the results for a minute. The State Board of Canvassers, charged with counting the votes and determining the winners, was controlled by the Democrats. At his inauguration in January of 1856, Barstow staged an ostentatious claim to the office. He packed the state senate with about 2,000 supporters, brought seven militia companies to secure the state capitol, and had the canvassers read a statement supporting the election results. He was sworn in by a state supreme court justice.

On the same day, Bashford staged his own quiet inauguration ceremony at the state supreme court. Taking along his own supporting militia units, he took the oath of office from the court's chief justice. Wisconsin now technically had two governors.

Three days later, Bashford demanded Barstow's resignation. Barstow refused, his reply implying that he wouldn't be above using armed force if anyone attempted to oust him from office. He also argued that the state supreme court did not have jurisdiction in the matter since it was a political issue. The court replied that it was within its duties to resolve legal issues, even those involving the executive branch. The justices launched their own investigation to determine whether there were any irregularities.

On March 20, the inquiry concluded that the canvassers had doctored the ballots enough to sway the result. One town of only 200 people had recorded 612 votes. Northern townships where no one lived had somehow sent in votes to be tabulated. Several Barstow votes from outlying districts were written on paper that was only available in the state capitol. In some areas where the populace leaned toward Bashford, the polls were never opened or votes were left uncounted. The court ruled that Bashford was the rightful winner and that Barstow should be ousted from office; it was the first such court decision on an election in the United States.

The drama was not quite over. Rather than hand over the office to his rival, Barstow resigned the day after the court's decision. This action turned the governorship over to Arthur McArthur. McArthur, the grandfather of World War II general Douglas McArthur, became the shortest serving Wisconsin governor by spending only four days in office. The state was still sharply divided enough that one of McArthur's few actions while governor was an order to remove the arms and ammunition stored at the capitol building to avoid any violence.

The impasse finally ended when Bashford, tired of waiting for McArthur to cede the title to him, entered the governor's office with a group of burly supporters. His attorney, Timothy O. Howe, advised him to hang up his coat and begin his duties. Howe advised Bashford not to "lay violent hands on so distinguished a man as Governor McArthur," but the show of intimidation was enough to concern McArthur. When he asked if Bashford would use force to compel his exit, Bashford replied, "I presume no force will be necessary, but in case any be needed, there will be no hesitation whatever, with the sheriff's help, in applying it." McArthur quickly left the capitol to the jeers and taunts of Bashford's supporters. Bashford took the formal oath of office on March 27.

Any hope that Bashford's term would be cleaner than Barstow's was soon disappointed. Bashford was also accused of corruption while in office, including the mishandling of land grants and evidence that he accepted a $50,000 bribe. But like Barstow, he was able to serve out his term without facing criminal charges.

Barstow, meanwhile, moved to Janesville to set up a bank before returning to the milling business. He remained there until 1861, when he committed to the Union cause of the Civil War. He mustered the Third Wisconsin Cavalry and became a colonel in the regiment. He was made a provost marshal-general upon their arrival in Kansas in June of 1862. The regiment was active in fighting Confederate raids from the Indian Territory and also participated in the Battle of Honey Springs, which helped break Confederate strength in the region.

Barstow did not see action in this fight, since poor health forced him to leave the field in February of 1863. He served on a court-martial board in St. Louis and was discharged in March of 1865, brevetted as a brigadier general of volunteers. He had less than a year to live at this point, settling down in Leavenworth, Kansas, before his death on December 14, 1865.

Sources: National Governors Association, The Wisconsin Historical Society, House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, "It'll Be Hard to Top Past Inaugurations" in the Milwaukee Journal on Jan. 1 1961, "Governors Add Up to Two Totals" in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Nov. 28 1986, "3 Governors Held Office Within Weeks" in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Dec. 10 1998, The Military History of Wisconsin by Wisconsin Biographical Directory edited by Caryn Hannan, State of Wisconsin Blue Book, 1993-1994, Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power, and Greed by Mark Grossman, The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals & Dirty Politics by Kim Long, The Wisconsin State Constitution by Jack Stark, Political Abolitionism in Wisconsin, 1840-1861 by Michael J. McManus, Forgotten Tales of Wisconsin by Martin Hintz

Monday, January 27, 2014

Earl L. Butz: just plane stupid joke


Earl Lauer Butz was not one to soften his abrasive speech when discussing the issues facing the Department of Agriculture. He brushed off criticism, hitting back at his foes with with disparaging put-downs or jokes. When women across the country organized protests and boycotts in response to a sudden spike in food prices, Butz commented that if they did not have “such a low level of economic intelligence,” they would understand that prices had gone up across the board and that “you can’t get more by paying less.” He was more abrupt on another occasion, saying the boycotts were a result of "stupid women and crazed housewives."

Butz's remarks did not get him in trouble until November of 1974. Pope Paul VI had expressed his opposition to the use of artificial birth control as a way of controlling population growth and helping to alleviate hunger. At a press conference, Butz responded to the papal position in part by putting on a faux Italian accent and saying, "He no play-a the game, he no make-a the rules." Realizing that he had gone too far, Butz quickly asked the reporters to consider the joke off the record. But since this request has to be made before a statement to be honored, the wisecrack was fair game for the morning papers.

Catholics and Italians were enraged that a Cabinet official would make such a mockery of the Pope. The Archdiocese of New York led a campaign demanding Butz's resignation unless he apologized for the "crude, pointed insult directed at Pope John Paul VI, spiritual leader of the world's Catholics." The outcry was enough for President Gerald Ford to call for a meeting with Butz to ascertain what had happened. He subsequently rebuked the Secretary of Agriculture and ordered him to make a formal apology.

The apology was enough to settle the matter. But two years later, the public would be reminded of Butz's propensity for crude humor when he made a joke so appalling that it ended his government career.

Butz was born near Albion, Indiana on July 3, 1909. He grew up working on the family farm before attending Purdue University, graduating in 1932. He returned to the farm for another year of work, then became a research fellow with the Federal Land Bank in Louisville, Kentucky. He went back to his studies soon after, earning Purdue's first doctorate in agricultural economics in 1937.

Most of Butz's life would be centered around the university. He joined Purdue's faculty and became the head of the agricultural economics department from 1946 to 1954. He left the school for three years to serve as assistant secretary of agriculture under President Dwight Eisenhower. He again returned to Purdue in 1957 to become the dean of the College of Agriculture, remaining there for another 10 years. Butz tried to make a return to politics in 1968 by seeking the Republican nomination for governor of Indiana, but was unsuccessful. Instead, he remained at Purdue as the dean of continuing education as well as the vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation.

Butz was already a controversial choice for a Cabinet post when President Richard Nixon nominated him to replace Clifford Hardin as Secretary of Agriculture, but it was not due to his off-color wit. Rather, a number of senators were disturbed by his unabashed connections to large agribusiness concerns. Butz served on the boards of a number of these corporations, and when it came to smaller farms his philosophy was that they needed to grow and adapt if they wanted to remain relevant. "The family farm must be preserved but I do not want to lock it in concrete," he said during the confirmation hearings in the Senate. "If the family farm I grew up on had not adjusted we would be shucking corn by hand and we would be knocking potato bugs off potatoes with a wooden handle...The family farm has to adjust. It has to produce more in the days ahead to survive." The concerns about Butz's business philosophy, as well as his opposition to the free school lunch program and his call for cuts to food stamp aid, made for a divisive decision. Voting mostly along party lines, with Democrats and a handful of farm state Republicans opposed, the Senate was 51-44 in favor of Butz becoming the new Secretary of Agriculture.

Butz immediately pushed for a new approach to agriculture, putting a heavy focus on exports. He encouraged farmers to boost their production, increasing the size of their crops so the surplus could be sold overseas. Meanwhile, government subsidies to farmers would be sharply reduced. The system revamped the New Deal farm policies of price supports, government grain purchases, and letting some land lie fallow to avoid soil erosion; now the government would make direct payments to farmers based on a set price for a product. Both the New Deal and Butz models sought to get farmers a fair price for their crop in a bad year. With the Butz model, farmers were encouraged to grow as much as possible and sell at any price, since the government would make up the difference if their sale price was less than the government's benchmark.

Butz was trying to strike a delicate balance. The surplus sales would allow farm income to increase, while the cost of government subsidies would decrease and food prices would remain stable. But the combination of excess crops and reduced price supports could also harm farmers during surplus years, while heavy exports could lead to increased food prices and food shortages. A $30 million grain shipment to the Soviet Union in 1972 was the first major export, and it led directly to the spike in prices, food shortages, and subsequent protests and boycotts.

The policy was successful in its other goals, however. Farm income increased 20 percent between 1970 and 1976, while government subsidies fell from $3.7 billion to $500 million in the same period. Butz's supporters argued that the rising tide lifted all boats, helping to increase agricultural profitability overall. Food exports continued, including a 16.5 million ton grain shipment to the Soviet Union in 1975 and another one of 2.2 million tons in 1976.

But the ripple effect was also apparent in less savory ways as well. Poultry farmers were hit hard, as grain producers were able to corner the market on feed. Some were forced into contracts with food processors, having to ramp up production for little or no payout. Other poultry farmers were so desperate to keep feed prices manageable that they slaughtered any chicks they wouldn't be able to raise. More recent critics have suggested that Butz's policies inhibited agricultural progress in developing countries and helped increase obesity rates in the United States.

The fears that Butz would give preference to large agribusinesses while taking an "adapt or die" philosophy toward smaller farms were well-founded. Large grain exporters were allowed to buy up surpluses at bargain prices while further benefiting from subsidies. Officials from the Department of Agriculture often found high-level positions in agribusiness after they left government service. Susan Demarco, a founder of the Agribusiness Accountability Project, declared, "Secretary Butz is not a friend of family farmers; he is their funeral director." Carol Foreman, director of the Consumer Federation of America, said Butz was "a spokesman for the big corporate farmers, for the food processors, and for the grocery people. He's not on the side of farmers or consumers. He's on the side of people who buy from farmers and sell to consumers."

Butz brushed aside such allegations, saying that they were politically motivated. He defended his policies, saying that smaller farmers were less efficient. Stopping the exports and deferring more to small producers, he argued, would lead to less food production and higher government subsidies, while shortages and increased food prices would continue. Butz also criticized agricultural unions of being selfish, and he was unsympathetic to concerns about the use of pesticides and chemicals to increase crop yields. “Before we go back to organic agriculture, somebody is going to have to decide what 50 million people we are going to let starve," he said.

Ford retained Butz following Nixon's resignation, but there were rumors that he was not long for the post. In 1975, it was suggested that Ford considered Butz to be too much of a liability for his 1976 election chances and that he planned to appoint a new Secretary of Agriculture before then. In fact, Butz had sought to leave the post for personal reasons the year before, but Ford convinced him to stay on. When Jimmy Carter became the Democratic nominee for President in 1976, he made it clear that he would not keep Butz in the Cabinet if he was elected.

In August of 1976, Butz was flying back to Washington from the Republican National Convention with singers Pat Boone and Sonny Bono as well as John W. Dean III, who had served as White House Counsel under Nixon and testified as a key witness for the prosecution in the Watergate scandal. Dean had recently finished a prison term for his role in Watergate and had been hired by Rolling Stone magazine to cover the convention. Boone asked Butz how the GOP could attract more black voters.

Butz replied, "The only thing the coloreds are looking for in life are tight pussy, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit."

The comment made it into the Rolling Stone article penned by Dean, though it was attributed only to a Cabinet official. New Times magazine investigated further, analyzing the itineraries of Cabinet members and naming Butz as the offending party. The comment was lewd enough that most newspapers could only paraphrase it. But once members of both major political parties learned of the statement, they began to call for Butz to resign or for Ford to fire him. Ford again gave Butz a "severe reprimand" for "highly offensive" rhetoric, and Butz again issued a public apology.

This time, the controversy didn't go away. The Carter campaign criticized Ford for a lack of leadership, saying he too easily forgave officials for their misconduct and that Butz's remarks were offensive enough that he should have been fired. The public had not forgotten Ford's hasty pardon of Nixon in the wake of Watergate; the Butz incident, Carter's campaign charged, was just another attempt at whitewashing. This time, it seemed that Ford was hoping the scandal would evaporate so that Butz could stay in the Cabinet and help direct more of the farm vote to Ford.

With the pressure continuing to mount shortly before the election, Butz announced that he would resign. He said “the use of a bad racial commentary in no way reflects my real attitude,” and hoped that the action would remove any suspicions that Ford or his administration were racist. But Butz was not entirely contrite. He complained that he had been repeating an old joke, and that the remark was taken out of context. "This is the price I pay for a gross indiscretion in a private conversation," he griped. Butz also said he would continue to advocate for Ford during his campaign unless the President asked him not to. Ford accepted the resignation, saying it was "one of the saddest decisions of my presidency." John A. Knebel, the undersecretary of agriculture, took over the position.

Opinions differed on whether the comments truly reflected Butz's beliefs. Sympathizers suggested that no one was likely to come out unscathed if all their private conversations were made public; Butz was simply a victim of a bad joke that became publicized, they argued. Critics said Butz's offensive comments had enough of a pattern that they implied disdain for certain racial and ethnic groups. The Carter campaign continued to criticize Ford's leadership and handling of the situation, accusing the President of waiting until after the release of opinion polls to decide what to do.

Butz again returned to Purdue to serve as dean emeritus of the school of agriculture, but also became a much sought-after lecturer on farm issues. Risque language continued to be a trademark of his, but none of his comments elicited further controversy. Butz was critical of Democratic farm policies in general, but was more complimentary of Carter due to the new President's agricultural background. "Say what you will about his being a peanut farmer and all that born again baloney, he is a very skilled politician," Butz said in a 1977 speech. "He is the most skilled politician who has been in the White House since Franklin D Roosevelt."

When Butz got in trouble again, it was related to his lectures but not to their content. He was charged with fraudulently understating his 1978 federal taxable income by failing to report more than $148,000 earned in the talks. In May of 1981, he pleaded guilty to the charge. Butz said he had been very busy at the time and that he willfully decided to file in a lower tax bracket. "I was not in a strong cash flow position as of April 15," he admitted. "I could have borrowed money. I didn't." Butz was sentenced to 30 days in jail and five years of probation, and also ordered to make restitution on his unpaid taxes. The plea was part of a deal in which the government agreed not to investigate Butz's taxes from 1977. He served 25 days behind bars before his release.

The sentence did not have any major effect on Butz's lecturing circuit or his work at Purdue. His talks were successful enough that he was able to make a $1 million donation to the school of agriculture in 1999. Butz's earlier indiscretions would hurt him one last time in 2005, when Purdue considered naming a lecture hall for him. The plan was met with student protests and ultimately scrapped. Butz died in his sleep on February 2, 2008.

Sources:  "Butz is Confirmed to Cabinet Position" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Dec. 3 1971, "Catholics Want Earl Butz Removed" in the Tuscaloosa News on Nov. 27 1974, "Pope Remark by Earl Butz Under Attack" in the Observer-Reporter on Nov. 29 1974, "Earl Butz: Controversial Figure Regarding Today's Food Prices" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on March 7 1975, "Earl Butz: A Controversial Man and His Agriculture" in the Palm Beach Post-Times on Jun. 27 1976, "President Reprimands Earl Butz" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Oct. 2 1976, "Butz' Ouster May Be Soon" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Oct. 3 1976, "Earl Butz Resigns Under Pressure" in the Observer-Reporter on Oct. 5 1976, "Earl Butz: Profile of a Barnburner" in the Miami News on Oct. 6 1976, "Butz' Words Paraphrased in Most Family Newspapers" in the Miami News on Oct. 6 1976, "'Private Joke' Ignited Public Furor" in the Miami News on Oct. 6 1976, "Earl Butz Wanted Resignation Later" in the Spokesman-Review on Oct. 12 1976, "Earl Butz Predicts Global Warfare if Food Production Doesn't Rise" in the Montreal Gazette on Aug. 29 1977, "Earl Butz Pleads Guilty to Income Tax Evasion" in the Toledo Blade on May 23 1981, "Earl Butz, Ex-U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Dies at 98" in Bloomberg on Feb. 3 2008, "Earl L. Butz, Felled by Racial Remark, Is Dead at 98" in the New York Times on Feb. 4 2008, "Earl Butz, History's Victim" on on Feb. 4 2008, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, The New Encyclopedia of American Scandal by George C. Kohn