Tag Archives: james buchanan

One Republican Senator of Moral Courage and Clarity: Mitt Romney and Impeachment

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The foreordained impeachment trial of President Trump is over. Fifty-Two GOP Senators prostrated themselves on the altar of Trump, primarily because they were afraid of him and his followers. Of course since some of the highest ranking of the GOP Senators publicly admitted that they would not be an “unbiased jury” even before taking the oath that required them to do that during the impeachment trial.

Only one, Senator Mitt Romney had the courage to vote for impeachment. I was getting seen by a doctor and waiting for prescriptions to be filled to see any of it. However, I did read Senator Romney’s speech announcing his vote and it was a monumental speech for a Senator to go against a sitting President of his own Party. The only action I can compare it to is the passionate leadership and opposition by Senator Stephen A. Douglas to the attempt of the Buchanan Administration and the Southern Democratic Senators trying to bypass the law to have Kansas admitted as a Slave State in 1858. (see my 2015 article https://padresteve.com/2015/10/09/17673/.) Such an event seldom happens unless there is such a great divide and animosity between the parties, or divisive sectionalism.

But Romney, though he has voted with Trump and the Republicans 80% of the time, cast party loyalty to the wind and placed Country and Constitution over it, proclaimed in the Well of the Senate:

The Constitution is at the foundation of our Republic’s success, and we each strive not to lose sight of our promise to defend it. The Constitution established the vehicle of impeachment that has occupied both houses of Congress for these many days. We have labored to faithfully execute our responsibilities to it. We have arrived at different judgments, but I hope we respect each other’s good faith.

The House managers presented evidence supporting their case; the White House counsel disputed that case. In addition, the president’s team presented three defenses: first, that there can be no impeachment without a statutory crime; second, that the Bidens’ conduct justified the president’s actions; and third that the judgment of the president’s actions should be left to the voters. Let me first address each of those defenses.

The historic meaning of the words “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the writings of the Founders and my own reasoned judgment convince me that a president can indeed commit acts against the public trust that are so egregious that while they are not statutory crimes, they would demand removal from office. To maintain that the lack of a codified and comprehensive list of all the outrageous acts that a president might conceivably commit renders Congress powerless to remove a president defies reason.

With regards to Hunter Biden, taking excessive advantage of his father’s name is unsavory but also not a crime. Given that in neither the case of the father nor the son was any evidence presented by the president’s counsel that a crime had been committed, the president’s insistence that they be investigated by the Ukrainians is hard to explain other than as a political pursuit. There is no question in my mind that were their names not Biden, the president would never have done what he did.

The defense argues that the Senate should leave the impeachment decision to the voters. While that logic is appealing to our democratic instincts, it is inconsistent with the Constitution’s requirement that the Senate, not the voters, try the president. Hamilton explained that the Founders’ decision to invest senators with this obligation rather than leave it to voters was intended to minimize—to the extent possible—the partisan sentiments of the public.

Yes, he did.

The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival.

The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so.

The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders.

The president’s purpose was personal and political.

Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.

What he did was not “perfect.” No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.

I am aware that there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision, and in some quarters, I will be vehemently denounced. I am sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters.Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?

I sought to hear testimony from John Bolton not only because I believed he could add context to the charges, but also because I hoped that what he said might raise reasonable doubt and thus remove from me the awful obligation to vote for impeachment.

I acknowledge that my verdict will not remove the president from office. The results of this Senate court will in fact be appealed to a higher court: the judgment of the American people. Voters will make the final decision, just as the president’s lawyers have implored. My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate. But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong.

We’re all footnotes at best in the annals of history. But in the most powerful nation on earth, the nation conceived in liberty and justice, that is distinction enough for any citizen.

I wish I had seen him speak it live. Within hours he was accused of what amounts to be treason on Twitter by the President, as well as the President’s son Donny Junior, who called for Romney, whose personal and family credentials as Republicans far outweigh the Trump family claims as Republicans to be the purveyors of Republican fidelity. However, as illogical as that sounds, the Trumps do represent  what the GOP has become, a cesspool of creatures indebted to propagandists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the Christian preachers who sold out every last vestige of their faith to publicly lie for the President, and even anti-government right wing militias, mostly made up of White Supremacists.

I would not be surprised if anyone who has publicly opposed Trump, or tried to obey their oath of office will become targets of violence as a now unencumbered President takes revenge on them. I would hope to be wrong about that, but everything points to the United States becoming an authoritarian nation cloaked in a facade of supposedly free elections, just like Russia, Turkey, and so many others. Be assured that the Evangelical leaders of Trump’s will certainly condemn him for being a Mormon and therefore in no way a Christian. Of course the punishment for heresy is often death, or ostracization from the community, and in this case it is not the Church, but Trump’s Republican Party.

I am going to leave it there for the night. I want nothing but the best for our country and its citizens, but I fear that we are on the brink of the abyss. The President will speak today about his impeachment and acquittal. What he says, and what his confederates in the Congress, Administration, media, and pulpit say and do will determine that.

I will not talk about the General Election, but it is clear that as in 2016 Trump and his minions will do all they can, even break the law and work with enemy powers to win.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Impeached: The Scarlet Letter that Defines a Presidency


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post for the night. Last night, the House of Representatives I peached President Donald Trump on basically a party line vote, but it wouldn’t have been that had the Republicans (who I was one for 32 years until I saw the lies and bullshit used to justified the war in Iraq, something that I initially supported and believed the propaganda until I actually spent eight months there with our advisors in Al Anbar Province.

President Trump and his allies tried to obfuscate, divert, and minimize the charges against him. The reason that the House vote was along party lines is because the Republican Party has lost its soul and is lock stock and barrel part of the Trump Cult. This is not new, the GOP for more than four decades has spent itself losing its way, its ethos, as well as its courage and honor promoting and defending the indefensible. It is not Lincoln’s Republican Party, but the Southern Democrats of the Ante-Bellum, and Jim Crow era. Although I am a Democrat today, I do have a lot of criticisms of my party, but not today. As so many other former Republicans including Bill Kristoll, Jennifer Rubin, Representative Jason Amash, George Will, Brett Stephens, Rick Wilson, Michael Gerson, and so many others I saw through the charade, long before any of the others mentioned here did.

But the House did its job under the Constitution which has been validated by the Supreme Courts which wrote in United States v. Rumely 1953:

It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government and to talk much about what it sees. It is meant to be the eyes and the voice, and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents. Unless Congress have and use every means of acquainting itself with the acts and the disposition of the administrative agents of the government, the country must be helpless to learn how it is being served; and unless Congress both scrutinize these things and sift them by every form of discussion, the country must remain in embarrassing, crippling ignorance of the very affairs which it is most important that it should understand and direct. The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function. 

Trump, regardless of whatever happens in a Senate trial joins Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton as members of the “Scarlet I Fraternity.” In other words he is one of only three Presidents to be impeached. Richard Nixon would have been impeached and convicted without the courage of men like Republican Senator Barry Goldwater who demanded he resign or be impeached and convicted. Nixon was a smart enough lawyer to know, that once he had been impeached that he could not be pardoned for his crimes. Even so, his legacy is stained with having to resign to avoid impeachment and conviction.

Now it is true that the current Republican Senate majority will vote to acquit the President if the House sends the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that he will not allow witnesses, while both he and Senator Lindsey Graham have defied the Constitution by saying that they will “not be impartial jurors” in an impeachment trial. Such a statement means that they would perjure themselves by taking the oath required of Senators during impeachment. That oath is different than their oath of office which they already spurn. That impeachment oath which is part of the Senate Impeachment Rules of 1868 states:

Form of oath to be administered to the members of the Senate sitting in the trial of impeachments:
“I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be,) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of  ___________ , now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution  and laws: so help me God.”

Those rules also demand that witness be called and the defendant or his representatives appear. Senator McConnell has said that he will allow no witnesses, and his and Senator Graham’s statements saying that they cannot be impartial should force them to be recused from the proceedings or face charges of perjury if they take the oath.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is now doing the prudent thing regarding the articles of impeachment. She is not sending them to the Senate until the Senate promises a fair trial and to abide by its rules of impeachment. I believe that until such a guarantee is provided for, including the calling of witnesses as in a real trial, that she should not send the articles to the Senate and instead hold them over the President and the Senate like the Sword of Damocles for as long as is necessary, while continuing to investigate the actions of the President and his associates. According to the Constitution, our laws, and precedent it is her only recourse if justice is to be done.

But no matter what the outcome is, and no matter what the President’s propaganda machine and cult say, he will bear the indelible Mark of the Scarlet I of impeachment for the rest of his earthly life and history, and he will deserve it. History has not been kind to Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon. In fact Clinton’s crimes helped elect Trump by helping to poison the attitude of many towards his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton, and trust me, back in 1998 I wanted Bill Clinton impeached and convicted for far less than President Trump is charged. The fact is that a President who perjured himself before a Grand Jury, to cover up a blow job, is far less important than a President who is accused of what amounts to treason, and refuses to testify under oath (in its more common and less rigid form stated in the Constitution)  in working with enemies of the United States to assure his election and reelection.

President Trump will bear that Scarlet I on his orange face for eternity. Ascetically, the color combination leaves much to be desired, but it fits every deed in his life, draft dodging, bankrupting his companies, and leaving those who worked for him or contracted to work for him broken and destitute.

I think that it would be morally, legally, and ethically correct for Speaker Pelosi to hold these articles in the House and continue to investigate. If the President and his defenders cry foul, let them hang themselves. After all, when Russian State TV refers to the President of the United States as their agent, any true American regardless of their party affiliation, as it did Thursday, should be concerned

So until tomorrow, I wish you all the best,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Brittle Personalities with Yearning for Respect, the Danger Of the Lack Of Character in Leaders: President Trump and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are in the German State Of Hessen visiting German friends that we have known for almost 35 years, after making the trip up from Munich. In our conversations with our German friends who are conservative supporters of Angela Merkel and the CDU, the question of the stability, suitably for office, and the Character of the American President came up, and they are frightened by his actions and wonder how a country like ours could have elected him. That made me revisit the question of the President’s character, or lack thereof, and compare him with other vain, immature, and unstable leaders. Character matters, especially when we elect someone to be President of the United States. President Trump may be a character, but he has none, and that is the most dangerous thing about him.

Theodore Roosevelt noted: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”

As the crises of probable impeachment hearings and potential war in the Middle East, and a growing trade war with Chine swirl around the White House I think that it is important to see the President’s words and actions in light of a number of factors. One of those, as Theodore Roosevelt noted is character. Thus it is important to know how the character other leaders at other times influenced how they treated people, reacted to criticism, and led their nations.

In the American experience one is hard pressed to find a President with a similar temperament and character that corresponds to Donald Trump. Yes, Nixon had some similarities, Andrew Jackson as well, but both men even at their worst did, at least in public restrain themselves, and Nixon, when confronted with the reality of certain impeachment did the country a favor by resigning. James Buchanan, whose pro-slavery positions helped ignite the American Civil War, and Andrew Johnson, whose anti-Reconstruction policies and actions led to his impeachment, which fell short of conviction by one vote in the Senate, were as corrupt and cruel as Trump, but neither rose to Trump’s level of contempt for our institutions and Constitution.

But that was a different time. There were leaders in the Republican Party who chose to honor the Constitution and their oaths over blind party loyalty or their determination to pass a certain legislative act. Their resistance to President Nixon was instrumental in his resignation in 1974, especially that of conservative icon Barry Goldwater.

But there seem to be few current members of the GOP congressional delegations willing to stand either for fear of the Trump base, or blind determination to press on with tax cuts even if it means the sacrifice of the Constitution, nuclear war, or their own integrity. It seems that Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse are now beginning to show some backbone, but most of the Republican Senate still seems willing; even after the revelations of what appears to be the President using his office to influence the President of the Ukraine to help undermine the campaign of one of his leading Democratic Party rivals, Vice President Joe Biden.

Of course no amount of the President’s lies and corruption have yet swayed most of his supporters, so I don’t think, unless individual Republican Senators decide that their political survival depends on abandoning Trump, that the GOP will do anything. His base remains solid, and armed members of private “militias” are begging the President to call them into action to eliminate his political enemies and members of the press who press his administration for the truth. I actually saw one of the videos a couple of days ago. Basically such people and their organizations are lawless gangs, despite their words, and they include active and former members of the military. They, are willing to kill for Trump, especially those who believe that he was chosen by God to be President, but I digress, Trump is not Hitler, and his thugs are minor leaguers compared to the SA and the SS.

But I do think that there is a leader who in temperament was much like President Trump, who ended up helping to lead his nation and the world to the abyss of World War. That is not Adolf Hitler who many people often compare the President. I think that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his reliance on his radicalized base, including armed mobs in the street, and hyper-partisan allies in the right wing media, especially Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp which serves as his de-facto state media are similar, but they do not speak to the President’s unstable, narcissistic, and paranoid behaviors. I think that the better comparison is to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with whom the President seems to share many similarities.

In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark wrote of Wilhelm in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the President.

“It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.

‘I am the sole master of German policy,’ he remarked in a letter to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), ‘and my country must follow me wherever I go”

“Wilhelm frequently –especially in the early years of his reign –bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with the prevailing policy.

“It was in this last area –the unauthorized exposition of unsanctioned political views –that the Kaiser achieved the most hostile notice, both from contemporaries and from historians. There can be no doubt about the bizarre tone and content of many of the Kaiser’s personal communications in telegrams, letters, marginal comments, conversations, interviews and speeches on foreign and domestic political themes. Their exceptional volume alone is remarkable: the Kaiser spoke, wrote, telegraphed, scribbled and ranted more or less continuously during the thirty years of his reign, and a huge portion of these articulations was recorded and preserved for posterity…”

Max Hastings wrote that Wilhelm “was a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.” Sean McMeekin in his book July 1914 wrote that Wilhelm had an “insecurity complex, a need for constant attention and acclaim. As one of his many critics put it, the kaiser needed to be “the stag at every hunt, the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” He also noted “Eager for praise, taking offense at the merest slight, the kaiser was a difficult man to work for. Bismarck had disdained to gratify Wilhelm II’s fragile ego after he became emperor in 1888, which led to his sacking two years later.”

Like President Trump the Kaiser did experience some push back from different governmental ministers, and was somewhat restrained during the month leading up to the war, but his constant belligerence, instability, and unscripted remarks helped set the diplomatic and governmental crisis that led to the war. Of course this was not his fault alone, the Austrian-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, French, and British all had a hand, but the Kaiser, through his words and actions during the three decades preceding the war bears much responsibility for what happened in 1914. If the Kaiser had had a Twitter account he would have certainly used it in a similar manner to President Trump.

But Germany had no checks and balances to restrain Wilhelm. He was an absolute monarch. Americans do still have institutional checks and balances to Presidential overreach or abuses should we choose to follow the Constitution, but for that to happen the leadership of the Republican Party must also act, as did their predecessors during the Nixon administration to put principle or party, and rule of law over blind obedience. This is not about partisanship; it is about the Constitution, our form of government, and yes, even the prevention of nuclear war.

Character and temperament are very important in times of crisis and elevated tensions. Character is also fate. We should all tremble when we think of the lack of character and maturity shown by our President.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, leadership, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Where Will Trump and His Followers Thoughts, Words, and Actions Lead?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I wrote about the Racial Rubicon that President Trump and his followers at a rally crossed. It was sobering, because what I and others have said about him since the day he announced his candidacy was on full display. Trump had ignited the bonfire three days before by telling people to send four Congresswomen of color back to their country of origin. All are American citizens, three of the four born in the USA and one a naturalized citizen.

Never before has a sitting President opened the doors of racism so wide as President Trump, even James Buchanan and his work to tip the Supreme Court In the Dred Scott decision, and his attempt to overthrow the law by attempting to have Kansas admitted as a Slave State, an effort that was successfully opposed by Senator Stephan A. Douglas, Democrat from Illinois, a member of Buchanan’s own Party. Buchanan threatened him, but Douglas, otherwise not a friend of slaves held his ground and built a bi-partisan coalition in the House and Senate to defeat Buchanan. Unfortunately, there is no one like the late Senator from Illinois. Douglas paid the political price, though the Democratic nominee in 1860, the party split and in a second nominating convention nominated John C. Breckinridge, Splitting the party and bringing Abraham Lincoln to office.

So where does this lead? That is a question one of my readers asked on Twitter today. I wish that I knew. But I remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

I sincerely believe that Donald J. Trump is incapable of discerning truth from lies. He lies so much that it has become ingrained in his very soul. In regard to this aspect of Of Trump’s personality, I am reminded of the words of Adolf Hitler’s Finance Minister, Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk, who noted: “He wasn’t honest with his most intimate confidants…. In my opinion, he was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between truth and lies.

Today the President attempted to pass the blame, and in effect through his chanting supporters under the bus, saying that “He did not like it, he did not agree with it,” but the problem is that he started it, he planted it through his tweets and statements in the days before. He reveled as the crowed chanted as he spoke against Representative Ilan Omar of Minnesota “Send her back, Send her back!” Representative Mark Walker, Republican from North Carolina (who I actually met and drank beer with in 2017 after the Congressional Baseball Game) immediately voiced his concern and consternation about the display, but very few other Republicans found anything to complain about. Senator Lindsey Graham blamed it on Trump’s narcissism, and the statements of Omar and the other Congresswomen, not racism, despite the decades of evidence demonstrating the latter.

Gandhi’s words are as true today as when he wrote them. Americans today have the choice of being, to use the words of Yehuda Bauer “The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.” 

If you wonder how such events happen in a democracy, look no further than the words of Yale Historian Timothy Snyder:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

The questions for all Americans today, will we be perpetrators, victims, or bystanders, or will ordinary Americans find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands.

Those are the questions after Trump and his followers actions over the past few days. Believe me, people I know, people I would have believed in ordinary times to be good and decent people are mocking those who criticize the President and making excuses for the illegal and immoral racist words and policies of his administration. For me that is frightening.

Where does it end? I leave that to you, but as a historian, ethicist, and Priest I have to say that if Trump remains in power by ballot or bullet, it will be something that will bring such shame to our country that generations from now our descendants will burdened with, just as the descendants of the Nazis. Sadly, we never did that with our Slave owners and those who brought about the Civil War, including my ancestors.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, ethics, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion

Wanted, One Senator Of Courage: Will Any Republican Make a Principled Stand Against Trump?

Stephen A. Douglas

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wrote this in June of last year and as we go into the fourth week of a pointless partial government shutdown, the effects of which are now beginning to be felt, I thought it pertinent. So I did a few edits The shutdown and the President’s determination to find a way to build his wall, even publicly musing about declaring an imaginary national emergency to get his way, would be enough by themselves without all the charges that will be proven against him will certainly will enshrine his place as the worst President in American history. As such, James Buchanan is probably rejoicing in his grave that he has competition.

Likewise, it has become apparent that it is very unlikely anyone in his Trumpified Republican Party will rise to the occasion to lead a principled opposition against him, as Senator Stephen Douglas did against Buchanan. But then, Douglas was willing to stake his political career on defending the country and Constitution against the unconstitutional actions of a President of his own political party.

As I watch President Trump’s administration attack the law, the Constitution, and violate the civil rights and human rights of citizens as well as people who have come to the United States to flee oppression and danger at home; to threaten freedom of speech and freedom of the press; to categorize political opponents inside and outside of his party as traitors; to legitimize the most repressive dictatorial regimes while attacking longstanding allies; even as he works to destroy the work of American Presidents and diplomats to build a world order that has brought great benefit to the United States and the world by defeating the Nazis, Imperial Japan, and eventually the Soviet Union. He has chosen the choice of being a rogue superpower rather than being the moderating and stabilizing force in the world that it has played since World War Two. Robert Kagan wrote in the Washington Post on June 14th:

“The United States’ adversaries will do well in this world, for Trump’s America does not want war. It will accommodate powers that can harm it. It will pay them the respect they crave and grant them their spheres of interest. Those that depend on the United States, meanwhile, will be treated with disdain, pushed around and used as pawns. At times, they will be hostages to be traded for U.S. gain. The United States and the postwar liberal order protected them and helped them prosper, but it also left them vulnerable to any American leader willing to offer them up as sacrifices to appease aggressors. That is a kind of realism, too… It recognizes no moral, political or strategic commitments. It feels free to pursue objectives without regard to the effect on allies or, for that matter, the world. It has no sense of responsibility to anything beyond itself.”

The President and his administration show little regard for the Constitution and established law in this country and our treaties and agreements with other nations. He appoints men and women who had they been Germans after the Second World War would have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity to high office. He defends White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis. He confounds loyalty to himself with patriotism and loyalty to the country. His threat of declaring a national emergency if he doesn’t get his Wall demonstrates that fact to a tee.

He uses propaganda to demonize those who seek law and justice. In any normal time a cry would arise from his own party saying “no more,” but his party does nothing, and even those leaders who occasionally speak out against his policies take no actions because they are afraid of retribution. That happened to long time conservative Congressman Mark Sanford in South Carolina this week when the President tweeted his support for his primary opponent. During the primary season White Nationalists, self-proclaimed Nazis, and other Trump supporters advocating the most extreme, unconstitutional and abhorrent positions often swept the field against conservatives who themselves would have been considered extremists just a few years ago. The GOP is on the Party if Trump and it took less than two years to become so.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam something that we are observing up close and personal as President Trump and his administration flounder in a sea of make believe, a cloud cuckoo land of alternative facts, alternative truth, and alternative history:

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

To be true, the Trump administration is not the first in history, in fact not even in our own country to ignore facts when making decisions. However, it is remarkable in its ability not only to shun facts but to make up its own narrative that depends on denying reality while impugning the character, honesty, and decency of those who present facts and truth that is verifiable. To be sure, competence and prudence are not and probably will never be marks of President Trump, his closest advisors, or his enablers in Congress. My hope is that some Republican in either the House or Senate rises up to confront the ineptitude and folly being demonstrated on a daily basis.

President James Buchanan

In some ways the incompetence and refusal to deal with reality by the Trump administration reminds me of the administration of James Buchanan during the years before the American Civil War. Buchanan’s collusion with Chief Justice Roger Taney regarding the Dred Scott decision before his inauguration stained him from the beginning and poisoned his relationship with Congress by declaring that the Congress never had the right to limit slavery as it had in the Missouri Compromise. Buchanan’s presidency is considered by most historians to be the worst in American history, incompetent, arrogant, and ineffective.

Likewise, Buchanan’s attempt to jam the Lecompton Constitution through Congress as a reward to Southern Democrats blew up in his face. The Lecompton Constitution was a gerrymandered bill which ignored the will of the vast majority of Kansas’s settlers who were anti-slavery. The work of the pro-slavery element in Kansas was so onerous that it brought Republicans and Northern Democrats together for the first time as Southern Democrats threatened secession if Kansas was not admitted as a Slave State. Ignoring warnings that supporting a measure that would open the door to slavery in all the western territories would split his party, Buchanan pushed on. His intransigence on the matter brought Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois to the fore in opposing it. Nicknamed “the Little Giant,” Douglas was the odds on favorite to be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. Douglas was not against the institution of slavery, and he was a racist, but he had no tolerance for those who would upend carefully crafted compromises to expand it through the whole country. Thus he  took his case to the floor of the Senate and to the President himself.

The Confrontation between the Senator and the President was unparalleled. Douglas recalled:

The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir!

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying:

“But I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back, “Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.”  

Douglas,s action was unprecedented. Never before had a sitting Senator, to confront a President of his own party and threatened to oppose him in Congress. It was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense.

Undeterred by facts, Buchanan and Southern Democrats fought for the bill’s passage. When Buchanan’s supporters pushed for Lecompton’s approval and the admission of Kansas as a Slave State, Douglas fired back, warning:

 “You do,” I said, “and it will lead directly to civil war!” I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

Under Douglas the Northern Democrats joined with Republicans for the first time to defeat the admission of Kansas as a Slave State. Douglas recalled the battle:

“After the Christmas recess, the Administration unleashed its heavy horsemen: Davis, Slidell, Hunter, Toombs, and Hammond, all southerners. They damned me as a traitor and demanded that I be stripped of my chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and read out of the Democratic party. Let the fucking bastards threaten, proscribe, and do their worst, I told my followers; it would not cause any honest man to falter. If my course divided the Democratic party, it would not be my fault. We were engaged in a great struggle for principle, I said, and we would defy the Administration to the bitter end.”

Douglas and his supporters did just that, Buchanan and his supporters were outfought and outmaneuvered by Douglas’s Democrats and their Republican allies. The bill was sent back to Kansas where in a new election the people of Kansas voted solidly against the Lecompton Constitution. In the following Congressional elections the thoroughly discredited Democrats lost their majority, their party now hopelessly divided with Southerners determined to destroy Douglas at any cost, even if it meant losing the presidency, the conflict opened the door for the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

I wonder if there will be a Republican in the Congress with the courage that Stephen A. Douglas displayed in confronting the incompetent and vindictive President Buchanan during the Lecompton Crisis. Will there be a Republican with enough courage to stop the insanity of the Trump administration even if it means in the short term to divide the party and doom their political future? Honestly I doubt it as does conservative Republican political strategist Rick Wilson. Wilson wrote:

“Nothing you do matters to this Congress. No matter what damage you inflict on our economy, our alliances, trade, our stature in the world, our role as an exemplar of democratic values, our ability to serve as an honest broker in the international community, and our security, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will lay supine before you.” 

But if Trump’s march of folly is to be stopped, someone in the Republican Senate or House will have to have the courage to stand up and defend the necessity of thinking for themselves, and doing what is right, sadly there is no Stephen Douglas in today’s GOP.

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“These acts… are overt acts of war.” The Attack on Fort Sumter

fort-sumter-higher-res

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is this is the first of a two-part installment of my Civil War text. The story follows the implosion of the Democratic Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the secession crisis. It describes who the attack came about and the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The remaining forts under Federal control in the South were a thorn in the side and a constant reminder to Jefferson Davis of the power of the federal government. As such he attempted to negotiate to obtain the forts, and when that offer was rejected out of hand by both Buchanan and Lincoln he began military preparations to seize them if negotiations failed. His task was complicated in Charleston where the Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson unexpectedly withdrew his entire garrison from the mainland to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The move was prompted by President Buchanan’s dithering on the status of the fort and garrison. Anderson was a Southerner who had decided to remain loyal to the Union, his second in command was Captain Abner Doubleday, a strongly committed abolitionist.

Under the cover of darkness the Union officers withdrew their men from old and weak Fort Moultrie in Charleston to Fort Sumter gaining him instant adulation in the North and condemnation in the South. Buchanan wanted to abandon the fort but “when it appeared that Northern public opinion was solidly behind Anderson, Buchanan changed his mind and attempted to persuade the South Carolinians to accept Anderson’s occupation of Fort Sumter as a legitimate exercise of federal authority.” [1] Jefferson Davis, who had not yet resigned from the Senate awaiting Mississippi’s declaration of secession complained that he “pleaded with Buchanan to give up Sumter and avert impending calamity. Once again the old imbecile refused, after his fashion, which is to say that he muttered to himself, nodded and tilted his head as if in agreement, begged leave to say a prayer, and then did nothing at all. Plainly the reins of state were in feeble hands. Had this lame-duck President withdrawn the troops from Sumter, he might have turned away the threatening of civil war.” [2]But Davis was blind to the political realities in the North that secession and seizure of other Federal installations had brought about. A prominent Northern Democrat wrote that “Anderson’s course of action is universally approved and that if he is recalled or if Sumter is surrendered… Northern sentiment will be unanimous in favor of hanging Buchanan….I am not joking – Never have I known the entire people more unanimous on any question. We are ruined if Anderson is disgraced or Sumter given up.” [3] Congressman Dan Sickles who had been such a friend of the South for so many years, even backing peaceful secession, spoke out against the Southern seizure of federal installations, said that the secessionists had committed “a fatal error” and said “it will never do, sir, for them to protest against coercion, and, at the same moment seize all the arms and arsenals and forts and navy yards, and ships that may, through our forbearance, fall within their power. This is not peaceful secession. These acts, whensoever or whomsoever done, are overt acts of war.” [4]

major anderson

Buchanan made a belated attempt to reinforce and resupply the fort and on January 9th 1861, an unarmed civilian ship, the Star of the West entered Charleston harbor. But the operation was bungled, secrecy was broken and the South Carolinians knew the ship was coming, even as Anderson did not get the message about the relief expedition and permission to fire if the Star of the West was fired upon. As a result when Confederate gunners opened fire on the steamer, Anderson, who had instructions to defend himself and not for an instance such as this, did nothing to intervene. “If he opened fire, the United States and South Carolina would be at war…. Major Anderson hesitated, plainly uncertain, an immense weight of responsibility resting on him….” [5] As a result the Star of the West retreated, leaving the garrison unreinforced. But the secessionists “had overplayed their hand. The South Carolina gunners who fired on the Star of the West had, in effect, invited the Federal government to start the war then and there if it wanted a war….” [6] The firing on the Star of the West further inflamed Northerners. Dan Sickles thundered in the House chambers “the authorities of South Carolina, through their military forces, opened fire upon that defenseless ship, and compelled her to retire and abandon the peaceful and legitimate mission in which she was engaged. Now, sir, that was an act of war, unqualified war.” [7]

The debate continued as Buchanan eased out of office and the new Confederate government of Jefferson Davis took ownership of the situation in Charleston. Buchanan did not want to do anything overt to tip the balance in undecided slave states toward secession and Davis did not want South Carolina to act alone and risk a premature attack on the fort. But as both sides waited the balance of power in Charleston shifted, “as local troops day by day strengthened the ring of batteries confronting Sumter’s garrison.” [8] In incoming Lincoln administration debated what to do with some of the incoming cabinet members counseling withdraw and others resistance to Confederate demands. Lincoln gave serious thought to abandoning the fort but could not bring himself to authorize the action. He understood that if he ordered evacuation, “the credibility of his presidency and the Republican administration would be in pieces before either had scarcely begun.” [9]

Instead the new President sought more information and sent three men “down to Charleston to observe the situation and report on what they saw. The first two, both southern-born, were Illinois law associates, both reported reconciliation impossible…. The third, a high-ranking naval observer who secured and interview with Anderson at the fort, returned to declare a relief expedition was feasible.” [10] He also continued to meet with his cabinet members to decide on the appropriate policy to meet the challenge to federal authority in Charleston. “He met with Francis Blair, who, like his son, Monty, believed passionately that the surrender of Sumter “was virtually a surrender of the Union unless under irresistible force – that compounding with treason was treason to the Govt.” [11] On March 29th Lincoln again met with his cabinet and having weighed all of the options, decided to resupply the fort. His decision was to “not send guns or bullets to Sumter, only food and medicine. He would resupply, but not rearm, it. And he would announce the plan in advance so the South could not regard the effort as an act of hostility by an enemy.” [12] If the attempt succeeded “federal authority in South Carolina had been preserved, and Charleston could do little short of war to change it; if it failed, the failure would be due to Charleston’s decision to open fire, and the onus of beginning a civil war would lie on their hands.” [13]

Even as the Confederate moved even more troops and guns into position around the Sumter, more and more people of influence were growing impatient with the delays in gaining Fort Sumter and feared that if something was not done that in some places there might be a call to return to the Union. Jefferson Davis was under great pressure to act, a newspaper in Mobile Alabama editorialized that “If something is not done pretty soon…the whole country will be so disgusted with the sham of independence that the first chance the people get at a popular election the y will turn the whole movement topsy-turvy.” [14] Likewise, “Southern ardor was chafing at the bit anyway, and failure to meet the challenge threatened to undermine the government and weaken Southern resolve.” [15]

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General P.T.G. Beauregard C.S.A.

Knowing from Southern sympathizers still in Washington that a relief expedition was coming, General P.T.G. Beauregard “had already cut off Major Anderson’s purchases in the Charleston market the day before Governor Pickens received Lincoln’s message about the intention to provision Sumter.” [16] Pickens forwarded the message to Davis in Montgomery and Davis was forced to either back down on their threats or fire the first shot of the war, and even worse from a messaging standpoint, “that first shot would be for the immediate purpose of keeping food from hungry men.” [17]

Davis was extremely angry when he went into conference with his cabinet on April 9th upon getting the news of the relief expedition. The debate in the cabinet “ran long and heated. Davis favored proceeding with the bombardment. Charleston’s batteries were ready, and the South Carolinians were more than anxious,” [18] and the majority of the cabinet, with the exception of Robert Toombs concurred. He wrote:

“I summoned the Cabinet and told them that negotiation was now at an end, and that it was time to bombard the fort. Yes, I said, we would now be firing the first shot, but that was not our fault. It was Lincoln who intended war. He and that lying Seward had drawn the sword, and we were responding to them. We were defending our honor.

Toombs, my Secretary of State disagreed. “Sir,” he said to me, “firing at the fort is suicide. It’s unnecessary, it puts us in the wrong, it’s fatal.”

“Sir,” I said, “you are wrong.”

On April tenth, I ordered General Beauregard to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if refused, to reduce it with his guns.” [19]

Beauregard delivered the ultimatum to Anderson, who rejected it noting that “his sense of honor and obligations to his government prevented him his complying; but in conversation with Beauregard’s aides he remarked that in any event, the garrison would be starved out in a few days.” [20] But the fear of the Confederates that the relief force might actually arrive and succeed in its mission prompted them to open fire on the fort at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the 12th. The relief force was scattered by a gale and could not resupply Anderson. The bombardment lasted thirty-three hours, and while Anderson’s troops resisted but could not man all of their guns and were short on ammunition and powder. With the fort heavily damaged by over 4,000 hits and interior of the fort on fire, a fire that was threatening the powder magazines, Anderson gave the order to surrender. Beauregard allowed the assembled U.S. Navy ships to evacuate the garrison and as a parting gesture the Confederate General allowed Anderson’s troops to fire a last salute to Old Glory. They hauled down the smoke stained and torn Star Spangled Banner and marched to the ship taking them off the island with their drums beating the tune “Yankee Doodle.” Lincoln realized the importance of what had happened all too well. He noted, “They attacked Sumter. It fell and thus did more service than it otherwise would.” [21]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.136

[2] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.367

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.265-266

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.211

[5] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury pp.180-181

[6] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.184

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel pp.211-212

[8] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.544

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[10] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.46

[11] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 335

[12] Holzer, Harold Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America Newmarket Press for itbooks an imprint of Harper Collins, New York 2012 p.80

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.272

[15] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.278

[16] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 pp.20-21

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.47

[18] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis p.323

[19] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.416-417

[20] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.21

[21] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.202

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Dan Sickles Part Three: “The Whole Country Turned Jury”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break for a while to read and reflect and as such I and am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text dealing with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Sickles Trial

The stage was now set for the one of the most unbelievable and storied trials in American history, a trial that would have been much more suited to the era of 24/7 cable news coverage and the Internet than the era of the telegraph and newspaper, but even so it was sensational by any standard and it riveted the attention of the public in every part of the nation, from the largest cities to the smallest towns.

Almost immediately swarms of journalists were camped outside the prison and Sickles’ house where distraught Teresa sought a way to gain Dan’s forgiveness having received his broken wedding band which he sent to her from the jail. Witnesses to her dalliances with Key at the 15th Street house and other venues were brought to the Stockton Mansion to identify her. “She was the meat in the market, the ogre at the carnival. A little way across the square, souvenir hunters were cutting fragments of wood out of the tree by which Key had fallen, and artists from the illustrated papers set up their easels and began sketching every aspect of the area – the railings, the Stockton Mansion, the Clubhouse.” [1] A Presbyterian pastor who knew the couple found her obsessed by the shame that she had brought upon herself and her daughter, and he “found her in such mental agony that he feared for her sanity and even felt that she might try to take her life.” [2]

It was a credit to her own emotional strength that Teresa survived the ordeal that she had helped to bring about, and which she found herself blamed for, even by her father, who felt that she had dishonored the Bagioli family name. Antonio Bagioli wrote to Dan in prison, “You have heaped on my child affection, kindness, devotion, generosity. You have been a good son, a true friend, and a devoted, kind, loving husband and father.” [3] Of all the commentators, it was the eminent historian and diplomat George Bancroft who seemed to have any “sense of Teresa’s pain: “Poor child, what a cruel thing to deprive her of her sole stay and support. Key was the only man she could look to for sympathy and protection.” [4]

After Barton Key’s lifeless body was borne off in a mahogany casket to the Presbyterian cemetery in Baltimore and buried in the grave of his dead wife, and his children placed in the care of his family, his effects, what they amounted to, including his resplendent Montgomery Guards uniform were “sold off to a morbid, bargain-hunting, souvenir-hounding crowd.” [5] It was an ignoble end to the scandalous story of the son of Francis Scott Key, a story that soon with all of its salacious detail would be revealed to the public.

Meanwhile, inside the jail her husband, alternating between fits of rage and calm was visited by Washington’s Mayor James Barret, Sam Butterworth, Attorney General Black, Vice President John C. Breckinridge, and Speaker of the House, James Orr. He was comforted by the many expressions of support and sympathy found in scores of letters from people around the country, one of the first “a kindly note from the President,” [6] and others from total strangers. He was also joined by friends and allies from New York and Washington. “James Topham Brady, John Graham, and Thomas Francis Meagher, able lawyers all, arrived post haste to defend their rash ally” [7] as well as his father who before offering encouragement to his son offered a sharp chastisement, “You hot-headed fool! That’s no way to settle things! No woman’s worth it! No matter how you come out of this, you’ve killed your career – White House and everything else.” [8]Undeterred and calm Dan told his father that he understood and that if he had to he would do it again, after which, his father began to discuss the organization of his son’s defense with this legal team.

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The case was front page news in all the major newspapers, which provided “extensive coverage of the “Sickles Tragedy.” Sickles’ murder of his friend Key in broad daylight in view of the White House had all of the scandalous elements that have thrilled Americans then and even today: “adultery, politics, celebrity, and a handsome corpse,” [9] not to mention a beautiful young woman who even more than her husband who had killed a man, stood accused in the eye of the public.

Despite the notoriety of the case, many people found sympathy with Sickles and believed that no jury would convict him of murder or manslaughter, after all, Teresa was the one who committed adultery with Key. The New York Herald “doubted that a grand jury would indict him. Even if he were indicted, Harper’s Weekly presumed that no jury would convict him of manslaughter if the adultery charge were proven, which it considered a foregone conclusion.” [10] The New York Times noted well before the trial opened, “there appears to be no second opinion as to the certainty of Mr. Sickles acquittal” but “national interest” arose from “the general desire to see the whole case fairly put, and the million scandals of mystery laid to rest by the plain facts.”[11]Newspapers like the New York Evening Post, his political arch-enemy found the murder an excellent opportunity to attack Sickles, “That wretched man, Daniel E. Sickles, has in his career reached the stage of assassination, and dipped his hands in human blood… It is certain that a man… who in his own practice, regards adultery as a joke and the matrimonial bond as no barrier against the utmost caprice of licentiousness – has little right to complain when the mischief which he carriers without scruple into other families enters his own.” [12] But such commentary was the exception, and it came from the organ of a political enemy. It is an interesting comment on the era, that a woman’s adultery, even when committed by the wife of an adulterous male who had killed her lover, was consider more of a social stigma and crime than murder.

Within days Sickles had assembled one of the most formidable defense teams ever to dominate an American court. Brady, who was considered to be the ablest criminal defense lawyer of his day became the lead attorney for the defense team, and was joined by Sickles’ New York friends, Graham and Meagher. Brady was an excellent choice, he “was admired and even loved by society in general, but on top of that, though his legal repertoire was wide, he had been involved successfully in more than fifty murder cases.” And he “had also made a special study of pleas of insanity,” [13] something that would figure greatly in the trial.

Additionally, President Buchanan helped recruit one of the finest attorneys in the country, the future Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton to the team. They were joined by four lesser known, yet high-powered attorneys; Samuel Chilton a Virginian who later represented John Brown, and his partner Allen Magruder, Daniel Ratcliffe, and Philip Phillips, a former Alabama Congressman and member of Washington’s Jewish community. Additionally, Reverdy Johnson, one of the most respected attorneys of the day served as an occasional advisor. “The Washington Evening Star observed that Sickles was collecting a lot of lawyers for a man whose defenders did not expect to leave their box before acquitting him.” [14]

Sickles’ defense team was a nineteenth century legal Dream Team against which the government deployed but one attorney, Key’s former assistant District Attorney Robert Ould. Ould, described by one of Sickles’ biographers as “a dull bull of a man, at one time a Baptist parson,” [15] had been named acting District Attorney by President Buchanan when Key was killed. It was an odd place for Ould, as he was serving to prosecute his former boss’s killer, at the behest of the President, who happened to be one of the defendant’s best friends. Ould, the former parson “was placed by inference in the unhappy position of defending adultery – something that he indignantly denied, insisting that he was merely prosecuting a killer….” [16] but to many people, the murderer of an adulterer by an aggrieved husband was complete justified. Ould was totally outclassed by the defense team, and Key’s family paid to have John Carlisle a respected Washington attorney to aid Ould in the case, but the trial would prove them appear incompetent and not up to the task of convicting Sickles.

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Teresa Sickles Confession on the Front Page of Harper’s Weekly

The defense pushed for a speedy trial and decided, as many lawyers do today, to try the case in the newspapers, which in light of the lurid nature of the story hung on every word coming out of Washington. The defense team pursued the strategy of “entirely reversing the roles of Sickles and Key by putting the dead man on trial for having made a victim of the defendant, and the New York Press prepared the public for just such an emotional appeal.” [17] The news stories printed by papers that supported Sickles as well as those of his detractors helped inflame the public as the newspapers across the country “wherever wires ran, were front-paging the story under screaming headlines and, in larger cities, rushing out extras every hour or two, as fresh details came to hand.” [18] The private affairs of Dan and Teresa Sickles became known around the nation, and even though the judge in the case refused to admit the confessions Sickles had forced from Teresa into evidence they found their way into the papers, some like Harper’s not only ran the text but reproduced the confession in enlarged facsimile form. The question in many people’s mind “was Dan Sickles justified in slaying the man who had betrayed his confidence and seduced his wife?… As a consequence the whole country turned jury.” [19]

The trial began on April 4th, just over a month after the killing and barely a week after the indictment was handed down. The first three days involved jury selection, a task that the defense turned over to Philip Phillips, who sparred with the prosecutor Ould over the twelve men who would eventually sit in judgment of Dan Sickles. Ould attempted to gain a favorable jury by introducing the property qualifications of jurors, he “ruled out jurors who did not meet the requirement of owning property valued at $800. Since this $800 property limit had not been imposed in similar cases, Ould’s insistence on it would attract much scorn from Dan’s lawyers…”[20]Sickles’ team fought back embarrassing Ould in the process, but not getting the judge to change his narrow application of the law to help the defense. Over two hundred potential jurors were examined before twelve unbiased jurors could be found, and a “great majority of those dismissed confess strong prejudice in favor of the prisoner.” [21] When the jury was seated it was composed of twelve men, two farmers, four grocers, a merchant, a tinner, a coach maker, a men’s clothing salesman, a shoemaker, and a cabinetmaker, “but not a single “gentleman” in the occupational sense.” [22]

Ould opened his case, “ponderously, powerfully, in the blackest of terms,” [23] he drew a picture of the killing. He delivered an “emotionally charged argument that Sickles, “a walking magazine,” had taken deliberate care in arming himself against Key, who only had “a poor and feeble opera-glass.” [24] Ould argued “that homicide with a deadly weapon, perpetrated by a party who has all the advantage on his side and with all the deliberate cruelty and vindictiveness, is murder, no matter what the antecedent provocation in the case.”[25]He then called twenty-eight witnesses, the majority of whom had actually witnessed the shooting, but he did not call upon Butterworth, Teresa, or the young White House page boy who had told President Buchanan and been sent away. Likewise he had not established intent, a key factor in any murder trial, nor had he introduced evidence that he had obtained regarding Sickles’ own affairs with women in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and elsewhere. The presentation of the physical evidence of Barton Key’s clothing and the bullet that supposedly killed Key was botched, the bullet that the prosecution claimed to have killed key did not fit either the Derringer, or the Colt revolver. Thus Ould left open for the defense the chance to explore all the salacious details of the case to put Key on trial, and to establish exculpatory reasons why Sickles had killed Key. Ould’s presentation of his case was brief, and so futile “that it seemed that Key was on trial for seduction, not that Sickles was on trial for murder.” [26]

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Sickles in the Prisoner’s Dock

The defense team made mincemeat of the prosecution. John Graham’s opening statement was a work of oratory genius that “would massively outshine Robert Ould’s more cumbersome opening.” [27]Weaving allusions from Shakespeare and other literary greats into his statement, he painted Sickles as the victim of a adulterous rogue who had on a Sunday, a day when he should have “sent his aspirations heavenward,” had instead besieged “that castle where for security and repose the law had placed the wife and children of his neighbor.” [28] Casting Sickles as the aggrieved and temporarily insane victim he also asked if it was a “crime for a husband to defend his family altar.” From there he proceeded to use quotes from Shakespeare’s Othello he inveighs against the adulterer as the supreme criminal, piling up quotation upon quotation from the Old Testament and Roman law to show that in wiser days the punishment invariably was death’” [29] to paint the picture of Sickles’ agony as he saw the man who had defiled his wife prowling outside of his home. Graham then went to provocation and argued that due the circumstance of the crime, a friend and confidant attempting to defile Sickles’ wife on a Sunday that the prosecution “needed to prove Dan’s sanity at the time of the act. And they could not do that, because there was not enough in the case “to melt the heart that is not cut from the unwedgeable gnarled oak.” [30] It was a masterful performance.

Over the next two weeks, Brady, Stanton, and Graham would continue to hammer the prosecution case. The defense proved that Key’s family had tampered with evidence, including testimony from a locksmith who had changed the locks at the 15th Street house at the direction of Key’s family. Witness after witness was introduced to undermine the prosecution and support the defense’s claim that Sickles’ was indeed in a state of uncontrollable madness, and the defense deftly parried the prosecutor’s rebuttal witnesses. When Ould attempted to keep African American witnesses from testifying Stanton, thundered and“accused the prosecution of a “monstrous” attempt to suppress evidence in its zeal of the defendant’s blood,” [31] and argued from North Carolina precedent that the prosecution was not willing to grant Sickles the same right as a slave. As his lawyers argued his case and witnesses gave testimony Sickles maintained his composure except for a number of times when he broke down and had to be excused from the proceedings. “Whether the courtroom histrionics were real or an award-winning performance, the jury witnessed firsthand a husband who was mentally unable to bear his wife with another man.” [32] On the Friday the 22nd of April Judge Crawford declared the testimony closed and the next day began the closing arguments.

Saturday April 23rd dawned with a violent gale, but that did not prevent crowds of people from trying to gain admittance to the courtroom. Edwin Stanton began the defense closing arguments in a manner that was calm and precise. He brought up that justifiable homicide included that which was “committed in defense of family chastity, the sanctity of the marriage bed, the matron’s honor, the virgin’s purity.” [33] Since the prosecution had never brought into evidence Sickles’ own violation of these covenants his attacks on Key and the prosecution case hit home. As he continued his voice rose to a roar, sounding like a prophet of ancient Israel “Who seeing this thin, would not exclaim to the unhappy husband, “Hasten, hasten, to save the mother of your child! And may the Lord who watches over the home and family guide the bullets and direct the stroke!” [34] When Stanton finished the court erupted in a frenzy as spectators as well as supporters of Sickles applauded his closing.

Next up was Brady who went on for three hours, captivating the audience which hung on every word. “When Daniel Sickles realized how he had been betrayed, all the emotions of his nature changed into a single impulse; every throb of his heart brought before him the sense of his great injuries; every drop of his blood was burdened with a sense of shame; he was crushed by inexorable agony in the loss of his wife, in the dishonor that he had come upon his child, in the knowledge that the future – which had opened to him so full of brilliancy – had now been enshrouded in eternal gloom by one who, contrawise, should have invoked form the eternal God his greatest effulgence on the path of his friend….” [35]

The closing had been masterful, emotional, and dramatic. In response Ould attempted to recover, but his arguments were weak, he agreed with the defense about the crime of adultery, and attempted to redirect the jury’s attention that it was Sickles who was on trial for murder and not Key for adultery, but he had already lost that argument. He called the defense of temporary insanity a ploy and “mentioned how easily, and readily a man on trial for his life might pretend to be deranged if he were on trial for his life.” But it was too little, too late. Since there was no psychiatric profession to weigh in on the matter, the argument of temporary insanity fell back on the “tradition of male marital dominance” and “that argument played well among men who rarely wore collars on their shirts…” [36] the very kind of men seated in the jury booth.

When the jury recessed to deliberate Sickles’ fate on the 26th it took them less than an hour to return their verdict, and few were surprised when it came back “not guilty.” Stanton “was so excited that he did a jig in the courtroom, the hoarsely called for three cheers.” [37]As he did “Pandemonium and cheers broke out in the courtroom.” [38]People crowded around to congratulate Sickles and the crush was so great that Sickles had to be escorted for the courtroom. President Buchanan on hearing the verdict was delighted, later in the evening, though he sought rest, Sickles was taken by Brady to a gala in his honor attended by nearly 1500 supporters and well-wishers. The trial was over but the trials of Dan Sickles were not.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.142

[2] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.63

[3] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.146

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.147

[5] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.117

[6] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.117

[7] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible pp.62-63

[8] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.116

[9] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.12

[10] Marvel, William Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2015 p.103

[11] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg pp.12-13

[12] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.63

[13] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.151

[14] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.103

[15] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.121

[16] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.64

[17] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.104

[18] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.118

[19] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles pp.118-119

[20] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.162

[21] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.120

[22] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.105

[23] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.122

[24] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.14

[25] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.122

[26] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.65

[27] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.173

[28] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.173

[29] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.124

[30] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.175

[31] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.107

[32] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.15

[33] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.127

[34] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.128

[35] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.129

[36] Ibid. Marvel Lincoln’s Autocrat p.110

[37] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.66

[38] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.17

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