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Following in the Steps of Nixon: Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On Friday October 19th 1973 Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox who was investigating the Nixon Administration and its involvement in the Watergate break-in and cover-up said:

“Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.”

Cox was right about Nixon, and his words are equally true of our day. This is a troubling week. On Tuesday President Trump fired the FBI Director, James Comey, allegedly due to a loss of confidence in him by the Justice Department from his handling of the Hillary Clinton email scandal. Mind you at the time then candidate Trump praised Comey for his actions and continued to after his inauguration, making the action a rather ham-handed political lynching in which the FBI Director learned of his firing on CNN.

Now I am not shedding tears for Comey so much. I think that he deserved to be fired by President Obama, or even Trump, had Trump done so quickly on ascending to power back in January. It would have been more credible than to do so three days after Comey requested additional money for the FBI investigation of Trump’s Russian connections, and the connection of Trump’s aides and campaign to the Russian government and Russian oligarchs. According to pollster Nate Silver, Comey’s handing of this, especially re-opening the investigation two weeks before the election was a decisive factor in Trump’s win.

This is not old news as a Trump spokesperson claimed Tuesday, nor is it fake news. Despite their distaste for Comey and their anger at what he did to their candidate the Democrats rightfully protested this because Director Comey was the only person conducting a credible independent investigation of the Trump-Russia ties. This investigation was actually gaining steam, and Politico reported that for a week that the President has been raging about Comey and the investigation.

The fact it that it is now incumbent on Republicans in Congress to work with Democrats to secure the appointment of a Special Prosecutor with wide ranging authority to look into everything being alleged at the President, his aides and advisors, and his campaign. The scandal appears to possibly even be bigger than Watergate and despite Comey’s firing it is not going away unless Trump can create his own Reichstag Fire event to override our democratic system of law and government.

This should trouble anyone who cares about the Constitution and our system of government. Yes, the President has the authority to fire the FBI Director, and it has been done one other time, when William Sessions was fired by President Clinton on the recommendation of the outgoing Bush Administration Attorney general for unethical conduct, including the misuse of government aircraft for personal use. He was also under fire for the FBI’s conduct of the Ruby Ridge and Waco sieges. However, this is the President’s second senior law enforcement official that he has fired. He also fired Acting Attorney general Sally Yates for her opposition to his Muslim ban, and yes no matter what the administration said, that is exactly what it was.

On October 20th 1973 President Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox who backed by two court orders had asked for the taped copies of conversations in the Nixon White House. Nixon refused and ordered Attorney General Elliott Richardson to fire Cox, Richardson refused and resigned in protest. Nixon then demanded that Acting Attorney general William Ruckleshaus to do it. Ruckleshaus also refused and resigned. Finally Nixon brought in Robert Bork to do his bidding. He swore in Bork as acting Attorney General and Bork fired Cox. The action only brought about more scrutiny and more investigation, but then the Republican leader of the Senate, Howard Baker was willing to work with Democrats to protect the country from an out of control President and criminal administration. It is high time that Republicans in the Senate and the House stop excusing the inexcusable and to defend the Constitution that for years that they have claimed to love more than life.

This is how dictatorships are born. If the men and women who lead our democratic and constitutional government and this in the Justice Department and law enforcement fail to stand up that is what we will be left with. We will lose our democracy, our Republic and our Constitution. If that happens we will have nobody to blame but ourselves, and God damn us if we allow it to happen, for we will have surrendered the worlds best hope and the only nation ever founded upon a principle; that being “all men are created equal.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Missiles and Messages: What is Trump trying to Convey?

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

If nothing else the events of last week, in particular President Trump’s decision to launch missiles at a Syrian airbase in response to Syria’s renewed use of poison gas on its own population sent a message to different leaders around the world. What that message is and how effective that it is depends on who heard it and how they interpreted it.

The actual type of strike was nothing new and it certainly was justified in relation to war crimes of the Assad regime. President Clinton used similar strikes as punitive measures against Iraq in the 1990s, President Bush used them against various targets outside of Iraq, and opting for a full invasion of that country. While President Obama tended to be more hesitant about the missile strikes he often used Special Forces and drones in many countries pursuant to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force pertaining to the War on Terror, he did use missile and air strikes in conjunction with NATO to help Libyan rebels overthrow the Ghaddafi regime.

That being said what is the message that the President was attempting to send, and how does it fit into a larger foreign policy and national security strategy? That is where my concerns lie in regard to this strike. As for me I would have loved to see a Tomahawk fly up Bashir Assad’s ass and blow him to the Hell of his choice, if Ghaddafi and Saddam deserved death, then Assad deserves it many times more. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not President because I think that those 60 Tomahawks would have been much more wisely employed by taking out Assad’s Presidential Palace and maybe taking out him in the process, but there would have been a much bigger blowback to that than striking the airfield, but I digress…

Going back to what I was saying, how does this fit into a broader foreign policy and national security strategy?

The timing of the strike, minutes after the final dinner between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping certainly sent a message to China and North Korea who it might have been the real audience. If the strike forces China to take stronger action to assist the United States in reducing the building North Korean nuclear threat, then it will have served a worthwhile purpose. A Chinese newspaper reported that this was the intent of the strike just yesterday.

But the effect depends on the rationality of the targeted audience. The Chinese are a rational actor, but the North Koreans may not be, so we have to wait and see. In the meantime the Administration dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to Korea waters to coincide with a time of the year when the North Koreans typically become more active.

There is also the possibility that the message was also intended for Putin’s Russia, the Assad regime, and even Iran, but right now other than a few statements by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley there has not been any real follow up to the strike. Secretary of State Tillerson is going to Moscow this week so we may glean more from that meeting.

Of course there is the domestic political audience and based on how the Trump campaign and administration has dealt with truth there is the possibility that this is much more to do about Trump’s plunging poll ratings and as a distraction from the ballooning Russia-Trump election scandals.

Regardless of what message the missile strike was intended to convey, we still don’t know how it will play out and it could play out in any number of ways, good or bad, and it might even turn out to be an act of genius, I doubt the latter but it is a possibility.

That is why the Trump and his administration must determine what its policy will be, especially its diplomatic policy. The President must keep all options on the table, diplomatic, informational, military, and economic, but he must be very judicious in how he uses them. Believe me, I can disagree with and distrust the President all day long, but I don’t want him to screw this up. Too much is at stake.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

Dan Sickles the Incredible Scoundrel and Patriot Part One

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over this Thanksgiving weekend 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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George Meade had made his dispositions on July 2nd 1863 with care, but there was one notable problem, the commander of III Corps, Major General Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps on the south end of Cemetery Ridge. But before discussing that it is worth chasing the rabbit so to speak and spend some time on the life of a man referred to by one by one biographer as an American Scoundrel and another as Sickles the Incredible. The interesting thing is that lie most complex characters in history that Dan Sickles was both and, “he might have had more faults than virtues, but everything about him was perfectly genuine.” [1] That is one of the reason that he is so fascinating.

Sickles was certainly a scoundrel and at the same time incredible, charming yet terribly vain and often insincere. “He was quick-witted, willful, brash, and ambitious, with pliable moral principles.” [2] But he was also incredibly brilliant, far sighted, patriotic, and civic minded. He was a political general, “flamboyant, impulsive, and brave, some would wonder about his discipline and military judgement.” [3] His notoriety and unpopularity among the West Point trained professional officers in the Army of the Potomac, as well as his tactical decision to move his corps on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863, and his subsequent political machinations ensured that he would be the only corps commander of that army not commemorated with a monument at Gettysburg.

Dan Sickles was one of the most colorful, controversial, and perhaps the most scandalous officer ever to command a corps in the history of the United States Army. While he lacked professional training he had done a fair amount of study of the military arts in his spare time, and he “made up for his lack of military training by acting on the battlefield with reckless courage, and was much admired for it by his men.” [4]

After having served as a brigade and division commander Sickles was promoted to corps command. “Sickles owed his elevation to corps command to the patronage of his friend Joseph Hooker…. And while man of the West Point officer….regarded Sickles military acumen with the greatest skepticism, many in the volunteer ranks were of a different mind. “Sickles is a great favorite in this corps,” asserted Private John Haley of the 17th Maine. “The men worship him. He is every inch a soldier and looking like a game cock. No one questions his bravery or patriotism.” [5] General Alpheus Williams who commanded a division in the Union Twelfth Corps despised Sickles, and after Chancellorsville Williams wrote “A Sickles’ would beat Napoleon in winning glory not earned,,, He is a hero without a heroic deed! Literally made by scribblers.” [6] Likewise, Sickles, the political general was no favorite of George Gordon Meade.

On July 2nd 1863 Sickles would be responsible for an act that threw George Meade’s defensive plan into chaos, and according to most historians and analysts nearly lost the battle, however, there are some who defend his actions and give him credit for upsetting Lee’s plan of attack. However, the truth lays somewhat in the middle as both observations are correct. Sickles’ decision created a massive controversy in the months following the battle as public hearings in Congress, where Sickles, a former congressman from New York had many friends, as well as enemies, sought a political advantage from a near military disaster.

Sickles was a mercurial, vain and scandal plagued man who “wore notoriety like a cloak” and “whether he was drinking, fighting, wenching or plotting, he was always operating with the throttle wide open.” [7]Sickles was born in New York to George and Susan Marsh Sickles in late 1819, though a number of sources, including Sickles himself cite dates ranging from 1819 through 1825. “There is little reliable information about Sickles’ early days,” [8] and he did not talk much about them, especially after the war, when Gettysburg and the Civil War became his main subjects of conversation. His father, a sixth generation American whose family were early Dutch settlers in Manhattan became wealthy through real estate speculation, “and he passed on to his son a pride in being a congenital Knickerbocker,” charming, witty, and clever, in whom “hardheadedness and impulsiveness were combined.” [9]

The young Sickles was an impetuous child and his father’s wealth ensured that Dan Sickles had “the finest of tutors…. And an unceasing bankroll of funding for lascivious escapades.” [10] To get their son special tutoring to prepare him for college, his parents “arranged for him to live in the scholarly house of the Da Pont family…. It was a household like few others in that hardheaded, mercantile city, at a time when New York had little of the Italian character it would later take on.” [11]The home was a place of learning, culture, and unusual relationships. The head of the house was Lorenzo L. Da Pont, a Professor at Columbia, as well as a practicing attorney. Also living in the home was Da Pont’s father, the ninety-year-old Professor Lorenzo Da Pont, who “had been the librettist for three of Mozart’s operas” [12] and “held the chair of Italian and Columbia University” [13] Additionally, the elder Da Pont’s “adopted daughter Maria and her husband, Antonio Bagioli, a successful composer and music teacher” [14] lived under the same roof.

Maria was only about twenty-years-old when Sickles moved in. By this time she and Bagioli already had a child of their own, a three year old daughter named Teresa, which Sickles would eventually marry. While the elder Da Pont claimed Maria as an adopted daughter, it was “widely believed that she was his “natural child” … from an American liaison conducted when he was near the age of seventy.” [15] This spawned rumors, even at the time of Gettysburg that the young Sickles “and his future mother-in-law had a sexual affair.” [16]

Whether the liaison with Maria Bagioli occurred is a matter of innuendo and conjecture, but it would not be out of character for Sickles, who, to put it mildly, had a wild proclivity for the opposite sex. As a young man he frequented brothels, and as his social and political status increased, he moved from the brothels frequented by the middle class to those which catered to the more socially well to do. One of his affairs was with the a prostitute named Fanny White, a woman who was smart, pretty, and upwardly mobile who ran her own bordello. His affair with Fanny was well publicized, but did not prevent him from being elected to the state legislature in 1847. She and Sickles would continue their relationship for years with her asking nothing more than expensive gifts, and there are inklings that Fanny help to fund Sickles’ early political campaigns. There is also speculation that in 1854 following his marriage, that Fanny spent time with him in London while he was working with James Buchanan and that that he “may have brought Fanny to one of the Queens’s receptions and introducing the prostitute to Her Majesty.” [17] But Fanny eventually moved on to a man older and richer than Sickles. Eventually she retired from her business and married another New York lawyer but died of complications of tuberculosis and possibly syphilis in 1860. Her property at the time of her death was conservatively “estimated at $50,000 to $100,000”[18] a considerable fortune for a woman of her day and age.

While he lived with the Da Pont family, Sickles gained an appreciation for foreign languages, as well as theater and opera. The elder Professor Da Pont was a major part of his academic life and quite possibly in the development of Sickles liberal education and his rather libertine morality. Lorenzo had been a Catholic Priest and theologian in Italy, but like his young American admirer had quite the attraction for women, and was a connoisseur of erotic literature and poetry. His activities resulted in him being expelled from his teaching position in the seminary, after which he became fast friends with a man whose name is synonymous with smooth talking, suave, amorous men, Giacomo Casanova, and in Europe “his affairs with women had been almost as notorious as those of his good friend.” [19] Certainly the elder Lorenzo’s tales “of Casanova, the fabled prince of Priapus, did nothing to quell Dan’s adolescent sexual appetite.” [20]

Noted Civil War and Gettysburg historian Allen Guelzo describes the Sickles in even less flattering terms, “Sickles was from the beginning, a spoiled brat, and he matured from there into a suave, charming, pathological liar, not unlike certain characters in Mozart operas.”[21]

Following the deaths of both the elder and younger Professor Da Pont, Sickles was stricken with grief. At the funeral of the younger Professor Da Pont Sickles “raved and tore up and down the graveyard shrieking,” [22] forcing other mourners to take him away by force. Soon after, Sickles left New York University and began to work in the law office of the very formidable New York lawyer and former U.S. Attorney General, Benjamin F. Butler.

While he was studying for the bar under Butler, he was joined by his father who would also become an attorney. It was under the influence of his father, who was now a wealthy Wall Street investor, and the Democrats of Tammany Hall that the incredibly talented Sickles was groomed for political leadership. Tammany was a rough and tumble world of hardnosed politics, backroom deals, corruption and graft.

He passed the bar in 1843 and soon was making a name for himself in the legal world, and in politics, despite his well-known questionable ethics and morality. His political career began in 1844 when “he wrote a campaign paper for James Polk and became involved in the Tammany Hall political machine.” [23] The ever ambitious Sickles “clambered up the city’s Democratic party ladder, on the way collecting allies and enemies with utter disregard for the consequences, attending the typically unruly Tammany meetings armed with bowie knife and pistol.” [24]

Like many of his fellow New York Democrats he was a proponent of “Manifest Destiny, and the right of the United States to acquire and hold Texas, New Mexico, California, perhaps the isthmus of Central American, and certainly Cuba.” [25] He was also a political ally of many states rights Southern Democrats and “largely opposed anti-slavery legislation.” [26] This was in large part due to the commercial interests of New York, which between banking and commercial shipping interests profited from the South’s slave economy.

He was elected to the New York State legislature in 1847 and his political star continued to rise even as his personal reputation sank among many of his peers. An attorney who knew him described Sickles as “one of the bigger bubbles in the scum of the profession, swollen, and windy, and puffed out with fetid gas.” [27] Sickles rivals any American politician, before or since in his ability to rise even as the slime ran down his body, the term “Teflon” applied to politicians like Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton comes to mind when one studies Sickles’ career. New York lawyer and diarist George Templeton Strong wrote, “One might as well try to spoil a rotten egg as to damage Dan’s career.” [28]

But there was no denying that Sickles was a brilliant lawyer, politician, and debater. One observed that Sickles was “a lawyer by intuition – careful in reaching his conclusions, but quick and bold in pushing them.” [29]New York Governor “William Marcy grudgingly said that as a debater Sickles excelled any man of his years, and the astute Henry Raymond declared that as a parliamentary leader he was unsurpassed.” [30] Soon Sickles was a delegate to the 1848 Democratic Convention where he helped nominate Franklin Pierce for his unsuccessful run at the democratic nomination. The convention enabled Sickles to enter the world of national politics making friends with many influential politicians and financiers, including Pierce, the Van Burens, and James Buchanan. On his return to New York he received an appointed as a Major in the New York Militia.

Even as Sickles rose in the tumultuous world of American law and politics, and chased Fanny White he became enamored with the now teenage daughter of Antonio and Maria Bagioli, Miss Teresa Bagioli who though only fifteen was beautiful, wise beyond her years, fluent in French and Italian, devoted to the arts, and entirely besotted by Dan Sickles. Both the parents of Sickles and Teresa opposed the relationship, but both were madly in love, and Teresa was as headstrong as Dan regarding the relationship. Though such a relationship would be considered completely scandalous today, such marriages were not uncommon then, though they were certainly less common in the upper society of New York. Sickles “was enchanted by her” and “courted her with the sensibility of being a friend of her parents and he must have suspected that he loved her with a fated and exclusive love.” [31] When she was just sixteen Teresa quit school and married the thirty-three year-old assemblyman in a civil ceremony officiated by New York Mayor Ambrose Kingsland on September 27th1852. Six months later, the two were married in the Catholic Church by Archbishop John Hughes, in a “gala and largely attended affair.” [32] Just three months after the church wedding their daughter, Laura, was born. Though there can be no doubt that Sickles loved Teresa, and she him, it did not stop him from other extramarital affairs, nor did it take much away from his political machinations at Tammany Hall.

Following the 1852 Democratic convention where he again supported Franklin Pierce, Sickles hard fighting and influence at in the Wigwam of was rewarded with political plum prize of being appointed “corporation counsel of New York City, a post that paid a flattering salary with extra emoluments and also left room for profitable legal work on the side.” [33] His political and social acumen were again demonstrated as he convinced the state legislature, through personal force of will, to enable the New York City Corporation “to go ahead with creating a great central park,”[34] a park that we now know today as Central Park. He also helped push forward a proposal to create New York’s first mass transportation system, that of horse drawn omnibuses.

Later in the year Sickles was appointed as secretary of the American legation to the Court of St. James n London, headed by former Secretary of State James Buchanan. The position paid a pittance of what Sickles was earning in New York, but he realized that the serving overseas in such a position could not but help him on the national political stage. Though Buchanan and Pierce wanted Sickles, the new Secretary of State, the former New York Governor William Marcy refused to sign Sickles’ commission for the post. Eventually, Pierce prevailed and Sickles got the job.

As their baby, Laura, was still very young and sea travel still quite hazardous, Teresa remained at home, and joined her husband in London the following year. However, when she arrived in London, the teenage wife of Dan Sickles charmed Americans and Britons alike. Aided by her multilingual gifts, which “were rare among American diplomats’ wives,” [35] she became a great success and the unmarried Buchanan appointed her as hostess for the legation. She rapidly became a celebrity due to her stunning beauty and charm, and like he had Fanny, Sickles had Teresa introduced to the Queen. Her celebrity status evoked different responses from those that observed her. “One contemporary described Teresa as an Italian beauty, warm, openhearted, and unselfish. Another described her as being “… without shame or brain and [having] a lust for men.” [36] That “lust for men” coupled with the neglect of her husband may well have been the catalyst for the scandal which overwhelmed them in Dan’s congressional career.

It was during his service in London with Buchanan that Sickles became embroiled in one of the most embarrassing diplomatic incidents in American history. The proponents of Manifest Destiny and American expansion had long desired to take Cuba from Spain through diplomacy, or if needed force. Following a failed attempt by American “Filibusters” to seize the island in 1852 which ended in the execution of fifty Americans, including the son of U.S. Attorney General John Crittenden by Spanish authorities, and in 1854 President Franklin Pierce authorized Buchanan to attempt to negotiate the acquisition of Cuba.

Pierce authorized Buchanan to meet with James Mason, the United States Ambassador to France and Pierre Soule, the United States Ambassador to Spain secretly in order to draft “a statement on the future of Cuba and the proposed role of the United States.” [37] Soule dominated the meeting and the statement, which was in large part drafted by Dan Sickles, was highly inflammatory. Despite this the statement was released to the press in defiance of the order to maintain the strictest secrecy and it resulted in a diplomatic disaster for the Pierce Administration.

The document was prepared by Soule and Sickles and endorsed by Buchanan and Mason was known as the Ostend Manifesto, and it “was one of the most truly American, and at the same time most undiplomatic, documents every devised.” [38] The manifesto prepared by Soule and Sickles proclaimed that “Cuba is as necessary to the North American Republic as any of its present members, and that it belongs naturally to the great family of states of which the Union is the Providential Nursery.” [39] The authors of the manifesto also threatened Spain should the Spanish fail to accede to American demands. The authors declared that if the United States “decided its sovereignty depended on acquiring Cuba, and if Spain would not pass on sovereignty in the island to the United States by peaceful means, including sale, then, “by every law, human and Divine, we shall be justified in wresting it from Spain.” [40]

The Ostend Manifesto “sent shivers through the chancelleries of Europe, provoked hurried conversations between the heads of the French and British admiralties.” [41] European diplomats and leaders reacted harshly to the statement and Secretary of State William Marcy who had previously supported the ideas in the document immediately distance himself and official American policy from it and the authors. Marcy then “forced Soule’s resignation by repudiating the whole thing, but the damage was done.” For months the Pierce administration was on the defensive, and was condemned “as the advocate of a policy of “shame and dishonor,” the supporter of a “buccaneering document,” a “highwayman’s plea.” American diplomacy, said the London Times, was given to “the habitual pursuit of dishonorable object by clandestine means.”[42] The incident ended official and unofficial attempts by Americans to obtain Cuba by legal or extralegal means until the Spanish American War in 1898.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.151

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.222

[3] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.45

[4] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.65

[5] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.110

[6] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.35

[7] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road pp.150-151

[8] Hessler, James A. Sickles at Gettysburg Savas Beatie New York and El Dorado Hills CA, 2009, 2010 p.1

[9] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.7

[10] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.243

[11] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.3

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.2

[13] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.3

[14] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.3

[15] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.4

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.3

[17] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.6

[18] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.215

[19] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.79

[20] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.80

[21] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.243

[22] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.81

[23] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.4

[24] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.198

[25] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.12

[26] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.82

[27] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.222

[28] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.4

[29] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.84

[30] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.84

[31] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.21

[32] Wilson Robert and Clair, Carl They Also Served: Wives of Civil War Generals Xlibris Corporation 2006 p.98

[33] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.88

[34] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.21

[35] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.39

[36] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.98

[37] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.44

[38] Pinchon, Edgcumb Dan Sickles: Hero of Gettysburg and “Yankee King of Spain” Doubleday, Doran and Company Inc. Garden City NY 1945 p.48

[39] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.190

[40] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.45

[41] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.48

[42] Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War 1848-1861 completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1976 p.193

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Filed under civil war, ethics, History, leadership

Incredible Scoundrel: Dan Sickles Pt.1

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am a historian as well as a chaplain and priest. I do a lot of work with the Battle of Gettysburg and much of my work involves biography as I believe that the one constant in history is people. Technology and many other things may change, but people and human nature are constant, for good and for bad, and frankly I find people fascinating. In fact from the point of view of history and biography, sinners are much more interesting to write about than saints, but I digress…

One of the most fascinating people of the Battle of Gettysburg is Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles, a man who was one of the most fascinating, salacious, scandalous, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history. 

This is the first of a three part series taken from my Gettysburg and Civil War text. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

George Meade had made his dispositions on July 2nd 1863 with care, but there was one notable problem, the commander of III Corps, Major General Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps on the south end of Cemetery Ridge. But before discussing that it is worth chasing the rabbit so to speak and spend some time on the life of a man referred to by one by one biographer as an American Scoundrel and another as Sickles the Incredible. The interesting thing is that lie most complex characters in history that Dan Sickles was both and, “he might have had more faults than virtues, but everything about him was perfectly genuine.” [1] That is one of the reason that he is so fascinating.

Sickles was certainly a scoundrel and at the same time incredible, charming yet terribly vain and often insincere. “He was quick-witted, willful, brash, and ambitious, with pliable moral principles.” [2] But he was also incredibly brilliant, far sighted, patriotic, and civic minded. He was a political general, “flamboyant, impulsive, and brave, some would wonder about his discipline and military judgement.” [3] His notoriety and unpopularity among the West Point trained professional officers in the Army of the Potomac, as well as his tactical decision to move his corps on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863, and his subsequent political machinations ensured that he would be the only corps commander of that army not commemorated with a monument at Gettysburg.

Dan Sickles was one of the most colorful, controversial, and perhaps the most scandalous officer ever to command a corps in the history of the United States Army. While he lacked professional training he had done a fair amount of study of the military arts in his spare time, and he “made up for his lack of military training by acting on the battlefield with reckless courage, and was much admired for it by his men.” [4]

After having served as a brigade and division commander Sickles was promoted to corps command. “Sickles owed his elevation to corps command to the patronage of his friend Joseph Hooker…. And while man of the West Point officer….regarded Sickles military acumen with the greatest skepticism, many in the volunteer ranks were of a different mind. “Sickles is a great favorite in this corps,” asserted Private John Haley of the 17th Maine. “The men worship him. He is every inch a soldier and looking like a game cock. No one questions his bravery or patriotism.” [5] General Alpheus Williams who commanded a division in the Union Twelfth Corps despised Sickles, and after Chancellorsville Williams wrote “A Sickles’ would beat Napoleon in winning glory not earned,,, He is a hero without a heroic deed! Literally made by scribblers.” [6] Likewise, Sickles, the political general was no favorite of George Gordon Meade.

On July 2nd 1863 Sickles would be responsible for an act that threw George Meade’s defensive plan into chaos, and according to most historians and analysts nearly lost the battle, however, there are some who defend his actions and give him credit for upsetting Lee’s plan of attack. However, the truth lays somewhat in the middle as both observations are correct. Sickles’ decision created a massive controversy in the months following the battle as public hearings in Congress, where Sickles, a former congressman from New York had many friends, as well as enemies, sought a political advantage from a near military disaster.

Sickles was a mercurial, vain and scandal plagued man who “wore notoriety like a cloak” and “whether he was drinking, fighting, wenching or plotting, he was always operating with the throttle wide open.” [7] Sickles was born in New York to George and Susan Marsh Sickles in late 1819, though a number of sources, including Sickles himself cite dates ranging from 1819 through 1825. “There is little reliable information about Sickles’ early days,” [8] and he did not talk much about them, especially after the war, when Gettysburg and the Civil War became his main subjects of conversation. His father, a sixth generation American whose family were early Dutch settlers in Manhattan became wealthy through real estate speculation, “and he passed on to his son a pride in being a congenital Knickerbocker,” charming, witty, and clever, in whom “hardheadedness and impulsiveness were combined.” [9]

The young Sickles was an impetuous child and his father’s wealth ensured that Dan Sickles had “the finest of tutors…. And an unceasing bankroll of funding for lascivious escapades.” [10] To get their son special tutoring to prepare him for college, his parents “arranged for him to live in the scholarly house of the Da Pont family…. It was a household like few others in that hardheaded, mercantile city, at a time when New York had little of the Italian character it would later take on.” [11] The home was a place of learning, culture, and unusual relationships. The head of the house was Lorenzo L. Da Pont, a Professor at Columbia, as well as a practicing attorney. Also living in the home was Da Pont’s father, the ninety-year-old Professor Lorenzo Da Pont, who “had been the librettist for three of Mozart’s operas” [12] and “held the chair of Italian and Columbia University” [13] Additionally, the elder Da Pont’s “adopted daughter Maria and her husband, Antonio Bagioli, a successful composer and music teacher” [14] lived under the same roof.

Maria was only about twenty-years-old when Sickles moved in. By this time she and Bagioli already had a child of their own, a three year old daughter named Teresa, which Sickles would eventually marry. While the elder Da Pont claimed Maria as an adopted daughter, it was “widely believed that she was his “natural child” … from an American liaison conducted when he was near the age of seventy.” [15] This spawned rumors, even at the time of Gettysburg that the young Sickles “and his future mother-in-law had a sexual affair.” [16]

Whether the liaison with Maria Bagioli occurred is a matter of innuendo and conjecture, but it would not be out of character for Sickles, who, to put it mildly, had a wild proclivity for the opposite sex. As a young man he frequented brothels, and as his social and political status increased, he moved from the brothels frequented by the middle class to those which catered to the more socially well to do. One of his affairs was with the a prostitute named Fanny White, a woman who was smart, pretty, and upwardly mobile who ran her own bordello. His affair with Fanny was well publicized, but did not prevent him from being elected to the state legislature in 1847. She and Sickles would continue their relationship for years with her asking nothing more than expensive gifts, and there are inklings that Fanny help to fund Sickles’ early political campaigns. There is also speculation that in 1854 following his marriage, that Fanny spent time with him in London while he was working with James Buchanan and that that he “may have brought Fanny to one of the Queens’s receptions and introducing the prostitute to Her Majesty.” [17] But Fanny eventually moved on to a man older and richer than Sickles. Eventually she retired from her business and married another New York lawyer but died of complications of tuberculosis and possibly syphilis in 1860. Her property at the time of her death was conservatively “estimated at $50,000 to $100,000” [18] a considerable fortune for a woman of her day and age.

While he lived with the Da Pont family, Sickles gained an appreciation for foreign languages, as well as theater and opera. The elder Professor Da Pont was a major part of his academic life and quite possibly in the development of Sickles liberal education and his rather libertine morality. Lorenzo had been a Catholic Priest and theologian in Italy, but like his young American admirer had quite the attraction for women, and was a connoisseur of erotic literature and poetry. His activities resulted in him being expelled from his teaching position in the seminary, after which he became fast friends with a man whose name is synonymous with smooth talking, suave, amorous men, Giacomo Casanova, and in Europe “his affairs with women had been almost as notorious as those of his good friend.” [19] Certainly the elder Lorenzo’s tales “of Casanova, the fabled prince of Priapus, did nothing to quell Dan’s adolescent sexual appetite.” [20]

Noted Civil War and Gettysburg historian Allen Guelzo describes the Sickles in even less flattering terms, “Sickles was from the beginning, a spoiled brat, and he matured from there into a suave, charming, pathological liar, not unlike certain characters in Mozart operas.” [21]

Following the deaths of both the elder and younger Professor Da Pont, Sickles was stricken with grief. At the funeral of the younger Professor Da Pont Sickles “raved and tore up and down the graveyard shrieking,” [22] forcing other mourners to take him away by force. Soon after, Sickles left New York University and began to work in the law office of the very formidable New York lawyer and former U.S. Attorney General, Benjamin F. Butler.

While he was studying for the bar under Butler, he was joined by his father who would also become an attorney. It was under the influence of his father, who was now a wealthy Wall Street investor, and the Democrats of Tammany Hall that the incredibly talented Sickles was groomed for political leadership. Tammany was a rough and tumble world of hardnosed politics, backroom deals, corruption and graft.

He passed the bar in 1843 and soon was making a name for himself in the legal world, and in politics, despite his well-known questionable ethics and morality. His political career began in 1844 when “he wrote a campaign paper for James Polk and became involved in the Tammany Hall political machine.” [23] The ever ambitious Sickles “clambered up the city’s Democratic party ladder, on the way collecting allies and enemies with utter disregard for the consequences, attending the typically unruly Tammany meetings armed with bowie knife and pistol.” [24]

Like many of his fellow New York Democrats he was a proponent of “Manifest Destiny, and the right of the United States to acquire and hold Texas, New Mexico, California, perhaps the isthmus of Central American, and certainly Cuba.” [25] He was also a political ally of many states rights Southern Democrats and “largely opposed anti-slavery legislation.” [26] This was in large part due to the commercial interests of New York, which between banking and commercial shipping interests profited from the South’s slave economy.

He was elected to the New York State legislature in 1847 and his political star continued to rise even as his personal reputation sank among many of his peers. An attorney who knew him described Sickles as “one of the bigger bubbles in the scum of the profession, swollen, and windy, and puffed out with fetid gas.” [27] Sickles rivals any American politician, before or since in his ability to rise even as the slime ran down his body, the term “Teflon” applied to politicians like Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton comes to mind when one studies Sickles’ career. New York lawyer and diarist George Templeton Strong wrote, “One might as well try to spoil a rotten egg as to damage Dan’s career.” [28]

But there was no denying that Sickles was a brilliant lawyer, politician, and debater. One observed that Sickles was “a lawyer by intuition – careful in reaching his conclusions, but quick and bold in pushing them.” [29] New York Governor “William Marcy grudgingly said that as a debater Sickles excelled any man of his years, and the astute Henry Raymond declared that as a parliamentary leader he was unsurpassed.” [30] Soon Sickles was a delegate to the 1848 Democratic Convention where he helped nominate Franklin Pierce for his unsuccessful run at the democratic nomination. The convention enabled Sickles to enter the world of national politics making friends with many influential politicians and financiers, including Pierce, the Van Burens, and James Buchanan. On his return to New York he received an appointed as a Major in the New York Militia.

Even as Sickles rose in the tumultuous world of American law and politics, and chased Fanny White he became enamored with the now teenage daughter of Antonio and Maria Bagioli, Miss Teresa Bagioli who though only fifteen was beautiful, wise beyond her years, fluent in French and Italian, devoted to the arts, and entirely besotted by Dan Sickles. Both the parents of Sickles and Teresa opposed the relationship, but both were madly in love, and Teresa was as headstrong as Dan regarding the relationship. Though such a relationship would be considered completely scandalous today, such marriages were not uncommon then, though they were certainly less common in the upper society of New York. Sickles “was enchanted by her” and “courted her with the sensibility of being a friend of her parents and he must have suspected that he loved her with a fated and exclusive love.” [31] When she was just sixteen Teresa quit school and married the thirty-three year-old assemblyman in a civil ceremony officiated by New York Mayor Ambrose Kingsland on September 27th 1852. Six months later, the two were married in the Catholic Church by Archbishop John Hughes, in a “gala and largely attended affair.” [32] Just three months after the church wedding their daughter, Laura, was born. Though there can be no doubt that Sickles loved Teresa, and she him, it did not stop him from other extramarital affairs, nor did it take much away from his political machinations at Tammany Hall.

Following the 1852 Democratic convention where he again supported Franklin Pierce, Sickles hard fighting and influence at in the Wigwam of was rewarded with political plum prize of being appointed “corporation counsel of New York City, a post that paid a flattering salary with extra emoluments and also left room for profitable legal work on the side.” [33] His political and social acumen were again demonstrated as he convinced the state legislature, through personal force of will, to enable the New York City Corporation “to go ahead with creating a great central park,” [34] a park that we now know today as Central Park. He also helped push forward a proposal to create New York’s first mass transportation system, that of horse drawn omnibuses.

Later in the year Sickles was appointed as secretary of the American legation to the Court of St. James n London, headed by former Secretary of State James Buchanan. The position paid a pittance of what Sickles was earning in New York, but he realized that the serving overseas in such a position could not but help him on the national political stage. Though Buchanan and Pierce wanted Sickles, the new Secretary of State, the former New York Governor William Marcy refused to sign Sickles’ commission for the post. Eventually, Pierce prevailed and Sickles got the job.

As their baby, Laura, was still very young and sea travel still quite hazardous, Teresa remained at home, and joined her husband in London the following year. However, when she arrived in London, the teenage wife of Dan Sickles charmed Americans and Britons alike. Aided by her multilingual gifts, which “were rare among American diplomats’ wives,” [35] she became a great success and the unmarried Buchanan appointed her as hostess for the legation. She rapidly became a celebrity due to her stunning beauty and charm, and like he had Fanny, Sickles had Teresa introduced to the Queen. Her celebrity status evoked different responses from those that observed her. “One contemporary described Teresa as an Italian beauty, warm, openhearted, and unselfish. Another described her as being “… without shame or brain and [having] a lust for men.” [36] That “lust for men” coupled with the neglect of her husband may well have been the catalyst for the scandal which overwhelmed them in Dan’s congressional career.

It was during his service in London with Buchanan that Sickles became embroiled in one of the most embarrassing diplomatic incidents in American history. The proponents of Manifest Destiny and American expansion had long desired to take Cuba from Spain through diplomacy, or if needed force. Following a failed attempt by American “Filibusters” to seize the island in 1852 which ended in the execution of fifty Americans, including the son of U.S. Attorney General John Crittenden by Spanish authorities, and in 1854 President Franklin Pierce authorized Buchanan to attempt to negotiate the acquisition of Cuba.

Pierce authorized Buchanan to meet with James Mason, the United States Ambassador to France and Pierre Soule, the United States Ambassador to Spain secretly in order to draft “a statement on the future of Cuba and the proposed role of the United States.” [37] Soule dominated the meeting and the statement, which was in large part drafted by Dan Sickles, was highly inflammatory. Despite this the statement was released to the press in defiance of the order to maintain the strictest secrecy and it resulted in a diplomatic disaster for the Pierce Administration.

The document was prepared by Soule and Sickles and endorsed by Buchanan and Mason was known as the Ostend Manifesto, and it “was one of the most truly American, and at the same time most undiplomatic, documents every devised.” [38] The manifesto prepared by Soule and Sickles proclaimed that “Cuba is as necessary to the North American Republic as any of its present members, and that it belongs naturally to the great family of states of which the Union is the Providential Nursery.” [39] The authors of the manifesto also threatened Spain should the Spanish fail to accede to American demands. The authors declared that if the United States “decided its sovereignty depended on acquiring Cuba, and if Spain would not pass on sovereignty in the island to the United States by peaceful means, including sale, then, “by every law, human and Divine, we shall be justified in wresting it from Spain.” [40]

The Ostend Manifesto “sent shivers through the chancelleries of Europe, provoked hurried conversations between the heads of the French and British admiralties.” [41] European diplomats and leaders reacted harshly to the statement and Secretary of State William Marcy who had previously supported the ideas in the document immediately distance himself and official American policy from it and the authors. Marcy then “forced Soule’s resignation by repudiating the whole thing, but the damage was done.” For months the Pierce administration was on the defensive, and was condemned “as the advocate of a policy of “shame and dishonor,” the supporter of a “buccaneering document,” a “highwayman’s plea.” American diplomacy, said the London Times, was given to “the habitual pursuit of dishonorable object by clandestine means.” [42] The incident ended official and unofficial attempts by Americans to obtain Cuba by legal or extralegal means until the Spanish American War in 1898.

Too be continued…

Notes

[1] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.151

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.222

[3] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.45

[4] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.65

[5] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.110

[6] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.35

[7] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road pp.150-151

[8] Hessler, James A. Sickles at Gettysburg Savas Beatie New York and El Dorado Hills CA, 2009, 2010 p.1

[9] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.7

[10] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.243

[11] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.3

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.2

[13] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.3

[14] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.3

[15] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.4

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.3

[17] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.6

[18] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.215

[19] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.79

[20] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.80

[21] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.243

[22] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.81

[23] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.4

[24] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.198

[25] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.12

[26] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.82

[27] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.222

[28] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.4

[29] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.84

[30] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.84

[31] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.21

[32] Wilson Robert and Clair, Carl They Also Served: Wives of Civil War Generals Xlibris Corporation 2006 p.98

[33] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.88

[34] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.21

[35] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.39

[36] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.98

[37] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.44

[38] Pinchon, Edgcumb Dan Sickles: Hero of Gettysburg and “Yankee King of Spain” Doubleday, Doran and Company Inc. Garden City NY 1945 p.48

[39] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.190

[40] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.45

[41] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.48

[42] Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War 1848-1861 completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1976 p.193

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For the Future: The Assassination of John F Kennedy at 50 Years

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President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas on a sunny November afternoon 50 years ago.  The images of the event and its aftermath in photos and film still haunt us and find themselves etched in our individual and collective memory. The two shots that killed the President were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald according to the Warren Commission and subsequent inquiries although there are a host of conspiracy theories regarding the assassination. My purpose is not to prove or disprove the official version or any alternative explanation. I personally believe that Oswald was the lone gunman, but I have to wonder if there were others involved in the plot and at times if there was a second shooter.

However today my purpose is to remember Kennedy’s assassination, a horrible event in the life of our nation and to reflect on how easily something similar could happen again.

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Kennedy in Berlin

Kennedy was not the first President killed by an assassin. Four Presidents of the United States have died by the hand of assassins. The first was Abraham Lincoln killed by John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday 1865.  That assassination carried out by a Southern sympathizer not even a week after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox stunned the nation and most likely altered the course of events after the war.

The second was the assassination of James A Garfield who was shot on July 2nd 1881 by Charles Guiteau.  Guiteau was a disgruntled supporter who claimed that he had been commanded by God to kill a the President who he believed to be ungrateful for his support. I find it interesting that one of our four Presidential assassins was motivated by what he believed God to be saying. During his trial he said that some important Europeans told him to do it. Garfield died on September 19th probably due to the incompetence of his doctors.  Guiteau died of a broken neck, expertly administered by a hangman after dancing to the gallows waving to the assembled crowd.

The third U.S. President to die at the hands of an assassin was President William McKinley who was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 5th 1901. McKinley died on September 14th once again because of not so great medical care.

In all over 20 attempts have been made on incumbent or former Presidents. Theodore Roosevelt was wounded by an attempted assassin after his Presidency and John Hinckley Junior nearly killed President Ronald Reagan on March 30th 1981.  Gerald Ford had two close brushes with female assassins within 2 weeks of each other in September 1975. More recent attempts have been made on George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.  A man was arrested for shooting at the White House last week but President Obama was away from Washington during the attack.

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However, Kennedy’s assassination tends to be the most talked about and studied. I believe that his assassination left a scar on the country that really hasn’t healed. I can remember the effect that his assassination as well as the subsequent killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy had on my parents in the following years.  My mother recounted how she felt when she heard the news of Kennedy’s death on Armed Forces Radio while we were stationed in the Philippines.  It was an event that shattered the faith and idealism of many Americans.

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I remember the times around the anniversary of his assassination we would watch television shows about it and the movie PT-109. While I do not have direct memories of President Kennedy’s assassination I do remember those of Dr King and Senator Kennedy as well as the subsequent attempts on President Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush.

John F Kennedy is one of my favorite Presidents. I know that he was a deeply flawed man and I do not gloss over his failings either as a man or some of his decisions while President. He was certainly not perfect but I still I admire him.  I think one reason I admire him was his his ability to enunciate ideas that helped shape my more moderately liberal progressive pragmatism. One thing that he said is something that motivates me daily in our divided nation.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

Lieutenant-John-F.-Kennedy

Kennedy volunteered to serve in combat on PT Boats despite having chronic lower back problems that kept him out of the Army and necessitated a waiver to enter the Navy. His actions in saving his crew after his PT-109 was sunk were nothing short of heroic and his crew knew it. After he his crew was rescued Kennedy elected to remain in action and commanded PT-59 in combat rescuing Marines on Choisuel Island. Kennedy’s citation for the Navy and Marine Corps Medal read:

“For extremely heroic conduct as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 109 following the collision and sinking of that vessel in the Pacific War Theater on August 1–2, 1943. Unmindful of personal danger, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Kennedy unhesitatingly braved the difficulties and hazards of darkness to direct rescue operations, swimming many hours to secure aid and food after he had succeeded in getting his crew ashore. His outstanding courage, endurance and leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

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After his rescue Kennedy returned to action commanding PT-59 which though low on fuel was part of a two boat mission to evacuate Marines commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Victor Krulak from Choiseul. He remained in action conduction patrols and engaging Japanese forces until he was ordered to relinquish command for medical reasons on November 18th 1943 and evacuated to the United States.  He was mentally and physically exhausted from his ordeal and had lost over 25 pounds between the sinking of PT-109

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Kennedy’s PT-59

Kennedy’s speeches still inspire me. As a child a had a copy of his book Profiles in Courage. I grew up with his promise to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, the creation of the Peace Corps, his backing of Special Forces, his love of the Navy, the great “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, his support of the Civil Rights movement and and his defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis all inspire me.  His inauguration speech where he said “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” was and still is a lot of my motivation for serving my country as a Naval Officer.  When I was young John F Kennedy symbolized the hope of a country. I wonder so often what things might be like had he lived.

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I could be critical and point out all of John Kennedy’s flaws and contradictions. But then too easy to do, People make a living doing that. But in doing so they often ignore the fact that Kennedy was a hero, not a perfect man but a hero.

I wish a quarter of our current elected officials served their country in combat as Kennedy did and understood real danger and heroism. Instead with very few exceptions we have elected men as much or even more flawed and contradictory than John F Kennedy with none of his personal courage to every level of office in the country, mostly because they have the money to win.

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Kennedy being awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal

Kennedy’s wartime service always earned my respect. I tremble when I think that someone would have such a deep hatred of him or for that matter any other President that they would kill or attempt to kill them. That kind of hatred goes beyond me whether it be the hatred and smallness of John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau or Leon Czolgosz.

Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald was a small and pathetic man who needed to be a revolutionary.  Oswald needed to be important failing everything else he killed the President. Unfortunately there are people like Oswald on all sides of the political, ideological and religious spectrum who will gladly trade the life of a President or any other public figure for their moment in the spotlight and need to demonstrate their importance to the world.

I fear for our country because of the intense hatred that has become part and parcel of our political landscape. The hatred toward directed toward President Obama and the many threats made against his life and person are chilling. As I looked for images for this article I found pictures of Kennedy’s body after the assassination and they shook me. I have seen far too much in the way of violent and senseless death. Thus I do pray for the safety of President Obama as well as all of our leaders and for God to protect us from ourselves and those so possessed by hatred and their own self righteousness that they would commit such an abominable act.

But I don’t believe that we should be governed by fear and to embrace the future. Kennedy said:

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

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Likewise I still believe in the call to action spoken by Kennedy:

“Now the trumpet summons us again. Not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are; but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’, a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” 

I also believe in an era where the country seems to be withdrawing from engagement with an ever more globalized, interconnected yet dangerous world that his call to “bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

While I do so I remember the President whose life was cut short by the bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald and pray that such an event will never happen again and even more importantly that American political leaders would begin to dream again, visions of hope for the country and world and instead of only seeing limitations, ask that one question in terms of ideas of hope and progress: “Why not?” As Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in the pacific

The Poisoning of American Politics by Radical Christian Dominionists

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Religious Liberty in the Massachusetts Bay Colony…the hanging of the Quakers…a model for the Dominionists

“When the pretended friends of religion lead infidel lives; when they carry religion to market and offer it in exchange for luxuries and honors; when they place it familiarly and constantly in the columns of newspapers, manifestly connected with electioneering purposes, and when they are offering it up as a morning and evening sacrifice of the altar of political party- these men are placing a firebrand to every meeting house and applying a torch to every Bible” Abraham Bishop in an oration at Wallingford CT on 11 March 1801

“See, the problem is, is that Satan has had too much of his way in our society because he has a government! And the only way to overthrow a government is with a government. It won’t happen otherwise.” C. Peter Wagner

Every time that I hear a politician of any party invoke God or quote scripture my stomach turns.  In our modern era this really began with Jimmy Carter. For better or worse the man wore his faith proudly. The Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher from Plains Georgia let it all out when he talked about his faith, sin, lust and adultery in a Playboy Magazine interview in 1976.

There was actually nothing wrong with what he said or that he identified himself as a “Born Again Christian.”  But Carter set a precedent and brought a previously apolitical part of the population into the political process in a way never seen before.

Urged on by politically motivated preachers like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee and James Robison Evangelicals like the young Michelle Bachmann rushed to the polls like flies to a honey trap.  Before long posturing political preachers were in the became a staple of conservative politics and the core of the Republican Party base.

Now 35 years later we have radical preachers openly clamoring for a Christian theocracy and brazenly advocating the complete dominion of Christians over all areas of life. The theory is called “Dominionism” or “Seven Mountains” theology.  Many of these preachers are openly allied with a number of high profile Republican Presidential candidates in a take no prisoners campaign to destroy their opposition within the Republican party and nationwide.

C. Peter Wagner a Professor of Evangelism at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena California is one of the most prominent proponents of this political theology and he wrote:

“Our theological bedrock is what has been known as Dominion Theology. This means that our divine mandate is to do whatever is necessary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to retake the dominion of God’s creation which Adam forfeited to Satan in the Garden of Eden. It is nothing less than seeing God’s kingdom coming and His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.” Letter dated 31 May 2007

Of course by 1980 Carter was tossed aside by his Evangelical supporters like cup of boiled peanuts gone bad. The preachers who once supported him disappointed with him over the Panama Canal treaty and the economy ditched him and whipped up Evangelical  support for Ronald Reagan.  Reagan wiped Carter off of the electoral map like Sherman marching to the sea.

With Reagan’s victory the now emboldened preachers pressed for more power.  Groups like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition became major supporters and contributors to conservative candidates and politicians as did James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and the American Family Association.

Now Reagan to his credit talked a lot about faith and God but he certainly could not be considered one of the real Evangelical Christian faithful.  He was divorced and a sparse attendee of the mainline Presbyterian Church USA.  He was married to a woman who brought mediums into the White House to conduct séances.  He cut taxes but raised taxes when he needed to. He withdrew U.S.Forces from Beirut after the Marine barracks was destroyed with the loss of 241 American lives and he became Soviet Premier Gorbachev’s buddy.  Before he was President he raised the sales tax in California and signed one of the most liberal and permissive abortion laws in the nation. That was well before the Roe v. Wade decision.  In short if he was running now for any office he would already be out of the race as a Republican.

Since Reagan departed the Presidency the preachers and politicians are aided in their struggle for control by the third member of the Unholy Trinity the pundits such as serial divorcee Rush Limbaugh, the Talibanesque team lead by Joseph Farah at World Net Daily and a host of others.

Now to be fair Democrats were and are not above using preachers and scripture for their own purposes.  Some seeking to capitalize on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other early civil rights pioneers not only used their pulpits to further civil rights which I have no issue with but to promote themselves and a place at the table in the Democratic Party and its policies. Others minsters mainly from liberal denominations used their pulpits to promote all sorts of other agendas that were called liberal, socialist or left wing, even though most had decent scriptural support and in some cases were supported by the social teachings of both the Roman Catholic and some Protestant denominations. However Liberal politicians have never used these preachers over the years as brazenly as conservative politicians use Evangelicals, Charismatics and other conservative Christians including Roman Catholics.

Bill Clinton was a master of using scripture in his campaign as well as in enunciating his policies.  He got everyone going with his “New Covenant” acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention which was a masterful speech though it brazenly co-opted a Christian theme as its own.  Initially some of the current radical preachers we Clinton backers as the felt that President George H.W. Bush was leading the United States into the New World Order. 

What tickles me is that one of the leading Seven Mountain’s “prophets named Paul Cain spoke at my church after the election and said that “God told him that Bill Clinton would be elected and that it was because of Clinton’s “humility.” Joyner wrote in Rick Joyner’s Morningstar Prophetic Bulletin in 1993 “The Lord said that He was giving us a new president who is better than we deserve. He represents a reprieve from a New WorldOrder that the Church is not prepared to face at this time…” 

I love it when self appointed prophets catch themselves on their own tangled web of lies.  Of course the real reason had nothing to due with the Christian faith but the fact that Cain and his ilk didn’t like George Bush and believed that he was ushering in a “New World Order.  This was shameless, but then that is nothing new.  

Now as a disclaimer as a 16 year old I worked for Gerald Ford’s campaign and voted for Reagan twice.  Since I became a Republican because of the radicalism espoused by George McGovern in 1972 when my dad was in Vietnam surrounded by the North Vietnamese.  This made me a very pro-military and anti-Communist.  It was  because of Carters foreign policy flubs and weakness that  I supported Reagan. I was and still am a  Christian, but I didn’t vote for Reagan or any other Republican because of their faith or the faith of their opponent.  Now I do like it when men and women that I vote for represent the best of their faith and don’t lord it over those that are not of their faith. When I vote I vote the vote for a candidate based on what I see as their qualifications for the office and not their religious views.

Unfortunately there are a number of prominent candidates and their supporters that seem to want Theologian in Chief.  Politicians can see that and that pander shamelessly to their religious supporters often to the exclusion of all others.  If I want a theocracy I’ll go to Iran or Saudi Arabia thank you, but I don’t and you shouldn’t either unless you are planning to convert. But that is the plan of the Dominionists.

However those pursuing the radical Seven Mountains Dominionism actually want a theocracy will use any party or any President to establish it. Clinton didn’t give it to them so they went to the Republicans.  Their rhetoric is scary. Rick Joyner who is one of the big supporters of this movement within the Tea Party and Republican Party said something  that should give anyone that has a hankering for religious liberty and liberty of conscious chills.  Perry is not simply a ranting nut but a nut that has the ear of viable Presidential candidates.  Back in 1996 Joyner wrote about what was going to happen to Christians that didn’t agree with his understanding of his prophecy threatening to change “the very definition of Christianity….for the better….”

“On February 23rd of this year I was shown for the third time that the church was headed for a spiritual civil war … the definition of a complete victory in this war would be the complete overthrow of the accuser of the brethens’ strongholds in the church … this will in fact be one of the most cruel battles the church has ever faced. Like every civil war brother will turn against brother like we have never witnessed in the church before … this battle must be fought. It is an opportunity to drive the accuser out of the church and for the church then to come into unity that would otherwise be impossible … what is coming will be dark. At times Christians almost universally will be loath to even call themselves Christians.Believers and unbelievers alike will think it is the end of Christianity as we know it and it will be through this the very definition of Christianity will be changed for the better.”  Morning Star Prophetic Bulletin May 1996

Cindy Jacobs another one of these politically connected prophets made this claim on the internet back in 2000:

“For there is a radical sound that I have issued – there is a sound that has come from heaven, and it even now has come to earth. And the Lord says, these are going to be days where I am going to trouble the enemy through you. These are going to be different days than you have ever known, and I am going to require sacrifice of you that you cannot imagine. I am going to require a sacrifice of your children, says the Lord. And the Lord says, I’m going to shake everything that can be shaken…” and that “There are churches that will be command posts for revolution, and to these command posts I would say, I am going to bring a revolution. Look and see; I am calling radical revolutionaries to the church.”  http://www.elijahlist.com/words/display_word/85

If you ask me that is a threat to all Americans. One of Joyner’s friends the late John Wimber who founded the Vineyard Churches said of his neighbors at Calvary Chapel “Calvaryites are sometimes a little too heavily oriented to the written Word.”  That is something Wimber criticized Christians that he saw as too heavily oriented to the Bible.  Simply being a Bible Christian is not good enough for the Dominionists, theirs is an all or nothing take no prisoners approach that discounts 2000 years of Christian history, theology and tradition in favor of their alleged “words from God.” 

This is not about theology or faith at all.  It is about power and money. Leading Dominionist C.Peter Wagner wrote: “nine of the components of GAN {Global Apostolic Network} are on my heart, but especially those related to wealth and wealth transfer. I am in touch with 17 potential wealth transfer brokers, some of them expecting release momentarily. It is hard to comprehend, but some of them go to multiple millions, billions, and more. My task is to prepare a high integrity infrastructure for distributing these funds when they begin to flow. Zion Apostolic Network and The Hamilton Group are in place as agencies to carry this out. Our motto is “Sophisticated Philanthropy for Apostolic Distribution.” Letter from Global Harvest Ministries dated August 20, 2007

The original Dominionist was R. J. Rushdoony who was very open in what he believed:

“One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state . . . Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.” R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law p.100

Rushdoony’s son-in-law Gary North was even more blunt about the ultimate goal of Christian Reconstructionism:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

This is the real goal of Rick Perry’s The Response prayer meeting of 2011 and the perverted gospel that these preachers use to get politicians to fulfill their agenda and Perry obliged them well. If it was simply a day of prayer then others that were not Christians would have been welcome. It has been made manifest in now countless examples of political brinksmanship motivated by uncompromising politicians, pundits and preachers who have adopted an almost “Talibanesque” view of life, faith and politics.

Some of these preachers are not above advocating or praying for death of their political opponents. There was a whole campaign of prayer against President Obama led by the discredited and court-martialed Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt. He and others advocated praying the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms including Psalm 109:8 which says: ‘Let his days be few; and let another take his office.’ Massachusetts based preacher Scott Lively advocates killing gays overseas and supports laws in places like Uganda to legalize that. Unfortunately the list can go on and on.

Old Abraham Bishop was right; these people are setting fire to every meeting house and putting the torch to every Bible.  Unfortunately most of their supporters will either ignore or quash what I and others write about these people. Truth doesn’t matter to them.

I had that happen to me.  Sometimes even from people that know me or have served with me at the altar.  Facts didn’t matter, all that mattered were the talking points and the agenda.  The founders of this country did not as these people say desire anything like this.  In fact Thomas Jefferson said “History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.” (letter to Baron von Humboldt, 1813)

God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fighting for the Dream at 50: Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Faith and All that Is, Can and Will Be True About America

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“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Note: The complete text and video of Dr. King’s speech can be found here:http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm 

It is hard to believe that it has been 50 years since Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and other pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement marched in Washington. I am always inspired when I see the films of Doctor King speaking or read the text of that speech and so many other of his speeches and writings. He was a prophet who was not welcome by many, but his words and actions have reverberated through the decades. Though martyred, cut down by the bullets of James Earl Ray in Memphis his spirit lives on and is part of our country.

Now there are many today as there were then who want not only to keep blacks in thier place but other minorities, racial, ethnic, religious and even on the basis of gender or sexuality. Some may want to argue that point but the actions of some people and groups who vociferously fight against the rights of anyone that they disagree with to have the same rights as they have, be they political, religious, economic or legal demonstrate that this is the case every day.

Yesterday tens of thousands gathered in Washington on the anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr King’s I Have a Dream speech. I caught bits and pieces on the news, radio or Twitter as I made my way across country. I was inspired by the words of speakers, President Obama, Representative John Lewis, and former Presidents Carter and Clinton.  In my hotel room tonight have had some more time to reflect on this day the remarkable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other remarkable leaders of the Civil Rights Movement including all of the martyrs who gave their lives not just for blacks but for all Americans, the great and the small alike who gave their lives and offered up themselves that this country might have yet another new birth of freedom.

The struggle is not over until every American and those who want to be Americans have a place at the table. How can we fear the collective good of seeing freedom reign in this land that we sing as the sweet land of liberty? What do we have to fear of individual Americans of every race, creed, color, male and female, straight or gay, rich or poor enjoying the same legal rights and protections under the law as well as the same opportunity to succeed? What do we have to fear?

I actually think that what many of us fear is that if others that we think less of succeed that we will lose our place of privilege or even worse that maybe our political, religious or economic philosophy that undergirds our beliefs about others might be proven wrong.

But faith is the opposite of fear and Dr. King knew this. In that speech which still echoes today he said:

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

The dream that Dr. King espoused is that of the prophets of old. It is the dream of those that championed liberty at the cost of their lives and freedom in dictatorships. It is the dream of those who struggled in every place and clime where injustice reigned knowing that the dream would not be accomplished in their lifetimes but had faith to labor so that others one day would enjoy the fruit of their life’s labors. As Dr. King said 50 years ago:

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And now since I am coming up on almost 24 hours of travel with little sleep I bid you a good night hoping that one morning we will awake to a new dawn. A dawn where people are judged by the content of their character and where we all can at last exclaim with the spirit of Dr King and so many others who died without seeing this come to pass: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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