Monday, April 4, 2016

Local History, the First Amendment, and Due Process of Law: Props to Tracy Edwards-Warren and the Students in Her New Vision Government and Law Class

            Let’s be honest. Many people find local history interesting at times, but overall, largely irrelevant to their lives and immaterial to the future of their community, state and nation. Tracy Edwards-Warren, teacher of the New Vision Government and Law class offered by the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES in Malone, New York, begs to differ on that point.

Tracy Edwards-Warren

            A trustee of the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society, and an editor of the Society’s Franklin Historical Review, Tracy recently introduced her twelfth grade students to modern issues concerning the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and due process of law, by assigning them to read my article “The Arrest of the Flanders Brothers in Malone: Lincoln’s Attack on Freedom of the Press.”

            Printed in the 2010 issue of the Franklin Review (click on the tab in the menu above to read it), the article is about President Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and arrest of two prominent Franklin County Democrats on October 22, 1861, for opposing his Civil War policies. The article raises questions about the protection of civil liberties in wartime and during times of national emergencies.

            Tracy arranged a FaceTime session for her students, sitting at their desks in a classroom in the North Country, near the Canadian border, to meet and talk with me, sitting at my desk in my office on Long Island. Her students were well-prepared and asked excellent questions.[1] We talked for over two hours, mostly about the case and its relevance to First Amendment and due process of law issues, but also about whom they were supporting for president; their decision to work as official poll watchers in the upcoming New York State primary on April 19; and their plans to attend college.
            Tracy said her students are also gathering materials about the First Amendment that will be put on display in an 8-foot high by 10-foot long glass case in the Franklin County courthouse.
            Kudos to Tracy Edwards-Warren and her students! Indeed, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

[1] For example, Kirstin and Natasha wanted to know about Lincoln’s motives and what action the arresting officers took. Alexah and Danielle raised several legal questions about how and why First Amendment and Due Process rights were violated. Kayla asked why the Republican and Democratic parties have changed so much since the Civil War and Kiara wondered what the families did after the arrests.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

1863 U.S. Senate election skullduggery—Empire State style

            Before 1913, when the Seventeenth Amendment requiring the direct election of U.S. Senators went into effect, the state legislature elected them. In the pre-Seventeenth Amendment era, 150 years ago, one of the most tangled and acrimonious U.S. Senate elections took place.
            The term of the incumbent Republican U.S. Senator, Preston King of Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, was set to expire on March 3, 1863. King sought reelection but powerful forces within the Republican Party led by the aging party boss Thurlow Weed and former U.S. Senator William H. Seward opposed King, as did the Democratic Party. King’s political fate would be decided by the newly elected 1863 legislature after it organized itself for business on January 6, 1863.

Preston King

            According to the law at that time, the procedure for electing a U.S. Senator might require two steps. The first step called for the state assembly and the state senate to vote separately for a candidate. If the same person were nominated by a majority vote in both  houses, that person would become the next U.S. Senator. However, if each house nominated a different person, a second step would have to be taken. A joint convention of the members of both the state assembly and state senate would convene and it would elect a U.S. Senator by a majority vote.
            The members of the 1863 state senate were in the second year of their two-year terms and the Republicans had a majority of twelve.    The political makeup of the state assembly was quite different. Its members had been elected to their one-year terms in November 1862 and each party had won 64 seats. The Democrats hoped to deny the election of a Republican U.S. Senator by exploiting this tie.
            According to the law, a joint convention to elect a U.S. Senator could not convene until a candidate had been nominated by a majority vote in each house. The assembly could not vote to nominate a U.S. Senator until that body was organized. In order to organize, the assembly had to elect a Speaker but that could not occur if there was a tie vote. No Speaker meant no organization of the assembly, which in turn meant no nomination of a U.S. Senator by the assembly, which meant no election of a U.S. Senator by a joint convention of the assembly and senate.
            On the opening day of the legislature, the state senate quickly organized itself by electing Republican James A. Bell of Brownville, Jefferson County, president pro tempore. In the state senate’s subsequent voting for a U.S. Senator, the Republicans turned their backs on the U.S. Senate incumbent King and cast 23 votes for former two-term Governor Edwin D. Morgan of New York City. The Democrats cast seven votes for Congressman Erastus Corning of Albany.

Erastus Corning

            All eyes now turned to the state assembly where efforts to elect a Speaker and organize were being thwarted because of the tie between the two parties. Ballot after ballot was taken and each time, no one was able to win a majority. Finally, after seventy-seven ballots, Timothy C. Callicot, a Brooklyn Democrat, proposed a deal with the Republicans to break the deadlock. He vowed that if the Republicans elected him Speaker, he would vote to help the Republicans elect a U.S. Senator. The GOP agreed to the deal but when Callicot’s fellow Democrats learned that he had betrayed them, they plotted to prevent any further voting by disrupting the proceedings in the assembly chamber.
            With the assistance of hired thugs who mobbed the assembly floor and galleries, the Democrats started a riot. Pistols were brandished, violence was threatened, and Callicot was subjected to blistering abuse. The riot in the assembly chamber continued for six days until Democratic Governor Horatio Seymour’s threat to use force to quell the disturbance reestablished order.
            With order restored, the voting for Speaker began again. On January 26, twenty days after the first ballot had been cast, the Republicans broke the tie for Speaker by voting for Callicot. He was elected on the 92nd ballot by a vote of 61 to 59. The assembly was finally organized and moved forward to select its candidate for U.S. Senator.

Edwin D. Morgan

            On the first ballot, Morgan won all 64 Republican votes. The Democrats gave 62 votes to Corning and one to Fernando Wood of New York City. True to his word, Callicot voted for the Union General John A. Dix. Taking Callicot’s cue, all the Republicans joined Callicot in voting for Dix on the second ballot and he became the assembly’s choice for the U.S. Senate by defeating Corning 65 to 63.
            Now that a candidate had been nominated by each house, Morgan by the state senate and Dix by the state assembly, the law would now permit a joint convention of both houses to convene. On February 3, 1863, the joint convention elected Morgan to the U.S. Senate. He defeated Corning 86 to 70.

            In its review of the “peculiar circumstances surrounding the election,” The New York Times said, “Governor Morgan’s election is, perhaps, not the least remarkable event of the times.”

Saturday, February 6, 2016

1860: Married Women as Wage Slaves

            As the national debate over the extension of chattel slavery into the territories heated up in February and March of 1860, women’s rights advocates were storming the capitol in Albany demanding an end to what they felt was another form of slavery—wage slavery for married women.

            Under the law in effect until March 20, 1860 in New York State, married women did not have legal control over any money they earned working for themselves or others. All of it belonged to their husbands! As Lucy Stone explained it to the National Women’s Rights Convention in 1853, “unless by cunning she can keep her earnings away from him, he can and does take them to pay the drunkard’s bill, and to squander upon abandoned women.” According to women’s rights supporters, there were tens of thousands of these kinds of ne’er-do-well husbands, most of whom were cigar-smoking drunkards and/or womanizers, who paid their bills with money they took from their wives’ bank accounts without their permission.
            On the law reform campaign trail, Lucy Stone often told the story of an “energetic woman” she knew who ran “a successful millinery establishment.” Her husband seduced their neighbor’s daughter. The girl’s father sued the husband for personal injury damages and won a substantial award. The husband “went to the bank and drew the money that she [his wife], by her long toil had earned, and paid it for his lust!”

            The law governing the earnings of married women in New York State originated in English common law. According to the 1765 edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries, a treatise on the common law of England, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law, that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything.” Women’s rights activists explained this legal state of affairs in simpler terms, “The husband and wife are one person in law and that person is the husband.”
            The common law gave husbands the right to control their wives’ earnings and property and wives were prohibited from holding property in their own names, filing a law suit, making a contract or a will.

            In response to demands by women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ernestine L. Rose and Paulina Wright Davis, the 1848 New York legislature modified common law by enacting legislation that enabled married women to receive and hold to their “sole and separate use” real and personal property. However, the legislature refused to grant women control over their earnings. As The New York Times said, wives had no protection from “worthless husbands.”
            For the next twelve years, women lobbied the legislature to grant wives the right to their wages. During the summer and fall of 1859, they redoubled their efforts. They organized petition drives in every county. Leading women’s rights activists including Frances D. Gage, Hannah Tracy Cutler, J. Elizabeth Jones, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, Lucy N. Colman and Susan B. Anthony, gave speeches throughout the state. Conventions were held in 40 of the state’s 60 counties and one or more lectures were delivered in 150 towns and villages.
            All this hard work paid off during the 1860 session of the legislature. Andrew J. Colvin, a Democratic state senator representing Albany County, proposed a bill that enabled a married woman “to carry on any trade or business, and perform any labor or services on her sole and separate account” and declared that “the earnings of any married woman, from her trade, business, labor or services, shall be her sole and separate property, and may be used or invested by her in her own name.”

            The bill proposed by Colvin was based on a similar measure that had been introduced in the Massachusetts legislature and had been given to Colvin by Susan B. Anthony. The state senate adopted it on February 28, 1860. Assemblyman Anson Bingham, a Republican and Colvin’s law partner in Albany, shepherded the bill through the assembly, which passed it on March 20, 1860. Governor Edwin D. Morgan promptly signed it into law.
            Women’s rights supporters hailed the new law but the New York State Woman’s Rights Committee, which consisted of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lydia Mott, Ernestine L. Rose, Martha C. Wright and Susan B. Anthony, was not satisfied. In November, 1860, they demanded additional changes to the law that would give women “the ballot, trial by jury of our peers, and an equal right to the joint earnings of the marriage copartnership.”

            However, the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 curtailed their efforts and brought the momentum of the woman’s rights movement to a screeching halt.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Bicycle History: Velocipede Mania Sweeps New York State in 1869

            Signs of a serious statewide love affair between New Yorkers and two-wheel transportation broke out into the open 147 years ago this month when newspapers began to warn readers about an impending “fearful outbreak” of “velocipede mania.” According to the January 10, 1869 issue of the New York Times, the first sight of a velocipede created “wonder and amazement among all classes” which made them “anxious to mount the fiery steed.”

            The velocipede was an advance over the two-wheeled vehicle known as the “hobby horse” or “draisine” which had been patented in Germany in 1818. It was propelled by the rider’s feet, walking or running. The velocipede adapted the hobby horse by adding cranks and pedals to the front wheel. The new vehicles became known as bicycles or velocipedes by enthusiasts, and boneshakers by detractors. They were heavy, weighing about 60 pounds, and difficult to mount. To brake a velocipede, a rider had to back peddle and pull a cord near the handlebars that activated a spoon brake on the back wheel.
            On some models, there were curved leg rests projecting out over the front wheels that a rider going downhill could use to raise his or her feet from the rapidly spinning pedals. The frame was made of wrought iron and the wheels and spokes were wood. It had iron tires. The axle bushes were made of bronze and lubricated with whale oil. The front wheel usually was about 36 inches in diameter and the rear wheel about 20 inches.
            The major velocipede manufacturers in the state were located in New York City. They included the carriage maker Calvin Witty, and the firms of Pickering and Davis and G.H. Mercer and Monad. New velocipedes were priced from $100 (about $1,700 in today’s dollars) for a plain model. However, those with ivory handles and silver plating might cost $200.

            As interest in the velocipede mushroomed into a full-fledged mania, devotees organized velocipede riding academies and bicycle clubs. Sheet music for new songs such as “The Velocipede Galop,” and “The New Velocipede,” appeared in music stores.
            Indoor velocipede rinks opened throughout New York State from West Troy, Saratoga and Malone in the east, to Gowanda and Buffalo in the west. In several urban centers, entrepreneurs found new uses for old buildings to meet the growing demand for smooth, safe places to ride—a freight house in Albany and an art gallery in New York City were converted into velocipede rinks.
            In no time, human-interest articles about races between velocipedes and horses, streetcars, and pedestrians or walkists, began to appear in newspapers. Sports news soon included stories about racing competition between velocipedists. The Boston-New York sports rivalry intensified when Walter Brown of Boston rode 50 miles in less than 6 hours in the Boston Velocipede Rink in preparation for an upcoming race against one of the Hanlon brothers from New York City for a cash prize of $1,000 (about $17,000 in today’s money). Velocipede races were also held on the horseracing tracks at fair grounds such Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Washington and Franklin County Fairgrounds in Malone.
            At the height of the mania, public discussion about the use of velocipedes was typically light-hearted. In Malone, one user reported that after riding for a few hours, he felt as though “he had accidentally fallen into a threshing machine and had been carried up upon the thing-um-a-jig under the horse’s feet.” In New York City, readers learned that a rider increases the speed of the velocipede “by lively agitation of the driving wheel. The more revolutions you make, the faster you will go. That is why the Mexicans will be the greatest velocipedists on this continent. As the French have been in Europe.”

            On a more serious note, accidents involving velocipedes led to heated arguments about whether or not to ban them from public roads and sidewalks. Some newspapers described velocipedes as the “new terror of the streets.” In Troy, the press editorialized, “the streets are no place for the velocipede.”
            Toward the end of 1869, there were signs that velocipede mania was coming to an end. Only three velocipedists entered a race at the Albany fair grounds. Use of velocipede rinks in New York City had declined. In fact, some rinks had become “the resort of roughs who monopolize the floors.” Second-hand prices for velocipedes had sunk to an average of $22 (about $380 in today’s dollars).
            Within a few years, the velocipede gave way to the English high-wheel vehicle known as the “ordinary” or “penny-farthing.” Introduced at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, it had solid rubber tires on wire-spoked wheels. Its larger front wheel, as large as the rider’s leg would allow, meant it could cover more ground with each revolution. By the 1880’s, a new craze was underway and the boneshaker had become a faded memory.