Rise and Fall

John Adams letter to John Quincy Adams, May 18, 1781
Published in: on May 6, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Mormon Bad Boy

God can use a thunderstorm.  Or Porter Rockwell.

Mormon Proverb

A very colorful part of American history is that which records the events of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormons, and in that history no portion is more colorful than the life of Orrin Porter Rockwell.  Throughout his life legends began to cluster about him and it is not easy to keep fact and fable in his biography separate.

Born on June 28, 1813, in Belchertown, New Hampshire, he was one of the earliest followers of Joseph Smith, being baptized into the church in 1830.  Powerfully built, he served as a bodyguard for Smith.  In 1838 he may have attempted to assassinate the Governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs, after Boggs issued an order calling for the expulsion of the Mormons from Misssouri or their extermination.  The order was prompted by the Missouri Mormon War of 1838.

Rockwell was held in jail for eight months, but no grand jury would indict him due to lack of evidence.  Rockwell defended himself with such statements as “I never shot at anybody, if I shoot they get shot!” and “He’s alive, ain’t he.” in reference to Governor Boggs.  After his release from jail, Rockwell traveled to the house of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, a town built by the Mormons on Christmas Day 1843.  Smith made the following prophecy after seeing Rockwell:  “I prophesy, in the name of the Lord, that you — Orrin Porter Rockwell — so long as ye shall remain loyal and true to thy faith, need fear no enemy. Cut not thy hair and no bullet or blade can harm thee.”  Rockwell wore his hair long thereafter until he cut it to make a wig for a woman who lost her hair from typhoid fever.

Rockwell was a Danite, a secret Mormon organization dedicated to carrying out acts of violence on behalf of the Mormon religion.  In 1844 Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were indicted for treason against the state of Illinois, the culmination of ever growing tension between Mormons and non-Mormons in Illinois.  On June 27, 1844 a mob stormed the jail in Carthage, Illinois where the Smiths were being held and murdered them.  Rockwell had been away on a mission for the Mormon church at the time, and wept like a child according to witnesses when he learned of the death of Joseph Smith.

In the chaos that ensued after the death of Smith, the Mormons often engaged in battles with mobs of non-Mormons.  On September 16, 1845 Rockwell was hastily deputized by the Sheriff of Hancock County Illinois, Jacob Blackenstos.  Blackenstos was a non-Mormon but was friendly to the Mormons.  He was being chased by an anti-Mormon mob led by Frank Worrell, who had been in charge of the militia unit that failed to protect Joseph Smith when he was murdered.  Rockwell took out his rifle and stopped the mob by shooting to death Worrell.  Worrell thus became the first man killed by Rockwell, a total that would grow to 40-100, no one is certain, by the end of Rockwell’s life.  (more…)

Published in: on May 5, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Mr. Lincoln Enlists

One of the more unusual aspects of Abraham Lincoln’s life is his service in the Black Hawk War in Illinois.  In later years Lincoln was fond of making light of his three months service, from April 21, 1832-July 10, 1832.

“By the way Mr. Speaker, did you know that I am a military hero? Yes sir, in the days of the Black Hawk War I fought, bled and came away . . . I was not at Stillman’s defeat, but I was about as near it as Cass was Hull’s surrender, and, like him, I saw the place very soon afterwards . . . If he saw any live, fighting Indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never fainted from the loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.”  (July 27, 1848)

This is classic Lincoln.  In a time when almost all politicians were eager to inflate any military service, he made fun of his.

From all that we know, Lincoln was an enthusiastic participant in the war.  He began his service being elected captain of the local militia company, his first political victory.  Lincoln was put in charge of a company of the 4th Mounted Volunteers after militia units assembled at Beardstown, Illinois.  The militia units were marched to Prophet’s Village in Whiteside County which they burned on May 11.  The Indians had abandoned the village prior to it being burned.

On May 14, 1832 a group of 275 militia under Major Isaiah Stillman was defeated at a battle that became known as Stillman’s Run, near what is now Stillman Valley, Illinois.  The militia panicked and ran from about 50 Indians and 12 militia men were slain.  On May 15, 1832 militia, including Abraham Lincoln’s company, arrived at the site of the battle and buried the dead.  The next two weeks Lincoln spent marching his company from place to place near the mouth of the Fox River.  On May 27 Lincoln’s company was mustered out of service.  Lincoln promptly re-enlisted as a private in Captain Elijah Isles’ company.  The officer who mustered him into service was United States Army Lieutenant Robert Anderson, the future commander of Fort Sumter in 1861. After Isles’ company was mustered out of service on June 16, Lincoln enlisted in the spy (scout) company of Captain Jacob Early and served in that company until his military service ended on July 10, 1832. (more…)

Published in: on May 4, 2021 at 5:20 am  Comments (2)  
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May 3, 1948: Shelley v. Kraemer



Racial and religious restrictive covenants used to be distressingly familiar around the nation.  I have seen them in old deeds I have examined in reference to real estate transactions.  These covenants required purchasers of a piece of real estate not to re-sell it to specified racial or religious groups.  The groups targeted were usually blacks, people of Asian descent and Jews.  In 1926 the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in Corrigan v. Buckley, 271 U.S. 323 (1926) the United States Supreme Court unanimously refused to hear an appeal in a case enforcing such a covenant, the Court unanimously finding that since the covenant only involved private parties, the US Constitution did not forbid such a covenant.

22 years later in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer Shelley v. Kraemer,  334 U.S. 1 (1948).  In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Fred Vinson the Court ruled that while the private restrictive covenants were not unconstitutional, state judicial proceedings to enforce them constituted state action and were unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment:



Since the decision of this Court in the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U. S. 3 (1883), the principle has become firmly embedded in our constitutional law that the action inhibited by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is only such action as may fairly be said to be that of the States. That Amendment erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful. [Footnote 12]

We conclude, therefore, that the restrictive agreements, standing alone, cannot be regarded as violative of any rights guaranteed to petitioners by the Fourteenth Amendment. So long as the purposes of those agreements are effectuated by voluntary adherence to their terms, it would appear clear that there has been no action by the State, and the provisions of the Amendment have not been violated. Cf. Corrigan v. Buckley, supra.

But here there was more. These are cases in which the purposes of the agreements were secured only by judicial enforcement by state courts of the restrictive terms of the agreements. The respondents urge that judicial enforcement of private agreements does not amount to state action, or, in any event, the participation of the State is so attenuated in character as not to amount to state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, it is suggested, even if the States in these cases may be deemed to have acted in the constitutional sense, their action did not deprive petitioners of rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. We move to a consideration of these matters.


That the action of state courts and judicial officers in their official capacities is to be regarded as action of the State within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment is a proposition which has long been established by decisions of this Court. That principle was given expression in the earliest cases involving the construction of the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, in Virginia v. Rives, 100 U. S. 313, 100 U. S. 318 (1880), this Court stated:

“It is doubtless true that a State may act through different agencies, either by its legislative, its executive, or its judicial authorities, and the prohibitions of the amendment extend to all action of the State denying equal protection of the laws, whether it be action by one of these agencies or by another.”

In Ex parte Virginia, 100 U. S. 339, 100 U. S. 347 (1880), the Court observed: “A State acts by its legislative, its executive, or its judicial authorities. It can act in no other way.” In the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U. S. 3, 109 U. S. 11, 17 (1883), this Court pointed out that the Amendment makes void “State action of every kind” which is inconsistent with the guaranties therein contained, and extends to manifestations of “State authority in the shape of laws, customs, or judicial or executive proceedings.” Language to like effect is employed no less than eighteen times during the course of that opinion. [Footnote 13]

Similar expressions, giving specific recognition to the fact that judicial action is to be regarded as action of the State for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, are to be found in numerous cases which have been more recently decided. In Twining v. New Jersey, 211 U. S. 78, 211 U. S. 90-91 (1908), the Court said: “The judicial act of the highest court of the State, in authoritatively construing and enforcing its laws, is the act of the State.” In Brinkerhoff-Faris Trust & Savings Co. v. Hill, 281 U. S. 673, 281 U. S. 680 (1930), the Court, through Mr. Justice Brandeis, stated:

“The federal guaranty of due process extends to state action through its judicial as well as through its legislative, executive or administrative branch of government.”

Further examples of such declarations in the opinions of this Court are not lacking. [Footnote 14]

One of the earliest applications of the prohibitions contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to action of state judicial officials occurred in cases in which Negroes had been excluded from jury service in criminal prosecutions by reason of their race or color. These cases demonstrate, also, the early recognition by this Court that state action in violation of the Amendment’s provisions is equally repugnant to the constitutional commands whether directed by state statute or taken by a judicial official in the absence of statute. Thus, in Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303 (1880), this Court declared invalid a state statute restricting jury service to white persons as amounting to a denial of the equal protection of the laws to the colored defendant in that case. In the same volume of the reports, the Court in Ex parte Virginia, supra, held that a similar discrimination imposed by the action of a state judge denied rights protected by the Amendment, despite the fact that the language of the state statute relating to jury service contained no such restrictions.

The action of state courts in imposing penalties or depriving parties of other substantive rights without providing adequate notice and opportunity to defend has, of course, long been regarded as a denial of the due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Brinkerhoff-Faris Trust & Savings Co. v. Hill, supra. Cf. Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U. S. 714 (1878). [Footnote 15]

In numerous eases, this Court has reversed criminal convictions in state courts for failure of those courts to provide the essential ingredients of a fair hearing. Thus, it has been held that convictions obtained in state courts under the domination of a mob are void. Moore v. Dempsey, 261 U. S. 86 (1923). And see Frank v. Mangum, 237 U. S. 309 (1915). Convictions obtained bycoerced confessions, [Footnote 16] by the use of perjured testimony known by the prosecution to be such, [Footnote 17] or without the effective assistance of counsel, [Footnote 18] have also been held to be exertions of state authority in conflict with the fundamental rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

But the examples of state judicial action which have been held by this Court to violate the Amendment’s commands are not restricted to situations in which the judicial proceedings were found in some manner to be procedurally unfair. It has been recognized that the action of state courts in enforcing a substantive common law rule formulated by those courts, may result in the denial of rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, even though the judicial proceedings in such cases may have been in complete accord with the most rigorous conceptions of procedural due process. [Footnote 19] Thus, in American Federation of Labor v. Swing, 312 U. S. 321 (1941), enforcement by state courts of the common law policy of the State, which resulted in the restraining of peaceful picketing, was held to be state action of the sort prohibited by the Amendment’s guaranties of freedom of discussion. [Footnote 20] In Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296   (1940), a conviction in a state court of the common law crime of breach of the peace was, under the circumstances of the case, found to be a violation of the Amendment’s commands relating to freedom of religion. In Bridges v. California, 314 U. S. 252 (1941), enforcement of the state’s common law rule relating to contempts by publication was held to be state action inconsistent with the prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment. [Footnote 21] And cf. Chicago, Burlington and Quincy R. Co. v. Chicago, 166 U. S. 226 (1897).

The short of the matter is that, from the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment until the present, it has been the consistent ruling of this Court that the action of the States to which the Amendment has reference includes action of state courts and state judicial officials. Although, in construing the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, differences have from time to time been expressed as to whether particular types of state action may be said to offend the Amendment’s prohibitory provisions, it has never been suggested that state court action is immunized from the operation of those provisions simply because the act is that of the judicial branch of the state government.


Against this background of judicial construction, extending over a period of some three-quarters of a century, we are called upon to consider whether enforcement by state courts of the restrictive agreements in these cases may be deemed to be the acts of those States, and, if so, whether that action has denied these petitioners the equal protection of the laws which the Amendment was intended to insure.

We have no doubt that there has been state action in these cases in the full and complete sense of the phrase. The undisputed facts disclose that petitioners were willing purchasers of properties upon which they desired to establish homes. The owners of the properties were willing sellers, and contracts of sale were accordingly consummated. It is clear that, but for the active intervention of the state courts, supported by the full panoply of state power, petitioners would have been free to occupy the properties in question without restraint.

These are not cases, as has been suggested, in which the States have merely abstained from action, leaving private individuals free to impose such discriminations as they see fit. Rather, these are cases in which the States have made available to such individuals the full coercive power of government to deny to petitioners, on the grounds of race or color, the enjoyment of property rights in premises which petitioners are willing and financially able to acquire and which the grantors are willing to sell. The difference between judicial enforcement and nonenforcement of the restrictive covenants is the difference to petitioners between being denied rights of property available to other members of the community and being accorded full enjoyment of those rights on an equal footing.

The enforcement of the restrictive agreements by the state courts in these cases was directed pursuant to the common law policy of the States as formulated by those courts in earlier decisions. [Footnote 22] In the Missouri case, enforcement of the covenant was directed in the first instance by the highest court of the State after the trial court had determined the agreement to be invalid for want of the requisite number of signatures. In the Michigan case, the order of enforcement by the trial court was affirmed by the highest state court. [Footnote 23] The judicial action in each case bears the clear and unmistakable imprimatur of the State. We have noted that previous decisions of this Court have established the proposition that judicial action is not immunized from the operation of the Fourteenth Amendment simply because it is taken pursuant to the state’s common law policy. [Footnote 24] Nor is the Amendment ineffective simply because the particular pattern of discrimination, which the State has enforced, was defined initially by the terms of a private agreement. State action, as that phrase is understood for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, refers to exertions of state power in all forms. And when the effect of that action is to deny rights subject to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is the obligation of this Court to enforce the constitutional commands.

We hold that, in granting judicial enforcement of the restrictive agreements in these cases, the States have denied petitioners the equal protection of the laws, and that, therefore, the action of the state courts cannot stand. We have noted that freedom from discrimination by the States in the enjoyment of property rights was among the basic objectives sought to be effectuated by the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment. That such discrimination has occurred in these cases is clear. Because of the race or color of these petitioners, they have been denied rights of ownership or occupancy enjoyed as a matter of course by other citizens of different race or color. [Footnote 25] The Fourteenth Amendment declares “that all persons, whether colored or white, shall stand equal before the laws of the States, and, in regard to the colored race, for whose protection the amendment was primarily designed, that no discrimination shall be made against them by law because of their color.


May 2, 1946: Battle of Alcatraz

The so-called battle of Alcatraz began on May 2, 1946.  Located on an island in San Francisco bay, Alcatraz prior to 1933 was a military prison.  In 1933 the Federal Bureau of Prisons refurbished it, and it became a supposedly escape proof prison, due to the high currents of the bay, where Federal prisoners who had caused trouble in other prisons were transferred.  The prison was closed in 1963.  Ironically considering its infamous reputation, many convicts asked to be transferred to Alcatraz.  Several former inmates report that the food and treatment were better at Alcatraz than in other Federal prisons.

On May 2, 1946 inmates Bernard Coy and Marvin Hubbard teamed up to overpower a guard.  They then released inmates Joseph Cretzer and Clarence Carnes from their cells.  Taking over C block and D block, they attempted to open the yard door to seize the launch, using the nine guards they had captured as hostages.  How they would have escaped from San Francisco after reaching it is a matter of speculation, as the yard door jammed and the inmates were trapped in the two cell blocks they controlled.  Now began a standoff which would receive heavy press coverage, especially due to the involvement  of two platoons of US Marines under Brigadier General Frank Merrill, the leader of Merrill’s Marauders in Burma.  On May 4, 1946 guards retook the cell blocks.  Three inmates died in the fighting:  Cretzer, Coy and Hubbard.  Clarence Carnes would receive a life sentence and be released in 1973.  Inmates Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson were subsequently tried and executed for their role in the slaying of the two guards who died during this foiled escape attempt.  Contrary to the 1962 movie, The Birdman of Alcatraz, inmate Robert Stroud played no role in ending the stand off. (more…)

Published in: on May 2, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Hannibal and 16 Tons



Not American history, but too much fun not to put up.  Hattip to Hank at Eclectic Meanderings.  I have read quite a bit about the Punic Wars, but I have never seen information on it conveyed more fetchingly than when sung by “Anna Domino”, as she does her dance of the elephant veil and sings her song to the tune of 16 tons.  What a hoot!  This is one of a series of videos put together by history for music lovers, and long may they prosper! (more…)

Published in: on May 1, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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April 30, 1863: Hooker Arrives at Chancellorsville

Fighting Joe HookerHooker arrived at Chancellorsville on the morning of April 30.  He was in high spirits and issued this order to his army:


HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Camp near Falmouth, Va., April 30, 1863.

       It is with heartfelt satisfaction the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly, or come out from behind his defenses and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him.  The operations of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps have been a succession of splendid achievements.

       By command of Major-General Hooker:

S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant General.


Published in: on April 30, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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April 29, 1863: Battle of Grand Gulf

On April 29, 1863 Grant commenced his movement to cross the Mississippi and begin his operations to place Vicksburg under siege.  Grant decided to cross the river south of Grand Gulf, approximately twelve miles south of Vicksburg.  Admiral David Porter led seven gunboats against the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf.  with the intention of silencing the Confederate guns and then securing the area with troops of Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps troops who were loaded aboard transports and barges. The attack by the seven ironclads began at 8 a.m. and continued until about 1:30 p.m.  Uable to silence the batteries, he Union ironclads  and transports retreated. After dark,  the ironclads attacked the Confederate batteries again while the trasnsports and barges ran the batteries to get south of Grand Gulf. After the transports had passed Grand Gulf, they embarked the troops at Disharoon’s plantation and disembarked them on the Mississippi shore at Bruinsburg, below Grand Gulf.  Charles A. Dana, personal represenative of Secretary of War Stanton, reported on the fight at Grand Gulf and the crossing of the Mississippi: (more…)

April 28, 1863: Marching Towards Chancellorsville

Hooker's Plan

One hundred and fifty-eight years ago the Army of the Potomac was en route to what would be come the battlefield of Chancellorsville.  Hooker was in fine spirits.  He outnumbered Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia 133,000 to 60,000, two of Lee’s divisions being in Southeastern Virginia on detached duty and that would take no part in the battle.  He planned to crush Lee between a Union corps at Fredericksburg led by General Sedgwick and and an attack by six corps led by him from The Wilderness, the rugged wooded terrain that surrounded Chancellorsville, that would fall on Lee’s rear.  E.P. Alexander who fought at Chancellorsville as a Confederate artillery colonel, and who would end the War as a Brigadier General and commander of First Corps artillery, in his two memoirs, Military Memoirs of a Confederate and Fighting for the Confederacy, demonstrated ability as a keen military analyst, and he thought Hooker’s plan was the best, and the best executed up to May 1, of the many plans of campaign by the Army of the Potomac against the Army of Northern Virginia. (more…)

April 27, 1861: Proclamation of Blockade

At the outset of the war, on April 19, 1861 President Lincoln proclaimed a blockage of the Confederate coast.  On April 27 the states of North Carolina and Virginia were added to the list of states subject to a Union blockade.  Widely derided at the time as a “paper blockade” by the end of the War the blockade would become a decisive weapon of the Union, denying the Confederates much needed munitions and supplies.  The text of the blockade proclamations: (more…)

Published in: on April 27, 2021 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment