Monthly Archives: September 2018

What Lincoln Could Teach The New York Times

(September 7, 2018) Two days ago the The New York Times published an Op-Ed critical of President Trump, authored by an anonymous White House insider. The source portrayed herself as a political elite and courageous whistle-blower who put the interests of the country ahead of her loyalty to the President. Yesterday The Times elaborated that the newspaper has previously published anonymous articles when identity disclosure might put the author in danger. But that’s hardly an excuse this time because the applicable source is in no physical danger. To be sure, she would likely only lose her job, but all appointments within a presidential administration are temporary.

History reveals that the Republican Party elite had a similar reaction after Abraham Lincoln was elected President in November 1860. In fact, Lincoln was not the frontrunner at the Party’s May 1860 nominating convention. Alongside such prominent Republicans as William H. Seward of New York, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, Edward Bates of Missouri, and Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, Lincoln was comparatively unknown. Initially most observers expected Senator Seward to win the nomination. He did, in fact, out-poll Lincoln on the first two ballots.

As a result, to appease Party leaders after the general elections President-elect Lincoln announced Seward as his choice for Secretary of State. Seward saw the new President as a well-meaning incompetent, a prairie lawyer fumbling toward disaster, and himself as the Administration’s one hope to forestall civil war. He believed that if he could reduce the sectional tension the neutral states would remain loyal, and in time even the seceded states would return to the fold. Therefore, he did not believe that the federal force at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina should be reinforced or resupplied, since this would be the sort of incident likely to increase the tension to the snapping point.

In this he was initially supported by most of his fellow cabinet members, for when Lincoln polled them, they voted five-to-two to abandon the fort. Lincoln himself, in spite of his inaugural statement that he would “hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government,” seemed undecided or anyhow did not announce his decision. Seward believed he would come around in time, especially in the light of the odds among his counselors. Meanwhile he, Seward, would do what he could to spare the Southerners any additional provocation.

Three of them arrived in Washington from the Confederate capital at Montgomery, Alabama as commissioners to accomplish “the speedy adjustment of all questions growing out of separation, as the respective interests, geographical contiguity, and future welfare of the two nations may render necessary.” They had much to offer and much to ask. The Confederate Congress having opened the navigation of the lower Mississippi to the northern states, they expected to secure in return the evacuation of Sumter and forts in Florida.

Lincoln, however, would not see them. Being also an official person, Seward could not see them either, no matter how much good he thought would proceed from a face-to-face conciliatory talk. Yet he found a way at least to show them the extent to which he believed the government would go in proving it meant no harm in their direction.

On 15 March 1861, the day Lincoln first polled his cabinet for its views on Sumter, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Campbell of Alabama, who had not yet gone South, came into Seward’s office to urge him to receive the Southern commissioners. The Secretary regretfully declined, then added: “If Jefferson Davis had known the state of things here, he would not have sent those commissioners. The evacuation of Sumter is as much as the Administration can bear.”

Justice Campbell was alert at once. Here was Seward, guaranteeing for the government, whose Secretary of State he was, the main concession the commissioners were seeking. To make this even more definite, Campbell remarked that he would write to Davis at once. “And what shall I say to him on the subject of Fort Sumter?”

“You may say to him that before that letter reaches him, the telegraph will have informed him that Sumter will have been evacuated.”

At the end of March, however, Lincoln’s cabinet was polled a second time and voted in favor of resupplying Fort Sumter.  Seward by now began to see that he might well have gone too far in his guarantees to the Confederate commissioners. When Justice Campbell returned on 1 April to ask why his promise of two weeks before had not been carried out, Seward replied with the straight-faced solemnity of a man delivering an April Fool pronouncement: “I am satisfied the government will not undertake to supply Fort Sumter without giving notice to [South Carolina] Governor Pickens.”

“What does this mean?” Campbell asked, taken aback. This was something quite different from the Secretary’s former assurances. “Does the President design to supply Sumter?”

“No, I think not,” Seward said. “It is a very irksome thing to him to surrender it. His ears are open to everyone, and they fill his head with schemes for its supply. I do not think he will adopt any of them. There is no design to reinforce it.”

Campbell reported these developments to the Confederate commissioners, who saw them in a clearer light than Seward himself had done. Restating them in sterner terms, the following day they telegraphed their government in Montgomery, Alabama: “The war wing presses on the President; he vibrates to that side. . . Their form of notice to us may be that of a coward, who gives it when he strikes.”

This, or something like this, was what followed; for though Lincoln himself had practiced no deception (at least not toward the Confederates) Seward’s well-meant misrepresentations had led exactly to that effect. By now Lincoln was ready. On 6 April he signed an order dispatching the naval expedition to Fort Sumter.

Yet Seward was still not quite through. The following day, when Justice Campbell asked him to confirm or deny rumors that such a fleet was about to sail, Seward replied by note: “Faith as to Sumter fully kept. Wait and see.” Campbell thought that this applied to the original guarantee, whereas Seward only meant to repeat that there would be no action without warning; and this, too, was taken for deception on the part of the Federal government. For on the day after that, 8 April, a Lincoln envoy notified Governor Pickens that a relief expedition was en route to Fort Sumter.

In sum, during the Sumter crisis Seward pretentiously assumed the role of the President Lincoln, which ultimately only made a bad situation worse.

Arkansas’s Mafia Godfather

During the 1930s one of New York’s most notorious underworld characters, boxing promoter and nightclub owner moved to Arkansas. A part of Owney Madden’s story is provided in the excerpt below of my book, The Devil’s Town: Hot Springs During the Gangster Era.

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From 1934 to 1965 former New York mobster Owney Madden was the most notorious gangster living permanently in Hot Springs. Earlier he had arrived in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood along the west side of midtown Manhattan in 1903 as a twelve-year-old Welsh immigrant. He soon joined a local gang, became an expert mugger and was earning $200 a day before he was out of his teens. One of his childhood friends, George Raft, became a Hollywood movie star and adopted Madden’s mannerisms in his signature gangster portrayals.

When he was nineteen Owney murdered one victim merely because the youth had tried to date one of Madden’s girlfriends. Although the slaying took place aboard a public trolley among many witnesses, police could not persuade anyone to testify afterward, despite catching Owney in a daring rooftop chase.

Two years later in 1912 a rival gang tried to kill Madden. Despite absorbing eleven bullets he survived. He refused, however, to identify his attackers to the police. “It’s nobody’s business but mine,” he said. Instead his own gang retaliated and killed six of the assailants before Owney was even released from the hospital.

During his outpatient convalescence, however, a competitor within his own gang tried to assume control by arguing that Owney was permanently crippled and therefore unsuited for leadership. Although Owney later arranged for hired killers to murder his rival, three witnesses who knew of the pact violated their oaths of silence.  As a result Owney was convicted of manslaughter and given a ten-to-twenty year prison sentence. He remained in New York’s Sing-Sing prison for about a decade until released on probation in 1923 when he was thirty-one years old.

At the height of Prohibition he formed a new gang and went into bootlegging. Prohibition revolutionized crime because it was exceptionally profitable. Violating prohibition evolved into a type of sport for many Americans. New York Governor Al Smith served liquor at public receptions. New York City mayor Jimmy Walker seldom arrived in his office before noon because he spent most nights carousing at speakeasies. Since the national law was unpopular, some states adopted weak regulations that permitted their state police to avoid enforcing the federal law. New York state was among them.

Consequently, enforcement fell to the Treasury Department’s Prohibition Bureau. Notwithstanding the reputations of men like Elliot Ness, the Bureau was mostly staffed by politically appointed flunkies, incompetents and corrupt administrators. Owney thrived in such an environment. In order to maximize profits, he produced his own beer brand, Madden’s Number One. It cost about $5 dollars a barrel to make but sold to speakeasies for $36.

As indicated in the (occasionally inaccurate) nine-minute video below, Madden also operated some outwardly legitimate businesses including the famous Cotton Club where jazz greats like Duke Ellington performed and Lena Horne joined the chorus line at age 16.

When a younger trigger-happy hoodlum named Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll tried to muscle in on his rum-running business in 1932, Owney occupied Coll on a telephone conversation while the interloper was in a phone a booth. During the lengthy talk, Owney had the booth’s location call-traced and sent hired killers to gun down his enemy. The execution was ill timed because Owney’s probation board had been accumulating evidence that he was not giving up his wicked ways. The board threatened deportation or re-imprisonment. Simultaneously, Prohibition was ending and the Italians were taking control of the remaining rackets. Since the easy pickings of the Prohibition Era in New York were over, Madden was casting about for new business lines.

Professional boxing promotion was an early example of his diversifying efforts where he gained quick success. In one case he backed the giant six-foot-seven-inch Primo Carnera who won the 1933 World Heavyweight Championship title.  But Carnera was overrated and Owney may have helped him win his title by reason of a series of fixed fights in which some of the losers were paid to let him win. Nonetheless, Owney also had relationships with other fighters such as Max Baer and Rocky Marciano who became lifelong friends.

About a year before his probation board began questioning Owney regarding suspected parole violations, he took his first trip to Hot Springs in 1932. At the time, Las Vegas and Miami were practically wastelands. In contrast, Hot Springs was a wide-open town with a reputation for welcoming visiting mobsters as long as they behaved peacefully. Since Madden also still carried five of the eleven bullets he took in 1912, he may have also sought relief in the thermal waters. Contemporary mobster Dutch Schultz recommended that he visit the spa and make a point of meeting the young lady who worked at a gift shop near the town’s prime hotel, the Arlington.

Madden pulled up in an impressive Duesenberg and parked in front of thirty-year-old Agnes Demby’s shop. From Agnes’s viewpoint behind the counter the grand convertible filled both picture windows. After the well-dressed driver entered the shop, Agnes told another clerk that she would attend to the new customer. Owney looked around and talked with her as he gradually bought an increasing number of items. By the time he was finished he had spent about a thousand dollars, which was a huge amount in the depths of the Great Depression.  Thus, he felt justified in asking Agnes on a dinner date. But she modestly turned him down and went home where she lived with her widowed dad who was the town’s postmaster.

Since her father was not at home when Agnes arrived, she grew bored and walked over to the Arlington hotel lobby where she found Owney sitting and talking with another guy. She walked up to the pair and asked Owney if he’d still like to have dinner. The generous mobster gave her a broad smile and said that he’d love to.

Madden stayed for two more weeks and spent most of his time with Agnes. The more familiar he became with Agnes and Hot Springs the more he envisioned a promising future for the two of them as well as the town. Agnes would become the love of his life and Hot Springs held potential to become his miniature New York with no rival big-time gangsters in permanent residence.

Later that year Agnes visited him in New York and Owney reciprocated by returning afterward for a second Hot Springs visit. But the parole board continued to hound him. Evidently, somebody—he never learned whom—wanted him returned to Sing Sing. During one hearing an inspector informed the board that Madden had been arrested 140 times but only convicted once, which was the 1912 manslaughter case.

In a bid to project a hard-on-crime image New York Governor and presidential hopeful Franklin Roosevelt put his weight behind the parole board. An investigative committee of the legislature had discovered problems not only with Madden, but also with other notables, including New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. Only days before the Democratic presidential nominating convention, however, Roosevelt passed the basket of hot potatoes to the conflicted Mayor Walker.

Gangsters Myer Lansky, Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Frank Costello attended the convention as power brokers for the Tammany political machine. According to Madden biographer Graham Nown, the likely candidates could not gain the Democratic Party nomination without assuring Mayor Walker and his pals, including Owney, that the legal pressures against them would be lifted.   When Luciano told Al Smith that Tammany had decided to back Roosevelt, Smith replied, “Charlie, Frank Roosevelt will break his word to you.”

Smith was right. Once Roosevelt got the nomination Walker was forced to resign and everything fell apart for Owney. The parole board used a technicality to order him back to jail. His chauffer drove him to Sing Sing where a guard who doubted the unescorted Owney’s identity initially refused to admit him. But by sundown July 7, 1932 Madden was back in a prison cell. In November the board ruled that he must serve twelve months.

Since Prohibition had been abolished before he was released in July 1933 Madden turned his attention to the gambling rackets. Gambling casinos were illegal nearly everywhere but—as they did for the Prohibition Era speakeasies—authorities often winked at them. When stating his opinion about the desirability of peaceably dividing the gambling territories among the various Mafia families instead of fighting over them, the influential Lansky told other Mafia leaders that the country was big enough for everyone to have a piece of the action without fighting one another.

Except for his uncertain parole status, it looked like Owney could turn Hot Springs into his little corner of the game. Unfortunately, his parole required that he not leave New York State. Nonetheless, through mysterious negotiations his parole was eventually transferred to Hot Springs, conditional to his remaining in Arkansas.

Outsiders have never known why the New York parole board reversed its attitude toward Madden. Even after he was released from prison in 1933, investigations revealed probable corruption in his outwardly legitimate coal supply business. Board members may have been bribed, or they might just simply have decided that Madden was small potatoes after the end of Prohibition. One parole commissioner indicated that he approved Owney’s transfer to Hot Springs partly because the gangster was ill, perhaps because of the bullets that remained in his body.  A future Hot Springs confidant later said that the process involved many months of negotiation and included participants who were among America’s most prominent leaders.

During the summer of 1934 Mob leaders met privately at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel to divide up the rackets controlled by Dutch Schultz who, they assumed, would soon be headed to jail for income tax evasion. During the meeting, Lansky awarded Owney Miami’s Tropical Park horse race track and told him that he could also be the Mob’s representative in Hot Springs.

Owney married Agnes in November 1935. The couple would live in Hot Springs for the rest of their lives. Madden generally kept a low profile during his thirty years in the town. The marriage ended at Owney’s death by natural causes in 1965. Agnes never remarried and lived until 1991 when she died at age 90.

Public Enemy Number One: Interview

(September 5, 2018) Today’s post does not involve the Civil War but pertains to my most recent book, The Devil’s Town: Hot Springs During the Gangster Era.

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During the 1930s FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover referred to notorious gangsters as public enemies. Each man at the top of the list was designated Public Enemy Number One until either killed or captured. Among those making it to the top were John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. All were killed in gunfights, except Karpis. His capture essentially ended the age of the big-name Depression Era criminal. Other mobsters killed violently in the 1930s included Jack “Legs” Diamond, Vincent “Maddog” Coll, Frank “Jelly” Nash and Dutch Schultz.

Although caught in New Orleans on May 1, 1936. Karpis spent much of the last year of his freedom with Grace Goldstein who owned the best bordello in Hot Springs, Arkansas located in the Hotel Hatterie. In addition to her sexuality, Karpis was impressed with Grace’s connections, which included Mayor Leo McLaughlin, other local politicians and the police.

After Public Enemy Number One posters containing Alvin’s portrait proliferated around town and the rest of the country, Grace rented a cottage for the lovers on Lake Catherine seven miles beyond the city limits. When federal investigators eventually arrived at the Hatterie on a tip from a Karpis accomplice captured after their November 1935 Ohio train robbery, Grace warned Alvin that even the cottage was unsafe. Consequently, he moved to New Orleans in March 1936.

Before he left Hot Springs, however, Karpis gave Grace enough money to purchase a new car. She bought a Buick at a dealership owned by Raymond Clinton who was the older brother of the future President’s stepfather. They took a road trip together around Christmas of 1935, which included a visit to Grace’s family in East Texas. The FBI used knowledge the trip to motivate Grace to disclose Karpis’s New Orleans address by threatening to charge her Texas family members with temporarily harboring a criminal.

Although Karpis was probably guilty of a number of murders—mostly during gunfights—he plea-bargained to avoid the death penalty by sharing his knowledge of high profile kidnapping cases involving the Barker Gang with which he sometimes partnered. Although sentenced to life imprisonment, in 1969 he got parole after thirty-three years. Thereafter he lived another decade during which the fifty-minute video interview above was recorded.

Karpis was at Alcatraz longer than any other prisoner where he became acquainted with many infamous inmates. He was later jailed at another prison where Charles Manson was incarcerated and came to know him as well.

Kansas City Union Station Massacre

(September 4, 2018) Today’s post does not involve the Civil War but pertains to my most recent book, The Devil’s Town: Hot Springs During the Gangster Era

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On June 17, 1933 four lawmen and their prisoner were gunned down in broad daylight at Kansas City’s Union train station. The news shocked the nation and prompted President Franklin Roosevelt’s attorney general to launch a “war” on organized crime. Soon new legislation empowered FBI agents to make arrests more freely and gave them authority to carry firearms, including machine guns. Although the outrage happened in Kansas City, as the four-minute video below indicates, the story began in Hot Springs, Arkansas a day earlier when FBI agents captured bank robber Frank Nash while he was on the lam between robberies. His captors planned to take him to the federal penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

While the lawmen were holding Nash captive on the loading platform at the Fort Smith, Arkansas train station, a nearby Associated Press reporter became curious because he noticed that Nash was in handcuffs. When the reporter inquired about the situation, one of the captors—nobody knows whom—explained that Nash was a notorious bank robber that was being taken to Kansas City before proceeding to Fort Leavenworth. The wire story enabled the Kansas City mob to organize a group of two or three gunmen, ostensibly to rescue Nash, when his train arrived at 7:15 AM on 17 June.

The identities of all the gunmen are unknown. Former sheriff-turned-gangster Verne Miller appears to have been the leader. Notwithstanding that he was in town the same day, it is doubtful that Pretty Boy Floyd participated even though the publicity-hungry FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover believed that he did as still indicated at the FBI website.

Finally, the massacre motive is debatable. Instead of rescuing Nash, Miller and his henchmen might have intended to murder Nash in order to prevent him from betraying other criminals in a plea bargain. Nash had, for example, participated with other criminals in various bank robberies and other illegal activities. Nash was, in fact, killed during the shootout. After an apparent gangland execution, Miller’s mutilated body would be discovered in a roadside ditch near Detroit before the end of the year.

In 1975 Hollywood released a full length scripted version of the Kansas City Massacre. It starred Dale Robertson and Bo Hopkins and is currently available for free on YouTube.

A Yankee Seeks Meaning in the Confederate Flag

(September 3, 2018) The Minnesotan who posted the ten minute video below took a road trip through parts of the South to try and understand the appeal of the Confederate flag.

[Learn more about Civil War and Reconstruction at My Amazon Author Page]

Here are some comments from previous viewers:

  1. One of the more intelligent, fair minded videos I’ve seen on the subject.
  2. Amazing. Good job mate!
  3. Intelligent discussion and well presented.
  4. The people of both sides should see this
  5. The South was economically crushed by the end of the Civil War. It’s took them over 100 years to get back on their economic feet, and the symbol of that long haul is the Confederate flag.*
  6. My, someone who finally gets it.
  7. Very fair even-handed approach, great job. Would like to see more coverage like this, this is exactly what journalism is supposed to be.

*This one, I think, is the most revealing.

Should Experts be Trusted?

(September 1, 2018) Some information theory analysts argue that the longer we study a topic, the less we understand it because we are less able to discern new information. That may be why, for example, newcomers are generally responsible for the biggest scientific breakthroughs. Einstein hypothesized relativity when he was twenty-six and Newton was even younger when he invented the calculus and laid the foundations for Newtonian physics. Author G. K. Chesterton explained the myopia of experts this way:

The . . . argument of the expert, that the man who is trained should be the man who is trusted, would be absolutely unanswerable if it were really true that the man who studied a thing and practiced it every day went on seeing more and more of its significance. But he does not. He goes on seeing less and less of its significance.

Commenting on the ideas of information theorist Claude Shannon, author George Gilder adds that information is always a surprise. “Writing from his home, which he named Entropy House, Shannon showed that information itself is measured by unexpected bits—by its surprisal. This is a form of disorder echoing the disorder of thermodynamic entropy. Information is surprise.” Since knowledge (e.g. conventional wisdom) is the absence of entropy, new information must come from entropy. Put another way, entropy is the missing information.

In terms of the study of the Civil War such ideas suggest that new information requires that the topic be examined in a new way in order to discover the missing information. This is especially true the longer expert opinion has been stultified into a fixed interpretation. Consider, for example, the causes of the Civil War. For the past fifty years the expert-school attributes it to slavery, slavery, slavery. As evidence, they point to the secession documents issued by most of the first wave of the seven seceding cotton states that mention slavery as a prime reason for secession as well as the legalization slavery in the Confederate constitution.

[Learn more about Civil War and Reconstruction at My Amazon Author Page]

But the conclusion draws a false equivalency between the reasons the Gulf states seceded and the reasons the North chose to fight a war to coerce them back into the Union thereby inducing Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas to also leave the Union. If the equivalency were valid it would imply that the North went to war in order to destroy slavery in the South, which is undeniably false. Instead, there’s a strong case that the Yankees went to war in order to avoid the economic consequences of disunion to the post-secession truncated Union. Yet the expert-school nearly forbids any discussion of such an explanation. It is the entropy that they insist their ordered house must muzzle, much like the Pope who arrested Galileo.

Consider also, for example, how the expert-school minimizes the role of tariffs in the sectional differences. In order to dismiss tariffs as a war cause they explain that on the eve of the Civil War tariffs were less than twenty percent on dutiable items, which was the lowest they’d been in years. But they fail to explain that protective tariffs were outlawed in the Confederate constitution, that for almost fifty years after the war tariffs on dutiable items averaged 45% and that the post-war dutiable items list was greatly expanded to protect previously unprotected Northern goods.

Finally, the establishment has overly “rehabilitated” Ulysses Grant’s reputation. Only newcomers such as Frank Varney and Joseph Rose accurately illuminate Grant’s flawed  character and performance.

In sum, today’s dominant expert-group of Civil War historians has failed to provide any truly new information for perhaps thirty years. But unlike earlier aged groups today’s experts are generally intolerant of newcomers who challenge the group’s hidebound opinions.

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Update on promotional price for my Confederacy at Flood Tide bookAmazon sold out of the $11 quantity of books. Therefore, from now until Thursday (September 6, 2018) I’ll sell them at that price directly to those of you  who email me and provide your postal address. My email is: