Two Witnesses

“I began to think that all was not right. He said that with two hundred men he could drive congress, with the president at its head, into the river Potomac, . . .and he said with five hundred men he could take possession of New York….”

Colonel John Morgan, written testimony, 1807, the Burr Conspiracy

In grade school we watched a film titled, “The Man Without A Country.” Taken from a story by Edward Everett Hale, the tale tells of an American soldier named Philip Nolan. Nolan, a fictitious character had been arrested as a conspirator in a scheme to seize a chunk of the Louisiana Purchase and secede from the Union. At his trial an angry Nolan pitched a fit and shouted “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”

The presiding judge agreed with Nolan’s outburst and sentenced him to never hear of, nor set foot in the United States again. Serving his time, Nolan spends the rest of his days transferred from one Naval vessel to another, never permitted to see the shoreline again. By the end of this sad tale, Nolan grieves his error, and Hale has him express his regrets, and the majesty of our democracy.

Though just a little kid, that film struck me as a nightmare, a true horror story. (I was a history-geek before I knew I was a history-geek). The sadness remains with me now.

Hale set his patriotic tale against an actual event, the Burr Conspiracy, (1805-1807). Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson’s rival and Vice President had killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804, and resigned as Vice President in 1805. Heading west beyond the Appalachians, Burr allegedly hatched a plot to capture a southern piece of the Louisiana Purchase, and Mexican Texas. It was said Burr planned to install himself as a sovereign of a new nation, with New Orleans as his capital. A co-conspirator, General James Wilkinson, turned on Burr, and spilled the beans to President Jefferson. The outraged President promptly dispatched soldiers to apprehend Colonel Burr.

In a Virginia court Burr was indicted for treason, and soon put on trial in Richmond. The Judge, Chief Justice John Marshall presided. 

Burr remained serene throughout the trial, and denied the charges against him. Jefferson, meanwhile breathed fire, demanding Justice Marshall convict. Marshall, a brilliant student of American Law, subpoenaed the President to testify, and that pissed off Jefferson even more. 

In a letter to the court Jefferson insisted British Common Law sufficed for conviction. That advice would place Burr in the vicinity of a seditious act, and lead to a quick guilty verdict. Marshall, however, relied on the recent Constitutional definition.

Article III, Section 3, Clause 1,

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to the Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

At the end of this saga Burr was acquitted, Jefferson’s opinion irrelevant to US Law. Without fear nor favor Marshall abided by the Constitution. Lacking eyewitness testimony to the act, Burr walked. Neither Wilkinson’s nor Colonel Morgan’s letters proved relevant.

This case, complicated, and circumstantial, tested the new Constitution, and the Constitution prevailed. Fictitious Nolan should perhaps have held his temper in check, but then there wouldn’t be a story.

For MAGA insurrectionists, exculpatory evidence is stacking up. We all  bore  witness to the ransacking of the Capitol, and the rest of the plot is coming to light. Archival documents, emails, phone conversations, sticky notes, fake electoral papers, and incompetent lawyers litter the January 6 landscape. 

This time, under the language of Article III, there is no doubt of treason. 

As Philip Nolan lay dying aboard a Navy vessel, he tells his comforter “Here, you see, I have a country!” A map of the United States is pinned to a wall at the foot of his bed. Nolan begs his visitor to draw in new states admitted since his long ago trial. A tragic yarn of regret to be sure.

In the end Aaron Burr faded into the fog of time. Due to a certain Broadway musical he has resurfaced. Did Burr engaged in treason? We’ll never know for certain. That he faded is important. America is more resilient than any one of us.

Though Philip Nolan is a character of fiction, and Burr an enduring mystery, the January 6th hoard will not fade. You aided another would-be tyrant, and you failed. Like Pearl Harbor, and 911, your treason will live in infamy, to borrow a phrase. 

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight. Both titles are available on Kindle. Chumbley has also penned two plays, “Clay,” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears” a look at American slavery and it beginnings.

gailchumbley@chumbleg

chumbleg.blog

Animal House Meets the GOP

What do you get when you cross Animal House with the GOP? Roger Stone. He holds the dubious distinction of dragging Republican moral decay on, that first festered in the 1970’s. The product of Stone’s current efforts? The January 6th insurrection.

That young Stone cut his teeth orbiting around the Nixon disaster, and later lent a hand to the Reagan campaign, and even later aided the “Brooks Brother Riot” of 2000, his role as a covert agent of chaos lives on. “Conservative Values” a long running catch phrase is no more than an oxymoron, the national party undercut by a list of career dirty tricksters, including Stone.

Think Donald Segretti, of Watergate fame. Segretti hired a girl to run naked at a hotel shouting she was in love with Edmund Muskie, Nixon’s chief rival in 1972. In 1970, even Karl Rove interfered and sabotaged Democratic fund raising efforts by publishing false event information, ie . . . free beer, free food, girls, everyone welcome, etc. Rove’s work turned the event into a fiasco. Then there was Ken Clawson’s Canuck Letter. Clawson, a Nixon operative, published a fraudulent note dropping in phrases like “illegitimate babies,” and “homosexuality,” among Democratic leaders. (Homosexuality still a taboo.) And of course the most famous dirty trick of all, the burglary of the DNC at the Watergate Office Complex.

What this brief evidence has made clear is Republicans can’t win any other way, at least not nationally, without deception and disinformation campaigns. During the Reagan years, men like Oliver North, Admiral John Poindexter, and CIA Director William Casey privatized foreign policy in the Iran Contra Affair. Ronald Reagan haplessly confessed the crimes were real, though he didn’t understand how. The George W. Bush administration outed a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, via Scooter Libby, and Libby was convicted of his crime. But don’t cry for Scooter, Donald Trump pardoned him because it’s true, there is no honor among thieves.

Any pretense of “conservative values” is a myth, carefully advertised by party insiders, but hasn’t existed since President Dwight Eisenhower. 

Stone’s lies to Congress, and to the FBI reveals the state of the party. Any means to win.  Underhanded tactics indicate business as usual.

The harm? My vote doesn’t count, and neither does anyone else’s. The cry of States’ Rights echoing around the country is simply a cover to intensify efforts to deprive the people of good government. Stone, Trump, and the rest of the party has rejected an even playing field; they cannot win in an open, fair vote.  

This blog in no way implies that Dems are blameless, but short of Bill Clinton’s dalliances and others taking bribes, the crimes have hurt the individual, not the American people. Decent folks abandon the GOP daily because of such flagrant misuse of power. 

In a side note, Richard Nixon ran for Congress in 1946 smearing his opponent, Jerry Voorhees as “soft on Communism,” and in 1950 aimed for the Senate, insinuating his opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas was “pink right down to her underwear.”

We all know who the patron saint of the modern GOP is, and Stone, not to forget Trump, are his most astute disciples.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle. Chumbley has written two plays, “Clay,” exploring the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears” regarding the establishment of American Slavery.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Redundant

The last five years bear proof that voting is a precious right, made real through two centuries of courage, and bloody violence. The extension of the vote, the collective voice of our political will, did not expand without difficulty or sacrifice. 

In the early days of the Republic, the founders struggled to strike a balance between their own political interests, and those of the public. The founders considered citizens as too mercurial, too easily swayed, to be trusted with the vote. Only men of standing, knowledge, and property were qualified to cast ballots.

As populations moved westward, new states allowed all white males voting rights. Making use of “poll taxes,” farmers and tradesmen paid a fee to participate in elections. The money indicated that the voter had some means, and a stake in the community. Still, voting at that time was a boisterous affair, as men publicly announced their choices to officials. That practice, combined with hard liquor guaranteed election day ended with a bloody fight or two.

Political machines, like New York’s Tammany Hall, lined up voters like soldiers each election day. Bosses such as William Marcy “Boss” Tweed maintained power manipulating elections like clockwork, assuring outcomes before the votes were ever counted.

Women labored long and fruitlessly for the vote. Seeking rights of citizenship, women wanted not only the franchise, but the equal legal standing before the law. The forces of inertia and sexism held fast, believing ladies must stay home where they “belonged.” Politics was seen as too complex an issue for the female brain, as they were smaller, (I kid you not). More custom than written law, the practice of “coverture” considered the call for women’s suffrage as redundant. Women, as dependents, like their children, were legally “covered” by their husbands’ vote. He, as head of the family voted for the entire household.

Not until 1919, after a century of ridicule and abuse, did women earn the right to vote. And even then just barely. Once the 19th Amendment reached the Tennessee legislature for ratification, the bill passed by a single representative’s vote, making the state the 36th and last state to approve.

The path to black suffrage provides the most perilous story. Considered property in antebellum America, branded 3/5’s of a human being in the Constitution, these people faced impossible hurdles after the Civil War. While Union soldiers remained in the South as occupiers, black men voted, per the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. However, once the blue coats with their bayonets left, that moment of possibilities passed.

Black codes, a carryover from pre-war slave codes, and violence at the hands of homegrown terrorist (KKK, and the Knights of the White Camelia), a black man risked his life attempting to cast a ballot. After 1876, marking the end of Reconstruction, Southern society returned to “normal” with blacks clutching the lowest rung.

It took a World War to breathe life into the Civil Rights Movement. Even then white resistance pushed back against the movement. Through the courts, the NAACP argued that case law favored black suffrage. Falling back on the 14th and 15th Amendments, attorneys like Thurgood Marshall jousted against white supremacy at all levels of society. In 1964, Freedom Summer introduced a massive voter registration drive, garnering enough leverage to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Old school Redeemers, like today’s Senator Mitch McConnell watched and waited to gut the law after the election of President Obama. McConnell argued with a black president, no need remained for the ’65 Act.

So where does that leave black and brown Americans today? Outraged. States, largely in the South are once again purging black voters from precinct rosters. Why? Because white supremacists in the South still feel they must suppress those voters to maintain white power.

Now that is redundant.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. Chumbley also penned two history plays, “Clay” and “Wolf By The Ears.”

gailchumbley@gmail.com