Friday, May 26, 2006

"Generalissimo of the Ku Klux": Jimmy Coker's War Record

Col. James P. Coker was the organizer of the Jackson County white community's resistance to Republican administration and Reconstruction policy. While he was not directly implicated in the violence of the "Jackson County War," Hamilton and Purman considered him the ringleader and even, in William Purman's words, Generalissimo of the Ku Klux in Jackson County. He tormented and threatened Hamilton and Dickinson and organized the meeting that announced the expulsion of Fleishman. Coker was arrested in December 1871 for violating the Enforcement Act, tried at the United States Court at Jacksonville and the government dropped the prosecution about a year later [Peek, "Curbing Voter Intimidation in Florida, 1871" FHQ, vol. 43, April 1865]. United States v. James Coker, December 11, 1871, Box 082429. (The Enforcement Act was "aimed at outlawing any denial of the right to vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Intimidation to deprive the right to vote, conspiracy, and going abroad in disguise to prevent the free exercise of anyone's civil rights were also forbidden" - Peek, ibid).
Suprisingly, however, Coker did not have a distinguished war record. Coker died in Marianna on August 20, 1890 and his second wife, Ella, filed an application for a widow's pension from the state of Florida stating that Coker had served in Captiain John M. F. Irwin's Florida Calvary from Oct. 3 until mustered out on Oct. 11, 1862 and that he then served as "Quarter-Master and Home Guard from 1862 to 1865." The initial application was put on hold because Mrs. Coker did not furnish any evidence of Coker's "war service other than a statement from the Adjutant General that he mustered into service October 3rd, 1862, and mustered out October 11th, 1862." This did not constitute proof of war service as required by Florida's pension law. The Comptroller's office requested that Mrs. Coker provide affidavits from Coker's comrades in arms as to Coker's service.
Mrs. Coker submitted another application in 1927 stating that Coker was mustered out in1862 "to confiscate provisions and clothing and send to the front for the use and benefit of Confederate soldiers." Incredibly, Mrs. Coker presented, as her sole supporting evidence of Coker's service, the affidavit of Emanuel Spires, age 79, who had been a slave "owned by Mr. Thomas and General W. D. Barnes." Spires recalled Coker as "Confederate Government Agent to collect Food and ship to the front for the Confederate soldiers, and was known as a Contra-band Agent, for the Confederate Government." Spires seemed to remember Coker as having confiscated some wagons of food from his master's plantation and having been told by Coker that the wagons were being sent to the front. It is stunning that Jimmy Coker's widow resorted to the statement of an elderly former slave for the sole source of supporting documentation for her application for a military pension.
In 1927, the Florida Legislature apparently approved an act directing the state Pension Board to grant Mrs. Coker a pension.
[Source: Florida Confederate Pension Application Files:].

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More creative writing from the Floridian: Osborn's fictional rejoinder

The previous post contained an "interview" of Charles Hamilton by the Tallahassee Floridian's correspondent "Enfant Perdu." Several weeks later, Perdu reappeared (was this a monthly political humor column?) with the inevitable Osborn "rejoinder":

Interesting letter received by our Correspondent Enfant Perdu, from Hon T. W. Osborn, U. S. Senator from Florida.[Private and confidential.]U. S. SENATE CHAMBER
WASHINGTON, D. C., MAY 25, '71
DEAR ENFANT - I notice by a late copy of the Floridian, that you have interviewed Hon. C. M. Hamilton, and obtained his version in regard to the Great Southern Railroad affair, and as it contains what would seem to be an aspersion upon my political sagacity, I desire to inform you exactly where I stand, both in regard to the Southern Railroad, and the U.S Marshalship for Florida. As this letter is strictly confidential, I shall of course make it as plain and frank as possible.
Florida is my adopted state, and I have a great affection for her, which unfortunately her people do not seem to reciprocate. During my past political career I have tried to the best of my poor abilities to advance the interests of the State, (incidentally enriching myself at the same time) and I feel that I deserve some credit for my labors in this direction, for I am sensitive if I am fat.The charge is made that in connection with the railroad scheme, I sought to enrich myself and brother at the expense of the tax payers of the State; but certainly no good christian will object to that, for the book they should square themselves by says, "If any provide not for his own, especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse an infidel."[1] I am free to say that both myself and friends are impecunious cusses, and if our debts were paid, would scarcely have enough money left to buy a waterfall for a mosquito; and we never intended to put the road through ourselves. What we did intend, was to get all the land grants possible and then sell our franchise to some foreign corporation, which at the completion of the work would have been virtually owners of Florida, and the citizens might growl, but they would be too poor to bite.
The object of my brother, Rev. A. C. Osborn, in becoming so deeply involved in the project was a purely christian and benevolent one. He believed the people of Florida to be deep in the "gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity,"[2] and desired to employ in the salvation of their souls the humanizing influences of a great railroad; thinking that every screech of the whistle and every puff of the engine, would admonish them of the necessity of preparing for the hereafter. His object was a noble one, and whoever casts a slur upon it deserves the horrible fate of Prometheus, who you will remember was chained to a rock for eating a vulture, that bird being considered sacred among the heathen. As for myself I am truly sorry that I ever had anything to do with it, for even the boot-blacks at the capitol, with an indifference to senatorial dignity approaching nearly to the sublime, have dubbed me "Railroad Tommy," and as I before remarked, I am sensitive if I am fat. [3]
However, I shall redeem myself I think for at the next session I intend to offer a bill, resolving that as Florida is too poor, the U. S. Government will father two magnificent projects that I now have in hand. One is to dredge out Lake Lafayette in Leon county, and make it navigable for light draft steamers, not drawing more than three feet of water, and mainly to be used for picnics, funerals, &c. The dredging is to be done by one of Hoe's largest cylinder presses (with double barreled escapement,) and to be under the supervision of E. M. Cheney, the eminent Jacksonville "gasometer," (vide New Era) who will bring to his new field of labor the greatest qualifications for the work, and no doubt give satisfaction to all parties.[4]
Project number two is one of incalculable value in a more sanitary point of view. It is nothing more nor less than to transport the famous Wakulla Springs to Jacksonville, to be used as a sanitarium by all having an "itch for office," as well as by members of the Y. M. C. A. [5] The transportation is to be accomplished by a new species of sub soiling, which I have just patented to be superintended by myself, and as it is to remain secret until fully performed, I shall only employ negroes in the work as they are best qualified to keep dark concerning it. These are the things that will make me famous, and the name of Osborn shall yet live in story "one of the few, the immortal names that were not born to die." [6]
Now in regard to the marshalship. When I saw Hamilton's name sent in to the Senate for that position, I actually trembled with dismay for you will doubtless remember that I once held the position of Register in Bankruptcy, and there might be some little technical informalities in my accounts, which only a friend should examine, so I determined that a friend of mine should be apppointed Marshal. I immediately notified Alberger to prepare and file some affidavits against Hamilton, while I hurried off to see Grant. On being admitted to the presidential palace, I explained to Ulysses my errand, and told him that if he would withdraw Hamilton's name and have Conant appointed, I would vote for the removal of Sumner, and in favor of San Domingo. He agreed to do so, and I left his presence with a happy heart. The best of the joke is, that when Hamilton called on Grant to ask an explanation he was grossly snubbed, and even refused a copy of the charges on file against him. [7]
I find that I have written a much longer letter than I intended and will now close, by carefully admonishing you to keep this letter strictly private in all respects.
Truly yours, OSBORN
ENFANT PERDU, Esq., Tallahassee, Fla.

Dear Floridian - In giving the above letter to the public, I feel that I am but fulfilling a simple duty, and that duty I shall carry out unto the bitter end, even though that end be BLOOD; and I hereby give warning that I can snuff a barn door at fifteen paces, and knock pennies off a cat's tail as fast that feline animile can histe them on. There is a subtle vein of rascality running through the honorable Senator's letter, which will no doubt strike his friends very unpleasantly, and they may blame me for having violated the confidence reposed in me; but I feel that I have a duty to perform, and like the Greek Philosopher, old Sarcophagus, I shall not allow mere personal friendship to stand in the way. I have no ill will against Mr. Osborn, but when any man, high or low, seeks to injure the State which I have taken under my protection, I shall in the sublime language of the Teutonic poet, "cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war."[8]
[Tallahassee Weekly Floridian, May 30, 1871]

1. 1 Timothy 5:8
2. Acts 8:23. Remarkably, this Floridian satire mockingly uses the religious justification earnestly invoked by Rev. A. C. Osborn to rationalize to his congregants his serving as president of the Great Southern Railroad.
3. Uncertain reference: perhaps popular minstrel show joke?
4. Lake Lafayette was a large shallow lake in Leon County (Tallahassee area). Hoe was a manufacturer of printing presses ("cylinder press"), often quite large machines. The use of printing machines for "dredging" is absurd. E. M. Cheney was a Republican political operative active during Florida reconstruction. "Gassy" was a frequent taunt invoked by the Floridian against its Republican targets. New Era was a Gainesville newspaper.
5. Wakulla Springs are a large natural spring and popular recreation area not far from Tallahassee. Obviously, the proposed "move" to Jacksonville is absurd. The joke about the YMCA is obscure.
6. From "Marco Bozzaris" by Fitz-Greene Halleck.
7. Hamilton's nomination for marshal was stalled by the Senate Republicans and ultimately withdrawn by Grant in favor of Osborn "Ring" loyalist, Simon Conant. Also in March 1871, Charles Sumner lost his position as chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations stemming, at least partially, from Sumner's opposition to Grant's plan to annex Santo Domingo. Such an alleged deal (Osborn opposing Sumner in return for Grant withdrawing Hamilton's nomination) - admittedly not alluded to anywhere else - could explain how Osborn, who had not been close to the Grant administration, could, together with New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, engineer Hamilton's humiliation with respect to the marshalship he desperately sought.
8. "Julius Caeser," (Act III, Scene 1), Shakespeare.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More Press Reaction to the Great Southern Railroad Scandal: Humor from the Weekly Floridian

Florida's most prominent newspaper, the Tallahassee Weekly Floridian was a staunch Democratic party organ that continuously launched vicious attacks on Florida's Republicans during Reconstruction. Long-time editor Charles E. Dyke's Floridian took special delight in the exposure of the GSRR which entangled many leading Republicans. Charles Hamilton, a frequent subject of the paper's taunts since he came to public attention in early 1868, unexpectedly found himself portrayed as a sympathetic figure for his role in bringing the GSRR scandal to light. Nevertheless, the Floridian couldn't resist mocking Hamilton and published a comic "interview" from correspondent "Enfant Perdu" that I have transcribed and annotated below. A similar comic interview with Osborn followed shortly thereafter. Photo: Charles E. Dyke, long-time publisher and editor of the Floridian (Fl. St. Archives)]:

Washington, D.C. April 17, 1871
Editors Floridian: I arrived in this city just when the so-called expose of the Great Southern Railroad Company, by Hon. C. M. Hamilton, M. C. from Florida, appeared in the columns of that spicy paper the Capital; and I resolved to seek an interview with Hamiton, and find out the exact status of affairs, in order if possible to set him right before his former constituents, and the people at large. When a man has once served a term in Congress; and then been repudiated by his constituents, it is ever afterwards hard work to find out his permanent abiding place. There is a great fascination to some about the scene of their former greatness, and they continue to hang around the city for years afterwards. Some sink lower and lower, until they become newspaper men, or engage in some other disreputable business, so you will please imagine that I had considerable trouble to find out where "Handsome Charlie"[1] obtained his daily "hash." At last I was directed to old mother Shipley's on "F" street, below the avenue, and so wended my way thither. Arriving at the house, I knocked at the door, and it was opened by a "ward of the nation," whose mouth looked like a buckwheat cake run over by a cart wheel. Being told that Col. Hamilton was in, I sent up my card, and in a few minutes a rather tall, handsome man, with blonde moustache and beard, came to the door, introduced himself to me as Chas. M. Hamilton, and invited me up stairs to his private den.[2] Arriving there, "Enfant," said he, "how does the old thing work?"
"Very dry," said I, and with that we did mutually "smile," and deposited about two inches of "bug juice" under our respective vests, lit our segars and prepared for sociable talk.
"Now Charlie," said I, "look here: how in the devil came you to make such an egregious blunder as to come out in the papers with those affidavits, letters &c.? You have ruined yourself irretrievably with your party, and placed yourself in a very unpleasant situation. Why, o why, did you do thusly?"
"Lend me your ears," said he, "and I will a plain unvarnished tale unfold."[3]
"Hold," said I, "your ears are large enough for all practical purposes; why do you want mine?"
"I was only quoting from the immortal old Billy," said he; "I meant I wanted you to listen to my plaintive story. They roused the lion in my breast by laughing at my plan in regard to the Great Southern Railroad, and adopting one of their own. If my idea had been carried out, we would each in ten years been worth $1,000,000.[4] I wanted the road to be called 'The Great Southern Zig Zag,' to start right from the steps of the Capitol at Tallahassee, and run so as to pass by every town in the State, with an underground branch through Marianna. in that way we could have busted every other company in the State, and done away with every other railroad in the State; thus obtaining all the travel and patronage. Osborn says his road would have had a terminus within miles of Cuba; mine would have terminated in Cuba, as we intended to sink a tunnel from Cape Sable, Fla. to Havana, and we could then have supplied the entire Gulf coast with insurrection if necessary.[5] Wasn't it a sublime idea?" said he, warming up with his subject; "could any other mind but mine have conceived such a stupendous enterprise?"
"No," said I, "not outside of a Lunatic Asylum."
He looked at me kind of doubtfully as I said this, but being a Euchre player, concluded to let it pass. "But, Charlie," said I, "how came you to destroy the plausibility of your expose by saying you had refused a bribe of $20,000? You didn't expect any one to believe that, did you?"
"Well, no," said he hesitatingly, "but d---n it, it wasn't in cash -- it was a check; and i knew d---n well it would never be paid.[6] So I made a virtue of necessity and refused it. Now if it had been cash, I would have voted all right for the scheme," (here he took a big drink).
"How do you account," said I, "for Alberger's letter saying he never made any approach to you in regard to the bill?"
"Oh h-ll," said he, "Tom Osborn knew his man when he obtained that letter. Alberger can manufacture letters and affidavits with a facility that has only been learned by long practice" - (a thin drink) - "Alberger is a d---d scoundrel, sir, a d---d scoundrel. Even State Treasurer Conover will swear to that. As for Tom Osborn, he's a mere puppet, and A. C. Osborn pulls the strings. By the way, lets take another drink and then I'll tell you a good joke on Osborn. It happened at Butler's last reception here. Osborn had been plaguing Logan, and in retaliation, Logan told the following story [7]: He said he dreamed he died and tried to get into Heaven, but St. Peter was on guard at the gate and refused to let him pass, saying no soldiers were admitted. Just then Osborn came along and tripped right in. 'I thought you didn't admit soldiers,' said I. 'Oh pshaw,' said Peter, 'Osborn's no soldier - he's no soldier.' Pretty good joke on Tom, wasn't it?"[8]
"Yes," said I, "a good joke; but Charlie, Osborn is a fine man, and holds four aces every time," (a big drink,) Hamilton deeply affected - in fact his emotions had got down into his legs and he could barely walk.
"I know," said he, "I am a disgraced and ruined man, but just think of the provocation I had. I am a poor unfortunate orphan, and was chizzled out of a nomination for Congress by the 'par nobile fratrum,' T. W. and A. C. Osborn, a combination of war and Gospel and a d--d nigger chosen in my place.[9] I can never go back to Florida, but I want you to tell the carpet baggers that if I have done anything I am sorry for, I'm glad of it, and if I have in my political career offended any of them, I am willing to accept their apologies. My revenge on Osborn shall be terrible. I intend to go into the Senate Chamber, turn Osborn across my knee and publicly spank him."
"No!" said I, "Charlie, you must not do that, for a greater than thou has said
"Let all the ends thou aim'st at
Be thy Country's, God's and Truth's" [10]
[Tallahassee Weekly Floridian, April 25, 1871]

1. The Floridian had referred to Hamilton as "Handsome Charlie" since the 1868 Congressional campaign. See "Perdu's" physical description of Hamilton.
2. Unclear as to the implication from the location of Hamilton's residence. Hamilton was married at the time and it is difficult to believe he lived quite so dissolutely as suggested by the WF.
3. The quote may be a mocking reference to Hamilton's readiness to quote Shakespeare. For example, as reported in another post, A. C. Osborn said that Hamilton had sent him letter in April 1871 prefaced with a quote from Othello.
4. In this satire, at least, the WF accepts the Osborns' allegations that Hamilton's motivation all along was his desire to seize control of the railroad. In other more serious reports, however, the WF doesn't pay any attention to this charge.
5. The "underground branch" alludes to the well-known fact that Hamilton could not return to Marianna and expect to leave alive. He barely escaped during his last visit to Jackson County in August 1870. Hamilton and Purman, and other Florida Republicans, championed Cuban independence and urged Congress to support Cuban rebels.
6. Hamilton had been hysterically attacked in the Democratic press for using mild profanity and slang in a speech he made at Jacksonville early in his political career.
7. Osborn supported Massachusetts' Benjamin Butler in his proposed candidacy against U. S. Grant for the Republican nomination in 1868 earning Grant's antipathy. Senator John A. Logan of Illinois was a leading radical Republican. Interesting that the WF claims that Rev. A. C. Osborn, not Senator T. W. Osborn was the main force behind the GSRR.
8. The joke is obscure. Osborn served throughout the war as an artillery officer, rising to the rank of colonel.
9. Noble pair of brothers (latin). To the contrary, Hamilton's public statements about Josiah Walls were uniformly gracious.
General points: no other references can be found to Hamilton's being a drinker or gambler.
10. Shakespeare, "Henry VIII" Act 3, Scene ii.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A.C. Osborn's Second Explanation

Sometime after the GSRR scandal broke in the press, Rev. Osborn received a request from a member of his church to preach from the following text: "he that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him." Osborn accepted the challenge. He did not address the charges leveled by Hamilton, but instead justified his own participation in the railroad to his congregants by sermonizing on the compatibility of the accumulation of wealth and Godliness.
The Eagle interpreted the message of Osborn's sermon as "that in making haste to be rich, he was doing a good thing - a wise, Scriptural, moral, and pious thing; and it may be reasonably assumed that he believes that all his clever scheming in the building of the railroad in Florida resulted in the edification of the church in Brooklyn." Osborn, in the view of the Eagle, announced the obsolesence of "the old notion that wealth is a dangerous possession, and its pursuit apt to be disasterous." Rather, "riches are not only quite compatible with godliness, but are among God's best gifts to man." Riches, according to Osborn "must be sought 'not for their own sake but to better enable us to do God's work.'" The Eagle dryly observed that "the reluctant Congressman Hamilton, in refusing to cooperate with Osborn, actually mised a chance of aiding in the evangelization of Southern Brooklyn through the agency of the Tabernacle church." The Eagle commended Osborn sarcastically for speaking this time, unlike his during his previous statements in his own defense, with no "futile attempt at evasion, equivocation, and misprepresentation. By boldly justifying what he has done in hastening to be rich Osborn at last honestly confesses what he has done." [Brooklyn Eagle, May 15, 1871].
Over the next few months, the Eagle took several swipes at Osborn and expressed its disbelief that the Baptist church had failed to take any action against him: "Why do not the Baptists [of the Long Island Baptist Association]...let us know whether they really believe that railroad-presidency and legislative jobbery are consistent with the pastoral profession?" [Brooklyn Eagle, June 16, 1871]. In late June, the Eagle could hold back no longer and made its most direct attack on Osborn's church for retaining him: "Aside from the charge of bribery, or attempted bribery of State legislators and Congressmen, the mere fact of [Osborn's] connection with railroad land lobbying schemes should disable him as a clergyman. It is the disgrace of the Tabernacle Baptist Church that it intrusted the official cure of souls to one who was confessedly engaged in a business which subjects even worldly men to grave suspicion, and which almost always involves corruption. What right has a minister of the Gospel, one avowedly set apart from grosser things and consecrated to a spiritual and religious work, to be running railroads and engineering appropriations bills?" [Brooklyn Eagle, June 23, 1871]. Osborn left the Tabernacle Church for another church in Manhattan in 1873.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Thin Coat of Whitewash

The Tabernacle Baptist Church took up the challenge laid down by the Eagle to investigate its railroad president-pastor and, less than a one month after Hamilton's exposure of Osborn's conduct, the church "indorsed" Rev. Osborn "without qualification" and gave him "a complete certificate of 'uprightness, integrity, and moral character,' and at the same time offering no evidence on which their favorable judgment is based." Church resolutions expressed "'full and unimpaired confidence' in Osborn, and declare that the success which has attended his labors is 'evidence of the faithful performance of the duties of his office,' and that in the future, as in the past, he will honor his position as pastor of this chuch.'" The Eagle was outraged by this "whitewash." [Brooklyn Eagle, May 8, 1871]. The Eagle invited a member of the "Osborn Investigating Committee of the Baptist Tabernacle Church" to explain the Committee's "extraordinary report - a report which we are unable to characterize as other than a weak attempt to whitewash the railroad-lobby-pastor of that church." The invitation was declined provoking the Eagle to another column of outrage regarding Osborn. The Eagle reacted with anger toward accusations that it had treated Osborn unfairly since the Eagle had "made no charges against Osborn except such as were contained in his own letters." [Brooklyn Eagle, May 10, 1871]

"Osborn is condemned by his own pen"

After Hamilton's Washington Capitol "arraignment" of the Osborns received national attention, the Osborns struck back. Senator Osborn made a speech in his defense in the Senate that included selectively edited versions of letters and Rev. Osborn addressed his congregation in Brooklyn, the substance of which was printed in the Eagle. Rev. Osborn declared his innocence of any corruption or attempted bribery. His offers of stock to Hamilton had been in the form of an investment opportunity, not a bribe. He alleged that Hamilton had opposed the land-grant bill in Congress initially because his demands for control of the company and Florida's patronage had been rejected by the Osborns and, after his defeat for renomination, he threatened obstruction unless he would be awarded more stock, a salaried position with the company and the U.S. Marshall post he sought. Osborn asserted that he had not threatened Hamilton with political defeat but had merely predicted the outcome that would result from Hamlton's obstinancy. Osborn defended "the propriety of his engaging in the management of a railroad enterprise while the pastor of a church, by citing the example of the Apostle Paul as a tent manufacturer." The Eagle also printed the New York Tribune's acceptance of Osborn's explanation. [Brooklyn Eagle, April 27, 1871]
The day after printing Rev. Osborn's "lecture," the Eagle commented that the "gist of the discourse" was that Osborn's "attitude toward [Hamilton] was that of broker and a prophet." Osborn was an exception to "the axiom that 'the man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client,'" for he "was not such a fool as to reproduce in his lecture the letters, written by himself, on which the charges against him were based and by which he is self-convicted." Osborn, the Eagle continued "forgets that the members of his congregation can read." The Eagle focued on Osborn's written instructions to M.L. Stearns to use stock in his hands 'at his discretion' in Tallahassee as damning. "If Osborn be not convicted by his own letter of misrepresentation in his lecture it is impossible to convict anybody of anything." Osborn "developed not merely recklessness of the obligations of truthfulness resting alike on ministers and all other men, but unparalled effrontery in asserting in [Church] the transparent falsehood...." His "assertion that he did not threaten Hamilton with political defeat, if he opposed the scheme, but only predicted it, is a paltry verbal subterfuge...." In conclusion, according to the Eagle, "Evidence so clear would consign any citizen engaged in a secular pursuit to lasting infamy. It remains to be seen whether a minister of the gospel can escape like condign punishment, or whether rather his name shall be stripped of its 'Rev.' prefix and its 'D.D.' affix. It is for the Tabernacle Baptist Church specially, and the religious community generally, to determine whether the cure of souls and the care of railroads, according to the corrupt modern method, are compatible trusts." [Brooklyn Eagle, April 28, 1871]

Friday, May 12, 2006

"The Pulpit Disgraced by the Lion of the Lobby"

Upon reprinting Hamilton's case presented in the Washington Capitol newspaper ("Hamilton's organ" according to A.C. Osborn), the Eagle's view of Rev. Osborn changed dramatically as demonstrated by the above headline. Though remaining skeptical toward Hamilton's purity, the Eagle was convinced by the letters exposed by Hamilton of the Osborn brothers' venality. Accepting Hamilton's accusations without question, the Eagle was particularly angry at Rev. Osborn when learning the true extent of his role in the affair. The editors may have been particularly infuriated after realizing that Rev. Osborn had duped the Eagle when it printed his self-serving defence, without scrutiny, a few days earlier. The paper begged "every reader who values the sanctity of the profession of a Christian minister to peruse the correspondence of the Rev. Dr. Osborn, pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, corner of Hicks and Rapelyen streets in this city."Reflecting its pre-war Democratic Party loyalty, the editors saw their opposition toward Republican Reconstruction policy justified by the gross corruption that Hamilton exposed. Osborn's bribes and threats to drive Hamilton out of office, subsequently realized, showed that "the unutterable foulness of the Southern carpet bag swindle debauches the pulpit of the North." In his "contemplation of the millions his carpet-bag brother is to steal from Florida, for the benefit of both of them," Rev. Osborn lost "all sense of honor and honesty. In his letters he seems unconscious that he is proposing anything wrong, whereas every disinterested reader will see that his propositions are most infamous. The utter callousness of his tone is more revolting than even the amazing dimensions of the bribe he offers, or or the swindle he is proposing...he seems unaware that he is doing anything scandalous." Can Brooklyn, "the City of Churches retain its character and its morality, while its Doctors of Divinity thus peddle bribes among legislators, for shoveling the public lands into the pockets of their Senatorial brethren?" [Brooklyn Eagle, April 14, 1871].

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Brooklyn Eagle allows Rev. Osborn to plead his innocence

The Brooklyn Eagle, one of the nation's largest newspapers, had originated as a Democratic Party paper in the 1840s. During the war, the paper came under attack by the postoffice and mobs loyal to the Republican Party. Thomas Kinsella, appointed editor during the war, steered the paper toward a more moderate course and after the war, became a leading champion of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. When Hamilton went public with his accusations against Senator T.W. Osborn and his brother, Rev. A.C. Osborn, minister of Brooklyn's Baptist Tabernacle Church, Kinsella's Eagle could not resist jumping into the fray.
Briefly summarizing the account of the Great Southern Railroad scandal carried in the New York Tribune the Eagle initially concluded that "in the absence of any explanation, and upon the letter of Osborn, the disclosures are decidely damaging." The Eagle wryly observed that "The moral of the very immoral transaction, which will probably come home with most force to Rev. A.C. Osborn, is that it is always prudent to conduct such delicate negotiations by personal interview. Litera scripta manet; and if profanity were not unprofessional, Rev. A.C. Osborn would curse the day he wrote those letters to Hamilton [Brooklyn Eagle, April 10, 1871]."

The next day, an Eagle reporter interviewed Rev. Osborn about the affair and the paper, showing Osborn's influence, took a skeptical stance with respect to Hamilton: "About the time the war closed, a Mr. C.M. Hamilton, it is said, went down to Florida from Pennsylvania, as an attache of the Freedmen's Bureau, and before he had been there very long managed to get himself elected Member of Congress. The star of Hon. C. M. Hamilton was evidently in the ascendant, but there was a Senator Osborn from the same State, of whom he appears to have been slightly jealous, and on the part of the member of the House of Representatives a struggle for power was at once commenced and kept up during the two years he remained in office. The Senator appears to have looked upon Mr. Hamilton much as the late Artemus Ward regarded the kangaroo - that he was an "amoosin' little cuss"- and at the end of two years the nomination was conferred upon another candidate, and Mr. Hamilton was left out in the cold. He is at present in Washington waiting for something to turn up, and at the same time is engaged in carrying on the war against Senator Osborn and his brother, the Rev. A.C. Osborn, Pastor of the Baptist Tabernacle Church of this city."
The paper then printed Rev. Osborn's defense in which he alleged that Hamilton had attempted to take control of the company's stock and, after initially failing, demanded shares sufficient to control the company, salary as the company's counsel and confirmation as U.S. Marshall as his price for support of the a bill supporting the Great Southern Railroad in Congress. Osborn said that the President of the GSRR [i.e., A.C. Osborn] refused Hamilton's demands and contending that Hamilton's confirmation as U.S. Marshall would put him in a position to "very easily embarrass the operations of the Company," sent an affidavit to Senator Conklin (NY), member of the committee to which the nomination had been referred and filed a copy with the Attorney General. Hamilton's name was withdrawn from the Senate immediately after the affidavits were distributed and, Osborn insisted that "it is the impotent wrath of Mr. Hamilton at being thus foiled that causes him to make these groundless charges against Senator Osborn and myself." Rev. Osborn did admit to his interviewer that he had told Hamilton that the influence of the GSRR "would be brought to bear for the purpose of preventing his return to Congress if he did not do all in his power to secure passage of the bill, before the close of the session." Osborn stated that he had received a letter from Hamilton dated April 6th that "opened with a quotation from Othello, and then through eight closely written pages of letter paper explained how angry and disgusted he had been at finding on file in the office of the Attorney General, the copy of the affidavit."
This is the last time the Brooklyn Eagle would take a sympathtic position toward Osborn.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

John Mellen Thurston - Senator and....Poet!

SENATOR JOHN M. THURSTON Senator from Nebraska; born in Montpelier, Vt., August 21, 1847; moved with his parents to Madison, Wis., in 1854 and two years later to Beaver Dam, Wis.; attended the public schools and graduated from Wayland University, Beaver Dam, Wis.; studied law; admitted to the bar in 1869 and commenced practice in Omaha, Nebr.; member, city council 1872-1874; city attorney of Omaha 1874-1877; member, State house of representatives 1875-1877; appointed assistant attorney of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1877 and general solicitor in 1888; presidential elector on the Republican ticket in 1880; unsuccessful Republican candidate for United States Senator in 1893; elected as a Republican to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1895, to March 3, 1901; was not a candidate for reelection; chairman, Committee on Indian Affairs (Fifty-sixth Congress); appointed United States commissioner to the St. Louis Exposition in 1901; moved to Washington, D.C., and resumed the practice of law; returned to Omaha, Nebr., and practiced law until his death August 9, 1916; remains were cremated at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebr., and the ashes interred in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. []

Let's read what the Chicago Tribune so tactfully and sensitively published upon the Senator's death:
His death recalled the second great tragedy of his life, which ended his political career and caused one of the most remarkable collapses of personal popularity in the nation's history. That tragedy was encompassed in the appearance of a poem about a year after his wife's death, which he composed to another woman - Miss Lola Purman of Washington, whom subsequently he married, and who survives him.
Prior to the incident of the poem, which was a sentimental piece, addressed to "The White Rose," Senator Thurston had stood unbeatable in Nebraska politics. He had been twice chairman of the national Republican convention, the last time in 1896. Yet in 1900 he was barely able to retain a seat in the convention.
Few more thrilling moments have passed in the United States senate than that in which Senator Thurston, after a tour of Cuban reconcentrado camps, on which has wife had accompanied him and during which she had died, prefaced his address on the horrors he had seen by the solemn words: "I speak at the behest of lips now silent." The whole senate reacted to it, and the nation reacted to it.

As we learned in an earlier post, Lola had precipated this incident by presenting the Senator with the infamous white rose at the opera. The Tribune was kind enough to provide the poem:
Here is the poem which proved Thurston's nemesis:

I said to the rose, "O, Rose, sweet Rose,
Will you lie on my breast tonight?
Will you nestle there with your perfume rare
And your petals pure white?"

I said to the rose, "O, Rose, sweet Rose,
Will you thrill to my every sigh,
Though you life exhale in the morning pale
And you wither and fade and die?"

I said to the rose, "O, Rose, sweet Rose,
Will you throb with my every breath?
Will you give me the bliss of a passionate kiss,
Albeit the end is death?"

The White Rose lifted her stately head
And answered me fair and true:
"I am happy and blest to lie on your breast,
For the woman who gave me to you."
[Chicago Tribune, Aug. 10, 1916]
It is amazing that one hundred years ago, a widower's marriage to a younger (ok, more than 25 years younger) woman could end his political career. Maybe that poem only warranted censure.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

various players from our drama

JOSIAH WALLS - Defeated Hamilton in the contest for the Republican party nomination for candidate for Congress at the August 1870 Gainesville convention. Walls unexpectedly emerged as the compromise candidate of choice after the Osborn Ring narrowly failed to win the necessary fifty votes for Robert Meacham and stalemate between the Osborn and Hamilton-Purman camps looked inevitable. Walls's nomination realized J.C. Gibbs's ambition of winning Florida's congressional seat for an Africam American. WALLS, Josiah Thomas, a Representative from Florida; born in Winchester, Frederick County, Va., December 30, 1842; received a limited schooling; engaged in truck farming; moved to Florida; delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1868; served in the State senate 1869-1872; presented credentials as a Member-elect to the Forty-second Congress and served from March 4, 1871, to January 29, 1873, when he was succeeded by Silas L. Niblack, who contested his election; elected as a Republican to the Forty-third Congress (March 4, 1873-March 3, 1875); presented credentials as a Member-elect to the Forty-fourth Congress and served from March 4, 1875, to April 19, 1876, when he was succeeded by Jesse J. Finley, who contested his election; resumed his occupation as truck farmer; died in Tallahassee, Fla., May 15, 1905; interment in the Negro Cemetery. { After Walls was seated in the 42nd Congress, one of his first activities was pushing through Osborn's Great Southern Railroad legislation that Hamilton had resisted. [Photos from Florida State Archives]

various players from our drama (cont.)

MARCELLUS L. STEARNS - Maine-native Freedmen's Bureau officer for Gadsden County. Stearns recovered Dickinson's body after his murder and presented Dickinson's diary and the Fleishman Affidavits at the KKK Hearings. Stearns was a leading member the Osborn Ring and was entrusted by the Osborns with the distribution, at his discretion, of Great Southern Railroad shares so as to pave the way for passage of supporting legislation through the Florida legislature. Stears served as Florida's governor from 3/1875 to 1/1877. [Photo: Florida State Archives]

various players from our drama (cont.)

MALACHI MARTIN - Irish immigrant - Union army officer who became warden of the state penitentiary at Chattahoochee. Testified at the KKK Hearings about his encounter with Fleishman when Fleishman asked Martin for protection but Martin responded he had no power in chaotic Jackson County. Other than the mysterious Simms (whose statements Martin relates), Martin was the last person to report seeing Fleishman alive. Martin was accused of allowing terrible conditions at his prison.
[Photo: Florida State Archives]

Monday, May 01, 2006

Jonathan C. Gibbs

J.C. Gibbs (1827 - 1874): Distinguished and able radical Republican politician. A native of Pennsylvania, Gibbs graduated from Dartmouth College and came to the South after the war as a Presbytarian missionary. Served in a number of government positions including as Florida's Secretary of State. Gibbs resented the Florida moderate faction's failure to nominate African Americans for high level offices. He correctly saw Hamilton as vulnerable and openly advocated delivering Florida's congressional seat to an African American. Gibbs journied to Jackson County, the base of Hamilton's African American support, to organize opposition to Hamilton simultaneous with Hamilton and Purman's nearly disasterous appearance in August 1870. The convergence of Osborn's revenge and Gibbs's efforts brought about Hamilton's sudden downfall, though Josiah Walls, not Gibbs was the beneficiary. Many considered Gibbs the most impressive and best educated Florida public figure of his era, black or white.
[Photo: Florida State Archives}

Gov. Harrison Reed

Took oath on June 8, 1868; recognized by the federal commander on July 4, 1868; served until January 7, 1873
July 4, 1868 to January 7, 1873
Harrison Reed was born at Littleton, Mass., on August 26, 1813. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1861 as an employee of the Treasury Department and was sent to Florida by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a tax commissioner to deal with seized Confederate property. Reed gained a reputation for honesty in this office and was appointed Florida’s postal agent by President Andrew Johnson in 1865. He held this position until he was elected governor under the new 1868 Constitution.
Harrison Reed’s administration was a stormy one because he had to cope with a number of factions within his political party, the Republicans. Two serious attempts to impeach him originated with leaders of his own party. At the end of his term, Reed settled down on his farm along the St. Johns River. In 1875, he became editor of the Semi-Tropical, a monthly magazine devoted to southern agricultural and economic development. He died in Jacksonville on May 25, 1899.

A leader of the Florida "moderate" Republicans together with T.W. Osborn, Reed received the party's nomination for Governor after the close of the Constitutional Convention in Feb. 1868. Soon after Reed assumed office, Reed and Osborn split over patronage issues and financial schemes. Reed survived several impeachment attempts engineered by his nemesis. Hamilton signaled his rejection of the Osborn Ring when he allied himself with the Governor in late 1869. The endorsement of the embattled and isolated Governor proved to be of no value to Hamilton at the August 1870 Republican nominating convention.