u.s. grant’s humiliation — 8/04/17

Today’s selection — from American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White.
U.S. presidents did not receive pensions until well into the 20th century. Prior to that time, a president was expected to return to work to earn his living after serving. For U.S. Grant, who was never well situated financially, this was a challenge. For this reason, late in his life, he joined a small Wall Street firm that had been started by his son Buck and Buck’s friend Ferdinand Ward, who was reputed to be a financial wizard. Soon he learned to his horror that his firm was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, and he was soon destitute:
“Today, we might call [Ferdinand] Ward’s maneuvering a Ponzi scheme, made infa­mous by Bernie Madoff in 2008. In Grant’s day, it was called ‘rehypoth­ecating.’ It worked like this: Ward paid abnormally high interest to his customers by pledging securities as collateral on a loan, whereas the same securities had previously been pledged for other loans. As a result, Ward was able to pay his investors their interest by siphoning off money from new investments. None of his customers knew, including the two Grants. [By late 1883, Grant] estimated his wealth at $1.5 million, mostly thanks to Ward’s investments.  …
Wall Street Panic of 1884
“Sometime in early 1884, Horace Porter, Grant’s former aide and now president of the Pullman Palace Car Company, felt compelled to warn the general that the profits he had heard about could not be legitimate. It just so happened that when he arrived at Grant’s house, Ward was pres­ent. And after listening to the enthusiastic Ward and watching the gen­eral’s appreciative response, he withdrew, deciding not to interfere.
“On Sunday afternoon, May 4, 1884, Ferdinand Ward rang the door­bell at 3 East Sixty-sixth Street. Ward’s visits to Grant’s home were always welcome, but usually he did not come uninvited. A maid escorted him into the parlor, where he was greeted by Grant and Buck. He told the two men the Marine Bank was in grave difficulty because the city chamberlain had decided to withdraw some of the city’s funds.
“Grant expressed surprise and asked how this matter concerned him. Ward replied that since Grant and Ward had $660,000 deposited there, this could put the firm’s financial position in jeopardy.
“Buck interjected, But isn’t the bank good for the funds?
“Certainly. Nothing to be worried about in the long term. But the firm would need money to cover the potential shortfall. Ward said he already had checks for $230,000 but wondered if the general could borrow an­other $150,000 that day. Ward assured Grant the money would be needed for only twenty-four hours.
“Grant agreed to try to borrow the money. With Ward and Buck in tow, he traveled in his carriage down Fifth Avenue, stopping at the tur­reted fifty-eight-room home of William H. Vanderbilt. Once inside, em­barrassed by his unannounced call, Grant explained the reason for his visit. Vanderbilt, eldest son and heir of Commodore Cornelius Vander­bilt, made it a habit not to make personal loans. Known to be a cantanker­ous man, he told Grant, ‘I care nothing about Marine Bank. To tell the truth I care very little about Grant & Ward. But to accommodate you personally I will draw my check for the amount you ask. I consider it a personal loan to you and not to any other party.’
“Grant accepted the check for $150,000.
“He rejoined the younger men in the carriage and returned to Sixty­-sixth Street, where he endorsed the check and handed it to Ward. [The] young Napoleon assured the old general the whole matter would be all right.
“On Tuesday, May 6, the Marine Bank opened its doors promptly at ten A.M. The bank’s directors arrived and assembled for their weekly meeting. But … where was Ward? Someone contacted his office, but no one had seen him.
“The directors’ meeting ended at eleven A.M. A few minutes later, all doors to the bank were locked even as depositors began to congregate outside. …
“In midday, Grant arrived at his office at 2 Wall Street. Crowds milled in the street, but newspaper reporter Alexander Noyes wrote, ‘The gen­eral looked neither to right or left.’ As Noyes watched, ‘Nobody fol­lowed him, or spoke to him, but everyone in the cynical “hard-boiled” group took off his hat.’ The young reporter declared, ‘It was not so much a tribute of respect to a former Chief Magistrate as spontaneous recognition of the immense personal tragedy which was enacting before our eyes.’
“Behind closed doors, Grant asked Buck what had happened.
” ‘Grant and Ward has failed, and Ward has fled. You’d better go home, Father.’
“Not saying a word, Grant steadied himself on his crutches, which he still used five months after his [recent] fall, walked silently past the gathering crowd, and made his way home.
“Deeply humiliated, he told Julia all that had happened. Then he opened his wallet and removed its contents: $81. She had $130. All his dreams for retirement had vanished….
“Grant determined he would repay every debt, starting with what he owed William Vanderbilt. He prepared an accounting of all he owned: his farm in Missouri, homes in Galena, Philadelphia, and Washington, plus land in Chicago. He gathered his swords, campaign maps, the gold medal awarded by Congress, the pen used to write orders for the Battle of the Wilderness, and rare souvenirs acquired on his world tour. Julia con­tributed jewelry and vases, including her prize vase filled with gold coins given them in many countries. Grant held back nothing. In the end, he believed the total amounted to almost exactly $150,000.
“He sent everything off to Vanderbilt. Upon returning from a Euro­pean vacation to find Grant’s shipment, the financial titan was perplexed. He notified Grant he would return everything. Grant would not hear of it.
“In the end, Vanderbilt accepted the repayment and wrote Julia, ‘All articles of historical value and interest shall at the General’s death, or if you desire it sooner, be presented to the government at Washington where they will remain as perpetual memorials of his fame, and of the history of his time.’ Vanderbilt acted both to preserve Grant’s pride and to preserve his story for future American generations.
“Even though Vanderbilt took title to the house at 3 East Sixty-sixth Street, he insisted Grant and Julia continue to live there.
“The public did not blame Grant. Most Americans believed him an un­informed bystander to Ward’s gigantic swindle. Known and unknown persons stepped forward to help.
“Charles Wood, who owned a brush factory in Lansingburgh, New York, wrote the general, ‘I enclose check for five hundred dollars on ac­count my share due for services ending about April 1865.’ He did so be­cause ‘I owe you this for Appomattox.’ Reading of ‘the Grant Failure’ in the Troy Daily Press, Wood simply wanted to help.
“Grant immediately wrote Wood to acknowledge this gift from a stranger. Within days, two more checks from Wood totaling $1,000 ar­rived. ‘The country will rally for you but large bodies move slowly,’ he encouraged. …
“On the afternoon of May 27, the doorbell at 3 East Sixty-sixth Street rang. Once again, Ferdinand Ward stood at the entrance. Having been arrested on May 21, and destined to spend the next eight years in jail, he was free on bail. He wished to see Grant for only a few minutes. The general sent his answer: he had no more to say.”
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American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

Publisher: Random House
Copyright 2016 by Ronald C. White
Pages 629-633

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the star-spangled banner — why baltimore? — 4/07/17

Today’s selection — from The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan. America’s location makes it almost invulnerable to invading forces from other countries. The last best chance any country had to disrupt America’s progress was the British during the geographically pivotal battle for Fort McHenry in 1814:
“Beyond Mexico and Canada, there are no other powers that could even theoretically march on American territory. … As hard as it is to conceive of a credible military threat to the United States arising in North America, coming up with one from beyond the conti­nent strains the imagination. The oceans serve as fantastic buffers, sharply limiting unwanted interaction with the larger populations of Europe and East Asia. … The shortest distance from Europe to the United States is over three thousand [miles].
“Considering the distances involved, the outside world missed its best chance to disrupt America’s development in the War of 1812, one of only two occasions when the Americans faced an extrahemispheric invasion (the other being the Revolutionary War). The critical battle was for Fort McHenry in September 1814.

“The British had sacked and captured Washington, D.C., just three weeks before and were moving north by land and sea toward Baltimore. At the time, Baltimore was the largest city in the region and a notorious hub for the privateers who had been raiding British shipping lines. But it was also the sole meaningful land link between the northern and south­ern states: With the Allegheny Mountains to the west, all roads hugged the Chesapeake Bay, which in turn led to the bay’s major city and port. As importantly, the entirety of inland America was dependent upon Bal­timore. The Cumberland Narrows through the Appalachians lay just to the west, and only three years earlier the government had begun construc­tion on a road to connect the Potomac River to the Ohio valley. Instead of a months-long sail down to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to the Ohio, this new National Road would allow Baltimore to serve as an imme­diate outlet for Pittsburgh and lands beyond.

“If the British could hold Baltimore, the war’s other theaters would be rendered moot and the young America would be split into North, South, and interior. Luckily for the Americans, Major George Armistead’s heroic defense of Fort McHenry convinced British commanders that the post could not be taken with available forces. While time has eroded the details from the American mind, all Americans instantly recognize the descrip­tion of the battle and its outcome as recorded by an American who watched the battle from the deck of a British vessel where he was being held pris­oner: Francis Scott Key’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ “
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The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder

Author: Peter Zeihan
Copyright 2014 by Peter Zeihan
Pages: 58-60

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how george washington got votes

Today’s selection — from Drinking in America by Susan Cheever. Money, alcohol, and votes were regular companions at polling places in colonial and early America:

“George Washington, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat who loved par­ties and fox hunting, found out about the connection between drink­ing and voting for the American electorate the hard way. A rigorous military commander who drove his soldiers hard and expected much of them, he began to aspire to a government position after he did not get a command in the British military. While seeking a seat in the Vir­ginia Assembly in 1755, he was roundly defeated.
George Washington depicted during his French & Indian War days.

“Two years later he ran again, but this time he delivered 144 gallons of rum, punch, cider, and wine to the polling places distributed by election volunteers who urged the voters to drink up. At 307 votes, he got a return on his investment of almost two votes per gallon. Most elections featured vats and barrels of free liquor as well as the candi­date in hand to drink along with his constituency. Candidates showed off their generosity as well as their drinking capacity. Although voting while intoxicated was normal for the colonists, French traveler Ferdi­nand Bayard was horrified to notice, ‘Candidates offer drunkenness openly to anyone who is willing to give them his vote.’

“A few years later the writer George Prentice described a Kentucky election that lasted three days. ‘During that period whiskey and apple toddy flow through our cities and villages like the Euphrates through ancient Babylon.’ Later, after the Revolution, some of the Founding Fathers objected to the American way of voting. James Madison, who drank a pint of whiskey daily to aid his digestion, was also running for the Virginia Assembly in 1777. Madison decided that bribing the voters with alcohol was beneath his dignity and the dignity of the new nation. The influence of liquor at the polls was ‘inconsistent with the purity of moral and republican virtues,’ he announced. He lost.
Old courthouse in Philadelphia during the October 1, 1764 election
“Later, when he became Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, Madison’s ideas about democracy began to sharpen. A Virginia aris­tocrat who had grown up on a plantation, he did not believe in ‘excessive democracy’; democracy was too precious to waste on the common man. This belief, which may have begun with his horror at the way polling places were conducted, led him to favor a strong fed­eral government, and he eventually helped Alexander Hamilton­ — another man who was disturbed by drunkenness — draft The Federal­ist Papers.”

Drinking in America: Our Secret History

Author: Susan Cheever
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Copyright 2015 by Susan Cheever
Pages: 40-41

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how we got the electoral college

Today’s encore selection — from The First Presidential Contest by Jeffrey Pasley. The Electoral College was perhaps the least successful element of the U.S. Constitution. (And not unexpectedly, modifications to the Electoral College process came quickly). The Founders did not want the public to directly elect the President, since previous experiments in direct elections at the state level had reinforced the conclusion that pure democracy was too dangerous. But the founders didn’t want Congress to elect the President either, because that would lead to “cabal faction & violence.” So the idea was adopted of having influential or “notable” community leaders that were not in Congress as Electors, with the people voting for these Electors because they believed they had good judgment. And these Electors were expected to use that good judgment to cast their votes rather than simply reflect the choice of the people:

“We must [now] delve into the work­ings of America’s murkiest political institution, the indirect system of presidential elections now known as the Electoral College. If ever there were a constitutionally defined role for America’s local ‘notables,’ the Electoral College was it.
James Wilson

“The national ‘college’ never met, acting instead as a filtering mechanism to concentrate the large pool of names that bubbled up from be­low. The guiding logic was that the country was too big, and even most of its locally prominent men too parochial, to ever coalesce around a single candidate other than General George Washington. Most would vote for someone from their own state or region, argued Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, generating a list too large and miscellaneous to be use­ful. At the same time, it was considered too dangerous to have a sin­gle body like Congress choose the chief magistrate all on its own: that could lead to ‘cabal faction & violence’ as in the elective monarchy of Poland, where nobles and foreign governments battled it out to name a new king.

“So Article II, Section I of the Constitution provided for each state legislature to designate, by whatever method it chose, a number of electors equal to the size of its congressional delegation (the number of House members plus two for each state’s equal number of senators). Each state’s electors were then to gather simultaneously, in their own state, to prevent said cabals. Each elector would then vote for two men, including at least one man who was not from the elector’s home state. Next the electors were to send their certified lists to Congress, where the votes would be compiled and the two top vote getters named president and vice president if they were selected by a majority of the electors. If not, then Congress would make the decision, according to complex rules that need not detain us here, choosing from the top five candidates the electors had voted for. At no point in any step of the process was anyone bound to vote a certain way (except for Congress choosing from the top five), and no provision was made, as we have seen, for running mates or party tickets. Instead, individual electors were to exercise their independent judgment of individual candidates.
“The format was a compromise hammered out in the last weeks of the Federal Convention in 1787 by the Committee on Postponed Parts, a working group made up of one member from each state delegation. The major issue the Electoral College settled was the summer-long dispute over how and by whom the new office of president would be filled. Given that one of the chief impulses behind the movement for a new Constitu­tion was the creation of a government insulated from the excessive de­mocracy and localism of the state governments, popular election of the president was a nonstarter at the Convention. A few of the large-state delegates made self-interested pitches for it, but most rejected the idea as impractical if not downright dangerous.
“George Mason of Virginia argued that ‘it would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would, to refer a trial of colours to a blind man. The extent of the Country renders it impossible that the people can have the requisite capacity to judge of the respec­tive pretensions of the Candidates.’ The other major option, selection of the president by Congress, had more proponents than nationwide democracy, but it reminded too many of what Americans considered the corrupt British parliamentary system with its unseparated powers (the prime minister controlling Parliament and the executive functions of government). A legislative election would also be a playground for conspirators and party-builders. Said Gouverneur Morris, ‘It will be the work of intrigue, of cabal, and of faction: it will be like the election of a pope by a conclave of cardinals.’
John Dickinson
“The idea of a secondary popular election, with the people choosing the choosers, was originally suggested by nationalist James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who was trying to preserve some advantage for the large states but also some element of democracy in the presidential selection process. Wilson did not do this because he was any great lover of the common man — common Philadelphians had tried to kill him in the ‘Fort Wilson’ riots in 1779 because of his alleged softness toward Loy­alists.
“Wilson’s attitude was more of a healthy fear; he had learned the hard way that in a free country, the common people needed to at least feel that their views were respected. Wilson’s suggestion was ignored until John Dickinson of Delaware, arriving late to the deliberations of the Committee on Postponed Parts, challenged his colleagues over the legitimacy problems that a completely unelected president would face. Shocked that the Convention was still leaning toward a president se­lected by Congress, Dickinson wrote, ‘I observed, that the Powers which we had agreed to vest in the President, were so many and so great, that I did not think, the people would be willing to deposit them with him, un­less they themselves would be more immediately concerned in his Elec­tion.’ In response, James Madison immediately sketched out a version of Wilson’s idea on a piece of paper, and the Electoral College was born.
“On paper, the Electoral College served well as a way to steer theo­retically between the large and small states and between oligarchy and democracy. What the Framers never discussed was how the thing was supposed to work in practice, or why it would be effective in meeting their goal of a chief magistrate who felt like the people’s choice without being beholden to parties, parochial interests, or popular opinion. Ex­cesses of democracy were still a far bigger worry for most of the Fram­ers, who filled the Constitution with firebreaks against the potential depredations of the mob.”
The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy

Author: Jeffrey L. Pasley
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
2013 by the University Press of Kansas
Pages: 309-312

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bicycles were thought to lead to seductions — 9/23/16

Today’s selection — from The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. In the late 1800s, the newly invented “safety bicycle” became all the rage across America. Some thought they were morally hazardous:

“[By 1892 the Wright brothers] had also taken up bicy­cling, and as Wilbur reported, they had lately headed off on a ‘run’ to the south, down the Cincinnati Pike, stopping at the County Fair Grounds to pump around the track several times. From there they continued on to Miamisburg up and over numerous steep hills to see the famous prehis­toric Adena Miamisburg Mound, largest of Ohio’s famous conical-shaped reminders of a vanished Native American civilization dating back more than two thousand years. In all they covered thirty-one miles.

“Bicycles had become the sensation of the time, a craze everywhere. (These were no longer the ‘high wheelers’ of the 1870s and ’80s, but the so-called ‘safety bicycles,’ with two wheels the same size.) The bicycle was proclaimed a boon to all mankind, a thing of beauty, good for the spirits, good for health and vitality, indeed one’s whole outlook on life. Doctors enthusiastically approved. One Philadelphia physician, writing in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children, concluded from his observations that ‘for physical exercise for both men and women, the bicycle is one of the greatest inventions of the nineteenth century.’
“Voices were raised in protest. Bicycles were proclaimed morally haz­ardous. Until now children and youth were unable to stray very far from home on foot. Now, one magazine warned, fifteen minutes could put them miles away. Because of bicycles, it was said, young people were not spend­ing the time they should with books, and more seriously that suburban and country tours on bicycles were ‘not infrequently accompanied by seductions.’
“Such concerns had little effect. Everybody was riding bicycles, men, women, all ages and from all walks of life. Bicycling clubs sprouted on college campuses and in countless cities and towns, including [the Wright brothers home town of] Dayton, [Ohio]. … In the spring of 1893 Wilbur and Orville opened their own small bicycle business, the Wright Cycle Exchange, selling and repairing bicycles only a short walk from the house at 1005 West Third Street. In no time, such was business, they moved to larger quarters down the street to Number 1034 and renamed the enterprise the Wright Cycle Company.”

The Wright Brothers

Author: David McCullough
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright 2015 by David McCullough
Pages 21-22
 

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Steve Martin Tries to Write

Today’s encore selection – from Born Standing Up by Steve Martin. A young Steve Martin, still struggling for even modest success and confronted by the striking originality of contemporary comedians Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Lenny Bruce and Tom Lehrer realizes that he will have to try to write original material to succeed:
“In logic class, I opened my textbook — the last place I was expecting to find comic inspiration — and was startled to find that Lewis Carroll, the supremely witty author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was also a logician. He wrote logic textbooks and included argument forms based on the syllogism, normally presented in logic books this way:
All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Lewis Carroll self portrait

“But Carroll’s were more convoluted and they struck me as funny in a new way:

1) Babies are illogical.
2) Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.
3) Illogical persons are despised.
Therefore, babies cannot manage crocodiles.
“And:
1) No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste.
2) No modern poetry is free from affectation.
3) All your poems are on the subject of soap bubbles.
4) No affected poetry is popular among people of taste.
5) Only a modern poem would be on the subject of soap bubbles.
Therefore, all your poems are uninteresting.
“These word games bothered and intrigued me. Appearing to be silly nonsense, on examination they were absolutely logical — yet they were still funny. The comedy doors opened wide, and Lewis Carroll’s clever fancies from the nineteenth century expanded my notion of what comedy could be. I began closing my show by announcing, ‘I’m not going home tonight; I’m going to Bananaland, a place where only two things are true, only two things: One, all chairs are green; and two, no chairs are green.’ Not at Lewis Carroll’s level, but the line worked for my contemporaries and I loved implying that the one thing I believed in was contradiction.”
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Author: Steve Martin
Published: Scribner a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Copyright 2007 by 40 Share Productions, Inc.
Pages: 74-75

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to delegate or not to delegate

Today’s selection — from The Miles Davis Quintet by Bob Gluck. Most organizational management styles fall into roughly two camps: those managers that manage very closely, dictating each decision and keeping very close tabs on each detail, and those managers that are more inclined to delegate and give their subordinates freedom and latitude. Miles Davis, perhaps the most revered and successful jazz musician of the twentieth century, fell into the latter camp. His energies were directed at finding the very finest musicians he could possibly find — in fact a huge number of his band members went on to become legends themselves — and then giving them the space to explore and create:

“He was at the time a nondirective bandleader. Members of his quintet were given wide latitude to play what they wished. The ‘just going places’ ethic noted by Corea was pregnant with possibilities, opening tremendous space for unan­ticipated musical creativity. Corea observes that Davis’s method was focused on the choice of musicians:
Miles … was a chemist — a spiritual chemist — as far as putting musicians together, because he himself didn’t really compose tunes that much, although he developed styles and arrangements but he chose musicians that went together a way that he heard and that he liked. And he went from this piano player to that piano player or from this drummer to that drummer — he chose these guys so that it went together in a way that he heard it. And I guess that’s leadership, you know, it’s like the choosing of the way and the treatment of the group.
The 2nd great quintet: Wayne Shorter,  Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams
“In a 1969 DownBeat interview with Larry Kart, Corea relates that in their first conversation, Davis told him about how to interpret Shorter’s compositions: ‘I don’t know what else to tell you except that we’ll go and play, but whatever you think it is, that’s what it is.’ Hancock remembers Davis’s leadership of the previous quintet in a similar way. He explains in a 1971 DownBeat interview:
“With Miles’ band we were all allowed to play what we wanted to play and shaped the music according to the group effort and not to the dictates of Miles, because he really never dictated what he wanted. I try to do the same thing with my group. I think it serves this function that I just mentioned ­– that everybody feels that they’re part of the product, you know, and not just contributing something to somebody else’s music. They may be my tunes, but the music belongs to the guys in the band. They make the music — it’s not just my thing.”
The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles

Author: Bob Gluck
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press

2016 by The university Of Chicago Press, Ltd., London

Page 14
 
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