Practical Politics

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On May 22, 1856, South Carolina representative Preston Brooks approached Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the U.S. Senate chamber. “Mr. Sumner,” he said, “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” Then he began to beat Sumner savagely with his gold-headed walking cane. Blinded with blood, Sumner at first was trapped under the desk, which was bolted to the floor, but he wrenched it free and staggered up the aisle, Brooks raining blows on his head until the cane snapped and Sumner collapsed unconscious. Even then Brooks held him by the lapel and continued to beat him with half the cane until the two were separated.

Sumner had denounced South Carolina senator Andrew Butler in a speech two days earlier in a dispute over slavery in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Brooks was convicted of assault and fined $300, but he received no prison sentence, and his constituents returned him to office. Pro-slavery Southerners sent him hundreds of new canes, one inscribed “Hit him again.”

On Nov. 9, 1889, Col. A.M. Swope encountered Col. William Cassius Goodloe in the corridor of the Lexington, Ky., post office. The two had been battling for control of the state Republican party, and tragically they had adjoining mailboxes.

“You obstruct the way,” said Goodloe.

“You spoke to me,” said Swope. “You insulted me.”

Goodloe drew a knife. Swope drew a Smith & Wesson .38. Goodloe stabbed Swope 13 times, piercing his heart and nearly cutting off his hand. Swope shot Goodloe twice, tearing up his belly and setting his clothes afire. Swope died on the post office floor, and Goodloe staggered to a doctor’s office. He died two days later.

One witness said he never thought he would witness “such a magnificent display of manly courage and bravery.” Goodloe’s uncle, Cassius M. Clay, said of his nephew’s conduct, “I couldn’t have done better myself.”

Observations

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More maxims of La Rochefoucauld:

  • “We endeavour to get Reputation by those Faults we won’t amend.”
  • “We never desire vehemently what we desire rationally.”
  • “Whatever Distrust we may have of People’s Sincerity, we always believe they are more ingenuous with us than with any body else.”
  • “We promise according to our Hopes, and perform according to our Fears.”
  • “Repentance is not so much Remorse for what we have done, as Fear of its Consequences.”
  • “Our Enemies come nearer the Truth in their Judgment of us, than we do ourselves.”
  • “We don’t despise all those who have Vices, but we despise all those who have no Virtues.”
  • “None but such as are contemptible are apprehensive of Contempt.”
  • “That Conduct often seems ridiculous the secret Reasons of which are wise and solid.”
  • “Censorious as the World is, it oftner shews Favour to false Merit, than it does Injustice to true.”
  • “Our Fancy sets the Value on all we receive from Fortune.”

And “We take less Pains to be happy, as to appear so.”

Love Walks In

Personal ads from the New York Herald in the 1860s:

IF THE LADY WHO, FROM AN OMNIBUS, SMILED on a gentleman with a bunch of bananas in his hand, as he crossed Wall street, corner of Broadway, will address X., box 6,735 Post office, she will confer a favor. (March 21, 1866)

ON WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON A LADY WITH black silk quilted hat walked nearly side by side with a gentleman in a drab overcoat from Tenth to Fourteenth street, in Broadway. Both were annoyed by the wind and dust. Her smile has haunted him ever since. Will she send her address to Carl, Union square Post office? (March 8, 1861)

BOOTH’S THEATRE, THURSDAY EVENING, 11TH. Will the lady who met the gent’s gaze through an opera glass and smiled please address, in confidence, Harry Wilton, Herald office? (March 13, 1869)

A YEAR AGO LAST SEPTEMBER OR OCTOBER TWO ladies with a child were travelling on the Hudson River cars, one of whom offered a seat to a middle aged gentleman, with light whiskers or goatee, slightly gray, who kindly pointed out to her the red leaved trees, and said he had a number of them on his place, and made himself otherwise agreeable; and when she was leaving him (ten miles this side of where he stopped) gave her a parting embrace, which she has never been able to forget. If the gentleman has any recollection of the circumstance he will greatly oblige by addressing a note to Lena Bigelow, Madison square Post office, giving some description of the lady, also name of the paper he gave her. (Jan. 25, 1862)

Forward and Back

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When my brother and I built and flew the first man-carrying flying machine, we thought that we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible. That we were not alone in this thought is evidenced by the fact that the French Peace Society presented us with medals on account of our invention. We thought governments would realize the impossibility of winning by surprise attacks, and that no country would enter into war with another of equal size when it knew that it would have to win by simply wearing out its enemy.

— Orville Wright to C.M. Hitchcock, June 21, 1917

Ballot Measures

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One of democracy’s ideals is egalitarianism: Each person gets one vote, and all votes are equally consequential, so that all people have equal power over the world. For that reason we consider it improper for one person to vote twice in the same election. But then shouldn’t we also consider it improper for dual citizens to cast votes in two different places?

It’s true that dual citizens vote in different elections, but they’re still exercising twice as much power over the world as other voters. And it’s true that power is already unequally distributed among the world’s voters, but this is no reason to shrink from the ideal.

The fact that a dual citizen has the legal right to cast two ballots doesn’t mean that this accords with democratic principles. Suppose that Texas passed a law saying that any native-born Texan can vote in Texas, regardless of where he currently lives. Then a Texan living in Pennsylvania could cast ballots in both states, whereas a native Pennsylvanian could vote only once. This might be legal, but we would object morally to the unfairness of such a law.

Given the unequal influence of the world’s nations, one idealistic way to equalize power among all voters would be to give everyone a right to vote in every election, everywhere. This would give each of us an equal amount of power over the world. “That vision remains pretty visionary, we concede,” write Robert E. Goodin and Ana Tanasoca. “Still, visions matter.”

(Robert E. Goodin and Ana Tanasoca, “Double Voting,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 92, no. 4, 743-758.)

Outdone

Eleven fenmen from the Isle of Ely, being employed by Sir John Griffin, in training a part of his park at Audley End, went one evening to the Inn called The Hoops, to drink. After getting a little spirited, they told the maid, they would give sixpence each to fetch them as much beer they could drink, in half-pints out of the cellar; if they tired her, she was to pay for the liquor; if she tired them, they were to pay for the whole. The girl accepted the bet, although she had been washing all the day, and drew them 517 single half-pints, before they gave out, which were all drank by the said men. The distance from the room where they sat, to the tap, was measured, from which it appears she walked near 12 miles in fetching it; and the quantity of liquor drank by each man was about three gallons in three hours. The above is the real fact.

Police Gazette, Feb. 17, 1775

City Life

$25 DOLLAR reward will be paid for the detection of the cowardly thief, who is in the habit of sneaking and creeping up to the door of No. 10, City Hall Place, and stealing the Sun newspaper from under the door. The above reward will be paid for the information left at the Sun office: and a regular roasting is promised the low, guilty, nigardly thief.

New York Sun, Feb. 29, 1840

Unquote

“It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters.” — Leonardo

“I cannot afford to waste my time making money.” — Louis Agassiz

“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” — Charles Bukowski

Better Late

A curious classified ad from the New York Herald, March 30, 1849:

Found, four dollars, while leaving the cars at Paterson, in the summer of 1845. The loser (or agent) is requested to identify, in some respect, and receive the amount with interest. Address, pre-paid, I Found, Lower Post Office, N. Y. city.

Sara Bader featured the ad in her 2005 collection Strange Red Cow. “We have no idea what motivated this advertiser, who apparently waited years before stepping forward to return this money.”

Progress

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Frightened villagers “killed” the first hydrogen balloon, launched in Paris by Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis on Aug. 27, 1783. Allen Andrews, in Back to the Drawing Board: The Evolution of Flying Machines, quotes a contemporary account:

It is presumed that it was carried to a height of more than 20,000 feet, when it burst by the reaction of the Inflammable Gas upon the Atmospheric Air. It fell at three quarters past five near Gonesse, ten miles [actually, 15 miles] from the Field of Mars. The affrightened inhabitants ran together, appalled by the Hellish stench of sulphur, and two monks having assured them it was the skin of a Monstrous Animal, they attacked it with stones, pitchforks and flails. The Curate of the village was obliged to attend in order to sprinkle it with holy water and remove the fears of his astonished parishioners. At last they tied to the tail of a horse the first Instrument that was ever made for an Experiment in Natural Philosophy, and trained it across the field more than 6000 feet.

Perhaps forewarned, the first man to undertake a balloon flight in North America carried a pass from George Washington.