Tag Archives: Andrew Jackson

This Day in History 5/30 – The 1806 Duel between Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickenson

Jackson DuelSome epithets seem custom-made for their people they describe.

Father of his country, Great emancipator, Great Soul…hell, any permutation of “the Great”, or “the Terrible”, or “The Magnificent” and so on.  These monikers may, or may not suit their real-life examples perfectly.

Yet for some reason, the term “ornery son of a bitch” just fits Andrew Jackson like a glove.

Jackson, hero of the War of 1812, killer of Seminoles in Florida, and seventh President of the United States, had what we today would call an anger issue.  Andy was pissed, at just about anything.

He was pissed at his parents for not settling in Philadelphia, where they landed from Ireland, and opting for a lawless wilderness called the Waxhaws between North and South Carolina.

He was pissed at the British for killing his Mom, his brothers and for slashing him with a sword during the American Revolution.

He was pissed at Native Americans for supporting the British, for supporting their independence and way of life, heck for even existing.

Most of all, he was pissed at anyone who slandered his wife’s good name.

Andrew Jackson met Rachel Donelson Robards when he first moved to Nashville in 1788.  Robards was in the process of divorcing her difficult husband, and Jackson couldn’t wait to marry her.  When they did wed, in 1790, he thought the divorce was finalized.  It so happened that the divorce was never finalized, making Jackson’s marriage bigamous and invalid.  In fact, some records show Rachel living with Andy AS MRS. JACKSON before the ink was dry on the paperwork.  Even though they remarried legally in 1794, it made Rachel look like a two-timing hussy, and Andrew would be the first to fight for his wife’s honor.

In 1805, a fellow horse trader and plantation owner named Charles Dickinson started to get under Jackson’s skin about his business dealings.  Specifically, Dickinson had issue with a horse race between Jackson and Dickinson’s father-in-law.  The war of words would escalate from a simple bet on a horse race to a full-fledged public attack on Rachel Jackson’s character.

At first, the original dispute was settled.  Then, Jackson started telling his own twist on the affair, and Dickinson sent a friend to smooth things over.  Jackson then beat the shit out of the friend with his cane, since he was already pissed at dealing with a meddler and an interloper.  Both Dickinson and his friend sent letters calling Jackson a coward.  Jackson responded in a newspaper that the friend was a “lying valet for a worthless, drunken, blackguard.”

This last insult sent Dickinson over the edge.  Since his Facebook page wasn’t available, he publishes an attack in a newspaper calling Jackson a “poltroon and a coward.”Now a casual look at Webster’s would show that Dickinson is being redundant: “poltroon” means a spiritless coward.  However, looking closer, “poltroon” was also meant to describe Jackson as not only cowardly, but evil as well.  This was a sly reference to Jackson’s relations with his wife, which many still saw as somewhat sinful.

Jackson, as ornery SOBs tend to do, demands satisfaction, challenging Dickinson to a duel in nearby Kentucky (Tennessee outlawed dueling).  On May 30, 1806, both combatants met in the Adairville area near the border between the two states.  Dickinson was confident: he was an expert shot and never stopped showing off his skills along the way.  Jackson, knowing his opponent’s skill, thought Dickinson should fire first, as he might be too excited to aim accurately.  If he missed, then Jackson could calmly aim and fire.  Of course, there was the little problem of Jackson dying from his wound, but that was another matter.

As the two men took their places on the ground, they stood slightly angled to each other, so as to give the smallest target possible.  Dickinson, as planned, fired first.  He hit Jackson square in the chest, within an inch of his heart.  Somehow, it could be through adrenaline, stubbornness, or just plain backcountry hate, Jackson manages to stand still, level his pistol, and fire.  The first shot was faulty, as the cock of the pistol only went halfway, so under the rules of dueling Jackson was allowed to recock his pistol and try again.

This time, he hit Dickinson in the chest.  He wasn’t so lucky.

People of the time were shocked, and criticized Jackson for not simply wounding Dickinson and thus settling the affair without loss of life.  Jackson lived through a lifetime of hate; there was no way he was not going to shoot to kill.  Besides, he rationalized that Dickinson was clearly aiming to kill him, so it was only proper to repay the favor.

Jackson was a social outcast after the duel.  It didn’t last long—pretty soon, a few Indian wars and scuffle with the Redcoats in New Orleans would make him a national hero. He would become President, and survive an assassination attempt—even beating the shit out of his would-be assassin with his cane. Yet the rumors about his wife never let up, even after Jackson killed a man for slandering her.

It’s amazing what a life force hate can be.  Can anyone ever be that pissed nowadays?

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The “Corrupt Bargain” of the 1824 Presidential Election

Electoral College Results for 1824. Courtesy of Wikipedia

There is no such thing as a one-party system.

Whenever a political group manages to dominate all the others, there’s only one thing for the top dogs to do: fight among themselves.

From Commie red to Fascist black, the song remains the same: Stalin vs. Trotsky, Hitler vs. Rohm, Castro vs. Che, Mao vs. Deng, and in 1824, Jackson vs. Adams vs. Crawford vs. Clay.

The 1824 presidential election was rife with mudslinging, regional balkanization, backroom dealing, alliance building, nursing old grudges and settling old scores. It would be the first-and last-time only one political party would vie for the presidency—and in the process, throw politics and the Constitution into chaos.

It all began with a war hero.

Andrew Jackson, hero of the Creek War, the War of 1812, and the Seminole Wars, thought himself a perfect fit for the top job in 1824. Tough and ornery, with a series of duels under his belt, Jackson amassed a fortune selling horses and gambling to become a gentleman planter in Tennessee—the direct opposite of his upbringing in the Carolina backcountry. Yet he appealed to common folks in the South and the frontiers of Kentucky and Tennessee as a sort of “common man.”

His main rival was anything but common.

John Quincy Adams was born into public service, literally. The son of the second President of the United States, Adams accompanied his father on his trips to Europe during the Revolution (and compiled an impressive diplomatic resume in the process). As secretary of state, Adams negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, as well as drafted the main ideas of the Monroe Doctrine. A favorite of New England (naturally), Adams felt he was due for the Presidency.

(and unlike another son of a chief executive, Adams was genuinely astute, brilliant and principled.)

If it were just these two, we wouldn’t be talking about it now. Yet two other rivals also come into the race-one a member of numerous Cabinets, the other a Speaker of the House that was a master of the backroom deal.

William Crawford was a Georgia Senator who also served as Minister to France, Secretary of War and Secretary of a Treasury. It makes for an impressive candidate except for one thing: Crawford suffered a stroke the year before, brought on by a side effect of a doctor’s prescription. Even though Crawford recovered—even receiving the endorsements of former Presidents James Madison and Thomas Jefferson—his campaign was never the same.

The last of the candidates was Henry Clay, known to history as the “Great Compromiser.” Most historians view him as a great orator and politician. In my mind, Clay was the first great Congressional wheeler-dealer in history. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, and later a United States Senator, Clay would be instrumental in the most important legislative deals of the 19th century: the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Nullification crisis, etc. He was the epitome of the great orator, a man who could charm anyone into voting for anything.

He also hated Andrew Jackson with a passion.

Referring to Jackson’s victory in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, Clay scoffed: “I cannot believe that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy.” It isn’t much of an argument: Washington was responsible for quite a few British scalps himself. Yet Clay made his point; military victory alone does not a President make (a point often lost on the electorate, even then).

All the candidates had one thing in common: they were all Democratic-Republicans.

Since the Federalist Party imploded during the War of 1812, the Democratic-Republicans had been the only real political force for almost a decade. The previous President, James Monroe, ran without any opposition, demonstrating the Dem-Rep dominance of the period.

But, as expected, the unity couldn’t last. Tensions ran high, scores needed to be settled, and regions were quick to attack other areas of the United States. Welcome to the US in 1824, eerily similar to the Yugoslavia of 1994, minus the bloodthirsty militias and hard-to-pronounce surnames.

As Election Day neared, all four candidates were staking out their bases—and not much else. Adams was popular in the Northeast. Jackson, now less frontiersman and more planter, was a friend of the South. Crawford, on the other hand, had supporters in the Old South states of Georgia and Virginia, old planters that feared Jackson’s popular support. Parts of the West, especially the old Northwest Territory, supported Clay.

The results, as expected, provided little clarity.

Although more and more states were using the popular vote to decide their Electors to the Electoral College, Many still relied on the state legislature to make the decision, making the ballots cast a moot point. In 1824, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina and Vermont still didn’t trust their citizens enough to choose Electors for the top job. So bear that in mind when reading the results:

Presidential Candidate

 

Popular Vote(a)

Electoral Vote

Count

%

Andrew Jackson(b)  

151,271

41.3

99

John Quincy Adams(e)  

113,122

30.9

84

William Harris Crawford(c)  

40,856

11.2

41

Henry Clay(d)  

47,531

13.0

37

(Massachusetts unpledged electors)  

6,616

1.8

0

Other

6,437

1.8

0

Total

365,833

100.0%

261

Needed to win

131

Although Jackson won the most votes, and the most Electors, he didn’t win a majority. He won 41% of the popular vote (again, without the votes of 6 states) and 99 out of a possible 261 Electors. Too bad he needed 131 to win.

So for the second time in America’s history, the US House of Representatives will decide the winner.

This time, however, was different from the last mess. In 1800, when Thomas Jefferson failed to secure the majority of Electors for the Presidency, the US House of Representatives acted under different rules. Under those rules, the winner became President, and second place became Vice-President. With a little conniving by a West Indian New York lawyer and former Cabinet secretary named Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson won the tiebreaking vote, and his opponent Aaron Burr become the veep—only to snuff out Hamilton on the dueling grounds of Weehawken four years later.

The 1824 debacle would be decided under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1804. It served to make the process less messy and more straightforward. Now, President and Vice-President were cast as separate ballots. In the House, each state would vote amongst the top three vote-getters. Each representative would vote their preference, but the final vote is cast by state (usually the majority among the state’s representatives).

Henry Clay, as the fourth runner, was left out—just in time for him to do some back-parlor magic.

As Crawford was a non-issue thanks to the stroke, the House machinations came between Jackson and Adams. Clay, as Speaker of the House and a political boss to a sizeable number of Congressmen, was in the enviable position of kingmaker. It didn’t take long for him to make a decision.

Politically, Adams’ policies on internal improvements and tariffs for promoting domestic industry was along the lines of Clay’s ideas as well (funny enough, the ideas were actually the brainchild of 1800 kingmaker Hamilton, as the first Secretary of the Treasury.) Furthermore, Clay saw Adams as more “presidential.” He came from a leading family. He held high positions in government for most of his life. He understood the domestic and international rigors of the job.

Jackson, to Clay, was no more than an ill-bred, hillbilly Napoleon with a rabble of voters and a workload done by slaves (all of which has some truth to it). Also, Jackson had an unsavory reputation for dueling, stealing women, horse betting—the sort of backcountry foolishness that would make both Boston Brahmins and Virginia planters cringe.

Finally, though no one could substantiate this claim, an anonymous account in a Philadelphia newspaper claimed that Clay sold his vote to Adams in exchange for a Cabinet post, namely Secretary of State. It was neither confirmed nor denied, and we won’t know the whole story, but such a deal would make sense: Adams and three previous Presidents had been Secretary of State, making it a logical step for an heir to the top office.

House Votes in the 1824 Election. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

So promises were made, deals were struck, cigars were smoked and hands were shook. When the votes were counted on February 9, 1825, all of Clay’s glad-handing and backslapping paid off. Adams won on the first ballot, with 13 states. Jackson wins 7 states, with Crawford bringing up the rear with 4.

Jackson and his supporters were shocked at the vote. For the next four years, the Jacksonians, soon to evolve into the modern Democratic Party, would hound and harass the Adams administration, accusing them of colluding into a “corrupt bargain” to secure the Presidency.

Adams, for one, immediately offered Clay the Secretary of State job. This did nothing to help his reputation, as the increasing number of states using popular votes would make a second term difficult. It also didn’t help that Adams attempted a principled, prudent set of policies with a Congress packed with his enemies. It virtually ensured that Adams would lose the rematch to Jackson in 1828—which is exactly what happened.

Jackson would win two terms as President, and would be decried and applauded for extending executive power in the federal government. His exploits, both good and bad, were so famous that the era itself adopted his name—“The Age of Jackson.”

Adams would serve 17 years as a US Congressman after he left office in 1829, this time as a member of the Whig Party. His last years were incredibly productive: Adams would be a steadfast champion against slavery and the slave trade, especially serving as counsel in the famous 1841 Amistad case. All of this, of course, made Jackson the slaveholder hate Adams even more.

Crawford, the third man in the voting of the 1824 election, recovered very well from his stroke—even though it was too late to convince the voters. Adams offered Crawford to stay on as Treasury Secretary. Crawford, sensing his own mortality and probably the changing political winds, declined and returned to Georgia. He served as an active state superior court judge until his death in 1834.

So what happened to Henry Clay, the man whose backroom deals vaulted Adams to the White House?

Well, the Department of State was no longer the stepping stone it once was.

Clay, who became a US Senator after he left the Adams administration, would try four times for the high office. In 1832, the Clay campaign was thrashed by the ever-popular Andrew Jackson. He would try to get the Whig nomination in 1840, but another war hero stopped him in William Henry Harrison. Clay would get the Whig nomination in 1844, but James Polk would beat him in the general election. Finally, yet another war hero, Mexican War general Zachary Taylor, would beat Clay yet again for the Whig nomination in 1848.

So what are the lessons we learn from the clusterfuck that was the 1824 election?

First, the laws are necessarily meant to produce a popular result—just ask Andrew Jackson.

Second, when someone is felled by a near-fatal illness, it’s hard to convince an electorate otherwise—just ask William Crawford.

Third, even when the contest it’s over, it’s never really over—just ask John Quincy Adams.

You don’t have to remind Henry Clay twice about the best laid plans of mice and men.

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Hollywood History: Possible Scripts to Pitch in LA

I’ve heard that everyone in Los Angeles either walks around with a headshot or a screenplay. So, when in Rome… (or West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Malibu, etc.)

Next week, I will be in the sunny confines of southern California, home of the proverbial swimming pools and movie stars. Since Mr. D is just too ravishingly handsome for the screen, he should probably have some sort of treatment with him in case he gets discovered…you never know.

In researching possible script ideas, I’ve noticed that many incredible stories from history have not gotten their proper Hollywood treatment. Some, such as Giuseppe Garibaldi and Enrico Fermi, I’ve discussed before. On this trip, however, let’s look at other stories that have been overlooked—as well as some interesting casting ideas.

1. Andrew Jackson

Why? – The guy, like so many characters in history, is custom-designed for great moviemaking. Orphaned at a young age, wounded in the Revolution as a teenager, taking revenge on the British, the Seminoles, the Creeks, the Cherokee and anyone who slandered his two-timing wife—Jackson can make up a miniseries, let alone a multi-reeler.

The Lead? – tough, but I have in mind Jon Hamm and Nick Nolte: Hamm as the younger Jackson through 1815, and Nolte as the presidential figure. Either of them could take a pistol shot and whip a man into oblivion, a necessary trait for the role.

2. DeWitt Clinton

Why? – Clinton is the complicated hero-politician that has been so overlooked by Hollywood, largely because of location. Clinton is a New York guy, doing New York things that affected the whole country. He also had an outsized reputation: any man called “Magnus Apollo” in his lifetime deserves a treatment.

The Lead? – Colin Firth, no question. Firth has the gravitas to build the Erie Canal, the height that matched Clinton’s stature, and he already did a splendid turn in Regency attire in Pride and Prejudice. He almost matches the paintings.

3. William Johnson

Why?Dances with Wolves meets Last of the Mohicans. There’s something about Europeans going native that drives moviegoers into theaters. Furthermore, Johnson’s exploits with his Iroquois army are legendary, including Crown Point, Fort Niagara and the siege of Montreal. The subplot of his Irishness helping him win friends with the natives can also guarantee an Oscar nod.

The Lead? – At first, I thought Liam Neeson, but in retrospect it doesn’t really work with the historical Johnson. A better choice would be the crazy Irishman from Braveheart, David O’Hara. I’ve seen him in other roles, and he has a toughness and a stature that could make this a breakout role for him. Being Irish also helps.

4. James Michael Curley

Why? – Curley is the kind of outsized, megalomaniacal, controversial political kingpin that audiences love. As mayor of Boston, Congressman, governor of Massachusetts, and convicted felon, Curley was the father of modern ethnic politics. Taking cues from New York’s Tammany Hall, he created a similar apparatus in Massachusetts, mobilizing the Irish—much to the disdain of the Boston Brahmins that dominated the state until that point.

The Lead? – I really wish he got his shit together, because Tom Sizemore would be perfect to play Curley. The guy just oozes Boston tough guy, but with just enough polish that could make him give respectable speeches to demure New England citizens.

5. Victoria Woodhull

Why? – Many forget that Woodhull was the first American woman to run for President in 1872. On top of that, she was incredibly controversial, even among women suffragists—free love, labor reform (of the quasi-Marxist kind), eugenics and spiritualism were also on Woodhull’s agenda. That was enough to make Susan B. Anthony soil her bloomers.

The Lead? – Not really sure, could use some help from the Neighborhood on this one. Most of the actresses in mind are pretty long in the tooth for this role, but any ideas are welcome.

6. Al Smith

Why? – Smith was a run-of-the-mill Tammany hack until March 25, 1911. After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he became a driving force for workplace and social reform in New York—the true father of the New Deal. The climax could be his 1928 presidential run, where he faced anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudice in a humiliating defeat.

The Lead?J. K. Simmons. I first saw him in the HBO series Oz, as the neo-Nazi Vernon Schillinger. Yet even then I saw a command of the screen, coupled with a human touch, that would be just right for the role of the Happy Warrior.

7. The Healys (Patrick, Michael, and James)

Why? – The subplot alone is compelling: an Irish planter takes a mulatto enslaved woman as his common law wife. They have three sons illegally, as interracial marriage is forbidden in antebellum Georgia. To educate them, the three are sent to Catholic schools in the north, as education for blacks is forbidden. Each of the Healys is light enough to pass as white: another conflict as their exploits are shown.

The Lead? – I’m really confused here. Because the Healy boys were so light-skinned, I’m not sure whether to use white talent or Black. I’m not even sure which actors would really fit well. Again, some help from the Neighborhood would help.

8. The Culper Spy Ring

Why? – looking for a great espionage thriller, full of sex, intrigue, double-crossing, violence and plot twists? Look no further than the Culper Ring, a ring of spies in New York and Long Island that spied on the British for George Washington—even as many posed as loyal Tories. They are the ancestors of the modern CIA, and their exploits probably make them more successful, on average.

The Lead? – We have little, if any, information on the true identities, let alone the appearances, of the members of the ring: their identities were not divulged until the 1930s. Casting, then, is wide open to traditional leading men, leading ladies, action heroes, you name it.

9. Robert Moses

Why? – The Power Broker himself: for a half a century, Moses was the most powerful man in New York State without holding a single elected office. He rammed highways, bridges, tunnels, parks, beaches and housing projects all over the state—and didn’t care who got in the way. That is, until Jane Jacobs, Nelson Rockefeller, Joseph Papp and a slew of New Yorkers finally turned their pitchforks on the Master Builder.

The Lead? – If I could find an actor that’s a composite of Michael Gambon’s size and Paul Giamatti’s grit, that would be perfect. Headshots, anyone?

10. H. L. Mencken

Why? – apart from being one of my all-time favorite authors, the Sage of Baltimore’s whit and biting cynicism covered most of the first half of the 20th century. He was cosmopolitan and provincial at the same time: a thinker who fancied himself above the “booboisie” while still able to mix in the dives and gin joints of the Baltimore waterfront. Why Barry Levinson isn’t all over this I have no idea.

The Lead? – It has to be someone intelligent who can play a real asshole. Sam Neill might work, or maybe even Eddie Izzard—I’m leaning more towards the latter.

As always, these ideas are not nearly exhaustive—nor do I really have scripts ready. If anyone has any other ideas, or if they have treatments ready that I can pitch, please let me know.

Don’t worry, you’ll receive due credit—minus my percentage, which we can negotiate later.

This is Hollywood, after all 😉

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This Day in History 1/8: The Battle of New Orleans

The minute you saw the title, you must be thinking, “Oh God, not that fucking song.”

Yes, in fact.  Three versions of that fucking song, to be exact.

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, the final battle in the War of 1812.  It was technically the battle that never should have happened, as it occurred after the signing of the treaty ending hostilities.  Regardless, the decisive win against overwhelming British forces made Andrew Jackson a national hero and inspired a country song that has been redone by too many country artists to count.

Today we present three versions of the classic “Battle of New Orleans.”  The first is the classic 1959 version by Johnny Horton, followed by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  Lastly, John Rich of Big & Rich performs the song on Marty Stuart’s show.  Hope you enjoy them.

And if you hate the song, fuck off…you commie.

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“History’s Greatest A**hole!” – The Finalists!

Thanks to everyone who sent their submissions!  Based on the quality of the candidates, and space/time issues for a proper poll, here are the five finalists (for sake of fairness, the contestants’ names have been left out):

Hans_Holbein_d__J__074

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Henry VIII (1491-1547)

Assholes like to make history-making dick moves, and few moved their member with such ferocity as Henry Tudor, or King Henry VIII of England.  Apart from going through six wives–and countless chambermaids–to secure that elusive male heir, he decided to make himself head of a church, which helped lead to centuries of religious violence.  As we all know, all assholes think they’re God, and fat Harry was no exception. Even his portraits are symbols of douchebaggery.  By Henry’s death in 1547, Hans Holbein the Younger needed double-wide canvasses just to do His Lardness some justice. 

Fidel_Castro_-_MATS_Terminal_Washington_1959

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Fidel Castro (1926-       )

If Fidel wins this contest, I’m blaming Miami and Union City, NJ with stuffing the ballots (just kidding).  Fidel Castro is certainly worthy of this list.  His 1959 revolution in Cuba created the first Communist regime in the Western Hemisphere.  Thousands have been killed, tortured and imprisoned for defying him and his brand of Communism.  His programs have driven the country into ruin, while aid continues to enter the country just to make the US look bad.  He makes lefties swoon and right-wingers squirm, and is personally responsible for Miami and Union City, NJ.  Yet the real reason he’s on here?  According to legend (and we can’t really substantiate this) Castro made ice cream cones illegal.  Now that’s an asshole!

Pol_Pot2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Pol Pot (1928-1998)

Here’s a wacko that deserves a well-placed kick in the nuts.  Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge guerrillas to power in Cambodia in 1975.  For four long years, Pol Pot systematically reduced his country to the Stone Age, literally.  He changed time so that everything started at “Year Zero”, forcing cities to be evacuated for slave labor in the countryside.  Almost 2.5 million people, or 21% of the population, died on his watch from starvation, torture and execution.  The guy hated everybody: foreigners, intellectuals, the disabled, even hated people wearing glasses.  It took the Vietnamese, of all people, to end this nightmare with an invasion in 1979, forcing Pol Pot into the hills as his country still recovers from the lunacy.  They say he was poisoned–let’s hope its by Pearle Vision.

Andrew_Jackson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)

It is now common knowledge among academics that the father of Jacksonian Democracy was also a bit of a scumbag.  As President of the United States from 1829-1837, he was a steadfast supporter of slavery, killed the Second Bank of the United States as a gesture to create an “agricultural republic” (or “plantation republic”, for those with less taste in bullshit) and supported the forced removal of almost 45,000 Native Americans from the eastern US, resulting in almost 4,000 deaths along the way–in defiance of the Supreme Court.  If this wasn’t bad enough, consider his temper: he fought 13 duels, killed a man in one, had bullets lodged all over his body, and even had to be restrained from killing an assassin who botched an attempt on his life.  No wonder he graces the “yuppie food stamp.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Mobutu Sese Seko (1930-1997)

Only a truly global asshole would change his name.  Joseph-Desire Mobutu took over the Congo in a bloodless military coup in 1965.  He then proceeded to create a totalitarian regime unequalled in Africa.  His personality cult silenced all opposition.  Mobutu personally embezzled $5 billion dollars from his country, forcing it into the economic shitter–which was hard considering it was the mineral breadbasket of Africa.  He renames the country Zaire, and forced the whole country to adopt African names and dress on pain of imprisonment or death.  Finally, in a real classy move, he changes his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (“The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”).

I will create the poll in a separate post, along with the dates of the poll.  May the worst asshole win!

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This Day in History 6/18: The War of 1812

USS_Constitution_vs_GuerriereIt just figures that the first day of the US Open at Bethpage Black gets rained out.  It shares an anniversary with another unhappy accident.

Today is the 197th anniversary of the War of 1812, one of the strangest wars in American history.  It’s been called many other names, such as the “Second War of Independence” or “Mr. Madison’s War”, after the sitting President James Madison.  My favorite name for it, however, is the “War of Faulty Communication,” since a simple advance in technology would have prevented not only the war even being declared, but would also have stopped its largest battle from even starting.

The young United States was fighting largely for respect.  Both Napoleonic France and Great Britain, in constant warfare since 1793, wanted to use the U.S. as leverage in trade and military gamesmanship.   American trade suffered from British harrassment–especially the “impressment” of sailors–and French meddling.  Furthermore, in defiance of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, the British remained in forts on America’s western frontier, providing arms and supplies for local Native groups to raid on encroaching American settlements.

Yet when Congress passed the war resolution on June 18, 1812, many of the major abuses by the British were being resolved.  A month before, the prime minister died, and Lord Liverpool formed a new government, one which sought a more accomodating stance with the United States.  On June 16, just two days before the declaration of war, Parliament voted to rescind many of the aggressive maritime measures that caused American anger in the first place.  If there was even a telegraph line, let alone a phone or the Internet, this war would’ve never happened.

If you asked the generals on both sides, it shouldn’t have happened–not in their military conditions in 1812.  Britain was in no shape to get into another conflict.  It was busy in the Peninsular War in Spain against Napoleon, as well as leading the alliance against the French via the mainland, aiding their Continental allies as the French armies got stuck in Russia.  Britain controlled the seas with its huge navy, but it was needed to blockade Europe, and few ships could be spared.

The United States was in worse shape.  The standing army was only about 7,000, and recruits were hard to come by outside of the South and West.  The war was extremely unpopular in New England, where they threatened secession if their commerce was further curtailed.  The navy was virtually nonexistent: a whopping 14 ships, with 6 frigates and no heavy-hitting ships of the line, compared to Britain’s 600 vessel monster.

The war was concentrated on the high seas, the Great Lakes, the coastal towns of the Chesapeake Bay, the western frontier and the Gulf coast.  Most battles were small affairs, especially in the west where the British had to use Canadian militia and native allies to buttress their small ranks.  This changed in 1814, when the waning of the Napoleonic Wars allowed Great Britain to allocate more resources to the American front.  This resulted in the burning of Washington, DC and the siege of Baltimore–the very same siege that gave birth to our national anthem.

By December of 1814, the war was tiring on both sides.  Britain wanted to maintain a strong hand in shaping post-Napoleonic Europe, and the war in the Americas weakened its position among its allies Austria and Russia.  The United States, meanwhile, wanted to end a costly conflict that had few clear victories and some disastrous defeats.  Both sides signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 28, 1814, which ended the war.

Or did it?

Somehow, Andrew Jackson did not get the message.  Maybe his DSL connection was down, or the network admin was doing maintenance.  Instead, he decides to give the British the beating of a lifetime.  On January 8, 1815, Jackson’s Americans soundly defeat an invading British force at New Orleans.  It made Jackson a national hero, but it never should’ve happened.  It wasn’t until the next month, when the British invaded Mobile, Alabama, that news reached the South of the peace treaty. 

So what did the War of 1812 teach us, kids? 

(1) Always check your messages.  It’ll avoid unfortunate misunderstandings and prevent escalation of conflict.  Jackson needed a Blackberry.  Lord Liverpool should’ve Twittered his actions.

(2) Never get caught with your pants down.  You’ll end up running like the US Army at the shameful Battle of Bladensburg in 1814.  It was widely considered the worst defeat in US military history.

(3) Always get the “last licks.” The schoolyard prepares us for the battlefields of life.  Jackson ended up with the last punch in 1815.  In 1828, he’d be elected President.

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