Fist Of History

July, 2011Archive for

Historic Cartoon – Cute Anthropomorphic Cats

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Do you like anthropomorphic animals?  Do you like anthropomorphic cats?  Do you really love both?  Because the Victorians really loved animals wearing human clothes being adorable.  They also, as you can see above, really like the big-headed look when it came to these.  They almost look chibi eligible to be honest.

You will be seeing more of these – the Victorians littered magazines with them – including ones far cuter than this one.

Source: Life Magazine, 1900

Historic Poem – X-Ray Love Ode

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Text of the Poem:

Lines on an X Ray Portrait of a Lady

She is so tall, so slender; and her bones –

Those frail phosphates, those carbonates of lime, –

Are well produced by cathode rays sublime,

By oscillations, amperes, and by ohms.

Her dorsal vertebrae are not concealed

By epidermis, but are well revealed.

Around her ribs, those beauteous twenty-four,

Her flesh a halo makes, misty in line,

Her noseless, eyeless face looks into mine,

And I but whisper, “Sweetheart, Je t’adore.”

Her white and gleaming teeth at me do laugh.

Ah! lovely, cruel, sweet cathodograph!

Written by one Lawrence K. Russel with a lovely illustration of a skull with a candle on top to add to the point.

Allow me to just add my own observation on this and a bit of background, when this appeared X-Rays were a novelty, something amazing, and popular culture at the time was wrestling to wedge them into everyday life.  Mentions of X-Rays and the technology producing them, as well as their medical use, became more common.  That said – I still personally think this is a damn creepy poem.  Plus I cannot help but visualize someone actually saying this to a woman, which makes it even creepier.

Source: Life, 1896

Historic Ad – When Looking For A Good Tobacco…

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

It is always a good idea to check with your local pipe-smoking dog in a sailor’s hat for his/her opinion of a good tobacco.

Favorite Line from the ad: “All the talk in the world will not convince you so quickly as a trial that it is almost PERFECTION.”

Source: Life Magazine, 1893

American Eccentrics of Note – William Walker

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Feast your eyes on one William Walker:

Handsome fellow – and also one hell of an original American Eccentric.  Walker started out life in Tennessee, got his first college degree at fourteen and his medical degree at the age of nineteen.  He practiced medicine, studied the law, ran a newspaper, and did some time as a reporter.  Geographically he bounced around from his home state to New Orleans, LA and then on to San Francisco, CA.  When he got out west Walker found his passion – conquering land south of the current borders of the United States to establish new American colonies in Latin America.  We all have to have ambitions in life and Walker’s was building new nations or conquering existing ones.  What makes him stand out is that he was actually somewhat successful at it.

In 1853, at the tender age of twenty-nine, Walker recruited a total of forty-five men and set out to into Baja California with the goal of establishing a new republic – one built around the ideas of Manifest Destiny, expanding slavery, and joining up with the United States through annexation like Texas had done.  Walker had started out attempting to convince the Mexican government to just give him the land to set up an armed colony against attacks by Native Americans – Mexico was uninterested in Walker’s plan though.  Most people would have given up at that point – Walker conquered a city in Baja and proclaimed a new republic – the Republic of Senora.  It didn’t last long though – the Mexican government decided that Walker’s new state was an unacceptable addition to the local Baja scene and crushed it militarily.  But from that Walker moved on to a greater dream – conquering a Latin American nation that was already established.

In 1855 Nicaragua was embroiled in a nasty civil war and Walker, leading a group of fifty-eight Americans nicknamed “The Immortals” Walker was able to ally with local military forces in Nicaragua and successfully defeat all opposing factions in Nicaragua – Walker initially ruled through a puppet president but then elevated himself to the office of President of Nicaragua.  He actually held the office for a year and eleven months, his government was formally recognized by the United States, US President Franklin Pierce provided that honor.  Walker lost power due to his ambitious, but failed efforts, to expand his holdings into nearby Costa Rica and was military defeated by an alliance of surrounding states.  Walker escaped punishment and capture by surrendering to a US naval warship in 1857.

He returned to the United States and by 1860 he had written a four hundred page tome explaining his actions in Nicaragua and his administration.  He was hailed as a hero throughout the southern United States.  Walker also in 1860 made another attempt to carve out a nation, he sailed secretly to Honduras to take advantage of some dissatisfaction brewing in Honduras among its wealthy, non-local residents.  Unfortunately for Walker his ambitions in the region raised concerns with the British government, who had a vested interest in Honduras staying stable, so when Walker arrived in Honduras a local British naval captain captured him.  Walker was then handed over to the government of Honduras, which promptly shot him.

I’ll be reading up for more information on William Walker – I might someday write a book collecting eccentric and oddballs of US history and he’ll be in that collection.  But Walker did impact history – his actions changed Nicaraguan history and modified how the US approached Central America in the early 20th century.  (Bad memories by the locals of US involvement in their country among other things.)

Sources: Wikipedia entry on William Walker, California Native Newsletter article on William Walker, article on William Walker produced for the Virtual Museum of the city of San Francisco, and finally Lester Langley’s The Banana Wars – An Inner History of American Empire, 1900-1934.

Annexation of Santo Domingo/Dominican Republic – Historical What-If

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

One of the reasons I find diplomatic history particularly intriguing is it is often littered with the great “what-ifs” of history – failed deals, odd offers, strange plans that never quite make it to fruition.  One that I recently found out about, while reading Lester Langley’s The Banana Wars: An Inner History of American Empire, 1900-1934, was that in 1870 there was a fairly serious effort by the President of the Dominican Republic at the time to sign a treaty annexing the Dominican Republic directly to the United States.  It passed the Congress of the Dominican Republic but not the United States Senate, due to several issues.  Grant spoke about it in his 1870 State of the Union address where he advocated for Congress to grab the Dominican Republic:

During the last session of Congress a treaty for the annexation of the Republic of San Domingo to the United States failed to receive the requisite two-thirds vote of the Senate. I was thoroughly convinced then that the best interests of this country, commercially and materially, demanded its ratification. Time has only confirmed me in this view. I now firmly believe that the moment it is known that the United States have entirely abandoned the project of accepting as a part of its territory the island of San Domingo a free port will be negotiated for by European nations in the Bay of Samana. A large commercial city will spring up, to which we will be tributary without receiving corresponding benefits, and then will be seen the folly of our rejecting so great a prize. The Government of San Domingo has voluntarily sought this annexation. It is a weak power, numbering probably less than 120,000 souls, and yet possessing one of the richest territories under the sun, capable of supporting a population of 10,000,000 people in luxury. The people of San Domingo are not capable of maintaining themselves in their present condition, and must look for outside support. They yearn for the protection of our free institutions and laws, our progress and civilization. Shall we refuse them?

The acquisition of San Domingo is desirable because of its geographical position. It commands the entrance to the Caribbean Sea and the Isthmus transit of commerce. It possesses the richest soil, best and most capacious harbors, most salubrious climate, and the most valuable products of the forests, mine, and soil of any of the West India Islands. Its possession by us will in a few years build up a coastwise commerce of immense magnitude, which will go far toward restoring to us our lost merchant marine. It will give to us those articles which we consume so largely and do not produce, thus equalizing our exports and imports. In case of foreign war it will give us command of all the islands referred to, and thus prevent an enemy from ever again possessing himself of rendezvous upon our very coast. At present our coast trade between the States bordering on the Atlantic and those bordering on the Gulf of Mexico is cut into by the Bahamas and the Antilies. Twice we must, as it were, pass through foreign countries to get by sea from Georgia to the west coast of Florida.

San Domingo, with a stable government, under which her immense resources can be developed, will give remunerative wages to tens of thousands of laborers not now upon the island. This labor will take advantage of every available means of transportation to abandon the adjacent islands and seek the blessings of freedom and its sequence–each inhabitant receiving the reward of his own labor. Porto Rico and Cuba will have to abolish slavery, as a measure of self-preservation, to retain their laborers.

San Domingo will become a large consumer of the products of Northern farms and manufactories. The cheap rate at which her citizens can be furnished with food, tools, and machinery will make it necessary that contiguous islands should have the same advantages in order to compete in the production of sugar, coffee, tobacco, tropical fruits, etc. This will open to us a still wider market for our products. The production of our own supply of these articles will cut off more than one hundred millions of our annual imports, besides largely increasing our exports. With such a picture it is easy to see how our large debt abroad is ultimately to be extinguished. With a balance of trade against us (including interest on bonds held by foreigners and money spent by our citizens traveling in foreign lands) equal to the entire yield of the precious metals in this country, it is not so easy to see how this result is to be otherwise accomplished.

The acquisition of San Domingo is an adherence to the “Monroe doctrine;” it is a measure of national protection; it is asserting our just claim to a controlling influence over the great commercial traffic soon to flow from west to east by way of the Isthmus of Darien; it is to build up our merchant marine; it is to furnish new markets for the products of our farms, shops, and manufactories; it is to make slavery insupportable in Cuba and Porto Rico at once, and ultimately so in Brazil; it is to settle the unhappy condition of Cuba and end an exterminating conflict; it is to provide honest means of paying our honest debts without overtaxing the people; it is to furnish our citizens with the necessaries of everyday life at cheaper rates than ever before; and it is, in fine, a rapid stride toward that greatness which the intelligence, industry, and enterprise of the citizens of the United States entitle this country to assume among nations.

In view of the importance of this question, I earnestly urge upon Congress early action expressive of its views as to the best means of acquiring San Domingo. My suggestion is that by joint resolution of the two Houses of Congress the Executive be authorized to appoint a commission to negotiate a treaty with the authorities of San Domingo for the acquisition of that island, and that an appropriation be made to defray the expenses of such a commission. The question may then be determined, either by the action of the Senate upon the treaty or the joint action of the two Houses of Congress upon a resolution of annexation, as in the case of the acquisition of Texas. So convinced am I of the advantages to flow from the acquisition of San Domingo, and of the great disadvantages–I might almost say calamities–to flow from nonacquisition, that I believe the subject has only to be investigated to be approved.”

It is also interesting to read because this passage shows that even in 1870 the US government was concerned about the expansion of European influence in the Caribbean region – only five years after the US Civil War had ended.  When this speech was given part of the South was still under military government.

But think about it for a moment – can you imagine a United States in which the land that was the Dominican Republic was instead a part of the United States?

Sources: Wikipedia Entry on the Annexation of Santo Domingo, Online transcript of Ulysses Grant’s 1870 State of the Union Address, Lester Langley’s The Banana Wars: An Inner History of American Empire, 1900-1934

Alive With the National Spirit!

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Not only is it alive with the national spirit, it’s enjoyed by all branches of our armed forces!  Apparently also random bulls like it as well!

Source: Popular Science, 1916

Fun speech from the “Panic of 1893” days

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

“The Constitution of the United States guarantees to all citizens the right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances, and furthermore declares that the right of free speech shall not be abridged.

We stand here to-day to test these guaranties of our Constitution. We choose this place of assemblage because it is the property of the people. . . . Here rather than at any other spot upon the continent it is fitting that we should come to mourn over our dead liberties and by our protest arouse the imperiled nation to such action as shall rescue the Constitution and resurrect our liberties.

Upon these steps where we stand has been spread a carpet for the royal feet of a foreign princess, the cost of whose lavish entertainment was taken from the public Treasury without the consent or the approval of the people. Up these steps the lobbyists of trusts and corporations have passed unchallenged on their way to committee rooms, access to which we, the representatives of the toiling wealth-producers, have been denied.

We stand here to-day in behalf of millions of toilers whose petitions have been buried in committee rooms, whose prayers have been unresponded to, and whose opportunities for honest, remunerative, productive labor have been taken from them by unjust legislation, which protects idlers, speculators, and gamblers: we come to remind the Congress here assembled of the declaration of a United States Senator, “that for a quarter of a century the rich have been growing richer, the poor poorer and that by the close of the present century the middle class will have disappeared as the struggle for existence becomes fierce and relentless.”

– Jacob Coxey, 9 May 1894, Congressional Record of the United States, 53rd Congress, 2nd Session

Additional Tidbits: I found online a newspaper article talking about this address, dated 2 May 1894, apparently Coxey didn’t ever give it, he got on the steps of the Capital building and he, along with his followers, were driven away by mounted police.  The speech was printed in the newspaper and apparently later added to the Congressional Record.

Any similarities citizens of the United States of America might feel the sentiments expressed in this speech to our current governmental situations and traditions are purely coincidental, in your mind alone, and should be ignored at all times.

Sources: Wikipedia article on Coxey’s Army, Gloversville Daily Leader 2 May 1894, Project on the 1896 Depression by Vassar University

US Debt Default, Silver, Gold, and Crisis!

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

In watching an encapsulated survey of new coverage on the impending United States debt ceiling apocalypse of doom (TM) I noticed several commentators bringing out the sound bite that if the US defaulted on its debts it would be the first time in our history as a nation we defaulted.  Correct to my knowledge this statement may be but the announcers make it sound like this is the first time the US Treasury/government has been this close to a default.  Not hardly, we’ve been closer, and the political situation much uglier.

In essence in 1893, due to a series of interlinked economic factors, the US economy entered a depression/decline – sparked by another Panic.  A Panic pretty much means what you would expect it to mean, a rapid series of events in which large numbers of people, at various levels of economic wealth, foresee an impending economic crisis and attempt to outrun it by taking immediate drastic action.  Fear of a bank collapsing sparks the depositors to pull their deposits out immediately in a large crowd, the bank cannot raise the funds to cover its outstanding deposits, declares bankruptcy, bank collapse.  What marks a Panic as a distinctive economic moment in the pre-New Deal days of free-flying unrestrained capitalism is that there were few to no safety nets or controls in place to shelter individuals or businesses from the impacts of these sudden economic meltdowns.  In 1893 if the bank you deposited your money in declared bankruptcy, your money was gone.  No recourse, no aid, no help, and in many cases minimal sympathy.  You had played the bank game investor game and lost.

The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed in 1890 – it pledged the US government to buy silver from the public market at a fixed amount, paying a fixed price by law for the silver, and paid for the silver by issuing circulating paper currency.  Said currency could be used as payment for debts owed to the government and, magically, could be turned in for either silver coins OR gold coins to the US Treasury.  Specifically it could be turned in for silver coins or gold coins at a determined fixed ratio that had been set years ago by the US government.  What made this law so destructive was that the silver to gold ratio set by the US government was sixteen to one, which back in the 1850s was worse than market rates of silver to gold.  Because it was worse than market rates, few sold silver to the US government at those rates.  But in the 1870s and 1880s there was a massive silver boom, due to huge new deposits of silver found in the West, silver the drove the price of silver on the market into the toilet.  The US government attempted to change the law prior to 1890 to reflect the new reality but this angered Western mining interests that wanted a safe place to dump their silver when the market bottomed out.  It also angered farmers who wanted the US government to continue to buy silver in vast quantities, issue large numbers of new dollars, and inflate the currency so farmers debts could be more easily paid.

What actually happened though was in 1893 large numbers of people decided they wanted more stable gold coins instead of paper or silver, so silver flowed into the treasury at inflated price and gold flowed out.  So much gold in fact that the US Treasury reached the legal lowest amount of gold it could hold in reserve and faced the real risk of being unable to meet its demands on paper for gold in exchange for the issued paper.  (Apparently to the point that it got down to a risk of default in hours or at most days on the owed gold.)

As you can imagine this represented a major problem for the US government and the nation as a whole, people had turned in silver for this paper currency and the law said you could get gold dollars, at an agreed ratio, for that paper.  If the government wouldn’t honor its promise then the paper was worthless, economic meltdown threatened the nation.  The newly elected President, Grover Cleavland, was able to get the Sherman Silver Act repealed in 1893 but there was still all this circulating paper currency to deal with and the government’s technical default on a debt/paper redemption to settle.

Enter J.P. Morgan who, at the request of President Cleavland, was able to assemble a group of bankers who agreed to float the US government a $65 million dollar loan, in gold, to raise the Treasury gold reserves to a level to meet the crisis.  Well more accurately the bankers agreed to buy $65 million dollars worth of 30 year Treasury bonds and then re-sell them to the public at a rate of around $70 million, an immediate tidy return of 8% on the bonds.  (In reality apparently they did even better, netting the bankers an even higher return on their investment from the public.)  On top of this Morgan got a personal commission from the US government on top of this as payment for his assistance which was actually well deserved – at the time President Cleavland was in a bind because Congress was not willing to allow other measures to be considered.

Ah memories!

Sources: Wikipedia entry on Sherman Silver Act 1890, text Silver Sherman Silver Act 1890, Economic History Net article on the Panic of 1893, New American article on the Panic of 1893.  (On the last source ignore the politics but stay for the facts.)

The Future! According to the 1880s!

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Source: Life Magazine, 1889

Apparently by 1950 even the “poorest family can afford a private airship!”  Granted wrong but one could argue had those of the time foreseen the rise of the automobile this prediction was not as far off the mark as you might think today.  Also note the comment about monopolies and their “grinding power” – a concern in the late 1880s and one of the issues that the Progressive Movement was able to use to leverage in legal reform to the rules of business, such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act (passed 1890, utilized with gusto in the early 1900s by Roosevelt and Taft.)

Two other thoughts to consider – first, check out those amazing “future fashions” – everyone owning an airship could be seen as “improbable but who knows” but women not wearing some sort of massive skirt and bonnet, impossible to consider!

Second, apparently everyone has been wanting personal flying cars for roughly forever.

Ladies – It’s Without Poison!

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Source: Life, 1887

Nothing says positive things to ladies like an add for treating obesity that promises it doesn’t have poison in it and is also non-injurious!