Fist Of History

September, 2011Archive for

Detroit and Time Zones – Local History Moment

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

While reading the book Fordlandia I came across a fascinating tidbit that Detroit, originally, was on Central Standard Time rather than Eastern Standard Time.  Detroit went with local time, then Central Standard Time, then another bout with local/solar time, before finally shifting over to Eastern Standard Time.  What is particularly fascinating is the reason why Detroit switched over – a mix of fashion and economic interests that oddly came together.  The economic interests were that business leaders in Detroit wanted that cities industries and factories working, time wise, in close harmony with the financiers and banks in New York City.  Specifically to better attract capital from New York City these business leaders felt that having Detroit work on the same time-table would make it more appealing for investments.

Fashion wise – the elite of Detroit wanted their city associated more with the East Coast than with Chicago.  Why, so far, is a topic for future research.

This lead to some humor poked at Detroit’s residents by the New York Times, including the following commentary:

Latterly all Detroit has been using Central time, and it has served very well, but many Detroiters, who have New York tastes and hate to be called Westerners, demand the establishment of Eastern time.  Their arguments in favor of this change are interesting.  A man who begins his daily work at 9 o’clock Eastern time will be only 8 o’clock Central time.  But, on the other hand, if he stops work at 6 o’clock he will really be at liberty at 5, and thus gain a whole hour at the end of the day.  Many other equally lucid arguments are advanced to support the adoption in Detroit of Eastern time. “Voting For Time,” New York Times, 26 October 1908.

The US federal government put a stop to these shenanigans with the passage in 1918 of the Standard Time Act (a.k.a. the Calder Act) which set the time zones of the United States as they are today.

Sources: Wikipedia entry on US Time Zones; “Voting For Time,” New York Times, 26 October 1908; “Michigan’s Early Time,” New York Times, 19 September 1885; “Adopting Standard Time,” New York Times, 9 December 1883.

Sex, Marriage and Scandal in 1899 – the B.H. Roberts Affair

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

First off let us meet the center of the scandal – one Brigham Henry Roberts (B.H. for short) who was elected to Congress in 1899 as the Honorable Representative of the newly admitted state of Utah.  I’d add apparently something of a looker as well…

This is his second wife, one Celia Dibble, also a looker, and part of the reason for the controversy around Mr. Roberts, and if you haven’t guessed by now Ms. Dibble is his second wife but not his only wife – old B.H. was a practicing polygamist.  At the time of his election B.H. had three wives in total, women he had married in Utah and Colorado, all of whom lived together as three separate but close families.  By reports of the time B.H. had children with two of his three wives, his last marriage to one Dr. Margaret Curtis Shipp was childless but he enjoyed her company more than his other two wives – a source of some domestic friction.

Now why this played into his election to the House of Representatives of the United States Congress is an interesting case – polygamy was illegal by 1899 in the state of Utah – a requirement that had to be part of the state’s constitution before the U.S. would admit it as a new state, terms successfully met in 1895.  Now prior to that polygamy was illegal in the territory of Utah by federal law, Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882 to be specific – but once Utah was a state it was illegal under state law – specifically Utah considered it a misdemeanor.  Furthermore when Utah was admitted as a state it was agreed that standing polygamous marriages that had been entered into legally prior to the Edmunds Act and the new Utah law would be left alone.

In essence most of the U.S. population felt that polygamy was “icky” but the small number of cases of polygamists (Mormons) with still technically legal group marriages kept out of public sight the rest of the nation would ignore the problem.

Enter B.H. who was successfully elected to the House of Representatives, had three wives, and refused to either apologize for them or to give any of them up – arguing that his marriages had been legal at the time, he no longer supported polygamy as a marital option, but in turn loved all three women and it would be cruel and immoral to abandon them.  There was an immediate powerful call throughout the nation to deny B.H. his duly elected seat – the calls were based upon technical issues with his election and legal standing but the blunt reality was many in the nation did not want him seated because he was a polygamist.  What made this particularly interesting at the time was the issue of seating B.H. got tangled up with questions about religious freedom, ex-post facto law, state sovereignty, and if “moral fitness” should be a factor in allowing a duly elected individual to sit in the House of Representatives.

Now I say “duly elected” several times because B.H. was duly elected in the state of Utah, his political opponents repeatedly said that there was nothing irregular in his election – he was legally entitled to sit in Utah’s seat in the House of Representatives.  Even the House of Representatives said that B.H. should be able to sit by election laws, the issue was his religious and moral choices and his refusal to give up his extra wives.

Eventually the issue came down to a vote and the House of Representatives, reflecting once again the penchant of politicians throughout history to not allow fine points of law or legal code stand in the way of popular mass feelings of outrage, voted 268 to 50 to expel B.H. from the House of Representatives without seating him.  B.H. accepted this vote and exited the chamber – he made no further efforts to attempt to regain his seat – and the country rolled on from the scandal.

It is particularly interesting to read a speech presented by one Mr. Lanham of Texas, a Democrat, in which he presents the main reason why B.H. should be evicted from the House of Representatives:

“We can never convince the American people that to admit Roberts [B.H.] and instantly expel him is logical and consistent procedure.  The motive that will prompt the vote either to exclude or expel will be precisely the same – and this is because he is a polygamist…”

Lanham went on to talk about how the House had the right to expel any members elected who did not meet the moral temperament of the nation – tossing in a few racist jabs about the Philippines for good measure.

To my eye B.H. was tossed out because he both offended and titillated the nation as a whole – here was an unashamed practitioner of an alternate marital lifestyle in a high office – and the nation pushed to have him tossed out for that reason alone.  Sadly since 1899, considering the sex scandals and reactions going on in even today in 2011, we’ve not really moved beyond that in a century plus.

Sources: Wikipedia entry on Brigham Henry Roberts

“A Polygamous Congressman” The Literary Digest, 10 December 1898, pps. 682-683

“Roberts Apparently Safe” New York Times, 1 January 1899

“Roberts Case In Congress” New York Times 19 November 1899

“Roberts Forced To Stand Aside” New York Times, 5 December 1899

“Roberts To The Country” New York Times, 8 December 1899

“Roberts Case In Congress” New York Times 19 November 1899

“Roberts Excluded, Vote 268 to 50” New York Times, 26 January 1900