Thursday, October 27, 2016

Kansas Mortgages and the Supreme Court

Cartoon from the St. John County Capital
In the late 1800s, many Kansans like Isaac Werner were struggling with debt.  Most had mortgaged their property as collateral at the time they borrowed money, but drought and lower crop prices made farmers unable to pay their loans, and they faced the possibility of foreclosure.  Merchants also suffered when farmers could not pay for merchandise bought on credit, their businesses furthered jeopardized because customers no longer had cash with which to shop.  Transactions entered into when the future looked bright became tragic for many as times changed.

The Kansas People's Party legislators tried to relieve the economic crisis by retroactively altering the law to impose limits on foreclosures whose mortgages did not give borrowers that relief at the time the documents were signed and the money was loaned.  The Republican majority on the Kansas Supreme Court overturned that law, but after the next election when a majority of People's Party judges assumed the Kansas bench, the law giving borrowers relief was reinstated.

Cartoon from the St. John County Capital
That resulted in an appeal to the US Supreme Court, where Justice George Shiras, Jr. wrote the opinion.  The court ruled that the terms when the contract was signed could not be altered by the Kansas legislature retroactively after one party to the agreement had relied on the promises of the other party, despite unanticipated hardships.  Although the law was clear and the ruling was correct, Justice Shiras added a note that the ruling was not intended to address the fairness of these mortgage contracts.

Too often, people do not understand the role of judges.  They are the watchdogs  protecting our laws and when people bring cases to the court they must determine the outcome based on the law, not on their personal feelings.  That is what Justice Shiras attempted to explain.  At the time the farmers received the money from the banks, they agreed to certain terms which the bank required in order to make the loan.  It was contrary to established law to permit the desperate farmers to get the benefit of modified foreclosure protections retroactively when the bank had relied on stricter requirements at the time they agreed to loan the farmers money.

It isn't about whether it makes the judges happy to adhere to laws.  Rather it is their duty to apply the laws in all cases, without regard to their personal feelings.  

US Supreme Court Justice George Shiras, Jr.
People who disagree with rulings sometimes object that a case was overturned on "technicalities," but that shows their bias or misunderstanding of the law.  We all depend on the courts to resolve matters according to law, not just in the easy cases but also in those cases that seem difficult.  Clearly Justice Shiras was sympathetic to the plight of the farmers who had worked hard and would lose the benefits of years of backbreaking labor if they could not pay their notes and the banks foreclosed on their farms.  Yet, it was what they had agreed to when they received the loan and the bankers had kept their part of the bargain.

So if you hear someone complaining about a court overturning a case on a technicality, do not misunderstand the meaning of "technicality."  "Technicality" means that something was done wrong or the law was not applied correctly.  In criminal cases particularly, sometimes hateful or disgusting people benefit from the technicality or error in their trials, and those are the hard cases.  Yet, we would want to be protected by the laws if we stood before a court, and if judges began ruling willy-nilly as they personally found fair, none of us could depend on our laws.

Holbein's painting of Sir Thomas More
In the movie A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More is asked by his son-in-law William Roper:  "So now you give the Devil the the benefit of law!"  To which More replies:  "Yes, what would you do?  Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?"  Roper answers:  "Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that.

Here is the important reply from More:  "Oh, and when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide Roper, the laws all being flat?  ...[D]o you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"

(If you are not familiar with this motion picture, I recommend that you find a copy to watch.  The devout More adhered to his faith and willingly suffered the legal consequences, sacrificing his own life by respecting both the laws of his country and the tenants of his faith.)

Beware someone who criticizes judges who overturn a lower court's decision on a technicality.  As much as the farmers in the late 1800s may have been disappointed by the US Supreme Court's decision, those judges were doing their jobs as duty demanded.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Looking to the Past

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that one of the things I believe most strongly is the importance of learning from history.  (See "I Love History," 1-3-2012 in the blog archives.)  As the 2016 Presidential Election Day nears, I have tried to reflect on what things are most important to me in deciding for whom to vote.  This blog shares the five guidelines I have created for myself, and includes quotes from our past presidents which relate to the considerations important to me.

1st:  Knowledge of the Constitution.  Politicians come and go, but it is our Constitution that has guided and defined us for more than two centuries.  I distrust those who think they are wiser than our Founding Fathers and who lack an acquaintance with our nation's history or who presume to enter national politics without a thorough, well informed knowledge of our Constitution and the political traditions that honor it.

Lincoln:  "We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution."

Washington:  "The Constitution is the guide which I will never abandon."

Pierce:  "The storm of frenzy and faction must inevitably dash itself in vain against the unshaken rock of the Constitution."

2nd:  Respect for the office and the men who have preceded them.  The office of the President is greater than any one person, and anyone who holds that office should understand that great truth and should enter office with a sense of humility and honor for the office he or she will briefly hold.

Truman:  "When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things.  You have to remember it isn't for you.  It's for the Presidency.

Polk:  "May the boldest fear and the wisest tremble when incurring responsibilities on which may depend our country's peace and prosperity, and in some degree the hopes and happiness of the whole human family."

3rd:  Respect for all Americans.  When the President swears to protect and defend the Constitution, he or she must assume the responsibility of serving all Americans, not just those who voted for him or her.  The Constitution belongs to all of us, and the President serves all of the American people.

Kennedy:  "If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity."

Woodrow Wilson:  "If you think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself.  Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig."

Nixon:  "With all the power that a President has, the most important thing to bear in mind is this:  You must not give power to a man unless, above everything else, he has character.  Character is the most important qualification the President of the United States can have."

4th:  The President must be a role model for Americans, and especially for our children.  The President must understand that once he or she is elected, he or she is no longer just a private citizen but rather is a symbol of the nation to the world  and an example for all of us.  The President must conduct him or herself with the dignity of the office and to do less belittles all of us.  And, especially, the President's words and actions are an example to our children, for good or for ill.

Wilson:  "One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty counsels.  The thing to be supplied is light, not heat."

McKinley:  "That's all a man can hope for during his lifetime--to set an example--and when he is dead, to be an inspiration for history."

John Quincy Adams:  "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader."

5th:  Just as the President serves all of the People, a person's vote cannot be based on a single issue.  I believe that a voter must consider which candidate has the character, the wisdom, and the experience to serve the nation in all things. 

Monroe:  "It is by a thorough knowledge of the whole subject that [people] are enabled to judge correctly of the past and give a proper direction to the future."

Those are the five guidelines which I use to evaluate the character, experience, and wisdom of the candidates asking for my vote for President of the United States.  The comments made by past Presidents have made me proud of the men that Americans have elected in the past, whether or not those Presidents always lived up to their own intentions.  If you like, some of you may wish to share your own guidelines, but please do not advocate for your choice nor criticize the candidate you reject.  Respect that many people follow this blog and not all of us will vote for the same candidate.  What is important is that we reflect carefully on our decision.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Presidential Election of 1896

Democratic Presidential Banner from 1896

Americans seem to think the Presidential Election currently in the news is the wildest one yet, but last week's blog shared some of the elections that have been called "the dirtiest."  This week I will share events of the 1890 elections, the last Presidential Elections of Isaac B. Werner's lifetime, which were pretty crazy!!

The era most of us know as the Gilded Age was great for a small segment of Americans, but for farmers like Isaac, as well as other workers engaged as miners, small ranchers, and factory laborers, times were hard.  The big issue became whether adhering to the gold standard to keep a stable economy was best or whether implementing bimetalism to include silver would benefit more ordinary Americans.

Cartoon from St. John, KS County Capital
For farmers and other working class people who were suffering most economically, 'Free Silver!' became the rallying cry.  The Republicans had the political wealth and power, but the People's Party believed that if they joined with the Democrats in nominating William J. Bryan as their Presidential candidate that their combined votes could defeat the Republicans. 

The caption on the cartoon showing Uncle Sam trying to ride his bicycle with only one wheel, identified as "Gold" reads:  "The country will never be Prosperous again until Silver is restored to full and unlimited coinage."  The "Silver" wheel lies on the ground, crushed by "Demonitization" with the guiding light of a lamp left behind on the ground labeled "Common Sense."

It was William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold speech at the Democratic Convention, with its reference to drip down economics, that probably lifted him above other potential nominees, and it was certainly Bryan's nearly exclusive focus on "Free Silver" that led the People's Party to nominate him, despite the fact that he was not a member of their party!

When it came to selecting the Vice-Presidential candidate, however, the Democrats and the People's Party nominated different candidates.  The Democrats chose a wealthy man from the east coast, hoping he would bring some votes from those Republicans who favored silver (and there were a few who did).  The People's Party nominated one of their own as the Vice-Presidential candidate, wanting to be represented on the ticket. 

The tactic did not succeed.  Republican McKinley received 271 electoral votes while Bryan received only 176.

Four years earlier in the 1892 Presidential Election, bimetallism had also been an issue, with the Democrats choosing Cleveland as their candidate, the Republicans choosing Harrison, and the People's Party choosing Weaver.  Cleveland prevailed with 277 electoral votes to Harrison's 145 and Weaver's 22.  The poor economy during Cleveland's administration was blamed on adherence to the gold standard by many in the People Party and Cleveland's own Democratic party, and they demanded bimetallism.

Political Cartoon from St. John, KS County Capital progressive newspaper

The above political cartoon uses the bicycle theme to illustrate why bimetallism beats the gold standard.  President Cleveland is depicted riding a unicycle, cheered on by the wealthy.  The caption reads:  "Cleveland--'This blasted wheel wobbles too much.  I never can catch that fellow ahead and you might as well save your breath.  I am in a perplexing and delicate predicament as a result of ill-advised financial expedients.'"

The poor economy set the stage for the Democrats in 1896 to nominate Bryan as their candidate.   People's Party candidate Weaver's weak performance in 1892 motivated the populists in 1896 to make the unusual decision to select the nominee of the Democratic ticket for their own Presidential candidate, while at the same time nominating a different man for Vice President. 

The Republicans who favored bimetallism split from their party to form a splinter party, as did the Democrats who favored retaining the Gold standard, while the People's Party nominated a Democrat as their candidate, resulting in William Jennings Bryan having two different running mates.  Talk about a crazy Presidential Election!

So, as you follow the news of the upcoming Presidential Election of 2016, perhaps you can take some comfort in the fact that as crazy as it may seem to you, America has survived crazy Presidential elections in the past.

By the way, although Bryan did receive a strong showing of 47% of the popular vote in 1896 to McKinley's 51%, the electoral vote was McKinley 271, Bryan 176.  That difference shows how important it is that candidates pay attention to states with more electoral votes during their campaigning.  It also explains why we see so many charts on our television screens showing the likely votes of the "Important" electoral states and why Isaac's old home state of Kansas, with fewer electoral votes, is rarely mentioned by the television commentators. However, in the 1896 Presidential election, Kansas was at the heart of political news.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Political Rhetoric in the Late 1800s

Although Isaac Werner did not have a television or the internet, he too was bombarded with political rhetoric during presidential campaign seasons.  The above cartoon is from the St. John County Capital to which Isaac subscribed.  Most of the political cartoons they published used the image of Uncle Sam to represent the nation, and a depiction of a wealthy man to represent the imbalance in power of the wealthy in political decisions.  However, this cartoon depicts a senator and the president to express why the People's Party, representing farmers, miners, and other workers politically, was growing.  On the left a farmer shows how getting 40 cents a bushel for his wheat is less than what it costs to raise it. (See which compares 2016 with those low markets.)  On the right, striking factory workers are shown being fired upon by government troops.  (The government had also sanctioned the use--by such men as steel magnate Carnegie--of hired private armies like the Pinkertons to confront striking workers.)

In addition to political cartoons, campaign buttons were also used even prior to Isaac's time, although the cheap manufacture of flat discs with a straight pin came into use during his era, specifically in the 1896 presidential race between McKinley and Bryan, when the People's Party and the Democrats both nominated Bryan.  One button I found online read "In McKinley we trust; in Bryan we bust" dealing with their opposing views about the gold standard vs. bimetalism.  To read more interesting information visit "The Long Story Behind Presidential Campaign Buttons and Pins," by Elizabeth King in the May 17, 2016 issue of "Time Magazine."  Also interesting is the website on which very early campaign buttons are pictured for sale.

The earliest buttons were primarily purchased by supporters to wear the button of their favorite candidate.  These early buttons were expensive to make, so it was logical that supporters were more likely buyers or buttons were produced by the candidates for their supporters to wear.  In the 1960s the trend toward buttons made by private marketers increased.  On the Ron Wade website, the earliest "anti" buttons I found were from the Reagan-Carter era, and most humor was fairly gentle.  One more abrasive button read "Nutrition Quiz:  Which one is the vegetable?" with an image of a ketchup bottle and a cartoon of Reagan below the question.  Another read "Nancy gets red dresses; We get pink slips."  Lampooning Carter a button read "The Carter Special:  A little peanut butter; A lot of balony" [sic], and another depicted a peanut in top hat and cane and asked "Do you want a Nut in the White House?"  Certainly these aren't complimentary, but they don't reach the level of vulgarity that anti-Hillary buttons reached among vendors outside the Republican convention.  The parody of Trump's hair on buttons is more akin to the buttons of the 1960s.

However, dirty politics are not new, although in the past the mud was thrown by surrogates rather than by the candidates themselves.  The election of 1800 in which John Adams and Thomas Jefferson vied for the office of President is often named as the dirtiest.  A Connecticut newspaper wrote that if Jefferson were president "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced." In 1828 in the race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson the abuse included slandering Jackson's wife.  In the Douglas-Lincoln debates, Douglas called Lincoln a drunk.

Not all dirty politics are Presidential nor national.  In fact, a race for Kansas state representative split Isaac's community.  In 1892, two men who lived within walking distance competed, one on the People's Party ticket and the other a Republican.  Although the People's Party candidate won easily throughout the district, in their home township he won by a single vote.  The old newspapers document the rancor of their campaigning.

Hatefulness, slanders, and misinformation is nothing new to politics, but the internet certainly spreads them faster!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Kansas Artist

Birger Sandzen's "The Bridge"
Those of you who follow my blog will recognize the painting at left, for it was previously posted in my blog about the works loaned by the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery to the Vernon Filley Art Museum for a wonderful exhibition several months ago.  (You may also remember the blog post about the now collapsed natural bridge near Sun City which many of us remember visiting as a child.)  These blogs can be visited in the blog archives.

Farley's in Lindsborg, KS
My husband and I had intended to visit the Sandzen Gallery in Lindsborg, Kansas since that exhibition, and on a recent beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon, we finally made the trip.  We began our visit with lunch at Farley's, a delightful restaurant in downtown Lindsborg.

The Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery is located on the left just inside the Bethany College campus gates.  The 1-story Gallery was dedicated in October 1957 and includes not only the work of Sandzen but also many other well-known works by his contemporaries, as well as prints by familiar artists such as Rembrandt and Durer.  Visitors might also be surprised to discover the wonderful Chinese and Japanese collections of the museum.

Sign near entrance to campus with gallery behind sign
Surprisingly, the Sandzen Gallery admission is free; however, like many museums, donations are essential to maintain the facility and carry on the programs.  The special exhibits during our visit were the work of Maurice Bebb, for which the wonderful hard cover catalog was done by Sandzen Curator Cori Sherman North, an exhibit of glass created by native Lindsborg artist Helen Koon Gragert, now living in Oklahoma, and a delightful exhibition of self-portraits by Kansas artists.  Having just done a self-portrait myself, I particularly enjoyed seeing the range of self-portraits displayed--classic, humorous, philosophical, modern--in a variety of media.  You may enjoy them too at the Birger Sandzen Museum website, where the full show catalog with all of the self-portraits may be viewed.
Sandzen home & studio

Birger Sandzen's Studio is only steps from the back door of his former home, and the Gallery is responsible for maintaining the studio.  It was not open when we were there, but we walked around the exterior.  I was charmed by the setting, beautifully landscaped.  Look right, and you can almost picture Sandzen striding down the back steps of his house, eager to paint!

Birger Sandzen's Studio
How fortunate Kansas is to have not only the Gallery, with its impressive collections, but also the studio of Sandzen.  Naturally, the studio represents another financial responsibility for the foundation that supports both the Memorial Gallery and the Studio.

It will not surprise any of you who follow my blog to know that we left with books from the Gallery gift shop and tucked a little more into the donation box to help support the Gallery & Studio.  If you are interested in learning more, you may visit their website.  The Sandzen Gallery has been particularly generous to the Pratt community in loaning the works to the Filley for the "Kansas Ties" exhibition of August 22 through November 30, 2014.  Many people in the Pratt area are collectors, and some of Sandzen's work is currently on display at the Filley Art Museum.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

P. S. to Libraries

I just discovered that September 25-October 1 is Banned Books Week.  I thought that was interesting, since this week's blog features the importance of books, libraries, and librarians!  The article I read said that this year the emphasis focuses on the importance of diversity in children's books.  A review showed that only 10% of published children's books have multicultural content.  That is not reflective of our population.  As for banned books, many popular books have appeared on that list over the years, including "The Wizard of Oz"!  Since my post shows my husband reading from "The Wizard of Oz" I thought it was worth mentioning that sometimes well-intentioned people  get a little carried away when it comes to banning books.  That is another instance in which the role of librarians can be so important!

Maybe that banning is why the Scarecrow looks so perplexed!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Libraries Make the Difference!

Reading Oz in Macksville Grade School Library
Whatever the cost of our libraries the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.  --Walter Cronkite

Isaac B. Werner left family behind to build a new life in the West, and as a young druggist he prioritized the acquisition of a fine library at the top of his list for spending saved cash.  When he decided to move further west to claim a homestead and timber claim in Kansas, he managed to find a way to ship his impressive library to his prairie home. 

His collection of books included a wide range of subjects, including law, penmanship, history, art, literature, biography, travel, politics, elocution, grammar, medicine, and other topics.  (See "Isaac's Library," 2/2/2012; "Who Reads Shakespeare," 5/30/2013; and "Art in Isaac's Life," 1/22/2014, in the blog archives.)  Isaac was a serious reader.  As I have indicated in other blogs, I attempted to purchase some of the titles Isaac had owned, buying the oldest editions I could find to better represent the editions he owned.  The scholarly content of most of the books he collected stand as evidence that he was a sincere autodidact.  See "Isaac, the Autodidact," 11-13-2014 in the Blog Archives.
Summer program in Macksville City Library

"...[W]hen a library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open too."  --Bill Moyers

One of Isaac's ideas was to establish a library in the County Seat of St. John, where farmers and populists could go to study.  His local Farmer's Alliance did establish a library in the Emerson School where they met.  Isaac built the book cupboard, and members, strapped for cash as they were, voted an assessment to purchase books.  Much of the library was gifted by Isaac from his own collection, however.

Today we are fortunate to have access to books, whether we are rich or poor.  Schools have libraries, and in Isaac's old community there are fine public libraries in St. John, Pratt, Stafford, and even the small town of Macksville.

"The Public Library once an ode to the glory of our most democratic institutions and a culturally necessary prompt to defend them like we would defend our freedom to live, learn, and be--a freedom to which the library is our highest celebration."  --Maria Popova

Used book store in Philadelphia
Today we are also fortunate to have easy access to books through the internet, whether we are ordering books for our own libraries or reading e-books or excerpts available online.  What is less available online, however, is the guidance of librarians.  

"I see them as healers and magicians.  Librarians can tease out of inarticulate individuals enough information about what they are after to lead them onto the path of connection.  They are trail guides through the forest of shelves and aisles--you turn a person loose who has limited skills, and he'll be walloped by the branches.  But librarians match up readers with the right books."  --Anne Lamott

Statistics show that fewer people read books today, finding their entertainment and information elsewhere, and libraries are trying to adapt.  Not only are computers a part of modern libraries but also objects (like cake pans) may be checked out.  DVD rentals seemed to be an important part of one local library's service to the community during a recent visit that I made.

"The truth is libraries are raucous clubhouses for free speech, controversy and community."  --Paula Poundstone

The ability to check out unconventional things at the local library may not seem to serve the ideals expressed in the foregoing quotes, but a library containing the most incredible books ever written serves no purpose unless people come to the library to read those books.  When Laura Bush said, "I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card," I doubt that she was referring to the ability to check out things other than books.  Yet, perhaps the visitor that comes for a cake pan will leave with an armload of cookbooks, or the child that checks out a movie will discover books about that historic period or movie theme--especially if the librarian is a good "trail guide" with time to direct the visitor to appealing books.

Take a book/Leave a book in Pratt, KS
For Norman Cousins, "A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life."  Sadly, no ideas will be born if the library does not attract readers.  Imagine the excitement of children attending the country schools of Isaac's community in the late 1800s if they entered any one of the public libraries today's residents enjoy.

Libba Bray expresses the potential that many of us have come to take for granted:  "The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and striving of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance..."

Isaac and his neighbors who settled the Kansas prairie knew that.

(P.S. for Pratt area residents:  After several months of renovations the Pratt Library is planning to reopen for adult and teen sections on October 24th.  The library will be closed Oct. 17-22 to move the book collection into the new locations. That will accomplish Phase I and II, with Phase III scheduled for the end of the year.) 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

May I Borrow Your Sewing Machine?

Ad from County Capital
The ad at right is from the County Capital published in St. John, KS.  Isaac B. Werner subscribed to that newspaper, and one day as he was returning home from St. John he stopped at a neighbor's home to borrow their sewing machine.  I do not know what kind of a machine he borrowed, but it is possible that whatever it was may have been purchased from Gray & Company in St. John, the local dealer.

Neither do I know why Isaac needed to borrow a sewing machine.  However, as a bachelor homesteader, Isaac would have needed to do his own mending.  I doubt that he made his own clothing, although he was so handy at doing anything he chose to do that he probably could have been a tailor.  More likely, he borrowed the sewing machine to patch his old clothing.  There wasn't much spare cash for buying anything new!

Quilt block & picture of quilt
You may recall that in my recent blog, "Waiting & Rejection" I said I would spend time learning to use my 'new' but untried sewing machine to take my mind off of waiting to hear from a publisher to whom I submitted a proposal.  Well, I kept my commitment, but after sitting unused for 2 1/2 years, the machine would not start.  Back to the store it went, and a new circuit board was installed.  My quilting project is now underway.  All the pieces are cut, and the first block is sewn.  The finished quilt alternates pieced blocks creating a cross shape and appliqued blocks of a bunch of flowers tied with a ribbon.  

Some of my quilting fabric
Apparently September has been designated Quilting Month for 2016, at least a website I visited made that claim.  That is a wonderful excuse for me to spend time at my "new" sewing machine and to take some classes to learn how to use it.

I like to make scrap quilts, using leftover fabrics that would otherwise have no purpose.  Since I no longer make garments, my collection of scraps is stagnant; however, I doubt that I will ever use all of the scraps I have inherited from my mother, my husband's mother and grandmother, as well as from others!  

State Fair Quilt
Some of my friends make lovely quilts with perfect corners.  My quilts will never win a prize for their perfection, but they are wonderful to sleep under.  I enjoy using my imagination to find uses for my collection of scraps, and when the quilt is finished I enjoy recalling the original purpose for which the fabric was purchased or the person who shared the scrap.  I believe my sister-in-law shared the green fabric used in the block pictured above.  Even when a pattern inspires my quilt I don't follow the pattern completely.  My flowers in the quilt use yo-yos as the blossoms, with antique buttons for their centers.  I also plan to change the border.

Pat Knochel at Pratt Area Quilt Guild
I like to think of myself as following the tradition of the early prairie quilters, who made their quilts from scraps because they were thrifty and did not have the money to buy new fabric to cut up for quilt pieces.  They used their imaginations to make beautiful, one-of-a-kind quilts, as well as crazy quilts with oddly shaped pieces of fabric.  Some of their one-of-a-kind quilts were so beautiful that they were copied and became traditional patterns.  For me, using my imagination is a big part of the fun of quilting!

This week has been a busy quilting week for me.  On Monday I took Lesson 1 from my wonderful teacher Michelle Nichols and gained a lot of confidence about using my new machine.  Tuesday we attended the Kansas State Fair and, as always, I enjoyed seeing all of the beautiful quilts.  One of my favorites was the crazy quilt pieces in circles placed on a black background.  We returned home in time for me to be a guest at the Pratt Area Quilt Guild's meeting at which Pat Knochel, sister of Eleanor Burns of Quilt in a Day fame, presented a demonstration and shared many beautiful quilts with hints about how to make them.  Thank you Quilt Guild for welcoming guests!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why celebrate July 4th?

Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1900
Ask people to quote the opening words of America's Constitution, and at least some of them will begin, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal..."  Those are important words, but they do not come from the Constitution.  They open the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.  We celebrate July 4, 1776 because 56 men were brave enough to sign The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.  Doing so made them traitors to the British Crown.  Today we know that their quest succeeded, but at the time they affixed their signatures the likelihood of success was shaky, to say the least.

Their Declaration began, "When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another...they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation."  These quoted sections are familiar to many Americans, and the date of the Declaration is known to nearly everyone, but many of us have forgotten or never read the detailed reasons given by the signers.  We sought our independence because of what those signers believed were "...a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.  To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World."

The U.S. Declaration of Independence
The key phase to this Declaration, in my view, is "let Facts be submitted."  It is the linchpin to our democracy.  These founding fathers did not simply say, 'Great Britain is a long way off and we are of an independent nature, so let's establish our own nation.'  Rather, they provided specific facts in support of their actions.  Neither did they stop by simply alleging "repeated Injuries and Usurpations."  They listed what they found injurious and wrongful appropriations.

When they concluded their Declaration by "mutually pledge[ing] to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" they understood the consequences should their cause fail.  It was facts that they set before the world and facts which made ordinary men in the militia of the separate states take up arms.

In 1776 ordinary Americans needed to rely on the honor of their leaders' word.  Today we have Fact Checkers!

Political cartoon from County Capital
The drift toward name calling and distortion of facts was already well established by the time workers confronted wealth and power with the progressive movement.  Initially, Isaac joined with others in his county in a local Farmers' Alliance, and their goals included:  "To develop a better state mentally, morally, socially, and financially;" and "Constantly to strive to secure entire harmony and good-will among all mankind and brotherly love among ourselves."  The Alliance was the organization upon which Isaac and many other Kansas farmers placed such hope for educating and improving farmers lives and the methods which would allow them to succeed. However, ultimately workers came together politically, and the ideals of the Alliance were overwhelmed by political language.  Political speakers and political cartoons villainized those with opposing views and exaggerated and distorted facts to support their opinions and belittle the opinions of their opposition.

Were there exaggerations among the facts given in support of declaring independence from Great Britain.  Probably.  But causes are more likely to succeed when facts form the motivation for actions.  The People's Party failed when they set aside their original goals and followed the call of a candidate whose oratory drifted away from facts and appealed to emotions."...[W]e shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns.  You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold," cried William Jennings Bryan, and the People's Party left behind their own goals to join the Democrats in nominating the young Nebraska orator for President.  The power of strong language stirs voters now, as Bryan's oratory did in Isaac's time, but the Founding Fathers' example of basing decisions on facts remains a model for every generation.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Creating a "More Perfect Union"

Once "We the People" had declared our intention to "form a more perfect union," the Constitution needed to describe how that was to be done.  It is the details contained in the following 7 Articles of the Constitution that have both allowed the United States of America to succeed as a democracy and have often proven difficult to implement.  In very brief summary, provided primarily to inspire readers of this blog to review the full text of the Constitution for themselves, here are the 7 Articles.

United States Capitol, west front
Article I:  Section 1 reads, "All legislative Power herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."  Sec. 2 describes the makeup and powers of the House, and Sec. 3 does the same for the Senate.  Sec. 4 assigns the role of each State in selecting their Senators and Representatives.  Sec. 5 deals with the manner of conducting the business of each house, and Sec. 6 describes compensation, as well as certain privileges from arrest.  Sec. 7 assigns raising Revenue to the House and gives the Senate the power to propose or concur with amendments, and describes the process for passage of bills.  Sec. 8 defines specific powers given Congress, and Sec. 9 lists specific powers excluded.  Sec. 10 specifically limits the powers of States.  

White House, north & south exposures
Article II:  Section 1 deals with the manner of election of the President; Sec. 2 describes the President's powers; and Sec. 3 deals with the President's responsibility to inform and recommend to Congress, receive Ambassadors and Public Ministers, take care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and Commission all the Officers of the United States.  Section 4 addresses grounds for impeachment of not only the President and Vice President but also all civil Officers of the U.S.  

Dole Center, Lawrence, KS
Article III:  Section 1 describes not only the Supreme Court but also lower federal courts, and describes judges' tenures as limited only by lack of good behavior; further it deals with compensation of judges.  Sec. 2 describes the nature of cases to be heard, and Sec. 3 deals with Treason.  

Article IV:  As our nation has grown, the number of stars on our flag has increased, and Article IV deals with the relationship of the federal government with the states and their citizens.

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick

Article V:  It was anticipated even as the Constitution was being drafted that there would be the need for Amendments, and Article V provides for that.  The image of me seated beside a granite text of the First Amendment was taken in Philadelphia with Constitution Hall in the background.  

Article VI:  While Article VI consists of 3 paragraphs, they are not enumerated as separate sections.  The first paragraph deals with debts incurred during the Revolutionary period.  The second paragraph imposes on the states recognition of the Constitution, laws, and treaties as the supreme Law of the Land, such that states cannot ignore or amend them.  Finally, Officials of the U.S. and the States shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, and no religious Test shall ever be required.  

Memorial to Soldiers in Philidelphia
Article VII:  Twelve states--NH, MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, VA, NC, SC, and GA--were represented among the signers of the Constitution, but Article VII provides that ratification by nine states shall be sufficient for the Establishment of the Constitution.

In conclusion, the risk of offering such a brief summary is that confusion or misimpression may result.  Our Constitution is the treasure at the heart of our nation.  Some of us studied it in school, but full appreciation is difficult for the young.  I hope this blog makes many of you curious to read or re-read our Constitution.  Even in the midst of our busy lives, it is worth setting aside the time.  And, the truth is that such an amazing document is actually very short.

The people's voices are heard through elections, and Isaac B. Werner voted in elections in which the voices of Kansas farmers came together to express the power of the common man.  As the strength of political parties wax and wane, it is the Constitution that holds the nation together.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fifty-two Words

Constitution of the United States
Because I am writing a manuscript about a homesteader and his community actively involved in a political movement, and because this is a Presidential election year, it seemed important that I take a look at the American Constitution.

As an attorney and as the author of two books dealing with Constitutional issues, I am probably more familiar with the Constitution than most Americans, but an occasional review of the document that forms the basis for our government is important for all of us.

After the Civil War (during the years of the late 1800s when the populist movement was evolving), the two major American political parties showed the influence of the war.  In the North, the Republican Party of Lincoln predominated, and Black voters in the South also tended to vote Republican.  Most land-owning Southern White voters were Democrats.

In Isaac Werner's community many settlers had taken advantage of the benefit given Union Soldiers, crediting a year toward their homestead claim's 5-year residency requirement for each year of military service for the Union.  That resulted in a strong Republican membership among Kansas settlers throughout the state, which continues to the present time.

Then, as now, there was a gulf between the wealthy and the working classes, and the populist movement sought to establish a third party that represented farmers, ranchers, factory workers, and other members of the working classes.  There were many attempts to organize, but the most successful was the People's Party.  Workers believed that both Republican and Democratic candidates for political office forgot the promises made to workers during their campaigns and were more influenced by the wealthy and powerful once they were in office.  The People's Party sought to elect candidates that worked toward goals of the working people of the nation once they were elected.

Signing of the Constitution
The men who came together to draft our Constitution expressly intended to "promote the general welfare" when they signed their names to the document dated September 17, 1787.  A century later, it seemed to the working classes that politicians were more influenced by promoting the welfare of powerful and wealthy men than in acting on behalf of all Americans.

Workers also questioned the even-handedness of Justice, with such examples of the power of the wealthy in hiring private mercenaries like the Pinkertons and in using political influence to call out government forces against peaceful strikers.

Among the books inventoried for Isaac's estate was the "History of the United States."  I do not know if Isaac had a copy of the Constitution, but he had so many books that many were sold at his estate sale by the box rather than individual titles.  In addition, prior to his death he donated nearly one hundred of his books to the community library of the Farmers' Alliance during the populist movement, and many of those books were of a political nature.  It is almost certain that Isaac was very familiar with the Constitution.

When the Constitution was written, providing for the common defense involved reliance on the militia of the separate states, a reliance reflected in the 2nd Amendment.

An important role of the government and those elected to serve the people is often overlooked.  That duty is "to insure domestic Tranquility," a responsibility some political rhetoric seems to disregard during election campaigns--in Isaac's time and today!

The opening fifty-two words of the Constitution are:  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Waiting & Rejection

From my Calla Book Collection
Brevity is one of the writing blogs I occasionally follow, and a post titled "Turning the Tables:  The Art of Waiting" caught my attention. Sandra A. Miller and Marc Zegans shared their feelings about waiting to hear from a publisher after submitting a proposal, beginning with the basic truth:  "Waiting sucks!"  It was Marc who offered the best solution:  "The key is to not wait."

I probably think he offered the best advice because that is my approach as well.  Of course, what makes waiting so difficult is the fear of rejection, and Marc has a suggestion to confront that fear:  "...we can simply admit it, tell a friend, decide what we'll do if things don't turn out as hoped, and then plunge back into life."  So, here I am telling my blog friends that I am awaiting a reply from a publisher to whom I have submitted a proposal for Bachelor Homesteader.  

From my Children's Books Collection
I am way ahead of his advice about plunging back into life.  One way I do that is by reading.  I even found a study reported by Nicholas Bakalar in which researchers using data from 3,635 people over the age of 50 (who were participating in a larger health study) divided the sample into three groups:  non-book readers, readers up to 3 1/2 hours a week, and readers more than 3 1/2 hours a week.  They found that book readers lived, on average, almost 2 1/2 years longer than non-book readers, with the 3 1/2 hours or less 17% less likely to die over the 12 years of follow-up and those reading more 23% less likely to die over that period.  Even reading half an hour each day had a significant survival advantage.  For newspaper and periodical readers there were significant but weaker survival advantages.  Wow!  Just another reason to read books!!

With all the focus on construction projects recently, there are things besides reading books that I enjoy but have neglected.  One of those things is spending time at my drawing board, and the pencil drawing of Father Time for my New Year's post was my last time in my studio.  But, at last I sat down to draw a portrait I have wanted to do since my subjects were about 2-year-olds, and now they are young scholars.  I also did a drawing of our cat.  Children and pets are my favorite subjects.

Quilt in progress with old machine
Another thing I enjoy is quilting, and my husband bought me a wonderful new sewing machine over two and a half years ago that hasn't sewn a stitch since we brought it home.  I have completed the task of straightening up my sewing room so I can get to my machine, which is at least a start.  I started once before, trying to discipline myself by beginning step-by-step, reading the instructions page-by-page before actually plugging in the machine.  I didn't get beyond the pages identifying all the parts!  My current approach is just to plug in the machine and go for it!  Even if I break my promise to finally do some sewing, at least the sewing room is neat as a apt cliche'.  

Marc's advice recommended doing a mini-project, suggesting "Pick[ing] something small that will take your mind off things then reward yourself for doing it."  Maybe confronting all the challenges of my fancy sewing machine is too much.  But, then again, I am typing this on my new computer with Windows 10, so how much harder can the sewing machine be?

Cross your fingers for me that this publisher will like my proposal.  And invite all your friends to my blog and my author's face book page so I can show a publisher a devoted following.  I spent much of the late spring and early summer editing and tightening the manuscript, and I confess that having laid it aside for such a long time made me  more brutally objective in my editing.  I believe the manuscript is stronger, and I hope the editor reading the sample chapters that accompanied my proposal agrees.  In the meantime, I may just start a quilt!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Remember the Maine!

Political cartoon from the County Capital
On August 12, 1898 representatives of the United States signed a peace protocol with Spanish representatives in Washington, D.C. ending the short-lived Spanish-American War.  Although Isaac B. Werner died in 1895, his estate remained open until 1898, and my manuscript continues his story and the story of the Populist Movement until the closing of his estate.

The arc of Isaac's life on the Kansas prairie and the arc of the Populist Movement during the 1880s and 1890s ran a similar path, and I use that parallel arc in structuring the manuscript.

The Spanish-American War may be little known by most Americans; yet, it played an important part in the international role America has played and continues to play today. 

Political cartoon from the County Capital
Isaac's community certainly knew about events leading up to the War, for both cartoons in this blog came from their populist newspaper, the County Capital.  In addition, articles from the newspapers published by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were re-published locally.  These reports emphasized Spanish atrocities committed against the Cubans, reports that drove the call for war.

The explosion sinking the U.S. battleship Maine was what ultimately led to the War, first having been identified as resulting from a mine and only later explained as an explosion of a boiler on the ship.  The atrocities and the explosion stirred the sympathies and anger of Americans to support a declaration of war, but the philosophy of America's "Manifest Destiny" to expand also played a role.  By 1898 expansion had reached the west coast of the continental United States, and many believed it was time to look beyond our continental boundaries.  That was not, however, what stirred the common people.

Charge of the Rough Riders
There was also a split over how to pay for the war.  The populists generally favored a pay-as-you-go approach through taxes, but the wealthier class favored bonds.  The cartoon above-left expresses that disagreement.  Its caption reads:  "Hanna:  I don't see anything down there that money won't pay for."  This is a reference to a speech given by Nebraska Senator Allen opposing the issuance of bonds:  "There is not one of that power, sir, who would not see this government sunk to the bottom of the ocean if he could make a fortune by it.  There is not an impulse of patriotism, not a feeling of affection for the government among them.  The government is to them simply a carcass upon which they can feed and fatten."  President McKinley's advisor, Hanna, is depicted as the diver whispering into Uncle Sam's ear to go to war.

The Spanish-American War lasted only about 3 months, and many of its soldiers were drawn from the unemployed.  The cartoon above-right illustrates the post-war reality for these men.  In the years leading up to the war, many jobless men were living on hand-outs, traveling in search of work.  These "tramps" may have found temporary employment as soldiers, but when the war ended there remained no jobs for them.

Cuba obtained their freedom from Spain, although the U.S. army occupied Cuba until 1902 and it remained under U.S. supervision until 1934.  Puerto Rico and Guam became U.S. territories, and the Philippines did not gain independence from the U.S. until 1946. 

John Hay signs Treaty of Paris ending Spanish-American War
For many Americans today, their primary acquaintance with the Spanish-American War is of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders; however, battles fought on water were probably more important to the defeat of the Spanish.  The Battle of San Juan Hill fought by Roosevelt and the Rough Riders was the main land battle, but the sea battles and the siege at Santiago de Cuba, which led the Spanish Commander for that city to surrender on July 17, 1898 are regarded as the pivotal battles.

About 350 Americans died in fighting for the Cubans, but far more died of disease contracted during the war.  For the Spanish, the war signaled the collapse of the mighty Spanish Empire.  For America, it introduced the U.S. as a major world player.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

One Community's Country School

District 70 School, Stafford County, KS
Because early settlers valued the importance of education, providing schools for their children was a high priority.  I have written several blogs about early schools which can be found in the blog archives.  "Early Kansas Schools," 12-17-2015; "Isaac Builds a School House," 10-11-2012; "One Room Schoolhouse Surprise," 7-12-2012; "Once There was a Community," 3-5-2015; and "Back to School," 9-24-2015.

However, I had the opportunity to examine the records of one Stafford County country school--records that dated from 1885 to 1940--and they provided an interesting glimpse of a specific community.  Naturally, I was particularly interested in the early records which covered the time period during which Isaac Werner helped build District 33, Emerson School in Stafford Co., KS and attended various community meetings in the school.

The records I examined were of School District 57, in Stafford County, Kansas, Township 24, Range 15, sections 19, 20, 30, 29, half of 28, 31, 32, half of 33, 6, 5, and half of 4.  School District 57 was located just a few miles southwest of Macksville.
Today's students travel miles to reach school, but before there were buses and cars that could cover long distances quickly, schools were located nearby the families they served.  District 57 served 8 full sections and 3 half sections, drawing its students from 9 1/2 square miles.  
The Clerk's Record for District 57 states that the school district was formed May 9, 1885, notices having been posted April 28, 1885.  At the first district meeting on May 9, 1885 the following officers were elected:  R. T. Anderson, Director; J. L. Carter, Treasurer; and C. E. Seibert, Clerk.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs describing early country schools, children were needed to help with the farm during busy planting, hoeing, watering, and harvesting seasons, so school was conducted during a Fall Term after harvest and a Spring Term prior to planting.  Unfortunately, the school terms occurred during months of more severe weather, which may account for some of the absences I observed in the attendance records.

Eight family surnames were represented among the 1887 Fall Term and 1888 Spring Term at District 57.  Among the 16 students, ages ranged from 5 to 15.  The teacher's method of keeping attendance was confusing, with classes in September, October, and November, but possibly December as well, as there appeared to have been a total of 95 days of instruction.  The same students are listed for the Spring Term, although one 14-year-old boy who did not attend in the fall attended spring classes and entries were made for an unnamed student.  Classes ended May 11, 1888, with a total of 60 days of instruction.  Twelve children had perfect attendance, but 4 boys missed more than 20 days, perhaps at the end of the term when they were needed to work in the fields.

Emerson School House Isaac Werner helped build
Through 1888 the teachers' salaries were $30 a month, except for the last teacher, who received $32.50.  In 1889 the salary reverted to $30, but 1891-1894 the salary was $35 a month.  The Annual Statistical Report posted in another part of the Record indicates that there was no difference between salaries of female and male teachers over those years reported. 

Lumber for the school house was $198 + 30; freight on the school furniture was $27.88; digging the well was $12.50 and the pump was $8.50; the stove and fixtures were $19.10; and plastering the school walls was $49.50.  Charges for coal were $5.50 a half ton.  One expense that stood out as a significant measure of the community's respect for the children's education was $12.50 for a Dictionary!  While these amounts may seem small today, this was a huge expenditure for so few families to share in such hard times.

It was fun browsing through the records of one community's commitment to the future of their children.  I hope you enjoyed looking back about a century and a quarter with me.