Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Peek into the Voting Booth in 1896

In 1896 Mary Elizabeth Lease delivered her famous speech at Cooper Union Hall in New York City.  It was a time of great anomosity between the wealthy and the working people.  The Democrats and the People's Party had nominated the same Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, and his campaign was focused on replacing the Gold Standard with bimetallism, a monetary standard supported with gold and silver.  If you did not read last week's blog about the 1896 election, you may want to scroll down to "A Documentary Treasure," posted 11-8-2018, to read what has been one of the most popular blogs I have posted.  This week I provide a peek into what some of your farming and other laboring ancestors may have been thinking when they marked their ballots. 

Mary Elizabeth Lease was a Kansan and one of the most popular speakers of that time.  Although women did not have the vote, she appeared before cheering crowds to hold them spellbound for 2 or 3 hours, or more.  On August 11, 1896, according to the New York World newspaper, the crowd was "charmed by the seductive oratory of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Lease."  Among the targets of her criticism were "the name of Whitney and Cleveland, of Vanderbilt and Rothschild" which were "hailed with hisses and cat-calls" from the crowd.  She declared, "...here in this country we find in place of an aristocracy of royalty an aristocracy of wealth."

It was a time when farmers in Kansas like Isaac Werner had gone into debt to buy horses and oxen (the tractors of their time) and equipment when the prices for their crops were high and the interest on their loans was low, only to be crushed by debt when crop prices fell and interest rates soared.  Added to that were the rising fares Railroads imposed to ship farmers' crops to Eastern markets.  To the farmers, Wall Street, Speculators, and Railroad Tycoons were the villains. Populists wanted (1) government regulations to control the power of the wealthy and (2) bimetallism to curtail the hoarding of gold by the wealthy at the expense of the government and the American people.  As Mary Elizabeth Lease said, "They say this question is so deep that the common people are not fit to decide it.  They say 'leave it to the financiers.'  We have left it to them too long, and while we have been sinking into bankruptcy our financiers have been growing millionaires."

Some of these American milliionaires had grown so wealthy they sought to connect their families to royalty by marrying their daughters to royalty in Europe, paying a considerable 'dowery' to secure the match.  Lease didn't think much of that, describing the shame of "...an American to pay $10,000,000 for the cast-off, disreputable rags of old world royalty, for the scion of a house that boasts the blood of a Jeffreys and a Marlborough."  Winston Churchill's mother was an example, and Downton Abbey fans know that Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, is a fictional example.

Hanna was the president's advisor, looking for gold from war bonds.
Mary Elizabeth Lease also railed against the profits made by the wealthy when the government issued bonds to fight the Civil War, as they did for the later Spanish-American War.  "...we have arrived at a point when there is not enough money to carry on the business of the country. ...When the war broke out the Government was compelled to beg for men and money.  You [the American workers] responded nobly to that cry, but the men who had been crying, 'on to Richmond!' refused to answer.  They locked up their gold or sent it to Europe.  They held their gold more sacred than your lives, your liberty, your wives and children, while the Government was compelled to mortgage itself to get that sneaking cowardly yellow metal.  And if war was to break out again to-morrow gold would disappear as suddenly again."

It is always enlightening to look back at history in reflecting on today's issues.  The year Mary Elizabeth Lease was making this speech in 1896 was the same year some of your ancestors were voting on a ballot similar to the ballot that was the subject of last week's blog.  Those voters, called populists, were farmers and other laborers angry with the influence and special treatment of the wealthy in this country.  A few days ago, many Americans voted, and while voters from varying backgrounds and economic groups could be found in both the Republican and the Democratic parties, it is interesting that those voters today identified as Populists and Progressives tend to vote with the Republicans.  What would Mary Elizabeth Lease think?!

I thought this would be an interesting bit of history to follow last week's blog about the 1896 election.  I hope you enjoyed both of them.

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Documentary Treasure

I would not expect any of you to be surprised by the expectation that valuable things might be found at a bank.  However, who might have expected the discovery of this particular documentary treasure?  


The Peoples Bank in Pratt, Kansas has its own 'history detective' who manages to explore the historic documentary heritage of that bank in spare moments.  Founded in 1887, dating back to both the era in which Isaac Beckley Werner was documenting events in his daily journal and also the era of the Populist Movement, the Peoples Bank has witnessed a great deal of history.  When their in-house detective discovered that I share his passion for history, and specifically history of our region and the time of the Populist Movement, he knew he had met someone with whom to share his discoveries of special documents among the forgotten papers stored at the bank.  What a treasure he found recently!

The story behind the treasure is one of the high points of my manuscript, for the document is from the moment when the People's Party reached its political peak and became a national power, while at the same time splintering because of differences within the party that led to its decline.

The Gold Bugs buzz around Uncle Sam
One group, known as Mid-Roaders, wanted to adhere to the initial goals around which the People's Party had formed, having to do with regulation of railroad rates, breaking up monopolies, and  weakening the political power and influence of the wealthy.  The other group, known as Fusionists, wanted to fuse with one or the other of the two major political parties in order to combine enough votes to elect their presidential candidate.  In Northern states, like Kansas, the populists had sometimes worked with the Democrats to defeat Republicans, but in Southern states the old and more powerful political machinery was Democratic, so populists joined with Republicans to defeat the Democrats.  The Mid-Roaders opposed the tactic, pointing out that once elected the politicians ignored the goals of farmers and other laborers.

However, by 1896, the issue of abandoning the gold standard and returning to bi-mentalism, in which both gold and silver supported our national monetary system, had split all three of the parties--the young People's Party and the established Democrat and Republican parties.

Just as a bicycle needs 2 wheels, the Gold standard needs Silver

In the People's Party, the old-line members, the Mid-Roaders, wanted to adhere to their broader goals, but the newer leadership, the Fusionists, wanted to put old goals on the back burner and elevate Free Silver above above everything else.  The same split happened in the Democratic Party, with the majority favoring Free Silver and the minority splitting to form the National Democratic party.  In the Republican Party there was also a split, but its minority was smaller and had less impact.


President Cleveland can't compete without bimetalism

The People's Party Fusionists believed so strongly in Free Silver that they succeeded in convincing the populists to join with the Democrats to nominate William Jennings Bryan.  In exchange, they asked the Democrats to allow the People's Party to name the Vice-President.  The Democrats refused.  William Jennings Bryan was the Presidential candidate for both parties, but the People's Party nominated a well-known and popular Southern populist, Tom Watson, (hoping to win Southern votes) as their Vice-Presidential candidate, while the Democrats nominated a wealthy New Englander named Arthur Sewall.  Sewall ties to Railroads and Banking, (the archenemies of Populists), thinking his credentials could attract Eastern and non-labor votes from the Republicans.





If you have been counting, that makes five different political parties, and it gets even more complicated.  Back-room deals within the populist delegations, including Kansans, were made to swap votes, in which some People's Party leaders agreed to support the Bryan-Sewall ticket in exchange for Democrat support for down-ballot populist candidates.  (More about that later.)  Those 'deals' resulted in six different tickets.  Add the Prohibition Party, which was a strong third party at that time, and the Independent Party, and eight different choices were included on the ballot.

As I said earlier, my research had made me very familiar with this odd political situation, but I never imagined that I would see this odd ballot.  Now I have!  As the People's Bank 'history detective' has surmised, an actual 1896 ballot may very well have survived because someone at the bank was frugal and decided that the blank backs of the unused 1896 presidential election ballots made perfectly good scratch pads. (See back of ballot above.)




Two ballots, the Middle-of-the-Road Populist ticket and the People's Party ticket, have Thomas E. Watson as the vice-presidential nominee.  That may seem to be a distinction without a difference, but it was not.  The President and Vice-President were the same, but the Presidential Electors were different.  That was important.  In fact, after the election NO presidential electors cast their votes for Thomas E. Watson, regardless of where voters may have marked their ballots.   

Tom Watson had not asked to be put on the ballot as the vice-presidential nominee, and he had not been present at the convention when that was done, but he accepted the decision and campaigned.  The new-comers to the Populist Movement not only engineered the Free Silver strategy and participated in the back-room deals, they openly supported Sewell.   When Watson visited the Kansas People's Party state headquarters, he faced the humiliation of entering through a door over which a banner reading "Bryan and Sewell" was hung.

That, and other such treatment that Watson saw as disloyal to a man who had stood with the People's Party in the past, changed him.  His bitterness caused him to turn away from things he had once championed.  Reading his political history before and after 1896 is like reading the record to two different men.

Bryan lost the election, the strategy failed, and the self-inflicted wounds within the People's Party led to its decline.  The amazing ballot found by the Peoples Bank 'document detective' Phillip Toalston is a unique piece of Kansas political history at a time when the State of Kansas wielded great political power.  Thank you Phillip!



Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.  


   

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Isaac on Ethics and Faith

Alleorgory showing sins in the human heart
Those of you who follow the blog regularly know that Isaac Werner was a man of faith, with Cruden's Concordence in his library to aid in his studies of the Bible.  You will also know that he was sometimes critical of ministers he heard preach, faulting them for inadequate knowledge of the Bible or boring presentations of His word, or even worse, hucksterism.  (See "A Wonderful Discovery," 3/12/2015 in this blog.)

Isaac faced the economic crisis for farmers and other laborers of the late 1800s by meeting with others for ideas, studying books and journals, and eventually, by joining in the Populist Movement.  Faith and Politics are nothing new.  Many of Isaac's neighbors formed morning prayer groups to meet at each other's homes as a way to face the Populist challenges.  Some of these neighbors were also active in the meetings, study groups, and political action with which Isaac was involved.  Isaac was critical of only those who seemed to think God was a Republican or those who thought prayer was the only way to improve their circumstances.

Envy, including Dog and Snake
Thinking about Isaac's times and the complications of sin and politics sparked my curiosity.  There is really nothing new under the sun, as the old saying goes, and although separation of church and state are considered integral to American freedoms, citizens have often disagreed about what this requires.

Populists certainly viewed the rich and powerful of their era as guilty of violating at least some of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Arranged alphabetically those sins are Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Pride, Sloth, and Wrath.  While the moral code of the 7 Deadly Sins has a religious origin, the ethical ideals may extend into common notions of right and wrong.

Envy is related to both Greed and Lust, and  St. Thomas Aquinas described 3 stages of Envy.  Attempts to lower another's reputation is Aquinas's first stage of Envy.  This one is easy to identify in almost any political speech, especially in campaign speeches. Second is both joy at another's misfortune and grief at another's prosperity, also easily found among politicians.  The third results from the first two--hatred.  Politically speaking, of course politicians believe in their own ideas and want them to succeed, but when political persuasion passes beyond advocacy for one's own ideas and becomes hateful personal attacks on the alternate ideas of another, it is often easy to discern the traits of Envy.

While Lust is often associated with inappropriate sexual desire (something about which we have too many political examples), it can also apply to excessive desire in general, for wealth, power, or anything sinful.  It isn't difficult to apply that politically, and the Populists in Isaac's era certainly believed that the power of Wall Street, Railroad Magnates, Speculators and other wealthy men exerting influence on elected officials met the definition of excessive desire for wealth and power.

Credit:  Muddy Colors
Gluttony is often depicted with images of lavish food and drink, but it can apply to overindulgence and over consumption of anything.  The word comes from Latin gluttire, to gulp down or swallow.  The sin is not only what it does to the glutton but also what it takes from others--the needy, or perhaps especially, those in times of famine and war.  The image at left came from Muddy Color, a fantasy arts community website.  It is interesting to discover how artists, from ancient painters to current tattoo artists, have been drawn to depicting the 7 deadly sins.  

Like all of the Sins, Greed relates to other sins, like Lust and Gluttony.  Thomas Aquinas wrote:  "Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things."  In general, greed is associated with the desire to possess more than we need, particularly material wealth.  In Isaac's time, the palatial homes of the wealthy and banquets that lasted for hours consuming rare delicacies were examples.  (You might enjoy reading "Turmoil in the Golden Age," posted in this blog on 1-14-2016.) Politically, such excesses may still be seen in individual politicians, but it may also be seen in the laws that are passed.  The distribution of America's wealth, the programs funded by our taxes, and other political decisions impact all Americans in ways that call to mind Greed.

Hieronymous Bosch, Pride detail
Pride is said to be the devil's worst snare.  Politically speaking, critics often blame pride when world leaders fail to listen to the advice of others, become irrationally self-confident, and act impulsively.  Christian writer (and children's author of the Narnia books) wrote:  "Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison:  it was through Pride that the devil became the devil:  Pride leads to every other vice..."

Sloth has many interpretations, although most commonly it is related to laziness and idleness.  One way to consider Sloth's sinfulness is by the failure to utilize the Seven Gifts of Grace given by the Holy Spirit--Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude, and Fear of the Lord.  Reflecting on these failures would seem to circle back to the sin of Pride and reinforce some of the failures of good leadership.

The final of the 7 Deadly Sins to consider is Wrath, which obviously can be defined as uncontrolled anger, rage, and hatred, but also and importantly, the desire for vengeance.  Politically, we may think of war, caused perhaps by other deadly sins but fought wrathfully.  However,  in its lesser form hatefulness and spite constitute wrath, and desiring someone else to suffer misfortune or evil, even when it is not directly disbursed, is a form of wrath.

The 7 Deadly Sins are not found in the Bible.  The classification attributed to John Cassian in his book The Institutes brought them to Europe and the Catholic Church, and artistic texts and images carried their influence further, such as "The Parson's Tale" from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and works of art in the form of paintings and sculptures.  In AD 590 the commonly recognized list was refined by Pope Gregory, and while the 7 Deadly Sins are more closely associated with the Catholic faith, many non-Catholic denominations utilize the list.  Billy Graham preached on the 7 Deadly Sins.

In my research I found the following quote from Robert J. Kolker:  "Rabies and Scholars figured that mankind was divided into three general groups.  Those who do wickedness deliberately and with malice...[the worst class of sin].  Then there are those who are totally obedient to the commandments and will not sin except to save their lives.  ...Then there are those who will keep the commandments out of habit, but also these people may violate the commandments when the pressure is on them to do so.  …[This group] is most of mankind."  Although he was speaking of sin in general and not specifically the 7 Deadly Sins, I thought it was an assessment of humanity worth sharing.

A nation that endures for future generations
Those of you who follow this blog know how I treasure the American Constitution.  It was and remains a rare document, and if you missed reading my recent blog, "Words from the Grave," posted October 11, 2018, you might want to scroll down to read it.  In that blog I quote former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia:  "The real key to the distinctiveness of America is the structure of our government."

Our government is unique, for it trusts its citizens to possess the wisdom and wit to elect intelligent and honorable men and women to the offices of our government according to the provisions of our laws.  The long campaigns provide an opportunity for us to evaluate candidates' fitness for office.  However, Article VI expressly provides "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

This blog is not intended to suggest any sort of religious test for political candidates nor for those already in office.  America contains citizens of many religious beliefs and of no religious beliefs.  Yet, nearly all of us possess a moral compass of some sort that guides our actions and allows us to judge the actions of others.  Because most of this blog has shared a Christian perspective, I will close with two quotes having no particular religious origin.

A librarian named Eric Friedman wrote:  "I deeply, genuinely only believe there is one sin--causing another person to suffer, through violence, neglect, ill-intent or cluelessness."

And from another perspective, Glyn Williams wrote:  "It's a word [sin] that comes about when someone tries to define morality in terms of obedience.  ...I do believe there is such a thing as wrongdoing.  I believe there is moral and immoral action.  But the s-word [sin] belongs to people who think morality isn't from within."

Separation of church and state does not require us to leave our faith or moral compass at home when we vote.  In fact, for our Constitution to endure, we must use the guidance of our wisdom, experience, and sense of right and wrong to vote for candidates that we trust to do what is right for America, even when we might not agree about all issues.

In the 1896 election of Isaac Werner's time, the People's Party abandoned the goals that had brought farmers and other laborers together and focused on one major objective--bimetallism, determined to vote on the primary goal of abandoning  reliance on the Gold Standard  and replacing it with a Silver and Gold Standard.  By neglecting other issues to support a candidate whose primary campaign was based on bimetallism, they not only lost the election, they neglected everything else, and ultimately, splintered their party into obscurity.  They wore blinders to the poling place that allowed them to see nothing but a single issue, having left their moral compass at home on the dresser.




Thursday, October 25, 2018

History of the Jack-0'-Lantern

Drawing of pumpkin costume
We are all familiar with Jack-o'-Lanterns at Halloween,  but do you know the history of the tradition using pumpkins at Halloween?  Actually, there is a great deal of history before pumpkins were used for Jack-o'-Lanterns. 

Over 700 years ago it is known that gourds were used to carve lanterns, but the later custom of carving Jack-o'-Lanterns at Halloween is believed to have begun in Ireland.  In the Gaelic-speaking regions of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, Halloween, and the festival of Samhain which included the belief that supernatural beings and the souls of the dead roamed the Earth at that time of year, gave rise to the practice of carving turnips rather than pumpkins to create lanterns.  Various explanations for these  Irish lanterns have been given, including to repel evil spirits, to frighten other reveiliers, or to represent spirits or supernatural beings.

An Irish legend describes trickery between an Irishman named Jack and the devil, involving a promise that the devil could never take his soul.  However, when Jack died, the devil had his own trick--for while he could not take Jack's soul to hell, he could block Jack's access to heaven.  Forever, Jack would wander through eternity, lighting his way with the glowing coal from the fires of hell that the devil threw at him.  That coal, which like the devil's curse on Jack, would forever burn inside the turnip Jack carved to use as a lantern.  Variations of the legend can also be found in the folklore of England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Wales. 
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe painting, 1914

Pumpkins were among the produce that Native Americans introduced to Europeans when they arrived in America.  Although in the early years pumpkins were associated with harvest celebrations rather than Halloween, eventually  immigrants, who had adopted the practice of carving Jack-o'-Lanterns in their old countries,  began using pumpkins, rather than turnips, to create their lanterns.  As might be expected, the European legend began finding its way into America's literature.  Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, published in 1820, is one example, as is John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, The Pumpkin, published in 1850.  

John R. Neill cover illustration
Among my favorite uses of the Jack-o'-Lantern is as a main character in the Oz series of books.  Jack appeared first in The Marvelous Land of Oz, published in 1904 by L. Frank Baum as the second book in the series.  Jack's head was a carved Jack-o'-Lantern, and his body was made from tree limbs jointed with wooden pegs.  He wore purple trousers, a red shirt, and a pink vest with white polka dots.  Baum continued to use him in later books in the series, but Jack did not get his name in the title until 1929, until Ruth Plumly Thompson was authoring the Oz series after Baum's death.  As the hero of the 23rd book in the series, Jack  upgraded his clothing, as seen in the cover shown at left.  Jno R. Neill became the illustrator of the Oz series with Baum's second Oz book and continued as illustrator when Plumly assumed authorship, so his are the images we identify as Jack Pumpkinhead.

Among the illustrated children's books that I collect, there are many examples of Jack-o'-Lanterns depicted in the Halloween books, and perhaps many of you reading this week's blog have a Jack-o'-Lantern sitting on your front step.

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them. 




Thursday, October 18, 2018

Fun at the Kansas State Fair


For the second year I went to the Kansas State Fair to participate for two days in the Plein Aire event.  No, I didn't place, but I had a great time!  The weather threatened rain both days, so my selection of where I wanted to set my easel was influenced by that threat.

The second day I found a cozy spot as out-of-the-way as possible for a crowded Saturday.  However, I arrived early to sketch the butter cow near the front door, because I knew that once the crowds arrived it would be impossible to see what I was trying to draw.

The fun is visiting with people curious about what I am drawing.  People kept peeking around to see how I was drawing the scene in front of me.  Instead, I was working from my sketch of the butter cow scene and some children I added, and they were confused or disappointed by what they saw.  So, with a little time left before entries had to be submitted, I quickly drew the scarecrow with his head made from a gourd so people could see what they expected to see.  Look closely and you can see that scarecrow in the back corner of the photograph above left.

When I sketched the butter cow, the sculpting was in the early stage, and the legs and head were not really shaped.  The tail was skinny, and the human figure was just a 'stick man.'  My sketch looked like what I had seen that morning before the sculptor arrived but nothing like a finished sculpture.  I worried that people might not understand that I had depicted a work in progress. At the last minute I added the butter bucket to indicate that the sculpture was unfinished, but the bucket just looked like a big black square in the center of the picture.  Oh well, I still had fun, but I wish now that I had cropped the picture like I did at left.  I might have even added the sculptor's feet near the bucket to show that the work wasn't finished.

The first day, I took shelter in the gazebo near the train station for a little protection if I needed to pack up quickly in case of rain.  That was a really fun place, since lots of children passed through the gazebo on their way to and from the train, and they loved seeing my train take shape.

I definitely need to improve my plein aire skills, and I need to select subjects more like a still life setup.  With limited time and subjects that don't stand still, I need less ambitious subjects!  The details of the train, drawn in colored pencil, were too time consuming.

However, the primary objective for having plein aire artists working at numerous locations around the fair grounds is not really about creating your best work.  It is about enjoying being interrupted to talk with people who stop by to watch and ask questions.  It is also about encouraging children to never be afraid to draw, even if they think they can't draw well enough to try.  And, the same thing goes for adults.

I wish I could show you the outstanding work of those plein aire artists that did receive awards for their depictions of the fair, but photographs are not permitted.  When you go to the fair next year, be sure to visit the Oz Building to see all the plein aire entries.  And, if you are a 'Saturday Painter,' consider joining the fun.  You don't have to be a professional to produce your own fair masterpiece and have fun participating.


Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.
  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Words from the Grave

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart
It often surprises me that a favorite quote I interpret to mean one thing is discovered to be a favorite quote of someone else who interprets it to mean something entirely different.  That is why it is essential to place quotes within the full context of their meaning and to understand the historic moments surrounding the speaker.  

When Isaac Beckley Werner was born, America was not even a century old, and yet the nation had been tested by a civil war.  America was about at the century mark when Isaac began writing in the journal which inspired my research, writing about the Populist Movement that was so significant in our own state and region of Kansas.

It was a time when political parties formed to confront the two older and more powerful parties, the two parties which dominate our political environment today, and many of our ancestors were participants in this mix of parties.  

Prohibition Party of late-1800s
 If you, as I was when I began my research, are unfamiliar with the upstart parties of that era, here is a very brief summary of some of the more successful political challengers:  Green back Party (1874-1889) begun on an agrarian platform to support metal-backed rather than paper money; Social Labor Party (1876-   ) supporting workers rights and unions; Know nothing Party (1845-1860) with concerns about immigration; Readjuster Party (1877-1895) involving both Blacks and Whites in concerns about public education and Civil War debts of the South; Silver Party (1892-1911) focused on bi-mentalism; Independence Party (1905-1911) advocating a Department of Labor and a set work day; Populist or People's Party (1891-1908) particularly involving farmers in our region seeking a party to represent their issues in opposition to the rich and powerful.

As you can see by reading through that list, the issues were mixed, but many of their concerns remain significant today, and, as then, the same two political parties remain predominant.

"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution"
History conveys to us the 'words from the graves' of our ancestors who tried to make their voices heard during their lifetimes.  It also conveys the words from the graves of our founding fathers, who speak most clearly in the words of the Constitution they gave to us.

As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers No. 51 regarding the separation of powers of the three branches of government upon which our Constitution is based:  "But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department of the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachment of the others. ...It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. ...If men were angels, no government would be necessary to control the abuses of government. ...In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this:  you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

United States Capitol west front


The amazing wisdom of the founding fathers was to create a constitution in which powers among the three divisions of government--legislature, executive, and judicial--are divided into distinct branches to limit any single one of them to encroach on the functions of the other.  The common reference to this structure is "checks and balances" to prevent unchecked power by any one branch.  

The final voice from the grave whose words I share belong to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016).  In a speech given October 5, 2011, he began by acknowledging that in speaking to groups he would often ask them what they considered the most important thing about our Constitution, and inevitably they would answer "Freedoms," of speech or other freedoms.  He asked instead, "What is it in our Constitution that makes us what we are?" and answered his own question:  "The Bill of Rights is not the greatness of America...The real key to the distinctiveness of America is the structure of our government."  In short, he believed the single most important thing we posses as Americans is a Constitution in which our three branches have limited powers and can act to limit the power of each other.

North & South views of White House
Justice Scalia believed that we Americans are not aware of how important separation of powers is and that most of us are ignorant of the ways our Constitution differs from the governance of other nations.  He explained that unlike our House and Senate, "[There are] Very few countries in the world that have a bi-cameral legislature...two separate bodies in the legislature equally powerful."  He aimed a joke at legislators present for his speech, acknowledging:  "That's a lot of trouble to get the same language through two different bodies elected in a different fashion."  To citizens who complained to Scalia that the bi-cameral legislatures led to gridlock, he replied, "Learn to love the separation of powers...learn to love the gridlock."  He wanted Americans to understand how the difficulties of getting laws through both the house and the Senate defeats mistaken laws and improves laws that pass. 

 
United States Supreme Court
Scalia also opined on our election of a President, saying, "Very few countries in the world have a separately elected Chief Executive."  He explained that in many countries the Chief Executive simply tells the legislators what to do and they do it, or the legislators tell the Chief Executive what to do and if he doesn't they vote to replace him.  Under our Constitution the President has limited powers, members of the House of Representatives and Senate must act independently and reach agreement, and the justices of the Supreme Court affirmed for life have the final say on the Constitutionality of our laws.

Before leaving the remarks of Justice Scalia, I must mention the importance of differences among the justices with whom they serve.  Scalia and Justice Ruth Banner Ginzburg could not have been more different in many of their legal views; yet, they were the best of friends.  That is difficult to understand for many of us, who know them only through the court opinions that they wrote.  However, it illustrates the importance of the varying perspectives on the Court, which enable them to question the attorneys who appear before them, to argue with each other as the Court reaches its majority opinion, and to write independent opinions in which they express their views beyond the content of the majority opinion--whether they may have agreed with the majority but not their reasoning or whether they disagree in a minority opinion or their own dissenting opinion.  Many Americans are only aware of the majority opinion, but all of these functions are important and necessary in shaping our laws.

Page one of the American Constitution
 Each branch of our government checks and balances the acts of the other branches, and within each branch the ability of differing views to be considered is essential.  As Scalia said, that is what "makes us what we are."

When we Americans and those we elect fail to understand the importance of preserving the intricate checks and balances our founding fathers built into the American Constitution, only then is the greatness of America threatened.

Our ancestors understood that elections matter, and when they believed those they elected had forgotten the responsibility to represent all the people, they formed their own political parties.  Those third parties never have gained much political power for long, and have sometimes unintentionally served as spoilers.  It is also true that many of the populist ideas have now become part of the major parties' values after gaining acceptance of the wider population.  As this blog has often said, history is our best teacher, and those voices from the grave can remind us how precious the Constitution we were given truly is,  We must understand that importance.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Unexpected Guests


The photograph above was taken fairly recently from the air and shows Isaac Werner's Homestead and Timber Claim near the center and the surrounding claims of his neighbors.  You may be surprised to see how few trees there are--even less today than there were in Isaac's time when settlers worked very hard to plant and protect trees.  What you may also notice is the absence of fences, something that present farmers have in common with early settlers.

Very early settlers grazed sheep on the open prairie, but as others arrived to claim homesteads and plant trees, open range was no longer available.  However, as settlers with livestock faced several dry seasons and money became scarce, many failed to raise feed for their livestock and lacked money to buy feed.  They felt they had no choice but to release the animals to forage for themselves.  Unfortunately, the hungry animals found food wherever they could.

Bear Scat in our yard 2018
Isaac recorded in his journal having to go to St. John to buy fencing materials to put around his own hay stacks to keep the foraging cattle and horses of his neighbors from eating what he had raised for his own horses.  He also complained about a neighbor's hogs rutting up a planted field in search of potatoes overlooked during the past potato harvest.

Our farming neighbors with livestock fence their pastures and feed yards today, but I thought you might enjoy seeing some of our unexpected guests (or evidence of their visit) during the past summer.

Yes, I know that there may be some of you who regard our seeing three young bears in 2017 as a misidentification, even with photographs of tracks and scat.  This year we did not see a bear, but for about a week or more we found what several people have identified as bear scat in our lawn nearly every morning.  It was the height of mulberry season, and our pasture has many mulberry trees.

Buffalo passing through 
Equally unusual but more easily explained was the herd of buffalo that grazed through our yard.  Because we knew a new couple in the neighborhood had buffalo, it wasn't a complete shock to see them, apparently having escaped through a breach in their pasture fence.  They lingered on our property briefly before moving on.

My husband moved closer and got a better picture of the buffalo, but I chose my photo taken from the yard so that our landscaping would indicate just how close our unexpected guests were.  Our cat likes to keep watch out of the window that overlooks this mowed pasture, and although he is accustomed to various wildlife, he seemed rather perplexed by the buffalo.  Our south pasture had two definite buffalo wallows when I was a girl, but I suspect it had been a very long time since buffalo had been on our farm.

Most recent unexpected guest
Our most recent unexpected guest surprised me one morning as I stepped out the door onto our porch.  She seemed to like our Burmuda grass lawn very well, although the mosquitos  were abusing her.  My husband began calling neighbors that we knew had horses, and it wasn't long before her family came to get her.

The buffalo were gone by the time Isaac Werner was keeping his journal, and bears in this community were never mentioned by Isaac, nor by any of my ancestors.  But horses were found on most homesteads.  Isaac struggled without a horse for almost ten years until he finally bought a mare he named Dolly Varden, the name of a woman in a Charles Dickens novel who dressed in colorful clothing.   He did not describe her coloring in his journal, but his choice of name seemed to me to indicate a more colorful coat.  This beautiful horse is named Jewels (or Jules), and we both enjoyed her visit.

We are accustomed to many four-legged visitors--raccoons, badgers, deer, skunks, squirrels, rabbits, opossum, coyotes, armadillos, even cougars and bobcats, but we did see a few unusual visitors this year, and I hope you enjoyed meeting our atypical guests!

In writing my manuscript, I have been very strict with myself about documenting details.  If I could not confirm from Isaac's journal or local newspapers or other documentation that specific birds, animals, and plants existed at that time, I did not include references to them in the manuscript.  In my own lifetime I have seen many changes.  There are fewer birds and lightning bugs today, although they were abundant in my childhood.  Other animals, like deer and armadillos, that were unheard of are now prevalent.  Although Isaac's main crops were corn and potatoes, they were replaced by my father's generation with wheat and milo.  Now corn is a regular crop, there is a large commercial potato operation near our farm, and cotton is gaining acreage.  One thing is certain and that is change.  It is the responsibility and challenge of every generation to accept the inevitability of change while having the wisdom to protect what is good from our past.  Nature provides evidence to guide us, as does the record of history. 

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What is Happiness?

Wonderful Docent at O'Keeffe Museum
"There isn't such a thing as being happy.  You can be happy for a moment.  Happiness is something that goes like the wind.  Being interested can last longer."  Georgia O'Keeffe

During a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico we visited the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.  I was very surprised to realize that the lives of O'Keeffe and Isaac Werner overlapped by eight years.  Although she began painting at a very young age, Isaac would not have seen her work, for she was still a child when he died; yet, it is always interesting to me to place Isaac in the historic period of his lifetime, and I would not have thought that this artist, whose way of seeing and painting in such a modern way, would have been born while Isaac Werner was living.  



Very early O'Keeffe watercolor
When interviewed about her popularity, O'Keeffe said she believed her work was "in touch with my times so people have liked it."  What she considered "my times" was a considerable number of years, since she was born in 1887 and died in 1986, a lifetime spanning nearly a century.  When O'Keeffe was born, Isaac had finally acquired a horse,  able to plow his Kansas claims one row at a time and ride to town rather than having to walk there.  Both were born in rural environments, his in Kansas, and O'keeffe's in Wisconsin.    

O'Keeffe Clam Shell painting
For his times, Isaac had an extended education, still in school at age 17.  When he left home it was to travel westward to the frontier.  O'Keeffe, on the other hand, at about the same age, left home to study at the Art Institute of Chicago for a year, then the Art Students League in New York, and later a very influential summer course at the University of Virginia.  Both adventuresome, their destinies pulled them in opposite directions.  Isaac's adult life was lived in the West, first Illinois and finally Kansas; O'Keeffe studied and taught in the East and the South, but she too was eventually pulled westward to teach in Texas.  By 1915 she had realized that her artistic vision was different, "...shapes and ideas so familiar to me that it hadn't occurred to me to put them down."  Still in her early twenties, she began experimenting with highly abstract drawings. 

Her work was brought to the attention of Stieglitz, a photographer and gallery owner in NYC, who exhibited her work.  Their professional relationship deepened, and they married in 1924.  During this time her abstract skyscraper paintings became popular.  Her first visit to Northern New Mexico was in 1929, and that began her annual painting pilgrimages to New Mexico while continuing to live in NYC with her husband.  Three years after his death, she made New Mexico her permanent home in 1949.  Ultimately, she had been pulled even further to the West than Isaac.  She once said, "It takes courage to be a painter.  I always felt like I was walking on the edge of a knife."  One example of her interest in atypical subjects was her fascination with bones, which she both collected and painted. 











Her life evidences that courage, not only in committing to the abstract form and unique subjects for which she is known, but also in her life with Stieglitz and her nomadic living arrangements.  As another proof of her determination and courage, O'Keeffe suffered from Macular Degeneration and gradually lost her sight.  Yet, she continued to paint, by describing in detail to her assistant Juan Hamilton the dimensions of the painting and the colors from specific color formulas she had documented before her blindness. Her will to create from what she saw in her mind even after complete blindness continued until two years before her death, and she also produced objects in clay.  The beauty in things most of us ignore were preserved in her mind, even after her sight was taken from her.

Isaac Werner was not an artist, but he also envisioned a different life and had the courage to travel West to find it.  He did not paint canvases, but his creative mind could not endure a badly designed object without setting out to improve it or design something to replace it.  Both O'Keeffe and Isaac could see things and imagine them in a different way--O'Keeffe's art and lifestyle and Isaac's inventions and populist/progressive ideas. 

You may click on the images to enlarge.  Permission for photographs at the museum was allowed unless labeled otherwise; however, these images were taken only for use in this blog.  Please do not copy or reproduce.

Instead, plan a visit to Santa Fe to enjoy the pleasure of viewing O'Keeffe's original paintings for yourself.  You will love seeing them!

   

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Diagram that Sentence!

Recently I noticed an article by Lorraine Berry titled "The Lost Art of Sentence Diagramming."  According to the article, in most current school curriculums, diagraming sentences has been declared to have "no educational value."  Once, its use was explained in this way: "Sentence diagramming is a means by which a sentence is parsed and represented by a structure of lines that establish the relationship among the words in the sentence."  Stated more simply, the diagram created a map of the sentence.

Some of you may remember the process.  First, you started with a straight line.  You identified the subject and the predicate and wrote them on that line with a vertical line separating the two words.  If there were an adjective modifying the subject of your sentence, you drew a diagonal line under the subject and wrote the adjective.  If there were an adverb modifying the predicate, you placed it on a diagonal line under the verb.  The diagraming continued as the relationship of each word to the others was connected, teaching students how words in a sentence relate to each other.  Diagraming sentences went beyond memorizing rules to understanding how words work together.

As a teacher, an attorney, and an author, putting words together so that my meaning is clear and the content is interesting is important.  However, do I evaluate that importance differently from other people?

Isaac's Journal
The journal of Isaac Beckley Werner has occupied my time for nearly a decade.  He was an educated man who attended school longer than most people of that time, and throughout his life he cherished books and learning.  Yet, the daily entries in his journal did not conform with formal rules of composition.  As an example, on February 2, 1886, his entry was the following:

Feb 2d @ 5 degrees above zero Snowing somewhat Blizzard like still continuing, drifting good deal during A.M. & last night, letting up during day, continual cloudy and varying 5 to 3 degrees above zero during day, keeping quite cold disagreeable outdoors, bad weather on stock and to tend to them, I busy indoors all day at S.W. cupboard hanging doors etc. by sun set @ zero, darker cloudy in E. & like clearing off W.

Isaac was often asked by neighbors to write contracts and other agreements for them, and he was elected to serve as the secretary for nearly every organization of which he was a member.  His farming and progressive articles were published in newspapers and journals.  However, he was keeping his journal for himself, and he took no particular pains with punctuation and complete sentences.

It is nothing new for us to write notes to ourselves in haphazard ways, so long as we know what we meant.  What is new and evolving is how we communicate with others.

In an article by Larry Alton titled "Phone Calls, Texts or Email?  Here's How Millennials Prefer To Communicate," he pointed out that the way millennials prefer predicts the manner of "the future of workplace communication overall--and whether you like it or not, you'll need to prepare for those changes."  According to him, millennials don't like phone calls, particularly because they "require a kind of interruption to someone's day, while text messages and emails can be opened and read at the recipient's leisure," and I would add, they spare the caller's having to become involved in a lengthy phone conversation with the person they called.  Haven't most of us been entangled in a phone call with someone who simply wouldn't let us get off the phone?

According to Alton, millennials like texting because it can be done anyplace and anytime, and it avoids their having to make immediate responses as they would be required to do in a phone call or personal conversation.  If longer messages or more organized presentation of the messaging is needed, emails are preferred.

Alton suggests that the changes in communication relate to many other changes making the workplace less formal, such as flexible hours, relaxed dress codes, and more casual environments.  Those of us who learned to diagram sentences probably expected an 8 to 5 job (assuming we actually ended our day at 5 p.m.), we probably would never have considered wearing jeans to an office job or  a classroom, and our workplace was very unlikely to have yoga classes and gyms.

Since May of 2017, when Alton wrote his article, the popularity of Twitter has grown. According to an article by Paul Gil, "it provides a stream of quick updates from friends, family, scholars, news journalists, and experts."  People are using Twitter as a marketing tool, and President Trump sends multiple tweets most days, preferring that method of communication to the formal addresses to the nation and the opportunities to answer questions from the press in the manner of past presidents.

How we communicate is changing, and it is unlikely that the more formal means of communication that offered time for reflection and editing our thoughts before they were sent may be disappearing, or at least, may be reserved for particular communications.  Yet, should we pause to consider whether we are losing something important in the neglect of how we use words?  Are we becoming more careless and less reflective as we send our words out into the world, are our ideas less considered, do we weigh our words less before we express our thoughts, and have we determined whether our best ideas are necessarily the first things that pop into our heads?  Even our electronic devices sometimes ask us whether we are really ready to hit send.

Maybe diagraming sentences is old-fashioned, but when we become sloppy about how we express ourselves, we may be misunderstood.  Or worse, we may be understood for having said something we wish we had considered a bit longer before we hit "Send."