I majored in political science in college, but I’d be hard pressed off the top of my head to tell you what the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution is about. Its ratification was completed on January 23, 1964 when South Dakota became the 38th state to ratify it. The 59th anniversary of its ratification prompted me to blog about the amendment today.
What the 24th Amendment prohibits
It prohibits the United States Congress and any state in the union from basing a person’s right to vote for US President, US Vice President, US Senate, or US House of Representatives in a primary or other election based on the payment of any tax.
Why the 24th Amendment came about
In the late 1890s and until just after the turn of the 20th century, former Confederate States adopted so-called poll taxes. The laws varied from state to state, but they were created as a way to prevent many black people and poor white people from voting. This was a way the states circumvented the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits a person being prevented from voting based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 15th Amendment said nothing about taxes.
The constitutionality of poll taxes was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Breedlove v. Suttles in 1937. In that case, Nolan Breedlove, a 28-year-old white man refused to pay the $1.00 per year poll tax in Georgia. By not paying the poll tax, Mr. Breedlove was not allowed to register to vote in any election in the state.
Mr. Breedlove filed a lawsuit against Mr. T. Earl Suttles, the Fulton County, Georgia Tax Collector, arguing that the poll tax was in violation of the 14th and 19th Amendments to the US Constitution. Hence, the name of the US Supreme Court case. The Breedlove v. Suttles decision was eventually overturned, but the case serves as an example of the US Supreme Court making wrong decisions sometimes
The Breedlove v. Suttles decision was unanimous! The Court concluded that the “privilege of voting is not derived from the United States, but is conferred by the state, and, save as restrained by the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments and other provisions of the Federal Constitution, the state may condition suffrage as it deems appropriate.”
It was a case, like we’ve seen in other cases as recently as 2022, where the US Supreme Court took the easy way out and clung to the “states’ rights” doctrine.
How the 24th Amendment became the law of the land
After decades of some politicians ignoring the issue of poll taxes and a few politicians pushing for the abolishment of such taxes, Congress finally proposed the 24th Amendment at the prompting of President John F. Kennedy. The amendment was submitted to the states on September 24, 1962 after a vote of 295 to 86 in the US House of Representatives and a vote of 77 to 16 in the US Senate.
Illinois was the first state to ratify the amendment in November 1962 and South Dakota was the 38th state to ratify it on January 23, 1964. That 38th vote was all that was needed.
The aftermath of ratification of the 24th Amendment
Some states were slow to ratify the amendment even after its national ratification was final in 1964. Some states were slow to amend their constitutions to be in compliance with the federal amendment. Always looking for ways to get around the law, some states continued to require racial minority citizens to pass senseless tests in order to earn the right to vote.
People who want to keep other US citizens from voting have turned to more subtle (and some not-so-subtle) forms of voter intimidation. They’ve felt emboldened over the last seven years and the pendulum is swinging toward bolder attempts to scare certain people away from the voting booth. This is an attack on our democracy.
Our democracy depends on each of us defending the right of all citizens to vote.
Since my last blog post
As my new website has transitioned from the design phase to the development phase, I continued to write new content for the site.
It seemed like I had to learn some new technology every day. There is still more I will have to learn. I hope this is good for my brain cells. It isn’t good for my emotional stability or my disposition.
It’s been gratifying to see how well received my local history book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 has been on Amazon and in the local bookstore, Second Look Books. Thank you to everyone who has purchased it! Don’t be shy about rating it or even leaving a short review of it on Amazon!
My sister and I took a much-needed break on Saturday afternoon and went to see the movie, “A Man Called Otto.” Tom Hanks was perfect in the role of Otto. The movie is based on the book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I read the book back in 2017 and I’ve remembered it ever since. Here’s the link my June 2, 2017 blog post in which I wrote about the book: You Need to Read These Books! I recommend the book and the movie.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. While you’re at it, please read one for me. I haven’t had much time to read lately.
The encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge began 245 years ago today. We’re all familiar with the image of George Washington leading his troops across the frigid Delaware River. We know that it was a bitterly cold winter, but there are some interesting facts I hope to surprise you with today.
1,700 to 2,000 soldiers died of disease at the six-month encampment.
Food for the troops was scarce. The Oneida delegation, allies of the Patriots, arrived in May 1778 with white corn. Polly Cooper of the delegation instructed them on how to safely prepare the corn for consumption and stayed after most of her fellow Oneidans had left. She received a shawl from Martha Washington in thanks for her assistance.
In December it went down to 6 degrees F., 12 degrees F. in January, 12 degrees F. in February, and 8 degrees F. in March.
It was the last time United States soldiers served in a racially-integrated army until the Korean War in the 1950s.
The volunteer drill master was Baron von Steubon, a Prussian military commander. The Prussian military drills and tactics he taught the troops were used by the United States military for the next 30 years.
It is thought that 250 to 400 women were in the encampment, serving as cooks, nurses, laundresses, and menders of clothing.
Mary Ludwig Hayes, a.k.a., Molly Pitcher, was at Valley Forge with her husband. She is remembered for jumping into service to help load a cannon at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse after her husband was wounded.
Hannah Till was an enslaved cook for George Washington at Valley Forge. She purchased her freedom a few years later and became a salaried cook.
We hear a lot about our “forefathers” but not enough about our “foremothers!”
Since my last blog post
Look who’s reading my book! He must have found it on Amazon or in Harrisburg, NC at Second Look Books or Gift Innovations! It’s in short supply in Harrisburg until I get my next shipment. If you prefer an e-book, remember it’s available for e-book and in paperback from Amazon.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas or whatever holidays you are celebrating.
I hope you enjoy time with family and friends.
Remember the suffering people of Ukraine.
I’ll see you again here at my blog on December 26 – the last Monday in 2022!
Can you imagine hearing and then seeing meteor blazing across the sky and then crashing through a tree before plunging several feet into the dirt? That’s what happened on Hiram Bost’s farm on October 31, 1849.
I grew up in Cabarrus County, but I’d not heard of the meteorite until I happened upon a newspaper article about it while doing research on another topic for a local history column I was writing in 2009 for Harrisburg Horizons weekly newspaper. Last week while I was formatting those newspaper articles for two planned books in 2023, I thought the highlights of the seven-part series I wrote about Mr. Bost’s meteorite would make an interesting blog post on this Halloween.
Although the meteorite landed near Midland in Cabarrus County, it was mistakenly named “Monroe.” Meteorites are usually named for where they land. The town of Monroe is actually in the adjoining county and not where the 1849 meteorite crashed to the Earth.
I’ve never heard a meteor or seen one up close. The closest I’ve come is seeing an occasional “shooting star.” The witnesses of the 1849 meteorite described explosions and rumblings They saw a white-hot object in the sky even though it was broad daylight.
Word of the meteorite spread by the proverbial grapevine and in newspapers in Charlotte and Concord. When word reached the Charlotte Branch of the United States Mint, a Mint employee and a Charlotte doctor headed some 20 to 25 miles to the site by horse-drawn wagon.
Knowing he had an item of interest and unknown value on his hands, Mr. Bost displayed the meteorite on top of a pole for all to come and see. It was accompanied by a sign warning people not to touch or break the rock.
I was naïve enough to think that perhaps the Monroe meteorite had ended up intact at the North Carolina Museum of Natural History, but I soon found out that the meteorite has been chopped and sliced into countless pieces and the museum in Raleigh doesn’t even have a piece of it.
One thing led to another, as is always the case when I do historical research, and I went down the rabbit hole of searching for the locations that own part of the meteorite. What I discovered is that pieces and slivers of the meteorite are owned by universities, museums, The Vatican, and private companies and individuals around the world.
I learned that bits and pieces of the Monroe meteorite are for sale by rock and mineral dealers and are sometimes available through rock and mineral auctions. Those pieces and slivers are priced by the gram and aren’t cheap.
To learn more, be on the lookout for my book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? – Book 2 on Amazon in 2023.
I expect to publish Harrisburg, Did You Know? – Book 1 on Amazon in January 2023. I’ll give progress reports in future blog posts. Even if you don’t live in the Harrisburg, North Carolina area, I think you’ll find something of interest in both my local history books.
Since my last blog
I continue to write my first historical novel, The Heirloom.
I hired a company to completely redesign my outdated website, JanetMorrisonBooks.com. My writing is taking a new path and I need a new website to reflect that. With numerous decisions to be made and the holiday season approaching, it might be January before I can unveil the new site.
My sister and I continue to proofread Harrisburg, Did You Know?—Book 1. When I blogged last week, I thought the books would only be available for Kindle, but I now hope to also have them published in paperback.
A word about my blog
Last week’s blog post included a note about a change in my follower count on my blog and the reason I was given for the widget policy change. Apparently, I wasn’t the only blogger to complain, for this week the count once again includes the 1,000+ followers that were dropped last week. I’m happy again!
Until my next blog
I hope you have a good book to read.
Remember the brave people of Ukraine who face freezing to death this winter.
“The what?” you say. I must admit I’m guilty, too. I had to look it up.
In a nutshell, the Wilmot Proviso of 1846 was a failed attempt in the US Congress to ban slavery in the western territories the US obtained as a result of the Mexican-American War. It was just this type action that paved the way for the American Civil War in 1861.
The proviso was named for David Wilmot, the Congressman from Pennsylvania who introduced it on August 8, 1846. The proviso was a rider on a $2 million appropriations bill three months into the Mexican-American War. The bill passed in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.
Perhaps in the southwestern US states, the Mexican-American War is taught in elementary and high schools, but it was my experience in North Carolina that the two-year war in the 1840s was just mentioned in passing. Or perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, I had to do some research to find the details of the Wilmot Proviso.
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery in the remaining Louisiana Territory above the 36th parallel, 30 north latitude line. The “compromise” was that Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state at the same time Maine was admitted as a free state.
The controversy over the annexation of the Republic of Texas enters into the story, as did New Mexico and California, which had been captured by the US during the Mexican-American War. After substantial land area gains by the US early in the war, Congress started setting its sights on more expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Slavery was a hot button issue and Democrats and Whigs (the two main political parties in the US at that time) tried to keep it out of national politics. There was no way to avoid it, however. It was the proverbial “elephant in the room.”
There was disagreement within the Democratic Party over the way Martin Van Buren had been denied the party’s nomination for US President in 1844 when southern delegates uncovered an old convention rule that required a nominee to receive a two-thirds vote by delegates. (I didn’t take time to thoroughly research that. I’m sure there’s more to the story than meets the eye.)
More and more over time, the Mexican-American War was more popular in the southern states than in the northern states. It was seen by many in the south as a way to gain more territory where slavery would be accepted.
Back to the Wilmot Proviso
President James K. Polk sent a request to Congress for $2 million to boost negotiations with Mexico to end the war. That was on Saturday, August 8, 1846. Congress was scheduled to adjourn two days later. A special night session was arranged by the Democrats so the request could be considered.
Rules mandated that debate be limited to two hours. No one member of Congress could speak for more than ten minutes. A Polk supporter and friend to many southerners, David Wilmot was selected to present the bill to help ensure its passage.
The following language was included in the proviso that would apply to all territory the United States would acquire from Mexico by virtue of any peace treaty: “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime, whereof the party shall first be duly convicted.”
The Senate took up the House bill and there was a push to pass it with the exception of the Wilmot Proviso. The Democratic politicians thought the House would then be forced to pass the bill without the proviso due to the bewitching midnight hour when Congress had to adjourn.
Senator John Davis, a Massachusetts Whig, schemed that he would speak on the floor of the Senate so long that the Senate would have to vote on the bill as written because it would be too late to return the bill to the House of Representatives.
Does anyone know what time it is?
In a twist of fate (or by design?), there was an eight-minute difference in the official clocks of the Senate and the House. The clock in the House struck midnight before Davis could call for the vote in the Senate. The 1846 session of Congress had adjourned without full passage of the $2 million bill.
Proponents introduced the bill again in 1847 as a $3 million bill, but it had the same results. There were efforts to resurrect the proviso in 1848 as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but those efforts also failed.
The Wilmot Proviso would have effectively made the 1820 Missouri Compromise null and void.
What happened about slavery in the western territories/states?
California’s constitution banned slavery, so it was given statehood as a free state in 1850. Nevada was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1864. The US. acquired New Mexico and Utah in 1848, and slavery was legal in those territories until slavery was banned in all US territories in 1862.
How did Texas play into this?
My research about the Wilmot Proviso prompted me to delve into the history of Texas. The Republic of Texas was annexed by the United States and granted statehood in 1845 – just months before the debates over the Wilmot Proviso began. I knew there were slaves in Texas. We just recently celebrated Juneteenth, marking the anniversary of the slaves in Texas finally being told they were free.
I learned that there were African slaves in Texas as early as 1529. Texas joined the United States as a slave state. Slavery was a deciding factor in the annexation of the Republic of Texas while James K. Polk was US president.
Therefore, since Texas was already a US state prior to the debate over the Wilmot Proviso of 1846, slavery in Texas wouldn’t have been affected by the proviso, had it passed. It would have only pertained to territories the US gained as a result of the Mexican-American War.
What a difference one action or inaction can make
My research last week brought to mind how nations evolve and how peoples’ lives can turn on a dime with decisions made by governments. What if the Wilmot Proviso had passed in 1846 (or 1847 or 1848?) What if Texas had not been a state in 1846? What if the US had not won the Mexican-American War? What if the South had won the Civil War? What if African slaves had never been brought to North America? What if America had been defeated in the American Revolutionary War? What if Germany and Japan had won World War II?
How different world history would be if just one of those decisions or wars had gone the other way!
Aftermath of the Wilmot Proviso
If nothing else, the Wilmot Proviso brought to light how divided the United States was between the North and the South. The Democrats and Whigs were both split by regional loyalties.
Neither party wanted to vote on the issue of slavery, but the vote on the Wilmot Proviso pulled the cover off and began to lay bare the true division within the country. What had begun some 70 years earlier as an experiment in democracy was now under more pressure than ever and would ultimately be tested in a civil war just 15 years later.
Even with the end of that civil war, the issue of race relations in the United States would not be settled and, sadly, remains a point of conflict to this day. It is still “the elephant in the room” – that difficult conversation we still struggle with in our society today.
Since my last blog post
As you might guess, I spent several hours researching the Wilmot Proviso and condensing my findings into a somewhat digestible blog post. You’re probably saying, “That was more than I wanted to know about the Wilmot Proviso.” I felt the same way as the history got increasingly complicated.
With the Wilmot Proviso out of the way, I turned my focus to working on my family cookbook project, my historical short stories, and some reading.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve already read a one this month and I’m ready to share my thoughts about it in my September 5 blog post.
Life is short. Make time for friends and family.
If you don’t have a hobby, find one.
Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc. and the people in Kentucky whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding.
Today’s topic is somewhat obscure and isn’t given much thought by the average citizen until it comes into play. When it needs to be put into action, it is of monumental importance.
The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on July 18, 1947. To fully appreciate US Presidential Succession, however, we need to first look at the United States Constitution and the Presidential Succession Acts prior to 1947. Later in this post, we’ll learn about what has happened on this matter since 1947.
My post today is longer than usual, but please read on. You might learn something. I did!
US Constitution, Article II, Section I, Clause 6
The vice president is designated as the first in the presidential line of succession by Clause 6 in Section I, Article II of the US Constitution. That is all many Americans know, since we’ve never lost a sitting president and sitting vice president at the same time… or lost a president who has assumed the office due to the death or incapacity of his predecessor.
Clause 6 also gives Congress the authority to provide for the line of succession after the vice president.
US Presidential Succession Act of 1792
The Presidential Succession Act of 1792 designated the US Senate president pro tempore as next in line after the vice president, followed by the Speaker of the House.
US Senate Practice in the 1800s
During most of the 19th century, the US Senate assumed it could elect a president pro tempore only during the absence of a vice president. With Congress only being in session approximately half the year at that time, concerns were raised over the high mortality rate of the era. What if the president and vice president both died or became incapacitated during Congress’ adjournment?
The solution was for the vice president to voluntarily exit the Senate chamber before the current session of Congress ended. While the vice president was out of the room, the Senate would elect a president pro tempore.
That scheme sort of worked for decades, but then vice presidents from the minority political party started fearing that in their absence from the Senate chamber, someone not from their political party might be elected. To remedy that, some vice presidents refused to leave the chamber while the vote was taken.
Congressional Action in 1886
No deed goes unpunished, and it seems that Congressional members are always looking for something they can change and take credit for. In 1886, Congress changed the presidential succession order after the vice president cabinet secretaries in the order in which their federal departments had been created.
No Act of Congress goes uncriticized. Proponents of the 1886 Act maintained that the office Senate pro tempore is filled based on parliamentary skills and not on the person’s executive skills.
The Death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945
Vice President Harry Truman was in House Speaker Sam Rayburn’s office enjoying a glass of bourbon when they received word that President Roosevelt had died and Truman was to take the oath of office for the Presidency as quickly as possible.
Mr. Truman was friends with Sam Rayburn and had a somewhat strained relationship with Senate President Pro Tempore Kenneth McKellar. It came as no surprise then when President Truman started campaigning for a change in presidential succession.
Arguing that Sam Rayburn had been chosen by his Congressional peers to be their leader in the office of Speaker of the House, Truman pushed for a change in the law.
This was completely political. Although Truman, Rayburn, and McKellar were all Democrats, Truman preferred Rayburn over McKellar and saw his chance to reinstate two elected officials in the line of succession after the vice president and before cabinet members. Cabinet members, of course, are not elected. They are nominated by the sitting US President and reflect the governing philosophy or the President.
The Presidential Succession Act of 1947
President Truman prevailed. The result was the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, which established the line of succession as the vice president, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President Pro Tempore, followed by the cabinet secretaries in the order in which their departments were created.
When House and Senate Leaders are in Opposition to the President
Of the 76 years since the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the Speaker of the House has not been from the President’s political party 44 years. The President Pro Tempore of the Senate has not been from the President’s political party for 36 of those 76 years.
As we have witnessed in recent years, these situations can create stalemates in Congress when it comes to a US President being able to get his legislative issues passed into law. It boils down to the balance of power between the three branches of the federal government and the system of checks and balances. Sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s a bad thing. It all depends on which political party or philosophy you align yourself with and how quickly you want to see the laws of the land changed.
The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1967
Until the adoption of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1967, there was no way to replace a deceased, incapacitate, or resigned US vice president or one who had moved into the office of US president due to an unexpected vacancy in that office.
Prior to the 25th Amendment, therefore, the office of vice president remained vacant until the next presidential election. That meant the Speaker of the House was first in line if something happened to the president.
With the 25th Amendment in place when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned, President Richard M. Nixon had the authority to nominate Gerald R. Ford on October 12, 1973. Mr. Ford was confirmed by Congress on December 6, 1973. It is ironic, then, that Gerald Ford became the president when Richard Nixon was forced to resign. I was majoring in political science in college at the time. It was a great time to participate in political debates. There was never a dull moment in poli sci class!
When Presidential Succession becomes a concern, it suddenly becomes a big concern
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1962, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson became the President. Next in line for the office were 73-year-old Speaker of the House John W. McCormack and 86-year-old Senate President Pro Tempore Carl Hayden.
Our current US president is 79 years old. He might run for reelection in 2024. Regardless of one’s political leanings, age is an issue. That said, though, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that a 73-year-old and an 86-year-old in the year 1962 were definitely considered elderly. Seventy-three isn’t considered as old as it did in 1962 – and I’m not just saying that because I’m in my late 60s.
Spiro Agnew resigned as vice president in 1973. When that happened, Carl Albert was in line for the presidency. I’ve read that Mr. Albert had an alcohol problem and didn’t want to be president; however, when Gerald R. Ford became president less than a year later, Mr. Albert was still next in line. That was not a good situation for the country.
Think back to the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. “He who shall not be named” was the US president. He was hospitalized with Covid-19. What if he had died and Vice President Mike Pence had also succumbed to the virus? Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was next in line and from the other major political party. Even if you’re a Democrat, you must admit such a transition of power would have created political havoc in our country.
This possible scenario, along with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, raise the question of presidential succession anew. It has been suggested that the Secretary of Homeland Security should be elevated from last in the line of succession to a higher position in that line
What do you think?
Is it time for Congress to revisit the line of presidential succession?
I think it is, but members of Congress and the American public are too polarized in 2022 for anything of such importance to be considered. Everything today is decided along political party lines – even in the US Supreme Court and perhaps within the US Secret Service.
When the political pendulum swings back to a more moderate place of common sense and an adherence to the philosophy that all elected officials should only work for the common good, perhaps then the issue of Presidential Succession can be revisited.
Since my last blog post
My sister and I enjoyed an overnight trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. (By the way, I wrote a vintage postcard book by that name a few years ago and it’s still available on Amazon and from Arcadia Publishing. You just might like to read it and see the postcards which all date prior to 1970, with most being from the 1940s and 1950s. Pardon the shameless plug for my book. I must blow my own horn.)
It poured rain on us most of the way to Boone on Sunday, and then dense fog set in and blocked our views along the Blue Ridge Parkway most of the way to Asheville. Even so, it was good to get away if just for a couple of days.
Upon returning home, I took the plunge and purchased access to Atticus writing software. I’ve started my first book on the platform, which formats one’s writing ready for electronic and print publication. That first book is tentatively called The Aunts in the Kitchen: Tried and True Recipes from the Aunts in Our Family.
I read a book that’s been on my “To Be Read” (TBR) list for several years. One down, 300+ books to go.
It’s been a good week.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book or two to read. I’m listening to and reading books by some authors I’ve not read before.
Take time for family, friends, and a hobby.
Remember the four-year-old little girl in Ukraine who was pushing her baby stroller one minute and was killed by a Russian rocket the next; the surviving children in Uvalde and the parents who lost children in the domestic terrorist attack there; and the orphaned two-year-old boy, the partially-paralyzed little boy, and all the grieving and traumatized people in Highland Park. Unfortunately, the list could go on and on.
Since Independence Day in the United States falls on a Monday this year, I thought it only fitting to blog about it today. Next Monday, I’ll do my usual first-Monday-of-the-month blog about the books I read the previous month.
In an effort to take a slightly different approach to today’s topic, I decided to write about a few of the little-known facts about the Declaration of Independence.
1. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4, 1776. The Second Continental Congress voted on it on July 4, but it would be August 2 before most delegates signed it. One reason for the delay was that it took two weeks for the document to be written in a clear handwriting on a piece of parchment.
2. Five men – including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin — were given the task of overseeing the reproduction of the document. The copies were printed by John Dunlap in his Philadelphia print shop and distributed to each of the 13 American colonies. Of the perhaps hundreds of copies printed at that time, only 26 remain.
3. When a copy of the Declaration of Independence reach New York City, George Washington read it aloud from in front of City Hall. That was on July 9. Before the day was over, a riot of sorts broke out and resulted in the tearing down of a statue of King George III. (That 4,000-pound statue was sent up the East River before British troops in New York harbor could stop them. It was eventually melted down and turned into 42,000 musket balls for the Continental Army.)
4. Richard Stockton, one of the Declaration signers from New Jersey, was captured by the British on November 30, 1776. For months, he was mistreated and nearly starved until he broke down and recanted. He swore his allegiance to King George III and was subsequently released. (He took an oath of loyalty to New Jersey in December 1777.)
5. In 1989, a man in Philadelphia purchased a picture frame for $4.00 at a flea market. Much to his surprise, in the back of the frame was an original John Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence! It was sold to TV producer Norman Lear in 2000 for $8.1 million.
6. In 2009, an original John Dunlap copy of the Declaration was found in a box of papers the British captured from the Americans during the Revolutionary War. It has since found a home at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
7. Just two or three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were moved from the National Archives in Washington, DC to Fort Knox in Kentucky. The Declaration was encased in 150 pounds of protective material to ensure its transport by train from Washington to St. Louis. From St. Louis, it was taken by the 13th Armored Division of the U.S. Army to Fort Knox. Those documents were returned to the National Archives late in 1944.
8. Two signers of the Declaration of Independence were just 26 years old. They were Thomas Lynch, Jr. and Edward Rutledge, both of South Carolina.
9. The University of Virginia owns two rare copies of an early printing of the Declaration of Independence. One of those possibly belonged to George Washington. After Washington died in 1799, Tobias Lear (I wonder if he’s an ancestor of Norman Lear?) who was a personal secretary of Washington’s in his later years, is thought to have stolen some of Mr. Washington’s papers.
On this 4th of July, I wish all Americans at home and abroad a Happy Independence Day! On this 246th anniversary of the creation of the Declaration of Independence, this experiment in democracy is under attack from within the nation.
The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution held fast and survived the attempted coup on January 6, 2021, but there are those within our country’s borders who still believe “the big lie.” They proved on January 6, 2021 that they are willing to trample on the very ideals and human rights verbalized in those documents. Democracy is far more fragile than any of us realized until that infamous day.
The men who signed the Declaration of Independence (and the women in their families!) were willing to risk their reputations, their earthly possessions, and their very lives. The least we can do 246 years later is to stand up against our country’s enemies – both foreign and domestic — by letting our voices be heard in the public arena and, most importantly, at the polls.
Be sure to vote in all elections. You owe it to future generations. Otherwise, they might not have the luxury of voting, and July 4 could just become an insignificant average day for them. Don’t let that happen.
Happy 4th of July!
P.S. Remember the people of Ukraine and the people of Uvalde, Texas.
It was just a month ago that I blogged about the 1954 US Supreme Court landmark decision, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. I referred to the fact that our legal framework is under attack by the current sitting US Supreme Court. I fear the overturning of Roe v Wade will be just the tip of the iceberg. Time will tell.
Americans now know that we cannot take any of our freedoms for granted. The Trump-inspired insurrectionists’ attack on the US Capitol on June 6, 2021 surely taught most of us that, if nothing else.
One of the assurances we have in the United States stems from a landmark decision issued by the US Supreme Court on this date in 1966: Miranda v Arizona. I’m sure you’ve heard of “Miranda Rights” if you watch any police procedural television series set in the United States.
Since the Miranda v Arizona decision, “you have the right to remain silent…” when being arrested. I’ve never been arrested, and I hope I never will be. You never know, though, when something like that might happen. Many people are falsely accused and arrested due to that or by cases of mistaken identity or are falsely singled out due to the color of their skin or for having the same name as someone for whom there is an arrest warrant. That last one can happen to anyone.
If you’re ever arrested in the United States of America – rightly or wrongly – you’ll be glad that on June 13, 1966, the US Supreme Court proclaimed that you must be informed of your rights by the arresting police officer. You have the right to remain silent. If you relinquish that right, anything you say can be held against you in a court of law. You have a right to legal counsel – either a lawyer you hire or one appointed for you by the court if you cannot afford to hire one yourself.
Miranda v Arizona was decided by a 6 to 3 majority of the US Supreme Court. The majority ruled based on the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution. Dissenting justices argued that the law wasn’t necessary and that police officers inclined to conduct questionable interrogations would just ignore the decision.
I think most Americans know enough about the law now that they are aware that they “have the right to remain silent” and that they “have a right to legal counsel.” An informed citizenry will help keep police officers with questionable motives and tactics in check. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. My black friends can attest to that.
The original Miranda Case
In a nutshell, Ernesto Miranda was convicted after confessing under police interrogation that he was guilty of kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery. The conviction was overturned by the Miranda v Arizona US Supreme Court decision. Mr. Miranda was tried again, convicted, and sentenced to 20-30 years in prison.
Seeing Miranda v Arizona in action
I served on a jury in my county’s Superior Court in the 1970s. The case before us was a child neglect matter due to a mother keeping her children out of school based on a religious belief that the world was going to come to an end on a specific date in the near future.
The mother’s reasoning was that her children didn’t need an education, since the world was going to end in a few months. It appeared to be an open-and-shut case until the woman’s attorney informed the judge that his client hadn’t been read her Miranda Rights. The case was immediately dismissed.
Since my last blog post
I had the privilege of watching and listening to four free webinars offered by Chad R. Allen. He offered lots of useful information about book publishing and, specifically, how to write a successful book proposal.
I also watched and listened to a free webinar by Geoff Affleck about how to advertise on Amazon.
Until my next blog post
Keep reading! I hope you have a good book to read this week.
The recent “leak” that the United States Supreme Court is on track to abolish the 1973 landmark decision Roe v Wade should stand as a wake-up call to all Americans.
Even a 49-year-old Supreme Court decision that has stood the test of time and numerous challenges, can be undone by five Supreme Court Associate Justices who claimed under oath before Congress that they had no intention of voting to undo that 1973 Court decision.
This begs the question, “What comes next? What other US Supreme Court decisions will be wiped away by this Court which was “stacked” by our former president and the radical “right” in Congress?
If I just “stepped on your toes,” so be it.
Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 1954
This brings me to the topic of today’s blog post, which I chose months ago because it is the anniversary of another landmark US Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. It was 68 years ago today that the Court published its unanimous decision on that case, which made it illegal to have separate public school systems based on race.
Until Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, it was legal for states to have “separate but equal” school systems for the different races. Everyone knew there was nothing equal about them, but they were legal in the eyes of the law.
The Brown v Board of Education of Topeka decision overturned the 1896 US Supreme Court case, Plessy v Ferguson. Plessy v Ferguson is proof that the US Supreme Court can make terrible mistakes. That decision ruled that having “separate but equal” school systems for each racial group was all right, and now it was deemed legal under the U.S. Constitution.
I grew up in the racially-segregated South. Before you get too puffed up about being from one of the other sections of the United States, though, take a moment to consider your childhood. Segregation might not have been mandated where you lived, but were your community and schools racially-integrated prior to the 1960s?
In a recent conversation with a friend from the Midwest, I said that our public schools here in Cabarrus County, NC were integrated when I was in the seventh grade. That was 1965. The person I was talking to made an interesting remark: “I lived in a non-segregated state, but I didn’t go to school with black students until high school. I lived in a farming community and there just weren’t any black people.”
Since I also grew up in a farming community, I found it strange that there weren’t a mix of white people and black people where she grew up. It was interesting to hear her perspective on the issue.
To our more-enlightened 21st century minds, it seems ridiculous that prior to Brown v Board of Education of Topeka it was legal to have racially-segregated public school systems. Since I was born in 1953, 1954 doesn’t seem very long ago. (Please stop rolling your eyes. If you don’t already understand, you will someday.)
The dual school systems didn’t disappear overnight – not by long shot. They continued here in Cabarrus County until the beginning of the 1966-67 school year. The previous school year, students had the option of attending the school not designated for their race. Few students chose to do that. For instance, in the previously all-white school of 1,000 students that I attended, only three black students chose to enroll in 1965. Looking back on it, I can’t imagine the courage it took for them to do so.
The following school year, the previously all-black schools in the county were closed. The buildings weren’t even used! I believe that’s proof in and of itself that the school board members knew that previously all-black schools weren’t on par with the previously all-white schools. Or, perhaps they knew that most white parents wouldn’t want their children assigned to those previously all-black schools. They carried a stigma which was based on racial bias and a deep-seated prejudice.
What a luxury the school board had then to let school buildings sit empty. It was just a couple of years before the county’s population started growing so fast that the school board was never again able to build schools fast enough to keep up.
The mid-1960s were volatile years as school desegregation took place. Southern states were held up by the national media as a backward place where white people resented black people and wanted their schools kept separate. That’s what we were told and we didn’t know any better until race riots broke out in Boston in September 1974 when the public schools there were ordered to desegregate.
In light of this history and what I read last week in Viola Davis’ memoir, Finding Me, I’m left to conclude that people everywhere are prejudiced against people who don’t look like they do.
We see racial profiling and discrimination all over the United States. Housing redlining takes place every day as mortgage lenders find ways to disguise such practices which limits where people of color can purchase homes. Every time I think this no longer takes place, investigative reporters uncover proof that I’m wrong.
I’ve come to realize that the desegregation of public schools didn’t always translate into equal opportunity. Students of all races and economic backgrounds experience different levels of support and nurture at home. Those of us who grew up in happy homes were blissfully unaware that some of our fellow students were subjected to abuse and neglect in their homes. Teachers — knowingly or unknowingly — bring their own prejudices into the classroom. So do students. It’s human nature, and it’s something we all need to be aware of as we interact with one another in our daily lives. You don’t know what the other person might be going through in his or her personal life.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have one or more good books to read this week.
When the first week of May rolls around every year, I’m reminded of a bold, dangerous, and exciting event in our local history in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. It dates back to the early days of the American Revolution. In fact, it predates the American Declaration of Independence by five years. Most Americans have never heard of it.
As the Regulator Movement reached the boiling point in Alamance County, North Carolina in April 1771, word came to the Rocky River Community in present-day Cabarrus County (but then part of Mecklenburg County) that a shipment of gunpowder was on its way from Charleston, South Carolina to General Waddell in Salisbury (in Rowan County.)
Knowing that the gunpowder was destined to be used to put down the Regulator Movement in counties north of Mecklenburg, eight or nine youths and young men from the Rocky River Presbyterian congregation put their heads together and designed a plan to make sure the gunpowder never reached General Waddell.
While making plans in secret to intercept the gunpowder shipment, the young men took cover from a late April 1771 thunderstorm in the springhouse on the Andrew Logan farm near where Reedy Creek now passes under Lower Rocky River Road.
Not all sources agree on the names or even the number of conspirators, but it is believed they were as follows, based on the sworn testimony of James Ashmore: James White, Jr.; John White, Jr.; William White; Robert (Bob) Caruthers (who was married to a sister of James White, Jr.); Robert Davis; Benjamin Cochran; William White (cousin of the other Whites and son of the “Widow White”); James Ashmore; and Joshua Hadley, a half-brother of James Ashmore.
One source credits Joshua Hadley with producing a New Testament on which each one swore that if anyone should ever divulge their plot that a ball might be shot through his heart and his soul sent to the lowest hell. Furthermore, they swore that if one of them ever revealed the names of the participants, he might die where no one should see him and that he should be denied a Christian burial.
Three munitions wagons from Charleston arrived in Charlotte but, upon learning that the gunpowder was destined to be used to put down the Regulators in Alamance and Rowan counties, the teamsters refused to take the munitions any further. It is said that Militia Colonel Moses Alexander had difficulty securing volunteers to take the wagons on to Salisbury.
An informant took word to the conspirators at Rocky River that the wagons were in Charlotte and they would stop for the night at the muster grounds near the present-day intersection of US-29 and Poplar Tent Road in Concord. (Since US-29 essentially follows the route of The Great Wagon Road, that’s the route the wagons would have taken to Salisbury.)
Thursday, May 2, 1771
The conspirators met at the home of James White, Sr. They blackened their faces to disguise themselves and set out for the muster grounds. They cut across the county and sometime on the night of May 2, 1771, converged on Phifer’s old muster grounds.
Can’t you just image those teenage boys and young men nervously waiting from a vantage point near the muster grounds? Can’t you imagine their hearts pounding as they ran down the hill and approached the wagons?
It is thought that James White, Jr. was the ringleader. The signal was given! The band of patriots surprised the guards! One of the teamsters was James Caruthers. He recognized his brother, Bob, as one of the attackers. In a low voice he said, “You’ll rue this, Bob.”
“Hold your tongue, Jim,” came his brother’s reply.
The conspirators moved the guards and teamsters to safety. They emptied the wagons and put the gunpowder and blankets in a pile. A train of powder was laid. James White, Jr., fired his pistol into the train.
The resulting explosion was heard nine miles away in the vicinity of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. Some people thought it was thunder, while others mistook it for an earthquake.
It is said that James White, Jr. carried a scar for the rest of his life where a flying stave from one of the gunpowder barrels hit him above his eye and cut to the bone before he could run from the explosion.
The conspirators got home the best way they could in the wee hours of Friday, May 3, cleaned themselves up, and said nothing of their overnight adventure.
The Battle of Alamance took place on May 16, 1771, and the Regulator Movement in North Carolina was effectively put down by the royal government. Gov. William Tryon proclaimed on May 17 that he would pardon the rebels if they would turn themselves in by May 21. Bad weather and other circumstances prompted Tryon to postpone the deadline.
Some of the Regulators were put on trial on May 30. The trial was expected to last three weeks. No doubt, news of all this was moving up and down the Great Wagon Road and the conspirators from Rocky River were anxiously awaiting the outcome.
Giving in to exhaustion, at one point some of the gunpowder conspirators set out for Hillsborough to take the governor up on his offer of pardon. Before they reached their destination, they were warned that it was a trick and were told the Governor Tryon intended to hang them. Some returned to the canebrakes of Reedy Creek, while others fled to Georgia and Virginia.
June 11, 1771
Governor Tryon proclaimed that he knew some of the rebels in the colony wanted to turn themselves in, so he extended the deadline by which they could do so to July 10, except for “all the Outlaws, the Prisoners, all those concerned in blowing up General Waddell’s Ammunition in Mecklenburg County” and sixteen named Regulators.
The Governor sensed that he was losing control of North Carolina. He wanted the young men who destroyed his gunpowder brought to justice, but he didn’t know who they were.
In mid- to late-June, the Regulators’ trial came to a close. Twelve Regulators were tried and found guilty of high treason. Six were hanged while the other six waited for the King to decide their fate.
Perhaps word of the Regulator trial results reached Rocky River, or maybe James Ashmore and Joshua Hadley simply feared that one of the other conspirators would disclose their identities. For whatever reason, Ashmore and Hadley went independently to tell Colonel Moses Alexander (who lived on a plantation at the present-day site of Charlotte Motor Speedway) what they knew.
Imagine their surprise when they ran into each other on Colonel Alexander’s front porch!
The two half-brothers jockeyed for position. James Ashmore eventually pushed his way into the house and told Col. Alexander that he was ready to talk.
June 22, 1771
James Ashmore was taken to Charlotte, where he gave a sworn deposition before Thomas Polk, a Mecklenburg County Justice of the Peace. That’s when things went from bad to worse for the conspirators.
In his deposition, Ashmore told Polk how the conspirators had met at Andrew Logan’s old plantation after James McCaul advertised a sale or something to be held there. It was there that James White, Jr. asked Ashmore if he would be interested in helping to blow up the gunpowder shipment.
Ashmore said in his deposition that he was asked in the planning stages if he thought there was any harm in blowing up the gunpowder. He said he didn’t see any harm in it. He said the next morning between ten and eleven o’clock he stopped working on his plantation and went three-quarters of a mile to look for his horses.
Ashmore claimed it was there that he met six men on the road “who in appearance resembled Indians.” One was either recognized or identified himself as James White, Jr. White persuaded Ashmore to come back and join them after taking his horses home and recruiting his half-brother, Joshua Hadley.
They joined the men later about a half-mile from the Ashmore home. It was at that point in the deposition that Ashmore named six men with whom he and Hadley assembled.
Ashmore’s deposition goes on to describe the attack on the munitions wagons and how the conspirators had been sworn to secrecy.
Once the names were revealed, the search for the men began in earnest. As stated earlier, some escaped to Georgia and Virginia. Others hid the canebrakes of Reedy Creek in the vicinity of the bridge on present-day Lower Rocky River Road where the women of Rocky River Presbyterian Church took them food and clothing.
When in need of something, one of the young men would pop up in a ravine and whistle. Nearby resident of around 40 years of age, William Spears, would acknowledge the fugitive by removing his hat. He would then walk off in the opposite direction so he would not be seen as aiding the conspirators.
Agnes Spears, William’s wife, would then take them food. For nearly one year the women of Rocky River Presbyterian Church fed and concealed the young men who took refuge along the banks of Reedy Creek. The authorities would never think to question the women because they couldn’t imagine that the women of the community had anything to do with the plot or its aftermath.
The Rev. Hezekiah James Balch openly prayed for the safety of the young men from the pulpit of Rocky River Presbyterian Church.
The participants in the gunpowder plot were fugitives until independence was declared. After the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was issued on May 20, 1775, all Mecklenburg County citizens were considered to be in rebellion. After the Declaration, the conspirators were finally able to move about as freely as anyone else and prepare to fight in the coming Revolutionary War.
When May 2 and July 4 roll around every year, think about those brave young men from Rocky River who risked their lives to help gain our freedom in America.
Since my last blog post
Is it me, or are the weeks just flying by? I’m hard-pressed to remember what I’ve done since last Monday. I just know I’ve been busy. I visited a bookstore in downtown Concord, North Carolina on Friday. More on that in next week’s blog post. I’ve done some reading and quite a bit of brainstorming over the plot of my novel-in-progress. I work out many of the plot twists and some of the dialog while on my daily walks.
Yesterday we celebrated “May Meeting” at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. The tradition started as early as 1757. On the first Sunday in May, present members of the congregation, others associated with the church throughout its history, and other visitors from the community gather for worship, the Lord’s Supper, and Dinner in the Grove. It’s been a mainstay in my life since 1953.
We had perfect weather for Dinner in the Grove. Everyone brings food and spreads it out on a long four-foot-wide wire “table” that’s put up just for such occasions. It’s fun to try a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some people bring special dishes they’re known for. There’s always good food and fellowship as we all eat together. After having an abbreviated version during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was exciting this year to get back to the way it used to be.
Until my next blog post
My blog post next Monday will be about some of the books I read in April.
I hope you have at least one good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.
Before daylight on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, the northern coast of California, including the city of San Francisco, was rocked by an earthquake of historic proportions. In retrospect, it was estimated to have been on the magnitude of 7.9.
The earthquake and its resulting fires destroyed 500 city blocks – approximately 28,000 buildings. The fires burned for three days and intensified the citizens’ fears and anxiety.
Some 200,000 people – half of the city’s population at the time – were left homeless. Although usually referred to as “the Great San Francisco Earthquake,” it also resulted in widespread damage in northern California, including San Jose and Oakland.
Cooking food inside standing houses was outlawed immediately after the earthquake in the government’s efforts to minimize additional fires. “Bread lines” were established to distribute food to the homeless and whatever food preparation that was possible was done in the streets.
According to the United States Geological Survey website, (https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1906calif/18april/) 296 miles (477 kilometers) of the San Andreas fault ruptured. The quake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada. Much was learned from this earthquake, but it would be a half-century later before plate tectonics as a field of study would shed more light on exactly what processes were at play to produce the event.
The USGS website contains a drop-down menu through which you can access many more details about this earthquake, including comparisons with the October 17, 1989 quake that struck the San Francisco area just 26 minutes before Game 3 of the World Series was set to begin at Candlestick Park. It was measured at 6.9 on the Richter Scale.
Earth tremors and earthquakes of low magnitude are a daily occurrence in San Francisco. That is something I can’t imagine, since I’ve only felt two earthquakes in my life.
While doing the research for today’s blog post, I remembered reading The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner in April 2021. It’s a novel based on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. You might like to read what I had to say about that book in my May 3, 2021 blog post, 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.
Since my last blog post
Jennie Nash’s book, Blueprint for a Book: Build You Novel from the Inside Out, is helping me outline The Heirloom. Ms. Nash’s “inside outline” helps me remember there must be a reaction to every event and internal reactions are what pull readers into a story.
I continue not to be at my best physically, but I’m constantly thinking about the plotline for The Heirloom and how I can make it better.