September 26, 2012
In February 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong rose to speak to a packed session of China’s Supreme State Conference in Beijing. The architect and founding father of the People’s Republic of China was about to deliver what one scholar described as “the most important speech on politics that he or anyone else had made since the creation of the communist regime” eight years before.
Mao’s speech, titled, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” began with a broad explanation of socialism and the relationship between China’s bourgeoisie and working class. Joseph Stalin, he said, had “made a mess of” unifying the classes in the Soviet Union. In a section of his speech that the Communist Party would delete before publishing the text in the Peoples Daily, he claimed that China had learned “from the mistakes” of the Soviets, who had killed too many people they should not have killed, as well as from those of the Hungarian communists, who had not executed enough. He acknowledged that the Chinese government had killed 700,000 “counterrevolutionaries” between 1950 and 1952, but said, “Now there are no more killings.” If the government had not carried out those executions, he claimed, “the people would not have been able to lift their heads. The people demanded their execution and the liberation of the productive forces.”
Yet Mao’s speech may be best known for marking the beginning of the Hundred Flowers Movement—a brief campaign that ended in the betrayal of the principle on which it was based and the people he had invited to take part. A few months earlier, as anti-Soviet demonstrations erupted in Eastern Europe, Zhou Enlai, China’s popular and highly influential premier, had emphasized a greater need for China’s intellectuals to participate in governmental policy-making. “The government needs criticism from its people,” Zhou proclaimed in a speech. “Without this criticism the government will not be able to function as the People’s Democratic Dictatorship. Thus the basis of a healthy government lost.…We must learn from old mistakes, take all forms of healthy criticism, and do what we can to answer these criticisms.”
Mao, in his speech before the Supreme State Conference, declared his support for a policy of allowing criticism of the bureaucracy, provided that writers and intellectuals put forth competing ideologies and opinion and did not engage in “destructive acts.” “Let a hundred flowers bloom” Mao declared, borrowing a line from a Chinese poem, “let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Such a campaign, he said, would allow truth to emerge from a sea of falsehoods. He even mentioned the Chinese writer Hu Feng, who had been detained in 1955 for publishing his “three-hundred-thousand-word letter,” which accused Mao of politicizing art and literature:
Among these hundred flowers blooming forth there are…all kinds of different flowers. They include flowers of different types. For example, among the hundred schools contending, idealism is present. Let a hundred flowers bloom. It may be that Hu Feng is locked up in his cell, but his spirit still roams the country, and we might still see some more works like his appear. It is all right if [people] don’t engage in destructive acts. What was it about Hu Feng? He organized a secret group; and that was something he should not have done. If only he had not organized a secret group…. What do a few flowers matter in a land of our size—nine million square kilometers? What’s so upsetting about a few flowers? Let them bloom for people to look at, and perhaps criticize. Let them say, “I don’t like those flowers of yours!”
At first, Zhou told Mao, writers and intellectuals were wary and skeptical of what would be called the Hundred Flowers Movement. He advised Mao to encourage the central government to help create an exuberant response to the policy, reassuring intellectuals that their criticism was not only welcome but necessary for reform. Soon, writers, lawyers, academics and scientists began speaking out, criticizing party cadres for meddling and obstructing important work. Students began protesting low standards of living, pointing out the hypocrisy of corrupt party members enjoying privileges at the expense of the workers.
By the summer of 1957, millions of letters began to arrive at Zhou’s office. Some of them adhered to the constructive criticism he envisioned, but many rose to what Mao later described as a “harmful and uncontrollable” pitch. A “Democratic Wall” had been erected at Beijing University, with posters criticizing the Communist Party. There were calls for the Party to give up power through transitional governments, claims that communism and intellectualism could not co-exist, and demands for more freedoms. Some posters attacked Mao himself.
Mao began to sense that the movement was spiraling out of control, and in July, he quashed it. The “fragrant flowers,” he announced, must be distinguished from the “poisonous weeds”; criticism would no longer be tolerated. In the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957, critics and detractors were rounded up by the hundreds of thousands and shipped off for execution or re-education through labor. The Hundred Flowers Movement, Mao would later say, had “enticed the snakes out of their lairs.”
The government’s treatment of Ai Qing, one of China’s first modern poets, was typical. He had joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1941, and after the party took power in 1949, Ai Qing consulted with Mao on China’s literary policies and traveled the world representing the government. But in 1957, after he defended the writer Ding Ling against accusations that she was a “rightist,” Ai Qing was denounced and stripped of his writer’s association membership and his possessions. He and his family were exiled to the new city of Shihezi, in the remote region of Xinjiang in northwest China, where they lived amid squalor and hunger. Among hundreds of thousands of “Reform through Labor” convicts, he was assigned to cleaning public toilets seven days a week. After he and his family were relocated to a farm on the edge of the Gobi Desert, they lived in a “pithouse,” a cave-like structure that had been built for the birthing of livestock.
Ai Qing performed backbreaking work until he was in his 60s, moving heavy stones in construction assignments at labor camps. At times, he was paraded in public, forced to wear humiliating signs while villagers taunted him and threw paint in his face. Prohibited from writing, the poet attempted suicide several times.
By the end of the Cultural Revolution, in 1976, Ai Qing was deemed “rehabilitated,” and after nearly twenty years in exile, he was allowed to return to Beijing with his family. His son Ai Weiwei remembers one advantage he had as a child: when he wasn’t working in a factory, he was going to schools where the teachers were exiled intellectuals. He may have grown up in a remote land known as “Little Siberia,” but the exposure to writers and artists living in exile, and the indelible stamp of a government’s suppression of ideas and free speech have all played a vital role in Ai Weiwei’s work today, and helped him become China’s best-known contemporary artist and highest-profile government critic.
The tragedy of the Hundred Flowers Movement was compounded by its timing: critics of the government were silenced just as Mao tried, with the Great Leap Forward, to transform China quickly into a modern industrialized state. The social plan, which lasted from 1958 to 1960 and mandated collective farming, led to catastrophic grain shortages and a famine that killed tens of millions of Chinese. Mao ensured that no one dare speak out about the potential for catastrophe.
Books: Robert MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Volume 1, Contradictions Among the People, 1956-1957, Oxford University Press, 1974. Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, February 27, 1957, [Speech at the Eleventh Session (Enlarged) of the Supreme State Conference. Comrade Mao Tsetung went over the verbatim record and made certain additions before its publication in the People's Daily on June 19, 1957.] http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_58.htm Robert Weatherley, Politics in China Since 1949: Legitimizing Authoritarian Rule, Routledge, 2006.
Articles: “Original Contradictions on the Unrevised Text of Mao Zedong’s ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People’,” by Michael Schoenhals, The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No. 16, July, 1986. ”An Early Spring: Mau Tse-tung, the Chinese Intellectuals and the Hundred Flowers Campaign,” by John M. Jackson, 2004. http://filebox.vt.edu/users/jojacks2/words/hundredflowers.htm
Film: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry: A film by Alison Klayman, MUSE Film and Television, 2012.
September 20, 2012
Frederick Augustus Heinze was young, brash, charismatic and rich. He’d made millions off the copper mines of Butte, Montana, by the time he was 30, beating back every attempt by competitors to run him out of business. After turning down Standard Oil’s $15 million offer for his copper holdings, Heinze arrived in New York in 1907 with $25 million in cash, determined to join the likes of J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller as a major player in the world of finance. By the end of the year, however, the Copper King would be ruined, and his scheme to corner the stock of the United Copper Co. would lead to one of the worst financial crises in American history—the Panic of 1907.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1869. His father, Otto Heinze, was a wealthy German immigrant, and young Augustus was educated in Germany before he returned to the United States to study at Columbia University’s School of Mines. An engineer by training, Heinze arrived in Montana after his father died, and with a $50,000 inheritance he developed a smelting process that enabled him to produce copper from very low-grade ore in native rock more than 1,500 feet below ground. He leased mines and worked for other mining companies until he was able, in 1895, to purchase the Rarus Mine in Butte, which proved to be one of Montana’s richest copper properties.
In a rapid ascent, Heinze established the Montana Ore Purchasing Co. and became one of the three “Copper Kings” of Butte, along with Gilded Age icons William Andrews Clark and Marcus Daly. Whip smart and devious, Heinze took advantage of the so-called apex law, a provision that allowed owners of a surface outcrop to mine it wherever it led, even if it went beneath land owned by someone else. He hired dozens of lawyers to tie up his opponents—including William Rockefeller, Standard Oil and Daly’s Anaconda Copper Mining Co.—in court, charging them with conspiracy. “Heinze Wins Again” was the headline in the New York Tribune in May of 1900, and his string of victories against the most powerful companies in America made him feel invincible.
“He has youth and magnetism upon his side,” one Montana mining engineer said at the time, “and is quite the hero of the state today. He has had laws passed that benefit every smelter and independent mine owner.… The more he is threatened, the more he laughs, and the brighter his songs and his raillery, as he entertains at the club the lawyers or the experts upon either side equally well.”
The miners in Montana adored him because he cut their working day from 10 hours to 8, and he navigated the political world with the same ease that he pulled copper from the earth. In 1902, with authorized capital of $80 million, he incorporated the United Copper Co. and continued to chip away at the position of Anaconda’s corporate successor, the Amalgamated Copper Mining Co., atop the copper market. Stock in his company was literally traded outside the New York Stock Exchange in “on the curb” trading that would later become the American Stock Exchange.
Heinze was a hard-drinking ladies man who liked to gamble, and he spent lavishly in Butte’s saloons. He was friendly with legislators and judges. (A “pretty girl” alleged to have connections to the Copper King once offered a judge a bribe of $100,000. Heinze was implicated in the attempt but never charged.) Heinze bought a suite in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and paid for an entourage of friends to travel with him on yearly trips. “Broadway howls when the copper crowd whirl down in their automobiles,” one newspaper reported in 1906. “Everyone in the party enjoys himself carte blanche at Mr. Heinze’s expense on these tours, and the commotion the Western visitors created last May during the annual Heinze tour furnished the newspaper with columns of good stories.”
Yet despite his charm and gentlemanly demeanor, Heinze carried a reputation as a man not to be trifled with. When some thugs from Utah arrived in Butte and tried to assault Heinze and a friend on their way home from a club, the Copper King and his friend fought their attackers off, “pounding their heads in the gutter, and a few minutes later the thugs were handed over to the police,” one miner told the Boston Globe.
“Now, what are you going to do with a man who can’t be hit with a bullet, or clubbed out, or litigated out, or legislated out, has no debts and no speculations to corral, and in absolute fearlessness can return two blows for one in every field, can make millions when copper is up and can still make money when copper is at such a price as will make unprofitable the Anaconda works as at present operated?” the miner wondered at the time. “I believe Heinze is a winner.”
In 1907, Heinze set out for New York, moved United Copper to 42 Broadway in Manhattan, and determined to prove that he could succeed in finance. Though he knew little about banking, he aligned himself with Charles W. Morse, a Wall Street speculator who controlled several large banks and owned a big piece of the Mercantile National Bank. Together, the two men served as directors of more than a dozen banks, trust companies and insurance firms.
Down the hall from Heinze at 42 Broadway, his two brothers, Otto and Arthur, had set up a brokerage firm, hoping they too could make their fortunes on Wall Street. Otto is believed to have come up with the scheme to corner the stock on United Copper by engaging in a short squeeze, where the Heinzes would quickly purchase as much United Copper stock as they could, hoping to drive up prices and leaving short sellers (who had bet the price of United Copper would drop) no one else to sell but to the Heinzes, who could then effectively name their price.
Along with Morse, the Heinzes turned to the Knickerbocker Trust Co. to finance the scheme, but the bank’s president, Charles T. Barney, believed that the short squeeze required a great deal more money, and he declined to provide it. Otto was under the impression that the Heinze family controlled the majority of United Copper’s stock, and that a vast number of the company’s shares were being sold short. He decided to go ahead with the plan anyway. On Monday, October 14, 1907, he bought United Copper shares aggressively, quickly driving the price from $39 per share to $52.
The next day, the New York Tribune ran a story headlined, “United Copper Booming,” citing a “curb market sensation” that would enable Augustus Heinze to win a bet that United Copper would surpass the price of his antagonist Amalgamated Copper.
That morning, Otto issued a call for short sellers to return their “borrowed” United Copper stock, thinking he could dictate the price. But, as Barney had warned, there were more than enough United Copper stockholders to turn to, and the price began to tumble rapidly. By Wednesday, the stock had closed at $10, and the streets outside the New York Stock Exchange were calamitous. “Never has there been such wild scenes on the Curb,” the Wall Street Journal reported, “so say the oldest veterans of the outside market.”
Otto Heinze was ruined. His trading privileges were suspended, and his company was bankrupt. But the collapse of United Copper’s stock was so alarming, people began pulling their money from the banks and trusts that Augustus Heinze was associated with. The panic triggered a run on Knickerbocker Trust, the third-largest trust in New York City, forcing it to suspend operations. Barney turned to his old friend J.P. Morgan for help; after he was declined, he shot himself.
The crisis spread across the city and, soon, the nation. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged. The New York Clearing House demanded that Augustus Heinze and Morse resign from all of their banking interests. The Chicago Tribune published a report saying that a “young woman friend of F. Augustus Heinze” from Butte had caused the crash when she began “babbling” to friends about the corner months before, allowing “foes of Heinze” to learn of the scheme. Stock held by one such foe was “poured on the market in such volume,” the Tribune reported, “that the corner was smashed.”
J.P. Morgan did not ignore the crisis that followed. He’d rescued the U.S. Treasury once before, after railroad overbuilding and speculation had led to the Panic of 1893. Morgan quickly called a meeting of leading financiers, who pledged millions of their own funds to save failing banks, and Treasury Secretary George B. Cortelyou pledged an additional $25 million in liquidity. John D. Rockefeller deposited $10 million in one trust company, promising Morgan that he would dig deeper if necessary. For his part, Morgan purchased $30 million in New York City bonds, which prevented the city from going bankrupt. By early November, the markets began to recover.
The Panic of 1907 led to the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913, to give the government a mechanism for preventing banking panics. Morse and Augustus Heinze were charged with breaking banking laws in the attempted corner of United Copper stock, but while Morse was convicted, Heinze’s luck in the courts continued: He was eventually exonerated. He married an actress, Bernice Henderson, in 1910, but after the two had a son (Fritz Augustus Heinze, Jr.), they divorced in 1912.
United Copper was placed into receivership and defunct by 1913. Heinze returned to Montana poor, but a hero; his efforts on behalf of workers and independent miners had not been forgotten. He managed to recover some of his wealth with new mining projects in Idaho and Utah, but friends noted that he’d lost much of his spirit. After cirrhosis of the liver caused a stomach hemorrhage, Heinze died in November of 1914 in Saratoga, New York. He was only 44.
Articles: “Who is Heinze?” Boston Daily Globe, February 4, 1900. ”Siz New Millionaires and How They Got Their Money,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 24. 1900. “Heinze Wins Again,” The New York Tribune, May 18, 1900. “Frederick Augustus Heinze,” Engineering and Mining Journal, Vol. 98, No. 20, November 14, 1914. “Copper Falls and Smashes Famous Heinze,” Atlanta Constitution, October 18, 1907. “Heinze Has a Hard Pounding,” Boston Globe, October 17, 1907. “Heinze Owed Fall to Babbling Girl,” Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1907. “Morse and Remorse: The Consequences of Pyramidal Banking,” Saturday Evening Post, November 30, 1907. ”Lessons from the Panic of 1907,” Ellis W. Tallman, Jon Moen, Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, May, 1990. “F. Augustus Heinze, Mine Owner, Dead,” New York Times, November 5, 1914.
Books: Robert F. Bruner and Sean D. Carr, The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market’s Perfect Storm, John Wiley and Sons, 2007. Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. Sarah McNelis, Copper King at War: The Biography of F. Augustis Heinze, University of Montana Press, 1968.
September 17, 2012
Sweden has had her share of memorable monarchs. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it seemed that every other ruler crowned in Stockholm was astonishing in one way or another. Gustav Vasa, Gustavus Adolphus, Queen Christina, Charles XI–between them, to the surprise of generations of students who have presumed that the conjunction of the words “Swedish” and “imperialism” in their textbooks is some sort of typographical error, they turned the country into the greatest power in northern Europe. “I had no inkling,” the writer Gary Dean Peterson admits in his study of this period, “that the boots of Swedish soldiers once trod the streets of Moscow, that Swedish generals had conquered Prague and stood at the gates of Vienna. Only vaguely did I understand that a Swedish king had defeated the Holy Roman Emperor and held court on the Rhine, that a Swede had mounted the throne of Poland, then held at bay the Russian and Turk.” But they did and he had.
The Swedish monarchs of this period were fortunate. They ruled at a time when England, France and Germany were torn apart by wars between Catholics and Protestants, as the great Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth began its steep decline and before Muscovy had transformed itself into Russia and begun its drive to the west. Yet their empire endured into the 1720s, and even then it took two decades of constant war to destroy it—not to mention an overwhelming alliance of all of their enemies, led by the formidable Peter the Great.
September 12, 2012
At the dawn of the 20th century, cycling was the most popular sport in both America and Europe, with tens of thousands of spectators drawn to arenas and velodromes to see highly dangerous and even deadly affairs that bore little semblance to bicycle racing today. In brutal six-day races of endurance, well-paid competitors often turned to cocaine, strychnine and nitroglycerine for stimulation and suffered from sleep deprivation, delusions and hallucinations along with falls from their bicycles. In motor-paced racing, cyclists would draft behind motorcycles, reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour on cement-banked tracks, where blown bicycle tires routinely led to spectacular crashes and deaths.
Yet one of the first sports superstars emerged from this curious and sordid world. Marshall W. Taylor was just a teenager when he turned professional and began winning races on the world stage, and President Theodore Roosevelt became one of his greatest admirers. But it was not Taylor’s youth that cycling fans first noticed when he edged his wheels to the starting line. Nicknamed “the Black Cyclone,” he would burst to fame as the world champion of his sport almost a decade before the African-American heavyweight Jack Johnson won his world title. And as with Johnson, Taylor’s crossing of the color line was not without complication, especially in the United States, where he often had no choice but to ride ahead of his white competitors to avoid being pulled or jostled from his bicycle at high speeds.
Taylor was born into poverty in Indianapolis in 1878, one of eight children in his family. His father, Gilbert, the son of a Kentucky slave, fought for the Union in the Civil War and then worked as a coachman for the Southards, a well-to-do family in Indiana. Young Marshall often accompanied his father to work to help exercise some of the horses, and he became close friends with Dan Southard, the son of his father’s employer. By the time Marshall was 8, the Southards had for all intents and purposes adopted him into their home, where he was educated by private tutors and virtually lived the same life of privilege as his friend Dan.
When Marshall was about 13, the Southards moved to Chicago. Marshall’s mother “could not bear the idea of parting with me,” he would write in his autobiography. Instead, “I was dropped from the happy life of a ‘millionaire kid’ to that of a common errand boy, all within a few weeks.”
Aside from the education, the Southards also gave Taylor a bicycle, and the young man was soon earning money as a paperboy, delivering newspapers and riding barefoot for miles a day. In his spare time, he practiced tricks and caught the attention of someone at the Hay and Willits bicycle shop, which paid Marshall to hang around the front of the store, dressed in a military uniform, doing trick mounts and stunts to attract business. A new bicycle and a raise enabled Marshall to quit delivering newspapers and work for the shop full-time. His uniform won him the nickname “Major,” which stuck.
To further promote the store, one of the shop’s owners, Tom Hay, entered Taylor in a ten-mile bicycle race—something the cyclist had never seen before. “I know you can’t go the full distance,” Hay whispered to the terrified entrant, “but just ride up the road a little way, it will please the crowd, and you can come back as soon as you get tired.”
The crack of a starter’s pistol signaled the beginning of an unprecedented career in bicycle racing. Major Taylor pushed his legs beyond anything he’d imagined himself capable of and finished six seconds ahead of anyone else. There he “collapsed and fell in a heap in the roadway,” he wrote, but he soon had a gold medal pinned to his chest. He began competing in races across the Midwest; while he was still 13, his cycling prowess earned him a notice in the New York Times, which made no mention of his youth.
By the 1890s, America was experiencing a bicycle boom, and Taylor continued to work for Hay and Willits, mostly giving riding lessons. While white promoters allowed him to compete in trick riding competitions and races, Taylor was kept from joining any of the local riding clubs, and many white cyclists were less than welcoming to the black phenom. In August 1896, Taylor’s friend and new mentor, Louis D. “Berdi” Munger, who owned the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts, signed him up for an event and smuggled him into the whites-only races at the Capital City Cycling Club in Indianapolis. He couldn’t officially compete against the professionals, but his time could certainly be measured.
Some of the other riders were friendly with Taylor and had no problems pacing him on tandem bicycles for a time trial. In his first heat, he knocked more than eight seconds off the mile track record, with the crowd roaring when they learned of his time. After a rest, he came back on to the track to see what he could do in the one-fifth-mile race. The crowd tensed as Taylor reached the starting line. Stopwatches were pulled from pockets. He exploded around the track and, at age 17, knocked two-fifths of a second off the world record held by professional racer Ray MacDonald. Taylor’s time could not be turned in for official recognition, but everyone in attendance knew what they had seen. Major Taylor was a force on two wheels.
Still, Munger’s stunt angered many local cycling officials, and his rider was quickly banned from that Indianapolis track. By that point, it didn’t matter; Taylor was on his way. Later in 1896, he finished eighth in his first six-day race at New York’s Madison Square Garden, even though the hallucinations got to him; at one point he said, “I cannot go on with safety, for there is a man chasing me around the ring with a knife in his hand.”
Munger, keen to establish his own racing team with the Black Cyclone as its star, took Taylor to Worcester and put him to work for his company. He was in Massachusetts when his mother died in 1898, which led Taylor to seek baptism and become a devoted member of the John Street Baptist Church in Worcester. Before his teenage years ended, Taylor became a professional racer with seven world records to his name. He won 29 of the 49 races he entered, and in 1899, he captured the world championship of cycling. Major Taylor was just the second black athlete to become a world champion, behind Canadian bantamweight George “Little Chocolate” Dixon, who had won his title a decade before.
Taylor’s victory earned him tremendous fame, but he was barred from races in the South, and even when he was allowed to ride, plenty of white competitors either refused to ride with him or worked to jostle or shove him or box him in. Spectators threw ice and nails at him. At the end of a one-miler in Massachusetts, W.E. Backer, who was upset at finishing behind Taylor, rode up behind him afterward and pulled him to the ground. “Becker choked him into a state of insensibility,” the New York Times reported, “and the police were obliged to interfere. It was fully fifteen minutes before Taylor recovered consciousness, and the crowd was very threatening toward Becker.” Becker would be fined $50 for the assault.
It was abundantly clear to Munger and other friends that Taylor would be better off racing in Europe, where some of the strongest riders in the world were competing and where a black athlete could ride without fear of racially motivated violence. His advisers tried to persuade him to leave the United States, but Taylor would have none of it. The prestigious French events held races on Sundays, and Taylor’s religious convictions prevented him from competing on the Sabbath. ”Never on Sundays,” he insisted.
Still, the money to be made overseas was a strong lure, and the European promoters were eager to bring the Black Cyclone to their tracks. Promoters shifted events from Sundays to French national holidays to accommodate the American. In 1902, Taylor finally competed on the European tour and dominated it, winning the majority of races he entered and cementing his reputation as the fastest cyclist in the world. (He also married Daisy Morris that year, and continued to travel. When he and Daisy had a daughter in 1904, they named her Rita Sydney, after the city in Australia where she was born.)
Taylor raced for the rest of the decade, reportedly earning $30,000 a year, making him one of the wealthiest athletes of his day, black or white. But with the advent of the automobile, interest in cycling began to wane. Taylor, feeling the effects of age on his legs, retired in 1910, at age 32. A string of bad investments, coupled with the Wall Street crash in 1929, wiped out all of his earnings. His marriage crumbled, and he became sickly. After six years of writing his autobiography, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, he self-published it in 1929 and spent the last years of his life selling the book door-to-door in Chicago. “I felt I had my day,” he wrote, “and a wonderful day it was too.” Yet when he died, in 1932, at the age of 53, his body lay unclaimed in a morgue, and he was buried in a pauper’s grave at the Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Chicago.
When they learned where Major Taylor’s grave site was, some former racing stars and members of the Olde Tymers Athletic Club of the South Wabash Avenue YMCA persuaded Frank Schwinn, owner of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, to pay to have Taylor’s remains exhumed and transferred to a more fitting location—the cemetery’s Memorial Garden of the Good Shepherd. There, a bronze tablet reads:
“Worlds champion bicycle racer who came up the hard way—Without hatred in his heart—An honest, courageous and God-fearing, clean-living gentlemanly athlete. A credit to his race who always gave out his best—Gone but not forgotten.”
Books: Andrew Richie, Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Marshall W. Taylor, Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy’s Indomitable Courage and Success Against Great Odds, Ayer Co. Pub, 1928. Andrew M. Homan, Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr., Potomac Books Inc., 2011. Marlene Targ Brill, Marshall “Major” Taylor: World Champion Bicyclist , 1899-1901, Twenty-First Century Books, 2008.
Articles: “Major Taylor—The World’s Fastest Bicycle Racer,” by Michael Kranish, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, September 16, 2001. “‘Worcester Whirlwind’ Overcame Bias,” by Lynne Tolman, Telegram & Gazette, July 23, 1995. http://www.majortaylorassociation.org/whirlwind.htm “Draw the Color Line,” Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1898. “Trouble on Taunton’s Track,” New York Times, September 24, 1897. “Taylor Shows the Way,” Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1898.
September 7, 2012
For Rutherford B. Hayes, election evening of November 7, 1876, was shaping up to be any presidential candidate’s nightmare. Even though the first returns were just coming in by telegraph, newspapers were announcing that his opponent, the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, had won. Hayes, a Republican, would indeed lose the popular vote by more than a quarter-million, but he had no way of knowing that as he prepared his concession speech. He went to bed a gloomy man and consoled his wife, Lucy Webb. “We soon fell into a refreshing sleep,” Hayes wrote in his diary, “and the affair seemed over.”
But the ugliest, most contentious and most controversial presidential election in U.S. history was far from over. Throughout the campaign, Tilden’s opposition had called him everything from a briber to a thief to a drunken syphilitic. Suspicion of voter fraud in Republican-controlled states was rampant, and heavily armed and marauding white supremacist Democrats had canvassed the South, preventing countless blacks from voting. As a result, Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina were deemed too close to call, and with those states still in question, Tilden remained one electoral vote short of the 185 required by the Constitution to win election. With 165 electoral votes tallied for Hayes, all he needed to do was capture the combined 20 electoral votes from those three contested states, and he’d win the presidency. The ensuing crisis took months to unfold, beginning with threats of another civil war and ending with an informal, behind-the-scenes deal—the Compromise of 1877—that gave Hayes the presidency in exchange for the removal of federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.
For Samuel Tilden, the evening of November 7, 1876, was cause for celebration. He was on his way toward winning an absolute majority of votes cast (he would capture 51.5 percent to Hayes’s 48 percent) and gave newfound hope to Democrats, who had been largely shut out of the political process in the years following the Civil War.
Born in 1814 in New York State, Tilden studied at Yale and New York University. After being admitted to the bar in 1841, he made himself rich as a corporate lawyer, representing railroad companies and making real estate investments. After the Civil War, he built up a relationship with William M. “Boss” Tweed, the head of Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine that dominated New York politics in the 19th century. But when Tilden entered the New York State Assembly in 1872, he earned a reputation for stifling corruption, which put him at odds with the machine. He became governor of New York State in 1874, and gained a national reputation for his part in breaking up massive fraud in the construction and repair of the state’s canal system. His efforts gained him the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
Tilden was attacked on everything from his chronic ill health and his connections to the railroad industry, widely viewed as rife with corporate corruption at the time. Sixty-two and a lifelong bachelor, he was respected for his commitment to political reform though considered dull. With corruption charges plaguing associates of the sitting president, Ulysses S. Grant, Tilden’s candidacy could not have been better timed for Democrats to regain national power.
Although he captured the popular vote, the newly “reconstructed” states of Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina, still under federal occupation, hung in the balance. The Republican Party, which controlled the canvassing boards, quickly challenged the legitimacy of those states’ votes, and on a recount, supposedly supervised by personal agents who were dispatched to these states by President Grant (along with federal troops), many of Tilden’s votes began to be disqualified for unspecified “irregularities.” Democrats had no doubts Republicans were stuffing ballot boxes and claimed there were places where the number of votes exceeded the population. Most egregious was Louisiana’s alleged offer by the Republican-controlled election board: For the sum of $1,000,000, it would certify that the vote had gone to the Democrats. The Democratic National Committee rejected the offer, but similar reports of corruption, on both sides, were reported in Florida and South Carolina.
After all three contested states submitted two sets of electoral ballots (one for each candidate), Congress established an electoral commission in January of 1877, made up of five senators, five Supreme Court justices and five members of the House of Representatives. The commission—seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one Independent—heard arguments from lawyers who represented both Hayes and Tilden. Associate Justice Joseph P. Bradley of New Jersey emerged as the swing vote in the decision to name the next president of the United States.
On the evening before the votes were to be cast, Democrats paid a visit to Bradley, who read his opinion, indicating that Florida’s three electoral votes would be awarded to Tilden, giving him enough to win. But later that evening, after Democratic representatives had left Bradley’s home, Republican Senator Frederick T. Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and George M. Robeson, Secretary of the Navy, arrived for some last-minute lobbying. Aided by Mary Hornblower Bradley, the Justice’s wife, the two Republicans managed to convince Bradley that a Democratic presidency would be a “national disaster.” The commission’s decision made the final electoral tally 185 to 184 for Hayes.
Democrats were not done fighting, however. The Constitution required a president to be named by March 4, otherwise an interregnum occurred, which opened up numerous possibilities for maneuvering and chaos. The Democrats threatened a filibuster, which would delay the completion of the election process and put the government in uncharted waters. The threat brought Republicans to the negotiating table, and over the next two days and nights, representatives from both parties hammered out a deal. The so-called Compromise of 1877, would remove federal troops from the South, a major campaign issue for Democrats, in exchange for the dropped filibuster.
The compromise enabled Democrats to establish a “Solid South.” With the federal government leaving the region, states were free to establish Jim Crow laws, which legally disenfranchised black citizens. Frederick Douglass observed that the freedmen were quickly turned over to the “rage of our infuriated former masters.” As a result, the 1876 presidential election provided the foundation for America’s political landscape, as well as race relations, for the next 100 years.
While Hayes and the Republicans presumptively claimed rights to victory, Tilden proved to be a timid fighter and discouraged his party from challenging the commission’s decision. Instead, he spent more than a month preparing a report on the history of electoral counts—which, in the end, had no effect on the outcome.
“I can retire to public life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people,” Tilden said after his defeat, “without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office.”
His health did indeed fail him shortly after the election. He died in 1886 a wealthy man, leaving $3 million to the New York Public Library.
Articles: ”The Election That Got Away,” by Louis W. Koenig, American Heritage, October, 1960. “Samuel J. Tilden, The Man Who Should Have Been President,” Great Lives in History, February 9, 2010, http://greatlivesinhistory.blogspot.com/2010/02/february-9-samuel-j-tilden-man-who.html ”Volusion Confusion: Tilden-Hayes,” Under the Sun, November 20, 2000, http://www.historyhouse.com/uts/tilden_hayes/
Books: Roy Morris, Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876, Simon & Schuster, 2003. John Bigelow and Nikki Oldaker, The Life of Samuel J. Tilden, Show Biz East Productions, 2009.