Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 15, 1798: My Congressman Can Lick Your Congressman Continued

Astute readers will remember that back on January 30, 1798, in the U.S. lyonduelHouse of Representatives, the gentleman from Vermont, Matthew Lyon, and the gentleman from Connecticut, Roger Griswold, had a bit of an altercation which involved the latter insulting the former and the former spitting on the latter. Far from letting bygones be, the two men evidently nursed their respective angers until they were bound to boil over again, which they did on the morning of February 15, 1798.

Pandemonium, it is fair to say, broke out when, without a word of warning, Representative Griswold stormed across the chambers to where Lyon sat preoccupied with correspondence of some sort. Cursing him as a “scoundrel,” Griswold pounded the Vermont Republican’s head and shoulders with a thick, hickory walking stick. A witness described the attack:

“I was suddenly, and unsuspectedly interrupted by the sound of a violent blow. I raised my head, and directly before me stood Mr. Griswold laying on blows with all his might upon Mr. Lyon, who seemed to be in the act of rising out of his seat. Lyon made an attempt to catch his cane, but failed — he pressed towards Griswold and endeavored to close with him, but Griswold fell back and continued his blows on the head, shoulder, and arms of Lyon who, protecting his head and face as well as he could, then turned and made for the fireplace and took up the fire tongs. Griswold dropped his stick and seized the tongs with one hand, and the collar of Lyon by the other, in which position they struggled for an instant when Griswold tripped Lyon and threw him on the floor and gave him one or two blows in the face.”

The combatants were separated, and Lyon retreated to the House water table; but Griswold approached him again, and Lyon lunged forward with the fire tongs and initiated a second brawl. As Representative Jonathan Mason commented, the central legislative body of the United States of America had been reduced to “an assembly of Gladiators.” A lesson, perhaps, for today’s legislators, although the House of Representatives has become a place of cooperation and reasoned debate where no harsh words, let alone blows, are ever exchanged.

Sweet Sugar Cane, Part 4: The Verdict

Since we knew of no way to weigh the woman, we devised an ingenious plan – well, it seemed ingenious at the time – to learn her true weight. In my business, I know rum. I know it by volume, and I know it by weight. Napoleon’s rum weighs exactly 28 ounces the bottle. So our plan was this: We would put the woman in Napoleon’s barrel of rum, and she would push rum out of it. Then we fill it up again, figuring how many bottles it took. And that would tell us her weight.” Rollo looked smugly at the spectators as if expecting them to applaud.

And the rest of the operation was pretty much as Mrs. Napoleon described it?” asked the judge.

Pretty much,” answered Rollo. “When she ran away I was a bit upset, but Napoleon told me not to worry. So we measured the rum, and it was just what I expected. But Napoleon wouldn’t accept this. ‘It’s not right,’ he shouted, ‘it should be more.’ He began yelling that I was cheating him, and I felt duty bound to hit him. And he hit me back. And I hit him back. Well, you know how it goes, your honor.”

No, I don’t,” said the judge, “but go on.”

Then the policeman showed up and dragged us away and threw us in jail. And we were just drunk. We deserve an apology. We deserve damages!”

Damages!” echoed Napoleon.

Prisoner Napoleon,” said the judge, “Do you agree with this account?”

Yes,” answered Napoleon. “Except for the part where he said Mrs. Napoleon was unattractive. And I’m sorry for my part in this, but I was drunk”

The judge sat silently for a moment, then said: “Given that Mrs. Napoleon was not harmed and that there was no intention to harm her and given that the two defendants have had several days in jail to reflect on their misdeeds, I’m going to release them with a reprimand and an order that they never drink together again. Mrs. Napoleon, I regret your ordeal and suggest you might think of separation as a possible solution to your situation.”

Oh no, sir,” she answered looking at her husband, who began to sweat and shake under her gaze, “Napoleon’s not getting off that easy. No indeed. We’re going to spend many, many long years together.”

Sweet Sugar Cane is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.


Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 30, 1835: Try Sniffing the Magenta

Born in England in the early 19th century, Richard Lawrence immigrated to the Unites States at the age of 12. He was described as a “relatively fine young boy,” reserved, industrious, and of “good moral habits.” As an adult, he found work as a house painter. Historians suggest that it might have been the nasty chemicals in his paints that led to the change in his behavior.

And change it did. He began to dress flamboyantly, changing outfits several times a day. He had conversations with himself and would frequently explode into fits of laughter or swearing. He sometimes threatened family members he thought were talking about him. Beginning in 1832, he several times announced to his family that he was returning to England only to return home after a few days for various reasons, one of these being that the U.S. government was preventing him from leaving.
He often stood in his doorway for hours at a time, enjoying the taunts of neighborhood children who called him King Richard. He came to believe that he actually was King Richard III of England and that the U.S. government owed him a great deal of money. The government was not paying him and it was all President Andrew Jackson’s fault. If Jackson were no longer in office, Martin Van Buren would become president and pay him.

On January 30, 1835, President Jackson was attending a funeral at the U.S. Capitol. As he left the funeral, Lawrence jumped out behind him brandishing two pistols. He fired the first at Jackson’s back. It misfired. He fired the second. It too misfired. Jackson swung around and beat the would-be assassin with his cane. The crowd (which included one Davy Crockett) wrestled Lawrence to the ground.

Lawrence was tried in April and found not guilty by reason of insanity. His botched attack was the first attempt at a presidential assassination. More than 30 followed; four were successful.

My Congressman Can Lick Your Congressman

The US House of Representatives, known for its deliberative diligence, lyonduelgood comradeship, and decorous behavior, was not always thus. Take for instance the morning of January 30, 1798. Members had just concluded a vote on the impeachment of Tennessee Senator William Blount, and the House had recessed to tally the ballots. Members stood about chatting informally, waiting for the results. One member, Representative Matthew Lyon of Vermont was waxing passionate about another bill before the House. His discussion grew into a bit of a rant about the “malign influence of Connecticut politicians, whom he accused – rather loudly – of hypocrisy and corruption, claiming they “acted in opposition to the interests and opinions of nine-tenths of their constituents.” Nor did the gentleman from Vermont stop there. He charged them with seeking office out of greed for their own power and title, and stifling the opposition through a monopoly of the press. On a roll, he accused the Connecticut Federalists of brainwashing their constituents with opiates, finally punctuating his speech with the boast that were he to go into Connecticut and manage a newspaper there for six months, he could bring about a revolution, and turn the lot of them out of office.

Not surprisingly, given the volume of his oratory, he was heard by one of the very men he disparaged, one Representative Roger Griswold of Connecticut. Griswold fumed, then shouted back, asking Lyon if he would march into Connecticut wearing his wooden sword, a reference to Lyon’s temporary dishonorable discharge from the Continental Army. Lyon either did not hear Griswold’s comment or chose to ignore it. Griswold naturally felt duty-bound to repeat the question at closer range; he approached Lyon, placed his hand on his arm, and repeated the question. Lyon, insulted and embarrassed before his peers, responded as any gentleman would – he spit in Griswold’s face. Without a word, Griswold wiped away the spit and exited the chambers. The Committee of Privileges immediately drew up a formal resolution calling for the expulsion of Matthew Lyon for “a violent attack and gross indecency.”

Will Lyon be expelled? Will Griswold be avenged? Stay tuned.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 16, 1777: We’re Outta Here

It would appear that the state of Vermont got kicked around a lot back in Revolutionary times. After it had been governed as a part of New Hampshire for 15 years, King George III decided in 1764 that the territory should belong to New York. It didn’t take long for Vermonters (they weren’t really called that yet) to realize they didn’t want to be a part of the Empire State (it wasn’t called that yet), so in 1777 they got together and declared their independence from everybody — New York, Britain and New Hampshire.

They called their independent state New Connecticut (they had some identity problems). After a few months, they renamed the state Vermont, a bastardized translation of the French for Green Mountain. A month later, they wrote themselves a constitution, the first written in North America and the first to prohibit slavery.

Throughout the 1780s the U.S. Congress refused to recognize their independence (kind of snarky for someone having just fought a war for independence). In 1784, the governor of New York asked the U.S. Congress to declare war on Vermont, but Congress (probably sick of war) did not oblige.  Vermonters turned to the British, requesting readmittance to the empire as part of Canada. Finally, in 1791, Vermont was admitted to the new American nation as the 14th state.

Crazy Aunts in New Hampshire’s Attic

Democrats recently took over New Hampshire’s House of Representatives.  One of their first acts was to repeal their own right to legislate while armed to the teeth.  This undid one of the first pieces of legislation Republicans passed when they had control, one I discussed in one of my very first posts:

I don’t like to speak ill of a neighbor.  But if your neighbor has a crazy aunt locked up in the attic, you’ve got to say something.  And our New England neighbor New Hampshire has a bunch of crazy aunts locked up in the state legislature attic.  New Hampshire has a history that includes its desire to have a nuclear weapon.  And where would this nuke have been aimed?  Duck and cover, Montpelier.

Jumping to the present, New Hampshire has just armed its state legislators, but in a tip of the hat to Yankee reserve, legislators are not allowed to brandish those weapons; they must keep them concealed.   I guess if they’re threatened, they shout:  “Don’t mess with me, I’m carrying a concealed weapon.”  “I don’t believe you,” says the threatener.  “Show me.”  “I can’t, but I really do have a concealed weapon, honest I do.”  This of course has been disastrous to the holster industry, which has been struggling for quite a while.

Who are these legislators?  Let’s do a little demographic digging.  There are 400 members of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives.  According to Wikipedia, that’s one representative for every 3,300 residents.  If the United States had the same level of representation, the U.S. House of Representatives would have 99,000 members.  About 300 are Republican.  We might as well forget about the Democrats (New Hampshire has) and concentrate on the majority.   They’re mostly male.  In ethnicity, they range in color from eggshell white to antique white.  Their average age is somewhere around 103.

As long as we’re on the subject of crazy aunts and weaponry, we should probably mention Utah.  It’s my state of birth, my state of youth.  Thus I follow its news a bit, its sports a bit.  It, like Vermont, has snow, snow, snow. But unlike Vermont it now has a state gun.  You got it, a state gun.  And not some romantic firearm like a Winchester Rifle or a Colt 45, but a semiautomatic whatsis.  Utah is the first state in the nation to have a state gun, but others will follow.  I won’t name states.

Being a state gun and all, you can brandish it freely (“I can shoot the ear off anyone in this state.”)   I’m guessing that eventually the sight of a bunch of snow bunnies with bullets to their brains lying in the snows of Utah will send people to the snow, snow, snow of Vermont, where, I might add, we have designated it as the official state precipitation.

There’s No Business Like Show Business

Born on January 16, 1908, Ethel Merman was the Queen of Broadway for three decades, belting out song after song in a voice described as trumpet-clean, penny whistle-piercing, Wurlitzer-wonderful.”  When she was not appearing on Broadway, Merman enjoyed a successful movie and television career.

Merman was also known for her salty language, never delivered in a whisper. Once while rehearsing for an appearance on the Loretta Young television show, she was told it would cost her a dollar each time she swore since Young disapproved of foul language. As she was fighting to get into an ill fitting gown, Merman shouted: “Oh shit, this damn thing’s too tight.” Young held out her curse box and said, “Come on Ethel, put a dollar in. You know my rules.” Merman is said to have replied: “Ah, honey, how much will it cost me to tell you to go fuck yourself?”


Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac



Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice. / From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire.

     It is pretty well agreed that Robert Frost was among the best American poets of the twentieth century. Both popularly and critically acclaimed, he received four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. It’s also pretty much agreed that Frost was not a warm and fuzzy individual, that he leaned more toward nasty and tyrannical behavior. It was also said “that he tolerated rivals badly, that he was a prima donna who was never content to share the center of the stage.”

     Perhaps the incident of August 27, 1938, was just an accident or Frost’s mind was wrapped up in his poem, “Fire and Ice.” Nevertheless, his behavior – or misbehavior – looked a bit suspicious.  On this night, writer Archibald MacLeish visited the Breadloaf Writers Conference to read his poems and radio plays at a gathering in the hills above Middlebury, Vermont. Frost was among the attendees, sitting in the back. As MacLeish read from his poetry, Frost began heckling him. “Archie’s poems all have the same tune,” he said in a stage whisper. Then just as MacLeish read the single-sentence poem, “You, Andrew Marvell,” smoke filled the room. Frost had somehow set fire to some papers and was busily beating them out and waving away the smoke.

     Most people accepted Frost’s explanation that it was an accident, and the reading continued. MacLeish, still the center of attention, was asked to read from one of his plays. Frost was not finished. His wisecracks from the back of the room became steadily harsher and more barbed. He interrupted, he commented, he took exception. What may have been innocent literary give and take turned into a clear effort to frustrate and humiliate MacLeish, and the situation became increasingly painful to those in the room.  Finally, Bernard DeVoto, a scholar and friend of Frost, had had enough. He shouted: “For God’s sake, Robert, let him read!” Frost ignored him, but a few minutes later snarled savagely and stomped out of the room and down the road not taken.

Pausing for a moment to wish Linda a happy birthday.