About Corazon

Friday, February 26, 2010

100 Years, 100 Songs/Movies, 100 Days: Part II


For our second installment we have a song written by Irving Berliner entitled, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" which became a huge hit in 1911. Again, there was no Billboard Top 50 in 1911 but if there were, it's a good bet that this song would have been song of the year:

And the best film of 1911, by a large consensus of film historians is "Little Nemo":

Other events from 1911:

-All across the country (particularly in N.Y.) women stage several protests demanding the right to vote.
-The United States invades Honduras (a forgotten event for the most part).
-Italy and Turkey declare war on one another.
-The Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (IBM) is created.
-The first military airplane (the Curtiss A-1) is commissioned.
-The first ever Indianapolis 500 is held with Ray Harroun winning.
-Hiram Bingham "discovers" Machu Picchu in Peru.
-The Mona Lisa is stolen but eventually recovered.
-Chevrolet (created by Louis Chevrolet) is created to compete with Ford.
-New Delhi is made the new capitol of India.
-"Standard Oil" is declared a monopoly by the Supreme Court and forced to break apart.
-The New York Public Library is dedicated by President Taft.
-The Philadelphia Athletics win the World Series 4-1 over the N.Y. Giants. Ty Cobb becomes first player to win an MVP award.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

100 Years, 100 Songs/Movies, 100 Days: Part I


I thought this might be a fun thing to do on this blog. Sort of a good way to look at the general history of the past 100 years. So what was the #1 song in 1910? Well, Billboard, though in existence, is only reviewing movies (started a year before in 1909). However, a number of magazines, newspapers, etc. of the time do give us at least a good idea of what was popular at the time. Without further delay, here is (probably) the #1 song from 1910:

Marie Lloyd (1870-1922) was sort of the Madonna or the Any Winehouse of her day. She was known for adding "sexy" dances to her songs, which pissed off a lot of people. Lloyd was known for speaking out on issues that troubled women of her time. In fact, Lloyd was denied entry into the U.S. in 1913 for her "moral turpitude." She was also a major drinker who had three marriages that ended in divorce.

What else would we see in 1910?

-The first (unofficial) Father's Day is celebrated.
-The Albanians revolt against the Ottoman Empire
-Halley's Comet buzzes the earth (wouldn't come back till 1986)
-George V becomes king of Great Britain
-Jack Johnson becomes boxing's first Black heavyweight champ, causing riots in parts of the U.S.
-The Boy Scouts of America are established.
-The first ever commercial freight flight takes place (from Dayton to Columbus Ohio).
-Japan annexes Korea.
-The city of Tel Aviv is founded.
-The Philadelphia Athletics win the World Series over the Chicago Cubs.
-AND, most importantly, Thomas Crapper, the British plumber who invented the modern flush toilet, dies.

William Howard Taft is president, Henry Ford is getting rich selling over 10,000 cars and aviation is new but booming.

On a side note, Thomas Edison's film company had the most popular movie of the year. Here it is:

And let's not forget the ORIGINAL version of The Wizard of Oz. That's right, it first came out in 1910:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Leo Frank Fiasco

***Cross-posted at Beyond the Badge***

Who Killed
Mary Phagan?

As horrible as it may sound to say, murder cases seem like a dime a dozen these days. A whole slew of real life crime shows have a veritably endless supply of murder cases at their disposal, making these programs some of the most popular shows on television today.

Despite the obvious fanfare and obsession that some have for terrible acts of violence, every once in a while a crime will come along that tears at the heartstrings of American society and invokes powerful emotions of anger, sadness, revenge, etc. Cases ranging from the Lindbergh Kidnapping of the early 1930s to the JonBenet Ramsey case in the 1990s have been catapulted to international attention, often causing extreme reactions from anxious onlookers.

But when it comes to high profile murders, there is perhaps no case that is more dramatic than that of Mary Phagan. Though on the surface she may appear like any other average thirteen-year-old girl, her murder was anything but, for it invoked passionate feelings that stretched far beyond Phagan's relatively simple and uneventful life. Lingering racial, religious and social tensions came into play in such a way that eventually elevated the Phagan murder to national attention. Or as one documentary of the case put it:

Considered one of the most sensational trials of the early 20th century, [the Phagan murder] seemed to press every hot-button issue of the time: North vs. South, black vs. white, Jew vs. Christian, industrial vs. agrarian. In the years since, it has inspired numerous books and films, TV programs, plays, musicals and songs. It has fueled legal discussions, spawned a traveling exhibition and driven public forums.
But all public notoriety aside, the Phagan murder (like any murder) boils down to the fundamental reality that a young woman's life was prematurely ended because somebody chose to end it. As a result, the demands of justice require society to uncover the "who" and "why."

As is the case with any violent crime, victimology (the studying of victims and their life patterns) takes on an incredibly important role, for it is by looking at the life, habits, risk factors, etc. of victims that investigators are able to narrow down the list of possible suspects. In the case of Mary Phagan, this becomes somewhat problematic, since she lived a relatively average life that was free of most major risk factors...

...except for one.

Like many children of her era, Phagan was forced to work to help provide for her mother and five siblings. During the early years of the 20th century, child labor was relatively common, especially in developing urban cities like Atlanta (where Mary Phagan grew up). The emergence of industrialization and mass production had forced many poor families to send their children into the workplace. As a result, Mary Phagan began employment at the National pencil Factory when her youthful vulnerability and inexperience could easily be exploited.

It was at this pencil factory that Mary Phagan encountered a diverse assortment of employees. Everyone from poor children (like herself), immigrant Jews and African Americans still trying to make a living for themselves and their families in the post-Civil War south were thrown together in the emerging industrialized workplace of Atlanta.

The manager of the National Pencil Factory was a young Jewish American named Leo Frank. Frank, who had graduated from Cornell University and worked a number of apprenticeships in pencil manufacturing, had established himself as a relatively stable member of the "jet set" community. Contrary to what many may think, a large portion of the Jewish community in the south experienced a good deal of success and social prestige during the early years of the 20th century. Many Jewish shop owners, merchants, etc. rose to prominence in southern society where their beliefs and practices were at least tolerated by their Christian neighbors. However, the further influx of Jewish immigrants to the south helped to fuel the bias of many "traditional" southerners. For Leo Frank, Atlanta (and much of the south in general) was teetering on the balance beam of social and racial strife. All that was needed was a spark to ignite an inferno.

The spark came on April 27, 1913, when Mary Phagan's dead and beaten body was found in the basement of the National Pencil Factory. Police were summoned to the factory when Newt Lee, a night watchman at the factory, reported finding a body of a deceased female. Phagan had apparently been strangled, raped and discarded in the dirt and mud of the basement. In addition, police discovered two handwritten notes neatly placed on Phagan's body, a pile of fresh excrement underneath the elevator, a small piece of cord and a large number of bloody fingerprints. Despite finding this treasure trove of evidence, investigators demonstrated almost complete incompetence in the processing of the scene. Every single bloody fingerprint was lost while other trace evidence was never collected. In fact, police actually loaned out many pieces of collected evidence (clothes, photos, etc.) to local reporters, some of it never to be returned. Newt Lee, who was the first to report the crime, was immediately imprisoned and kept under lock and key for over four months without ever being charged. In short, the police proved to be almost entirely unreliable.

In the immediate aftermath of the murder, police focused their attention on several factory employees, including the manager Leo Frank who accompanied police to the factory on the night Phagan's body was discovered. According to police, Frank appeared extremely nervous and was visibly shaken when asked to return to the factory. As one investigator would later testify:

Mrs. Frank came to the door; she had on a bathrobe. I stated that I would like to see Mr. Frank and about that time Mr. Frank stepped out from behind a curtain. Frank's voice was hoarse and trembling and nervous and excited. He looked to me like he was pale. He seemed nervous in handling his collar; he could not get his tie tied, and talked very rapid in asking what had happened. He kept insisting on a cup of coffee.
For many, Frank's nervousness was a clear sign of guilt, while for others it was simply the normal reaction of a man who had been awaken in the middle of the night by police and asked to accompany them to a murder scene. Either way, Frank's demeanor at the time was eventually used against him as "evidence" of his guilt (Click here for source material).

In addition to Frank, a factory janitor by the name of Jim Conley was also suspected of being involved in the murder. Conley, an African American, had been working the night of Phagan's murder and had also behaved strangely. At least two employees claimed that they saw him washing a shirt (which appeared to be covered in blood) that Conley claimed was dirty from cleaning the basement. In addition, Conley, while in a drunken stupor, allegedly told a friend (on the night of the murder) that he had "already killed one person for money" and "didn't want to kill another." When interviewed by police, however, Conley insisted that he wasn't at work, was illiterate and that he never knew Mary Phagan. However, Conley was forced to change his story when confronted with conflicting evidence. Police were able to prove that Conley had in fact been working the night of the murder and had known Phagan.

In addition, the most damning hole punched in Conley's story was his alleged illiteracy. Despite his claim, cops were able to prove that Conley was not only literate but had, in fact, penned the two notes found on Mary Phagan's body (click here to see the notes). Several handwriting experts were able to prove that Conley had written the notes. These notes (which were allegedly written by Mary Phagan as she was being murdered) essentially stated that "a long tall negro black" was responsible for the killing.

Faced with the truth, Conley concocted a new, sensational story in which he was forced by Leo Frank to write the notes. In addition, Conley told investigators that Frank had summoned Mary Phagan to his office and had told Conley to essentially stand guard outside while Frank conversed with Phagan. Conley then stated that Frank, who was visibly shaking and sweating, informed Conley that he had killed Phagan. Frank then allegedly ordered Conley to dispense with the body in the basement furnace. Police, however, found several problems with the story. If Frank had wanted the body burned then what was the point of placing notes on her body? In addition, a fresh pile of excrement had been found at the base of the elevator. If Conley had taken the body down via the elevator (as he claimed) why was the excrement untouched? Despite these obvious lies, police actually seemed to side with Conley. They believed that Frank held enough pull as a manager to make Conley conspire to such a cover up. Ignoring the obvious holes and downright lies in his story, investigators essentially embraced Conley's story and eventually made him their key witness against Frank.

On May 23, just short of a month after the murder, Leo Frank was indicted for the murder of Mary Phagan. The grand jury, which included 5 Jewish participants, only needed 10 minutes to indict Frank, claiming that "clear evidence" of Frank's guilt made the decision an easy one. Of course most of this "clear evidence" came from the "reliable" mouth of Jim Conley.

At trial, Frank's attorney's relied heavily on Frank's alibi, which they believed clearly exonerated their client. For the defense, the timeline of events leading up to Phagan's death made it impossible for Frank to have been involved in the murder. In addition, Frank's attorneys clearly chose to play the race card. And while it's understandable that the defense would want to pass guilt to Jim Conley, the racial bit was an obvious response to the already mounting antisemitism surrounding the trial. Unfortunately for Frank, the trial had become a public circus in which race and religion became more important than the actual case (I will discuss the social impact of the trial in part II). So when the defense made statements like, "A dirty, filthy, black, drunken, lying nigger is behind this" it's clear that even Frank's attorneys were feeling the mounting social tension.

In addition to calling on Jim Conley, the prosecution also relied on the testimony of several factory employees who claimed that Frank had made advances towards Phagan in the past. And while the validity of such testimonies are difficult to prove/disprove, it's important to note that many of these "testimonies" had been initially taken by investigators who had given these witnesses an abundance of liquor during questioning.

To make a long story short, Leo Frank was eventually found guilty, primarily because of the "expert" testimony of Jim Conley. The following day, Frank was sentenced to hang for the crime but the sentence of death was eventually commuted by Governor John Slaton (more on this coming in part II). The governor's decision set off a massive response of anger and hostility from those who were convinced that Frank was guilty. As a result, Frank was eventually kidnapped from the jail in which he was housed and lynched by the mob (the only recorded lynching of a Jew). Included in the mob was a former governor, mayor, 3 lawyers and several of Frank's co-workers. Frank's final words were, "I think more of my wife and my mother than I do of my own life."

The Leo Frank fiasco is virtually a textbook example of the criminal justice system gone terribly wrong. The combination of inept police investigators, biased prosecutors, a pathetic defense and the obvious influence of mounting mob anger gave Leo Frank zero chance at a fair trial. And whether or not you believe Frank to be guilty there can be no doubt that the man's trial was a fiasco. By the rules of law, evidence, etc. Frank never should have even seen the inside of the courtroom.

As for Jim Conley, who many feel was the true killer, he received only 1 year on a chain gang for his part in the cover up. In addition, it's worth noting that a former factory worker named Alonzo Mann stated that he saw Conley alone at the factory (Frank had gone home) and that it was Conley who disposed of the body and threatened to kill Mann if he talked. Conley's lawyer also later stated that Conley was "obviously guilty."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sex Crimes in Early America

How Gender Relations and Patriarchal
Dominance Established Criminal Precedent

Being that early colonial America is my favorite era to study, and law enforcement has been my primary career path, I have always been interested in the role that crime and law enforcement had during this period. As a result, I occasionally enjoy reading a book on the topic from time to time.

One of the most recent works that I have read on the history of crime in early America is Sharon Block’s Rape & Sexual Power in Early America, which was published in 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. In the book, Block discusses the origins, evolution and perception of sex and gender relationships during the earliest years of American colonization and revolution. Naturally, the ideas and motivations behind sexual activity in the 17th and 18th centuries were greatly influenced by the religious beliefs of those eras, which is why they are often so hard to research. Yet despite these difficulties, Block presents a thorough overview of this often ignored topic.

As is the case with all sexual crime, power and control lay at the heart of the matter. In the early years of American society, however, sexual crimes such as rape and incest were routinely seen as crimes of unbridled lust and passion, in which the perpetrator was unable to bridle his desires. To make matters worse, women were regularly labeled as being the instigators of these vile acts while the men were seen as the helpless bystanders, unable to withstand the seduction of their victims. As Block states:
Although Americans wrote surprisingly frequently about rape, it remained a difficult crime to charge and to successfully prove. Early Americans often saw the violence of forced sex as an unfortunate result of sexual desire rather than the original intent of the sexual act. Passions – understood as strong feelings or emotions – remained an explanation for sexual desires into the nineteenth century, as their meaning moved from a primarily religious focus to one that combined religious and secular concerns. As a result of passions, sexual coercion was less an aberrant act of violent sexual force than an extension of normative sexual practices. A rape might begin with voluntary social or sexual offers and end with the aggressor attempting to continue normal social relations after the rape. Contrary to modern expectations, physical force did not provide a clear dividing line between coercion and consent. Consensual sex could be physically forceful (17).
Or in other words, instead of the modern understanding that "no means no," in colonial America it actually meant, “pursue even harder.”

One of the central themes to Block’s work, which is essential to understanding sexual activity in early America, is the issue of gender relations. As Block points out, gender relations of the 17th and 18th centuries were directly tied to the patriarchal nature of religion and government. The church, which castigated women as being frivolous and undomesticated in their sexuality, placed the “evils” of sexual relations primarily on the shoulders of women. As a result, victims of rape were regularly chastised by church authorities for being too flamboyant and inviting with their sexuality. Or in other words, the women were simply “asking for it.” In addition, men were seen as the “custodians” of sex, since they could be trusted with exercising it in an "appropriate" manner. As a result, this type of “authority” became the ideal breeding ground for manipulation and domination that enticed even the most reserved predator:
Some men used an array of social interactions as a springboard for sexual relations. Those forms of sexual coercion differed greatly from the archetypal stranger rape committed through brute force and grave bodily threat. Neighbors in small communities might use their everyday social relations to create opportunities for sexual force or read inappropriate socializing as evidence of a woman’s consent to subsequent sexual relations. (77).
As can be imagined, this type of gender relationship gave way to patriarchal dominance that permeated virtually every social encounter between man and woman. Whether in friendship, courtship or marriage, men could find a justification for their sexual desires.

Ethical and moral issues, like the ones brought up by Block, are difficult to discuss to say the least, but they are imperative if we hope to better understand the history of whatever era we hope to study. Understanding the criminal aspects of a society, along with what that particular society deemed to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior, can help historians take a moral “pulse” on the past. In addition, it helps us to sift through the abundance of moral rhetoric to uncover the fragments of ethical behavior that past societies actually cherished and exhaled as being protected by God and the law. For these reasons, Sharon Block’s Rape & Sexual Power in Early America receives an A in my grade book.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The True Origins and History of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Like almost everyone on this planet, I am a big fan of Disney cartoons. With my two little boys, I enjoy watching the latest and greatest animated feature that the miracle workers at Disney and Dreamworks are able to throw together with such brilliance. It never ceases to amaze me how these producers, animators, etc. are able to continually push the creative envelope further and further. Whether it's Toy Story, Shrek or Cars, these animators have created a massive assortment of instant classics that are sure to delight generations of fans.

With that said, I must admit that despite the obvious brilliance and technological superiority of newer animations, one "old school" cartoon stands supreme in the pantheon of animated film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Ever since I saw it for the first time as a little boy, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has remained my all-time favorite cartoon, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

Aside from being a personal favorite, Snow White has also played a unique role in the history of animated film that literally transformed animation forever and launched Walt Disney into immortality. That's right, it wasn't Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck that made Disney the worldwide brand we all recognize today, but rather a pale, dark-haired damsel and her seven vertically-challenged roommates!

The Origins of the Snow White Story

Contrary to what some may think, Snow White was not the brainchild of Walt Disney or any of his colleagues. In fact, the original story of Snow White is much older than America itself. The first known accounts of the Snow White story come to us from the Brothers Grimm, who, during the early years of the 19th century, collected and published a number of old European folktales, many of which dated back to the Middle Ages (Snow White possibly being one of them). The original Snow White story (known in German as Schneewittchen) has several different twists that make it unique from the Disney tale we all know and love. Here are just a few:

- In the Grimm tale, Snow White is but a 16-year-old girl.

- The dwarfs (more than 7) DEMAND that Snow White work and cook for them in order for her to have their protection.

-The evil queen step-mother actually tries to kill Snow White on three different occasions. First she ties Snow White up and leaves her for dead, only to discover that the dwarfs have freed her just in time. Second, she disguises herself as a poor peddler and combs Snow White's hair with a poisoned brush but is again unsuccessful when the dwarfs come to save her. And finally, the part we all recognize, Snow White is poisoned by an apple.

-The "handsome prince" does not meet Snow White prior to her fleeing into the woods. Instead, he stumbles upon her in her coffin and pays the dwarfs to take her and the coffin with him on his journey home. While in route to his kingdom, the coffin shakes open and a piece of the poisoned apple is released from Snow White's throat causing her to regain consciousness. The "handsome prince" and Snow White then (after vomiting the apple, not embracing in a romantic kiss) ride off into the sunset to live "happily ever after."

-The evil queen stepmother, who is shocked to see Snow White alive at the wedding of her and the prince, is hunted down by the dwarfs and is forced to dance for hours on end while wearing a pair of heated iron shoes, which eventually burn her to death.

This original version of the Snow White tale (which most experts agree probably dates back to at least the 16th century) may seem strange at first to those of us in the modern era, but it was a huge hit for those who heard it first hand. In fact, the Snow White tale was not confined to Germanic lands. In Italy, the tales of Bella Venezia and The Young Slave contain many parallels, as does the Greek story of Myrsina and the Scottish tale Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree However, the non-German tales usually depict the dwarfs as rough thugs who steal, murder, plunder, etc. but are eventually cured of their evil deeds upon seeing Snow White's beauty (even though in an Albanian version the dwarfs basically gang rape her).

What is important to remember about these versions of the Snow White tale is that they provide an interesting glimpse into the late Middle Ages. With the rise of the Renaissance and Reformation, the role of women faced a strict dichotomy: on the one hand, you had the beauty, purity and ignorance of Snow White; on the other, you had the conspiring, vindictive and hateful nature of the evil stepmother. Such was the case for women of this era. Women were seen as unpredictable creatures who were in great need of "control" and "stability" that only a male partner (the "handsome prince" and dwarfs) could provide. Women were to be as Snow White: pure, innocent and helpless. All of this could, of course, be achieved by her acceptance of her new role in society. Without such a system, women were sure to become like the evil stepmother.

The Case of Margarete von Waldeck

Aside from these traditional folktale stories of old, there is another possible explanation for the origin of the Snow White story. In 1994, the German scholar, Eckhard Sander, published Schneewittchen: Marchen oder Wahrheit? (Snow White: Is It a Fairy Tale?). In his book, Sander alleges that many of the traditional components to the Snow White tale can be found in the real life story of Margarete von Waldeck (1533-1554), who was a countess and the alleged lover of Philip II of Spain. As was the case with almost all royal marriages, political aspirations were more important than love. And as was the case with Philip II (who was destined at the time to inherit the kingdom from Charles V) almost everyone of royal blood had a vested interest in his love life. And though Margarete was a countess, the relationship held no real political clout. Nothing could have been gained politically from their union and as a result, many have argued that Margarete was poisoned to get her out of the way. Her death at a young age, coupled with the fact that many of her contemporaries believed she had been poisoned (there is an obvious tremor in the handwriting of Margarete's final will) have convinced many that her death was in fact from poisoning. And as was the case with Snow White, Margarete allegedly had a terrible relationship with her stepmother (though it should be noted that the stepmother was already dead prior to Margarete's alleged poisoning so there is no way she could have been responsible). Nevertheless, the family dynamics between Margarete and her stepmother were such that many believed she had reached out from the grave (possibly possessing the body of a vagrant old woman) to poison Margarete. In addition, a wild madman of the time had been trying to kill a number of children by poisoning apples and many believed that the spirit of Margarete's stepmother was "coaching" the madman in an effort to kill Margarete von Waldeck.

In addition, it is worth noting that Margarete was forced to leave her home and live in Brussels at the age of 16 (allegedly due to problems with her stepmother). Also, the town in which she grew up (Wildungen) employed a countless number of young children to work in the copper mines as quasi-slaves. The poor conditions there caused most to die before age 20 while the rest faced severe malnutrition, which attributed to a severe stunt in their growth during puberty. As a result, these workers were often ridiculed for being "poor dwarfs" who were only good for human chattel in the mines. Margarete would have certainly been aware of them since it was primarily members of her family that "employed" the "dwarfs."

Walt Disney's Snow White

As pointed out above, it is obvious that Walt Disney did not create the Snow White story. Even so, this does not mean that his role is irrelevant in promoting and preserving this classic European folktale. Quite the contrary. Without Disney, it's likely that few people would know anything about the Snow White tale or the other Brothers Grimm tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) that he brought to the big screen.

But the role of Snow White, as it applies to Walt Disney, was much more than the mere preservation of a folktale. It was, in every sense of the word, the single most important and influential decision of his career. It was Snow White (not Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, a cool theme park ride, etc.) that launched Disney to greatness.

During its earliest years, the Disney brand confined itself to making small 5-10 minute animated "shorts" which usually preceded full-length feature films. Of course it was Mickey Mouse that became Disney's "golden child" during these years. The creation of the "Silly Symphonies," a running series of animated shorts that were distributed by Columbia Pictures, helped to lift the likes of Mickey, Donald and Goofy past Betty Boop and other rivals.

Despite his early success, Disney quickly saw his monopoly on animated "shorts" disappear with the emergence of Popeye the Sailor Man and Bugs Bunny. Animated shorts were becoming increasingly more expensive to make and were bringing in less and less money. Simply put, the competition was beginning to slowly squeeze the Disney franchise to death.

It was under these circumstances that Walt Disney suggested a new and radical idea for animation: create a full-length feature film. And while the notion of a full-length animated movie sounds standard to the modern movie buff, the idea of such an undertaking was seen as both crazy and suicidal in the 1930s. After all, animation was nothing more than a side show event to precede the "real" movies. Surely nobody would pay to see an hour long cartoon!

Nevertheless, Disney could not be dissuaded, even when his own wife told him that "nobody will go to see your stupid dwarf cartoon" and the New York Times labeled Snow White as "Disney's Folly." After convincing other like-minded animators to join his project, Disney was able to raise the $250,000 needed to begin production on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (the amount eventually climbed to over $1 million). In addition, Disney was forced to mortgage his home and studio as collateral. In every sense, this was an "all or nothing" gamble for Disney.

Finally, on December 21, 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs debuted to sold out theaters across the country. In Los Angeles, the film received a standing ovation from a crowd that included Hollywood juggernauts like Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan, etc., many of whom were engulfed in tears. Audiences were stunned to discover that they could in fact develop an emotional attachment to animated characters. Charlie Chaplin and Gary Cooper went so far as to hail Snow White as "The greatest movie ever made." By May, Snow White had become the most successful film of all-time, a position it held for 4 years until finally beat out by Gone With the Wind. In a very real sense, Walt Disney had hit a home run...a grand slam.

The success of Snow White forced others to reevaluate their "game plan" for movie production. For rival MGM, it was the success of Snow White that convinced them to take a chance on a project that almost everyone was afraid to touch...a little project known as The Wizard of Oz. After Snow White Disney would go on to create Fantasia and other blockbuster films, all of which made Disney a worldwide success story.

But none of it would have happened without a silly, gullible maiden and her seven short sidekicks, who got the "snowball" rolling for Disney, which is why there can be no question that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the greatest cartoon ever made. In its rankings of all-time greatest movies, the American Film Institute ranks Snow White as the #41 greatest and most influential film ever made (the only cartoon to make the list). The "evil queen stepmother" ranks #10 as the all-time greatest movie villain and the film ranks #1 as the greatest animated film ever (eat that, Shrek, Donkey, Woodie, Buzz, etc.)

Oh, and let us not forget the music. The AFI also ranked "Someday My Prince Will Come" as the #19 greatest movie song of all-time. And for your listening pleasure, here is a modern twist performed by a young woman who happens to also be a member of my faith:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tea Parties: 18th Century v. 21st Century

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of the sudden emergence of the "tea party" movements that have captured the attention of many "super conservatives" this past year. In the spirit of the original tea party of old, many of these new activists fancy themselves as revolutionaries who are crying out in the dark for freedom from oppression and tyranny.

But just how similar are the "tea parties" of today with those of old?

Comparing the Boston Tea Party to the various tea parties that have taken place across the nation in recent months is complex to say the least. After all, we're trying to compare 18th century America with today's society. Most of the social, cultural, and technological norms are completely different now. The majority of early Americans wouldn't even recognize modern America as being their "stomping ground." This is probably the most important (and obvious) distinction to make, especially when we consider just how much tea party pundits (most notably Glenn Beck) have tried to cast the founders in a modern light.

With that said, here are a few specific differences between the tea parties of today and the original tea party of 1773:

1. First off, the legacy of the Boston Tea Party (1773) has been used on a number of occasions. In fact, Mahondas Gandhi (not Mahatma Gandhi) invoked the legacy of the Boston Tea Party in 1908 by inspiring his fellow Indians to burn British registration cards. In the early 1970s there were a large number of gatherings that called themselves "tea parties." At one “I Love America” rally led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, followers were asked to burn bags of tea, symbolizing the people’s anger over the newly-enacted Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. In 1973, the 200th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, protestors gathered at the White House to call for the impeachment of then President Richard Nixon by throwing bags of tea on the White House lawn. In 1998, two conservative US Congressmen put the federal tax code into a chest marked "tea" and dumped it into the harbor. And finally, in 2006 a breakoff of the Libertarian Party called the “Boston Tea Party” was founded.

2. The motivations behind today’s tea parties and the original tea party of 1773 are completely different. The Boston Tea Party (1773) was actually a protest AGAINST a corporate tax cut, as opposed to today’s tea parties which protested rising taxes and an increase of government spending, etc. In 1773, The British East India Company was nearly bankrupt and instead of providing a "bailout" or government loan, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which eliminated for this company the duty on tea exported to America. As a result, smaller merchants in the colonies were expected to suffer, since they didn’t received the same tax cuts as the East India Company. The Boston Tea Party was the peak of a boycott against a company that got huge corporate tax cuts granted to them by the government. Once the ships from the East India Company arrived in Boston’s harbor, men like Samuel Adams and John Hancock were quick to seize the opportunity and turn it into a political advantage by rallying local Boston merchants to their cause. On December 16, after assembling at the Old South Church to express their grievances, Samuel Adams stood and gave the “secret message” to his devout “Sons of Liberty” (and Masons) to assemble at the docks, where they had their “tea party.” 342 chests of tea (property of the East India Company) were seized and dumped into Boston Harbor.

Now, this is often contrary to what many people know about the Boston Tea Party. After all, most Americans believe that the American Revolution was the result of taxes being levied against them by Britain. This isn’t 100% accurate. To understand the role that taxes played in the American Revolution we must go back to 1765. The British Empire, fresh of its complete rout of the French in the French and Indian War, was faced with a mounting debt as a result of that war. As a result, Parliament decided to levy a small tax (roughly one percent) against the colonists in America. Parliament believed that the colonists needed to play off a small portion of Britain’s debt, since the war had been fought to protect the colonists in the first place. As a result, the STAMP ACT was passed. However, the colonists exploded in anger and protested the act. Led by Boston Revolutionary Samuel Adams, the colonists succeeded in having the Stamp Act repealed. One of the main reasons for their success was their usage of the old propaganda phrase, “No taxation without representation,” which had been coined in 1750 by Reverend John Mayhew. By repealing the Stamp Act, the colonists believed they had succeeded and that everything would be ok.

The colonists’ excitement, however, was to be short-lived. In 1766 Parliament passed the often forgotten DECLARATORY ACT, which stated that Parliament had the right and power to govern its colonies, “in all cases whatsoever.” In essence, this became the catalyst for the revolution. It created a “showdown” between the legitimacy of Parliament’s rule and the sovereignty of the colonies. In fact, Thomas Jefferson would quote the Declaratory Act several times in the Declaration of Independence.

So, while taxes were an issue early on, it is important to recognize that they played a very limited role in bringing about the American Revolution.

3. The Boston Tea Party was an illegal action of a mob that committed assault, theft, destruction of property, etc. The tea parties of today did no such thing (at least to my knowledge). The Boston Tea Party was literally an act of defiance to the laws of the British. The participants were willfully and knowingly being insubordinate to the will of King and country. The results of their actions caused the British to impose a complete blockade of Boston Harbor. Today’s tea parties, while an expression of anger/intolerance of current government decisions, do not invoke the same response nor do they take the same radical steps of defiance.

4. Today’s tea party participants claim that their petition was a “grass roots” movement led and organized by the people, a claim that is hotly debated by many. The Boston Tea Party, however, was not. It was led by prominent and influential Bostonians like Samuel Adams and the VEEEERY rich John Hancock, who, interestingly enough, stood to lose a fortune by the East India Company. His motives were not as pure as we are often taught.

5. The Boston Tea Party was NOT assembled out of a growing concern over the size of government, government spending, etc. Instead it was assembled on issues like colonial sovereignty v. Parliamentary rule, corporate tax breaks, and a lack of government funding for the development of the American merchant class. In fact, this last point (the development of the American merchant class) was a fundamental issue for Thomas Paine in his extremely influential pamphlet, “Common Sense.” It’s worth noting that political activist Glenn Beck has quoted Thomas Paine on several occasions, especially during the tea parties of the last year. However, Beck neglects to recognize the fact that Paine was IN FAVOR of bigger government, more government spending, higher taxes, welfare programs, etc.

And while the differences between the tea parties of today and the Boston Tea Party of 1773 are vast, it’s important to remember that at the heart they share the same basic principle: that the people are where sovereignty and power ultimately reside…at least that is the hope of its participants, whether in the 18th or 21st century. And it’s likely that we haven’t seen the end to the legacy of the Boston Tea Party!!!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Did James Wilson Pen the Constitution?

And if so, What are
the Implications?

A historic moment in the study of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers may be taking place right under our noses. Lorianne Updike Toler, a recent graduate of Brigham Young University, has thrown the historical community a curveball that apparently nobody is sure how to read. While conducting research at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Mrs. Toler made a discovery that if proved accurate, could throw a wrench into the workings of early American historiography. Buried deep in the archives, Toler found what she believes is an original draft of the Constitution that was written by none other than James Wilson. From the Mormon Times:

"This makes James Wilson very much equal to Thomas Jefferson as a drafter of the Constitution," she said. "It means to truly understand the Constitution, we need to study James Wilson a whole lot more."


Toler said she was puzzled when she noticed, while examining what scholars consider to be the first draft of the Constitution, that there were three upside down paragraphs on the back of the document. The hurriedly composed paragraphs, beginning with the familiar words "We The People," were written in Wilson's hand.

Later, as Toler was digging through a box of legal papers at the historical society, she stumbled upon a document that appeared to pick up where Wilson's scribbled notes left off.

Toler was overwhelmed.

"To find something that is so important to the development of our country -- it was almost a sacred moment for me," Toler said, of finding the draft in November. "The founding documents, to me, are American scripture, and I had found one of the first chapters."

Toler first fell in love with the Founding Fathers as a home-schooled teenager. Her mother was an active lobbyist at the Utah Legislature, so Toler learned about democracy while doing her homework in the Senate gallery. As a law student at BYU, she founded the Constitutional Sources Project, a nonprofit devoted to making primary historical papers available online.

Only about 25 percent of the 21 million artifacts at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are cataloged. According to Historical Society records,the society's records, the page Toler believes is a third draft of the Constitution has been filed away in a box marked simply "James Wilson: Volume Two" since at least 1970. Toler suspects the document has been in that box since it was first transcribed by Yale scholar Max Farrand in 1911.
"It was just sitting there, forgotten," Toler said.

According to Farrand's writings, in 1911, he connected the three-paragraph introduction on the back of Wilson's first draft to a document titled "The Continuation of the Scheme," Toler said. The paper Toler found is also called "The Continuation of the Scheme."
She doesn't believe it's a coincidence.

Not everyone, however, is as excited.

"I'm pretty skeptical," said Andrew Shankman, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, shortly after examining the paper. "It doesn't appear to fit with the known drafts of the Constitution."

Specifically, he said, the numbering system between the three-paragraph fragment and "The Continuation of the Scheme" don't seem to match up, he said. The style is less formal than Wilson's other drafts.

Toler acknowledged the inconsistent style between drafts but attributed the differences to a "more relaxed, scatterbrained" Wilson, she said.

"This is significant because James Wilson was always polished in front of others," Toler said. "To me, the way these documents were written demonstrates that he worked alone on this project for some time. These are his raw thoughts."
What are the implications of such a discovery (assuming the discovery is legit)? Difficult to say. But I can't wait to look over what Wilson may have written in these documents!