Tuesday, November 28, 2006

False Imprisonment

So there I was, about to turn off my computer a couple of days ago, and thinking about my great-grandfather Pryor. I had just written a small item about him for an attached web site. He has been dead almost a hundred years so there wasn’t much new with him. Anyway, I entered his name in the search spot in Google and wow! Up came a site for the sale of historical documents.

One of the documents for sale was a letter written at the Executive Mansion (of the President of the U.S.). The letter was written by Abraham Lincoln to Secretary of War Stanton about what to do with a couple of civilians who were in prison in Ohio.

One of the men was my great-grandfather. I knew he had been in prison at the behest of A. Lincoln but I didn’t know why. I always suspected it was because he had helped Confederate General John Hunt Morgan escape the Yankees in central Kentucky.

My great-grandfather did help Morgan, but the letter from Lincoln was written some eight months before Hunt had escaped! I had been wrong all these years about the reason for prison. Lincoln had tried by military court and imprisoned some 13,500 civilians in the North by the end of the War, so one more or less didn’t matter (KY was a neutral state).

Lincoln used the passive term when he wrote, “It is said that William S. Pryor is in prison . . .” He acted as if he didn’t know about it. But Lincoln’s good friend, Judge James Pryor was William S. Pryor’s fond uncle, and I bet Judge Jim leaned on Honest Abe a bit to let his favorite nephew out of the pokey. Abe, after all, was a very ordinary politician.

So I do not know why my great-grandfather was imprisoned. But I do know he was a lawyer and a good one from the size of his 1859 mansion.

Lawyers tend to lose their law licenses if they have been sent to prison, but imprisonment by Lincoln was reason for a merit badge, not a disbarment, and after the war my great-grandfather not only continued to practice law but also was made a circuit court judge. He served on the circuit for three years and then was appointed Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. He was on that bench for twenty-six years, longer than anybody before or after.

Evidently, prison was a only graduate course.

I still want to find out what pretext was used to imprison him, other than the fact that he was a Democrat and Lincoln was a Republican. Kentucky politics can get rough.

,, ,,

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

End of an Obsession

The only way to end the obsession of writing a book, I have found, is to start writing another book.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Milton Friedman, 1912-2006

When I began studying economics in college, the Great Voice in the field was that of John Maynard Keynes, the darling of the Left. He was the entrée. People such as Milton Friedman were side dishes, the cole slaw of economics.

John Maynard Keynes’ The General Theory was sturdy and complex, and it obfuscated the fact that the author was basically just another socialist who saw big government as the answer to most problems in a society. It is no mystery that he had a huge influence over President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We students were given the opportunity to read a slender volume called Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. It was not as pretentious and weighty as The General Theory, but it made more sense and was elegant in its reasoning.

Thus it was that I (and many others) came to see that Milton Friedman was a beacon of light in a sea of socialism. Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan also came to that conclusion as did Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain.

Friedman was not just an economist, he was a political thinker as well. He correctly saw that human freedom and dignity come as a natural result of free markets. For some strange reason, the Leftist Nobel Committee awarded him the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976.

Over the past forty years Milton Friedman has positively affected the lives of millions and millions of people. His influence will be felt for years into the future by freedom-loving people.

What about John Maynard Keynes? The entrée has become stale. He is seldom mentioned, while the side dish has become the main meal for free countries.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

History's Mysteries

It was a rainy Monday afternoon, that May 4, 1874, when Bill Smoot murdered James M. Walker in a small town in Kentucky. Bill pulled his trigger in front of all the townspeople as a warning. He was the head of the local KKK and Jim Walker had been trying to get the Klan to stop killing people—men, women, little boys and girls alike. The Klan was warning local citizens not to interfere.

It was probably the first time a white man had been killed by the Klan in central Kentucky.

After Jim’s murder, the Klan, along with the sheriff and some others, chased all the “good guys” out of the area, using guns as persuaders. One of the pursued was a deputy U.S. Marshal. It wasn’t until the Federal Marshal of Kentucky got into the act and threatened to jail the sheriff that the chase was broken up.

Smoot was tried by a state court and immediately acquitted. That is the way things worked with state courts. But Smoot was then hauled to Louisville to a Federal Court and tried for interfering with a Marshal in the pursuit of his duties. He was found guilty, with two subordinates, and sent to prison for five years.

That should be the end of the story. But Smoot was out of prison quickly, riding again with his gang.

It seems that on March 3, 1877, with only two days to go in office, President U.S. Grant pardoned Bill Smoot and his two friends. And he raised all kinds of questions.

Jim Walker was my great-grandfather and I had written about the murder and subsequent events. I even wrote what I had heard about a pardon, but the National Archives has been unable to find a copy. Then, last week, someone sent me an image of the Smoot pardon by email!

It seems that President Grant, a Republican, had granted a pardon to a KKK member who was a Democrat, an ignorant day laborer with a strong penchant for drink, with no money, who was from an obscure county in KY. Grant wrote in the pardon that he was encouraged to make the pardon at the behest of two Democrat senators and the Democrat governor of Kentucky.

How does a drunken killer with no money get the attention of such high level people? My research showed that most probably the governor of KY was in the Klan, but I do not know if the U.S. Senators were in the Klan. Even so—why go to all the bother of getting a presidential pardon for this lay-a-bout? Grant wrote in the pardon that Smoot was convicted for an infraction of the “Enforcement Act” (civil rights laws of the time) but Smoot was not convicted for that reason, so the pardon was probably not valid, but he was released anyway..

President Grant’s administration was known for its corruption, but no one seriously claimed that Grant was anything but honest.

Perhaps we will never know why Grant gave the pardon for a specific crime and not a general pardon. Nor will we probably ever know why he did anything about Smoot at all. Nor will we be enlightened about Smoot’s “pull” in high places.

We can speculate that Smoot had information about the Senators and the Governor that would be embarrassing, but that is all. There seems to be nothing about Smoot’s case that would be of benefit to Grant or the Republicans.

It is just one of history’s mysteries.