JUNE 2017

JUNE  2017
J.P. Morgan as a young man in his own words - "The Public Be Damned."

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

FIGHTING OVER SWAMPLAND

“Politics have no relation to morals”
Niccolo Machiavelli - “The Prince” - 1513
I would say that 1835 was, like most years, a revolutionary year in America. Inspired by pro-slavery gringo emigrants, Texas rebelled against anti-slavery Mexico. In Boston, five thousand bigots broke into a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, and dragged abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison through the streets at the end of a rope. In South Carolina 36 slaves and one 60 year old free-black carpenter were hanged for trying to organize a slave revolt. Down in Florida the Second Seminole War broke out when Native Americans refused to surrender their freedom and their homes. And along the shores of Lake Erie, free whites did their very best to start a war over possession of 268 square miles of swamp known as “The Toledo Strip”.
In truth, the Great Black Swamp was what film maker Alfred Hitchcock would call a "magoffin'. It was not what people were really fighting over, even tho it was what people were fighting over. It was not even much of a swamp by Louisiana standards. It was great only because it occupied a swath of land 40 miles wide and 120 miles long, in the northwest corner Ohio – which was a little far north for a swamp.
It was really a remnant of the ice ages, a collection of ponds and marshes interspersed with hillocks, filled and drained by the 130 mile long Maumee River, which rose from the high ground around Fort Wayne,  Indiana and fed into Lake Erie.  It's only claim to fame was that it formed a natural barrier between the state of Ohio and the territory of Michigan. The Black Swamp was certainly not desirable  farmland, but it provided a bumper crop of mosquitoes each summer, and they, and the malaria they carried, made life difficult for any intrepid surveyors who might set up their theodolites upon such soggy ground.
“Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
The first real attempt to draw the border was made in 1817, when Michigan Territory hired surveyor William Harris. According to the “Harris Line” the mouth of the Maumee River was in Michigan, below the swamp. In 1818 Ohio responded by hiring John Fulton to survey the border, which he found five miles further north, avoiding the swamp by going above it. Taken together the two lines bracketed the Great Black Swamp. And while the desire of a surveyor to avoid all those mosquitoes was understandable, the residents of Ohio and Michigan were confused. They appealed to Washington, D.C.  But abiding by the political rule that whatever you do will make somebody angry with you, the Federal politicians decided to do nothing. After all, nobody would fight for ownership of a swamp. Would  they?
Then in 1825 the Erie Canal opened, connecting the port of New York City with the Great Lakes. It proved to be such an economic revolution that plans were immediately drawn up for a port at the mouth of the Maumee River, and a canal up that river to Fort Wayne, Indiana (statehood granted in 1816), where it would connect to another canal to be built down the Wabash River, to the Ohio and thence to the Mississippi. Those canals would make the port at Toledo (which was established by Ohio in 1832) the hub of transportation for the entire center of the continent. A Toledo lawyer, John Fitch, noted that already it was the general opinion that “no place on the lake except Buffalo will rival it.” Quite a claim to fame - almost as big as Buffalo. The politically active residents of Michigan Territory became convinced that Ohio politicians were trying to steal Toledo from them. Which was true.
The politics finally solidified when hot-headed 23 year old Stephen Mason was appointed Territorial Governor of Michigan. He was a gift from President Andrew Jackson, a man who appreciated hot heads. And under pressure from other hot heads in the territory,  Governor Mason issued the “Pains and Penalties Act” of 12 February, 1835,  making it illegal for a non-Michigan resident to enforce Ohio law in Toledo, Michigan Territory.
The Cleveland, Ohio newspapers called the Michigan claim to Toledo “as absurd as it is ridiculous.” And on 23 February, the defiant Ohio General Assembly, playing to their own base, voted to “run the border” of the Fulton Line, meaning to mark it again as Toledo, Ohio, with stone posts that clearly said so. Then on April Fool’s day Michigan held local elections in the Toledo Strip. On 6 April, Ohio held competing local elections in the Toledo Strip. Somebody was going to have to disappoint their supporters..
“Before all else be armed.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
Two days later a Michigan Country sheriff and an armed posse of 40 men rode into Toledo to enforce the Penalties Act. Several men snuck into the home of Benjamin Stickney, who was an “Ohio patriot” or an Phio Nut - depending on which side of the border you lived on. He was also a major in the Ohio militia. Now, even allowing for how little humanity knew at the time about dysfunctional parenting, the level of strangeness displayed by Benjamin Stickney toward his own children is staggering. This respected member of the Ohio community named his eldest son “Number One” and his younger son “Number Two”. Stickney also had a daughter, but we don't know what he called her. I suspect it might have been “Light Sleeper”.
You see, on the night of 8 April, 1835,  the girl was awakened by a noise, and she stepped into the hall to investigate. A creeping Michigan deputy clamped a hand over the startled child’s mouth, and held her silent, lest she shout a warning to her father.  Alas, Benjamin Stickney would not have heard her, as he was not at home. So two of his house guests were arrested and taken north for arraignment. Two days later they were released on bail.
In handbills and letters to Ohio newspapers Major Stickney inflated the posse to 300 men “armed with muskets and bayonetts". He claimed that the deputies had tried to gouge out his eyes (he wasn't there)  and had “throttled” his daughter.  He urged his fellow buckeyes to “turn out en masse to protect  their northern border and restrain the savage barbarity of the hordes of the north.”  Ohio Governor Robert Lucas, another Jackson Democrat,  sent 40 men to guard his surveyors and ordered the 100,000 members of the state militia to assemble in the tiny town of Perryville, Ohio, just up the Maumee River from Toledo. Only 10,000 actually responded and most of them never got to Perryville, because they got lost in the swamp.
Meanwhile on Sunday 21 April a Michigan posse 30 strong, caught the Ohio “line runners” relaxing in camp.   Most of the buckeyes broke for the woods, but nine of the protecting militia were caught in the open. When the Michigan posse fired a volley over their heads they wisely surrendered. All seven were unharmed but were arrested for violating the “Pains and Penalties Act”. And on Monday morning six were granted bail and two were released after a warning to behave. The only Ohioan who remained in jail was Jonathan Fletcher, a hot head who refused to post bail “on principle.” In the annals of Michigan this encounter was memorialized as the “Battle of Phillip’s Corner”, since the encounter had occurred in a field owned by Eli Phillips, who supported Michigan.
“The distinction between children and adults, while probably useful for some purposes, is at bottom a specious one, I feel. There are only individual egos, crazy for love.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
The smell of gunpowder had brought a degree of sanity back to Governor Mason, and in the spirit of good will he suspended enforcement of his Pains and Penalties Act. But now it was the Ohio legislature’s turn to appease their base. Kidnapping was already illegal in Ohio, but buckeye politicians felt it necessary to pass a new law providing hard labor for kidnapping anyone from Ohio. And they made Toledo the capital of a new Ohio county.
In Toledo one observer noted “Men (were) galloping about – guns getting ready – wagons being filled with people and hurrying off, and everybody in commotion “ The little town of just 1,250 citizens had become a magnet for every nut case, political hot head and pugnacious drifter in the Midwest. In July, two Michigan deputies tried to hold an auction of property seized for non payment of Michigan taxes, and a gang of Ohio “patriots”, led by Number Two Strikney, broke up the auction. So, on 12 July 1835 a Michigan arrest warrant was issued for the son-of-a-patriot, for disturbing the peace.  Number Two, upon learning of the warrant, sent a message to the Michigan Sheriff to stay out of Toledo, if he wanted to live.
That threat set Michigan Governor Mason off again. He ordered 250 men into Toledo, under Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood, to arrest Number Two and his "gang". Most of the Ohio “patriots” ran safely for the Maumee River border, but Number Two didn’t make it. When Sheriff Wood physically grabbed Number Two, he pulled what in Ohio was called a pen knife and in Michigan described as “a dirk”.  “Two” stabbed the sheriff in the leg and disappeared across the Maumee River. The wound was minor and the sheriff was able to ride back across the border that night, having paused to arrest Number Two’s father, Major Stickney, and drag him back to Michigan, tied to the back of a horse. But before leaving town the Michiganders also smashed the offices of the pro-Ohio Toledo Gazette, behaving, claimed the paper, worse than an “Algerian robbery or Turkish persecution.” It seemed the residents were finally running short of hyperbole. What was left but gunpowder?
“A wise ruler ought never to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interests.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513.
It was at this point that Andrew Jackson finally stepped in and on 29 August, 1835 removed Mason as governor of Michigan Territory. Jackson also let it be known that Michigan would only be allowed to become a state after they accepted that Toledo was a town in Ohio. It was a bitter pill for the Badger rabble to swallow, particularly after all that rabble rousing, but as a sop for hurt feelings, the federal government granted Michigan the additional territory known as the Northern Peninsula. Michigan was finally admitted into the union, sans Toledo, on 26 January, 1837.
So Ohio won. The canals were dug, and the buckeyes benefited from the taxes paid by the port at the mouth of the Maumee River.  In 1842 1,578 barrels of flour and 12,976 bushels of wheat were shipped through Toledo, Ohio, and taxed.  By 1852 the totals were a quarter million barrels flour and almost two million bushels of wheat. But Toledo did not become the transportation hub for the Midwest, because canal technology was superseded by the railroads, and Chicago superseded Toledo; none of which the Ohio patriots could have predicted in 1835.
Meanwhile, in 1844, a party of surveyors was marking out the second place prize for Michigan, the Upper Peninsula,  when they found their compasses spinning wildly. This was caused by one of the largest concentrations of iron ore ever found on the planet Earth, the Marquette Range, which was surrounded by one of the largest concentrations of copper ore ever found on the Earth. Beginning in 1847 and continuing over the next one hundred years and fifty years, over a billion tons of iron and several billion tons of copper were removed from those hills. None of the Michigan patriots could have predicted that, either.
The truth was the future contained a bounty beyond the imagination of the patriots who willing to kill each other in 1835, all for possession of a swamp – and not a great swamp at that. Does that make any sense?  It is a basic rule of human history - That which people are willing to murder for today, they may give away tomorrow, and what they want to give away today may be worth a fortune to their children.  Folks, you might remember that rule, next time a hot head starts calling for a war.
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Saturday, June 24, 2017

SISSYSPHUS ON THE WABASH

I want to take you back to a time when there were just two million Hoosiers in the whole wide world, and yet Indiana had 13 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 15 electoral votes. Today they have just nine,  and 11 electoral votes. Even more improbable to modern ears, this smallest state west of the Allegheny mountains was a crucial "battleground" state, oscillating like a bell clapper, clanging first Republican and then ringing Democratic, changing six times between 1876 and 1888, swinging each time at the whim of some 6,000 reasonably fickle independent voters.
As part of these rhythmic revolutions was the winter of 1885 when the dynamic Democratic Governor Isaac Gray (above), dreaming of being President of the whole United States, decided that after being Governor, he wanted to be a United States Senator. And since Senators were elected by the legislature, which was split pretty evenly along party lines, he came up with a clever plan to ensure himself  the stepping stone post of Senator. First he jammed through a gerrymander redistricting of the state legislative offices, re-designing ten traditionally Republican state assembly seats so they would more likely elect Democrats instead. This would prove to be such an outrageous power grab, a Federal court would declare it unconstitutional in 1892. But that was all part of Gray's plan, because he knew the voters would take their revenge far sooner than the courts.
So, in the summer of 1886, Grey convinced his Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Mahlon Manson. to take early retirement. Then he scheduled a mid-term election to refill that. And as Gray had expected, the Republican base was so energized by the Democratic gerrymander, that their party was swept back into power that November with a 10,000 vote majority, recapturing seven of those redistricted Assembly seats that were supposed to go Democratic.  (The state Senate, remained 31 Democrats and 19 Republicans.)  
But more importantly for Governor Gray, the newly elected Lieutenant Governor was a Republican, Robert Robertson. Thus, should Democrat Gray offer his resignation as Governor in exchange for being elected U.S. Senator, the Republican dominated Assembly would probably go along because that would make the Republican Robertson the new Governor. Now, it was not an impossible dream, as another Hoosier politician would shortly prove – one Benjamen Harrison.
Yes, Grey (above) had a nifty plan, clever enough to be worthy of Machiavelli. But it faced one insurmountable hurdle. Governor Isaac Grey was without doubt the most hated Democratic governor among Democrats, in the entire history of the state of Indiana. He was the original DINO -  a Democrat in Name Only.
Twenty years earlier, at the close of the Civil War, this same Isaac Grey,  had been the Republican Speaker of the state Assembly (above).  To pass the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, making ex-slaves American citizens, and giving black males the right to vote, Speaker Grey had literally locked the doors, preventing Democrats from bolting the building and thus denying a quorum to the Republican majority.  While the trapped Democrats sulked in the cloak room, Speaker Grey staged successful votes for the three amendments.  It had been a brutal scheme, again worthy of Machiavelli, like his latest plot..  But racists in the Democratic party never forgot Grey had counted them as "present but not voting",  even after he had switched parties and gave them the governorship. And as the Assembly session for 1887 opened, these hard liners were willing to set the state on fire if they could also burn up their Governor's Presidential dream boat.
The Indiana State Senate (above)  was about to come into session at  9:35 on the morning of Saturday 24 February, 1887, when Republican Lieutenant Governor Robert Robertson entered the second floor chambers to take his seat as the new President pro tempore of the Senate.  But a flying squad of Democrats physically blocked him from reaching the dais. Robertson shouted from the floor, "Gentlemen of the Senate, I have been by force excluded from the position to which the people of this state elected me.” But at this point the out going President pro tempore, Democratic Senator Alonzo Smith, ordered doorkeeper Frank Pritchett, to remove the Robertson,  “...if he don't stop speaking.”
As the doorkeeper and his assistants advanced on Roberts, he announced, “They may remove me. I am here, unarmed.” Smith testily responded, “We are all unarmed. We are fore-armed, though.” That belligerent mood was now general in the chamber. Republican Senator DeMotte from Porter county shouted something from the floor, and acting President Smith ordered him to take his seat. Responded DeMotte, “When he gets ready, he will.”
As the Lt. Governor was dragged toward the rear doors of the Senate Chamber a Republican Senator shouted that if he went, all the Republicans were going with him. President Pro tem Smith shouted back, “They can go if they want to. They will be back, ” he predicted. At this point Republican Senator Johnson challenged the chair directly, telling him, “No man will be scared by you.” “You're awfully scared now, “ said the Democrat. “Not by you”, answered the Republican. It sounded like five year olds had taken over the state senate.
A general fight now broke out in the Senate chamber, with the outnumbered Republicans giving such a good account of themselves that one Democrat drew a pistol and – BANG! - shot a hole in the brand new ceiling of the still unfinished statehouse. Into the acrid gun smoke and sudden silence this unnamed Democrat announced that he was prepared to start killing Republicans if they kept fighting.
With that, Lt. Governor Robertson was thrown out of the Senate and the doors were locked and bolted behind him. As the official record notes those were “...the last words spoken by a Republican Senator in the 55th General Assembly.”  The Senate then tried to get back to business, appropriately taking up Senate bill 61, setting aside $100,000 for three new hospitals for the mentally insane. It was decided it was self evident the state was going to need them, and the measure was approved by a vote officially recorded as 31 Ayes, 0 nays and 18 “present but not voting”. Ah, revenge must have seemed sweet for the Democrats – for about half an hour.
Outside in the central atrium, the gunshot had attracted a crowd, mostly from the Republican controlled House on the East side of the capital. Faced with a bruised and enraged Robertson, the Republicans caught his anger. Similar fights sparked to life in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and a “mob” of 600 angry Republicans descended upon every wayward Democrat in the building, punching and kicking them, and, if they resisted, beating them down to the marble floors of the brand new “people's house”.
Eventually, the pandemonium returned to its source; the Republicans laid siege to the Senate chamber. They beat against the doors, and smashed open a transom. Vengeful Republicans poured in and the haughty Democrats were assaulted in their own chamber and thrown out of it. By now Governor Grey, down in his offices on the first floor, had heard the ruckus upstairs, and had called in the Indianapolis Police. Four hours after the legislative riot had begun, order was restored to the capital of Hoosier democracy.  History and many newspapers would record it as the “Black Day of the Indiana Assembly.”
The following Monday the triumphant Republican dominated Assembly dispatched a note to the battered Democratically controlled Senate, that the Repubs would have no further correspondence with the Dems. Snap of finger dismissal. The Senate counter-informed the lower house, ditto, and same to you.. State government in Indiana had ground to a halt. Lt. Governor Robert Robertson never presided over the Senate, and Governor Gray never served as a United States Senator. He came to be known as the “Sisyphus of the Wabash”, after the legendary Greek king, renown for his avariciousness and deceit.  A few years later Hoosiers elected to choose their Senators by popular vote,  I suppose under the theory that the general population of drunks and lunatics could do no worse then the professional politicians had already done.  And they were most certainly correct.
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Friday, June 23, 2017

THE FIRST DISSENTER


I suppose someone had to be first, and John Billington was as  likely a choice as any other man. Rumor has it that John left England in 1620 to escape his creditors. That would not have been unusual in a time when debt was a crime.  And , if he was a Catholic, as others rumors indicate, that crime would also have driven John Billington to abandon the world he knew in England,  for the dangers of a distant, unsettled shore. But if John was seeking religious freedom, he did not find it, even on board the ship he took to America. Sixty-one of the passengers were either Anglicans or, like John, Catholics. But still they were despised by their shipmates, on board the "Mayflower", who were themselves the despised "Pilgrims Fathers".
John Billington was also middle aged, about 40 years old, rather ancient for an adventurer. He was accompanied by his wife, Eleanor, and their two young sons, John Jr. and Francis. And together their family was beginning a great adventure they were not welcomed upon. 
The voyage had been organized by a group who called (and saw) themselves as “The Saints”. And they were not pleased to find the financial investors in their dream had betrayed them. Not enough "Saints" had been willing to buy passage to America. so the investors had sold the majority of berths to what the Saints called "The Strangers". 
The 102 "Saints" and "Strangers"  found themselves stuffed aboard a leaky ship, just 90 feet long by barely 24 feet wide, giving them 2,160 square feet of living space (a moderate sized two bedroom house). Add a 20 man crew and "The Saints", seeking to escape the horrors of a multi-faith nation, found themselves imprisoned with and dragging it along with them. And they found the burden oppressive. They couldn't wait to get off this damn boat, and start oppressing "The Strangers". 
After two and a half months of living hell on storm tossed seas the Mayflower anchored at the edge of the New World, sheltered by a sandy cape. And it was here that "The Saints" faced what they called a “mutiny”. Through the myopia of history, we choose to describe it as "the birth of democracy in the new world".  The problem was "The Strangers" were not being landed where they had been promised, in the established colony of Virginia, but on unexplored and unprepared ground far to the north. And "The Strangers" were suspicious that this had been the intention of "The Saints" all along. And indeed that seems to have been the truth. Just to get "The Strangers" to disembark  "The Saints" were forced to compromise their faith, right on the edge of their religious paradise, and to sign the Mayflower Compact with "The Strangers", pledging to “…combine ourselves into a civil Body Politic…”
"The Saints" were not interested in any civic body. They sought the freedom to only live next to fellow saints.  Instead the had been forced to create a civil government in this new land, and not the mono-religious domain they had intended.  And one of the signatures bought by that accursed compromise had been that of John Billington. 
As if in punishment for this compromise of their religious purity, only fifty-three souls survived that first winter. Amazingly, John Billington’s family of "Strangers" survived intact – including Eleanor, who became one of only five adult women who lived to see the spring.  Both of John's sons also survived, another insult to the devotion of "The Saints",  many of whom had buried children and wives and husbands over the bitter winter.  The Billington clan had become a daily reminder that God’s Chosen had not been chosen. It must be they were being punished for the "Mayflower Compact".  More evidence was to follow. 
In the spring of 1623, the second full year the colonists were ashore, pressure from the "Strangers" forced the Governor, William Bradford (a "Saint", of course) to divide all property equally among the survivors, one acre per family member, no matter their religious affiliation. And thus the Billington clan received four acres of the best land, “…on the South side of the brook to the Bay wards”. It was yet another reminder of the success of "The Strangers".  These insults to the faith of "The Saints" would not be forgotten. 
Meanwhile, "The Saints" back in England had begun spreading rumors about the failure of the Plymouth Bay Colony, hoping to drive down the price of the stock,  making it easier for "Saints" to buy a controlling interest in the company.   And with each year they sent more "Saints" across the Atlantic, meaning to overwhelm "The Strangers" in Massachusetts Bay.  By 1624, the colony had grown to over 180 people. But two of the new arrivals, meant to build a Saint's majority, had in fact fed the growing tensions.

The Reverend John Lyford and Mr. John Oldham were both nominally "Saints". In fact Lyford had been sent out as the official priest for "The Saints" in the colony. 
But Lyford's willingness to conduct an Anglican baptism for the new child of "Stranger" William Hilton offended "The Saints".  These chosen by God saw no reason to tolerate religious tolerance for anyone but themselves. And Governor Bradford became convinced that Lyford and Oldham were both secretly corresponding with the stockholders back in England, contradicting the false rumors the English Saints had been spreading. 
Bradford was able to intercept some of those letters, and confront the traitorous "Saints" with telling the truth, catching them unprepared at a public hearing.  Both Lyford and Oldman were banished from the colony that very night. At the same meeting there was also an attempt to charge John Billington with being a member of the same "conspiracy",  but there was little evidence against Billington, and he was popular, (although it seems unclear how he could have been so, given the negative descriptions of him that survive) " The Saints" were forced to retreat and bide their time, yet again. 
The following year, 1626, James I of England died, and Charles I (above), a militantly devout Catholic, took the throne. The trickle of "Saints", escaping now from actual religious oppression in England, became a steady flow.  John Billington still had allies in Plymouth Colony,  such as John Cannon and William Tench, but the pressures created by the influx of new "Saints" drove both John's allies to leave the colony by 1627.
And in 1629 John Billington's eldest son died of an illness. With his death, some of the flame went out of the old man. He was fifty now, and weary of the constant fighting for his families' rightful place in the colony.  By January of 1630 there were almost 300 citizens in Plymouth colony, the vast majority of whom were now, finally, "Saints".  John Billington had become isolated. 
In the late summer of 1630 a man’s body was found in the woods near John Billington’s property. The body was identified in Governor Bradford’s correspondence only as "John New-come-er”. No rational for Billington to have murdered this mysterious man was offered on the record. Instead surviving documents allege that the motive was the result of “an old argument between the two men”. But this would seem unlikely, given that the dead man was, by every account, a literal “New-come-er”". 
Despite this glaring omission of motive, a Grand Jury was quickly convened and John Billington was charged with shooting the man in the shoulder with a blunderbuss, thus causing his death. 
But by this time there was little patience left in the colony for reason where the Billingtons were concerned. A trial jury wasted little time in finding John guilty of murder. And yet despite the singularity of this crime and possible punishment - Billington was the first Englishman in the colony charged with murder, and would be the first colonist to be executed - there is no record of any defense offered on his behalf. "The Saints" had won their war against John Billington, and they would write his history. And yet because there was a lack of any apparent motivation for the crime, Governor Bradford sought the approval for the execution of this "Stranger" from his own fellow "Saints" in the younger, larger and more purely Saintly Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered on Boston. Such approval was instantly supplied. 
On 30 September, 1630, fifty year old John Billington was hanged according to the methods of the day. He climbed a ladder. The rope was placed around his neck and the noose pulled tight. The ladder was kicked away. And slowly the life was strangled out of him as he danced at the end of the rope. The drop that quickly broke the neck would not become standard in hanging for another two hundred years. Plymouth Colony was thus finally rid of its most troublesome "Stranger" in a congregation of "Saints". The only even mildly generous epitaph written for John Billington came from the poison pen of Thomas Morton, another man who irritated "The Saints" who surrounded him. Morton wrote, “John Billington, that was chocked at Plymouth after he had played the unhappy marksman...was loved by many.” And that is a piece of information not even hinted at in the history written by "The Saints" - that John had been loved by many. 
Sixty years later the "Saints" would have to clean house again, this time in the village of Salem, and this time against their fellow "Saints" who were not saintly enough. Fourteen women and five men were hanged this time. Five others died in prison. All had been charged with being witches. What this re-occurrence of justice from "The Saints"  showed, was that even before there was religious freedom in America, there was religious hypocrisy.
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