How a reluctant civil servant preserved a Texas treasure

tree of liberty texas

Jane McCallum didn’t much want the job of Texas Secretary of State, offered to her by Gov. Dan Moody in 1927. A journalist and suffragette leader, she ended up taking the post as a way to do something for both women and herself. Ultimately, McCallum was able to a great service to all Lone Star State residents.

Not long after taking on her new role, McCallum was cleaning up her office and came across a rusty tin box in a vault in the Capitol building in Austin. Inside was a decayed scroll of paper.

It turned out to be the Texas Declaration of Independence, missing for the previous three decades, and, in fact, absent almost since it was drafted more than 90 years earlier.

The document was approved March 2, 1836, and signed March 3, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos, in today’s Washington County.

Texas officials sent the Declaration of Independence along with other documents to Washington, DC, where Stephen F. Austin was seeking recognition for the new republic.

The document was deposited with American officials at some point in 1836 by William Wharton, who had been appointed minister plenipotentiary to the US by Texas President Sam Houston.

What happened to the Declaration of Independence after that is unknown – and it remained missing for the next six decades.

Texas Declaration of Independence.

Texas Declaration of Independence.

“Until 1896, puzzled officials and historians guessed the document may have been destroyed in one of the Texas Capitol’s fires,” according to the book “A Month of Sundays.” “But in May of that year the document turned up.”

A man named William Hallett Phillips had come across a file in the State Department that appeared to contain the Texas Declaration of Independence. He mentioned it to a friend, native Texan Seth Shepard, who was serving as an associate justice of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Shepard originally believed the document in question to be a copy, but it proved to be the original. State Department officials agreed to return it to Texas, and Gov. Charles A. Culberson received the document on July 1, 1896.

Shortly thereafter it went missing for another three decades – until McCallum came across it.

She took considerable time deliberating on the best way to conserve the document, taking two years to determine how to restore and display it. After officials at the University of Texas preserved the Declaration of Independence, it was placed in a wrought iron “Tree of Liberty” in a niche near the Capitol rotunda.

It remained on display in the Capitol until 1940, when it was moved to the Texas State Library. After being moved a couple more times, it ended up at the Texas State Archives and Library Building in Austin.

While the original is no longer on display, a replica, along with the wrought iron grill that McCallum used to show off the original Declaration of Independence, can still be seen in the visitors center, located in General Land Office Building on Capitol grounds in Austin.

(Top: “Tree of Liberty,” holding replica of Texas Declaration of Independence, in Austin, Texas.)

The analogy was a bad one, not unlike a illogical comparison

analogies

The above seems plausible enough. I was once in high school and undoubtedly penned a number of bad analogies, though I also recall having considerable difficulty differentiating analogies, metaphors and similes from one another.

While most of my analogies were sports-related – “the sound his head made as it bounced off the pavement was a sharp thwack, resembling the tone of a Nolan Ryan fastball being fouled off by Reggie Jackson” – and many were substandard, they probably weren’t as cringe-worthy as the above.

But, of course, the Internet being the Internet, it turns out that the above analogies weren’t written by high school students but by readers of the Washington Post.

In July 1995 the Post ran a contest asking for outrageously bad analogies, according to the blog Socratic Mama. Readers were asked to write the most hideous prose they could imagine. The above is a selection of those submissions.

It wasn’t long before a sample of these were being gleefully passed around the web, attributed to high school students.

I suppose because nearly all of us were high school students at one time, and most of us have struggled with analogies – at least in practice if not theory – the idea that teens could come up with the above seems utterly plausible.

After all, high school students struggle with analogies in much the same way that a thirsty, yet dignified souse struggles not to break into a trot when he hears a beer truck has overturned just up the road.

To see the Post’s collection of reader-inspired bad analogies, click here.

How the tyranny of the petty minded can infect a society

Coleman_Livingston_Blease

Like most US states, South Carolina has elected some bad governors over the years. Pitchfork Ben Tillman, an avowed racist and demagogue who did a great deal to divide the state in the late 19th century, is currently getting some much-needed scrutiny, but one of his protegés, Cole Blease, never fails to amaze when his career is analyzed.

Blease was a self-proclaimed pro-lynching, anti-black education politician who was cut from the same cloth as Tillman. He was elected to the state’s highest office in 1910 through his ability “to play on race, religion and class prejudices,” appealing especially to South Carolina’s farmers and mill workers, according to Ernest Lander’s work, “A History of South Carolina 1865-1960.”

Blease acquired such a bad reputation that he was said to represent the worst aspects of Jim Crow and Ben Tillman, a noxious combination if there ever was one. Blease, for example, is said to have once buried the severed finger of a lynched black man in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden in Columbia.

He was not only doggedly political, but arrogant about it, as well.

In early February 1911, less than a month after taking office, Blease stated publicly that he wouldn’t appoint anyone but friends to public office if he could help it.

The matter came to a head after a judge elected in Richland County, where Columbia is located, did not qualify in time to take office immediately, and a short-term intermediary was needed.

The Richland County Bar Association endorsed Duncan J. Ray as a special judge, and Ira B. Jones, chief justice the SC Supreme Court, wrote the governor recommending and requesting the appointment of Ray, adding that this was “the course prescribed by the law, as the statute governing special judges says they shall be appointed by the governor upon the recommendation of Supreme Court,” according to an article in the Feb. 9, 1911, edition of the Bamberg Herald.

“However, the governor had already taken the bit in his teeth and appointed F.J. Caldwell, of Newberry, to preside, and when the Chief Justice wrote him recommending Mr. Ray, he replied that he would not appoint anybody but his friends to public office,” the paper added.

Blease made no apologies for injecting politics directly into the judiciary system.

“My friends,” he said, “are to receive some consideration from this administration. I do not expect to appoint my enemies to office upon the recommendation of anybody unless it be that I cannot find a friend who is competent and worthy of the position.”

The (Columbia) State newspaper, begun in 1891 as a response to Tillman and his politics, took Blease to task. Continue reading

Amid ignorance, compassion and humanity shine through

dps

Because we in South Carolina haven’t had enough strife over the past month, what with the racially motivated killings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17 and the ensuing polarizing debate about removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia, a pair of dubious groups from out of state descended upon our capital over the weekend to try to add fuel to the fire.

The North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at the Statehouse this past Saturday, as did the Florida-based Black Educators for Justice, described as a subset of the “New Black Panther Party.”

While there weren’t more than a few dozen members from either group on hand to spread their bizarre brand of fanaticism, there were as many as 2,000 individuals who protested the interlopers.

Yet, among the foolishness of two groups who seemed hell-bent on stirring up odious emotions for the sake of publicity was at least one inspiring moment.

In  a scene caught by a civilian photographer, a black police officer came to the aid of an older white man, overcome by heat, who was garbed in a Nazi t-shirt during Saturday’s activities.

In the above photo, provided to the Associated Press by Rob Godfrey, the former spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley, S.C. Department of Public Safety Chief Leroy Smith helps an unidentified man wearing National Socialist Movement attire up the stairs of the South Carolina statehouse.

The image showed “who we are in South Carolina,” Smith told the Charleston Post and Courier.

One never knows what’s in the heart of individuals such as the character who was assisted by Smith, but it can only be hoped that the latter’s actions might force the former to at least reconsider his long-held positions on matters such as race. Stranger things have happened.

Alphabetical rankings: The United States’ national shame

US ranking

As if Americans – beset by murder, mayhem and political strife – haven’t had enough bad news lately, there’s this staggering bit of misfortune:

Of 196 countries in existence today, the United States ranks 182nd in the world alphabetically.

This, despite the fact that the US has an abundance of natural resources, top-notch health care, one of the highest literacy rates in the world and is one of the longest-existing modern democracies.

Now, we Americans could stand around and play the blame game, but the simple fact is we should all be embarrassed. Ponder this: There are but 13 countries the US ranks ahead alphabetically, and they include such political basket cases as Uzbekistan and Yemen.

Consider those nations that have outpaced us in the ABCs: Cuba, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau and even Kyrgyzstan, where citizens struggle daily to even spell their country correctly.

Sadly, even after years of conflict in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is still classified behind both of those nations alphabetically, despite pouring billions of dollars into military efforts.

As has been noted, it’s time for Americans to take a long, sobering look at this country, and how it ended up all the way down at No. 182.

If we’re ever going to remedy this deplorable situation, we have to act now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for future generations. As always, think of the children!

(HT: Clickhole)

Tolerance includes putting up with things you find disagreeable

graffit

One of the more disheartening aspects of the “tolerance” crowd is that some members are rather intolerant when faced with opinions that differ from their own.

Take Morgan Clendaniel, the editor of the online website Co.Exist, owned by business magazine Fast Company.

While Wikipedia describes Co.Exist’s mission as covering innovation-related topics, the name carries with it the concept of co-existence, which suggests mutual tolerance despite different ideologies or interests.

Clendaniel would appear to be among those who believe co-existence is great – until a viewpoint they disagree with comes along.

Consider a recent piece by Clendaniel titled “While We’re Doing The Flags, Here Are Some Other Confederate Things We Should Get Rid Of”.

In it, he writes, “… the reach of the Confederacy – and the almost-insane tone-deafness of organizations and politicians who celebrate its history – goes well beyond the flag and hides in other insidious ways throughout the region.”

In a nutshell: Clendaniel really, really, really doesn’t like Jefferson Davis, who served as the president of the Confederate States of America.

Clendaniel begins by taking to task social fraternity Kappa Sigma for having “one – and only one – honorary member: Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, racist, and traitor to America.”

Kappa Sigma made the mistake of wishing Davis Happy Birthday in 2013 on its national website. The fraternity was also castigated by Clendaniel for recently welcoming a new member and identifying him as the great-great grandson of the Confederate leader.

The fact is that most anyone born in the 19th century would be considered a racist by 21st century standards. Davis, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, William T. Sherman, etc., ad infinitum. Who knows how our own views will stand up to the test of time?

As for Davis being a traitor, the Founding Fathers would also fall into that category – certainly the British saw them in that light.

Next up on Clendaniel’s hit list is US Senator Thad Cochran. Cochran, who represents Mississippi in Congress, has come out in favor of his state changing its flag to remove the Confederate battle flag in its corner. However, that’s not enough for the Co.Exist editor:

“ … when the senator goes to the U.S. Senate chamber, he sits at a desk that was once used by Jefferson Davis, when Davis was a senator from Mississippi, before he betrayed his country by leading a breakaway republic based on maintaining the institution of slavery,” he writes.

Clendaniel is also irate because Cochran “spearheaded a Senate resolution in 1995 that officially makes Davis’s desk the desk of the senior senator from Mississippi. Thad Cochran made a law that he has to have the desk used by the President of the Confederacy.” Continue reading

Basilica of St. Lawrence: beauty amid Blue Ridge Mountains

North Carolina July 2015 134

Asheville, NC, is renown for its eclecticism, so it’s hardly surprising that amid the community designated as one of the “Top 25 Small Cities for Art” sits the striking Basilica of Saint Lawrence, a Spanish Renaissance-style Roman Catholic church that stands out in a region noted for architectural beauty.

Formally named the Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence the Deacon & Martyr, the church was designed and built in 1905 by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino.

The building is remarkable in that, despite its size, it was constructed with no wood or steel; all walls, floors, ceiling and pillars are of tile, granite, stone or brick. The roof is of tile with a copper covering.

This, even though the basilica’s dome has a span of 58 feet by 82 feet and is said to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America.

Guastavino (1842-1908) came to Asheville to work on the famed Biltmore House in the mid-1890s and opted to remain in the region even after his work on the impressive structure was completed.

He had immigrated to the US from Barcelona in 1881. Prior to his arrival in the US, Guastavino had been successful in his home country, designing large factories and homes for Catalan industrialists.

Guastavino is credited with reviving an ancient tile-and-mortar building system that had once been used extensively in Spain. It involved using layers of thin tile bedded in layers of mortar, creating curved horizontal surfaces, according to Basilica of Saint Lawrence literature.

In the basilica every horizontal surface is made using this title-and-mortar technique.

Continue reading