Sunday, July 21, 2019

Edward Livingston and the Alien and Sedition Acts

John Adams’ term as President is not a high point of American history. In fact, with the Alien and Sedition Acts, he and the Federalists managed to pass some of the most un-American legislation in history. Forget four score and seven years, the Federalists could not wait twenty years before they tried to create a dictatorship.
          The Alien and Sedition Acts essentially allowed John Adams to imprison or fine any one he wanted. Specifically, the Sedition Act allowed the President to imprison or fine anyone who criticized the government. The Alien Acts allowed for the imprisonment or fining of anyone born in another country. The Naturalization Act, which is also lumped in with this other nonsense, raised the years of residency from five to fourteen in order to become a citizen of the country.
          The Federalists claimed that new immigrants were harming the country. European radicals were coming to America to start the next French Revolution! Harrison Gray Otis, a Massachusetts Federalist congressman, exclaimed that there was no need to “invite hordes of Wild Irishmen, not the turbulent and disorderly of all the world to come here with a basic view to distract our tranquility.”[i] The truth of course was that new immigrants had proven more likely to vote for the Democratic-Republican party and the Federalists had to do something about the erosion of their power.
          So why was this attempt to discourage immigration so un-American? Let’s take a look at the Declaration of Independence. You know the document that John Adams supposedly helped to write? Although the fact that he signed these Acts into law makes one wonder if he ever even read it. After you get past the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness part, the Declaration becomes a list of complaints against King George III. One of them reads as follows:
“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
To put it simply, the idea the immigrants are welcome here, necessary here, is one of the founding principles of the United States of America. Unanimous, indisputable, right there on the parchment.
When the Alien Friends Act was read before Congress in May of1798, Edward Livingston gave it a stinging, three-hour long rebuke on the floor. Newspaper accounts of his speech would take up ten full columns. This earned him the scorn of Abigail Adams who wrote; “we want more Men of Deeds, and fewer of Words.”[ii] Of course the Adams had hated the Livingstons for more than two decades at this point and Abigail was always quick to defend her husband.
And he did need defending. In the speech Edward Livingston called out the Federalist party for trying to “complete the picture of tyranny” by giving John Adams the power to dispose of his enemies with no oversight. Several journalists were imprisoned or fined under the Sedition Act for criticizing Adams’ administration. The Alien Act would allow him to do the same to others based solely on their place of birth and the President’s “present interest or passion”
          Having shown over the course of his three-hour lecture that the bill was “at war with the fundamental principles of our government” Livingston and the other Democratic-Republicans could only hope they had swayed enough of the majority Federalists that the bill would not move forward. They had not and the bill moved on and was eventually signed into law.
          What were the implications of this? In the short term, John Adams lost his
reelection bid in 1800 making him the first president voted out of office for attempted despotism. Thomas Jefferson became president and most of the acts were allowed to expire. The imprisoned were released and fines were eventually returned.
          The Alien Enemies Act languished on the books for more than a century. Then another particularly virulent cycle of xenophobia hit, and the Act was dusted off by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II. He used it to round up Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants and put them in concentration camps. This action has been almost universally condemned.
          It is a sad fact that throughout the history of the United States of America fearmongers have used the threat of a dangerous “other” to garner more power for themselves. America has always been fortunate though that there have been good people to stand up and fight when xenophobes try to seize power.

[i] Morison, Samuel Eliot Harrison Gray Otis 1765-1848 The Urbane Federalist Houghton Mifflin Company Boston 1969 p 108
[ii] “Abigail Adams to William Smith, 10 June 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 12, March 1797 – April 1798, ed. Sara Martin, C. James Taylor, Neal E. Millikan, Amanda A. Mathews, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, Gregg L. Lint, and Sara Georgini. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015, pp. 154–156.]

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Livingston Connection

The former historian of the town of Hyde Park
The Livingstons and the Roosevelts had various connections through blood and marriage. They also have much in common with regards to our nation’s history. Both families had ventured over from the Netherlands in the 17th century and formed a life in the colony’s early beginnings. They both worked their way up in society through a mixture of hard work, good luck, and smart marriages. They both worked in some way with the birth of our nation during the years of the Revolution. Like all families, they each had their share of ups and downs which included everything from triumphant political careers, to dubious business methods, and from happy romances, to heartbreaking battles with addiction. And of course, who can forget, they both had a tendency to marry their cousins.

The Livingstons and Roosevelts were incredibly proud of their history, and some of them even went on to become historians and genealogists in their own right. Edwin Brockholst Livingston wrote a lengthy history of the family in 1910. Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped create the Dutchess County Historical Society in 1914 and served at the Historian of his native Hyde Park. John Henry and Alice Livingston endeavored to bring together as much of the family history as possible at Clermont with portraits, furnishings, and artifacts of all sorts. They filled the oldest and longest lasting of all the family’s homes, with historic treasures almost as if they were preparing the home to become some sort of museum. (Hmm)

Mrs. Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt was aware of that history, at least the gist of it. She happened to be both a Roosevelt (on her father’s side) and a Livingston (on her mother’s side). In 1950 she attended the funeral of a family member at St. Paul’s church in Tivoli where she wandered around to look at the memorials on the walls,

St. Paul's in Tivoli
“There is one to Chancellor Livingston and one to his brother, Edward P. Livingston. As you looked at the tablets and wandered around the churchyard you realized how very largely this community represented one family with its branches extending out to many communities.” – My Day July 13th, 1950

Eleanor was the Great-great-great granddaughter of Robert the Chancellor and she wanted to share that history (at least the better parts of the history) with the next generation. She also shared it with the nation in her My Day columns which she published 6 days a week. In this particular column she mentioned that when she got home from the funeral later on that day he thought of her grandchildren who were swimming in the pool,

“it seemed very fitting to see the end of life and the beginning of life so closely brought together in a day. Here are the children who come from the background of those who lie in the peaceful churchyard. God grant they acquit themselves as well as the best of the ancestors, and are spared the weaknesses of some of the others. A heritage of charm and beauty certainly existed in the Livingston, Ludlow, Tonnele, and Hall families, and that one can hope the younger generation will have in plenty.” – My Day July 13th, 1950

Alice Delafield Clarkson Livingston in her garden c1960
However, Eleanor didn’t always have her basic history facts straight. In August of 1936, she wrote about her drive through Livingston land, “There is nothing like revisiting the haunts of one's childhood to bring back floods of memories. Yesterday I drove to Tivoli, N.Y. past Claremont, built in 1730 by Chancellor Livingston.” She got the year right, but the wrong Robert. As we know the house was built by Robert of Clermont, not the Chancellor. In 1949 she wanted to take the family to a historic house on the Fourth of July and brought some of her grandchildren to Clermont,

“I thought it would interest the family to drive in and call on our cousin, Mrs. John Henry Livingston, who lives in the old Clermont house which belonged to Chancellor Livingston. Fortunately, we met her on the road, and she turned back and was kind enough to invite us in and show us the old family portraits and the interesting things in the house. There is one portrait of the early West showing Philip Livingston and there are portraits of the First, Second and Third Lords of the Manor. They were granted 14 miles of river front and an acreage back of the river which spread far into what must be now Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Alice and Eleanor were very distant cousins, Alice was the Great-great-granddaughter of the Chancellor.

“The house was burned by the British in 1776 in the Revolutionary War and there is an old tree that for years, when I was a child, we were shown because you could see a cannon ball imbedded in it. The present house was rebuilt immediately along the lines of the old house and has stood ever since, with the addition, in 1830, of one large room. – My Day July 6th, 1949

In this case, she got the wrong year. The house was of course burned by the British but in 1777. Regardless of how accurate her facts are, it is clear that the woman who went on to be known as “The First Lady of the World” was interested in sharing her family’s long and interesting history with the next generation as well as the rest of us.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Richard Montgomery and His "Disagreeable Companion"

Just to be upfront, this particular post is not going to have a lot of pictures. You’ll see why.

Richard Montgomery is best known as a hero of the Revolutionary War. The former British army officer who gave his life leading his men in a heroic charge against the walls of Quebec. His wife, Janet Livingston Montgomery, was left a saintly widow the keeper of her husband’s memory.  
But this post isn’t about that.
The much romanticized Death of Montgomery 

Richard Montgomery 
This post is about Montgomery the man. The Montgomery, who after experiencing some of the worst fighting and conditions imaginable in the French and Indian War returned to Ireland to recover his health. There he met a woman who struck his fancy. They engaged in a relationship in which they enjoyed connubial bliss without actually marrying.

That is until 1769. I’ll let Montgomery tell you what happened next with a passage from a letter he wrote to a friend; “in short she has clapped me” She gave him the clap.


Montgomery was understandably upset. He wrote, “I have touched no other woman” which seems to indicate this mystery lady was less inclined to monogamy than he was . His “indignation and rage” were so great that he considered abandoning the woman with pocket change but instead as “the flames of my passion have subsided with those of my urine” he settled her with seventy pounds a year.

The end of this story brings up a great many questions. Who was this woman? Had Montgomery intended to marry her? Why did he feel the need to pay her so much money? Was there a child involved?  These questions may never be answered.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae 
What is known is that Gonorrhea had no cure in the 18th century. According to the CDC Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a bacterium that infects the mucus membranes of the reproductive tract. Its symptoms include pain, discharge from the urethra, painful or burning urination (which Montgomery clearly had) and cysts on the skin of the effected area. Untreated it could lead to sterility in both men and women. Today Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. In Montgomery’s time treatments were few. Mercury injected into the urethra was used for both Gonorrhea and Syphilis. For men, the French were known to “clap” or hit from both sides an appendage with a cyst to get rid of it. (This is one possible source for Gonorrhea’s nickname “the clap” and really, really horrible to think about)
This syringe for injecting mercury into the Urethra
was found in Blackbeard's wrecked ship

Since there was no way that Montgomery could have gotten rid of his Gonorrhea by the time he married Janet Livingston in the drawing room at Clermont in 1773 and there is no indication that they did not conjugate their marriage, it stands to reason that he passed the clap on to his wife. 

This may have been a part of why she never married again. Without dismissing the affection, she felt for Montgomery remarrying would also have led to humiliation for her and him. A new husband on discovering that he had been “clapped” could only come to two conclusions; that Janet was loose in her morals and we can see that type of reaction from Montgomery to his initial infection or that Richard Montgomery had been a bit free with himself and infected not only himself but his wife. This would surely have caused a scandal because immediately after his death Montgomery was so lionized by the colonies. The first monument that Congress ever voted to build was a monument to Montgomery and later editions of Common Sense by Thomas Paine featured an appearance by Montgomery’s very patriotic ghost.

Richard Montgomery is remembered today as the leader of the invasion of Canada and a hero of the Revolution, but he was a man. A man with a “disagreeable companion” which affected his life and Janet’s since; perhaps, had he not gotten the clap he would have married his mystery woman and stayed in England,. Her decisions about love and marriage after Montgomery’s death were probably at least partially influenced by the condition that her husband had shared with her and a need to protect both her reputation and his. [i]

Now aren't you glad I didn't add more pictures?

[i] The letter in which Richard Montgomery talks about his venereal disease belongs to the Montgomery Collection at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

I should also give credit to Rick Atkinson’s excellent book The British are Coming which was the means by which I became aware of the existence of the letter this blog is based on. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Rebel Livingston: St. George Croghan in the Confederate Army

Long time readers will no doubt remember the story of Serena Livingston (If you need to refresh your memory you can read about her here ). To make a long story short though, Serena, the daughter of
Serena Livingston Croghan
John R. Livingston, married George Croghan. George was a hero of the War of 1812 but alcoholism and gambling problems led to a tumultuous life and eventually a separation from Serena.

Serena and George's only surviving son, St. George Louis Livingston Croghan, had his own tumultuous life. Born while the family was living at the Croghan estate, Locust Grove, in Kentucky St. George spent much of his youth on the move. Eventually Serena brought her kids, including St. George back to the Hudson Valley to be supported by her family. Some sources report that St. George attended West Point but no record of this exists.

By 1847 St. George had married his cousin Cornelia Adelaide Ridgely, who was a great- granddaughter of Chancellor Livingston. They produced four children between their marriage and her death in 1857 at the age of 30.  She is buried in Rhinebeck.

At some point during the next four years St. George abandoned his motherless young children with family and returned to the south. When war broke out he decided to turn traitor and join the confederacy. His motivations are unclear at best. Perhaps he was seeking adventure? Perhaps he believed in slavery so strongly that he was willing to fight for it? Unlike some confederate soldiers St. George could not claim loyalty to a state as his excuse as he joined a Virginia unit rather than a unit from Kentucky where he had been born and where his family had land.

St. George Croghan was made a lieutenant colonel in the 1 Cavalry, Wise Legion having joined "soon after the commencement of Lincoln's war of subjugation" as one Richmond newspaper put it. For
Two soldiers of the 10 Virginia Cavalry
those interested after reorganization of the Confederate Army this became the 10 Virginia Cavalry. So for the Livingstons the Civil War was not brother against brother but it certainly was cousin against cousin (you can read about a Livingston who joined the right side of the war here).

In the early days of the war St. George was assigned mainly to move supplies between North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Soon though he was sent into western Virginia which was strongly opposed to Virginia's secession. This led to many fierce battles and skirmishes. After one such battle at Hawk's Nest he reported killing one union soldier and capturing two more. He encouraged his commanding officers to push forward but it was not to be.

West Virginia seceded from Virginia in August of 1861 and several set backs caused the rebels to begin falling back from the state. On November 14th St. George was leading a scouting party of about 40 men at McCoy's Mill in West Virginia, covering the rearguard of the rebel forces when they were confronted by the 12 and 13 Ohio regiments early in the morning. During the ensuing fight a bullet hit St. George in his waist belt, passed through his body and exited through the belt on his back. His belt broke and his sword fell to the ground where he was hit.
McCoy Mill in West Virginia 

His men retreated but the mortally wounded St. George was captured by the Union. He was treated by the 13 Ohio's assistant surgeon, Dr. Chase, but died at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Southern sources claim that his men tried to recover his body under a flag of truce but that the Union soldiers refused. This interaction was not recorded in Union sources. There is no record of what happened to St. George's body. A Richmond newspaper mourned him saying there was not a "better rider on the continent, whether Texas Ranger or Carmanche [sp] Indian" and that "his loss to the confederate army is like that of a regiment..."

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Poetry She Made Herself

100 years ago this summer, a little girl received a lovely present from her grandmother.
A leather-bound notebook, perfectly sized for small hands. The paper was heavy, to thwart ink from pooling and bleeding through. The pages were lined, to keep unsteady handwriting neat. The gilded edges indicate the importance and timeless elegance of its owner, a daughter of one of New York’s first families. Her name was emblazoned on the cover--- Honoria Alice Livingston.

Honoria was the eldest daughter of John Henry Livingston and Alice Delafield Clarkson Livingston. She lived in the mansion at Clermont with her parents, her younger sister Janet, their beloved nurse Ollie, a dozen or so servants, and a menagerie of pets.
Her maternal grandparents, Howard and Alice Clarkson, lived just up the road and visited often. Grannie Alice and Mom Alice were both prolific poets and journal writers in their own right, so it’s no surprise that young Honoria was showing an interest and a talent for creative writing herself. Grannie christened the notebook with a special poem for her young granddaughter.
To Honoria.

When Grannie was a little girl
She made a little book,
And many times with joy and pride,
Did in its pages look.

And here she wrote her little tales,

And sometimes verses too;
For airy fondness came to her
Just as they come to you.

And now you write such pretty tales,

And little verses too;
So Grannie thought perhaps this book
To hold them all, would do.

The very day she received the book, Honoria took to work. On the next page, in her very best 10-year-old handwriting, she titled the contents “The Poetry I Made My-Self.” She wrote three poems that day and several more throughout the week.
Comb and brush

I hear a thrush.
Comb and brush
I want to wash.
Brush and comb
Gobi is home
Brush and comb
Away I rome.

Honoria A. Livingston. Aug 3rd 1919
Early poems reference her family, her beloved dog Gobi, and strict rhyming schemes, even if she had to bend the rules a bit to make it work. The following year, the little notebook traveled with the Livingston family as they moved abroad to continue their daughters’ education. Honoria’s repertoire of subject matter grew beyond family life at Clermont and started to include the French countryside, German soldiers, English fairies, and Italian friends.

The Livingstons lived in Europe for the next 6 years. Honoria became a teenager and her subjects became more mature and dramatic:
There’s a road that leads to nowhere good,

There’s a road that leads to Hell;
But there’s also a road to Paradise,
and on that road I dwell.

-Honoria A. Livingston Oct. 5th 1924

Guicciardini, Florence.

Her structures became more experimental and modern:
Of the Universe!

Tell us, I pray thee
Where do the sunsets go when dead?

-Honoria A. Livingston December 2nd 1924

Guicciardini, Florence.

But even so, more than half of her poems are about her beloved pets and many about the comings and goings of her family and friends. Some of her poems are even in French and Italian! She loved to write about the moon and sunsets over Florence, where the family called home for her teenage years.
A week before her 17th birthday in 1926, she wrote a poem to herself, remarking on the occasion and how much she had grown since starting the notebook:
Almost Seventeen!

From a very little child
Into a stately maiden dark,
she has grown.
Guicciardini, Florence. January 25th 1926

The rest of her poems in 1926 play out as her previous years in Italy had--- pets, family, and beautiful evenings at the family’s Villa. But in November, something happens. The family suddenly rushes back to the States, leaving precious friends and belongings behind. Honoria’s handwriting becomes rushed, the ink is half washed away is big drips, and pages are torn out. The end of 1926 and the beginning of 1927 do not exist.

This is when Honoria’s father, John Henry, passed away.
After JH’s passing, the family settled back in at Clermont. Honoria writes in the notebook for another year and then sets it aside--- a memento of her childhood and teenage years. She grew up, had her debut in New York City, and married a charming Irishman named Rex McVitty.

They spent their lives at Clermont in Sylvan cottage, even after the mansion and grounds were deeded to The People of the State of New York. They enjoyed meeting park visitors and actively took part in site events. Honoria lived in the cottage until her passing in 2000--- her tin mailbox and Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper box were only recently removed from the driveway.

But even as Honoria grew up, from a 10-year-old girl with her first important grown-up possession, to a beautiful debutant, to an accomplished writer, golfer, gardener, and the Lady of the Estate, she never forgot about her notebook. She came back to it “many times with joy and pride,” just as her Grandmother had before her. As an adult, she even edited and typed some of her early work.

From a historian’s perspective, Honoria’s poetry journal is a fascinating artifact. Not just a chronical of a young girl growing up, but a chronical of life for an American family looking in at post WWI Europe. Not just flights of fancy, but a collection of popular culture influences of the time. Not just cute pets, but little family moments that tell us so much about the last generation of Livingstons of Clermont. It’s a lovely little book, a scrapbook of experiences, and we are lucky to have it.