1862: Frisby McCullough, Missouri bushwhacker

Add comment August 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1862, Confederate soldier Frisby McCullough was shot as a terrorist during the U.S. Civil War’s guerrilla Missouri campaign.

McCullough had a youthful stint in the California gold rush to his back when he returned to Missouri in the mid-1850s to practice law. (He also served in the Missouri State Guard, a pro-slavery militia that had been established in 1861 by the since-exiled secessionist governor.)

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, McCullough signed up for the pro-slavery Southern army and after a few different assignments became detailed to aid Confederate Col. James Porter in the hasty bush war raging in that frontier state.

We’ve previously detailed that conflict here. For purposes of this post it will suffice to say that the border state of Missouri was fiercely contested during this war, and claimed by North and South alike.

The Union commander John McNeil was not very inclined to charitably reading the treasonable secessionist irregulars who opposed him in the state, whom the Union considered to be operating illicitly behind its lines — in the character of spies and saboteurs, like the British agent John Andre during the Revolutionary War. This very much applied to our man, since McCullough’s particular gift was recruitment — you know, luring loyal citizens into sedition and rebellion.

On August 6, 1862, McNeil’s forces routed Porter’s at the Battle of Kirksville, and they pressed their victory. The very next day after, McNeil had 15 Confederate prisoners taken at Kirksville executed as former POWs who had violated their paroles by returning to the field: “I enforce the penalty of the bond,” McNeil icily reported to Washington.

Not long after, northern sentries also captured the ailing McCullough riding alone near Edina. He wasn’t a parolee — but “he had no commission except a printed paper authorizing the bearer to recruit for the Confederate army,” McNeil would write of him later in a missive to a comrade. At a snap trial on the 8th, “he was found guilty of bushwhacking and of being a guerilla. He was a brave fellow and a splendid specimen of manhood. I would gladly have spared him had duty permitted. As it was he suffered the same fate that would have fallen to you or me if we had been found recruiting within the Confederate lines. He met a soldier’s death as became a soldier.”

A memoir of the southern travails during this conflict titled With Porter in North Missouri; a chapter in the history of the war between the states is in the public domain; chapter XXII relates with umbrage the fate of McCullough whom the author Dr. Joseph Mudd* greatly admired:

Leaning against a fence he wrote a few lines to his wife, and these, with his watch and one or two other articles, he delivered to an officer to be given her, with assurance of his devoted affection in the hour of death. Upon the way to the place of his execution he requested the privilege of giving the order to fire, which was granted to him. All being ready, he stood bravely up, and without a tremor in his manly frame or a quiver in his clarion voice, he called out, ‘What I have done, I have done as a principle of right. Aim at the heart. Fire!’

… He was a good citizen, a high-minded gentleman, of fine presence, brave as a lion, gentle as a woman. Even in his death the strongest Unionists who knew him respected and admired his virtues and entertained the most bitter regrets that what they considered his misconceptions of duty had led him to his fearful fate. At the time of his death he was thirty-three years of age.

* Dr. Joseph Anthony Mudd hailed from Maryland: he was the brother of the Maryland Dr. Samuel Mudd who narrowly avoided execution as a conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

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1942: Six German saboteurs

Add comment August 8th, 2017 Headsman

Seventy-five years ago today, six German saboteurs were electrocuted in a Washington, D.C. jail … a failed World War II operation that bequeathed its target nation a controversial legal landmark.

On June 13 of 1942 — just eight weeks before they faced the electric chair — Herbert Hans Haupt, Heinrich Heinck, Edward Kerling, Herman Neubauer, Richard Quirin and Werner Thiel, all of them German nationals who had returned to the Fatherland after previous emigration to the U.S., were dropped by U-Boats along with two other men, Ernest Peter Burger and George John Dasch, in two quartets on the eastern fringe of Long Island and the Florida coast.

“Operation Pastorius” to sabotage war industries on the U.S. mainland would never even have time to get its land legs; spied in Long Island by a Coast Guard watchman whom they clumsily attempted to bribe, the agents scattered themselves to New York and Chicago. Burger and Dasch — who for this reason were not in the end electrocuted* — had their reservations about the Third Reich to begin with and guessed after the Coast Guard encounter where this fiasco was heading. They rang up the gobsmacked FBI to shop themselves and their comrades, enabling the feds to pick up the other six men in short order.

The eventual fate of the Nazi saboteurs is no surprise, but the means to obtain it was controversial then and remains so to this day.

On a substantive level, the Germans had landed in uniform for the explicit purpose of asserting POW status were they to be apprehended immediately; this didn’t cut much ice since all had then discarded their uniforms and attempted to melt away in the U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle successfully cited the American Revolution precedent of John Andre, whom patriots hanged as a spy after detaining him out of uniform behind their lines. That they hadn’t yet done anything yet was a bit beside the point.**

Much thornier was U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s order to try the Germans using a seven-member military tribunal that he conjured for this purpose, and seemingly with the objective of assuring the harshest possible sentence. (Bear in mind that these events transpired only months after Pearl Harbor.) Such a commission is explicitly anticipated by the U.S. Articles of War† whose 81st and 82nd provisions the saboteurs were charged with violating:

ART. 81. RELIEVING, CORRESPONDENCE WITH, OR AIDING THE ENEMY. — Whosoever relieves or attempts to relieve the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other thing, or knowingly harbors or protects or holds correspondence with or gives intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly, shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.

ART. 82. SPIES. — Any person who in time of war shall be found lurking or acting as a spy in or about any of the fortifications, posts, quarters, or encampments of any of the armies of the United States, or elsewhere, shall be tried by a general court-martial or by a military commission, and shall, on conviction thereof, suffer death.

However, the military commission did not seem very well in keeping with the American preference for regular jurisdictions as expressed by Ex parte Milligan, the post-Civil War decision forbidding the use of military courts anywhere that civilian courts are functioning.‡ The signal Milligan precedent formed the basis of a furious objection by Army defense lawyer (and future Secretary of War) Kenneth Royall, who fought his clients’ hopeless corner so vigorously that the doomed men signed a letter praising his efforts. (“unbiased, better than we could expect and probably risking the indignation of public opinion.”)

Already recessed for the summer, the Supreme Court hastily reconvened to cut this Gordian knot: the only forum of judicial review the case would ever receive. Its decision, Ex parte Quirin — titled after one of the defendants — spurned Royall’s Milligan claim and upheld Roosevelt’s statutory authority to determine this case for a military tribunal by a unanimous vote.

The court’s common front concealed a variety of stances on the reach of executive authority. While the whole court agreed that “Congress has explicitly provided … that military tribunals shall have jurisdiction to try offenses against the law of war in appropriate cases,” a concurring memorandum by Justice Robert H. Jackson — later famous for his role prosecuting the Nuremberg trials — proposed to carry the argument well beyond this point. Jackson claimed in a concurrence that he would eventually withdraw that “the Court’s decision of the question whether it complied with the Articles of War is uncalled for … it is well within the war powers of the President to create a non-statutory military tribunal of the sort here in question.” This was by no means the consensus of his colleagues.

The later publication of a “Soliloquy” memorandum by one such colleague, Felix Frankfurter, throws a less than dispassionate light on deliberations. Writing to smooth over internal disputes between the blackrobes, Justice Frankfurter shows himself personally hostile to the Germans — “You’ve done enough mischief already without leaving the seeds of a bitter conflict involving the President, the courts and Congress after your bodies will be rotting in lime,” he chides them in his own voice. “That disposes of you scoundrels.” In the end, the court took his advice to sidestep the potentially deep jurisdictional question.

But that question has not been left rotting in footnotes (they never are). Quirin in general and Jackson’s expansive claims of executive power in particular have been relied upon by 21st century Presidents to justify muscular and controversial innovations like the Guantanamo Bay prison and the drone war.

A few books about Operation Pastorius and Ex parte Quirin

Pierce O’Donnell, author of In Time of War: Hitler’s Terrorist Attack on America, discussed his book on C-SPAN here.

Jurisprudence is not the only artifact of the Nazi saboteurs’ failed infiltration.

Bizarrely, a tributary slab “in memory of agents of the German Abwehr” was discovered in 2006 illicitly placed on National Park Service land in southeast Washington DC, the same vicinity where the saboteurs had been secretly buried after their electrocution. There it had seemingly reposed some twenty-odd years, unknown but to its devotees … who if the stone’s carvings are to be credited must consist of the heirs of the (defunct since 1983) National Socialist White People’s Party, also known as the American Nazi Party.

* They would be condemned to death along with the rest, but Roosevelt commuted their sentences: a fine boon but far short of the outright pardons they had been promised for their cooperation. In 1948, President Truman had Burger and Dasch deported to Germany, where many saw them as traitors.

** After unsuccessfully attempting to trade Andre for Benedict Arnold, whose defection Andre had facilitated, and whom the American revolutionaries would have much preferred to Andre for a hanging.

† Enacted by Congress in 1920, these Articles of War are no longer operative in the U.S.: they were replaced by the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1951.

‡ Haupt and Burger were also U.S. citizens, further complicating the commission’s suspension of their constitutional habeas corpus rights.

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1735: Nicholas Bighelini, Mantua betrayer

Add comment August 8th, 2016 Headsman

Mantua, August 10

A Dangerous Conspiracy was happily discovered here; the Author of it M. Nicholas Bighelini, took a Plan of the weakest Parts of this City, and communicated the same, by means of his Father who lives at Verona, to the Generals of the Allies. He was hang’d the 8th Instant, and the Effigies of his Father and a Nephew were hanged; the Nephew was here, but found means to make his Escape. Another named Nicholazzo was concern’d, but having impeach’d his Confederates has been pardon’d.

-London General Evening Post, Aug. 19, 1735

This vanished conspiracy occurred in the northern Italian theater of the 1733-1738 War of Polish Succession, a dynastic war whose best-remembered consequence was the delivery during the postwar settlement of the former Habsburg territory of Lorraine into what turned out to be permanent French control that still continues to this day.

This seems an apt outcome for a conflict over the Polish throne that we notice by way of Italy. Like the War of Spanish Succession thirty years before, a contested throne became the pretext for a continental imbroglio between those rivals, Austria and France.

Up and down Europe these powers and their allies and proxies tangled.*

In the “down” part, Italy was then still a warren of small principalities, which though independent stood generally in the thrall of Austria. While France did rather well besieging Sicily and the south, in the north of the peninsula things ground to a stalemate after France’s initial push gobbled up Milan.**

The city of Mantua, capital of a a duchy of the same name in the middle of the north, came under the siege of France and her allies in 1734. The “allies” part really started to matter: Spain was one of those allies, and still laid its own claim to Mantua from its bygone days of imperial glory; Savoy was another ally and did not want to see Spain resume dominance in Italy. The siege was not energetically maintains, and one starts to wonder whether the Duke of Savoy himself might not have quietly arranged the betrayal of poor Nicholas Bighelini.

In any event, Mantua or no neither France nor Austria had much offensive potential left in Italy and by this late date they were doing little but marking time until that autumn’s ceasefire arrangements. The French would then lift the siege and even withdraw from Milan, allowing Austria to re-establish its hegemony unopposed.

Nicholas Bighelini, poor fool, is justly forgotten: he gave his life for nothing.

* In contrast to its behavior in the War of Spanish Succession, Great Britain stayed out of this fight, eventually mediating the peace that settled things. Still, this war has an ancillary part in England’s own gallows history, since it was under French colors that the young English pretender Charles Edward Stuart first cut his teeth in combat — enjoying better fortune than when he tried to seize the British crown in 1745.

** The Duc de Noailles took over French forces in northern Italy in 1735, after distinguishing himself in the Rhineland at the outset of the war. His great-granddaughter wed Lafayette, a family alliance that helped doom many Noailles descendants to the guillotine.

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1990: Sam Cayhall in Grisham’s “The Chamber”

1 comment August 8th, 2015 Headsman

In John Grisham’s The Chamber, it is on August 8, 1990 that the titular enclosure receives its victim in a cloud of lethal gas.

In The Chamber, Sam Cayhall, a Ku Klux Klansman who had long avoided conviction for bombing a Jewish civil rights lawyer in 1967, has at last been condemned in Mississippi twenty years later.

The action centers around the futile and increasingly hopeless efforts of Cayhall’s grandson Adam Hall to save the old man working pro bono for a Chicago law firm.

Adam comes to learn that his grandfather has a long and bloody Klan history, even killing children. (We also find that the missing link in this generational drama, Adam’s father, committed suicide after Sam was sent to death row.)

But Sam is in no way a good guy: still an unreconstructed racist, he refuses to inform on any ex-confederates. As grandpa wends his way towards his date with the executioner, Adam’s torrent of judicial appeals go nowhere and the politically sensitive nature of the case makes executive clemency a non-starter. (When The Chamber was published in 1994, the death penalty was at an acme of popularity.) This is to be expected, of course; as Chekhov might observe, you can’t call the book The Chamber if someone isn’t going to go sit in said chamber by the end.

This bestseller was made into a 1996 film starring Gene Hackman as the grizzled Klansman. (In the film version’s execution scene, the date is changed to April 13, 1996.)

There’s an excerpt of the novel available on Grisham’s site here.

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1570: John Felton, papal bull promulgator

Add comment August 8th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1570, the English Catholic martyr John Felton suffered hanging, disemboweling, and quartering at St. Paul’s Churchyard in London for the Old Faith.

Not to be confused with the 17th century assassin of the same name, our John Felton was reported by the biography from his daughter’s hand to be a wealthy Southwark gentleman whose wife had gamboled in her own childhood with the future Queen Elizabeth.

John’s crime was to hang up publicly in the dark of night before Corpus Christi the papal bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth — an act not merely of religious dissidence but of overt political rebellion, inasmuch as the bull released English subjects from their obedience to “the pretended Queen of England” and exhorted them on pain of damnation to ignore her edicts. This directive from Rome was to prove so taxing for Catholics that it was soon modified to permit outward obedience in civil matters, pending the overthrow of the heresiarchess.

Following a decade of uneasy religious tolerance — in which, not coincidentally, Elizabeth entertained the suits of assorted continental royalty, some of them Catholic — Regnans in Excelsis marked the onset of open hostilities. The Catholic “Ridolfi plot” would be hatched this very year, for instance, and lead the Duke of Norfolk to the scaffold by 1572.

And then he said, O Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit, in English; and as he was saying it in Latin, In munus tuas Domine, he was turned off the ladder; and hanging there six turns, he was cut down, and carried to the block, and there his head was smitten off, and held up, that the people might see it: whereat the people gave a shout, wishing that all Traitors were so served. Then he was quartered, and carried to Newgate to be parboiled, and so set up as the other rebels were. — God save the Queen.

John Felton’s son Thomas Felton was also martyred, in 1588. Both have since been beatified.

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1846: John Rodda, nobody chokes baby on acid

1 comment August 8th, 2013 Headsman

John Rodda was hanged on this date in 1846 behind York Castle on “a charge so unusual and so repugnant to the ordinary feelings of human nature.”

Rodda murdered his 18-month-old daughter Mary by pouring sulphuric acid down her throat.

The motive: as a member of a burial society — a sort of community insurance pool for defraying funeral costs — Rodda stood to pocket two pounds, 10 shillings for the death of his little girl. (Was that a lot of money in those days? Not really.)

The most complete account of this event The Criminal Chronology of York Castle, and it underscores what a rum job Rodda did of cashing in on Mary.

On April 18th of that year, while the baby was on the mend from some routine affliction of infancy, John Rodda bought a penny’s worth of vitriol from a druggist.

The next day, Mary’s condition took an abrupt turn for the worse after being left a few minutes in her father’s care, and the acid was found in her stomach. Hmmmmm.

A few days previously to his execution, he made a full confession of his guilt, and stated that avarice was his only motive for sacrificing his innocent and unoffending child, whom it was his duty as a parent to have succoured and protected; but whom he coolly, deliberately, and cruelly murdered for the sake of filthy lucre. But the day of execution at last arrived, and the greatly erring young man’s earthly hopes and fears were soon to terminate. At an early hour on Saturday morning, August 8th, the workmen commenced erecting the drop in front of St. George’s Field, and the solemn preparations for the awful ceremony were speedily completed. At the usual hour the wretched man, with blanched cheek and dejected look — his arms pinioned — appeared on the scaffold, attended by the regular officials; after spending a few minutes in prayer, the executioner proceeded to perform the duties of his office, by drawing the cap over his eyes and adjusting the rope, when the fatal bolt was withdrawn — the drop fell — a convulsive struggle ensued — and the unhappy mortal ceased to exist.

There was a large concourse of spectators assembled in St. George’s Field, and the intervening road, to witness the appalling spectacle, amongst whom were a great number of the lower orders of the Irish, who had congregated to witness the last moments of their fellow-countryman.

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1849: Ugo Bassi, nationalist priest

4 comments August 8th, 2012 Headsman

Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice;
And whoso suffers most hath most to give.

-From Harriet King‘s poem “Ugo Bassi’s Sermon in the Hospital”

On this date in 1849, the Garibaldian priest Ugo Bassi was shot in Bologna along with fellow-nationalist Count Livraghi.


Statue of Ugo Bassi at Bologna’s via Ugo Bassi.(cc) image from Biblioteca Salaborsa.

Detail view (click for full image) of Bassi and Livraghi being escorted to execution.

Bassi was a penniless Barnabite priest famous for his powerful oratory* and his national enthusiasms. He signed right up for Garibaldi‘s national movement in the heady liberal revolutions of 1848-49.

“Italy is here in our camp,” he would say of the Garibaldian forces readying their (ultimately unsuccessful) defense of the Roman Republic.** “Italy is Garibaldi; and so are we.”

Alas, in this engagement, Italy had a lot fewer guns than the French.

The new French ruler Napoleon III, who had himself been in youth a revolutionary carbonaro in Rome, saw foreign policy advantage in backing the exiled Papacy and overthrew the Republic.†

Garibaldi escaped to exile, but many of his subalterns did not. Bassi was captured unarmed — he didn’t even bear arms in battle — and Pius IX, once thought a fellow-traveler by the liberals, did not hesitate to hand him to the Austrians for punishment. The Habsburgs stood equally to lose from any gains of the Risorgimento, and accordingly gave Bassi a perfunctory military trial, then had him shot immediately in Bologna.

For crowning his open-hearted life with this sacrifice, Ugo Bassi instantly became, from that day to this, one of the best-honored Italian patriots.

He possessed at once the simplicity of a child, the faith of a martyr, the knowledge of a scholar, and the calm courage of a hero … If ever Italy comes to be united may God restore her the Voice of Ugo Bassi … The name of Ugo Bassi will be the watchword of the Italians on the day of vengeance!

Garibaldi

* Anecdote associated with Bassi once he came to firing up the Bolognese for Garibaldi: a poor girl who could give nothing to the cause spontaneously chopped off her own hair and handed it to him. This is the event depicted by Bassi’s fellow-Bolognese Napoleone Angiolini, Ugo Bassi sui gradini di San Petronio.

** Topical incidental: the Roman Republic lasted only a few months, but its constitution abolished the death penalty … so it can count as the first nation to abolish capital punishment in constitutional law.

† Earning Napoleon III the permanent wrath of Italian nationalists.

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1523: Jean Valliere, the first Protestant burnt in France

1 comment August 8th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1523, a Norman hermit named Jean Vallière was burned at the stake at a Paris pig market, while the books of the humanistic nobleman Louis de Berquin were burned in front of Notre Dame by the Paris parlement.

Berquin would follow Valliere’s fate ere that first decade of Lutheranism was out, but the obscurity who died on this date seems to have been an Augustinian preacher whose zany idea that Jesus was the son of Joseph and not God would have been no more welcomed by Luther than by Rome.

Friend and foe alike tended to project onto Luther any old subversive project that wanted either the imprimatur of theological credibility or the brand of the heresiarch and his “pestilential doctrine full of execrable errors.” (That’s how the Sorbonne condemned Luther in 1521.)

In this case, guilt by association was intended to intimidate with Valliere’s example scholars like Berquin. A most particular threat was a clique of reform-oriented intellectuals at Meaux under the leadership of Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples; d’Etaples that very year of 1523 completed a French translation of the New Testament.

These folk in Meaux persisted only under the personal protection of the French King Francis I and his reformist sister Marguerite of Navarre. Their project of reform within the church never really took, and neither did the Meaux circle commit itself to martyrdom for the new faith(s). But Marguerite of Navarre’s grandson would be the man to settle this century’s French Wars of Religion by conquering as a Huguenot, converting to Catholicism, and ruling illustriously as Henri IV.

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1914: Rudolf Duala Manga Bell, in German Kamerun

3 comments August 8th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1914, the Germans hanged D(o)uala king Rudolf Duala Manga Bell for treason in German Kamerun.

European-educated and on retainer by the colonial German government, Bell was hardly the subversive type: rather, as the head of the largest clan of the important Duala tribe, he was the guy that Berlin looked to to uphold its authority.

This mutually satisfactory relationship began unraveling in 1910, with the Reich’s plan to abnegate the 1884 treaty under whose auspices it intruded into Kamerun (Cameroon) in the first place.

Seeking to confine the Duala to a few coastal villages — and subsequently, to push those Duala to less desirable inland territory — Berlin managed the rare feat of uniting the tribe’s various families, and pushing Rudolf Manga Bell himself into (surprising, to Germany) resistance.

When petitions to the Reichstag were ignored, the Duala began (Bell’s own degree of involvement in this seems to be a disputed point) making noises about holding Berlin in breach of the colonial treaty and finding itself a new European patron, like France or England.

Azanwi Nchami’s Footprints of Destiny (“the historical Cameroonian novel par excellence”) tells the story of Rudolf Manga Bell, Martin Paul Samba, and emergent Kamerunian nationalism.

And one notes the year in this post’s title, which would become momentous to Germany for other reasons. “The coming war,” notes Victor T. LeVine, “made it appear that Manga Bell had been plotting with Germany’s enemies.”

Bell was arrested for treason in the first half of 1914, as the Germans seized prime Bell land along the Wouri River.

In the conflict that became remembered as World War I, the first declarations of war were made in the very first days of August; Axis and Ententethe Central Powers and Triple Entente lined up against one another in the colonial territories, too, and German administrators in Kamerun realized that they were about to face an invasion from neighboring British and French colonies.

So it was in an atmosphere of panic and a view towards desperate internal repression that Bell was tried for treason on August 7, 1914, along with his friend and fellow-traveler Martin Paul Samba — and put to death the very next day.

Postscript

The Allied invasion had taken Duala and the other principal cities of Kamerun from the Germans by the end of September; over an 18-month campaign, the Germans were totally defeated in the territory, which France and England claimed as victors’ spoils after the war. (Also inheriting the tense relationship with the Duala; France was still trying to sort out the 1914 German expropriations that started the whole mess decades later.)

As a result, Rudolf Duala Manga Bell’s son, Alexander Ndoumbe Duala Manga Bell, not only inherited his father’s royal position among the Duala — he became Cameroon’s first elected representative to the French National Assembly.* There’s more about that guy here.

It is here that the Germans part ways with Cameroon’s national story, but there was almost a “peace in our time” diplomatic reconquista.

Although Hitler originally held the colonial movement in great disdain, in the late 1930s his regime ‘adopted’ and coordinated this movement. After 1936 the renewed campaign for the recuperation of German colonies had its desired results among the Allied powers. In discussions between the French Foreign Minister, Yvon Delbos, and the American Ambassador, William Bullitt, proposals were considered for the appeasement of Germany including tariff reductions, the involvement of the Third Reich in the development of Africa, and finally the granting of a colony to Germany, probably the Cameroons. In November 1937, during talks between Premier Chautemps, Prime Minister Chamberlain, Eden and Delbos, the suggestion was allegedly made by Chamberlain that France should ‘hand the Cameroons to Germany at once without any quid pro quo’.**

* Ralph A. Austen, “The Metamorphoses of Middlemen: The Duala, Europeans, and the Cameroon Hinterland, ca. 1800 – ca. 1960”, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (1983).

** Richard A. Joseph, “The German Question in French Cameroun,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 17, No. 1 (1975)

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1812: Daniel Dawson, for the integrity of sport

Add comment August 8th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1812, Daniel Dawson “suffered the awful sentence of the law, at the top of Cambridge Castle, amidst a surrounding assemblage of at least twelve thousand spectators, it being market-day.”

The crowd was an appropriate ornament to the condign punishment of the most famous horse-poisoner in English history — and perhaps the most severely-punished sports cheat in all of modernity.

A tout scrabbling his living about the storied Newmarket tracks of Cambridge, Dawson killed the favorite for a high-profile race (and three other horses besides) by poisoning their trough, intending only to hamper the beasts enough to make good a variety of bookies’ bets against the fair Pirouette.

Although acquitted for that crime, Dawson was promptly returned to the dock for a previous, and previously unsolved, horse-poisoning, and convicted under a “black act” statute to punish livestock-killing.

According to the inevitable trial pamphlet, freely available from Google Books,

DAWSON behaved with a sullen and impudent levity during the trial, and he frequently abused the witnesses whilst giving their testimony, loud enough to be heard throughout the court … with horrid imprecations, ill becoming his unhappy situation, and at other times he was nodding at and saluting with his hand different persons in court. The verdict of GUILTY had not the slightest effect on him, and his general conduct was altogether depraved. On his return to the castle, his conduct, at times, bordered on insanity, and he appears too illiterate to feel a consciousness of wrong, although he has confessed his guilt to the full extent.

(Katherine Watson adds that although Pirouette’s owner sought a reprieve for the poisoner, Dawson “spoke bitterly of the hypocrisy of the Jockey Club, few of the members of which were above cheating.”)

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