Thursday, August 30, 2018


It's been a while since I posted to this blog, so I thought I'd update. It seems like the last century when I decided to write a book about the lawyer-generals of the Civil War, and I actually began by writing some mini-biographies of a few generals, but I soon found that I had two huge problems. First, I didn't know enough about the Civil War. Second, there were too many lawyer-generals. Four things have happened since I made these twin discoveries.

First, I have boned up on the Civil War, and I am continuing to study it as much as possible. It is a depressing study.

Second, my study has destroyed my working hypothesis that lawyers had unique skills which made them good generals. I still think that trial lawyers have skills which could translate to military leadership, but I see now that they also have major defects (arrogance is one) which make it difficult to overcome a lack of military education. As a result most lawyer-generals were miserable failures as generals, and the successful lawyer-generals had military educations (e.g. Henry Halleck, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Patrick Cleburne).

Third, I have scaled back my ambition. As we say in the North Florida Piney Woods, I'm boring with too big an auger. I need to put it down and get a smaller one. I can't write about all the lawyer-generals without the book becoming a multi-volume encyclopedia. I have lowered my aim to write only about the lawyers who were colleagues of Lincoln. The working title will be "Lincoln's Attorney Generals: The Eighth Circuit Goes to War."

Fourth, I have embarked upon another project which is consuming my time--a professional biography of Francis L. Wellman, the author of "The Art of Cross-Examination." I've got to finish with Wellman before I get back to "Lincoln's Attorney Generals." It may be a while. Several of Wellman's cases merit treatment as stand-alone books.

Wish me luck with my literary endeavors. I'm going to need it.


There's an old saying that a lie can go around the world before the truth gets its boots on, and that is certainly true about the charge that Lincoln used a forged almanac in his cross-examination of the prosecution's star witness against Duff Armstrong. The witness said he saw the murder by the light of the moon high overhead, and the almanac showed the moon was on the horizon at the time of the murder. The false charge has been rebutted and refuted numerous times over the years, but it never seems to die.

Beginning of the 1860 Campaign Article on the Almanac Trial

I wrote in "Lincoln's Most Famous Case" and again in "Prairie Defender" that the charge was first made in the 1860 presidential campaign after an account of the Almanac Trial was published as campaign literature under the title "Thrilling Episode in the Life of Abe Lincoln." This account was soon rebutted with the fake almanac allegation. As I was preparing for my visit to Illinois next week, I discovered that there was a tradition which held that the fake almanac allegation was made against Lincoln in his 1858 senatorial campaign against Stephen A. Douglas. I doubt that the allegation was made this early, and here is why:

The story of the trial hit the papers immediately after Lincoln was nominated. It played as a heartwarming human interest story but it was exaggerated to make the almanac show no moon at all when actually the moon was on the horizon. It’s hard to see why Lincoln’s handlers would have gone with the story if they knew of the fake almanac allegation. Second, the story was immediately answered by a sneering rebuttal entitled "Sensation Story Spoilt." It was supposedly written by someone who had intimate knowledge of the case, but he made no mention of the fake almanac. Third, there would be no suspicion of a fake almanac until someone fact-checked the no-moon detail of the pro-Lincoln propaganda against an almanac, which likely happened after the publication of "Sensation Story Spoilt." If the fake almanac allegation had already been made in 1858, it would have been featured in "Sensation Story Spoilt." None of the references I have seen which say the allegation was made in 1858 have footnotes or endnotes, so we don't know where they got their information.
Until I can see contemporary evidence of faked almanac allegations being made in the 1858 campaign, I’m going to believe that fading memories of long-ago events retrojected the 1860.

If anyone knows of a contemporary reference which supports the allegation being made in 1858, please bring it to my attention. I'd like to see it.

The Rebuttal to the 1860 Campaign Article


A while back I was making a point that nobody is indispensable, and I used an old North Florida aphorism: "Don't one monkey make a show." One of my listeners chimed in and said that she was going to be using the saying in the future. I cautioned her that she should make sure that she added "You need some giraffes and elephants, too," to make it clear that she was referring to the circus and not making a racist comment. You can never be too careful about word choice. 

Too bad Ron DeSantis wasn't a party to my conversation. If he had been, I'm certain he would never have said Andrew Gillum would "monkey up" the state's recent economic success with his socialist agenda. An obviously innocent remark aimed at the economic system championed by Gillum has been twisted to make evidence of racism, and the news media is having a field day over a poor choice of words.

Why don't we talk about the real issue: whether socialism is preferable to free-labor capitalism? 

Friday, August 24, 2018


I have completed the transcript of the testimony of Frank J. Wilson, the 27th LKC prosecution witness. You can access the transcript here: FRANK J. WILSON.

You can access an index to transcripts of all the transcribed witnesses here: ***LINK TO INDEX OF ALL WITNESSES***

Thursday, August 16, 2018


My grandfather was always involved in politics in some way or another, and his activity had a profound influence on me. When I got my driver's license, I used to chauffer him around Union County as he canvassed for votes, and later he gave me a job running the sound equipment for the political speakings held by the Democratic Committee in our small county. The most dramatic job he ever gave me was election monitor in a hotly contested city election he was involved in. Then was when I learned that politics was a full-contact sport, as there were all sorts of behind-the-scenes shenanigans going on. Things were so heated that each candidate was given the privilege of putting a monitor in the room where the votes were counted to make sure that the supervisor of elections counted them right. With so many partisan eyes watching the count, you know it had to be right.

I also learned about the anonymous smear sheets that would be circulated in the week leading up to the election. The sheets were usually full of scurrilous lies, but the authors were unknown and the time was too short to mount an effective reply. There was no such thing as Facebook and Twitter back then.

I'm sad to say that the smear sheets are still a feature of politics, but they don't wait until the last minute any more, and they put out much more polished products now. The authors are still anonymous, hiding behind Political Action Committees with high-sounding names which usually include the words "truth" or "fact," something that the sheets are sorely lacking in.

My mailbox has gotten a number of these smear sheets on various candidates, filled with venomous innuendo. And what little fact they contain is so twisted that the truth is unrecognizable. One smear sheet I got the other day had a very poorly photoshopped picture of the target appearing to stand among a group of people whom the authors of the sheet believe to be anathema to North Florida voters. The first thought that came to my mind was "Whoever put this out must think voters around here are too stupid to exercise a little critical judgment." 

It makes me long for the good old days when they waited until the last minute to put out such tripe and distributed it in the dead of night.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


Germanic Tribesmen Celebrating a Political Victory

When I was in college back in 19[mumbledy-mumble] I read a description of a form of democracy practiced by wild Germanic tribes living outside the Roman Empire. Whenever there was an important decision to be made, the tribe would gather together with the tribesmen favoring one solution on one side and the tribesmen favoring the other solution on the other. They would then begin yelling. The issue was decided by whichever group yelled the loudest. All you had to do was recruit enough allies with loud voices, get them to yelling, and you could carry any issue. I remember thinking “What a stupid way to decide important issues. I’m glad we here in American have a much more enlightened form of democracy.” Which goes to show how naïve I was.
Twenty-first century America is ruled by whoever can yell the loudest, and the news media (especially video and radio) has a profound effect on who can yell the loudest. You can scream at the top of your voice and nobody will hear you if the media ignores you. But if you are shouting something that coheres with the agenda of a particular media outlet, your voice can be magnified above the sonic boom level.
Something I have noticed over the years, is that when I am shouting, I’m not doing my best thinking. I don’t think I’m unique in that respect; I think it is true of all of us. The louder we shout, the less we think. Emotion is the enemy of reason, and emotion has almost completely driven reason from the marketplace of ideas here in America. The moment a thinker voices an idea, others begin to shout the idea down. Much as Socrates was shouted down when he suggested that people should think for themselves, as Galileo was shouted down when he suggested that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and as Reverend Monsignor Georges Lemaître was shouted down when he suggested the Big Bang,* anyone who voices an unpopular idea today is shouted down by those with access to the loudest megaphones.
As Aristotle said over 2,000 years ago: 
It is not right to pervert the judge by moving him to anger or envy or pity-one might as well warp a carpenter's rule before using it. (Rhetoric, Book 1, Part 1)
Unless we get control of our emotions, modulate our shouting, and start addressing our problems with good sense rather than bad sophistry, we might as well go back to wearing animal skins and horned helmets.
* In case you're wondering why Rev. Lemaitre's proposal got shouted down, it was because it sounded too much like "Let there be light." (Genesis 1:3). Lemaitre was accused of trying to sneak religion into science through the back door. The distinguished astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle labeled Lemaitre's theory the "Big Bang Theory" as a term of ridicule. How, indeed, could such a well-ordered Universe have come from an explosion?

Sunday, August 5, 2018


Last night my wife, Lane, and I attended the Florida Authors and Publishers Association annual awards banquet in Disneyworld. It was held at the conclusion of their annual convention, which we were unable to attend due to the fact that we had conflicting commitments. We had rented a condo on the beach in St. Augustine and invited the kids and grandkids to come stay with us. Most of them were able to spend at least a little time with us, and the week was quite enjoyable despite the fact that Lane and I caught colds. With all the hacking and coughing, I managed to give my cold to our daughter Laura before she flew back to her home in Columbus. After everyone left, we had one day of just lying around the condo recuperating, and then the next morning we got up and drove back to Lake City, unloaded our beach stuff, loaded up our awards banquet stuff, and hit the road going to Orlando. Anyone familiar with the geography of Florida knows that we did not take the direct route from St. Augustine to Disneyworld and added about four hours travel time to our trip.

We got to the hotel just in the nick of time to shower, dress, and find the convention center. There were only thirty minutes left of the pre-banquet happy hour, which was just as well. I saw one person I knew, and she did not remember me. It wasn’t long, though, before we had met and talked to a number of interesting people. The less said about the meal the better. I found myself wishing that they had gotten the meal catered by Sonny’s Barbecue rather than Gaston’s Gourmet Confections (the name has been changed to protect the innocent). The dessert, however, was excellent. But I have never in my life seen smaller slices of cheesecake. I took two slices and found myself wishing I’d taken a third, but I was trying not to act like a backwoods ruffian.

My book, Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln, was entered in three categories and it medaled in all three. First, Prairie Defender won a Gold Medal in the category of Biography. I was extremely proud that I didn’t trip over anyone going to the rostrum to receive the award. I did grin like a mule eating briars for the picture, though.

Second, the book won a Silver Medal in the category Adult Nonfiction. Lane had warned me about my silly grin on the first go-around, and I tried to smile normally. Didn’t have much luck, though.
The third category was Politics/Current Events. I was kind of hoping for a Bronze Medal in that category so I could have one of each type. No such luck. The book won another Gold Medal. This time I think I managed a better smile.

We met a lot of interesting people who have led interesting lives, and they all seemed to be quite accomplished in their day jobs. Next year we plan to schedule our beach vacation around the FAPA convention.
It just occurred to me that Lane wasn't in any of the pictures. There are two reasons for this omission. Reason 1: She was behind the camera. Reason 2: We were both so doped up on cold medicine we weren't thinking straight. As evidence of Reason 2, when we left the hotel this morning we drove off and left my CPAP machine in our room. I didn't notice the omission until we had completed our four hour drive and were unpacking the car. Luckily, the hotel called, and they're mailing the machine to us. I'll only have to do without it for a few days.