Sunday, August 28, 2016

Henry S. Foote: two-time traitor


The bitter political rivalry between Henry Stuart Foote and Jefferson Davis was never more apparent than on Christmas Day in 1847. The senators from Mississippi were lodging in the same boardinghouse in Washington, D.C., and a discussion about popular sovereignty grew heated. Although the exchange between the senators is unrecorded, Davis eventually struck Foote after he used language that Davis found offensive.

Others in the room separated the two men, but tempers flared again after Foote pronounced that Davis had "struck first." Davis denounced Foote as a liar and threatened to beat him to death if he repeated the claim. Foote instead punched Davis, who returned the blow. Davis suggested that the two of them go to a locked room where he kept his pistols, a less than subtle challenge to a duel. The bystanders in the boardinghouse finally succeeded in calming the men, suggesting that it was all a case of "Christmas frolic" and that it should be kept private.

However, the issue resurfaced a couple of years later. Davis heard that Foote had been boasting that he had struck Davis with impunity. Davis wrote to Foote to ask the rumor was true, and Foote denied it in a lengthy reply. Davis was not wholly satisfied, but his friends convinced him that it was good enough. They also pointed out that a duel between the two would be seen as unfair; Davis had military experience in both the Black Hawk War and the Mexican War, while Foote was a poor enough shot that he had been wounded in three of the four duels he had participated in.

While the rivalry between Foote and Davis never again rose to violence, they remained bitter rivals even as Davis became president of the Confederacy and Foote reluctantly joined the Confederate Congress. Foote would always have a reputation as a hot-tempered politician who was quick to fight, but also proved to be one of the strongest voices against secession. Yet he would also have the dubious honor of being accused of disloyalty in both the North and the South.

Early life

Foote was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, on February 28, 1804. He graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in 1819. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1823, and moved to Alabama two years later to begin a practice in Tuscumbia. He also began editing a weekly newspaper.

In his youth, Foote became known for his propensity to fight duels. He was a participant in four contests of honor between 1828 and 1837, challenging an opponent twice and getting challenged on the remaining two occasions. He was shot in the shoulder in the first incident, after which he moved to Mississippi and began practicing law in Jackson, Natchez, Raymond, and Vicksburg. A dispute with fellow lawyer Sergeant S. Prentiss occurred between 1832 and 1833, after Foote threw an inkstand at Prentiss; this action led to a duel where he was again wounded in the shoulder. The rivalry was later rekindled, with Foote receiving "an exceedingly dangerous wound" in the right leg. In his last duel, Foote managed to shoot a rival in the hip during an exchange of five shots.

Not surprisingly, Foote was known for having a short fuse and his quick temper didn't endear him to many people. One Alabama newspaper would compare him to "a high pressure steamboat on fire." He was also well-known for his short stature and bald head. One tongue-in-cheek account described Foote as a "great humbug, perfect gentleman, entire horse, and part alligator."

Foote briefly left Mississippi in 1839 to journey to the Republic of Texas, which had won independence from Mexico three years earlier. Although the republic's leaders wanted it to be annexed to the United States, concerns over incorporating a new slave state into the nation had kept Texas an independent nation. It would remain so until 1845. Foote would write a book on his experience, Texas and the Texans, and publish it in 1841.

Senate

In 1839, Foote won his first political race when he was elected to the Mississippi house of representatives. He was later elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate, beginning his term on March 4, 1847. He became chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, an assignment he held throughout his Senate career.

Foote found few friends among his fellow senators, who dreaded his long-winded speeches. If they became particularly impatient with his rhetoric, some senators would start to hiss or groan to try to get him to finish up. "I know my rights," he shot back at one point, "and will maintain them too, in spite of all the groans that may come from any quarter."

The tensions of the antebellum era, coupled with Foote's pugnacious streak and unpopularity, all but guaranteed that his Senate career would come with a few bruises. In addition to the fight with Davis, he got into a brawl with Simon Cameron of Pennslyvania on the last night of the 1848 session. The men came to blows after Foote cut Cameron off as he was speaking, saying Cameron had no right to speak in the Senate since his term had ended. In March 1850, he fought with Senator Solon Borland of Arkansas on a street corner after describing Borland as a "servile follower" of John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina senator and former vice president who was strongly in favor of states' rights and the preservation of slavery.

One senator refused to stoop to violence even in the face of threats from Foote. John P. Hale, a senator from New Hampshire, became known for openly opposing slavery. Though opposed to secession, Foote was a slaveholder and despised abolitionists. At one point, he earned the nickname "Hangman Foote" when he threatened on the floor of the Senate that he would personally help with the lynching of Hale if he ever dared to travel to Mississippi. Hale calmly replied that Foote would receive a kind and warm welcome if he ever wanted to visit New Hampshire.

Compromise of 1850

Even though he was quick to fight with others, Foote did not want to see the nation descend into war. Among the politicians in the South, he was one of the few to take a staunch position against the idea of secession. Along with Senators Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Stephen Douglass of Illinois, he became a principal architect of the Compromise of 1850.

This landmark agreement came about following the Mexican War, when the United States acquired the entire northern half of the Mexican Empire. The issue of whether slavery would be permitted in this territory became more pressing when the gold rush of 1849 led to a rapid increase in the population of California, making it eligible to become a state. With the California delegates unequivocally opposed to slavery, there was a strong possibility that the balance between free and slave states in Congress would be upset - potentially prompting the southern states to secede.

Several ideas were proposed in Congress to remedy the California question, along with other issues facing the nation. Foote himself offered a bill in January 1850 to provide territorial governments for California, New Mexico, "Deseret" in Utah, and a new state carved out of western Texas called Jacinto. Henry Clay, a longstanding Kentucky senator who had earned the nickname "The Great Compromiser" for his role in negotiating the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and Tariff Compromise of 1833, offered eight resolutions related to the former Mexican territory.

Henry Clay delivers a speech on his compromise proposals (Source)

President Zachary Taylor wanted the issue of California's admission as a state to be referred to the Senate Committee on Territories. Foote suggested that it go before a special 13-man committee, along with the other proposals suggested by Clay, so they could be brought before Congress in a single bill. Clay, who had intended to have his proposals considered separately, gave Foote's suggestion what would be a lasting nickname: an "omnibus bill," after the horse-drawn conveyance that was becoming popular for urban transportation. Clay worried that his proposals would be shot down if they were bundled together, declaring that Foote's proposal put into an omnibus "all sorts of things and every kind of passenger, and myself among them."

Foote, in turn, charged that Clay was "throwing into the hands of his adversaries all the trump cards in the deck." In other words, he considered that Clay's proposals benefited the North while offering little in return to the South. "My allegiance is to this Union and to my state," Clay rebutted, "but if gentlemen suppose they can exact from me an acknowledgement of allegiance to any ideal or future contemplated confederacy of the South, I here declare that I owe no allegiance to it; nor will I, for one, come under any such allegiance if I can avoid it."

The issues on the table were so weighty that many senators wondered whether the Union could be preserved. Senators like Foote felt that California's admission into the Union would provoke the South into secession, but that it would be possible to preserve the nation if the northern states made a number of concessions in exchange for California statehood. However, many of his constituents in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South were actively calling for secession. Then on March 4, Senator John C. Calhoun expressed his thoughts on the issues facing the nation.

Calhoun was a much respected member of the Senate. During his long political career, he had served four terms in the House of Representatives, acted as Secretary of War in President James Monroe's Cabinet, and been elected Vice President to President John Quincy Adams. He had served in the Senate since 1832, with a brief hiatus to join President John Tyler's cabinet as Secretary of State.

By the time the 1850 measures appeared before the Senate, Calhoun was 67 years old suffering from severe illness. He was so weak that he could not deliver his own address (it was read by Senator James M. Mason of Virginia) but there was no mistaking that his words were a rallying cry for southern sectionalism. Calhoun declared that the equilibrium between the North and South had broken down, with the northern states having "exclusive power of controlling the government, which leaves the [South] without any adequate means of protecting itself against its encroachment and oppression."

Calhoun suggested that the North had excluded the South from newly acquired territories and placed an undue tax burden on the region, appropriating most of the proceeds to northern manufacturing interests. This industry, he argued, made the North a more popular destination for immigrants and consequently increased these states' power in national elections. He said relations between the North and South had been further strained by abolitionists' fervent denunciations of slavery. If the state of affairs continued, he suggested, the South would have no choice but to secede.

The Senate should not be discussing any sort of compromise, Calhoun concluded. Rather, the North needed to concede equal right to the territories acquired in the Mexican War, work to return fugitive slaves to their owners, "cease the agitation of the slave question," and establish a constitutional amendment to restore the South to equal power in the government.

"At all events, the responsibility for saving the Union rests on the North, and not the South," Calhoun declared. "The South cannot save it by any act of hers, and the North may save it without any sacrifice whatever, unless to do justice and to perform her duties under the Constitution should be regarded by her as a sacrifice."

Foote was appalled by the address, believing the course demanded by Calhoun would make secession "almost inevitable." Not only was Calhoun obstructing a compromise, he charged, but he was "heard to denounce the very name of compromise." He also wondered why Calhoun had not consulted with other southern senators before making his speech. "To speak plainly, I almost felt that a noose was put around my neck, while asleep, and without having antecedingly obtained my consent," he complained.

Calhoun showed little regard for Foote's concerns. About 10 days after his address, he said, "Well sir, I never did consult any man upon any speech I ever made. I make speeches for myself."

The fiery speech was one of the last ones Calhoun would make. He died on March 31.

Feud with Benton

By the time of Calhoun's death, Foote had been openly disdainful of Senator Thomas Hart Benton for several months. A Democrat from Missouri, Benton and Foote agreed on many issues. However, Foote despised what he saw as Benton's pompous attitude. "On meeting him face to face my first unfavorable impressions of him were greatly strengthened,and the excessive vanity and egotism constantly displayed by him, both in conversational scenes and in the Senate, inspired me with feelings of disgust and aversion which I have seldom experienced," he wrote in his autobiography.

In December 1849, Foote had essentially accused Benton of stealing his proposal for territorial governments in the new lands taken in the Mexican War. He said the Missouri senator had used language "of the coarsest scurrility and envenomed abuse," and insinuated that Benton had inspired slaves to flee Missouri for freedom in Illinois. Benton, a slaveholder himself, had once been prone to violent outbursts but had cooled down considerably after killing a man in a duel in 1817. He responded to Foote's harangue by simply walking out of the chamber.

It was only the start of a prolonged bullying campaign against Benton. In one particularly fierce rant, Foote accused him of colluding with Senator William Henry Seward, a New York abolitionist who would become President Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State, to undermine the power of the southern states. He also said Benton had conspired with England to sabotage the peace with Mexico and supported California statehood because his son-in-law John C. Fremont would likely become one of the state's senators. Foote even criticized the "imposing nasality" of Benton's Missouri accent. On February 20, 1850, he accused Benton of being motivated by "an intense self-love" and said the senator wouldn't hesitate to sabotage the Union for personal gain.

The relationship between the two men was further frayed by Benton's opposition to the omnibus compromise bill, which he dubbed a "monster." When Benton joined the debate on March 28, Foote ridiculed him as "the Caesar, the Napoleon of the Senate." Benton protested that such personal attacks were in violation of the Senate's rules of decorum, but Foote wouldn't let up. He accused Benton of "parading himself as the peculiar friend and champion of California." Referencing the elopement of Benton's daughter Jessie with Fremont, he suggested that the Missouri senator wanted to "drag California into the Union before her wedding garment has been cast about her person." Foote said that if Benton was truly aggrieved by his insults, he could demand satisfaction through a duel.

"I pronounce it cowardly to give insults where they cannot be chastised. Can I take a cudgel to him here?" Benton responded. "Is a senator to be blackguarded here in the discharge of his duty, and the culprit go unpunished?" Vice President Millard Fillmore, presiding over the Senate session, ignored Foote's attacks and ruled that Benton's remarks were out of order.

Curiously, Fillmore regretted the lack of civility in the Senate during a funeral held in the chamber for Calhoun just six days later. He said the Vice President was once the only person who could declare a senator out of order for their behavior, but that Calhoun had modified the rules while he was Vice President to allow senators to better police their own behavior. However, Fillmore said he didn't think the Senate had been doing enough to foster a friendly environment. "A slight attack, or even an insinuation, of a personal character, often provokes a more severe retort, which brings out a more disorderly reply, each senator feeling a justification in the previous aggression," he said.

The remark foresaw the inevitable clash between Benton and Foote. This incident was likely spurred by remarks over the recently departed Calhoun; indeed, Benton had declared that the former Vice President "died with treason in his heart and on his lips," firing up secessionists across the South before passing away. On April 17, the two men got into a heated argument in the Senate, with Foote bringing up the insinuation that Benton had been taking bribes.

After months of insults, Benton had finally reached a breaking point. He angrily rose from his seat and stormed toward Foote, who immediately retreated into the aisle and drew a pistol. Bedlam erupted in the chamber as other senators tried to prevent any violence. Though Benton's words vary from source to source, their meaning remains constant: he was unarmed, Foote intended to kill him, and he was welcome to commit such a cowardly murder. According to one source, Benton threw open his shirt front and declared, "Let him fire! Stand out of the way! I have no pistols. Let the assassin fire!"

Thomas Hart Benton dares Henry S. Foote to shoot him. (Source)

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Foote surrendered the weapon to Senator Daniel Dickinson of New York, who locked it in his desk. Benton continued to shout at Foote, accusing him of making an assassination attempt. Foote denied the charge, saying he had started carrying the pistol for self-defense after being threatened by another senator in a cloakroom a few days earlier.

Preceding the caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Representative Preston Brooks by six years, the incident was a potent illustration of just how fraught the tensions between the North and South were. Some senators demanded that Foote be expelled, and a resolution was quickly introduced to investigate the incident. When no one wanted to serve on it, Fillmore had to name seven members.

In July, the committee concluded that the confrontation between Foote and Benton was like nothing that had ever occurred before in the Senate. Although the senators agreed that Foote had "indulged in personalities toward Mr. Benton of the most offensive character, such as were calculated to rouse the fiercest resentment in the human bosom," they also concluded that Foote had been acting in self-defense when he drew a pistol. The committee recommended no further action, hoping the incident would provide "a sufficient rebuke and warning not unheeded in the future."

Governor of Mississippi

Initially opposed to the omnibus strategy, Clay had announced on April 8 that he would support it. "You may vote against it if you please in toto, because of the bad there is in it, or you may vote for it because you approve of the greater amount of good there is in it," he said.

Foote continued to support the compromise, denouncing an alternate measure offered by Davis as nothing but "a sort of southern Wilmot Proviso." Davis's proposal called for the federal protection of slavery in the territories, but Foote argued that this measure would actually help undermine slavery. Since those in favor of slavery had traditionally argued that the practice was constitutionally protected everywhere except the free states, he said, it was an accepted notion that Congress had no authority to legislate on slavery issues. He said that if Davis's measure was adopted, it could quickly lead to abolition and "utterly exterminate our favorite domestic institution, and plunge the whole South in hopeless and remediless ruin."

The omnibus bill called for the admission of California into the Union as a free state and the abolition of the slave trade in Washington, D.C., in exchange for a stronger fugitive slave law and the possible expansion of slavery into the West through popular sovereignty. When this legislation was voted down, Foote tried unsuccessfully to have California divided into two states, one slave and one free. This proposal was voted down with 33 opposed and 23 in favor.

Despite these failures, the Compromise of 1850 still made it through Congress. Stephen Douglas of Illinois resumed the effort to pass the measures as five separate bills, which covered all of the issues in the omnibus and had Texas surrender its claims on New Mexico territory. Foote frequently visited the House of Representatives after the measures passed the Senate, offering assistance to members there.

Foote was the only man among all of Mississippi's representatives and senators to support the Compromise of 1850. After the close of the congressional session in September, the state legislature commended Davis and the four congressmen for their opposition to the measures. It also censured Foote for his support.

Despite this rebuke, there was a fair amount of support in Mississippi for the preservation of the Union. In 1851, Foote was selected as the gubernatorial candidate for the newly formed Union Party to counter pro-secession Democratic candidate John Quitman. The bitter campaign was chiefly focused on whether or not Mississippi should quit the Union; at one campaign stop in Sledgeville, Foote and Quitman came to blows and had to be separated. Quitman delayed his schedule to stop in towns two days after Foote, and Foote subsequently began accusing Quitman of being afraid to meet him face to face.

John Quitman, who dropped out of the gubernatorial race against Foote (Source)

Quitman soon dropped out of the race, and the Democrats chose Davis to take his place. In the general election, Foote squeaked out a narrow victory, earning 999 more votes than Davis out of 57,717 cast. He resigned from the Senate on January 8, 1852, to begin his term as governor.

Secession was still the main issue of the day, and Foote found little support in the Democratic legislature. These members named a Whig to fill Foote's seat in the Senate and a former Union Democrat to fill the vacancy left by Davis, then postponed the election for a senator who was to start serving in 1854. Foote also tried to get the legislature to formally support the Compromise of 1850, but its members stubbornly refused to do so.

In 1853, Mississippi voters chose secessionist candidate John J. McRae for governor. Frustrated by the mood in his state, Foote resigned five days before the expiration of his term; state senate president John J. Pettus held the office for these last days. One year later, Foote moved to California.

Snubbed in California

Although he renounced any political ambition in his new home, Foote soon became strongly involved with the Know Nothing party. At the 1855 state elections, this nativist movement gained a 3-1 majority in the state assembly and a one-vote advantage in the state senate.

In a June 1855 speech, Foote decried the continuing sectional tensions in the United States as the "most hazardous crisis that had ever risen in our national affairs demanded the serious consideration of the patriot, and every lover of his country." He worried that "fanatics" in both the North and South threatened to tear the country asunder. The best solution, he believed, was to have Whigs and Democrats opposed to Democratic President Franklin Pierce unite in a party dedicated to the good of the entire nation.

Although he claimed that he was no longer interested in being a politician, Foote was one of the top people considered for the Know Nothings' Senate nomination. However, he was soon dealt a black eye when he engaged in an unnecessary quarrel with the Sacremento Union, a Whig newspaper that had backed the Know Nothings in 1855. When the paper denounced the party's Senate candidates as "gaming politicians" and "migratory partisan quacks," Foote took offense and said the publication shouldn't be speaking in generalities. The Union accepted the challenge, publishing an article outlining the reasons why Foote shouldn't be considered for office. These included his inability to work well with others, "impolitic acts" such as the confrontation with Benton, and his brief time in California.

The last reason was particularly galling to state senator Wilson G. Flint, a Know Nothing who hated slaveholders and considered Foote a carpetbagger. While the state assembly voted 57-19 on January 11, 1856, to meet four days later to elect a U.S. senator, Flint joined a 17-15 vote to postpone the joint meeting to January 22. When this day arrived, he threw his support behind a motion to postpone the election of a senator indefinitely. These actions negated the Know Nothings' one-vote majority, and the Senate seat remained vacant until the next year.

Foote remained loyal to the Know Nothings, who supported Filmore for President in the 1856 election. When both the nation and California supported Democratic nominee James Buchanan, the Know Nothing party in California disintegrated. Foote subsequently rejoined the Democrats, but took no active role in the 1857 election.

In July, Foote announced that he would be traveling to Washington, D.C. in September to attend a session of the Supreme Court. Although the implication was that he would only be there for a brief period, he never came back to California. Instead, he returned to Mississippi and settled near Vicksburg. Critics charged that this action confirmed their suspicions that Foote had only been interested in fulfilling his political ambitions in California.

Nevertheless, most of Foote's children remained in the state and several became prominent in the West. Henry S. Foote Jr. became a California superior court judge, while another son, W.W. Foote, was a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to the Senate in 1892. His son-in-law William M. Stewart settled in Nevada, where he was named by the Republicans as one of the first senators from this state.

William M. Stewart, Foote's son-in-law, riding a mule in Nevada (Source)

The "open assailant"

Foote remained in Mississippi only briefly, opting to move when it became clear that the state was going to secede. He settled near Nashville, Tennessee, and was a delegate to the Southern convention in Knoxville. He supported Northern Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas in the contentious 1860 election, agreeing with the Illinois senator's proposal to preserve the Union through popular sovereignty.

Even though he had opposed secession throughout his career, Foote supported the Confederacy after Tennessee left the Union in June 1861. The state was one of four to secede after the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter in April, kicking off the Civil War. By this point, Foote said, to oppose secession in the South was to be labeled a "coward and submissionist" and possibly exposed to intimidation and violence. Moreover, his family supported the cause, with his sons serving in the Confederate military.

Foote returned to politics, getting elected as a Tennessee representative to the First and Second Confederate Congresses and starting his service in 1862. In his first term, he chaired the Committee on Foreign Affairs as well as a special committee to investigate illegal arrests and losses on the battlefield. In his second term, he chaired another special committee on illegal impressment.

The relationship between Foote and Davis, now President of the Confederacy, had not improved. Foote became known for his harsh criticism of Davis's administration and his handling of the war. He constantly demanded information on military movements and battles, advocated an offensive rather than defensive war against the Union, and ordered some 30 inquiries into suspected ineptitude and corruption. Foote was particularly suspicious of quartermasters, whom he suspected of reaping private profits through the supply of the Confederate military.

In addition to his disdain for Davis, Foote held little regard for the members of his administration. He managed to oust Judah Benjamin as Secretary of War after introducing a vote of no confidence against him in 1862. While this action followed the loss of Roanoke Island in North Carolina as well as losses in the western states of the Confederacy, it was also influenced at least in part by anti-Semitism. At one point, Foote ranted that Jews had "deluged" the Confederacy and taken over important trades; he said that if this alleged shadowy influence continued, they would "probably find nearly all the property of the Confederacy in the hands of Jewish shylocks." He later declared that he would not support the creation of a Confederate Supreme Court as long as Benjamin "shall continue to pollute the ears of majesty Davis with his insidious counsels."

Benjamin wasn't Foote's only target. He claimed that his critiques of Confederate Secretary of the Treasury Christopher Memminger and Secretary of War James Seddon, along with his call for them to be removed from office, had influenced the men's resignations. He called Commissary General Lucius B. Northrop "a curse to the country" after learning that Northern prisoners of war were not getting enough food. At one point, Foote introduced an amendment to limit Davis's presidential powers but it failed with 45 against and 14 in favor.

Foote's opposition to Davis became so protracted that the Confederate president described him as his "only open assailant in Congress." Foote was against secret sessions of the Confederate Congress, conscription efforts and, the suspension of habeas corpus (unless the enemy was within sight of Richmond). He opposed the continuation of the war after Lincoln offered peace terms in 1863 and 1864, and tried unsuccessfully to introduce his own measures to stop the conflict.

Not surprisingly, Foote was as unpopular in the Confederate Congress as he had been in the U.S. Senate. One newspaper commented that he was a "verbose talker, a loose and inaccurate thinker" who "talks about every thing; and to little purpose." In one incident, Representative Edmund S. Dargan of Alabama attacked him with a Bowie knife during a debate after Foote called him a "damned rascal." When others stopped Dargan and took the knife away, Foote, perhaps recalling Benton's words, proclaimed, "I defy the steel of the assassin!"

Foote also got into a scuffle with Northrop and Representative Thomas B. Hanly of Missouri after laughing at Hanly's testimony during a committee hearing. John Mitchell, an Irish patriot and exile who had joined the staff of the Richmond Examiner, was so incensed by Foote's disrespect that he sent William G. Swan of Tennessee to deliver a duel challenge. When Foote responded that he would not accept the challenge because Swan was no gentleman, Swan responded by striking him with an umbrella, leaving a gash on Foote's head.

Expulsion

On Christmas Eve, 1864, Foote wrote to the Speaker of the House to say that he intended to resign at the end of the year. Shortly thereafter, he departed for the United States with his wife Rachel. He was reportedly heading for Washington, D.C., on an unauthorized trip to present a peace plan to Lincoln. Foote never completed the journey; he was arrested on January 10, 1865, although Rachel was allowed to proceed since her passport was in order.

Some of Foote's fellow representatives, perhaps tired of Foote's antics in the Confederate Congress, urged Davis to allow him to leave the South. Instead, a special committee was set up and decided by one vote to return Foote to Richmond. He spoke in his own defense on January 19, arguing that the arrest had violated his rights.

The Committee on Elections took up the issue, and recommended that Foote be thrown out of the Confederate Congress. Its report stated that he had tried to go to the U.S. capital without permission, intended to resign but withdrew his letter after his failed mission, and was "guilty of conduct incompatible with his duty and station as a member of the Congress of the Confederate States." The committee's minority report suggested that he had an honest motive, but that his actions were still "highly reprehensible" and deserving of censure.

The vote taken on January 24 was 51-25 in favor of Foote's expulsion. While this was more than two-thirds of the congressmen present, there were 33 members who were absent. Since the Confederate Constitution held that a congressman could only be expelled by a two-thirds vote of the entire membership, the motion failed. Instead, the Confederate Congress voted 64-6 to adopt the minority report and censure Foote.

Just one week later, Foote was arrested again. This time, he had made it to the United States and sheltered with his son-in-law William M. Stewart, the senator from Nevada. U.S. authorities gave Foote the option of returning to the South or going abroad. He chose the latter, leaving for England in February 1865. While there, he issued a manifesto calling on the Tennessee delegation to secede from the Confederacy and rejoin the Union.

Foote's actions earned him the nickname "Vallandingham of the South," a reference to the deportation of Clement Vallandigham, a Democratic congressman from Ohio, to the Confederacy after his vocal opposition to the Civil War. On February 27, the Confederate Congress again took up the question of whether to expel Foote. Declaring that his actions had indicated a disavowal of the Confederacy and a renunciation of his duties as a congressmen, the vote was 73-0 in favor.

After just six weeks in London, Foote returned to the United States. He was again taken into custody and held in New York City. On May 1, Foote wrote to President Andrew Johnson and asked that he be allowed to go to the Pacific coast, to be with his family and "spend the evening of his days in quietude and repose." Johnson was unsympathetic; he ordered Foote to leave the United States within 48 hours or be charged with treason.

Foote went abroad once more, this time to Montreal. But on May 15, he said he was willing to come back to the United States and face whatever jury trial Johnson deemed fit. He reminded Johnson of how they have served together in Congress and noted his longstanding opposition to secession before the Civil War. "It has been my fate to be grossly misjudged and misrepresented by men of extreme views, both in the North and in the South," he complained.

On June 30, Foote asked for a presidential pardon. Johnson was not amenable to this request, but on August 26 he allowed Foote to return to the U.S. Rather than face criminal charges, he would simply have to take an oath and give his parole of honor. Foote arrived in New York City in December.

Later years

After settling in Nashville, Foote moved to Washington, D.C. and began practicing law. He also started writing for a newspaper and completed more books, including Bar of the South and the Southwest and an autobiography entitled Casket of Reminiscences.

While praising President Ulysses S. Grant's inaugural address in 1869, Foote supported his opponent Horace Greeley (the candidate of the Democrats and Liberal Republicans) in 1872. Foote transitioned to the Republicans in 1876, supporting candidate Rutherford B. Hayes.

Foote was subject to political restrictions under the Fourteenth Amendment, which barred those who had served in the U.S. government and then joined the Confederacy from seeking office. However, his privileges were restored in 1869. After Hayes became President, he appointed Foote as superintendent of the U.S. Mint at New Orleans. Foote held this post from 1878 until his death on May 20, 1880.


Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, National Governors Association, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, "Clay's Last Compromise" on Senate.gov, "Bitter Feelings in the Senate Chamber" on Senate.gov, "Henry S. Foote's Duels" in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 31 1873, The Overland Monthly, Foote Family and Genealogy by Abram W. Foote, Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress, Confederate Incognito: The Civil War Reports of "Long Grabs" a.k.a. Murdoch John McSween 26th and 35th North Carolina Infantry edited by E.B. Munson, At the Edge of Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union by Robert V. Remini, America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union by Fergus M. Bordewich, Jefferson Davis, American by William J. Cooper Jr., On the Brink of Civil War: The Compromise of 1850 and How It Changed the Course of American History by John C. Waugh, The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards, The American Senate: An Insider's History by Neil MacNeil and Richard A. Baker, Dixie Betrayed: How the South Really Lost the Civil War by David J. Eicher, Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary edited by Charles F. Ritter and Jon L. Wakelyn, Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction by James Alex Baggett, The Confederate States of America 1861-1865: A History of the South by E. Merton Coulter, The Confederate Congress by Wildred Buck Yearns, Encyclopedia of Mississippi by Nancy Capace, The Journal of Southern History Vol. 9, Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America Vol. VII, The Papers of Andrew Johnson, The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Letters of Warren Akin: Confederate Congressman, Arkansas: A Narrative History by Jeannie M. Wayne, Casket of Reminiscences by Henry S. Foote

Friday, June 24, 2016

West Virginia Governor Arch Moore Jr.: Infrastructure, Floods, and Extortion



(Source)

Barely halfway through his first term as governor of West Virginia, Arch Alfred Moore, Jr., found himself in the crosshairs of syndicated newspaper columnist Jack Anderson. The "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column was the last place a politician wanted to see their name. If anyone knew of any unscrupulous behavior by an elected official, tipping off Anderson or predecessor Drew Pearson would all but guarantee that the malfeasance would be exposed to a national audience. The allegations raised in the column were often an early indicator that a politician would be criminally charged.

In July 1970, Anderson wrote that Moore was under investigation for possible wrongdoing related to his campaign funds. The governor was suspected of stashing away $80,000 in contributions for his own personal use. Anderson suggested that such behavior would suit Moore, since he had been known for his lavish lifestyle while serving in the House of Representatives, such as keeping a posh home on the Potomac and frequently offering to pick up the check at expensive restaurants. The column also noted that the governor's chief purchasing agent, John Bell, had been indicted for bribery and that Moore's campaign finance reports openly admitted that he had accepted money from corporations - an illegal practice under West Virginia law.

Moore refused to comment, but after the column ran he denounced it as a "despicable lie." Anderson, standing behind his charges, challenged the governor to a televised debate. When Moore refused, Anderson ran a follow-up column outlining several instances of wrongdoing. He said the governor had employed creative accounting, including wrongful tax deductions for a plane and pilot's salary used while he was in Congress. He cited conflict of interest, saying Moore had continued to receive income from his law firm as it defended the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company and simultaneously defended the company on the floor of Congress. Anderson accused Moore of pocketing hundreds of shares of stock that a client's will had requested be donated to charity. In a separate column, he criticized the "thin-skinned" governor for pressuring United Press International to replace a state capitol reporter whose stories exposed wasteful spending.

All told, Anderson calculated that Moore had reported only $45,000 in income to the IRS between 1962 and 1966 when he had actually earned $176,000. In September 1970, the columnist wrote that Moore was "frantically pulling political strings to keep from being indicted for alleged income tax violations."

If the governor was trying to avert an indictment, he was successful; he was never indicted for tax fraud during this period. Anderson mentioned the matter again in 1975, in a column accusing President Richard Nixon of appointing district attorneys who focused their efforts on indicting and unseating Democratic governors. These officials could easily have charged Moore, he suggested, but they were "so eager to prosecute Democrats" that they "let Moore off the hook."

Rumors of corruption would plague Moore for much of his political career, contributing to his polarizing legacy. He invested in a number of initiatives that sought to benefit the public as a whole in West Virginia, and was popular enough that he won an unprecedented third term in office. But two decades after Anderson first suggested that Moore was corrupt, a prosecutor would say that the governor had committed an unprecedented level of election fraud as well.

Early life

Moore was born in Moundsville, West Virginia, on April 16, 1923. Politics ran in the family; his grandfather had served as mayor of the town, and his uncle as the minority leader for the Republicans in the state house of delegates. In his senior year of high school, Moore began working an eight-hour night shift at a factory to save up money for college. He began attending Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, but cut his studies short when he was drafted into the military in 1943.

Moore quickly rose to the rank of combat sergeant in the Army during World War II. He very nearly didn't make it out of the war alive. In November 1944, while leading a platoon near Aachen, Germany, Moore and his men came under machine gun fire. Thirty-three of the 36 soldiers in the platoon did not survive the day. Moore was grievously wounded when a bullet passed through his cheek and nearly severed his tongue. Left for dead in a beet field, he was found and rescued eight hours later. After several surgeries and 13 months of therapy, he regained the ability to speak.

For his service, Moore received the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman's Badge, and European Campaign Ribbon with three battle stars. He was discharged from the Army in 1946 and returned to his studies, this time staying closer to home. He studied political science at West Virginia University in Morgantown, earning a bachelor's degree in 1948. Moore was also active in political affairs during this time, writing the student constitution and lobbying for the construction of the state's first medical school. He stayed at the university to earn his law degree in 1951 and opened a private practice with his uncle.

Political beginnings

Following in his uncle's footsteps, Moore ran for the state house of delegates and served there from 1953 to 1955. He ran as a Republican for the House of Representatives in 1954, but lost to Democratic incumbent Robert H. Mollohan. Two years later, Moore was elected to Congress; at only 33 years old, he was the youngest representative at the time. He won the next five elections as well, serving through January 1969.
Moore shakes hands with President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 (Source)

Moore became known as a strong supporter of public works initiatives and civil rights measures. He was among the representatives from south of the Mason-Dixon Line to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While some members argued that only a moderate bill would have a prayer of passing muster with Southern senators, Moore argued for a bill that provided strong civil rights guarantees. If they sent the Senate a "water bill," he suggested, they would return a "water-water bill." He was also active in shaping American policy toward Vietnam, making several trips to the country.

In 1968, Moore decided to run in the West Virginia gubernatorial election instead of seeking re-election to Congress. He managed to defeat former Governor Cecil H. Underwood for the Republican nomination, moving on to face Democratic candidate Jim Sprouse in the general election. Although the Democratic Party was powerful in the state, certain factors conspired to favor Moore. He became well-liked for his friendly, backslapping bravado and ability to remember the name of just about anybody he met. In February 1968, the party was dealt a blow when W.W. "Wally" Barron, the Democratic governor who had served between 1961 and 1965, was indicted along with five others for bribery and conspiracy related to state contracts. Barron escaped the charges, but was later convicted of tampering with the jury that had acquitted him.

An incident that occurred just two days before the election likely caused many voters to sympathize with Moore. He was arriving by helicopter at a rally at a high school football field in Hamlin when the chopper struck a flagpole and plummeted 30 feet to the ground. All four people on the helicopter survived, but Moore suffered broken ribs as a result of the crash. Nevertheless, he briefly spoke to the assembled crowd before agreeing to go to the hospital.

This resilience impressed many people, and may have caused a large number of undecided voters to support Moore. On Election Day, he defeated Sprouse by a mere 12,875 votes out of nearly 744,000 cast.

Governor of West Virginia

The governor's role in state politics was newly strengthened when Moore arrived in office. The legislature had passed the Modern Budget Amendment, which broadened the governor's budgetary powers. While the West Virginia budget had formerly been delegated to a collective of state officials, the governor now had the ability to estimate revenues and propose spending. The office was strengthened again in 1970, when the legislature passed the Governor's Succession Amendment. Governors had been forbidden to run for re-election after a single term, but the new rule allowed them to seek re-election and serve two consecutive terms.

Moore took advantage of the change in the 1972 election, becoming the first West Virginia governor to succeed himself in a century. Democrats continued to outnumber Republicans in the state by a factor of two to one, and he faced West Virginia secretary of state John "Jay" Rockefeller IV. Though Rockefeller was considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, his opposition to surface mining made him an unpopular figure among the state's powerful coal lobby. Moore was able to leverage this suspicion by accusing Rockefeller, a native New Yorker, of being an outsider who wanted to cripple the state's coal industry to benefit his wealthy family's oil interests. In his re-election bid, Moore won by a more comfortable margin of about 73,000 votes.

In his first two terms as governor of West Virginia, Moore placed heavy focus on infrastructure investment. A $350 million bond for road and bridge building projects was approved in 1968, and Moore's terms saw the completion of 182 miles of interstate highway, 184 miles of other highways, and 9,000 miles of secondary roads. He also oversaw the establishment of 44 vocational schools, 44 libraries, three community colleges, a cultural center, and the addition of gold leaf to the dome of the state capitol.

One span started during Moore's time in office was the iconic New River Gorge Bridge. The Appalachian Regional Commission, a partnership of 13 states dedicated to economic development initiatives in Appalachia, rotated its chairmanship among the member states' governors. When Moore's turn was up, he found that the commission had accumulated a substantial amount of money with no plans for its use. He proposed the construction of the bridge near Fayetteville, with an open top design to let drivers see "nothing but the sky and the world." The 3,030-foot bridge, completed in 1977 at a cost of $37 million, provided a stunning alternative to the 40-minute detour or treacherous mountain roads that had once greeted drivers who sought to cross the river. The crossing, currently the third highest bridge in the United States, was featured on the West Virginia state quarter design in 2005.

The New River Gorge Bridge under construction (Source)

Several of Moore's initiatives sought to improve benefits for the state's workers. He aimed to increase employment in West Virginia's coal mines while simultaneously supporting safety improvements and advocating for black lung disease to be classified as a mining disability. At one point, he helped negotiate a settlement to end a national coal strike. He established a free kindergarten program and supported $1,500 raises for about 17,000 teachers. He looked to improve benefits for welfare recipients, and during his administration benefits increased for about 20,000 families. About 13,000 more blind, elderly, and disabled people were also granted benefits.

In 1973, a riot broke out at the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville and five guards were taken hostage. An administrative assistant of Moore's negotiated with the prisoners and agreed to 20 of their 22 demands. The governor then visited the prison to give approval to the compromise and personally greet the hostages as they were released.

Of course, Moore's first two terms were not without controversy. Just two months into his tenure in 1969, approximately 2,600 state highway and transit workers went on strike to seek union recognition. Moore maintained that the workers did not have a right to unionize and that their action was illegal. When they failed to return to work after heavy March snows, Moore fired the striking workers so he could hire replacements to clear the roads. Many residents sympathized with the employees, and the mass termination appalled them. The governor defended himself by saying he had "no choice but to act with decisiveness." The action was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld it.

Throughout his time in office, Moore was dogged by rumors of corruption. He was suspected of taking bribes from coal companies, although he was never formally charged with such behavior. He was criticized for giving a state contract for license plate manufacturing to an Arkansas company headed by a person who had been convicted of taking bribes, and for allegedly accepting $23,000 in illegal campaign contributions from the Ashland Oil Company.

There were further suspicions about Moore's campaign activities when his liquor commissioner, Richard Barber, was convicted on charges of racketeering, extortion, and mail fraud. Though Moore wasn't charged in the scheme, Barber was accused of using his official permission to goad liquor salesmen into donating to Moore's campaign; prosecutors also said that Barber had taken liquor from a state warehouse and sent it to the governor's mansion.

Indictment in 1975

The suspicions against Moore reached a crescendo in December 1975, when the governor and his 1972 campaign manager were indicted on federal extortion charges. It marked the first time that a sitting West Virginia governor had been charged with a crime.

Six months prior to the indictment, a grand jury had indicted two officials of the Diversified Mountaineer Corporation on charges of fraud related to the bank's fundraising activities. Both president Theodore Price and controller Roger Baird agreed to plead to lesser charges and receive reduced sentences if they gave evidence against Moore and his campaign manager, William H. Loy. The officials said that when they sought a state charter for the bank, Moore and Loy said they would only grant it if they received $25,000 from the Diversified Mountaineer Corporation. The charter was never granted, and the bank later went into receivership.

Moore maintained his innocence and accused U.S. Attorney John Field III of waging a "personal vendetta" against him. The indictment came down not long before the governor was scheduled to announce his bid for an unprecedented third term, so he decided to make this announcement early. At a press conference, Moore denied any wrongdoing and declared his candidacy, saying, "I am announcing formally to you today that I will file, that I will run, that I will be successful."

The trial added to the rumors that Moore had engaged in shady practices when it came to his campaign. It was alleged that he kept $180,000 in cash in a drawer, having never reported it with his political contributions. Price suggested that he delivered money to Moore on three visits in September and October of 1972, but Moore's defense attorney questioned how trustworthy the former bank president was. The attorney described Price as a "felon, thief, and liar," accusing him of siphoning money from the bank and giving it to Moore as a political contribution. Both Moore and Loy took the stand to testify in their own defense; they were acquitted in May 1976.

Disaster at Buffalo Creek

One of Moore's most controversial actions, taking place during the last days of his second term, was related to a disaster that had occurred in 1972. For 15 years prior to that time, the Buffalo Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Pittston Coal Company, had been using mining waste to create dams on Buffalo Creek. By 1972, three of these dams were in place on the waterway. Pittston, the largest independent coal producer in the nation, had developed an infamous record on safety. The company was cited for more than 5,000 violations in its 1971 operations alone.

In February 1972, officials with the Buffalo Mining Company grew concerned about the integrity of the dams as rain fell continuously for several days. The company informed a Pittston official about the potential danger, but no residents were warned. On the morning of February 26, the largest dam on Buffalo Creek gave way. A torrent of some 130 million gallons of water rushed downstream, obliterating the other two dams and sweeping through 16 small mining communities. The flood killed 125 people, injured another 1,100, and left about 4,000 homeless. Property damage was estimated at $50 million, with another $15 million in damage to roads in the area.


The aftermath of the Buffalo Creek flood (Source)

Jack Anderson would later accuse Moore of monopolizing three National Guard helicopters to make a grandstanding entrance to the disaster zone. The columnist said the governor commandeered two choppers for himself and other VIPs; another helicopter was reserved for the press and sent in advance so that TV crews could capture the governor's arrival. Anderson said the National Guard was left with only two choppers for essential disaster relief work; the pilots of the other three were so frustrated at having to wait for the return of the governor's party that they left to complete a few supply runs while Moore was touring Buffalo Creek by car. Moore maintained that the helicopters were used for essential personnel, and that he brought along the reporters as an afterthought.

This cordial treatment toward the press did not last long. Moore was irritated by the tone of the news reports about the flood, since he believed that they were casting aspersions on the state as a whole. In response, he temporarily barred journalists from the disaster area. Moore would also make the rather callous statement that "the state of West Virginia took a terrible beating which far overshadowed the beating which the individuals who lost their lives took, and I consider this an even greater tragedy than the accident itself."

The Pittston Coal Company argued that it was not to blame in the disaster, claiming it was an "act of God." The company said the torrential rainfall had caused the flood, since the dam had been "incapable of holding the water God poured into it." Skeptical survivors replied that they had never witnessed the Lord Almighty driving the heavy equipment used to build up the dam.

Due to Moore's cozy relationship with the state's coal industry, many residents doubted that he would be able to assign responsibility for the flood without bias. In the days after the disaster, he argued that the Buffalo Creek dams were "logical and constructive." When the governor formed a state commission to investigate the cause of the dam collapse, all of its appointees either had connections to coal mining or were sympathetic to these companies. After Moore refused calls to diversify the commission with people such as environmentalists, coal miners, or survivors of the flood, a group of citizens formed their own commission.

Surprisingly, there was general consent between the federal, state, and citizens' commissions. All three groups agreed that the Pittston Coal Company bore responsibility for the flood due to its disregard for safety practices. Moore's commission concluded that the company had been piling up the mining waste "without utilizing technology developed for earthen dams and without using or consulting with professional persons qualified to design and build such a structure." It added that since the rainfall that preceded the collapse was not abnormal, there was no evidence for the "act of God" claimed by Pittston officials. The citizens' commission report was much angrier, accusing the company of murdering the flood victims through "gross negligence" and "incomprehensible callousness."

The Pittston Coal Company was subsequently hit with a trio of civil suits. One, filed on behalf of 625 adult survivors and family members of the victims, demanded $64 million. Another suit represented 348 juvenile survivors of the disaster. The state of West Virginia sought $100 million, more than enough to cover the property damage wrought by the deluge.

By this point, Moore's attempt to run for a third term had been stopped in its tracks. Another Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Melton M. Maloney, argued that Moore could not be on the ballot. The Governor's Succession Amendment allowed a governor to be re-elected, but limited the number of consecutive terms to two; under this rule, Moore could not run in 1976 and would only be able to enter the race again in 1980. Moore argued that this provision was unconstitutional since it violated the rights of voters who would want to re-elect him, but to no avail. In a 3-2 decision, the state supreme court ruled that Moore was ineligible as a candidate in the 1976 election. Maloney lost the GOP primary to Cecil Underwood, who was defeated by Jay Rockefeller in the general election.

In his final days in office in January 1977, Moore approved a settlement of the state's claim in the Buffalo Creek flood. The Pittston Coal Company would only be required to pay a fraction of the original demand: $1 million. The paltry sum wasn't even enough to cover the cleanup costs assessed to the company by the Army Corps of Engineers. Responsibility for this debt was tied up in court until 1988, when West Virginia taxpayers were ordered to pay the $9.5 million tab owed to the federal government for cleanup costs, plus interest.

The settlement with Pittston was heavily criticized, with some residents denouncing it as an example of Moore favoring the state's business interests over people who had been harmed by the coal industry's shoddy practices. The plaintiffs in the private civil suits fared little better. Pittston agreed to pay $13.5 million to the adult survivors of the flood and their family members and $4.8 million to the juvenile survivors. After legal costs, each victim got about $13,000.

Moore later denied that he had personally negotiated the inadequate settlement of the state's lawsuit. He blamed the West Virginia state legislature, saying they had directed state attorney general Chauncey Browning to resolve the case. He said Browning visited him to request his signature, and that he later regretted giving his approval to the agreement after learning how little money Pittston would pay the state. "I had nothing to do with the lawsuit," Moore claimed. "The legislature directed the attorney general to direct the lawsuit. I wasn't asked about the amount sued for. I had nothing to do with the pleadings. My office never saw any of that."

Third term as governor

In 1978, Moore made a bid for the U.S. Senate. The incumbent candidate, Democratic Senator Jennings Randolph, spent about five times as much on his campaign as Moore. He was able to keep his seat, but won by less than 5,000 votes. Observers suggested that a significant number of Moore's supporters may have withheld their votes in this campaign so he would be able to run for governor again in 1980.

Sure enough, Moore launched a bid for a third term when this gubernatorial election came around. Once again, he was vastly outspent by his opponent, raising only $1 million for the race. Rockefeller's campaign poured $11.6 million into the race, with most of this funding coming from the governor's personal fortune. Moore's supporters began sporting bumper stickers with the slogan, "Make him spend it all, Arch." Rockefeller was re-elected with 54.5 percent of the vote.

Four years later, Moore again tried for another term as governor. Since term limits prohibited Rockefeller from running again, he instead made a bid for the Senate; he would be successful and keep his seat for the next 30 years. Moore faced off against Democratic candidate Clyde M. See, Jr., who was then the speaker of the state house of delegates. Moore was victorious in the 1984 election, making him the first and so far only West Virginia governor to serve three terms.

Moore immediately faced challenges during this term. West Virginia was suffering economically due to a slump in the coal industry, and the state had the highest unemployment rate in the nation. The governor frequently clashed with the Democratic legislature in his efforts to bolster the state's business environment. He instituted corporate tax credits to try to attract new businesses, said he would approve a casino gambling bill if one was passed by the legislature, and cut the amount of money employers were required to pay into worker's compensation by 30 percent. This action, a reversal of his earlier policy to encourage an increase in worker's compensation funds by up to 75 percent, led to a major deficit in the program. At one point, he delayed income tax returns to thousands of residents as part of the financial crunch.

Another riot broke out at the West Virginia State Penitentiary in January 1986. In response to more restrictive visitation policies and poor living conditions, such as deteriorating plumbing and overcrowding, inmates seized several areas of the prison and took more than a dozen hostages. The rioters demanded to speak with Moore, who was on vacation in Florida. He refused to consider the meeting until all of the hostages had been released.

Eventually, the hostages were freed and Moore returned to hear the prisoners' grievances. The incident hadn't ended as peacefully as the 1973 riot, though. Over the course of the crisis, the inmates put on mock trials for three prisoners accused of being informants. After they were summarily found guilty, the men were slaughtered.

Moore escorts a freed hostage to an ambulance after the 1986 prison riot in Moundsville (Source)

The riot and prisoner deaths led to a war of words between Moore and his predecessor. Moore blamed the murders on informant policies implemented by Rockefeller, an accusation which Rockefeller decried as "cowardly and contemptible." He in turn criticized the governor for being conspicuously absent for three days of the crisis, choosing instead to "leave the hard negotiating in Moundsville to his press secretary." Moore replied that he thought cutting his vacation short would only worsen the situation, so he had instead opted to stay in touch with state officials via telephone.

There were increasing suspicions about corruption in the state government. Moore was criticized for refusing to release his income tax returns in 1986. He also said he would not address renewed allegations of unethical behavior during his first two terms, calling the attacks "vicious and ugly."

One accusation nearly cost Moore his shot at re-election. In 1985, federal investigators planted a listening device in Moore's office. This was thought to be part of a federal investigation into corruption in Mingo County. Prosecutors eventually convicted county political boss and former sheriff Johnie Owens, who was charged with accepting a $100,000 bribe to influence the sheriff's race in 1982. Owens soon accused Moore of trying to give him a $12,000 bribe to influence his re-election bid in 1972. The governor responded by calling Owens a "convicted felon and an experienced liar," saying there was "not an ounce of truth in anything he says."

Nevertheless, the suspicions against Moore were strong enough that he only garnered 53 percent of the Republican primary vote in the 1988 gubernatorial race. It was enough to defeat John Raese, a millionaire from Morgantown, but a poor sign for the general election. In November, Democratic candidate Gaston Caperton won by a healthy majority of 58.9 percent.

Extortion, fraud, and obstruction of justice

Two years later, Moore made a startling admission. Federal officials announced on April 12, 1990, that the former West Virginia governor had been indicted on charges of extortion, mail fraud, tax fraud, and obstruction of justice. They also announced that Moore had agreed to plead guilty to all charges. The indictment revealed that Moore had engaged in illegal campaign activities during the 1984 and 1988 elections, corruption during his third term in office, and attempts to hinder the grand jury investigation by falsifying documents, lying to federal investigators, and trying to convince witnesses to give false testimony.

Since Moore had vigorously denied charges of corruption for so many years, the admission of guilt came as a surprise to many residents. Rather than fighting the indictment as he had in 1975, he was simply giving in. "This news will be greeted with a great joy by some in the state of West Virginia. There will be others who will be sincerely grieved by reason of their devotion to me and my family," said Moore. "I know I have their understanding and love. For that, I shall be ever grateful."

Caperton was quick to criticize his predecessor, proclaiming, "I am confident that West Virginians will realize that not only did I inherit a government that was financially bankrupt, but ethically bankrupt as well." Edgar Heiskell, the state GOP chairman, described Moore's admission of corruption as "a great tragedy for the state and its good people." He cautioned residents not to consider the indictment an act of political vengeance, noting how the case had been handled by a Republican prosecutor and the Justice Department in a Republican presidential administration.

The investigation into Moore was part of a larger probe into corruption in West Virginia's state government. Prosecutors would also win convictions against five legislators, three lobbyists, two state government workers, and a state senate aide.

Federal prosecutors had used a colleague of Moore's to secure some damning evidence against the former governor. In January, Moore had met with his 1988 campaign manager, John Leaberry, to discuss the finances of that race. During the conversation, he noted how he had accepted illegal contributions and discussed strategies for how he and Leaberry could deny wrongdoing. Unbeknownst to Moore, Leaberry was wearing a wire. Investigators had already confronted him with charges of filing a false tax return in 1988; as part of his own plea agreement, he had agreed to record the conversation to expose Moore. When investigators met with Moore, they played the tape to convince him not to contest the charges.

Moore was also accused of directing $100,000 in illegal contributions into his gubernatorial campaign in 1984. Other charges held that he had filed false tax returns in 1984 and 1985 by failing to report $72,500 he had received from lobbyists and corporations.

The most serious charge against Moore related to West Virginia's black lung fund, which coal companies paid into to support claims by the state's miners. When H. Paul Kizer, the operator of the Maben Energy Corporation, asked for Moore's assistance in getting a $2.3 million reimbursement from the fund, the governor agreed to help out. However, Moore also wanted a 25 percent kickback. Kizer agreed to pay him $573,721.47, and the governor drew up falsified backdated documents to create the illusion that this payment was a legitimate contingency fee.

Kizer also suggested that Moore had demanded money in exchange for freeing the coal operator from a murder charge. This charge stemmed from a strange series of events, starting in March 1986 when a man named Jimmy Vickers caught Kizer in bed with his girlfriend and assaulted them both. Kizer allegedly went to one of his employees, James Bonham, for help in seeking retribution against Vickers. Bonham hired two men to confront Vickers at his trailer and one, James Davis, shot and killed Kizer's assailant.

Both Kizer and Bonham were arrested and went to trial in 1988. Kizer later claimed that Moore solicited a $50,000 donation, laundered through a Republican National Committee account, to assist with his campaign. In exchange, Moore promised to pardon Kizer if he was convicted. While Bonham was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and conspiracy to commit malicious wounding, Kizer was acquitted.

Moore was never charged for this alleged extortion, but prosecutors said the federal judge would be made aware of other crimes they believed Moore had committed. As part of his agreement to plead guilty, they would not pursue these charges. Moore dutifully pleaded to a five-count indictment on May 8. He faced a maximum sentence of 36 years in prison and a $1.2 million fine.

On June 28, less than two weeks before his sentencing date, Moore tried to withdraw his plea. He claimed that the original plea had only been an attempt by his lawyer to test how strong the prosecution's case was. He also complained that he had been forced into the plea, saying he had been given only one day to review the agreement. He accused the prosecution of threatening to file more than 20 counts against him, including federal racketeering charges, if he declined. The judge refused to let him back out of the agreement.

Moore's sentencing went ahead as planned on July 10. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Campbell described Moore's acts as "a scheme to run the election outside the limit of the law." Another prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Savage, said Moore had committed election fraud on an unprecedented scale and shown no remorse for his actions. "It is hard not to admire the intellect, determination, resilience, the sheer endurance and force of personality that is Arch A. Moore, Jr.," he said. "But it is likewise impossible not to loathe the duplicity, the greed, and unparalleled corruption perpetrated by this same man."

The sentencing also revealed more petty instances of corruption. Savage said that Moore had taken a vehicle on a test drive in 1984 and never brought it back to the dealership. He said Moore had only paid the business in 1990 after he came under investigation.

Moore's defense attorney, William Hundley, denied that Moore had been uncooperative with prosecutors. He also said the campaign financing corruption committed by the former governor was a less serious offense than the direct embezzlement of state funds. "I submit he served well and honorably."

Moore was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison as well as a $170,000 fine. Under federal guidelines, he was required to serve at least two-and-a-half years behind bars before he could be considered for parole. He was also forbidden from seeking public office again. "It's a landmark case," said U.S. Attorney Michael Carey. "I think it sends a very clear message. If you violate the public trust, you go to jail."

Later in the year, the state of West Virginia sued Moore for damages related to his misconduct. He settled in 1996 for $750,000, but didn't admit fault. In October 1991, he was disbarred. After two years and eight months in prison, he was transferred to home confinement to serve the last four months of his sentence before his release. He subsequently began working as a consultant.

Final years

For the rest of his life, Moore would try to vacate his conviction and get his law license restored. He argued that he was factually or legally innocent of the charges against him, and that he had received poor legal advice from his defense counsel. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his attempts in 1991, and the Supreme Court did so as well in 1995.

Moore's attempts to regain his law license extended into the 21st century. At one point, he declared, "I want to die a lawyer." The West Virginia Supreme Court issued a particularly strong rebuke against him in 2003, denying his request and accusing him of a "lack of candor" and "pattern of deception" in his post-conviction appeals. In comparing the transcript of his recorded conversation with Leaberry with his testimony before the court, the justices noted that he "was not only willing to conspire to fabricate testimony when facing indictment in 1990, but, sadly, that he was just as willing to provide disingenuous testimony in this proceeding in the hope of reinstating his law license." The court accused him of "a willingness - on a sustained and knowing basis - to be dishonest, to deceive, to conceal the truth and to bend, manipulate and violate the law, for personal and professional gain."

The denial of wrongdoing, which the court described as a continued unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions, continued into Moore's later years. While promoting his biography Arch in 2008, Moore told a country club audience that he had considered apologizing for his criminal conviction but decided that he could not do it. "I cannot do that today or any other day," he said. "I am sorry for what my family went through. I am sorry for what my fellow West Virginians went through, but I cannot apologize."

Moore with daughter Shelley Moore Capito on his 90th birthday in 2013 (Source)

One of Moore's children, Shelley Moore Capito, followed in her father's footsteps and pursued a political career. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2000 and remained there for seven terms before winning a seat in the Senate. Moore died in Charleston on January 7, 2015, one day after his daughter was sworn into her new position.

Sources

National Governors Association, The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The West Virginia Encyclopedia, The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, "Arch Moore Hurt in W.Va. Copter Crash" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Nov. 4 1968, "West Virginia Governor Stands Accused" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Jul. 24 1970, "Anderson Challenges Moore" in the Prescott Evening Courier on Aug. 9 1970, "Reveals Scandal, Loses Job" in the Free Lance-Star on Aug. 25 1970, "U.S. Quietly Plans Extensive Aid to Israel" in the Victoria Advocate on Sep. 24 1970, "Moore Commandeers 'Copters During Flood" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Jun. 6 1972, "Bare Nixon Plot Against Governors" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Dec. 1 1975, "Governor of West Virginia Pleads Innocent to Extortion" in the Eugene Register-Guard on Dec. 19 1975, "Moore, Aide Acquitted of Extortion" in the Observer-Reporter on May 6 1976, "Hard Work, Uphill Fights Nothing New for Gov. Arch Moore" in the West Virginia Mountain Messenger on Sep. 1 1980, "Arch Moore Confident of Gubernatorial Victory" in the Grant County Press on Oct. 29 1980, "Another Comeback for Arch Moore?" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 28 1984, "Moore Makes West Virginia Race" in the Lawrence Journal-World on Sep. 25 1984, "13 Hostages Are Held in Prison Riot" in the Evening Independent on Jan. 2 1986, "Prison Riot Ignites Name Calling" in the Ludington Daily News on Jan. 3 1986, "Prison Riot Inflames Moore, Rockefeller Feud" in the Gainesville Sun on Jan. 5 1986, "Riot-Torn Prison Said Nightmare For All" in the Gadsden Times on Jan. 5 1986, "Incumbents Fare Well in Primaries" on UPI on May 11 1988, "Ex-West Virginia Governor Admits Corruption Schemes" in the New York Times on Apr. 13 1990, "W.Va.'s Ex-Gov. Moore Facing 36 Years in Kickback Admission" in the Pittsburgh Press on Apr. 13 1990, "Turbulence Runs with Arch Moore" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Apr. 17 1990, "Former West Virginia Governor Pleads Guilty to Felony Counts" on May 8 1990, "Former W.Va. Governor Pleads Guilty to Felonies" in the Observer-Reporter on May 9 1990, "GOP Committee Laundering of $50,000 Alleged" in the Washington Post on Jun. 1 1990, "Arch Moore Withdraws Guilty Pleas" in the Observer-Reporter on Jun. 29 1990, "Former West Virginia Governor is Sentenced to 5 Years For Graft" in the New York Times on Jul. 11 1990, "Moore Gets Jail Term, Fined $170,000" in the Observer-Reporter on Jul. 11 1990, "W.Va.'s Moore Jail Sentence is Almost 6 Years" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jul. 11 1990, "Gorge Bridge Turns 30 Today" in the Register Herald on Oct. 21 2007, "A Deeper Look at the Politicians Who Passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964" in Smithsonian on Jun. 30 2014, "Former Gov. Arch Moore Dies at 91" in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Jan. 7 2015, "Arch Moore Left Dynamic, Controversial Legacy" on MetroNews on Jan. 7 2015, "Arch Moore, Trailblazing West Virginia Governor, Dies at 91" in the New York Times on Jan. 8 2015, "Arch Moore, Charismatic W.Va. Governor Convicted of Corruption, Dies at 91" in the Washington Post on Jan. 8 2015, The Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History edited by Aaron Brenner and Benjamin Day and Immanuel Ness, States of Siege: U.S. Prison Riots 1970-1986 by Bert Useem and Peter Kimball, Encyclopedia of White-Collar Crime edited by Jurg Gerber and Eric L. Jensen, State v. Bonham, Lawyer Disciplinary Board v. Arch A. Moore Jr.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Jim Traficant: beamed out

Former U.S. Rep. James Traficant, seen here during a House Ethics Committee hearing in 2002, served seven years in prison on federal bribery and racketeering charges. Traficant died on Saturday. He was 73.
Jim Traficant appears before the House Ethics Committee after his criminal conviction in 2002

The cult of personality that has grown around Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican nomination for President in this year's election, has left many people wondering why he holds any appeal at all. Trump's supporters hold him up as someone who can boost the American economy, and whose frankness will prove a welcome challenge to political correctness and "politics as usual" in the nation's capital. Opponents see a narcissistic blowhard who offers an authoritarian and impractical solution to illegal immigration while failing to denounce support from white supremacists.

It all must seem like deja vu to the voters of Youngstown, Ohio. For nearly 20 years, their representative in Congress was a brash man with an awful toupee and a consistent record of irritating his colleagues.

But while James A. Traficant Jr. was largely despised in the House of Representatives, he enjoyed plenty of support at home. Over the years, he built up a reputation as a person who sought to fight government waste and bring economic development to a chronically depressed district in the Rust Belt. Even after his career ended ignominiously, with a conviction on corruption charges and expulsion from Congress, he enjoyed plenty of support at home.

Jim Traficant was born in Youngstown on May 8, 1941. He graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School in 1959 and went on to attend the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in 1963. While at the school, Traficant became quarterback of the football team and played alongside Mike Ditka, who would go on to become a renowned coach for the Chicago Bears. Traficant was a late round pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but didn't make the team. He also tried unsuccessfully to play with the Oakland Raiders.


Even at this stage in his life, Traficant earned a reputation for speaking his mind. While still attending the University of Pittsburgh, he made headlines for insulting the school in an interview. He had made two mistakes so far in his life, he claimed: "Coming to Pitt was the first. Staying at Pitt was the second." After he graduated, he spent some time working for insurance companies before becoming the consumer finance coordinator for the Youngstown Area Community Action Council in February 1967.

By this time, Youngstown had fallen on hard times. The city had been a center of steel production for decades, and its population had swelled to 130,000 in 1930. Mills provided work for thousands of people, and demand for steel boomed during World War II. But increased globalization and a decline in the steel industry caused Youngstown's economy to stagnate. Organized crime seized the opportunity to take control of city and county government posts, with mobsters from Cleveland and Pittsburgh battling for influence. Higher poverty and the prevalence of illegal drugs added to the persistent problems in the region.

Traficant turned his attention to the drug problem in 1972, becoming the coordinator for Mahoning County Drug Programs. He later became executive director of the organization. He returned to the University of Pittsburgh and earned a master's degree in administration in 1973. He got a second master's degree, this one in counseling, from Youngstown State University in 1976. In November 1977, Traficant became the chairman of the Mahoning County Welfare Advisory Board.

Traficant tried his hand at politics in 1980, when he ran for the Democratic nomination for sheriff of Mahoning County. He managed to defeat incumbent George D. Tablack in the primary, and won the general election despite the party's decision not to endorse him. Among the changes Traficant made while in office was the decision to institute 10-hour work shifts for deputies and end the use of county cars and credit cards.


In October 1981, a Mahoning County reserve deputy was murdered. While transporting a dangerous prisoner, John Litch Jr.'s vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by the prisoner's half-brother. When Litch got out to investigate, the driver shot and killed him. Both the prisoner and his half-brother managed to escape, but were later apprehended. Litch was the first Youngstown area law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty since 1952, although four other police officers had been shot during the year. Traficant said he accepted responsibility for Litch's death, but came under investigation after it was reported that the sheriff's office had been tipped off about the possibility of an ambush and not taken any action. A grand jury decided not to charge him with any malfeasance.

One incident which helped give Traficant a folk hero reputation occurred in 1983. By law, the sheriff was required to sign foreclosure deeds after a property was sold at auction. When a court presented Traficant with 10 foreclosure notices for the residences of unemployed mill workers, he refused to sign them until he knew "the disposition of those people displaced from their homes." In February, he was found in contempt of court and ordered to spend 100 days in jail.

Admirers would thereafter remember Traficant as a sheriff who was unwilling to carry out foreclosures on the downtrodden. However, he was imprisoned for only three days before agreeing to serve the notices, after which he was released. Still, Traficant continued to show sympathy for those who were about to lose their homes. In December 1987, while serving in Congress, he successfully created a $3.5 million program to provide counseling for people who were facing foreclosure.

By the time Traficant did his brief stint behind bars, he was facing a much longer prison sentence. Although the Pittsburgh and Cleveland crime families were locked in a violent power struggle for control of Youngstown, they collaborated when it came to keeping local political figures in their pocket. Federal investigators had built a case that Traficant had received $163,000 in campaign contributions from both mob factions in exchange for turning a blind eye to their criminal activities.

As Traficant told it, Cleveland mob boss Charles Carrabia contributed $103,000 toward his primary campaign. Carrabia also took him to meet with James Prato, a leader in the Pittsburgh crime syndicate, a few days before the primary. Prato handed Traficant an envelope stuffed with $55,000 to add to the campaign. However, Traficant soon gave the money to Carrabia with instructions to return it to Prato. He didn't think he was going to win the primary anyway, and he wasn't keen on getting mixed up with the area's criminal syndicates.

After his unexpected victory in the primary, Traficant claimed, he planned on using Carrabia's support to help end Prato's criminal activities in Youngstown. He met with Carrabia on several occasions after the primary, promising to have the sheriff's office hassle the Pittsburgh faction. Unbeknownst to him, Carrabia was having several of the meetings recorded. And when other meetings with Prato failed to materialize, Traficant suspected that Carrabia was the weaker of the two mobsters.

Soon after Traficant won the general election, Carrabia and his brother scheduled a meeting with the sheriff to play one of the tapes. Carrabia threatened to turn over the incriminating evidence to the FBI if the new sheriff did not cooperate with him. Traficant claims that he was defiant, telling Carrabia's brother to "shove that tape right up his fucking ass." Though the recording would have implicated Carrabia, it also had the potential to bring down both Traficant and Prato.

But in December 1980, Carrabia disappeared and was never heard from again. Traficant took office in January 1981, and within three months the mobster who had recorded the meeting (Joe DeRose) was also missing. Both men were presumed dead.

The FBI still got wind of the recordings, finding some of the audio tapes during a search of DeRose's home. Agents confronted Traficant on June 15, 1981, playing one of the recordings for him. He confirmed that the voice of the person meeting with Carrabia, and discussing the exchange of money, was his own. He also drew up a statement about how he had accepted campaign funds from Carrabia and taken (and returned) additional money from Prato.

Both the tapes and the document would prove to be controversial. The FBI referred to it as a confession, saying it confirmed that Traficant had colluded with the mob and taken bribes to favor one faction in the war for Youngstown. They offered to grant Traficant immunity if he assisted in an investigation to crack down on organized crime in the region, but said he would have to resign as sheriff to accept the deal. Traficant met several times with the FBI, trying unsuccessfully to negotiate an alternate arrangement where he could offer assistance in the investigation while staying in his elected role; the FBI refused. In addition to this fundamental disagreement, Traficant was worried what would happen to him if he became a key witness against the mob; he had started carrying a .38-caliber handgun on him at all times after Carrabia and DeRose vanished.

In August 1982, a grand jury indicted Traficant for tax evasion as well as bribery conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which had been passed in 1970 to target organized criminal enterprises. Several organizations and officials had been calling for him to step down as sheriff prior to the indictment, including the judges of the Court of Common Pleas. Traficant refused, saying at one point, "To all those politicians who want me to resign: go fuck yourselves."

Though an attorney represented Traficant for the early stages of the case, the relationship eventually grew strained. Ignoring the legal advice to keep quiet before the trial, Traficant frequently ranted to the press about the FBI and IRS. He accused several public officials of having ties to organized crime, alleging that mobsters were working with the prosecutors to take him down. He also accused the FBI of forging his confession and doctoring the recordings. The head of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, who happened to be Prato's lawyer, petitioned unsuccessfully to have Traficant sent to an insane asylum.

When the case went to trial in May 1983, Traficant would act as his own lawyer. The sheriff had no experience in the courtroom, and later admitted that he first thought RICO referred to a crime family. If convicted, he faced up to 23 years in prison. Traficant made several unsuccessful attempts to have the trial moved from Cleveland to Mahoning County, saying the case was unique to that area. The judge refused to grant Traficant's request to have the jury made up entirely of Youngstown residents, although three people from the city were ultimately selected as jurors.

During the seven-week trial, the prosecution relied on the recordings, Traficant's signed statement, and testimony from several witnesses who said they were aware of the sheriff's links to the mob. The testimony included a Mahoning County deputy who said Traficant asked him at least five times to give him a superficial gunshot wound to make it seem like the sheriff had been targeted in a mob hit. Traficant admitted to the jury that he had taken money from both the Cleveland and Pittsburgh mob families. However, he said it was part of a sting operation to infiltrate the organizations and entrap the mobsters. He claimed that the statement to the FBI had been coerced, and that he didn't tell agents about his activities because he did not trust them.

He also brought up his background in helping crack down on drug abuse in Mahoning County, saying he wouldn't have gone from this profession to helping mobsters involved in the narcotics trade. Indeed, Traficant declared during his first campaign for the House of Representatives that he would seek to impose the death penalty for certain drug offenses. He kept his promise, proposing such a measure in March 1985.

On June 15, 1983, the jury acquitted Traficant of all charges. Jurors said they had discounted both the confession and the audio recordings since they couldn't be sure of their authenticity. It was an astonishing result that only added to Traficant's reputation. Stephen Jigger, head of the prosecution team, said he thought the sheriff's guilt had been proven without a doubt, but that Traficant had managed to direct the jury's attention to irrelevant points. He described Traficant as "an intelligent, articulate, and aggressive defendant" as well as a "skilled politician."

Indeed, the acquittal would prove to be a springboard that brought Traficant to national office. In 1984, he defeated six other candidates for the Democratic nomination for his House of Representatives district. He went on to defeat the incumbent Republican congressman, Lyle Williams, by almost 20,000 votes. Once again, he managed the victory even though his party declined to endorse him.

The corruption trial also resulted in another curious outcome. In August 1984, the IRS informed Traficant that he owed taxes on the $163,000 he had admitted to taking from the crime families. When he hadn't paid by the middle of 1985, they pressed the issue. The trial was delayed until after the 1986 election, when Traficant was re-elected to the House.

The victory at the criminal trial had made Traficant confident that he would be able to represent himself once again. The four-day trial took place in the U.S. Tax Court in Cleveland in November 1986. Traficant claimed that he had only accepted the money so it could not be used against him in the 1980 sheriff's race, and had returned it after the election. The signed statement and audio tapes were once again introduced as evidence.

Traficant did not have as much luck in these proceedings, and he held out slim hope for victory. "This is America. Even though this is the IRS, you never know," he said. "This stumbling jackass may pull it off."

He didn't; in September 1987, the court found in favor of the federal government. Traficant was ordered to pay back taxes on $108,000 in mob contributions that he had failed to report, plus interest and penalties. He challenged the decision soon after, but an appeals court upheld the verdict in August 1989. Four months later, he failed to meet a deadline to bring the matter before the Supreme Court.

Traficant would target the IRS at several points during his career. Anticipating his defeat in the tax case, he introduced legislation in April 1987 to protect the taxpayer from an "overzealous IRS." He later proposed legislation to limit the ability of the IRS to seize property from people charged with tax evasion, and his suggestions were folded into a tax reform bill approved by President Bill Clinton in 1998. Traficant was also pleased with the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" passed by Congress in April 1996.

The Washington Post would describe Traficant as "one of the most deliberately outrageous members of Congress in history." He was known for a terribly unfashionable wardrobe, including polyester or denim suits, skinny ties, and cowboy boots. His ridiculous appearance was further enhanced by an enormous mound of perpetually mussed-up hair. "He looked less smart then he was," recalled Charles Straub, Traficant's former press secretary. "It put people off guard. It was part of his mystique as just an average citizen. But he was a very shrewd politician."

Traficant also became famous for a series of rambling, sometimes profane speeches on the floor of Congress. Representatives have the ability to speak on any subject, provided the remarks do not go longer than one minute. Traficant capitalized on this privilege to take numerous potshots at what he considered to be overreach, inefficiency, or foolishness on the part of the federal government.

The rants were often related to an obscure topic. In 2001, in between one-minute speeches by congressmen who advocated a United Nations war crimes tribunal for Saddam Hussein and a balanced energy plan for California, Traficant used his time to comment on a St. Louis alderwoman who had urinated in a trash can so she wouldn't have to yield the floor during a filibuster. He typically ended the speeches by shaking his head in dismay and making a Star Trek reference by declaring, "Beam me up, Mr. Speaker."


Criticizing foreign aid to the Soviet Union on one occasion, Traficant said, "Russia gets $15 billion in foreign aid from Uncle Sam. In exchange, Uncle Sam gets nuclear missiles pointed at our cities, two tape decks, and three cases of vodka." At another point, he said, "The Lord's Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, the Declaration of Independence is 1,322 words. U.S. regulation on the sale of cabbage—that is right, cabbage—is 27,000 words. Now if that is not enough to give Hulk Hogan's dictionary a hernia, check this out. Regulatory red tape in America costs taxpayers $400 billion every year, over $4,000 each year, every year, year in, year out, for every family. Beam me up."

Traficant's fellow congressmen were particularly irked in October 1990, when he made a remark about "political prostitutes" in Congress. He subsequently apologized "to all the hookers of American for associating them with the United States Congress."

These insults and scattershot criticisms did little to endear Traficant to other members of Congress, but they earned him a good deal of popularity in his home district. He would be re-elected to another eight terms after 1984, with his constituents praising what they saw as brutal honesty and an effort to shake up the nation's capital.

"We don't have much hope right now, and things are getting more dismal by the day. But one of the few things we still have faith in is that guy over there, Jim Traficant," said an unemployed ironworker who visited Traficant in Washington in 1985. "We know he'll fight for us. He is our blessing." Tim Ryan, who worked as an aide to Traficant, recalled the congressman by saying, "He was always rooting for the underdog, and was willing to spend his time and energy trying to help people that nobody else would listen to. There wasn't a guy who had more charisma, or more of an ability to make someone feel special and part of the fun that was going on." Supporters gave him the affectionate nickname Jimbo.

Although his outlandish appearance and statements dominated Traficant's personality, he also developed a substantial record of bringing federal assistance to his district. He succeeded in bringing a Saturn automotive plant to the Mahoning Valley and traveled to Japan to try to convince Mitsubishi to set up a similar facility in the region. He revived a proposal to build a canal between Lake Erie and the Ohio River. He also managed to get federal funding for the construction of two federal courthouses, a VA clinic, and a convocation center in Youngstown during his time in office. In May 1998, he secured $46 million for local road projects.

Although he worked to get federal spending directed to his home district, Traficant called for reduction in expenditures in other areas. He was particularly opposed to foreign aid, and also called for less government regulation on businesses. He called for "Buy American" provisions in spending bills and expressed opposition to free trade agreements. Traficant also supported tough measures against illegal immigration, calling for the deportation of anyone who entered the country unlawfully; he also wanted American soldiers stationed on the border with Mexico to stop anyone trying to sneak into the United States.

Traficant occasionally flirted with the idea of running for a different office. He formed a committee to explore a presidential bid in April 1987, and managed to get enough votes to send a single delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He ended this effort a year later, pledging the delegate to support Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. After winning a fourth term to the House of Representatives in 1994, he said he was considering whether to run in Ohio's gubernatorial or Senate race in 1998.

Traficant earned plenty of criticism in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he came to the defense of two men accused of war crimes during World War II. He first offered a vocal defense of John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-born retired Ohio autoworker. Demjanjuk was accused of being a notoriously cruel guard, nicknamed "Ivan the Terrible," at the Treblinka death camp. Extradited to Israel in 1986, he was convicted two years later and sentenced to death. The Israeli Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1993 after determining that there was insufficient evidence to convict Demjanjuk, and Traficant claimed his appeal had led to the reexamination of the case. He flew to Israel to accompany Demjanjuk back to the United States. Demjanjuk's case would persist for almost another 20 years; he was later deported to Germany, convicted of war crimes, and died in 2012 while the case was under appeal.

Traficant with John Demjanjuk on a flight back to the United States in 1993

Arthur Rudolph also earned Traficant's sympathy. Rudolph had also been accused of abusing prisoners while working as a Nazi rocket scientist, although he was later admitted into the United States and worked with NASA on the Apollo program. In 1984, he surrendered his citizenship and left the country as part of an agreement with the U.S. government, ultimately ending up in West Germany. In May 1990, Traficant angered the Jewish community when he said that Rudolph should be allowed to return to the United States and that a "powerful Jewish lobby" was trying to intimidate government officials.

Traficant's contentious relationship with the Democrats continued in Congress. A January 1998 analysis of his voting record found that he had gone against his own party 77 percent of the time. He voted against Clinton's budget in May 1993, but did not support impeachment of the President in 1998. Traficant also held pro-life views and was in favor of organized prayer in public schools. After the massacre at Columbine High School in 1998, he called for an end to the constitutional ban on school prayer, saying, "People who pray together are not likely to kill one another."

The Democrats tolerated Traficant's maverick ways until early 2001. The elections of 2000 had demonstrated just how divided the nation was in terms of political opinions. In addition to the controversial presidential election, where Republican candidate George W. Bush was sent to the White House after a Supreme Court decision to end a ballot recount in Florida, both chambers of Congress were split almost evenly between the major political parties. The Republicans continued to hold a majority, although it had dwindled to seven seats.

On January 3, 2001, the members of the House of Representatives cast their votes for Speaker of the House. The Republicans put forth Dennis Hastert of Illinois while the Democrats backed Dick Gephardt of Missouri. Traficant broke from his party and supported Hastert, earning him a standing ovation from the Republican representatives. He was the only Democrat to support Hastert, who was chosen as Speaker with 221 votes.

Angered by Traficant's apostasy, the Democratic leadership kicked him out of the party caucus, stripped him of his seniority, and removed all of his committee assignments. The punishment made him the first rank-and-file congressman to serve without a committee assignment in almost a century. There was some speculation that Traficant would defect to the other side of the aisle, but he never did so. House Majority Leader Dick Armey later said that the GOP never offered Traficant a place in their caucus, and Traficant never requested one. "I have told Jim myself, and told him some time ago, it would not be in his best interest to join the Republican Party," Armey said in May 2001. "He doesn't get his mile of slack if he's a Republican, and Jim needs a mile of slack."

The Republicans may also have been reluctant to extend an invitation to a congressman who seemed to be on the verge of a criminal indictment. Several of Traficant's associates had been convicted in a far-ranging investigation in eastern Ohio, and observers suggested that it would only be a matter of time before they charged him.

Organized crime had once again provided the impetus for the investigation. Paul Gains, a newly elected prosecutor in Mahoning County who had ousted an incumbent with mob ties, was shot three times at his home and left for dead on Christmas Eve of 1996. Investigators began unraveling a web of corrupt activities, with the first indictments coming down in December 1997. More than 70 people would ultimately be convicted, including the former Mahoning County prosecutor, a sheriff, and several local businessmen. The FBI subpoenaed Traficant's payroll records and other information in December 1999, and began questioning people about possible unpaid perks offered to the congressman two months later.

As a result of the looming charges, Traficant had faced a tougher than expected challenge in the 2000 election. Robert Hagan, a state senator and one of the challengers in the Democratic primary, mounted an especially spirited offense. He accused Traficant of alienating people with his off-color behavior, driving businesses out of Youngstown, and failing to adequately represent his district. Hagan also happened to be the brother-in-law of Kate Mulgrew, an actress on Star Trek: Voyager. He capitalized on this coincidence by recruiting her for his TV ads to play on Traficant's catchphrase. Democratic voters in Youngstown were urged by Captain Janeway herself to "beam out" Traficant.

Traficant had triumphed in the March primary, but only came away with 51 percent of the vote. He had won the general election by a similarly tight margin, with about 50 percent of the voters favoring him in a three-way race.

These victories were all the more remarkable in that they occurred as several of Traficant's associates were being convicted. Two of his former aides, George M. Alexander and Charles O'Nesti, pleaded guilty shortly before the primary to racketeering conspiracy related to former Youngstown mob boss Lenine Strollo. Traficant, realizing that a case was likely forming against him, accused the federal government of targeting him because he had a pending bill supporting an investigation of the FBI's botched raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. In August 2000, he ignored a court order to turn over pertinent information.

In October, contractor A. David Sugar was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering after admitting to lying to a federal grand jury. Sugar had told his secretary to lie about fake invoices related to work done at Traficant's Ohio farm. Another person who had done work at this site, Clarence T. Broad, pleaded guilty in November to trying to influence a federal witness.

Traficant was indicted on May 4, 2001, on 10 counts. The charges, unrelated to the assassination attempt on Gains, included bribery, fraud, racketeering, and tax evasion. Prosecutors charged that the congressman had demanded monthly kickbacks of as much as $2,500 from his employees in order for them to keep their jobs. Staffers had also been ordered to do personal work for Traficant, including baling hay at his farm and doing upkeep on a Potomac River houseboat where the congressman had formerly lived while in Washington, D.C. In addition, he was accused of promising favors for businessmen who gave him free items and services, including the use of a Corvette and Avanti luxury car and the construction of a pole barn on his farm. In one instance, Traficant had helped businessman John J. Cafaro win approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for a laser guidance technology developed by Cafaro's company; Cafaro had rewarded him with a gift of thousands of dollars to pay off and repair Traficant's houseboat.

Photo detail
Traficant's mugshot, dated May 11, 2001, following his indictment

The case went to trial in February 2002 in Cleveland. Once again, Traficant opted to represent himself instead of hiring professional counsel, and the courtroom was not immune from the bizarre behavior he often exhibited in Congress. After an FBI agent said none of Traficant's associates was asked to wear a hidden microphone because the congressman often hugged them and slapped them on the back, Traficant asked almost every witness, "Did I ever hug you?" He repeated other questions dozens of times, described the prosecution as having "the testicles of an ant," directly accused one witness of lying under oath, and objected to any IRS testimony since they represented "thieves who prey upon the American people." Traficant said he engaged in these antics because he considered the courtroom a "theater," but later chalked it up to inexperience; he was not a lawyer, he pointed out, but rather the "son of a truck driver."

On April 12, after 10 weeks of testimony, Traficant was convicted on all counts. He quickly blamed the trial process, complaining about the jurors from the Cleveland area. He had tried unsuccessfully for a change of venue or to get a jury of only Youngstown residents. "Very few people on this jury really knew Jim Traficant or had an understanding of Jim Traficant. I think that would have made a big difference," he declared. Indeed, Traficant continued to enjoy a great deal of support at home. Youngstown area radio show host Dan Ryan fielded several calls from residents after the conviction, many of whom defended the congressman; one said that plenty of other politicians took bribes, and that Traficant's misbehavior was paltry by comparison.

Five days after the verdict, the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct met to determine a punishment for the convicted congressman. Traficant asked committee chairman Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican, to "go light." But he also put his typical devil-may-care attitude on display. He complained that there was no coffee available at the hearings, threatened to call for the expulsion of all committee members, and said he'd like to kick his prosecutors in the crotch. The committee found Traficant guilty of nine ethics violation and, on July 18, 2002, made the unanimous recommendation that he be expelled.


In Ohio, both political parties welcomed the news. A Democratic spokeswoman said the party had had nothing to do with Traficant for the past two years. Jason Mauk, speaking for the state's Republican Party, declared, "It's embarrassing to think that Jim Traficant is the national face of Ohio politics right now."

Typically, congressmen subject to a criminal conviction or other scandal decide to resign before Congress can take any punitive action. Only four congressmen had been expelled from the House of Representatives prior to the recommended action against Traficant. Three had been thrown out during the Civil War, for fighting on behalf of the Confederacy while representing border states of the Union. The fourth, Democratic Representative Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, was expelled after his conviction in the Abscam scandal in 1980.

Even when faced with prison time and joining this none-too-appealing club, Traficant remained jocular. He suggested that he would go to the proceedings in a denim suit and show off his impression of Michael Jackson's moonwalk on the floor of Congress.

On July 24, the House took up the expulsion measure. Anticipating a harangue from Traficant, Speaker Hastert opened the proceedings by reminding members about the rules against abusive language. The warning did little to temper the rambling statement offered by Traficant. He claimed that the witnesses had a grudge against him, but also accused the government into coercing their testimony, crying, "I'll go to jail. But I'll be damned if I'll be pressured by a government that pressured these witnesses to death." Traficant suggested that the federal judge at his trial had been hostile and that Attorney General Janet Reno, whom he had accused of treason in August 2000, was trying to oust him. He also referenced his infamous hair, saying he cut it with a weed whacker.

Representative Steven C. LaTourette, an Ohio Republican, suggested that the motion on Traficant's expulsion should be delayed until September. He said this action would allow for Traficant's sentencing to take place and for his legal motions on the matter to be heard. The suggestion won a fair amount of support, mostly from Republicans, but was defeated in a 146-285 vote.

When it came to Traficant's arguments, his fellow congressmen had little sympathy. Those who made statements denounced him for bringing dishonor to the House, and suggested that to believe his defense was to put credence in an absurd conspiracy that involved the IRS, FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office, and a federal judge all colluding to bring him down.

A two-thirds majority was needed for expulsion, but the final tally was nearly unanimous. A total of 420 representatives voted in favor of Traficant's expulsion, with only one congressman opposed. The lone dissenter was Gary Condit of California, who was embroiled in a scandal of his own. Condit had admitted to an affair with Chandra Levy, a young intern from his district, but only after repeated questioning related to her disappearance in May 2001; Levy's body had been found in May 2002, and her death was ruled a homicide. Condit was a lame duck congressman by the time of Traficant's expulsion, having lost the Democratic primary in March.

Six days after he was thrown out of Congress, Traficant was sentenced to eight years in prison. At the time, it was the longest sentence ever imposed on a congressman, extending nine months longer than the minimum sentence recommended by prosecutors. Judge Lesley Brooks Wells said she added the extra time because Traficant had undermined the respect for his office and shown himself to be dishonest. She also ordered him to pay more than $250,000 in penalties, including a $150,000 fine, the forfeiture of $96,000 of unreported income from staffer kickbacks, and a $1,000 special assessment.

Wells referenced Traficant's congressional record at the sentencing, declaring, "You've done a lot of good in your years in Congress...The good you have done does not excuse you of the crime you were convicted of." Referring to Traficant's frequent promises that he would fight the charges like a "junkyard dog," Wells declared, "The truth, sir, is rarely in you. You were howling that you were going to fight like a junkyard dog in the eye of a hurricane, and you did fight that way, to protect a junkyard full of deceit and corruption and greed."

Since the judge refused to let Traficant remain free on bail while he appealed his case, he immediately began his time behind bars. "I committed no crime. I regret nothing I said," he declared, saying he intended to run for re-election in the 2002 race while incarcerated. It was only when he reported to prison that his famous hairdo was revealed to be a toupee. Traficant had to remove the hairpiece during a routine inmate search, and was informed that he wouldn't be able to wear it while in federal prison.

As promised, Traficant entered the 2002 race as an independent candidate. He managed to get 15 percent of the vote, but lost to Democratic candidate Tim Ryan, a state senator and former aide to Traficant. Despite his conviction, Traficant was able to start collecting an annual pension of about $40,000 after turning 62 in 2003. In June 2008, a federal judge ordered $250 to be deducted from his $1,037.79 a month state pension to go toward his fine. Traficant started his sentence at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex in Pennsylvania, then served the remainder at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, after he was transferred due to an undisclosed medical or mental health issue.

An appeals court upheld Traficant's conviction in March 2004. The Supreme Court refused to hear his case in January 2005. Traficant took up painting and began creating scenes of horses and barns. At one point, he allegedly wrote a letter which renewed his claim that the federal government had sought retribution against him. He claimed that his conviction was punishment for his appeal on Demjanjuk's defense and because he "[knew] the facts" about the FBI sieges at Waco and Ruby Ridge, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa.

The letter surfaced on the website of David Duke, a white nationalist and former KKK grand wizard. Traficant had won the affection of white nationalists for his defense of Demjanjuk and Rudolph, and Duke appealed to his followers to send monetary donations to Traficant's wife, Tish, or his prison canteen fund. Tish downplayed Duke's appeal, saying her husband had no control over where his letter was circulating. Michael Collins Piper, a conspiracy theorist who first posted the letter and contribution information, also denied that Traficant represented the views of white nationalists. "There's stuff I've written about Traficant that's showing up in places I don't even know," he said. "It's like six degrees of separation with the Internet now." After Traficant's death, Duke would post a "Tribute to Jim Traficant and his Opposition to Jewish Supremacism."

In September 2009, after serving seven years of his sentence, Traficant was freed. He received a warm welcome in his hometown. An appreciation dinner was scheduled, and the theme of the local minor league baseball team's next game was "Traficant Release Night." Traficant remained on probation for the next three years. In January 2010, he got a part-time gig as a talk show host on the AM radio station WTAM.

James A. Traficant Jr.
Traficant and wife Tish at an appreciation dinner held after his release from prison

Traficant continued to maintain his innocence. At one point, referring to himself in the third person, he declared, "Seven people said they bribed him. They never had no crime against Traficant. They taped every phone call he ever made, probably. Since 1983." He was vocal in his disdain for both the Democrats and Republicans and also sounded off against targets such as the IRS, Justice Department, Socialists, and illegal immigrants. These diatribes caught the attention of the Tea Party, the conservative movement that formed after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, and Traficant was invited to speak at several of their events around Youngstown.

In May 2010, Traficant announced that he would try to recapture his seat in Congress in the year's election. Since his imprisonment, his district had been split in half. Ryan continued to serve in one, while the other seat was filled by Democrat John Boccieri. Traficant opted to challenge Ryan as an independent candidate, with a platform that largely sought to restrict government power. He said he would attempt to repeal the 16th Amendment, which allows Congress to levy an income tax; abolish the IRS, Department of Energy, Department of Education, and Social Security; eliminate corporation and Medicare taxes; deport all illegal immigrants and station troops at the Mexican border; and free all prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes.

Traficant managed to get his name on the ballot for the general election. He again garnered a significant but insufficient portion of the vote, with 16 percent of the electorate favoring him. Ryan won re-election and continues to serve in the House of Representatives to this day. After the loss, Traficant seemed content to stay out of the spotlight.

On September 23, 2014, Traficant was driving a vintage tractor into a pole barn at his daughter's farm in Greenford, Ohio, when it struck an obstacle and overturned on top of him. There were suggestions that he had suffered a heart attack before the accident, but a pathologist later determined that the weight of the tractor had restricted Traficant's ability to breathe. He died on September 27 in a hospital in Poland, Ohio.

Traficant remains a polarizing figure. In February 2006, more than 300 people attended a town hall style debate in Youngstown to discuss whether he had been good or bad for the region. Traficant's supporters lauded his ability to challenge the Washington norms, while his opponents saw him as a corrupt and clownish figure who had impeded progress in his district. "His passing is obviously the passing of a political icon in Mahoning Valley," said Robert Hagan, Traficant's former political opponent. "Good, bad, or indifferent, he had an incredible amount of charisma."

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Sheriff's Slaying Tip-Off Probed" in the Pittsburgh Press on Oct. 24 1981, "Prisoner Kills Deputy Near Youngstown" in the Daily Kent Stater on Oct. 29 1981, "Sheriff Who Failed to Act in Foreclosures Sentenced" in the Toledo Blade on Feb. 17 1983, "Lashing Out" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jun. 2 1983, "In Fighting Form" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jul. 2 1983, "The Mafia and the Congressman" in the Washington Weekly on Apr. 19 1985, "Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, Facing Federal Charges of Tax Evasion," reported by UPI on Nov. 13 1986, "Congressman Defending Scientist Who is Suspected in War Crimes" in the New York Times on May 15 1990, "Traficant Relishes Bad Boy Role" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Mar. 1 2000, "Rep. James Traficant Indicted on Racketeering" in The Item on May 4 2001, "U.S. Charges Traficant, Colorful Ohio Congressman, With Taking Bribes" in the New York Times on May 5 2001, "Armey: GOP Doesn't Want Traficant" in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on May 8 2001, "Now Playing: Traficant Probe 2001, The Sequel" in the Youngstown Vindicator on May 23 2001, "Traficant Guilt OK to Some Voters" in the Star-News on Apr. 15 2002, "Panel Says Traficant Violated Ethics Rules" in the Daily News on Jul. 18 2002, "House Panel Votes to Expel Maverick Congressman" in the Spokesman-Review on Jul. 19 2002, "House Votes, With Lone Dissent From Condit, to Expel Traficant From Ranks" in the New York Times on Jul. 25 2002, "Traficant Begins Eight-Year Sentence; Expects Re-Election to House From Jail" in the Boca Raton News on Jul. 30 2002, "Bad Hair Day For Traficant" in the Associated Press on Oct. 29 2002, "'Welcome Home, Jimbo' Countdown" in the Youngstown Vindicator on Aug. 9 2009, "White Nationalists, Conspiracy Theorists Join Traficant Cause" on TribToday.com on Aug. 30 2009, "The Life and Trials of James A. Traficant Jr." in The Vindicator on Sep. 2 2009, "Traficant Lands a Part-Time Job on Radio" in the Youngstown Vindicator on Jan. 5 2010, "Tea Party Hero Jim Traficant: Could Ex-Con Return to Congress?" in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on May 2 2010, "America's Fastest Shrinking City: The Story of Youngstown, Ohio," published by The Hampton Institute on Jun. 18 2013, "Ex. Rep. Jim Traficant is Seriously Injured in Tractor Accident" in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sep. 24 2014, "James A. Traficant Jr., Colorful Ohio Congressman Expelled by House, Dies at 73" in the Washington Post on Sep. 27 2014, "James Traficant Jr., Expelled From Congress in 2002, Dies at 73" in the Los Angeles Times on Sep. 27 2014, "James Traficant Jr., Cast Out by Congress in Bribery Case, Dies at 73" in the New York Times on Sep. 27 2014, "Jim Traficant Dies at 73" in Politico on Sep. 27 2014, "Ex-Congressman Jim Traficant Dies of Injuries Suffered From a Tractor Accident at Daughter's Farm" in the Cleveland Plains Dealer on Sep. 27 2014, "Former Rep. Traficant Didn't Have Heart Attack, Seizure Before Tractor Death, Pathologist Says" in the Cleveland Plains Dealer on Sep. 30 2014, Remembering the Cruelest Month: The Network, Labor, and Haunting of the Memories of Columbine by Stephanie Jean Stillman, Political Scandals: The Consequences of Temporary Gratification by La Trice M. Washington