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“To die is gain”: Memory and the U.S.-Mexican War in Maryland

mc2484_snapshot

The Watson Monument created by sculptor Edward Berge is flanked by captured Mexican mortars. Corpus Christi Church can be seen in the background here at its original location at Lanvale Street and Mount Royal Avenue. In 1930, the monument was moved to Reservoir Hill—what was then the entrance to Druid Hill Park—because of a planned extension of Howard Street. This photo shows what is now an underpass that engineers felt would not have held the weight of the monument. William Watson Monument, ca. 1906, MdHS, MC2484.

On an auspicious afternoon in late September 1903, a crowd of Baltimoreans converged onto the intersection of Mount Royal Avenue and Lanvale Street to witness the symbolic-laced unveiling of the William H. Watson monument. The monument, erected by the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican War, honored Marylanders who lost their lives during the U.S.-Mexican War.(1) Taking place on the fifty-seventh anniversary of Lieutenant Colonel Watson’s death during the Battle of Monterey, spectators watched as aged survivors of the war took their places on the grandstand. Meanwhile, they also laid eyes on the over ten-foot statue, draped in the flag that had shrouded Watson’s corpse as it left Mexico. The most symbolic moment came when Watson’s last surviving child, Monterey Watson Iglehart, walked towards her father’s likeness and unveiled the statue. The unveiling by Iglehart, born on the day her father died, was the highlight of a ceremony that included speeches from U.S.-Mexican War veterans, politicians, and other dignitaries.(2)

“[E]nduring object lessons”

The unveiling partly served as an opportunity to describe the bravery of Marylanders who fought in Mexico. At the same time, it also provided an opportunity for dignitaries to discuss the monument’s impact on public memory. In presenting the Watson Monument to the city of Baltimore, Louis F. Beeler, president of the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican-American War, talked about the proud record of the state’s war veterans. He also talked about how the monument, finally realized after fifty years of planning, served to honor all the Marylanders who died fighting for their country.(3) Among all the speakers, Edwin Warfield, president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, spoke most clearly of the monument’s long-term role in shaping public memory. Warfield believed that “[m]onuments are enduring object lessons, pointing the rising generations to the services of their fathers, and pressing home to their minds great events and epochs in the history of our country.”(4)

Plumbeotype of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Watson, undated. CC2873, Works on Paper, MdHS.

Plumbeotype of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Watson, undated, MdHS, CC2873.

The Watson Monument recognized the importance surrounding the U.S.-Mexican War experience, while simultaneously interpreting the past in an effort to shape the present.(5) By highlighting the valor and honor of Baltimore’s U.S.-Mexican War heroes, like Watson and Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold, the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican War allowed the public to view the veterans as heroes of a conflict which greatly benefited the United States, as opposed to participants in an unjustifiable land grab. Watson and Ringgold’s deeds illustrated the sacrifices that came with the United States’s mission of spreading democracy. The monument thus provided “enduring object lessons” that enabled Baltimoreans to shape contemporary circumstances. Given the theoretical similarities between the U.S.-Mexican War and the United States’s imperialist endeavors of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the monument offered implicit support to national endeavors in the Caribbean.

“The bands which unite our country…”

Today, the monument blends into the scenery of west Baltimore. The war that it commemorates has faded from memory, especially on the East Coast.

Tensions between Mexico and the United States, which had brewed for years, boiled over after James Polk was elected president in 1844, with a promise to annex Texas. Texas was then an independent republic, having broken away from Mexico in 1836. Mexico did not recognize Texas independence, considering it instead a rebel province, much like China considers Taiwan today. Worse, even if Mexico was willing to negotiate away its claim to Texas, a border dispute existed. Texas claimed the boundary at the Rio Grande. Mexico claimed the traditional boundary, the Nueces River, 100 miles north.

When it became clear that Texas would enter the United States, President Polk sent General Zachary Taylor with an army to the edge of the disputed zone. Then in early 1846, Taylor’s army advanced to the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande. Since both armies were in the disputed zone, both could claim that blood had been shed by the other in its own territory when hostilities broke out at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma on April 25, 1846. When word of the fighting reached Washington, President Polk immediately asked Congress for a declaration of war, stating that Mexico had “shed American blood on American soil.” Mexican president Mariano Paredes could make a similar claim. Congress complied, and declared war.(6)

"The Fall of Major Ringgold at the Battle of Palo Alto," drawn by T.H. Matteson, engraved by H.S. Sadd, Small Prints, MdHS.

“The Fall of Major Ringgold at the Battle of Palo Alto,” drawn by T.H. Matteson, engraved by H.S. Sadd, MdHS, Small Prints.

Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold became the first prominent Marylander to die during the war. During the Battle of Palo Alto, Ringgold became mortally wounded when he had both thighs “torn out” by a Mexican cannon ball. He died on May 11, 1846, in Port Isabel, Texas.(7) Ringgold’s death muted the joy Baltimoreans felt in the aftermath of General Taylor’s victories. Flags throughout the city flew at half-staff, as did all the flags that adorned the ships in the Baltimore Harbor. Buildings within the city were draped with black crepes. Poignantly, the Baltimore Sun noted that Ringgold’s “fate so sad, his fame so brilliant, has awakened a lively interest in all that relates to him, especially in this city, where it is now apparent that he was known only to be loved, and where his memory will continue to be affectionately revered.”(8)

For the next year and a half, Mexican and U.S. armies battled across Mexico. After Resaca de la Palma and Palo Alto, Taylor’s armies advanced through northern Mexico. The Battle of Monterey, fought on September 21-24, 1846, came at a cost of losing Lieutenant Colonel William H. Watson. During fierce street fighting, Watson had his horse shot out from under him. He rose, and, while trying to lead his troops in an attack against Mexican forces, he received a musket shot to the neck which killed him instantly. According to Charles J. Wells, Watson’s death represented “one of the great tragedies of the day for the Baltimoreans.”(9)

"Colonel William H. Watson" by R. H. Sheppard, c. 1848.

“Colonel William H. Watson” by R. H. Sheppard, c. 1848, MdHS Museum.

Watson died instantly, but his stature grew as stories surrounding his death emerged. According to historian Robert W. Johannsen, “[t]he dying moments of fallen soldiers were told and retold in the war’s literature, and their last words were offered as evidence of the patriotic ardor of the men in Mexico.”(10) Watson, already wounded, had been urged to retreat. He refused, stating that, “[n]ever will I yield an inch! I have too much Irish blood in me to give up!”(11)

The war was not without opposition. Senator James Pearce of Maryland, for example, questioned President Polk’s motives, and believed that the United States could not rule over such a large expanse of land: “[t]he bands which unite our country, if stretched so far, must inevitably snap.”(12)

But opposition to the war faded as General Winfield Scott’s army moved from Vera Cruz to Mexico City in 1847, occupying the “halls of the Montezumas” in September. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, ended the war, with Mexico ceding the northern portions of its territory to the United States for $15 million.(13)

The war had a significant impact on the United States. In addition to the United States gaining a quarter of its continental footprint—all or parts of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas—that conflict provided the final tinders for an issue that would ignite into civil war scarcely a decade later: slavery.(14)

Over time, the memory of the war’s controversy faded, and Marylanders, like people in the rest of the United States, united to commemorate the conflict and its veterans.

“To die is gain”

Death catapulted Marylanders like Ringgold and Watson into the realm of American heroes. The U.S.-Mexican War, according to Johannsen, led to the appearance of a new group of individuals who would help the nation “celebrate deeds of courage, daring, and leadership.” For U.S. soldiers, one of the quickest ways to achieve hero status was through death on the battlefield.(15) Ringgold had already been considered a hero before Americans, and Marylanders, received word of his death. In death, Ringgold reached the highest stage on the scale of heroism. He became a “true Chevalier ‘sans peur, sans reproche,’—the Bayard of our army.”(16)

Similarly, death enabled Watson to achieve the status of an American hero. Reverend Henry V.D. Johns, D.D., stated that “[t]o die is gain.” As Reverend Johns declared in a sermon to honor Watson, G. A. Herring, and J. Wilker, Johns continued, “[n]o earthly honor, my brethren, can be placed upon the summit of that glory, which common consent of all ages and nations, is assigned to those who die in the lawful service of their country; and for this reason—that no arm of mortal can reach that elevated point.”(17) Ringgold and Watson’s heroism helped define the way Marylanders would remember the U.S.-Mexican War.

Maryland’s U.S.-Mexican War veterans returned home and formed the Association of Maryland Volunteers in the Mexican War by 1849. In forming the veterans’ association, the veterans were “desirous of perpetuating the recollection of their services and the memory of their deceased comrades.” The group imposed fines or recommended expulsion for members who failed to comply to the organization’s rules of acceptable behavior.(18) Furthermore, the association also relied on symbolic imagery to achieve the objective of preserving positive memories of the U.S.-Mexican War, relying on images that reminded people of the heroism of its members. For instance, during the eighth anniversary of the Battle of Monterey, John R. Kenly received “a gold ring enclosing a miniature of Col. Wm H. Watson, by the Servicemen of the Baltimore Battalion and DC and MD Regiment in war with Mexico.” Watson’s image probably did not need much explanation for people living in Baltimore in 1854.(19)

The association’s efforts received a boost from an important piece of poetry written during the Civil War. After the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment fired on a mob of Baltimoreans in April 1861, James Ryder Randall penned a poem that condemned the North, urging Marylanders to stand up and repel the invaders. Titled, “Maryland, My Maryland,” the poem referenced several of the state’s prominent historical figures, including Ringgold and Watson. Randall wrote, “With Ringgold’s spirit for the fray,/With Watson’s blood at Monterey . . ./Maryland!  My Maryland!” The poem spoke to Ringgold and Watson’s bravery, and, when set to the tune of “Lauriger Horatius,” the poem ultimately became the Maryland state song in 1939.

Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold was killed in the Battle of Palo Alto. Small Prints, Ringgold, Major Samuel, MdHS.

Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold was killed in the Battle of Palo Alto. Ringgold, Major Samuel, undated, MdHS, Small Prints.

Yet, the association sought to solidify the memory of the U.S-Mexican War through the construction of a monument. Monuments had gained increasing popularity in the United States prior to the Civil War. During the post-Civil War era, monuments became increasingly popular for commemorating the past as the nation struggled to create a new United States reunited after the Civil War.(20) Plans to erect a U.S.-Mexican War monument in Baltimore began in 1890. The association formed a twelve-man committee to raise funds. Led by Louis F. Beeler, Joshua Lynch, and James D. Iglehart, the committee lobbied city, state, and private contributors to cover the estimated $10,000 cost of the monument. The city appropriated $5,000 in July 1900. Meanwhile, the state appropriated an additional $3,000, which, with interest, rose to $3,600.(21)

The remaining balance for the monument came from private contributors. In seeking private donors, the association’s fundraising efforts sought to gloss over any dissent of the U.S.-Mexican War, focusing instead on the war’s overall benefits. One undated request informed potential subscribers that the successful completion of the U.S.-Mexican War “added so much valuable territory to the United States, wherein was found the gold and silver mines which [gave] our country its financial standing.” The request paid minor attention to the political dissent which surrounded the war, not even providing the reasons for political dissent.(22) As a result, the association received contributions from people like Edwin Warfield, president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland. The association also received an additional $800 in private contributions, which covered the costs associated with changing the monument’s location from the triangular intersection of Liberty and Fayette Streets and Park Avenue to the intersection of Lanvale Street and Mount Royal Avenue.(23)

Another view of the monument.  William H. Watson Monument. Mount Royal Avenue, John Dubas, MC9072.

Another view of the monument. William H. Watson Monument. Mount Royal Avenue, John Dubas, MC9072.

The political undertones in the request for subscriptions connected the Watson Monument to U.S. foreign policy during late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Given U.S. activity in the Caribbean, and the monument’s connection to the U.S.-Mexican War, the memorial presented a counterpoint to the overall anti-imperialist sentiment that existed in Baltimore during the period. Prominent Baltimore politicians like Senator Arthur Gorman refused to support the peace treaty with Spain unless it included an anti-expansionist amendment. Moreover, the Baltimore American expressed opposition to U.S. policy in the Caribbean, describing U.S. fighting in the Philippines as “our violent departure from the doctrine of the ‘consent of the governed.’”(24) The Watson Monument, on the other hand, offered a symbol of the U.S. mission to spread democracy to distant lands in order to uplift inferior peoples.

The Watson Monument provided the crowning achievement in the association’s efforts to memorialize the U.S.-Mexican War. With Watson standing tall, his sword resting peacefully at his side, the monument attested to the valor of Maryland’s U.S.-Mexican War veterans. The monument also attested to the sacrifice, with plaques containing the names of the Marylanders who died during the war.

However, the Watson Monument represents a political statement in favor of U.S. actions in Mexico and the Caribbean, highlighting the controversies surrounding U.S. policy. So the next time you are in West Baltimore and drive past the Watson Monument, or start humming “Maryland, my Maryland,” remember Watson and Ringgold, but also remember the history of Maryland’s complicated relationship with its nation’s southern neighbors. (Richard Hardesty and David Patrick McKenzie)

The Watson Monument as it appears today. Photo by Flickr user Littlesam.

The Watson Monument as it appears today in Reservoir Hill. Photo by Flickr user Littlesam.

Richard Hardesty is a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In the summer of 2009, his article, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race” appeared in the Maryland Historical Magazine. Richard previously contributed “Maryland Ahead by (Clarence) Miles,” which appeared on this blog on November 15, 2012. He is currently examining the role the Orioles played in the urban redevelopment of Baltimore.

David Patrick McKenzie is a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and a working public historian. He is studying the relationship between the United States and Latin America, particularly in the early 19th century. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of any organization with which he is affiliated.

Footnotes:

1. We use the term “U.S.-Mexican War” in this post instead of the common “Mexican-American War” because the term “American” can refer to a person from North or South America. The war was solely between the United States and Mexico.
2. To Mexican War Heroes,” The Baltimore Sun, September 22, 1903; The Baltimore American, September 22, 1903.
3. Ibid.; “To Mexican War Heroes,” Baltimore Sun, September 22, 1903.
4. Baltimore American, September 22, 1903.
5. Historian Jacques Le Goff noted, “[m]emory, on which history draws and which it nourishes in return, seeks to save the past in order to serve the present and future.” Michael Kammen agreed, noting that critics of public memory complain about how societies use memory to manipulate the past in order to mold the present. Jacques Le Goff, History and Memory, trans. Steven Rendall and Elizabeth Claman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 99; Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory:  The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), 3.
6. An excellent source on the complex chain of events leading to war is Richard Bruce Winders, Crisis in the Southwest (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Books, 2002). Much of the context discussed in this section owes to Winders’s discussion of the war. Also, for background on Mexico’s perspective of the conflict, see Timothy J. Henderson, A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007).
7. J. Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland, vol. 3, 1812-1880 (Hatboro, Pennsylvania: Tradition Press, 1967), 221-2; John S. D. Eisenhower, So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848 (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000), 80.
8. Robert W. Johannsen, To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 124; “The Late Major Ringgold,” Baltimore Sun, May 28, 1846.
9. Scharf, History of Maryland, vol. 3, 221-2, 227; John R. Kenly, Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1873), 115, Eisenhower, So Far from God, 77-80; Charles J. Wells, Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers in the Mexican War (Westminster, Maryland: Family Line Publications, 1991),  6.
10. Johannsen, Halls of the Montezumas, 85.
11. Other Marylanders died during the Battle of Monterey. For instance, Sergeant George A. Herring, of Baltimore, also fell during the attack on the Tannery. When Sergeant John Axer tended to him, Herring gasped, “go on boys you can not do any thing for me & when you get to Baltimore tell them I Died game.” Captain Randolph Ridgely survived the battle, but died in the battle’s aftermath. In Monterey, the streets had been made with basaltic rocks, of which many made up barricades in hopes of slowing up the U.S. advance. During a horse ride, Ridgely’s horse stumbled upon a basaltic rock, throwing Ridgley off in the process. When he landed, his head struck a sharp corner of another basaltic rock. Kenly, who had been with Ridgely thirty minutes prior to his accident, stated with shock that he “had parted with him not an half-hour previously, in the full enjoyment of life, health, and strength, and now I could not realize that though living he was unconscious.” John Axer to an unidentified recipient, October 2, 1846, Special Collections (Baltimore:  Maryland Historical Society), MS 1507; Wells, Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers in the Mexican War, 5; Kenly, Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer, 160-3; Johannsen, Halls of the Montezumas, 85.
12. Senator James A. Pearce, Speech of Mr. Pearce, of Maryland, on the Ten Regiment Bill, delivered in the Senate of the United States [January 13, 1848] (Washington, D.C.: John T. Towers, 1848), 15, Special Collections (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society), PAM 1814.
13. For a good summary of the treaty negotiations, see Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of the United States, 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 800-811.
14. For more on the impact of the war on the United States, see Howe, 792-836.
15. Johannsen, Halls of the Montezumas, 108, 130.
16. Ibid.
17. The phrase came from Philippians 1:21-23 in the Bible, but the phrase also starts off Reverend Henry V. D. Johns’ sermon of Lieutenant Colonel Watson. Henry V. D. Johns, D. D., A Sermon Preached on Sunday, January 19, 1847 at the Request of Gratitude Lodge, No. 5, I.O.O.F as a Tribute of Respect to the Memory of Three of Their Members, W.H. Watson, G.A. Herring and J. Wilker Who Fell in the Mexican War (Baltimore: The Lodge, 1847), 7-8, Special Collections (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society), MP 3.J46S 1847.
18. According to the Constitution’s fifth by-law, “The President shall have power to fine any member for misconduct during the meetings or parades of this Association, and command members misbehaving immediately to leave the room or ranks during parade or muster — such fine not to exceed one dollar for any one breach of conduct — and should any member of this Association misbehave himself, or be guilty of improper conduct, either in this Association or any other place, he shall be expelled from this Association upon a two-third vote of all the members present at any regular meeting hereof.” Constitution and By-Laws of the Association of Maryland Volunteers in the Mexican War, by-law 1st,  Special Collections, MdHS, Baltimore; Constitution and By-Laws of the Association of Maryland Volunteers in the Mexican War, by-law 5th,, Special Collections, MdHS.
19. John R. Kenly, Papers, Special Collections (Baltimore: MdHS), MS 507, Box 1.
20. During the early-nineteenth century, the Bunker Hill monument gained national popularity, prompting the Chief Justice of Rhode Island to comment, “O! let us build monuments to the past.” The Civil War further fueled the popularity of monuments. For instance, the popularity of monuments was closely associated with the Lost Cause ideology. The majority of Lost Cause monuments had been initially erected in cemeteries, following the belief that “‘a memorial of a lost cause’ should ‘not be a triumphal memorial.  Placed in the City of the Dead, and near the entrance, the sight of it cannot fail to call back the memory of the sad history which it commemorates.’” According to historian Gaines Foster, from 1865 to 1885, seventy percent of southern monuments had been erected in cemeteries. Public monuments also enjoyed popularity in the North after the Civil War. To illustrate, David McConaughy, head of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMC), understood that battlefield memories sacralized the landscape while also drawing visitors. By 1895, the GBMC had supervised the placement of 320 monuments. Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory:  The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, 69, 71; Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy:  Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 40-1; Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 20, 60-1.
21. The Baltimore American article noted that, if the City Council appropriated $5,000.00 for the monument, “it will not be difficult to increase the total to $10,000 or $12,000, with which a fitting monument could be erected.” “Request for Contribution,” James D. Iglehart Papers, Special Collections (Baltimore:  MdHS), MS 2384, Box 1; “Veterans of the Mexican War,” Baltimore American, July 1, 1900; “Lieut. Col. William H. Watson,” Baltimore Sun, 12 August 1902.
22. “Request subscriptions from the citizens of Baltimore,” James D. Iglehart Papers, Special Collections, MdHS, MS 2384, Box 1.
23. Edwin Warfield to James D. Iglehart, February 26, 1902, James D. Iglehart Papers, Special Collections, MS 2384, Box 1; “Request subscriptions from the citizens of Baltimore,” James D. Iglehart Papers, Special Collections, MdHS, MS 2384, Box 1.
24. “Still Fighting for Their Country,” Baltimore American, February 6, 1899; “The Vote on the Treaty,” Baltimore American, February 6, 1899.

Further reading:

Monument City Blog, “Col. William Watson Monument in Reservoir Hill.”
Cindy Kelly, Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore: A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City, JHU Press, 2011.
MS 2674 Paine Mexican War Diary, 1846-47, Allen Paine, MdHS Special Collections.
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Maryland Ahead by (Clarence) Miles

After Clarence Miles died on October 8, 1977, the Baltimore Sun described him as “an urbane man who never forgot the value of good common sense. And he applied both traits with rich results for the city and the state.”[1]Miles has long been an overlooked figure in Maryland history, primarily overshadowed by the passage of time and such larger-than-life contemporaries like Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., Theodore R. McKeldin, George P. Mahoney, and William Donald Schaefer. Yet, Miles’ contributions played a significant role in charting the course Maryland took during the last half of the twentieth century.

Graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1920, and being admitted to the state bar, Miles quickly made a name for himself within prominent Democratic political circles. He first gained prominence during the telephone rates case of 1924. At the time, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company sought to increase rates by eight percent, prompting statewide protests from individual counties. Miles, then serving as the City Solicitor for Salisbury, argued on behalf of Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties before the Public Service Commission.[2] Governor Albert Ritchie singled out Miles’ efforts in the telephone rates case, and named him People’s Counsel to the Public Service Commission. Beginning on January 1, 1925, Miles served as People’s Counsel for fifteen months, resigning in March 1926.  The Baltimore Sun praised Miles for his industry and energy, “showing purpose and demonstrating ability to protect the public interests.”[3]

Clarence Miles (left front) with Richard Nixon and Governor Theodore McKeldin, 1954. SVF Sports Baseball Orioles vs. White Sox, 1954.

Ironically, in a career that demonstrated such early promise, the People’s Counsel would be the last public office Miles held in a long, storied career. Miles’ stature within the Democratic Party grew during the 1930s and 1940s. So much so, the Baltimore Sun considered him a powerful figure within the party, known for facilitating harmony between the state party’s divergent wings. However, by the early-1950s, Miles’ stature within the party weakened. He lost favor within the party for his support of Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election. In supporting Eisenhower, Miles became viewed as a “prime mover” in an inter-party rebellion that witnessed forty-seven prominent Maryland Democrats throwing their support for the Republican nominee. Four years later, however, Miles publicly supported the Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson, accepting the chairmanship of the Volunteers for Stevenson and Kefauver campaign in Maryland.[4]The damage was nonetheless done.

Clarence W. Miles with Orioles Jim McDonald and Harry Byrd, 1955. Photo taken from the book Eight Busy Decades: the Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles (page 40) edited by Jacques Kelly.

Yet, one of Miles’ major accomplishments came outside the political realm. He worked closely with Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr. and local financiers to bring the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore. In September 1953, with Baltimore holding slim hopes of landing the Browns, Miles offered to purchase eighty percent of the team’s stock, costing a total of approximately $2,450,000. The money Miles produced proved influential in helping Baltimore secure a Major League Baseball team.[5] As a result, Miles became the Orioles first team president. His tenure, however, proved less successful. With the Orioles performing poorly during the 1954 and 1955 seasons, Miles leadership style facilitated resentment from members of the Board of Directors, especially given the organization’s free-spending ways in acquiring young talent. The Board ultimately squeezed Miles out as team president in November 1955.[6]

Miles experience with the Orioles paved the way for his most memorable role: member of the Greater Baltimore Committee (G.B.C.). As people and businesses left Baltimore in the post-war period, revitalization became viewed as the remedy for the city’s decay. The Commission on Government Efficiency and Economy called for the extension of “blight-correction activities” into the city’s core.[7] However, without a coherent policy, most plans failed. By January 1955, members of Baltimore’s business community formed the G.B.C., whereby members would work with municipal agencies to facilitate “prompt and aggressive action” to correct city problems.[8] Miles not only served as one of the organization’s founders, but he also served as the organization’s first chairman. Through Miles’ efforts, the G.B.C. helped “prepare Baltimore for a downtown renaissance,” especially through the development of One Charles Center as a building block of revitalization.[9]

Eight Busy Decades: the Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles available at the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at MdHS.

Miles efforts not only served to benefit Baltimore, but also his native Eastern Shore. In November 1963, Miles, with New York’s Steuben Glass Company President Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., formed the Wye Institute. The institute stood as a non-profit organization designed “to help guide the economic, cultural and educational growth of the once-isolated Eastern Shore.”[10] Miles served as the Wye Institute’s first president, overseeing a rocky beginning which included a quickly prepared survey that sharply criticized the region’s business and civic leaders for their inability to communicate and work together for the general good. As a result, Eastern Shore leaders grew disenchanted with the Wye Institute.[11] Miles’ tenure, however, paved the way for an educational summer camp designed to broaden the cultural and educational horizons of the Eastern Shore’s youth.[12]Over time, the Wye Institute played a pivotal role in working with business and civic leaders in the development of the Eastern Shore, integrating the region with the rest of the state.

By September 1965, Miles left his position as president of the Wye Institute to focus on his campaign for governor. He had hinted at the prospect of running months earlier, prompting the Baltimore Sun to comment that, “[w]ith his family roots in the Eastern Shore, his law office in Baltimore and the General Assembly his sometimes area of activity [as a lobbyist], his qualifications for a general approach to State issues couldn’t be more promising.”[13] Miles became the first Democrat to enter the gubernatorial race in September 1965. With “Maryland Ahead By Miles” as the campaign slogan, Miles advocated for a limited form of open housing legislation, while also supporting reform to the state’s tax code, constitution, and horse racing industry. Miles finished fourth in the Democratic primary, but made his presence felt. Being from the Eastern Shore, Miles cut into front-runner Thomas B. Finan’s base of support in the region, enabling George P. Mahoney to capture the nomination through his anti-open housing slogan, “Your Home is Your Castle – Protect It.” Miles ultimately endorsed Spiro T. Agnew, who defeated Mahoney in the general election.[14]

Click on the play button below to hear a clip from a 1976 interview with Miles discussing the 1966 campaign.

Miles continued to work actively to benefit Maryland during his later years. While contemplating to run for governor, Miles served as a statewide chairman to the State Constitutional Convention Commission, which sought to modernize Maryland’s constitution. Governor Agnew later appointed Miles as chairman of the Maryland Gambling Commission. As chairman, Miles worked to develop a comprehensive plan to reorganize Maryland horse racing. The reorganization, known as the Miles Plan, went unadopted.[15] However, Miles’ significance cannot be seen through the lens of a failed gubernatorial campaign or an unadopted horse racing measure. Miles’ significance can be seen through his efforts in bringing baseball to Baltimore, not to mention his efforts in laying the foundation for revitalizing Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. Through his oral history interview recorded in 1976, listeners will be able to hear Miles express his thoughts on events and organizations that shaped Maryland during the twentieth century. Events and organizations which he held considerable influence. In the process, listeners will gain a rich perspective from an influential, though overlooked, figure in Maryland history. (Richard Hardesty)

Richard Hardesty is currently a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In the summer of 2009, his article, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race” appeared in the Maryland Historical Magazine. Richard’s current research examines the role the Orioles played in shaping Baltimore’s urban renewal and identity.


[1] “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun (Baltimore): October 9, 1977; “Clarence W. Miles,” Baltimore Sun, October 11, 1977.

[2] In explaining the need to increase rates, Chesapeake and Potomac President A. E. Berry noted, “[t]he growth of Baltimore has forced heavy burdens upon our company and plant. For example, the number of telephones in Maryland has increased from 122,512 in 1919 to 159,722 in 1923. By 1928, we figure that there will be 206,764 telephones in the State.” Berry noted that, in order to prevent a curtail in service to a growing clientele, the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company had to increase its rates by eight percent. “Three Utilities Likely to Seek Raise in Rates,” Baltimore Sun, March 29, 1924;  “Will Join Forces Today In Fight On Phone Rates,” Baltimore Sun, July 23, 1924; “To Resume Hearing in Phone Case Today,” Baltimore Sun, October 21, 1924.

[3] “C. W. Miles Gets P. S. C. Place to Succeed Maloy,” Baltimore Sun, December 27, 1924; “T. J. Tingley Named People’s Counsel,” Baltimore Sun, March 17, 1926; “People’s Counsel,” Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1926.

[4] Charles G. Whiteford, “Democrats Again Plan To Back Ike,” Baltimore Sun, September 23, 1955; “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun, October 9, 1977.

[5] Historian James Edward Miller speculated that Miles had been motivated by his political ambitions. As Miller noted, “Miles had long-term ambitions to run for political office and recognized that the prestige acquired by bringing a major league team to Baltimore would aid his eventual bid.” Miles never revealed his intentions for bringing baseball to Baltimore. Not only did Miles lose most of his records in a house fire during the early-1970s, but his memoir did little to reveal his true intentions. However, Miller’s analysis had merit, especially in light of Miles’ support of Eisenhower in 1952. James Edward Miller, The Baseball Business: Pursuing Pennants & Profits in Baltimore (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 32; Jesse A. Linthicum, “Miles Offers To Buy 80% Of Browns Stock,” Baltimore Sun, September 29, 1953.

[6] The organization spent $700,000 on acquiring young talent during the Orioles first two years in Baltimore, only to have the team finish in seventh place both seasons. As a result, the Board sought to move in a new direction, pushing Miles out in the process. Miles, for his part, publicly cited his obligation to his law practice as the reason for resigning. “Miles Resigns Post as Orioles’ President Amid Atmosphere of Dissension,” New York Times (New York): November 8, 1955; “Miles Quits Board Job With Orioles,” The Washington Post (Washington): November 17, 1955; Lou Hatter, “Miles Leaves Oriole Board; Others Remain,” Baltimore Sun, November 17, 1955; Miller, The Baseball Business: Pursuing Pennants & Profits in Baltimore, 47-8.

[7] The Commission reported that only four of Baltimore’s twenty-eight wards gained tax revenues from 1925 to 1950, while seven wards lost tax revenue.  The remaining seventeen wards did not gain or lose its tax money.  As Miles noted, “[p]rojecting those trends into the future, the report concluded that the city would reach a turning point in which the growth in new development could not match the deterioration in the value and assessment of the older properties.” Clarence W. Miles, Eight Busy Decades: The Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles, ed. Jacques Kelly (Queenstown, Maryland: White Bank, 1986), 57; “City Slums Increasing, Report Says,” Baltimore Sun, November 16, 1952.

[8] Miles, Eight Busy Decades: The Life and Times of Clarence W. Miles, ed. Kelly, 58-61; “83 Leaders Form City ‘Action’ Unit,” Baltimore Sun, January 6, 1955.

[9] “Clarence W. Miles,” Baltimore Sun, October 11, 1977.

[10] Douglas D. Connah, Jr., “Shore Soon To Get Help,” Baltimore Sun, April 28, 1964.

[11] “Study Is Critical Of Eastern Shore,” New York Times, October 25, 1964; “Advice Disturbs Maryland Shore,” New York Times, February 14, 1965.

[12] “Wye Camp Dedicated,” Baltimore Sun. May 29, 1966.

[13] “While We Wait,” Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1965.

[14] Governor Harry Hughes noted in his autobiography that Miles’ candidacy played a pivotal role in preventing Finan from obtaining the Democratic nomination. In running for governor, Miles took votes away from Finan, enough to ensure that he finished third behind Mahoney and Representative Carlton R. Sickles. Without Miles’ candidacy, Finan would have received enough votes to overtake both Sickles and Mahoney. Miles’ candidacy did shape the outcome of the Democratic primary, but, in a race where Mahoney won by 1,939 votes, Miles’ candidacy did not represent the only reason behind Mahoney’s victory. Despite being viewed as a perennial loser, Mahoney had been a noted vote-getter, though his popularity had started to wane by the early-1960s. His candidacy, though, was not simply aided by Miles, but also by Finan and Sickles themselves. As the two front-runners, Finan and Sickles spent so much time going after each other that they overlooked Mahoney, allowing him to fly under the radar during the primary. Mahoney also benefitted from divisions amongst the state’s civil rights leadership, as they either supported Finan or Sickles. Lastly, Mahoney benefitted from Sickels poor showing in his home jurisdiction of Prince George’s County. Opponents attacked Sickles’ stance on open housing, to the point where some linked Sickles to the issue of busing. While Sickles ultimately carried Prince George’s County, he did so by a narrow margin, hindering his chances for the nomination. See also, Richard Hardesty, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race,” Maryland Historical Magazine 104 (Summer 2009): 145-184; Harry Roe Hughes and John W. Frece, My Unexpected Journey: The Autobiography of Governor Harry Roe Hughes (Charleston: The History Press, 2006); Whiteford, “Miles Asks Free Homeowner Sale,” Baltimore Sun, May 18, 1966.

[15]  “Clarence Miles, GBC founder, dies at 80,” Baltimore Sun, October 9, 1977.

Election Recollection: Errol Morris’ Op-doc from the NY Times

With tomorrow’s vote looming over us, we decided to direct our readers to Errol Morris’ thoughtful Op-doc video “11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote,” from last week’s New York Times.

Click here for the Video. Morris’ full text appears below.

And to loosely tie this post together with our collection, we’ve thrown in a few pieces of political ephemera from the Democratic National Convention held in Baltimore 100 years ago. To reward our faithful readers we’ve included a very obvious clue for our Movember contest.

Don’t forget to GO OUT AND VOTE!

National Democratic Convention Program, Politcal Ephemera, Series R, Box 3, Maryland Historical Society

Two programs from the Democratic Convention of 1912 in Baltimore. (L) pamphlet produced by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (R) convention booklet featuring Mayor James H. Preston on the cover. Political Ephemera, Series R, Box 3, MdHS

“11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote”  by Errol Morris. NYT, Oct. 30, 2012.

It doesn’t look good for the United States.

We are proud when Iraqis and Libyans dodge bombs to vote in their first free elections in decades, and then, when it’s our chance, we barely exceed their turnout rates. Often, we do worse. Roughly half of us vote, and the other half don’t.

It made me wonder: What’s stopping us? Do we have reasons not to vote? How can we hear so much about the election, and not participate? If hope isn’t doing it, isn’t the fear of the other guy winning enough to brave the roads, the long lines?

In the middle of October, I spoke to more than 50 people between 18 and 40, almost all of whom are planning to go to the polls on Nov. 6. That made them exceptional: only 51 percent of young people voted in 2008. A smaller group is expected this year.

Before asking why they will vote, I asked why most young people won’t. They told me that many of the issues they care about — climate change, civil rights, the war on drugs, immigration, prison reform — are not discussed by Democrats or Republicans. That there is such a gulf between what candidates say they will do, and what they do, that it’s impossible to trust anyone. That apathy is actually supported by the evidence.

Voting is a leap of faith. Calling it a civic duty is not enough. Either you believe that the system is both changeable and worth changing, or you don’t — and most new voters are not convinced.

The arguments against voting have been persuasive to many Americans. But what about the flip side? Why bother? Here I think the arguments are better. War and peace. Equal rights for women and same-sex couples. My personal favorite, the balance of the Supreme Court. The prospect of meeting the love of your life at the polling place. Several people argued that if you don’t vote, you lose your right to complain about the results of an election. But I respectfully disagree. In our society, the right to complain is even more fundamental than the right to vote.

I don’t know what, in the end, forces me to vote. It could be fear; it could be guilt. Although my mother died over 10 years ago, I feel that she is watching me, and I don’t want to disappoint her.

I would like to thank everyone who volunteered to be interviewed. I would also like to thank Doug Abel, Bob Chappell, Steven Hathaway, John Kusiak, Isaac Silverglate, Nick Rondeau, Dan Mooney, Jeremy Landman, Julie Ahlberg, Robert Fernandez, Amanda Branson Gill, Dina Piscatelli, Eric, Lori and Jessica Lander, Bina Venkataraman, Linda Carlson, Angus Wall, Jennifer Sofio Hall, a52, Kim Bica, Kirsten Thon-Webb, Arcade, Dana May, Patrick Regan, Ronnie Lee, Zoey Taylor, Adam Picchietti, Timothy Collins, Josh Kearney, Max Larkin, Drew Beirut, Reid Savage, Karen Skinner, Ann Petrone and Julia Sheehan.

This Op-Doc video was produced in collaboration with two creative agencies, CHI & Partners NY and Moxie Pictures, and with the I CAN. I WILL. Campaign for Our Time, a nonprofit organization that advocates for young voters and consumers.

Errol Morris  is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker (“The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara”) and author of the recent book “A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald.” His first film, “Gates of Heaven,” is on Roger Ebert’s list of the 10 best movies ever made, and his latest, “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld,” will open in 2013.  He lives in Cambridge, Mass., with his wife and two French bulldogs.

Election Recollection: All Politics is Weird

This week, with the final Obama-Romney debate bearing down on us, we thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the more bizarre political and election-related items in our holdings. In doing so we set our sights on Maryland’s own Spiro Agnew, the Nixon administration, and the many products Agnew’s likeness and political legacy inspired, as reflected in our collections. Please note that we are leaving the library collections this time out, with the exception of one item, and venturing into MdHS’s museum collection to explore these curious pieces of political and material culture.

Baltimore County native Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996) began his political life as a Democrat but then switched parties when he discovered few opportunities for advancement. He was elected Baltimore County Executive in 1962 and Governor of Maryland (R) in 1966. Agnew’s legacy as Governor will be remembered by many Marylanders for his excoriation of African-American leaders in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Others may remember him for his higher profile exploits later in his career.

Spiro Agnew watch by Dirty Time Company, MdHS, 2007.8.2.

The Spiro Agnew wristwatch pictured here was purchased at Hutzler’s department store on November 5, 1970. According to the receipt, it cost $20.75—not a small chunk of change. According to the Inflation Calculator this is roughly the equivalent of $123.00 dollars today. (Currently, original Agnew watches go for $50-100 on eBay.)

The Agnew wristwatch reflects a nationwide trend in the 1960s and ’70s to popularize political figures in a variety of media.  Agnew’s selection as the VP candidate by Richard Nixon and election victory in 1968 made him a national figure and subsequently tied him to the most infamous administration in U.S. history. Entrepreneurs wasted no time capitalizing on both men’s likeness from the moment they took office. The first Spiro Agnew watch was designed by Dr. Hale E. Dougherty’s Dirty Time Company ca. 1970 and by July of that year at least 50,000 were on order at department stores across the nation.

At least two other manufactures of the Agnew watch went into production in 1970. The watch became wildly popular. According to vintage wristwatch blog HODINKEE, Elizabeth Taylor, John Lennon, and Republican and Democratic Congress-members owned Agnew watches. “Dougherty even sent an early watch to Agnew who wrote back that the watch was ‘both attractive and clever,’ before later changing his tune and threatening legal action over the use of his likeness and invasion of his privacy,” reports HODINKEE blogger Eric Wind. Dougherty was the only manufacturer not to comply with the Vice President’s demand to donate a portion of the profits from the watch to “Agnew-designated charities.” The physician refused on the grounds that the watch was a sort of political cartoon and complying with the demand would set a dangerous precedent for artistic freedom of expression.**

Swiss Made Dirty Time Company’s Spiro Agnew watch, MdHS, 2007.8.2.

A complicated moderate not afraid to change his position, Agnew supported Maryland’s first open housing laws, helped repeal its anti-miscegenation law, stood as an alternative to state Democrats wishing to distance themselves from the racist sloganeering used by his ’66 gubernatorial election rival, Baltimore contractor-turned-politician George “Your home is your castle” Mahoney, and was an outspoken critic of antiwar demonstrators. Despite all that, by the early 1970s Agnew literally became a joke. The Baltimore Sun reported that a popular joke in 1970 went, “Did you know that Mickey Mouse wears a Spiro Agnew watch?” Forced from office by accusations of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy, he was the first Vice President to resign from office.**

Along with the watch also came the T-shirt of the wristwatch. Why, you may wonder, would a wristwatch need its own shirt? Because T-shirts were the internet memes of the 1970s and ’80s.

T-Shirts were the internet memes of the 1970s. Spiro Agnew T-Shirt. 1970, MdHS, 2007.8.1.

Another variation of the Agnew wristwatch was the Agnew alarm clock. According to our provenance records, this clock was designed and illustrated by Baltimore attorney Zelig Robinson, who appears to be one of the other two manufactures of the Agnew watch. Robinson can be seen in an AP Wireservice photo from July 16, 1970 standing next to his wife and the Vice President who is proudly wearing the watch made in his own image. The photo’s caption notes that Robinson was able to meet with the VP because he—unlike Dougherty—was willing to pony up 25 percent of the proceeds to a charity of Agnew’s choice.

The Spiro Agnew Alarm Clock, 1970, MdHS, 1986.86. Made by Sheffield Watch Co. and illustrated by Zelig Robinson.

Finally, we have this little gem from MdHS’s ephemera collection. One could not have purchased any of the above items at any store we know of and been given this bag to tote away their collectibles, but here it is, and nonetheless it exists: the Democrats for Nixon tote bag. This bit of propaganda was aimed at siphoning votes away from Senator George McGovern (D – South Dakota), who unlike his ’72 election rival Nixon did not keep his plans for ending the Vietnam War a secret.

McGovern ran on a platform promising withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for draft evaders, and a 37 percent reduction in military spending over the next three years. It’s worth pointing out that two thirds of his platform came to fruition within the next five years. (George McGovern passed away as this post was being prepared on the morning of October 21, 2012. R.I.P. Sen. McGovern.) The video that follows the bag provides some more context behind the concept of Dems for Nixon. The toy soldier and secret plan jokes practically write themselves. (Joe Tropea)

Democrats for Nixon bag, Ephemera Collection, Box R4, 1930-1979, MdHS.

Democrats for Nixon TV ad ca.1972

Notes:

*”2 of 3 Spiro Wristwatches Windup with His Approval,” The Baltimore Sun, July 17, 1970: p.C11. http://www.hodinkee.com/2010/8/3/the-spiro-agnew-watch-a-gag-that-united-elizabeth-taylor-joh.html

**”Spiro Agnew Watches,” The Baltimore Sun, July 12, 1970: p.SD15.

Further reading: 

White Knight: The Rise of Spiro Agnew, Jules Witcover, Random House, 1972.

“Spiro T. Agnew and Middle Ground Politics,” Justin P. Coffey, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 98, No. 4, Winter 2003.

“Spirogate: The Washington Post and the Rise and Fall of Spiro Agnew,” Charles J. Holden and Zach Messitte, Vol. 102, No. 3, Fall 2007.

“‘A Veil of Voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race,” Richard Hardesty, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 104, No. 2, Summer 2009.