Boise Mock Trial Nationals

I am in the Boise airport, waiting to board my flight home to California, after attending high school mock trial nationals with the Phillips Exeter mock trial team, which I coach.

I am, I must confess, tired and disappointed.  You are not sure, as the weekend progress, how you have done, but we thought by the end of yesterday that we had won three trials and lost one.  It turned out, when the results were released this morning, that we won only one trial and lost three.  So instead of being, as we hoped, something like tenth in the nation, we were thirty-fourth.  Disappointing.

Electronic Newspapers

I am working away on my biography of Edwin Stanton, writing today the chapter that deals with 1861, the first few months of the Civil War.

As I write I do bits of research, to “fill in the gaps” and to answer questions.  This morning, for example, I was looking at letters between Stanton and former president Buchanan from May 1861.  Buchanan complained to Stanton on May 6 about what he viewed as an attack on his administration by Frederick Seward, son of my prior subject William Henry Seward.  Stanton counseled Buchanan on May 13 that there was no point responding to the “fling” by young Seward.  Other authors have found these letters, they are after all in the published works of Buchanan.  But no author has found the “fling” by Frederick Seward.  What, I wondered, did Frederick say?

Mock Trial

The Phillips Exeter mock trial team has won the New Hampshire state championship; the team will compete at nationals for the fourth time in five years.

This year was different, very different, because I live in California not New Hampshire.  So I was not able to work with the Exeter students in person, only by phone, email, text message, Skype sessions.  It was not easy:  some times I could not reach them or they could not reach me, sometimes the connection would drop or the voices would garble.  But they worked away to read and master the case, an aggravated assault charge against a teenager, arising out of a knife pulled at a graduation party.  The students held tryouts and formed three teams, A team, B team, and C team, each with about ten students.  I focused almost all my energy on A team, hoping they would win and go on to nationals.  I spent a bit of time with B team and no time with C team.

Smithsonian TV

Tonight, April 18, and probably again a few times in the next few days, I will appear on Smithsonian TV in a show about Lincoln’s death.  Show time tonight is 9pm east coast and west coast.

The producers did a good job of weaving together several interviews, including with people who know MUCH more about Booth and the assassins than I do, with actors portraying Lincoln, Seward, Booth, Powell, and others involved.  They filmed a crowd in a theater to give a great sense of how the crowd reacted to Lincoln’s death and Booth’s escape.  They showed some of the objects involved, including Booth’s pistol and the hoods placed on the defendants.  That “bordered on torture,” one of the experts says, and it is hard to disagree.

Milen Dempster on Marriage

My parents, John Stahr and Elizabeth Dempster, were married sixty years ago today at Stanford Chapel.  The minister was my mother’s uncle Milen Dempster.

Milen was a remarkable man:  educated in divinity at Harvard, briefly serving as a Unitarian minister, but then running for governor in 1932 as a Socialist, and working thereafter as a community organizer.  A quick search reveals that he was the project manager for the construction of Marin City during World War II.  “Like other ‘right thinking people,’ New Deal liberals, and leftists, Dempster saw war housing as an opportunity to create a sense of community among disparate Americans.  Dempster [said] that Marin City would house all shipyard workers without regard to ‘religion, race, color, or position in the shipyards.’  When whites protested, Dempster appealed to their patriotism, saying ‘These men are Americans.  They are needed just as you are–to build ships.'”  Donald Albrecht, ed., World War II and the American Dream: How Wartime Building Changed a Nation, p. 129.

Pittsburg Puzzle

On December 25, 1860, the New York Tribune reported that there was “intense excitement” in Pittsburgh the prior day because of reports of the imminent “shipment from the Allegheny Arsenal of seventy-eight guns to Newport, near Galveston Island, Texas, and forty-six more to Ship Island, near Balize, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, the apparent object being to strip the Allegheny Arsenal and place the guns where the Secessionists could get them.”

One can readily imagine the excitement:  South Carolina had just seceded from the United States, other states seemed likely to follow, and these southern states were seizing the federal arms at hand.

Augustus Long

I am getting ready to teach, next semester at Chapman, a course on the Civil War, and thinking about how I first got fascinated by that war.  It goes back, I think, to Augustus Long.

It was about 1991 or 1992, when I started looking into my genealogy, that I learned that my great-great grandfather, Augustus Long, was a sergeant in the 128th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Long was born in August 1840 so he was only twenty-two when he volunteered in August 1862.  The regiment was organized in Pennsylvania, went to Washington, spent a week or so there, then hastened north in early September to defend Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Stephen Sears, in his great book on Antietam, describes what happened to 128th at Antietam on the morning of September 19, 1862:

Common Sense

I am reading this morning an interesting little book, a memoir by William Crook, body guard for Lincoln.  Crook, when he arrived at the White House in January 1865, was a young police officer, detailed by the Washington chief to help guard the President.  Crook remained on the White House staff after Lincoln’s death; indeed he was still there in January 1915, when he was honored by President Woodrow Wilson for fifty years of service.

“Broken Relic”

I am doing some Stanton reading today, and as often happens, I find something about Seward to report.

I am reading The Impeachment and Trial of President Andrew Johnson, by David Miller DeWitt, published in 1903.  DeWitt was a New York Democrat, sympathetic to Johnson, hostile towards Stevens, Sumner and the other Radicals.  Since almost all modern accounts are hostile to Johnson, DeWitt is welcome balance.  And although DeWitt was much younger than Seward and Stanton, born in 1837, he knew these men.  I think there is a fair chance, for example, that he was in New York City Hall in August 1866, when President Johnson spoke and Secretary Seward listened.

Revolution and Constitution

In a few days, on September 2, I will start teaching my first course at the college level.  The course will cover American history from 1760 through 1815, a busy period.  Indeed, as I prepare my first lecture, on Benjamin Franklin, I realize that one could teach an entire semester-long course just on that one fascinating, complex figure and his role in the history of the period.  We will look at various issues:  the Stamp Act, the Declaration of Independence, a few battles of the Revolutionary War, the early phase of the Industrial Revolution.