Tag Archives: Minnesota politics

Ramadan Begins as Bachmann Spews Her Venom

This evening as the sun sets I went for a very long walk – in part to  divest my spirit of the hatefulness that has marked this day.  The tragedy in Colorado is unspeakable beyond written words, of course.  My deepest hope is that we as a nation cope, even as we grieve.

Still, it’s Michelle Bachmann’s vitriol that surpasses even that incident, in part because it is an incident, the act of a mentally disturbed individual who has wreaked havoc on a community and some very good people.  Still, it is an incident.

For me, Representative Bachmann’s  outbursts, representing her deep-seated convictions, are even more disturbing.  They are not only the inane and misinformed utterings of an ambitious woman.  They are words chosen to fuel the flickers of fear that reside within the souls of good people who deserve far better from their leaders.

Bachmann’s ugly comments cause particular pain as they spew forth on the eve of Ramadan, the most peaceful and loving season in which Muslims everywhere celebrate love and generosity and friendship.   Bachmann’s is a mean-spirited slap in the face that speaks volumes of the venom within the Representative and her fellow travelers.

 

Wiser and more articulate observers of the political scene will eloquently refute Bachmann’s misguided rants.  Though I endorse their views,  I am not willing  to commit  precious time and energy to bashing those who don’t deserve the attention and who will be cussed out by those more articulate.  My thoughts turn instead to those who may be lured by the falsehoods she espouses – and to my friends and neighbors who must rise above – again. 

 My hope is that this Ramadan season will remind us all, including Michelle Bachmann, of Mohammed’s wise counsel:  “Much silence and a good disposition, there are no two works better than those.” 

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Beltrami – explorer, county, neighborhood and now a soup

Giacomo Constantino Beltrami has entered my consciousness and thus my life.  Over the years I’ve wondered why my nearby neighborhood is called Beltrami, a name shared with a county in Northern Minnesota.  My curiosity was piqued, mostly because I’m generally curious about neighborhood names.  So I was at the ready when I heard Cathy Wurzer on MPR this morning interviewing  Kay Mack, Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer.  Describing how her county is preparing for a possible gubernatorial recount Mack indicated she would be pulling out her “2008 Recount Soup”, an Italian delicacy popularly known as Count Beltrami Recount Soup.  Ms Mack not only manages the recount but supplies the soup – and the recipe. (below)

The Count would be so pleased, I thought, as I dug for my modest research on the 19th Century author and explorer, best known in these parts for his claim to have discovered the source of the Mississippi in 1823.

Though it’s a mere glimpse of the story of this fascinating man, my surface research has divulged a good deal about Beltrami: Born in 1779 in Bergamo, Italy, Beltrami spent his early professional life in the Napoleonic judicial system where he established both a sizeable fortune and a liberal world view.  With the downfall of Napoleon Beltrami retreated to his farm where his liberal thoughts soon put him at odds with the paper government.  Tired of the scrutiny and accusations, Beltrami, basically in exile, embraced a life of adventure on the Continent and in the new world.

Beltrami hit his adventuresome stride as an intrepid explorer of foreign lands, their botanical and literary treasures.  He visited most if not all of the European nations as well as Mexico, Haiti, and of most interest of Minnesotans, the headwaters of the Mississippi.  As curious as he was fearless, Beltrami took time to study the locales he explored and to chronicle his findings for posterity.  His voluminous writings, banned in Italy, are readily accessible in libraries and archives today.  Among other chronicles Beltrami collected botanical and geological samples and is responsible for the discovery of the only existing texts to provide Latinate translations from the Aztec language.”

As the story goes, Beltrami landed in Philadelphia on December 20, 1822, after what must have been a treacherous Atlantic crossing.  From there he set out for Louisville and St. Louis where he encountered American Indians for the first time.  In April 1823 he set out for Fort St. Anthony.  Spurred by a vivid imagination and a vision of making history by discovering the source of the Mississippi Beltrami ventured solo up river, slowed but not discouraged by the fact that he was unable to balance himself in a birch bark canoe which he eventually decided to tow.  His quest led him to a small lake which he called Lake Julia and which Beltrami was convinced was the source of both the Mississippi and the Red rivers.  Though he wasn’t quite accurate in claiming the discovery, he deserves credit for a mighty effort.

In time Beltrami retired to his farm in Italy where he died in 1855, just five years short of the creation of the Italian nation.  Though he never saw any of his works published in Italy modern scholars continue to pore over the volumes.  Of particular interest to today’s scholars are Beltrami’s writings about American Indians he encountered in his travels.

Count Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, like his name, is bigger than life, an untapped reservoir of imagination, scholarship and energy.  He is the only adventurer of record for whom a staple of Minnesota’s electoral process is named.  The recipe for Count Beltrami Recount Soup, as supplied by Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack, is irresistible on this or any wintry day.  It would seem just right if the residents of Beltrami neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis stirred up a pot of soup in solidarity with the voters of Beltrami County.

Count Beltrami Recount Soup

1 lb. ground Italian sausage – hot, mild or a mix.

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

3 leaves fresh basil

1 15 can butter beans

1 15 oz can black beans

1 15 oz can diced tomatoes

2 cups beef broth

Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cook sausage until done, add garlic and basil. Saute 4 minutes

Add beans, tomato, broth. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese.

Serve with Italian or garlic bread or Panini.

 

 


William Windom – as in Windom Park

 

William Windom

 

Windom Park is just the right name for the Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood that reflects the life of its namesake, William Windom, Minnesota Member of Congress and Senator and U.S Secretary of the Treasury.  The neighborhood encompasses Windom’s life  – from the administration of Franklin Pierce through the presidency of Benjamin Harrison,  Windom Park  residents  might reflect on the life of William Windom as they walk Windom Park down Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Ulysses, Hayes, Garfield, Cleveland, Benjamin and Harrison Streets.  Windom’s life,  impact, struggles –and parallels with politics today — come readily to mind with each block and each administrative era in which Windom was a powerful player.

 

William Windom was born in Belmont County, Ohio in 1827, the son of Quaker farmers Hezekiah and Mercy Spencer Windom.  In 1837 the family moved to Knox County, Ohio, where Windom was admitted to the bar in 1850.  He practiced law in Mount Vernon, Ohio and was elected Knox County prosecuting attorney in 1852.  In 1855 Windom moved to Winona, Minnesota, where he established a thriving  law practice and a reputation as a political force..  In 1859 Windom was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served five terms as the Republican representative of Southeastern Minnesota during the administrations of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.

 

In 1869 Windom was appointed to fill the US Senate vacancy caused by the death of Senator Daniel S. Norton. Two years later, in 1871, he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served until his March 1881 appointment as Secretary of the Treasury under President James A. Garfield.  Following Garfield’s death in November 1881 death Windom resigned his position.  He was then elected to fill his own Senate vacancy and served until 1883 when he failed in a re-election bid.

 

What’s missing from this synopsis is the full story.  William Windom did not just hang out with the DC solons.  His legacy is quite amazing.  The untold story of his political presence  is that he might well have been President William Windom.  During his years in the House Windom gained a reputation of one of the foremost advocates of activist government, promoting a program of intervention by the federal government in the nation’s economic, political and social institutions.  In his massive biography of Windom Robert Seward Salisbury observes that “Windom supported such policies  as protective tariffs, subsidies to business, and public works projects to promote economic development; assistance to various discriminated-against groups including blacks, Indians, and women; regulation of private behavior includingtemperance and anti-pornography laws;  control of patent monopolies, and the supremacy of national authority over the competing dogma of states’ rights.”An anonymous correspondent to the Daily Pioneer Press mentioned the senator’s entire congressional career as “a continuous struggle for the rights of the masses against rings and monopolies.

Convinced that government improvement of water routes was the best solution to the problem of excessive rates charged by railroad monopolies Windom was active in political action  related to transportation.  From 1873 to 1874 he served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Transportation Routes to the Seaboard.

 

In his role as Secretary of the Treasury Windom was also an activitist.  The Department of the Treasury biography of Windom notes that his “expansionist beliefs combined with his Minnesota roots made him personally sympathetic to the new Western states’ desire for a currency backed by silver.  Although he advocated a gold standard, he effected a compromise in the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 which authorized the Secretary [of the Treasury] to buy silver and gold bullion and to issue notes of full legal tender.”

 

Salisbury writes that the first mention of Windom as a possible candidate for the national ticket occurred in February 1876 when a number of Minnesota newspapers began touting the Senator as the Republican nominee for vice president.  Newspapers in Windom, New Ulm, Waseca, Redwood Falls and Winona all put in a word for Windom as did the Daily Pioneer Press.  Most promoted an electable ticket with James G. Blaine of Maine for president and Windom for vice-president.  The St. Peter Tribune noted “there couldn’t be a better man found in all the land…He has a national reputation and we believe his nomination would give general satisfaction.”  The New Ulm Herald observed that his Senatorial record, particularly his work with transportation reform “placed him at once in the front rank of statesmen and thinkers of the country.”  Windom indicated he would prefer his position as Senator representing the State of Minnesota.  In the end, his name was not put in nomination for the vice presidency in 1876.

 

That was not the end of the national buzz, however.  When it became clear that the presidential incumbent, Rutherford B. Hayes, would not seek re-election in 1880, Windom’s name re-surfaced as a candidate for the Republican presidential candidacy.  A spate of pro-Windom editorials touted Windom’s credentials.  Minnesota newspapers sang his praises, while the Washington Star commended his “freedom from personal antagonism within the party, his clean record and lack of scandal, his great popularity among Southern Republicans, his intelligent conception of the nation’s industrial questions, and his straight record as a Republican, satisfactory alike to the stalwart and independent elements.” (quoted in Salisbury, p. 294.

 

Windom seems to have taken the presidential talk in stride.  He did concede, though, that the deciders of the day “might go farther and fare worse, and they probably would.”  The self-deprecating Windom, nonchalant on the surface was no barnstorming politician.  Vying with the understated Windom for the presidential nomination were Ulysses S. Grant running for a third term and Senator James Gillespie Blaine of Maine.  The Minnesota press, while highly supportive of Windom’s character and political acumen, was a bit dubious about his chances.  The Chicago paper, the Inter Ocean, observed that Windom had “many warm friends here who believe that as a candidate he would carry the Northwest solid in the convention…He is..spoken of as having a perfect, straight and correct report.  Salisbury includes a delightful personal note, quoting a Senate page who wrote that Windom was “more highly respected than any other in the senate.  The boys stand more in awe of Windom than any other senator.  He is polite but not familiar.  We look upon him as a very correct man.  Never heard of lobbyists approaching him, or even thinking of such a thing.  He is a sort of a model fellow.”

 

History shows that Windom’s fate was doomed at the Chicago Republican National Convention.  The Minnesota delegation went into the convention united in support of their native son. They anticipated that Windom was the second choice of a majority of the Convention delegates who would turn to him when and if there were the expected deadlock between Blaine and Grant.  Windom’s nominating speech by delegate E.F. Drake was a lackluster three minute snippet described by the Chicago Tribune as “a brief speech of simple eulogy.”   Drake’s limp effort paled in comparison with Roscoe Conkling gave a rousing endorsement of Grant for a third term.  Though the deadlock endured Windom was out of the game.  Even the Minnesota delegation caved when three delegates went to Blaine.  Post-convention rumor was that at one point the Grant delegation came close to throwing their substantial weight to Windom but fate got in the way.  After 34 ballots the Wisconsin delegation threw 16 or its 20 votes to Garfield who was nominated and ultimately elected to the presidency in 1880.

 

Though it seems unfair now, Windom’s rout in Chicago made him a favorite target of political cartoonists. Historian Roger Fischer wrote an in-depth piece on “William Windom: Cartoon Centerfold, 1881-91” for the Fall 1988 issue of Minnesota History, the publication of the Minnesota Historical Society.  Fischer reports that Windom appeared in about two dozen color cartoons in Punch and its rival Judge, the two most popular and politically influential illustrated humor weeklies of the age.  The cartoons lean to the vicious, lampooning Windom, an honorable man, as a “roly poly” Christmas ornament, a monkey, a chicken, a school child, and a circus performer.

 

In 1883 Windom moved to New York City where he opened a law practice.  President Benjamin Harrison  reappointed him Secretary of the Treasury in March 1889.  In 1891 Windom addressed a banquet of the New York Board of Trade and Transportation at Delmonico’s with the words, “As a poison in the blood permeates arteries, veins, nerves, brain and heart, and speedily brings paralysis or death, so does a debased or fluctuating currency permeate all arteries of trade, paralyze all kinds of business and brings disaster to all classes of people.”  This was Windom’s last pronouncement.  Seconds later he suffered a heart attack and died.  He was laid to rest in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC.

 

Some William Windom factoids:

  • Windom married Ellen Towne Hatch (1831-1914) of Massachusetts on August 20, 1876.  They had three children:  Son William Douglas (b. 1859, d. 1926) Daughter: Ellen Hatch (“Nellie”, b. 1866, d. 1941) and Florence Bronson.
  • The USS Windom, a Treasury Department revenue cutter named for William Windom, served in the US Navy and was later named Comanche.  Constructed at the Iowa Iron Works in Dubuque, the USS Windom served in Spanish-American War, then reverted to the Treasury.  Renamed the Comanche, the ship also served under Navy Department control during World War I.  Serving out her years with the Revenue service the ship was placed out of commission on July 31, 1930.  The story of the USS Windom is a saga in its own right.
  • The papers of William Windom are held by the Minnesota Historical Society which has compiled an extensive catalog of the collection.
  • The town of Windom, county seat of Cottonwood County, Minnesota, was platted in 1871 and incorporated in 1875.  The name of the town was proposed by General Judson W. Bishop of St. Paul, chief engineer for construction of the railway ,
  • The post office for the city of Harmony, Minnesota, was once named Windom, in honor of the Senator.
  • Windom Township, organized in 1858, was first called Brooklyn, then Canton, and renamed in 1862 to honor William Windom.
  • Minneapolis has not one but two neighborhoods named after the sometimes radical Republican reformer – Windom Community in Southwest Minneapolis  and Windom Park in beautiful Northeast.
  • And yes, actor William Windom is the great grandson of Senator William Windom for whom this neighborhood is named.

 

Further reading:

Fischer, Roger A.  “William Windom: Cartoon Centerfold 1881-91)  Minnesota History, Fall 1988.  (available online)

Salisbury, Robert S.  “Presidential Politics 1880: William Windom and the GOP”  Minnesota History, Fall 1985.  (available online)

Department of the Treasury’s history of the Treasury Secretaries – William Windom, 1861 and 1889-91

William Windom: AN Inventory of His Papers, prepared by CHaryl N. Thies and Kathryn M. Johnson, Minnesota Historical Society.