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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States

andrew-johnsonAndrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States (1865 – 1869), dies on July 31, 1875 at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, Tennessee after suffering two strokes.

Johnson assumes the presidency at the time of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln as he is Lincoln’s Vice President. He is a Democrat who runs with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, coming to office as the American Civil War concludes. He favors quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union without protection for the former slaves. This leads to conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1868. He is acquitted in the Senate by one vote. His main accomplishment as president is the Alaska Purchase.

Johnson is born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808. His grandfather emigrated to the United States from County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. He never attends school and is apprenticed as a tailor and works in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee. He serves as alderman and mayor there before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After brief service in the Tennessee Senate, he is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, where he serves five two-year terms.

On October 17, 1853, Johnson becomes the 15th Governor of Tennessee serving for four years until November 3, 1857. He is elected by the legislature to the United States Senate on October 8, 1857. During his congressional service, he seeks passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 which is enacted soon after he leaves his Senate seat in 1862.

Southern slave states secede to form the Confederate States of America, which includes Tennessee, but Johnson remains firmly with the Union. He is the only sitting senator from a Confederate state who does not resign his seat upon learning of his state’s secession. In 1862, Lincoln appoints him as military governor of Tennessee after most of it has been retaken. In 1864, he is a logical choice as running mate for Lincoln, who wishes to send a message of national unity in his re-election campaign. Their ticket easily wins the election. He is sworn in as Vice President on March 4, 1865. He gives a rambling speech, after which he secludes himself to avoid public ridicule. Six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln elevates him to the presidency.

Johnson implements his own form of Presidential Reconstruction, a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to reform their civil governments. Southern states return many of their old leaders and pass Black Codes to deprive the freedmen of many civil liberties, but Congressional Republicans refuse to seat legislators from those states and advance legislation to overrule the Southern actions. Johnson vetoes their bills, and Congressional Republicans override him, setting a pattern for the remainder of his presidency.

Johnson opposes the Fourteenth Amendment which gives citizenship to former slaves. In 1866, he goes on an unprecedented national tour promoting his executive policies, seeking to break Republican opposition. As the conflict grows between the branches of government, Congress passes the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 restricting his ability to fire Cabinet officials. He persists in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, but ends up being impeached by the House of Representatives and narrowly avoiding conviction in the Senate. He does not win the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination and leaves office the following year.

Johnson returns to Tennessee after his presidency and gains some vindication when he is elected to the Senate in 1875, making him the only former president to serve in the Senate. In late July 1875, convinced some of his opponents are defaming him in the Ohio gubernatorial race, he decides to travel there to give speeches. He begins the trip on July 28, and breaks the journey at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, where his daughter Martha is also staying. That evening he suffers a stroke but refuses medical treatment until the following day. When he does not improve two doctors are sent for from Elizabethton. He seems to respond to their ministrations, but suffers another stroke on the evening of July 30 and dies early the following morning at the age of 66.

President Ulysses S. Grant has the “painful duty” of announcing the death of the only surviving past president. Northern newspapers, in their obituaries, tend to focus on Johnson’s loyalty during the war, while Southern ones pay tribute to his actions as president. Johnson’s funeral is held on August 3 in Greeneville. He is buried with his body wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution placed under his head, according to his wishes. The burial ground is dedicated as the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in 1906 and, with his home and tailor’s shop, is part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.


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Killing of Gangster & Bootlegger Jack “Legs” Diamond

jack-legs-diamondJack “Legs” Diamond, gangster, bootlegger, and associate of Arnold Rothstein, is gunned down in Albany, New York on December 18, 1931 while in a drunken stupor following a court case acquittal.

Born to an Irish immigrant family on July 10, 1897, in Philadelphia, Diamond becomes a leading figure in organized crime during the Prohibition era. He establishes liquor-smuggling enterprises in New York City and upstate New York, where he lives for a time after shooting and killing men in his Hotsy Totsy club.

After his mother’s death, Diamond moves with his father and brother to Brooklyn, New York. Growing up impoverished, he turns to street gangs and becomes involved in theft and violent crime as a teen. He later begins to work for gangsters Arnold Rothstein and Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen.

The Prohibition era begins in 1920. With alcohol smuggling a profitable underworld enterprise, Diamond organizes truck heists to seize liquor for his speakeasies. In 1923, he orders the murder of mob boss Nathan “Kid Dropper” Kaplan and usurps power in the world of organized crime for himself, aligning himself with mobsters like Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz. Diamond and Schultz would later become rivals.

Diamond sets up shop as an extremely violent and murderous figure. He earns his “Legs” nickname either due to his quickness when running from a scene of larceny or because of his prodigious dancing skills. He also marries Alice Schiffer in 1926. She remains devoted to him through his strings of crime and mistresses, which includes a notable affair with Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Kiki Roberts.

After a 1929 incident where Diamond publicly kills men in his Hotsy Totsy nightclub, authorities are unable to make the case stick due to the harassment and murder of witnesses. Looking to lie low, Diamond moves to Acra in upstate New York, where he sets up a huge beer-smuggling business.

During the course of his mob career, Diamond is shot on many occasions, receiving hospital treatment and recovering each time, earning the nickname “Clay Pigeon.”

In April 1931, near Catskill, New York, Diamond and colleagues hijack a truck with applejack liquor driven by Gordon Parks, whom they kidnap and torture. Parks survives and manages to reach the police. Diamond is arrested for the attack but later is acquitted in a December trial.

Diamond celebrates his acquittal days later with Roberts and returns drunk to his Albany residence. Early that morning, on December 18, 1931, he is shot and killed. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens on December 23. There is no church service or graveside ceremony. Two hundred family and spectators attend Diamond’s interment, however no criminal figures are spotted.

The mystery remains as to who is behind the killing. Biographer William Kennedy speculates that Diamond was taken out by Albany police via an order from political leader Dan O’Connell. Others say rival gangsters were behind the murder.

On July 1, 1933, Diamond’s widow, Alice Kenny Diamond, is found shot to death in her Brooklyn apartment. It is speculated that she is shot by Diamond’s enemies to keep her quiet.

(From: “Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond Biography” by the Editors of Biography.com, April 2, 2014)


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The Boston Massacre

boston-massacre-1770The Boston Massacre, a riot known as the Incident on King Street by the British, takes place in Boston, Massachusetts on March 5, 1770. British Army soldiers shoot and kill several people while under attack by a mob.

The incident is heavily publicized by leading Patriots, such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, to encourage rebellion against the British authorities. British troops have been stationed in Boston, capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, since 1768 in order to protect and support crown-appointed colonial officials attempting to enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation.

Amid ongoing tense relations between the population and the soldiers, a mob forms around a British sentry, who is subjected to verbal abuse and harassment. He is eventually supported by eight additional soldiers, who are subjected to verbal threats and repeatedly hit by clubs, stones and snowballs. Without orders, they fire a ragged series of shots into the crowd, striking eleven men. Three Americans, ropemaker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks, die instantly. Samuel Maverick, a 17-year-old apprentice ivory turner, is struck by a ricocheting musket ball at the back of the crowd and dies a few hours later, in the early morning of the next day. An Irish immigrant, Patrick Carr, dies two weeks later. Christopher Monk, another apprentice, is one of those seriously wounded in the attack. Although he recovers to some extent, he is crippled and eventually dies in 1780, purportedly due to the injuries he had sustained in the attack a decade earlier.

The crowd eventually disperses after Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson promises an inquiry, but the crowd re-forms the next day, prompting the withdrawal of the troops to Castle Island. Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians are arrested and charged with murder. Defended by lawyer and future American president John Adams, six of the soldiers are acquitted, while the other two are convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences. The men found guilty of manslaughter are sentenced to branding on their hand. Depictions, reports, and propaganda about the event, notably the colored engraving produced by Paul Revere, further heighten tensions throughout the Thirteen Colonies.

(Pictured: Famous depiction of the Boston Massacre engraved by Paul Revere (copied from an engraving by Henry Pelham), colored by Christian Remick, and printed by Benjamin Edes. The Old State House is depicted in the background.)