Monday, January 29, 2007

January 29

President Andrew Jackson, whose legend often presents him as a friend of the commoner, called upon federal troops to suppress a labor uprising on this date in 1834 -- the first and certainly not the last time such powers would be invoked by an American president. The conflict, which broke out along the sixth section of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, involved rival groups of Irish workers near Williamsport, Maryland. After a laborer named John Irons was beaten to death on January 16, a week of clashes between “the Corkonians” and “the Longford men” resulted in dozens killed and scores wounded in clashes that at times involved hundreds of workers. Construction along the B&O was suspended, and the Maryland legislature appealed to President Jackson to intervene.

As it turns out, the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was a close friend of Jackson’s. Indeed, John H. Eaton was a former Senator from Tennessee and had served two years as Jackson’s Secretary of War; he was quite open about his view that American troops should remain in his company’s service for months to come. After Jackson ordered two companies of troops to suppress the disturbances on January 29, Eaton wrote a letter to his friend and wondered if the soldiers might stick around to coerce the strikers into obedience. They did. In February 1835, a section of B&O workers struck for higher wages. As Niles’ Weekly Register reported, mounted troops and riflement “happily reduced the rioters to order, and drove them away.”


Novelist, ecologist, and anarchist Edward Abbey was born on this day in 1927. Abbey died in 1989, a little over a week after George Herbert Walker Bush was inaugurated as 41st president of the US. Abbey once wrote that “Recorded history is largely an account of the crimes & disasters committed by banal little men at the levers of imperial machines.”

On what would have been Abbey’s 75th birthday, the 43rd President of the US -- also named George Bush -- declared Iraq, Iran and North Korea to be an “axis of evil.” As The Decider explained, “I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.”

Twenty-eight years ago today, a 16-year-old girl named Brenda Ann Spencer shot eight children and three adults -- two of whom died -- at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. Asked after her arrest to explain her motive, Spencer merely told police that she didn’t like Mondays. The Boomtown Rats wrote a song about Spencer. Titled "I Don't Like Mondays," it was released nine months after the shooting.

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