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A fairly random list of U.S. political flaps.
FYI, This page lists a lot of US political scandals, some well-known and some less so. I was really spoiled for choice, so I picked ones that looked as if they'd throw some interesting light on history as well as on politics. I provided a bit of background for anyone who is curious. CAVEAT! None of it is original research; I've listed the sources on whom I relied (people who did the actual work). Of course a scandal is often in the eye of the beholder and you always have to consider the source. Some are more reliable than others. I just went with what I could find using google, you know?
I've given you links to sources I consulted. Thirteeners won't have time to read all these in depth, but you might find the details of a couple of them interesting.
Alexander Hamilton, an impoverished immigrant from the West Indies, rose to become a framer of the U.S. Constitution and the architect of America's political economy. Aaron Burr, grandson of the theologian Jonathan Edwards, served with distinction in the Revolutionary War and was nearly elected the nation's third president.. In 1804 they met in a duel---an honor match that changed the course of American history. (PBS; links added)
Burr, a revolutionary war hero, was the nation's third vice-president (under Thomas Jefferson). While campaigning for Governor of New York in 1804, Burr was hounded in the press by Hamilton, a bitter political rival. Eventually, Hamilton went too far, insulting Burr at a dinner party. Burr challenged him to a duel and fatally wounded him.[Aaron Burr] There's an excellent PBS film about the duel. Burr was indicted for murder in both New York and New Jersey; the scandal ended his political careerAaron Burr.
2. Aaron Burr's Trial for Treason (1807).
But wait; there's more. After his term as Jefferson's vice president ended in 1805, Burr headed south to Louisiana. No one really knows what he got up to there, but "he was accused in turns of having committed treason, of a conspiracy to steal Louisiana Purchase lands away from the United States and crown himself a King or Emperor, or of an attempt to declare an illegal war against Spanish possessions in Mexico. He was arrested and tried for treason 1807, in what probably really was "the trial of the [19th] Century." Burr---again-- was ultimately acquitted. But:
Never has an American trial produced such an impressive set of key players: The defendant--Aaron Burr, founding father, Vice President (and slayer of Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel three years earlier); The trial judge--John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (and the most important justice in history); The force behind the prosecution-- Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, President of the United States,... [Douglas Linder]
If you're interested, take a look at this fascinating website, where you can read many original documents. You might also enjoy Gore Vidal's novel Burr. Burr is definitely one of history's enigmatic figures, which is why he'd be on any list I made of 13 famous historical characters I'd like to invite to dinner.
3. The Petticoat Affair [an early American sex scandal, showing that wives didn't always keep in the background prior to the sixties!] (1831)
The "vivacious" widow Peggy O'Neill lost her husband, Mr. Timberlake, to suicide, reportedly because of his wife's affair with Andrew Jackson's Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton, whom she subsequently married. [ Petticoat Affair] The wives of the other cabinet members---led by the wife of John C. Calhoun, the then vice president-- formed a coalition against the widow. Jackson took the Eatons' part, partly because he and his own wife had endured a scandal of their own---but his wife was on the side of the Calhouns.[Petticoat Affair]
The scandal ended with the resignation of a number of the men in his cabinet. Because their wives made them, I like to think. [Petticoat Affair; Andrew Jackson: The Petticoat Affair] You can read the fascinating details here.
4. The Whiskey Ring Scandal (1875).
This was only one of several scandals that plagued the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant; this just happens to be one of my favorites. Because federal liquor taxes had been raised to pay the cost of the Civil War, a group of whiskey distillers successfully bribed government officials in the Department of the Treasury, ending in the conviction of more than 100. [Grant Administration scandals] The scam was centered in St. Louis ring, which was headed by John McDonald, Grant's crony and the Treasury Department’s supervisor of internal revenue.[Harpweek] Some of the money they received was contributed to Republican campaigns, "but most was pocketed by the ring members for personal use. In an obvious attempt to fend off administration inquiries, McDonald gave expensive gifts to Orville Babcock, Grant’s personal secretary and close friend. McDonald also later testified to giving the president lavish gifts, but the claim was not proven in court." [Harpweek]
The Secretary of the Treasury initiated the investigation. "Grant, much to his discredit, successfully shielded his private secretary, Orville E. Babcock." [Grant Administration scandals]
5. Impeachment in of Benjamin Belknap, Secretary of War for Grant  . Belknap, famous for his Washington parties and his gilded lifestyle, financed it all through "a pattern of corruption blatant even by the standards of the scandal-tarnished Grant administration." [War secretary's impeachment trial] Belknap's wife, who liked a bit of luxury, talked him into hiring an associate of Caleb Marsh's to operate a military trading post in Indian territory, a very lucrative appointment. Marsh received regular kickbacks for years. The House of Representatives voted to impeach him even though, "ust minutes before the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on articles of impeachment, Belknap raced to the White House, handed Grant his resignation, and burst into tears." [War secretary's impeachment trial] Awww. The Senate went forward with proceedings as well, but there were not sufficient votes.
"The true villain in these scandals was the spoils system, in which successful officeholders rewarded their supporters with political appointments. An ever-growing part of the population began to recognize the need for some type of civil service reform." [Grant Administration scandals]
Huh. The more things change, the more they stay the same. See also Dana Milbank's recent column in The Washington Post, Here Lies a Man Impeached..
6. Teapot Dome .
This was a complicated ad in its day notorious scam in which the Secretary of the Navy (Edwin C. Denby) transferred authority over some oil fields to the Secretary of the Interior (Albert B. Fall) at Fall's urging. [teapot dome scandal]. Fall then leased out some of the naval oil fields to the head of an oil company in exchange for some no-interest loans. The oil companies to whom he leased his oil fields rewarded him with "gifts" of $404,000 (big money in those days). After awhile, people noticed that Fall seemed to have become rich very quickly [teapot dome scandal].
His graft led to "one of the most significant investigations in senate history. Fall eventually became---quoting from the U.S. Senate website here--- "the first former cabinet officer to go to prison." ["Senate Investigates the "Teapot Dome" Scandal ] "The concentrated attention on the scandal made it the first symbol of government corruption in 20th century America."[teapot dome scandal]. It also tarnished the record of President Warren G. Harding (who appointed Fall), even though he wasn't directly involved in it. "Largely as a result of the Teapot Dome scandal, Harding’s administration has been remembered in history as one of the most corrupt to occupy the White House. Harding may not have acted inappropriately with regard to Teapot Dome, but he appointed people who did."[teapot dome scandal].
7. President Harding's Alleged 6-year Affair with Nan Britton.
Harding was adored by the American public till his death in 1923, after which his alleged affair was revealed. [nan britton; all links in original]. "As a young girl, her bedroom walls were covered with images of Harding from local papers and magazine. She would also dawdle near his Marion Daily StarMarion, Ohio hoping to bump into Harding on his walk home from work. She was not yet sixteen years old." Britton, who wrote that her crush on Harding began when she was a little girl, had a child out of wedlock which she claimed was Harding's child. After his death, she wrote "the first tell-all book," The President's Daughter. [nan britton; all links in original]. Dorothy Parker's New Yorker review, "An American DuBarry," mocked it relentlessly. I highly recommend it if you can find a copy of her collected writings that includes the Constant Reader reviews..
7. The Checkers speech .
Okay, this wasn't really a scandal as such, but it's funny for its sheer lugubriousness. Accused of taking $18,000 in illegal campaign contributions while campaigning for the Republican vice-presidency and subsequently exonerated by an audit, Nixon went on TV to say that there was one questionable gift: a cocker spaniel that someone had given to his kids and Nixon didn't care. [Checkers Speech] "The kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it." It's easy to forget that Nixon was ever young. [ Checkers Speech]
8. Billy Sol Estes vs. Lyndon Johnson.
This story is too complicated--and really, too colorful--- to deal with in a couple of paragraphs, but the story (refer to the link that follows) is a good read Allegedly---among much else--- Estes' activities and his ties to Johnson almost got Johnson dropped as Kennedy's running mate. Eventually he accused Johnson of a role in a number of murders, including Kennedy's. [Biography: Billy Sol Estes]. He published a book in 2003 (in France) in which he repeated this allegation.
9. Vice President Spiro Agnew's Resignation .
Agnew was Richard Nixon's Vice President prior to the awkward circumsances that forced him to resign in 1973. Quoting here:
"Agnew resigned and then pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he accepted $29,500 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. The bribes were paid to Agnew by some members of the construction industry to get their projects approved. When Agnew moved from Baltimore to Washington, DC, he continued to demand payments. Angered, the construction men turned government's witnesses. Agnew was fined $10,000 and put on three years' probation. The $10,000 fine only covered the taxes and interest due on what was "unreported income" from 1967. The plea bargain was later mocked as the "greatest deal since the Lord spared Isaac on the mountaintop" by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs." [Spiro Agnew]
10. Saturday Night Massacre .
This was media slang for Nixon's firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and the aftermath.
"While Cox was still investigating the affairs of Watergate, the night of October 20, 1973.
Nixon basically ordered the Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson resigned on the spot. Nixon then went to the deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also resigned immediately.
Nixon then appointed Solicitor General Robert Bork as the new Attorney General. Bork fired Cox that night. Not only that, but Cox's entire staff was fired. The FBI sealed off Cox's offices and refused to let any of the staff remove their materials. The public went livid and started flooding the White House with phone calls and protests. Nixon resigned shortly after." [Saturday Night Massacre]
11. Abscam .
This was an FBI investigation of public corruption. The FBI set up an organization "Abdul Enterprises." Posting as the agents of a [nonexistent] Arab sheikh, the agents offered certain officials money in exchange for favors. " The videotaped meetings resulted in the indictments (1980) and convictions of one senator and four congressmen on charges including bribery and conspiracy; another congressman was convicted on lesser charges." [abscam] You can find the names (and other information) here.
12. Congressional Page Sex scandal v. 1 (1983) .
Back in 1983, the House Ethics committee recommended a reprimand for two representatives for having sex with minors. Though the age of consent was 16, and the kids were technically of age, the committee felt that ""any sexual relationship between a member of the House of Representatives and a congressional page, or any sexual advance by a member to a page, represents a serious breach of duty."" Eventually the House voted to upgrade the reprimands to censure. [1983 Congressional page sex scandal]
13. "Nannygate" (1993)
Zoe Baird, Bill Clinton's choice for attorney general, had to withdraw her name. "Poor Miss Baird did herself in. It wasn't just the hiring of an undocumented alien couple as nanny and driver - since 1986 a federal crime, and one particularly inappropriate for a putative boss of the FBI and INS. The quick firing of the unfortunate couple right after the election suggested a combination of ruthlessness and guilty conscience. [National Review 1993]
Both Democrats and Republicans were inclined to be indulgent, the article goes on to say. (" Didn't everyone do it? Well, everyone they knew.") The voters were not. "When the story of the Peruvian couple hit the evening news, vox populi was heard in a roar. Radio call-in shows became the kind of national town meeting that both Bill Clinton and Ross Perot had called for. Mail and phone calls to congressional offices were overwhelming and negative. Just as with the congressional pay raise of 1989, Washington was rudely reminded how out of touch it was with public sentiment."[National Review 1993]
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