The U.S. Constitution ‘is purely a human contrivance’

Frederick Douglass (1870).
Library of Congress.

On Feb. 7, 1867, during heavy snow and frigid temperatures, Frederick Douglass came to St. Louis to denounce President Andrew Johnson for his policy of leniency toward the white insurrectionists of the South. Douglass’ speech, which he had delivered elsewhere, was titled “Sources of Danger to the Republic.”

Douglass spoke at Turner’s Hall — the Turnhalle — on 16-18 S. Tenth Street, between Market and Walnut streets. The hall was built by German immigrants, staunch Unionists who helped keep Missouri from joining the Rebellion. (The building, nicknamed the “Cradle of Liberty,” was razed in 1932.)

In his speech, which resonates today, Douglass described the imperfections of the U.S. Constitution, which he called a “human contrivance,” and offered recommendations for improvement, including universal suffrage: “Keep no man from the ballot box or jury box or the cartridge box, because of his color — exclude no woman from the ballot box because of her sex.”

He also called for abolishing the office of vice president, ending patronage, limiting the presidency to a single term, and eliminating the president’s power to pardon and veto legislation. He also spoke favorably of parliamentary government, in which a leader who has lost the support of the people resigns.

A correspondent for the Chicago Tribune reported that when Douglass arrived in St. Louis, he asked for a room at the Planters House, but was rebuffed. Three other hotels also refused him accommodations. He ended up staying a private residence, the home of William Roberson, the Daily Missouri Democrat reported.

Below is the text of the speech Douglass gave in St. Louis:

Continue reading “The U.S. Constitution ‘is purely a human contrivance’”


From review of “Left in the Midwest: St. Louis Progressive Activism in the 1960s and 1970s” (2023): “For most of Missouri, especially the GOP leadership in the Legislature, St. Louis is a hotbed of progressive tomfoolery. At the same time, some progressives who live here think the place is culturally conservative and politically stagnant — and they despair. As one longtime activist quoted in the book says, ‘It’s a great place to organize, but a tough place to make a difference.’”

Continue reading “Reviews”

‘Refusing to obey orders’

The Day Book, E.W. Scripps’ Chicago-based ad-free daily, in 1916 reported on an unusual fight between the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and all of St. Louis’ major department stores.

The Post-Dispatch introduced a slick new rotogravure section to showcase its photography, but the department stores balked at the 50 cent per line ad rate, the highest “ever charged in St. Louis for newspaper advertising,” The Day Book reported.

Continue reading “‘Refusing to obey orders’”

‘Still a going piece of journalistic debauchery’

“Old man Pulitzer set the goal in dirty journalistic ‘ethics’ in the USA. His Post Dispatch in St. Louis and the New York World were examples in blackmail and dirty publicity that gave old man Hearst his guidepost. Bill went old Joe one better and became the all time low in blackmail and character assignation [sic] journalist approach. People seemed to like it.

Continue reading “‘Still a going piece of journalistic debauchery’”

‘St. Louis is a slum city’

Mill Creek housing, circa 1948

The wholesale demolition of Mill Creek, the elimination of historic structures along the riverfront and urban renewal share a dark legacy in St. Louis. But long-forgotten is the wretched condition of most of the city’s housing stock immediately after World War II, when one out of every three residences lacked a toilet or bath.

Continue reading “‘St. Louis is a slum city’”

‘Only one Santa Claus’

Everybody knows about little Virginia O’Hanlon’s 1897 letter to the New York Sun, asking if Santa Claus is real. Francis Pharcellus Church’s response – “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus” – deftly elevated magical thinking, delivering a double blow to journalism and parenting from which neither ever recovered.* The Sun, which also gave us the Great Moon Hoax, died in 1950.

Unlike Virginia, who was the subject of news stories throughout her long life, nobody remembers little Wilbur Kent and his letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which he asked whether there were two Santa Clauses because that’s how many he saw — on the very same day! He was deeply troubled because his “pap an mamma” said there was only one Santa, just like “they is only 1 god.”

Continue reading “‘Only one Santa Claus’”

‘American money’

Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford, circa 1922

Adolf Hitler, the Austrian-born Bavarian fascist, made his first appearance in the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a century ago, about 10 years before he was appointed chancellor of Germany.

It was a brief mention. The newspaper on Dec. 11, 1922, published only the first paragraph of a short Associated Press story, which reported “American money is helping to finance the Fascisti movement in Bavaria led by Herr Hitler.”

Continue reading “‘American money’”


New York World artist George Luks is republished here in The World’s sister newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Nov. 28, 1897. The Little Nippers — Alex and George — are playing a tuba and a banjo. Luks belonged to the “Ashcan School” of American realists.

A whale of a fail

Sometime in the 1990s, a colleague at The Commercial Appeal proposed creating an anonymous messaging board in the Atex system, allowing staffers to post questions and concerns about the newspaper. It was a way, she said, to prompt useful discussion about change in a newsroom where some saw management as unapproachable and inflexible.

The idea had a promising start, then quickly descended into personal criticism and recriminations. The editor pulled the plug.

Continue reading “A whale of a fail”

‘Only the names are different’

Actor Frank Lovejoy played Randy Stone

“Like most newspapermen, I hardly ever read a newspaper. A glance at the headlines, a quick look at the box leads, and we got the roundup. I guess we take the world pretty much for granted. The idea that each day’s news isn’t really news — it’s just a repeat of last week’s auto accident or a political speech or a murder. Only the names are different. It’s history — or what some people think history is. The chronicle of battles and speeches, of victors and vanquished, of winners and losers — and all in black and white, nothing gray, nothing in between.” — “Randy Stone,” from “Night Beat: Somebody Stop Ann.” (aired Aug. 7, 1952)

‘The secret’

Pulitzer József

“To think rightly, to think instantly, to think incessantly, to think intensely, to seize opportunities when others let them go by – this is the secret of success in journalism.” (1904)

“Every reporter is a hope, and every editor is a disappointment.” (1899)