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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why Northampton County Dems Never Have Meetings

Lehigh County Commissioners are probably going to need some time to recover from their encounter earlier this week with Northampton County Council. Commissioner Bill Leiner, for instance, thinks we could do better with feral cats.

Northampton County politics is, without question, a bloodsport. But we can be civilized at times. Last night, for example, I bumped into Lamont McClure and Charles Dertinger at Easton's River Grille after the council meeting. They were both very pleasant and shook my hand. They even introduced me to Charles' very pretty young daughter, who was spending the night with her old man. Lamont gave me a little hug.

I thought to myself, "These guys aren't so bad. I really should try to be nicer to them. After all, they're fathers. Why am I such a jerk?" Later that evening, I realized the bastards had stolen my wallet. That's OK, because I had earlier alerted the police to be on the lookout for two drunks.

Northampton County Dems have always been nutz. When they met in downtown Easton in 1861, they burned Congressman Philip Johnson in effigy and then rushed him. A mob of two thousand gutted the Sentinel newspaper office and even tried to destroy two other newspapers. The mayhem continued until 2 AM, when the bars closed. Now you know why Northampton County Democrats never have meetings.

Here'a a partial account from the August 20, 1861 edition of the Daily Evening Express, which sold for 2 cents, when Shadtown consisted of the Boroughs of Easton and South Easton.

"We are called upon, to day, to record one of the most violent outbreaks that have ever occurred in our usually quiet Borough. As is generally known, the Democrats of Northampton County held their regular County meeting yesterday afternoon. In ordinary times, these gatherings pass off with little or no ex­citement, but yesterday a number of hot debates occurred between members of the different political parties, one or two fights occurred, engendering much bad blood, and the whole thing ripened by night into one of the most terrible affairs that we have ever been witness to. At an early hour in the evening, a party of men, many of them returned volunteers, proceeded to the residence, in Centre Square, of Hon. Philip Johnson, member of Congress from this District, and elevating an effigy of Mr. J., they set fire to and burned it, in the presence of Mr Johnson, who sat upon his front step with one or two friends. After the burn­ing of the effigy the crowd made a rush in the direction of Mr. J., who fled into the house on their approach, and escaped. They then called upon him to show his colors, when he appeared at a window with a small flag in his hand and spoke a few words, assuring them of his devotion to the Union, and stating that if they would come to him in their calmer mo­ments, he would convince them of his loyalty to the Government. For a time, it wns feared that violence would bo done him, so terribly exasperated were the crowd in front of his dwelling, but they became somewhat appeased by his remarks, and finally moved off from the house. The cry then arose: 'To the Sentinel office!' when the crowd, with a tremendous shout, turned their steps towards that establishment, and entering, gutted it completely. Type, cases, desks, stands, stoves, this week's edition of the paper, (printed on one side,) cards, books, and everything that could be moved, was thrown into the street. The office, in a few minutes, was a complete wreck, the material lying in one confused heap in the street.

"From the Sentinel office, the crowd made their way to the Argus establishment. — This office is on the second floor, and the heavy steel door leading to it having been well barred, in expectation of an attack, the destroying party were obliged to climb over an awning to gain entrance to the office. They destroyed but little property at this office, having been in­duced by their friends to forego, for the present, their purpose. No less than two thousand persons had gathered at this point. After abandoning their design to gut the Argus, the crowd proceed­ed to the office of the Correspondent and Dem­ocrat. Here they broke in the door, and were about commencing the work of destruction, when some one suggested that the proprietor be given till the next night to publish a card containing his sentiments. This arrangement was agreeable to all parties, and the crowd moved on again, bound, this time, for the resi­dence of Hon. Richard Brodhead, where they found the stars and stripes floating over the door, which satisfied them."

There's more, but I think you get the drift. I was unable to find any reference to Joe Long.


Joe Hilliard said...


To be fair, think of the times. The Democrat Party was going through major turmoils. In fact, the other major party, the Whigs, evaporated by 1858 by going through the same struggles.

But the Dems were facing a major debate. Northern Dems tended to oppose slavery while Southern Dems strongly supported slavery while debating possible secession at the same time.

I would like to know if this debate was a factor in sparking the great debacle you relate.

Anonymous said...

This is why "Street Justice" Donovan should move to Northampton County from his West Park neighborhood in Allentown, where he has become well known for attracting criminal complains and civil lawsuits. He'd clean up the streets of Easton and maybe break down Angle's front door.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting. I don't think you can defend their actions by saying "think of the times" unless every Dem Party in every county in the Union was burning effigys and causing gang violence. For instance, a few months earlier in Lenigh County, the Dems got together and sent the first troops to defend the Capital, "The First Defenders" as they were known. I definitely think there is something in the water in Northampton County.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Joe, The Civil War had much to do with that riot. The issue was loyalty to the union, not slavery, at least not at that time.

Anonymous said...

I asked an eminent local historian about this and he had this to say:

"The Argus opposed any attack on the South, and supported their undoubted rights to seceed. The Sentinel had, reluctantly, agreed that the North could use military action, but only because South Carolina had fired on Fort Sumter first. It is also interesting that although Easton was a Democrat town, it heavily contributed troops for the Union army, and many of the town notables were Republicans. In order to maintain their position, the Republicans (and the Whigs before them) tended to be quite shrill; the mob attacking the three newspapers were undoubtedly Republican mobs -- all three of those newspapers were avowedly Democrat papers. However, the Republican Party remained in general disfavor with many people in Easton -- indeed, one Jewish resident of "Dutchtown" whose son was in the Army was essentially ostracized from the synagogue for voting for Lincoln in 1864, even though he won and even though he was a sitting President."

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't you be posting some campaign finance reports soon?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'll be doing that next week.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:28, Thanks for the fascinating historical background.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome.
Anon 1:28
Jeff Stoffa

Anonymous said...

This story can't be true. Lamont and Charles being gracious to you. Never.