ELKTON — Each week, we take a look back in time to examine what was on the minds of Cecil County readers. Rotating through the Whig’s 176-year history, we hope to not only provide direct text from our archives, but also context as to why the issue was important at the time.
Join us as we thumb through the pages of our history.
150 years ago (April 25, 1868)
Cecil County has a long, difficult history with the Ku Klux Klan, including rallies in the 1960s as well as more modern attempts to breathe new life into the white supremacist group by outsiders in the past 25 years. It’s earliest days may stretch back to this week 150 years ago, however, as literature from Baltimore KKK dens began appearing on Elkton streets. Amidst the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who assumed the presidency following the assassination of Republican Abraham Lincoln, the KKK struck out at radical Republicans who favored women’s suffrage and equality for African Americans, among other issues, while also looking to punish former Confederate states.
Ku Klux Klan
This association of assassins, which was organized in the Rebel States, and composed of those who fought against the Union in the rebellion, is extending its lodges, or dens, as they term their places of meeting. In the Rebel States the members of the Ku Klux Klan send out their notices to Union men, whose presence is offensive to their midnight brotherhood, and follow up their mystic threats with midnight assassination.
A few days since, Judge Wade and the Managers of the impeachment trial were warned in the Ku Klux’s mystic manner to prepare for death and judgment. Their lodges, or dens, are established in Baltimore, and last week the cabalistic notices of the midnight brotherhood were seen sticking about our streets, surmounted by a death bead and cross bones, with “dog Latin” inscriptions surrounding the assassin’s emblem, calling on the “shrouded brothers in darkness” to meet at the “solemn hour of midnight,” bidding them to unsheath the sword, “there will be new-made graves,” etc. So far as our locality in concerned, all this may be but an attempt at a joke by the admirers of the Klan, which is doing such good service for the Democratic party in a more Southern latitude. The only sword that is likely to be used very extensively, in this State, shortly, will be Ben Wade’s weapon on the necks of Andy Johnson’s office-holders, and the “new made graves ’’ which the “shrouded brothers in darkness” hint at, point probably to the lat resting place of Andrew’s admirers, who sold out two years ago for a pot of his Accidency’s porridge.
But under the teachings of the La Crosse Democrat — the gospel of the Democracy —- that party is rapidly becoming educated into proper material out of which to form Ku Klux Klans, and it is apparent that this assassin organization will compose one of the chief powers of the Democratic party in the next Presidential campaign; and when lots are cast in the “dens” for a “shrouded brother of darkness” to use the dagger or pistol for the removal of the next Republican President, Elkton may have the immortal honor of furnishing the second John Wilkes Booth! Who knows? How the Copperhead party would cherish his remembrance, drink his memory standing in silence, as they do the “lost cause,” and decorate with his portrait their parlor walls!
Hon. Benjamin E. Wade received the following anonymous letter, on Monday, postmarked Winchester, Ky., April 17:
Ben Wade, Hon. (so called.) This communication is to notify you that you are marked, and watched by the K.K.K., and that, should you and your infamous associates succeed in your fanatical & hellish design of foisting yourself as so called President on an unwilling people by actual force, that your fate will be before one month, that of “the late lamented A.L.” You may not heed this warning, but go your course, and your fate is sealed by a bullet by S.S.K.K. Eyes are on your track that never sleep; and this will be your portion. Thad. Stevens is doomed. General Grant is watched also. You think yourself in security. but there is a vengeance awaiting you three grand conspirators. As for Butler, the K.K.K.. of New Orleans will take him in charge at the proper time, and his portion will also be a bullet. An indignant people will no longer bear what you demons in human shape are preparing for them.
Go on, and you will whether the S.K.K.K. will be. Be warned in time.
By order of the Grand Commander of the K.K.K., W.C.C.K., April 14, 1868. S.K.K.K.
25 years ago (April 30, 1993)
Good gumshoe reporting can be appreciated, even a quarter century later. This story concerned the passage of a state bill that hiked the traders fee on businesses, but higher than what officials were seeking. While the county commissioner who was pushing the measure called it a mistake, the Whig tracked down a letter showing that she was well aware of the situation at hand and didn’t do anything to pull the bill.
Cleek had ‘no problem’ with license fee hike
Cecil County Commissioner A. Marie Cleek “had no problem“ last year with a larger than expected traders license fee increase, county correspondence records show.
In a March 5, 1992, letter to Delegate Ethel A. Murray (D-Cecil), Cleek — who earlier this week called the fees “an injustice“ — said the county commissioners knew about a General Assembly bill-drafting error that’s costing some county businesses an extra $400 this year.
The traders license fee is a tax levied against a retail businesses inventory. Most of the revenue generated goes to county government.
In January 1992, the commissioners — in an effort to gain an additional $55,000 in revenue — asked the county state legislative delegation to introduce a bill raising the Cecil license fees.
The commissioners asked delegation members to increase the fees to Baltimore City levels. During the same session, city legislators were seeking a major increase as well.
While the commissioners wanted Baltimore’s old fee structure for the county, bill drafters put the city’s proposed new fee structure in the Cecil legislation.
As a result, some county businesses have seen their fee bills nearly tripled this year. For instance, a company with an inventory worth more than $750,000 had to pay an $800 fee last year. The commissioners wanted to raise that top fee to $1,700. Instead, it was raised to $2,125.
But, apparently, the commissioners didn’t object to that mistake.
In the March 5 letter, Cleek noted that Sen. Walter M. Baker attached an amendment to the bill for the traders license fee increase.
“However, he set the fee for Cecil County at the same as that proposed for Baltimore City,“ she wrote to Murray. “That was higher than what we we requested. However, we have no problem with that. “
Earlier this week, the commissioners issued a press release explaining the higher fees as solely a bill-drafting error. They have asked the legislature to roll back the fees next year to original county levels.
“Cecil County businesses are suffering through an injustice,“ Cleek said Monday. “And we never intended for that to happen. We desperately want to correct the situation. “
Although the two statements appear contradictory, Cleek maintains that her position on the fee increase has been consistent.
“I said it was a bill-drafting error and it was a bill-drafting error,“ she said. “I didn’t intentionally tried to deceive anyone. I think the higher fees are in injustice to Cecil County businesses. And I want to see them change. “
Why then did she write in her letter to Murray that she didn’t have a problem with the higher fees?
“I knew that Sen. Baker had introduced a bill on the Senate side (of the legislature),“ she said. “And I would never criticize one legislator to another legislator. That’s just my policy. However, when the bill went to the House of Delegates, I was working with Delegate Murray to get the fees lowered to what we originally intended. “
But those changes were never made to the bill. The fees remained at the higher level.
“I don’t think you can really put any blame on anyone for this,” Murray said. “We all thought the fees were too high. This thing just slipped through the cracks. It was introduced late in the session. And the General Assembly was very busy in 1992 taking care of budget problems. “
Commissioner Grayson L. Abbott Jr. believe the whole incident is an embarrassment to county government.
“I nearly hit the roof when I saw Marie‘s letter to Ethel Murray,“ he said. “I admit that we are all at fault. I should have paid more attention to the whole thing.
“But Marie knew exactly what was going on,“ he added. “This was her project, her idea. And then when the businesses started complaining last week, she began looking for a way out. She said to me, ‘Let’s do something so that people won’t be upset with us.’ She didn’t want to be accountable for her own actions. “