Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 31, 1902 – Treaty of Vereeniging Assures Boer Independence


After generations of colonial strife between Dutch Boer and British settlers, the matter of dominance in southern Africa came to an end with recognition of independence for the Boer Republics. Dutch settlement began in 1652 with the establishment of a refreshment station along the Cape Sea Route. Introducing slave labor, the Dutch expanded and defeated the native Xhosa in wars that gradually added more and more territory to Boer (“farmer”) control. As naval supremacy shifted from Dutch to British hands, new waves of British settlers arrived, pushing the Dutch toward an inland migration. The two peoples lived somewhat peacefully until the discovery of diamonds in 1866. European powers descended on Africa, carving it up into their own empires, and the British annexed mineral-rich Transvaal to ensure dominance.

The Boers balked under British government and declared independence in 1880. While they did not have the advanced weaponry of the British soldiers, the Boers did have intimate knowledge of the land and conducted devastating guerrilla attacks. Prime Minister Gladstone offered a treaty in 1881, which allowed Boers in Transvaal and the Orange Free State self-government with a parliament under Queen Victoria's rule. The peace lasted for a time until the discovery of gold in 1886 at Witwatersrand (“White Water Ridge”) prompted a predominantly British gold rush. Tensions grew again, and, in 1895, Cape Colony Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes launched the Jameson Raid to seize Johannesburg from Transvaal. The Boers repulsed and arrested the attackers, sending them back to the British for trial, and began an alliance between Transvaal and the Orange Free State for defense. Ultimatums were sent out on both sides, not met, and the war began with a devastating Boer offensive in 1899 with tactics comparable to the First Boer War. The British retaliated with more than 180,000 men, dealing with guerrillas by systematically searching out and arresting whole Boer families and placing them in concentration camps.

While the bloody war dragged on in southern Africa, it laid a pretense for the rest of Europe to attack on the high seas. Britain had held unquestioned naval superiority since the Battle of Trafalgar and the simultaneous defeats of the French and Spanish fleets, but new nations had grown over the tumultuous nineteenth century. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany took note of the bloodshed in Africa first with the Jameson Raid, after which he sent a telegram to President Kruger of Transvaal saying, “I express to you my sincere congratulations that you and your people, without appealing to the help of friendly powers, have succeeded, by your own energetic action against the armed bands which invaded your country as disturbers of the peace, in restoring peace and in maintaining the independence of the country against attack from without.” The telegram spurred outcry in Britain and much anti-German sentiment. Four years later in February of 1900, according to his memoirs, the Kaiser “received news by telegraph...that Russia and France had proposed to Germany to make a joint attack on England, now that she was involved elsewhere, and to cripple her sea traffic.”

Wilhelm was unnerved by the idea of attacking Britain, which had lost its beloved Queen Victoria, his grandmother, only weeks before, but he determined to feel out the possibility for success. Britain had recently begun renovating its fleet under the Naval Defense Act of 1898, a response to Germany's own First Fleet Act, showing that it meant to always outpace Germany's seaward expansion. In 1900, as German Admiral Tirpitz worked to completed a new bill for dozens of ships, three German mail ships were humiliatingly boarded by a British cruiser searching for weapon supplies for Boers. The efforts of British soldiers to restrict Boer freedom of movement to limit guerrilla flexibility came to press that fall, and Wilhelm saw his opportunity to act in their defense. He called a conference of Russia (who had battled with Britain in the Great Game for central Asia for decades), France (who had been humiliated at the Fashoda Incident in 1898), and Portugal (whose Pink Map strategy of linking Africa east and west had been destroyed by the 1890 British Ultimatum, demanding central Africa for Britain for its Cape to Cairo railway) in addition to old allies Austria-Hungary and Italy and drew up an ultimatum for Britain to remove her forces from the Boer Republics or face blockade.

Although many in Britain did not want to see war, it seemed to be a turning point for the end of her colonial power. Debate continued almost endlessly in Parliament between the peace-minded Liberals under David Lloyd George and Conservatives who controlled the government, and finally the deadline of January 1, 1901, passed without action hoping that the Kaiser had bluffed and could not maintain control of such a varied coalition. However, each nation seemed to have its own issues with Britain and were happy to form a united attack, leading to the First World War. Although Europe itself was practically devoid of military action, there were unprecedented sea battles along with a German, French, and Portuguese campaigns into central Africa from the Orange State to Sudan, seizure of the Suez Canal, and a Russian march on Tibet, threatening India. Britain's imperial resources became stretched thin, and its search for allies only turned up Japan, who effectively took Russia out of the war.

The end of the war in 1905 was brought about through a conference held by American President Theodore Roosevelt, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for his actions. Britain's empire became hamstrung, but the resulting treaties outlined a method of international oversight to ensure the actions taken against Boers (which continued to serve as the grounds of war) could never happen again became an international court to slow imperialism for other actions in later land-rushes in China and the collapsing Ottoman Empire.


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In reality, the Kaiser “objected and ordered that the proposal should be declined”, ending the notion of a multinational naval war with Britain. He instead notified “Queen Victoria and to the Prince of Wales (Edward) the facts of the Russo-French proposal, and its refusal by me. The Queen answered expressing her hearty thanks, the Prince of Wales with an expression of astonishment.” The British strategies of containment eventually wore down the guerrillas, ending the war in 1902 with the Peace of Vereeniging, which promised to return self-rule to the Boer Republics: a promise made good in 1907.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 26, 1868 – President Andrew Johnson Removed from Office


The American Civil War was coming to a close with Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, but a new crisis gripped the government as Tennessee Democrat Andrew Johnson came into the highest office in the US following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. While the Radical Republicans dominated Congress, Lincoln had filled his cabinet with men he hoped would heal the nation: his own rivals among the Republicans, Democrat-turned-Republican Edwin Stanton, and, as his new vice-president in 1864, National Unionist Andrew Johnson. Johnson had been the only Southern senator to refuse to leave his position, being a strong believer in the Union despite his political stances favoring slavery and limited government.

After Lincoln's death, Johnson became Commander-in-Chief and effective ruler of the conquered South. The Radical Congress called for stiff punishments for the former rebels and support for the Freedman's Bureau, enabling the African Americans who had gained their liberty to live better independent lives. Johnson was an adamant War Democrat and had served as Military Governor of Tennessee from 1862, instituting some of the first Reconstruction policies and setting groundwork for a post-emancipation government, although he himself was a believer in white supremacy. As president, however, he saw the war as over and determined to continue Lincoln's lenient Reconstruction in which Southern states would be quickly reintegrated. The Radical Republicans balked and passed bills toward protecting freedmen's rights. State governments under Johnson's Reconstruction, however, had instituted Black Codes to keep white legal supremacy, which Johnson protected with presidential veto.

The Executive and Legislative branches in Washington thus began a struggle for power. Congress passed the original Civil Rights Act and the Freedmen's Bureau Act, both of which Johnson vetoed, citing them too vengeful toward Southern whites. The Republicans maneuvered around him by making much of the Civil Rights Act into the Fourteenth Amendment, which would be ratified by the states and thus never cross the president's desk. Johnson fought against the Republicans, launching a speaking tour of the North before the 1866 elections that turned disastrous as he painted himself as the savior of the white race and became a figure Democrat Representative Samuel S. Cox described “...as ugly as the devil. He was regularly mad and couldn't talk like a reasonable being.” The Republicans made great gains with 37 new seats in the House and 18 in the Senate.

Johnson worked against the Republicans, who could easily override his veto with a two-thirds vote, by any means necessary, such as using bureaucratic legal issues to stop implementation of voting regulations put forth in Congress's Reconstruction Acts. Tensions grew until Johnson was at last impeached for removing Secretary of War Stanton, a violation of the Tenure of Office Act passed shortly before. The impeachment trial before the Senate lasted for months with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding and nearly all of Washington involved. It became something of a circus with bets being placed in gambling houses, Representative Thaddeus Stevens demanding to be carried to the trial in a chair despite being deathly ill, a para-political acquittal committee established with $150,000 of “influence” money, and Johnson meeting with several decisive senators with offers of political favors. After the political dust settled, Johnson was removed from office with just one vote over the two-thirds required.

Under the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, President pro tempore of the Senate Benjamin Wade came into the White House. Wade was radical even by measure of the Republicans, calling not only for racial equality but also women's suffrage and political support for trade unions against rampant capitalism. Rallying his allies in Congress, Wade put forth aggressive policies with Reconstruction, seizing and parceling up plantations, reinforcing the Freedmen's Bureau at the expense of former slave-owners, and maintaining military governments to ensure control while the Southern economy readjusted. States would only be allowed back into the Union after a majority of its citizens had taken loyalty oaths, which had been a bill created by Wade in 1864 that Lincoln nullified by pocket veto. His actions were widely unpopular in the South and enough to cause a “white flight” as crowds headed north or west and settled under the Homestead Act (interestingly, one of Andrew Johnson's main works as a senator). Other Southerners stayed and resumed fighting incognito through organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, which was deemed illegal and seditious by Wade, who hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to aid Union soldiers in rooting out the movement.

Many Republicans found Wade too extreme for the presidency, such as James Garfield, who referred to him as “a man of violent passions, extreme opinions and narrow views who was surrounded by the worst and most violent elements in the Republican Party.” He was replaced by General Ulysses S. Grant with the 1868 election under the promise of women's suffrage (1870, with the Fifteenth Amendment), but many of Wade's policies continued, if in a lighter fashion. Reconstruction would forever change the shape of the South, destroying the aristocracy and contributing to the establishment of African American rights there. Few African Americans moved to settle in the North and Midwest, which maintained racial notions for generations to come. One hundred years after the Civil War, a new movement began in the South calling for nationalized civil rights, and many in South Carolina with its Black majority suggesting secession if segregation was not ended.


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In reality, Johnson's presidency was saved, the vote falling one short of the requirement for the removal from office. He continued to fight the Republicans, but their majority in the Senate made his vetoes impotent. As a last act on Christmas Day, 1868, he proclaimed unconditional, universal amnesty for the South, eliminating loyalty oath requirements and hastening Reconstruction. Without widespread support, freedmen became victims of Jim Crow laws, beginning the Great Migration of African Americans to cities in the North and Midwest. Unfortunately, segregation followed them there, too.

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25, 1521 – Martin Luther Assassinated


The success of the printing press hastened the spread ideas, particularly theology. Lawyer-turned-monk Martin Luther published Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences in 1517, which became known as The Ninety-Five Theses. It formed a list of what he felt was wrong with Church practices, particularly the selling of indulgences: writs of forgiveness for sins that could be purchased (even in advance of committing a sin). Luther had suffered through his own understanding of forgiveness while in the monastery and finally relied solely on God's power rather than Dominican friar Johann Tetzel's salesmanship, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, The soul from Purgatory springs.”

The letter spread through much of Northern Europe and found many like-minded supporters. Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg, who had initiated much of the surge of indulgence sales (and received half of the profits to pay debts, the other half going to pay for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica), sent a copy to Pope Leo X, who responded with orders that Luther be arrested. Luther, however, had won the support of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, who protected him politically. The Pope excommunicated Luther in with a bull in December of 1520 and ordered him to recant at a diet in Worms under Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Luther prayed for guidance and finally admitted before the emperor, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Luther was released as he had been guaranteed safe passage through Frederick the Elector, but deliberations continued five more days until May 25 when Emperor Charles announced, “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” Luther's literature was banned. He himself was declared an outlaw, forbidding anyone to give him shelter or even food, requiring his arrest, and legalizing his murder. As Luther traveled homeward, he was met by armed men in the forest. Thinking they were his escort from Frederick, Luther and his party peacefully approached them. These men, however, were zealous supporters of the Church who had been waiting for the emperor's word. Frederick's soldiers arrived shortly after Luther had been killed and were able to win back his body before the bandits could escape with it in hopes of a bounty.

An uproar rang through Germany, taking Luther as a martyr. Faced with a wave of rebellion among Luther's supporters outraged by actions blamed on the Church as well as incursions by the Turks besieging Vienna, Charles decided to separate himself from Rome's stalwart rejections. Pope Leo X shifted blame to Bishop Albrecht, who was replaced and forced to pay his debts.

Without Luther, the Reformation settled onto the shoulders of Philipp Melanchthon, who distinguished himself from the violence associated with radicals such as Zwingli and the Zwickau prophets. Melanchthon had long kept correspondence with Luther, and the monk had even invited Melanchthon to a professorship at the University of Wittenberg after his liberal theology was dismissed at Tübingen. He determined to work with the Church in gradual reforms, such as the end of indulgences as outlined in the 1530 Augsburg Confession. Melanchthon's use of reason won him great fame and calls for lectures across northern Europe. His student Flacius carried on after him, working alongside the Church for reforms throughout north and eastern Europe. Centers like Spain and the Italian states were slower to take to reform, but eager to trade. Seeing bloody violence in England after Henry VIII's forcible creation of the Church of England in 1529 discouraged Scandinavian crowns from separating outright, instead slowly asserting political authority as the Continent shifted toward humanism.

Capitalism and technology outpaced spiritualism as the centuries progressed. The Holy Roman Empire, a model of the balance of power between the First, Second, and Third Estates brought on by waves of reform, became the “Hinge of Europe” as Habsburg power waned due to excessive inbreeding. Instead, Congresses of dukes, princes, and elected representatives, all joined together by the Catholic religion across nationalities, ruled. The Ottoman Empire began to wane as Austria looked to the Atlantic for trade through Spain and Portugal rather than eastward. With Dutch mariners joined by German innovators and ample settlers from among the myriad of Austrian-Hungarian peoples, Roman colonies spread into North America to balance French Canada and Louisiana, the Caribbean, Africa, India, and the Pacific until a third of the world was under imperial power.


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In reality, Frederick III successfully “kidnapped” Luther and hid him in Wartburg Castle. Luther continued to write, translating the New Testament into German and solidifying his ideas of grace. Melanchthon continued to be a leader, but Luther ensured that the movement would not make concessions to the Church. Lutheranism would become its own major denomination with some 70 million participants worldwide in 2005.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 24, 1789 – Irish Rebels Take Dublin


For centuries, the English maintained rule in Ireland. The two had been joined politically after the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169 and 1171 under Henry II with permission of Pope Adrian IV (the only English Pope in Catholic history) to aid Dermot MacMurrough in retaking his lost throne in Leinster. Henry made further conquests in Dublin and created the Lordship of Ireland, making much of the island vassal states with relative independence. Henry VIII, as part of his Protestantizing of England, was named King of Ireland to assure his political dominance over the vast Catholic majority. When Ireland supported the Catholic James II against the incoming Protestant Mary and her husband, William of Orange, and lost the Williamite War in 1691, rule became systematized through the Ascendancy, the Protestant minority who controlled the Church of Ireland.

New ideas of liberty came to Ireland in the Enlightenment just as they had America and France. These ideas came later, as thousands of Irish were quick to join the Volunteers against the Americans in the 1770s, and, in the 1780s, most were pleased with the gradual freedoms won by politician Henry Grattan such overturning Poyning's Law that forced approval from London and granting Catholics of property voting rights (though they would not be able to hold office). By the 1790s, however, the Irish were ready for a rebellion to win their freedom.

In 1791, the Society of United Irishmen was founded in Belfast by liberal-minded Protestants who sought togetherness through Irish nationalism and an end to religious divisiveness. The success of the revolution in France excited the Irish in Ulster to find unity, which was a stark difference to the typical thinking that inspired sectarian warfare such as that between the Protestant Peep o' Day Boys and the Catholic Defenders. Loyalists fanned the flames of violence between them and contributed to founding the Orange Order as another society to counterbalance the efforts of the United Irishmen. When it became obvious that the goal of universal suffrage was not to be found politically, the United Irishmen looked for help in 1794 from revolutionary France, who dispatched an army of 14,000 soldiers in 1796 that never landed due to inclement weather and poor leadership. Uprising continued in Ireland without them, and the British reacted with violent measures such as execution, arson, torture, and pitchcapping. Martial law spread over much of the island, and loyalist spies among the rebels led to the capture of much of the Irish leadership.

On the night of May 23, the British military received late notice of an Irish march on Dublin. Samuel Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald, two of the remaining Irish leadership, decided to capitalize on the unrest born from martial law. British soldiers marched en masse to capture rebel meeting places, but they found them already held by the Irish. In furious firefights throughout the city's alleys and squares, the cunning and local knowledge of the rebels won out over superior British firepower. The city fell along with hundreds of British dead and thousands captured. Rebels intercepted mail-carriages, which was the secret signal to alert their allies in the surrounding counties.

While the British stopped a similar uprising at Carlow, the rebellion won out at Tara Hill and spread to the north, where it turned into guerrilla warfare among those seeking independence and those loyalists and Catholics who had come to distrust revolution after the French's capture of Rome three months before. Wexford (where the Normans had come into Ireland some 600 years before) became the center of Irish success, and the rest of the island became embroiled in war. In September, France finally made good on its promise of support, sending thousands of troops by sea into County Mayo on the northwest, giving all but Ulster to the revolution. The British, now wary of French intervention, began a blockade of the island, and a second expedition in October was intercepted. While the French were scattered, a few made it to shore, including Theobald Wolfe Tone, one of the original leaders of the United Irishmen who had been in exile since 1793 after the first discovery of communications with the French.

Wolfe soared through the ranks of the Irish with great promises, using to his advantage his theatrical leanings and firsthand knowledge of the French Revolution as well as interviews with General Napoleon (who himself did not much believe in the success of an Irish movement). Among some of his first actions were to remove the strength the Anglican Church, and then to weaken the Catholic church, placing as much property and money into government hands loyal to him. Wolfe dispatched Robert Emmet to the newly crowned Emperor Napoleon for additional aid, which was supplied, though the British redoubled their efforts to find a foothold among loyalists frustrated with Wolfe's rule. Napoleon was dubbed the greater enemy, however, and the fighting in Ireland grew into a stalemate until 1812 with Allied success in the Peninsular War and Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia.

After forced abdication in France, the British turned on Ireland, where Wolfe was hastily overthrown. The chaos continued until the newly made Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, an Irishman, was made military governor. While he was very popular in London because of his war service, he became immensely popular in Ireland after championing reforms, particularly Catholic Emancipation. With a better balance of political rule, reinforced by groundbreaking social services instituted during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Wellington's liberal nature, applauded by the Tories, would prove too much for British sensibilities, hamstringing his chances of a prime ministership.

Since its turbulent, short-lived republic, Ireland has been a key member of the British Commonwealth. It aided greatly in many of the Empire's international concerns including both world wars, although a renewed independence movement out of the Lost Generation in the 1920s that came mainly as social reforms and literary marvels.


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In reality, the capture of Dublin was foiled. While gains were made in Wexford over the summer of 1798, Britain put down the rebellion, albeit with substantial violence. Ireland would go through further rebellions in 1803, 1848, 1867, and 1913 until finally winning its independence in 1921. Ulster remained with the United Kingdom and would be the site of additional violence through the 1990s.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

May 11, 1812 - Bellingham's Reign of Terror Begins

The life of merchant John Bellingham seemed cursed.  Believed to have been born in 1769, he became a midshipman on The Hartwell, which came under mutiny and ran aground four years later.  In 1794, he opened a factory in London, which went bankrupt.  Finally he found work as a clerk in an import/export firm between Britain and Russia.  Shortly after his marriage in 1803, he was sent to Russia on business.  The Russian ship Soleure had been lost at sea, and its owners claimed insurance from Lloyd's of London.  When an anonymous note to Lloyd's warned that the ship had been sabotaged, the owners blamed Bellingham and accused him of a debt of nearly 5000 rubles.  While he would be eventually found innocent, the charge stripped him of his traveling visa and kept him in prison in Russia for four years just as he was about to sail home to his wife.

Upon his eventual return to London, Bellingham appealed to the British government for restitution, but Britain had ceased diplomatic relations with Russia due to its switching sides in the Napoleonic Wars.  For years, the bad luck tortured him, despite his wife suggesting he drop the matter.  He worked until 1812, when he saw the Luddite movement growing in the North as industrialized looms put hundreds out of work.  Like-minded laborers joined the movement, blossoming it until crowds of thousands of protestors clashed with British troops and breaking looms was made a capital crime.

Bellingham at last discovered his chance to join with others who were devastated by the politicians of the government.  Using his expertise in trade and organization, he began to build a secret society dedicated to the destruction of a government who sat idly (or at least busily fighting foreign wars) while its people suffered an unjust world.  Bellingham decided to use assassination to get the points of the people across, using something of an inverse of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror.  Rather than a council oppressing its people by use of guillotine, the people would strike out against their oppressors to make their will known, one assassination at a time.

The first target was Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, political champion of the Peninsular War and suppressor of the Luddite riots.  A lone gunman waited in the lobby of Parliament until Perceval came in, then shot him, and (according to Bellingham's orders) sat quietly on a bench to be apprehended.  The man was executed within a week, but an anonymous letter (written by Bellingham) was read in court,

"Recollect, Gentlemen, what is our situation. Recollect that our families were ruined and ourselves destroyed, merely because it was Mr Perceval's pleasure that justice should not be granted; sheltering himself behind the imagined security of his station, and trampling upon law and right in the belief that no retribution could reach him. We demand only our rights, and not a favour; we demand what is the birthright and privilege of every Englishman. Gentlemen, when a minister sets himself above the laws, as Mr Perceval did, he does it as his own personal risk. If this were not so, the mere will of the minister would become the law, and what would then become of your liberties? I trust that this serious lesson will operate as a warning to all future ministers, and that they will henceforth do the thing that is right, for if the upper ranks of society are permitted to act wrong with impunity, the inferior ramifications will soon become wholly corrupted. Gentlemen, my life is in your hands, we rely confidently in your justice."

On the same day the gunman was "hanged by the neck until... dead... body to be dissected and anatomized", the ambassador to Russia was assassinated by another of Bellingham's agents.  Panic struck London, and many of the ministers of Parliament returned home under guard.  Others stayed under heavier guard.  Letters flowed out from Bellingham's society, explaining it was not a revolution but an act of justice.  He had no designs on injuring royalty, only those elected to serve their people but did not.

A war in counterespionage launched from the Earl of Liverpool's new government, which was losing members weekly.  Eventually Bellingham was found out, but he went into hiding, and believers in his cause moved him from place to place ahead of army searches.  Despite murders continuing throughout the summer and into the fall, the government refused to change its position.  Assassinations and executions took place for months until Bellingham was finally caught aboard a smuggler's ship headed for the United States of America, which had recently declared war with Britain and, Bellingham believed, would take him in with political understanding.  Bellingham was executed and his society dispersed.

To quote Sir Adam Roberts, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University and president of the British Academy, to the BBC, "In fact tyranny, or whatever form of government you have, usually has a broader social basis. The idea that one cleansing act of violence will transform the political landscape has been disproved time and time again because it has messier results."

Rather than realizing a revolution by carefully placed targets, Bellingham contributed to dispelling to many the idea of eliminating a figurehead on the behemoth that is government.  Later taken as a folk-figure much like Guy Fawkes, he would be rarely taken under serious academic study, with the exception of writers such as Thoreau and Marx, who used him as an example of what not to do.


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In reality, Bellingham went himself to make his point.  Already a figure in the lobby of the House of Commons and having repeatedly attempted to find compensation, he was easily identified after the shooting.  He made his case in court in hopes he might be understood, but Bellingham again found bad luck as he was sentenced to death.

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