Bull-dozing and madness in Clark County, Ohio

John H. Blose Commanding General, MY COUNTRYMEN TO ARMS… [Ohio, early 1877?]
Large broadside on thin yellow stock. Several lines of headline type surmounting a paragraph of text and a typographic plat map, the whole surrounded by an ornamental border. Printed area 35 ¾”h x 22”w on a 38”h x 25”w sheet. Minor soiling, few pencil calculations in left margin, repairs and restorations to wear along folds and to loss to lower-right margin affecting a tiny area of printed border. Lined on verso. Good overall.

A spectacular, unrecorded, off-the-wall, and ultimately mysterious Reconstruction-era broadside, either communicating or satirizing the views of troubled Ohio politician John H. Blose.

The broadside is signed in type “John H. Blose Commanding General.” Born in Virginia but a long-time resident of Clark County, Ohio, Blose (1838-1919) is described in the 1860 census as a miller and in 1900 as a farmer. More important for our purposes, he was a committed member of the Democratic Party and for much of his life was active in politics, serving as a delegate to the party’s 1868 and 1872 national conventions, as a justice of the peace from 1868-98, and for many years as Clark County Commissioner. Despite the appellation “Commanding General”, I find no record of his having served in a military capacity.

The text opens with several lines of eye-catching headline type:

“MY COUNTRYMEN TO ARMS[.] Petit Larceny, Grand Larceny, Burglary, Pickpockets, Highway Robbery, Manslaughter, Murder[,] COLD BLOODED MURDER[,] TREASON, AYE, MORE THAN ALL, Bull-Dozing stalks abroad in the land.”

“Bull-dozing”, sometimes rendered “bull dosing” or “bull-dosing”, was a contemporary term referring Southern Democrats’ suppression of the African-American vote during Reconstruction, particularly in the run-up to the Election of 1876.

After such an introduction, one anticipates an attack on Southern resistance to Reconstruction. But the broadside continues:

“This no longer can be borne by a Bill Allen, Vallandigham, Pendleton, Horace Greeley[,] Hayes (so far) Democratic General, and to relieve himself and his superiors from this thraldom, galling as it is, he, your commanding General of the U. S. forces, General Sherman, bull-dozed as he is not excepted, proposes to try a remedy for all these ills.”

Like Blose, many of these men were Democrats, and all were, in one way or another, known opponents of Reconstruction, either consistently or at some point in their careers. William Allen (1803-79) was an Ohio congressman, two-term U.S. Senator, and Governor from 1874-76. Clement Vallandingam (1820-71) represented Ohio in the U.S. House from 1858-63 and was the acknowledged leader of the anti-War Copperhead faction. George Pendleton of Cincinnati (1825-1889) served in the U.S. House from 1857-65, was George McLellan’s running mate in the Election of 1864, and later served a term in the U.S. Senate from 1879-85. Horace Greeley (1811-72) was the hugely influential founder of the New York Tribune and was for many years a Radical Republican and leading voice in the anti-slavery movement; by 1872 he broke with the Radicals, formed an alliance with the Democrats and ran against President Grant on a “Liberal Republican” ticket. Ohioan Rutherford Hayes (1822-93) gained the Presidency in the controversial election of 1876, when Southern Democrats threw him their support in return for a commitment to end Reconstruction. As for General William Tecumseh Sherman, despite his pivotal role in helping the Union win the Civil War, his personal sympathies lay with ruined Southern planters.

The mystery, then, is what the author of the broadside had in mind when he enumerated a litany of crimes ranging from “petit larceny” to “cold blooded murder” and “treason”. Was this an attack on Reconstruction in general, or a reference to more specific events, perhaps within the borders of Ohio?

Things get stranger still, as the author offers his solution to this dreadful state of affairs:

“The remedy I trust all my fellow citizens of Ohio will accept… as a fair and honest way of escape from this extreme danger is this: Ohio stands first in union as a State in every capacity excepting for the production of sharks and shylocks, which are not in demand in these latter days, Clark county first as a county in said State, and German township as a township therein, and TREMONT first as the town of said township, but above all the farm adjoining said town upon which has been laid out the following lots of land, the possession of which admit of the only way of escape from the impending danger. The way to secure them is to be present on Friday, May 25th 1877 and secure them according to the dictates of your own judgment, unless the commanding General [i.e., Blose] orders otherwise.”

Just below this is a plat map of an area about an acre in extent, subdivided into 58 roughly equivalent parcels, presumably to be distributed to those who presented themselves on May 25th. The proposed development is divided by the north-south running Mulberry, Second and Third Streets and bisected by Blose Avenue running east-west. This is no fantasy, or at least not entirely so: The map of German Township on page 46 of Everts’ Combination Atlas Map of Clark County, Ohio (1875) shows a parcel belonging to John H. Blose abutting Tremont to the north. Further, a modern map of Tremont City reveals a street layout and names corresponding almost exactly to those shown here.

A mystery
In sum, what we seem to have here is a loopy scheme hatched by Blose to provide unnamed parties with a refuge from unspecified outrages, perhaps related in some manner to Reconstruction. The scheme is articulated in barely-coherent language, but at least appears consistent with the cartographic evidence. Yet I have found nothing in the historical record that sheds light on such a scheme, or even evidence of its existence.

So what’s going on here? One hypothesis is that Blose was not the author but rather the target of the broadside. On this view it was in fact an attack designed to present him as a half-crazed Democratic politician and opponent of Reconstruction, in the midst of the charged political atmosphere following the disputed Election of 1876.

The thing is, Blose really was mentally ill. In July of 1877, not long after the broadside’s release, he was charged with insanity, brought before a judge, and committed to the Dayton Lunatic Asylum after his “mind continue[d] to weaken” and he performed “some very strange freaks.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, July 24, 1877, p. 2) Blose’s antics continued—two years later, he was once again sent to the asylum following a second court appearance. On September 19, 1879 the Enquirer described his case as follows: “Some thought his strange and violent freaks were simply the result of intoxication, and others that he was really insane… All agree however, that it results from the excessive use of liquour.” (p. 1) Blose’s struggles continued: In July 1881 he was fined for drunk and disorderly conduct and resisting an officer in July of 1881 (Enquirer, July 12, 1881, p. 2), and in January 1885 he was once again indicted for intoxication (Enquirer, Jan. 23, 1885, p. 4)

All this helps makes some sense, by the way, of the last line of the broadside: “N. B.—Everything free, including passage from and to all railroad stations. No Murphy’s allowed on the premises, under penalty of being bull-dozed.” “Murphy’s” were adherents of the National Christian Temperance Union, founded in New Hampshire by Francis Murphy in the early 1870s.

Somehow, through all this Blose’s political career seems to have prospered. As mentioned above he served as a justice of the peace through 1898, and participated in county-level conventions in 1886 and 1891. Though he lost election for county commissioner in 1898, he won again in 1901.

After all this, the broadside remains a mystery, at least to me. It may have been an attack job on a controversial, ill-behaved county commissioner; or it may be the work of Blose himself, unhinged by mental illness, alcohol and perhaps by the intensity of Reconstruction-era politics. Whatever its meaning, the broadside is a rare and extraordinary artifact of both a particularly fraught era of national politics and the disordered life of a second- or third-tier Ohio politico.

Not in OCLC, and I find no record of another example having appeared on the antiquarian market. Some background on Blose from History of Clark County Ohio and Its Representative Citizens, pp. 1030-31, cited at findagrave.com.