Allow ‘Occupy Cincinnati’ Protesters To Camp In Piatt Park: Piatt Family Itself Raged Against Wall Street Greed
By BILL SLOAT
Police have been giving citations to protesters and arresting those daring to camp out overnight in downtown’s Piatt Park, the city’s oldest public greenspace. It was donated by the Piatt family in the early 1800s. Get this — that donor clan included political gadflies and anti-Wall Street rabble rousers. Sadly, the city seems to be trampling on its own history. Perhaps the Piatts are rolling in their graves. While wealthy and prominent themselves, the Piatts of the 1870s and 1880s raged against Wall Street’s influence over Washington politicians. Two Piatt brothers, Donn and Abram, published and edited Belford’s Magazine after the Civil War, which reported that Wall Street was robbing soldiers out of their benefits by manipulating elected officials and the U.S. Treasury. The magazine’s owners also denounced President Grant’s Administration as corrupt and controlled by financiers. It said the Republicans sold out to the big money crowd. Donn Piatt so inflamed the D.C. political establishment that he was indicted for fomenting insurrection in 1877, a charge that was eventually tossed out of court. He complained about the “kings of Wall Street” with their chests of money in the Gilded Age. Some of the rhetoric still echoes in the Occupy Wall Street protests, and the spinoffs in Cincinnati and other major U.S. cities. Earlier, the Piatt’s had raised their voices against slavery, and they both fought against the Confederacy. Donn enlisted as a private, his brother Abram became a general in the Union Army. Abram, too, was indicted for insurrection for slamming the D.C. crowd and Wall Streeters in the late 1870s — charges that had to be dropped. Both brothers had studied under the Jesuits at Xavier University, but neither graduated.
So it seems that the current protest movement does have a claim on Piatt Park. Cincinnati officials ought to drop their objections and open it up to overnight camping. What’s the harm? In fact, the park should become a national focal point against greed. Certainly, there’s a history in its DNA of fighting against practices that some citizens consider unjust — from slavery to the financial scandals of the Gilded Age. By the way, here’s some of what was written in Belford’s Magazine (which can still be retrieved online), pointing out that Wall Streeters reaped quadruple valuations on government bonds while Civil War vets got “cheap cast-iron” tombstones on their graves: “But from the very commencement of the war there had been felt at Washington a strong controlling influence emanating from the money centres.” The argument was simple: men who risked their lives deserved more from the government than men with influence and money.
The soldiers who enlisted in the war of the rebellion were promised by the government, in addition to varying bounties, a stipulated sum of money per month. It requires no argument to prove that the faith of the government was as much pledged to the citizen who risked his life, as to him who merely risked a portion of his wealth in a secured loan to the government. But the record shows that the pay of the former was reduced by nearly sixty per cent, while the returns of the latter were doubled, trebled, and quadrupled; that in many cases government obligations were closed by the erection of a cheap cast-iron tablet over a dead hero, while the descendants of bondholders were guarded in an undisturbed enjoyment of the fruits of their ancestors’ greed. For, after the armies were in the field, the same legislative enactment that reduced the value of the soldier’s pay increased that of the creditor’s bond, by providing that the money of the soldier should be rapidly depreciated in value, while the interest upon bonds should be payable in coin; and then, after the war was over, another and more valuable bond was prepared, that should relieve the favored creditor of all fear of losing his hold upon the treasury by the payment of his debt.
Angelfire.com, which collects historical material, offers this information about Donn Piatt in 1888:
“At present, Mr. Piatt is the Editor of ‘Belford’s Magazine’, one of the leading powers in our land.
Donn Piatt was born in Cincinnati and made Logan County, Ohio his home. He attended public schools in Urbana and Bellefontaine and was enrolled for a short time at Athenaeum (Xavier University). He is also reported to have been one of the first students to attend Notre Dame. Piatt then undertook the study of law, but after his marriage to Louise Kirby in 1847 he take up residence at the family estate at Mac-o-cheek. He served as judge of common pleas court in Hamilton County from 1852 to 1853 and during President Pierce’s administration joined the Diplomatic Corps and served as Secretary of Legation at Paris from 1853 to 1855. Returning to the United States, Piatt resumed the practice of law which he continued until the Civil war began. He volunteered as a private, was promoted to captain, and assumed the position of Adjutant General on the staff of General Robert C. Schenck. Before the end of the war he saw duty at Bull Run, Cross Keys, and Bull Pasture Mountains and acted as Judge Advocate. Piatt lost favor with the Maryland state governument after trying to enlist slaves into the Marlyland militia during the Civil War. Piatt was indicted during the election of President Rutherford Hayes for “inciting insurrection” but the charges were later dropped after Hayes was elected President. Piatt took up politics for a few years but finally turned to journalism. He was first employed by the Cincinnati Commercial as its Washington correspondent. After three years in Washington as a correspondent, Piatt, with George Alfred Townsend started the Washington Capitol, a weekly journal. [Sources: Biographical Sketch & History of Logan County and Ohio (Chicago: O.L. Baskin & Co., 1880); William Coyle (ed.), Ohio Authors and Their Books: Biographical Data and Selective Bibliographies for Ohio Authors, Native and Resident, 1796-1950 497 (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., for the Ohioana Library Association, 1962)]”