Saving Senate Records
On a sweltering August day in 1814, word reached the Capitol that British forces had swept aside the defending American army at Bladensburg, Maryland, and would occupy Washington by dusk. By late afternoon, British soldiers had marched on the Capitol, torching just about everything in sight. The documentary record of the Senate’s earliest years might have gone up in flames as well, had it not been for the quick action taken by a 24-year-old Senate clerk named Lewis Machen.
Since 1789 Secretary of the Senate Samuel Otis had safeguarded the Senate’s growing collection of records—bills, reports, handwritten journals, and even the Senate’s mark-up of the Bill of Rights. But Otis died in April of 1814, and no secretary was on hand to protect the collection from the invading soldiers. Fortunately, with little time to spare, Lewis Machen devised a plan to save the precious records. Assisted by a Senate messenger, an African American named Tobias Simpson, Machen commandeered a wagon from a District resident and began loading it with bundles of Senate papers. “I engaged in removing . . . all the Books and papers of the office which I considered of more value,” he later recalled. “When the sun was nearly setting, our vehicle being able to contain no more, I departed.”
Machen headed southeast toward a family farm in Maryland. The journey proved to be adventurous. As he traveled in complete darkness, one wagon wheel flew off, forcing him to borrow “without leave from the owner” a replacement from an abandoned blacksmith shop. As he approached the Maryland state line, the wagon suddenly and violently overturned, spewing bundles of papers in all directions. It took several hours to repair that damage and reload the valuable cargo. In the morning hours, Machen finally reached the relative safety of the farm. Later, another Senate clerk delivered the records to Brookville, where government officials were working in exile. Five years later, the documents were returned to a rebuilt Capitol. As the years went by, these founding-era documents and other Senate papers were stored away in the Capitol’s damp basement rooms and humid attic spaces— and were forgotten.
More than a century later, in 1927, another Senate clerk named Harold Hufford entered one of those basement storerooms. He found there surprised mice and disordered papers. Under his foot lay an official-looking document that bore two distinct markings: the print of his rubber-heeled shoe and the signature of John C. Calhoun. “I knew who Calhoun was;” Hufford said, “and I knew the nation’s documents shouldn’t be treated like that.” Over the next decade, Hufford inventoried Senate records stored throughout the Capitol, and discovered that autograph seekers had harvested signatures and thieves had stolen notable state papers. Clearly, the Senate needed a place to archive its important collection.
In 1934, Congress established the National Archives. Three years later, the history-conscious Senate launched another rescue mission—less dramatic than that of 1814, but equally important—and began transferring its records to the newly built Archives. Today, the Senate can boast of a vast archival collection dating back to March 4, 1789, its very first day of operation— thanks, in part, to two diligent clerks named Hufford and Machen.
“Saving Senate Records”—Public Domain
10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud
International scam artists use clever schemes to defraud millions of people across the globe each year, threatening financial security and generating substantial profits for criminal organizations and common crooks. They use phone, email, postal mail, and the Internet to cross geographic boundaries and trick victims into sending money or giving out personal information.
While con artists can be clever, many can be foiled by knowledgeable— and equally canny—consumers. Here are 10 things you can do to stop a scam.
1. Keep in mind that wiring money is like sending cash: once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Con artists often insist that people wire money, especially overseas, because it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money. Don’t wire money to strangers, to sellers who insist on wire transfers for payment, or to someone who claims to be a relative in an emergency (and wants to keep the request a secret).
2. Don’t send money to someone you don’t know. That includes an online merchant you’ve never heard of—or an online love interest who asks for money or favors. It’s best to do business with sites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card. Don’t send cash or use a wire transfer service.
3. Don’t respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial information, whether the message comes as an email, a phone call, a text message, or an ad. Don’t click on links in the message, or call phone numbers that are left on your answering machine, either. The crooks behind these messages are trying to trick you into giving up your personal information. If you get a message and are concerned about your account status, call the number on your credit or debit card—or your statement—and check it out.
4. Don’t play a foreign lottery. First, it’s easy to be tempted by messages that boast enticing odds in a foreign lottery, or messages that claim you’ve already won. Inevitably, you’ll be asked to pay “taxes,” “fees,” or “customs duties” to collect your prize. If you send money, you won’t get it back, regardless of the promises. Second, it’s illegal to play foreign lotteries.
5. Don’t agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back, no matter how convincing the story. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. You are responsible for the checks you deposit: When a check turns out to be a fake, it’s you who is responsible for paying back the bank.
6. Read your bills and monthly statements regularly—on paper and online. Scammers steal account information and then run up charges or commit crimes in your name. Dishonest merchants sometimes bill you for monthly “membership fees” and other goods or services you didn’t authorize. If you see charges you don’t recognize or didn’t okay, contact your bank, card issuer, or other creditor immediately.
7. In the wake of a natural disaster or another crisis, give to established charities rather than one that seems to have sprung up overnight. Pop-up charities probably don’t have the infrastructure to get help to the affected areas or people, and they could be collecting the money to finance illegal activity. Check out ftc.gov/charityfraud to learn more.
8. Talk to your doctor before buying health products or signing up for medical treatments. Ask about research that supports a product’s claims—and possible risks or side effects. Buy prescription drugs only from licensed U.S. pharmacies. Otherwise, you could end up with products that are fake, expired or mislabeled—in short, products that could be dangerous. Visit ftc.gov/health for more information.
9. Remember there’s no such thing as a sure thing. If someone contacts you promoting low-risk, high-return investment opportunities, stay away. When you hear pitches that insist you act now, guarantees of big profits, promises of little or no financial risk, or demands that you send cash immediately, report them to the FTC.
10. Know where an offer comes from and who you’re dealing with. Try to find a seller’s physical address (not just a P.O. Box) and phone number. With VoIP and other web-based technologies, it’s tough to tell where someone is calling from. Do an internet search for the company name and website and look for negative reviews. Check them out with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.
— One bonus tip: Visit OnGuardOnline.gov to learn how to avoid internet fraud, secure your computer and protect your personal information.
“10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud”—Public Domain/Federal Trade Commission