On this day (December 1st) in 1842 on the training brig Somers, Philip Spencer, the son of the Secretary of War in the Tyler administration, was hanged, along with two other shipmates. The men were alleged to have initiated he only recorded attempt at mutiny in the history of the U.S. Navy.

The Somers incident led to the founding of the U.S. Naval Academy and to the most famous literary quarrel in American history up to that time. Washington Irving was a personal friend of the Somers' commander, Alexander Slidell MacKenzie, Sr. When the details of the incident were published in the papers, Irving applauded MacKenzie's decision to hang Spencer and the two other alleged mutineers. James Fennimore Cooper argued that MacKenzie had hanged Spencer solely to gain notariety from being the hangman of a fortunate son of a famous father. The quarrel only ended with MacKenzie's "mysterious" death while out riding in the Sleepy Hollow in Tarrytown, N.Y. where he and Irving lived.

MacKenzie's own son died in Taiwan in 1867 in what was the first of the U.S. Marines' "small wars" abroad.

MacKenzie, Jr.'s uncle was John Slidell, the Senator from Louisiana, who helped President Polk engineer the Mexican War, and managed to persuade the French to loan the Confederacy $15 million in gold against a promise of cotton deliveries - perhaps the most famous fail in the history of international commodity speculation up to that time.


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