Due to inclement weather the Widener- Delaware Campus Law Library will be Closing at 9pm this evening, Tuesday, January, 21st. We apologize for an inconvenience.
The Delaware campus law library will be on shorter hours for Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 20th.
On Sunday, January 19th we will be open from 10 AM to 10 PM and Monday, January 20th from 9 AM to 9 PM.
‘Pernicious and destructive’ or ‘tax on the willing’: lottery laws in Delaware and the United States
In the first decade of the 20th century, John M. Rogers was one of Wilmington, Delaware’s most prominent and respected residents. He lived in one of the large houses on Delaware Avenue with his wife and children. He served on the Wilmington Parks Commission, the Wilmington Board of Trade, and was president of the local photography club. He owned a machine tool company in Gloucester City, New Jersey and a hotel in Atlantic City. His main business, however was a printing plant, the John M. Rogers Press, at 6th & Orange streets in Wilmington. On May 1, 1906 Rogers’s comfortable life in Wilmington came to an end when the United States Secret Service raided his print shop. Rogers’s plant was printing more than reports for the city government and advertising brochures. He was also printing tickets for the nation’s largest illegal lottery.
In colonial times and in the early period of US history lotteries were often considered a respectable and harmless means of raising money for both private and public projects. Thomas Jefferson called the lottery a “… tax laid on the willing only.” In Delaware, the colonial legislature banned lotteries in 1772, as “pernicious and destructive to frugality, industry, trade and commerce, … introductive of idleness and immorality, and against the common good and welfare of a people.” But by the 1790s the state legislature was authorizing lotteries to build a courthouse in Dover and piers in the harbor at New Castle.
During the 19th century, as lotteries became larger and more commercialized, they began to be looked at more as a form of gambling and a social problem. Reformers argued that they encouraged immorality and preyed on the poor, who could least afford them. State after state passed laws outlawing lotteries until by the 1860s, only a few states, including Delaware, still allowed them. In 1887 Delaware joined the majority of states and banned lotteries again.
By the end of the 19th century the largest lottery in the United States was the Louisiana State Lottery. Founded by a New York gambling syndicate in 1868 in a Louisiana desperate for cash after the Civil War, the Louisiana Lottery sold tickets in every state in the US as well as foreign countries. Estimates of the Lottery’s earnings varied but newspapers estimated the annual gross receipts of the Louisiana Lottery to be $4,000,000. Other sources put the amount as high as $30,000,000 per year. The Lottery itself kept quiet about its earnings. Although lotteries were illegal in most states it was difficult for state governments to keep the Louisiana Lottery out. Eventually, the federal government passed a law (Act of Sept. 19, 1890, ch. 908, § 2, 26 Stat. 465) making it illegal to send lottery tickets and other items through the mail. Its operations now illegal, the Louisiana Lottery went underground, changing its name to the Honduras National Lottery. Although nominally headquartered in Honduras, the Lottery still did most of its business in the United States, including printing its tickets in John M. Rogers’s printing plant.
Along with raiding Rogers’s Wilmington printing plant, the Secret Service made arrests across the country. In 1907, 32 men pled guilty and paid fines totaling $284,000 and the Lottery was shut down for good. John Rogers paid $10,000 in fines and his printing plant was auctioned. He left Wilmington for New Jersey where he continued running his machine tool plant in Gloucester City until his death in 1910. His home at 1301 Delaware Avenue was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington for use as the Bishop’s residence.
Lotteries remained illegal in the United States until the 1960s when states looking for new sources of revenue started to authorize lotteries again. Delaware reauthorized its state lottery in 1974 and today the lottery is bigger than ever. In 2012 the Delaware Lottery contributed $269 million to the State’s General Fund.
John M. Rogers and Henry C. Conrad, Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.
Louisiana State Lottery tickets, Wikimedia Commons
Louisiana State Lottery drawing. KnowLa.org
For more information see:
G. Robert Blakey & Harold A. Kurland. Development of the Federal Law of Gambling. 63 Cornell L. Rev. 923 (1977-78)
A.R. Spofford. Lotteries in American History.
A new book edited by Widener’s Andrew Strauss is now available in the law library. Climate Change Geoengineering: Philosophical Perspectives, Legal Issues, and Governance Frameworks, co-edited with Wil C.G. Burns, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.
A new book by Widener’s Erin Daly is now available in the law library. Dignity Rights: Courts, Constitutions, and the Worth of the Human Person was recently published by University of Pennsylvania Press.
It’s another new school year! We’re happy to see our new and returning students back in the law library. Please stop by for studying or research. Why not check out some of our study aids? We have plenty of computers, carrels, tables and comfortable chairs for studying. Our reference librarians are waiting to help you, so please ask us any questions you may have.
In 1883, two men, George W. Ponton and Charles H. Bierce were arraigned in New York on charges of larceny. They had persuaded a third man, Charles W. Van Dorn, to loan them $200, which would be repaid when Bierce came into a fortune of $90,000. Bierce claimed to be one of the Springer heirs, descendants of Charles Christopher Springer, an early settler of Wilmington, Delaware. Springer, it was said, had owned a large portion of the land where the city of Wilmington now stands, which he had leased to Old Swedes Church, which in turn leased it to the city of Wilmington for 99 years. The lease was now up and soon the city would settle with the heirs for 20 million dollars. There was, of course, no fortune and Van Dorn never got his $200 back. But the story of the fabulous Springer fortune waiting in Wilmington lived on for almost another hundred years, as fortune hunters, confidence tricksters and honestly hopeful people named Springer organized associations, collected money, and badgered Wilmington officials in a futile effort to claim the untold millions waiting for them.
The quest for the mythical Springer fortune seems to have begun in the 1870s when J.N.W Springer and David Gillespie formed the Springer Heirs Association, to raise money to investigate the claim to the estate. It was probably inspired by earlier very similar claims in the 1830s and 1840s involving property in Manhattan owned by Trinity Church (Bogardus v. Trinity Church, 4 Paige Ch. 178 (1835) and Humbert v. Trinity Church, 24 Wend. 587 (1840)) and the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, one of which actually went to the U.S. Supreme Court (Harpending v. Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of City of New York, 41 U.S. 455, 10 L. Ed. 1029 (1842)) The fact that the heirs lost in all of these cases doesn’t seem to have deterred the Springers.
All through the 19th and into the 20th century the search for the fortune continued, with the size of the prize growing every year. Springer’s supposed property grew from encompassing a part of Wilmington to the entire city, and to include the site of the DuPont gunpowder mills for good measure. Charles Springer was said to have been a Swedish baron who had a fortune hidden away in a Swedish bank, or walled up in a hidden building, or possibly buried in a tomb. Con artists offered to sell Springer’s will for large amounts of money, lawyers spent years in Europe doing research at the heirs’ expense, and the presidents of various Springer heirs associations collected money which was mostly spent on hotels while traveling the country and collecting more money. So many people contacted Wilmington officials asking about the fortune, that the city was forced to print pamphlets denying the story.
Newspapers across the US added to the confusion by printing inspiring stories about the ordinary people who were possible heirs, including two manicurist sisters in San Francisco, a kidnapped child in California and a railroad yardmaster from Reno. Only the Wilmington papers expressed any skepticism about the story, generally portraying the heirs as hopeless suckers and pests.
Interest in the Springer estate seems to have died down now, except for a few mentions on genealogy websites, but similar hoaxes continue. In 2001, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case in which the Pennsylvania Association of Edwards Heirs (who claim their ancestor was the rightful owner of a large portion of lower Manhattan) sued Wachovia Bank after nearly 1.5 million dollars in association dues had been squandered by the officers of the association. Pennsylvania Ass’n of Edwards Heirs v. Rightenour, 235 F.3d 839 (3d Cir. 2000). The heirs lost.
One evening in August 1898 in Dover, Delaware, the family of ex-congressman John B. Penington sat together on the porch of their house on the Dover Green. Mr. and Mrs. Penington, their son, two adult daughters and their grandchildren were relaxing after dinner. Two neighbors stopped by to say hello. One of the daughters, Elizabeth Dunning, had received a box of chocolates in the mail earlier that day, and she passed the candy around for her family and friends to enjoy. Later that night, everyone who had eaten the candy got sick. Elizabeth Dunning and her sister, Ida Deane, had eaten more candy than the others. Within a few days, both women were dead. Food poisoning was originally suspected, but tests on the candy proved it had been laced with arsenic.
The candy had been sent with no return address but a San Francisco postmark. Included in the box was a handkerchief and a note that read “With love to yourself and baby, love, Mrs. C.” When informed of his wife Elizabeth’s death, her husband John P. Dunning, immediately suspected his mistress, Cordelia Botkin.
Born in Delaware, John P. Dunning studied to be an attorney, but the staid life of a provincial Dover lawyer wasn’t for him. He became a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, traveling the world to cover stories of war and natural disaster. In 1889 he was sent to Samoa to cover the growing tension there between Germany and the United States. Dunning arrived in time to witness the destruction of the fleets sent by the two countries in a terrible cyclone. His story was sent by the AP to newspapers around the world, including the New York Times. His coverage of the cyclone and courage in rescuing victims of the disaster made him a well-known reporter.
Dunning and his wife Elizabeth had a daughter and moved to San Francisco, where Dunning worked for the Associated Press. At some point, Elizabeth and John separated, Elizabeth and her daughter moving back to Dover to live with her parents. Dunning stayed in San Francisco, where he began an affair with Cordelia Botkin. Botkin was also married and separated from her husband.
At the outbreak of the Spanish American War in 1898, Dunning was sent by the Associated Press to Cuba to cover the war, where he covered the exploits of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Before he left, he told Cordelia that after the war he’d be going home to his wife in Delaware. Not long afterward, his wife and her sister were dead.
Cordelia Botkin was soon arrested and charged with the murder of Elizabeth Dunning. Her trial was a huge sensation, with front page coverage in newspapers all over the country. The case had everything needed for a sensational story: adultery, prominent people, the clash between small town values and big city sophistication, and a murder committed by the latest technology, poison by mail.
Cordelia Botkin steadfastly maintained her innocence and hired some of the finest lawyers in San Francisco, but she was found guilty of murder in December 1898. In 1901 her conviction was overturned (People v. Botkin, 132 Cal. 231, 64 P. 286 (1901)) because of improper jury instructions. She was tried and convicted again in 1904 and sentenced to life in prison. She appealed again but this time her conviction was upheld People v. Botkin, 9 Cal. App. 244, 98 P. 861 (1908). She died in San Quentin prison in 1910. John Dunning preceded her in death, dying in Philadelphia in 1907 at the age of 44.
John R. Alstadt, Jr. With Love to Yourself and Baby. Dorrance, 2001.
Charles Sanford Diehl. The Staff Correspondent. Clegg Co., 1931.
Thomas S. Duke. Celebrated Criminal Cases of America. J.H. Barry, 1910.
The San Francisco Call‘s extensive coverage of the trial is available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
April is National Poetry Month. The law and poetry have more in common than you might think, maybe because lawyers have to be good writers. A few Widener faculty have published articles about poetry and the law. Mary Kate Kearney of the Harrisburg campus has written The Propriety of Poetry in Judicial Opinions, about the use of poetry by judges in their opinions. Another Harrisburg faculty member, Randy Lee, has written an article about Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Springsteen’s Hope and the Lawyer as Poet Advocate.
On the Delaware campus, Alan Garfield once published a humorous poem about Sherwood v. Walker, the famous contract case about a cow. For some reason, Sherwood v. Walker seems to spark the muse in many lawyers because there are a lot of poems inspired by that case. And even a song:
It’s hard to believe that next week is spring break. It still seems like winter to me! The law library will be open during spring break but our hours will be shortened.
- Friday, March 1: 8 AM to 9 PM
- Saturday, March 2: 8 AM to 5 PM
- Sunday, March 3: 12 PM to 5 PM
- Monday to Thursday, March 4 – 7: 8 AM to 9 PM
- Friday, March 8: 8 AM to 6 PM
- Saturday, March 9: 9 AM to 5 PM
- Sunday, March 10: 12 PM to 10 PM
Normal hours will resume on Monday, March 11. For complete library hours see our website.