United States and American History: 1875

About the history of the United States in 1875, Molly Maguires terrorists, the Whiskey Ring scandal, the first Kentucky derby.


--The Molly Maguires, a secret terrorist organization developed by the Irish miners of the Pennsylvania anthracite coal mines to fight the mine operators, was infiltrated and exposed by a Pinkerton spy in the pay of the coal companies. Charged with blackmail and making threats on the lives of mine bosses and officials, 19 Molly Maguires were found guilty and hung, while an additional number were imprisoned. The organization, in existence since 1854, was effectively destroyed.

Mar. 1 A bill written by Charles Sumner, the last civil rights law of the Reconstruction Era, was passed. Its intent was to accord to all citizens the full and equal use and enjoyment of public accommodations and places of public amusement. Violators of the anti-segregation ruling, including officers of the courts and jurors, were subject to heavy fines and imprisonment.

May 5 The nation reeled at the exposure of yet another public scandal when the Whiskey Ring was uncovered and brought to public attention. An association of distillers and Federal officials had been defrauding the Government of a large slice of the tax revenue, part of which was used to bribe other public officials and finance lobbying activity. A number of Grant appointees were indicted, including the President's secretary.

May 17 The running of the 1st Kentucky Derby. The race was created by Col. M. Lewis Clark, of Louisville, Ky., who 3 years earlier had been impressed by watching the Epsom Downs Derby in England. With a group of friends, Clark acquired a parcel of land in Kentucky from the Churchill brothers, laid out a track, constructed a grandstand. He named his creation Churchill Downs.

The initial Kentucky Derby had a fast track, 15 entries, and a purse of $2,850. The favorite was H. Price McGrath's entry of stretch-runner Chesapeake and sprinter Aristides. The strategy was for Aristides to set the pace for a mile, and then let Chesapeake come on in a closing rush to win. With the drop of the flag, the 1 1/2 mi. race was under way. As the horses came into the backstretch, Aristides led, followed by Ten Broeck and Volcano, with Chesapeake right behind. Entering the stretch, Chesapeake was given the signal to go. He failed to go. Owner McGrath, dismayed, waved frantically to Jockey Lewis aboard Aristides to make the run for the roses himself. Under a strong ride. Aristides drove to the finish line, clinging to the lead, to win by a nose.

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