A Radio Play Script: Cresson and the Dove, by Yaacov Shavit

By Yaacov Shavit | May 27, 2009

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Cresson and the Dove

A Radio Script by Yaacov Shavit

THE STORY:

In 1848, Warder Cresson, on his return to Philadelphia from the Holy Land, was sued by his ex-wife, Elizabeth Cresson. She claimed that he had become insane because he intended to give his money away to support the rebuilding of the Jews’ Temple. Cresson was acquitted after a scandalous trial that received widespread attention in the United States. Though the original court transcripts did not survive, an account of the trial was published in The Occident by Isaac Leeser, a friend of Cresson. Leeser’s record of the proceedings became the basis of the radio drama “Cresson and the Dove,” broadcast on “Kol Yisrael” in April 1990. The title derives from an account by the British author William M. Thackeray, who wrote that Cresson was seen alighting at Jaffa Port with a white dove on his shoulder. The radio script was written by Yaacov Shavit and directed by Nissim Kimchi. It was adapted by Zvia Margaliot for a stage performance at The National Library of Israel in connection with the “Dreams and Diplomacy in the Holy Land” exhibition in July and October 2013.

Warder Cresson (Yitzhak Laor), Attorney Brown (Ram Mizrahi) and Attorney General Hubbell (Yinon Shazo) in “Cresson and the Dove,” adapted and directed by Tzvia Margaliot, The National Library of Israel, July 2013

Photographs: Michal Gorlin Becker

Warder Cresson (Yitzhak Laor), and his attorney General Hubbell (Yinon Shazo) in “Cresson and the Dove,” adapted and directed by Tzvia Margaliot, The National Library of Israel, July 2013 Photograph: Michal Gorlin Becker

Left | General Hubbell (Yinon Shazo) Right | Attorney Brown (Ram Mizrahi) in “Cresson and the Dove,” The National Library of Israel, July 2013 Photographs: Michal Gorlin Becker

General Hubbell: Two of the notable members of the Jewish community visited me in my office, Rabbi Isaac Leeser and Mr. Mordechai Ash. They asked me to take on the defense of one Warder Cresson, who had recently returned from a long sojourn in Jerusalem. His family had succeeded in getting a verdict of insanity against him in court before a small grand jury. It was one of the most important cases that I handled in my life, and it was perhaps among the most important cases in the history of the United States of America.

General Hubbell: Warder Cresson, ah…yes, yes, the name rings a bell. Mordechai Ash: In actuality, he doesn’t know that we came. The case is a bit sensitive.

Rabbi Leeser: Mr. Warder Cresson is one of the most well-respected residents of Philadelphia. His is a family with deep roots there. And if I may say so, he’s also one of the most interesting people who ever lived in this city. But at the same time a very controversial figure in the community.

General Hubbell: The community?

Rabbi Leeser: He had a huge disagreement with the Quaker elders, and he ultimately abandoned the sect. He drew nearer to our sect, developed great interest in the Hebrew Bible, and then, in 1844, succeeded, to the surprise of everyone, to receive an appointment as U.S. consul in Jerusalem from the Secretary of State in Washington.

Mordechai Ash: The first American consul in the Holy Land.

Rabbi Leeser: The consul set off, but his detractors brewed a plot against him, and while he was en route his appointment was revoked, but Mr. Cresson refused to accept it.

General Hubbell: My friends, if there is a dispute, the Secretary of State must be approached. It’s a state issue. I…

Rabbi Leeser: Oh, no. It wasn’t a dispute. It’s a very long story. I will jump to the end. Mr. Cresson spent five years in Jerusalem. He returned to Philadelphia two years ago, in September 1848, and serious conflicts immediately arose between him and his family.

Mordechai Ash: Mr. Cresson returned, General, as a Jew. He converted in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Leeser: Life in Jerusalem, our Holy City, influenced him greatly. General Hubbell: Not a few Christians live in Jerusalem, and none of them converted to Judaism because of the city’s influence.

Rabbi Leeser: Right, General. But Mr. Cresson, as I already said, is a unique person. A very emotional soul.

General Hubbell: I can understand that the family was very, very surprised.

A Quaker husband leaves and returns a Jew—definitely a surprise.

Rabbi Leeser: But this didn’t come to the family as a surprise. He declared his intent to convert in letters he sent from Jerusalem. And he also informed them right after he was circumcised.

General Hubbell: Very interesting, gentlemen.

Mordechai Ash: It only begins here, General.

Rabbi Leeser: Mr. Cresson was aware of the abyss between himself and his family and therefore he returned to the United States with the intent of coming to an understanding in good will with his family. Perhaps he secretly expected that he’d be able to convince his wife Elizabeth to follow in his path. But he was prepared for a separation, and to leave his wife and children an appreciable portion of the assets he had accumulated through his own hard work.

Mordechai Ash: Before his journey to Jerusalem, Mr. Cresson was one of the most successful farmers in the country, General. His farm was considered one of the most advanced and prosperous of all farms. A model farm here and for other countries.

General Hubbell: So?

Mordechai Ash: No, no. General, we don’t want to get involved in the disagreement between the husband and his wife and sons. The problem arose as a result of the lawsuit his wife and several of his sons filed against him in court. They petitioned the court to declare Mr. Cresson insane and therefore not responsible for his actions. And to transfer all of his property to their hands. Several months ago the jury made its decision: Totally insane.

General Hubbell: Wait a minute, on what basis?

Mordechai Ash: Well, the family brought a whole line of witnesses in its favor, General. Mr. Cresson refused to bring witnesses on his own behalf. It pained him that he was forced to fight with his wife and children in public. The children stated various things against him, but in our opinion, it was the conversion that was the main point, and for that reason we came to you. Conversion. Conversion.

General Hubbell: [Humming]

Rabbi Leeser: Let me explain. Mr. Warder Cresson is a man full of quirks, without a doubt. You could even call him “eccentric.” But it wasn’t his baggage of quirks that ruined him, in our opinion, but the fact that he left the Church and joined our nation. By its verdict, the Philadelphia jury maintained that a man who of his own free will determines to be a Jew must be insane. And such a ruling is unacceptable.

Therefore we have come to you, General. We are not talking about a private matter of this man or any other. We are talking about the image of America. Does the freedom that our great Constitution offers to everyone not include the freedom to change one’s mind? To adjust one’s world view? To convert from one religion to another? Even from one denomination to another? No, it’s not the trial of Warder Cresson, General, but the trial of America. This is a trial that merits your involvement. There is no need to hide it. We have an interest in this trial as Jews, as friends of Mr. Cresson, but also as citizens of this great country.

General Hubbell: What you essentially want from me, gentlemen, is that I defend a man of whose psychological stability you yourself are not certain. And you are warning me not to put him on the witness stand because it would give him an opportunity to voice his opinion on the Church. And that, with all this, I must prove that he is sane and responsible.

Rabbi Leeser: We can understand…

General Hubbell: No, no, no. Leeser my friend, you didn’t understand me correctly. I will defend Mr. Cresson before the grand jury. Isn’t it said, “The spiritual man is insane”?

General Hubbell: Ah…

Rev. McKenzie: Good morning, General. Please, please, come in.

General Hubbell: Thank you, thank you.

Rev. McKenzie: I’m pleased that you came to me. And so, General, what can I do for you?

General Hubbell: Mr. Warder Cresson.

Rev. McKenzie: Oh, of course. He is still resolute, or did he change his mind? General, are you representing him now?

General Hubbell: I’m thinking about it, Reverend McKenzie. Have you known him for many years?

Rev. McKenzie: Yes, the devil gained control of the soul of Mr. Cresson. I have known him for years, well before he left for Jerusalem on his strange mission. He’s always been eccentric and volatile. He quarreled with everyone here. How the secretary of state was persuaded to give him the diplomatic appointment – only God knows. General, the man embittered the lives of his wife and children. A faithful wife, whose husband abandons her for four years and returns with a skullcap on his head, believing in the Law of Moses; he has imposed an abomination on our faith.

General Hubbell: I’m not dealing with that aspect of things. I’m dealing with the theological side of this story, Reverend.

Rev. McKenzie (laughing): I’m talking about the poor woman and her children. I was there, General, on the first day of his return. That is to say, Mrs. Cresson requested that I come for dinner. Mr. Cresson returned from Jerusalem. Who wouldn’t want to hear first-hand accounts of the Holy City? I was there, General, and believe me, only the devil could create such a sight. Imagine the father who has just returned sits at the head of the table, wearing a big, black skullcap, reciting the blessing for the food in Hebrew. Sitting at the head of the table like a total stranger, and he suddenly breaks out with a terrible shout at the maid.

Warder Cresson: Susan, take this tray off the table.

Elizabeth Cresson: What’s the matter?

Warder Cresson: Elizabeth, don’t interfere. Susan, take the tray off the table! No one puts pork on my table!

Rev. McKenzie: Imagine the shock and confusion on their faces, General. The maid, Susan, almost dropped the tray from her hands. And then, Jacob, the eldest son, flushed, intervened.

Jacob Cresson (the son): Don’t take it away. This house is also our house.

Rev. McKenzie: Please, please. Warder my friend, no one is asking you to eat pork. We all respect your new faith that prohibits you from eating pork. But all of us here, your wife, sons, daughters, and their spouses, all of us here have been faithful Christians from the day we were born. And certainly until our deaths. And pork has always been on the table. For the sake of peace in the home…

Jacob Cresson (the son): Peace in the home. Father didn’t come to create peace in the home. He left everything because of his crazy ideas and now he reappeared and is driving us all crazy. He didn’t come home; a strange man returned. I can’t tolerate his excesses. For four years, this house hasn’t been his. His house is in a different place. In the kingdom of lunacy.

 

* * *

General Hubbell: That’s how Warder Cresson’s return was. He undoubtedly would have separated from his wife and children and simply followed his new chosen path, but wealth got in the way. The money is what caused the dispute to extend beyond the family and into the public sphere. That began when Mr. Cresson went into the library room and opened the bottom drawer of his desk to take out the accounts book. His wife jumped on him. She tried to rip the book from his hands. An ugly fist fight broke out between husband and wife and moments later the siblings came in.

Warder Cresson: No one can stop me from looking at the accounts book. Jacob Cresson (the son): Where were you for the last four years? You left us to manage the farm alone.

Warder Cresson: Here, here, is the issue. It was sold to Joseph Ashton for ten thousand six hundred and forty dollars. You sold it to Joseph Ashton. You took advantage of my absence and didn’t write to me about it. You seized from me the farm that I built with my own two hands. You sold this good land that provided for you. I gave you the power of attorney to manage my assets, but not to sell them to strangers!

Jacob Cresson (the son): What are you, Father? You didn’t come here just to see the faces of your wife and children. You came here to sell the family property and to take the money with you there, to Jerusalem. And what would you do with it there? Divide it among poor Jews or build the Temple from its ruins? Or plant vineyards in the Holy Land?

Elizabeth Cresson: The man is crazy. I’m telling you, the man is crazy. Everyone will agree with us. He came to sell his farm in order to build the Temple on Mount Moriah. It’s written in black and white in the newspaper. Jacob Cresson (the son): Totally crazy. Totally crazy.

Rev. McKenzie: That’s how things went, General Hubbell. His Jewish friends perhaps want to make him out as a poor victim whom his family wants to usurp, but judge for yourself. A man is entitled to his convictions even if they are totally outlandish. This is ensured in our Constitution. But Mr. Cresson wanted to persuade his wife to follow him? That’s the same Cresson who brought a white dove with him in a cage to Jerusalem. Yes (laughing), a white dove in order to send it off above Mount Scopus the minute the flood begins. Imagine. A dove that would flutter above the ocean and come and sit on the windowsill of our Senate in Washington, or in the presidential office in the White House. To announce that the flood has begun. That’s the very Cresson whom you are defending.

General Hubbell: Yes, but Mr. Cresson offered them a reasonable arrangement, Reverend McKenzie. He intended to divide his property with his sons and take only his portion to Jerusalem.

* * *

General Hubbell: The court was full from one end to the other. The case attracted great attention and was widely covered in the press. There was no need to repeat the parade of witnesses and experts who testified at the earlier trial. By agreement with a representative of the family, Attorney David Brown, it was decided that they would focus only on key witnesses. And indeed, he mounted a concentrated attack.

Attorney Brown: The accused, Mr. Warder Cresson, claimed in his defense that he returned to Philadelphia with the intention of offering his family an arrangement for the division of the assets. What a generous offer…Here we have before us a father and husband who offers to leave his wife and children half of his assets. Who can reject such a generous offer. But, gentlemen of the jury, would you entrust your assets with a person who is not responsible for his own actions? We have already proved that Mr. Warder Cresson was an unstable man, obsessed with follies, before he left for Jerusalem. We have already proven that during his stay in Jerusalem his madness only increased. He lived in an imaginary world. He slighted his wife, humiliated his sons, and turned his back on them when he chose to convert to another religion.

 

* * *

Attorney Brown: Mr. Carr, what was your last position?

Envoy Dabney Carr: The envoy of the United States of America in Constantinople.

Attorney Brown: And when did you first hear the name of Mr. Cresson?

Envoy Dabney Carr: At the beginning of 1844.

Attorney Brown: Umm…

Envoy Dabney Carr: I received a dispatch appointing him U.S. consul in Jerusalem. And soon afterwards another dispatch notifying me of the cancellation of that appointment.

Attorney Brown: And afterwards?

Envoy Dabney Carr: Afterwards it became known to me, to my amazement, that Mr. Cresson arrived in Jerusalem and presented himself as the consul.

Attorney Brown: What did you hear?

Envoy Dabney Carr: I immediately demanded that he cease with these false pretenses and return home.

Attorney Brown: And what did he answer?

Envoy Dabney Carr: That his appointment is legal because it wasn’t revoked by the Senate and that he has a mission to fulfill in the Holy Land. Of course I informed the authorities in Constantinople that Mr. Cresson has no official capacity. That prevented him from continuing to pose as consul and issue certificates to Jews. These activities angered the Turks and caused us great harm.

Attorney Brown: What exactly incited their anger, Mr. Carr?

Envoy Dabney Carr: Mr. Cresson spoke on every occasion that the United States should conquer Palestine from the Turks.

Attorney Brown (laughing): Conquer Palestine from the Turks? Why should we do this, Mr. Carr?

Envoy Dabney Carr: In Cresson’s opinion, if the United States doesn’t do it, England will do it first.

Attorney Brown: England?

Envoy Dabney Carr: Yes. He also wrote to other members of the Senate in the same spirit.

Attorney Brown: What did you think when you read those letters?

Envoy Dabney Carr: Mmm…Every person is entitled to have his fantasies. But Mr. Cresson presented this plan as the—false, of course—representative of the secretary of state. And this could have caused serious damage to his country. An eccentric person who has visions that don’t cause harm is one thing. But one who causes damage by other means, that is a totally different issue.

General Hubbell: Throughout your term in Constantinople, Mr. Carr, did you ever receive a formal complaint on matters pertaining to Mr. Cresson?

Envoy Dabney Carr: No, no. As far as I remember, no. His name, of course, came up in several conversations…

General Hubbell: But no official complaint?

Envoy Dabney Carr: Mr. Cresson talked about the conquest of Palestine from the Turks, but…

General Hubbell: But we don’t have any such intention, Mr. Carr—none at all.

Envoy Dabney Carr: The United States has no political interest in the Near East.

General Hubbell: Do the Turks know this?

Envoy Dabney Carr: Of course.

General Hubbell: Well, Mr. Carr, a moment ago you claimed that a person can have his fantasies as long as they don’t cause harm to others. The apocalyptic fantasies of Mr. Cresson did not harm any American interests in the Near East. Isn’t it possible to conclude that Mr. Cresson did not cause any harm?

Envoy Dabney Carr: He aroused resentment and suspicion.

General Hubbell: And even yet, the Turks did not arrest him for subversion, for instance.

Envoy Dabney Carr: No.

General Hubbell: I rest my case.

 

* * *

Attorney Brown: Mr. Clemens, when did you live in Jerusalem?

William Clemens (journalist): In the summer of 1845.

Attorney Brown: To what purpose?

William Clemens: As a tourist, as a correspondent for The San Francisco Sun.

Attorney Brown: And during your stay in Jerusalem did you meet Mr. Cresson?

William Clemens: Oh, yes, on a few occasions. I also wrote about the meetings in the newspaper.

Attorney Brown: What was his status in Jerusalem?

William Clemens: The good authorities in Jerusalem at the time respected him a great deal because he was American. When he was at Jaffa Port the Turkish governor of the city sent a troupe of armed horseman to receive him and accompany him to Jerusalem. In the city, two guards walked in front of him carrying shiny silver batons.

Attorney Brown: And what did he do in Jerusalem?’

William Clemens: Immediately upon his arrival he hung the Stars and Stripes from his balcony and began to receive anyone and everyone.

Attorney Brown: Aha.

William Clemens: Mostly poor Jews. And to promise them the protection of the United States across the ocean, which, by the way, very few had heard about in Jerusalem. (Attorney Brown laughs). He opened an office on Mount Zion but later moved and opened another one in the Tower of David.

Attorney Brown: How did people relate to him, Mr. Clemens?

William Clemens: Relate to him?

Attorney Brown: Umm…

William Clemens: Well, Mr. Brown. It was very entertaining. The Jews suspected that he was a missionary. And Mr. Cresson made great efforts to prove to them that he had no intent to convert them. He profusely praised America and praised American agriculture and presented us as emissaries of the Divine Presence on Earth (Attorney Brown laughs). The Turks related to him, how shall I put it, with great bewilderment. I think they simply didn’t know how to comprehend him. In one of my articles, I describe a meal in the Turkish governor’s house (laughs). It’s hard for me to resist laughing when I remember this sight.

Attorney Brown: Tell us about it.

William Clemens: The governor hosted a huge feast in his honor. A big table filled with rice spiced with cinnamon, roasted lamb with tomatoes, fowl floating in fat. A feast for the eyes and for the palate. He told the governor, with the help of a translator, about the United States and about Philadelphia. And suddenly (laughs), suddenly Mr. Cresson pushed away the plates and spread out a map of the Near East: Here is Russia and here is Turkey and here is Palestine. Here, in the Jezreel Valley, more specifically, Armageddon will take place. Russia will invade Turkey and the United States will hasten to send a fleet to its rescue.

Attorney Brown: When will Armageddon break out?

William Clemens: According to Mr. Cresson, in three years. That is, it is supposed to be waging in full force right now.

Attorney Brown: And what will be the outcome of this war?

William Clemens: The United States will defeat Russia and gain control of the Holy Land. And immediately a long line of ships will begin bringing millions of Jews to the Holy Land. The Jews will build the Temple in Jerusalem and when it is built the Messiah will come.

Attorney Brown: And how did the Pasha respond to this startling discovery?

William Clemens: The Pasha…A chicken bone stuck in his throat. He listened to the translation of the speech and stared at Cresson like a turkey staring at human beings. I thought that at any moment he would order the guards to arrest Cresson and throw him into a jail for people who are considered crazy. Mr. Cresson was a most amusing character. Jerusalem was boring without him. A holy city can be very boring, and Mr. Cresson dispels this kind of boredom. I don’t know if he was an appropriate diplomatic representative, but I have no doubt that we will have no better advocate for the days of the Messiah.

General Hubbell: Your description, Mr. Clemens, is very entertaining. You like to see the amusing side of things. Are the amusing things that you indicate causing any damage that you can point to?

William Clemens: Damage?

General Hubbell: Damage. For instance, to ridicule sacred things that people believe in with all their hearts.

William Clemens: I try to show the ridiculous aspects of those things, Mr. Hubbell.

General Hubbell: People like your derisive satiric writing, Mr. Clemens. William Clemens: There are people who like it, and there are others who think it is scandalous.

General Hubbell: Are you seen, Mr. Clemens, as a person who causes damage or a corrupter of morals?

William Clemens: There are surely many who think so. They write me letters of outrage.

General Hubbell: Perhaps there are a few of them who think you are a man without values, or an unbalanced man?

William Clemens: Whoever doesn’t like being told the naked truth thinks that the purveyor of truth is insane.

General Hubbell: Anyone can say that you are a bit insane.

William Clemens: It is said, and it amuses me. It’s another amusing facet of human beings.

General Hubbell: That is to say, there could be a case, an in-between situation, that someone, say, a priest, or a pious group of women, would try to prevent you from publishing because of the things you write about the Church.

William Clemens: There have been such cases.

General Hubbell: But you would respond that doing so is your obligation, that it is the truth according to how you see it. And you would say that our Constitution assures freedom of opinion and freedom of expression to all.

William Clemens: Of course.

General Hubbell: Aren’t Mr. Cresson’s opinions subject to the same defense?

William Clemens: If you define his visions as opinions, then yes.

General Hubbell: But a man is entitled to his visions.

William Clemens: Of course. These visions are most amusing, Mr. Hubbell.

General Hubbell: That is to say, imagination should have free rein.

William Clemens: Without a doubt. If we get rid of imaginative people our world would be very boring, tasteless.

General Hubbell: Thank you very much, Mr. Clemens.

 

* * *

Attorney Brown: Mr. Leeser, you corresponded closely with Mr. Cresson during his stay in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Leeser: Yes, Mr. Cresson wrote me private letters and letters that he asked me to publish in our newspaper. He signed his name on the letters Michael Boaz Israel.

Attorney Brown: Even before he left to go to Jerusalem Mr. Cresson was attracted to ideas about the coming of the Messiah, the building of the Temple, and the restoration of the Jews to their land.

Rabbi Leeser: Yes, he believed in these ideas wholeheartedly, just as we Jews believe in them wholeheartedly.

Attorney Brown: If we overlook the belief in the coming of the Messiah, all of us, Mr. Leeser, believe and wish for this day, but aside from that, were there other messages in the letters that he wrote to you?

Rabbi Leeser: Mr. Cresson told me about what is going on in his heart.

Attorney Brown: Can you perhaps tell the jury about this?

Rabbi Leeser: Mr. Cresson wrote me that he saw with his own eyes at the tomb of David the embalmed body of King David, with his lyre hanging at its side, its strings being plucked by a gentle breeze.

Attorney Brown: And angels. Weren’t there also angels?

Rabbi Leeser: In the letter he wrote to me after his circumcision ceremony, he said that ministering angels would be waiting at the tomb.

Attorney Brown: And as for the Temple, Rabbi Leeser, did he not write about his plans to re-establish the Temple?

Rabbi Leeser: He had ideas of this sort.

Attorney Brown: Did he not write that he would use his private money to buy the land on which the Temple will be built?

Rabbi Leeser: No. No practical steps on this subject were in his letter. Attorney Brown: How did you relate to all these hallucinations and plans, Rabbi Isaac Leeser?

Rabbi Leeser: I knew Mr. Cresson well. He was always full of ideas. These ideas were not exceptional, sir, and neither were his visions. The gentleman surely read Daniel and the Book of Revelation? He also read about King David’s harp. Many times a man envisions his heart’s wishes. Reality is the reflection of his inner world.

Attorney Brown: That is to say, Mr. Cresson always seemed to you a totally sane man.

Rabbi Leeser: A particularly unique kind of man.

Attorney Brown: A sane man who takes with him in a cage a white dove to send it from the Mount of Olives to Capitol Hill.

Rabbi Leeser: People still use mail pigeons, Mr. Brown.

Attorney Brown: But not to announce the coming of the Messiah.

Rabbi Leeser: When the Messiah comes, Mr. Brown, a dove might be able to cross the ocean like an arrow shot from a bow.

Attorney Brown: And what did Mr. Cresson plan to do after the coming of the Messiah? What did he write to you?

Rabbi Leeser: To be the gatekeeper of the House of the Lord.

Attorney Brown: Mr. Cresson certainly had colossal plans.

 

***

General Hubbell: Rabbi Leeser, you said that Mr. Cresson published letters that he sent from Jerusalem in the Occident. What is the focus of this newspaper?

Rabbi Leeser: Among other things, diverse solutions for the terrible distress of Jews in Eastern Europe and the Land of Israel. And all sorts of attempts to help by encouraging them to engage in agriculture in the Holy Land.

General Hubbell: And Mr. Cresson had suggestions and plans on this topic?

Rabbi Leeser: Oh, yes, very good ones.

General Hubbell: What were they?

Rabbi Leeser: Mr. Cresson believed that the city is the source of sin and corruption. The city severs man from the land, from the true connection to nature.

General Hubbell: And he had, you’re saying, practical proposals.

Rabbi Leeser: Very practical. And very good ones, it turns out. Earlier proposers of plans had no knowledge in working the land. Whereas Mr. Cresson, as noted, had experience and knowledge.

General Hubbell: Perhaps you can tell us in brief about these practical plans of his?

Rabbi Leeser: Here, in an article published not long before his return, Mr. Cresson makes these proposals to people who wish to work the land and develop agriculture in the Holy Land. Here is some of his advice to those people: “First, the land should be…”

General Hubbell: “The land should be deeply plowed. And afterwards to fertilize it well and in a uniform way. To turn it over and loosen the earth. I see that here the soil is never turned over. The red clay soil tends to break apart into clusters when plowed and as a result it doesn’t completely crumble. Therefore miniscule seeds like expensive sesame seeds don’t come in contact with the soil but rather with the bottom of the furrow, preventing them from sprouting. Second, never plant in the fall, only after the first rain. Otherwise the seeds will be destroyed by worms that emerge after the rain. To start with, grow vegetables that sell well, like white potatoes and sweet potatoes, beets, beans, and turnips. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to produce citrus vinegar for export because there are so many lemons here. The climate is ideal not only for growing bananas, but also for sugar cane and pineapples. This wonderful fruit…”

Rabbi Leeser: “…This wonderful fruit will flourish in the soil of Jaffa, and I am writing: Get some plants of this kind from America.”

General Hubbell: Did you find something irrational in this letter, Rabbi Leeser?

Rabbi Leeser: Quite the opposite. This was the most serious letter that we published regarding the opportunity to renew farming in the Holy Land. Renewal based on the greatest achievements of modern agriculture.

General Hubbell: And other letters of his on the same issue? Are there other letters?

Rabbi Leeser: Mr. Cresson published a number of plans that came to his mind. If only we were able to achieve them, even only a few of them. The land of our fathers would then shake off its desolate state and the poor Jews of Jerusalem would be able to make a living working the land and in all kinds of crafts.

General Hubbell: I thank you, Rabbi Leeser.

General Hubbell: The question before us, and to which you, gentlemen of the jury, must give an answer, is thus: Is Mr. Cresson crazy? If Mr. Cresson is crazy—who is not? Is Jean-Jacques Rousseau to be considered crazy because he wrote about the curse of civilization? Or perhaps Mr. Henry David Thoreau, who urges us to return to nature and to the simple life? And if Mr. Cresson is crazy because of his harsh criticism of the Church—are not Martin Luther and Calvin worthy of the same epithet?

Mr. Brown put on the stand a line of witnesses who told us about Mr. Cresson’s strange actions in Jerusalem. Mr. Cresson is insane and believes in the coming of the Messiah. If so, aren’t we all here insane because we don’t believe in the coming of the Messiah? Mr. Cresson carried a white dove with him to Jerusalem. Crazy? Of course he’s crazy. Who takes a dove in a cage with him? But, my learned gentlemen, what if Mr. Cresson had taken a canary or a parrot in a cage? As a pet or a companion. Would we then view him as crazy, not responsible for his actions? Or just a man with strange customs?

Mr. Cresson is crazy because he told the Turkish Pasha about the approaching Armageddon. If the Pasha related the narrative about the birth of Muhammed, who rode horseback in the skies, would we also maintain that the Pasha was plagued with hallucinations and unfit to fill his office? And what about the disciples of Jesus, who witnessed with their own eyes his ascent to heaven? Mr. Cresson saw angels flying in the room and heard their singing. Would you, gentlemen, call Joan of Arc crazy? As someone who heard voices? And Mr. Cresson was in the presence of King David. That’s how it seemed to him. Therefore he is crazy and needs to be placed in an insane asylum. But if every one of us who believes in holy relics is considered crazy (laughs) — there wouldn’t be room in our insane asylum. All of us would be declared insane persons whose minds have become demented. And Mr. Cresson also believes the rumor about the existence of the Ten Tribes and the Sambatyon River full of boiling volcanic ash. And was Marco Polo not considered crazy? Should every one of us who believes in rumors and fables be thought to be a dangerous lunatic, in whose wallet we will not put a single cent out of fear that he will disperse his money? Our world is full of miracles and full of believers in miracles.

Who can say what is fantasy and what is truth? Wouldn’t you declare John a lunatic because of his visions that he put down in writing? Mr. Cresson traveled to Jerusalem! He reached the banks of the Jordan River, roamed around during the night, climbed the Mount of Olives, and all these wondrous sights touched him deeply and awakened visions in him. He felt like someone who was born again. And the truth was revealed to him. Isn’t he entitled to cling to his beliefs? Did this faith, gentlemen of the jury, really disrupt his mind?

We have heard here his many proposals for rehabilitation of the Land of Israel from its ruins. Could a witless, confused, and delirious man offer such practical solutions? Or do we have before us a sober, realistic, practical man such as only a farmer, a son of his country, can be?

Two spirits are rushing about in Mr. Cresson’s soul. But Mr. Cresson is not crazy. My learned friend tried to make clear today that Mr. Cresson’s whims could cause damage. Whom can they damage? Whom did they hurt? To whom could they have caused any kind of harm? It’s a fact that no damage has been done.

That being the case, only Mr. Cresson’s conversion from Christianity to Judaism is the pretext to declare him insane. If he had moved from one denomination to another within Christianity we wouldn’t consider calling him crazy. But a Christian who decides to become a Jew—a Christian like that has to be completely insane. Our Constitution secures the freedom of opinion. No one in the United States is persecuted for his beliefs and dreams, even the strangest among them. The United States is a wonderful place where people are allowed to say everything! Also to dream and to hallucinate. Everything. Everything! Therefore, gentlemen of the jury, it is just greed, pure and simple, that lies behind this legal claim. Your role today is to uproot prejudices from this great nation and ensure freedom—true freedom!

 

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General Hubbell: A half hour later, at three-thirty in the afternoon, the twelve members of the jury returned from a short consultation with the verdict that Mr. Cresson was sane. It was not only a personal victory for Cresson, but a victory for America. An honor for our great nation. So close to the time when the terrible storm came upon us, the war of Armageddon that tore the nation apart and threatened its integrity. From the ship, on his way back to Jerusalem, Mr. Cresson wrote the following letter:

Warder Cresson: Dear General Horatio, I am writing this letter to you aboard the ship Saint Louis. I can swear by heaven and earth that I directed myself to one single matter: the search for Divine light and eternal abiding truth. For just as there is only one single God there is only one single truth. My detractors accused me of insanity. But the only insanity in the world is lies, hypocrisy, and idol worship. Christianity, with its belief in the Trinity, is absolute idolatry. I leave behind me sinful Babylon and America, where days of trouble and terrible distress stand behind the walls. I envision a great war that will pit brother against brother. The handwriting is already on the wall, written in blood. I shall not forget your appearance in court on my behalf. I did not hold high hopes from a court of men. We shall all stand trial in the heavenly court above. But in the court below one must speak in the language of men, and you utilized it with great talent. May you be successful in all you do and may God have mercy on America. Michael Boaz Israel.

General Hubbell: From travelers who went to Jerusalem I heard that Warder Cresson remarried; the name of his new wife is Rachel with whom he had two children: David Ben Zion and Abigail Ruth. He died in Jerusalem on 27 October 1860, and his wife and children died not long after of the plague. In time he retreated to a world of mysticism and fantasy and ceased to prophesy and offer plans. He never sent off his white dove. He did not live long enough to receive news that the terrible war he predicted did begin, to everyone’s surprise, and which shook the foundations of our America.

But the last words of his letter bothered me all the time. Did he really fathom my innermost thoughts and understand that I had not decided what was the truth: A lunatic or a man of vision? A dreamer or a prophet? Indeed, it is possible that the very same man was both insane and sane? A man of imagination yet whose feet are firmly on the ground? Where is the boundary between whim and lunacy?

Without imaginative people we will be bogged down in one place. But people with imaginations that are too great can run us over the edge and into the abyss.

Cresson died in Jerusalem and has been forgotten. The verdict of the jury in Philadelphia remains an important precedent for our Constitution. Meanwhile Cresson’s dove is probably still flying and has not yet found a resting place.