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Sour Grapes: Some of History's Sorest Losers.

John Morrissey: The Boxing Loser

When it comes to grudges, Dirty Harry has nothing on former Tammany Hall politician John “Old Smoke” Morrissey [wiki]. The Irish immigrant got his start in New York as a young gang member – a role that segued nicely into dual careers as a champion boxer and a Tammany rep.

In July 1854, Morrissey foolishly challenged rival gang member William Poole (better known as “Bill the Butcher”) to a boxing match, where it took Poole less than five minutes to make Morrissey cry uncle.

Not taking too kindly to the public humiliation, Morrissey and his cronies confronted Poole in the Stanwix Hall saloon the following February. There, Morrissey henchman Lew Baker shot and fatally wounded the Butcher.

Nobody faced charges for the murder, and it certainly didn’t hurt Morrissey’s career. Following the Stanwix Hall incident, he won election to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the New York state senate.

Dmitri Mendeleev: The Brilliant Loser

You’d think a superstar lab rat like Dmitri Mendeleev [wiki] would have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. After all, the guy devised the entire Periodic Table of Elements – that miracle of organization and inference on which all modern chemistry is based. Mendeleev’s table was so good, in fact, that it predicted the existence of elements that hadn’t yet been discovered.

But here’s where politics reared its ugly head. In 1906, the Nobel committee selected Mendeleev to win the honor, but the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stepped in and overturned the decision.

Why? The intervention was spearheaded by Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, who’d won the chemistry prize in 1903 for his theory of electrolytic dissociation. Mendeleev had been an outspoken critic of the theory, and Arrhenius seized the opportunity as the perfect chance to squeeze a few sour grapes.

Andrew Jackson: The Electoral Loser

In the 1824 presidential election, first-time candidate Andrew Jackson [wiki] captured the popular vote, but that didn’t mean much – it being a four-man race and all.

When nobody was able to claim a majority of the electoral college, the decision was thrown to the House of Representatives, which meant fourth-place finisher (and House Speaker) Henry Clay had to leave the race. No longer in the running, Clay urged his supporters to back John Adams, who won the election. Of course, when Clay became secretary of state in Adam’s cabinet, Jackson complained that the two had made a “corrupt bargain” to thwart him.

Old Hickory and his supporters spent the next four years on a constant campaign of wild charges against the president. In 1828 rematch is remembered as one of America’s slimiest elections, featuring accusations that Jackson’s wife was an “American Jezebel,” and that Adams supplied American virgins for the Russian czar.

Jackson won the second go-around easily, and once in office, he rewarded many of his supporters with Cabinet positions. (Sound familiar?) He also tried, unsuccessfully, to eliminate the electoral college.

Clement VII: The Righteous Loser

So, you’re desperate to be named pope, but the cardinals go ahead and choose some other guy. Isn’t it time you took the situation into your own hands? Well, that’s exactly what Robert of Geneva (a.k.a. Clement VII) did back in 1378.

Reigning Pope Gregory XI had, just one year prior, moved the papal court from Avignon, France, back to Rome. After he died, Vatican cardinals were determined to elect an Italian who would keep the power in Rome, so they voted in Pope Urban VI.

The French didn’t take too kindly to that, though. Hoping to bring the power back to France, cardinals there opposed Urban in favor of fellow Frenchy Clement VII. In what was later dubbed the Great Schism, Clement started a second line of popes (antipopes, as they later became known) in Avignon.

As it turned out, Clement probably would’ve been the better choice. Urban VI became legendary for his abuses of power (including killing cardinals who opposed him), and some content he was actually insane. But it’s Clement’s line that history deems illegitimate.

Augustus III: The Well-Connected Loser

Nothing screams “sore loser” like a war of succession! After Polish King Augustus II died in 1733, France’s Louis XV pushed for the restoration of his father-in-law, Stanislaw I, to Poland’s throne. Others wanted Augustus’ only legitimate son to take over, and they called on all their powerful friends.

Stanislaw took the throne, but an approaching army of some 30,000 Russian troops convinced him to rethink his decision and flee the country. Thus began the War of Polish Succession. France, Spain, and Sardinia were on the pro-Stanislaw side, while Austria, Prussia, and Russia backed Frederick Augustus (Augustus III).

The war lasted until 1735 and wound up with Augustus III still enjoying his position of power, albeit with considerably fewer subjects.

The article above was published in the July - August 2006 issue of mental_floss magazine, reprinted here on Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!


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I would like to contend the content in the article about John Morrissey many historians say that when John fought Poole he was losing and Poole's men jumped in to take the win. Poole was actually the dirty fighter. Not to mention he was far from a boxing loser he's in the International boxing hall of fame and was a champion. I feel that calling him a "boxing loser" is a bit disrespectful.
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