Labor Secretary Perkins Did Her Part to Make Sure Social Security Endures

A Feb. 27, 1935, memo by President Roosevelt to Francis Perkins regarding Social Security went to auction in December 2008.

By Jim O’Neal

President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt created the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor on Feb. 14, 1903. It was renamed the Department of Commerce in 1913 and various bureaus and agencies specializing in labor were shifted to a new Department of Labor.

Until 1920, women were prohibited from having Cabinet-level positions since they were not allowed to vote. President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke this barrier in 1933 by appointing Francis Perkins as Secretary of Labor. She was instrumental in aligning labor with the New Deal.

The New Deal was a complex integrated plan to provide present relief, future stability and permanent security in the United States. Much of the president’s thinking about security – which would soon come to be called “social security” – rested on a premise that overcompetition in the labor market depressed wages, spread misery rather than income, curtailed the economy and worked special hardship on the elderly.

Roosevelt was determined to find a way to “dispose of surplus workers,” in particular those over the age of 65. The federal government could provide immediate relief to able-bodied workers as the employer of last resort, while returning welfare functions to the states. Unemployment insurance would relieve damage from economic downturns by sustaining workers’ living standards, and removing older workers (permanently) through government paid old-age pensions would create broad economic stability.

The longer-term features of Roosevelt’s grand design were incorporated into a landmark measure whose legacy endured and reshaped the texture of American life: the Social Security Act. No other New Deal measure proved more lastingly consequential or is more emblematic of the very essence of the New Deal. No one was better prepared to thread the needle of the tortuous legislative process than Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins and FDR personally assigned her the task of chairing a Cabinet committee to prepare the legislation for submission to Congress.

Madame Secretary (as she preferred to be called) brought to her task the commonsense practicality of her New England forebearers; compassion of the special milieu from her time at social-work pioneer Jane Addams’ Hull House; and a dose of political expertise gained as a labor lobbyist and industrial commissioner in New York. Perkins had evolved from a romantic Mount Holyoke College graduate, who tried to sell “true love” stories to pulp magazines, into a mature, deadly serious battler for the underprivileged.

She owed her position to a comrade-in-arms relationship with New York Governor Al Smith and FDR in New York reform battles and also the spreading influence of an organized women’s faction in the Democratic Party. She wisely believed that enlightened middle-class reformers could do more for themselves through tough legislation than union organization; and without the distraction of industrial conflict and social disruption.

Meanwhile, the American labor movement, led by the stubborn Samuel Gompers, relied exclusively on protection of labor’s right to organize. Even after his death, his American Federation of Labor (AFL) spurned legislation and continued to bargain piecemeal, union by union, shop by shop … a strategy that collapsed as the depression deepened.

We know how this ended on Jan. 17, 1935, when President Roosevelt unveiled his Social Security program. Today, 61 million people – or one family in four – receive benefits. However, there is no “lockbox” for Social Security and the flow of taxes and benefit payments are co-mingled with all General Obligations; which includes Medicare, military spending, food stamps and foreign aid. Everything is dependent on the federal government’s ability to levy taxes and borrow money to fund the unsustainable debts backed by “the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Some say that when it comes to global sovereign debt, we live in the best house on Bankrupt Street. However, I am willing to bet that FDR’s cherished Social Security program will never be touched. Francis Perkins did a superb job of getting this concept engrained in a special way and she must still be smiling. She liked her work and served for 12 years and one month – almost a record. James “Tama Jim” Wilson holds that distinction, serving as Secretary of Agricultural from 1897 to 1913, the only Cabinet member to serve under four consecutive presidents, counting the one day he served under Woodrow Wilson.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Link Between Value of Money and Gold a Quaint Relic of the Past

This Serial Number 1 Stephen Decatur $20 1878 Silver Certificate, Fr. 306b, is believed to be the first silver certificate ever produced. It sold for $175,375 at a May 2005 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1961, I was a member of a high-powered bowling team that competed on Tuesday nights at the South Gate Bowling Center in Southern California. We all had 200-plus averages, but only managed to win one league championship in the four years we were together. In February, one of my teammates, Carl Belcher, bowled a perfect game (12 strikes) and received 250 silver dollars from a promotional gimmick the arena used to attract customers. Nobody paid much attention and I personally thought it was an unnecessary inconvenience to lug the sacks to a local bank to get rid of them.

Most of the silver dollars in circulation were probably in Nevada since all the Reno and Las Vegas casino slot machines used them instead of tokens. Even paper currency was printed with the promise to “pay to the bearer on demand … one silver dollar,” which evolved into “one dollar in silver.” For a while, it was possible to get a small plastic bag of silver equivalent to the denomination of the paper currency.

Silver certificates were authorized by two Acts of Congress. The first on Feb. 28, 1878, followed by another on Aug. 9, 1886. These notes are particularly attractive, quite rare and sometimes expensive. At one time, I owned an especially distinguished $20 bill with the head of Captain Stephen Decatur, naval hero of the War of 1812. It was serial number 1 and experts believe that since the Treasury generally printed the $20s first, this note was probably the first silver certificate ever printed. Heritage Auctions auctioned it in 2005 for $175,000 when I sold my currency collection.

However, after Executive Order 6102 of 1933, there were no more gold coins or silver dollars minted in the United States and paper notes were used for denominations above 50 cents. Up to 1964, dimes, quarters and half dollars were minted in 90 percent silver, and half dollars contained 40 percent silver from 1965-70. Even the lowly penny had most of its copper content removed and is now made primarily of zinc, with a thin copper plating.

For 4,000 years, the only period in which civilization has not based its currency on metal, especially gold and silver, is the past 46 years. On Aug. 15, 1971 (“A date that has lived in infamy”), President Richard Nixon announced the temporary suspension of dollars into gold. The White House tapes from the previous week reveal that he thought gold prices would explode after being de-linked since the Federal Reserve would print money like crazy once the currency was not collateralized and this overprinting would affect jobs (unemployment had just gone from 4 percent to 6 percent). And Nixon was “not about to be a hero” (his words) on inflation at the expense of employment.

Then the administration imposed a rigorous regime of wage and price controls, enforced by IRS audits and leverage over federal contracts. The plan failed spectacularly and the 1970s were rife with double-digit inflation, energy shortages and ultimately the “stagflation” that torpedoed both the Ford and Carter presidencies.

Flash forward to today as we are still trying to use monetary policy to solve economic issues and unwilling to even touch the critical fiscal issues that are fundamental to the future economic challenges everyone acknowledges. The only thing that has changed is that there is no need to actually print money when it can be “whistled into existence” via monetary legerdemain called quantitative easing, where the Federal Reserve loans money to the Treasury Department.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the world’s central bankers have materialized $12.25 trillion by tapping on a computer keyboard. For perspective, the value of all the gold that’s ever been mined, according to the World Gold Council, is a mere $7.4 trillion. The historical linkage between the value of our money and its metal content is a quaint relic of the past.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Oaths of Loyalty to the U.S. were Common at Time of Civil War

An oath of allegiance to the United States signed by Confederate surgeon Samuel Houston Caldwell at the close of the Civil War went to auction in June 2007.

By Jim O’Neal

One of the primary problems facing the federal government when the Civil War began was ensuring that its employees and military were loyal. Over 300 U.S. officers resigned to join the Confederacy, as did numerous clerks and officials. Fearful of disloyalty among those who remained, President Lincoln on April 30, 1861, ordered all military personnel to retake an oath of allegiance.

Even though these regulations were rigidly enforced, fears of disloyalty remained and numerous ad hoc oaths of allegiance were used as a means of testing and ensuring loyalty. By the summer of 1862, most of the oaths – civil and military – were combined under one oath, the Ironclad Test Oath of Loyalty.

The Ironclad Oath was named because it required an oath-taker to swear, “I have never voluntarily borne arms against the United States.” In addition, the person had to forsake any allegiance to state authority and swear “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic … [and] bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

An oath of allegiance rapidly became a test of loyalty for common citizens. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler as military governor of New Orleans required that after Oct. 12, 1861, anyone who wanted to do business in the city or with the U.S. government had to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. As stated by Butler, “It enables the recipient to say, I am an American citizen, the highest title known.”

Butler’s practice became commonplace as the war progressed, and the Ironclad Oath, or a variant, was required of thousands of federals and Southerners. People who wanted to do business with the government, Confederate prisoners of war who wanted parole, Southerners who wanted to be reimbursed for goods taken by foraging federal troops, and Union sympathizers in the South who wanted to govern themselves – all took the oath. Some took it numerous times; the record may have been set by politician Robert J. Breckinridge, who took the oath nine times between June and December 1865.

After the war, the oath presented an immediate problem for both the South and North. Since its provisions remained in effect, no former Confederate soldier or Southern citizen who had assisted in the South’s war effort could hold federal, state or local office, or serve in the military. To evade the “ironclad” portion of the oath concerning bearing arms against the United States, former Confederates had to petition the president of the United States for a pardon.

In 1884, Congress removed all the iron from the Ironclad Oath when it passed into law a new Oath of Allegiance. The 1884 oath removed all the restrictive portions of the older oaths and left it in its current form – an oath to support and defend the Constitution.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

After Napoleon and Nazi Germany, Russia Lives with Paranoia of Conflict

A 1953 Russian propaganda poster showing Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin sold for $2,629 at a July 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953, after ruling the Soviet Union for 25 years and leading the country in its transformation into a major world power. Born Iosif Dzhugashvili in 1878, while in his 30s he took the name “Stalin” meaning “Man of Steel.” After studying at a theological seminary, he read the works of revolutionary socialist Karl Marx, which inspired him to join the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

He was a protégé of Vladimir Lenin and after Lenin’s death, Stalin earned a reputation as one of the most ruthless and brutal dictators in world history (“Ideas are more powerful than guns,” he once said. “We don’t let our people have guns. Why should we let them have ideas?”).

After an extended Cold War with the West, the Soviet Union started to unravel when its eighth and final leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, assumed control in 1988. He seemed eager to “destroy the apparat” – weaken the Stalinist structure of the Communist Party and the Soviet state. Only then could he take the bold economic steps to revamp a bankrupt system that was crumbling fast.

The West hailed Gorbachev as the tsar liberator, a political magician, or as Time magazine editorialized in January 1990: “The Copernicus, Darwin and Freud of communism all wrapped into one.” A year earlier, he was Time’s “Man of the Decade.” But in early 1990, Lithuania demanded outright independence and a crowd of 200,000 in the capital of Vilnius demonstrated to get the entire Lithuanian territory returned. This was quickly followed by an Azerbaijani Popular Front rally that escalated into a civil war along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, with both sides clamoring for independence.

In August 1991, Latvia and Estonia declared restoration of full independence, followed by the Ukraine on Dec. 1. On Dec. 25, Christmas Day, Gorbachev resigned and the following day the Supreme Soviet voted itself and the Soviet Union out of existence.

I first met current Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg in 1992 when he was head of the Committee for External Relations, a group in the mayor’s office responsible for promoting international relations and foreign investment. We started shipping Lays potato chips from Warsaw and soon built a Frito-Lay plant near Moscow. I totally underestimated him and thought he was just another thug, a feeling that was reinforced when we started Pizza Hut in Moscow.

According to Henry Kissinger, Putin has always blamed Gorbachev for the dissolution of the Soviet Union due to his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform). “The greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” It has always been a mystery to me why they gave up so much when the United States and others were willing to negotiate a softer landing. I haven’t read Putin’s autobiography, but I suspect the Russians will never be satisfied until there is an east-west buffer zone along the Ukrainian border.

After Napoleon and then Nazi Germany, there is an inherent paranoia that will only be exacerbated if Poland ever joins NATO. As philosopher George Santayana so wisely observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Marie Antoinette Swept Away by Conditions that Rocked European Landscape

An oil on canvas of Marie Antoinette, after Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842), realized $10,755 at a November 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It is hard to ignore the significance of July 14, despite my previous recap of the key events that took place in Paris over 200 years ago when revolutionaries and mutinous troops stormed the Bastille, the royal fortress and prison (with only seven inmates) that symbolized the tyranny of monarchy. It was an event that degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, but shaped modern nations by exhibiting the power inherent in the will of the common man.

However, I felt a tinge of sympathy for President Donald Trump when I saw pictures of him at dinner last week at the Eiffel Tower (at the Jules Verne restaurant). There is nothing quite so boring as a three-plus-hour dinner at a Michelin-starred French restaurant. I also presume that with President Emmanuel Macron playing host, the kitchen really exaggerated the occasion since he appears to share the classic pomp and monarchical tendencies that got his predecessors in trouble.

This especially includes the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, the 14-year-old Austrian princess who had the misfortune of wedding the last King of France, Louis XVI, since they both got their heads chopped off. Their marriage was intended to seal the alliance between longtime enemies Austria and France, following the end of the Seven Years’ War.

Marie Antoinette was born in 1755 in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresa, the powerful Habsburg Empress. The teen bride-to-be had been delivered to the French on May 7, 1770, and then escorted to the Palace of Versailles, where she met her husband-to-be, Dauphin Louis-Auguste, a 15-year-old boy with a medical condition that rendered him impotent for several years. Eventually, the couple had four children.

The king lost his head on Jan. 21, 1793. Nine months later, a Revolutionary Tribunal found the queen guilty of treason, sexual promiscuity and a phony charge of having incestuous relations with her son Louis-Charles. The trial lasted two days and the tribunal unanimously condemned her to death. On Oct. 16, 1793, the executioner entered her cell wearing a red hood; he sheared off her hair to ensure a quick, clean cut of the guillotine blade.

He then lopped off her head as a boisterous crowd watched and cheered “Vive la nation!”

The 37-year-old queen has long been wrongly charged of responding “Let them eat cake” when told of starving peasants with no bread to eat. Some credit the phrase to philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau. I doubt she resents this final insult, but it does represent the conditions that fueled the revolution that rocked the European landscape in general.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Webster Considered the ‘Father of American Scholarship and Education’

A first edition of Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, with a four-page manuscript in Webster’s hand concerning word origins, sold for $34,655 at a February 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 when he was 70 years old. It was printed in two quarto volumes with 70,000 word entries. (A quarto was typically 9 x 12 inches or roughly the size of modern magazines.) About 12,000 of the words had never appeared in a published dictionary and Webster tried to harmonize the spelling of a word with its common pronunciation.

Another unique feature was the inclusion of words used in America that were not in British dictionaries. Perhaps that is why George Bernard Shaw – the Irish playwright who won the Nobel Prize in 1925 – is said to have coined the phrase “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” (There are several variations of this, including one by Winston Churchill.)

Noah Webster

Webster (1758-1843) also collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and other prominent Federalists, which made him a rich target for Jeffersonian-Republicans who peppered him with insults: a prostitute wretch, incurable lunatic, spiteful viper, pusillanimous traitor, to list just a few. He founded the first daily newspaper in New York, The American Minerva, and a semi-weekly publication later known as the New York Spectator. He was a prolific writer and earned the imposing sobriquet as the “Father of American Scholarship and Education.”

I have gradually abandoned the use of printed dictionaries, but a copy of the old reliable Merriam-Webster still occupies a handy spot in the bookcase. One who didn’t was Emily Dickinson, who used Webster as a reference “obsessively.” Scholars studying her immense body of work routinely turn to Webster for clarification. She was such an eccentric recluse that only a dozen of her 1,800 poems were published while she was alive. The hodgepodge of short lines, unconventional punctuation and slant rhymes make her work difficult to appreciate. But the lady could write and may be the finest American poet of the 19th century.

Webster’s name is still synonymous with “dictionary” despite becoming generic and hyphenated long ago. He died in 1843 after playing a critical role in the Copyright Act of 1831.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

U.S. Politics Has Rarely Seen a Character Like Aaron Burr

The signatures of Aaron Burr (above) and Alexander Hamilton sold for $2,500 at an April 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention, there was a heated debate between delegates from southern and northern states over how to count slaves when determining a state’s population for both legislative representation and taxes. Finally, the “Three-Fifths Compromise” was reached, giving southern states one-third more seats in Congress and one-third more electoral votes than if slaves had been excluded.

In the presidential election of 1800, Vice President Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were able to defeat incumbent President John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney due to this single factor. However, under Electoral College rules of the day, it took 36 votes in the House of Representatives to make Jefferson president and Burr vice president. This caused a major rift between the two men. Then the relationship really turned bitter after Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804.

Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey, but neither reached trial after courts overturned the grand jury indictment. Burr fled to Georgia, but returned to Washington, D.C., to complete his term as vice president and presided over the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. The Senate refused to convict Chase and he remains the only Justice of the Supreme Court to be impeached.

This was followed by a bizarre series of events involving Burr that included a suspected conspiracy to recruit a group of volunteers for a military expedition down the Mississippi River, provoke a war with Spain, hoping to split off some western states, and create a new inland empire. The expedition collapsed almost immediately and a co-conspirator of Burr betrayed him by sending alarming messages to President Jefferson. Convinced of Burr’s guilt, Jefferson ordered his arrest and he was taken into custody and treason charges were filed. Burr escaped, but was recaptured and taken to Virginia for trial.

In Richmond, they learned the electrifying news that Burr, former VP of the U.S., had been accused of treason and his trial would be held in their courthouse. The trial of such a prominent person attracted legal officials from a broad area. Chief Justice John Marshall was picked to preside over the trial and Burr’s defense lawyers included Edmund Randolph (U.S. Attorney General under George Washington) and Charles Lee, Attorney General for John Adams. The chief prosecutor was James Monroe’s son-in-law, George Hay.

Notable witnesses included Andrew Jackson, a friend of Burr who thought Jefferson was maligning him and started picking fights with Jefferson’s friends – even challenging star witness General James Wilkerson to a duel. Wilkerson was the co-conspirator who provided the incriminating evidence to Jefferson.

The trial started on May 22, 1807, but despite all the intriguing circumstances, there was a lack of evidence as explicated by Judge Marshall and the jury declared the accused not guilty in September. Most observers conceded that the outcome was inevitable. However, Burr’s political career was finally ended and he left America on a self-imposed exile in Europe (presumably to escape his creditors!).

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Franklin Consistently Placed Public Interest Above Personal Desires

Benjamin Franklin regretted having been born too soon and missing knowledge that would be “known 100 years hence.”

By Jim O’Neal

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Thus begins a long-time misattribution to Charles Duell, commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (1898-1901). Researchers have confirmed that the actual source is the June 1899 edition of the humor magazine Punch. In colloquy, a genius asks, “Isn’t there a clerk who can examine patents?” and a boy replies, “Quite unnecessary, sir. Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

One man who definitely didn’t share that view was Benjamin Franklin. Although he was entranced by the discoveries of his day, he regretted having been born too soon. He missed “the happiness of knowing what will be known 100 years hence.” He wrote that by then, there would be “discoveries made of which we have at present no conception.” He was obviously correct about that, having been born very early in the 18th century (1706) and here we are 300 years later still astonished by a continuous flow of remarkable discoveries.

However, for a few of us there is a tinge of regret for being born too late to enjoy his company. A true polymath, Franklin was a pioneering scientist, best-selling author, printer, bon vivant, inventor, political theorist, diplomat, the country’s first postmaster general, and the most prominent celebrity of the 18th century (whew!).

He was also a man of vast contradictions. As a reluctant revolutionary, Franklin desperately wished to preserve the British Empire, and he mourned the break even as he led the fight for American independence. Despite his passion for science, he viewed his groundbreaking experiments as secondary to his civic duties. And although he helped draft both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, in his heart he hoped that the new American government would take a different form. This paradox stems from being the rare individual who consistently placed public interest above personal desires.

He is a delight for historians, since writing was his favorite mode of communication and he saved most of the letters he received… while others did the same with his highly valued correspondence. Then there is the autobiography that covers his first 52 years of public and private life; his remaining 32 years are intertwined with historic events. It is little wonder that his name keeps popping up so often yet today.

If he had a blind spot it was over the issue of race. For a man who saw himself as an Englishman living in America, he had grand thoughts about a glorious future for both Britain and America (only). Even without further immigration, America’s population was doubling every 20 years and “will in another century be more than the people of England, and the greatest number of Englishman will be on this side of the water.” If even more English came over, so much the better. But why allow anyone else to come?

“Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.” Franklin’s view, from a 1751 essay, was as politically incorrect then as it would be today. But, he went even further in what now would be called “ethnocentric.” He wanted to keep out not only Germans, but everyone except the English.

However, always the realist, he offered a wistful apology. “But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my country, for such kind of partiality is natural to mankind.”

Perhaps when time travel is practical, he will get a glimpse of all the wonders in the modern world that we take for granted too often. He will be one happy man… and I hope to be around to hear what he says.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Winfield Scott Arguably the Most Astonishing Military Officer in U.S. History

A Winfield Scott “For President” daguerreotype from his unsuccessful 1852 bid for the presidency sold for $25,000 at a September 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Some historians have labeled him as remarkable, perhaps the most remarkable in American history. For more than 50 years, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army, wearing the stars of a general from 1814 until his death in 1866 at age 80. Following Andrew Jackson’s retirement from the Army in 1821, he served as the country’s most prominent general, stepping down in late 1861, six months after the start of the Civil War.

Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, hero of the War of 1812, conqueror of Mexico in a hazardous campaign, and Abraham Lincoln’s top soldier at the beginning of the Civil War, was born in Virginia in 1786. It was a time of “an innumerable crowd of those striving to escape from their original social condition,” as described by French observer of America, Alexis de Tocqueville.

Success rested on the possession of land, driving both ambitious Americans and their government west.

Winfield’s father died when he was 5, and his mother died in 1803 when he was 17 and on his own. By 1807, he had tired of schooling and joined a prominent law firm in Richmond, “riding the circuits” where he helped provide legal assistance to litigants. It was here that the governor of Virginia made an appeal for volunteers to the state militia after a British frigate intercepted an American ship to search for four deserters from His Majesty’s Navy … the famous Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.

The people of the United States reacted with surprising violence, almost lynching British officers and attacking a nearby squadron. “For the first time in their history,” wrote American historian Henry Adams, “the people of the United States learned in June 1807 the feeling of a true national emotion.”

Public opinion forced President Thomas Jefferson to issue a proclamation requiring all armed British vessels to depart American waters. Then he called on all governors to furnish forces of 100 militia each. Winfield Scott felt an overwhelming urge to play a part and eagerly joined his fellow Virginians.

Thus began a long, storied military career, both during the consolidation of the nation and its expansion.

As a general, he was not the architect. It was President James Madison who attempted to unsuccessfully annex Canada in 1812. It was President Jackson who decided that American Indians east of the Mississippi must be moved to western lands following the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (the infamous “Trail of Tears”). President John Tyler eventually settled the boundary dispute with Britain over the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. James K. Polk manipulated the War with Mexico that expanded the nation into the southwest. And President James Buchanan used General Scott to secure the San Juan Islands, between Vancouver Island and the mainland, during the Pig War between the United States and Great Britain.

For each of these presidents, the agent and builder, in contrast to the architect, was General Scott. In this role, Scott served under 14 presidents, 13 of them as a general officer. Winfield “Old Fuss and Feathers” Scott lost his own bid for the presidency as the unsuccessful candidate for the Whigs in 1852. However, he certainly had the longest and most astonishing military career in U.S. history. And that includes all the other great men: Washington, Jackson, Grant, Lee, Eisenhower, etc.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Look to 1935 if Goal is Infrastructure Projects That Work

Joseph Christian Leyendecker’s cover illustration for the Oct. 19, 1935, edition of The Saturday Evening Post sold for $137,000 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“The social objective is to try to do what any honest government … would do: to try to increase the security and happiness of a larger number of people in all occupations of life and in all parts of the country … to give them assurance that they are not going to starve in their old age.”

Although this could have been taken directly from any Bernie Sanders speech anytime over the past 10 years … it was actually a response from President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 7, 1935, when answering a question about the social role of government.

This was the same week that Babe Ruth announced his retirement from the Boston Braves, only six days after he hit three home runs in the last game he played. It was the end of an era and it came right in the middle of the Great Depression.

Bread lines were still long and double-digit unemployment was accepted as the new normal. People were generally depressed and hope was a rare commodity.

Technological unemployment threatened to permanently engulf huge sectors of the workforce, particularly less skilled and older workers in general. Observers suggested that deep structural changes in the economy meant that the majority of those over 45 would never get their jobs back. Lorena Hickok (Eleanor’s paramour) opined that, “It looks like we’re in this relief business for a long, long time.” The president’s advisor, Harry Hopkins, was soon speaking of workers who had passed into “an occupational oblivion from which they will never be rescued… We shall have with us large numbers of the unemployed. Intelligent people have long since left behind them.” Sound familiar?

Even FDR chipped in with his “Fireside Chat” on June 28, 1934: “For many years to come, we shall be engaged in rehabilitating hundreds of thousands of our American families … The need for relief will continue for a long time; we may as well recognize that fact.”

The Emergency Relief Appropriation Act became law on April 18, 1935. The bill approved the largest peacetime appropriation in American history. This single appropriation authorized more spending than total federal revenues in 1934; with a special $4 billion earmarked for work relief and public works construction. Roosevelt and the bill’s architects did NOT believe they were addressing a transient disruption in the labor market, but a long-term (perhaps permanent) inability of the private economy to provide employment for all who wanted to work.

Thus were born many federal agencies, with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) the largest. The WPA employed 3 million people in the first year and in eight years it put 8.5 million people to work at a cost of $11 billion. WPA workers built 500,000 miles of highways, 100,000 bridges, as many public buildings, plus 8,000 parks.

When the current administration and Congress debate “infrastructure projects,” they would be well served to study this period in American history. These folks really knew how to do it!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].