Betty Ford set a standard that all who follow should study

A portrait of Betty Ford by Lawrence Williams went to auction in 2007.

By Jim O’Neal

Every presidential trivia fan knows that Eleanor Roosevelt’s birth name was Eleanor Roosevelt. She had married her father’s fifth cousin, Franklin. Although the couple had six children, Eleanor said she disliked intimacy with him and wrote she was ill-equipped to be a mother since she didn’t understand or even like small children.

They somehow managed to stay married for 40 years until FDR died in 1945. Franklin did enjoy intimate relations, especially with Lucy Mercer, Eleanor’s social secretary. He wanted a divorce, but his mother (who controlled the family money) would not allow it. This even after a trove of love letters between Franklin and Lucy exposed their elicit relationship.

Eleanor skillfully leveraged her position as First Lady; many consider her the first First Lady since she personally championed so many women’s rights issues. She had an active public life and a serious relationship with reporter Lorena Hickok. Eleanor became well known during her long occupancy in the White House and was highly respected all over the world.

That was not true (initially) of Betty Ford, who became First Lady when Jerry Ford became president after Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. She was born Betty Bloomer and she had divorced after a failed five-year marriage to William Warren, an alcoholic she nursed during his final two years.

She was a dancer before she married the man whose name was Leslie Lynch King Jr. when he was born in 1913 (he changed his name in 1935). As a member of the renowned Martha Graham dance troupe, Ford had performed at Carnegie Hall and later earned the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was presented by the recently deceased President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Betty Ford (1918-2011) had been impressed by Eleanor Roosevelt since childhood. “She eventually became my role model because I admired her so. I loved her Independence … a woman finally speaking out for herself rather than saying what would be politically helpful to her husband. That seemed healthy to me.” Others were quick to note the similarities between the two women. Major publications compared the willingness of both to offer bold, personal opinions on highly controversial issues. I would argue that Betty Ford set a higher standard for candor than any of her predecessors.

One small example is the very first press conference in the State Dining Room. Ford seemed to have no reservations about repeating her strong positions as a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and her pro-choice stance on abortion. She admitted she had consulted a psychiatrist, had been divorced, and used tranquilizers for physical pain. Any single one of these uttered today would instantly be “Breaking News” on the cable news channels so starved for fresh material (or innuendo).

Initially, Ford didn’t consider her Ladyship as a “meaningful position,” but rather than letting the role define her, she decided to change it. “I wanted to be a good First Lady … but didn’t feel compelled to emulate my predecessors.” She simply decided to be Betty Bloomer Ford … “and [I] might as well have a good time doing it.” She succeeded on both accounts and the results were more than just surprising.

She talked about “demanding privilege” and “a great opportunity,” but also about the “salvation” that gave her a genuine career of her own … and on a national level she’d never experienced before. Her impact helped reshape her into a likeable leader with broad respect.

Her creative imagination rivaled Jackie’s. “This house has been a grave,” she said. “I want it to sing!” More women were seated at the president’s table, especially second-tier political women who needed a little boost. And they were round tables, which denoted equality. This was the instinct of a free, bohemian spirit, but not by contrivance. She had been a single woman who studied modern dance and introduced it to the ghettos of Grand Rapids, Mich. She spoke deliberately and was unafraid of listening to differing viewpoints.

There were the occasional curious remarks about her drug and alcohol use, but easily rationalized by her well-known physical pain from severe arthritis and pinched nerve courtesy of her dancing. Not even nosy reporters questioned or sought to investigate the degree of her medications. It wasn’t until after the Fords left the White House that the drinking resulted in a family intervention.

In true Betty Ford fashion, after the denial, anger and resentment subsided, a positive outcome resulted. The Betty Ford Center was founded in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The center, known as Camp Betty, has helped celebrities and others overcome substance abuse issues. It offers treatment without shame and, although not a cure or panacea, gives people control over their lives. The opioid crisis of today is using some of the experience gained from Camp Betty.

However, her most lasting and important contribution concerns breast cancer. During the mid-1970s, television didn’t even allow the word “breast” until a determined Betty Ford decided to go very public with her condition. She had accompanied a friend who was having an annual checkup and the doctor suggested she do the same. After several more doctors got involved, a biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer. The White House press office squabbled over releasing information about her condition, but Betty spotted another opportunity.

By the time she was back in the White House two weeks later, women across America were having breast examinations and mammograms. The ensuing media coverage of her honest revelations was credited with saving the lives of thousands of women who had discovered breast tumors. The East Wing was flooded with 60,000 cards, letters and telegrams, 10 percent from women who had mastectomies. The First Lady told the American Cancer Society, “I just cannot stress enough how necessary it is for women to take an active interest in their own health and body … too many women are so afraid … they endanger their lives.”

Ford was a modern day Abigail Adams, but Ford used a megaphone rather than letters, and in a practical way. Bravo to an under-appreciated First Lady, who set a standard that all who follow should study.

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].

We owe Thomas Edison, Henry Ford a debt of gratitude

This uncanceled Edison Phonograph Works stock certificate is dated 1888, the very year the company was founded, and was issued to “Thomas A. Edison.” It was sold at an April 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Monday, Oct. 21, 1929, the Edison Institute was dedicated in Dearborn, Mich. It was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first incandescent light bulb that Thomas Alva Edison had invented and the strong friendship between Henry Ford and Edison. Although it was a relatively small group that joined in, it was loaded with luminaries: John D. Rockefeller, Orville Wright, Will Rogers, Marie Curie and, of course, Henry Ford and Edison, who was 82 years old.

President Herbert Hoover’s speech stated: “Every American owes a debt to him. It is not alone a debt for great benefactions he has brought to mankind, but also a debt for the honor he has brought to our country. His life gives confidence … our institutions hold open the door of opportunity … to all that would enter.” The ceremony was broadcast on radio and listeners were asked to keep all their electric lights off until a switch was flipped at the event.

Thomas Edison

One week later, the stock market was in a state of chaos as a series of events led to the Great Depression.

Ford (1863-1947) had grown up on a rural farm in Michigan and, like virtually every other American, was captivated by the remarkable inventions Edison was cranking out. Eschewing farm work after his mother died, he inevitably went to work at his hero’s company – Edison Illuminating Company – as an engineer.

Ford rose through the ranks to Chief Engineer, which allowed him more personal time to work on developing his version of an automobile. In 1896, at age 33, Ford developed his first experimental car, called the Ford Quadricycle. Edison had been working on an electric car and when the two men finally met, Edison reputedly slammed his fist on a table and exclaimed, “Young man, you have it!” He encouraged Ford to continue his development and this started a longtime friendship between the two geniuses.

Ford eventually developed his Model T, a series of improvements (not inventions) to the combustion engine, and a continuous assembly line. Introduced in 1908, the Model T would be extremely successful, eventually becoming one of the top-selling cars of all time. With the steering wheel on the left side, it is estimated that over 75 percent of everyone who learned to drive did it in some version of the Model T.

Along the way, Ford pioneered the eight-hour workday, reduced the cost from $850 and raised worker wages to $5 a day so they could afford to buy a car. He became a rich and successful businessman with a passion for collecting historic objects. President Wilson convinced him to run for the Senate since he was for peace and a Democrat, but he lost. After his death in 1947, the Edison Institute was renamed the Henry Ford Museum.

Today, the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation includes Greenfield Village, a tour of the massive Ford Rouge factory, and even a dedicated IMAX theater. The museum has an astonishing collection of Americana, with over 200 cars, JFK’s limousine from his trip to Dallas, the bus Rosa Parks made famous, Lincoln’s rocking chair from Ford’s Theater, Edison’s laboratory, the Wright Brothers’ bicycle machine shop, steam engines and other historic items depicting the history of America.

The Henry Ford Museum is the largest indoor/outdoor museum in the United States, with over 1.7 million visitors a year. Somewhere in this vast collection of truly famous objects is a small test tube with Edison’s last dying breath. Ford convinced Edison’s son to hold a mask over Edison as he was dying and capture/cork the “last breath.” Whether it does or not is irrelevant. The fact is that there are a number of similar test tubes that were filled in the room when Edison actually did die. The Ford example represents the genuine friendship between these two remarkable men and the wheelchair races on their adjoining estates in Florida, the hunting trips that included Harvey Firestone and President Harding, and their quest for knowledge that makes our lifestyle so much better even today.

They were both deeply flawed men who have slowly melted into history, but President Hoover was right. We do owe them a debt a gratitude and can overlook some or most of their egregious sins as the famous door of opportunity is still wide open, as we see every day.

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].

For adventurous souls: the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Great Pyramid of Giza, as photographed by Gordon Converse, tops the list of the greatest ancient wonders.

By Jim O’Neal

It is difficult, and bordering on impossible, to construct a list of the “Seven Wonders of the World” since they seem to be moving targets, subject to frequent revisions and disagreements between people who claim to have a personal degree of expertise. However, it is feasible to build a reasonable consensus on the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” … if one starts with the list compiled by Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium in 225 B.C.

It seems mildly comforting that at one time in the distant past, humans created structures that were worthy as works of gods, and ancient travelers could make a “bucket list” if they were inclined to participate in this more modern concept. Here is the list for any intrepid adventurous souls.

  1. The Great Pyramid of Giza: Constructed about 4,600 years ago for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (known as Cheops to the Greeks). Just outside of modern Cairo, it was the tallest manmade structure on Earth for roughly 4,000 years. It is the only one still standing and I can personally verify it’s still there. Despite centuries of erosion, it’s still about 450 feet high and consists of 2 million blocks weighing 2½ tons each. Somehow, its builders were able to align it in a perfect square with the four cardinal points on the compass. If you ever decide to hunt for signs of extraterrestrial activity, this would be a good place to start!
  2. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon: Assuming this ancient wonder actually existed, King Nebuchadnezzar II built it nearly 3,000 years ago near the Euphrates River (when Babylon was the capital of a great empire) to appease his wife Amytis, who was homesick for the hills of Persia. Besides the Gardens, Neb II is notorious for capturing and destroying Jerusalem circa 597 B.C.
  3. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia: Zeus was the mightiest Greek god (adopted by the Romans as Jupiter) and this 40-foot statue was carved with Zeus on a cedar throne with ivory and gold skin. Roman Emperor Theodosius had it relocated to Constantinople, where it was destroyed by fire in 475 A.D.
  4. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus: Built to honor the daughter of Zeus and sister of the sun god Apollo. By reputation, the most beautiful of the ancient wonders since it was funded by King Croesus of Lydia (modern Turkey). With 127 marble columns, historians have said it “surpassed every structure ever raised by mortal men.” Ephesus is a very delightful ancient port city and on everyone’s itinerary for this area.
  5. The Tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus: Queen Artemisia built this to honor her husband or brother or both (accounts vary). Obviously, the source of the word “mausoleum.” I thought I had been to all the major cities in Turkey, but Bodrum is new to me.
  6. The Colossus of Rhodes: My kind of wonder. The Colossus represents Apollo … towering over the harbor of Rhodes after the war between Rhodes and Macedon (Greek). Some myths compare it to the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor. The great Roman historian Pliny wrote about pieces still there in the first century A.D.
  7. Lighthouse of Alexandria: Also known as the Pharos off the coast of Egypt; for centuries it was one of the tallest manmade structures in the world. It’s long gone (its last stones were apparently used for other projects in the 1400s), but very plausible, since Alexandria was the world’s cultural capital after being founded by Alexander the Great.

Obviously, the Greek writers and historians who recorded these events and wonders could only include what was in their part of the world, thus pre-Christian wonders were excluded. The most prominent, in my view, not included was the Great Wall of China, the longest fortification and possibly the greatest project ever undertaken. Much of the present wall dates from 1420 A.D. when the Ming Dynasty enlarged it. Its origins date back 1,600 years to earlier dynasties to protect the northern frontier; this was a 1,400-mile effort utilizing 300,000 laborers.

Also ignored was the entire city of Persepolis, the capital of Persia, probably intentionally because of their intense dislike by the Greeks. In 1971, the Shah of Iran staged an enormous celebration in the ruins of Persepolis to commemorate its 2,500th anniversary (yes, the same shah who was overthrown in 1979).

We live on a terribly small planet, but we have a marvelous historic record to pore over … facts, myths and fables that tend to become blurred over time. This is one problem our generation won’t have. I suspect 100 percent of the entire world’s sounds and activities will soon be on either a smartphone, bodycam or other device for permanent transfer and storage on YouTube.

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].

It’s easy to forget the value of a good magazine

A 1950 copy of Time magazine featuring Ted Williams and graded CGC 9.6 sold for $5,280 at a May 2018 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

I was in our local supermarket recently and a woman ahead of me at the checkout had a cart full of groceries, plus seven or eight magazines. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing them on planes and in doctors’ offices and just assumed they got there by subscription or Publishers Clearing House (where people routinely win a million dollars, at least on television). Seeing someone plunk down cash for a stack of them was a mild surprise that brought back old memories when I coveted comic books.

In the 19th century, Karl Marx claimed that gunpowder, the compass and the printing press were the three most important inventions of the social class that owned the means of production during the modern industrialization period. This helped ensure the preservation of their capital, which in turn enabled maintaining societal supremacy. Someway, simply owning a printing press kept the masses yoked to a permanent underclass.

Others, especially Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), recognized the printing press, firearms and nautical compass and asserted there was nothing to equal them among the ancient Greeks and Romans. In 1620, he wrote in his Great Instauration that “printing, gunpowder and the nautical compass … have altered the state of the world. First in literary matters, secondly in warfare and third in navigation.” This makes sense, but doesn’t explain how the Chinese had all these tools several hundred years earlier, and had even invented paper as an important component. Their tendencies to remain isolated may be one obvious rationale.

Prior to the printing press, books had to be copied painstakingly by hand. Johannes Gutenberg’s introduction 650 years ago of the metal movable type-printing press created a new method for knowledge to be mass-produced for the first time in human history. This opened up an enormous opportunity to print books, flyers, pamphlets, bibles and newspapers virtually anywhere at reasonable prices.

By the 1700s, there was a craving for literacy and knowledge, especially among women, who had been deprived of intellectual education. The first American magazines showed up in 1741 as Philadelphia printers like Benjamin Franklin (who missed being first by a mere three days) rushed to add magazines to their newspaper businesses. Most were financial failures since they were tailored for the wealthy. However, new ones eagerly took their place and proliferated in an attempt to satisfy the growing demand for amusement and entertainment. Magazines were here to stay and would only grow more popular as literacy rates skyrocketed.

Skip forward to the 20th century and we find Yale college roommates Briton Hadden and Henry Luce working for the Baltimore News. They recognized the seemingly insatiable demand for news. With radio and television not fully developed, they believed magazines were the obvious medium to fill the need. After considering various names like Facts, they finally settled on Time, the first weekly newsmagazine in the United States. With the slogan “Take Time – It’s Brief,” on March 3, 1923, they published the first issue, featuring the famous retired Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon (1836-1926).

The first great pictorial magazine, Life, had failed during the Great Depression and publishing genius Luce (1898-1967) bought the name and relaunched it. Time was designed to “tell’ the news and Life dedicated to “showing” curious Americans what was happening around the world … and for pocket change. Later, Luce added the business magazine Fortune (1930) and Sports Illustrated (1954). The first Sportsman of the Year was Roger Bannister, the first to run the mile in under 4 minutes … 3.594. Ten years later, high school runner Jim Ryun duplicated the feat.

Today, there are literally thousands of magazines worldwide. They inform, educate, inspire and entertain readers globally. Magazines will continue to change the nature of things throughout the world for a long time to come. I need to pay more attention to this strategic shaper of world history!

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].

America’s greatest contribution to humanity remains ‘freedom’

An 1852 presentation copy of the Constitution of the United States, signed by President Millard Fillmore, sold for $15,000 at an April 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Constitutional scholars are prone to claim there is a direct and historic link between the First Commandment of the Old Testament and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution … that one leads inexorably to the other. The First Commandment explains the origins of freedom and the First Amendment defines the scope of freedom in broad categories.

Both point unmistakably to freedom as America’s greatest contribution to humanity. Not the automobile, jazz or Hollywood. Not the word processor, the internet or the latest smartphones. All of these are often described as America’s unique assets, but it is the awesome concept of “freedom” that is America’s ultimate symbol, attraction … and even export!

The First Commandment reads, “I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee forth out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, and thou shalt have no other gods before me.” In this way, God sanctions an escape from bondage and puts people on a path toward the “promised land,” toward freedom. This powerful message ricocheted through history until it finally found a permanent home in Colonial America.

In the early 18th century, the trustees of Yale, many of them scholars who read scripture in the original Hebrew, designed a coat of arms for the college in the shape of a book open to two words, Urim and Thummim, which have come to mean “Light” and “Truth” in English. The book depicted, of course, was the bible.

Not too far north, Harvard graduates had to master three languages … Latin, Greek and Hebrew. True gentlemen in those days had to have more than a passing familiarity with the Old Testament. It was not a mere coincidence that carved into the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, relaying a brave message to a people overthrowing British rule, was an uplifting phrase selected from chapter 25 of Leviticus: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all inhabitants thereof.”

The Commandment that blessed an escape from oppression and embraced the pursuit of freedom led the Founding Fathers to pen the Bill of Rights. They had much on their minds, many interests to try and reconcile, but they agreed that the delineation of freedom was to be their primary responsibility. It was to become the First Amendment to the recently ratified Constitution, inspired in part by the First Commandment, and it read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom or speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Throughout American history, these freedoms have become intertwined with American life, one indistinguishable from the other. Just consider that in one small grouping of words, into a single Amendment, resides more freedom for mankind than had ever existed in the history of the world. Somewhat remarkable, in my opinion, yet we take it for granted today and can only fine tune minor opinions on original intent in small insignificant instances.

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].

Powerful images helped FDR advance his agenda

Dorothea Lange’s 1936 Migrant Mother was taken while she was employed by the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration program.

By Jim O’Neal

President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that it was not enough for only him to understand the Great Depression’s grip on the nation. The American people would have to see for themselves the faces of their fellow citizens, their backs against the wall, drained by the struggle to hold families and farms together.

The Depression was in its fourth year. In the neighborhoods and hamlets of a stricken nation, millions of men and women languished in sullen gloom and looked to Washington with guarded hope. Still they struggled to comprehend the nature of the calamity that had engulfed them. At the new Federal Emergency Relief Administration, headed up by Harry Hopkins, rivers of data flowed that measured the Depression’s impact in cold, hard numbers. Shareholders had seen the value of their assets decline by 75 percent since 1929, a colossal financial meltdown affecting the idle rich, struggling neighborhood banks, retirement nest eggs and even university endowments. Five thousand banks failed between the crash and the New Deal’s rescue operations in March 1933, wiping out $7 billion of depositors’ money.

Mortgage loan defaults accelerated – 150,000 homes lost in 1930; 200,000 in 1931; 250,000 in 1932. This stripped millions of people of both shelter and life savings in a single stroke, menacing the balance sheets of thousands of surviving banks. Shrinking real estate prices and tax revenues forced 1,300 municipalities to default, cutting services, payrolls and paychecks. Chicago reduced teacher pay and by 1932-33 cut their pay to zero.

Gross national product fell in 1933 to half of 1929, while capital spending on plant and equipment plummeted to $3 billion from $24 billion. Car production dropped 60 percent and steel was even worse. Mute bands of jobless men drifted through the streets of every American city on the prowl for jobs that didn’t exist.

Hardest hit was the countryside. Income for America’s farmers collapsed from $6 billion to $2 billion in three years. Unemployment and reduced wages were the most obvious and fell hardest on the most vulnerable: the young, the elderly, the least educated, the unskilled, and especially on rural Americans, with large numbers of immigrant workers.

But Hopkins knew that he needed more than sterile economic data to gain the necessary political power to make the structural government changes required. They needed to touch the human face of the catastrophe, taste the metallic smack of the fear and feel the hunger of the unemployed. He convinced Lorena Hickok of the Associated Press in July 1933 to travel the entire nation … talking to a broad swath of Americans and capturing their stories in their own words and in photographs. With FDR’s encouragement, a flood of documentary photographs would be converted into political power on a massive scale. In addition to Hickok, they contracted some of the nation’s finest photographers. Names like Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans and others would help create the consciousness necessary to mobilize the government’s resources. Their photographs helped create the absolute sense of urgency needed so desperately.

The small, nimble government agency that would support and encourage their photographic mission was the Resettlement Administration – later called the Farm Security Administration (FSA) – under the leadership of Rexford Tugwell, an original member of FDR’s brain trust, and still Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. Importantly, neither the Resettlement Administration nor the FSA had any Congressional oversight. These photographers had the freedom to tell the truth as they saw it. Their photographs are now housed in the Library of Congress and bear witness to what people were enduring, refuting what newspapers had been calling “moochers” or “an invading hoard of the idle.”

Looking at these portraits now, we can see the compassion of the photographers and the dignity of real Americans on the edge. They refuted the charges of those who thought the pictures were political propaganda. In discussions of the work of Dorothea Lange and her husband Paul Taylor, the photographer/curator Thomas Heyman summed it up: “They clung to the hope that what they were doing might be part of the solution.”

The strategy worked and FDR was given a mandate to introduce all aspects of the New Deal, the most expansive role of the federal government into America’s daily life. After the 1936 elections, newspaper editor William Allen White said, “He has all but been crowned by the people.” Still, it would take yet another war to get everybody back to work.

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].

Believe it or not, electing presidents has never been a pleasant affair

An 1889 letter in which Rutherford B. Hayes discusses his inauguration sold for $19,120 at an April 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

One discouraging trend in American culture is treating everything from a partisan-political standpoint. I can recall not too long ago after an election, we’d simply forget about our disagreements about candidates and resume normal civility. Now it seems that nearly everything gets politicized, dividing the nation into continually warring tribes of Red and Blue. Some political pundits see the starting point as the 2000 Gore versus Bush election, with its hanging chads and the controversial Supreme Court decision to stop the vote recount in Florida. Others believe the feud between President Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich exacerbated it.

However, to accept either theory requires ignoring the 1876 presidential election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes.

Hayes, the Republican, was a lawyer from Ohio who distinguished himself during the Civil War as a brave soldier who was wounded five times and eventually promoted to a brevet major general. After the war, he served in Congress and was elected governor of Ohio three times.

Tilden also had a legal background and was the 25th governor of New York (1875-76). As the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1876, he is still the only individual to win an outright majority (not just a plurality) of the popular vote, but lose the election … in a rather bizarre series of events. Four other candidates have lost the presidency despite having a plurality of the popular vote (Al Gore and Hillary Clinton are the most recent to suffer this fate).

It had generally been assumed that incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant would run for a third term, despite a troubled economy and numerous scandals that had been discovered during his two terms, which started in 1869. There was also the two-term precedent established by George Washington. In spite of these formidable barriers, Grant’s inner circle of advisors were eager to maintain political power. While Grant was on the verge of announcing his candidacy, the House of Representatives preempted him by passing a resolution by an overwhelming margin, 233-18, establishing a two-term limit to prevent a dictatorship. Grant reluctantly withdrew his name from consideration.

The Democrats proceeded with their National Convention in June 1876 in St. Louis (the first time a major political convention was held west of the Mississippi). They selected Tilden on the second ballot and added Thomas Hendricks for vice president, since he was the only one nominated. The Democrats were hungry for a win since they had been out of power since James Buchanan, who was elected a full 20 years earlier in 1856.

What followed was the most contentious presidential election in American history. On the first vote in the Electoral College, Tilden had 184 votes (only one short) while Hayes was stuck at 165. However, there were 20 votes being contested in four states (Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oregon) and both parties were claiming victory. This impasse caused a Constitutional crisis and, finally, a beleaguered Congress passed a law on Jan. 29, 1877, to form a special 15-member Electoral Commission to settle the dispute. After a great debate, the commission awarded all 20 disputed votes to Hayes, who became president with 185 votes to Tilden’s 184.

In return, Republicans passed a resolution that required an end to Reconstruction and the removal of all federal troops from every Southern state. Over the next 20 years, the states passed all kinds of laws and regulations that effectively wiped out the provisions of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution that granted numerous rights to the black population. It would take another 60 years to regain them when LBJ was president and finally crack the “Solid South” grip on national politics.

Maybe we are doomed to be a divided nation, but I suspect that strong leaders will emerge, eventually, and help us remember the advantages of a group of united states … E pluribus unum.

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].

Real Populist legacy lives on in a thousand different ways

The People’s Party, also known as the Populist Party, met in Omaha, Neb., in 1892 and nominated James B. Weaver for its presidential ticket. A convention ticket went to auction in March 2018.

By Jim O’Neal

After the Civil War, thousands of farmers found themselves mired in a European style of serfdom. By 1883, they were trapped by the monopolistic pricing of both merchants and the railroads, which consumed virtually all their profits. To make their dilemma even worse, the federal government had returned to the gold standard after the war ended and demands of Wall Street drained money from rural banks to the point that entire regions were essentially broke.

The poor farmer was in the classic squeeze where the harder they worked and the more they produced the less they had. An early attempt to break the conundrum was to band together in what was called the Farmers’ Alliance, which began in Lampasas, Texas, in 1877. The Alliance quickly spread to Kansas, but within six years it was a failed effort since market forces were simply too strong for such an amateurish effort born out of desperation and lacking any real leverage or political power.

Voila! Enter the first in a long string of populists, a 36-year-old former tenant farmer from Mississippi: S.O. Daws. It was Daws’ goal to convert the Alliance into an overtly political organization, with its own Populist platform, formal candidates and party structure. However, his real genius lay in a dazzling oratory skill and grasp of political tactics. Daws persuaded the Alliance to appoint him “Traveling Lecturer” and he quickly started spreading the word and convincing his fellow farmers what to do.

One of his converts was a 34-year-old Tennessean named William Lamb, an undereducated (25 days of formal education) rail-splitter and farmer with an almost unsurpassed talent for organization. Together, Daws and Lamb provided the spark the Alliance had been missing. They used the sweeping executive power the farmers granted and soon had literally hundreds of thousands of new recruits in the organization. All told, they actually enlisted over 2 million people in 43 states. Populist historian Lawrence Goodwyn characterized it as the most massive organizing drive of any citizen institution in the entire 19th century in America.

But the Populists were never really about their leaders. They were about an idea, or actually many ideas … anything that might allow common men to make a living off the land while maintaining their human dignity. Generally, they were derided as nativist hicks, primarily because of later efforts. At the beginning, when they were at their best, they were staunchly anti-racist and injected a firestorm of ideas into a political system that tended to be moribund. Populist programs included a graduated income tax, the eight-hour workday, direct election of senators, citizen referendums, the secret ballot and, above all, regulation of agricultural markets to ensure farmers a decent return for their labor.

Time and fate worked against the Populists as America became increasingly industrialized with the lure of urbanization. After running their candidate for president in 1892, James B. Weaver of Iowa, the Populist Party (also known as the People’s Party or simply the Populists) folded themselves into William Jennings Bryan’s silver wing of the Democratic Party. Naturally, many of their ideas were also subsumed into other progressive political movements. One example is Sam Ealy Johnson (LBJ’s father), who served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1905-1924, and who said: “The job of government is to help people who are caught in the tentacles of circumstances.” Clearly a Populist inspiration.

Obviously, FDR incorporated many of the same concepts into his New Deal programs that helped during the Great Depression. The real Populist legacy lives on in a thousand other ways yet today, but these were people capable of standing in the hot sun for hours, and listening to speeches about obscure and esoteric subjects while working their way to a better life for all. This is how a democratic culture is created and we need to ensure it doesn’t get diluted by ruinous socialist beliefs that have failed every time well-intentioned people go too far.

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].

Here’s why Foote, Faulkner are among our greatest writers

A 1929 first edition of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, in its original first state dust jacket, sold for $15,000 at a March 2018 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Whenever the topic of “favorite author” is inevitably raised, I quickly steer the conversation to two categories. First is non-fiction, since it gives me an opportunity to nominate Shelby Foote for my all-time favorite subject of the Civil War. Secondly, I suggest that fiction favorites be limited to only writers born in the great state of Mississippi.

Shelby Dade Foote Jr. (1916-2005) spent over 20 years working on his masterpiece The Civil War: A Narrative, a three-volume, 3,000-page work that captivated me. However, like many others, it wasn’t until filmmaker Ken Burns aired his PBS documentary in 1990 that I became aware of just how much I truly appreciated it. In the first hour of the 12-hour series, Foote appeared in 90 segments. His sagacious comments and distinctive Southern drawl added a remarkable degree of authenticity to an otherwise only great production.

Legend has it that paperback sales of Foote’s book jumped to 1,000 per day and ended up selling over 400,000 mores copies – all as a result of his newfound celebrity. He reportedly remarked to Burns: “You have made me a millionaire.” A few critics complained that Foote had a Southern bias and cited a passage where he stated that Abraham Lincoln and Confederate Army general Nathan Bedford Forrest were the two smartest men in the entire war and tried to point out a few weaknesses of Forrest when they really objected to simply pairing him with the revered Lincoln.

As for fiction writers born in Mississippi, there are a lot more to choose from than you might expect. Consider Eudora Welty (The Optimist’s Daughter), Willie Morris (North Toward Home) and William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying), to name a few.

Of these, William Cuthbert Faulkner (1897-1962) didn’t give a damn about self-promotion. In fact, you could spell his name with or without the u. “Either way suits me,” he said quite often. As a boy, his parents took him to meet the great Confederate general (and Robert E. Lee’s right arm) James Longstreet (1821-1904). Little William had the temerity to ask, “What was the matter with you at Gettysburg? You should have won!” By reputation, Faulkner had a prickly side his whole life, but it didn’t seem to affect the quality of his writing.

When asked about grants for writers, Faulkner replied, “I’ve never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money. The good writers never apply to a foundation. They’re too busy writing something.” Faulkner would have been unaware that Foote (himself born in Greenville, Miss.) accepted Guggenheim Fellowships (1955-57) and Ford Foundation grants to get him through the 20 years of writing his Civil War narrative. However, as much as Faulkner’s work was admired by other writers, by 1945, all of his books, except for two, were out of print.

Yet just four years later, the unusually myopic Nobel Prize Committee made an unusually clear-sighted decision. In 1949, they awarded Faulkner the Nobel Prize for Literature, for which he became the only Mississippi-born Nobel winner. Two of his other works, A Fable (1954), and his last novel The Reivers (1962) won the Pulitzer for Fiction. Only two others have won the Pulitzer twice: Booth Tarkington 1919/1922 and John Updike 1982/1991.

Ernest Hemingway actually won in both 1941 and 1953, but the president of Columbia University, Nicholas Murray Butler, found Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls too offensive and convinced the committee to revere their decision and no prize was awarded in 1941. However, the movie version was nominated for nine Academy Awards and is a good piece of film.

In June 1943, Faulkner found an unopened letter that had been there for three months, since he didn’t recognize the return address. It was a proposal from writer and literary critic Malcolm Cowley to publish a “Portable Faulkner” to keep him from falling into literary obscurity. Faulkner was working as a Hollywood screenwriter (The Big Sleep) and was in danger of seeing all his books out of print. It was this effort that resuscitated Faulkner’s career and led directly to the 1949 Nobel Prize. Novelist and literary critic Robert Penn Warren called it the “great watershed moment,” for it saved Faulkner’s reputation and career.

True to style, when Cowley asked Faulkner to get Hemingway to write a preface, he refused. “It would be like asking one racehorse in the middle of the race to broadcast a blurb on another horse running in the same race.” He remained a prickly man to the end and I suspect it and all his wonderful writing came out of the same Southern Bourbon bottle.

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].

Union general had no patience with those who complained about war

William Tecumseh Sherman’s dress uniform as general of the Union Army sold for $62,500 at a June 2018 Heritage auction.

“I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” – Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Dec. 22, 1864, telegram to President Lincoln

By Jim O’Neal

From mid-November 1864, there had been no word from William Tecumseh Sherman or his Union Army. President Lincoln, anxious about the fate of 60,000 soldiers, tried to conceal his concern, telling one crowd, “We all know where he went in, but I can’t tell where he will come out.”

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was far less concerned as he followed his lieutenants’ progress in the Southern press and assembled supplies to send to Savannah, along with the Union Army’s mail. In early December, his reports indicated that Sherman had arrived in Savannah on Dec. 10. Eleven days later, Sherman occupied the mostly evacuated city, but once again, they had failed to cut off the retreat of the Rebel Garrison. With this communication, Sherman brought to a conclusion his famous March to the Sea.

Sherman

Arguments still flare up over the destruction that occurred during this critical episode of the Civil War, but Sherman’s primary target was property, not people, and his troops were not alone in terrorizing the countryside. The Confederate Cavalry, deserters from both sides, and bands of “bummers” both black and white contributed their share to the chaos. As Sherman observed, “Sweeping around generally through Georgia for the purpose of inflicting damage would not be good generalship.”

Rather, what he aimed to do was intimidate and terrorize Southerners to break their will to continue fighting. It was psychological warfare. “These people made war upon us, defied and dared us to come South to their country where they boasted they would kill us.” He had no patience with those who protested or complained. The strategy worked where there was total destruction and there was no means to fight on, but pride and ignorance kept the war alive in other places where leaders refused to accept the inevitable.

Critics of Sherman’s March that complain about his scorched-earth policy typically overlook his occupation of Savannah. He basically left it alone after the inhabitants accepted defeat, except when merchants tried to reclaim the cotton he had captured. Sherman was far more interested in their return to the Union than continual martial law that would only result in further alienation.

By conventional strategy, Sherman’s next move should have been the immediate transfer of his Army by water to Virginia, where Grant had Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia bottled up behind fortifications at Petersburg. The Federal Navy had the ships available. Both Lincoln and Grant supported this plan, but Sherman disagreed. Instead, he wanted to apply total war – as he had in Georgia – to the Carolinas.

He especially wanted to punish South Carolina, “the Palmetto State,” for its role in starting the war. He was convinced that by bringing the war to the Carolinas’ home front, his operations would have a direct bearing on the struggle in Virginia. Even the people in Georgia prodded him to pay their neighbors a visit. As Sherman later observed, “My aim then was to whip the rebels, humble their pride, to follow them to their innermost recesses and make them fear and dread us.”

By late January 1865, Sherman’s 60,000 veterans commenced the march into South Carolina and he stopped his communications. It would be late March before he commented on the most controversial issue of the campaign – the burning of Columbia, the state capital. His instructions to the commander of the Army of Georgia, Maj. Gen. Henry Warner Slocum, were direct: “The more of it you destroy, the better it will be. The people of South Carolina should be made to feel the war, for they brought it on and are responsible for our presence here. Now it is time to punish them.”

By the end of the month, he was on his way to North Carolina, with the end of the war coming into sight. “It is only those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks of the wounded,” Sherman said, “who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

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].