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].

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].

British General Had Unfortunate Assignment of Quelling a Revolution

A letter signed by Thomas Gage, a year before the opening shots of the Revolutionary War, sold for $5,625 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Thomas Gage was the general in charge of Great Britain’s forces in North America from 1763 to 1775. As commander-in-chief, he held the most powerful office in British America, although he spent a disproportionate amount of time in New York City, enjoying the lively social scene.

It was during Gage’s tenure that colonial tensions escalated over political acts in London, starting with the highly unpopular Stamp Act of 1765.

Thomas Gage

Although Gage and his family were in Great Britain in late 1773 and missed the Boston Tea Party (Dec. 16, 1773), it provoked the British Parliament to enact a series of punitive measures that became known as the Intolerable Acts (or the Coercive Acts). Since Gage had experience in North America that extended all the way back to the French and Indian War in 1755, he was selected to be the military governor of Massachusetts in early 1774. It was his job to implement the Acts and quell the nascent rebellion.

In April, John Hancock and Samuel Adams had decided to hide out in Lexington, Mass., in Hancock’s childhood home to avoid contact with the British as they made their way to the Second Continental Congress. It was a wise decision since Gage had received instructions from London to arrest them as ringleaders of the insurgency. He also planned to seize gunpowder that was stored in nearby Concord.

However, the patriots received a tip about the raid and Paul Revere was dispatched to warn Hancock and Adams. When British troops descended on Lexington on April 19, they were confronted by a small band of volunteers. Now-historic shots were fired, killing eight Americans and wounding 10, while the British lost a single horse before they moved on to Concord.

It was a much different story when the British proudly marched back to Boston in their crisp red uniforms. Suddenly, they were engulfed on all sides by armed men, many of them local farmers, who were protected by buildings, trees, rocks and fences. They were known as the Minutemen, since they were highly mobile, self-trained in weaponry, deadly accurate with firearms, and able to respond quickly to military threats.

The British, frantic to seek safety, scrambled back to Boston after 273 soldiers were either killed or wounded. The colonists lost 95 men and were now prepared to challenge the once-invincible British, despite the enormous difference in resources. A larger and longer conflict was finally ignited.

John Adams got it exactly right when he said, “The battle of Lexington on the 19th of April changed the instruments of warfare from the pen to the sword.”

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].

Really … When You Sit On a Chair, You’re Not Really On It

The rare first English edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s landmark The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy sold for $40,625 at an April 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1976, Apple Computers used a logo that featured Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) sitting under an apple tree. It was designed by Ronald Wayne, a lesser-known co-founder of the company who famously sold his stock for $800. Today, those shares would be valued at more than $50 billion.

Later, the logo changed to the more familiar rainbow apple with a bite in it.

Newton developed a complicated theory involving the universal laws of gravitation. In plain terms, it simply explains the motion of planets and ocean tides, and why we aren’t flung into space as Earth spins.

Every object in the universe exerts a tug on every other one. Sounds simple enough.

What is fairly astounding is to consider the solidity we experience all around us. One example: Billiard balls don’t actually strike each other. Instead, the negatively charged fields actually repel each other as opposed to colliding. In fact, were it not for their electrical charges, the balls would pass right through each other.

Similarly, when you sit on a chair, you are not actually sitting on it, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimeter). Your electrons and the chair’s electrons are opposed to any closer intimacy.

The truly great physicists are generally disdainful of other scientific fields of endeavor. They have a history of disparaging remarks …

“All science is either physics or stamp collecting,” physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) once said.

Personally, I prefer coin collecting.

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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

America Remains a Beacon of Democracy for the World

Revolutionary War newspapers, like this July 31, 1776, edition of The Massachusetts Sun, often included reports on speeches by figures such as John Hancock and Patrick Henry.

By Jim O’Neal

During the winter of 1774-75, George Washington helped militia groups in Virginia form independent companies for a possible war with Great Britain. This included choosing officers and arming, equipping and training for a worst-case event. They naturally started clamoring for Washington as their commander and he finally agreed to accept the field command for four independent companies in Virginia counties.

In January, The Virginia Gazette thanked the aspiring hero in a quatrain: “In spite of Gage’s flaming sword/and Carleton’s Canadian troop/Brave Washington shall give the word/and we’ll make them howl and whoop.” The forces for war were gaining momentum.

In March 1775, Washington was summoned to Richmond to attend the Second Virginia Convention. This meeting ratified the resolutions of the Continental Congress and applauded the work of seven delegates from Virginia. Patrick Henry argued that British troops intended to enslave the Colonies and set pulses racing with his flaming response: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Buoyed by these words, the convention agreed that Virginia should be placed in “a posture of defense.”

In April, it momentarily seemed as if an early chapter of the Revolutionary War would be written in Virginia when the British (Lord Dunmore) had all the gunpowder stored at a Williamsburg arsenal removed and placed in a British man-of-war under the pretext of worrying about a slave uprising. When enraged patriots threatened to invade the governor’s mansion, Washington counseled caution and advised the companies under his command not to march on Williamsburg. A young 24-year-old James Madison condemned Washington for having “discovered a pusillanimity little comporting with their professions or the name of Virginia.”

As a military man, Washington knew how indomitable the British military machine was and how quixotic a full-scale revolution would be. As he later said of America’s chances in the spring of 1775, “It is known that the expense in comparison with our circumstances as colonists must be enormous, the struggle protracted, dubious and severe. The resources of Britain were, in a manner, inexhaustible, that her fleets cover the ocean and that her troops had harvested laurels in every quarter of the globe … money the nerve of war, was wanting.”

But these colonists had something much more precious, as Washington would later say: “The unconquerable resolution of our citizens, the conscious rectitude of our cause and a confident trust that we should not be forsaken by heaven.”

The role of heaven is unknowable, but the importance of leaders, especially George Washington, is still a remarkable miracle that we should never forget.

We are still a beacon of democracy for the world to follow.

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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Thomas Edison Embodied the American Spirit of Stick-to-itiveness

A signed photograph of Thomas Edison taken inside his Menlo Park Laboratory, circa 1887, sold for $3,734.38 at an October 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In April 1983, my Frito-Lay team toured a research laboratory in Delaware to view their facilities and new product development using polypropylene in our packaging systems. At one point, the national sales manager prodded their head scientist about the possibility of speeding it up and, memorably, the reply was a curt “We don’t schedule inventions.”

At the time, it seemed like a profound statement to me, but that was before I got to know Thomas Edison via his writings and others stories about his fabled career.

Edison’s invention factories were not torn over the merits of applied science versus basic research. They were always about applied research, but with a vengeance! “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and invent it,” Edison said. And did he ever. When he was finished, he would have 1,093 patents in his own name alone, more than any other American in history.

His second patented invention, a stock market ticker, sold for $40,000 in 1869. The sale provided the money for a workshop in Newark, N.J., where he and a small group of workers produced stock tickers, ink recorders and typewriters for automatic telegraphy. In 1876, he moved the shop 12 miles to Menlo Park, where the first of the invention factories was built. The lab and workers were just a hundred yards from Edison’s home.

It was an eclectic group from all over the world: a German glass blower, an English mechanic, mathematicians, carpenters, and draftsmen. Menlo Park became the best private laboratory in the country. The atmosphere Edison created encouraged independent, creative thinking. “There ain’t no rules around here. We’re trying to accomplish something.”

He could be authoritarian and cranky, and set impossible deadlines, since he was there shoulder-to-shoulder with employees 18 hours a day for extended times. Balancing work and personal lives was not as issue; creation was. His approach to failure was the antithesis of other corporations that flourished and failed. “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I now know 10,000 ways not to do it.”

The indefatigable nature of Edison and his workers was exemplified by the search for material that could make a durable filament essential to the incandescent light bulb. After trying numerous promising candidates, on Oct. 22, 1879, they tested carbonized cotton thread. It would glow for 13½ hours without bursting into flame, the common problem with all light bulbs at the time. Problem solved.

What a difference those invention factory ideas meant to our young nation: a viable incandescent light bulb, cylinder phonographs, nickel-iron-alkaline storage batteries, the electric pen for a mimeograph, the Ediphone, the Kinetoscope, etc. Edison even created inventions that improved other inventions: a simple carbon button transmitter for the mouthpiece on AGB’s telephone … eliminating the need to shout to be heard.

Edison was a charter member of that self-taught group that fervently believed that “if this doesn’t work, we’ll just try something else.” Edison may not have defined genius as 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration, but he certainly proved, without a doubt, that “Genius is hard work, stick-to-itiveness, and common sense.”

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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell]

Our Wishes, Passions Cannot Alter the State of Facts

“The Big Three” – Churchill, FDR and Stalin – at the Yalta Conference, Feb. 4, 1945.

By Jim O’Neal

In February 1945, with the war in Europe winding down, the time had come for President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin to decide the continent’s postwar fate. They agreed to meet at the Black Sea port of Yalta to discuss the plan.

Each man arrived on Feb. 4, along with an entourage of diplomats, military officers, soldiers and personal aides. Among those attending for Great Britain were Alexander Cadogan, under-secretary for foreign affairs, and Anthony Eden, Britain’s foreign secretary. Stalin was accompanied by his minister of foreign affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, and the Soviet ambassador to the United States. Roosevelt brought Secretary of State Edward Stettinius and Averell Harriman, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Roosevelt, recently elected to a fourth term, also brought along daughter Anna as his personal assistant, instead of wife Eleanor.

Aside from agreeing to the unconditional surrender of Germany, their agendas could not have been more different. While Stalin was firmly committed to expanding the USSR, Roosevelt and Churchill focused on the war in the Pacific. They hoped Stalin would declare war on Japan once Germany surrendered. Unbeknownst to Churchill, Roosevelt secretly secured the Soviet dictator’s cooperation by agreeing to grant the Soviets a sphere of influence in Manchuria once Japan capitulated.

The Allied leaders also discussed dividing Germany into zones of occupation. Each of the three nations, as well as France, would control one zone. Churchill and Roosevelt also agreed that all future governments in Eastern Europe would be “friendly” to the Soviet Union. Stalin agreed to allow free elections in each of the liberated Eastern European countries.

There was also a great deal of debate over Poland, but it was all a series of empty, almost laughable promises from Stalin in return for consenting to help with the establishment of the United Nations, which Roosevelt desperately wanted to create. He sincerely believed this new organization would step in when future conflicts arose and help countries settle their disputes peacefully.

The initial reaction to the Yalta agreements was one of celebration, especially in the United States. It appeared that the Western Allies and the Soviets would continue their wartime cooperation into the postwar period. Some historians continue to debate the impact of the conference. However, the facts are crystal clear. By spring, hopes of any continued cooperation had evaporated. After Yalta, Stalin quickly reneged on his promises concerning Eastern Europe, especially the agreement to allow free elections in countries liberated from Nazi control.

The USSR created an Iron Curtain and installed governments dominated by the Soviet Union. The one-time pseudo Allies found themselves on a more treacherous and dangerous path to another more ideologically driven one – the aptly named Cold War. Was FDR too tired and sick? He died two months after Yalta on April 12, 1945, at age 63. Was Churchill out of the loop or drinking heavily (or both)?

Seventy-plus years later, we are still consumed with Russian aggression in Crimea, Ukraine, Syria and the Baltics.

“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence,” said lawyer and future president John Adams in 1770, while defending British soldiers in the Boston Massacre trial.

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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Maybe the Island of Niue Can Teach the World a Few Things

The first European to sight Niue was Captain James Cook in 1774.

By Jim O’Neal

After recently analyzing foreign travel statistics, I saw that 157 people traveled from the United States to the South Pacific island of Niue in 2015 (latest census data).

This seemed high to me as I recall one of Captain James Cook’s logs had indicated he tried three times to visit Niue in 1774, but eventually gave up. The inhabitants of this small island were painted as “savages” (hence Savage Island) and had a red substance on their teeth that resembled blood. It was later determined that it was from eating hulahula, an innocuous red banana.

Sensing that things had changed in the 240-plus intervening years, I was more than surprised by the following data:

  • In 1889, they petitioned Queen Victoria to “stretch out towards us your mighty hand, that Niue may hide herself in it and be safe.” The ploy eventually must have worked since the Niue Constitution Act vests executive authority in Her Majesty the Queen in the Right of New Zealand. On my numerous trips to New Zealand, Niue had a reputation for a great whale-watching spot (something I regret missing).
  • In 2003, Niue became the first country in the world to offer free wireless internet to all inhabitants.
  • They are reputedly close to becoming the world’s first fully organic nation.
  • As a leader in green energy, they are in transition to 100 percent solar power.
  • In 2008, Niue became the first country in the world to provide laptop computers to all students. I suspect they have upgraded to smartphones and tablets by now.
  • Elections are held every three years. Since they do not allow political parties (everyone is an independent), term limits are not needed. This preserves the institutional memory.

In 2004, Niue was hit by a cyclone that disrupted the Niue Integrated Strategic Plan (NISP). The good news is that they still managed to pay off their national debt and are finally “debt free” – something the U.S. managed to accomplish in the administration of Andrew Jackson.

They have zero population growth so issues like unfunded pensions (e.g. SSA) or long-term healthcare liabilities should not be an issue for the next generation – something our Millennials will eventually find out about. “What?! You spent all our money and left us bankrupt?”

Rumor has it the people of Niue are puzzled by the inability of most modern nations to simply spend less than they make, and by the partisan rancor that causes so much gridlock and divisiveness. As you might recall, even our first president, George Washington, warned about the dangers of political parties.

Go Niue!

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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Public Intrigued by Private Lives of Nixon Daughters

This signed family portrait of the Nixons, showing the first daughters and their husbands, sold for nearly $200 at an April 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

By most accounts, Patricia “Tricia” Nixon was the most beautiful of all White House brides. She was featured alone as the cover story on Life magazine not once but twice. By January 1971, the public was fascinated by her romance with Edward Finch Cox, a young Harvard Law student who had once worked with consumer activist Ralph Nader and written for the liberal New Republic.

Tricia and Ed came from opposite social and political poles. The young Mr. Cox could trace his lineage to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His parents both had social pedigrees and spent their summers at the Long Island estate that had been in the family for six generations.

Richard Nixon was already a lightning rod for an increasingly adversarial media and traveled in much different circles. He had earlier defended himself from using a private fund for personal use by showcasing his modest lifestyle. He bragged that his wife could not boast of a mink coat, but owned a “respectable Republican cloth coat.”

Ed accompanied Tricia to the International Debutante Ball and discovered they had a lot in common. He was “aloof and private,” and she often avoided White House events and was called the “Howard Hughes of the WH” by her popular younger sister Julie. In fact, when Julie married Dwight David Eisenhower II in 1968, it was a small, private ceremony performed by minister and bestselling author Norman Vincent Peale. This alliance of the Nixon-Eisenhower dynasties was intriguing to the public, which naturally assumed Tricia was sure to follow in a more understated manner.

Surprisingly, the private Tricia chose a large White House wedding with a guest list of 400. First Lady Pat Nixon suggested a Rose Garden event and, after a long debate over the risk of rain, the date was set for June 12, 1971. Priscilla Kidder, the “doyenne of bridal outfitting,” designed the dress, and WH pastry chef Heinz Bender produced a 350-pound cantilevered cake that was dissed by some pompous food critics as a “lemony, sweetish non-entity” (tough crowd!).

There was intermittent rain in the morning, but the sun broke through right on schedule. Eighty-seven-year-old Alice Roosevelt was on hand, complaining that her seat was wet. Talking about the Nixon girls, Alice would offer one of her patented biting comments: “I like Julie better than Tricia. I’ve never been able to get on with Tricia. She seems rather pathetic, doesn’t she? I wonder what’s wrong with her?”

It has been pointed out that there were deep reasons and issues behind the famous quips of Alice Roosevelt. Sitting in her damp seat in the Rose Garden, her own glorious moment long forgotten and her famous father now covered over by multiple layers of important personalities and issues, Alice Roosevelt may have been lashing out at the only White House bride whose beauty transcended her own. Pure jealousy is a powerful emotion that takes a long time to dissipate.

The day after the wedding, Ed and Tricia were off to Camp David for their honeymoon. The New York Times broke some story about some “Pentagon Papers” from a little-known military analyst employed by the RAND Corporation. Few probably suspected that this would lead to an even more complex situation that would eventually jar the entire nation.

Fate seems to be indifferent to the emotions of mere mortals.

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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].