Songwriter Stephen Foster Reflected Yearnings of a Young Nation

By Jim O’Neal

The life of Stephen Foster had an auspiciously American beginning. Like the great stage patriot George M. Cohan, Foster was born on the Fourth of July (Cohan’s birth certificate actually shows a date of July 3). But in the case of Foster, it was no ordinary Fourth. It was July 4, 1826, to be exact, which marked the passing of two great Americans: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both having served as vice president and president of the United States. Foster came into this world as they were leaving it.

It was also a memorable date in American history, marking the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a time when America was still emerging from its colonial past and establishing its own distinctive culture.

Stephen Foster (1826-1864), like most children in his social class, spent many afternoons playing and singing at the piano. But Foster was more interested in music he heard outside the home: the growing popularity of the “minstrels.” These were white-men-in-black-face performances of the 1830s and 1840s, which dominated the theaters. At once racist and patriotic, these shows permitted Americans (specifically whites) to join in expressing their superiority to the black man, an unfortunate “unifying event” in a nation of immigrants.

However, for the young Foster, who often returned home from the theater and put on minstrel shows of his own for friends, there was much more. There was something fascinating about the black music and lyrics he heard, even as they were twisted for derogatory effects. He developed a sympathy that he carried forward years later when, as a bookkeeper in Cincinnati, he decided to become a professional songwriter. And what an astounding, prolific artist he became!

From his office window on the docks of the Ohio River, Foster marveled at the music of immigrants from Germany, Italy and Scotland … and especially from the blacks who had come to Cincinnati to work on the docks. Now Foster could hear real African-American music, not just the caricatures of the minstrel men, and it captivated him. Locked in complete silence in his study, Foster carefully incorporated the diverse melodies he’d absorbed from the many varieties he heard. First working through them note by note on the flute, then playing them full-out on the piano until they became the raw material for his own music.

In the end, Foster’s lasting appeal was his ability to draw on this reserve from which he created a uniquely American sound. Borrowing from elements of Irish songs, Italian opera, minstrel music and black spirituals, he created simple melodies that spoke to human needs of family and heartbreaks.

The results were staggering.

His first minstrel song in 1846, “Oh, Susanna,” was a smash hit. Arriving at a time when national pride was beginning and new technologies were uniting people across the nation, it caught on like no song before it. The previous most popular piece of sheet music had sold 5,000 copies. “Susanna” would sell over 100,000 and instantly become part of our cultural heritage. California miners hummed it while they dug for gold. Black rowers sang it in the East and South. It was easily the most sung song in America.

After this success, Foster became serious about making a living in music and publishers billed him as the “Songwriter of America.” In 1850, he wrote 16 songs. In 1851, 16 more. Then would come a flood of hits that are too numerous to list. He toned down the dialect, dropped the term “minstrel” and blended the black experiences into metaphors for all manner of American yearnings, especially the one for “home.”

The Father of American music churned out over 200 classics. Then it all came to a sudden halt when he died from a mysterious fall. Stephen Collins Foster was a mere 37 years old when his genius stopped. Yet on the first Saturday of May each year since 1875 (uninterrupted), people gather at Churchill Downs in Louisville to witness “the most exciting two minutes in sports” … the Kentucky Derby. Among the many traditions of mint juleps, burgoo and women’s accessorized hats, the University of Louisville marching band will play his “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Not bad for a shy lad born on the 50th anniversary of our defiant Declaration, which we still rely on today.

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].

Taxing the Rich Never Seems to Quite Cure Society’s Ills

This 1920 President Wilson gold coin, struck to commemorate the July 16, 1920, opening of the Manila Mint, sold for $69,000 at an April 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

 

In 1913, after nearly 16 years in the political wilderness, Democrats eagerly seized control of Congress, with Thomas Woodrow Wilson as their leader. They were more than jubilant to once again have a Southern president, but to their disappointment, the president ordered that celebrations be kept to a minimum. He proceeded to deliver a brief inaugural address, canceled the inaugural ball, and stoically suffered the inaugural parade.

 

By promising “to cleanse, to reconsider, to restore” after many years of perceived misrule, he was committed to an agenda that historian John Morton Blum called “the politics of morality.” This would shape his presidency from its brilliant launch to its disappointing crash-landing.

 

Under the 1912 campaign slogan of “New Freedom” lurked the greatest wave of social legislation Americans would ever experience. Wilson, ever the political scientist, likened it to the use of Hamiltonian strong-central government to achieve Jeffersonian ideals of egalitarianism. What Wilson envisioned was the creation of a new federally regulated banking system, lower tariffs on imports, aggressive new policies to curtail business collusion, and imposition of an income tax made possible by the new 16th Amendment to the Constitution. He firmly believed the federal government needed to slow corporate wealth and aggressively help ordinary men and women – the backbone of the American system – and he wasted no time in getting started.

 

The day after his inauguration, he personally convened a special session of Congress, the first presidential appearance in the Capitol since the days of Thomas Jefferson. Thus began a historic assault on the tariff system because “it was a general tax on the entire population for the benefit of private industry.” This was followed by the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, Clayton Antitrust Act, and the Federal Farm Loan Act.

 

The other highly contentious issue would be an income tax, missing since it was dropped in 1872 after the Civil War. However, it was now viewed as an absolute necessity to plug the loss of tariff revenue ($100 million), grow the federal government, and redistribute the wealth of Americans in a way that would be more fair and equitable (i.e., the “surplus” income of rich Americans over and above the amount necessary for “good living”).

 

This culminated in the Revenue Act of 1913, which imposed a graduated income tax (collected by employers) and a reduction in tariffs from 40 percent to 25 percent. President Wilson signed it into law on Oct. 3, 1913. The reformers were now ready to start building on their accomplishments and the newly established teamwork between Congress and the White House.

 

Then on June 28, 1914, a shot rang out in Sarajevo and an archduke was dead.

 

Few wars have transformed belligerent countries as extensively as World War I. It overturned social, economic and cultural order in Europe, Russia and beyond. It also transformed the American economic system, as the cost to the U.S. was $50 billion and the federal budget grew from $742 million in 1916 to $14 billion in 1918. Before WWI, more than 90 percent of federal revenues came from excise taxes and tariffs. Now, the income tax played a central role in revenues and would continue to increase in importance for the next 100-plus years. Today, over 80 percent of federal revenues come from income taxes and associated payroll taxes … and inequality has grown much worse.

 

For some reason, the “tax the rich” approach never seems to quite cure society’s ills.

 

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].

Thomas Hart Benton’s Influence Surpassed Nearly All Contemporaries

This $100 1882 Gold Certificate (Fr. 1214), featuring an image of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, sold for $88,125 at an April 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During the winter of 1886-87, cattle rancher Theodore Roosevelt lost a lot of his money as the Dakota weather wiped out his herd. The one-time boy wonder of New York politics was now neither a boy nor a wonder anymore. At age 28, Roosevelt decided to return to writing. Through his friend Henry Cabot Lodge, he got a contract with Houghton Mifflin for a biography of Thomas Hart Benton, the Missouri Senator and apostle of Western geographic expansion of the United States.

Like most authors, T.R. had moments of doubt, writing to Lodge, “I feel appalled over the Benton. Unsure if a flat failure or not. Writing is horribly hard work for me; and I make slow progress.” By June, he pleads with Lodge to send him some research material on Benton’s post-Senate time and receives enough help to finish the biography. The book didn’t break any new ground, but was a much better read than his ponderous Naval War of 1812.

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) is a well-known American painter and muralist, and subject of an eponymous 1988 documentary by Ken Burns. However, Roosevelt’s biography was about a great-uncle, Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), who was only slightly less well known and a giant when it comes to the topic of U.S. western expansion, commonly called Manifest Destiny (or God’s will).

Benton was a central figure in virtually all the major geographic additions after President Jefferson essentially doubled the U.S. land area in 1803 via the Louisiana Purchase from France. The modest $15 million price tag added areas that constitute 15 present states and small portions of two Canadian provinces.

T.H.B. was an aide-de-camp to General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and then launched his own political career after the Compromise of 1820. This agreement permitted Maine (free) and Missouri (slave) to become U.S. states without disturbing the delicate balance in the Senate. Benton was one of Missouri’s first two Senators and his Senate career lasted 30 years.

He became the first Senator to serve five terms in office. His strong anti-slavery position prevented him from winning a sixth term, so he became a member of the House of Representatives.

He was the principal supporter behind the annexation of the Republic of Texas (1846) despite the slavery issue, which was rectified by negotiations for the Oregon Territory and anti-slavery provisos for the new areas seeking statehood after the war with Mexico. Benton further encouraged western expansion by legislating the first Homestead Act that offered free land to those who agreed to settle and live there.

It is easy to understand why Roosevelt selected him for a biography. Benton was not a great orator or writer, or even an original thinker. But his energy and industry, his indomitable will and fortitude, gave him an influence that surpassed nearly all contemporaries. Courteous, except when provoked, his courage was proof against all fear and he shrank from no contest, personal or political. At all times, he held every talent he possessed completely at the service of the Federal Union.

John F. Kennedy included Benton as one of the eight Senators he highlighted in his book Profiles In Courage, citing how Benton sacrificed his re-election to the U.S. Senate in a vain attempt to avoid disunion.

I suspect Teddy Roosevelt may have unwittingly adopted some of these personal traits for himself. They seem entirely familiar to the T.R. I admire and respect so deeply.

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].

Presidential Politics Always Filled with Strange Twists and Turns

This rare 1902 Oklahoma Territorial Red Seal, with a vignette of President William McKinley, sold for $16,450 at an April 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The 56th Congress (1899-1901) had assembled in a spirit of tranquility. For the first time since 1883, Republicans were in control of every branch of government and they rejoiced in an exceptional unity. It was the third and fourth years of President William McKinley’s presidency and included one African-American, George Henry White of North Carolina – the last black member of Congress until 1928 and the last one from the South until 1972.

McKinley was in the midst of a dramatically expanding era of foreign trade and the entire nation was applauding U.S. Secretary of State John Hay’s negotiations for the “Open Door Policy” into China. Republicans were also free to take action on the president’s policy to establish a temporary government in Porto Rico (the name was changed by Congress in 1931), with free trade between the islands and the United States. In addition, they needed to provide a territorial government for newly acquired Hawaii.

The minority lost no time in seeking revenge. Lacking a constructive program and impotent to prevent legislation on which the majority united, Democratic leaders resorted to opposition in its rawest form: Seek any device to divide or delay the Republican steamroller (sound familiar?). Constitutional questions were raised on a wide range of resolutions, with special attention to matters involving the Philippines, another recent addition courtesy of the Spanish-American War in 1898. They accused the administration of censorship and obscuring facts from the people on a broad set of issues. Anything to slow them down.

Despite furious, intermittent debates, the chairman of the Committee on the Philippines recommended granting the president broad legislative authority, almost carte blanche legal authority to do as he pleased. This further outraged Democrats and even seemed radical to many Republican senators. But the legislation had been carefully constructed by the superbly knowledgeable Senator John Spooner and modeled on the act by which Congress had authorized Thomas Jefferson to govern Louisiana nearly 100 years earlier.

This further emboldened the president and he adopted an even broader assumption of power and established a new commission to “build up from the bottom” and create a central government to be established in Manila, with the head likely to become a civilian governor. For this position, McKinley wanted a man of unusual qualifications, not only administrative and judicial, but moral as well. He wanted someone who possessed the extraordinary tact and patience required to bridge an interim period of joint control with a military government.

In the middle of January, the president telegraphed Judge William Howard Taft of Cincinnati politely asking him to call.

Taft was an affable man of 42; jolly but impressive with a big body, big smile and a bigger judicial brain, serving as judge of the U.S. Circuit Court at Cincinnati for eight years. Though Taft was a prominent jurist and a highly respected Republican, he did not know McKinley well during McKinley’s time as governor of Ohio. Taft had mingled in politics without becoming a typical politician. He was far too fastidious for the compromises and bargains, uneasy with the quid pro quo and backslapping of politics. Further, he did not have a high opinion of McKinley, despite a cordial dinner on the night of the Ohio elections of 1899.

Less than three months later came this unexpected call from the White House, presumably at the urging of Mark Hanna, the ultimate kingmaker.

Taft was perplexed by the call since he had a single all-consuming ambition, to become a member of the Supreme Court, and there had been no talk of a vacancy. When he arrived at the White House, McKinley came straight to the point, asking him to be a member of the Philippines commission and intimating he would head it. Years later when he was president-elect of the United States, Taft recalled the conversation in a speech: “Judge, I’d like you to go to the Philippines.” “Mr. President, I would like to help, but I am sorry we got the Philippines and I don’t want them.” “Judge, you don’t want them less than I do, but we’ve got them and I can trust a man who doesn’t want them more than a man who does!”

So Judge William Taft became governor of the Philippines (a job he didn’t want) and, ultimately, the 27th president of the United States (another job he reluctantly accepted). He finally got his dream job as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on July 11, 1921. He would serve until he retired on Feb. 3, 1930. After his death the following month, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the first president and first Supreme Court Justice to be interred there.

Presidential politics took some strange twists and turns along the way … and some things never seem to change.

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].

Peter the Great Modernized Russia and Opened its Path to Power

An extremely rare mint state Peter I Rouble 1723 sold for $63,250 at a May 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001, it didn’t seem to faze me. After reading all the literature on this pernicious disease, I was convinced of two things: First, surgery was the best option and second, the skill of the surgeon was the critical variable to ensure a positive result. I had heard the finest surgeon for this kind of procedure was a doctor at Johns Hopkins named Patrick Walsh and I had a connection that got me an appointment in June of that year.

After waiting in line behind the governor of Connecticut and the king of Spain, my operation was scheduled for Sept. 5 (it was a long line and Walsh performed only four procedures a week). Strictly by chance, I watched 9/11 unfold on CNN while recuperating in a rental recliner in a Baltimore hotel room.

PepsiCo made a healthy donation to a special research fund and invited Dr. Walsh to be a guest speaker at a boondoggle in 2003 in St. Petersburg, Russia, that coincided with the city’s 300-year anniversary. Pepsi-Cola had been the first western brand sold in the USSR (1972) since Chairman Don Kendall had a theory that trade was a better alternative than nuclear war. Since the Russians were short of hard currency, we traded Pepsi concentrate for Stolichnaya vodka. By the time I got to Europe, there were 26 Pepsi-Cola bottling plants in Russia.

St. Petersburg was always intriguing to me since it had been founded by Peter the Great in 1703. Peter (1672-1725) became ruler of Russia in 1682 (yes, he was 10 years old), at first jointly with his half-brother as co-Tsar and his mother as regent. In 1696, he became sole ruler of a vast empire. Seven years later, he founded St. Petersburg on the estuary of the River Neva and this new city, fortress and port by the Baltic Sea gave Russia direct access to Europe. This opened new opportunities for trade and military conquest, so Peter boldly made his new city Russia’s capital, stripping the title from the ancient seat of Moscow.

An admirer of Western palaces, Peter employed European architects to design the government buildings, palaces, houses and university in the fashionable baroque style. Labor was no problem with 30,000 peasants, Russian convicts and Swedish prisoners of war available for the construction gangs. More than 100,000 died, but those who survived could earn their freedom.

Peter proceeded to use his unchallenged power to make significant changes in Russia by founding the Russian navy and reforming the army along European lines, developing new iron and munition industries to equip it. By 1725, Russia had a first-rate army of 130,000 men. His court system was also transformed, adopting French-style dress. New colleges forced the nobility to educate their children and established a meritocracy for promotion. However, he treated rebels ruthlessly and adopted an aggressive foreign policy that gave him control of the Baltic Sea.

Although Peter wisely forged diplomatic ties with Western Europe, he failed to form an alliance against the Ottomans. His enlightened reforms established him as a powerful emperor of a vast empire and monarchy that survived until the bloody Russian Revolution in 1917.

“I built St. Petersburg as a window to let in the light of Europe!” Not a bad legacy and certainly superior to what has occurred in the past 100 years.

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].

Robert Morris Deserves His Place on This $1,000 Bill

The rare 1863 $1000 legal tender note featuring Robert Morris could be the most attractive bill ever printed.

By Jim O’Neal

Imagine a situation where you write a terrific biography that is nominated for prestigious awards and stays on The New York Times best-seller list for three months. Not bad. But then, imagine the elation when 10 years later, it is turned into a Tony Award-winning musical and you are part of the team that created it. That actually happened to author Ron Chernow with his book about Alexander Hamilton.

Even more remarkable is that Hamilton is still the hottest ticket in town three years later, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda has racked up a Pulitzer Prize, three Tony Awards, two Grammys, an Emmy, and will be honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018. The only thing left would be a film and, not surprisingly, Hamilton the movie is already in development.

Many people now know that Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of Treasury for the United States. However, he was not the first choice of George Washington when the president was forming his Cabinet. That distinction goes to another of the true Founding Fathers: Robert Morris Jr. (1734-1806), whose name has gradually faded from view. That was certainly not the case in 1775 when he was believed to be the richest man in America.

President Washington offered him the position primarily since he had been the First Superintendent of Finance for the United States (1781-84), but Morris recommended Hamilton since they shared similar views, including the idea of creating a national bank. Besides, next to George Washington, Morris was already considered the most powerful man in America.

After migrating to America from England as a teenager, he became a partner (at age 24) of Thomas Willing when they formed a banking-shipping firm, Willing, Morris & Co. This dual charter allowed them to self-finance their trading activities, which included slaves. However, disputes over tariffs and taxes like the Stamp Act inevitably drew Morris into politics and eventually the war for independence from England. Robert Morris and Roger Sherman of Connecticut are the only two people to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.

Robert Morris is also credited with being one of the founders of the financial system for the United States, along with Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, who was Treasury Secretary for Jefferson and Madison from 1801 to 1814, the longest tenure in this office in history. Morris used his great wealth and financial acumen to support Continental troops under Washington when the country was broke. The dome in the U.S. Capitol Building has a fresco painting (The Apotheosis of Washington) that includes a scene with Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, handing Morris a bag of gold to commemorate his service as “the Financier of the American Revolution.”

Twenty years ago, I had the pleasure of viewing Robert Morris on a $1,000 bill when Frank Levitan sold his wonderful collection of United States paper currency. It’s my personal choice for the most attractive bill ever printed and is ultra-rare (only two are known to exist). Lot #104 sold for $451,000 – a staggering amount at the time, but a fraction of the price it would bring today.

Thank you, Mr. Morris. I won’t forget.

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].

Fillmore Often Makes the ‘Forgettable Presidents’ Club

Millard Fillmore appears on the lower right corner of this Union Bank of Missouri $100 Color Proof. It realized $61,687.50 at an October 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, was the last not affiliated with either the Democrat or Republican parties. Born in a log cabin, he developed slowly since he did not read well and was apprenticed when he was 14 years old. After several years, he bought out his indenture for $30, but never saw a map of the United States until he was 19.

However, he learned to love books and spent a lot of time just reading.

Later, his entry into politics was through the New York State Assembly as an anti-Mormon candidate. Eventually, he made it into the U.S. House by following Whig Party policies. He even made a run at being the Whig Party VP candidate in 1844, but finished a weak third. Then, to top it off, he was defeated for governor of New York that same year.

It looked like his career had peaked.

However, his luck changed in 1848 when the Whigs picked General Zachary Taylor to run for president. Taylor was a slaveholder from Louisiana, had never run for office, and had never even voted.

Taylor and Fillmore had also never met, but the Whigs hoped Fillmore would help balance the ticket … a strategy that worked!

Vice President Fillmore was largely ignored when the administration finally took office. That is until President Taylor died unexpectedly and Fillmore was thrust into the Oval Office.

Alas, he gradually lost support of the Whig Party and was unable to generate a lot of support for reelection. One major cause was signing and then enforcing the proslavery Fugitive Slave Law, which alienated Northern Whigs.

During the 1852 convention, Fillmore made a valiant effort, but on the 53rd ballot, Winfield Scott finally prevailed as the Whig Party candidate. He would go on to lose the general election to Democrat Franklin Pierce.

In 1856, the American Party (“Know Nothings”) convinced Fillmore to make another run for the presidency; he won a single state. Curiously, many historians argue that Fillmore was never an actual American Party member, never attended a single meeting, and was even out of the country when all this happened.

All of this is true, but they overlook the fact that he did mail a letter affirming his acceptance of the nomination. So, I say he was an official candidate despite the unusual circumstances and the rather obvious lack of any real interest.

Fillmore often makes the “Forgettable Presidents” club … but we remember him because he was the first president to turn down an Honorary Degree … a Doctor of Civil Law from Oxford. His reason was a little hokey (he could not read or understand it since it was in Latin), but that only makes him more qualified for our club.

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].

Julius Caesar Still Influencing Culture 2,000 Years Later

Many Romans in 44 B.C. must have been stunned to see the image of Julius Caesar stamped on newly issued silver denarii. This example sold for $57,500 at a September 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Rome, “The Eternal City,” began as a cluster of small villages on seven hills by the River Tiber and grew into a city-state. According to legend, it was first ruled by kings, who were overthrown, before becoming a republic. A new constitution allowed the election of two senators to run the state. Their terms were limited to one year, as the office of king was prohibited.

It became remarkably successful between 500 and 300 B.C., extending its power through conquest and diplomacy until it encompassed the whole of Italy. By 120 B.C., Rome dominated parts of North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Greece and Southern France. The conquered territories were organized into provinces ruled by short-term governors who maintained order and ensured the collection of taxes.

By the 1st century B.C., Rome was a Mediterranean superpower, yet its long tradition of collective government, in which no individual could gain much control, was challenged by the personal ambitions of a few immensely powerful military men. A series of civil wars and unrest culminated in the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, a brilliant general and statesman.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in Rome in 100 B.C. to a family of distinguished ancestry. From an early age, he grasped that money was the key to power in a political system that had become hopelessly corrupt. He also learned that forging a network of alliances and patronage would be crucial to his success.

After serving in the war to crush the slave revolt led by Spartacus, he returned to Rome in 60 B.C. and spent vast sums of money buying influence and positions. Eventually, he teamed up with two other powerful Romans, Crassus and Pompey, to form the First Triumvirate. Then Caesar was first consul and two years later, governor of Gaul, which gave him a springboard to true military glory.

Over the next eight years, he conquered Gaul, bringing the whole of France, parts of Germany, and Belgium under his personal rule. Buoyed by his achievements, he then tried to dictate the terms for returning to Rome. Roman laws required military leaders to relinquish control of their armies before returning to Rome, a prerequisite for running for public office.

When Caesar refused, the Roman Senate declared him hostis (public enemy) and then came the unthinkable: He decided to march his army on Rome! En route, he paused at the border between the Gallic provinces and Italy proper … a small river called the Rubicon. Acutely aware that crossing that river would constitute a declaration of war, he announced “alea iacta est” (the die is cast) and led his army forward, telling them, “Even yet we may draw back, but once across that little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword.”

“Crossing the Rubicon” is still in vogue today and represents making a difficult decision that cannot be reversed once taken.

Obviously, Caesar won the ensuing civil war, but soon a conspiracy developed with 60 senators planning to assassinate him on March 15, 44 B.C. (the infamous “Ides of March”). What is curious is that even after more than 2,000 years, we find Caesar references so often. The latest is the flap over a play in NYC’s Central Park, Julius Caesar, in which the title character bears a not-so-subtle resemblance to President Trump, with The New York Times questioning whether he can survive living in Caesar’s Palace.

Et tu, Brute?

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].

Bitter Enemies United Forever on Currency

This 1861 Confederate States of America $1000 Montgomery Note, featuring John Calhoun and Andrew Jackson, sold for $76,375 at an October 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

John Caldwell Calhoun served his full four years as vice president under John Quincy Adams, but the year was now 1828 and he needed to make a decision about his political future.

He previously had been a member of the House of Representatives (1811-17) and Secretary of War (1817-25). (He was later Secretary of State, and a U.S. Senator.)

He finally decided to run for the vice presidency again. But, in a twist, he decided to switch horses and run with Andrew Jackson rather than JQA. It seemed like a prudent choice at the time, and he and Jackson easily won the 1828 election. Then they started trying to work together.

They differed on so many fundamental issues, including states’ rights and nullification, that a schism seemed inevitable. Then, to make tensions even worse, his wife Floride Bonneau started meddling in White House politics … and Jackson’s famous temper was riled up. He even threatened to just grab Calhoun and hang him (another duel would have apparently been unseemly).

The end was much less dramatic, as Jackson simply picked Martin Van Buren to be his running mate in the 1832 presidential election. When they won, Calhoun resigned.

Calhoun would remain the only vice president to resign until Spiro Agnew joined the club.

On March 9, 1861, the Confederate States of America issued a $1,000 banknote depicting both Calhoun and Jackson. So the two bitter enemies remain joined for eternity.

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].