Marie Antoinette Swept Away by Conditions that Rocked European Landscape

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

By Jim O’Neal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidbits: Bluebonnets, Sherlock Holmes, Bums and Booze

Julian Onderdonk’s Texas Landscape with Bluebonnets sold for $437,000 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The bluebonnets in Texas are beginning to fade, but two names always come to mind when talking about the flowers: Claudia Alta Taylor (better known as “Lady Bird” Johnson ) and “Cactus Jack” Garner, who lobbied to make the prickly pear cactus the state flower (and lost).

Garner became the 32nd vice president of the United States in 1932 and concurrently was elected back to the House. So for one day, on March 4, 1933, he was both Psident of the Senate and Speaker of the House.

Earlier on Feb. 15, 1933, as VP-elect, he came close to being president when FDR just missed being assassinated in Miami.

Garner served two full terms as VP and died 15 days before his 99th birthday – making him the longest-living VP.

“A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle was the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes. It was published in 1887 in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual – with only 11 copies known to exist today.

Joe Louis by Irving Penn

The last heavyweight championship bout scheduled for 20 rounds was held in Detroit in 1941. Joe Louis TKO’d Abe Simon in 13 rounds. Simon was a member of Louis’ “Bum of the Month Club” – 13 opponents Louis defeated between 1939 and 1941.

After leaving boxing, Simon went to Hollywood, where he won roles in On the Waterfront, Never Love a Stranger and Requiem for a Heavyweight.

Our 35th vice president, Kentucky lawyer Alben W. Barkley, was elected with Harry S. Truman in 1948 and is still the only one with the middle name of William (he was actually born Willie Alben Barkley).

One of his career highlights was his keynote address at the 1932 Democratic Convention, where he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and denounced Prohibition (Kentucky bourbon?). It worked … FDR won and prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Although the oldest VP elected at age 71 (Joe Biden was 65 in 2008), Barkley is the only one to marry while in office … a woman half his age. Later, he denounced the 80th Congress as “Do Nothing,” but Truman often gets credit for the phrase.

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].

Adamses First Presidential Couple to Mark their Golden Anniversary

Louisa Adams, shown in this oil portrait by Lawrence Williams, was our only First Lady born outside the United States.

By Jim O’Neal

Some presidential tidbits:

Three sets of presidents defeated each other:

► John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in 1824; Jackson defeated Adams in 1828.

► Martin Van Buren defeated William H. Harrison in 1836; Harrison defeated Van Buren in 1840.

► Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland in 1888; Cleveland defeated Harrison in 1892.

So much for the power of incumbency.

John Quincy Adams and wife Louisa were the first presidential couple to be married 50-plus years. She remains the only First Lady born outside the United States (London) and the first to write an autobiography, “Adventures of a Nobody.” When she died in 1852, both houses of Congress adjourned in mourning (a first for a woman).

While in the Senate, John was “Professor of Logic” at Brown University and professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard.

Herbert Clark Hoover was the last president whose term of office ended on March 4 (1933).

He married Lou Henry Hoover (the first woman to get a degree in geology at Stanford), and when they were in the White House, they conversed in Chinese whenever they wanted privacy.

Our 10th president, John Tyler, only served 31 days as VP (a record) before becoming president after William Henry Harrison’s death.

His wife Letitia was the first to die while in the White House. When John re-married, several of his children were older than second wife Julia.

Tyler’s death was the only one not officially recognized in Washington, D.C., because of his allegiance to the Confederacy. His coffin was draped with a Confederate flag.

Our sixth president, James Monroe, was the first senator elected president. His VP for a full eight years, Daniel D. Tompkins (the “D” stood for nothing), was an alcoholic who several times presided over the Senate while drunk. He died 99 days after leaving office (a post vice-presidency record).

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].

Webster Certainly Belongs on the List of Our Greatest Senators

This 1853-dated bronze statue of Daniel Webster, measuring 29.75 inches, sold for $11,950 at a March 2008 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

American poet Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943) is perhaps best known for his book-length narrative poem “John Brown’s Body” (1928), about the Civil War abolitionist who raided the armory at Harpers Ferry in 1859. Brown and a group of 20-plus co-conspirators captured several buildings and weapons they hoped to use to start a slave uprising.

U.S. Army Lieutenant Robert E. Lee led a contingent of Marines to quell the insurgency. Brown was captured, tried for treason and hanged. Harpers Ferry was at a busy crossroads, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and was the site of at least eight skirmishes while changing hands several times during the Civil War.

Benét also authored “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1936), a fictional story about a farmer who sells his soul to the devil (Mr. Scratch) and then refuses to pay up even after receiving a three-year extension on the agreement. Benét has Webster defend him in court due to his prodigious real-life record as a famous lawyer, statesman and orator. There are many other films, books and stories about similar Faustian-type bargains, but the use of Daniel Webster was a brilliant choice due to his superior debating skills and outstanding oratory.

In Benét’s trial, despite overwhelming evidence, the jury finds in favor of Mr. Webster’s client.

In virtually every aspect, the real-life Daniel Webster (1782-1852) was almost a true larger-than-life character, at least in American politics and especially in the formative era between 1812 and the Civil War. He played a critical role in virtually every significant issue confronting the new United States government.

Webster had no equal as an orator, either in those turbulent times or in the 200 years since then. Whether in the Supreme Court (240-plus cases), the U.S. Senate, or out on the political stump, he was simply the finest; a golden-tounged spellbinder. He enthralled audiences three to four hours at a time, always in defense of the Union and the sacred U.S. Constitution.

He generated almost god-like respect and was universally considered to be a cinch to be president; particularly in his own mind. His weakness was aligning with the Whigs and a seemingly improvident inability to manage personal finances (and alcohol, as usual). He was also an elitist at a time when Andrew Jackson’s brand of populism was growing, much like the present. He was often referred to as “Black Dan” because of his political conniving.

He missed a perfect chance to be president by refusing to run as vice president in 1840 with William Henry Harrison, who defeated Martin Van Buren but died 31 days after his inauguration.

1841 was the first “Year of Three Presidents.” It began with the defeated Van Buren, followed by Harrison, and then Vice President John Tyler, who had himself sworn in immediately as president after a brief Constitutional crisis following Harrison’s death.

This phenomenon occurred again in 1881. After Rutherford B. Hayes finished his term, new President James A. Garfield took over. When Garfield succumbed to an assassin’s bullet in September, VP Chester A. Arthur moved into the White House … this time with little controversy.

So Daniel Webster never realized his ambition to become president, but any time there is a discussion about our greatest senators, you may be assured that Daniel Webster will be on everyone’s Top 5, along with Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun … two more who never quite got to wear the Presidential Crown. Sadly, we do not have any actual recordings of these great orators, but it is tantalizing to think of them in today’s contemporary politics and to judge them in this age of new media.

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].

Artists Helped Establish America’s First National Park

Thomas Moran’s watercolor, pencil and gouache on paper titled From the Top of Great Fall, Yellowstone, 1871, sold for $51,500 in November 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

In March 1872, a tract of land beneath the headwaters of the Yellowstone River became a national park when the U.S. Congress passed an act to authorize it and President Ulysses S. Grant approved it.

A great deal of the credit belongs to two 19th-century artists: Thomas Moran (amazing color sketches and paintings) and William Henry Jackson (brilliant photographs). They provided the real impetus to convince Congress to set aside 2.2 million acres of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho wilderness as the first national park in the United States (and probably the world).

Because Congress had a chance to see Moran’s and Jackson’s breathtaking pictures, America got Yellowstone National Park.

Before the artists’ work became widely known, little reliable proof was available to support the fanciful reports that had been trickling back East. They had started shortly after the famous Lewis and Clark journey had ended in 1806 after an epic three-year discovery which did NOT include any of the Yellowstone area.

However, there were numerous eyewitness reports from trappers and mountain men who described a strange landscape filled with boiling springs, towering geysers and foul-spelling vapors. One prominent fur trader, Warren Angus Ferris, wrote: “The largest of these wonderful fountains projects water several feet in diameter to the height of more than 150 feet.” But without images to support these claims, they were generally considered exaggerated and only partially credible.

As an aside, there was also a plain within Yellowstone called Two-Ocean Plateau, from which creeks trickled into streams that eventually passed to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The result was that Yellowstone’s melting snow peaks watered great swaths of American land. Yet none of those passing on the Oregon Trail came close enough to see it. Neither did the hardy Mormon pioneers who were heading for the valley where they would build Salt Lake City.

Even those heading for the Montana gold fields turned away at the sight of the seemingly impenetrable-looking mountains. All of them balked at the high passes that were still choked with snow in late June. So all the contemporary maps marked Yellowstone as “unexplored” and “terra incognita” or did not bother to mention it at all.

In 1860, it was probably the final important place in all of America to be so little-known.

However, by 1870, the Montana Territory was becoming populated as gold and silver were discovered. Towns were built and unknown corners of the territory were being explored. One group even headed up the Yellowstone River and what they discovered over the next six weeks was almost beyond belief. One member, Nathaniel Langford, wrote two essays for Scribner’s Magazine. They told of truly amazing things: hundred-foot geysers, enormous waterfalls, bubbling hot springs, wild-flowered meadows and towering snowcapped volcanoes.

It was the formal crowning for Yellowstone and was followed by the Ferdinand Hayden expedition, which took along Thomas Moran, the very artist who had drawn the magnificently imagined Scribner’s pictures. What he drew and painted that year and what Hayden found on his expedition put in motion a series of activities that would have lasting consequences for America’s perception of the glories of her countryside.

The 2.2 million acres exceeded the size of both Rhode Island and Delaware, and almost 5 million visitors now visit annually to see one of our country’s true national treasures.

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].

Americans Looked Beyond ‘Modern Art’ to a Grander Project … the Panama Canal

Henry Lyman Sayen’s Cubist Composition, 1917, realized $100,000 at a November 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art was the first large exhibition of its kind in America. It was held at the 69th Regiment Armory in NYC, before moving on to Chicago and Boston. More than 70,000 people walked the length of the Armory to witness the visions of Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp. Judging by press reports, not a single person appears to have left without voicing an opinion, most likely a negative one.

Who, they asked, could call such rubbish art?

Americans, generally accustomed to realistic art, were astonished by the experimental styles of Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism – the avant-garde experimental styles of Europe. Many in the New York crowd would have nothing to do with it and in Boston and Chicago, art students burned Matisse and others in effigy.

Kenyon Cox, a prominent author, illustrator and teacher, saw in the show nothing less than the “total destruction of the art of painting.” The star image of the exhibition was Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” or as Teddy Roosevelt called it, “Naked Man Running Down Stairs.” TR added it reminded him of a Navajo rug he stood on each morning while shaving. Still, other people saw something else entirely … “An Explosion in a Shingle Factory” or “An Earthquake on the Subway.”

As New Yorkers were scoffing at modern painting, a more contemporary and pleasing project was nearing completion 2,300 miles south of Manhattan. The dream of uniting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans dated back to the Spanish explorations in the 16th century.

It seemed like such a simple task to dig a canal bisecting the thin strip of land connecting North and South America. Americans wanted a connecting waterway all their own, a way to move freight and passengers coast to coast with ease.

A French company had tried and failed miserably in the 1880s, as malaria and yellow fever crippled their plans. 20,000 laborers had died and it destroyed the reputation of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal. His insistence on a sea-level canal (à la the Suez) neglected equatorial rains, half-submerged trees and, most significantly, the extraordinary amounts of terrain involved.

For perspective, the site required the excavation of three times the dirt removed to create the Suez, an unprecedented reconfiguration of the earth itself. Equipment for such a task did not exist yet.

But no president loved a challenge more than Teddy Roosevelt, who launched into it with vigor in 1904. America would dig the Big Ditch just as they would later land a man on the moon. The secret sauce included controlling malaria, creating an elaborate system of locks to minimize the digging, and a vision for world leadership. TR sensed it was America’s destiny to use the two oceans to safely convey the civilized world into the new century.

When the Panama Canal opened on Aug. 15, 1914, six months ahead of schedule, Teddy Roosevelt was long gone from the presidency. Attention turned to Europe and an event that would soon cast a giant shadow over the earth: a world war!

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].

Immigrants Have Made Traditionalists Uneasy, But Controversy Will Soon Pass

A Roy Lichtenstein screen-print, I Love Liberty, 1982, sold for $27,500 at an October 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Immigration is back in the news and it’s easy to forget this is not the first time. Out of the enormous industrial growth in the middle of the 19th century came an almost insatiable appetite for unskilled labor. The result was a tremendous wave of immigration, landing 26 million here between 1870 and 1920. They came from all over the world.

However, this was a new kind of immigrant, fashioned for an industrial society, and it made traditionalists uneasy, just as Thomas Jefferson had once been uncertain about the mixing of the American population. Prominent economists voiced concerns about people wholly incompetent as pioneers mixing with independent proprietors and threatening the democratic theories of the founders.

In 1870, over half of Americans toiled on the farm (close to Jefferson’s vision of yeoman farmers) and yet in the first decade of the 20th century, two-thirds of workers were in factories – semi-intelligent work described by Henry Ford as a job “the most stupid man could learn in two days.” The old immigrants of home-seekers had become new immigrants of job-seekers. A nativist movement was inspired to protect America for people of Anglo-Saxon stock.

This was not the first expression of this sentiment. In the 1850s, a secret society in New York City, the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, morphed into the Know-Nothing Party, which inveighed against the arrival of Irish and German Catholics and with them “popish alliances.” Although the Know-Nothings disappeared after 1860, the tendency toward defining Americans according to ethnicity came roaring back after the Civil War.

Today, we hold up the Statue of Liberty as our beacon to the world, but it was originally intended to be a symbolic gift from sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi over admiration for American liberties, not a statement about immigration. It was only after Emma Lazarus’ give-me-your-tired sonnet was added to the statue 17 years later that the image of America as an asylum for the oppressed and poor of the world would emerge.

And even this was followed by the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918, which allowed the government to prosecute pacifists, socialists and left-wing organizations, all of which had sizable immigrant followers. Then the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 imposed strict quotas to preserve America as an Anglo-Saxon nation. For the next 40 years, immigration slowed to a trickle and in the 1930s there were years when more people left America than came to live here.

It is a complicated story, but we have thrived as a nation due to the many, many contributions of immigrants. I predict this controversy too shall pass … as it has every time in 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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Siege of Leningrad was Devastating for Russian People

nicolai-fechin-russian-girl
Nicolai Fechin’s Russian Girl, an oil on canvas laid on masonite, sold for $109,375 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The suffering brought on by World War II was enormous, but when the total picture is considered there is little doubt that the greatest pain was borne by the people who lived within the grasp of the century’s most vicious tyrants: Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.

While Americans were busy managing the factories that made them the “Arsenal of Democracy” and focusing on Japan, the people of Central Europe and Western Russia were in a life-and-death struggle fought on the very streets of their cities.

Throughout the winter of 1941-42 and onward for 900 days, the people of Leningrad were suffering dramatically. Concerned that his German army might encounter enormous losses if they launched an all-out assault, Hitler ordered a blockade of the city. By starving its 3 million people, he hoped to break Russian morale and force them to surrender.

Since Leningrad was closed on the west by the Baltic Sea, to the east by the 80-mile-wide Lake Ladoga and to the north by the Finnish army, the Wehrmacht only needed to seal the southern flank to isolate the city. But even as the Germans closed ranks around them and started bombing warehouses and supply routes, the hearty citizens showed they would not be so easily defeated. Volunteers built thousands of air-raid shelters and pillboxes, and cut down trees to block the Germans’ path.

By late December 1941, Leningrad was down to two days’ supply of flour and people had to make bread from cellulose, sawdust and floor sweepings of flour. Animal feed became human food, weeds were boiled to create soup and the dead were hidden so families could continue receiving their daily rations. 53,000 perished that month, and by February another 200,000 would join them.

Somehow the city hung on.

Then came a breakthrough. Scientists discovered Lake Ladoga had frozen so deeply that it could support truck traffic. They cautiously started sending convoys across the “Road of Life.” In the first seven days, 40 trucks sunk to the bottom, but dozens of others made it and returned with precious food. Then women and children were evacuated and the city limped along in darkness and silence since there was no oil to light the lamps and even the birds were dead. In fact, every creature – living or dead, including the human corpses in the gutters – had been picked over by the hungry hordes.

Leningrad Radio broadcast from the generator of a ship frozen in a river and aired the sound of a metronome between programs to let listeners know the city was not dead, yet. By the time Leningrad was liberated in January 1944, nearly 1 million people had died.

There were more civilians dead than in any city, in any war, in the history of mankind.

During this siege, Hitler became obsessed with conquering Stalingrad and that proved to be a fatal mistake that cost him the war. The little colonel from Bavaria proved to be a poor general.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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].

Deep Divisions Within a Political Party Nothing New

andy-warhols-screenprint-teddy-roosevelt
Andy Warhol’s screenprint Teddy Roosevelt (from the Cowboys and Indians portfolio), 1986, ed. 183/250, realized $23,750 at a May 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency in September 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley. Teddy was 42 years old and remains the youngest man to hold the office (JFK was 43).

When reelected in 1904, it was the first time an incumbent president won reelection after ascending to the presidency upon the death of his predecessor. Calvin Coolidge (1924), Harry S. Truman (1948) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1964) would later match this historic first.

When 1908 rolled around, TR honored his earlier pledge “not to seek a third term” and then maneuvered his associate William Howard Taft into the White House.

At the time, it seemed like a sound strategic transition for the Republicans. But it would turn out to be a colossal mistake that would grow in importance and haunt Roosevelt for the rest of his life.

When he returned from the historic Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition two years later, the group had collected 11,400 animal specimens that took Smithsonian naturalists eight years to catalog. And the political animals had also been busy during his absence.

A major rift developed between President Taft and TR over policies that had become administration priorities. This, in turn, caused a deep divide in the Republican Party that could not be reconciled. It was so serious that neither faction could generate enough support to defeat Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 election.

Later, many politicians were convinced that Roosevelt was still popular enough to seriously contend for the 1920 Republican nomination. However, this conjecture was never tested since the mighty Bull Moose’s health was broken and he died on Jan. 6, 1919.

He still regretted making “that damn pledge not to run in 1908” and took it with him to the grave.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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].

Rights Granted to Barons in Medieval England are Bedrocks of Modern Society

charter-of-liberties-cardinal-langton-archbishop-of-canterbury
A painting by William Martin (1753-1836) shows Cardinal Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, producing to the barons the Charter of Liberties, issued in 1100. It’s considered a landmark document in English history and forerunner of the Magna Carta.

By Jim O’Neal

During the heated debates between our Founding Fathers while formulating the Constitution and Bill of Rights, many invoked the principles of the Magna Carta to bolster their arguments. For almost 600 years, the Great Charter had stood as a beacon whenever men discussed their inherent rights.

The truth is somewhat more complicated.

On June 15, 1215, King John of England signed a charter at Runnymede, a meadow beside the Thames River near Windsor fortress. The Archbishop of Canterbury had proposed the charter as a means to make peace between the king and a group of rebel barons. The document – which eventually became the Magna Carta – promised access to swift justice, no illegal imprisonment and limitations on feudal payments.

When John was enthroned as king in 1199, England was a feudal society, a land-based hierarchy where the king owned all the land. The tenants-in-chief (i.e. barons) received land from the king in exchange for loyalty and military service. They, in turn, leased the land to their own retainers, who leased to peasants. However, English monarchs had been levying ever-increasing higher taxes and financial burdens on the barons.

Starting with Henry I (1100-1135), the Crown established a series of Royal Courts that also raised revenue through fines and taxes. Discontent intensified under King John, who had lost a series of expensive campaigns against the French from 1200-1204 and had also lost the land in Normandy, which put the squeeze on the entire system. In addition to being inept at war, King John broke his commitments to the barons and both sides then disavowed any promises made.

One significant irony was that the Magna Carta originally only included the king and the barons. Ordinary citizens were totally ignored.

A new Magna Carta was issued in 1216 by Henry III and revised again in 1226 to raise taxes once again. Finally, in 1297, Edward I agreed to rights that evolved into English statute law, with a broad array of rights granted to all citizens.

The Magna Carta has acquired almost mythical status as the constitutional bedrock of citizen rights. It contributed to the development of parliament from the 13th century and was used by 17th century rebels to argue against the divine right of kings. Several American colonies’ charters contained clauses modeled on it, while the design of the Massachusetts seal chosen at the start of the Revolutionary War depicts a militiaman with sword in one hand and the Magna Carta in the other.

Americans believed the Crown had breached the fundamental law enjoyed by all English citizens, which led to the U.S. Constitution enacted in 1789 and the Bill of Rights adopted two years later. We are fortunate to live in a country governed by the rule of law and limitations on the arbitrary power of a government against its citizens.

Much blood has been spilled by many in defense of these beliefs.

Jim O'NielIntelligent 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].