Harvard-Educated Adams Cracked Down on Non-Citizens, Free Speech

An 1805-dated oil on canvas portrait of John Adams, attributed to William Dunlap, sold for $35,000 at a May 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Barack Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, he became the eighth president to have graduated from Harvard, which has educated more U.S. presidents than any other university. Yale is second with five, with George W. Bush counting for both Yale and Harvard (where he earned an MBA).

The first of the “Harvard Presidents” goes all the way back to 1796, when John Adams narrowly defeated Thomas Jefferson 71 to 68 in the electoral vote count. It was the only election in history in which a president and a vice president were elected from opposing parties.

However, Jefferson bounced back four years later in a bitter campaign characterized by malicious personal attacks. Alexander Hamilton played a pivotal role in sabotaging President Adams’ attempt to win a second term by publishing a pamphlet that charged Adams was “emotionally unstable, given to impulsive decisions, unable to co-exist with his closest advisers, and was generally unfit to be president.”

When all the votes were counted in 1800, Adams actually ended up third behind both Jefferson and Aaron Burr (who eventually became vice president). John and Abigail Adams took the loss very emotionally and it alienated their relationship with Jefferson for 20-plus years. Adams departed the White House before dawn on Inauguration Day, skipped the entire inauguration ceremony and headed home to Massachusetts. The two men ultimately reconciled near the end of their lives (both died on July 4, 1826).

Adams had been an experienced executive-office politician after serving eight years as vice president for George Washington. However, his four years as president were controversial. It started when the Federalist-dominated Congress passed four bills, collectively called the Alien and Sedition Acts, which President Adams signed into law in 1798. The Naturalization Act made it harder for immigrants to become citizens, and the Alien Friends Act allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens deemed dangerous or from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act). And finally, the Sedition Act made it a crime to make false statements that were critical of the federal government.

Collectively, these bills invested President Adams with sweeping authority to deport resident non-citizens he considered dangerous; they criminalized free speech, forbidding anyone to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writing against the government of the United States … or either House of Congress of the United States … with intent to defame … or bring them into contempt or dispute … or to excite against them or either of them … the hatred of the good people of the United States.”

Editors were arrested and tried for publishing pieces the Adams administration deemed seditious. Editors were not the only targets. Matthew Lyon, a Vermont Congressman, was charged with sedition for a letter he wrote to the Vermont Journal denouncing Adams’ power grab. After he was indicted, tried and convicted, Lyon was sentenced to four months in prison and fined $1,000.

For Vice President Jefferson, the Alien and Sedition Acts were a cause of despair and wonderment. “What person, who remembers the times we have seen, could believe that within such a short time, not only the spirit of liberty, but the common principles of passive obedience would be trampled on and violated.” He suspected that Adams was conspiring to establish monarchy again.

It would not be the last time Americans would sacrifice civil liberties for the sake of national security. More on this later.

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].

Jefferson Stretched Constitution to its Limit

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Thomas Jefferson proved to the world the strength of the American republic and its democratic system.

By Jim O’Neal

Thomas Jefferson was 57 years old when he was sworn in as president on March 4, 1801, in a simple ceremony in Washington, D.C. He was the first president to take office in the new capital, then a city of 6,000, but without representation in Congress. In 1961, the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution granted the district one non-voting, at-large delegate to the House of Representatives and three electoral votes in presidential elections, but no representation in the U.S. Senate. In 1973, they were granted limited self-government, which includes a mayor and a city council with 13 elected members.

Since the passage of the amendment, the district’s three electoral votes have been cast for the Democratic Party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates in every election. They are bound by law to never have more electoral votes than a state (in this case Wyoming, which has three).

Denounced as a radical and atheist by his political opponents, Jefferson became the first leader of an opposition political party to wrest control of the national government from the party in power. Despite grim prophecies by the outgoing Federalists that the Constitution would be overthrown, he proved to the world the strength of the American republic and its democratic system. Jefferson believed the United States should remain an agrarian country of small farms and a national government that offered little interference in the lives of its citizens. He warned of the evils of large cities – with disease, poverty and centralized power that fostered corruption.

However, as president, in his own words, he “stretched the Constitution till it cracked” by using presidential powers to double the size of the country, presumably to give people room to spread out and avoid dense urbanization (the Louisiana Purchase), and discharge major political appointees of his predecessor. Chief Justice John Marshall restrained him from applying the same principle to federal judges.

After suffering through the embarrassment of the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton affair, he chose the elderly George Clinton for vice president in his second term, with the obvious intent to ensure a VP that was too old to succeed him. He then orchestrated the election of his old Virginia friend and Secretary of State James Madison to become the fourth president.

Refusing all pleas for a third term, he more than welcomed his pending retirement, writing “Never did a prisoner released from his chains feel such relief I shall in shaking off the shackles of power … I thank God for the opportunity of retiring from them without censure and carrying with me the most consoling proofs of public approbation.”

For his epitaph, he asked for “not a word more” about his time as vice president or president. After 17 years in retirement, his wish was granted and his cherished University of Virginia (which he founded) and the Declaration of Independence seem fitting memorials for this remarkably versatile man to which we all owe an eternal debt of gratitude.

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].

Hamilton-Burr Duel Remains a Puzzle of American History

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Warner Brothers’ 1931 film Alexander Hamilton was based on the play that opened on Broadway in 1917. This original poster for the movie sold for $5,975 at a July 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Alexander Hamilton was born in the West Indies, arriving in America in 1772 to pursue an education. Aaron Burr was born in 1756 in Newark, N.J. When they met for their famous duel, Hamilton was a former Revolutionary War General and had been the first Secretary of the Treasury. Burr was a respected soldier, former U.S. Senator and the vice president of the United States.

Their duel is still controversial and somewhat puzzling. Why would two prominent Americans end up early one morning in a situation where one would be killed and the political career of the other effectively ended?

Burr has steadily become one of the great villains of American history. But before the duel, he was an impressive man. Contemporary reports asserted he was open and kind, and wrote letters to his servants, solicitous about their welfare. He had fought to eliminate slavery throughout the country and is credited with helping end the practice in New York in 1799.

Before the contentious election of 1800, Burr and Hamilton were friends who enjoyed dining together and their two daughters were also friendly. Yet the two men, among the most prominent lawyers in New York and the entire country, found themselves enmeshed in the code duello, a system of honor no better than current street rules for gangs in Chicago or Los Angeles.

It had started in February 1804 at a political dinner when Hamilton had supposedly called Burr a “dangerous man” unfit to lead. A doctor, Charles Cooper, leaked the comments to an Albany newspaper, which printed them. When Burr confronted Hamilton, Burr was told to ask Dr. Cooper, and then several more letters were exchanged, each one slightly more hostile than the previous.

Eventually, Burr challenged Hamilton to the duel in June 1804 and they agreed to meet in Weehawken, N.J., the exact spot Hamilton’s son had been killed in a duel three years earlier. The time was to be 7 to 7:30 a.m. on July 11 and both men were using modified pistols of over .50 caliber, more lethal than World War II heavy .50 caliber machineguns.

These guns were designed for killing, not dueling!

Hamilton was hit in the lower right side, fell, was carried to a boat waiting in the Hudson River and taken back to a friend’s house in New York. He died 36 hours later and his funeral was very impressive – a procession of his coffin on a carriage and his general’s uniform proudly on top. It was a memorable date, July 14, Bastille Day, and the 15th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Burr was indicted for murder, but never tried. In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson dropped him from the presidential ticket and Burr’s career careened into a deep spiral, his honor tarnished forever.

The infamous code duello had claimed two more victims.

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].

Today’s Political Schisms Would Not Surprise George Washington

A painting by Jeremiah Paul Jr. (d. 1820) depicting George Washington taking leave of his family as he assumes command of U.S. forces during the “quasi-war” with France in 1798, realized $47,500 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

George Washington was a staunch opponent of political parties due to the corrosive effect he (strongly) believed they would have on all levels of government.

As president, Washington worked hard to maintain a non-partisan political agenda, despite significant differences that existed right in his cabinet.

His 1796 farewell address was replete with advice to the country, and by extension, to future leaders. One prominent warning was to avoid the formation of political factions that would pose a danger to the effectiveness of government (think gridlock in Washington, D.C.). A second peril was entanglements with foreign governments, since they inevitably lead to war. The examples here start with the War of 1812, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and end with the Russian threats to NATO, the China Sea and the remarkably complex situation in the Middle East and North Korea.

After Washington’s retirement, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton ignored his sage advice and wasted little time confronting the Democratic-Republicans, headed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Adams became the first (and last) Federalist president. He was easily defeated in 1800, after one term, by Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Adams finished a dismal third and the Federalists gradually faded into irrelevance.

The Democratic-Republicans put together a nice run of three Virginia presidents – Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe – however, the party lacked a strong center and split four ways. Next was an alliance between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay of the National Republican Party, which only won a single election in 1824 that required the House to settle. When Andrew Jackson defeated Clay in 1832, the party was absorbed into the Whigs … a diverse group of anti-Jackson politicos.

Then the Whig Party fell apart in the 1850s over the issue of the expansion of slavery in the new territories. In fact, after the 1854 election, the largest party in the House of Representatives was the Opposition Party, with 100 members, followed by 83 Democrats and 51 American Party members (the Know Nothings).

These parties never seem to last long (thankfully).

Next it was the New Republican Party’s turn (the Party of Lincoln) until another major kerfuffle occurred in 1912 when Teddy Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft managed to divide the Republican Party enough to let Democrat Woodrow Wilson win the White House … until he had a stroke and his wife took over.

A century later, we appear to be in another political schism, with a socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders, on the Democrat Party side and on the other, Donald “The Wall” Trump, who claims to have part of the Republican Party supporting him. It is not clear which part.

Only one thing seems certain. Thanks to President Washington, we were warned!

P.S. As history teaches … this too shall pass.

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].

History Tends to Overlook the Man Who Originated Gerrymandering

John Trumbull’s famous painting The Declaration of Independence adorns the reverse of the current $2 bill. Somewhere in the group is Elbridge Gerry.

By Jim O’Neal

“If everyone here was a Gerry, the Liberties of America would be safe against the Gates of Earth and Hell.” – John Adams, July 15, 1776, letter to James Warren, the Second Continental Congress

Adams was praising Elbridge Gerry. Anytime the delegates from the middle colonies started to waver over the issue of independence, Gerry was there to persuade them that such a provocative action was needed to secure the future of America.

Elbridge Thomas Gerry was only 12 years younger than George Washington and was admitted to Harvard College at age 13. He earned B.A. and M.A. degrees. He then divided his time between the family garment business and both state and federal governance.

Gerry served in the U.S. House of Representatives during the first and second Congresses (1789-1793). Earlier, after being elected to the Second Continental Congress, he signed the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence, but was one of three men – in addition to George Mason and Edmund Randolph – who refused to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Gerry was stubbornly adamant that it should include a Bill of Rights to provide protection to individuals.

History proved him correct and our current Bill of Rights is foundational for many of the freedoms we now take for granted.

Then as governor of Massachusetts (1810-12), he approved a redistricting plan that ensured Democratic-Republican domination of the state. The shape of one of the new districts resembled that of a salamander, prompting Benjamin Russell, editor of the Boston Gazette, to coin the term “gerrymander.” This has entered our political lexicon to signify redistricting for political advantage.

Thomas Jefferson had been elected president in 1800 and again in 1804. Aaron Burr was VP during his first term and George Clinton (the first governor of New York) served as VP in the second term, 1805-09. Clinton was also elected VP in 1808 with James Madison and thus became the first VP to serve two presidents (John Calhoun would later match this feat). However, Clinton died on April 20, 1812, before the election and there was no provision to replace him.

When James Madison was nominated for his second term in 1812, the Democratic-Republican party selected the old reliable Elbridge Gerry to be his running mate (after John Langdon declined). They were both elected, however Gerry died in November 1814 after serving only about 21 months.

Thus James Madison earned the dubious distinction of being the only president to have two vice presidents die in office. No one particularly cared due to the nature of the job and its insignificance.

Elbridge Gerry was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to be buried in the nation’s capital. He had married a much younger woman – Ann Thompson (James Monroe was best man) – and she holds the distinction of being the last surviving widow of any signer of the Declaration.

Today, gerrymandering has become an art form and voting districts are sliced and diced by ZIP code to create discrete groups of like-minded voters. Political junkies are in broad agreement that this results in major advantages to incumbent officeholders and significantly limits challengers from opposing parties.

Despite Mr. Gerry’s name now only remembered as a tactical political activity, a few avid paper-money fans (including moi) know that Elbridge Gerry is included in John Trumbull’s famous painting The Declaration of Independence that adorns the reverse of the current $2 bill (1976-), with Thomas Jefferson on the obverse. There are several earlier $2 bills with both Hamilton and Jefferson, as well as a National Bank note known as a “Lazy Deuce” due to an odd design.

The Trumbull painting is sometimes confused with the signing of the Declaration when in fact it depicts the five-man drafting committee presenting it to Congress on June 28, 1776. Oddly, there are only 42 of the 56 attendees depicted. But Elbridge Gerry is there for sure.

Now you know.

P.S. One theory is that John Trumbull could not get good resemblances of the 14 missing attendees. Good enough for me.

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].

As We Pay Tribute to Scalia, Let’s Recall Landmark Appointment Case

After he was defeated in the 1800 presidential election, John Adams retired to Massachusetts as a gentleman farmer. A letter he wrote and signed 13 years later realized $46,875 at an October 2014 Heritage Auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The landmark case known as Marbury vs. Madison arose after the bitter 1800 election when Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams, tied with and Aaron Burr and then eventually won when Alexander Hamilton swung the New York boys to him on the 36th ballot.

A bitter Adams made a last-minute attempt to pack the judiciary with Federalists by appointing 16 new circuit judges and 42 new Justices of the Peace for the District of Columbia. However, four of the new justices, including William Marbury, did not get their commissions before Adams’ last day in office.

Secretary of State James Madison refused to give the four men their commissions, so Marbury asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to do it. This put Chief Justice John Marshall (newly appointed by Adams) in a delicate situation. If the Supremes issued the writ, Madison might simply refuse and the Court had no means to enforce compliance.

Alternatively, if the Court did not, then he was risking surrendering judicial power to Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party (later to become the Democratic Party).

Marshall decided there was no middle ground and that left the choice of either declaring the Constitution to be superior and binding, or allowing the legislature to be an entity of unchecked power. Since the nation had established a written Constitution with fundamental principles to bind it in the future, it had to be both superior and binding law. And if the Constitution was the superior law, then an act “repugnant” must be invalid.

The decision was to discharge Marbury’s action because the Court did not have original jurisdiction, and the Judiciary Act of 1789, which Marbury argued was the basis of his petition, was unconstitutional. The Court found the Constitution specifically enumerated cases where the Court had both original and appellate jurisdiction. The Court also concluded a writ of mandamus was unconstitutional and void.

In more recent times, the Court has asserted a broad judicial review power and the role as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution. Once a law is declared unconstitutional, the courts simply decline to enforce it. Judicial review was once controversial. Even Judge Learned Hand felt it was inconsistent with the separation of power. However, “Marbury” served to make the judiciary equal to the executive and legislative branches.

Most scholars and historians give full credit to Chief Justice Marshall for solidifying this principle of an equal tripartite government structure that has served us well for 200-plus years.

Author Harlow Giles Unger goes even further in his 2014 biography (John Marshall: The Chief Justice who Saved the Nation), where he claims Marshall turned into a bulwark against presidential and congressional tyranny and saved American Democracy.

I tend to disagree since the process for selecting members has been politicized to the point the Court seems to be simply an extension of which party controls the lever of power. I suspect we will have a chance to see this phenomenon several times in the next four to eight years as turnover increases.

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].