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].

Webster Considered the ‘Father of American Scholarship and Education’

A first edition of Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, with a four-page manuscript in Webster’s hand concerning word origins, sold for $34,655 at a February 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828 when he was 70 years old. It was printed in two quarto volumes with 70,000 word entries. (A quarto was typically 9 x 12 inches or roughly the size of modern magazines.) About 12,000 of the words had never appeared in a published dictionary and Webster tried to harmonize the spelling of a word with its common pronunciation.

Another unique feature was the inclusion of words used in America that were not in British dictionaries. Perhaps that is why George Bernard Shaw – the Irish playwright who won the Nobel Prize in 1925 – is said to have coined the phrase “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” (There are several variations of this, including one by Winston Churchill.)

Noah Webster

Webster (1758-1843) also collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and other prominent Federalists, which made him a rich target for Jeffersonian-Republicans who peppered him with insults: a prostitute wretch, incurable lunatic, spiteful viper, pusillanimous traitor, to list just a few. He founded the first daily newspaper in New York, The American Minerva, and a semi-weekly publication later known as the New York Spectator. He was a prolific writer and earned the imposing sobriquet as the “Father of American Scholarship and Education.”

I have gradually abandoned the use of printed dictionaries, but a copy of the old reliable Merriam-Webster still occupies a handy spot in the bookcase. One who didn’t was Emily Dickinson, who used Webster as a reference “obsessively.” Scholars studying her immense body of work routinely turn to Webster for clarification. She was such an eccentric recluse that only a dozen of her 1,800 poems were published while she was alive. The hodgepodge of short lines, unconventional punctuation and slant rhymes make her work difficult to appreciate. But the lady could write and may be the finest American poet of the 19th century.

Webster’s name is still synonymous with “dictionary” despite becoming generic and hyphenated long ago. He died in 1843 after playing a critical role in the Copyright Act of 1831.

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

U.S. Politics Has Rarely Seen a Character Like Aaron Burr

The signatures of Aaron Burr (above) and Alexander Hamilton sold for $2,500 at an April 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention, there was a heated debate between delegates from southern and northern states over how to count slaves when determining a state’s population for both legislative representation and taxes. Finally, the “Three-Fifths Compromise” was reached, giving southern states one-third more seats in Congress and one-third more electoral votes than if slaves had been excluded.

In the presidential election of 1800, Vice President Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were able to defeat incumbent President John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney due to this single factor. However, under Electoral College rules of the day, it took 36 votes in the House of Representatives to make Jefferson president and Burr vice president. This caused a major rift between the two men. Then the relationship really turned bitter after Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804.

Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey, but neither reached trial after courts overturned the grand jury indictment. Burr fled to Georgia, but returned to Washington, D.C., to complete his term as vice president and presided over the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. The Senate refused to convict Chase and he remains the only Justice of the Supreme Court to be impeached.

This was followed by a bizarre series of events involving Burr that included a suspected conspiracy to recruit a group of volunteers for a military expedition down the Mississippi River, provoke a war with Spain, hoping to split off some western states, and create a new inland empire. The expedition collapsed almost immediately and a co-conspirator of Burr betrayed him by sending alarming messages to President Jefferson. Convinced of Burr’s guilt, Jefferson ordered his arrest and he was taken into custody and treason charges were filed. Burr escaped, but was recaptured and taken to Virginia for trial.

In Richmond, they learned the electrifying news that Burr, former VP of the U.S., had been accused of treason and his trial would be held in their courthouse. The trial of such a prominent person attracted legal officials from a broad area. Chief Justice John Marshall was picked to preside over the trial and Burr’s defense lawyers included Edmund Randolph (U.S. Attorney General under George Washington) and Charles Lee, Attorney General for John Adams. The chief prosecutor was James Monroe’s son-in-law, George Hay.

Notable witnesses included Andrew Jackson, a friend of Burr who thought Jefferson was maligning him and started picking fights with Jefferson’s friends – even challenging star witness General James Wilkerson to a duel. Wilkerson was the co-conspirator who provided the incriminating evidence to Jefferson.

The trial started on May 22, 1807, but despite all the intriguing circumstances, there was a lack of evidence as explicated by Judge Marshall and the jury declared the accused not guilty in September. Most observers conceded that the outcome was inevitable. However, Burr’s political career was finally ended and he left America on a self-imposed exile in Europe (presumably to escape his creditors!).

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

We Have Lost Something Sacred in Today’s Judicial Nomination Process

John Jay (1745-1829) was the first Chief Justice of the United States.

By Jim O’Neal

The Supreme Court was created in 1789 by Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates “the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court.” Congress organized it with the Judiciary Act of 1789.

John Jay of New York, one of the Founding Fathers, was the first Chief Justice of the United States (1789–95). Earlier, he was president of the Continental Congress (1778-79) and worked to ratify the U.S. Constitution by writing five of the Federalist Papers. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote the other 85-plus essays, which were published in two volumes called “The Federalist” (“The Federalist Papers” title emerged in the 20th century).

Nearly 175 years later, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy nominated Byron Raymond “Whizzer” White to replace Associate Justice Charles Whittaker, who became chief legal counsel to General Motors (presumably with a nice salary increase). Whittaker had been the first person to serve as judge at all three levels: Federal District Court, Federal Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court (a distinction matched by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor).

White was the 1960 Colorado state chair for JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign and had met both the future president and his father Joe while attending Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship in London when Joe Kennedy was ambassador to the Court of St James. This was after White had graduated from Colorado University Phi Beta Kappa, where he was also a terrific athlete, playing basketball, baseball and finishing runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. He is unquestionably the finest athlete to serve on the Supreme Court.

He continued mixing scholarship and athletics at Yale Law School, where he graduated No. 1 in his class magna cum laude and played three years in the National Football League for the Pittsburg Pirates (now the Steelers). He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954.

Judge White was in the minority on the now-famous Roe v. Wade landmark decision on Jan. 22, 1973. Coincidentally, there was a companion case that has been virtually forgotten called Doe v. Bolton (Mary Doe v. Arthur K. Bolton, Attorney General of Georgia, et al.) that was decided on exactly the same day and on the identical issue (overturning the abortion law of Georgia). White was in the minority here, too.

White’s nomination was confirmed by a simple voice vote (i.e. by acclamation). He was the first person from Colorado to serve on the Supreme Court and it appears that one of his law clerks … Judge Neil Gorsuch, also from Colorado … most likely will become the second, although it is unlikely he will receive many Democratic votes, much less a voice vote.

Times have certainly changed in judicial politics and, unfortunately, for the worse … sadly. Advise and Consent has morphed into a “just say no” attitude and we have lost something sacred in the process.

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].

Jefferson Stretched Constitution to its Limit

thomas-jefferson
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].

Laws Curtailing Free Speech Rejected by Americans – 200 Years Ago

Thomas Jefferson reaffirmed the rights of Americans to “think freely and to speak and write what they think.”

By Jim O’Neal

After serving two full terms as president (1789-97), George Washington was more than ready to leave Philadelphia, where he had lived since relocating from New York City. He returned to his home in Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. The plantation had been losing money during his extended absence, leaving him in a financial quandary of being relatively wealthy but cash-poor. Virtually all of his assets were in non-liquid land and slaves.

However, little did he expect that his successor, Vice President John Adams, would allow relations with France to deteriorate to the point of a possible war. Diplomacy had failed and on July 4, 1798, President Adams was forced to offer Washington a commission as Lieutenant General and Commander-in-Chief of the Army with the responsibility of preparing for a potential war. Washington accepted, but wisely delegated the actual work to his trusted friend Alexander Hamilton. All of this happened a mere 17 months before his death at his beloved Mount Vernon.

War with France was avoided, but President Adams utilized some highly controversial tactics, including the Alien and Sedition Acts. These consisted of four bills passed by a highly partisan, Federalist-dominated Congress that were signed into law by Adams in 1798.

Although neither France nor the United States actually declared war, rumors of enemy spies (aliens) or a surprise French invasion frightened many Americans and the Alien Acts were designed to mitigate the risk. The first law, the Naturalization Act, extended the time it took immigrants to gain citizenship from five to 14 years. Another law provided that once war was declared, all male citizens of an enemy nation could be expelled. It was estimated that this would include 25,000 French citizens in the United States. The president also was authorized to deport any non-citizens suspected of plotting against the government during wartime or peace.

The Sedition Act was much more insidious. Sedition means inciting others to resist or rebel against lawful authority. The act first outlawed conspiracies “to oppose any measure of the government.” Further, it made it illegal for anyone to “express any false, scandalous and malicious writing against Congress or the President.” It included published words that had BAD INTENT to DEFAME the government or cause HATRED of the people toward it.

Secretary of State Timothy Pickering was in charge of enforcement and pored over newspapers looking for evidence. Numerous people were indicted, fined and jailed to the point that it became a major issue in the presidential election of 1800. Thomas Jefferson argued the laws violated the First Amendment.

The voters settled the debate by electing Jefferson.

In his inaugural address, Jefferson confirmed a new definition of free speech and press as the right of Americans “to think freely and to speak and write what they think.”

The U.S. Supreme Court never decided whether the Alien and Sedition Acts were constitutional. The laws, quite conveniently, expired on March 3, 1801, John Adams’ last day in office.

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].

Robert Morris the Financier who was Almost Alexander Hamilton

This Fr. 288 $10 1880 Silver Certificate, PCGS Choice New 63PPQ, featuring Robert Morris realized $19,975 at a January 2014 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During the Revolutionary War, one of the more frustrating issues facing General George Washington and his officers was the inconsistent supply of guns, ammunition and basics like shoes, coats, uniforms and food. Then, of course, there was the issue of money to pay the troops.

The Continental Congress struggled to perform the basic functions of a “treasury,” but without the power to tax, they had to rely on loans from foreign governments and domestic support (less than 50 percent of the people were in favor of war). Their FICO scores were low and the paper money printed was “Not worth a Continental!”

By 1781, the United States was in a fiscal crisis. The national debt was $25 million, public credit markets had collapsed and the British were firmly in control of the sea and coastline. Congress decided to act by abandoning their ineffectual committees in favor of an executive structure.

Robert Morris was unanimously elected Superintendent of Finance.

Morris was truly one of the Founding Fathers and was one of two men (Roger Sherman) to have signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. Next to George Washington, he was considered the “most powerful man in America” and used his personal fortune to shore up the country’s finances.

Later, caught in the Panic of 1796-97, Morris was cast into debtors’ prison after he speculated on millions of acres of land and could not pay taxes or interest on his leveraged loans. The financial wizard of the Revolution was cast into debtors’ prison for three years until Congress passed a special bankruptcy law in 1800, primarily to free him.

The Department of Treasury was established by an Act of Congress in 1789. When George Washington decided to add a Treasury Secretary to his cabinet, his first choice was Robert Morris. However, Morris convinced him to pick Alexander Hamilton, despite his polarizing personality.

It is interesting to speculate whether biographer Ron Chernow and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda would be the spectacular toasts of Broadway with a character named “Morris.”

P.S. The bust of Robert Morris is featured prominently on the $10 Silver Certificate and the ultra-rare $1,000 Legal Tender note of 1863. There are only two or three in existence and the only one I’ve seen was in the Frank Levitan Collection auction in 1998. I suspect it would bring several million dollars in today’s market. It is a beautiful design.

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].

Tubman, Jackson on Same Bill Provides Example of Delicious Irony

Andrew Jackson appears on this rare $10 1923 Legal Tender. This same portrait was used when Jackson appeared on the $20 bill in 1928.

By Jim O’Neal

As a longtime admirer of Alexander Hamilton, I was relieved when the Treasury Secretary announced that Harriet Tubman would join Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill instead of the $10. However, I wonder if everyone realizes just how much delicious irony is involved in conjoining these two American icons, effectively, forever.

Tubman … born into slavery, army nurse, spy, suffragette and martyr to her cause.

Jackson … first president born in a log cabin and to ride on a railroad train, plantation slave owner (the Hermitage) and first man elected to the House from Tennessee. Strong opponent of “paper money,” as well as the Second National Bank and bitter enemy of its powerful President Nicholas Biddle.

Then again, Jackson has been a rich source of trivial factoids since he became the only president to serve in both the Revolutionary War (a 13-year-old courier captured by the British and held as a POW with his brother) and the War of 1812. His famous victory in the Battle of New Orleans actually occurred after the war had ended.

His marriage to Rachel Donelson Robards caused a major controversy since she apparently never formally divorced her first husband due to a misunderstanding. Jackson (a well-known duelist) was forced to defend her honor and he always blamed her early death on the gossip and intrigue that ensued. In fact, she never actually became First Lady since she died on Dec. 22, after his election to the presidency but before the formal inauguration in March the following year.

A fictionalized version of their life together appeared in 1950 after Irving Stone published his historical novel The President’s Lady. The book was later made into a movie starring Susan Hayward and Charlton Heston. In 1958, Heston would play Jackson again in The Buccaneer, the only movie Anthony Quinn ever directed.

A second controversy occurred in 1830 when as president he signed the Indian Removal Act, which required the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole and Cherokee) to relinquish their rights as autonomous nations in the Southeast U.S. and relocate to federal land west of the Mississippi River. States in the North had simply killed the Indians and taken their lands, but this was considered at the time a more legal and humane way to gain control of large areas of valuable land. States in the South, especially Georgia, enthusiastically supported this action for obvious reasons.

President Jackson sincerely believed this would be better for the Indian tribes and promised to pay all “moving expenses” and guaranteed their new lands would remain in their control. We all know how this ended up and “The Trail of Tears” describes this dark period of American history.

Maybe the many Indian-owned casinos represent a small down payment for the debt we still owe these original Americans. If not, Harriet will be close enough to Andrew to remind him occasionally for a long time!

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].