As court controversy rages, let’s not forget what we do best

A photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt signed and inscribed to Eleanor Roosevelt sold for $10,000 at an October 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The Supreme Court was created by the Constitution, but the document wisely calls for Congress to decide the number of justices. This was vastly superior to a formula based on the number of states or population, which would have resulted in a large, unwieldy committee. The 1789 Judiciary Act established the initial number at six, with a chief justice and five associates all selected by President Washington.

In 1807, the number was increased to seven (to avoid tie votes) and in 1837 to nine, and then to 10 in 1863. The Judiciary Act of 1866 temporarily reduced the court to seven in response to post-Civil War politics and the Andrew Johnson presidency. Finally, the 1869 Act settled on nine, where it has remained to this day. The major concern has consistently been over the activities of the court and the fear it would inevitably try to create policy rather than evaluate it (ensuring that Congressional legislation was lawful and conformed to the intent of the Constitution).

The recent confirmation hearings are the latest example of both political parties vying for advantage by using the court to shape future policies, reflecting political partisanship at its worst. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court can’t enforce its decisions since Congress has the power of the purse and the president the power of force, the court has devolved into a de facto legislative function through its deliberations. In a sharply divided nation, on most issues, policy has become the victim, largely since Congress is unable to find consensus. The appellate process is simply a poor substitute for this legislative weakness.

We have been here before and it helps to remember the journey. Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited on our ancestors: a terrible economic depression and a world war. The economic crisis of the 1930s was far more than the result of the excesses of the 1920s. In the 100 years before the 1929 stock-market crash, our dynamic industrial revolution had produced a series of boom-bust cycles, inflicting great misery on capital and on many people. Even the fabled Roaring ’20s had excluded great segments of the population, especially blacks, farmers and newly arrived immigrants. Who or what to blame?

“[President] Hoover will be known as the greatest innocent bystander in history, a brave man fighting valiantly, futile, to the end,” populist newspaperman William Allen White wrote in 1932.

The same generation that suffered through the Great Depression was then faced with war in Europe and Asia, the rationing of common items, entrance to the nuclear age and, eventually, the responsibilities for rebuilding the world. Our basic way of life was threatened by a global tyranny with thousands of nukes wired to red buttons on two desks 4,862 miles apart.

FDR was swept into office in 1932 during the depth of the Great Depression and his supporters believed he possessed just what the country needed: inherent optimism, confidence, decisiveness, and the desire to get things done. We had 13 million unemployed, 9,100 banks closed, and a government at a standstill. “This nation asks for action and action now!”

In his first 100 days, Roosevelt swamped Congress with a score of carefully crafted legislative actions designed to bring about economic reforms. Congress responded eagerly. But the Supreme Court, now dubbed the “Nine Old Men,” said no to most New Deal legislation by votes of 6-3 or 5-4. They made mincemeat of the proposals. But the economy did improve and resulted in an even bigger landslide re-election. FDR won 60.3 percent of the popular vote and an astonishing 98.5 percent of the electoral votes, losing only Vermont and Maine.

In his 1937 inaugural address, FDR emphasized that “one-third of the nation was ill-housed, ill-clad and ill-nourished.” He called for more federal support. However, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau worried about business confidence and argued for a balanced budget, and in early 1937, Roosevelt, almost inexplicably, ordered federal spending reduced. Predictably, the U.S. economy went into decline. Industrial production had fallen 14 percent and in October alone, another half million people were thrown out of work. It was clearly now “Roosevelt’s Recession.”

Fearing that the Supreme Court would continue to nullify the New Deal, Roosevelt in his ninth Fireside Chat unveiled a new plan for the judiciary. He proposed that the president should have the power to appoint additional justices – up to a maximum of six, one for every member of the Supreme Court over age 70 who did not retire in six months. The Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 (known as the “court-packing plan”) hopelessly split the Democratic majority in the Senate, caused a storm of protest from bench to bar, and created an uproar among both Constitutional conservatives and liberals. The bill was doomed from the start and even the Senate Judiciary reported it to the floor negatively, 10-14. The Senate vote was even worse … 70-20 to bury it.

We know how that story ended, as Americans were united to fight a Great War and then do what we do best: work hard, innovate and preserve the precious freedoms our forebears guaranteed us.

Unite vs. Fight seems like a good idea to me.

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].

Tremendous Challenges Awaited the Plainspoken Truman

Fewer than 10 examples of this Harry Truman “60 Million People Working” political pin are known to exist. This pin sold for $19,717 at an August 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Harry Truman became the seventh vice president to move into the Oval Office after the death of a president. Truman had been born during the White House years of Chester Arthur, who had followed James Garfield after his assassination (1881). And in Truman’s lifetime, Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge had ascended to the presidency after the deaths of William McKinley (1901) and Warren Harding (1923). However, none of these men had been faced with the challenges awaiting the plainspoken Truman.

FDR had been a towering figure for 12 years, first leading the country out of the Great Depression and then deftly steering the United States into World War II after being elected a record four times. Unfortunately, Truman had not been involved in several important decisions, and was totally unaware of several strategic secrets (e.g. the development of the atom bomb) or even side agreements made with others, notably Winston Churchill. He was not prepared to be president.

Even the presidents who preceded FDR tended to exaggerate the gap in Truman’s foreign-relations experience. Woodrow Wilson was a brilliant academic and Herbert Hoover was a world-famous engineer. There were enormously important decisions to be made that would shape the world for the next half century. Even Truman had his sincere doubts about being able to follow FDR, despite the president’s rapidly failing health.

The significance of these decisions has gradually faded, but for Truman, they were foisted upon him in rapid order: April 12, FDR’s death; April 28, Benito Mussolini killed by partisan Italians; two days later Adolf Hitler committed suicide; and on April 29, German military forces surrendered. The news from the Pacific was equally dramatic as troop landings on the critical island of Okinawa had apparently been unopposed by the Japanese. It was clearly the apex of optimism regarding the prospects for an unconditional surrender by Japan and the welcomed return of world peace.

In fact, it was a miracle that turned out to be a mirage.

After victory in Europe (V-E Day), Truman was faced with an immediate challenge regarding the 3 million troops in Europe. FDR and Churchill did not trust Joseph Stalin and were wary of what the Russians would do if we started withdrawing our troops. Churchill proved to be right about Russian motives, as they secretly intended to continue to permanently occupy the whole of Eastern Europe and expand into adjacent territories at will.

Then the U.S. government issued a report stating that the domestic economy could make a smooth transition to pre-war normalcy once the voracious demands from the military war-machine abated. Naturally, the war-weary public strongly supported “bringing the boys home,” but Truman knew that Japan would have to be forced to quit before any shifts in troops or production could start.

There was also a complex scheme under way to redeploy the troops from Europe to the Pacific if the Japanese decided to fight on to defend their sacred homeland. It was a task that George Marshall would call “the greatest administrative and logistical problem in the history of the world.”

Truman pondered in a diary entry: “I have to decide the Japanese strategy – shall we invade proper or shall we bomb and blockade? That is my hardest decision to date.” (No mention was made of “the other option.”)

The battle on Okinawa answered the question. Hundreds of Japanese suicide planes had a devastating effect. Even after 10 days of heavy sea and air bombardment on the island; 30 U.S ships sunk, 300 more damaged; 12,000 Americans killed; 36,000 wounded. It was now obvious that Japan would defend every single island, regardless of their losses. Surrender would not occur and America’s losses would be extreme.

So President Truman made a historic decision that is still being debated today: Drop the atomic bomb on Japan and assume that the effect would be so dramatic that the Japanese would immediately surrender. On Aug. 6, 1945, “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima with devastating effects. Surprisingly, the Japanese maintained their silence, perhaps not even considering that there could be a second bomb. That second bomb – a plutonium variety nicknamed “Fat Man” – was then dropped two days ahead of schedule on Aug. 9 on the seaport city of Nagasaki.

No meeting had been held and there was no second order given (other than by Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets). The directive that had ordered the first bomb simply said in paragraph two that “additional bombs will be delivered AS MADE READY.” However, two is all that was needed. Imperial Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, thus ending one of history’s greatest wars.

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].

America has a Long History of Rough-and-Tumble Politics

A cabinet card photograph dated 1852, shortly after the marriage of Rutherford and Lucy Hayes, went to auction in October 2008.

By Jim O’Neal

A surprisingly high number of political pundits ascribe the current bitter partisan divide to the presidential election of 2000, when the Supreme Court ordered the recount of “under-votes” in Florida to cease. As a result, the previously certified election results would stand and George W. Bush would receive all 25 Florida electoral votes, thus providing him a 271-266 nationwide victory over Al Gore. Democrats almost universally believed the election had been “stolen” due to the seemingly unprecedented action by the Supremes.

Although obviously a factor in the situation today, it seems too simplistic to me, as I remember the Clinton Impeachment, the start of the Iraq War (and the president who lied us into war), and, of course, Obamacare – all of which were also major contributors to the long, slow erosion of friendly bipartisanship. Now, we’re in an era when each new day seems to drag up a new issue that Americans can’t agree on and the schism widens ever so slightly.

Could it be worse?

The answer is obviously “yes,” since we once tried to kill each other into submission during the Civil War. Another good example is the highly controversial presidential election of 1876, which resulted in Rutherford B. Hayes becoming president. The loser, Samuel J. Tilden, had such staunch supporters that they promised “blood would run in the streets” if their candidate lost. After a highly ultra-controversial decision threw the election to Hayes, Democrats continued to make wild threats, and public disturbances were rampant across New York City hotels, saloons, bars and any other venues where crowds gathered.

The unrest was so high that outgoing President Ulysses S. Grant gradually became convinced that a coup was imminent. This was the closest the Dems had come to the White House since James Buchanan’s election 20 years earlier in 1856 and passions were so high that they would not be calmed easily. The level of resentment was much more than about losing an election or the ascendancy of the Republican Party with all their fierce abolitionists. It seems apparent even today that the election results had been politically rigged or, at a minimum, very cleverly stolen in a quasi-legalistic maneuver.

Grant’s primary concern was one of timing. The normal inauguration date of March 4 fell on a Sunday and tradition called for it to be held the next day, on Monday, March 5 (as with Presidents James Monroe and Zachary Taylor). Thus the presidency would be technically vacant from noon on Sunday until noon on Monday. The wily old military genius knew this would be plenty of time to pull off a coup d’état. He insisted Hayes not wait to take the oath of office.

In a clever ruse, the Grants made arrangements for a secret oath-taking on Saturday evening by inviting 38 people to an honorary dinner at the White House. While the guests were being escorted to the State Dining Room, Grant and Hayes slipped into the Red Room, where Chief Justice Morrison Waite was waiting with the proper documents. All went as planned until it was discovered there was no Bible available. No problem … Hayes was sworn in as the 19th president of the United States with a simple oath.

The passing of power has been one of the outstanding aspects of our constitutional form of governance.

Hayes was born on Oct. 4, 1822 – 2½ months after his father had died of tetanus, leaving his pregnant mother with two young children. From these less-than-humble beginnings, the enterprising “Rud” got a first-rate education that culminated with an LLB degree from Harvard Law School. Returning to Ohio, he established a law practice, was active in the Civil War and finally served two non-consecutive terms as governor of Ohio, which proved to be a steppingstone to the White House.

Most historians believe Hayes and his family were the richest occupants of the White House until Herbert and Lou Hoover showed up 52 years later. They certainly had a reputation for living on the edge of extravagance, and some cynics believe this was in large part due to the banning all alcohol in the White House (presidents in those days paid for booze and wine personally). Incidentally, the nickname for the first lady, “Lemonade Lucy,” did not happen until long after they left the White House.

President Hayes kept his pledge to serve only one term; he died of a heart attack in 1893 at age 70. The first Presidential Library in the United States was built in his honor in 1916.

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].

Wall Street was Booming Just Months Before the Great Depression

Vintage photograph shows Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth, Vt., shortly after learning of President Warren G. Harding’s death.

By Jim O’Neal

After the 1928 election, President-elect Herbert Hoover met with incumbent Calvin Coolidge to make a special request. There were four months to go until inauguration and Hoover planned to use six weeks of that time to tour Latin America. He asked the president to place a battleship at his disposal since he wanted to include Mrs. Hoover, who spoke fluent Spanish.

Initially, Coolidge suggested a cruiser “since it does not cost so much,” but finally relented and gave Hoover the battleship USS Maryland one way and then the USS Utah to come home from Montevideo, Uruguay. This was classic Calvin Coolidge, always looking for creative ways to avoid federal spending.

Then Coolidge dispatched his final annual message to Congress on Dec. 4. The document revealed the optimism felt by Coolidge and the nation as a whole: “No Congress of the United States, on surveying the State of the Union, has met with a more promising prospect than that which appears at the present time. In the domestic field, there is tranquility and contentment, harmonious relations between management and wage earner, freedom from industrial strife and the highest record of years of prosperity.”

In his budget address, read to Congress the following day, Coolidge said estimated revenues for 1929 were $3.831 billion with expenditures of $3.794 billion. Since the surplus was smaller than hoped for, he would not ask for yet another tax cut.

Calvin Coolidge – who assumed the presidency when Warren Harding died in 1923 – had a simplistic fiscal philosophy: hold the line on spending and if possible reduce it, while at the same time cutting taxes. He believed this would result in greater personal freedom and a more moral population. In 1923, federal expenditures were $3.1 billion and fell to $3.0 billion by 1928. Despite tax cuts, revenues were the same at $3.9 billion and the national debt fell from $22.3 billion to $17.6 billion. The number of federal employees in Washington fell from 70,000 to 65,000.

By 1929, automobiles jammed the roads, spurring a major construction boom. The Ford Model A was enthusiastically greeted in 1927, but the talk of the industry was Walter Chrysler, who came from nowhere to build the third-largest company in the industry. Auto sales zoomed and the Federal Oil Conservation Board announced the country was in danger of running out of petroleum.

The front-page news of early 1929 was Britain’s ailing King George V, whose sons were rushing home to his bedside. But the business pages focused on RCA’s purchase of the Victor Talking Machine Company, following the acquisition of Keith-Albee-Orpheum, which was renamed RKO. The stock of RCA was now selling at a P/E of 26 and there was talk of a 5-for-1 stock split.

Wall Street was booming and dividends were at an all-time high. The Federal Reserve was complaining about the banks using their money to fuel speculation, but the only response was from the small Dallas Reserve, which raised their discount rate to 5 percent (yawn). A few months later, Wall Street crashed and the entire country spiraled down into the Great Depression, which would last the next 10-plus years.

Welcome to Washington, D.C., President Hoover. It’s all yours!

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].

Empire State Building Remains One of World’s Great Wonders

Guy Carleton Wiggins’ oil on canvas board The Empire State Building, Winter sold for $44,812 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the Sphinx,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “rose the Empire State Building.”

The “ruins” was an oblique reference to the stock market crash in 1929. Completed on May 1, 1931, on the site where the Waldorf Astoria had stood, no building ever reached so high, so fast; 102 stories tall and with a 200-foot mast to hitch your dirigible. It was built in just over a year, during what would become the nation’s worst depression.

Just a short two years earlier on May 1, 1929, architect William Van Alen had broken ground on the Chrysler Building. He had been commissioned by Chrysler to design and construct the tallest building in the world. When the Chrysler Building opened in April 1930, it was indeed the tallest at a magnificent 925 feet – a world record that would only stand for a fleeting 28 days! Then the Manhattan Bank Tower completed its construction and opened at a height of 927 feet, which allowed it to lay claim to the World’s Tallest title by a measly 2 feet.

Hang on. The race wasn’t over. In the history of high wire, where one-upmanship is the oxygen that fuels architectural competition, the Chrysler Building’s William Van Alen had kept a surprise hidden up his sleeve that would allow him to reclaim this prestigious crown.

Van Alen had designed a stainless spire of five sections, which was lowered through the top of the building. At a fixed time, before a highly appreciative audience, Van Alen delivered his coup de grâce to the Manhattan Bank. A huge derrick, its gears slowly turning, raised the spire from the innards of the Chrysler Building. “It gradually emerged,” Van Alen wrote, “from the top of the dome like a butterfly from its cocoon.” At 1,046 feet, the Chrysler Building was suddenly, once again, the World’s Tallest Building.

Alas, it only remained so for less than a year, when the Empire State Building – topping out at 1,250 feet – grabbed the title for itself. It would retain the crown until 1971 when the World Trade Center towers opened. Fittingly, the group behind the Empire State Building included the Happy Warrior himself, Al Smith, former governor of New York (four times) and the Democratic candidate for president in the 1928 election (won by Herbert Hoover). Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon when the world’s (newest) tallest skyscraper opened May 1, 1931, and President Hoover turned on the building’s lights using a remote push button in Washington, D.C.

Subsequently, the building has become a worldwide icon and in 1994 it was named one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers … joining the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal, all American architectural marvels. Plus, who can forget Fay Wray as Ann Darrow in the 1933 classic King Kong, when the beast from Skull Island plucks her from the building?

The Empire State Building took only 410 days to build since the architectural firm used design plans for the (similar but smaller) Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, N.C., a project they had worked on earlier. The staff at the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the Reynolds Building each year to honor the contribution it made to their existence.

Although long since surrendering its crown for height, the Empire State Building is a “must see” for all tourists to New York and, amazingly, revenue from ticket sales for admission to the observation decks exceeds office space rental income.

Its place in history seems quite secure.

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].

Her Fearless Tongue Made Alice Roosevelt the Most Popular of Presidential Children

Albert Beck Wenzell (1864-1917) painted this gouache on paper, titled Theodore Roosevelt and His Daughter Alice. It went to auction in May 2006.

By Jim O’Neal

To describe Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) as a handful would be a gross understatement. She was the only child of Teddy Roosevelt and Alice Hathaway Lee. Her mother died two days after her birth of Bright’s disease – a catch-all term for kidney diseases. Eleven hours before her death, TR’s mother, Martha “Mittie” Roosevelt, had died of typhoid fever. It was a traumatic time in the Roosevelt home and it would haunt Teddy for the rest of his life.

Young Alice never founded a school or hospital, never ran for public office, and was terrified of public speaking, but she became unquestionably the best known and most popular of presidential children.

She was 17 when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, which vaulted her vice-president father into the White House. When she learned of the news, she reportedly let out a war whoop and danced on the front lawn. Years later in an interview with reporter Sally Quinn (third wife of Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post), Alice described her feelings as “utter rapture.” This kind of candor made her almost irresistible to the American public, and the press dubbed her “Princess Alice.”

One infatuated biographer described her as the “first female American celebrity of the 20th century.” Her cousin Joseph Alsop – the famous syndicated columnist whose robust opinions appeared in national newspapers for five decades – referred to her as “Washington’s other memorial.” Her celebrity started early, as people all over the country were talking about her antics, her clothes and her fearless tongue, which all delighted the average citizen.

On Inauguration Day in 1905, she was so exuberantly waving to her friends in the crowd that her father chided her by saying, “Alice, this is MY inauguration!” She was a flirt who smoked cigarettes in public and when her father declared that no daughter of his would smoke under his roof, she devilishly climbed to the roof of the White House to smoke on top of his roof. A perplexed TR told renowned author Owen Wister (“The Virginian”): “I can either run the country or attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both!”

After her 1902 society debut, the press constantly speculated on her romantic links with most of Washington’s eligible bachelors. She finally married Congressman Nicholas Longworth (future Speaker of the House) in one of the most famous weddings in American history, with front-page coverage across the country. Longworth was a notorious philanderer. William “Fishbait” Miller, doorkeeper of the House, described him as the “greatest womanizer in the history of Capitol Hill.”

Their marriage was an open sham and Alice was rumored to have had a child with William Borah, who became a senator after Idaho became a state in 1890. He was a perennial contender for president and was responsible for killing President Wilson’s attempt to approve the Treaty of Versailles.

Alice delighted in skewering prominent politicians. Calvin Coolidge “was weaned on a pickle.” Speaking of Herbert Hoover, she said “the Hoover vacuum is more exciting, but of course it is electric.” New York Governor Thomas Dewey, with his slick black hair, reminded Alice of the little groom on the top of a wedding cake. When FDR ran for a third term, she declared, “I’d rather vote for Hitler!”

Her acidic commentary on the rich and famous delighted and amused the public for four generations. Alice Roosevelt died of pneumonia on Feb. 20, 1980. At age 96, she had outlived the children of every other president.

She was a handful.

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].

Early Broadcast Advertising was Shunned … Until Listeners Demanded More

A $12 ticket could get you into the first Super Bowl in 1967. This full-ticket example, a Gold Variation graded PSA NM-MT 8, sold for $26,290 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1967, the cost to air a 30-second commercial in the first Super Bowl was about $40,000. Nearly two weeks ago in Super Bowl LI, the cost had increased to $5 million and fans were eager to see the latest creative efforts of Corporate America to hawk their products on TV. Ads are everywhere we look. They pop up on our computers and iPads and are common on race cars, golf apparel and sports stadiums. The Nike swoosh is instantly recognized.

It was not always this way, at least on radio.

During the early days, many radio stations had a practice of observing a weekly “silent night” when they would go off the air. However, the trend was definitely in the opposite direction as listeners were seeking more programming than the stations could produce. This led to hybrid programs combining content with advertising. Early high-profile examples included The Maxwell House Hour (the No. 1 coffee in the U.S.), General Motors Family Party, and The Ipana Troubadours from Bristol Myers toothpaste.

But the issue of regulation hovered over radio like a dark cloud. Some argued for total government control as was the practice in Britain. An even more vigorous debate erupted over commercial advertising. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover asserted it would kill radio. After all, how many listeners would stay by their radios to learn about the advantages of one soap over another? (Quite a few, it turned out.) He argued for the industry to adopt self-policing policies to curtail advertising excesses.

However, broadcasters were salivating over the new revenues and wanted even more. Finally, in 1926, an NBC variety show was interrupted for a special promotional announcement from Dodge cars and it encountered little audience objections. From this point forward, commercial breaks during regular programs were the norm.

Advertising became an integral part of radio broadcasting and never hesitated again.

Some early sponsors did worry about being too aggressive and carefully chose tasteful, discreet language … “Swift & Co has a few practical hints on how to lower your meat bills.” That quickly changed once they discovered consumer-crazy citizens of the 1920s were eager to embrace radio advertising. Far from being insulted, people desperately wanted to hear the messages. They wanted to stay hip, keep up with the latest technologies and the most modern forms of behavior.

A hundred years later, I have a smart phone with more computing power than an Apollo mission, that can hold all my music and trace my ancestry. But after spending most of my life chasing larger screen TVs, I do object to watching my programs on my watch!

Must be a generational thing. Times 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 chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

President Harding’s Funeral Train Transfixed the World

president-harding
President Harding was popular with Americans, but the Harding Scandals later tainted his legacy.

By Jim O’Neal

The news of President Warren G. Harding’s death astonished the American people. Telephone and telegraph lines stayed busy between San Francisco and Washington. A special railroad car, “The Superb,” was outfitted as a hearse. Twenty-four hours after the president died, the train left San Francisco, pulling the lighted car with its flag-draped coffin, honor guard and banks of flowers.

“The spectacle of the funeral train traversing the entire breadth of the United States,” observed The Washington Post, “is not to be forgotten.”

News of Harding’s death arrived at the White House by telephone. Irwin “Ike” Hoover, the White House Chief Usher, had been trying to keep a diary, but he never seemed to make a record of important things. “President dies” was all he recorded that day. In fact, his book was merely a series of blank pages for all the early days of August 1923. Hoover’s job was to run the White House, not record history. He quickly set to work hanging crepe over the mirrors of the East Room. Then the shades were drawn and the house was closed to the public.

Later, the book 42 Years in the White House chronicled Hoover’s service, which started in 1891 (when he installed the first electrical wiring in the White House) and continued through nine presidents, starting with Benjamin Harrison and ending with Herbert Hoover. He died in 1933 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered the White House for his funeral. Oh, the tales that probably didn’t get recorded.

Harding’s funeral train pulled into Union Station on Aug. 7. It had held the world transfixed during its five-day trip across the nation. An honor guard transported the coffin from the train with great ceremony and Harding’s body was placed in the East Room. The funeral was held in the Capitol with his Cabinet, Congress and a large group of invited dignitaries.

Florence Harding had a quiet dinner with Calvin Coolidge and his family, and would remain in the White House for five busy days. She had a fire built in the fireplace in the Treaty Room and then methodically started burning the presidential papers she determined should not survive. Then she had all the remaining papers packed into boxes and removed to a nearby friend’s house. Then she resumed the burning more slowly in small fires on the lawn.

President Harding’s secretary, George Christian, stood by helplessly during this process, until he found some papers undisturbed in the Oval Office and hid them in the pantry on the first floor. They remained there, apparently forgotten, until after Mrs. Harding’s death. Then they were given to the Library of Congress. No other papers of President Harding are known to have survived the purge of his records.

Later, the “Harding Scandals” would offer one possible reason for this unusual situation.

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].

Ford Viewed his Legacy as Rebuilding Confidence in the Presidency

gerald-ford-presidential-seal-hooked-rug
Gerald Ford’s Presidential Seal hooked rug, used in his home office in Rancho Mirage, Calif., sold for $13,145 at a December 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Public opinion polls as early as 1975 indicated that President Gerald Ford would be unlikely to win the Republican nomination for president in 1976. The main competition came from the conservative former governor of California, Ronald Reagan. However, Ford was determined to campaign hard and plunged into an aggressive schedule.

The mass demonstrations at the White House had finally started to wind down, although there was another incident in March 1975. Sixty-two protesters entered the grounds on the regular daily tour and then refused to leave, saying the U.S. should end involvement in the Indochina war and liberate the 200,000 political prisoners in South Vietnam. President Ford’s amnesty offer to those who had avoided the draft expired on March 1, and the protesters also demanded amnesty for “anyone who had resisted the war.” Most were booked and released from jail.

As the president started his campaign trip West, there were some nasty surprises lurking in Northern California. On Sept. 5, 27-year-old Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a cult follower of convicted mass murderer Charles Manson, pulled a partially loaded Colt-45 and fired it at Ford when he was two feet away. There was no bullet in the firing chamber and an alert Secret Service agent grabbed the gun before it could be fired again.

Three weeks later, as Ford left his San Francisco hotel (the St. Francis), 45-year-old Sara Jane Moore, a civil-rights activist, fired a 38-caliber revolver at him, but missed. A bystander prevented her from taking a second shot. Both women were convicted and given life sentences. Subsequently, both were released under a federal law that allows parole after 30 years, although “Squeaky” served two extra years for a prison escape/recapture.

gerald-ford
President Ford

At the GOP convention in Kansas City, Ford narrowly won the nomination on Aug. 19 with 1,187 votes to Reagan’s 1,070. He chose Bob Dole for his running mate. The Democrats picked Jimmy Carter and once again the opinion polls showed that the president was far less popular than the Georgia peanut farmer.

Ford challenged Carter to a series of televised debates – the first time an incumbent president debated an opponent. Ford also campaigned hard and nearly caught Carter, but in the November election he became the first sitting president to be defeated since Herbert Hoover in 1932.

In his final State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 12, 1977, Ford said, “I am proud of the part I have played in rebuilding confidence in the presidency, confidence in our free system and confidence in our future. Once again, Americans believe in themselves, believe in their leaders, and in the promise that tomorrow holds for their children.”

Amen.

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].

Van Buren’s ‘Palatial’ White House Not Popular with Voters

martin-van-buren-large-oval-sulfide-brooch
This Martin Van Buren oval sulfide brooch with the slogan “The Country Demands his Re-election,” sold for $12,500 at a September 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Martin Van Buren achieved the unique distinction of holding the offices of state senator and attorney general of New York, U.S. senator, governor of New York, U.S. secretary of state, vice president and then president.

However, he was never able to win popular support for himself or his policies at the national level.

The nation’s first major economic depression, the Panic of 1837, was undoubtedly the primary cause for undermining his popularity, although he was not responsible for the causation. Nearly a century later, another president, Herbert Hoover, would suffer nearly the same unfortunate fate.

Van Buren was the first president to be born an American citizen (1782) and he became adroit at behind-the-scenes political maneuvers. Yet, the general impression of him was that he was snobbish, autocratic and a conniver (“The Fox”). Van Buren became an obvious target for the poison darts of the Whigs as they characterized him as the antithesis of Andrew Jackson’s common-man philosophy.

Van Buren did little to combat criticism of this kind and in some respects even seemed to encourage it in his use of the White House. Adverse comments on the high style of living and aristocratic pretension in the WH increased each year of his presidency. By 1840, newspaper slurs on Van Buren as a princely pretender escalated and the continuing agony of the Panic made good copy in the Whig press.

On the afternoon of April 14, 1840, the House of Representatives sat as a committee to hear a prepared address by Charles Ogle, a Whig from Somerset, Pa., on the subject of President Van Buren and his “palatial” White House. One of the president’s supporters refuted the allegation, but then Ogle unleashed a dramatic rebuttal. This time he kept the house floor for three days and by the second day, the galleries were packed with spectators. This highly unusual attack made Ogle famous and printed copies of his remarks were circulated, first around the Capitol and then nationally by most newspapers. It was a devastating indictment of a president.

Martin Van Buren was too seasoned a politician to lose his temper, but his detachment from the storm of protest against him by the Whigs surprised even his closest friends.

When it came time for the 1840 election, the Whigs took a cue from the Jacksonians of 1828 and drafted a common-man hero – General William Henry Harrison. By then, sentiment had turned against Van Buren and he was defeated. A record number of citizens voted, 2.5 million, with Van Buren losing by 150,000. In the Electoral College, it was worse, with Harrison capturing 19 of the 26 states.

For all the bitterness of the campaign, Van Buren was determined not to be a poor loser. He not only witnessed Harrison’s oath-taking, but was among the first to shake his hand. The “Little Magician” offered every courtesy, gaining the admiration of a skeptical press. He left Washington by train. However, it was not his intention to be gone forever. He would try to regain the presidency in the next two elections.

Despite his efforts, he would never live in the White House again.

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].