Artists Recognized James Monroe as a True American Hero

A charcoal sketch of George Washington aide Lt. Col. Robert Hanson Harrison that artist John Trumbull did for his epic painting The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton sold for $8,962 at a May 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

John Trumbull (1756-1843) deservedly earned the sobriquet as the “Painter of the Revolution.” He actually started out as an aide to General George Washington, but ended up in London, where he developed into a highly respected artist. One of his paintings, which illustrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, graces the $2 bill that features Thomas Jefferson. The bill was issued in 1976 to observe the bicentennial of that historic event.

Another of his numerous works is the The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776. This one naturally features General Washington again, but there is also a depiction of future president, Lieutenant James Monroe, being treated for a near-fatal damaged artery.

An even more famous painting of the times is an 1851 oil on canvas that also features Washington – Washington Crossing the Delaware on Dec. 25-26, 1776. It was painted by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868), a German-American immigrant. Once again, we find James Monroe holding the American flag – the Stars and Stripes – which critics are always quick to remind was a flag not adopted until the following year, 1777. Some nitpickers also harp that the time of day is wrong, the ship is incorrect, and (sigh) even the chunks of ice in the river aren’t right.

But the role of James Monroe as a true hero is beyond any doubt.

Often called the “Last of the Founding Fathers,” he was the fifth president of the United States and like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, the son of a Virginia planter. It is sometimes overlooked that in the first 36 years of the American presidency, the Oval Office was occupied almost exclusively by men from Virginia. Somehow, John Adams (Massachusetts) managed to squeeze in a quick four years as president (1797-1801) before sneaking out of Washington, D.C., when Thomas Jefferson ousted him.

James Monroe entered politics after his service in the Revolutionary War and systemically worked his way up after serving in the Virginia legislature. He was a U.S. senator, a minister to France, and then governor of Virginia. After helping negotiate the Louisiana Purchase, he served as minister to Britain, followed by another stint as Virginia’s governor. But after only four months, President Madison offered him an appointment as secretary of state to help draft the recommendation to Congress that led to the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812.

When the war got off to a poor start, Madison wisely appointed him secretary of war and Monroe held both of these critical Cabinet positions until the war ended. After the war, the prosperity of the country improved dramatically and with Madison’s strong support, Monroe easily was elected president in 1816.

Taking office when the country finally had no unusual problems, the 58-year-old Monroe was bold enough to declare during his inaugural address: “Never did a government commence under auspices so favorable, nor ever was success so complete. If we look to the history of other nations, ancient or modern, we find no example of a growth so rapid, so gigantic, of a people so prosperous and happy … the heart of every citizen must expand with joy … how near our government has approached to perfection…”

It was truly the “Era of Good Feelings!”

Things change … and they will again.

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

Adamses First Presidential Couple to Mark their Golden Anniversary

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

By Jim O’Neal

Some presidential tidbits:

Three sets of presidents defeated each other:

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

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

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

So much for the power of incumbency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presidential Sons a Complex, Dark Addendum to First Family History

A pair of baseballs signed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, from the collection of baseball legend Stan Musial, sold for $2,629 at a November 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After favored son John Quincy Adams became president of the United States, there was an unspoken feeling that – like the sons of kings and monarchs – he might be destined for greatness. However, it would be a surprising 176 years before another president’s son, George W. Bush, would be sworn in as president.

The stories of presidential sons between these two bookends make up a complex and slightly dark addendum to the First Families of the United States. Some historians have a theory that the closer the male child is to his father, the more likely he is to die or self-destruct. Whether it is fact or coincidence is open for debate.

  • George Washington had no biological children, but was stepfather to a notorious young man, John Parke Curtis, who ruined his estate and died prematurely at age 26.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s only son died shortly after birth (unnamed).
  • James Madison’s stepson was an alcoholic, gambler and womanizer. After Madison died, he cheated his own mother (Dolley), and Congress had to intervene to help the former First Lady.
  • James Monroe’s only son died in infancy.
  • Andrew Jackson Jr. was an adopted son who mismanaged the Hermitage. He died of tetanus after shooting himself in a hunting accident.
  • Martin Van Buren Jr. died from tuberculosis in a Parisian apartment with his father sitting helpless by his bedside.
  • James Polk’s nephew and ward – Marshall Polk – was expelled from both Georgetown and West Point, ending his life in prison.
  • Calvin Coolidge Jr. died of blood poisoning from an infected blister after playing tennis.

A number managed to live longer lives, yet seemed to be cursed with a plethora of issues:

  • John Tyler Jr. was an alcoholic.
  • Ulysses S. Grant Jr. got caught up in an investment fraud scheme.
  • Chester A. Arthur Jr. was a playboy with an unaccountably suspicious source of “easy money” and investigative reporters hounded him and only stopped when his father’s term of office ended.

Franklin Roosevelt Jr. was the first of two sons named after their father and died suddenly after birth. The second namesake, married five times, was banned from the prestigious New York Social Register. Then, the powerful Tammany Hall machine became irked and ended his political career, as well.

Remarkably, when this terrible scourge progressed, fate would sometimes (greedily) step in and run the table. This happened to Franklin Pierce, who lost all three eldest sons in a row. It also happened to Andrew Johnson when first-born Charles Johnson died in a horse accident, Richard Johnson likely committed suicide at age 35, and younger brother Andrew Johnson Jr. died at a youthful 26.

Intuition says this phenomenon is more than random chance or a curse. Perhaps it is the pressure of being the first born, or something that drives the children of powerful figures to escape through substance abuse or risky behavior. Even President George W. Bush admitted to fighting alcoholism for years.

Mine is not to psychoanalyze, but simply to point out a series of eerie similar situations for your interest and speculation.

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].

Despite Being a Talented Diplomat, President Adams was Abrupt, Stuffy, ‘Kingly’

john-quincy-adams-important-miniature-portrait-on-ivory-by-noted-artist-edward-dalton-marchant
This miniature portrait of John Quincy Adams (measuring 2.25 x 3 inches) by Edward Dalton Marchant sold for $8,365 at a March 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In the 1820s, the American people felt more independent than ever before. Although Europe’s monarchical systems had been reintroduced, democracy prevailed in the United States. The war had loosened most of the chains that had bound the ideology and economy to England.

War had also turned American businessmen from importing to domestic production. It helped limit foreign competition, and now manufacturing was a conspicuous special interest group, wielding power to seek government protection and special allowances. One acute need was for transportation and this put extra pressure on the government for roads and canals.

These circumstances helped to put Washington in the national focus. The spirit of nationalism was nearly universal and the challenge was to strengthen the country so that independence would be perpetual. Virtually all political factions were in agreement.

President James Monroe’s successor was John Quincy Adams, a member of the second generation of leadership, son of a Founding Father. However, many deep hatreds grew out of the election of 1824 and JQA could only hope they would be temporary. He shared Monroe’s belief that the party system would never return to plague the political system. His daily diary entries reveal much uncertainty, but he nevertheless believed it was possible to heal the divisions. He knew his duty was to foster nationalist goals and create institutions that would ensure a continuation of the “Era of Good Feelings.”

In reality, the majority probably did favor him at first, but he lost his hold very soon, failing in his policies and public performance. Despite being a talented diplomat, his manner was abrupt, stuffy and chilly, leading to deadly epithets by his enemies as “kingly” and “monarchical.” This reputation was exacerbated by his patrician wife, Louisa, who remains the only first lady born on foreign soil.

The result was a failed one-term presidency, just as his father experienced, and neither of their lives were particularly happy during their time as president. Without attending the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson, he returned home for an expected retirement. However, politics was in Adams’ DNA and he was soon back in Washington in the House of Representatives, the only former president to do so. He had a remarkable career in the House that lasted 17 years.

On Nov. 20, 1846, he suffered a mild stroke, recovered and resumed his Congressional duties. On Feb. 21, 1848, in the middle of a heated debate, he had a massive cerebral hemorrhage and slumped over his desk. He was carried to a sofa in the Speaker’s Room, slipped into a coma and died two days later.

He was 80 years old.

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].

Reagan’s Last Christmas in Office Marked by Memorable Snowy Fairyland

1980s-ronald-reagan-win-one-for-the-gipper-signed-photograph
A photograph signed by Ronald Reagan with the inscription “Win one for the Gipper” sold for $8,365 at a November 2014 Heritage auction. It’s considered the most famous line Reagan spoke on the silver screen, in 1940’s Knute Rockne, All American.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1980, Ronald Wilson Reagan became the oldest man (69) to be elected president. He extended his record in 1984 when he was reelected at age 73. For their last Christmas in the White House, the Reagans wanted to make a splash. The East Room was transformed into a snowy fairyland, with full-size trees and a gift-filled sleigh occupied by carolers and drawn by lifelike horses, all powdered with glittery “snow.” It was a vintage Hollywood image.

Thousands of visitors filed by and looked on in both delight and amazement at the dazzling scene. Nothing remotely like this had ever been seen in the White House. It was a playful farewell by two whose roots were as firmly planted in Hollywood as John F. Kennedy’s were in Boston or Lyndon B. Johnson’s on the banks of the Pedernales River.

On his final day in office, Jan. 20, 1989, President Reagan went to the Oval Office early and met with his Chief-of-Staff Ken Duberstein and General Colin Powell, the National Security Advisor. Both of them said reassuringly, “Mr. President, the world is quiet today.” After they left, Reagan also left the office, stopping at the door for one last look. George and Barbara Bush were arriving in the entrance hall below.

On the route from the Capitol to the White House, the incoming President George H.W. Bush and first lady took a cue from the Carters, leaving their car from time to time to walk along Pennsylvania Avenue to greet the crowds. They walked up the driveway on the same path all their predecessors had followed since James Monroe’s second term, 168 years before.

History linked the inauguration of George H.W. Bush and George Washington. It had been exactly 200 years since the first president began serving his first term.

President Bush had an extensive background that included two terms in Congress, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA, liaison to China, and eight full years as vice president. He had easily defeated Michael Dukakis to win the presidency, but in the process famously declared “Read my lips. No new taxes!” – words that would haunt him.

Although favored for reelection in 1992, he got caught in a buzz saw when third-party candidate Ross Perot siphoned off nearly 19 percent of the popular vote and a young governor from Arkansas won with a plurality of 43 percent. William Jefferson Clinton and Al Gore Jr. became the youngest president and vice president in history.

George H.W. Bush became the 10th incumbent president to lose in a bid for reelection after becoming the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

The strange world of presidential politics. We love it.

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].

 

After Disaster of 1812, President Madison and First Lady Recovered Their Legacies

james-madison-circa-1812-meissen-saucer
This James Madison Meissen saucer, circa 1812, sold for $13,145 at a November 2011 Heritage auction. Little material culture was produced during Madison’s presidency.

By Jim O’Neal

Three days after the fall of Washington in the War of 1812, James and Dolley Madison returned in the wake of the British departure. They visited the ruins of the capital and White House, which sunk them into melancholy.

That the president of the United States had been burned out of his house mortified America, and the symbolic impact transcended the sad reality. Madison was accused of cowardice because he had fled, and the press claimed Dolley could have saved more than she did … a lot more. A Washington newspaper even stated angrily that a positive result of burning the White House was that it ended her queenly entertaining.

These difficult times came to a sudden, happy ending with the news of the Battle of New Orleans and the return of the American delegation from Ghent with a peace treaty. The president jubilantly proclaimed the war was at an end. While the glory of the hour went to General Andrew Jackson, both the president and first lady recovered their legacies and good names.

The White House had been burned to a shell, but it was the neatest of fires as the refuse had fallen precisely within the stone walls and no debris was scattered on the grounds. Crews dug for salvage in the deep bed of ashes and rubble that filled the basement, however not much was worth saving. The refuse was simply thrown into a nearby gully and attention turned to rebuilding (an important distinction).

A bill for rebuilding was rammed through Congress in two days to make sure Washington, D.C., remained the capital – and not some more-centralized area beyond the mountains, like Cincinnati, as some had proposed. Any “Phoenix” would rise from these ashes. As President Madison carefully pointed out, “the bill specifically stated ‘rebuilding’ not relocation.”

Considering that it took nearly 10 years to build the first WH, reconstruction moved along quickly, but not fast enough for the man who occupied the unfinished White House in October 1817.

A tall, blush-faced Virginian who looked all of his 58 years, James Monroe was the last luminary of the Revolutionary generation to occupy the presidency. Like George Washington, he had fought in the War of Independence and had been wounded at Trenton. Years later, he served as a delegate in negotiations with France for the Louisiana Purchase. During the Madison administration, he had been Secretary of State and Secretary of War, always with an eye on the presidency.

When he finally reached his goal, he knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish. Refusing to act as head of his party, he instead insisted that the war had united all Americans into one and that political parties were no longer needed! He proceeded to usher in “The Era of Good Feelings.”

We miss him.

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].

Ineffective Leadership is the Last Thing Needed in the White House

franklin-pierce-daguerreotype
This Franklin Pierce daguerreotype, housed in a leatherette case, sold for $15,525 at a November 2003 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Millard Fillmore was the last Whig president and also the last to represent the kind of American nationalism that had appeared during the War of 1812. His successor, Franklin Pierce (1853-57), was a northern Democrat who supported the extension of slavery and a nominee selected by his party in order to win both northern and southern votes. He had praised the Compromise of 1850 and promised to prevent slavery from becoming a national issue.

He was swept into office with the greatest electoral landslide since James Monroe.

A politician’s politician, the curly-headed Pierce never lost an election. At his inaugural ceremony, he stood away from the lectern and spoke extemporaneously; it was more of a sermon than an inaugural address. He challenged the nation with the promise of a bright, prosperous future and his listeners cheered as though they had been delivered at last.

He was also a master of knowing how to get along with all people – evidenced by the fact he is the only president in history who served a complete term without making a single change in his Cabinet. But he totally misjudged the temper of the time, since he regarded the abolitionists as a lunatic fringe that should be ignored. And when he signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the repeal of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, he unwittingly let loose a storm that made slavery a greater national issue than ever before.

Unable to accomplish much due to a deeply divided Congress, President Pierce still desperately wanted to be nominated for a second term. But just before the Democratic Convention began in Cincinnati on June 2, 1856, reports of bloodshed in Kansas alarmed the country. Armed battles raged between anti- and pro-slavery factions, firing up public anger.

The telegraph wires clicked constantly, with Pierce anxiously reading each dispatch. In the oval room, he read newspapers until his eyes grew too tired and then had his wife read them to him. He followed every detail of the convention, considerably more confident than he should have been. At the convention, Pierce’s supporters abandoned him in favor of Stephen A. Douglas, but the strategy failed and James Buchanan took the prize home to Pennsylvania.

Buchanan was the last of the weak, compromising northern Democratic presidents, more sympathetic to slave owners than to northern abolitionists. When he tried to push through Kansas as a slave state, he infuriated the North and shattered the Southern Democratic Party. As Southern states seceded from the Union, one by one, in the last months of his administration, Buchanan stood by helplessly, unable to take resolute action.

This string of three weak, ineffective men – Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan – clearly demonstrate the unequivocal effects of poor leadership, as the catastrophic violence of a civil war nearly destroyed our young nation.

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].

1824 Presidential Election Among Strangest in History

Henry Clay was among the presidential candidates in 1824. This folk art campaign portrait of Clay sold for $9,375 in May 2016.

By Jim O’Neal

The 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was added to clear up some fuzzy rules for presidential elections that popped up in both 1796 and 1800.

In addition to requiring separate votes for president and vice president, it added procedures for the House of Representatives if no candidate received a majority of votes. The Amendment was proposed by Congress in 1803 and then ratified by the requisite three-fourths of states in June 1804. It was easier to gain consensus in those early days.

For the next 20 years, things went smoothly as Virginians continued to occupy the White House. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all served two terms with no controversies, at least regarding elections.

Then came 1824.

To begin, all the candidates were from the same party … the Democratic-Republican. Tennessee nominated Andrew Jackson (born in North Carolina). Kentucky chose Henry Clay. William Crawford got a nomination from Georgia, albeit from a splinter group. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina ignored state officials and nominated himself. And finally, John Quincy Adams (the eventual winner) was the conventional “favorite son” from Massachusetts following in his father’s footsteps.

Then the fun started.

First, Calhoun quickly realized he didn’t have broad support and withdrew from the presidential race. However, in a twist, he nominated himself for vice president for both Jackson and Adams, which ensured him a victory.

Crawford suffered a stroke, but remained in the race, finishing in third place. Adams finished a disappointing second in both the popular and electoral votes.

Jackson had the highest number of popular votes and ended up with the most electoral votes. However, since the votes were split four ways, he did not have a majority (more than 50 percent).

The new rules threw the election into the House of Representatives, except Clay was eliminated since only the three top electoral vote-getters were eligible for the runoff. A great controversy then erupted when Clay, who was Speaker of the House, switched Kentucky’s vote from Jackson to Adams, giving him the office … thus making Andrew Jackson the only person to win both the popular and electoral votes and lose the election.

Then John Q. Adams made Henry Clay the Secretary of State in what has become known as the infamous “corrupt bargain.” No proof has ever surfaced of this quid pro quo, but Andrew Jackson certainly believed it … so much so that he resigned from the Senate and spent the next three years plotting against Adams.

It apparently worked, since he vanquished JQA in 1828 and then won again in 1832.

If this year’s nominating process and campaigns seem to border on the bizarre, you would be right. Just consider how 1824 would compare if they had been cursed with 24/7 cable TV.

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].

Washington Recognized the Chaos of Autonomous States

The bronze sculpture George Washington at Valley Forge by Henry Merwin Shrady, modeled in 1905, cast circa 1906, sold for $54,970 at an April 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It had been a long war and George Washington was both tired and relieved to be returning to his plantation in Virginia for a well-deserved retirement. Mount Vernon was badly in need of his full-time attention and his finances were frayed.

However, he was apprehensive about a central government that consisted of a chaotic, ramshackle Congress considered by GW to be “wretchedly managed.” The legislature was a one-vote, one-state body that required a quorum of nine states to operate and a unanimous vote for major laws. This was no “United States,” but a loosely governed confederation of 13 states that were largely autonomous.

It seemed clear that the Articles of Confederation were impotent and in need of major revisions. However, it would probably require a crisis to force the changes and GW could sense that others would be looking to him (once again!) to provide the leadership needed, retirement or not.

He was right on both counts.

The crisis came when thousands of farmers in rural Massachusetts rebelled against tax increases on land the state had imposed to help pay off heavy debts. The farmers, many of whom had lost their land to foreclosure, swamped courthouses and threatened judges using their pitchforks.

They were led by Daniel Shays (hence “Shays’ Rebellion”), an ex-militia captain, and they finally marched on the Springfield arsenal intent on seizing muskets and powder. This anarchy was met by the Massachusetts militia, who fired point-blank into the crowd, and then by General Benjamin Lincoln, who arrived the next day with 4,000 soldiers to quell the rebels.

Washington was mortified by these events, since he feared disgrace from the Europeans who were still skeptical of American self-rule. More importantly, it galvanized him to join James Madison, James Monroe and Edmund Randolph to strengthen the Articles of Confederation they had fought so hard for.

Eventually, an executive branch was established and in February 1789, all 69 presidential electors chose GW unanimously to be the first president of the United States. In March, the new U.S. Constitution officially took effect and, in April, Congress formally sent word to Washington that he had won the presidency.

He borrowed money to pay off his debts and travel to New York again, this time to be inaugurated. After a second four-year term, he was finally able to resume his retirement. This time, it only lasted two years since he died on Dec. 14, 1799.

President Jimmy Carter bestowed the rank of “six-star general” and “General of the Armies of Congress” in the hope that Washington would be the highest-ranking military person of all time. Irrespective of future grade inflation, I’m betting this rank will not be surpassed.

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].