Franklin had Faults, but he Remains an Extraordinary American

Norman Rockwell’s illustration of Ben Franklin for a 1926 cover of The Saturday Evening Post sold for $762,500 at a May 2018 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

George Washington was the only United States president who lived his entire life in the 18th century (1732-1799). However, every early vice president – from John Adams on – spent a significant part of their lives in the 19th century. Of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin (often considered the “grandfather” of the group), was born in 1706 and died in 1790 – nine years earlier than even Washington. In reality, he was actually a member of the previous generation and spent virtually all of his life as a loyal British subject.

As a result, Franklin didn’t have an opportunity to observe the nation he helped create as it struggled to function smoothly. Many were determined not to simply replicate the English monarchy, but to establish a more perfect union for the common man to prosper (women, slaves and non-property owners would have to wait). Franklin was also a man of vast contradictions. He was really a most reluctant revolutionary and discretely wished to preserve the traditions of the British Empire he had grown so familiar with. He secretly mourned the final break, even as he helped lead the fight for America’s independence.

Even while signing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, like many other loyalists, he hoped for some sort of reconciliation, a hopeless cause after so many careless British transgressions.

Fortunately, we have a rich history of this remarkable man’s life since he was such a prolific writer and his correspondence was greatly admired, and thus preserved by those lucky enough to receive it. Additionally, his scientific papers were highly respected and covered a vast breadth of topics that generated interest by the brightest minds in the Western world. He knew most of them personally on a first-name basis due to the many years he lived in France and England while traveling the European continent. Government files are replete with the many letters exchanged with heads of state.

Despite his passion for science, Franklin viewed his breakthrough experiments as secondary to his civic duties. He became wealthy as a young man and this provided the freedom to travel and assume important government assignments. Somehow, he was also able to maintain a pleasant marriage despite his extended absences, some for as long 10 years. He rather quickly developed a reputation as a “ladies’ man” and his social life flourished at the highest levels of society.

Some historians consider him the best-known celebrity of the 18th century. Even today, we still see his portrait daily on our $100 bills – colloquially known as “Benjamins” – and earlier on common 50-cent pieces and various denominations of postage stamps. Oddly, he is probably better known today by people of all ages than those 200 years ago. That is true stardom that very few manage to attain.

Every student in America generally knows something about Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm. They may not know that he proved the clouds were electrified and that lightning is a form of electricity. Or that Franklin’s work inspired Joseph Priestley to publish a comprehensive work on The History and Present State of Electricity in 1767. And it would be exceedingly rare if they knew the prestigious Royal Society honored him with its first Copley Medal for the advancement of scientific knowledge. But they do know Franklin from any picture.

Others may know of his connection to the post office, unaware that the U.S. postal system was established on July 26, 1775, by the Second Continental Congress when virtually all the mail was sent to Europe, not to themselves. There were no post offices in the Colonies and bars and taverns filled that role nicely. Today, there are 40,000 of them handling 175 billion pieces (six per second) and they have an arrangement with Amazon to deliver their packages, even on Sundays. Mr. Franklin helped create this behemoth as the first Postmaster General.

Franklin was also a racist in an era when the word didn’t even exist. He finally freed his house slaves and later became a staunch opponent of slavery, even sponsoring legislation. But he literally envisioned a White America, most especially for the Western development of the country. He was alarmed about German immigrants flooding Philadelphia and wrote passionately about their not learning English or assimilating into society. He was convinced it would be better if blacks stayed in Africa. His dream was to replicate England since the new nation had so much more room for expansion than that tiny island across the Atlantic. But we are here to examine the extraordinary mind and curiosity that led to so many successful experiments. Franklin always bemoaned the fact that he had been born too early and dreamed about all the new wonderful things that would be 300 years in the future.

Dear Ben, you just wouldn’t believe it!

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].

Here’s Why We Owe a Lot to Second President John Adams

An 1805 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

John Adams had the misfortune of being squeezed into the presidency of the United States (for a single term) between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two of the most famous presidents of all time. As a result, Adams (1735-1826) was often overlooked as one of America’s greatest statesmen and perhaps the most learned and penetrating thinker of his time. The importance of his role in the founding of America was noted by Richard Stockton, a delegate to the Continental Congress: “The man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independence. … I call him the Atlas of American Independence.”

On the way to that independence, his participation started as early as 1761 when he assisted James Otis in defending Boston merchants against Britain’s enforcement of the Sugar Tax. When the American Revolution ended, Adams played a key role in the peace treaty that formally ended the war in 1783. In between those two bookends, he wrote many of the most significant essays and treatises, led the radical movement in Boston, and articulated the principles at the Continental Congress.

Following the infamous Stamp Act in 1765, he attacked it with a vengeance and wrote A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, asserting it deprived the colonists of two basic rights: taxation by consent and a jury trial by peers – both guaranteed to all Englishmen by the Magna Carta. Within a brief 10 years, he was acknowledged as one of America’s best constitutional scholars. When Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774, Adams drafted the principal clause of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances; no man worked harder in the movement for independence and the effort to constitutionalize the powers of self-government.

After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Adams argued for the colonies to declare independence and in 1776, Congress passed a resolution recommending the colonies draft new constitutions and form new governments. Adams wrote a draft blueprint, Thoughts on Government, and four states used it to shape new constitutions. In summer 1776, Congress considered arguments for a formal independence and John Adams made a four-hour speech that forcefully persuaded the assembly to vote in favor. Thomas Jefferson later recalled that “it moved us from our seats … He was our colossus on the floor.”

Three years later, Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, which was copied by other states and guided the framers of the Federal Constitution of 1787.

He faithfully served two full terms as vice president for George Washington at a time when the office had only two primary duties: preside over the Senate and break any tie votes, and count the ballots for presidential elections. Many routinely considered the office to be part of Congress as opposed to the executive branch. He served one term as president and then lost the 1800 election to his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, as the party system (and Alexander Hamilton) conspired against his re-election. Bitter and disgruntled, he left Washington, D.C., before Jefferson was inaugurated and returned to his home in Massachusetts. His wife Abigail had departed earlier as their son Charles died in November from the effects of chronic alcoholism.

Their eldest son, John Quincy Adams, served as the sixth president (for a single term) after a contentious election, and they both gradually sunk into relative obscurity. This changed dramatically in 2001 when historian David McCullough published a wonderful biography that reintroduced John and Abigail Adams to a generation that vaguely knew he had died on the same day as Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In typical McCullough fashion, it was a bestseller and led to an epic TV mini-series that snagged four Golden Globes and a record 13 Emmys in 2008.

Television at its very best!

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].

How Far Will We Go In Amending American History?

A collection of items related to the dedication of the Washington Monument went to auction in May 2011.

By Jim O’Neal

Four years ago, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bill Murray starred in a movie titled The Monuments Men, about a group of almost 400 specialists who were commissioned to try and retrieve monuments, manuscripts and artwork that had been looted in World War II.

The Germans were especially infamous for this and literally shipped long strings of railroad cars from all over Europe to German generals in Berlin. While they occupied Paris, they almost stripped the city of its fabled art collections by the world’s greatest artists. Small stashes of hidden art hoards are still being discovered yet today.

In the United States, another generation of anti-slavery groups are doing the exact opposite: lobbying to have statues and monuments removed, destroyed or relocated to obscure museums to gather dust out of the public eyes. Civil War flags and memorabilia on display were among the first to disappear, followed by Southern generals and others associated with the war. Now, streets and schools are being renamed. Slavery has understandably been the reason for the zeal to erase the past, but it sometimes appears the effort is slowly moving up the food chain.

More prominent names like President Woodrow Wilson have been targeted and for several years Princeton University has been protested because of the way it still honors Wilson, asserting he was a Virginia racist. Last year, Yale removed John C. Calhoun’s name from one of its residential colleges because he was one of the more vocal advocates of slavery, opening the path to the Civil War by supporting states’ rights to decide the slavery issue in South Carolina (which is an unquestionable fact). Dallas finally got around to removing some prominent Robert E. Lee statues, although one of the forklifts broke in the process.

Personally, I don’t object to any of this, especially if it helps to reunite America. So many different things seem to end up dividing us even further and this only weakens the United States (“United we stand, divided we fall”).

However, I hope to still be around if (when?) we erase Thomas Jefferson from the Declaration of Independence and are only left with George Washington and his extensive slavery practices (John Adams did not own slaves and Massachusetts was probably the first state to outlaw it).

It would seem to be relatively easy to change Mount Vernon or re-Washington, D.C., as the nation’s capital. But the Washington Monument may be an engineering nightmare. The Continental Congress proposed a monument to the Father of Our Country in 1783, even before the treaty conferring American independence was received. It was to honor his role as commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War. But when Washington became president, he canceled it since he didn’t believe public money should be used for such honors. (If only that ethos was still around.)

But the idea for a monument resurfaced on the centennial of Washington’s birthday in 1832 (Washington died in 1799). A private group, the Washington National Monument Society – headed by Chief Justice John Marshall – was formed to solicit contributions. However, they were not sophisticated fundraisers since they limited gifts to $1 per person a year. (These were obviously very different times.) This restriction was exacerbated by the economic depression that gripped the country in 1832. This resulted in the cornerstone being delayed until July 4, 1848. An obscure congressman by the name of Abraham Lincoln was in the cheering crowd.

Even by the start of the Civil War 13 years later, the unsightly stump was still only 170 feet high, a far cry from the 600 feet originality projected. Mark Twain joined in the chorus of critics: “It has the aspect of a chimney with the top broken off … It is an eyesore to the people. It ought to be either pulled down or built up and finished,” Finally, President Ulysses S. Grant got Congress to appropriate the money and it was started again and ultimately opened in 1888. At the time, it was 555 feet tall and the tallest building in the world … a record that was eclipsed the following year when the Eiffel Tower was completed.

For me, it’s an impressive structure, with its sleek marble silhouette. I’m an admirer of the simplicity of plain, unadorned obelisks, since there are so few of them (only two in Maryland that I’m aware of). I realize others consider it on a par with a stalk of asparagus, but I’m proud to think of George Washington every time I see it.

Even so, if someday someone thinks it should be dismantled as the last symbol of a different period, they will be disappointed when they learn of all the other cities, highways, lakes, mountains and even a state that remain to go. Perhaps we can find a better use for all of that passion, energy and commitment and start rebuilding a crumbling infrastructure so in need of repairs. One can only hope.

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].

Songwriter Stephen Foster Reflected Yearnings of a Young Nation

By Jim O’Neal

The life of Stephen Foster had an auspiciously American beginning. Like the great stage patriot George M. Cohan, Foster was born on the Fourth of July (Cohan’s birth certificate actually shows a date of July 3). But in the case of Foster, it was no ordinary Fourth. It was July 4, 1826, to be exact, which marked the passing of two great Americans: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both having served as vice president and president of the United States. Foster came into this world as they were leaving it.

It was also a memorable date in American history, marking the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a time when America was still emerging from its colonial past and establishing its own distinctive culture.

Stephen Foster (1826-1864), like most children in his social class, spent many afternoons playing and singing at the piano. But Foster was more interested in music he heard outside the home: the growing popularity of the “minstrels.” These were white-men-in-black-face performances of the 1830s and 1840s, which dominated the theaters. At once racist and patriotic, these shows permitted Americans (specifically whites) to join in expressing their superiority to the black man, an unfortunate “unifying event” in a nation of immigrants.

However, for the young Foster, who often returned home from the theater and put on minstrel shows of his own for friends, there was much more. There was something fascinating about the black music and lyrics he heard, even as they were twisted for derogatory effects. He developed a sympathy that he carried forward years later when, as a bookkeeper in Cincinnati, he decided to become a professional songwriter. And what an astounding, prolific artist he became!

From his office window on the docks of the Ohio River, Foster marveled at the music of immigrants from Germany, Italy and Scotland … and especially from the blacks who had come to Cincinnati to work on the docks. Now Foster could hear real African-American music, not just the caricatures of the minstrel men, and it captivated him. Locked in complete silence in his study, Foster carefully incorporated the diverse melodies he’d absorbed from the many varieties he heard. First working through them note by note on the flute, then playing them full-out on the piano until they became the raw material for his own music.

In the end, Foster’s lasting appeal was his ability to draw on this reserve from which he created a uniquely American sound. Borrowing from elements of Irish songs, Italian opera, minstrel music and black spirituals, he created simple melodies that spoke to human needs of family and heartbreaks.

The results were staggering.

His first minstrel song in 1846, “Oh, Susanna,” was a smash hit. Arriving at a time when national pride was beginning and new technologies were uniting people across the nation, it caught on like no song before it. The previous most popular piece of sheet music had sold 5,000 copies. “Susanna” would sell over 100,000 and instantly become part of our cultural heritage. California miners hummed it while they dug for gold. Black rowers sang it in the East and South. It was easily the most sung song in America.

After this success, Foster became serious about making a living in music and publishers billed him as the “Songwriter of America.” In 1850, he wrote 16 songs. In 1851, 16 more. Then would come a flood of hits that are too numerous to list. He toned down the dialect, dropped the term “minstrel” and blended the black experiences into metaphors for all manner of American yearnings, especially the one for “home.”

The Father of American music churned out over 200 classics. Then it all came to a sudden halt when he died from a mysterious fall. Stephen Collins Foster was a mere 37 years old when his genius stopped. Yet on the first Saturday of May each year since 1875 (uninterrupted), people gather at Churchill Downs in Louisville to witness “the most exciting two minutes in sports” … the Kentucky Derby. Among the many traditions of mint juleps, burgoo and women’s accessorized hats, the University of Louisville marching band will play his “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Not bad for a shy lad born on the 50th anniversary of our defiant Declaration, which we still rely on today.

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].

No President has been Removed by Impeachment, Conviction

A 1996 letter President Clinton sent to a journalist, regarding an article that had moved the president, sold for $10,755 at a February 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 7, 1789, members of the Electoral College cast 69 votes for George Washington to become the first president of the United States, while John Adams, who finished in second place with 34 votes, became the first vice president.

These electors, who had been chosen by white men who were landowners in 10 states, also cast votes for John Jay (9), Robert Harrison (6), John Rutledge (6), Samuel Huntington (2), John Milton (2), Benjamin Lincoln (1), and Edward Telfair (1). Forty-four electors failed to cast a vote.

Bill Clinton

North Carolina and Rhode Island were ineligible since their statehood had not been ratified. New York did not appoint the eight electors they were eligible for since they were deadlocked in their state legislature.

We still use the Electoral College, as established by the Constitution, which has been modified several times and today gives all citizens age 18 and over the right to vote for electors, who in turn vote for the president and vice president (only). On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, each state’s electors simultaneously cast their ballots nationwide.

Then on Jan. 6, the electoral votes are counted before Congress and, finally, on Jan. 20, the president is sworn into office. In the case of George Washington, he wasn’t sworn in until April 30, 1789, since Congress didn’t count the electoral votes until April 6.

Exactly 210 years later, on Jan. 7, 1999, the impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton began in the U.S. Senate, with senators sworn in as jurors and Chief Justice William Rehnquist sworn in to preside. President Clinton was formally charged with lying under oath and obstruction of justice.

Four years earlier, he had sexual relations with a 21-year-old unpaid intern in the White House before she was transferred to the Pentagon. Contrary to his sworn testimony in an unrelated sexual harassment case, President Clinton admitted to a grand jury (via closed-circuit television) that he had not been truthful.

On Dec. 11, 1998, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment. On Dec. 19, the full House approved two articles of impeachment: lying under oath to a grand jury and obstructing justice. On Feb. 12, the Senate voted on the perjury charge and 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted “not guilty.” On the charges of obstruction of justice, the Senate vote was split 50-50.

This was the third and last time the Senate Judiciary Committee had voted to impeach the president of the United States. Two were found not guilty (Andrew Johnston in 1868 and Bill Clinton), while a third, Richard Nixon, resigned to avoid what was an almost certain guilty verdict. (In 1834, the Senate voted to “censure” Andrew Jackson).

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].

National Debt on Automatic Pilot to More Growth

A letter by President George W. Bush, signed and dated July 4, 2001, sold for $16,730 at an April 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In May 2001 – just 126 days after President George W. Bush took office – Congress passed his massive tax proposal. The Bush tax cuts had been reduced to $1.3 trillion from the $1.65 trillion submitted, but it was still a significant achievement from any historical perspective. It had taken Ronald Reagan two months longer to win approval of his tax cut and that was 20 years earlier.

George W. Bush

Bush was characteristically enthusiastic about this, but it had come with a serious loss in political capital. Senator James Jeffords, a moderate from Vermont, announced his withdrawal from the Republican Party, tipping control of the Senate to the Democrats, the first time in history that had occurred as the result of a senator switching parties. In this instance, it was from Republican to Independent, but the practical effect was the same. Several months later (after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon), there was a loud chorus of calls to reverse the tax cuts to pay for higher anticipated spending.

Bush had a counter-proposal: Cut taxes even more!

Fiscal conservatives were worried that there would be the normal increase in the size and power of the federal government, lamenting that this was a constant instinctive companion of hot wars. James Madison’s warning that “A crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant” was cited against centralization that would foster liberal ideas about the role of government and even more dependency on the federal system.

Ex-President Bill Clinton chimed in to say that he regretted not using the budget surplus (really only a forecast) to pay off the Social Security trust fund deficit. Neither he nor his former vice president had dispelled the myth about a “lock box” or explained the federal building in Virginia that had been built exclusively to hold government IOUs to Social Security. In reality, they were simply worthless pieces of scrip, stored in unlocked filing cabinets. The only changes that had ever occurred with Social Security funds were whether they were included in a “unified budget” or not. They had never been kept separate from other revenues the federal government received.

But this was Washington, D.C., where, short of a revolution or civil war, change comes in small increments. Past differences, like family arguments, linger in the air like the dust that descends from the attic. All of the huge surpluses totally disappeared with the simple change in the forecast and have never been discussed since.

Back at the Treasury Department of 15th Street, a statue to Alexander Hamilton commemorates the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, a fitting honor to the man who created our fiscal foundation. But on the other side stands Albert Gallatin, President Thomas Jefferson’s Treasury Secretary, who struggled to pay off Hamilton’s debts and shrink the bloated bureaucracy he built.

Hamilton also fared better than his onetime friend and foe, James Madison. The “Father of the Constitution” had no statue, no monument, no lasting tribute until 1981, when the new wing of the Library of Congress was named for him. This was a drought that was only matched by John Adams, the Revolutionary War hero and ardent nationalist. It was only after a laudatory biography by David McCulloch in 2001 that Congress commissioned a memorial to the nation’s second president.

Since the Bush tax cut and the new forecast, the national debt has ballooned to $20 trillion as 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 2008 financial meltdown produced a steady stream of budget deficits in both the Bush and Barack Obama administrations. The Donald Trump administration is poised to approve tax reform, amid arguments on the stimulative effect on the economy and who will benefit. In typical Washington fashion, there is no discussion over the fact that the national debt is inexorably on automatic pilot to $25 trillion, irrespective of tax reform. But this is Washington, where your money (and all they can borrow) is spent almost with no effort.

“Just charge it.”

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].

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].

America Driven by Courage and the Nerve to Do Whatever It Takes

The Empire State Building, an oil on canvas by Glenn O. Coleman (1887-1932) sold for $40,000 at a March 2017 Heritage auction. Mohawk riveting gangs worked on the skyscraper, and other monumental New York buildings.

By Jim O’Neal

The American Revolutionary War effectively ended on Oct. 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Va. That was the day British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his army to General George Washington. However, it took two more years until the Treaty of Paris was signed on Sept. 3, 1783, to formalize the negotiated peace terms.

The peace negotiations were led by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens and John Adams, who were very clever to exclude American allies France and Spain and strike a deal directly with Great Britain to achieve better terms. Despite this ploy, there were still several areas still in contention. In 1794, now Chief Justice John Jay was finally forced to negotiate an additional agreement (Jay’s Treaty) to resolve a number of lingering issues.

Flash forward to 1926 and we find a Mohawk ironworker from Quebec, Canada, Paul Diabo, facing deportation in Philadelphia after being charged as an illegal alien in violation of the Immigration Act of 1924. The court ruled he had every right to enter the United States (at will) by virtue of the Jay Treaty with the Iroquois Confederacy.

By then, the Kahnawake-Mohawk Indians had gained a well-known reputation as world-class high-steel workers. Ironworking requires a rare combination of strength, intelligence and courage. It involves laying the foundations and building the metal skeletons to support skyscrapers. Workers handle the lifting, fixing and welding of heavy steel beams, often while hundreds of feet up in the air. The Mohawks had demonstrated an exceptional skill that was unmatched.

It all started in 1886 when the fledgling Canadian Pacific Railway needed to span the St. Lawrence River and hired the Dominion Bridge Company to build a cantilevered bridge over the water. One significant issue was it would have to be set on land belonging to the Mohawks, who were willing to give their approval, but only with the proviso that they could work on the project. The company quickly agreed, assuming the Mohawks would be able to do all the menial tasks associated with such a big project. They were subsequently astonished when, instead, they showed great agility and a desire to become higher-paid riveters.

Initially, Dominion trained a dozen volunteers in this difficult, dangerous skill that entailed heating red-hot rivets, tossing them 30 to 40 feet where other co-workers caught them and forced them through steel beams with a hammer or pneumatic drill … while high off the ground up in the infrastructure. Soon, there was a cadre of over 70 highly trained iron and steel riveters and they started working on projects throughout Canada.

The Mohawk riveting gangs continued to proliferate and spread out, by the 1910s arriving in New York. As their numbers and reputations continued to grow, they inevitably worked on all the monumental structures in greater New York: the Empire State Building, George Washington Bridge, Chrysler Building, United Nations Assembly, and Triborough Bridge … among many other less well-known skyscrapers.

By the 1930s, a community of 700 Mohawks were living in a Brooklyn suburb and drinking Canadian beer at the Wigwam bar, with its picture of Jim Thorpe on the wall and the sign “The Greatest Iron Workers in the World Pass Through These Doors.” In addition to frequent trips back and forth to Canada, they traveled all over the United States, even arriving in time to help rivet the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

Today, the demand for “High Steel” riveting has declined, but as a Dominion Bridge official once observed, “Men who want to do it are rare. And men who can do it are even rarer!”

I suppose the same could be said of the Colonial soldiers who followed General Washington in a seemingly impossible task to win our independence. Courage and the nerve to do whatever it takes.

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].

Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ Stated Simply the Reasons for Independence

A 1776 edition of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense sold for $56,762 at a June 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, it was thought that most colonists were true patriots who favored full separation from England. It was not true then – 15 percent to 20 percent were still loyal to the Crown (Loyalists) and a like number were still undecided – and it was absolutely unresolved as little as six months earlier.

It was true that there had been skirmishes with British soldiers and a series of complaints diplomatically lodged by colonial leaders, however, the Continental Congress had been silent on the issue of indignation. There was still a sense that Parliament in London could resolve disputes. If anything, the colonies vibrated with unarticulated emotions – poised for someone to bring the scattered opinions into focus.

Clarity finally arrived in Philadelphia on Jan. 10, 1776, when an English corset-maker, who had only been in America a little over a year, published a pamphlet titled “Common Sense.” It was originally titled “Plain Truth” (Benjamin Rush suggested the change) and signed anonymously “By an Englishman.” In stunningly clear and moving prose, Thomas Paine gathered up the random, unspoken thoughts of the average smithy or farmer and crystallized the rebellious demand for independence, giving them the courage to accept a radical idea.

Thomas Paine

He wrote, “The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. … ’Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest … Now is the seed time of continental union, faith and honor.” History would be made now or never. Paine wrote. “The present winter is worth an age if rightly employed, but if lost or neglected, the whole continent will partake of the misfortune.”

Then came the words from which there would be no turning back: “Every thing that is right or reasonable pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ’TIS TIME TO PART!”

“Common Sense” was an immediate success; 100,000 copies circulated in three months to the 2.5 million white residents in the 13 colonies. For the first time, the notion of independence was on the lips of every yeoman in the colonies and a new idea of separate nationality was in their heads.

Paine was the first man to string together the five words we now cherish: the United States of America.

Unadorned and plain, the American voice of simple declarative sentences, set off by vivid imagery, is the pioneering literary achievement of “Common Sense.” John Adams neatly summed up its importance when he said, “Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense,’ the sword of George Washington would have been raised in vain.”

Sounds right to me.

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].

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].