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

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

By Jim O’Neal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jim O’Neal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winfield Scott Arguably the Most Astonishing Military Officer in U.S. History

A Winfield Scott “For President” daguerreotype from his unsuccessful 1852 bid for the presidency sold for $25,000 at a September 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Some historians have labeled him as remarkable, perhaps the most remarkable in American history. For more than 50 years, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army, wearing the stars of a general from 1814 until his death in 1866 at age 80. Following Andrew Jackson’s retirement from the Army in 1821, he served as the country’s most prominent general, stepping down in late 1861, six months after the start of the Civil War.

Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, hero of the War of 1812, conqueror of Mexico in a hazardous campaign, and Abraham Lincoln’s top soldier at the beginning of the Civil War, was born in Virginia in 1786. It was a time of “an innumerable crowd of those striving to escape from their original social condition,” as described by French observer of America, Alexis de Tocqueville.

Success rested on the possession of land, driving both ambitious Americans and their government west.

Winfield’s father died when he was 5, and his mother died in 1803 when he was 17 and on his own. By 1807, he had tired of schooling and joined a prominent law firm in Richmond, “riding the circuits” where he helped provide legal assistance to litigants. It was here that the governor of Virginia made an appeal for volunteers to the state militia after a British frigate intercepted an American ship to search for four deserters from His Majesty’s Navy … the famous Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.

The people of the United States reacted with surprising violence, almost lynching British officers and attacking a nearby squadron. “For the first time in their history,” wrote American historian Henry Adams, “the people of the United States learned in June 1807 the feeling of a true national emotion.”

Public opinion forced President Thomas Jefferson to issue a proclamation requiring all armed British vessels to depart American waters. Then he called on all governors to furnish forces of 100 militia each. Winfield Scott felt an overwhelming urge to play a part and eagerly joined his fellow Virginians.

Thus began a long, storied military career, both during the consolidation of the nation and its expansion.

As a general, he was not the architect. It was President James Madison who attempted to unsuccessfully annex Canada in 1812. It was President Jackson who decided that American Indians east of the Mississippi must be moved to western lands following the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (the infamous “Trail of Tears”). President John Tyler eventually settled the boundary dispute with Britain over the border between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. James K. Polk manipulated the War with Mexico that expanded the nation into the southwest. And President James Buchanan used General Scott to secure the San Juan Islands, between Vancouver Island and the mainland, during the Pig War between the United States and Great Britain.

For each of these presidents, the agent and builder, in contrast to the architect, was General Scott. In this role, Scott served under 14 presidents, 13 of them as a general officer. Winfield “Old Fuss and Feathers” Scott lost his own bid for the presidency as the unsuccessful candidate for the Whigs in 1852. However, he certainly had the longest and most astonishing military career in U.S. history. And that includes all the other great men: Washington, Jackson, Grant, Lee, Eisenhower, etc.

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].

Secretary of State Cass Resigned to Protest Inaction Over Looming War

This rare political campaign daguerreotype of Lewis Cass from 1848 realized $17,925 at a February 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

By 1857, Lewis Cass was back in national politics as secretary of state for our only bachelor president, James Buchanan. As an old military man, Cass was growing increasingly concerned about activities in the South. He could sense the undercurrent of war that had been brewing for 20-plus years, but this time it was more palpable.

He was convinced that it would be prudent to beef up military garrisons in the South as a show of determination. It would also help prevent the South from appropriating guns and supplies that could be used against the Union if war did break out. He also attempted to persuade President Buchanan to send federal troops to Charleston, S.C., since that was an obvious hot spot.

Although Cass would prove to be absolutely correct, Buchanan refused to take any action, since “It was not in the country’s best interest.” However, privately, he was predicting “he would be the last president of a United States” because he thought the country would divide permanently … soon.

On Dec. 13, 1860, Cass resigned in protest. It was the only viable option he had to demonstrate how strongly he disagreed with the administration.

Lewis Cass died in 1866, a year after the bloody civil war he was so determined to prevent ended. He had a long career that stretched across 13 presidencies starting with Thomas Jefferson (as a U.S. marshal), followed by brigadier general, governor (Michigan), secretary of war, and secretary of state.

The Lewis Cass Legacy Society is still active and his name is still recognized in Michigan.

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].

Westward Migration Spurred by ‘Oregon Fever,’ California Gold

Dean Cornwell produced this preliminary illustration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition for New York Life Insurance Co., circa 1954.

By Jim O’Neal

In the 1700s, British fur traders in northern regions between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains came into conflict with Russian traders arriving from the north and the Spanish from the south. Then, Americans began appearing in the early 1800s after the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-06).

By this time, England had negotiated a boundary agreement with Spain, but not with the Russians. The British and Americans collaborated to gain leverage over the Russians by agreeing to joint sovereignty over a large area called Oregon Country. The agreement encompassed what is today Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia and parts of Wyoming, Montana and Alberta that were west of the Continental Divide.

By the 1840s, England and the United States were ready to formally separate their joint interests in Oregon Country, but couldn’t agree on a dividing line. The U.S. demanded it should be 54 parallel-40 degrees, however, this would have deprived GB of Vancouver, their major Pacific port. The dispute escalated into “54-40 or fight” – which became a major theme during the 1844 U.S. presidential election.

After James Knox Polk became president, he rather wisely avoided a war with England by conceding to their demand of 49 degrees. He had his eye on Mexico and decided the United States could only engage in one major skirmish at a time. After the annexation of Texas, war with Mexico seemed inevitable and it arrived right on time, eventually delivering the highly coveted areas of California, New Mexico and Arizona. The concession to England seemed prudent since westward migration had started earlier in 1836. The first migrant wagon train left Independence, Mo., along the Oregon Trail, a 2,170-mile east-west trip that connected the Missouri River to the lush valleys in Oregon.

Then on May 22, 1843, a massive wagon train with 1,000 settlers and more than 1,000 head of cattle set out for Oregon. They followed the Santa Fe Trail for 40 miles and then turned west to the Platte River to Fort Laramie, Wyo., and eventually over the Blue Mountains into Oregon territory. The Great Migration arrived in October, covering 2,000 miles in five months. The next year, four more wagon trains made the journey and in 1845, the number of emigrants exceeded 3,000. “Oregon Fever” seemed to have gripped the nation.

Then in 1848, gold was discovered in California and the flow of people headed there instead of Oregon. The population of California zoomed from 20,000 to 225,000 in four short years. The phrase that summed up America’s assertive development was coined by columnist and editor John O’Sullivan when he wrote, it was “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

Thomas Jefferson thought it would take 1,000 years to fill up the vast emptiness of the west, but of course, he didn’t know about the California gold, the Oregon Trail, and the basic restlessness of future emigrants and the transcontinental railroad. The $15 million he spent on doubling the size of the United States turned out to be one of best real estate deals in history.

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].

Immigrants Have Made Traditionalists Uneasy, But Controversy Will Soon Pass

A Roy Lichtenstein screen-print, I Love Liberty, 1982, sold for $27,500 at an October 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Immigration is back in the news and it’s easy to forget this is not the first time. Out of the enormous industrial growth in the middle of the 19th century came an almost insatiable appetite for unskilled labor. The result was a tremendous wave of immigration, landing 26 million here between 1870 and 1920. They came from all over the world.

However, this was a new kind of immigrant, fashioned for an industrial society, and it made traditionalists uneasy, just as Thomas Jefferson had once been uncertain about the mixing of the American population. Prominent economists voiced concerns about people wholly incompetent as pioneers mixing with independent proprietors and threatening the democratic theories of the founders.

In 1870, over half of Americans toiled on the farm (close to Jefferson’s vision of yeoman farmers) and yet in the first decade of the 20th century, two-thirds of workers were in factories – semi-intelligent work described by Henry Ford as a job “the most stupid man could learn in two days.” The old immigrants of home-seekers had become new immigrants of job-seekers. A nativist movement was inspired to protect America for people of Anglo-Saxon stock.

This was not the first expression of this sentiment. In the 1850s, a secret society in New York City, the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, morphed into the Know-Nothing Party, which inveighed against the arrival of Irish and German Catholics and with them “popish alliances.” Although the Know-Nothings disappeared after 1860, the tendency toward defining Americans according to ethnicity came roaring back after the Civil War.

Today, we hold up the Statue of Liberty as our beacon to the world, but it was originally intended to be a symbolic gift from sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi over admiration for American liberties, not a statement about immigration. It was only after Emma Lazarus’ give-me-your-tired sonnet was added to the statue 17 years later that the image of America as an asylum for the oppressed and poor of the world would emerge.

And even this was followed by the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918, which allowed the government to prosecute pacifists, socialists and left-wing organizations, all of which had sizable immigrant followers. Then the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 imposed strict quotas to preserve America as an Anglo-Saxon nation. For the next 40 years, immigration slowed to a trickle and in the 1930s there were years when more people left America than came to live here.

It is a complicated story, but we have thrived as a nation due to the many, many contributions of immigrants. I predict this controversy too shall pass … as it has every time in the past.

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

Jefferson Stretched Constitution to its Limit

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

By Jim O’Neal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1850s Represented a Challenging Time for America

u-s-senator-jefferson-davis-gold-pocket-watch
U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis presented this gold pocket watch to Franklin Pierce the year Pierce was nominated for president. Pierce was Davis’ favored candidate since Pierce had not openly opposed slavery. This watch sold for $15,535 at a June 2007 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

jefferson-davis-and-franklin-pierceIn 1819, the United States was a divided nation with 11 states that permitted slavery and an equal number that did not. When Missouri applied for admission to join the Union as a slave state, tensions escalated dramatically since this would upset the delicate balance. It would also set a precedent by establishing the principle that Congress could make laws regarding slavery, a right many believed was reserved for the states.

In an effort to preserve harmony, Congress passed a compromise that accepted Missouri as a slave state and Massachusetts would be divided (creating Maine) and admitted as a free state. The passage of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 earned U.S. Senator Henry Clay the nickname of the “Great Pacificator.”

It was the first real crisis over the slavery issue and kicked the can all the way to the 1850s, however, observers like Thomas Jefferson were profoundly upset. He said just the threat of disunion in 1820 caused him to be apprehensive about the future. He foresaw the potential for civil war, saying, “My God, this country is going to have a blow up. When it hits us, it’s going to be like a tornado.”

Those words would prove to be eerily prophetic.

By the 1850s, the disagreement had splintered into a five-way dispute. Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans arguing with the Southern Democrats. The Northern Democrats, led by Stephen A. Douglas, versus the Southern Democrats through Jefferson Davis. There were heated arguments between Frederick Douglass (and the political abolitionists) and William Lloyd Garrison, who favored non-violent moral suasion, and both against the non-political-process abolition that led to John Brown’s violent actions.

The War with Mexico (1846-48) had fueled these contentious debates since there was no consensus on how to treat the vast new territories of California, Utah, New Mexico or even Texas. After years of wrangling, the Compromise of 1850 put a bandage on it and several other lingering issues (e.g., the Fugitive Slave Act, the banning of slave trade in Washington, D.C.). Neither side was satisfied, but the Union remained intact.

However, the tentative peace was fleeting. When the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, with cooperation between U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas and President Franklin Pierce, the inevitability of a civil war was finally a stark reality. The election of Lincoln in 1860 was the final straw and seven Southern states seceded, even before his inauguration, to form a new confederacy.

Formal hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired on the Federal seaport of Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., and would not end for four bloody years. Even Jefferson’s metaphor of a tornado never contemplated the death and destruction that took place.

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]

Let’s Not Forget that America Remains a Unique Place

medal-struck-for-henry-clay
A U.S. Mint medal struck for presentation to Henry Clay in 1852 sold for $346,000 at a September 2016 auction.

 

By Jim O’Neal

The 1800 census reported 5.3 million people living in the United States – more than twice the number in the colonies at the beginning of the American Revolution. There were four cities with populations greater than 10,000 – Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Half of all Americans were under 16 years old.

The men and women who were born between 1776 and 1800 would not have had any contact with the colonial era. They would have none of the sensibilities of having been subjects of the King of England. They were the inheritors of the revolution and took seriously that they had inherited a remarkable revolution. They intended to demonstrate to a world of monarchs what democracy, what a democratic society could truly be.

Thomas Jefferson’s influence was the most pervasive in this generation and was constantly the subject of discussion. The statesman Henry Clay loomed as a hero as did DeWitt Clinton, because of his leadership in building the Erie Canal. Jefferson was important because he so clearly articulated a different conception of what a republic could be and he had a unique vision of how human beings could participate in their society. He is a point of reference throughout this period.

Once the Revolutionary War was won, there was an outpouring of people into the western parts of New York, Virginia, Georgia and Pennsylvania. By 1820-1830, people primarily farmed since 85 percent lived in rural areas.

Then came the shift to commerce, manufacturing and the professions – medical, teaching, preaching, legal. This required an infrastructure of teachers as literacy spread almost everywhere. Railroads, canals, steamboats and roads were all enablers of this new society, allowing it to flourish and grow.

The military was small, other than the swelling for the War of 1812, but troops quickly demobilized from 70,000 back down to 14,000. West Point was teaching civil engineering, with military people participating in economic life via the railroads and canals. Each veteran received 160 acres of land and they pushed further west.

In the North, almost everyone was educated, including free blacks. In the South, fewer were educated, but there were lots of academics for planters’ children. When the British writers Frances Trollope and Charles Dickens toured America, they found a society that was intoxicatingly free and saw things they loved: the outpouring of human energy, voluntary association at will, the zeal of forming a society to determine America’s character.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin when asked what the founders had created: “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

The first generation of Americans did a pretty fair job and we are still reaping the benefits of their efforts. I hope this generation does as well in keeping the flame of liberty burning brightly. America is still a unique place on Earth.

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].