Notorious traitors? Let’s look at Benedict Arnold

A May 24, 1776, letter by Benedict Arnold, signed, to Gen. William Thompson, realized $23,750 at an April 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Vidkun Quisling is an obscure name from World War II. To those unfamiliar with some of the lesser-known details, “Quisling” has become a synonym for a traitor or collaborator. From 1942 to 1945, he was Prime Minister of Norway, heading a pro-Nazi puppet government after Germany invaded. For his role, Quisling was put on trial for high treason and executed by firing squad on Oct. 24, 1945.

Obviously better known are Judas Iscariot of Last Supper fame (30 pieces of silver); Guy Fawkes, who tried to assassinate King James I by blowing up Parliament (the Gunpowder Plot); and Marcus Junius Brutus, who stabbed Julius Caesar (“Et tu, Brute?”). In American history, it’s a close call between John Wilkes Booth and Benedict Arnold.

Arnold

The irony concerning Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) is that his early wartime exploits had made him a legendary figure, but Arnold never forgot the sleight he received in February 1777 when Congress bypassed him while naming five new major generals … all of them junior to him. Afterward, George Washington pledged to help Arnold “with opportunities to regain the esteem of your country,” a promise he would live to regret.

Unknown to Washington, Arnold had already agreed to sell secret maps and plans of West Point to the British via British Maj. John André. There have always been honest debates over Arnold’s real motives for this treacherous act, but it seems clear that purely personal gain was the primary objective. Heavily in debt, Arnold had brokered a deal that included having the British pay him 6,000 pound sterling and award him a British Army commission for his treason. There is also little doubt that his wife Peggy was a full accomplice, despite a dramatic performance pretending to have lost her mind rather than her loyalty.

The history of West Point can be traced back to when it was occupied by the Continental Army after the Second Continental Congress (1775-1781) was designated to manage the Colonial war effort. West Point – first known as Fort Arnold and renamed Fort Clinton – was strategically located on high ground overlooking the Hudson River, with panoramic views extending all the way to New York City, ideal for military purposes. Later, in 1801, President Jefferson ordered plans to establish the U.S. Marine Corps there, and West Point has since churned out many distinguished military leaders … first for the Mexican-American War and then for the Civil War, including both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. It is the oldest continuously operating Army post in U.S. history.

To understand this period in American history, it helps to start at the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), which was really a global conflict that included every major European power and spanned five continents. Many historians consider it “World War Zero,” and on the same scale as the two 20th century wars. In North America, the skirmishes started two years earlier in the French and Indian War, with Great Britain an active participant.

The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the conflict, with the British winning a stunning series of battles, France surrendering its Canadian holdings, and the Spanish ceding its Florida territories in exchange for Cuba. Consequently, the British Empire emerged as the most powerful political force in the world. The only issue was that these conflicts had nearly doubled England’s debt from 75 million to 130 million sterling.

A young King George III and his Parliament quietly noted that the Colonies were nearly debt free and decided it was time for them to pay for the 8,000-10,000 Redcoat peacetime militia stationed in North America. In April 1864, they passed legislation via the Currency Act and the Sugar Act. This limited inflationary Colonial currency and cut the trade duty on foreign molasses. In 1765, they struck again. Twice. The Quartering Act forced the Colonists to pay for billeting the king’s troops. Then the infamous Stamp Act placed direct taxes on Americans for the first time.

This was one step too far and inevitably led to the Revolutionary War, with armed conflict that involved hot-blooded, tempestuous individuals like Benedict Arnold. A brilliant military leader of uncommon bravery, Arnold poured his life into the Revolutionary cause, sacrificing his family life, health and financial well-being for a conflict that left him physically crippled. Sullied with false accusations, he became profoundly alienated from the American cause for liberty. His bitterness unknown to Washington, on Aug. 3, 1780, the future first president announced Arnold would take command of the garrison at West Point.

The appointed commander calculated that turning West Point over to the British, perhaps along with Washington as well, would end the war in a single stroke by giving the British control over the Hudson River. The conspiracy failed when André was captured with incriminating documents. Arnold fled to a British warship and they refused to trade him for André, who was hanged as a spy after pleading to be shot by a firing squad. Arnold went on to lead British troops in Virginia, survived the war, and eventually settled in London. He quickly became the most vilified figure in American history and remains the symbol of treason yet today.

Gen. Nathanael Greene, often called Washington’s most gifted and dependable officer, summed it up after the war most succinctly: “Since the fall of Lucifer, nothing has equaled the fall of Arnold.”

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].

Telegram Pushed War-Weary America into World War I

A British recruiting poster issued in the wake of the sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915 was offered in a December 2016 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

World War I officially began in Europe on July 28, 1914, but the strong isolationist sentiment in the United States prevented our involvement for nearly three years. The U.S. economy was booming and the tragic events in Europe were broadly viewed as a “foreign affair,” 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean and something to be avoided. Further, it had only been 51 years since our Civil War had ended, with General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. The United States had not fully recovered from a military readiness standpoint and another war would be hard to sustain. The rebuilding of the South simply added to the problem.

Then there were the American bankers, who would make massive loans to Great Britain and France that would produce a nice, steady stream of profits. They were more than content to stay on the sidelines as long as their capital seemed secure. Show me a war and I will bet there are always groups profiting from making the bullets and bombs that create jobs. Other industries like steel or food production generally end up on the positive side of the export equation. Twenty-five years later, gearing up for World War II would help the country break the grip of the Great Depression. (Our military budget is currently over $700 billion … and growing.)

Another important factor were the immigrants in the United States, whose support was dependent on their country of origin. Most had left behind family and friends who would end up in harm’s way if America escalated the war. Naturally, there were also the permanent peaceniks like the Quakers and other religious groups who were simply pacifists by virtue of their beliefs. Two million socialists could be lumped into this group, as well as numerous women’s organizations.

The 8 million German-Americans had little loyalty to Germany, and were surprisingly neutral in addition to being strongly against any war, especially if it involved Germany. Their primary concern if the United States entered the war revolved around the reprisals against them as questions about their allegiance to America were already at a simmering level. This apprehension had been growing since the sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania and German U-boats sank six American merchant ships, including the Housatonic – all without any warning.

On Nov. 7, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected on an anti-war platform and a campaign slogan of “He kept us out of war” (note the past tense). He had defeated Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes Sr. by dominating the Southern vote and in the run-up to the election knew it would be a competitive battle. With a war raging in Europe, Wilson was concerned that if he lost, he would be a lame-duck president for four long months. He devised a clever plan that involved making Hughes the Secretary of State and then he and Vice President Thomas R. Marshall would immediately resign and Hughes would become president, as the rules of succession applied at that time.

Wilson was the first sitting Democratic president to win re-election since Andrew Jackson in 1832. Six months later, we would be in World War I due to a quirk of fate or a German blunder: the Zimmermann Telegram.

In January 1917, a coded message was sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann to Germany’s Ambassador to Mexico that was to be relayed to Mexican President Venustiano Carranza. “We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor to keep the United States neutral … If not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal on the following basis; make war together, make peace together, generous financial support … Mexico is to re-conquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The settlement detail is left to you.”

On Feb. 1, 1917, Germany began unrestricted U-boat warfare in the Atlantic. U.S. ships came under attack and the USA broke off diplomatic relations with Germany.

March 1, President Wilson authorized the State Department publication of the Zimmermann Telegram in the press and, as intended, it inflamed American public opinion against Germany.

April 2: Wilson addressed a special session of Congress to declare war.

April 4: Senate approved 82-6 (the House concurred 373-50).

April 6: Wilson signed a formal declaration of war on Germany.

And so war came again to America despite the reluctance of many people.

BTW: On April 14, after the formal declaration of war, President Carranza formally declined the German proposal. It is interesting to speculate on the outcome if the decision had been in the affirmative. I suspect we might have ended up with a few more stars on the flag.

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

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

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

By Jim O’Neal

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

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

Could it be worse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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].

Clear Objectives, an Overwhelming Force, Exit Strategy Crucial to Any War

Korean War stories were popular in comic books published in the early 1950s, like this Two-Fisted Tales from EC Comics.

By Jim O’Neal

When I started studying the history of war in early 1962, I was surprised that so many wise military men all warned about the danger of a land war in Asia. Words like “bogged down,” “embroiled” and “mired” were liberally sprinkled around in the hope of shaping foreign policy. I knew President Eisenhower had quickly ended the “police action” in Korea that President Truman had left unfinished. As an experienced military strategist, Eisenhower knew that fighting on the Korean Peninsula could easily expand into a direct confrontation with China. He had been determined to avoid restarting the global conflict he had helped end.

The 1950s were a good time for America as we helped rebuild the world.

Then the seeds of war in Vietnam started slowly showing up on the evening news. The implications were blurred by events in San Francisco. Hippies, flower children, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll were far more entertaining. President Johnson started complaining about “JFK’s war” while he and Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara were quietly acceding to military requests for more troops and guns.

Eventually, draft protests grew more violent, followed by riots in major cities and MLK and Bobby Kennedy being assassinated. By 1968, the United States had 550,000 troops in Vietnam, having steadily grown from a few hundred “military advisers.” It would take another seven years and a different president to extricate the nation from an incremental war that had caused such domestic turmoil. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., lists 58,318 names (including eight women) as of May 2017 who were “declared dead.”

The wise military officers had been right.

One hundred years earlier, a similar series of events had culminated in a civil war. In the three months following President Lincoln’s election, seven states seceded from the Union. The new president was paranoid that the Confederates would attack Washington after they forced the garrison at Fort Sumter to surrender. He urged his military advisers to preemptively attack rebel forces in Virginia, but the Union army lacked training and was too slow.

Finally, on July 16, 1861, Union General Irvin McDowell led 33,000 slightly trained soldiers toward Manassas, Va. (later better known as Bull Run). Before they arrived, spies tipped off P.G.T. Beauregard, who quickly called for 10,000 reinforcements to bolster his 22,000 troops. Rumors of the pending battle spread quickly and there was a large contingent of politicians and civilians perched on a hillside with blankets and picnic baskets, eager to see a good fight. Among them was a young senator from Ohio, John Sherman, whose brother William Tecumseh would play a key role with General Ulysses S. Grant in ending the war.

However, 10 hours of combat on July 21, 1861, changed the way a nation viewed war. Both Federals and Confederates had come to these fields supremely confident of swift, relatively bloodless victories. Even Abraham Lincoln had attended church that day after being assured of an easy Union victory. Senator Sherman was one of the first to learn otherwise. “Our army is defeated and my brother is dead,” Secretary of War Simon Cameron informed him.

They left behind more than 800 dead and 2,700 wounded. They also left behind any illusions that the war would be won or lost on a single, lazy Sunday afternoon. Confederate officer Samuel Melton wrote, “I have no idea that they intend to give up the fight. On the contrary, five men will rise up where one has been killed, and in my opinion, the war will have to be continued to the bloody end.”

Another wise man who understood war.

Now flash forward to October 1998 when official U.S. foreign policy was changed by a benign-sounding Congressional action to remove the Iraqi government: the Iraq Liberation Act. Then, four years later in October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the “Iraq Resolution,” which authorized the president to “use any means necessary” against Iraq. At 5:34 a.m. Baghdad time on March 20, 2003, the military invasion of Iraq began. Fifteen years later, we are still in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Niger. Some now call this the “long war” and there is no end in sight.

My friend Colin Powell says he did not invent the “Pottery Barn Rule” (if you break it, you own it). But he does believe that any war should have a clear objective, an overwhelming force to achieve it and a clear exit strategy.

He is a wise man.

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].

General Lee’s Decision Avoided the ‘Vietnamization of America’

Robert E. Lee declined President Lincoln’s offer to head up the Union Army since it would require him to bear arms against his home state of Virginia.

By Jim O’Neal

In late 1955, the Tappan Zee Bridge – spanning the Hudson River in New York – was opened with seven lanes for motor traffic. Two months ago, it was closed and is systematically being demolished. The deteriorating bridge, known in the governor’s office as the “hold-your-breath bridge,” was featured in the documentary The Crumbling of America, the story of the infrastructure crisis in the United States.

Also in this same category is the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which connects the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery and is metaphorically described as what rejoined the North and South after the Civil War. First proposed in 1886 as a memorial to General Ulysses S. Grant, it was blocked in Congress until President Warren G. Harding got snarled in a three-hour traffic jam in 1921 en route to the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Congress quickly approved his request for $25,000 to build the bridge and it finally opened in January 1932.

Nearby is Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial. This was the home for the Lee family for 30 years and where R.E.L. made the fateful decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army on April 21, 1861, and join the Confederate States. He had declined President Abraham Lincoln’s offer to head up the Union Army since it would require him to bear arms against his home state of Virginia.

In June 1862, Congress enacted a property tax on all “insurrectionary” land and added an amendment in 1863 requiring the tax to be paid in person. Ill and behind Confederate lines, Mary Lee was unable to comply and the Lees never slept there again. The property was auctioned off on Jan. 11, 1864, and the high bidder ($26,800) was the U.S. government.

Secretary of War William Stanton approved the conversion of the Lee estate to a military cemetery in 1864. On May 13, a Confederate POW was buried there (renamed Arlington National Cemetery) and more than 400,000 have joined him, including President Taft, President JFK and my dear friend Roger Enrico.

For 15 years, I passed a statue of Robert E. Lee driving to my Dallas office. It invariably invoked memories of the wisdom of this soldier who surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox in April 1865. Most of his top aides tried to dissuade Lee from surrendering, arguing they could disband into the familiar countryside and hold out indefinitely in a stalemate. Eventually, Northern soldiers would simply return to their homes and then the South could regroup.

Thus did Robert E. Lee, so revered for his leadership in war, make his most historic contribution – to peace! By this one momentous decision, he spared the country the divisive guerilla war that would have followed … a vile and poisonous conflict that would have fractured the country perhaps permanently. Or as newspaper columnist Tom Wicker deftly put it, “The Vietnamization of America.”

Alas, Dallas city leaders recently removed the Lee statue and I sincerely hope they find some relief from the anguish they have suffered from this piece of marble sequestered so long. However, I suspect they will just move on to some other injustice. It reminds me of feeding jellybeans to pacify a ravenous bear. When you (inevitably) run out of jellybeans, he eats you.

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].

Chester Arthur Surprised His Critics, Overcame Negative Reputation

This ribbon with an engraved portrait of Chester Alan Arthur, issued as a souvenir for an Oct. 11, 1882, “Dinner to The President of the United States by The City of Boston,” sold for $437 at a November 2014 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Chester Alan Arthur to the lucrative post of Collector of the Port of New York in 1871. Arthur held the job for seven years, and with an annual gross income of $50,000, was able to accumulate a modest fortune. He was responsible for the collection of about 75 percent of the entire nation’s duties from ships that landed in his jurisdiction, which included the entire coast of New York state, the Hudson River and ports in New Jersey.

In 1872, he raised significant contributions from Custom House employees to support Grant’s successful re-election for a second term. The spoils system was working as designed, despite occasional charges of corruption.

Five years later, the Jay Commission was created to formally investigate corruption in the New York Custom House and (future president) Chester Arthur was the primary witness. The commissioner recommended a thorough housecleaning and President Rutherford B. Hayes fired Arthur and then offered him an appointment as consul general in Paris. Arthur refused and went back to New York law and politics.

At the 1880 Republican National Convention, eventual nominee James Garfield first offered the VP slot to wealthy New York Congressman Levi Morton (later vice president for Benjamin Harrison), who refused. Garfield then turned to Chester Arthur, who, when he accepted, declared, “The office of the vice president is a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining.” It would be the only election he would ever win, but it was enough to foist him into the presidency.

The Garfield-Arthur ticket prevailed and after being sworn in on March 4, 1881, the 49-year-old Garfield’s first act was to turn and kiss his aged mother. It was the first time a president’s mother had ever been present at an inauguration. She would outlive her son by almost seven years. President James Polk (1845-1849) also died three years before his mother, the first time that had happened.

On the morning of July 2, President Garfield was entering the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C., where he was to board a train to attend the 25th reunion of his class at Williams College. A mentally disturbed office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, shot him twice. He died 80 days later and for the fourth time in history, a man clearly only meant to be vice president ascended to the presidency.”

“CHET ARTHUR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! GOOD GOD!”

Although President Arthur’s greatest achievement may have been the complete renovation of the White House, he surprised even some of his harshest critics. Mark Twain may have summed it up best: “I am but one in 55 million, still in the opinion of this one-fifty-five millionth of the country’s population, it would be hard to better President Arthur’s administration.”

Faint praise, yet probably accurate. (First, do no harm.)

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].

For Anthony and Women’s Rights, Failure was Impossible

An 1873 letter by Susan B. Anthony, written one month after her trial for voting illegally, realized $9,375 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Nov. 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony wrote to Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “Well, I have been & gone & done it!! – positively voted the Republican ticket – strait [sic] – this a.m. at 7 o’clock.”

Anthony had cast her ballot at a barbershop in Rochester, N.Y. She was one of 6,431,149 citizens who voted in the election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley, an election Grant won decisively by more than 760,000 votes. Three weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, Anthony and a handful of other women who voted with her were arrested and indicted for having “knowingly voted without having a lawful right to vote.”

The verdict at her trial was a forgone conclusion. The judge refused to let her take the witness stand and then instructed the all-male jury to find her guilty without any deliberation. Anthony succeeded in being heard, however, when the judge asked if she “had anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?” She quickly replied,

“Yes, your honor, I have many things to say, for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject … doomed to political subjection.”

Susan B. Anthony

She then refused to pay the $100 fine the judge ordered, but he refused to imprison her, thereby preventing her from appealing to a higher court. Undeterred, Anthony took her case to the public and had thousands of copies of the trial proceedings printed and widely distributed.

Susan B. Anthony would find other ways to relentlessly press the cause of women’s suffrage. Brought up as a Quaker and active as an early supporter of temperance, she soon realized that until women could vote, politicians would not pay any attention to them. For more than 50 years, she urged lawmakers to enfranchise the other half of America’s citizens. She attended her first women’s rights convention in Syracuse, in 1852, and with Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866. The two women published a feisty newspaper, The Revolution, whose masthead proclaimed “Men their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”

She appeared before every U.S. Congress between 1869 and 1906 to ask them to pass a Suffrage amendment. She was prepared as any modern-day lobbyist – her copy of the seating chart for all members of Congress has survived. Her speech to a Senate Committee in 1904 reflected her frustration: “I never come here, and this is the seventeenth Congress I have attended, but with the feeling of injustice which ought not to be borne, because the women, one-half the people, are not able to get a hearing from the Representatives and Senators of the United States.”

Her combative tone did not mellow with age. When President Theodore Roosevelt sent congratulations in 1906 for her 86th birthday celebration, her response was indignant: “I wish the men would do something besides extend congratulations … I would rather have him say a word to Congress for the cause than to praise me endlessly.”

She ended that evening’s gathering, her final public appearance, with a ringing prophecy: “There have been others also just as true and devoted to the cause … but with such women consecrating their lives, failure is impossible!”

Less than a month later, on March 13, 1906, she died at her home in Rochester, N.Y. The rights for which she had worked so tirelessly were finally won when the Nineteenth Amendment, the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment,” passed on June 4, 1919, as women stood on the steps of the Capitol to cheer. The vote was close, only one more than the required two-thirds. To enable the passage, two Congressmen had come from hospitals to vote aye; a third left his suffragist wife’s deathbed to cast a vote, then returned for her funeral. When the State of Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify, the amendment was officially adopted on Aug. 18, 1920 – nearly half a century after Susan B. Anthony had illegally voted for Ulysses S. Grant.

A life. A cause. Finally accomplished.

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 Helped Establish America’s First National Park

Thomas Moran’s watercolor, pencil and gouache on paper titled From the Top of Great Fall, Yellowstone, 1871, sold for $51,500 in November 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

In March 1872, a tract of land beneath the headwaters of the Yellowstone River became a national park when the U.S. Congress passed an act to authorize it and President Ulysses S. Grant approved it.

A great deal of the credit belongs to two 19th-century artists: Thomas Moran (amazing color sketches and paintings) and William Henry Jackson (brilliant photographs). They provided the real impetus to convince Congress to set aside 2.2 million acres of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho wilderness as the first national park in the United States (and probably the world).

Because Congress had a chance to see Moran’s and Jackson’s breathtaking pictures, America got Yellowstone National Park.

Before the artists’ work became widely known, little reliable proof was available to support the fanciful reports that had been trickling back East. They had started shortly after the famous Lewis and Clark journey had ended in 1806 after an epic three-year discovery which did NOT include any of the Yellowstone area.

However, there were numerous eyewitness reports from trappers and mountain men who described a strange landscape filled with boiling springs, towering geysers and foul-spelling vapors. One prominent fur trader, Warren Angus Ferris, wrote: “The largest of these wonderful fountains projects water several feet in diameter to the height of more than 150 feet.” But without images to support these claims, they were generally considered exaggerated and only partially credible.

As an aside, there was also a plain within Yellowstone called Two-Ocean Plateau, from which creeks trickled into streams that eventually passed to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The result was that Yellowstone’s melting snow peaks watered great swaths of American land. Yet none of those passing on the Oregon Trail came close enough to see it. Neither did the hardy Mormon pioneers who were heading for the valley where they would build Salt Lake City.

Even those heading for the Montana gold fields turned away at the sight of the seemingly impenetrable-looking mountains. All of them balked at the high passes that were still choked with snow in late June. So all the contemporary maps marked Yellowstone as “unexplored” and “terra incognita” or did not bother to mention it at all.

In 1860, it was probably the final important place in all of America to be so little-known.

However, by 1870, the Montana Territory was becoming populated as gold and silver were discovered. Towns were built and unknown corners of the territory were being explored. One group even headed up the Yellowstone River and what they discovered over the next six weeks was almost beyond belief. One member, Nathaniel Langford, wrote two essays for Scribner’s Magazine. They told of truly amazing things: hundred-foot geysers, enormous waterfalls, bubbling hot springs, wild-flowered meadows and towering snowcapped volcanoes.

It was the formal crowning for Yellowstone and was followed by the Ferdinand Hayden expedition, which took along Thomas Moran, the very artist who had drawn the magnificently imagined Scribner’s pictures. What he drew and painted that year and what Hayden found on his expedition put in motion a series of activities that would have lasting consequences for America’s perception of the glories of her countryside.

The 2.2 million acres exceeded the size of both Rhode Island and Delaware, and almost 5 million visitors now visit annually to see one of our country’s true national treasures.

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].

Grant was Popular, But Unable to Deal with Political Complexities

ulysses-s-grant-magnificent-silk-1868-campaign-flag-banner
A Ulysses S. Grant 1868 silk campaign flag banner sold for $14,340 at a May 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

As the departing carriages occupied by Andrew Johnson and his party passed out of the White House gate, the roar of voices heralded the approach of the incoming president’s inaugural parade.

It traversed 15th Street and turned west on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the vanguard of soldiers came into view. Ulysses S. Grant and several others rode in the first carriage, an open barouche. At 1 p.m., the procession stopped and Grant’s carriage rolled through the gates leaving everyone else in the street.

At 46, the idol of the nation assumed the position of commander-in-chief in 1869. There are few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice, Grant observed philosophically in his memoirs. A mere 10 years earlier, he had been an obscure citizen of Galena, Ill., an Army veteran retired early and a businessman struggling to support a young family. He had been considered a failure, but the Civil War had dramatically bettered his life.

Grant had a simple and uncomplicated view of himself as the administrative officer of the nation, drawing a strong analogy between his role as president and his former one as commanding general of the U.S. Army. He believed that the people’s will was expressed through Congress and that the job of president was to manage the machinery of government and obey Congress. His acknowledgment of the superior authority of the legislative branch was appreciated by a people exhausted by the long duel between Andrew Johnson and Congress.

Grant would call the White House home for eight years, the longest time he had lived anywhere. He would be the first two-term president since Andrew Jackson (10 different men had held the job after “Old Hickory” departed). Where those before him sought to achieve their objectives through their conduct as president, Grant’s motivation was neither intellectual nor imaginative, with only a touch of originality. He simply used his prestige to bring stability to the nation by representing the popular image of the “good life” in an era that would be called the Gilded Age.

However, his military background was not enough to equip him for the complexities of governing a large and swiftly growing nation, and historians have largely judged him a failure as president. The common-sense approach that worked so well on the battlefield proved naïve in a world of shrewd politicians and intrigue that permitted shady self-dealing and the aura of corruption.

One thing is certain. He was one hell of a general and knew exactly how to win wars, irrespective of the carnage and loss of life involved. He certainly deserves a lot of credit for ensuring Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.

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].