A friend let me know that I was writing too much about educational history and asked me to write about some interesting information on the early United States. I defined early as being from 1762 with James Otis first stating that the colonies did not belong to Britain, to 1865, when Lincoln died. So here are some of what I believe are interesting stories.
Benedict Arnold was a great patriot. Not the Benedict Arnold who became the world’s greatest traitor, but the man who was sent by the Colonies with an army to take over Canada and turn it into our 14th. colony. In October of 1775, Congress began organizing a Navy; on the tenth of November in 1775, Congress formed the Marine Corps, who are known as the “President’s Own;” and, since good things happen in three’s, in December of the same year we sent a fleet of converted merchantmen to Nassau in the Bahamas.
In an aside, it was on St.Patrick’s Day in 1776, General William Howe decided it was time to leave Boston and did so on that day. Benedict Arnold attacked parts of Canada, but found little support for the Americans due to the Quebec Act of 1774, which tolerated the French in Quebec. The French, whose inclusion was part of the design of the colonies, refused to fight the British, but did fight the Americans.
Later, General Burgoyne delayed at Fort Edward, which allowed General Horatio Gates and General Benedict Arnold to spread their men out in the area, and the battle of Freeman’s Farm was fought. Burgoyne retreated to Saratoga, and the Germans and Indians (Native Americans), deserted Burgoyne. On the seventeenth of October in 1777, Burgoyne surrendered his entire army to Gates and Arnold. Arnold was a war hero.l
As most of us know, Arnold would not die with that distinction. In 1780, Arnold, on September 25, 1780 became a traitor, even threatening to deliver George Washington and West Point to the British. He died a traitor, his escape shielded by a very convincing act by his wife, the former Peggy Shippen, a beauty from Pennsylvania. She feigned, it is believed, a mental breakdown in front of Washington to keep him from following and arresting Arnold. It was a convincing show. Later, Arnold, as a general in the British Army, fought the Americans in Virginia, trying to catch the wiley Thomas Jefferson, the War Governor of Virginia who basically was most successful at staying out of the war.
Many years later, Thomas Jefferson would run for President against John Adams. Adams was the second President of the United States of America. Jefferson was tied in the Electoral College with Aaron Burr, a gentleman who I will illuminate in this story.
Aaron Burr, who would be best known as the second Vice President, and the only one we know of who shot and killed a man in a duel. He and Jefferson were tied in the House of Representatives for the Presidency, at 36 votes each. Six of the thirteen states were represented by the Federalist Party. The Federalists kept Burr from winning, especially when Alexander Hamilton asked them to throw their vote to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and Hamilton distrusted each other, but they trusted Burr even less. By throwing their votes to Jefferson, they were committing Alexander Hamilton to his death at the hands of Aaron Burr. The two men dueled, I believe, in New Jersey one of a few states that allowed duels. Burr, had experienced a lessening of influence in his dealings with Jefferson, who dropped him from the second election ticket, because the Constitution had changed to allow the party’s leading candidate to pick his Vice President.
Hamilton had little to gain by accepting a duel. He had a large family and was waiting for the nation to run into a morass. “When the signal “present” was given, Burr took careful aim and fired into Hamilton’s chest. Hamilton fired into a tree separating a leaf from a branch. Hamilton died in intense agony thirty hours later.” (Growth of the American Republic; Samuel Eliot Morrison)
Burr ran to Washington and was received by President Thomas Jefferson who sent him to New Orleans. There Burr tried to take over land and start a new country out of land from the Louisiana Purchase. Awhile later, Burr convinced a small time farmer to join his cause. When the man was arrested he stated at his trial that he never wanted to hear of the United States of America again. The judge was obliging. He sentenced the man to never hearing the term for the rest of his life. The judge sentenced him to serve out his sentence on an American warship, which would not be allowed to fly the American flag, copy a map of the country, or talk about the USA in earshot of the man.
The story of the man became a play and book called “The Man Without a Country.” When the man died many years later, they found a homemade copy of what the man believed was the American flag. It was close but not totally precise. The man also had a diary of what he thought was news of the American nation. He never abandoned his country. He was just kept from it.
Burr died later.
So that is the story of Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr. Thomas Jefferson played a major part. I do not really care for Thomas Jefferson, and believe his ablest invention was ice cream. He taught his slaves how to make it, and it was served at Monticello. Jefferson was abandoned somewhat by history.
When the Administration of Jefferson sympathizer Franklin Delano Roosevelt, sent National Park Rangers to Monticello, only to find it falling in on itself. It could not support the weight of the ceilings.
Roosevelt rescued Thomas Jefferson from the cobwebs of history. Roosevelt constructed the Jefferson Monument. By doing so, he was successful in his efforts to save the reputation of the third President.
Another man I greatly enjoy is John Randolph of Virginia. He hated Senator Henry Clay so much that he had himself buried at a tilt, his grave facing Clay’s Kentucky. He wanted, he told his favorites, to “keep an eye on Henry Clay.”
He also was the author of what I consider to be the best put-down of history. He said, of Henry Clay, “Like a mackeral by moonlight he shines yet stinks.” I have seen mackeral by moonlight and they shine a bright silver color. They also stink heavily. I believe this to be the best derogatory comment ever leveled at a political opponent.
Lincoln was President when it was the duty of the state House of Representatives to elect the US Senator. That is one of the reasons that he lost to Stephen Douglas. In his entire lifetime, Lincoln won three elections. One was to the U.S. Congress in 1846, one was to the Republican Party’s nomination as their President-elect in 1860, and one was to the National Union Party’s nomination as President in 1864. Contrary to public belief, Lincoln was not a Republican at his death. He was a National Unionist.
Lincoln is said to have invited his wife, Mary, to a meeting of the Cabinet in 1865, approximately two weeks before his death. During the meeting he told at least two of the Cabinet members of a dream he had, and which is, to the best of my knowledge, in the Minutes of a Cabinet Meeting. In the dream he could hear muffled sobs of people. In the dream, he made his way to the East Room of the White House. There he saw a soldier standing at attention. “Why are they crying,” he asked. ‘Because someone killed the President,’ was the reply. Lincoln looked in the coffin and saw himself. When he related the dream to the entourage, his wife shrieked. “It was just a dream, Mary” he said. Then he changed the subject.
I just finished the definitive book on Abraham Lincoln by Carl Sandburg. It was the most difficult biography I have ever read. I recommend that you read it if you want to learn, almost literally, everything about Abraham Lincoln. It is worth the read. It is subtitled “The Prairie Years and the War Years.” It covers his entire life. I recommend it highly.