It Was a Rough Road, but After His Presidency, Grant Found His Way

This oil on canvas portrait of Ulysses S. Grant by Freeman Woodcock Thorp (1844-1922) sold for $10,456.25 at a June 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After President Ulysses S. Grant left office in 1877, he went on a world tour that lasted two years. Some of the highlights included dinner with Queen Victoria, and meetings with Pope Leo XIII and German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in Europe.

After a trip to India, Grant and family turned to Asia and visited Burma, Siam (Thailand) and Cochinchina (Vietnam). On mainland China, they visited several cities and he ended up brokering an agreement between China and Japan regarding the Ryukyu Islands (sound familiar?).

Eventually, they returned to America and Grant was broke and badly in need of income. He tried several things, including a railroad in Mexico. Nothing was remotely successful and he was desperate.

The biggest disappointment was yet to come and it involved a brokerage house at 2 Wall Street that Ulysses Jr. started with a close and trusted friend. At first there were years with double- and triple-digit returns and Grant was feeling more secure. Then the firm had a cash crunch and Grant borrowed $150,000 from businessman William Vanderbilt. However, it was discovered to be a Ponzi scheme, which left Grant destitute and in debt … unable to repay the loan.

He then agreed to write an article for a magazine on the Battle of Shiloh (where he led Union forces to victory) for $500. Not only was it well received, but Grant truly enjoyed the writing and it lifted his spirits to recall his earlier days. After several more articles, including accounts of Vicksburg and the Battle of the Wilderness, it led to negotiations over a book.

Enter good friend Mark Twain.

Twain convinced Grant that he would give him 75 percent of the royalties in return for the publishing rights. Then Grant discovered he had throat cancer (remember all those cigars?) and it became a race between death and finishing the book. The book won (barely) and the royalties provided the Grant family with enough money to be comfortable after his death. Estimates range from $400,000 and expectations were exceeded.

The combination of ex-President Grant, his memoirs, a surprisingly literary ability and the experience of Mark Twain produced a happy ending to a remarkable period of American history.

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

Today’s Political Schisms Would Not Surprise George Washington

A painting by Jeremiah Paul Jr. (d. 1820) depicting George Washington taking leave of his family as he assumes command of U.S. forces during the “quasi-war” with France in 1798, realized $47,500 at a May 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

George Washington was a staunch opponent of political parties due to the corrosive effect he (strongly) believed they would have on all levels of government.

As president, Washington worked hard to maintain a non-partisan political agenda, despite significant differences that existed right in his cabinet.

His 1796 farewell address was replete with advice to the country, and by extension, to future leaders. One prominent warning was to avoid the formation of political factions that would pose a danger to the effectiveness of government (think gridlock in Washington, D.C.). A second peril was entanglements with foreign governments, since they inevitably lead to war. The examples here start with the War of 1812, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and end with the Russian threats to NATO, the China Sea and the remarkably complex situation in the Middle East and North Korea.

After Washington’s retirement, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton ignored his sage advice and wasted little time confronting the Democratic-Republicans, headed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Adams became the first (and last) Federalist president. He was easily defeated in 1800, after one term, by Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Adams finished a dismal third and the Federalists gradually faded into irrelevance.

The Democratic-Republicans put together a nice run of three Virginia presidents – Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe – however, the party lacked a strong center and split four ways. Next was an alliance between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay of the National Republican Party, which only won a single election in 1824 that required the House to settle. When Andrew Jackson defeated Clay in 1832, the party was absorbed into the Whigs … a diverse group of anti-Jackson politicos.

Then the Whig Party fell apart in the 1850s over the issue of the expansion of slavery in the new territories. In fact, after the 1854 election, the largest party in the House of Representatives was the Opposition Party, with 100 members, followed by 83 Democrats and 51 American Party members (the Know Nothings).

These parties never seem to last long (thankfully).

Next it was the New Republican Party’s turn (the Party of Lincoln) until another major kerfuffle occurred in 1912 when Teddy Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft managed to divide the Republican Party enough to let Democrat Woodrow Wilson win the White House … until he had a stroke and his wife took over.

A century later, we appear to be in another political schism, with a socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders, on the Democrat Party side and on the other, Donald “The Wall” Trump, who claims to have part of the Republican Party supporting him. It is not clear which part.

Only one thing seems certain. Thanks to President Washington, we were warned!

P.S. As history teaches … this too shall pass.

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

Bubbles, Tulips, Dikes, a Dutch Boy and Making Lemonade

This Tiffany Studios lamp featuring a tulip glass shade, circa 1900, realized $35,000 at a June 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1637, a tulip bulb called the “Viceroy” was advertised in a Dutch catalog for 3,000-4,200 guilders, or about 10 times the annual income of a skilled artisan. This was probably the apex of the “tulip mania” period that is generally thought to be the first of the economic bubbles that we’ve seen in the last 400 years.

The U.S. housing bubble peaked in early 2006, declined in 2007 and reached new lows in 2012. The credit crisis that followed was probably the primary cause of the 2008-2009 recession that required capital infusions by the Federal Reserve, followed by multiple quantitative easing actions to increase system liquidity and cheap money.

Tulips were not native to Holland and neither was the little Dutch boy, who saved his town by plugging a hole in a dike with his finger. This story first appeared in Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates, an 1865 novel by Mary Mapes Dodge, an American.

The Dutch had never heard the story until American tourists started asking about which dike was involved. Rather than being amused or annoyed, they simply erected a statue of the little boy near the Spaarndam lock, presumably to increase tourism and boost the economy.

They may not have been prudent about tulip prices, but the statue bears the following inscription: “Dedicated to our youth, who symbolize the perpetual struggle of Holland against the water.”

I’ve also seen the other statue at Madurodam near The Hague, which is a miniature city with a collection of Dutch landmarks.

Moral: If you inherit a lemon, think about opening a lemonade stand.

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].

Germany Represents Vivid Contrast Between Capitalist, Communist Systems

Robert Indiana painted his famous “LOVE” graphic on one side of a chunk of the Berlin Wall, and the word “WALL” on the other. This piece realized $65,725 at an October 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After the end of World War II, the Allies divided Germany into four zones, one each for the British, French, Soviets and Americans. Berlin lay inside the zone belonging to the Soviets and it also was divided into four sectors.

In 1949, the three Western powers merged their zones into a single entity: West Germany. This resulted in Berlin becoming an “island” in the heart of the East German communist state. Everyone in Berlin had an identity card, which allowed them to travel between East and West.

However, at midnight on Aug. 12, 1961, trains that traveled between East and West suddenly stopped. Passengers were forced out and told to walk home. The much bigger issue was that those living in the East were never allowed to travel to the West again (legally).

Then the East-West border was sealed off with armored cars, troop carriers and Soviet tanks. By the next year, concrete poles were erected and strung with barbed wire to further restrict travel. The metaphor of an “Iron Curtain” had become a reality.

By 1960, West Berlin had built 100,000 new apartments, raised luxury hotels, and constructed museums and art galleries. Industrial plants resumed production, creating thousands of new jobs.

In East Berlin, the economy of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was stagnant and food and clothing scarce. Burned-out buildings were a stark reminder of the war. Three and a half million East Germans fled to the West, including 1 million through East Berlin, where there were no barriers (by treaty).

Then the GDR decided to build a wall!

Eventually, there was a concrete slab wall – 13 feet high, 87 miles long – completely encircling West Berlin. There were nine border crossing points, including “Checkpoint Charlie,” where spies were exchanged and East-West met with steely tensions.

In June 1985, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced perestroika (restructuring), expansion of trade, loosening of borders and limited freedom in other eastern bloc countries. Erich Honecker, head of the East German Socialist party, decried the reforms and promised the East Berlin wall would “last 50-100 years.”

In the autumn of 1989, thousands of demonstrators marched the streets of East Berlin, Honecker resigned, and on Nov. 8 the East Germans began allowing unrestricted travel. German Reunification was officially declared on Oct. 3, 1990, but the citizens of Berlin knew the real uniting began on Nov. 9, 1989, when the hated wall was breached forever.

Today, Germany represents the most vivid contrast between the capitalist and communist systems of government.

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].

George Washington and That Unhappy Affair at Trenton

Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

By Jim O’Neal

In the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze that was painted circa 1850. It is one of the most famous pieces of American art and purports to depict the Dec. 25, 1776, event.

It is also infamous for a number of factual errors.

For example, it shows the crossing with a glowing horizon, when it actually happened in the middle of a dark, sleety night. The American flag is also wrong, since the Stars and Stripes did not exist at the time. Even the ice floes are wrong.

Despite these errors – and many more – it is considered memorable because it captures the determination, desperation and dignity of these men as they rowed into the fight of their lives.

The American Revolution started in early 1776 with skirmishing near Boston, followed by full-scale war. The Continental Army was pushed out of New York and into New Jersey and then Pennsylvania.

By December, half of Washington’s army had been killed, wounded or captured, which left 5,000-6,000 (including the injured).

British General William Howe planned to finish the job when the Delaware River froze and he could capture the Capitol and end the war. Instead, Washington started crossing at midnight and at 8 a.m. divided his troops and attacked in Trenton, catching the British by surprise.

Everywhere, groups of Hessians were surrounded by Continental troops with fixed bayonets and they “struck their colors” (surrendered). Of the 1,500, about 900 were captured, 400 escaped and the rest killed or wounded.

Along with the prisoners, Washington captured six artillery pieces, 1,000 muskets and seven wagonloads of powder and ammunition. These supplies were badly needed and helped against counterattacks at Princeton on Jan. 2 and 3.

Though the triumph at Trenton was followed by greater battles, it was pivotal. Later, British Secretary of State Lord George Germain said, “All our hopes were dashed by that unhappy affair at Trenton.”

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].