The Presidents’ Plates

On a historical tour of part of the Wabash and Erie Canal, our group stopped at the preserved home of a prominent citizen. I spent most of the time there looking at the china cabinets. With my little bit of knowledge, I recognized flow blue, ironstone and transferware from the Nineteenth Century. There were many colors and patterns in the collection, and I began thinking of the dishes chosen by first families.

President Grant’s table service.

If you were fortunate enough to be a guest for dinner at the White House sometime in the past 200 years, you would have been eating from some pretty special plates. At first, the china used for visitors was a mixture of English and Chinese imports. Then, during President James Monroe’s administration, the first official presidential dinner service was ordered.

Caroline Harrison preferred Limoges.

In 1889 First Lady Caroline Harrison, who was a history buff, had the ambition to save for posterity the presidential china that’d been used. A few years later when William McKliney was president, a writer named Abby Baker researched it in great detail. She became involved in acquiring and preserving the place settings until her death in 1923.

Wedgewood was Edith Roosevelts’ choice, after an Ohio manufacturer hesitated at the size of the order.

Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt ordered two cabinets made for china which had come back through auctions and donations. These were seen by White House visitors at the east end of the mansion. What was to be done with damaged pieces, though? There were plenty of those, which Mrs. R directed to be broken and scattered in the Potomac River. Mrs. Wilson oversaw the completion of the current China Room in 1917.

The Eisenhower’s service plates complemented previous designs.

During the Eisenhower era, new cabinets were made; Mamie’s service plates were rimmed with a wide gold band that could be used with any of the previous designs. Jacqueline Kennedy was instrumental in creating Public Law 87-286, which made the dishware “inalienable and property of the White House.”

The China Room in 1975. It was established during the First World War. (

Today newlyweds don’t dwell mucn choosing good china for company. Many of my generation hang on to ours and the memories that gleaming cups, saucers, plates and a few goblets bring back. For Americans, presidential china does the same. We hope that it continues for a long, long time.

Unless otherwise noted the photos are from Information comes from that site and from

Powers of a Church


As a rule I mull over and then go after my blog subjects, but on a chill December Sunday one came right to me.

I turned down the top corner of the morning paper to read a short notice about a Christmas service.  What was unusual was that it would be held at a restored church close to where I grew up; in the details were caroling, cider, cookies, and a warning to dress warmly because the building was not heated.

We were to eat lunch with friends at Pokagon State Park near Angola that day, so the 3 p.m. celebration at Historic Powers Church on Old Road 1 was good, if not perfect, timing.


In the middle of the Midwest (York Township of Steuben County), where corn is grown and stored as it was in centuries past, sits the two-room church. It was constructed in 1876, the centennial of our nation.  The Powers Family had settled there 40 years earlier and donated the land.  Building costs were under $2000.


Non-denominational worship services were held every week at the Powers Church for about 50 years.  Then, for another 20 years, it hosted funerals and other community events.  The family and other interested persons refurbished it in the 1970s: with original pews, wallpaper, stoves and pump organ, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.


As we walked in we heard selections of the Christmas story from Luke 2, and a dulcimer accompanying folks who sang the same carols that had echoed in the same place 140 years before.


I looked out a window at a large boulder on which was mounted a plaque telling the church’s history, beyond which is an old cemetery.

Those who rest there would be glad to know their house of worship is still a place where people come to hear the Christmas Story.  It is also open for Sunday services three weekends during the summer.

Currently there is a campaign to raise $40,000 needed to replace the original steeple.  If you are interested in helping, contact Marcia Powers at

A Nation Divided

A man who would be an American president agonized over a situation which could tear the nation apart.

But it wasn’t Abraham Lincoln, and it didn’t concern slavery.  It wasn’t even a division between north and south.  It was George Washington, worried about the east and the west.  The issue was geography: the wilderness which separated original states from the land beyond the mountains to which its citizens were moving.  Would another country try to take this bountiful land from under our noses?

Washington was concerned that we could lose the area on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains to France or Canada, or both, if a better way across those mountains was not figured out.  According to author Peter L. Bernstein in Wedding of the Waters (2005), pioneers moving west didn’t really have an allegiance to the east; with abundant natural resources, western territories could soon wield power on their own.

Patomack Canal company logo

GW’s solution was simple: build a canal system which would hasten travel between the two areas.  He succeeded in engineering the Patowmack Canal to bypass rapids and waterfalls, and began it in 1785.  The waterway was meant to connect the Potomac River with the mountains, but it went bankrupt after he died.

Image result for Patowmack Canal George Washington

The Great Falls of Virginia.  C&O Canal Trust

Conditions for constructing a canal were somewhat in better in New York than Virginia (even though Thomas Jefferson thought even that would be next to impossible).  The United States bought approximately 1/5 of our current land area from France in 1803 via the Louisiana Purchase.  In 1825, due to Governor DeWitt Clinton’s persistence, creativity, and Irish immigrants’ hard labor, the Erie Canal succeeded in marrying the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.  It was possible to travel east to west and west to east in a fraction of the time it took on horseback, or rivers, whose depth and other natural obstacles prevented a smooth path between settlements.

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The Erie Canal.

Five miles an hour seems like a snail’s pace, but at that rate of speed provided by the Erie Canal and horses which pulled the packet and freight boats, travel time was significantly reduced.  Passengers and goods could go 363 miles in a comparatively short time.  Citizens settled in new cities and frontiers while farmers sold their surplus crops.  And the United States economy boomed.

Then…the railway system came on the scene.  It copied the same route, with trains giving a much faster option for getting from here to there.  Soon the Atlantic Ocean would be linked by tracks not only with the Great Lakes but with the Pacific Ocean; the Erie Canal, even though expanded, fell into disuse.

It was a vital chapter in our history, though.  It needs to be remembered for both its economic contribution, and the thought that it may have saved a “divided” country.

~      ~      ~

The notion that the Erie Canal saved the early union is just one I’ve uncovered studying for my new book.  I’ll be sharing others along the way, and project that I may be ready to publish in another year.  Canals have a loooooooong history, for sure.

I Like Antiques

My grandmother’s stoneware mixing bowl.

My name is Margaret and I like antiques.

I’m not sitting at the monthly meeting of a help group, but if I were there would be a hatstand at the door, and a bowl and pitcher sitting on a sideboard in the center of the room, circled wagon train style by old wooden chairs of different sizes.

In recent years the “simplify” movement has hit us all.  I have downsized (really, kids) some of the things I’ve held on to for many years.  I was able to say “Goodbye” and thank them for the memories.  But there are other things that have a lot of meaning for me, connections to history, both mine and the world’s.  I need them.

For example, a few years ago at my aunt’s sale I was able to buy her grandmother’s, my great-grandmother’s, commode.  My mom said that as a little girl she remembered it in her bedroom.  Crafted of oak, it has carved acorn drawer pulls; I put it in our guest room.  Over it hangs a photo collage of the family farmhouse from which it came.

My great-aunt’s dishes are something else I will keep until it’s time to hand them to one of my daughters.  They are ivory bone china with a golden wheat pattern and rims.  If you haven’t read my book, “Folks on the Home Front,” this is the lady who was a single schoolteacher during World War 1, and who wrote letters to her brother, my grandfather, in the service.  I published many of them alongside his and my grandmother’s.  She was funny, feisty, and beautiful.  She battled rheumatoid arthritis all her life, and as far as I know it never conquered her spirit.  That’s what I see when I look through the glass of the dining room hutch doors at her plates, cups and saucers.

I’ve been able to get a few momentos which remind me of Theodore Roosevelt, whose life is deeply embedded in my love of history.  From eBay I bought a copy of the “Our Young Folks” magazine, which Teedie and his brother and sisters read during their childhood in Victorian America.  To think that a child read this at the same time he was reading his subscription just melts my heart.  And they are really good stories, too.  I wish somehow I could publicize it to kids today.  Hey, that’s a good idea.  I will work on it.

Personal possessions of my dad keep me in touch with him, although he has been gone for 35 years.  I have his push mower that I used to cut our grass with when I was 12.  I’m going to get it fixed up this summer and use it again.  It will be good exercise; I will remember him every minute I’m straining to move it across the yard.  The grass will have to be pretty dry, though.

I love jewelry but don’t wear much of it myself.  My aunt’s collection was immense.  I bought some pieces at her auction which she wore to work in her 55-year career as a secretary on Capitol Hill.  I wonder, which ones were she wearing when she “bumped” into General Eisenhower in an office doorway in the 40’s?  Or when young Jacqueline Bouvier stopped by Senator Jenner’s office with her Graflex camera one time during the McCarthy Hearings?

Old photos fill a large trunk in my house (I actually bought this one at my favorite store, Paper Moon, in Roanoke).  They represent a century and a half of photography.  Every time I look through them I see some in a new way.

I was once in the background of a televised appraisal at the Antiques Road Show (if you’re interested, I can tell you the episode number and digital time).  It was in Cincinnati in 2013, and of course the most valuable thing we brought was a little rocking chair my husband picked up at the last minute, a 75 year-old handmade Appalachian work of art that had belonged to his parents.  They appraised it at $800 to $1000, and we were very pleased to find out its value.

But…you probably already know the bottom line that’s coming…the value of my antiques cannot be put into numbers.  They are connections to the past, reminders of those I love and respect, tangible pieces to touch and look at.  I like them.  A lot.


Killing Archimedes

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Bill O’Reilly and his researchers probably do not have this title on their book plan.  But the death of the great mathematician Archimedes in 212 BC reveals much about human nature and history.

Works of Archimedes, the “Palimpsest,” discovered in 1906.  Wikipedia

Archimedes was a Greek who lived in Syracuse, Sicily, for most of his 75 years.  He was born in 287 BC, schooled in Alexandria by followers of Euclid.

The story most of us have heard is that while taking a bath, Archimedes was hit with the theory of displacement, immediately crying, “Eureka!” and running through town before thinking to put his clothes back on.  If this is true, he had probably been taken forcibly to the tub by people who couldn’t stand his lack of hygiene.  It’s been said that he forgot to eat and take care of himself while working on problems.  He was the world’s first absent-minded professor.

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Plutarch (46-122 AD), who wrote double biographies contrasting Greeks and Romans, said that Archimedes was a relative and friend of King Hiero. who himself lived in comfort and isolation.  They shared a fondness for  “mathematical amusements.”  Archimedes  began writing about parabolas, circles, spheres, cylinders  and floating bodies.  He invented the water screw which dried out mines and would irrigate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Everybody’s favorite: the parabola.  Wikipedia

When the Romans began their two-year siege on the port of Syracuse, Archimedes’ inventions were applied to its defense.  Catapults heaved darts and spears at the enemy.  Compound pulleys swung their galleys ridiculously high out of the water, flinging sailors to the sea below and dashing the boats on the rocks.

Marcellus, the general, had a standing order to capture Archimedes alive.  Who wouldn’t want him on their side?  There are a couple of versions of his death not reported by Plutarch.  One was that a Roman soldier came upon him drawing in the sand, told him to come along with him, and when he failed to receive an answer ran him through with a sword.

Another story was that Archimedes was working on problems at his desk when soldiers entered his house.  Thinking his instruments were weapons (which they could have been), they killed him as he remained silent.

He had planned a cylinder within a sphere for his gravestone, with the ratio of one to the other inscribed on it.

At any rate, ignorance killed Archimedes.   The world will never know what else “the wise one”  might have added to calculus and engineering classes of the future and to the betterment of mankind.  A great mind was silenced by a subservant of the conquering realm.

Sources:,,,,  First time for me to reference the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.  Thanks, guys.

What Happened to the Losers?

In American history, the most notable winners and losers have been presidents and their opponents.  Some elections were landslides; some were so close that a few votes made the difference, and in one the winner who was announced in bold headlines had his fortunes reversed the next morning.

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Thomas E. Dewey was the governor of New York before, during and after his failed 1944 and 1948 bids for the presidency, causing Alice Roosevelt Longworth to quip, “A soufflé doesn’t rise twice.”  The second campaign is the more remembered because the Chicago Tribune ran a story before the polls closed that he had beat Harry Truman.  Eventually Truman got 49.5 percent of the popular vote, and had his picture taken with the infamous front page.

Image result for thomas e dewey

Dewey, who in his younger years couldn’t decide between a career in professional music or politics, served as district attorney and prosecutor for New York.  Known for his efforts to rid the state of organized crime, he was elected to one more term as governor after 1948, and then returned to private law practice.  He was instrumental in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s campaign in 1952 and the choice of Richard M. Nixon as his running mate.  Dewey was offered the nomination of Supreme Court Justice twice, but turned it down.

DeWitt Clinton

Does this man look like he’s got a headache?  DeWitt Clinton had plenty of things on his mind during his lifetime.  His first job was working for his Uncle George, New York’s longtime governor and twice the vice president of the United States.

The younger Clinton worked his way up through the New York State Assembly, the New York State Senate and the United States Senate.  He ran for president in 1812 but James Madison had the edge.  The loss did not deter DeWitt Clinton from working to get the Erie Canal built in upstate New York, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.  He eventually accomplished his goal while serving as governor.  Had he been elected president in 1812, would the canal have been built so soon?  Our railway systems and subsequent economic progress depended on the trail blazed by the Erie Canal.

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Not many Americans live to their hundredth birthday.  Alfred Landon, the Republican candidate for president in 1936, did; the photo above shows President Ronald Reagan’s visit to him in 1987. Landon was a popular governor from Kansas whose party thought had the best chance against Franklin D. Roosevelt.   He carried just two states in the biggest defeat in 116 years.

Portrait of Alfred M. Landon, 1936

Alf Landon.  Kansas Historical Society.

Landon’s daughter, Nancy Kassebaum, served in the United States Senate from 1977 to 1997.  She was the first woman ever elected to a complete term in that office and now, at age 86, has been quoted as saying she couldn’t think of better coattails to have ridden on than her father’s.

The Library of Congress offers the list of presidential “Also Rans,” which I have copied below.  More than one ran again and was elected.   Which are new to you?  No telling what other stories are behind these determined men.   Well, wait a minute, there probably is.  And I will probably do it.

1796                                                                                                                            Thomas Jefferson

Aaron Burr
Charles C. Pinckney
Charles C. Pinckney

DeWitt Clinton
Rufus King
John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay
William H. Crawford
Andrew Jackson
John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay
William H. Harrison
Martin Van Buren
Henry Clay
Lewis Cass

Winfield Scott
John C. Fremont
John Bell
John C. Breckinridge
Stephen A. Douglas
George McClellan
Horatio Seymour
Horace Greeley
Samuel J. Tilden
Winfield S. Hancock
James G. Blaine
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
James B. Weaver
William J. Bryan

William J. Bryan
Alton B. Parker
William J. Bryan
Theodore Roosevelt
William H. Taft
Charles E. Hughes
James M. Cox
Robert M. Lafollette
Alfred E. Smith
Herbert Hoover
Norman Thomas
Alfred M. Landon
Wendell L. Willkie
Thomas E. Dewey
J. Strom Thurmond
Henry A. Wallace

Adlai E. Stevenson
Adlai E. Stevenson
Richard M. Nixon
Barry M. Goldwater
Hubert H. Humphrey
George C. Wallace
George S. McGovern
Gerald R. Ford
John Anderson
Jimmy Carter
Walter F. Mondale
Michael Dukakis

George Bush
H. Ross Perot
Robert J. Dole
H. Ross Perot
Al Gore
Ralph Nader
John Kerry
Ralph Nader
John McCain
Ralph Nader
The Library of Congress needs to update!  Can you name the losers in presidential elections since 2008?






“I Saw It First!”

There is a prestigious group, The Explorers Club, members of which must have contributed something major to make the unknown known.

Founded in New York City in 1904, The Explorers Club promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences. The Club’s members have been responsible for an illustrious series of famous firsts: First to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, first to the surface of the moon—all accomplished by our members. –

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Robert Peary.  http://www.usnhistory.navylive

Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary and his onetime associate, Dr. Frederick A. Cook, were early members of the Explorers Club.  Each claimed to be the first to find the North Pole.  Admittedly, scientists and professionals are the ones who usually make scientific discoveries.  That’s how it is.  But wait until the end of this to decide for yourself.

Coming up on 110 years ago, Peary, a civil engineer in the Navy, was enveloped in the last of many attempts to reach the exact location of 90 degrees North Latitude.  His expedition, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, included assistant Matthew Henson and several native Inuit people.

He’d begun with 50 men, 50 sledges and 250 dogs in August 1908.  Within a hundred miles of the pole, the support team left, with himself, Henson, and four Inuit men going on.  On April 6, 1909, Peary left part of a flag and a note in a tin in the drifting ice.  Much later Henson would say that Peary told him, “I do not suppose we can swear that we are exactly at the Pole.”


The return ocean trip was on the USS Roosevelt, named for the Peary’s friend in exploring and United States President Theodore Roosevelt.  The good admiral gave Edith Roosevelt  a polar bear rug, which she placed on the floor of her otherwise delicate drawing room at Sagamore Hill on Long Island.  It may be seen there today.

Frederick Cook.

When the Peary people got home, they had quite a shock.  Dr. Frederick A. Cook, who’d traveled with Peary many times, was claiming to have been at the North Pole one year earlier than his former friend.

It seems the Cook party had reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908.  Cook and two native hunters named Etukishook and Ahwelah left a note there in a brass tube amid violent winds.  On the return trip they were blown off course and had to spend the winter on a desolate island.  They’d been given up for dead, but 14 months after they started, they returned to Denmark, where royalty and the public were hailing them as heroes.

The media had quite a circus with this, as newspapers tallied up votes for Peary and votes for Cook.  In the end (of that decade), the National Geographic Society and United States Congress declared Admiral Peary the winner.

Well, then there were two world wars and not a lot more hubbub about the trips to the end of the earth.  But in 1952, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Fletcher of Oklahoma flew his plane there, as marked by his instrument panel.  And in 1968, something more unusual happened.


Ralph Plaisted was the first confirmed person to land on the North Pole, in 1968, on a Ski-Doo.

An insurance salesman from Minnesota, Ralph Plaisted,  and a few friends made it there and were verified by a government jet: “Every direction from where you fellows are is South,” the pilot told them.  It was 11 a.m. on April 20, 1968.

They arrived on snowmobiles.  They had to ride on their knees through the rough ice, knowing that it could break at any time in the -20 degree temperatures over deep water.  They did have supplies and other modern conveniences airdropped, and were sponsored by several companies including Pillsbury which had given them astronaut food to test.   National Geographic turned them down.

One of the party, Jerry Pitzel, is still living.  He is a retired geography teacher in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who may advise Will Ferrell in an upcoming movie about the adventure.

Which all goes to show, maybe, that you don’t have to be a member of a prestigious club to make a discovery.  A regular person can do it, too.

Sources of Information:, nytimes, com,,,,



George Washington proposed it, but Thomas Jefferson thought the timing was wrong.  He said in a hundred years, maybe.

Was it possible for our new nation to create a superhighway of water across New York State with shovels and picks and wheelbarrows?

When a man named DeWitt Clinton lost the presidential election to James Madison in 1812, he started pushing for the Erie Canal in earnest.  Becoming governor of New York helped quite a bit.  With hand tools and an ingenious tree stump remover, men dug the “big ditch” 350 miles through the wilderness from Albany to Buffalo, connecting the Hudson River to the Great Lakes.  At a cost of $7 million, it was completed in 1825; during the next ten years, tolls paid back the price.

Not only did the Erie Canal move goods to market, but people to the west.  In one of his last letters, Jefferson realized, “This great work will immortalize the present authorities of New York, will bless descendants with wealth and prosperity, and prove to mankind the superior wisdom of  employing the resources of industry in works of improvement rather than destruction.”

Railroads, autos, trucks and airlines have replaced  this transportation wonder of the early Ninetenth Century.  But the Erie Canal jumpstarted the American economy and gave thousands the chance to travel to new places to begin new lives.

Ohio and Indiana followed suit with their own canal system from Toledo to Evansville, after the Erie was built.  However, there was not time to make up the millions that had been borrowed.  The steam locomotive, the “iron horse,” took over.  It is very notable that  the Wabash and Erie Canal holds the distinction of being the second longest in the WORLD, only topped by the Grand Canal of China.

Hmmm.  Might be a good subject for a book.  Do you think?  Let me know…I’m working on the notes now.



When you turn down Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, you know you’re going to discover something new about the past: either the 1600s when the town was established, or the 1930s when John Rockefeller and Samuel Goodwin put their heads together to bring it back to life.

Most of the frame buildings burned at one time or another and were subsequently rebuilt according to original drawings.  But artifacts in the museums are the real thing, having been donated or resulting from architectural digs.


We were there recently on an especially crisp fall afternoon.  We warmed our hands by the fireplace of the tailor’s shop, where we learned that most cloth was imported rather than made in homes or the village.


We toured a number of taverns where prominent citizens met to discuss the issues of their day.  Two are open for business and have delicious southern fare.  We tried the pottage pie and hot buttered rum cider at the King’s Arms.  My favorite shingle was Chownings.


Crossing the green to the Abby Rockefeller Museum of Folk Art was well worth the effort.  Portraits of Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Madison and orator Patrick Henry hang in the same hall.  Dozens of pieces of china, pewter, silver and furniture stand quietly in their glass cases for inspection.  Architectural plans plus salvaged ballisters, clapboards and weathervanes illustrate craftsmanship of 400 years past.

Though it takes more than a day to absorb all that Williamsburg has to offer, one was all we had on this trip.  It was instructive and enjoyable.  And, considering the the decorations and shopping, a good segway to the holiday season ahead.


War Chest

I’m not going to touch on the obvious cost of going to war: human lives.  As we were reminded last weekend, the sacrifice of those who die or are physically disabled in service to their country is immeasurable.  But it is interesting to look at the ways we have drummed up money to pay for our battles  – something I discovered when reading my grandparents’ letters about common folks selling bonds in 1918.

My great-uncle Guy had firsthand experience with those bonds.  “Scott Township has to raise $8,000 in the next few days,” he reported to his brother Jesse in June 1918.  “We have a few slackers whom we haven’t been able to collect from…I got $2 cash from —— and I pumped him for more till he pledged $3.  The next day I heard he said, ‘That Guy Covell is a damned hog …'”

It was the third of four separate World War 1 bond drives.  The strategy of William McAdoo, who was in charge, was to raise support by having patriotic rallies across the country.  My grandmother, at the time teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in a different county, wrote that someone there was planning a ride like Paul Revere’s to attract attention, but it didn’t happen.  She sold bonds to country neighbors, taking homemade cookies along to sweeten the deal.

Bank employees did not sell certificates for the Liberty Loan, so there were no commissions.  People thought it was their duty to raise the money.  And that they did — seventeen billion dollars worth, over half for $50.  Even those were monumental to the average worker who made 35 cents an hour.  But they could buy stamps for 25 cents each, paste them on a special card, and when they had enough cards filled could trade them for the lowest denomination.

The mass media of that time included posters to urge the Liberty Loan, foodconservation and soldier enlistment.  Today we marvel at their Art Nouveau style and vivid colors, at the same time realizing the sobering scope of the work of George Creel and his propaganda committee.

Over 125 years before, the American Revolution was funded with  loans from France and the Netherlands, and private loans from a few individuals.  Each colony was ultimately asked to equip its own soldiers.  The Continental Congress printed a lot of paper money, backed up by nothing, which Mercy Otis Warren called “immense heaps of paper trash.”   Consequently inflation rose to 30 per cent in 1783.

See the source image

The new Constitution gave the federal government power to regulate trade and commerce, print common currency, and have Congress tax citizens.  Until the peace treaty was signed, however, soldiers were given IOUs for back pay.  That was a pretty unpopular decision.  Alexander Hamilton got his way with the idea for the federal banking system, later losing his life in a duel surely connected to his spin on financial policy.

When the Civil War inevitably came, both sides doubted it would last long and didn’t plan to raise many taxes for their expense.  Instead, the Union printed “greenbacks,” doubling the North’s paper money supply.  A man named Jay Cooke engineered the “New National Banking System” in 1863, which favored large banks over small ones (It wasn’t a permanent benefit for him, though, as he went bankrupt in 1873) .

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In 1861 this note was worth $90; in 1865, $17.

The Confederates printed their own paper money, too — to the tune of twenty times their supply.  You can see where this was going.  A dollar bill worth 90 cents at the beginning of the war shrank to 17 cents at the end.  They also tried selling “cotton bonds” to the British.  And then there are legends about gold from England hidden in the western United States, which was intended to help the South win the war.

During World War 2, the withholding tax was introduced and $186 billion in bonds sold.  The GI Bill compensated soldiers by providing education and job training (My dad took advantage of this program and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.  He was the first one from whom I heard that war could be good for the economy, and that times of recession could be good for education because unemployed people go back to school).

Costs of the Korean War took 15 per cent of the GDP (gross domestic product); Viet Nam 10 per cent and Iraq 1 per cent.  Pork barrel spending for the military keeps making increases to the national debt.  There is also the matter of veterans’ pensions.   The current generation continues to pay the debt for wars begun and fought before they were born; George Washington put it this way: “throwing on posterity the costs we ought to bear.”

And then  I remembered one more thing: what the colonists were so mad about in the first place.  England put the Stamp Tax on them to help pay for the French and Indian War.

Sources:,,,, Wikipedia,, letters of Jesse O. Covell and Margaret E. Beck.  Contact me if you’d like to hear more about their story, Folks on the Home Front.