Friday, March 20, 2015

The Prince of Wales at Mount Vernon: 155 Years of History


Mount Vernon has always been a place of pilgrimage because of the tomb of George Washington, America’s secular saint.   Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Mount Vernon was visited by HRH Prince Albert, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).  On October 5, 1860 President James Buchanan accompanied the Prince on a tour of Mount Vernon and visited Washington’s tomb, which was not in very good shape.  A British correspondent wrote, “No pious care seems to have ever tended this neglected grave. . .It is here alone in its glory, uncared for, unvisited, unwatched, with the night-wind for its only mourner sighing through the waste of trees, and strewing the dead brown leaves like ashes before the tomb. Such is the grave of Washington!”


After the First World War another Prince of Wales visited.  On November 13, 1919, the future King Edward VIII visited Washington’s grave and laid a wreath.  The Prince also planted a small English yew tree near the tomb.


 On March 18, 2015, HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall laid a wreath at Washington’s tomb.  The Prince, a major force in raising awareness about environmental issues, found Washington’s tomb in considerably better shape than did his great-great grandfather.  The yew tree planted by his great uncle was also pointed out to the Prince.





Sunday, March 15, 2015

Prostitution in Victorian America

Prostitution was illegal under the vagrancy laws, but the laws were not well-enforced. Brothels flourished.  By 1890 there were an estimated 65,000 prostitutes working in America’s cities out of a total population of sixty two million (as a percentage of population, this would equate to some 300,000 persons so engaged today).  Parlor house brothels catered to upper class clientele, while so called bawdy houses catered to the lower classes. 

From books such as The Gentleman’s Directory, published in New York City, readers learned that “an hour cannot be spent more pleasantly” than at Harry Hill’s place on 25 East Houston Street. And they learned that Ada Blashfield of 55 West Houston Street had “8 to 10 boarders both blondes and brunettes,” playing host to “some of our first citizens.” Since prostitution was illegal, the The Gentleman’s Directory was ostensibly to tell men where not to go.  The book listed some one hundred and fifty bordellos (out of the five hundred such establishments in New York City) out of civic duty, “We point out the location of these places in order that the reader may know how to avoid them,” the book insisted, “and that he may not select one of them for his boarding house when he comes to the city.”


A Storyville Prostitute

Brothels and gaming houses became so prevalent in New Orleans during the late nineteenth century that they threatened to invade every part of the city.  In an effort to contain vice in the city, Alderman Sidney Story drafted legislation in 1897 designating sixteen square blocks just off the French Quarter as a legal district for prostitution. Once the law was passed, hundreds of prostitutes celebrated by staging a parade down Canal Street, marching or riding naked or dressed in elaborate costumes.  The New Orleans vice district soon became known as “Storyville” and housed some two hundred brothels and fifteen hundred prostitutes.




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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Martha Washington,"Fashonista"


We don’t generally think of Martha Washington as a vivacious fashionista. She has come down to us after two hundred plus years as a frumpy, dumpy, plump, double-chinned Old Mother Hubbard type. There may be more design than accident in this portrayal of Martha Washington and the women of the Revolutionary War generation (‘The Founding Mothers”). The new Republic needed to make a clean break with the aristocratic ways of Europe and completely embrace simple republican virtues. Both George and Martha Washington were transformed by generations of historians into marble figures of rectitude whose dignity and decorum fostered a sense of legitimacy for the new country.


At the time of her marriage to George Washington in 1759, Martha was 27 and George was twenty six. Martha was one of the wealthiest women in Virginia, having inherited five plantations when her first husband died. She was a bit of a clothes horse. Then, as now, if you had wealth you flaunted it, making sure you had the best clothes ordered from London in the deepest, richest colors. Such colors set the upper classes apart from poorer classes who wore drab homespun clothes in browns, beiges and tans.


Martha Washington




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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Sex Crimes in Colonial America


Adultery:  Adultery was a serious offense. The Puritans defined adultery as sex between a married woman and any man other than her husband.  A married man who strayed was only guilty of fornication. Adultery was punishable by death in seventeenth-century New England. New England courts would not convict, however, unless the evidence fully satisfied the standards of the law.  Courts could only convict if sex, specifically defined as intercourse, was verified by confession or the testimony of two witnesses.  Since there were few instances of transgressors being caught “in blazing offence” by two witnesses simultaneously those accused of adultery were rarely executed.  New England courts often found individuals accused of adultery “not guilty according to indictment” but nonetheless “guilty of lascivious, gross, and foul actions tending to adultery.”  The guilty were punished by a whipping, a fine, or having to wear (or be branded with) the letter “A.” By the eighteenth century the male involved in an adulterous affair could be prosecuted for abduction; a woman was not considered to have the power to consent—even to illicit sexual relations.

Bestiality:   Bestiality was a capital offense.  Some of those accused of bestiality came under suspicion after neighbors complained of the birth of animals with features similar to those of the defendant. One Thomas Hogg was accused of having sex with a sow after the birth of a piglet with features resembling his own. Hogg had frequently offended his neighbors by wearing torn breeches that left his genitals visible, “seeming thereby to endeavor the corrupting of others.” Hogg was also reputed to be a liar and a thief.  Hogg denied having carnal knowledge of pigs, and since there were no actual witnesses to his having been sexually intimate with animals, he was acquitted of bestiality.  He was, however, whipped for “his filthiness, lying, and pilfering,” and ordered to “be kept with a mean diet and hard labour, that his lusts may not be fed.”

Fornication.  The large numbers of indentured servants flooding into the colonies were forbidden to marry without the permission of their masters.  This consent was practically never given, because any resulting pregnancy would deprive the master of the woman’s work for which he had paid. Not surprisingly, the birth rate of illegitimate children among female indentured servants was much higher than that found among free women. In seventeenth-century Virginia the penalty for a female indentured servant having an illegitimate child was an extension of service for two years or a fine of two thousand pounds of tobacco. If the child was fathered by a black man, the penalty was a public whipping and another full term of indentured servitude.

Incest: Men convicted of incest were condemned to wear the letter “I” stitched to their clothing for the rest of their lives. The label was a public humiliation that served to protect the community but also to remind both the criminal and his neighbors of the heinous nature of the crime.  Jonathan Fairbanks of Massachusetts was punished in this way.  He was sentenced to be whipped with twenty lashes, to stand at the gallows for one hour, and to wear an “I” for the rest of is life.




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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Nazi War Aims



     Historians have been able to piece together an outline of Nazi war aims.

    Hitler wanted to create a great Empire in the East (lands conquered in Russia) where Germany's eighty million could grow to 250 million (Shirer, 83).  Hitler said, "The vast expanses of Russia literally cry out to be filled.  I'm not worried about that.  The German families who will live there in our new towns and villages will receive big homes with many rooms, and soon those rooms will be swarming with children.  In contrast to the English, we won't just exploit, we'll settle.  We are not a nation of shopkeepers, but a nation of peasants.  First we'll practice a systematic population policy.  The example of India and China shows how rapidly nations can multiply"(Speer, 51).     

     Initially, European Russia was to be divided into Reich's Commissariats.  After initial ethnic cleansing and colonization by Aryans, the Commissariats were to be annexed to the Greater German Reich.  The great cities of the East, Moscow, Leningrad and Warsaw, were to be erased.  Russian culture was to be stamped out and formal education denied all Slavs.  The industry of the Eastern countries was to be dismantled and shipped to Germany.  The people themselves were to be limited to growing food for Germany, being allowed only a subsistence ration for themselves (Shirer, 937).  

     The general pattern was to follow that established in the 1941 pacification of Poland, "Farm workers of Polish nationality no longer have the right to complain, and thus no complaints will be accepted by an official agency.  The visit of churches is strictly prohibited.  Visits in theaters, motion pictures or other cultural entertainment is strictly prohibited” (Shirer, 950).  “Poland can only be administered by utilizing the country through means of ruthless exploitation, deportation of all supplies, raw materials, machines, factory installations.  Reduction of the entire Polish economy to absolute minimum necessary to bare existence of the population, closing of all educational institutions, especially technical schools and colleges in order to prevent the growth of a new Polish intelligentsia.  Poland shall be treated as a colony.  The Poles shall be the slaves of the Greater German Reich" (Shirer, 944).  

     Colonies of German settlers were to be established in Poland and European Russia.  Each settlement was to be linked by a network of military roads and protected by garrisons set up at key points, whose task was to ensure good order among the native population.  The native population was to provide mandatory labor for German industry and agriculture and remain in a status of inferiority, without rights or education (Bullock, 626).           

     Policing the conquered people was seen as an ongoing problem.  Armored cars were to be used as was low level bombing and strafing (Shirer, 942).  

     New towns were to be established in the vicinity of existing Russian towns.  Towns in Germany were to be painstakingly copied so that, even in Russia, a feeling for the Homeland developed.  Buildings in the Ukraine, in White Russia, and as far east as the Urals were to be identifiable as products of German culture (Speer, 171).  One million Volkswagen automobiles were to be built after the war.  A German farmer from Kiev or Odessa would be able to reach Berlin in about thirty hours on the new Russian autobahns (Speer, 172).  A modern railroad system was also to be built.  Two east-west lines were to be built across all of Europe, one beginning north at the Urals, the southern line beginning at the Caspian Sea (Speer, 173).       

Bullock, Alan  HITLER: A STUDY IN TYRANNY
Harper & Row, New York: 1953

Shirer, William
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH
Simon & Schuster, New York: 1960

Speer, Albert  SPANDAU: THE SECRET DIARIES

Macmillan, New York: 1976



What happened to the Confederate treasury?



Here is the answer to at least part of the mystery:

THE LOST RICHMOND BANK LOOT: By May 24, 1865 Jefferson Davis was under arrest and the funds of the Richmond banks, some $345,000 in gold and silver was now deposited in a bank vault in Washington, Georgia, under the protection of the Union army.  Since the gold was private property and not that of the Confederate government, the local Union commander scrupulously protected it from seizure and, in fact, agreed to provide an armed escort to accompany the treasure back to Richmond.

Thus, on the night of May 25 five treasure laden wagons creaked out of Washington, Georgia, with a small guard of Union troops.  The word flashed across northern Georgia.  Rebel veterans, believing the money belonged to the official Confederate treasury, made plans to seize the wagons.

The small caravan camped that night at the home of a three hundred pound Methodist minister named Dionysisus Chenault, near the Savannah River.  The Union soldiers drew up the wagons in a defensive circle and posted a guard. After supper, as the night progressed, a lone horseman wearing a U.S. Army blouse appeared.  The rider did not approach the camp but circled wearily, studying the wagons and the small force of sentries.  Finally the rider disappeared and the camp settled into a nervous slumber.  Long after midnight, the camp was aroused by curses and shots coming from a large group of riders, thundering down on the wagons.  The guards surrendered without a shot.

The Confederate veterans tied up the guards and then broke open the boxes and bags in the wagons.  Coins spilled to the ground and men waded ankle deep in gold and silver.  The raiders filled their pockets and haversacks.  The veterans tied the booty to their saddles and rode off heavily laden.

When news of the raid reached Washington, Georgia, a well known Confederate general, Edward Porter Alexander, rounded up another group of Confederate veterans and rode out to rescue the stolen treasure.  General Alexander reasoned that since the treasure belonged to the Richmond banks and was private property he had a duty, as a man of honor, to protect law and order and recover the treasure for the banks.  Alexander's men rode in hot pursuit, explaining to the raiders they caught that these were private funds and not Confederate property, and should, therefore, be returned.  Alexander recovered $95,000 in this way without firing a shot.  The lion's share of the treasure, however, was never recovered.  Chenault's daughter, Mary Anne Shumate, later told a colorful story of the missing money.  "There were oceans of money scattered all over Wilkes and Lincoln counties, besides what was carried off.  Some of it was hid about in swamps and woods, some was buried in the ground, and there is no telling how much has been forgotten and not found again."

Legends persist that much of the loot taken by the raiders is buried near the Chenault home, since the raiders were so burdened down with the heavy metal that they had to hurriedly stop to conceal their ill‑gotten gains in order to elude their pursuers.  Since Federal soldiers were everywhere, it is doubtful if they returned for their loot.

Dr. A.S. Furcron, in a 1949 article written for the Georgia Mineral Newsletter, asserts some of the gold was buried at Big Buffalo Lick, Public Square (now called Sunshine), north of Union Point.

Most legends suggest that the treasure is buried in numerous small hoards around Washington, or between Abbeville, South Carolina and Washington.  Some of the treasure may be hidden along the banks of the Savannah River.


Despite General Alexander's best efforts very little of the treasure ever made it back to the Richmond banks.  The $95,000 recovered by Alexander was seized by Federal army officials and became the subject of controversy and litigation for almost thirty years.  In 1893 a U.S. Court of Claims finally awarded the Richmond banks $17,000, declaring $78,000 subject to confiscation as Confederate property.

The Most Famous Woman Pirate: Anne Bonny



              The best known woman pirate was Anne Bonny, considered one of the most famous pirates of the Caribbean.  Anne Bonny was born in Ireland.  Moving to Charleston with her father, Anne always proved to be difficult to get along with.  As a child she stabbed a serving girl with a table knife, and as a young woman she beat up a young suitor so badly that he was in the hospital for a month.

     Anne married the penniless Jack Bonny and was disowned by her father.  She and Bonny moved to the pirate haven of New Providence, in the Bahamas.  She soon met a dashing pirate named Calico Jack Rackam, for whom she left her husband.  She joined Calico Jack plying the pirate trade.  Aboard ship Anne wore men's clothes and kept her gender a secret from all.

     As she and Rackam plundered coastal traders, Anne proved that not only could she dress like a pirate but that she could fight like one as well, raging out of the cannon smoke, flashing her cutlass and singeing the air with shrill curses.

     The end of Anne Bonny's pirate career came suddenly when a British Navy sloop swept down upon the pirates as they were getting riotously drunk off the coast of Jamaica.  Calico Jack and his crew were too drunk to fight and hid in the hold.  Captured and tried, most of the pirates ended on the end of a rope, but not Anne.  Anne Bonny's pardon was based not on any hope of rehabilitation but on the fact that she was pregnant.  No record of Anne's execution has ever been found, and there is some reason to belief that her wealthy father bought her release after the birth of her child.


     Anne Bonny buried a cache of gold and silver in the vicinity of Fort Caswell at the mouth of Cape Fear.  Other pirates also used this area.

Eight Hours for What We Will by Roy Rosenzweig


The values of nineteenth century America were largely white Anglo-Saxon values that stressed Protestant self-reliance and Victorian respectability. Men worked and subdued the frontier (both literally and figuratively), while the woman’s domain was religion (moral uplift) and the home. Education, self-cultivation and upward mobility were the hallmarks of Anglo Saxon values. The central theme of this value system was Progress (expressed in terms of material progress) versus primitivism.

According to Larry May in his book Screening Out the Past, immigrants presented a disorganizing element into American society because they brought with them other (less restrictive) value systems. In the view of the white Anglo-Saxon majority, immigrants needed to be Americanized in order to, “make no trouble for the right minded” (May, 15). The workplace was one area in which the immigrant must be bent to (industrial) discipline. The other area was leisure. The middle class wanted to control immigrant leisure, and as Roy Rosenzweig points out in Eight Hours for What We Will leisure became a battleground between groups with different value systems. 

For immigrants, amusements constituted an important counterweight to the rigors of industrial discipline. Movies were particularly appealing to multi-lingual immigrants. Because movies were silent, they were universally available as an outlet for romance and adventure and formed the ground pattern of social life for the young (May, 38). The movies provided immigrants with a form of acculturation into American life. Although the middle class frowned on the low themes of the earliest movies, in general movies were much less of a threat to industrial discipline than were other amusements such as drinking in saloons. Immigrants carved out leisure (and especially movies) as a public space apart from work where they could indulge hopes, dreams and aspirations. In embracing the culture of the movies (and its concomitant consumerism) so enthusiastically, the immigrant movie go-er accelerated the breakdown of old ethnic norms and the development of a more homogeneous society based on mass culture and consumerism. Consumerism offered the image of a homogenous population pursuing the same goals of living well and accumulating goods. The emergence of consumerism served to mask the transformation of the immigrant from person to commodity and tempered resistance to labor discipline.

The development of the movie industry itself was a tremendous social safety valve. The movie industry, in which immigrants were heavily represented, demonstrated that success could be had without a long laborious submission to the Anglo Saxon value system (May, 196). Success was democratized in the persona of the movie star who by talent and imagination could become an overnight success (May, 233).

In Eight Hours for What We Will, Roy Rosenzweig talks about alternative ethnic worker cultures as opposed to oppositional cultures. Rather than directly challenging the economic elite, the alternative culture passively resists. Initially immigrants found strength to passively resist industrial discipline within the traditions and norms of their ethnic communities, to paraphrase Rosenzweig’s book, “they found a different way to live and wished to be left alone with it” (Rozenzweig, 64). Mass culture appears to have taken the place of the immigrant neighborhood. The modern American citizen passively resists labor discipline by immersing in consumerism and the products of mass culture. Meaning is found in conspicuous consumption.





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Alexandria, Virginia in the Civil War (1861 – 1865)



     The book begins with a look at pre-Civil War Alexandria, the city where Robert E. Lee received orders to suppress John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. An old and prosperous colonial town, Alexandria had a rich a vibrant social and cultural life stretching back to 1742.  Alexandria was both a major hub of the intra-state slave trade and, ironically a major center of free African American population and culture.

     War clouds thickened over Alexandria during the early spring of 1861.  The states of the Deep South had voted for secession, and in May, 1861, Virginia was poised to follow.  Alexandria, the “hometown” of George Washington, with its strong Federalist heritage was initially opposed to disunion.  However, when South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln called for troops to crush the rebellion, the town’s sentiments radically changed.
   
     As war fever swept the city, militia units drilled.  On May 23, 1861, Virginians voted for secession.  In the early morning hours of the next day, the muffled oars of long boats brought Federal troops down the Potomac River from Washington City.  Union troops proceeded up King Street, where Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, friend and confidant of Abraham Lincoln, noticed the Confederate flag fluttering above the Marshall House hotel.  The colonel and his troops entered the hotel, raced to the roof and seized the flag of rebellion.  Descending the stairs, Ellsworth was met by the hotel’s owner, James Jackson, who fired a shotgun blast into his chest.  Ellsworth died on the sport and Jackson was bayoneted on the spot by enraged Union soldiers.  As the blood of the two men mingled on the steps, each became a martyr to his cause.

    Alexandria, Virginia the “hometown” of George Washington and boyhood home of Robert E. Lee became the first city in the Confederacy to be occupied by Federal troops.         
The invasion of Alexandria would forever change the fabric of the old seaport community.  After order was restored Alexandrians literally walked the streets as strangers.  They were not permitted out at night, their mail was intercepted, and passes were required to travel.  Alexandria itself was transformed into a huge supply center for Union armies fighting farther south in Virginia.  Homes, churches, and local public buildings were commandeered by the military.  Alexandria became the great warehouse of the Army of the Potomac, and the anchor for the defensive forts surrounding Washington.

     Meanwhile, native Alexandrians served in the 17th Virginia Infantry and other units fighting in the major battles of the War.

     By 1864 Alexandria had also become the great haven for freed ex-slaves.  Little neighborhoods of shanties huddled together with no conveniences called Petersburg, Contraband Valley, Pump Town and twenty other names existed within the midst of the city.
    
    When General Grant launched his 1864-65 offensive against Richmond, thousands of wounded Union soldiers poured into Alexandria.  With mounting casualties, a mortuary industry soon flourished in town.
    

     The killing and suffering came to an end on April 9, 1865, when General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Embalming and the Strange Case of President Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson


     The practice of embalming only came into its own at the time of the American Civil War.  Thomas Holmes was a doctor in the Union army who had previously experimented with the process of embalming corpses. Early in the war, he embalmed a few Union officers killed in battle so that their remains could be shipped home for burial.  President Lincoln eventually sanctioned the procedure for all fallen soldiers, and during the course of the war Dr. Holmes embalmed some four thousand soldiers.  Military authorities also permitted private embalmers to work in military-controlled areas. 

     The assassination and subsequent funeral of Abraham Lincoln brought the practice of embalming to the attention of a wider public.  President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865 but his body was not interred in Springfield, Illinois until May 4.  Lincoln’s body was put on a special funeral train and retraced the route Lincoln had traveled as the president-elect on his way to his first inauguration in Washington.  The passage of the body home for burial was made possible by embalming and brought the possibilities of embalming to the attention of a wider public.

     Despite its growing acceptance, by 1875 even some of the most famous in the land were not being embalmed after death.  Andrew Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination, who was the first American president to be impeached, and who is widely regarded as one of the country’s worst presidents, was one such individual.  Johnson died on July 31, 1875.  His funeral took place on August 3, in Greenville, Tennessee.  The body decomposed rapidly in the summer heat, so the casket was kept closed.  In a folk story, often retold by funeral directors and florists, the resourceful undertaker piled heaps of flowers on the casket to mask the odor of the body.




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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Martha Washington's Slave Half Sister


Martha Washington

Sexual relations between masters and slave women were common during the eighteenth century and later.  Famed Southern diarist Mary Chestnut would observe in the 19th century, “Like the patriarchs of old our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines, and the mulattoes one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children--and every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody's household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds, or pretends so to think.”

One very prominent Virginian well known to George and Martha Washington was engaged in sexual relations with a slave.  Rumors began to circulate that Thomas Jefferson had sired children by a beautiful young slave at his Monticello plantation named Sally Hemings.  Jefferson’s political opponents made much of the rumors at the time, but over the centuries historians largely dismissed the story which was preserved largely through an oral tradition handed down in the Hemings family.  In 1998, however, the British science journal Nature published the results of a DNA study linking a member of the Jefferson family, not necessarily Thomas Jefferson, to the descendents of Sally Hemings. Subsequently, in January 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, the custodians of Monticello, issued a report concluding that based on all available evidence, Thomas Jefferson was, in all probability, the father of at least one and perhaps all the children of Sally Hemings. 

Author Henry Wiencek, in his 2003 book An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, argues that Martha Washington had a slave half sister, Ann Dandridge Costin, sired by her father John Dandridge.  This supposed half sister was about Martha’s age and lived at Mount Vernon according to Wiencek.  Other historians deny the existence of Martha Washington’s half sister and assert that Wiencek has accepted “lore” as fact.






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The Stolen Election and the Corrupt Bargain


     Viewers of the political thriller House of Cards will probably not be surprised to learn that political intrigue is as old as the Republic.

 

     The presidential election of 1824 was one of the most hotly contested elections in the nation’s history.  The Federalist Party had dissolved and the United States found itself in the unique position of having only one political party, the Democratic Republicans.  Sadly, this brief period of political unity within the country would be short-lived as members of the Party began to divide into factions.

     What made the election of 1824 so unique was that the four top contenders for the highest office of the land were all favorite son candidates.  Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, was supported by the South, West, and mid -Atlantic.  Henry Clay found some support in the West, but hoped to garner support in the South and East.  William Crawford was supported by the East, while John Quincy Adams was supported by New England. 

     When the final vote in the Electoral College was made, Andrew Jackson had the most votes with ninety-nine.  John Quincy Adams came in second with eighty-four.  William Crawford came in third with forty-one and Henry Clay rounded out the list with thirty-seven.  The presidential election went to the House of Representatives for a decision, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.  As it was written in the Constitution, only the top three candidates could have their names submitted to Congress for a vote to determine the next president of the United States.  Since he came in fourth place, Henry Clay was automatically eliminated.

     To the surprise of most, the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams president of the United States.  Rumors of a “corrupt bargain” spread over the capital city.









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