J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Wall Calendar Contest Answers!

Last Sunday I announced a quiz on early American politicians with the prize of a Colonial Williamsburg wall calendar. The deadline for entries was last night, so now I can reveal the answers.

The most useful key to my trivia questions is that I fancy myself a tricky bastard. So what look like obvious answers are usually wrong. To put it another way, I like questions based around facts that caught me by surprise when I first read them.

1) What office(s) in the government of the United States of America did John Hancock hold and when?

I tried to write this question to restrict the period to after the states adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1781, thus forming a permanent government of the U.S. of A. That would eliminate Hancock’s stretch as chairman of the Second Continental Congress from May 1775 to October 1777. By the time the Articles were ratified, he was home as Massachusetts’s most popular politician.

Hancock declined to run for reelection as governor at the end of 1784, citing poor health, and then put his name in as a delegate to the national Congress. When he came back to Philadelphia in late 1785, members of the Congress voted him chairman again for old times’ sake. The legislature barely met for the next few months and Hancock hardly did anything, but he got to sit out the Shays’ Rebellion and the controversial measures to suppress it. Hancock made a triumphant return to the governorship, popularity intact, in May 1787. Best political instincts of his generation, I say!

Thus, in the government of the U.S. of A., Hancock held the office of President of the United States in Congress Assembled (or President of the Congress) from November 1785 to June 1786. No points off for mentioning his earlier term, but a correct answer should include that later tenure.

The closest to the correct answer to this question came from Nathan C. Traylor of The History Tavern.

2) Gouverneur Morris was never a governor, alas, but he was a member of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the U.S. Senate. From where?

Morris (pictured above) represented New York in the Continental Congress, but then moved to Philadelphia in 1779. He represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention, but then moved back to New York in 1788. He represented New York in the U.S. Senate in 1800-1803.

Ben answered this question exactly.

3) In 1789 Alexander Hamilton took office as the first Secretary of the Treasury, but he was ineligible to be President. Why?

It’s often said that the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that the President be an American citizen from birth would have kept—perhaps was even written to keep—Hamilton from holding that office. He was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis. But in fact the Constitution says the President must be “a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution.” No one’s met the second qualification for a long time, but Hamilton did.

So why wasn’t Hamilton eligible to be President in 1789? He was too young. He was born in 1755, making him only thirty-four in that year. Indeed, when Hamilton first came to New York, he told people that he’d been born in 1757, perhaps to make himself seem even more precocious than he was.

This question stumped everyone. The force of myth is strong. Not to mention tricky bastards.

4) What Pennsylvanian did George Washington appoint as Postmaster General?

Again, there’s a first-thing-that-comes-to-mind answer: Benjamin Franklin, famous as our first Postmaster and famous Pennsylvanian! But he was appointed Postmaster by the Continental Congress back in July 1775. (He had also held the post under the Crown.)

President Washington appointed three men as Postmaster General: Samuel Osgood, Timothy Pickering, and Joseph Habersham. Which one was Pennsylvanian? Pickering (shown here).

But wait! Wasn’t this the same Timothy Pickering who commanded the Salem militia during the Battle of Lexington and Concord? The same who served as Secretary of War under Washington and Secretary of State under Washington and John Adams? Yes!

In 1786, after business reversals, Pickering moved from Massachusetts to northeastern Pennsylvania to make a new start. He was living there when he secured the appointment as Postmaster General. Eventually he moved back to Massachusetts in time for Adams to accuse him of being part of the mythical “Essex Junto.”

Nathan, Ben, and Phillip Blancher all picked out Pickering.

5) Of the first seven Presidents of the United States, which men had publicly acknowledged biological sons as heirs when they were in office?

George Washington, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson had no biological children; they helped to raise stepchildren and adopted children. Thomas Jefferson had several children, but his only son by his wife died as an infant and he didn’t acknowledge his likely sons by Sally Hemings. Likewise, James Monroe’s only son died young, leaving him with two daughters.

John Adams had three adult sons when he was President (two when he left office). John Quincy Adams also had three. It’s notable that one of John Adams’s sons became President, and one of John Quincy Adams’s became a U.S. Representative and top diplomat.

So for a country that eschewed hereditary political power, America did accept a sort of dynasty from the only early Presidents for whom that was biologically possible. If the other early Presidents had had sons as heirs, would we have had more Presidents named Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson?

Ben and GSGreatEscaper correctly named the brace of Adamses. Mike Barresi named those two but also guessed Monroe.

Well played, all! No one had all correct answers (that slippery Hamilton question!), and everyone got some points. By a nose, the winner of the wall calendar is…Ben!

(Send me a comment or email with a mailing address, Ben, and I’ll mail the calendar this week.)

TOMORROW: And you thought this was over.

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