Friday, February 1, 2013

March 26, 1804 - Assassin Poisons "Mammoth Cheese"

At a party sponsored by the Senate to encourage support for the US Navy as the Barbary War continued into its third year, President Thomas Jefferson was presented with a Mammoth Loaf, a gift from the Navy of bread made from an entire barrel of flour.  The term "mammoth" was popularized by opponents mocking Jefferson for his fascination with the diversion of science, supporting the uncovering of a mammoth skeleton.  Much to the Federalists' chagrin, "mammoth" became a popular word, and shops soon became stocked with "mammoth" portions of foods as advertisement.

The first mammoth gift occurred in 1802 when the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts, sent Jefferson an enormous cheese.  Deep in the heart of Federalist territory, the town's Baptist pastor, John Leland, campaigned for Democratic-Republican Jefferson, agreeing strongly on the philosophy of separation of church and state.  After Jefferson's victory in 1800, Leland led the town in gathering milk from all of the "freeborn farmers with the voluntary and cheerful aid of their wives and daughters, without the assistance of a single slave", contributed to by over 900 cows, none of them "Federal."  The 1200-pound cheese had been transported by sleigh across frozen fields and given to Jefferson, who was greatly thankful but held a personal philosophy against gifts and sent a $200 donation in return.

The cheese was consumed gradually at White House functions over the next two years as Jefferson continued his presidency, approving the Louisiana Purchase and dispatching the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  While opposed to Federalist policies such as the National Bank and federal taxes, Jefferson did encourage the West Point Military Academy as, despite his disapproval of militarism, he recognized the need for action in war with the Barbary pirates of Tripoli.  Jefferson had refused to pay the continued $1 million per annum ransom and a $225,000 bonus for the change in administration to allow American ships to travel safely, and the Pasha of Tripoli Yusuf Karamanli declared war on May 10, 1801.  That August, the USS Enterprise defeated the 14-gun polacca Tripoli.  By 1803, the Americans had liberated the seas and blockaded Tripoli.

In retaliation, the Pasha decided to dispatch an assassin to kill Jefferson, holding his administration responsible for ending the payout, before which Americans seemed to endure without much issue.  The assassin managed to work his way into becoming a servant in the White House.  Seeing an opportunity to strike more than just Jefferson, he secretly began poisoning the mammoth cheese with tasteless, odorless arsenic powder.  For many months, the Presidential Mansion innocently nibbled at the enormous cheese toward its lethal core.  At last the final portions of the mammoth cheese were brought out to be eaten alongside the mammoth loaf, in addition to mammoth amounts of roast beef and alcohol.  Jefferson personally cut the loaf and began the celebration, which, according to firsthand accounts, was boisterous as many people quickly became drunk.

Hours later, the effects of the arsenic began to show.  Most attendees of the party became extremely ill, and many, including Jefferson, died.  The capital was frozen in panic, and an investigation was launched while rumors blamed Federalists.  On a ship destined for Africa, the Barbar assassin was discovered bragging during his escape, returned to America, and hanged.  The incensed nation called for vengeance against the Pasha of Tripoli.  Vice President George Clinton completed Jefferson's term, focusing primarily on building the United States military and won handily in the 1804 election, dispatching an expedition to invade Tripoli soon after.  Secretary of State James Madison attempted to continue in office but eventually retired due to ill health.

The war dragged on as the pasha fled into the desert, evading capture for years, and weariness settled into the American nation.  The Democratic-Republican Party had shifted its control back to the "Quids" or "Old Republicans" who elected James Monroe to the presidency in 1808.  Monroe spent his two terms seeking peace, ending the war in Tripoli through the Ottoman's governing body, the Sublime Porte, who removed the pasha and installed a direct government that would refrain from pirate activity.  Monroe also worked to maintain neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars, making him very popular with the Federalists, whose merchant ships became safe under a new treaty against impressing sailors by Great Britain.  Later treaties clarified border issues, preventing war from ever occurring between the old mother country and the liberated United States.

Monroe's wide popularity as a centrist figure caused the Federalist Party, which had suffered from a lack of leadership since the death of Alexander Hamilton in a duel, to rework itself into a party stressing united nationalism.  Noah Webster became the party's mastermind, enforcing caucuses and promoting his cousin Daniel in the presidential election of 1820 after Federalist Rufus King nearly defeated R-D Daniel Thompkins in 1816.  Webster took office, and the Republicans and Democrats split over differences in focus.  The Democrats, led by Indian Wars heroes such as Colonel Andrew Jackson, wanted to support the Common Man, while Republicans sought to balance tradition with progressivism.

The three-party political system would become the mainstay of politics in America.  All three would become involved in events such as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal scandal in 1834 as it attempted to connect two of America's most important waterways.  Democrats wanted better conditions for the workers, Republicans lobbied for the rights of land owners whose property would be cut across by the canal, and Federalists fought for the canal's completion at any cost.  While many issues became stalemated, such as the canal and slavery, other issues, such as the Intercontinental Railroad, would be championed by all sides with resistance only from Native American interests.  All three parties also unified against the ideas of Nullification and Secession, attempted by South Carolina and the minor Nullification Party on a number of occasions but always suppressed, usually politically but also through the use of troops by Federalist President Abraham Lincoln.


In reality, there was no assassination attempt, and Jeffersonians controlled the Democratic-Republicans for more than a decade.  The Federalist Party imploded after the humiliation of attempting to find a separate peace with Great Britain after the War of 1812 had ended, and the Era of Good Feelings began when America had only one major political party in the D-R's.  It came to an end, however, as the new Whig party formed with many old Federalists, and Jacksonian Democrats fought to stop big government, such as the National Bank.  The United States would largely be dominated by two political parties, Democrats and the heir to Whigs, Republicans, in the centuries to come.

1 comment:

  1. Salud! A quite brilliant work of the imagination sir, sincerely - I congratulate you on your article.


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