"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of the opportunity provided to serve self-interest when Al Gore created the internet; and we should also thank Mark Zuckerburg and Jack Dorsey for creating Facebook and Twitter out of the kindness of their big hearts and not the thinness of their small wallets."
-Ben Franklin, Autobiography (1742)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Andrew Jackson: On the Etymology of Ass-Hat

This past week President Obama made a visit to Las Vegas to discuss clean energy. We here at Lost and Founders realized that we have been doing a piss poor job of discussing the alternative energy missions of some of our early Presidents. Today we would like to tell you the story of Andrew Jackson, nicknamed 'Old Hickory' for his green thumb and and love of the environment. To set the stage the first thing that we have to realize is that things were a little bit different in the 1830's. We all know that rainbows were invented in the Venetian Dyeing Guilds during the 1400's, but we had  yet to domesticate the pink-hued Unicorn that Obama rides into meetings.

Old Hickory had an obvious hatred for the Second Bank of the United States of America. He wanted to create a way for the economy to flourish, but also wanted to disguise this idea as a simple piece of alternative energy legislation. He designed the poorly named D.E.B.T Project. DEBT was known as Dam, Energy, Beaver Trade. The idea was simple, dam the Mississippi River create a hybrid beaver, donkey breed to inhabit the region and harvest the animal to further support the American Fur Company and satiate England's desire for beaver top hats. His thought was that by creating a hybrid beaver/donkey they would have an animal that would have larger pelts and thus create more fur. Damming the Mississippi would create the habitat and passage of the bill could be framed as a way to create alternative forms of energy by diverting the river for numerous watermills.
Jackson talked to Lewis and Clark and had them do some potential drawings of a hybrid Beaver

The drawings combined with support from the Watermiller's of America would allow the proposal fly through Congress.  Jackson was very wrong. He immediately became the butt of every joke in Washington DC. His idea for a cross-species hybrid was met with much skepticism and he became known as Old Hickory Ass-Hat. This phrase, of course, became poplar as it hit all of blogs and people began posting leaflets on other people's doors that labeled them as Ass-Hats. The truly unfortunate bystander to this entire debacle was the American Fur Company. Due to the public joking beaver hats quickly became unpopular and people detagged their daguerreotypes. The company failed and Jackson finished his tenure as President.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Founder Games


All the cool people know about The Hunger Games - currently an extremely popular novel by Suzanne Collins that is being brought to the big screen starting today, March 23rd, 2012. The brilliantly crafted work of semi-fiction takes place in a post-apocalyptic USA controlled by a disturbingly callous empire. This empire's primary form of twisted entertainment just happens to be an annual,  nationally televised fight to the death among a handful of unwilling children, taken at random each year from each of the country's twelve poor districts. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is a teenage girl living in one such district who volunteers to take her sister's place in the tournament even though it almost certainly means her own gruesome death for the sake of higher television ratings. That brief synopsis is all we'll say about the story, since by virtue of it having won several awards and sold countless copies since it was first published in 2008, we're guessing most of you have already read it and those of you who haven't will be going to see the movie very soon. However, what you probably don't already know about The Hunger Games and what the Lost and Founders will happily import is that the author actually got her inspiration from one of the darkest and most fascinating spectacles in American History: The Founder Games. True Story.

The year was 1876 and the race for the US presidency had become in the last several years pretty stale. The Democratic and Republican parties that have now become the most established factions in the US political system were during this period first beginning to truly establish themselves as representations of the popular opinions of the states, or districts as they were often referred to in the vernacular of the day, but no one outside of Congress and the party leaders really cared about who would be the next president. The four candidates for the 1876 election were thus once again chosen by the Electoral College at random from all districts (This practice had started in the previous election and was discontinued after the 1880 election of James Garfield who was shot by a deranged fan who was unhappy with the outcome of the race). For the Democrats - Samuel Tilden and Thomas Hendricks where chosen, and for the Republicans - Rutherford Hayes and William Wheeler.

This is where it gets interesting. Congress decided that since there were no major political crisis at the time that they would spice things up for a more exciting election season. Rather than waste time and money with an actual democratic process, the first and only Founder Games was declared in secret as a non-fatal contest between the four candidates to ensure that the next president was both a shrewd politician and in possession of enough military prowess to keep the growing nation safe. The idea was that all four candidates would be given their choice of weapon and the last man standing would be granted the presidency before a second round of games would be played to choose the Vice President. The results would then be chronicled for the public and published in the Farmer's Almanac.

Hayes chose slingshot as his weapon of choice since truly lethal weapons were prohibited, and he quickly made an alliance with Wheeler at the start of the games, who sported a rope with a knot on the end. Tilden and Hendricks also teamed up, choosing a large stick and a cat as their weapons, respectively. The battle royale was fought in an unnamed forest in southern Pennsylvania, which at the time was largely underpopulated and extremely treacherous terrain.

The Founders Games lasted for 6 days; culminating when Hendricks was knocked unconscious by a blow to the head from Hayes' slingshot, and Tilden surrendered due to a nasty bout of food poisoning from the local fauna. Tensions mounted when it was realized that the alliance between Hayes and Wheeler would succumb to betrayal as announcers from the Electoral College confirmed that only one of them would be allowed office. However, at the last possible second through a masterful powerplay by Hayes, both men were declared mutually victorious.

Editors note: We will refrain from explaining exactly how that happened, because it is exactly the same as the ending to the Hunger Games. Let it never be said that the Lost and Founders spoil endings.

Needless to say Hayes was elected President and Wheeler his Vice President, though it was decided almost immediately by Congress that the entire affair was in poor form and should never be announced to the public. So it stands that 1876 was one of a small handful of elections throughout American history that were not decided through a real democratic process. In order to cover up the sordid affair, a web of half truths was quickly disseminated though the media that resulted in most Americans individually believing that they slept through election day but that everyone around them must have voted and it was really close.  So close in fact that a controversial compromise had to be made that in effect ended Reconstruction and put the Republicans in office. It seemed pretty plausible at the time so most people were ok with it and glossed over the major inconsistencies in the story. Television had also not been invented yet so no one outside of Congress and a park ranger in Pennsylvania had any way of knowing that the games took place.

Fast-forward to 2008 and in the Hunger Games we have another shining example of the Founders' inspiration on American literature and culture thanks to Suzanne Collins' careful study of history. We encourage you to think about that as you flock to theaters this weekend - because if not for Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden, there would be no Katniss Everdeen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Downton Abbey: Not that British after all

Like you, we've been getting an ear full lately about the popular PBS series, Downton Abbey. For weeks we at Lost and Founders resisted committing to another TV show (Hoarders, Hillbilly Handfishin' and 16 And Pregnant already take up a solid 90 minutes of our weeks). But, we finally caved to all this Post-Titanic Dowager Countess Upstairs Downstairs talk and watched Season 1. We thought it might be a good opportunity to brush up on our British history. We were wrong.

Somewhere after Maggie Smith's character learned the meaning of the word "weekend", the plot lines started sounding quite familiar. We suddenly realized that these gripping tales were (unsurprisingly) borrowed from American history. Downton creator Julian Fellowes based his "Masterpiece" off the life of our very own Founding Mother, Abigail Adams (of course her nickname Abbey is misspelled in the show's title...one of the only truly British aspects of the show). While Fellowes assumed that setting his series a century ahead would prevent viewers from catching on, it's clear to any Abby expert that she and Downton have a lot in common.

All you Downton followers know that the whole series revolves around Lady Mary's dramatic love life and inevitable romance with her distant cousin, Matthew Crawley, a commonplace lawyer. Un-coincidentally, Abigail's husband, our Founding Father John Adams, was also a lowly lawyer; and, Abby's aristocratic family had similar qualms about her dating down, that is until realizing it was politically strategic for them. Maybe Lady Mary and Cousin Matthew haven't officially gotten together yet on the show, but *SPOILER ALERT* the history books tell us it's bound to happen in Season 3.

Abigail Adams was also a huge proponent of women's rights, much like Lady Sybil, and even sported a pants suit from time to time. In addition, she advocated against slavery and treated her downstairs servants like close family; so close, she even allowed them to prepare meals, sleep in the cellar, and go to war. Though we could be wrong (but probably not), it doesn't seem that Abigail has much similarity to that middle sister on Downton. What's her name again? We've determined she's just a decoy character used to draw attention away from the direct correlations between Downton and the real Abby. 

Of course we could go on citing all the obscure resemblances, but we'll leave what's to come in Season 3 a mystery for you. However, if you can't wait three years 'til Downton returns to find out if the heir Patrick Crawley comes back from the dead, we'll give you a clue: he doesn't. And the beloved estate will stay near and dear to Lord and Lady Grantham. Dying to know more? Just check out a biography of Abigail Adams. Or rewatch Gosford Park.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Millard Fillmore: The Man, The Legend

Perhaps the most illustrious man to ever call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home, Millard Fillmore is undoubtedly our nation’s most notable and well-loved president. His story, near and dear to every red-blooded American heart, is one we have all grown up with, and one we cherish as an endearing and defining chapter of Americana. When sorting through his innumerable achievements and accomplishments and through his countless contributions to the America we know and love, it is difficult to differentiate between the myth, and the fact. When working with as popular, iconic, and prolific a man as Fillmore, the task becomes that much harder. Thanks to recent historical breakthroughs, strenuous archeological scrutiny, and the steadfast devotion of Fillmore scholars from around the globe, Lost and Founders has finally managed to compile all of Millard’s most significant achievements into one conclusive piece. For the first time ever, we present Millard Fillmore: The Man, The Legend.

On January 7th, 1800 Millard Fillmore was born to poverty in a log cabin deep in the wilds of upstate New York. A personification of the American Dream, he struggled to make ends meet while coping with hunger, cold, and the inescapable reality that he was uneducated mountain trash. While we often attribute log cabin upbringings to Lincoln, dating suggests that Abe, who was born nine years later, was simply a wannabe trying to fit into the big shoes left behind for him by Fillmore. At the age of 26 Millard would marry his schoolteacher, a fiery redhead by the name of Abbey Powers, who by early-nineteenth-century standards was considered a total babe (though modern criteria place her smugly in the so-so category).

In 1849, all of Millard’s many qualifications and past political experiences (mainly the fact that he was born in the North and could balance Zachary Taylor’s ballot geographically) finally paid off, landing him the Vice-Presidency and ushering in the period many scholars consider to be his prime. Overwhelming amounts of evidence have recently surfaced, suggesting to historians that this was a time of unprecedented popularity for Millard who was affectionately described as colorless, bland, and lacking a backbone by his closest friends and contemporaries.

For superstitious and unfounded reasons, the number thirteen carries the connotation of being considered “unlucky”. This clearly mattered very little to the pragmatic Millard Fillmore who became the 13th President of the United States not by election but by the very lucky death of Zachary Taylor who luckily contracted a severe case of bilious diarrhea after luckily binging on unwashed cherries. The rest is history.

Over the next three years, Fillmore would cement his place in the American Pantheon. His Compromise of 1850 brought lasting peace and domestic harmony to a divided nation, his blatant support for the institution of slavery garnered respect and admiration from all over the world, his racist and unfeasible attempt to recolonize African-Americans fostered a great sense of pride that has continued to define the very fabric of America. The valor and gallantry of his character is embodied in his actions, to illustrate one has only to look at the inauguration of his successor Franklin Pierce. During this grand occasion, Fillmore commanded his loving wife to wait outside in the cold January morning. That night she developed pneumonia and went on to die shortly after. He was a true gentleman, a die-hard patriot, and deserves every bit of recognition he gets in modern American society.