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As usual, I greatly enjoyed the April edition of American History, including Charles Phillips’ article on the Triangle fire. In the article, Mr. Phillips states that Alfred E. Smith, one of the driving forces behind the New York Factory Investigating Commission, went on to become the Democratic nominee for the presidency in 1924 and 1928. In fact, Smith, despite a rousing nominating speech by Franklin Roosevelt, lost the 1924 nomination on the 103rd ballot to John W. Davis. Smith was, however, the party nominee in 1928.

Donald A. Bruckman

Stockton, N. J.

The editors reply: We stand corrected.


In the February 2006 article “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” the author states that we know Patrick Henry addressed the Virginia Convention in March 1775, but “there is no existing text of his actual words.” Does this mean that his biographer could have written this most famous quotation while Mr. Henry may have spoken about the fine spring weather?

Michael Karger

Manhattan Beach, Calif.

The editors reply: That Patrick Henry might have rhapsodized about the weather is possible but not probable. His biographer, William Wirt, through correspondence with many who had witnessed the speech, knew that it had a profound impact, but no one could recall Henry’s exact words.


I have subscribed to American History since April 1989 and I have saved each issue. I have retired to Elkton, Md., and take classes in early American history at Cecil (County) Community College. I find myself going back through your publications to gain additional information and a different perspective on the specific subject I am studying. Your articles are very informative and helpful. I am very glad I have saved those earlier issues.

I know that from time to time an error or misstatement may be made. Most of the time, corrections are made. With this in mind, I would like to bring your attention to the article “Vexatious Evils” in your December 2005 issue in which the author refers to Washington’s campaign from “Elkton, Md.,” to Germantown, Pa. I wish to point out that in August 1777, when Washington observed the British camped at Elk Landing, Elkton was known as “Head of the Elk.” Not until many years later was the name changed to Elkton.

Carl Tosi

Elkton, Md.


At the end of the article about Ben Franklin’s inventions in the February 2006 issue, you included photographs of the two sides of a Continental dollar. When I was a kid in my dad’s barber shop in the 1930s, I often heard that a thing or person or idea or proposal was “not worth a Continental.” I have never heard any explanation of the source of that expression. Did the Continental dollar suffer some loss of value to give rise to that comparison? Why? When? Dad and many of his customers were Tennesseans. Is there a Civil War connection?

Fred Reed

Fort Gratiot, Mich.

The editors reply: Since the Continental Congress had no power to tax, it had virtually nothing to back up the value of the currency it minted to support the war effort. As Congress ordered more and more printed, that currency became worthless. While it is often difficult, and dangerous, to ascribe origins to some of our common expressions, conventional wisdom does associate “not worth a Continental” with that Revolutionary War currency. Franklin’s coin was but one example. To our knowledge, there is no Confederate connection.


In the December 2005 issue of American History, Mike Oppenheim reviewed Andrew Jackson: A Life and Times by H.W. Brands. In his review, Oppenheim stated that in the 1820 presidential election James Monroe became only the second president to be elected unanimously. This is the first time I have heard of anyone besides George Washington being elected unanimously. The only reference to this matter I found in Brands’ biography is on P. 356 where the author states that “Monroe—who had been reelected in 1820 in the only uncontested presidential race in American history….”

“Elected unanimously” and “elected without contest” mean two different things to me, and I would like some clarification. I am a history teacher and have always taught that Washington was the only president elected unanimously, but now I am a bit perplexed.

Anthony Perry

via e-mail

Oppenheim replies: I always gnash my teeth when caught in an error; however, in this case I can defend myself, at least to my satisfaction. No one ran against Monroe, and every elector chosen in 1820 was pledged to him, so in that sense the election was unanimous. Of a possible 235 electoral votes, Monroe garnered 231. Three Monroe electors died before casting their votes, and William Plummer of New Hampshire disliked Monroe so much that he voted for John Quincy Adams despite his pledge.


Originally published in the June 2006 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here