1878 Silver dollars made legal Strongly supported by western mining interests and farmers, the Bland-Allison Act—which provided for a return to the minting of silver coins—becomes the law of the land. The strife and controversy surrounding the coinage of silver is difficult for most modern Americans to understand, but in the late 19th century it was a topic of keen political and economic interest. Today, the value of American money is essentially secured by faith in the stability of the government, but during the 19th century, money was generally backed by actual deposits of silver and gold, the so-called “bimetallic standard.” The U.S. also minted both gold and silver coins. In 1873, Congress decided to follow the lead of many European nations and cease buying silver and minting silver coins, because silver was relatively scarce and to simplify the monetary system. Exacerbated by a variety of other factors, this led to a financial panic. When the government stopped buying silver, prices naturally dropped, and many owners of primarily western silver mines were hurt. Likewise, farmers and others who carried substantial debt loads attacked the so-called “Crime of ’73.” They believed, somewhat simplistically, that it caused a tighter supply of money, which in turn made it more difficult for them to pay off their debts. A nationwide drive to return to the bimetallic standard gripped the nation, and many Americans came to place a near mystical faith in the ability of silver to solve their economic difficulties. The leader of the fight to remonetize silver was the Missouri Congressman Richard Bland. Having worked in mining and having witnessed the struggles of small farmers, Bland became a fervent believer in the silver cause, earning him the nickname “Silver ****.” With the backing of powerful western mining interests, Bland secured passage of the Bland-Allison Act, which became law on this day in 1878. Although the act did not provide for a return to the old policy of unlimited silver coinage, it did require the U.S. Treasury to resume purchasing silver and minting silver dollars as legal tender. Americans could once again use silver coins as legal tender, and this helped some struggling western mining operations. However, the act had little economic impact, and it failed to satisfy the more radical desires and dreams of the silver backers. The battle over the use of silver and gold continued to occupy Americans well into the 20th century. 1778 John Adams prepares to sail for France On this day in 1778, two future presidents of the United States, John Adamsand his son, 10-year-old John Quincy Adams, sit in Marblehead Harbor, off the coast of Massachusetts, on board the frigate, Boston, which is to take them to France, where John Adams will replace Silas Deane in Congress’ commission to negotiate a treaty of alliance. Silas Deane’s son, Jesse Deane, who was 11 or 12 years old, was also on board and bore a letter from his uncle requesting that Adams take care of the child, whose Youth and Helplessness among such bad company would require “some friendly Montior (sic) to caution, and keep him from associating with the common hands on board.” Adam’s newfound role as pater familias expanded further with the delivery of a letter from William Vernon, Esquire, a member of the Continental Navy Board in Boston. Vernon’s son, a recent college graduate, was also on board the Boston. His father asked John Adams to find a merchant whom he could trust to educate his son in the business. Although sending him to a Catholic nation, the elder Vernon wished to see his son installed with a Protestant family of extensive Business in hopes that he “would hereafter be usefull (sic) to Society, and in particular to these American States.” He entrusted Adams not only with his son, but also with his money, asking Adams to negotiate a price of approximately £100 sterling for room and board with an eminent merchant to train his son for two to three years. Once in France, Jesse Deane joined John Quincy Adams and Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, at a pension in Passy, outside Paris; Vernon remained in Bordeaux. Two of the boys in Passy grew to be among the leaders of the next American generation. Benjamin Franklin Bache inherited his grandfather’s skills as a journalist and founded The Aurora, a newspaper in which he attacked first George Washington’s presidency and then John Adams’. Under the notoriously unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Bache was imprisoned for his opposition to Federalist Partypolicy. John Quincy Adams followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as a foreign diplomat, Massachusetts state senator and president of the United States. Jesse Deane, like his father, faded into the backdrop of history. 1804 The most daring act of the age During the First Barbary War, U.S. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur leads a military mission that famed British Admiral Horatio Nelson calls the “most daring act of the age.” In June 1801, President Thomas Jefferson ordered U.S. Navy vessels to the Mediterranean Sea in protest of continuing raids against U.S. ships by pirates from the Barbary states–Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripolitania. American sailors were often abducted along with the captured booty and ransomed back to the United States at an exorbitant price. After two years of minor confrontations, sustained action began in June 1803 when a small U.S. expeditionary force attacked Tripoli harbor in present-day Libya. In October 1803, the U.S. frigate Philadelphia ran aground near Tripoli and was captured by Tripolitan gunboats. The Americans feared that the well-constructed warship would be both a formidable addition to the Tripolitan navy and an innovative model for building future Tripolitan frigates. Hoping to prevent the Barbary pirates from gaining this military advantage, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition into Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured American vessel on February 16, 1804. After disguising himself and his men as Maltese sailors, Decatur’s force of 74 men, which included nine U.S. Marines, sailed into Tripoli harbor on a small two-mast ship. The Americans approached the USS Philadelphia without drawing fire from the Tripoli shore guns, boarded the ship, and attacked its Tripolitan crew, capturing or killing all but two. After setting fire to the frigate, Decatur and his men escaped without the loss of a single American. The Philadelphia subsequently exploded when its gunpowder reserve was lit by the spreading fire. Six months later, Decatur returned to Tripoli Harbor as part of a larger American offensive and emerged as a hero again during the so-called “Battle of the Gunboats,” a naval battle that saw hand-to-hand combat between the Americans and the Tripolitans.