Early in 1814 Secretary of War James Monroe was attempting to bring some order to the chaos and disaster that had hitherto attended America's efforts in the its war against Britain. Among his wiser measures was to appoint Daniel D. Tompkins commander of the Third Military District, one of nine into which the U.S. was organized, each roughly the equivalent of a theater of war. At the time Tomkins happened to be a civilian, and was in fact the governor of New York, where he had done a masterful job of organizing the state for war, even raising a standing state defense force of 12,000 men when the traditional militia had proven ineffective.
Now the Third Military District included not only New York, but also New Jersey. Needless to say, New Jersey's governor immediately protested that the governor of New York could not legally command New Jersey militia within the boundaries of New Jersey, and flatly refused to permit his men to accept orders from the Empire Stater.
Beset at every side by challenges to his many changes to the organization of the army and the war effort, Monroe - himself a veteran, still bearing the scars of a wound received at Trenton in 1776 - nevertheless took the time to write, in his own hand, a ten page legal brief explaining to the irate Jerseyite that while serving in his capacity as commander of the military district, Tompkins's role as governor of New York was of no consequence.
This seemed to satisfy the governor of what was then nicknamed the "Thoroughfare State," for no further protests were received. As a result, Tompkins retained command of the Third Military District, still remaining a civilian, in which capacity he was instrumental in stabilizing the Niagara Front in that summer and in the decisive American victory at Plattsburg on September 6, 1814, though curiously there nary a Jerseyite militiaman took part in either operation.
Napoleon's Death: The Arsenic Connection, Redux
As is well known, Napoleon died in exile on May 5, 1821. The probable cause of death was either stomach cancer or a severely ulcerated stomach, based on an autopsy done at the time.
Of course, over the years various people have claimed that the "Corsican Ogre" was poisoned to prevent his ever disturbing the world stage again. Recently this claim has surfaced yet again.
It seems that samples of Napoleon's hair contain traces of arsenic. Touted as a great revelation in the press, in fact this "news" is hardly new, the same discovery having been made more than 20 years ago. At the time a number of serious students of Napoleon soundly refuted the charges of arsenic poisoning, and it's worth reviewing their reasons now
Napoleon and his contemporaries lived long before the Pure Food and Drug Act or OSHA, or even scientific medicine. It was not uncommon to find a lot of deadly substances in ordinary daily use. This led to a lot of health problems. Hatters, for example, were slowly poisoned by the mercury compounds used to treat fur used in making hats, giving rise to the phrase "Mad as a hatter."
In Napoleonic times, wall paper was often impregnated with arsenic to retard mold. Long before that, and stretching well into the early twentieth century, arsenic was used as a pharmaceutical. Civil War soldiers treated with "blue mass," the alleged miracle drug of the age, were actually being dosed with arsenic. One come use of arsenic in medicine was to treat syphilis.
Longwood, the cottage on St. Helena in which Napoleon spent his last years, was wall papered, with arsenic-impregnated paper. And Napoleon had a long history of venereal disease, including syphilis. Now arsenic accumulates in the body, and one can even build up some immunity to it. So protracted exposure to arsenic can lead to surprisingly large concentrations in the body. Which is probably what happened to Napoleon.
So this great revelation is only one more example of what happens when untrained people do research.