The original “BIG CHEESE”
1801 – JEFFERSON WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT ON FEBRUARY 17, 1801 WITH THE SUPPORT OF MOST BAPTISTS WHICH LED TO THE ORIGINAL “BIG CHEESE” – Thomas Jefferson was elected the third President of the United States of America by the House of Representatives on the thirty-sixth ballot on February 17, 1801. Aaron Burr who finished 2nd, automatically became Vice President. Elder John Leland had come to VA from Mass. to preach the gospel and to work hard for religious liberty. He was a neighbor of James Madison and Jefferson. Leland was active in the political arena and also expressed Baptist views of liberty of conscience while rallying Baptists in support of Madison as a delegate to the VA Constitutional Convention and later in his election to the House of Representatives. Madison had promised the Baptists that if elected, he would introduce a Bill of Rights early in the first session of Congress. Upon his return to Cheshire, Mass. Leland continued to support Jefferson, believing that America, at last, had a “people’s president” who understood the common man. To further celebrate this event, one day all of the milk from nine hundred local, loyal Republican cows was collected and brought to Cheshire, where the population gathered to sing hymns, socialize, and make cheese. They made a gigantic cheese wheel 4 ft, four and one-half inches in diameter, fifteen inches thick, and weighing 1,235 lbs. Leland and Darius Brown, loaded it up and set off for Washington, D.C. by sleigh, horse and wagon, and sloop on the Hudson River, where they embarked for Baltimore. Leland took advantage of the crowds that gathered to see the cheese and preached the gospel to them. Upon arrival Jefferson warmly welcomed the Baptists to the executive mansion. Leland said that the great cheese “was not made…with a view to gain (us) dignified titles or lucrative offices, but by the personal labor of freeborn farmers, without a single slave to assist, for an elective president of a free people.” Leland stayed for several days having arrived on Jan. 1, 1802. On Sunday the 3rd he preached at a religious service that was held weekly at the Capitol during Jefferson’s administration. Federalist congressman Manessah Cutler, also a minister complained that he had to sit and listen to such a “poor, ignorant, illiterate cheesemonger” and later wrote that Leland’s sermon was “a farrago bawled with stunning voice, horrid tone, frightful grimaces and extravagant gestures.” The cheese graced White House parties for many months. One source said that it lasted until a presidential reception in 1805. Rumor says that the remainder was dumped in the Potomac. Thought the Cheshire Cheese is small compared to the modern record of 34,591 lb. cheddar displayed at the N.Y. World’s Fair for the WI Cheese Foundation, it will always remain as the Original Big Cheese that coined the phrase. It is memorialized in concrete near the post office on Church Street in Cheshire, Mass. Baptists influenced statesmen to stand against state-established religion, but never did they favor a wall of separation between the state and the influence of biblical principles.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon, from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, pp. 65.
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