Thursday, March 08, 2012

PDP on Hiatus

Alas, Dead Presidents Daily must go on hiatus for the time being. Too much else to do -- always the enemy of nonprofit blogging. I will try to pick it up again before long.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

George Washington's Brevity

By contrast with William Henry Harrison's long inaugural address, the shortest thus far is George Washington's second inaugural, delivered on March 4, 1793. This is the entire thing:

Fellow Citizens:

I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.

Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

William Henry Harrison, Noble Roman

On March 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison gave, in a record that stands to this day, the longest inaugural address. It took him an hour and forty-five minutes to deliver his remarks, on a cold, snowy day in Washington City all those years ago. Later, he died (probably) of pneumonia. The two events are inevitably linked in mentions of the demise of this shortest of short-time presidents one month later, but standing in the wet cold for a while, by itself, doesn't cause pneumonia.

Still, at some point President Harrison picked up an infectious agent that destroyed him -- all too easy for an elderly gentleman in the 19th century. But what about the inaugural speech itself? It is rarely quoted, perhaps for good reason. It's quite alien-sounding to modern ears.

For example, he freely made mention of ancient Rome to illustrate certain points, using the term Roman seven times during the course of the speech, beginning in the second paragraph:

"It was the remark of a Roman consul in an early period of that celebrated Republic that a most striking contrast was observable in the conduct of candidates for offices of power and trust before and after obtaining them, they seldom carrying out in the latter case the pledges and promises made in the former. However much the world may have improved in many respects in the lapse of upward of two thousand years since the remark was made by the virtuous and indignant Roman, I fear that a strict examination of the annals of some of the modern elective governments would develop similar instances of violated confidence..."

Later: "The boasted privilege of a Roman citizen was to him a shield only against a petty provincial ruler, whilst the proud democrat of Athens would console himself under a sentence of death for a supposed violation of the national faith — which no one understood and which at times was the subject of the mockery of all — or the banishment from his home, his family, and his country with or without an alleged cause, that it was the act not of a single tyrant or hated aristocracy, but of his assembled countrymen."

And then: "...The first Roman Emperor, in his attempt to seize the sacred treasure, silenced the opposition of the officer to whose charge it had been committed by a significant allusion to his sword. By a selection of political instruments for the care of the public money a reference to their commissions by a President would be quite as effectual an argument as that of Caesar to the Roman knight."

Harrison warned that, "Caesar became the master of the Roman people and the senate under the pretense of supporting the democratic claims of the former against the aristocracy of the latter; Cromwell, in the character of protector of the liberties of the people, became the dictator of England, and Bolivar possessed himself of unlimited power with the title of his country's liberator."

Toward the end, the president said: "It was the beautiful remark of a distinguished English writer that 'in the Roman Senate Octavius had a party and Anthony a party, but the Commonwealth had none.' Yet the Senate continued to meet in the temple of liberty to talk of the sacredness and beauty of the Commonwealth and gaze at the statues of the elder Brutus and of the Curtii and Decii, and the people assembled in the forum, not, as in the days of Camillus and the Scipios, to cast their free votes for annual magistrates or pass upon the acts of the senate, but to receive from the hands of the leaders of the respective parties their share of the spoils and to shout for one or the other, as those collected in Gaul or Egypt and the lesser Asia would furnish the larger dividend."

Monday, March 05, 2012

FDR's First Inaugural Address

Among 19th-century inaugural addresses, Lincoln's second is the most revered, honored in no less a place than the inside wall of the Lincoln Memorial, where it's carved in toto (see yesterday). Among 20th-century inaugurals, Franklin Roosevelt's first (the last March 4 swearing in) has been highly praised and, unlike Lincoln's, was recorded for the ages by motion picture cameras.

"This great nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Lincoln's Second Inagural Address

March 4, 1865.


AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war -- seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Dead Presidents: March

There are a number of presidential birthdays in March -- Madison, Jackson, Tyler and Cleveland -- and days of death -- Fillmore, Benjamin Harrison, Taft and Eisenhower -- but the key presidential date of the month is March 4.

Lincoln's First Inauguration, March 4, 1861

From Washington to Franklin Roosevelt, no fewer than 27 presidents took the oath of office on that day (four did not because they were vice presidents who succeed presidents, but didn't win their own terms). Only 12 presidents have taken the oath on January 20 (FDR is in both categories and Ford didn't win his own term). Eventually, assuming the office endures and the Constitution isn't changed again, January 20 will overtake March 4, but it will be well into the 21st century before it does.

The March 4 inaugurations are rich in history. In 1801 and 1877, disputed elections almost meant the inauguration would have been delayed -- but it's never happened. William Henry Harrison famously gave a long, long speech on March 4, 1841, picked up a virus (presumably) and went down in history as a one-month president. Two of Lincoln's most famed speeches, the First and Second Inaugurals, were on March 4 four years apart. FDR's 1933 First Inaugural, which came on the very last March 4 swearing-in, is also rightly remembered as a rhetorical gem.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dead Presidents: Leap Day

February 29 comes along only once in four years, which might account for the fact that no Presidents or Vice Presidents of the United States were ever born or died on that day, though President John Tyler came within a few feet of death on February 28, 1844, when a 12-inch gun on the warship USS Princeton accidently exploded, killing two members of his cabinet, among others.

There have been a few bits of presidential history associated with Leap Day, however. On February 29, 1796, for example, President Washington announced that the Jay Treaty was in effect -- officially, the Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, between His Britannic Majesty; and The United States of America. (John Jay was the chief negotiator on the American side.) Among other things, the treaty provided for the end of the lingering British occupation of forts in the Northwest Territory; the settlement of compensation to U.S. ship owners whose vessels by the British during the Revolution; and the establishment of a commission to delineate part of the boundary with British North American (that is, the Canadas).

On February 29, 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt formally appointed a seven-man commission -- the Isthmian Canal Commission, which reported at first to Secretary of War William Howard Taft -- to get on with the task of building the Panama Canal, one of the signal achievements of his presidency. The move came immediately after the brand-new Panamanian government, which had been helped into existence by the U.S.S. Nashville in late 1903, ceded control of the Canal Zone to the United States on February 23.

On February 29, 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the second Neutrality Act, which renewed a previous act that banned trading in arms or war materials with all parties in a war, and clarified the status of Americans traveling on ships of belligerent powers -- at their own risk (everyone still recalled the Lusitania in those days). The '36 act also banned loans or credits to belligerents. Other neutrality acts were passed in the late '30s, for all the good they did in the early '40s in keeping the United States out of war.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Birth of the Republican Party

The Whig Party, never really a cohesive whole, fell apart in the aftermath of its loss in the election of 1852, when Democrat Franklin Pierce bested Whig Winfield Scott. The party had also lost its leading lights that year with the deaths of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. The Free Soil Party formed in the late 1840s as a single-issue party, but failed to take the Whigs' place in national politics in the early 1850s.

Rather, former Whigs (like Abraham Lincoln) and those who had dallied with Free Soil (such as Salmon P. Chase and Charles Sumner) soon found a political home in the Republican Party. A gentlemen by the name of Alvan Earle Bovay (1818-1903) is credited with founding the party by calling for a meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin in early 1854, in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That measure was then a bill (the "Nebraska" bill) pending before Congress that would allow a popular vote on whether the Kansas and Nebraska territories could have slavery, in contradiction to the Compromise of 1820.

"This meeting was held on Wednesday, March 1, 1854,: wrote A.F. Gilman of Ripon College in The Origin of the Republican Party in 1914. "What took place may be best expressed by the resolution that was adopted, which is as follows: 'Resolved, That of all the outrages hitherto perpetrated or attempted upon the North and freedom by the slave leaders and their natural allies, not one compares in bold and impudent audacity, treachery and meanness with this, the Nebraska Bill; as to the sum of all its villainies it adds the repudiation of a solemn compact held as sacred as the constitution itself for a period of thirty-four years.' "

Should the bill pass (which it did), the Ripon meeting further agreed that a new political party would be necessary to oppose it and the expansion of slavery. The meeting was not, of course, the only such meeting in the country, nor the only one to express those strong sentiments, but it's generally considered the first one out of the gate. Also, Bovay helped cement the name of the party with a timely letter to Horace Greeley, who endorsed the name in the June 24, 1854, issue of the highly influential Weekly Tribune.

The Republican Party has fielded a presidential candidate every election since 1856, claiming the prize 23 out of the last 39 elections.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What Manner of Man is Made Queasy by JKF on Church and State?

Sen. John Kennedy's presidential campaign speech to the Great Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960 is in the news over 50 years later, in the context of presidential politics. The speech is, of course, on YouTube in the early 21st century.

About a minute into the speech, Kennedy said:

"Because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured, perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

George Washington Chicken McNugget Put on eBay

As of the evening of February 26, 2012, the Rare "President George Washington Chicken McNugget" has 52 bids on eBay, with the current high bid coming in at $4,050. A photo of the item shows a fairly ordinary fast-food chicken nugget that, if you put your imagination to it, might look a little like the profile of George Washington on the quarter. (This image at is a better look at it.)

News reports over the weekend said that the nugget has been put up for sale by one Rebekah Speight, an Iowa woman who says she discovered it three years ago and kept it in her refrigerator as a curiosity. More recently, she decided to sell it to raise money for her church's summer camp. Initially, eBay balked -- it's an expired food item, and auction rules don't allow that -- but later the company said it would make an exception since the sale was for charity (and it also seems unlikely that anyone would eat it, especially after paying thousands for it).

The auction is going along well, but still needs a slogan. Maybe "First in war, first in peace, and first in the deep-fry vats of his countrymen."