Monday, December 31, 2007

December 31, 2007:

Dead Presidents Daily's Last Post

Dead Presidents Daily was intended to be a project for 2007, a year now over, and so this is the last posting for this blog. I hope my handful of readers have enjoyed it. It's been rewarding on this end, teaching me more than I would have imagined about presidents and the presidency and a slew of tangential information.


News of the dead presidents goes on, however. On the last day of 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: "Sara Jane Moore, the self-styled radical who earned an infamous role in the parlous politics of 1970s America by trying to assassinate President Gerald Ford in San Francisco, was paroled Monday from a Bay Area federal prison after serving more than 30 years, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons said.


"Moore, 77, who was serving a life sentence, was released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, and it was not immediately known where she went, bureau spokesman Mike Truman said. She will be under supervised parole for at least five years, federal authorities said."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

December 30, 1963:

Congress Authorizes the Kennedy Half

The Kennedy half dollar coin was authorized by Congress on December 30, 1963, barely a month after the president was murdered, to replace the Benjamin Franklin half dollar, which had only been minted since 1948. Gilroy Roberts, chief engraver of the US Mint, designed the obverse with Kennedy in profile, and Frank Gasparro designed the reverse, which is based on the Great Seal of the United States.


Roberts later wrote: "Shortly after the tragedy of President Kennedy's death, November 22, 1963, Miss Eva Adams, the Director of the Mint, telephoned me at the Philadelphia Mint and explained that serious consideration was being given to placing President Kennedy's portrait on a new design U.S. silver coin and that the quarter dollar, half dollar or the one dollar were under discussion.


"A day or so later, about November 27, Miss Adams called again and informed me that the half dollar had been chosen for the new design, [as] Mrs. Kennedy did not want to replace Washington's portrait on the quarter dollar. Also it had been decided to use the profile portrait that appears on our Mint list medal for President Kennedy and the President's Seal that has been used on the reverse of this and other Mint medals."


Coinresource.com picks up the story from there: "This work was undertaken immediately, Gilroy Roberts sculpting the portrait obverse, while his long-time assistant engraver, Frank Gasparro, prepared the reverse model bearing the presidential seal. Both were amply experienced in these tasks. Along with the sculpting of various mint medals, Roberts had prepared the models of John R. Sinnock's design for the Benjamin Franklin half dollar of 1948, following Sinnock's death the previous year. Gasparro too was a veteran of numerous medal designs, and he had most recently created the new reverse which debuted on the Lincoln cent in 1959. For these two artists, time was of the essence, as the new year loomed ahead, and the Treasury Department did not want to issue any of the existing-type Franklin half dollars dated 1964. Complicating matters still further was a severe, nationwide shortage of all coins. Half dollars of one type or the other had to be ready for coining early in the new year to avert a worsening of this shortage.


"In the meantime, however, there was a legal hurdle to overcome: Under existing law, U. S. coin designs could not be changed more often than every 25 years; the Franklin half was then only 15 years old, and its replacement would quite literally require an act of Congress. Partisan disputes were largely set aside in recognition of the nation's and the world's loss, and Congress managed to pass legislation permitting a change in the half dollar's design with only a few weeks' debate. The Act of December 30, 1963 made the Kennedy half dollar a reality."


And yet the Kennedy half dollar also marks the virtual demise of the 50-cent coin in the United States. In 1964, more than 429.5 million of the coins were minted (both in Philadelphia and Denver), and as recently as the bicentennial coinage of 1975-76, 521 million were minted. The coin went into decline after that. In 2007, only 4.8 million were minted.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

December 29, 1808:

Andrew Johnson's Birthday


In the annual cycle of presidential birthdays, the last belongs to Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, Unionist Senator and War Democrat of Tennessee, successor to Lincoln and, until 1998, the only president to have been impeached. Much to-do is starting to be made about the upcoming bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 2009; but the 200th anniversary of Johnson's birth, only about six weeks earlier, will probably receive about as much attention as the bicentennial of President Filmore's birth in 2000 or President Pierce's in 2004. (The other President Johnson, Lyndon, will have a centennial in August 2008.)


Andrew Johnson is also the only president who was inarguably born dirt poor, though others, such as Lincoln and Nixon, have come from very modest circumstances. The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica put it this way: "His parents were poor, and his father died when Andrew was four years old. At the age of ten he was apprenticed to a tailor, his spare hours being spent in acquiring the rudiments of an education. He learned to read from a book which contained selected orations of great British and American statesmen. The young tailor went to Laurens Court House, South Carolina, in 1824, to work at his trade, but returned to Raleigh in 1826 and soon afterward removed to Greeneville in the eastern part of Tennessee.


"He married during the same year Eliza McCardle (1810-1876), much his superior by birth and education, who taught him the common school branches of learning and was of great assistance in his later career. In East Tennessee most of the people were small farmers, while West Tennessee was a land of great slave plantations. Johnson began in politics to oppose the aristocratic element and became the spokesman and champion of the poorer and labouring classes."

Friday, December 28, 2007

December 28, 1832:

Vice President Calhoun Resigns


John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, Seventh Vice President of the United States, quit that office about three months before his term would have ended, become the first of two vice presidents to do so. The vice presidency may be widely regarded as a hollow office, but it is worth noting that the holders of the office have given it up only once each century.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

December 27, 1945:

Creation of the World Bank

Though an international organization, the World Bank presidency is in effect controlled by another presidency -- that of the United States. The president of the United States nominates someone for the World Bank position (these days the World Bank Group, consisting of five organizations), who is then confirmed by the bank's board of governors.


Harry Truman nominated three men for the position, including the first, Eugene Meyer, financier and owner of the Washington Post. John Kennedy nominated one. LBJ also nominated one, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who stayed at the position until the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who nominated McNamara's two successors. George HW Bush and Bill Clinton nominated one person each, and George W. Bush has nominated two. Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford and Carter didn't have the opportunity to make any new nominations.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

December 26, 1972 & 2006:

Harry Truman and Gerald Ford Die

Today is the first anniversary of Gerald Ford's death, and the 35th anniversary of the passing of Harry Truman. Ford lived longer than any other person who held that office, besting old intramural rival Ronald Reagan only about six weeks before his (Ford's) death. Ford also was the third-oldest vice president; only Levi P. Morton (96) and John Nance Garner (98) lived longer. Truman didn't do so badly in terms of longevity, either. He lived to be 88, and as such is number five among presidents in lifespan, after Ford, Reagan, John Adams and Hoover.



Ford was also a member of that informal club, presidential short-timers. In fact, among all holders of the office, he was president for less time than all but four others: William Henry Harrison, whose famously abbreviated term lasted about a month in 1841; the unlucky James Garfield, who died that the spoils system might end, after 199 days as president in 1881; Zachary Taylor (one year, 128 days), who withstood bad army food much of his adult life but not bad cherries on the Fourth of July, 1850; and Warren Harding, who shocked the nation in 1923 by dropping dead before the enfeebled former President Wilson, serving only two years and 151 days.


Gerald Ford was president a little longer than Harding, two years and 164 days, and among presidents who survived their time in office, his was the shortest service. Millard Fillmore, who lived on after his presidency to be the first citizen of Buffalo and a Know-Nothing besides, was in office a little longer than Ford, occupying the White House for two years and 236 days.


Short time is actually fairly common in the rough-and-tumble of the US presidency. Among the 41 individuals who were president in the past – not counting the current officeholder, since history isn’t done with him yet, and counting Grover Cleveland only once for this purpose – only 11 have held the office eight years or longer (FDR being the obvious “or longer” in this category), 12 if you count George Washington. The time between Washington’s inauguration on April 30, 1789, and the end of his presidency on March 4, 1797, was only seven years and 308 days, but the government was new and things couldn’t be ready in time for an on-time swearing in, so I’m inclined to credit him the full eight years. Another seven men held the office for less than eight but more than four years; a dozen held office exactly four years; and ten didn’t even get a full term.



Eight years or more (in order, including Washington): Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Grant, Cleveland, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton.


Between four and eight years: Lincoln, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon.


Four years exactly: John Adams, John Q. Adams, Van Buren, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Taft, Hoover, Carter, George H.W. Bush.


Less than four years: William Henry Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Garfield, Arthur, Harding, Kennedy, Ford.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

December 25: Christmas and the Presidents

On Christmas Day 1776, George Washington and him men crossed the Delaware River, intent on surprising the Hessians at Trenton, which they did the next day. In 1868, as one of the most lame duck of presidents, Andrew Johnson used the tradition of Christmas pardons to pardon unconditionally all who had been involved in "insurrection or rebellion."



On a much lighter note, according to the 1972 album Christmas at the White House: Burl Ives Sings the Favorite Carols and Hymns of America's Presidents, the following 13 selections were favorites of presidents down the years. The producers of the record seemed to be guessing in some cases, but it's an interesting list all the same.


George Washington: "While Shepherds Watch'd Their Flocks by Night"
John Adams: "Joy to the World"
Thomas Jefferson and Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Adeste Fideles"
Andrew Jackson: "Shout the Glad Tidings"
Zachary Taylor: "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"
Abraham Lincoln: "We Three Kings of Orient Are"
Ulysses S. Grant: "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
Theodore Roosevelt: "Christmas on the Sea"
Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Laden"
John F. Kennedy: "Silver Bells"
Lyndon Johnson: "Silent Night"
Richard Nixon: "The Little Drummer Boy"

Monday, December 24, 2007

December 24: The National Christmas Tree

From the 1920s to the early 1950s, the president lit the National Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve. Since then, the Christmas Pageant of Peace in December, started under President Eisenhower, has included the lighting of the tree.


According to About.com: "As far back as 1913, President Woodrow Wilson had asked for a community Christmas tree to be placed at the Capitol so that a tree lighting ceremony could be recognized as a national event. On Christmas Eve of that year, a crowd of 20,000 was entertained by the U.S. Marine Band, 1,000 singers, and a costumed group of people re-enacting the Nativity.



"The history of Christmas tree lighting ceremonies at the White House is steeped in symbolism. The 1941 tree lighting, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, included a surprise appearance by Sir Winston Churchill at President Franklin Roosevelt's side on the south portico. Wartime blackouts kept the tree unlit from 1942 until 1944. Following World War II and the Korean War, the Christmas Pageant of Peace Inc. was organized and the scope of the National Community Christmas Tree Celebration was broadened to emphasize the desire for peace through the spirit and meaning of Christmas. On December 17, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower lit the first National Christmas Tree for the Pageant of Peace. It was the first time the program had not been held on Christmas Eve.


"In 1923, First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a Christmas tree in President's Park (now known as the Ellipse), south of the White House. The organizers named the tree the "National Christmas Tree." Two years later, Calvin Coolidge began the tradition of delivering the President's Christmas message. Christmas tree locations were moved from the Ellipse in 1923, to Sherman Plaza (near the east entrance to the White House) from 1924-1933, to Lafayette Park from 1934-1938, and then back to the Ellipse again in 1939-1940.


"Today, the lighting of the National Christmas Tree is just one part of what has become a major event at the White House -- the Christmas Pageant of Peace first established in 1954. Activities include featured guest performers, strolling costumed entertainers, and more than 50 volunteer choirs, gospel groups, bell ringers, and cloggers providing live musical performances.


"What once was a single Christmas tree, now includes a main tree with 56 smaller trees -- one for each state, territory, and the District of Columbia -- lining the Pathway of Peace. In 2007, the filament-burning bulbs that adorned the National Christmas Tree were replaced by energy-efficient light-emitting diodes, or LEDs."

December 23, 1783: The American Cincinnatus

In the Senate chamber of the Maryland State House in December 1783, while the Congress of the Confederation was meeting there temporarily, George Washington formally resigned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. In his short resignation speech, the Roman civic exemplar Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus wasn't mentioned, but surely he was on the minds of those assembled for the occasion. Washington said:


"The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I have now the honor of offering my sincere Congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the Service of my Country.



"Happy in the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable Nation, I resign with satisfaction the Appointment I accepted with diffidence. A diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our Cause, the support of the Supreme Power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.


"The Successful termination of the War has verified the most sanguine expectations, and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my Countrymen, increases with every review of the momentous Contest.


"While I repeat my obligations to the Army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar Services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the War. It was impossible the choice of confidential Officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in Service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.


"I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.


"Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

December 22, 1937:

The Lincoln Tunnel Opens

A lot of things are named after the 16th President of the United States, such as the capital of Nebraska, 16 counties, mountains in New Hampshire, Colorado and four other states, and many towns, streets, schools, federal facilities and miscellaneous places and things -- including Lincoln automobiles, Lincoln Logs, the Lincoln Brigade, and the Lincoln Tunnel, which began as a Depression-era public works project, and opened 70 years ago today.


According to nycroads,com: "Just after the Port of New York Authority (later the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) acquired jurisdiction of the Holland Tunnel, the states of New York and New Jersey authorized the Authority to construct the "Midtown Hudson Tunnel" - later known as the Lincoln Tunnel - between Weehawken, New Jersey and midtown Manhattan.


Plans for the tunnel were first announced in 1930, when the Port Authority proposed a $62 million, twin-tube tunnel under the Hudson River between West 38th Street and Weehawken, New Jersey... Robert Moses, who was appointed chairman of the New York State Emergency Public Works Commission in 1933 under Governor Lehman, obtained funds for the Port Authority to construct the tunnel after negotiations with the federally run Reconstruction Finance Corporation in Washington. Ole Singstad, who oversaw construction of the Holland Tunnel, consulted on the project under Port Authority chief engineer Othmar Ammann.


"The work of the sandhogs was dangerous, claustrophobic and tedious. Just entering and exiting the tunnel took a long time. Crews entered air locks, one at a time, after which the doors at each end were sealed. An air pipe started hissing, and the men's ears would pop as the air pressure climbed until it equaled that of the adjoining lock. The workers were then able to safely open the connecting door and crowd into the next section, where the entire ordeal would be repeated. Once at the forward end of the tunnel, the men had to work swiftly because they could handle the pressure only briefly. Compression and decompression had to be reached in safe, short increments.


"While one work crew progressed from the Manhattan side, another progressed from the Weehawken side. The first 'hole through' occurred on August 3, 1935, when a hydraulic engineer from the New Jersey crew was pushed by his feet through an opening to meet the New York crew. The first tube (today the center tube) of the Lincoln Tunnel was opened on December 22, 1937, at a cost of $75 million."

Friday, December 21, 2007

December 21, 1970: Nixon and Elvis

According to the National Archives, "of all the requests made each year to the National Archives for reproductions of photographs and documents, one item has been requested more than any other. That item, more requested than the Bill of Rights or even the Constitution of the United States, is the photograph of Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon shaking hands on the occasion of Presley's visit to the White House.


(Actually, there is a series of such photos. The one referred to above was published by DPD on January 9, the anniversary of Richard Nixon's birth. The one below is another good angle of the King shaking hands with the President.)



"On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley paid a visit to President Richard M. Nixon at the White House in Washington, D.C. The meeting was initiated by Presley, who wrote Nixon a six-page letter requesting a visit with the President and suggesting that he be made a 'Federal Agent-at-Large' in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs..."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

December 20, 1860:

James Buchanan and Secession

On December 20, 1860, a special South Carolina convention declared "that the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states under the name of the 'United States of America' is hereby dissolved," making it the first Southern state to secede. James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States, though a lame duck at the time, still had more than two months in office.



Elbert B. Smith, a professor of history at the University of Maryland and a revisionist when it comes to certain antebellum presidents, writes the following about Buchanan and secession in presidentprofiles.com: "Just as Buchanan had contributed significantly to the election of Lincoln, he now aided the secession effort in states where the issue might have been in doubt...


"The South needed reassurances, but not a presidential endorsement for secessionist arguments. Buchanan, however, blamed the crisis entirely on the 'intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery.' Congressional and territorial efforts to exclude slavery from the territories and state violations of the fugitive-slave laws could have been endured, he said, but 'the incessant and violent agitation of the slavery question' had produced its 'malign influence on the slaves... Many a matron throughout the South retires at night in dread of what may befall herself and her children before the morning... no political union, however fraught with blessings and benefits' could endure 'if the necessary consequence be to render the homes and firesides of nearly half the parties to it habitually and hopelessly insecure. Sooner or later the bonds of such a Union must be severed.'


"After admitting that certain grievances would justify secession, Buchanan argued rather brilliantly that secession was unconstitutional, saying that the Founding Fathers had never intended any such right and 'the solemn sanction of religion' had been added in the oaths of office taken by federal and state officers. He suggested, however, that secession might be justified if it was called revolution instead of an inherent constitutional right.... The federal government, therefore, had no power either to recognize secession or to coerce any state to remain in the Union. And finally, said Buchanan, either Congress or the states should call a constitutional convention that could emphasize the duty of the federal government to protect slavery in all the territories throughout their territorial existence, reconfirm the right of masters to have escaped slaves returned, and declare all Northern state laws hindering this process to be null and void.


"Buchanan had clearly learned nothing from the election of 1860. John Breckinridge, with a platform that embodied Buchanan's suggestions, had received almost no Northern votes and had not even won a popular majority in the slaveholding states. Federal protection for slavery where a popular majority opposed it violated a basic precept of democracy and had already been rejected overwhelmingly by Northern voters.


"Thus, the president defended the Southerners' own excuses for secession, denied them any such right, announced that he would not coerce them, and declared that secession could be prevented only by concessions that every Southerner knew would never be made. The impact of his message on the secession conventions cannot be measured, but it must have weakened the Unionists, who were strong in several Southern states. To Northerners, the message was further evidence that Southerners were ruling the country, and it probably made most of them even less receptive to compromise proposals. Southerners, on the other hand, found their radical arguments vindicated but were angered by Buchanan's refusal to admit the right of secession.


"Just two days before the secession of South Carolina, a Senate committee headed by John J. Crittenden offered a plan to extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific, but Southerners and Northerners alike rejected it.... Buchanan sent an emissary to Illinois with a plea for Lincoln to join him in a call for a national referendum on the Crittenden proposals, but the president-elect refused. Lincoln quite correctly believed that the South would accept no concessions less than those already rejected by Northerners in the 1860 election....


"Buchanan, meanwhile, continued to act as though the 1860 election had never occurred. Secession, he argued, had been caused by a misapprehension in the South of the true feelings of the Northern people and a transfer of the question 'from political assemblies to the ballot box... would speedily redress the serious grievances which the South had suffered.' Unfortunately for Buchanan's aspirations, nothing the North would offer could keep the lower South from seceding, and nothing would induce Abraham Lincoln to accept a division of the Union. Neither James Buchanan nor a national convention could change these facts."

December 19, 1828:

Calhoun's South Carolina Exposition and Protest

As political issues, the Tariff of Abominations and the Nullification Crisis seem as remote as the Moon these days, but in the 1820s and '30s, they were hot-button issues. No one was pushing those hot buttons quite like South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, Seventh Vice President of the United States. As a vice president, Calhoun has a number of distinctions, namely that he served under two presidents -- John Quincy Adams and then Andrew Jackson. The only other vice president to do so was George Clinton, under Thomas Jefferson and then James Madison. Calhoun was also the first vice president to resign, doing so in late 1832 to take a seat in the US Senate -- a much more powerful position, since at that juncture the presidency wasn't in the cards for him.



On December 19, 1828, Vice President Calhoun submitted a report to the South Carolina State House about the hated Tariff of 1828 (the Tariff of Abominations), which soon had copies of the 35,000-word document printed and distributed at its own expense. It was a statement against the tariff, but more than that. Known to history as the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, the document argued for nullification -- the right of the states to reject federal law.


Calhoun wrote (anonymously at first, though word got out soon enough): "If it be conceded, as it must be by every one who is the least conversant with our institutions, that the sovereign powers delegated are divided between the General and State Governments, and that the latter bold their portion by the same tenure as the former, it would seem impossible to deny to the States the right of deciding on the infractions of their powers, and the proper remedy to be applied for their correction. The right of judging, in such cases, is an essential attribute of sovereignty, of which the States cannot be divested without losing their sovereignty itself, and being reduced to a subordinate corporate condition. In fact, to divide power, and to give to one of the parties the exclusive right of judging of the portion allotted to each, is, in reality, not to divide it at all; and to reserve such exclusive right to the General Government (it matters not by what department to be exercised), is to convert it, in fact, into a great consolidated government, with unlimited powers, and to divest the States, in reality, of all their rights, It is impossible to understand the force of terms, and to deny so plain a conclusion."


In early 1833, President Jackson was prepared to -- and authorized by Congress to -- take military action against South Carolina for its act late in the previous year of nullifying the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832. Old Hickory wasn't known to be a bluffing sort, so South Carolina backed down, and nullification per se was discredited. But not, as it turned out, broader notions of states' rights that weren't settled until 1865.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December 18, 1915:

Woodrow Wilson Marries Edith Galt

Edith Galt Wilson is best known as a sort of de facto president after her husband had a stroke promoting the League of Nations, but she had a life besides that short interval -- both before and after Wilson.


According to firstladies.org: "Courted for four years by her first husband, once she married Norman Galt and moved to Washington, D.C. it is not clear whether she ever worked with him in his family's legendary silver and jewelry store that he managed. After his death, she inherited Galt's. Although she oversaw its daily operations she hired a manager to run the store and direct the staff. She bought a car and learned to drive it, and took numerous trips to Europe where she indulged her lifelong love of fine clothing.


"With a curiosity about the widowed President Woodrow Wilson, she met him in February 1914 while taking tea with his cousin Helen Bones and their mutual friend Altrude Gordon. Gordon was dating and would marry the naval physician Cary Grayson, who worked for the Wilsons. Within months, she and Wilson were exchanging letters that mixed politics and their passionate love for each other. Wilson proposed marriage to Edith Galt just three months after meeting her.


Woodrow Wilson died in 1924. Edith Wilson survived until 1961. Firstladies.org again: "Edith Wilson carefully screened the visitors to and activities of her disabled husband until his death in 1924. She devoted the rest of her life to managing his legacy. Edith Wilson held the literary rights to all of her husband's papers in a time before presidential papers were seen as public documents, and she denied access to those whose motives she did not trust and granted access to those who proved their loyalty to her. She maintained full script control of the 1944 Zanuck film biography Wilson, including the depiction of herself as played by actress Geraldine Fitzgerald.


"Before World War II, she made several trips to Europe for events honoring Wilson's vision of a League of Nations. Although she resisted any substantive involvement in Democratic Party policy, she was considered a potential vice presidential candidate in 1928, and that year attended the national presidential convention and spoke at the podium. She also eagerly attended public events where she was honored as a symbol of her husband. She sat next to Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, as President Franklin Roosevelt [delivered his speech asking for a declaration of war against Japan].


"Edith Wilson maintained close contact with her successors, especially Grace Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mamie Eisenhower, but she became overtly partisan in the 1960 election, denying her previous acquaintance with the Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon and pledging herself to John F. Kennedy's candidacy. Her last public appearance was at his January 20, 1961 inaugural. Her 1938 autobiography, My Memoir, was later found to be factually faulty by historians."

Monday, December 17, 2007

December 17: Air Force One

The radio call sign of the aircraft carrying the president is famously Air Force One, a term used since the Eisenhower administration, though two presidents regularly flew before him. FDR became the first president in office to ride in an airplane when he took a Boeing 314 flying boat to the Casablanca Conference in 1943 -- a means of travel judged to be safer than ship at the time, nearly 40 years after the Wright brothers first flew (December 17, 1903) but also when German submarines prowled the Atlantic. For a time after that, Roosevelt used a C-87 Liberator Express -- the "Guess Where Two" -- and then a C-54 Skymaster, the "Sacred Cow." That was the plane the president took to Yalta.



Tom Harris, writing in How Stuff Works, picks up the story of presidential planes from there: "President Truman took over the Sacred Cow, and later replaced it with a modified DC-6, which he dubbed the 'Independence.' Unlike the Sacred Cow, the Independence was covered in patriotic decoration, including an eagle head painted on its nose. President Eisenhower introduced two similar propeller planes, with upgraded equipment, including an air-to-ground telephone and an air-to-ground teletype machine.


"In 1958, presidential travel took a giant leap forward when the Air Force introduced two Boeing 707 jets into the fleet. The Air Force began using the radio call designation Air Force One during Eisenhower's administration, and the public took it up after Kennedy took office. At the beginning of his term, Kennedy added a more advanced, long-range 707, and oversaw an aesthetic redesign -- the blue and white decoration still used today.


"This plane and a twin added to the fleet in 1972 played a part in some of the most important historical events of the past 50 years. The 707 flew Kennedy to Dallas on November 22, 1963, and brought his body back later that day... The twin plane flew President Nixon from D.C. to California following his resignation. Mid-flight, the crew received confirmation that Gerald Ford had been sworn in as the next president, and they changed their radio call name from Air Force One to SAM (special air mission) 27000.


"The twin 707s served President Reagan throughout his two terms, and George Bush Sr. through the first part of his term. In 1990, the Air Force replaced the planes with the 747s in use today. The planes may be replaced again as early as 2010, when they hit their 20-year mark."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

December 16, 1907:

TR's Great White Fleet Sails

One hundred years ago, during the waning of Theodore Roosevelt's time as president, he oversaw the sailing of the Great White Fleet -- an armada of 16 new battleships, plus many other support ships -- on a cruise around the world. The move could easily be characterized as an example of carrying a big stick, and in this case, showing it off. Whether that counts as speaking softly is a matter of opinion.



JO2 [Journalist Second Class] Mike McKinley of the Naval Historical Center wrote: "On the warm, cloudy morning of Dec. 16, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt stood on the weather-deck of the presidential yacht Mayflower, anchored in the waters off Hampton Roads, Va. He flashed his famous broad, toothy smile and thought how "bully" it was to see a mighty armada of US battleships passing in review before him. The President, and indeed the throngs of onlookers gathered on shore, felt a great sense of pride and exhilaration as 16 battleships of the US Atlantic Fleet, all painted white, save for gilded bows, steamed in a long majestic column out of Hampton Roads to the open sea, flanked by their attending auxiliary ships.


"To the familiar strains of 'The Girl I left Behind Me,' the procession of battlewagons passed before the President at 400-yard intervals with their crews smartly manning the rails. This newly designated battle fleet was made up of ships commissioned since the end of the Spanish-American War....


"The four squadrons of warships, dubbed the 'Great White Fleet,' were manned by 14,000 sailors and marines under the command of Rear Adm. Robley 'Fighting Bob' Evans. All were embarking upon a naval deployment the scale of which had never been attempted by any nation before -- the first 'round-the-world cruise by a fleet of steam-powered, steel battleships. The 43,000 mile, 14-month circumnavigation would include 20 port calls on six continents; it is widely considered one of the greatest peacetime achievements of the US Navy.


"The idea of sending the new battle fleet around the world was the brainchild of the energetic 'Teddy' Roosevelt... [who] brought to the White House a deep conviction that only through a strong navy could a nation project its power and prestige abroad.


"In 1898, at the end of the Spanish-American War, the United States was thrust into the mainstream of international affairs and gained status as a world power, acquiring as possessions the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific, then Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. In 1904, the United States also established a naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to ensure the safety of the Panama Canal, then under construction.


"Roosevelt stressed the upgrading and expansion of the US fleet in order to protect American interests abroad. From 1904 to 1907, American shipyards turned out 11 new battleships to give the Navy awesome battle capabilities. This was timely, for, in 1906, hostilities with Japan seemed possible; the Japanese navy dominated the Pacific and posed a potential threat to the Philippines.


"Roosevelt didn't want a break with Japan, as the United States was ill-prepared for war. Most of our battle fleet was concentrated in the Atlantic, and there were only a handful of armored cruisers on duty in the Pacific. In the event of war with Japan, this small contingent that made up the Asiatic Battle Fleet would have to abandon the Philippines for West Coast ports until the United States had strength enough to go on the offensive.


"Thus, to impress upon Japan that the US Navy could shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Roosevelt ordered the Great White Fleet to sail around the world."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

December 15, 1791:

Bill of Rights Ratified

The first ten amendments to the US Constitution -- actually the third through the 12th of the proposed amendments -- are the work of James Madison, later the Fourth President of the United States, at the time a Congressman, more than anyone else. One of his historical sobriquets is "Father of the Bill of Rights." Madison had, of course, antecedents to draw from, such as the English Bill of Rights and the Virginia Declaration of Rights, but the impetus to add the amendments, and the form they took, are his -- even if he acted reluctantly.



Devin Bent of the James Madison Center wrote: "At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison had not believed that a bill of rights was required for the new government. However, during the ratification process, several states had called for a bill of rights, and Madison felt it was his obligation, his duty, to propose one. Madison also clearly felt a need to control the amendment process by taking leadership of the effort. New York, when it ratified the Constitution, had called for another constitutional convention, which was now clearly provided for in the Constitution. By drafting a Bill of Rights, Madison headed off that possibility. He stated quite openly:


" 'I should be unwilling to see a door opened for a re-consideration of the whole structure of the government, for a re-consideration of the principles and the substance of the powers given; because I doubt, if such a door was opened, if we should be very likely to stop at that point which would be safe to the government itself...'


"It is clear that Madison truly thought that a bill of rights was not necessary except to mollify those who thought it was required, to preclude another constitutional convention and to encourage the final two states to ratify the Constitution. In later years, his letters revealed no great pride of authorship. In a letter of 1821 he referred to 'those safe, if not necessary, and those politic, if not obligatory, amendments.' In his speech to Congress the best he could say of a bill of rights was that it was 'neither improper nor absolutely useless.' This is, certainly, faint praise."


December 15 is also an anniversary in the history of presidents and the turkeys they've "pardoned." President Truman is thought to be the first president to have done so, but it turns out the truth of the matter is more murky than that.

December 14, 1799: George Washington Dies

On December 14, 1799, His Excellency, the First President of the United States, George Washington -- variously nicknamed the Father of His Country, the Sword of the Revolution, the American Fabius, the American Cincinnatus, the Old Fox, the Sage of Mount Vernon, the Farmer President and the Surveyor President -- died at his home of pneumonia or perhaps epiglottitis, made worse by medical bleeding. He was the only president whose lifespan was completely within the 18th century.



Congress selected Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee to deliver a eulogy on behalf of the nation. Lee, a former Continental army officer and a Virginia congressman (and the father of Robert E. Lee), delivered the immortal speech on December 26, 1799:


"First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate and sincere—uniform, dignified and commanding—his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting... Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues... Such was the man for whom our nation mourns."


Today is also the anniversary of the death of football player George Gipp, who died in 1920. In 1940, Ronald Reagan played him in the movie Knute Rockne, All American, and the nickname Gipper stuck to the future 40th President of the United States.

Friday, December 14, 2007

December 13, 1818:

Mary Todd Lincoln's Birthday

Among first ladies, Mary Todd Lincoln's story is one of the most melancholy. And for good reasons. Firstladies.org puts it this way: "With the difficulty of making medical conclusions about Mrs. Lincoln long after she lived, precise assessment of what mental and physical problems she may have suffered is impossible. She did manifest behavior that suggests severe depression, anxiety and paranoia, migraine headaches, even possibly diabetes. Certainly all of her ills were exacerbated by a series of tragic circumstances during her White House tenure: the trauma of Civil War, including the allegiance of much of her family to the Confederacy and their death or injury in battle; an 1863 accident which threw her from a carriage and knocked her unconscious; the accusations by northerners that she was sympathetic to the Confederacy and the ostracizing of her as a "traitor" by Southerners; the sudden death of her son Willie in 1862; and, of course, the worst incident of all, the assassination of her husband as she sat beside him in the Ford's Theater.



"Mary Lincoln viewed her expensive 1861 White House redecoration and her extravagant clothing purchases (the former over-running a federal appropriation of $20,000 by $6,000, and the latter driving her family into great debt) as a necessary effort to create an image of the stability that would command respect not only for the President but the Union. She felt this most keenly in light of the uncertain neutrality of France and England. Public and press reaction, however, was ridicule and anger. She instead conveyed the image of a selfish and indulgent woman inconsiderate of the suffering that most of the nation's families were enduring as a result of the war her husband was managing. In time, she would even press Republican appointees to pay her debts, since they owed their positions to her husband.


"By April 1861, Union soldiers were decamped at the White House and would remain for the endurance of the Administration. The war overshadowed all of Mary Lincoln's activities. She worked as a volunteer nurse in the Union hospitals, offered intelligence she had learned as well as her own advice to the President on military personnel, recommended minor military appointments to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, toured Union Army camps and reviewed troops with her husband. She was largely successful in her objective of using entertaining as a means of raising Union morale. It is difficult to assess the influence she had on the President, if any, but there is no record of his asking her to stop her flow of advice, recommendations and observations to him. She was not successful in her efforts to oust Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, Secretary of State William Seward, General George McClellan and General Ulysses Grant...


"Deeply traumatized by her husband's murder, Mary Lincoln did not move out of the White House until May 23, 1865. She relocated to Chicago and there began her effort to settle her husband's estate. In 1868, she moved with her two sons, Robert and Tad, to Germany and from there commenced her battle with Congress for award of a presidential widow's pension. In 1871, a year after receiving the annual pension of $3,000, she returned to the United States. The sudden death that year of her son Tad left her spirit broken; she soon began behaving in what her son Robert considered to be signs of mental instability and he successfully had her tried for insanity.


"In 1875, she was committed to the Bellevue Insane Asylum, in Batavia, Illinois. Later in the day after the verdict was made, she twice attempted suicide by taking what she believed to be the drugs laudanum and camphor - which the suspicious druggist had replaced with a sugar substance. One of the nation's first women lawyers, Myra Bradwell believed Mrs. Lincoln was not insane and being held against her will. She filed an appeal on Mrs. Lincoln's behalf and after four months of confinement, the former First Lady was released to the care of her sister Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield. Once a second trial on June 19, 1876 declared her sane, she moved to France. After four years abroad she returned to live again in the Edwards home, in October 1880."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

December 12, 1831:

Proto-Whigs Meet to Nominate Clay

The idea of a national convention to nominate a presidential candidate was a novelty in December 1831 when members of the National Republican party -- elements of which would later evolve into the Whigs -- met in Baltimore to nominate Henry Clay (left) to run for president in 1832. In previous election cycles, party candidates had been nominated by caucuses of Congressmen. After the election of 1832, however, the parties realized the value of state and then national conventions in building membership and loyalty, so conventions became the norm.



The 1831 National Republican meeting was essentially one against President Jackson, spurred especially by his veto of the Maysville Road bill in 1830 and later vetoes of other internal improvements funded by the federal government. Such improvements were a cornerstone of the "American System" of Henry Clay, the leading anti-Jacksonian. The platform of the National Republicans included federal support for internal improvements, a protective tariff to nurture infant industries, and a strong Bank of the United States, all of which were articulated in the convention's journal -- an early version of a party platform decided by a convention.


John Sergeant, a Congressman from Pennsylvania, was also nominated in December 1831, as Clay's running mate. Ultimately, though, President Jackson (running with Martin Van Buren) was far too popular for Clay and Sergeant to overcome, with the Democratic ticket capturing 54.2 percent of the popular vote vs. 37.4 percent for the National Republicans, and 219 electoral votes vs. 49.



Interestingly, the convention nominating Clay wasn't the very first such meeting. In the summer of 1831, the Anti-Masonic party met to nominate William Wirt (right), a former US attorney general (and former Mason) for president. Wirt, of Maryland, and his running mate Amos Ellmaker of Pennsylvania, must have capitalized on strong anti-Masonic feelings in Vermont, because they won that state in 1832 -- the only state they won -- and got all of seven electoral votes for their trouble.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December 11, 1960:

An Assassin Stalks the President-Elect

A little-known near-assassination occurred in Palm Beach, Fla., on December 11, 1960, when one Richard Pavlick came within a whisker of blowing up President-elect John Kennedy with a car bomb that Pavlick himself would have detonated after ramming the house in which Kennedy was staying. Clearly the assassin was ahead of his time with the concept of suicide bombing.


Alistair Cooke, in his Letter from America on July 16, 2001, mentioned the incident: "There's one [assassination attempt] which never made the papers, which I heard about several years after John Kennedy was dead. It was an attempt on him, also shortly after his election, when he was down in Palm Beach staying at his father's house in December 1960.


"There is an office of the Secret Service known, not well known, as the protective research section. It has files on every letter -- threatening or obscene letter -- written to the President of the United States. The file has over 50,000 such notes, swollen by the never-ending dribble of the same offensive letters that come in to every incumbent president.


"If two notes appear to be from the same author the service puts out its feelers. Well, on Friday 9 December 1960 the protective research section received a letter from a postal inspector in a small New England town. It warned about the mischievous possibilities of a local character, one Richard Pavlick, who'd publicly uttered threats against the life of President-elect Kennedy.


"The Secret Service tracked the man to his home town and then started alerting airports, especially Palm Beach in Florida. However, two days after getting that warning note, on the following Sunday [December 11], a private small car drove along a Palm Beach boulevard and parked across from Mr Joseph Kennedy's house. At the wheel was Richard Pavlick.


"His car was equipped with seven sticks of dynamite -- enough, it was later calculated, to blow up a small mountain. They were rigged to go off at the pulling of a switch. President-elect Kennedy appeared and was about to go off to church. He appeared on the veranda of the house with, by great good luck, Mrs Kennedy and their two children.


"Pavlick had his hand on the switch. He suddenly paused -- overcome, he said, by a passing impulse. 'I didn't want,' he said, 'to harm her or the children. I'll get him later at the church.' Well, he drove off... However, four days later they caught him -- checking, once again, the layout of the Kennedy's church."


Pavlick was never convicted of any crime, but rather was confined to a mental hospital for about six years after the incident. He died in obscurity in 1975.

Monday, December 10, 2007

December 10, 1906:

TR Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

One hundred and one years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt became the first American, and thus far one of two sitting presidents (Wilson was the other one), to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Charles B. Doleac, an attorney and founder of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forums, wrote this about the reason Roosevelt won the prize:



"Despite winning most of the battles and sinking the Russian fleet in the Battle of Tsushima Strait, Japan could not decisively defeat the Russian Army. The continuation of the struggle threatened both Russia and Japan with financial ruin, destabilized the established balance of power in Asia and Europe and risked, through complicated alliances, drawing the other European powers into the conflict as later happened in World War I. As President of a neutral power not aligned with either warring party, Roosevelt seized the opportunity to be peacemaker.


"Careful to make certain that both parties understood the United States was not imposing its own view on the conflict, Roosevelt offered the US as the neutral host for peace negotiations, respecting the Japanese and Russian insistence on direct, face-to-face negotiations without the third party interference the European powers had previously imposed on both nations. After convincing both Russia and Japan to come to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Roosevelt engaged the capacity of the US Navy for the security, diplomatic protocol, and telecommunications necessary for the formal talks at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Roosevelt then entrusted the Governor of the State of New Hampshire and the local people of New Hampshire and Maine with the responsibility of hosting the delegates' stay (accommodating them at Wentworth by the Sea Hotel), confident they would provide the right neutral, encouraging atmosphere for the negotiations to proceed both formally and informally.


"True to his promise of non-interference, Roosevelt never came to Portsmouth. But when the negotiations deadlocked for days over issues of territory and indemnity, Roosevelt pressed back channel communication with the Russian and Japanese governments and with other European powers to encourage both parties to break the impasse. Roosevelt relied at this critical juncture on the diplomatic protocol of the Navy, the informal encouragement of Governor John McLane and the persistent spirit of hope within the hospitality of the local people to keep the negotiators at the table. The two sides kept at their negotiations until they reached agreement, neither Japan nor Russia wishing to disappoint their hosts or risk world disapproval for being the first to break the negotiations.


"Roosevelt 's brilliance was as a realistic diplomat. He created a neutral but supportive negotiating atmosphere where he could suggest compromises through back channel contacts but ensured that the belligerents decided their mutual balance of power without the interference of any other government. Ultimately, through the Treaty of Portsmouth, the Russians and Japanese established a framework that balanced power between Russia and Japan in Asia until the end of World War II."


The entire article is here. In his 1913 autobiography, TR himself commented on the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize: "As a result of the Portsmouth peace, I was given the Nobel Peace Prize. This consisted of a medal, which I kept, and a sum of $40,000, which I turned over as a foundation of industrial peace to a board of trustees which included Oscar Straus, Seth Low and John Mitchell. In the present state of the world's development, industrial peace is even more essential than international peace; and it was fitting and appropriate to devote the peace prize to such a purpose. In 1910, while in Europe, one of my most pleasant experiences was my visit to Norway, where I addressed the Nobel Committee, and set forth in full the principles upon which I had acted, not only in this particular case but throughout my administration."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

December 9, 1975:

Ford to New York: Don't Drop Dead After All

The New York Daily News published on of the most famous headlines of the 1970s in the fall of 1975: "Ford to City: Drop Dead." The city was on the verge of bankruptcy and wanted federal assistance. President Ford was a little more than reluctant to agree to whatever bailout Congress might provide. As the story under the headline said:


"President Ford declared flatly today that he would veto any bill calling for 'a federal bail-out of New York City' and instead proposed legislation that would make it easier for the city to go into bankruptcy.


"In a speech before the National Press Club, Ford coupled repeated attacks on the city’s fiscal management with a promise that if default came, the federal government would see to it that 'essential public services for the people of New York City' would be maintained...


"The ferocity of Ford’s attack on the city’s spending – he likened it to an 'insidious disease' – appeared to doom chances for passage of any congressional plan to help New York avert default through federal loan guarantees.


" 'I can tell you now that I am prepared to veto any bill that has as its purpose a federal bailout of New York City to prevent a default,' the President said."


On December 9, 1975, however, Ford did sign another sort of a fiscal rescue for the city of New York -- a series of loans that Congress had approved, $2.3 billion each year through mid-1978. Each loan had to be repaid within the year it was made.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

December 8, 1941:

The Day of Infamy Speech

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.



The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

December 7, 1787:

Delaware Ratifies the Constitution


Delaware has the distinction of ratifying the Constitution before any other state, on this day in 1787, an act that later earned it the nickname "First State" and the first place in the 50 state quarters program. The document established the foundation of the US presidency, in language as follows (with certain parts removed because they were later superseded by constitutional amendments):


Section 1 - The President

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:


Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector...


The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.


No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States....


The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.


Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."


Section 2 - Civilian Power over Military, Cabinet, Pardon Power, Appointments

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.


He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.


The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.


Section 3 - State of the Union, Convening Congress

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.


Section 4 - Disqualification

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

December 6, 1884:

Washington Monument Completed

December 6 boasts of a number of events in presidential and near-presidential history. In 1884, the long-planned, long-delayed Washington Monument was completed with the setting of its capstone, making the monument 555 feet 5⅛ inches tall, then the tallest structure in the world. (It would be surpassed by the Eiffel Tower a few years later.)


Five years later, on December 6, 1889, the first and only president of the CSA, Jefferson Davis, died of natural causes at age 81. He was in New Orleans at the time of his death, and buried there. In 1893, a funeral train was organized to take his body to Richmond via Gulfport, Miss.; Mobile; Montgomery; Atlanta; Greenville, SC; Raleigh; and Danville, Va. Thousands turned out along the route to pay their respects.


In 1923, Calvin Coolidge's first State of the Union speech was also the first one ever broadcast on the radio, in this case six powerful stations -- perhaps as many as a million people heard the speech. On March 4, 1925, his inauguration was the first one broadcast.


In 1973, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 40th Vice President of the United States. Ford was one of the seven vice presidents who spent less than a year in that position -- a fraternity that also includes John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, William R. King, Harry Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, Chester Arthur and Thomas Hendricks.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

December 5, 1782:

Martin Van Buren's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Martin Van Buren, Eighth President of the United States, and the first holder of that office to be born after the Declaration of Independence. The standard historical impression of Old Kinderhook's administration is that of an appendix to Andrew Jackson's, but his most enduring legacy -- one that extends to the present day and into the foreseeable future -- involves his efforts in fashioning the faction around Jackson into a viable, long-term organization: the Democratic party. Or to use a more 19th-century terminology, the National Democracy.


One writer, libertarian Jefferey Rogers Hummel, goes even further in his praise of Van Buren, in an essay called "Martin Van Buren: The Greatest American President":


"Van Buren was a lawyer-president who represented a new breed of professional politician. His opponents denounced him during his life for subtle intrigue, scheming pragmatism, and indecisive 'non committalism.' Those charges were reflected in such popular nicknames as the Little Magician, the Red Fox of Kinderhook, and the American Talleyrand. The ideologically compatible but personally acerbic John Randolph of Roanoke once observed that 'he rowed to his objective with muffled oars,' faulting him as 'an adroit, dapper, little managing man,' who 'can’t inspire respect.'


"Van Buren’s demeanor reinforced such impressions. Appearing shorter than his five feet and six inches, he was stout and balding by the time of his inauguration, his formerly red sideburns now grey and framing a large head with a prominent brow and calculating blue eyes. Always fashionably dressed, charmingly witty, and imperturbably amiable, Van Buren never let political differences master his emotions or cloud his social relations. He was not a daring, original intellect in the mold of John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and his ability to draw out the views of others often masked his pious devotion to orthodox Jeffersonianism. Even sympathetic historians tend to slight Van Buren’s term in office as the 'third Jackson administration.' Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., concludes that, while president, 'Van Buren was weak in the very respect in which he might have been expected to excel — as a politician.' Except during the last year in office, his management was 'negligent and maladroit' and showed very little 'executive energy.'


"On the other hand, modern advocates of decentralization and states’ rights are often more taken with Van Buren’s better-known rival, Calhoun, and his doctrine of nullification. Van Buren admittedly would not go to the lengths of a John Randolph in sacrificing political success for ideological purity. Yet the New Yorker’s overall career displayed far more consistency in opposing government power at all levels than did the twisting, turning path of the swaggering opportunist from South Carolina. Van Buren was also better attuned to Old Republican antistatism than the irascible, impulsive, and militaristic Old Hickory as strikingly illustrated by Van Buren’s more conciliatory rejection of nullification in spite of bitter personal differences with Calhoun. Above all, in sharp contrast to his political mentor, Thomas Jefferson, the Little Magician managed to hew more closely to principle when he was in the White House than when he was not. Indeed, a close examination of Van Buren’s four years in office reveals that historians have grossly underrated his many remarkable accomplishments in the face of heavy odds. Those accomplishments, in my opinion, rank Martin Van Buren as the greatest president in American history."



It's also a good time to mention Van Buren's vice president, the largely forgotten Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky (right), a Congressman selected as a westerner to give geographic balance to the ticket in 1836. Richard Johnson remains the only vice president selected by the US Senate after no candidate for the office obtained a majority of electoral votes in the election -- Johnson was one short. Supposedly some of the electors objected to his relationship with Julia Chinn, a family slave that he openly treated as his wife.

December 4, 1918:

Wilson Sails for Europe

President Wilson and a large entourage sailed from New York this day in 1918 aboard the SS George Washington, escorted by warships under command of Admiral Henry Thomas Mayo, to attend the Peace Conference at Paris. After nine days at sea, Wilson arrived at Brest, and then traveled by land to Versailles, where he headed the US delegation to the conference, the purpose of which was to seek an official end to the hostilities that had ceased with the armistice of November 11.



Two days before he left, the president had told Congress in his State of the Union address, "I welcome this occasion to announce to the Congress my purpose to join in Paris the representatives of the governments with which we have been associated in the war against the Central Empires for the purpose of discussing with them the main features of the treaty of peace. I realize the great inconveniences that will attend my leaving the country, particularly at this time, but the conclusion that it was my paramount duty to go has been forced upon me by considerations which I hope will seem as conclusive to you as they have seemed to me.


"The Allied governments have accepted the bases of peace which I outlined to the Congress on the eighth of January last [known to history as the Fourteen Points], as the Central Empires also have, and very reasonably desire my personal counsel in their interpretation and application, and it is highly desirable that I should give it in order that the sincere desire of our Government to contribute without selfish purpose of any kind to settlements that will be of common benefit to all the nations concerned may be made fully manifest. The peace settlements which are now to be agreed upon are of transcendent importance both to us and to the rest of the world, and I know of no business or interest which should take precedence of them.


"The gallant men of our armed forces on land and sea have consciously fought for the ideals which they knew to be the ideals of their country; I have sought to express those ideals; they have accepted my statements of them as the substance of their own thought and purpose, as the associated governments have accepted them; I owe it to them to see to it, so far as in me lies, that no false or mistaken interpretation is put upon them, and no possible effort omitted to realize them. It is now my duty to play my full part in making good what they offered their life's blood to obtain. I can think of no call to service which could transcend this."


Wilson received a hero's welcome in France, at least along his route from Brest to Versailles, but Britain and France -- which is say, Lloyd George and Clemenceau -- were considerably less enthusiastic about Wilson's ideas about the settlement of the war. Wilson pushed hard for the creation of the ill-starred League of Nations and succeeded in having that put in the treaty, but most of the other points died on the vine.

Monday, December 03, 2007

December 3, 1929:

Hoover on the Economy

In his first State of the Union, President Herbert Hoover had the the following to say about the "general economic situation." In hindsight, it's easy to criticize Hoover, but he was hardly alone in thinking that the fallout from stock market crash needed attention, but was ultimately only going to be a bump in the road.



"The country has enjoyed a large degree of prosperity and sound progress during the past year with a steady improvement in methods of production and distribution and consequent advancement in standards of living. Progress has, of course, been unequal among industries, and some, such as coal, lumber, leather, and textiles, still lag behind. The long upward trend of fundamental progress, however, gave rise to over-optimism as to profits, which translated itself into a wave of uncontrolled speculation in securities, resulting in the diversion of capital from business to the stock market and the inevitable crash...


"Fortunately, the Federal reserve system had taken measures to strengthen the position against the day when speculation would break, which together with the strong position of the banks has carried the whole credit system through the crisis without impairment. The capital which has been hitherto absorbed in stock-market loans for speculative purposes is now returning to the normal channels of business...


"The sudden threat of unemployment and especially the recollection of the economic consequences of previous crashes under a much less secured financial system created unwarranted pessimism and fear. It was recalled that past storms of similar character had resulted in retrenchment of construction, reduction of wages, and laying off of workers. The natural result was the tendency of business agencies throughout the country to pause in their plans and proposals for continuation and extension of their businesses, and this hesitation unchecked could in itself intensify into a depression with widespread unemployment and suffering.


"I have, therefore, instituted systematic, voluntary measures of cooperation with the business institutions and with State and municipal authorities to make certain that fundamental businesses of the country shall continue as usual, that wages and therefore consuming power shall not be reduced, and that a special effort shall be made to expand construction work in order to assist in equalizing other deficits in employment. Due to the enlarged sense of cooperation and responsibility which has grown in the business world during the past few years the response has been remarkable and satisfactory...


"I am convinced that through these measures we have reestablished confidence. Wages should remain stable. A very large degree of industrial unemployment and suffering which would otherwise have occurred has been prevented. Agricultural prices have reflected the returning confidence. The measures taken must be vigorously pursued until normal conditions are restored."

December 2, 1823:

The Monroe Doctrine

The seed that became the Monroe Doctrine, known to American schoolchildren down the decades, and sometimes referenced by later presidents during policy pronouncements (John Kennedy posited that Soviet aid to Cuba constituted a violation of the doctrine), was planted by President Monroe's seventh annual message to Congress in late 1823. It's useful to remember that most of Latin America had broken away from the Spanish Crown in the decade before Monroe's speech; in 1822, the United States had recognized Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico as independent nations.


The US State Department's web site has this to say about the Monroe Doctrine: "In 1823, France invited Spain to restore the Bourbon power, and there was talk of France and Spain warring upon the new republics with the backing of the Holy Alliance (Russia, Prussia and Austria). This news appalled the British government -- all the work of Wolfe, Chatham and other eighteenth-century British statesmen to get France out of the New World would be undone, and France would again be a power in the Americas.


"George Canning, the British foreign minister, proposed that the United States and Great Britain join to warn off France and Spain from intervention. Both Jefferson and Madison urged Monroe to accept the offer, but [Secretary of State] John Quincy Adams was more suspicious. Adams also was quite concerned about Russia's efforts to extend its influence down the Pacific coast from Alaska south to California, then owned by Mexico.


"At the Cabinet meeting of November 7, 1823, Adams argued against Canning's offer, and declared, 'It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war.'


"He argued and finally won over the Cabinet to an independent policy. In Monroe's message to Congress on December 2, 1823, he delivered what we have always called the Monroe Doctrine, although in truth it should have been called the Adams Doctrine. Essentially, the United States was informing the powers of the Old World that the American continents were no longer open to European colonization, and that any effort to extend European political influence into the New World would be considered by the United States 'as dangerous to our peace and safety.' The United States would not interfere in European wars or internal affairs, and expected Europe to stay out of American affairs.


"Although it would take decades to coalesce into an identifiable policy, John Quincy Adams did raise a standard of an independent American foreign policy so strongly that future administrations could not ignore it. One should note, however, that the policy succeeded because it met British interests as well as American, and for the next 100 years was secured by the backing of the British fleet."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

December 1, 1862:

Lincoln's Second State of the Union

Lincoln's second Message to Congress, or State of the Union, is best remembered for its closing paragraph:



"Fellow-citizens, we can not escape history. We of this Congress and this Administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.”


But that's hardly the entire scope of the document, which, unlike modern State of the Union speeches, was delivered in writing to Congress (Jefferson began that practice, and it lasted until Wilson again began delivering the speeches himself, which Washington and Adams had done). Lincoln's second State of the Union -- when the union was indeed in a bad way -- includes a lot of other information, some of it unexpected, except to Lincoln scholars and enthusiasts: trade matters, the settlement of the West and the building of a railroad to the Pacific, relations with other countries, the financial condition of the US Post Office and much more. He even proposed this a constitutional amendment:


ART.--. Every State wherein slavery now exists which shall abolish the same therein at any time or times before the 1st day of January, A. D. 1900, shall receive compensation from the United States as follows...


ART.--All slaves who shall have enjoyed actual freedom by the chances of the war at any time before the end of the rebellion shall be forever free; but all owners of such who shall not have been disloyal shall be compensated for them at the same rates as is provided for States adopting abolishment of slavery, but in such way that no slave shall be twice accounted for.


ART.--Congress may appropriate money and otherwise provide for colonizing free colored persons with their own consent at any place or places without the United States...


There's also discussion of the future population of the United States. Lincoln reckoned it to be about 251 million by 1930, by extrapolating growth rates from 1790 to 1860. (The US population didn't reach that level till about 1990.) The entire speech is here.

November 30, 1943:

FDR at Tehran

The Hoover Institution describes the following painting this way:



On the eve of the Tehran Conference, the Iranian government commissioned a Persian master of miniatures to create three paintings as gifts for FDR, Stalin, and Churchill. The scene depicts the three leaders vanquishing Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini. Each leader was given a painting in which he was personally leading the charge on the white horse. (This is a copy of the one given to Churchill.) The artist has portrayed the Iranian people as distant observers (upper left).

Friday, November 30, 2007

November 29, 1952:

Ike Goes to Korea

In late 1952, Dwight Eisenhower visited Korea, a highly unusual bit of travel for a president-elect. But during his campaign for the presidency, he had said he would "go to Korea." Remarkably, he did so, arriving on November 29.



"During the presidential campaign of 1952, Republican candidate Eisenhower was critical of the Truman administration's foreign policy, particularly its inability to bring an end to the conflict in Korea," noted the History Channel. "President Truman challenged Eisenhower on October 24 to come up with an alternate policy. Eisenhower responded with the startling announcement that if he were elected, he would personally go to Korea to get a firsthand view of the situation. The promise boosted Eisenhower's popularity and he handily defeated Democratic candidate Adlai E. Stevenson.


"Shortly after his election, Eisenhower fulfilled his campaign pledge, though he was not very specific about exactly what he hoped to accomplish. After a short stay he returned to the United States, yet remained mum about his plans concerning the Korean War. After taking office, however, Eisenhower adopted a get-tough policy toward the communists in Korea. He suggested that he would 'unleash' the Nationalist Chinese forces on Taiwan against communist China, and he sent only slightly veiled messages that he would use any force necessary (including the use of nuclear weapons) to bring the war to an end unless peace negotiations began to move forward. The Chinese, exhausted by more than two years of war, finally agreed to terms and an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. The United States had suffered over 50,000 casualties in this 'forgotten war,' and spent nearly $70 billion."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 28, 1866:

Henry Bacon's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Henry Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial. He was one of the best-known architects of his day, known especially for designing settings for sculpture. The Lincoln Memorial was his final project, now known the world over. He died in 1924, two years after the memorial was dedicated.



The April 17, 1912 edition of The New York Times noted that "the Lincoln Memorial Commission by a close vote decided to-day to recommend to Congress the design for a memorial to Abraham Lincoln submitted by Henry Bacon, a New York architect.


"Mr. Bacon's design, already approved by the Commission of Fine Arts, calls for a rectangular marble structure surrounded by Doric columns, each forty feet high, not unlike the Treasury Building here except that there is to be only one story. The statue of Lincoln, designs for which are yet to be submitted, will stand on a pedestal at one end of the structure. On one wall will be Lincoln's Gettysburg address, probably in bronze, and on the opposite wall his second inaugurate address....



"Russell Pope, another New York architect, was the only other architect whose design was considered at to-day's meeting."


John Russell Pope might have lost that commission, but he too eventually designed a major presidential memorial: the Jefferson Memorial, dedicated in 1943, six years after he died.

November 27, 1973:

The Senate Confirms Ford as VP

The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution specifies that in filling a vacancy in the vice presidency -- something that occurred no fewer than 16 times before the amendment was adopted in 1967 -- the president's choice needs confirmation "by a majority vote of both houses of Congress."



In 1973, such a confirmation happened for the first time when Richard Nixon selected Gerald Ford to fill the vacancy created by Spiro Agnew's resignation. The Senate voted first, 34 years ago today, and it was an overwhelming vote in favor of Ford. Perhaps that was partly because Ford was not Nixon's first choice; he was his last choice.


Ford's biography on the US Senate web site has this to say: "Nixon knew that Democrats felt apprehensive about confirming someone who might be a strong contender for the presidency in 1976 and that they preferred 'a caretaker Vice President who would simply fill out Agnew's unexpired term.' Nixon wanted to appoint his Treasury Secretary, John Connally, but after meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership he concluded that Connally would have a difficult time being confirmed. At Camp David, Nixon prepared an announcement speech with four endings, one each for Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, Connally, and Ford. Looking through the names that Republican party leaders had suggested, he found that Rockefeller and Reagan had tied, Connally was third, and Ford last. However, among members of Congress, including such Democrats as Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and House Speaker Carl Albert, Ford's name came in first and, as Nixon noted, 'they were the ones who would have to approve the man I nominated.' As Speaker Albert later asserted, 'We gave Nixon no choice but Ford.'


"The Watergate scandal had so preoccupied and weakened Nixon that he could not win a fight over Connally. Choosing either Rockefeller or Reagan would likely split the Republican party. That left Ford. Nixon reasoned that, not only were Ford's views on foreign and domestic policy practically identical with his, but that the House leader would be the easiest to confirm. He had also received assurances that Ford 'had no ambitions to hold office after January 1977,' which would clear the path for Connally to seek the Republican presidential nomination...


"Ford's nomination was subject to confirmation in both the Senate and House, where Democrats held commanding majorities... Liberals expressed displeasure with Ford's conservative voting record on social welfare and other domestic issues and his undeviating loyalty to President Nixon's foreign policies but did not believe they could withhold confirmation merely because of policy disagreements. A few liberals, led by New York Rep. Bella Abzug, tried to block action on Ford's nomination, anticipating that Nixon's eventual removal would make House Speaker Albert president. Albert, however, pushed for Ford's speedy confirmation...


"On November 27 the Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford, and on December 6, the House agreed, 387 to 35 (with Ford voting "present"). President Nixon wanted Ford to take the oath of office in the East Room of the White House, but Ford thought it more appropriate to hold the ceremony in the Capitol, where he had served for a quarter of a century..."