Tuesday, July 10, 2007

July 10, 1792:

George Dallas' Birthday

Millard Fillmore fans know that 157 years ago today he took the oath of office as the 13th President of the United States. For more on him and his achievements, see January 7.

Fillmore may be the nation's most obscure president, but vice presidents always trump presidents in obscurity. George M. Dallas, the 11th Vice President of the United States, serving during James K. Polk's term, was born this day in 1792 in Philadelphia.

The city in Texas may be named for him, but that isn't quite clear. According to the Dallas Historical Society: "Over the years, there has been a lot of debate about the name Dallas. We know that Dallas County was named for George Mifflin Dallas... However, all that is known about the origin of Dallas for the name of the city is that John Neely Bryan named it for 'his friend, Dallas' There are several candidates for whom this friend might be.

"The town was known as Dallas early in 1842. At that time, George Dallas was a practicing lawyer in Philadelphia. He had never been very far west, and Bryan had never been very far east, so it's doubtful they ever met..."

In any case, George M. Dallas, a Jacksonian Democrat, was variously a prominent attorney in Philadelphia, mayor of that city, US Senator from Pennsylvania, and US Minster to Russia before becoming vice president; and US Minister to Britain afterwards. As for the vice presidency, he had this to say:

"Except that he is President of the Senate, [the vice president] forms no part of the government:—he enters into no administrative sphere:—he has practically no legislative, executive, or judicial functions:—while the Senate sits, he presides, that's all:—he doesn't debate or vote, (except to end a tie) he merely preserves the order and courtesy of business . . . [When Congress is in recess] where is he to go? what has he to do?—no where, nothing! He might, to be sure, meddle with affairs of state, rummage through the departments, devote his leisure to the study of public questions and interests, holding himself in readiness to counsel and to help at every emergency in the great onward movement of the vast machine:—But, then, recollect, that this course would sometimes be esteemed intrusive, sometimes factious, sometimes vain and arrogant, and, as it is prescribed by no law, it could not fail to be treated lightly because guaranteed by no responsibility."

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