Friday, August 31, 2007

August 31, 1864:

McClellan Nominated

In 1864, the rump Democratic Party in the North turned to Gen. George McClellan as its standard-bearer. By this time, he was already a great What If of American history. What if he'd had the bulldog determination when it came to fighting that US Grant later displayed? Would a Union victory have come sooner? Would McClellan be standing for president in 1864 basked in glory the way Grant was in 1868, with Grant himself notable as the former commander of the Army of the Tennessee, but otherwise undistinguished? Or would an early defeat of the Confederacy, without the wide destruction of actual history, left the southern states prone to make guerrilla warfare?

And what if McClellan had won the presidency in 1864? It's well known that in the summer of 1864, Lincoln doubted his chances for re-election, though perhaps even he was being too gloomy about his prospects. In any case, with the fall of Atlanta at almost the same time as McClellan's nomination, things were looking up for Lincoln. Besides, McClellan's candidacy had something of a ball-and-chain in the form of the party's copperhead platform, which he took great pains to distance himself from. It didn't do him any good -- he lost to Lincoln by a fair margin. Father Abraham outpolled Little Mac even among the Army of the Potomac voters, it seems.

The September 17, 1864, issue of Harper's Weekly had this to say: "General McCLELLAN'S next appearance is as the candidate of the Democratic party for the Presidency. The platform of the party which nominated him is only too evidently a peace-on-any-condition platform. It declares explicitly in favor of an immediate armistice, which will restore to the rebels all which they have lost, and whether the Convention of States which it advocates results in Union or not it still declares for peace. It says distinctly : " The experiment of restoring the Union by war has proved a failure." McCLELLAN'S exposition of his own views in his West Point speech is just as explicit in the opposite direction. He says:

" 'To efface the insult offered to our flag, to secure ourselves from the fate of the divided Republics of Italy and South America, to preserve our Government from destruction, to enforce its just power and laws, to maintain our very existence as a nation, these were the causes which impelled us to draw the sword. Rebellion against a Government like ours, which contains the means of self-adjustment and a pacific remedy for evils, should never be confounded with a revolution against despotic power which refuses redress of wrongs. Such a rebellion can not be justified upon ethical grounds, and the only alternatives for our choice are its suppression or the destruction of our nationality. At such a time as this, and in such a struggle, political partisanship should be merged in a true and brave patriotism, which thinks only of the good of the whole country. It was in this cause and with these motives that so many of our comrades have given their lives, and to this we are all personally pledged in all honor and fidelity. Shall such devotion as that of our dead comrades be of no avail? Shall it be said in after ages that we lacked the vigor to complete the work thus begun? That after all these noble lives freely given we hesitated and failed to keep straight on until our land was saved? Forbid it, Heaven, and give us firmer, true hearts than
that!' "

Thursday, August 30, 2007

August 30, 1963:

The Hot Line Established

Hollywood has it that the hot line between the United States and the Soviet Union consisted of a pair of red telephones, one in the White House, the other in the Kremlin. The actually hot line, of course, was (and is) not like that.

The system was first established on August 30, 1963, less than a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. A contemporary New York Times article described it: "The decision to establish the 'hot line' is a direct outgrowth of the serious delays that developed in diplomatic communications between the two capitals during the Cuban crisis last fall. Diplomatic messages are now sent over normal commercial channels to the United States and Soviet Embassies in Moscow and Washington.

"With the time consumed by transmission, coding and decoding, translation and delivery, hours are often required before a message reaches its destination.

"The direct link, which is available 24 hours a day, will make it possible for the heads of the two Governments to exchange messages in minutes.

"A message from President Kennedy to Premier Khrushchev, for example, will be sent to the Washington terminal of the link in the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon. There American Teletype operators will type the message on a teleprinter and a punched tape.

"After checking the typed message against the original copy, the Teletype tape will be fed into a Teletype transmitter. As the message goes out, it will be encoded by a "scrambling device" to prevent anyone from reading it at relay points along the 10,000-mile cable circuit.

"In Moscow, the message will go through a decoding device and appear on a Teletype machine in the Kremlin near the office of Premier Khrushchev."

President Kennedy never got to use it; nor, for that matter, did Nikita Khrushchev. According to CCN's The Cold War series: "The first message sent on the hot line came into Washington from Moscow in the early hours of June 5, 1967. In his memoirs, President Lyndon Johnson recalled picking up the phone in his White House bedroom -- and hearing the voice of his defense secretary, Robert McNamara.

" 'Mr. President,' said McNamara, 'the hot line is up.'

"Several hours earlier, war had broken out between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Soviet premier, Aleksei Kosygin, wanted to know if the United States had taken part in Israel's surprise attack on Egypt -- which was receiving Soviet support at the time. Johnson denied any involvement and said the U.S. was calling for a truce in the conflict.

"For the next several days, until a cease-fire was reached, the two sides sent as many as 20 messages over the hot line, to make sure that what later became known as the Six Day War would not escalate into a global nuclear war. "

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

August 29, 1916:

New War Power for the President

In the summer of 1916, Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes were locked in close contest to see if Wilson would receive a second term, Congress allowed that the president -- whomever it would be -- would have a new extraordinary power during time of war.

On August 29, 1916, Congress passed "An Act Making Appropriations for the Support of the Army for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1917," and it contained the following language: "The President, in time of war, is empowered, through the Secretary of War, to take possession and assume control of any system or systems of transportation, or any part thereof, and to utilize the same, to the exclusion as far as may be necessary of other than war traffic thereon, for the transfer or transportation of troops, war material and equipment, and for other such purposes connected with the emergency as may be needful if desirable."

The best-remembered example of a president using this power was in 1950, when President Truman seized the railroads to avert a strike-related shutdown a few weeks into the Korean War (see August 25). But President Wilson made use of the act much earlier, in December of 1917.

According to Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century, (2000) Stephen B. Goddard wrote: "Railroad leaders held the key to effective mobilization [in World War I]. Feeling the public’s angry glare upon them, they created a war board, to gather their independent lines into one massive network. But asking bitter rivals to cooperate in servicing each other’s customers predictably produced only bickering and backbiting. And the smothering restrictions upon them by the Interstate Commerce Commission compromised their efficiency. By December, Wilson knew that the time for jawboning and conciliation had passed. The President seized control of the nation’s railways but left their ownership untouched.

"To relieve the overwhelmed railroads, the military had little choice but to order trucks bound for the European front to drive from Midwestern plants across narrow, frozen dirt roads to the Atlantic Coast, during a winter that turned out to be one of the most severe on record. Thirty thousand trucks bumped along as crews worked around the clock to clear heavy snowdrifts. Throughout 1918, America’s shackled and antiquated railroads and its pitifully inadequate roads did their best to mobilize and supply an overseas force of two million men."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

August 28, 1968:

The Democratic National Convention, Chicago

Nearly 40 years later, the events surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the summer of 1968 still inspire hyperbole, such as this by one Dean Blobaum, who has (according to his web site) a "quasi-academic research interest in the history of radical movements in the 1960s":

"Heads were cracked, tear gas billowed, police lines advanced through demonstrators—and television cameras captured some of the graphic scenes. The eyes of the nation focused on Chicago and we decided who we were, what side we were on, and what we would fight for. Chicago changed minds, Chicago changed politics, Chicago changed the Left, Chicago changed the media, Chicago changed those who were here and those who watched from far away, and Chicago changed Chicago."

On August 28, 1968, Vice President Hubert Humphrey was nominated for president, but that was overshadowed by events outside the convention hall. For a more sober assessment, we turn to the Chicago Public Library: "Some of the country's most publicized anti-war demonstrations took place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention... Police, national guardsmen, and federal troops prepared for the arrival of a hundred thousand protesters. The number of persons at any of the protest sites never exceeded six or seven thousand, including a thousand undercover agents and a number of spectators. As the following passage from the city's official report illustrates, animosity was high on both sides:

" 'Large amounts of hair spray were sold in the Old Town area stores during the time of the Convention. The expulsion of hair spray from a can when set fire to works as a home-made flame thrower. Royal Blue Food Store at 744 W. Fullerton Avenue reported large groups of Yippies purchasing large quantities of hair spray. It is common knowledge that Yippies have no use for hair spray or other cosmetics for personal use.'

"Most clashes between the police and demonstrators happened in and about the Grant Park-Michigan Avenue and Lincoln Park areas. Compared to anti-war protests elsewhere in the country, and other riots in Chicago, damage and injuries were minor. However, many of the brief clashes were televised live or played later. Six hundred forty-one persons were arrested and numerous protesters, as well as 198 police officers, reported injuries. The events continued to receive wide public attention, due to the federal government using a new law to charge eight persons with conspiring to cross state lines to cause riots. The Chicago Conspiracy Trial also made good theater and continued to draw attention to the convention for many years."

August 27:

Birthday of Vice Presidents

Three vice presidents were born on August 27, more than any other day in the calendar, though only two if you count vice presidents who never made it to the presidency.

In 1809, Hannibal Hamlin (pictured, left) was born in Paris, Maine, and spent most of his life as a successful Maine politician. He was 15th Vice President of the United States, under President Lincoln, and as such the first Republican to hold that office; he is also the only Mainer to be vice president, and the only veep named after a Carthagian. Lincoln unceremoniously dropped him from the ticket in 1864, so President Hamlin was not to be.

In 1865, Charles C. Dawes (pictured, right) was born Marietta, Ohio, though he's associated with Evanston, Illinois, where he lived later in life as a successful banker and Republican politico. Dawes was 30th Vice President of the United States, under President Coolidge, and in as much as one can fail at being vice president, Dawes did. Early in his term he managed to alienate both the president and the US Senate, so his time as vice president was even more uneventful than is usual for that office.

August 27 is also birthday of Lyndon Johnson, 37th Vice President and 36th President of the United States, born in 1908.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

August 26, 1839:

La Amistad Captured

On this day in 1839, the brig USS Washington captured the Spanish vessel La Amistad off Long Island. Amistad was under the control of African slaves who had rebelled off the coast of Cuba and who wanted to return to Africa. Thus began an complicated cause célèbre in the United States, with the Africans and their allies among American abolitionists struggling to win their freedom against other parties, such as the Spanish government -- and the Van Buren administration -- who would reclaim them as slaves. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, and among others arguing the case for the Africans was the Sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, by then a Congressman from Massachusetts.

"After an appeal was made to the Supreme Court, [abolitionist] Lewis Tappan visited John Quincy Adams at his home in Massachusetts in an effort to persuade 'Old Man Eloquent' to argue the Africans case in Washington," writes Douglas Linder in Famous American Trials. "Former President Adams, then 74 and a member of Congress, at first resisted, pleading age and infirmity. But Adams believed firmly in the rightness of the cause, and eventually agreed... 'By the blessing of God, I will argue the case before the Supreme Court,' Adams was quoted as saying. That October 1840 date he wrote in his diary: 'I implore the mercy of God to control my temper, to enlighten my soul, and to give me utterance, that I may prove myself in every respect equal to the task.'

"The next month Adams stopped by Westville, near New Haven, to visit his clients. He found them all in a thirty-foot-by-twenty-foot room, taken up almost entirely by thirty-six cots. Adams shook hands with [Africans] Cinque and Grabeau, telling them 'God willing, we will make you free.' Later, Adams would receive touching letters from two of the younger Africans, Ka-le and Kin-na.

"On Monday, February 22, 1841, arguments began in the Supreme Court's crowded chamber in the U.S. Capitol... John Quincy Adams began his argument on February 24th. He did not disappoint. He argued that if the President had the power to send the Africans to Cuba, he would equally as well have the power to seize forty Americans and send them overseas for trial. He argued that Spain was asking the President to 'first turn man-robber, turn jailer,... and lastly turn catchpole and convey them to Havana, to appease the vengeance of the African slave-traders of the barracoons.' He attacked the President for his ordering a naval vessel to stand ready in New Haven harbor, he attacked a southern intellectual's defense of slavery, and he quoted the Declaration of Independence: 'The moment you come to the Declaration of Independence, that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right, this case is decided. I ask nothing more in behalf of these unfortunate men than this Declaration.' "

On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court affirmed, 7-1, lower court decisions freeing the Amistad slaves, who eventually returned to Africa.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

August 25, 1950:

Truman Seizes the Railroads

In an age of jet travel and the Interstate system, it's hard to imagine how dependent the United States once was on its railroads, but the nation was in 1950. Two months after the start of fighting in Korea, President Truman took a step that, though probably justified by wartime necessity, seems exceptionally radical today. He ordered the Army to take control of the nation's railroads ahead of a strike that would have shut them down.

"On August 25, 1950, President Harry Truman ordered the Army... to seize control of all major U.S. railroads from the 194 owning companies by August 27," writes Shaun Kirkpatrick, U.S. Army Military History Institute, on, homepage of the US Army. "The order came before a national labor strike, scheduled for August 28, would have shut down the country's most important means of transportation.

"Secretary of the Army, Frank Pace Jr., said in a statement that day, 'We must not permit the flow of essential support to the forces in Korea to be interrupted.' Assistant Secretary of the Army, Karl Bendetsen, telegraphed the union presidents and rail companies and asked if labor and management would work under Army control. Both sides agreed to comply with the Army's request for continued operations, and the labor unions called off their strike.

"The strike plans arose out of more than a year of disagreements between unions and rail companies over wage demands and desired rule changes. The sides took another 21 months to reach a settlement; meanwhile, the Army retained control of national rail operations while also handling the Korean War.

"Due to the wartime shortage of troops, the Army spared only 46 officers, one enlisted man (a sergeant), and eight civilian clerks to full-time rail service. It did this successfully by staying in the background when possible, interfering with rail operations only when necessary to maintain uninterrupted service...

"On May 21, 1952, rail companies and the major labor unions finally settled their dispute. President Truman approved return of the rail systems to private ownership on May 23. Secretary Pace formally terminated 21 months of wartime control of America's railroads later that day."

Friday, August 24, 2007

August 24, 1814:

The British Burn the White House

In the summer of 1814, the British attacked Washington City, but not with enough strength to occupy it. Instead, the goal was to wreak havoc, and this they did. Most famously, they burned the executive mansion not long after it had been evacuated.

Capt. George Gleig was an officer in the force that sacked Washington, and he wrote an account of the event:

"... the troops advanced forthwith into the town, and... they proceeded, without 'a moment's delay, to burn and destroy everything in the most distant degree connected with government. In this general devastation were included the Senate House, the President's palace, an extensive dockyard and arsenal, barracks for two or three thousand men, several large storehouses filled with naval and military stores, some hundreds of cannon of different descriptions, and nearly twenty thousand stand of small arms.

"There were also two or three public rope works which shared the same fate, a fine frigate pierced for sixty guns and just ready to be launched, several gun brigs and armed schooners, with a variety of gunboats and small craft. The powder magazines were, of course, set on fire, and exploded with a tremendous crash, throwing down many houses in their vicinity, partly by pieces of the wall striking them, and partly by the concussion of the air whilst quantities of shot, shell, and hand grenades, which could not otherwise be rendered useless, were thrown into the river."

"... the blazing of houses, ships, and stores, the report of exploding magazines, and the crash of falling roofs informed them, as they proceeded, of what was going forward. You can conceive nothing finer than the sight which met them as they drew near to the town. The sky was brilliantly illuminated by the different conflagrations, and a dark red light was thrown upon the road, sufficient to permit each man to view distinctly his comrade's face.

"... When the detachment sent out to destroy Mr. Madison's house entered his dining parlor, they found a dinner table spread and covers laid for forty guests. Several kinds of wine, in handsome cut glass decanters, were cooling on the sideboard; plate holders stood by the fireplace, filled with dishes and plates; knives, forks, and spoons were arranged for immediate use; in short, everything was ready for the entertainment of a ceremonious party. Such were the arrangements in the dining room, whilst in the kitchen were others answerable to them in every respect. Spits, loaded with joints of various sorts, turned before the fire; pots, saucepans, and other culinary utensils stood upon the grate; and all the other requisites for an elegant and substantial repast were exactly in a state which indicated that they had been lately and precipitately abandoned."

August 23, 1972:

Agnew Re-nominated

At the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach on August 23, 1972, the party re-nominated Spiro T. Agnew for vice president. Agnew, 39th Vice President of the United States and the only Marylander to hold that office (none have been president), didn't really have President Nixon's confidence, but Nixon apparently stuck with the devil he knew because dumping him from the ticket would have been too much trouble.

Agnew's resignation and other matters will be described later in the year, but today, on the anniversary of the pinnacle of his unlikely success -- he was even being spoken of as presidential material for 1976 (the "Spiro of '76") -- better to offer some of quotes attributed to him. Whatever else you can say about Vice President Agnew, he wasn't one to shy away from colorful rhetoric.

In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism.

An intellectual is a man who doesn't know how to park a bike.

I didn't say I wouldn't go into ghetto areas. I've been in many of them and to some extent I would say this; if you've seen one city slum, you've seen them all.

I apologize for lying to you. I promise I won't deceive you except in matters of this sort.

Some newspapers are fit only to line the bottom of bird cages.

The American people should be made aware of the trend toward monopolization of the great public information vehicles and the concentration of more and more power over public opinion in fewer and fewer hands.

The lessons of the past are ignored and obliterated in a contemporary antagonism known as the generation gap.

Three things have been difficult to tame: the oceans, fools and women. We may soon be able to tame the oceans; fools and women will take a little longer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

August 22, 1902:

The First Presidential Motorcade

Teddy Roosevelt was not the first president to ride in a motor car. His predecessor, William McKinley, seems to have done so on a few occasions. But he did so out of the public eye. There was no such reticence for President Roosevelt. The first time he rode in an automobile, August 22, 1902, he did so very much in public, while on a swing through New England ahead of the '02 mid-term elections. It was the first presidential motorcade, through Hartford, Conn.

Frederic D. Schwarz writes in "...his was the first time Americans witnessed a President sitting in a motorcar and waving to cheering crowds — a scene that has since taken on familiar and occasionally chilling overtones.

"The car in which Roosevelt rode was a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton. At this early stage in the industry’s development, about half of America’s automobiles were electric, with most of the rest running on steam and a small fraction being internal-combustion. (President McKinley’s first auto ride, back in 1899, had been in a steam-driven Locomobile piloted by its inventor, F. O. Stanley, in Washington, D.C.)

"Like other Columbia models, the Victoria Phaeton had an external box for the driver, in this case in the rear — a holdover from the days of horse-drawn carriages. It was propelled by two rear electric motors, using power stored in 20 two-volt Exide lead-acid batteries. Together the batteries weighed about 800 pounds, roughly 40 percent of the vehicle’s total weight; they were placed above the front and rear axles. The tires were solid rubber, and the chauffeur had a choice of four speeds, topping out at a blistering 13 mph, though in this case the car probably crawled along at the minimum 4 mph. It sold for $3,000, about five times the average annual wage...

"...By the end of the decade, the use of cars would be routine for Presidents. In 1907 the Secret Service bought a pair of White steam cars to carry visitors between the Oyster Bay train station and the President’s house at Sagamore Hill. In 1909, President William Howard Taft rode a Pierce-Arrow to and from his inaugural ball. From then on, automobiles became a staple of presidential appearances — though since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the use of open cars has been reduced considerably."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

August 21, 1858:

First Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Today is the anniversary of the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas (pictured), both of whom were on the stump for their parties in 1858. Whichever party won control of the Illinois legislature that year would, in those days before the 17th amendment (ratified 1914), choose a Senator for the state in 1859. Douglas had gone to the Senate first in 1847 and been re-elected in 1853.

"Douglas's fame did not intimidate Lincoln, however, and on July 24, 1858 Lincoln challenged Douglas to a series of debates to take place across the state of Illinois, asking him to 'divide time and address the same audiences.' " writes author James Gindlesperger on his Lincoln web site. "Both men knew slavery would be the top issue in the campaign, and both recognized that the debates would draw national attention. Douglas was disinterested at first but feared that he would be accused of cowardice if he refused. Finally he agreed but suggested that the debates take place in each Illinois Congressional District except the two (Chicago and Springfield) where both had already been. This left seven sites, and Lincoln agreed.

"Douglas and Lincoln could not have been more dissimilar. Douglas was short and stocky, Lincoln tall and lanky. Douglas dressed impeccably, Lincoln often appeared rumpled. Douglas's voice was rich and deep, Lincoln's high and thin. Douglas often traveled in a private railroad car, Lincoln traveled any way he could. On at least one occasion he was on a train that was switched onto a siding to sit and wait while Douglas's train passed.

"But perhaps there was no more contrast between the two than on the issue of slavery. Douglas blamed the issue of slavery on Northern abolitionists, saying they were simply agitating. He believed that popular sovereignty was an extension of local self-government, and he further believed that giving the federal government more power on the issue of slavery would restrict states rights, individual liberty, and ultimately, damage the Union.

"Lincoln took a position exactly opposite, believing that the expansion of slavery, if it came about, would be the result of popular sovereignty. A pragmatist, he believed also that the slavery issue would not be resolved until some crisis arose that would either extend slavery into the territories or end it completely. While he did not believe in equality of the races (and most did not in 1858) he did believe that it was immoral to own another person. He tried to assure Southerners that he had no intension of interfering with slavery where it already existed. Few believed him.

"The first debate was set for August 21, 1858, in the town of Ottawa, Illinois, a Republican stronghold. Despite the sweltering heat more than 12,000 spectators crowded into Washington Square to hear the two candidates. Many of them had come from Chicago, 80 miles to the northeast. Douglas charged that Lincoln had a plan to abolitionize the Whig and Democratic parties, and that he supported the most radical Republican policies. Accusing Lincoln of taking Mexico’s side in the Mexican War, he said the House Divided Speech. speech was particularly destructive. He played to the audience’s prejudices, saying that Illinois would become a free Negro colony if Lincoln won the election.

"For his part, Lincoln denied the charges, saying, 'There is a physical difference between the two [races], which in my judgment will probably forever forbid their living together upon the equal footing of equality...' He would repeat this theme throughout the debates. Lincoln is even reported as using the word 'nigger' twice, something he rarely did. However, he also stated that Negroes had rights under the Declaration of Independence.

"For three hours the debate went on, and when it was over the Republicans in the crowd were sure their man had won. A reporter from the New York Evening Post wrote, 'Listening to him [Lincoln], calmly and unprejudiced, I was convinced that he has no superior as a stump speaker.' "

The Democrats carried the day in the election that year, and so Douglas was returned to the Senate. In 1860, he faced Lincoln as one of the two Democratic nominees for president -- the party had split over slavery -- and lost.

August 20, 1833:

Benjamin Harrison's Birthday

Benjamin Harrison has a number of distinctions -- the only Hoosier president, the only grandson of a president to become president, the president who created the most states with his signature on their statehood bills: six, including the Dakotas, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming from late 1889 to mid-1890. The story is that not even Harrison knew whether North Dakota or South Dakota entered the Union first, since he signed the bills one after the other without looking at which was which.

His was not, however, an especially eventful presidency. Even his obituary in the New York Times is hard-pressed to list much exciting during his administration, though perhaps it was better for Harrison, and the nation, that way. He surely must have been glad he didn't have to deal with the Panic of 1893, leaving that to the man who beat him the year before, Grover Cleveland.

The Times obit describes the Harrison administration thusly: "While Mr. Blaine has been credited by many with the full conduct of the affairs of the State Department during the time he held that portfolio, the hand of the President was seen in the discussion of the legal rights of aliens domiciled here, contained in the note to the Italian Government concerning the New Orleans massacre.

"The Bering Sea controversy was full of difficulty when Mr. Blaine's sudden illness threw the burden of the matter for a time upon President Harrison. As Lord Salisbury was delaying and no modus vivendi had been agreed upon, although the season for pelagic sealing was opening, President Harrison took measures for intercepting the Canadian sealers and the terms of the treaty were soon arranged.

"In the Chilean affair, in which that Government denied its responsibility for the assaults upon American sailors and refused safe conduct to some of the members of the Balmaceda Administration who had taken refuge at the United States Legation, President Harrison was persistent in his demands and finally made a peremptory request, which was promptly answered.

"During President Harrison's Administration the Pan-American Congress was held at Washington, at the sessions of which delegates from the South American States discussed mutual trade relations and the policy of negotiating reciprocity tariff treaties.

"Early in 1890 President Harrison made a trip of 10,000 miles to the Pacific Coast and back in thirty-one days, during which he delivered 140 addresses. These addresses are regarded as models of non-political and patriotic speeches and did much to fix the high position which he occupied in the public estimation. They were remarkable for felicity of expression and showed his ability to make a large number of short speeches a day, each having a distinct thought. In these qualities he was not surpassed by any man of his time.

"President Harrison's Administration witnessed the enactment of the McKinley tariff law and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, and saw the defeat in the Senate of the Lodge Federal Elections bill."

One more distinction: he was, it seems, the president to have his voice recorded, on an Edison wax cylinder. The clip is here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

August 19, 1976:

Ford Nominated, Barely

Besides having the distinction as the only appointed president, Gerald Ford almost had the dubious distinction of being the only sitting 20th-century president to be denied nomination for another term by his own party. The 1976 Republican Convention turned out to be the last one (as yet) to be undecided beforehand by primary elections -- the old-fashioned way, as it were. Ford came to the convention with just enough delegates for the nomination, but his hold on them wasn't iron-clad, and Ronald Reagan was all too keen to pry some of them away from the president.

Reagan and his men couldn't quite overcome the lure of incumbency, however. Ford won the nomination 1187 to 1070 ("Watergate martyr" Elliot L. Richardson got one vote). Had Ford lost, he would have been the first sitting president to lose a nomination contest since President Arthur lost to James G. Blaine in 1884. Other sitting presidents who wanted the nomination but couldn't have it include John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Andrew Johnson. In the 20th century, some presidents quit in the face of the possibility of such a defeat -- Harry Truman in 1952 and Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

August 18, 1774:

Meriwether Lewis' Birthday

But for his association with Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis might have ended his days as an obscure scion of a Virginia planter family in the early days of the Republic. As it happened, though, President Jefferson selected Lewis, his personal secretary since early in his presidency in 1801, to lead the exploration that has ensured him more posthumous fame than some presidents have.

According to the companion web site for the PBS series The West, "The official leader of the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition, Meriwether Lewis has been called 'undoubtedly the greatest pathfinder this country has ever known.' Lewis was born to a Virginia planter family in 1774. His father, who had been an officer in the American Revolution, died when Lewis was five years old...

"After briefly assuming the management of his family's Virginia plantation, Lewis joined the state militia in 1794 to help put down the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. He continued his military career as an officer in the regular army, serving on the frontier in Ohio and Tennessee, and rising to the rank of captain by 1801, when he accepted an invitation from President Thomas Jefferson, an old family friend, to serve as his private secretary.

"Jefferson seems to have selected Lewis for this post with a view to placing him in charge of an already-contemplated transcontinental expedition. When Jefferson had proposed such an expedition in 1792, Lewis had been among the first volunteers, although his youth and inexperience disqualified him at the time. Now, with his frontier experience, Lewis made a perfect candidate in Jefferson's eyes, and the President soon set out a course of study that would equip him with the scientific skills needed for his journey. Between 1801 and the appropriation of funds for the expedition in 1803, Lewis studied with members of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and gathered information about his proposed route..."

The expedition, even in these days of dodgy education when it comes to history, is well known to American schoolchildren. Lewis' uncertain end is not so well known. PBS continues: "In September 1809 [Madison was president by then], Lewis set out for the nation's capital to answer complaints about his actions as governor [of the Missouri Territory], and on this trip died a violent but mysterious death in a tavern about 70 miles southwest of Nashville, Tennessee. Whether he committed suicide, as Jefferson believed, or was murdered, as his family maintained, remains uncertain even today."

August 17, 1790:

George Washington, Son of the Enlightenment

On August 17, 1790, President Washington visited Newport, Rhode Island, and the Hebrew Congregation of Newport presented a congratulatory address to the president on the occasion. Washington responded with a letter dated the same day:

"...All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship[.] It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

"It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy."

The entire text is here, with notes.

August 17 is also the day that Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. was born -- in 1914, while his father was assistant secretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration -- and the day he died, in 1988. Among other things, he graduated from Harvard, went to law school, served in the Navy during World War II, and was a member of Congress during the early 1950s. He was unable to follow his father's footsteps as governor of New York, however, losing in the Democratic primary in 1954. He lost the in the general election that same year for New York attorney general to Jacob Javits. He was an undersecretary of commerce during the Kennedy administration.

Friday, August 17, 2007

August 16, 1928:

Carl Panzram Arrested

On August 16, 1928, Washington, DC, police arrested a 37-year-old man for burglary. As it turned out, they got more than they had bargained for -- he was in fact a murderer, besides being a thief and rapist. "His name was Carl Panzram, one of Americas most ferocious, unrepentant serial killers," wrote Mark Gado in Court TV's Crime Library. "Embittered by years of torture, beatings and sexual abuse both in and out of prison, Panzram evolved into a man who was meanness personified..."

And, oddly enough, someone who had burglarized the home of former president William Howard Taft. "In the summer of 1920, Panzram spent a great deal of time in the city of New Haven, Connecticut. He preferred places with activity and lots of people. More people meant more targets, more money and more victims. It also meant the cops were busy; maybe too busy to bother with the likes of him. He went out at night, cruising the city streets looking for an easy mark. If he didn't mug an unsuspecting drunk or rape a young boy, he would look for a house to burglarize.

"In August, he found a house located at 113 Whitney Avenue that looked 'fat' and ready for the taking. It was an old three-story colonial, the home of an aristocrat, he hoped. He broke in through a window and began to ransack the bedrooms. Inside a spacious den, Panzram found a large amount of jewelry, bonds and a .45 caliber automatic handgun. The name on the bonds was William H. Taft, the same man who he thought sentenced him to three years at Leavenworth in 1907. At that time, Taft had been the secretary of war. In 1920, he was the former president of the United States and current professor of law at Yale University in New Haven. After stealing everything he could carry, Panzram escaped through the same window and hit the streets carrying a large bag of loot."

The complete story starts here. Considering what a bad hombre Panzram was, Taft was lucky he wasn't home at time.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

August 15, 1971:

Nixon's Wage and Price Controls

Wage and price controls were unprecedented in peacetime, but by the summer of 1971, Richard Nixon and his staff, along with much of the country, had decided that the rate of inflation was too high to bear -- persisting above 4 percent in 1971, and briefly exceeding 6 percent in 1970. So on August 15, 1971, President Nixon announced a 90-day freeze on wages, prices and rents.

It was never clear that the president had the authority to do such a thing, short of wartime necessity. Strangely, however, the freeze was never challenged in court, perhaps because of its initial popularity. In any case, its subsequent failure discredited the idea so completely that it has never been tried again in the United States. Whip Inflation Now was weak tea by comparison.

In The Commanding Heights (1997), Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw wrote, "With inflation rising, the clamor to do something was mounting in both political circles and the press. At the end of June 1971, Nixon had told his economic advisors, "We will not have a wage-price board. We will have jawboning." But resistance to an income policy weakened with each passing month. The climax came on August 13-15, 1971, when Nixon and 15 advisors repaired to the presidential mountain retreat at Camp David. Out of this conclave came the New Economic Policy, which would temporarily -- for a 90-day period -- freeze wages and prices to check inflation. That would, it was thought, solve the inflation-employment dilemma, for such controls would allow the administration to pursue a more expansive fiscal policy -- stimulating employment in time for the 1972 presidential election without stoking inflation...

"Most of the participants at the Camp David meeting were exhilarated by all the great decisions they had made. During their discussions, much attention was given to the presentation of the new policy, particularly to television. President Nixon expressed grave concern that if he gave his speech during prime time on Sunday, he would preempt the tremendously popular television series Bonanza... But his advisors convinced him that the speech had to be given before the markets opened on Monday morning, and that meant prime time. A few of the advisors would recollect that more time was spent discussing the timing of the speech than how the economic program would work. Indeed, there was virtually no discussion of what would happen after the initial 90-day freeze or how the new system would be terminated.

"The Cost of Living Council took up the job of running the controls. After the initial ninety days, the controls were gradually relaxed and the system seemed to be working. But unemployment was not declining, and the administration launched a more expansionary policy. Nixon won reelection in 1972. In the months that followed, inflation began to pick up again in response to a variety of forces... Nixon, under increasing political pressure from the investigations of the Watergate break-in, reluctantly reimposed a freeze in June 1973. Government officials were now in the business of setting prices and wages.

"This time, however, it was apparent that the control system was not working. Ranchers stopped shipping their cattle to the market, farmers drowned their chickens, and consumers emptied the shelves of supermarkets. Nixon took some comfort from a side benefit that George Shultz, at the time head of the Office of Management and Budget, identified. 'At least,' Shultz told the president, 'we have now convinced everyone else of the rightness of our original position that wage-price controls are not the answer.' Most of the system was finally abolished in April 1974, 17 months after Nixon's triumphant reelection victory over George McGovern -- and four months before Nixon resigned as president."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August 14, 1941:

The Atlantic Charter

President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill met aboard warships anchored in Argentia Bay off Newfoundland -- the first of a dozen conferences the two would participate in during the course of the war, though of course at that moment the United States was still officially neutral. The occasion may be more important for the meeting of minds between Roosevelt and Churchill than the official statement they issued, known as the Atlantic Charter and dated August 14, 1941.

It's a rather Wilsonian document in some ways. FDR had been a member of Wilson's government, after all. Churchill, on the other hand, had not, and reportedly did not take the document too seriously, especially after it was clear the Allies would win the war. The Soviet Union wasn't interested in signing on, either. Still, even if not strictly binding policy, the charter became a well-known statement of Allied principles.

"The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles...

"First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;

"... they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;

"... they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

".... after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;

"... they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential...

Monday, August 13, 2007

August 13, 1914:

A Man, A Plan, A Canal

On August 13, 1914, the steamship Christobal, in the service of the US government, made a test run through the Panama Canal in both directions, marking the first passage of a large steamer through its locks. The test was a success. Two days later the canal was officially opened to traffic, with the Ancon making the first official transit of the project that Theodore Roosevelt initiated as president in the early 1900s.

According to the history of the canal at the Panama Canal Authority web site: "Plans were made for a grand celebration to appropriately mark the official opening of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914. A fleet of international warships was to assemble off Hampton Roads on New Year’s Day 1915, then sail to San Francisco through the Panama Canal, arriving in time for the opening of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world’s-fair type celebration. But no such grand opening occurred. Although the Panama Pacific Exposition went on as planned, World War I forced cancellation of planned festivities at the Canal. The grand opening was a modest affair with the Canal cement boat Ancon, piloted by Captain John A. Constantine, the Canal’s first pilot, making the first official transit....

"Roosevelt is widely given credit for building the Panama Canal, and he likely never disputed the claim. However, of the three presidents whose terms coincided with Canal construction – Roosevelt, WIlliam Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson – it was Taft who provided the most active, hands-on participation over the longest period. Taft visited Panama five times as Roosevelt’s Secretary of War and made two more trips while President. He also hired John Stevens and, when Stevens resigned, recommended [Col. George Washington Goethals] as chief engineer. When Taft replaced Roosevelt in the White House in 1909, canal construction was only at the halfway mark. Goethals, however, was to write, 'The real builder of the Panama Canal was Theodore Roosevelt.'

"The following words of Theodore Roosevelt are engraved in a plaque on display in the Rotunda of the Administration Building, and more than anything else convey his personal philosophy and the spirit of his thinking about the achievement at Panama:

" 'It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.' "

In The Path Between the Seas, David McCullough wrote: "The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time, the culmination of a heroic dream of over four hundred years and of more than twenty years of phenomenal effort and sacrifice. The fifty miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished. Primarily the canal is an expression of that old and noble desire to bridge the divide, to bring people together. It is a work of civilization."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

August 12, 1944:

Joesph P. Kennedy Jr. Dies

Lore about the Kennedy family has it that when the eldest son of Joseph P. Kennedy died in World War II, the old man's political ambitions for his son transferred to second son, John. Be that as it may, on August 12, 1944, the elder brother of a future president was killed in the air over England, along with Lt. Wilford J. Willy.

They had volunteered to be part of Operation Aphrodite, an unconventional attempt to destroy German targets in the summer of 1944, especially rocket launching sites. The project ultimately proved to be exceedingly dangerous for its pilots, and ineffective at damaging its intended targets. C'est la guerre.

According to the Joesph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation: "Joe, regarded as an experienced Patrol Plane Commander, and a fellow-officer, an expert in radio control projects, was to take a 'drone' Liberator bomber loaded with 21,170 pounds of high explosives into the air and to stay with it until two 'mother' planes had achieved complete radio control over the 'drone.' They were then to bail out over England; the 'drone,' under the control of the 'mother' planes, was to proceed on the mission which was to culminate in a crash-dive on the target, a V-2 rocket launching site in Normandy.

"The airplane ... was in flight with routine checking of the radio controls proceeding satisfactorily, when at 6:20 p.m. on August 12, 1944, two explosions blasted the 'drone' resulting in the death of its two pilots. No final conclusions as to the cause of the explosions has ever been reached.

"Joe was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross ... and also the Air Medal ... In 1946 a destroyer, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., destroyer No. 850, was launched at the Fore River shipyards..."

Interestingly, flying nearby at the time of the accident was Elliot Roosevelt, son of FDR. He was in a de Havilland Mosquito to film the mission, and while the explosion damaged his plane, he and his crew were able to return to base.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

August 11, 1984:

Reagan's Joke

On August 11, 1984, Ronald Reagan gave a radio address that began:

"My fellow Americans:

"I'm pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they've too long been denied -- the freedom to meet in public high schools during nonschool hours, just as other student groups are allowed to do. This has been given the shorthand label 'equal-access legislation...' "

This was not memorable. A joke by the president, recorded during a sound check, was:

"My fellow Americans:

"I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."

Friday, August 10, 2007

August 10, 1874:

Herbert Hoover's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Herbert Clark Hoover, mining engineer, world traveler, great humanitarian, arguably the most important Secretary of Commerce the nation ever had, and fall-guy president. But perhaps he had the last laugh: he survived more than 31 years after leaving office, long enough for most people to realize that he had not, in fact, been to blame for the Great Depression. As yet, no man has survived the presidency longer. To beat Hoover, Jimmy Carter would have to live another five years, George H. W. Bush would have to live another 17 years, and Bill Clinton another 25 years.

Less well known is that Herbert Hoover had a namesake sport, Hoover-ball. According to the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum: "Hoover-ball is a combination of tennis, volleyball and medicine ball. White House physician Admiral Joel T. Boone invented the game to keep President Hoover physically fit.

" 'It required less skill than tennis, was faster and more vigorous, and therefore gave more exercise in a short time,' Hoover wrote in his Memoirs.

" 'It is more strenuous than either boxing, wrestling or football,' wrote Will Irwin, a friend of Hoover's, in a 1931 article 'The President Watches His Waistline' in Physical Culture magazine. 'It has the virtue of getting at nearly every muscle in the body.'

"The sport was without a name until New York Times Magazine reporter William Atherton DuPuy christened the game Hoover-ball for his 1931 article 'At the White House at 7 a.m.'

"Hoover-ball was played by teams of 2-4 players with a six-pound medicine ball over a net eight feet high on a court similar to one used for tennis. The game was scored exactly like tennis, and played in similar fashion. The server throws the ball. The opponent must catch it on the fly and immediately return it, attempting to put it where it cannot be reached and returned. The side that misses the ball or throws it out of bounds loses the point.

" 'Stopping a six-pound ball with steam back of it, returning it with similar steam, is not pink-tea stuff,' DuPuy wrote. 'Dr. Boone estimates that as much beneficial exercise is obtained from half an hour of it (Hoover-ball) as from three times as much tennis or six times as much golf.'

"The sport originated in 1928, when shortly after his election Hoover took a goodwill trip to South America. While aboard the battleship Utah on his return, he watched a game of bull-in-the-ring, a medicine-ball game that was popular on naval ships. A soft nine-pound medicine ball was thrown from one to another of the players standing in a circle as the 'bull' in the center tried to intercept it. During the trip, the president-elect played and enjoyed the game, which was the inspiration for Hoover-ball."

August 9, 1974:

Ford Becomes President

Thirty-three years ago, Gerald R. Ford succeeded Richard Nixon as president. Probably none of the architects of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which paved the way for Ford's rise to the presidency, imagined that it would have been applied quite so soon. The amendment had only been ratified by the requisite 38 states in early 1967. Ford was appointed vice president under its provisions (Section 2) in late 1973.

Ford was also the first vice president to succeed to the presidency after the amendment was ratified. In Section 1, the amendment formalized the precedent established by John Tyler in 1841: "In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President."

On the occasion of the first anniversary of his accession to fall after Ford's death, one writer, Quin Hillyer of The American Spectator, offers the opinion that Ford's swearing-in speech is an underrated gem of American oratory: "...on Aug. 9, 1974, Gerald Ford took office with one of the finest, and still most underrated, speeches in modern American history," he wrote on Aug. 8, 2007. "Amidst all the vitriol of Watergate, Ford's speech reminded Americans of the great things that unite us...

"After just a couple of basic introductory sentences, Ford quickly began achieving real eloquence with these words: 'I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers.'

"He then turned his lack of national election into a strength: 'If you have not chosen me by secret ballot, neither have I gained office by any secret promises. I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency. I have not subscribed to any partisan platform. I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman -- my dear wife -- as I begin this very difficult job.'

"He followed with some concise and effective encomiums to peace and to candor in government, citing (without overly showy emphasis) Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as he did so. Then came the most famous line of the speech, followed by four more sentences of appropriate grace:

"'My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy. As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate...'"

The entire essay is here. The text of Ford's speech is on line many places, including here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

August 8, 1974:

Nixon Quits

No president before or after Richard Nixon has ever quit the job voluntarily, though certainly there must have been many moments when the holder of the office wanted to say to hell with it. Nixon's resignation actually took effect at noon on August 9, 1974, but he told the nation the evening before on national television.

"Good evening," he began.

"This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office, where so many decisions have been made that shaped the history of this nation. Each time I have done so to discuss with you some matter than I believe affected the national interest.

"In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the nation. Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me.

"In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.

"But with the disappearance of that base, I now believe that the constitutional purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged.

"I would have preferred to carry through to the finish whatever the personal agony it would have involved, and my family unanimously urged me to do so. But the interest of the nation must always come before any personal considerations.

"From the discussions I have had with Congressional and other leaders, I have concluded that because of the Watergate matter I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the nation would require.

"I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

"To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

"Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office..."