Saturday, September 29, 2007

September 29, 1789:

Founding of the US Armed Forces Under the President

DPD will be on break until the second week in October, and then push on to the end of the year, with any luck.

September 29 is the anniversary of the creation of the regular military of the United States under the Constitution, replacing the Continental Army that had taken orders from the Confederation Congress. On the final day of its very first session, the First Congress passed "An act to recognize and adapt to the Constitution of the United States, the establishment of the troops raised under the resolves of the United States in Congress assembled," officially creating a military that the president commanded. It was no coincidence that President Washington had been prodding the Congress to take this step; he wanted to be commander-in-chief of something, as specified in the new Constitution.

September 30 is the day in 1948 that Edith Roosevelt, Teddy's second wife and widow, died. Caroline Harrison, wife of Benjamin Harrison, was born on October 1, 1832. (It is also Jimmy Carter's 83rd birthday.)

On October 2, 1919, President Wilson suffered the stroke that left him incapacitated for many months. President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the fourth Thursday in November on October 3, 1863.

Finally, October 4 is the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik I. Not a presidential day, strictly speaking, but President Eisenhower said that it was "one small ball in the air, [and] it's something which does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota." On the other hand, Lyndon Johnson, then Senate majority leader, said: "The Roman empire controlled the world because it could build roads. Later, when men moved to sea, the British Empire was dominant because it had ships. Now the communists have established a foothold in outer space. It is not very reassuring to be told that next year we will put a 'better' satellite into the air. Perhaps it will even have chrome trim and automatic windshield wipers."

Friday, September 28, 2007

September 28, 1974:

Betty Ford's Mastectomy

Less than two months after she became first lady, Betty Ford underwent a mastectomy for cancer in her right breast, on September 28, 1974. In previous years, such surgery would have probably been private, perhaps even secret, but the Fords chose to inform the public.

"Mrs. Ford's deliberately frank and outspoken handling of her own surgery for breast cancer when she was First Lady set a visible example that influenced women nationwide, and it helped prompt a significant change in public attitude," noted an article in the health section of the New York Times published in 1987.

"Within weeks thousands of women who had been reluctant to examine their breasts inundated cancer screening centers. One of those following Mrs. Ford's example was Happy Rockefeller, the wife of the Vice President, Nelson A. Rockefeller. She, too, had breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. Mrs. Rockefeller and many others said Mrs. Ford's example gave them the courage to discuss their experiences openly.

"Doctors discovered a lump in Mrs. Ford's breast in a routine examination in 1974. Entering the hospital for a biopsy on Sept. 27, she and President Ford put on a brave face...

"The biopsy confirmed the presence of cancer the next day, and she had the breast removed, along with the muscle connecting her upper arm to her chest. Cancer cells were found in just two lymph nodes and treatment proved to be effective."

Effective indeed. Not only did she survive the affliction, at 89 she's currently the third-longest-lived first lady, surpassing Edith Wilson in that distinction this summer. Among first ladies, only Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson have lived longer (97 and 94, respectively).

September 27, 1964:

The Warren Commission Report

The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy released its final report this day in 1964. Informally known as the Warren Commission, after its chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren, its last surviving member was Gerald Ford. Since the commission released its 888-page report, the human imagination has been working overtime to deny its essential conclusion:

"The Commission has found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy. The reasons for this conclusion are:

"(a) The Commission has found no evidence that anyone assisted Oswald in planning or carrying out the assassination. In this connection it has thoroughly investigated, among other factors, the circumstances surrounding the planning of the motorcade route through Dallas, the hiring of Oswald by the Texas School Book Depository Co. on October 15, 1963, the method by which the rifle was brought into the building, the placing of cartons of books at the window, Oswald's escape from the building, and the testimony of eyewitnesses to the shooting.

"(b) The Commission has found no evidence that Oswald was involved with any person or group in a conspiracy to assassinate the President, although it has thoroughly investigated, in addition to other possible leads, all facets of Oswald's associations, finances, and personal habits, particularly during the period following his return from the Soviet Union in June 1962.

"(c) The Commission has found no evidence to show that Oswald was employed, persuaded, or encouraged by any foreign government to assassinate President Kennedy or that he was an agent of any foreign government, although the Commission has reviewed the circumstances surrounding Oswald's defection to the Soviet Union, his life there from October of 1959 to June of 1962 so far as it can be reconstructed, his known contacts with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and his visits to the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in Mexico City during his trip to Mexico from September 26 to October 3, 1963, and his known contacts with the Soviet Embassy in the United States...

"(e) All of the evidence before the Commission established that there was nothing to support the speculation that Oswald was an agent, employee, or informant of the FBI, the CIA, or any other governmental agency. It has thoroughly investigated Oswald's relationships prior to the assassination with all agencies of the U.S. Government. All contacts with Oswald by any of these agencies were made in the regular exercise of their different responsibilities...

"Because of the difficulty of proving negatives to a certainty the possibility of others being involved with either Oswald or Ruby cannot be established categorically, but if there is any such evidence it has been beyond the reach of all the investigative agencies and resources of the United States and has not come to the attention of this Commission."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

September 26, 1960:

The First Kennedy-Nixon Debate

John Kennedy got the better of Richard Nixon 47 years ago in the first-ever televised debate between presidential candidates because he looked healthier. The irony is rich, since few presidential contenders have been less healthy than Kennedy. But the public didn't know that.

Certainly it was an important moment in the election of 1960. But pivotal? Maybe, maybe not. The Museum of Broadcast Communications puts it this way: "The Great Debates marked television's grand entrance into presidential politics. They afforded the first real opportunity for voters to see their candidates in competition, and the visual contrast was dramatic. In August, Nixon had seriously injured his knee and spent two weeks in the hospital. By the time of the first debate he was still twenty pounds underweight, his pallor still poor. He arrived at the debate in an ill-fitting shirt, and refused make-up to improve his color and lighten his perpetual 5 o'clock shadow. Kennedy, by contrast, had spent early September campaigning in California. He was tan and confident and well-rested. 'I had never seen him looking so fit,' Nixon later wrote.

"In substance, the candidates were much more evenly matched. Indeed, those who heard the first debate on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner. But the 70 million who watched television saw a candidate still sickly and obviously discomforted by Kennedy's smooth delivery and charisma... Studies of the audience indicated that, among television viewers, Kennedy was perceived the winner of the first debate by a very large margin.

"...Commentators broadly agreed that the first debate accelerated Democratic support for Kennedy. In hindsight, however, it seems the debates were not, as once thought, the turning-point in the election. Rather than encouraging viewers to change their vote, the debates appear to have simply solidified prior allegiances..."

September 25, 1846:

Zachary Taylor Takes Monterrey

A number of presidential events happened on September 25. After of hard-fought battle against Mexican forces, Gen. Zachary Taylor, later 12th President of the United States, captured the Mexican city of Monterrey on this day in 1846. President Polk, mindful of Taylor winning too much military glory, did not reward Taylor for his success, but in fact removed most of his command from him and gave it to Winfield Scott. Nevertheless, the following spring, Taylor won another signal victory at Buena Vista, and by 1848 the formerly apolitical general was the Whig candidate for the presidency -- and won.

On this day in 1957, President Eisenhower used the US Army to enforce desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas -- the 50th anniversary has been well publicized. In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor of Arizona was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. The first Supreme Court appointee of President Reagan, she has the distinction of being the first woman to hold the position.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

September 24, 1955:

Eisenhower's Heart Attack

During a visit to his in-laws in Denver in September 1955, President Eisenhower fell ill suddenly. He was suffering a serious, though not ultimately debilitating, heart attack. As it turned out, he would survive the episode by more than 13 years, more than long enough to finish a second term in 1961.

Perhaps haunted by the spectre of Woodrow Wilson's crippling stroke, Eisenhower and his staff didn't hide the president's condition -- and in an era of mass communication, it's unlikely that they could have. But it seems that they carefully orchestrated the flow of information about the president's condition, especially when the prognosis was uncertain.

Mike Patty in the Denver Rocky Mountain News wrote in 1999 that "Ike's heart attack apparently began while playing golf at Cherry Hills Country Club on September 23, 1955, when he complained of what he thought was indigestion. He returned to the home of his mother-in-law, Elivera Doud, at 750 Lafayette St., where he had dinner that evening with his physician.

" 'He retired early, still complaining of pain after the doctor left,' said Katherine Ripley-Williams, corporate and foundation administrator for University Hospital. 'His wife, Mamie, called his doctor back to the house about 2 a.m., but they didn't take the president to the hospital until later in the morning.'

"Upon arrival at Fitzsimons, Eisenhower was rushed to room 8002 and the entire eighth floor was soon occupied by military police and health care personnel. Treatment consisted of administering a combination of drugs and placing the president in an oxygen tent.

" 'The doctors had many different opinions of treatment,' Ripley-Williams said. 'It's amazing how little they knew by today's standards. They made him stay in bed and not move for days, thinking that was the best treatment.' When news of Ike's heart attack became known, the press descended on Fitzsimons...."

And, it should be added, on Monday, September 26, the Dow Jones dropped 6.5%, 32 points, to 455, with a total paper loss of $14 billion, the largest ever. It was the steepest drop since the beginning of the Depression, but only a momentary panic, since the Dow soon recovered after a few days.

It took a little longer for Ike to recover. The 25th Amendment to the Constitution hadn't been devised yet, so there was no formal procedure for what to do during the incapacitation of a president. But with Eisenhower's approval over the next month or so, Vice President Nixon ran Cabinet and National Security Council meetings. Eisenhower's chief of staff, Sherman Adams, also helped keep the executive branch running smoothly by taking orders from the president's bedside.

September 24 (1837) is also the birthday of Mark Hanna, the Ohio industrialist and politico generally regarded as the mastermind behind the success of President William McKinley; reputedly when McKinley died, he said: "Now that damn cowboy is president." Hanna held office as a Senator from Ohio, but didn't live long enough to make a bid for the presidency himself. He died in 1904 from something not considered much of the threat in the civilized world any more, as opposed to heart disease: typhoid fever.

Monday, September 24, 2007

September 23, 1944:

The Fala Address

Richard Nixon's "Checkers" speech was delivered on national television on this day in 1952. For more on that, see the January 9 DPD. Less well remembered these days, but also named for a dog, is a speech given exactly eight years earlier by FDR when he was running for his fourth term in 1944. He spoke in Washington, DC, to the Teamsters (the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, to give its formal name).

Much of the speech, naturally, was given over to attacking his opposition -- "You know, many of the Republican leaders and Congressmen and candidates... would not even recognize these progressive laws if they met them in broad daylight...." But he also brought up the subject of whether he'd sent a destroyer to pick up his dog Fala in the Aleutians, as Republicas had charged.

"But perhaps the most ridiculous of these campaign falsifications is the one that this Administration failed to prepare for the war that was coming," Roosevelt said toward the end of the speech. "I doubt whether even Goebbels would have tried that one. For even he would never have dared hope that the voters of America had already forgotten that many of the Republican leaders in the Congress and outside the Congress tried to thwart and block nearly every attempt that this Administration made to warn our people and to arm our Nation. Some of them called our 50,000 airplane program fantastic. Many of those very same leaders who fought every defense measure that we proposed are still in control of the Republican party - look at their names - were in control of its National Convention in Chicago, and would be in control of the machinery of the Congress and of the Republican party, in the event of a Republican victory this fall.

"These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him - at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars- his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself - such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.

"Well, I think we all recognize the old technique. The people of this country know the past too well to be deceived into forgetting. Too much is at stake to forget. There are tasks ahead of us which we must now complete with the same will and the same skill and intelligence and devotion that have already led us so far along the road to victory."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

September 22, 1862:

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Whereas on the 22nd day of September, A.D. 1862, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

That the executive will on the 1st day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State or the people thereof shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such States shall have participated shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States.

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-In-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for supressing said rebellion, do, on this 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the first day above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Palquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebone, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Morthhampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all case when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

Friday, September 21, 2007

September 21, 1867:

Henry Stimson's Birthday

Though never a president, Henry Stimson was one of those men who proved himself exceeding valuable to more than one president -- but especially FDR. Though a committed Republican, Roosevelt tapped Stimson to be Secretary of War in the summer of 1940. He'd held the same position previously -- under William Howard Taft.

He was also instrumental in overseeing the Manhattan Project, as his obit in the New York Times in 1950 makes clear: "When he was in his late seventies Mr. Stimson was the civilian administrative head of a victorious army of more than 10,000,000, the largest ever raised by the United States. It was in this post that he was largely responsible for bringing to an abrupt end over Hiroshima and Nagasaki the violence that had frustrated his diplomacy in the Nineteen Thirties when he was President Hoover's Secretary of State. Mr. Stimson later disclosed that he had not hesitated in recommending to the recently sworn in President Truman the first use of the atomic bomb.

" 'My chief purpose was to end the war in victory with the least possible cost in the lives of the men in the armies which I had helped to raise,' Mr. Stimson wrote in the February, 1947, issue of Harper's magazine. 'In the light of the alternatives which, on a fair estimate, were open to us, I believe that no man in our position and subject to our responsibilities, holding in his hand a weapon of such possibilities for accomplishing this purpose and saving those lives, could have failed to use it and afterward looked his countrymen in the face.' "

Thursday, September 20, 2007

September 20, 1881:

Chester A. Arthur Takes the Oath

Vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency exactly nine times in the 200-plus history of the office. The Gilded Age saw the unlikely accession of Chester Alan Arthur to the presidency after less than a year as vice president, some of which was spent out of the public eye. During President Garfield's slow decline, Arthur didn't want to seem to be to eager for his boss's demise, and so did very little.

Late in the evening on September 19, 1881, the end came for James Garfield. Arthur took to oath of office twice after that: once in private, a few hours into September 20 (pictured), and then in public two days later. On the occasion of the public swearing in, he gave his inaugural address:

"For the fourth time in the history of the Republic its Chief Magistrate has been removed by death. All hearts are filled with grief and horror at the hideous crime which has darkened our land, and the memory of the murdered President, his protracted sufferings, his unyielding fortitude, the example and achievements of his life, and the pathos of his death will forever illumine the pages of our history.

"For the fourth time the officer elected by the people and ordained by the Constitution to fill a vacancy so created is called to assume the Executive chair. The wisdom of our fathers, foreseeing even the most dire possibilities, made sure that the Government should never be imperiled because of the uncertainty of human life. Men may die, but the fabrics of our free institutions remain unshaken. No higher or more assuring proof could exist of the strength and permanence of popular government than the fact that though the chosen of the people be struck down his constitutional successor is peacefully installed without shock or strain except the sorrow which mourns the bereavement. All the noble aspirations of my lamented predecessor which found expression in his life, the measures devised and suggested during his brief Administration to correct abuses, to enforce economy, to advance prosperity, and to promote the general welfare, to insure domestic security and maintain friendly and honorable relations with the nations of the earth, will be garnered in the hearts of the people; and it will be my earnest endeavor to profit, and to see that the nation shall profit, by his example and experience...."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September 19, 1881:

James A. Garfield Dies

James Garfield, 20th President of the United States, was also one of the more luckless occupants of the office. Not only did he did in office by assassination, he died a lingering, painful death that could have prevented by proper care, even at the time, had his doctors been up to it -- but the job was botched.

Garfield's term thus became the second-shortest in presidential history, after William Henry Harrison. "During the long deathwatch [the public] eagerly scanned the latest telegraph bulletins and grabbed the special editions of the newspapers that chronicled the distinguished patient's medical ups and downs," wrote historian Allan Peskin in Presidential Leadership (2004). "When the end came, the nation erupted in a cathartic burst of extravagant grief. Thousands waited patiently in the Washington heat to view the body of the lost leader as it lay in state under the Capitol dome. Tens of thousands lined the railroad tracks to pay homage as the funeral train carried him back to Ohio. Hundreds of thousands crowded into Cleveland to witness the last rites, and millions of copies of memorial tributes, biographies, and eulogies flooded an apparently insatiable market.

"Clearly, Garfield in death, if not in life, touched some vital chord of American sentiment. The public mourned him more for what he was than for what he did. They remembered an impoverished boy, reared in a log cabin by his widowed mother, who was redeemed from a life of dissipation by a religious experience, who then rose from menial labor to respectability through education, becoming a professor of ancient languages and then president of his small Ohio college. The Republican Party brought him into politics, and the Civil War thrust him onto the national stage as the Union's youngest major general. From there it was an easy step to Congress, where he served for seventeen years, becoming a master of financial legislation and his party's floor leader, then to a surprise presidential nomination and a narrow electoral victory -- the only sitting House member ever elected president."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

September 18, 1812:

Herschel Vespasian Johnson's Birthday

In the four-way race that was the presidential election of 1860, there were four candidates for vice president as well, including Herschel Vespasian Johnson (pictured), former governor of Georgia. He ran with Stephen Douglas as a "Northern" Democrat, but the ticket only won one state, Missouri, and took three of New Jersey's electoral votes, for a total of 12 electoral votes, a meager showing indeed. The ticket did, however, come in second behind the Republicans in the popular vote nationwide -- such as the nation was at that point.

After the election, Johnson served the Confederacy as a Senator. After the war, he was returned to the US Senate by voters in Georgia, but that body would not seat him, and he ended his days as a judge in Georgia, dying in 1880.

And who were the other vice presidential candidates in that momentous election? Republican Hannibal Hamlin, of course, won the veep prize, but has became as much of an historic footnote as any of the losers, which is a common fate of vice presidents. Running with John C. Breckinridge -- the incumbent vice president -- on the "Southern" Democratic ticket was Joseph Lane of Oregon. They got 72 electoral votes. Running with John Bell on the nonce Constitutional Union ticket was Edward Everett of Massachusetts, who got 39 electoral votes. He is not remembered for this vice presidential bid. Instead, Everett is remembered as the speaker who came before Lincoln at Gettysburg.

Monday, September 17, 2007

September 17, 1787:

Constitution Day

Today is the day in 1787 that most of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed off on the document and submitted it to the Articles of Confederation Congress, which passed it along to the states without comment for ratification. Thus it became the document that originated the presidency, which has now been in continuous existence for more than two centuries.

These days September 17 is known as "Constitution Day," an occasion most of the nation ignores.

Today is also the day in 1859 when Joshua Norton (pictured) of San Francisco proposed -- make that proclaimed -- an alternate form of government for the several states, namely an empire, with him as Emperor Norton I. In letters he distributed to various local newspapers, he said:

"At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.

"NORTON I, Emperor of the United States."

Until his death in 1880, Norton I issued various decrees to the amusement of the public, including the abolition of the United States itself, and of the Republican and Democratic parties. He also became "Protector of Mexico" along the way. Some 10,000 people showed up at his funeral.

More on Norton I here.

September 16, 1968:

Sock it to Me?

In mid-September 1968, presidential candidate Richard Nixon appeared on television -- hardly a surprise, considering how important the medium had become to campaigns since the 1950s -- but in this case the appearance was distinctly novel. He was on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in, the intensely popular ten-gags-a-minute comedy show of the late 1960s. Nixon was one of the gags. No presidential contender had done anything like that before, not at least on purpose.

"Not long ago, I went to the Museum of Television and Radio, on West Fifty-second Street, to see episode No. 15 of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, wrote Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker in 2004. "When the episode originally aired, on September 16, 1968, Laugh-In was just beginning its first full season—it had dĂ©buted eight months earlier, as a mid-season replacement—but was about to become the No. 1 show on television. The program begins with all the usual Laugh-In mayhem. 'It must be "Sock it to me" time,' a youthful Goldie Hawn announces, before hitting herself over the head with a plastic mallet. The mayor of Burbank gets pelted with Ping-Pong balls; Joanne Worley is doused with water; Ruth Buzzi is crushed by a stage set; and Judy Carne is pelted, doused, crushed, and then sprayed by a skunk. Still wet, she answers a phone, and on the other end (ostensibly) is Governor Nelson Rockefeller. 'Oh, no, I don’t think we could get Mr. Nixon to stand still for a "Sock it to me," ' she chirps, at which point the show cuts away to Richard Nixon.

"Nixon’s appearance on Laugh-In lasts four seconds. At first, he is looking stage right; then he turns toward the camera. He widens his eyes in what seems to be an effort at feigned surprise but comes off looking more like mock dismay. 'Sock it to me?' he asks, drawing out the 'me?' in a way that suggests he has perhaps never heard the line before.

"Episode No. 15 was broadcast at the height of Nixon’s (ultimately successful) campaign against Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, and was an immediate sensation. George Schlatter, the creator of Laugh-In, now runs a television production company in Los Angeles. He told me that Nixon had been extremely reluctant to be on the show; although the producers had repeatedly entreated him to appear, his campaign aides had even more insistently urged him not to. Eventually, the race brought Nixon out to Los Angeles. He gave a press conference, and Schlatter and one of Laugh-In’s writers, Paul Keyes, who happened to be a close friend of the former Vice-President’s, went over to watch it, bringing a TV camera with them.

“ 'While his advisers were telling him not to do it, Paul was telling him how much it would mean to his career,' Schlatter recalled. 'And we went in, and he said, "Sock it to me." It took about six takes, because it sounded angry: "Sock-it-to-me!" After that, we grabbed the tape and escaped before his advisers got to him.

“ 'Then, realizing what we had done—because he did come out looking like a nice guy—we pursued Humphrey all over the country, trying to get him to say, "I’ll sock it to you, Dick!" ' Schlatter went on. 'And Humphrey later said that not doing it may have cost him the election. We didn’t realize how effective it was going to be. But there were other factors in the election, too—I can’t take all the blame.' ”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

September 15, 1857:

William Howard Taft's Birthday

Today is the birthday of William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States and 10th Chief Justice of the United States. Mostly forgotten are humorous anecdotes about him, but these days there's a web site devoted to the subject, so funny Taft stories aren't completely relegated to library microfilms.

For example: "Even by 1905 this story was old, but as an article that year noted, 'It is such a good old story that it can never be printed too often': When Taft was Governor of the Philippines he explored the mountainous islands. After a particularly arduous trip, he cabled to Secretary of State Elihu Root, 'Rode forty miles on horseback to-day; feeling fine.' Root wired back, 'Glad you are feeling fine; how is the horse?'

Several pages of such stories are here.

Friday, September 14, 2007

September 14, 1901:

Theodore Roosevelt, 42, Becomes President

President McKinley lingered for a time after been shot, but ultimately did not survive his wounds. On September 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States, taking the oath of office in Buffalo, New York. No one before or after has been so young at the beginning of his time in that office: 42 years and 322 days.

According to the web site of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site: " September 8 - 10, 1901: As McKinley's condition continued to improve, Roosevelt felt it was safe to leave Buffalo. On Tuesday night he took an all night train to the Adirondacks where his family was already on vacation. He left detailed instructions with Ansley Wilcox [his friend in Buffalo] on the chance that he would be asked to return to Buffalo....

September 11 - 13, 1901: On Thursday evening, September 12th, Roosevelt and a group of family and friends hiked up Mt. Marcy and spent the night there. Back in Buffalo, McKinley's condition had changed for the worst and he was rapidly deteriorating. Upon his return from the hike on Friday afternoon, Roosevelt was met by a messenger who carried the news that McKinley was dying and Roosevelt should return to Buffalo as soon as possible. The Vice President left his cabin in the late evening of Friday, September 13th for the thirty-five mile carriage ride to the nearest train station at North Creek. He arrived there just before dawn and was told of the President's death. He took a train to Albany and another one to Buffalo, arriving here at about 1:30 pm. McKinley had died at 2:15 am that morning, September 14, 1901...

September 14, 1901: Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Buffalo at 1:30 pm. He was met at the train station by Ansley Wilcox and brought back to this home. After lunch and a visit to the Milburn home to pay his respects to Mrs. McKinley, Roosevelt returned to the Wilcox house for the inauguration.

This site was chosen by Roosevelt as the most appropriate place for the ceremony. It took place in the Wilcox library at approximately 3:30 pm. A small crowd was assembled including a few newspaper reporters who were allowed to take notes. The photographers were barred from the room until after the ceremony. Roosevelt wore formal clothing borrowed from some of the guests who were present. The oath was administered by Federal District Judge John R. Hazel.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

September 13, 1788:

The First Presidential Election Scheduled

Technically, the US Constitution was adopted when the ninth state to ratify it, New Hampshire, did so on June 21, 1788. However, the new union wouldn't really have hung together unless Virginia had approved it, which it did four days later.

These events inspired the Confederation Congress to pass an Election Ordinance on September 13, which provided for the selection of presidential electors in the states on January 7, 1789, and set February 4 as the day they would cast their ballots. Thus the first presidential election was set in motion on this day 219 years ago. Everyone was certain that George Washington would take the prize.

According to the web site "The Papers of George Washington," maintained by the University of Virginia, "The Constitution left it up to each state to choose the manner in which their Electors were chosen (Article II, section 1). North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet ratified the Constitution and had no Electors in the election of 1789. The New York legislature was unable to pass an election act in time to choose its allotted 8 Electors, failed to appoint any by 7 January, and cast no electoral votes on 4 February. A total of 69 Electors voted in the first Presidential Election (2 Electors in Maryland, and 1 in Virginia failed to cast ballots).

"Each elector had two votes, at least one of which had to be cast for a person outside their state. The votes were to be forwarded to Congress, where they would be counted in the presence of the Senators and Representatives. The person with the most votes would be President; the one finishing second in the balloting would be Vice President. Congress convened in New York on 4 March 1789; quorums were achieved in the House and Senate on 1 and 6 April 1789, respectively. Congress confirmed the results of the first presidential election (see below) when it officially counted the ballots on 6 April 1789.

"Vice President John Adams assumed his duties as president of the Senate on 21 April and George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States on 30 April 1789."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September 12, 1880:

H.L. Mencken's Birthday

Today is H.L. Mencken's birthday. The memory of the newspaper columnist and cynical bastard is fading, and it's too bad. Cynical he might have been, but he sure could turn a phase, and phase-turning is mostly a lost art in our time.

Naturally, he had little good to say about US presidents and the presidency, though in one of the following quotes there's a hint of liking for Calvin Coolidge, if only by comparison with his predecessors and successors. So without further ado, some Mencken quotes on presidents and, lastly, the office itself:

"[T]he only thing wrong with Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was that it was the South, not the North, that was fighting for a government of the people, by the people and for the people."

"[Warren Harding's] speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea; sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork."

"[Warren Harding] writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights."

"We suffer most not when the White House is a peaceful dormitory, but when it is a jitney Mars Hill, with a tin-pot Paul bawling from the roof. Discounting Harding as a cipher, Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American, having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant?"

If there had been any formidable body of cannibals in the country he would have promised them with free missionaries, fattened at the taxpayer's expense." (On Harry Truman's 1948 presidential campaign.)

"The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre -- the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

"The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 1936:

FDR Dedicates Boulder -- Hoover -- Dam

On September 11, 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt pressed a key in Washington, DC, to signal the startup of the Boulder Dam's first hydroelectric generator. It was the culmination of years of effort to dam the Colorado River, a herculean engineering feat still regarded with awe. FDR had not, however, been instrumental in the project. His predecessor, Herbert Hoover, had been -- as president, but especially during his stint as Secretary of Commerce in the mid-1920s.

Writing in the article "What's in a Name?" (2006), Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha noted: "On September 17, 1930, at a ceremony south of Las Vegas to celebrate the project’s start-up, President Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur concluded his speech by stating 'I have the honor to name this greatest project of all time—the Hoover Dam.' The announcement naming the dam after the sitting president, who had been involved in planning for the dam earlier in his career, drew only scattered applause with the nation sinking into its greatest economic depression. Some in attendance predicted that the proposed dam workers’ town would be named Wilbur City instead of Boulder City. The Washington Daily News, referring to the controversy in Congress over naming the dam, editorialized that 'we care not even a tinker's dam who calls it what, so long as it goes up pronto and does its job in the southwest.' A congressional act passed on February 14, 1931 made the name Hoover Dam official.

"By April 1931, work was underway in Black Canyon to build Hoover Dam. The construction proceeded ahead of schedule. The diversion tunnels around the dam site were opened in November 1932, shortly after Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover for the presidency of the United States. With a new president came a new Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, and a return to the name Boulder Dam.

"On May 8, 1933, in one of his first administrative acts, Secretary Ickes declared that henceforth the dam rising from the floor of Black Canyon would be called Boulder Dam and no longer Hoover Dam. Ickes claimed the name change would end the public confusion caused by his predecessor’s political decision to honor his boss, who Ickes argued had contributed virtually nothing to the project. Author Joseph Stevens, in his comprehensive work Hoover Dam An American Adventure (1988), states that Ickes’ claim that Hoover didn’t help in bringing the Boulder Canyon project to fruition was 'blatantly false' and 'it appeared that Ickes’ renaming of Hoover Dam was a political act, a mean-spirited attempt to shred the already tattered reputation of the former president, as well as an unsubtle snub to those who had supported him.' However, the name of the dam was never officially changed from 'Hoover'...

"On April 30, 1947, the name Hoover Dam was 'officially' restored by a joint resolution of a Republican-dominated Congress and signed by President Harry S Truman, a Democrat. Former President Hoover in a private communication to one of the resolution’s sponsors expressed his gratitude that an insult had been rectified. Still, many Roosevelt partisans continued to call the great concrete edifice Boulder Dam and still do. Public reaction to the controversy was colorfully articulated by Frank Romano Sr. who proposed, in a May 10, 1947, letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that the name be changed a third time to "Hoogivza Dam."

Monday, September 10, 2007

September 10, 2007:

Jane Wyman Dies

Word broke a few hours ago that Jane Wyman, the first wife of President Ronald Reagan, has died at age 93 (or possibly 90). Rest in peace, Ms. Wyman.

From her obituary in the Telegraph:

"In 1938 she had co-starred with Ronald Reagan in the B-movie Brother Rat and she rejoined him in the sequel, Brother Rat and the Baby (1940). Married to her first (or, by some accounts, second) husband at the time, she was soon divorced, and the couple married in 1940. They had had three children --Maureen, who would die of cancer in 2001; Michael, whom they adopted; and another daughter who lived for just nine hours after being born prematurely.

"But after their marriage their careers diverged, with Jane Wyman rising towards the top of her profession, while Reagan languished in the B-movie league. She told friends that she found him dull and in 1948 she obtained a divorce, complaining that 'I just couldn't bear to watch that damn Kings Row one more time' (a reference to a film in which Reagan had played the second lead and which he was in the habit of showing to dinner-party guests).

"After winning her Oscar the following year, Jane Wyman observed in an admirably brief acceptance speech: 'I won this award for keeping my mouth shut, so I think I'll do it again now.' As her former husband remarried and embarked on his stellar political career, she maintained a discreet silence about their life together. Reagan, though, excluded all references to Jane Wyman from the original draft of his memoirs, An American Life, and had to be coaxed by his editor into allowing his ghostwriter to insert a brief four lines about her into the manuscript...

"In 2004, after the death of President Reagan, she broke her silence regarding her former husband, praising him as 'a great president and a great, kind and gentle man.' "

Her full Telegraph obit is here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

September 9, 1887:

Alf Landon's Birthday

Alfred Mossman Landon of Kansas might have lost in a big way to FDR in 1936 -- his reluctance to campaign indicates the he was probably sure he had no chance of winning -- but he does have one distinction among Republican nominees for the presidency, win or lose. He lived longer than any of them, surviving to be 100, his adult life spanning the Progressive Era to the age of Reaganomics.

After he died in 1987, the New York Times published this story about Landon: "Mr. Landon leavened the disappointment of his loss in 1936 with humor. Assessing his two-state victory, Mr. Landon said, 'As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.'

"He displayed the same sense of humor a month after the election, when, as the outgoing Governor of Kansas, he addressed the Gridiron Club, an organization of Washington newspapermen.

'' 'If there is one state that prepares a man for anything, it is Kansas,' he said. 'The Kansas tornado is an old story. But let me tell you of one. It swept first the barn, then the outbuildings. Then it picked up the dwelling and scattered it all over the landscape.

" 'As the funnel-shape cloud went twisting its way out of sight, leaving nothing but splinters behind, the wife came to, to find her husband laughing.

" 'She angrily asked him, "What are you laughing at, you darned old fool?"

'' 'And the husband replied, "At the completeness of it." ' ''

September 8, 1974:

Ford Pardons Nixon

According to the US Constitution, Article II, Section 2, the President of the United States has wide latitude in granting pardons for offenses against the United States: "The President ... shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." Since Washington's time, various presidents have used that power to various degrees.

In living memory, no pardon kicked up a storm like Gerald Ford's pardoning of Richard Nixon, ahead of any conviction or even indictment of the former president, on this day 33 years ago. There was the cry of "corrupt bargain" at the time (though not quite in those old-timey words), but in more recent years this opinion has faded somewhat in favor of the contention -- which Ford said all along -- that current President Ford essentially got tired of dealing with the distraction that was former President Richard Nixon, and dreaded a protracted effort to try him.

This is the entire text of the pardon:

"By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation

"Richard Nixon became the thirty-seventh President of the United States on January 20, 1969 and was reelected in 1972 for a second term by the electors of forty-nine of the fifty states. His term in office continued until his resignation on August 9, 1974.

"Pursuant to resolutions of the House of Representatives, its Committee on the Judiciary conducted an inquiry and investigation on the impeachment of the President extending over more than eight months. The hearings of the Committee and its deliberations, which received wide national publicity over television, radio, and in printed media, resulted in votes adverse to Richard Nixon on recommended Articles of Impeachment.

"As a result of certain acts or omissions occurring before his resignation from the Office of President, Richard Nixon has become liable to possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States. Whether or not he shall be so prosecuted depends on findings of the appropriate grand jury and on the discretion of the authorized prosecutor. Should an indictment ensue, the accused shall then be entitled to a fair trial by an impartial jury, as guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution.

"It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.

"Now, THEREFORE, I, GERALD R. FORD, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9,1974.

"IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of September, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seventy-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and ninety-ninth.


Friday, September 07, 2007

September 7, 1819:

Thomas A. Hendricks' Birthday

Thomas Andrews Hendricks now reposes at the picturesque Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, under a sizable monument. Few know who he was. In his time, however, he was among Indiana's most successful politicians, serving as governor of that state, as well in the US Senate.

Though not running for president in 1872, he received 42 of the electoral votes that otherwise would have gone to Horace Greeley, the Democratic candidate who died shortly after losing the popular election. In that election, Hendricks received more electoral votes that election than any other Democrat -- Benjamin Brown of Missouri got 18 electoral votes, Charles Jenkins two, and David Davis, one -- though of course the Republican candidate, US Grant, won the electoral college with 286 votes.

In 1876, Hendricks was the Democratic vice presidential nominee, and had the office stolen from him every bit as much as Samuel J. Tilden lost the presidency through fraud, though that was merely incidental -- no one sets out to steal the vice presidency. In 1884, when Grover Cleveland became the first Democrat to win the White House since James Buchanan, his running mate Hendricks became the first Democratic vice president since John C. Breckinridge, unless you count Andrew Johnson.

Hendricks died in office in November 1885 after serving not quite nine months, becoming one of a long string of pre-1920s vice presidents to die in office, who also included George Clinton, Elbridge Gerry, William King, Henry Wilson, Garret Hobart and James Sherman. Hendricks' colleagues in government clearly thought enough of him to honor him in an unusual way -- in fact, in a unique way for vice presidents. In 1886, his face appeared on a 10-dollar silver certificate (pictured). Among vice presidents who were never also president, he is the only one thus honored.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

September 6, 1901:

McKinley Shot

At the beginning of the 20th century, an assassin decided who would be president for the third time in 35 years when an anarchist mortally wounded William McKinley in Buffalo, New York. A little more than a week later, President McKinley died of his wounds.

Interestingly, many years later, the Warren Report took up the subject of the previous three presidential murders in passing. On pp 509-510, it discusses what happened to McKinley: "Between 1894 and 1900, anarchists murdered the President of France, the Premier of Spain, the Empress of Austria, and the King of Italy. At the turn of the century the Secret Service thought that the strong police action taken against the anarchists in Europe was compelling them to flee and that many were coming to the United States. Concerned about the protection of the President, the Secret Service increased the number of guards and directed that a guard accompany him on all of his trips.

"Unlike Lincoln and Garfield, President McKinley was being guarded when he was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz, an American-born 28-year-old factory worker and farmhand. On September 6, 1901, the President was holding a brief reception for the public in the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. Long lines of people passed between two rows of policemen and soldiers to reach the President and shake his hand. In the immediate vicinity of the President were four Buffalo detectives, four soldiers, and three Secret Service agents. Two of the Secret Service men were facing the President at a distance of 3 feet. One of them stated later that it was normally his custom to stand at the side of the President on such occasions, but that he had been requested not to do so at this time in order to permit McKinley's secretary and the president of the exposition to stand on either side of McKinley. Czolgosz joined the line concealed a pistol under a handkerchief, and when he stood in front of the President shot twice through the handkerchief. McKinley fell critically wounded.

"Czolgosz, a self-styled anarchist, did not believe in rulers of any kind. There is evidence that the organized anarchists in the U.S.A. did not accept or trust him. He was not admitted as a member to any of the secret anarchist societies. No co-plotters were ever discovered, and there is no evidence that he had confided in anyone. A calm inquiry made by two eminent alienists about a year after Czolgosz was executed found that Czolgosz had for some time been suffering from delusions. One was that he was an anarchist; another was that it was his duty to assassinate the President.

"The assassin said he had no grudge against the President personally but did not believe in the republican form of government or in rulers of any kind. In his written confession he included the words, 'I don't believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none.' As he was strapped to the chair to be electrocuted, he said: 'I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people--the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.'

"McKinley lingered on for 8 days before he died... on the morning of September 14. Czolgosz, who had been captured immediately, was swiftly tried, convicted, and condemned to death. Although it seemed to some contemporaries that Czolgosz was incompetent, the defense made no effort to plead insanity. Czolgosz was executed 45 days after the President's death. Investigations by the Buffalo police and the Secret Service revealed no accomplices and no plot of any kind."

Could he have survived? Maybe. Dr. Zebra notes that "there was intense controversy about McKinley's medical care. Some thought that McKinley could have been saved had renowned surgeon Roswell Park performed the operation [he was delayed in getting to Buffalo from Niagra Falls]. More recent commentators believe, however, that McKinley died from pancreatic necrosis, a condition which is still difficult to treat today, and which the surgeons of McKinley's time could not have treated or prevented."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

September 5, 1975:

Squeaky Attempts an Assassination

On September 5, 1975, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme -- Manson Family nutjob, not quite 27 -- became the first woman known to attempt an assassination of a US president, Gerald Ford. She pointed a .45 Colt semiautomatic at the president as he was gladhanding a crowd in Sacramento, Calif., but it didn’t fire when she squeezed the trigger. She’d apparently forgotten to put a round in the firing chamber.

From an account in Newsweek the week after the attempt: “Ford awoke at 6 that morning in his sixth-floor suite at the Senator Hotel. With his usual verve, he conferred with aides and then sat through the Annual Host Breakfast of California businessmen whose 1,000 or so members gave him a rousing reception.

“Outside the hotel, the Secret Service and Sacramento police had taken what they believed were adequate security precautions. Ford was scheduled to walk up a broad, curving pathway that led to the rear steps of the capitol building, and police lines had been set up to keep the crowds in check at the left of the walk. An encouraging throng of state employees, newsmen and rubberneckers had turned out to wait for the President, and no one really noticed anything unusual when the girl in red strolled up and took a place in the crowd under a stately magnolia near the President's line of march.

“Shortly after 10 a.m., and slightly behind schedule, Ford swept through the lobby of the Senator Hotel and trotted out to the street. He blinked in the bright morning sunlight and headed for the capitol. Instantly spotting the friendly crowd, he cheerfully moved forward, double-pumping hands and smiling every step of the way. Then suddenly, recalled Karen Skelton, a 14-year-old who was standing next to the girl in red, ‘the color went out of his face.’

" ‘He was smiling and as soon as he touched my hand, he turned pale and pulled away,’ " said Irene Morrison, 28, a secretary who had turned out to see the President. The girl in red had stepped forward, reached under her dress and then straightened up. ‘I extended my left hand to her -- that's when I saw the gun,’ Ford told Newsweek’s Thomas M. DeFrank later. ‘Then Ernie [Secret Service agent Ernie Luzania] grabbed me and I was gone.’ "

“The weapon also caught the eye of Larry M. Buendorf, 37, a crack Secret Service agent, former Navy pilot and expert skier who has served as the President's body man all over the world. ‘Gun!’ he bellowed to his colleagues and he leapt forward to grab Squeaky's pistol and twist her gun hand behind her back. His shout set off an immediate action drill the Secret Service uses for emergencies. ‘Let's go,’ yelled Luzania, the acting chief of Ford's security detail. With that he lunged into the President, buckling Ford's knees - to reduce his target profile…”

“Within seconds other agents formed a protective human cocoon around their charge. ‘Everyone get out of the way, get out of here,’ roared one agent. The flying wedge carried the President by the scruff of his blue suit to safety. ‘Are you all right, sir?’ a reporter asked when the President reached the capitol steps. ‘Sure,’ he replied - in a shaken voice that barely rose above a whisper.

Meanwhile, Buendorf had forced Squeaky to drop the gun. By one account, she shouted, ‘Don't get excited. It didn't go off. It didn't go off. Can you believe it?’ Buendorf muscled her up against a tree, borrowed a pair of handcuffs from a Sacramento cop and manacled his charge. Some eyewitnesses reported later that Squeaky bleated a final verbal assault on Ford: ‘He is not a public servant.’

“For the time being, no one could tell whether she had pulled the trigger. When investigators examined the gun they found that it had four bullets in its seven-slug clip - but the firing chamber itself was empty. During the scuffle a few witnesses heard an ominous click, but no one heard a shot. One educated guess was that Squeaky had cocked the gun's hammer with her thumb (hence the click) but had forgotten the essential step of pulling back the slide that shoves a bullet into the firing chamber.”

Except for a few days in December 1987, when she managed to escape from a federal prison in West Virginia, Fromme has spent her days since 1975 behind bars, serving a life sentence.

Today is also the day in 1905 when the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the war between Russia and Japan, was signed. The ever-versatile Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, brokered the peace. For his efforts, he won the Noble Peace Prize, the first American to do so. Among presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter have also won it, and among vice presidents, Charles Dawes did.

September 4, 1951:

The First Transcontinental Television Transmission

Nonstop, 24-hour, wall-to-wall television is our fate in the early 21st century, but as recently as 60 years ago there was no such thing as a national TV broadcast. That changed on September 4, 1951, with the first coast-to-coast television broadcast, and it so happened that the first person featured on such a broadcast was the 33rd President of the United States, Harry Truman.

According to Mass Moments, a web site produced by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities: "On this date in 1951... a program was transmitted live from coast-to-coast for the first time ever. President Harry Truman's opening speech at the Japanese Peace Conference in San Francisco was broadcast... Both the content and the technology were significant. The Peace Conference would formalize the end of hostilities with Japan, opening the door for Japan's economic recovery, while the broadcast initiated a new era in telecommunications.

"The linking of the country in a simultaneous broadcast evoked the day in 1869 when the Golden Spike was driven to mark the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Only this time the new connections were carrying words and pictures, not passengers and freight.

"As soon as World War II was over, the number of TV stations, almost all located in cities, began to grow exponentially. In 1946 six stations were broadcasting to about 20,000 households; by 1950, 98 stations were reaching approximately 7,000,000 households — nearly one in every ten...

"But wiring the entire nation was an expensive proposition. In 1948 AT&T invested $40 million in an experiment. The company used microwave radio technology to transmit a television signal from San Francisco to Chicago, and then existing coaxial cables to carry the signal from Chicago to the East Coast. This made it possible for people in over 50 cities across the country to view the same programming at the same time.

"The opening session of the Japanese Peace Convention in San Francisco represented the first trial for the experimental system, and it was a success. Eighty-seven stations all over the U.S. received and broadcast Truman's speech.

"Regular network shows soon followed. Within a month, I Love Lucy debuted on CBS..."

Monday, September 03, 2007

September 3, 1838:

Frederick Douglass Escapes Slavery

Today is the anniversary of Frederick Douglass' escape from slavery. As a young man of about 20, he took his passage to freedom on a train, the very newest form of transportation in the 1830s. He left Maryland disguised as a free black sailor.

The former slave and abolitionist also has the distinction of being the first black man ever nominated for the vice presidency, albeit by a minor party with no chance of election. His nomination by Equal Rights Party to be Victoria Woodhull's running mate in 1872 was strictly symbolic (see May 10), and Douglass took no interest in campaigning or even acknowledging the nomination.

He did, however, hold a number of appointed offices at various times, including minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti and chargĂ© d'affaires for the Dominican Republic (1889–1891), appointments made by President Harrison.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

September 2, 1901:

"Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick"

Among other things, President Theodore Roosevelt is associated with the line, "Speak softly, but carry a big stick." It's unclear whether TR came up with it himself, or, as he claimed in a letter to New York Assemblyman Henry L. Sprague dated January 26, 1900 -- when TR was governor of New York -- that it was a "West African proverb." Roosevelt was a well-read man, and perhaps he picked it up in a now-forgotten volume that may or may not have been too accurate in recounting African proverbs.

In any case, TR used it in 1900 in reference to political struggles he'd recently had within the narrow world of New York State politics. But the phrase was too good not to use again -- Roosevelt, as an author himself, surely appreciated that -- and it turned up again on September 2, 1901. Now he was Vice President Roosevelt, speaking to an audience at the Minnesota State Fair. The speech, as to be expected, was in support of the McKinley's administration's international policies. No one knew that in less than two weeks, Roosevelt would be president.

"Right here let me make as vigorous a plea as I know how in favor of saying nothing that we do not mean, and of acting without hesitation up to whatever we say," Roosevelt said that early September day in Minnesota. "A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick – you will go far.' If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power. In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting, and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words, his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and, above all, in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples. Whenever on any point we come in contact with a foreign power, I hope that we shall always strive to speak courteously and respectfully of that foreign power.

"Let us make it evident that we intend to do justice. Then let us make it equally evident that we will not tolerate injustice being done us in return. Let us further make it evident that we use no words which we are not which prepared to back up with deeds, and that while our speech is always moderate, we are ready and willing to make it good. Such an attitude will be the surest possible guarantee of that self-respecting peace, the attainment of which is and must ever be the prime aim of a self-governing people...

"Barbarism has and can have no place in a civilized world. It is our duty toward the people living in barbarism to see that they are freed from their chains, and we can only free them by destroying barbarism itself. The missionary, the merchant and the soldier may each have to play a part in this destruction, and in the consequent uplifting of the people. Exactly as it is the duty of a civilized power scrupulously to respect the rights of all weaker civilized powers and gladly to help those who are struggling towards civilization, so it is its duty to put down savagery and barbarism. As in such a work human instruments must be used, and as human instruments are imperfect, this means that at times there will be injustices, that at times, merchant, or soldier, or even missionary may do wrong..."

Saturday, September 01, 2007

September 1, 1883:

Alex Tyler Dies

John Tyler, 10th President of the United States (1841-45), was also the most fecund of presidents, siring a total of 15 legitimate children, and allegedly two more by slave women, though this cannot be confirmed. Tyler's possible dalliance hasn't attracted nearly as much attention as Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (or, for that matter, the possible love child of Grover Cleveland and the confirmed illegitimate daughter of Warren Harding).

Tyler (pictured), besides producing a lot of children, also had the good fortune unusual in the 19th century of having all but one of the 15 survive to adulthood, though he did not live to see all of them grow up. His last child, Pearl, was less than 2 years old when he died, and she lived until 1947.

Today is the day that John Alexander "Alex" Tyler died in 1883. He was the second child born to John's second wife, Julia, and though he survived to manhood, did not live to see old age: he was only 35. His father left office about three years before he was born, returning to his plantation in Virginia, "Sherwood Forest."

Regarding Alex Tyler, the web site has this to say: "He was born April 7, 1848 and died at age 35 on September 1, 1883. He ran away from home at fourteen to enlist in the Confederate Army. He was rejected as too young, then later joined the Confederate Navy. Alex enlisted in the German Army at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He worked as an engineer and a surveyor in the American West. He married a cousin but was often separated from her. His death has spawned several mysterious theories, but most historians accept an account that he died of dysentery after drinking contaminated water in New Mexico in 1883. He had one child."