Friday, November 30, 2007

November 29, 1952:

Ike Goes to Korea

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 28, 1866:

Henry Bacon's Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

November 27, 1973:

The Senate Confirms Ford as VP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

November 26, 1789:

Washington's Thanksgiving Day

In the first year under the Constitution, the new President George Washington, at the suggestion of Congress, proclaimed a national "day of public thanksgiving," and set it for November 26, 1789. It was not to be a thanksgiving for the fruits of the Earth, or family ties, or any of the other things associated with traditional harvest festivals or the later Thanksgiving holiday. Instead, the nation was to give thanks that it had actually won its independence and came out more united than could have been reasonably expected.

Presidents don't issue proclamations quite like this anymore: "Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me 'to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.'

"Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

"And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

"Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

November 25, 1963:

John Kennedy's Televised Funeral

A great many people lined up to file past the coffin of President Kennedy as he lay in state at the Capitol in late November 1963, and many more saw the precession of his coffin through the streets of Washington DC, but vastly more people only saw the event on television. It was the first such sombre spectacle of its kind, so far (fortunately) still unique in presidential, as well as broadcast history.

The Museum of Broadcast History tells a little of the story: "The next day -- Monday, 25 November a National Day of Mourning -- bears witness to an extraordinary political-religious spectacle: the ceremonial transfer of the president's coffin by caisson from the Capitol rotunda to St. Matthews Cathedral, where the funeral mass is to be celebrated by Richard Cardinal Cushing, and on across the Potomac River for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Television coverage begins at 7:00 A.M. EST with scenes from DC, where all evening mourners have been filing past the coffin in the Capitol rotunda. At 10:38 A.M. the coffin is placed on the caisson for the procession to St. Matthews Cathedral.

"Television imprints a series of memorable snapshot images. During the mass, as the phrase from the president's first inaugural address comes through loudspeakers ('Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country'), cameras dissolve to a shot of the flag draped coffin. No sooner do commentators remind viewers that this day marks the president's son's third birthday, then outside the church, as the caisson passes by, little John F. Kennedy, Jr. salutes. The spirited stallion Black Jack, a riderless steed with boots pointed backwards in the stirrup, kicks up defiantly. Awed by the regal solemnity, network commentators are quiet and restrained, allowing the medium of the moving image to record a series of eloquent sounds: drums and bagpipes, hoofbeats, the cadenced steps of the honor guard, and, at the burial at Arlington, the final sour note of a bugle playing 'Taps.'

"The quiet power of the spectacle is a masterpiece of televisual choreography. Besides maintaining their own cameras and crews, each of the networks contributes cameras for pool coverage. CBS's Arthur Kane is assigned the task of directing the coverage of the procession and funeral, coordinating over 60 cameras stationed strategically along the route. NBC takes charge of feeding the signal via relay communications satellite to twenty-three countries around the globe. Even the Soviet Union, in a broadcasting first, uses a five-minute news report sent via Telestar. CBS estimated 50 engineers worked on the project and NBC 60, while ABC put its total staff at 138. Unlike the fast breaking news from Dallas on Friday and Sunday, the coverage of a stationary, scheduled event built on the acquired expertise of network journalism.

"The colossal achievement came with a hefty price tag. Trade figures estimated the total cost to the networks at $40 million, with some $22,000,000 lost in programming and commercial revenue over the four days. Ironically, the one time none of the networks cared about ratings, the television audience was massive. Though multi-city Nielsens for prime time hours during the Black Weekend were calculated modestly (NBC at 24, CBS at 16, and ABC at 10), during intervals of peak viewership -- as when the news of Oswald's murder struck -- Nielsen estimated that fully 93% of televisions in the nation were tuned to the coverage."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

November 24, 1877:

Alben Barkley's Birthday

Alben William Barkley, Democratic politico from Kentucky and big wheel in the US Senate in the 1930s and '40s, won the vice presidency in 1948 on the same ticket with Harry Truman. At Barkley's inauguration on January 20, 1949, he was 71, thus becoming the oldest person ever to become vice president (the second-oldest was Charles Curtis, Coolidge's veep, who entered the office at age 69 in 1925).

Curtis wasn't ever actually called a "veep." Alben Barkley was, however -- he was the first vice president to be called that -- and the term stuck, even though Barkley's successor, Richard Nixon, didn't want it. "Alben W. Barkley, who served as vice president of the United States from 1949 to 1953, was popularly known as the 'Veep,' " wrote Mark O. Hatfield in Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993. "His young grandson had suggested this abbreviated alternative to the cumbersome 'Mr. Vice President.' When Barkley told the story at a press conference, the newspapers printed it, and the title stuck. Barkley's successor as vice president, Richard Nixon, declined to continue the nickname, saying that it had been bestowed on Barkley affectionately and belonged to him...

"A storyteller of great repute, Alben Barkley frequently poked fun at himself and his office. He was especially fond of telling about the mother who had two sons. One went to sea; the other became vice president; and neither was heard from again. In Barkley's case, the story was not at all true. He made sure that the public heard from him, and about him, as often as possible. And what the public heard, they liked, for Alben Barkley performed admirably as vice president of the United States.

"...Alben Barkley was a genial grandfatherly figure -- but with enough life left in him to court and marry a widow half his age and to captivate national attention with their May-December romance. In many ways, Barkley was the last of the old-time vice presidents, the last to preside regularly over the Senate, the last not to have an office in or near the White House, the last to identify more with the legislative than the executive branch. He was an old warhorse, the veteran of many political battles, the perpetual keynote speaker of his party who could rouse delegates from their lethargy to shout and cheer for the party's leaders and platform. His stump-speaker's lungs enabled him to bellow out a speech without need for a microphone. He was partisan to the marrow, but with a sense of humor and a gift of storytelling that defused partisan and personal animosities."

Today is also President Zachary Taylor's birthday, born in 1784, and as such the first president born after Americans won their independence on the battlefield, as acknowledged by the 1783 Treaty of Paris. See March 5 (his swearing in), July 9 (his death) and September 25 (the Battle of Monterrey).

Friday, November 23, 2007

November 23, 1804:

Franklin Pierce's Birthday

Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States, is generally considered a failure as president, but at least he had one of the best quotes -- even if it's apocryphal -- in the face of his final political defeat, when his own party refused to renominate him in 1856: "There's nothing left to do but get drunk."

But Pierce's birthday is a time to remember the man at his political apex, after his nomination for president in 1852. He did, after all, win the election over Winfield Scott by a healthy margin, both popularly and electorially. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a campaign biograph of Pierce that naturally put the best face on the candidate: "The old people of his neighborhood give a very delightful picture of Franklin at this early age," Hawthorne wrote in an early chapter. "They describe him as a beautiful boy, with blue eyes, light curling hair, and a sweet expression of face. The traits presented of him indicate moral symmetry, kindliness, and a delicate texture of sentiment, rather than marked prominences of character. His instructors testify to his propriety of conduct, his fellow-pupils to his sweetness of disposition and cordial sympathy.

"One of the latter, being older than most of his companions, and less advanced in his studies, found it difficult to keep up with his class; and he remembers how perseveringly, while the other boys were at play, Franklin spent the noon recess, for many weeks together, in aiding him in his lessons. These attributes, proper to a generous and affectionate nature, have remained with him through life. Lending their color to his deportment, and softening his manners, they are, perhaps, even now, the characteristics by which most of those who casually meet him would be inclined to identify the man.

"But there are other qualities, not then developed, but which have subsequently attained a firm and manly growth, and are recognized as his leading traits among those who really know him. Franklin Pierce's development, indeed, has always been the reverse of premature; the boy did not show the germ of all that was in the man, nor, perhaps, did the young man adequately foreshow the mature one."

November 22, 1963:

John Kennedy Dies

Only two presidents died in their 40s, both of unnatural causes. John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 44 years ago today, aged 46 years, 177 days. James Garfield, murdered more than 80 years before Kennedy, didn't quite make it to 50, living 49 years and 304 days before his untimely death. The other assassinated presidents, Lincoln and McKinley, weren't old men when the died, either: 56 years, 62 days and 58 years, 228 days respectively.

Besides being the most recent assassination victim among the presidents, Kennedy was the only one shot at a distance, with a rifle. The killers of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley all got close enough to use handguns. Kennedy is also the only Democrat to be assassinated.

As the most recent assassination, still in living memory, Kennedy's death still seems to generate the most interest. For example, a Google search for "Kennedy Assassination" (with quotes) done ahead of this posting got about 730,000 results. "Lincoln Assassination" turns up 168,000; "McKinley Assassination" gets 19,100 results; and "Garfield Assassination" finds only 12,800.

Today was also the day that Lyndon Johnson became the 36th President of the United States, famously taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, the only time a president has taken the oath in Texas, or for that matter west of the Mississippi.

Writing in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998, when the Boeing 707 that was Air Force One that day was put on display at the US Air Force Museum near Dayton, Mark Curnutte wrote: "Malcolm Kilduff... was deputy press secretary and worked for press secretary Pierre Salinger under President Kennedy. Mr. Kilduff rode in the third car of the motorcade in Dallas that day, two cars behind the president when he was shot. Back on the plane at Love Field about an hour after the shooting, Mr. Kilduff made preparations for Mr. Johnson's swearing in.

" 'We had no sound cameras, so I found a Dictaphone and tested the belt,' said Mr. Kilduff, who held a microphone between Mr. Johnson and federal District Judge Sarah Hughes.

" 'President Johnson didn't want to take off before being sworn in, and if you look at pictures, you can see the scowl on his face,' Mr. Kilduff said. 'He was upset about JFK, but he also didn't like Judge Hughes. He had opposed her appointment to the bench. I'm sure he was thinking, "Of all the people to swear me in..." '

... [Air Force Col. James] Swindal was aboard the plane listening to the Secret Service radio when the president was shot. 'My first reaction was to get the plane ready in a hurry to get back to Walter Reed (Hospital in Washington),' he said. 'We hoped it was a wound. When we heard he had died, we wanted to make sure nothing else went wrong. I got off the plane and saluted the casket when it arrived.'

"[Air Force Master Sgt. John] Hames was among the crew members who removed seats and a wall from a rear section of the plane, so President Kennedy's casket would not have to go in the cargo hold..."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November 21, 1899:

Garret Hobart Dies

Garret Augustus Hobart of New Jersey was the sixth of the seven vice presidents to die in office, passing away in late 1899, presumably from heart disease. He was only 55, and thus the vice president with the third-shortest life span. Only John C. Breckinridge (died at 54) and Daniel D. Thompkins (died at 50) had shorter lives.

Hobart served under President McKinley during his first term, and curiously his opponent for the vice presidency, Arthur Sewall of Maine, also did not survive until the end of what would have been his term, had he and WIlliam Jennings Bryan prevailed in the 1896 election. Sewall died on September 5, 1900.

Sometimes presidents and vice presidents dislike each other, but that wasn't the case with McKinley and his first veep. Hobart's US Senate biography has this to say about this now-obscure figure: "For a running mate, McKinley had preferred Speaker Thomas B. Reed, with whom he had worked for many years in the House, but Reed would accept only the top spot on the ticket. Although McKinley and Hobart were strangers by comparison, the president had no difficulty warming up to Gus Hobart. The wealthy Hobarts leased a house at 21 Lafayette Square, which became known as the 'Little Cream White House.' ... The Hobarts used it to entertain lavishly—particularly because President McKinley's wife was an invalid who could not shoulder the traditional social burdens of the White House. The president frequently attended Hobart's dinners and afternoon smokers, where he could meet informally with party leaders from Capitol Hill.

"No previous vice president had visited the White House as often as Gus Hobart, due in part to the warm friendship that developed between Ida McKinley and Jennie Hobart. Mrs. McKinley suffered from epilepsy, which left her a recluse in the White House. President McKinley doted on his wife and grew to depend on Jennie Hobart, who visited Ida daily. 'The President constantly turned to me to help her wherever I could,' Mrs. Hobart wrote in her memoirs, '—not because I was Second Lady, but because I was their good friend.' Whenever McKinley had to be away from his wife in the evenings, he would entrust her to Jennie Hobart's care. He also invited Mrs. Hobart to White House social functions because her presence 'gave him confidence.' In addition to seeing each other in Washington, the McKinleys and Hobarts vacationed together at Bluff Point on Lake Champlain.

"McKinley looked on Hobart as a trusted adviser. Although the vice president was not invited to join meetings of the cabinet, the president and cabinet members consulted with him freely. The mutual regard between the two men made them, in the words of one acquaintance, 'coadjustors in the fixing of the policies of the Administration to an extent never before known.' Arthur Wallace Dunn, a newspaper correspondent who covered presidents from Benjamin Harrison to Warren Harding, marveled that 'for the first time in my recollection, and the last for that matter, the Vice President was recognized as somebody, as a part of the Administration, and as a part of the body over which he presided.' "

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

November 20, 1925:

Robert Kennedy's Birthday

Robert Francis Kennedy, younger brother of the 35th President of the United States and a candidate for that office himself just before he died, would have been 82 today. Presidential brothers, in recent decades including the likes of Sam Houston Johnson, Donald Nixon and Billy Carter, have seldom distinguished themselves, and Robert Kennedy is the only one to be appointed to a presidential cabinet, serving as 64th Attorney General of the United States under his brother and for a short time under President Johnson.

Would Kennedy have captured the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination had he lived? It's a what-if of presidential history, but even with the California primary in his column, it would have been an uphill fight against the momentum that Vice President Humphrey already had. This collection of news coverage just before his murder illustrates that fact.

Monday, November 19, 2007

November 19, 1863:

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November 18, 1886:

Chester Arthur Dies

Chester Arthur, 21st President of the United States, had the second-shortest retirement among those presidents who survived office: 625 days, not even two years. Only James K. Polk had less time out of office, a mere 104 days. In terms of presidential lifespans, Arthur died the fifth youngest, after Kennedy, Garfield, Polk and Lincoln -- three of the four murdered presidents. He was only 57 when he died.

During his presidency, the Surgeon General told Arthur he had "Bright's disease," a classification no longer used because it covers a variety of kidney problems that have more precise designations now. He diagnosis might not have been exact by later standards, but Arthur and his doctors knew that the condition would eventually kill him, and it did.

Dr. Zebra notes: "His last months were miserable. He was recognized as having cardiac problems in early 1886. The symptoms were those of heart failure: dyspnea, orthopnea, edema, cachexia. He needed opiates to sleep. In June 1886, Arthur tried relocating from New York to the cooler climate of Connecticut, but found no relief. He returned to New York and told a friend, 'After all, life is not worth living. I might as well give up the struggle for it now as at any other time and submit to the inevitable'.

"Comment: His terminal symptoms are also consistent with end-stage renal disease. It would be interesting to know more about his mental status during these final months."

Chester Arthur's New York Times obituary began: "Ex-President Chester Alan Arthur died at 5:10 o'clock yesterday morning at his residence, No. 123 Lexington-avenue. The immediate cause of his death was cerebral apoplexy, due to the rupture of a small artery within the brain during Tuesday night or early on Wednesday morning. From the time of the attack the ex-President did not speak. He did not become immediately unconscious, but power of speech failed him and consciousness rapidly dimmed, although almost to the last he showed signs of ability to appreciate, in an even fainter degree, what was going on about him. In the closing hour of his life he opened his eyes several times, and at the end turned his head on the pillow. Then all was over...

"Although from the beginning of his illness Gen. Arthur was not ignorant of its gravity, his feelings were characteristic of the disease, buoyant and depressed by turns. Upon his return from New-London, on Sept. 27, he felt so much benefited that he was sanguine of recovery. His appearance even after a Summer of rest and change was sadly unlike the robust picture familiar to the public eye. Any one who had seen him in his vigor might have passed him without recognition. The features still remained, but they were pallid and hollow and the full, straight figure still showed the emaciation that had alarmed the patient and his friends before he sought a change of surroundings. But he felt better. He was again in excellent spirits, and talked confidently of plans for business and pleasure. When the Presidency of the Arcade Railway Company was offered him, he accepted it, believing that he would be able to discharge its duties. A few days after his return he felt so well that he went out driving. The effort fatigued him excessively. He was not willing to believe the fatigue due to his enfeebled condition, but laid it to the rough streets. In speaking of the drive, he used to say, not wholly with jocose meaning, that one of the aims of his life, after he should resume outdoor activity, would be to secure at least one avenue over which people might drive to the Park without being jolted half to death...."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

November 17, 1973:

"I Am Not a Crook"

Richard Nixon wasn't the most quotable of presidents, but he left his share of memorable phrases to the American people. Perhaps most memorably, in a turn of phrase 34 years ago that has backfired down the years, Nixon said, "I am not a crook." To which the instant response of many listeners was, "Oh, yeah?" Eliciting that response probably wasn't Nixon's intention.

The New York Times covered it this way: "... In a one-hour question-and-answer session with 400 participants in The Associated Press Managing Editors annual convention Mr. Nixon defended himself against all charges of wrongdoing and attempted to regain the political offensive...

"After months of torment over the Watergate and allied scandals, the President gave detailed answers to more than a dozen questions.

"But perhaps the most vivid comment came when Mr. Nixon told the editors he was not 'a crook'--unusual language from a President, even one under fire. 'I've made my mistakes,' the President said, 'but in all my years of public life I've never profited from public service. I've earned every cent. I'm not a crook.'

A fuzzy video of the statement, which includes a few sentences not in the NYT report, is available here.

November 16, 1933:

FDR Recognizes Red Russia, Marx Goes to USSR

For years after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, the government of the United States had not recognized the Soviet government, but the new administration of Franklin Roosevelt decided that it was time to do so. The following exchange of telegrams, FDR to Maxim Litvinov (pictured below), marked the diplomatic recognition:

The White House, Washington, November 16, 1933

My dear Mr. Litvinov:

I am very happy to inform you that as a result of our conversations the Government of the United States has decided to establish normal diplomatic relations with the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and to exchange ambassadors.

I trust that the relations now established between our peoples may forever remain normal and friendly, and that our Nations henceforth may cooperate for their mutual benefit and for the preservation of the peace of the world. I am, my dear Mr. Litvinov,

Very sincerely yours,


Washington, November 16, 1933

My dear Mr. President:

I am very happy to inform you that the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is glad to establish normal diplomatic relations with the Government of the United States and to exchange ambassadors.

I, too, share the hope that the relations now established between our peoples may forever remain normal and friendly, and that our Nations henceforth may cooperate for their mutual benefit and for the preservation of the peace of the world.

I am, my dear Mr. President,

Very sincerely yours,


People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs,
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Curiously, one of the immediate effects of the normalization was Harpo Marx's tour of the Soviet Union, which happened shortly afterwards. Aaron Lee, writing about Harpo Marx at Miami University, described the tour (referencing Marx's memoirs, Harpo Speaks (1961)): "In the fall of 1933, Harpo received a call from his by then good friend, Alexander Woollcott: 'I've decided that Harpo Marx should be the first American artist to perform in Moscow after the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. become friendly nations. Think of it!' (Marx, 1961, 297). Woollcott figured that with Harpo's pantomimic capabilities he would be a hit in Soviet Russia; Harpo decided to give it a try.

"After a slight delay with the Soviet customs (they thought Harpo was a spy), Harpo was able to get into Moscow. He was assigned his own personal guide (spy to make sure he wasn't a spy) and given an appointment with the head of the department of Soviet theater to set up some dates for appearances; he wasn't given any. After a week of trying Harpo was ready to leave the country when the Soviet Foreign Minister (Stalin's right-hand man, Litinov) rectified things and got him a Soviet group of actors to put together a show. For the show Harpo would play a harp solo, a sketch with his clarinet and a pantomime piece with the rest of the group.

"Harpo's opening night in Moscow was arguably the best opening night in comedic history. 'I'll be a son of a bitch if I didn't knock them out of their seats... I only had to wiggle an eyebrow to bring the house down.' (Marx, 1961, 317). The Soviet crowd was awestruck. At the end of the show Harpo would make curtain call after curtain call. On the next day, one Soviet critic would write that Harpo had received, 'an unprecedented standing ovation, lasting ten minutes.' (Marx, 1961, 318). Harpo loved every minute of it, 'No other success ever gave me quite the same satisfaction. Besides, it happened on my fortieth birthday.' (Marx, 1961, 318).

"In the six weeks that the show ran in Russia Harpo became a celebrity. The show was an incredible success. Everywhere it played it received the same enthusiastic response it had met in Moscow."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

November 15, 1939:

FDR at Cornerstone Laying of the Jefferson Memorial

In the fall of 1939, the 32nd President of the United States spoke at a ceremony marking the laying of the cornerstone of a new monument in Washington DC, one honoring the Third President of the United States. Early in his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt had let it be known that he wanted a prominent memorial to Jefferson in Washington DC, one in the same league as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Congress went along with the idea, and by 1939 the neoclassical memorial, a design by John Russell Pope, was under way at a site on the Tidal Basin. The memorial was formally dedicated on April 13, 1943, the bicentennial of Jefferson's birth.

On the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone, Franklin Roosevelt said of his predecessor:

"...In all of the hundred and fifty years of our existence as a constitutional nation, many memorials to its civil and military chiefs have been set up in the National Capital. But it has been reserved to two of those leaders to receive special tribute in the nation's capital by the erection of national shrines perpetuating their memories, over and above the appreciation and the regard tendered to other great citizens of the Republic.

"Today we lay the cornerstone of a third great shrine—adding the name of Thomas Jefferson to the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln...

"Washington represented abilities recognized in every part of the young nation and, indeed, in every part of the civilized world of his day; for he was not only a great military leader, not only a great moderator in bringing together discordant elements in the formation of a constitutional nation, not only a great executive' of that nation in its troublesome early years, but also a man of vision and accomplishments in private civil fields-talented engineer and surveyor, planner of highways and canals, patron of husbandry, friend of scientists and fellow of political thinkers.

"Lincoln, too, was a many-sided man. Pioneer of the wilderness, counsel for the under-privileged, soldier in an Indian war, master of the English tongue, rallying point for a torn nation, emancipator—not of slaves alone, but of those of heavy heart everywhere—foe of malice, and teacher of good-will.

"To those we add today another American of many parts—not Jefferson the founder of a party, but the Jefferson whose influence is felt today in many of the current activities of mankind...

"He lived, as we live, in the midst of a struggle between rule by the self-chosen individual or the self-appointed few and rule by the franchise and approval of the many. He believed, as we do, that the average opinion of mankind is in the long run superior to the dictates of the self-chosen...

"It may be that the conflict between the two forms of philosophy will continue for centuries to come; but we in the United States are more than ever satisfied with the republican form of Government based on regularly recurring opportunities to our citizens to choose their leaders for themselves.

"Therefore, in memory of the many-sided Thomas Jefferson and in honor of the ever-present vitality of his type of Americanism, we lay the cornerstone of this shrine."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

November 14, 1896:

Mamie Eisenhower's Birthday

During her time as First Lady of the United States, Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower was quite popular, a fact perhaps forgotten in the glare of attention focused on her much younger, and ultimately bereaved, successor in that position.

She was also an important asset to her husband's candidacy. notes that "the 1952 marked the first presidential campaign in which the spouses of a presidential ticket were consciously marketed to women voters as part of a larger effort. Thus along with the Republican effort to enlist housewives as supporters and party volunteer workers by translating political issues into those most women of the era could relate to such as grocery bills or having their sons, husbands sent to the Korean War front, there were also 'Mamie for First Lady,' 'We Want Mamie,' and 'I Like Mamie Too' buttons.

"Mamie Eisenhower was an energetic and enthusiastic figure on her husband's 77-stop train tour of the nation, the candidate often finishing a speech by asking a crowd, 'How'd you like to meet my Mamie?' a cue for her to appear and wave. On the whistlestop, she even willingly re-staged a scene of waving to reporters and photographers in her bathrobe and slippers. Behind the scenes, she often listened to him rehearse his speeches and sometimes gave suggestions to edit them in a way that spoke more directly to the common citizen, in simple and direct language. She also maintained a degree of control over who came onto the campaign train, into their personal car to meet the candidate. During their layovers in hotels, when the campaign manager assigned her rooms that were apart from her husband's suite, she overruled him. In both the 1952 and the 1956 presidential campaigns of her husband, Mamie Eisenhower also made brief appearances on television commercials and live broadcasts with him.

"Mamie Eisenhower was the first president's wife known to be kissed openly in public by her husband following his inaugural ceremony. She encouraged her husband to compose an inaugural prayer which he recited at the ceremony and also strongly approved the decision to invite African-American opera singer Marian Anderson to sing at the ceremony. She also arranged for the accommodations of her African-American maids to stay in Washington, still segregated at the time, and attend all the inaugural events...."

Mamie's recipe for "million-dollar fudge," apparently a favorite of Ike's, is also still easily available on the Internet:

* 4-1/2 cups sugar
* 2 tablespoons butter
* pinch of salt
* 1 tall can evaporated milk
* 12 ounces semisweet chocolate bits
* 12 ounces German sweet chocolate
* 1 pint marshmallow cream
* 2 cups chopped nutmeats

Heat the sugar, butter, salt, and evaporated milk over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil for 6 minutes. Put chocolate bits, German chocolate, marshmallow cream, and nutmeats in a bowl. Pour the boiling syrup over the ingredients. Beat until the chocolate is all melted, then pour in a pan. Let stand for a few hours before cutting. Remember it is better the second day. Store in a tin box.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

November 13, 1833:

Edwin Booth's Birthday

Edwin Thomas Booth (pictured), regarded as one of the greatest actors of his day, if not the greatest, also has the historical misfortune of being the elder brother of John Wilkes Booth, murderer of Lincoln. Some years after that terrible event, the elder Booth wrote a letter in response to an inquiry regarding his assassin brother:


July 28, 1881.

Dear Sir:

I can give you very little information regarding my brother John. I seldom saw him since his early boyhood in Baltimore. He was a rattle-pated fellow, filled with quixotic notions.

While at the farm in Maryland he would charge on horseback through the woods, “spouting” heroic speeches with a lance in his hand–a relic of the Mexican war–given to father by some soldier who had served under Taylor. We regarded him as a good-hearted, harmless, though wild-brained, boy, and used to laugh at his patriotic froth whenever secession was discussed. That he was insane on that one point no one who knew him well can doubt. When I told him that I had voted for Lincoln’s reelection he expressed deep regret, and declared his belief that Lincoln would be made king of America; and this I believe, drove him beyond the limits of reason. I asked him once why he did not join the Confederate army. To which he replied, “I promised mother I would keep out of the quarrel, if possible, and I am sorry that I said so." Knowing my sentiments, he avoided me, rarely visiting my house, except to see his mother, when political topics were not touched upon–at least in my presence. He was of a gentle, loving disposition, very boyish and full of fun–his mother’s darling–and his deed and death crushed her spirit. He possessed rare dramatic talent, and would have made a brilliant mark in the theatrical world. This is positively all that I know about him, having left him a mere school-boy, when I went with my father to California in 1852. On my return in 1856 we were separated by professional engagements, which kept him mostly in the South while I was employed in the Eastern and Northern states.

I do not believe any of the wild, romantic stories published in the papers concerning him; but of course he may have been engaged in political matters of which I know nothing. All his theatrical friends speak of him as a poor crazy boy, and such his family think of him. I am sorry I can afford you no further light on the subject. Very truly yours,

Edwin Booth.

Curiously, the bit of lore about the elder Booth saving Robert Todd Lincoln from death or at least serious injury seems to be true. That story is here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

November 12, 2006:

Ford Outlasts Them All (So Far)

A year ago, Gerald Ford surpassed Ronald Reagan as the longest-lived president at 93 years and 121 days. Ford was near death at the time, however, and died 45 days later. Reagan himself had bested Herbert Hoover in early 2001 and John Adams in late 2001 to surpass the previous longest and second-longest presidential lifespans.

George HW Bush and Jimmy Carter would each have to live 10 more years to top Ford and Reagan, and Bill Clinton would have to live another 32 years.

Currently there are three living former presidents. From the inauguration of George W. Bush to the death of Ronald Reagan, there were five, which was only the third time that many former presidents have been alive. It was also the longest period with five ex-presidents kicking around -- more than three years, compared with the roughly 15 months between the inauguration of Bill Clinton and the death of Richard Nixon, and the 10 months between the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln and the death of John Tyler.

Three former presidents is a fairly common number, beginning all the way back in 1817, when James Monroe took office. All the previous presidents except Washington -- John Adams, Jefferson and Madison -- were still alive at the time, and in fact all of them survived Monroe's eight years in office.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 11:

Presidents and Armistice Day

Though commemorating events on the battlefield, the creation of the remembrance known as Armistice Day and later Veterans Day in the United States included presidential involvement (the day has other histories in other Allied countries, which isn't in the purview of this site). The first US Armistice Day was in 1919, by proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson, who said:

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nation."

Toni Eugene wrote in Army magazine, November 2007, "In 1920, President Wilson named the Sunday nearest it Armistice Day Sunday and suggested services be held in pursuit of international peace...

"In 1921, the United States followed a custom established the previous year in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor—Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe. To ensure anonymity, an American unknown was exhumed from each of the four major cemeteries in which U.S. war dead were buried: Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Somme and St. Mihiel. Edward F. Younger, an infantry sergeant who had taken part in Chateau-Thierry, St. Mihiel, the Somme Offensive and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, selected the soldier who would represent the unknown soldier in Washington, D.C. The other three coffins were put aboard a truck and taken to Romagne Cemetery east of Paris, where they were buried.

"The coffin of the unknown bound for the United States was transported with great respect and ceremony by train, then ship and finally horse-drawn caisson to the Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C. Brig. Gen. Harry H. Bandholtz, commander of the Military District of Washington, was responsible for planning the ceremonies there. That Armistice Day was probably the most elaborate of any veterans celebration before or since.

"Between 8 am and midnight November 10, some 90,000 people passed by the bier to pay their respects to the nameless veteran. At 8 am on November 11, the U.S. Army Band played a dirge, military units stood at 'present arms' and a field artillery battery from Camp Meade, Md., fired minute guns as the coffin was moved to the caisson that would carry it to Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia.

"For this special day, President Warren G. Harding had requested that all flags fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset and that all Americans pay silent tribute as the coffin was lowered into the tomb. Thousands of people lined the streets as President Harding, Vice President Calvin Coolidge, the chief justice and associate justices of the Supreme Court, military dignitaries and a parade of other distinguished guests followed the caisson bearing the flag-draped coffin to Arlington National Cemetery. After an impressive ceremony marked by a respectful two-minute silence, the coffin was lowered into the crypt. Three artillery salvos, the sounding of 'Taps' and a national salute of 21 guns concluded that national Armistice Day celebration."

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the bill in 1938 that made Armistice Day an actual federal holiday, as opposed to a remembrance day (it was a holiday in many states by then). In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill changing the designation to Veterans Day.

According to All About American Holidays by Mayme R. Krythe, "In Emporia, Kansas, on November 11, 1953, instead of an Armistice Day program, there was a Veterans Day observance. Ed Rees, of Emporia, was so impressed that he introduced a bill into the House to change the name to Veterans Day. After this passed, Mr. Rees wrote to all state governors and asked for their approval and cooperation in observing the changed holiday. The name was changed to Veterans Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954. In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly, and through rededication to the task of promoting an enduring peace."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

November 10, 2007:

Arthur Bremer on Parole

"How strange is this: An assassin released on parole?" wrote Patrick J. Lyons in a New York Times blog yesterday.

"Extremely strange, actually. Of all the protagonists in America’s horrible string of high-profile political assassinations and attempts in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, Arthur H. Bremer, who tried to kill Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama, appears to be the first and only one to become a free man again. He was released on parole today in Maryland.

"Mr. Bremer is free after serving 35 years of his 53-year sentence for the 1972 shooting, which left Mr. Wallace a paraplegic. Mr. Wallace lived another 25 years, and Mr. Bremer has evidently been a model prisoner, holding down a prison job and avoiding even a single black mark on his record, officials said.

"Mr. Bremer said at the time of his trial that his motive was to become a celebrity, and many observers have noted the pernicious, if unintended, effect that intense media attention has had, glamorizing assassins and inspiring copycats. John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot and wounded Ronald Reagan in 1981, said he did it to prove his love for the actress Jodie Foster, who appeared in the film Taxi Driver, about a would-be assassin who looked to Mr. Bremer as a role model."

The full posting is here, comparing Bremer's case to other recent assassins and would-be assassins.

Friday, November 09, 2007

November 9, 1906:

TR Goes Abroad

On November 9, 1906, Theodore Roosevelt became the first sitting US president to leave the country. Commonplace now, such a trip was unheard of then. But TR had his reasons. He was going to inspect the progress on the Panama Canal (pictured under construction in 1907, below).

"In November 1906 he was setting out on a journey to survey the progress of his project to build that better route between the Atlantic and the Pacific," wrote Alexander Burns in in November 2006. "Seven years earlier, in 1899, Congress had created an Isthmian Canal Commission, charged with plotting out a route for a canal through Panama, but it had taken several years and multiple treaties to guarantee the United States access to and ownership of the land needed to begin construction. Finally, in 1903, the United States under Roosevelt had arrived at a deal with a new Panamanian government by which the U.S. would control the canal’s route across the isthmus as well as a five-mile strip of land on both sides and a few islands in the Bay of Panama. In exchange for this, the government would pay Panama $10 million initially and $250,000 each year starting in 1912.

"It was a remarkably good deal for the United States. Some observers grumbled that it was too good, particularly given that it had been arrived at only after a new, U.S.-friendly Panamanian government had seized power by force. When Roosevelt disembarked in Panama, however, there was no sign of bitterness or resentment on the part of the Panamanian people. His ship arrived in the middle of a storm, but the weather did little to dampen the energy with which he was received. As he rode through Panama City in the pouring rain, with his wife beside him, he looked out on buildings and streets that had been scrubbed clean in anticipation of his arrival. He could see flags flying in window after window. He basked in the knowledge that his hosts had formally declared a day of 'joy and exalted enthusiasm' in honor of his arrival.

"The trip was far from just ceremonial, though. Roosevelt wanted to see firsthand the progress that was being made on the construction of his canal. Contemporary accounts of his expedition highlight the characteristic rigor of his travels. Intentionally visiting the grittiest of the work sites, he didn’t hesitate to tramp through mud or ride on horseback in order to gain access to unfinished portions of the canal. He also went out of his way to witness the conditions in which the project placed its workers. On one of the first days of the tour, he and the First Lady decided not to attend a lavish luncheon to which they had been invited, at the luxurious Tivoli Hotel. Instead they visited a mess hall in which canal workers ate their meals. Sitting down among several hundred laborers, the Roosevelts dined on a 30-cent lunch. At the Cristóbal work site, the President spent most of his time touring workers’ living quarters."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Presidents Elected on November 8

Under the plan for a standard popular vote for the presidency, the ballot is the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, meaning a range from November 2nd to the 8th. Supposedly Monday lost out as a polling day because in some cases, voters would have had to leave home on Sunday, the Lord's Day, to reach a polling place by the end of the next day, considering the poor state of roads and transit in the early 19th century.

The first November 8 election -- in the northern states only -- saw Lincoln beating McClellan. In some sense, these presidential elections are the most remarkable in US history, not for the outcome, but for the fact that there were held at all in the midst of a bloody civil war. In 1892, things were a little less dramatic, but those elections did return Cleveland to the White House. The 22nd and 24th President of the United States remains the only man to lose the office and get it back again.

The 1904 election wasn't much of a contest: Teddy Roosevelt carried every part of the country against Alton Parker (pictured), except the Solid South, which in those days always went Democratic. In 1932, the Depression put Franklin Roosevelt into office. The November 8 presidential election of 1960 saw Kennedy edging out Nixon by a narrow margin, and in 1988 George HW Bush outpolled Michael Dukakis but a considerably larger margin. The next such late-as-possible election won't be until 2016.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

November 7, 1811:

The Battle of Tippecanoe

A battlefield near the Tippecanoe River in the Indiana Territory gave us the most memorable US presidential election slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" Most living Americans have probably heard the slogan at some point, though perhaps not so many could associate it with William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, the victorious Whig ticket in 1840.

That election was long in the future on November 7, 1811, during the Battle of Tippecanoe, which made William Henry Harrison famous, ultimately taking him to the White House for his 30-day term. According to the Tippecanoe County Historical Society Web site: "Early man and many Indian tribes roamed this part of the Wabash Valley before the thriving trading post of Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk was established in the eighteenth century. Known to many as 'Tippecanoe,' the village thrived until 1791, when it was razed in an attempt to scatter the Indians and open the land to the new white settlers.

"Seventeen years later a new Indian village was established on or near the old Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk site at the Wabash/Tippecanoe River junction. Known as 'Prophet's Town,' this village was destined to become the capitol [sic] of a great Indian confederacy.

"The town was founded in May 1808, when two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (the Prophet), left their native Ohio after being permitted to settle on these Potawatomi and Kickapoo-held lands.

"Tecumseh and the Prophet planned to unite many tribes into an organized defense against the growing number of western settlers. In addition to being a seat of diplomacy, Prophet's Town became a training center for the warriors, with a rigorous spiritual and athletic regimen. As many as one thousand warriors were based in the capitol [sic] at its peak.

"The white settlers of the Indiana territory were disturbed by the increasing activities and power of Tecumseh's followers. In the late summer of 1811, the governor of the territory, Gen. William Henry Harrison, organized a small army of 1,000 men, hoping to destroy the town while Tecumseh was on a southern recruitment drive. The regiment arrived on Nov. 6, 1811, and upon meeting with representatives of the Prophet, it was mutually agreed that there would be no hostilities until a meeting could be held on the following day. Harrison's scouts then guided the troops to a suitable campsite on a wooded hill about a mile west of Prophet's Town.

"Upon arriving at the site, Harrison warned his men of the possible treachery of the Prophet. The troops were placed in a quadrangular formation; each man was to sleep fully clothed. Fires were lit to combat the cold, rainy night, and a large detail was assigned to sentinel the outposts.

"Although Tecumseh had warned his brother not to attack the white men until the confederation was strong and completely unified, the incensed Prophet lashed his men with fiery oratory. Claiming the white man's bullets could not harm them, the Prophet led his men near the army campsite. From a high rock ledge west of the camp, he gave an order to attack just before daybreak on the following day.

"The sentinels were ready, and the first gunshot was fired when the yells of the warriors were heard. Many of the men awoke to find the Indians upon them. Although only a handful of the soldiers had had previous battle experience, the army fought off the reckless, determined Indian attack. Two hours later, thirty-seven soldiers were dead, twenty-five others were to die of injuries, and over 126 were wounded. The Indian casualties were unknown, but their spirit was crushed. Angered by his deceit, the weary warriors stripped the Prophet of his power and threatened to kill him."

Over the years, November 7 has seen presidential elections in 1848, 1876, 1916, 1944, 1972, and 2000. The election of 1848, with Zachary Taylor riding to the White House on his military fame, was the first presidential election to be held on the same day across the country -- before that, each state set its own date. In 1876, it seemed that Samuel J. Tilden had won, but no: the prize was ultimately stolen for Rutherford B. Hayes. Nineteen-sixteen was close as well, with Woodrow Wilson squeaking to victory on the basis of a few thousand votes in California. The elections of 1944 and 1972 were not close -- big wins for FDR and Richard Nixon, neither of which would finish those terms.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

November 6, 1861:

Jefferson Davis Elected CSA President

In early 1861, the provisional Confederate government slated its first presidential election for November 1861 -- a year to the day after Lincoln had been elected US president, in fact. The CSA provisional president, Jefferson Davis, won the '61 election handily since he, like Washington decades before, ran unopposed. It proved to be the one and only presidential election the CSA ever held, so unlike Washington, Davis had no successors.

Among US presidential elections, November 6 saw contests in 1860, 1888, 1900, 1928, 1956 and 1984. Far and away the most momentous of these was the election of Lincoln in 1860 in a four-way race. Benjamin Harrison won the electoral vote in 1888, thus replacing Grover Cleveland for a term. In 1900, McKinley won his ill-starred second term, and in 1928, Hoover won his ill-starred single term, though at least he survived it. Both 1956 and 1984 saw easy re-elections for popular presidents, Eisenhower and Reagan respectively.

November 5, 1872:

Susan B. Anthony Votes for President

November 5 saw a number of presidential elections, including Grant's second victory in 1872, Wilson defeating TR and Taft in 1912, FDR winning an unprecedented third term in 1940, Nixon narrowly beating Humphrey in 1968 and Clinton's re-election in 1996. It was also the day, in the 1872 Grant-Greeley contest, that Susan B. Anthony famously cast a vote.

The companion web site to the In Search of Heroes video series describes the legal wrangling that ensued: "On November 1, 1872 she went to register to vote in Rochester, New York, along with three other women. Two election inspectors named Edwin Marsh and Beverly W. Jones at first refused, but... they eventually consented. By the end of the period of registration, 50 women had registered to vote in Rochester. On election day, November 5, 1872, Anthony voted for the first time. On November 18, she was served an arrest warrant.

"The trial began the following summer in Canandaiga, New York, southeast of Rochester. Her counsel was Henry R. Seldon, who was a close personal friend and was sympathetic to the cause of suffrage. The prosecuting attorney was Richard Crowley. On the bench was Judge Ward Hunt. After presentation of the opposing arguments in the case, the jury was abruptly directed by the judge to return a verdict of guilty. Seldon protested and demanded that the jury be polled, but he was cut off.

The next day, Anthony attempted to speak on her own behalf but was stopped by Judge Hunt. She was fined $100 but was not jailed. This was a calculated move, obviously planned in advance, that prevented Anthony from appealing the case to the United States Supreme Court. Susan B. Anthony never paid the $100, and eventually the matter was dropped. Three election inspectors who allowed the women to register were tried the day Anthony was sentenced. They were convicted of breaking election laws and fined $25 each. Two of these men, including Edwin Marsh, refused to pay their fines and were jailed. Anthony appealed to her senator and the men received a pardon from President Grant."

Anthony did manage to speak to the judge about the matter of the $100 fine, however: "May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper [The Revolution] ...the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your manmade, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprision, and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government... I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim that 'Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.' "

Sunday, November 04, 2007

November 4, 1879:

Will Rogers' Birthday

Stephen Colbert is hardly the first comedian to "run" for president. Writing last month in Slate, Christopher Beam and Chadwick Matlin had this to say about comedians with hats in the presidential ring: "A few people have compared Colbert's candidacy to that of Pat Paulsen, the comedian who ran on the Straight-Talking American Government ticket in 1968 with the promise that 'If elected, I will win.'

"But Paulsen wasn't the first, either. Back in 1928, humorist Will Rogers announced his presidential bid on the 'Anti-Bunk Party' ticket in a column for Life magazine. His campaign promise was essentially the opposite of Paulsen's: If elected, he would resign. He later challenged Herbert Hoover to a joint debate 'in any joint you name.'

"The difference between Colbert and Rogers is that Rogers insisted he was running in jest. 'Now when that is done as a joke it is alright,' he wrote. 'But when it's done seriously, it's just pathetic.' But that didn't stop people from supporting him. Henry Ford backed Rogers, as did Babe Ruth and Charles Gibson, Life's owner, who wrote the magazine's official endorsement. Rogers refused to get on the ballot..."

Dick Gregory would be another fairly recent example of a non-serious bid for the presidency, running as he did in 1968 with the Freedom and Peace Party, a splinter from the Peace and Freedom Party (or was it the other way around?). A century earlier -- predating Rogers quite a few decades -- was comedian Dan Rice, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1868. More on him, "the most famous man you've never heard of," is here and here.

November 4 was also an election day in 1856, 1884, 1924, 1952 and 1980, resulting in the elections of Buchanan, Cleveland, Coolidge, Eisenhower and Reagan. The next presidential election will be on November 4, 2008.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Presidents Elected on November 3

On November 3, across the decades, presidents were elected in 1868, 1896, 1908, 1936, 1964 and 1992 -- US Grant, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt (second term), Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, respectively.

Three of these elections were lopsided victories, both in the popular vote and the electoral college: Grant over Seymour in 1868, Roosevelt over Landon in 1936, and Johnson over Goldwater in 1964. The other three victors on November 3, McKinley, Taft and Clinton, all won respectable majorities, but not in landslides. William Jennings Bryan was the loser in both 1896 and 1908, as he had been in 1900.

Two of the elections pitting an incumbent against another candidate -- Roosevelt in '36 and Johnson in '64. Both won. Only one November 3 election ever unseated an incumbent president, when Bush lost to Clinton in 1992.

Friday, November 02, 2007

November 2, 1795 & 1865:

James K. Polk's and Warren G. Harding's Birthdays

November 2 offers a rich vein of dead presidential anniversaries. James K. Polk was born this day in 1795, and 70 years later, Warren G. Harding was. Both were the unexpected nominees of their parties in their respective election years, 1844 and 1920. The results of the 1844 election were the first ones ever transmitted by telegraph; the results of the 1920 election were the first one ever broadcast by radio (it was Harding's 55th birthday). Winning the West proved to be the focal point of the Polk administration; a place in the West called Teapot Dome set the tone for the posthumous reputation of Warren Harding and his administration.

In 1783, George Washington gave his farewell address to the Army, near Princeton, NJ.

On November 2, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison signed the statehood bills for North and South Dakota, one after the other. In which order? Harrison said he didn't look.

On November 2, 1983, Ronald Reagan signed a bill making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a federal holiday, starting in 1986.

Under the the standardization of presidential election dates, a scheme that Congress passed and President Polk signed in 1845, November 2 is the first possible date of the general election; November 8 is the last. Elections were held on November 2 in 1852, 1880, 1920, 1948, 1976 and 2004 thus far, resulting in the election or re-election (respectively) of Pierce, Garfield, Harding, Truman, Carter and G.W. Bush.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

November 1, 1950:

Assassins Gun for Truman

In late 1950, President Truman was living at Blair House across Pennsylvania Ave. from the the White House while that structure was undergoing a major renovation. Protecting the president wasn't as easy at Blair House as the White House, since Blair House fronted a busy street, and was without the high iron fence and broad lawn that surround the White House.

Two Puerto Rican extremists, 36-year-old Oscar Collazo and 25-year-old Griselio Torresola, decided to take advantage of the situation and assassinate Truman on November 1, 1950. Stationed in and around Blair House that day, guarding the president and the first family, were seven men, members of the White House Police and the Secret Service. One of these men was 40-year-old Private Leslie Coffelt (pictured), originally from a small town in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He, along with one of the assassins, were fated to kill each other that day.

According to the Arlington National Cemetery web site (Coffelt is buried there): "At approximately 2:20 p.m., a half-hour before the president's scheduled departure, Collazo and Torresola approached Blair House from opposite directions. Floyd Boring had just stepped outside for a routine check with his detail. He spoke with Private Coffelt, then moved to the other corner of the house, where he reported to headquarters on the phone in Private Davidson's booth. He was chatting with Davidson when Collazo walked by.

"At the front steps, Donald Birdzell, who was facing westward at the time, suddenly heard a sharp click. Collazo had tried to shoot him at point-blank range, but the gun had misfired. Either the first round in the clip was empty, or Collazo's inexperience had caused him to engage the safety lock at the moment of firing. Birdzell whirled around to see Collazo pounding the gun with his left fist, which caused it to fire, striking Birdzell in the right knee. To draw the fire away from the house, the wounded officer limped out into the street before turning to shoot back at Collazo, who had started up the now unguarded steps.

"Davidson halted Collazo by firing at him from the east booth area. Agent Boring also began firing. Collazo sat on the second step and fired a clip of bullets back at the two guards. He managed to reload, despite the bullets ricocheting off the iron picket fence and railing. Collazo's nose and an ear were grazed by bullets, and another tore through his hat. Meanwhile, Stewart Stout grabbed the machine gun and took up a position inside the house, at the door.

"Agent Mroz came out the basement door behind Boring and Davidson, took one shot at Collazo, then raced back into the Lee House basement to meet a new threat at the basement door on the other end of the building, where Torresola had acted with much more effectiveness than his partner. Approaching from the west, Torresola had reached Private Coffelt's sentry box immediately behind Downs, who had been away from Blair House on personal business and arrived at the basement door just as the gunfire erupted. Because tourists often stopped at the box for information, Coffelt was taken completely by surprise as Torresola fired three times into his chest, abdomen, and legs. Mortally wounded, Coffelt sank back into his chair, but managed to draw his gun while struggling to remain conscious. Downs, standing in the doorway, tried to draw his pistol, but Torresola shot him three times. Then, seeing that Officer Birdzell was shooting at Collazo from the street, the skilled gunman disabled that officer with a bullet through his left knee.

"At this crucial point, Torresola might have gone unimpeded through the west door to the basement, but Private Coffelt made a final supreme effort before losing consciousness and killed the assailant instantly with a shot through the head. If Torresola had gone through the door, he would have stood a very good chance of reaching the president, who now was guarded only by Agent Mroz and Officer Stout. Coffelt's heroic act may have saved the president, because no one within range was safe as long as Torresola was shooting. Boring, meanwhile, had shot Collazo through the chest, and the battle was over. Approximately thirty shots had been fired in less than three minutes.

"Leslie Coffelt died in a hospital less than four hours later. Birdzell's wounds were temporarily disabling, but not life-threatening, while Downs survived wounds that would have killed a weaker man. Collazo was not hurt critically.

"When the shooting ended, President Truman rushed to the window but was quickly waved back by Boring, who feared there might be more accomplices in the excited crowd on the street. Ten minutes later, the president left by a back door for his speech in Arlington. 'A president has to expect such things,' he calmly informed an aide. Truman later reassured Admiral William Leahy: 'The only thing you have to worry about is bad luck. I never have bad luck.' "

Collazo, the surviving terrorist, was sentenced to death, but President Truman commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. President Carter pardoned him in 1979 and he lived in Puerto Rico until his death in 1994.