Monday, October 31, 2011

"I Welcome Their Hatred"

Just before the 1936 election, on October 31 of that year, President Franklin Roosevelt made a major campaign speech at Madison Square Garden in New York. FDR was not one to shy away from strident rhetoric.

"For 12 years this nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government. The nation looked to government but the government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that government is best which is most indifferent to mankind.

"For nearly four years you have had an administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

"We had to struggle with the old enemies.... business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

"They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred."

Four days later, the election proved to be one of the most lopsided in U.S. history. FDR received 27.4 million in the popular vote and 523 electoral votes, while Alf Landon received 16.6 million in the popular vote and 8 electoral votes.

The full text of the speech is here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

John Adams' Birthday

Today is the birthday of John Adams, Second President and First Vice President of the United States, 1735-1826.

The following is a dramatization of John Adams' speech for independence to the Continental Congress on July 1, 1776, in the HBO series John Adams (2008), starring Paul Giamatti as Adams. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (played by Zeljko Ivanek) spoke before Adams, pleading that the time wasn't right for independence, memorably asserting it would amount to braving the storm "in a skiff made of paper."

Adams better captured to mood of the Congress, which voted 12-0 the next day for independence, with only New York abstaining.

According to David McCullough in his book John Adams (2001), "No transcription was made, no notes were kept. There would only be Adams' recollections, plus those of several others who would remember more the force of Adams himself than any particular thing he said. That is was the most powerful and important speech heard in the Congress since it was first convened, and the greatest speech of Adams' life, there is no question.

"To Jefferson, Adams was 'not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent,' but spoke 'with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.' "

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hoover on the Great Crash

October 28 and 29, 1929, which are known to history as Black Monday and Black Tuesday, respectively, were merely "last week" when President Herbert Hoover held a news conference at noon November 5 in the White House. The stock market crash would later be considered the beginning of the Great Depression, but that was still in the future for Hoover and the gathered reporters.

The president told he reporters that what he said said was "simply for your own information. I see no particular reasons for making any public statements about it, either directly or indirectly."

The term "crash" was already current, if not "great crash." Hoover touched on it, characterizing it as a business correction, though he didn't use the term. "We have had a period of overspeculation that has been extremely widespread, one of those waves of speculation that are more or less uncontrollable, as evidenced by the efforts of the Federal Reserve Board, and that ultimately results in a crash due to its own weight," the president said.

He further spoke of the movement of capital "out of New York into the interior of the United States," and discussed interest rates and other matters, and then referenced an event many of the reporters would have remembered -- the Panic of 1907.

"Perhaps the situation might be clearer on account of its parallel with the last very great crisis, 1907 to 1908," Hoover said. "In that crash the same drain of money immediately took place into the interior. In that case there was no Federal Reserve System. There was no way to acquaint of capital movement over the country, and the interest rates ran up to 300 percent. The result was to bring about a monetary panic in the entire country.

"Here with the Federal Reserve System and the activity of the [Federal Reserve] Board, and the ability with which the situation has been handled, there has been a complete isolation of the stock market phenomenon from the rest of the business phenomena in the country... In other words, the financial world is functioning entirely normal and rather more easily today than it was two weeks ago, because interest rates are less and there is more capital available."

Hoover called the effect on production "purely psychological," and discussed the mortgage and bond markets. "The sum of it is, therefore, that we have gone through a crisis in the stock market, but for the first time in history the crisis has been isolated to the stock market itself. It has not extended into either the production activities of the country or the financial fabric of the country, and for that I think we may give the major credit to the constitution of the Federal Reserve System."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hamilton on the Presidency

In late October 1787, as the states were beginning to consider whether to ratify the recently drafted Constitution, the first of 85 essays by "Publius" started appearing in the Independent Journal in New York and other newspapers. Collectively they are known as The Federalist Papers or The Federalist, and they state the case for the Constitution.

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the essays. In Federalist No. 70, Hamilton extolled the virtues of a strong executive, alluding to the example of Rome, which resonated with educated readers of the time.

"Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy.

"Every man the least conversant in Roman story, knows how often that republic was obliged to take refuge in the absolute power of a single man, under the formidable title of Dictator, as well against the intrigues of ambitious individuals who aspired to the tyranny, and the seditions of whole classes of the community whose conduct threatened the existence of all government, as against the invasions of external enemies who menaced the conquest and destruction of Rome.

"... A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Joe Wiegand as TR, Part Two

Today is the 153rd anniversary of the birth of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. This is the second part of Joe Wiegand doing the president in the East Room of the White House on the occasion of his 150th birthday.

Wiegand writes, "Now more than ever, I know that the American people benefit from hearing the words of and relearning the life story of TR. I know that the many months ahead will give me the opportunity to do so in all the right places, the places that need his message of strenuous living, good citizenship and perseverance."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Joe Wiegand as TR, Part One

There are many Lincoln impersonators, but far fewer who bring Theodore Roosevelt back to life on stage. Tomorrow is TR's 153rd birthday, and in honor of the occasion is a posting of the first part of a bully performance by Joe Wiegand as Theodore Roosevelt in the East Room of the White House, on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of TR's birth in 2008.

Wiegand travels the nation re-acquainting its citizens with the 26th President of the United States in a way that no filmed re-creation can do -- full-bodied and in person. He plans to continue his touring in 2012, which is of course the 100th anniversary of Mr. Roosevelt's Bull Moose campaign.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Iconic Dollar Bill, Starring George Washington

The U.S. Government Accountability Office is being cited once again in news stories as the source of estimates that the permanent retirement of the dollar bill would save the federal government money, since coins last longer in circulation than notes. This year the GAO issued a 41-page report (GAO-11-281) entitled, "Replacing the $1 Note with a $1 Coin Would Provide a Financial Benefit to the Government."

This is nothing new. In 1993, the GAO issued, "One-Dollar Coin: Reintroduction Could Save Millions if Properly Managed" (GGD-93-56). In 1995, the agency issued, "A Dollar Coin Could Save Millions (T-GGD-95-203) as well as "1-Dollar Coin: Reintroduction Could Save Millions If It Replaced the 1-Dollar Note" (T-GGD-95-146).

Does the United States want to retire its iconic $1 note, which has featured George Washington in one form or another for nearly a century?

Other GAO reports hint at the answer, such as, "A New Dollar Coin Has Budgetary Savings Potential But Questionable Acceptability" (T-GGD-90-50, 1990); "National Coinage Proposals: Limited Public Demand for New Dollar Coin or Elimination of Pennies" (GGD-90-88, also 1990); and "New Dollar Coin: Marketing Campaign Raised Public Awareness but Not Widespread Use" (GAO-02-896, 2002).

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Wigwam: Gone, But Not Quite Forgotten

Few temporary structures in U.S. history -- in this case, it stood only about seven years -- saw a more momentous event than the Wigwam, erected near the Chicago River in Chicago in 1860. The still-new Republican Party met in the building and nominated its second presidential candidate, a certain railroad attorney from Springfield.

A sizable office building now stands on the site on Wacker Drive. In 2002, the city of Chicago recognized the Wigwam site with a plaque in front of the building, easily visible from the sidewalk, though partly obscured by plants in the warm months.

Chicago Landmark

Site of the Sauganash Hotel/Wigwam

On this site stood the Sauganash Hotel, built in 1831 by pioneer Mark Beaubien, which was the location of the frontier town's first village board election in 1833. The Wigwam, an assembly hall built in 1860 (destroyed c. 1867) on the site of the hotel, was home to the 1860 Republican National Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln as a candidate for president. Lincoln's nomination and subsequent election set in motion a series of events that ultimately led the United States into the Civil War and brought about the abolition of slavery.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Vice President Adlai Stevenson's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Adlai Ewing Stevenson I of Illinois, 23rd Vice President of the United States during Cleveland's second term, and unsuccessful candidate for vice president in 1900 on the ticket with William Jennings Bryan. He is, of course, the grandfather of the Adlai Stevenson III who so gamely opposed the popular Dwight Eisenhower for the presidency twice in the 1950s, but he's also the great-granduncle of actor McLean Stevenson.

The Stevenson family is associated with Bloomington, Illinois, but a young Adlai Stevenson began practicing law in Metamora, Illinois, now a suburb of Peoria, in 1858. The Stevenson home in that town is currently undergoing a long process of restoration.

"The Stevenson House is an austere two-story Federal style structure built before the Civil War," notes the Metamora Association for Historic Preservation on its web site. "It is located a block south of the southwest corner of the Village Square and faces north on a corner lot. The home is approximately 35 feet wide and 30 feet deep and is set back from both front and side streets. It is constructed of “faded pink” brick made locally. The interior of the home contains eight rooms, four on the upper level and four on the lower, with room sizes and arrangements identical on the two levels."

After he married in 1868, Stevenson and future second lady Letitia Green Stevenson moved to Bloomington. The Metamora Association for Historic Preservation is currently seeking donations to help pave the walkway in front of the Stevenson home in Metamora.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Houston Becomes the President of Texas

On October 22, 1836, Sam Houston became the first president of the Republic of Texas and Mirabeau Lamar became its first vice president, not counting the interim holders of those offices in the months since Texas won its independence from Mexico, David Burnet and Lorenzo de Zavala.

"At his inauguration in Columbia, Houston dramatically flourished, then gave up the sword he had used at the Battle of San Jacinto," says the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) in Triumph and Tragedy: Presidents of the Republic of Texas. "It was a symbolic gesture by which Houston hoped to signal to the people that it was time to turn away from war and to the business of building a new Texas."

Houston had a hard time of it during his first term in office. Among other problems, the United States refused to admit Texas as a state, most of the rest of the world refused to recognize it as a nation, and the Republic was deep in debt. Officers of the army that had won independence took to seizing citizens' cattle to feed their men, mutinies broke out in Galveston and Velasco, and Indians were a persistent threat.

The town of Houston was founded as the capital of Texas, but it wasn't a stately affair. "... there is evidence that this was not a happy time in [Sam Houston's] life," continues the TSLAC. "The muddy collection of tents and log buildings was known as the 'Bachelor Republic,' and Houston joined right in with the drinking, brawling, and carousing. During this time in his life, he was drinking very heavily and probably using opium as well."

Houston endured his troubles, however, holding another term as president and then becoming a U.S. Senator from Texas after annexation. He was elected governor of Texas in 1859, but forced from office in 1861 when he refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. "It is almost impossible to overstate the influence of Sam Houston on Texas history," says the TSLAC. "For thirty years, Sam Houston was the dominant star around which the Texas political constellations revolved."

Friday, October 21, 2011

JQA Letters in Dispute

The relics of dead presidents still have power over the living. To be more precise, pieces of paper once marked upon by a president can have monetary value, enough to inspire litigation some 200-plus years after their origin.

The Courthouse News Service, which specializes covering civil litigation, reports that Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries has asked a federal court to determine which of two men is the rightful owner of two letters written by John Quincy Adams.

The news service quotes the complaint: "In July 2011, Bradley B. Mugar contracted with Heritage to sell (among other things) two letters signed by John Quincy Adams on consignment. Heritage subsequently made two cash advances totaling $28,000 to Mugar, which were to be repaid from the auction sale proceeds. Before auction, Heritage learned of rival claims to the manuscripts and thus withdrew the two lots from the auction."

The rival claim was made by one Dr. David Light, of Palm Beach County, Fla., who asserts that the letters were stolen from him. For his part, Mugar, of Orange County, Calif., asserts that the letters are his. Heritage is holding onto the letters until the court rules on which of the two is the owner. The full story is here.

One letter is dated April 6, 1783, and the other is dated July 18, 1788, when JQA was quite young -- 16 years old and 21 years old, respectively. But the future president was already no stranger to copious amounts of writing, since he was secretary to Francis Dana on Dana's diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg in 1783, and was enrolled in Harvard College by 1788. Also, he began what would become a 50-volume diary when he was only 11.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Herbert Hoover Dies

This is the grave of Herbert Clark Hoover, 31st President of the United States, who was born in 1874 and died this day in 1964.

Next to Herbert reposes his wife, Lou Henry Hoover (1874-1944).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nixon Recalls Classical Athens

October 19, 1973

In extending the authorization for the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act -- originally passed during the Johnson administration, thus creating both the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities -- Richard Nixon appended the following statement. Though his staff probably drafted the statement, the line about Athens might well have been the president's personal touch.

"Government has a vital role to play in encouraging the arts and humanities in our national life, and this Administration has continually reaffirmed its commitment to the fulfillment of that role through the National Foundation.

The purpose of the Foundation is not to alter the role of private patronage in the arts and humanities, but rather to supplement, stimulate, and extend that role. The Federal Government should do its part in supporting cultural activities -- and appropriations for the Foundation have increased almost sixfold since I took office...

The highest expression of the quality of a nation is found in the development of its arts and refinement of its humanistic concerns. For this development to reach its full potential, it must be the expression of a whole people, and it must be available for the enjoyment of the whole people. That was the lesson of Athens. That was the rationale for the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Washington's Overdue Book

In the spring of 2010, the New York Daily News broke the story that President Washington, during his first year as president, borrowed at least one book from the New York Society Library and never returned it. The volume was The law of nations, or, Principles of the laws of nature, applied to the conduct and affairs of nations and sovereigns, by Emer de Vattel. It seems reasonable that the new chief executive might be interested in such a book, which has an 18th-century title if there ever was one.

Not long after the story broke, jokes were made about massive library fines. Mount Vernon, Washington's effective heir, however, offered to replace the volume, and formally did so in May 2010.

"To observe this auspicious occasion, the Library hosted a ceremony on May 19 at 11 a.m. at which Mount Vernon’s President, James C. Rees, and Librarian, Joan Stahl, presented the errant volume to Charles G. Berry, Chairman of the Library’s Board of Trustees and Mark Bartlett, Head Librarian," noted the New York Society Library in a statement, with no discussion of library fines.

Mount Vernon, as it happens, is in the process of establishing a library of its own: the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, which will safeguard Washington’s books and manuscripts, serve as a scholarly retreat, create educational outreach programs on Washington, and provide seminars and training programs with a special focus on Washington’s leadership. Construction of the 45,000-square-foot facility began in early 2011, with a completion date in 2013.

Monday, October 17, 2011

FDR, Dewey and the Election of 1944

FDR, Dewey and the Election of 1944 by David M. Jordan focuses on the neglected story of that election, and Jordan does a fine job of telling it, from the pre-primary maneuvering among both parties, but especially the Republicans, through to the surprisingly energetic campaign, both on the part of ailing FDR and his remarkably young opponent. Dewey was only 42 at the time, the youngest-ever Republican nominee for the top job and the first major-party presidential candidate born in the 20th century.

This particular election is generally glossed over in histories of the period, probably because hindsight considers it a foregone conclusion. In the event, it wasn't that close: FDR-Truman took 432 electoral votes and 53.4 percent of the popular vote vs. Dewey-Bricker's 99 electoral votes and 45.9 percent of the popular vote. Still, before the election, pollsters weren't quite so sure of the outcome, with some even predicting Dewey's election. That and '48 might tell us that pollsters weren't very good at predicting national elections in the 1940s, but that's with the benefit of hindsight. A Dewey upset was considered plausible at the time, even if not very likely, and in point of fact '44 was the closest presidential election in which FDR participated. As Jordan makes clear, Dewey ran a spirited campaign in the face of the odds.

But at a curious distance from the electorate. Apparently Dewey and his men thought it best, at least at first, to focus on radio speeches more than personal appearances. During an early campaign trip by train to the West Coast, for example, Dewey only made a handful of rear-platform speeches, the kind so effective for President Truman four years later. No doubt the strategy reflected Dewey's personality. "The man had one of the coldest personalities of anyone who ever contemplated a run for the American presidency," notes Jordan. "David Brinkley wrote, 'In public, Dewey came across as pompous and cold. And for good reason. He was both.' He was generally conceded to be intelligent, efficient, a master of detail, 'serious-minded to the point of severity' as one contemporary noted. 'He is as humorless as a man can be,' noted another."

Balancing the Republican ticket that year, at least in one respect, was Gov. John W. Bricker of Ohio. "The governor of Ohio... was an almost complete opposite of Thomas E. Dewey," says Jordan. "John William Bricker, it was said, was 'excellent company.' People liked being around Bricker, and he enjoyed being around others... Big, jovial John Bricker, one author wrote, 'had the essential of popularity, a real and lively interest in people.' " Bricker also represented the conservative wing of the Republican Party, as opposed to the more moderate Dewey, and had the endorsement of Sen. Robert A. Taft ("Mr. Republican") in the early '44 primaries. Bricker didn't fare well in those contests, however, but well enough to be an acceptable choice for the number-two slot.

No one is forgotten faster than a failed vice presidential candidate (e.g., William Miller, who did a "Do you know me?" Amex ad after the '64 election), and Gov. Bricker certainly falls into that category, though some lingering memory of him might remain in Ohio. Bricker did, however, offer the ticket a rhyming slogan, an example of which the book shows in a photo of Republican campaign memorabilia: "Win the War Quicker With Dewey and Bricker." Apparently the slogan wasn't that commonly used, and not destined for the fame of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." Dewey and Bricker lost, after all, but even before that the Republican ticket probably didn't want to emphasize that their victory would indeed mean a change in the management of the war effort, since that was in fact what the Democrats were emphasizing as a negative ("don't change horses in mid-stream").

As for the Democrats, the Roosevelt campaign didn't show much zing until the "Fala Speech" in late September, during which the president had some amusingly choice words for the Republicans, much to the delight of the audience, who were mainly Teamsters leadership. Late in the campaign, and thus late in the book, FDR went on an open-car motorcade through four of the five boroughs of New York City, which Jordan describes in fascinating detail. The president began at an Army base in Brooklyn, went through downtown Brooklyn, then on to Ebbets Field, then through Queens, then across to the Bronx, then down through Harlem and finally on down Broadway and into Times Square. "Through it all, the rain kept coming down, the wind blew, and Franklin Roosevelt kept smiling and waving to the thousands watching for him, with Fala by his side," Jordan says. "After all was over, the police estimated the total crowds at 3,050,000, though it may have been, as Ray Brandt of the St. Louis Post Dispatch put it, "a mere million or two."

The book spends an entire chapter and more on the central mystery of the 1944 election, namely how and why Harry Truman was chosen as the Democratic vice presidential candidate. No account of that event that I've ever read quite spells it out clearly, probably because it isn't quite possible to do so, but Jordan takes a good whack at it. Vice President Henry Wallace wanted to keep the job, but boll weevils and other conservatives in the party wanted him out. President Roosevelt seemed to prefer James Byrnes, but he also seemed to accept the judgment of other party leaders that as a Southerner, Byrnes would cost more votes (Northern blacks, labor) than he would win -- something FDR never told Byrnes he believed. Other names were bandied about, such as Sam Rayburn, Alben Barkley, William O. Douglas, Truman and even John G. Winant (American ambassador to the Court of St. James's at the time), though he wasn't very seriously considered.

Eventually, Democratic Party leaders held an informal but important meeting with the president at the White House before the convention that seemed to settle matters in favor of Truman -- except that it didn't quite, and Truman wasn't really told about it anyway, going to the convention supporting Byrnes for vice president, and even planning to put his name in nomination. When FDR's men told Truman, at first he said he didn't want it, but was famously persuaded by a brusk phone call from President Roosevelt to a room that Democratic leadership had rented in the Blackstone Hotel (not the first time the Blackstone made a president). Even then, Henry Wallace might have been re-nominated by his supporters at the convention, but FDR's men put a stop to it using hasty parliamentary maneuvers, and almost resorted to cutting an electric cable to stop the convention organist from playing "Iowa, Iowa, That's Where the Tall Corn Grows," a song associated with Wallace at the time.

The book also offers interesting sketches of some of the lesser figures in the election. The Republicans' 1940 surprise candidate, Wendell Willkie, wanted another shot and entered the early '44 primaries, only to lose to Dewey. Even more interesting for us (though not for him) was the fact that Willkie died unexpectedly about a month before the election, without endorsing Dewey -- or Roosevelt either, and while it seems hard to believe he might have, it was considered possible because he didn't believe Dewey was internationalist enough, or at least was bowing too much the isolationist elements in the Republican Party (presumably those isolationists would have finished the war and then rejected American participation in the likes of the UN, the Marshall Plan and NATO).

Another supporting character is Harold Stassen. Good old Harold Stassen, always running. That's how we remember him now, but 1944 was before all that. That year, Lt. Comdr. Stassen was off in the Pacific theater as Adm. Halsey's flag secretary, having resigned the governorship of Minnesota to do his part. He wasn't really a contender in '44, but his star was rising (he'd given the keynote at the Republican national convention in 1940), and he later had an important part in nominating Dewey again in '48 and Eisenhower in '52, after which he settled into his recurring-candidate mode. That's another story.

The book also provides some food for speculative thought. After all, we know that FDR was near the end of the line in November 1944, even if at time the electorate didn't. What if he had died six months sooner -- a few weeks ahead of the voting? Who would the Democratic National Committee have picked to take his place? Would Dewey have won against that person, and if so, how would have he deployed the atomic bomb? Assuming that FDR dies in 1945, as he did, what kind of president would Wallace have made, had he been allowed to stay on the ticket? Would he have used the bomb? And what kind of president would John G. Winant have made, anyway? In history as it happened, the three-time Republican governor of New Hampshire, first chairman of the Social Security Board, head of the International Labor Organization and ambassador to the United Kingdom through much of World War II, retired to private life after the war and put a bullet through his head in 1947.

That's just my digression, but it only goes to show how many fascinating stories there are in a good work of political history, such as FDR, Dewey and the Election of 1944. Well worth reading.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lincoln's Only House

"By May 1844, Abraham and Mary Lincoln needed more living space for their growing family and decided to buy a house," the National Park Service's Lincoln Home leaflet says. "They selected a Greek Revival-style cottage at the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets owned by Rev. Charles Dresser, who had married the Lincolns in 1842. Lincoln paid $1,500 for the home that the family would occupy for the next 17 years."

This is the house in our time.

The house and the entire neighborhood surrounding it are now part of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It Takes More Than That to Kill a Bull Moose

In October 1912, a deranged man named John Flammang Schrank (pictured) put a bullet into former President Theodore Roosevelt while he was campaigning to return to the White House under the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party banner. At one point, Schrank claimed that President McKinley's ghost told him to do it, but his motives remained murky. After the shooting, he spent the rest of his life -- he died in 1943 -- at the Central State Mental Hospital in Waupun, Wisconsin.

The wound wasn't serious, and TR famously made his scheduled campaign speech before going to the hospital. Turns out it was a near thing for the former president, however.

According to the book The Attempted Assassination of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, written immediately after the incident by Wheeler Bloodgood, Oliver Remey and Henry Cochems, "That the shot fired by Schrank didn't succeed in murdering Col. Roosevelt is a miracle of good fortune. A 'thirty-eight' long Colt's cartridge, fired from a pistol frame of 'forty-four' caliber design, so built because it gives a heavier drive to the projectile, fired at that close range, meant almost inevitable death.

"The aim was taken at a lower portion of Col. Roosevelt's body, but a bystander struck Schrank's arm at the moment of explosion, and elevated the direction of the shot. After passing through the Colonel's heavy military overcoat, and his other clothing, it would have certainly killed him had it not struck in its course practically everything which he carried on his person which could impede its force.

"In his coat pocket he had fifty pages of manuscript for the night's speech, which had been doubled, causing the bullet to traverse a hundred pages of manuscript. It had struck also his spectacle case on the outer concave surface of the gun metal material of which the case was constructed. It had passed through a double fold of his heavy suspenders before reaching his body.

"Had anyone of those objects been out of the range of the bullet, Schrank's dastardly purpose would have been accomplished beyond any conjecture."

TR composed a telegram to his family from the hospital was taken to after completing his speech:

"Am in excellent shape, made an hour and half speech. The wound is a trivial one. I think they will find that it merely glanced on a rib and went somewhere into a cavity of the body; it certainly did not touch a lung and isn't a particle more serious than one of the injuries any of the boys used continually to be having. Am at the Emergency hospital at the moment, but anticipate going right on with my engagements. My voice seems to be in good shape. Best love to Ethel."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dwight Eisenhower's Birthday

Today is the 121st anniversary of Dwight David Eisenhower's birth, and a good time to celebrate the moderate that he was.

"Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this -- in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything -- even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon 'moderation' in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

-- President Eisenhower, in a letter to Edgar Newton Eisenhower, his brother, November 8, 1954.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The White House Cornerstone

The cornerstone of the White House was laid on October 13, 1792, on a site selected by President Washington, who would not live to see the completion of the executive mansion. The new federal government had asked for submissions for the design of the residents, and there were nine entries, including an anonymous one by Secretary of State Jefferson. The prize was $500, a substantial sum at the time, or a medal of that value. James Hoban, an Irishman living in South Carolina, won the prize.

The White House Historical Association says, "The earliest known drawing of the White House is Hoban’s plan, which he drew in 1792... Hoban’s original design had two stories and a raised basement, but some thought the house was too large.

"There was also a question of whether enough quality sandstone could be collected for building such a large house. Stone was also needed to build the Capitol, where Congress would work. George Washington agreed that the President’s House could be reduced to two stories by eliminating the raised basement. He knew that the design would enable future presidents to make additions if they needed more space. As Washington said, the President’s House and the other government buildings would need to change according to needs 'beyond the present day.'

"Hoban was hired to oversee construction. Stonemasons from Scotland, along with free laborers and hired slaves, worked on the building from spring through fall each year until November 1800, when John and Abigail Adams moved in. Adams came to a house that was still unfinished."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Benjamin Harrison's Columbus Day

"WHEREAS, by joint resolution, approved June 29, 1892, it was resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, 'That the President of the United States be authorized and directed to issue a proclamation recommending to the people the observance in all their localities of the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, on the twenty-first day of October, 1892, by public demonstrations and by suitable exercises in their schools and other places of assembly.'

"Now, therefore, I, Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States of America, in pursuance of the aforesaid joint resolution, do hereby appoint Friday, October 21, 1892, the four-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, as a general holiday for the people of the United States...

"Columbus stood in his age as the pioneer of progress and achievement. The system of universal education is in our age the most prominent and salutary feature of the spirit of enlightenment, and it is peculiarly appropriate that the schools be made by the people the center of the day's demonstration. Let the national flag float over every school-house in the country, and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship.

"In the churches and in other places of assembly of the people let there be expressions of gratitude to Divine Providence for the devout faith of the discoverer, and for the Divine care and guidance which has directed our history, and so abundantly blessed our people."

October 21 because that was the date using the Georgian calendar (New Style) to correct for the Julian calender date (Old Style) of October 12, 1492, just as George Washington celebrated his birthday on February 22 N.S. to be mathematically correct, though he was born on February 11 O.S. The day did not become a federal holiday until 1937, at which time Congress thought it fit to move the day to October 12.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Washington Promoted to General of the Armies of the United States


Joint Resolution

to provide for the appointment of George Washington to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States.

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and

Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That

(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.

(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.

Approved October 11, 1976.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Agnew Speaks

A selection of quotes attributed to the 39th Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, on the anniversary of his ignominious resignation from that office in 1973.

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

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

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

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

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

"Confronted with the choice, the American people would choose the policeman's truncheon over the anarchist's bomb."

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Woodrow Wilson Says No Smoking in Bed

National Fire Prevention Week, which is always in early October, had its origins in commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (and the larger Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin on the same day). In the waning days of his administration in 1920, President Wilson got involved, proclaiming National Fire Prevention Day.

Whereas, the destruction by fires in the United States involves an annual loss of life of 15,000 men, women and children and over $230,000,000 in buildings, foodstuffs and other created resources; and

Whereas the need of the civilized world for American products to replace the ravages of the great war is especially great at this time; and

Whereas, the present serious shortage of home and business structures makes the daily destruction of buildings by fire an especially serious matter; and

Whereas, a large percentage of the fires causing the annual American fire waste may be easily prevented by increased care and vigilance on the part of its citizens;

Therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, do urge upon the governors of the various states to designate and set apart Saturday, October 9, 1920, as Fire Prevention Day, and to request the citizens of their states to plan for that day such instructive and educational exercises as shall bring before the people the serious and unhappy effects of the present unnecessary fire waste and the need of their individual and collective efforts in conserving the natural and created resources of America.

In 1925, President Coolidge expanded the event to a week, the seven days from Sunday to Saturday encompassing October 9th. Every president down to the present day as issued similar proclamations each year.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Pierce's Hairstyle

On this day in 1869, Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States and aged 69 years, 319 days, died.

The February 15, 2008, edition of the New Hampshire Historical Society E-Newsletter says, "According to Peter A. Wallner, the Society's library director, every portrait or photograph of Franklin Pierce (1804–69) shows a shock of unruly hair cascading over his forehead. 'Written descriptions of Pierce by contemporaries frequently mention his elegant appearance, immaculate dress, and courtly manners,” said Wallner. 'Why, then, didn’t he comb his hair?'

"Is it possible that the wild, unkempt hair was actually a carefully managed affectation?

“ 'Until now, there were no references to Pierce’s hair discovered in his or his family’s letters,' said Wallner. But, the newly purchased letter, written by his wife in December 1857 from Norfolk, Virginia, after Pierce left the White House, hints that the hairstyle was not accidental. Jane writes, 'Today, Mr. Pierce has met the citizens of Norfolk and after the fatigue is quietly lying on the sofa by a bright fire with Miriam [Jane’s maid] brushing his hair soporifically.'

“ 'While the evidence is not conclusive, the letter leads one to suspect that the vanity Pierce showed for his appearance extended to his hair as well,' says Wallner. Not surprisingly, to those residents of New Hampshire who knew Pierce well, his hair was a distinguishing characteristic of the man."

Friday, October 07, 2011

Henry Wallace's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Henry Agard Wallace (1888-1965), 33rd Vice President of the United States, and very nearly one of its presidents.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

No Meeting With Reagan for the Bears

The Chicago Tribune reports that the 1985 Chicago Bears, who won the Super Bowl in early 1986, will finally be invited to the White House to visit the president. "On that frigid day in 1986 when Chicago threw a tickertape parade to honor the Bears' Super Bowl win, Illinois Senator Alan Dixon sent a letter to the White House: Would President Reagan host a reception for the team?" Peter Nicholas of the Tribune Washington Bureau writes. "It never came off."

The day after the parade, but before plans could be finalized for a visit, the Space Shuttle Challenge was destroyed in flight. Understandably, the Reagan White House had other things on its mind in the wake of the accident, and the idea of a Bears visit faded away.

"But now the White House is home to a Chicagoan who roots for the Bears, reads local newspaper coverage of the team and is always eager to showcase his everyman credentials," notes Nicholas. "The NFL called the White House soon after Obama was sworn in and asked if the '85 Bears could get a belated celebration... On Friday, a quarter-century after they crushed the New England Patriots 46-10, Da Bears are getting their celebratory visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Chester Arthur's Birthday

Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President of the United States, was born on October 5, 1829, son of an Irish immigrant father and a mother from Vermont. Later in life, political enemies floated the idea than he was born a British subject -- in Ireland, or possibly Canada -- and thus not eligible to be president. Like later such claims about other presidents, it was nonsense.

Arthur did not attend the Republican National Convention in 1880 in Chicago to angle for the vice presidency. Rather, he came as a delegate from New York, a member of the Stalwart faction led by Sen. Roscoe Conkling and supporter of U.S. Grant for a third term. Unable to nominate Grant, the Stalwarts were nevertheless able to select the vice presidential nominee. Levi P. Morton, who later was Benjamin Harrison's vice president, declined to be considered. The convention then chose Arthur over his nearest competitor, Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois.

The convention did not know that it was selecting both the 20th and 21st presidents, nor that Chet Arthur, the "Gentleman Boss" and one-time Collector of the Port of New York, would one day sign the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.

"No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe," wrote journalist Alexander McClure about Arthur.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Rutherford B. Hayes' Birthday

Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 19th President of the United States, was born on this day in 1822 in Delaware, Ohio, the youngest of five children of Rutherford Hayes and Sophia Birchard Hayes.

Recently Dead Presidents Daily asked Tom Culbertson, executive director of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio, what people who only know about the Stolen Election of 1876 should know about President Hayes.

"President Hayes was the only president wounded during the Civil War," says Culbertson. "He received five wounds (one serious) and had four horses shot out from under him. He rose from major to brevet major general during the war.

"He was 38 years old when the war started and could have avoided serving due to his age, but chose to fight because he and his wife Lucy thought that ending slavery was a good cause. As a lawyer in Cincinnati prior to the Civil War, he occasionally did pro bono work representing runaway slaves."

Culbertson added that the Hayes Center is within six months of wrapping up a major restoration of the interior of the Hayes home "so that it looks like it did when Rutherford and Lucy lived there. Come back if you get a chance."

Monday, October 03, 2011

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Wilson's Stroke

On this day in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a major stroke, apparently not his first, but decidedly debilitating. Eyewitness to History describes the event:

"On the morning of October 2, Mrs. Wilson found her husband unconscious on the bathroom floor of their private White House quarters, bleeding from a cut on his head. Wilson had suffered a stroke -- a massive attack that left his left side paralyzed and impaired his vision. She immediately summoned Dr. [Cary] Grayson. Then the conspiracy began. The two of them formed a bulwark between the invalid President and the rest of the country, simultaneously shielding Wilson from intrusion and hiding his condition from outsiders."

Dr. Zebra notes that, "Wilson's first stroke was in May 1896. It caused marked weakness of the right upper limb plus sensory disturbances in the fingers. The finger problems were mis-diagnosed as neuritis. Wilson was unable to write normally for almost a year afterwards."

He also says that: "A photograph of Wilson on the day of his 1913 inauguration shows astonishingly bad teeth. This is relevant to Wilson's later stroke(s) because poor dentition has been suspected to increase the risk of atherosclerotic disease."

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Dead Presidents: October

Happy 87th Birthday to Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States and happily not a dead president, but an active former president, one of the most active the nation has ever seen.

October's a good month for presidential birthdays: Besides Carter, there's John Adams (1735), Rutherford B. Hayes (1822), Chester A. Arthur (1829), Theodore Roosevelt (1858), and Dwight Eisenhower (1890). All of them will be celebrated here.

Only two presidents died in October so far: Pierce (1869) and Hoover (1964). Their lives will be recalled here.

And there will be a few entertaining videos.

"The Presidents" by Jonathan Coulton. Video by Holger Baehern.