Saturday, June 30, 2007

June 30, 1882:

Charles Guiteau Hanged

The 19th century wasn't shy about showing murderers the business end of a noose, and that was the fate of Charles Julius Guiteau (pictured), hanged this day in 1882, just short of a year after shooting James Garfield, 20th President of the United States. President Garfield would have surely lived had he been shot a few decades later, since medical science would have been up to the task of saving him. Guiteau might have survived in later years as well, with an acceptance of an insanity plea. But not in the early 1880s.

History House describes Guiteau's trial: "Garfield died on September 19 [1881], sending Guiteau into a short period of fervid prayer. It dawned on Guiteau that his mission really had been divine; after all, how else could God dictate Garfield's death and deny the prayers of so many other god-fearing Americans? On October 14, Guiteau was arraigned..."

His defence: "I plead not guilty to the indictment and my defense is threefold: 1. Insanity, in that it was God's act and not mine. The Divine pressure on me to remove the president was so enormous that it destroyed my free agency, and therefore I am not legally responsible for my act. 2. The president died from malpractice ...if he had been well treated he would have recovered. 3. The president died in New Jersey, and, therefore, beyond the jurisdiction of this court."

The jury was having none of it: "On January 23, the jury deliberated for less than an hour before sending Guiteau to the gallows. Even after the sentencing, he tried to cash in on his new-found celibrity. He tried to sell the suit he shot Garfield in for $100; he sold his autographs or autographed pictures ($9 a dozen, advertised in local newspapers).

"On June 30, he awoke to be led to his death. He requested the flowers doubtlessly sent by his legions of admirers be sent to his cell, only to be told there were none. He recited an interminable, repetitious, self-penned poem while standing before the noose ("I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad/ I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad/ I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad," etc.), and the State promptly stretched his neck for the assassination of President James A. Garfield. The crowd of thousands cheered."

The full article is here.

June 29, 1852:

Henry Clay Dies

In the antebellum years, Henry Clay was one of the leading politicians of the nation, and before the end of his life, known as "the Great Compromiser." Perhaps it's fortunate that he didn't live to see the nation rupture in the 1860s. In early 1850, speaking on behalf of legislation that would become the Compromise of 1850, Clay said: "I implore, as the best blessing which Heaven can bestow upon me upon Earth, that if the direful and sad event of the dissolution of the Union shall happen, I may not survive to behold the sad and heart-rending spectacle."

Clay was never president, but had aspirations for that office, and played a pivotal role in the election of 1824, which was decided in the US House of Representatives. Clay was Speaker of the House at the time, and threw his support behind John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson, whom Clay hated. Adams won and shortly thereafter appointed Clay as his Secretary of State. Jackson's supporters called it a "corrupt bargain" and the ill-will it caused was one of the elements of Adam's defeat in 1828.

From the Library of Congress' American Memory series: "Representing the state of Kentucky in the U.S. Congress, Clay eloquently promoted the 'American System,' his plan to support domestic industry and agriculture (and reduce dependence on imports) through improved transportation routes, a protective tariff, and a national bank. In 1820, he negotiated the passage of the first of the three pieces of legislation that earned him the titles of the 'Great Pacificator' and the 'Great Compromiser.' The Missouri Compromise, the first piece of legislation, soothed the anxieties of both Southern and Northern factions by maintaining a balance between the number of states that permitted slavery and those that prohibited slavery.

"Clay was unsuccessful in his bid to become presidential candidate of the Democratic Republican Party in 1824. He then gave his support to John Quincy Adams and when Adams won the election, he appointed Clay secretary of state. Clay again failed in his bids to become the presidential candidate of the National Republican Party in 1832 and of the Whig Party in 1844. His opposition to the annexation of Texas—because the state's entry into the Union would have upset the balance of slave and free states—cost him the presidential election of 1844. Nonetheless, he remained a guiding force in American political life, exercising leadership in both the House and the Senate."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

June 28, 1836:

James Madison Dies

Even a unsympathetic revisionist like Richard K. Matthews in If Men Were Angels: James Madison and Heartless Empire of Reason (1995) offers an amazing list of the if the "major political positions" of James Madison, Fourth President of the United States:

"He was in the forefront of the movement for a new constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation; architect of the Virginia Plan, champion of a strong central government, and unofficial but dedicated note-taker of the proceedings at the Philadelphia convention; a persuasive rhetorician both at the Virginia ratifying convention and as the political propagandist Publius -- one of the two principal authors of The Federalist; leader of the inaugural House of Representatives where he proved to be a reluctant, but ultimately forceful champion of the Bill of Rights, helped organize the new central government, and served as ghostwriter and adviser to President Washington; cofounder of the Republican party; Jefferson's trusted confidant as well as his secretary of state; president during America's second war of independence; and elder statesman, nationalist and protector of the Constitution."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 27, 1950:

Truman and Korea

Some wars have had more than one president preside over them, but only one president has presided over two distinct major wars -- Harry Truman -- though he came to the presidency late in World War II and was out of office before the end of the Korean War. On June 27, 1950, he gave the order for the US armed forces to assist the South Korean government in fighting the North Korean invasion that began on June 24.

A statement from the president that day said: "... in these circumstances I have ordered United States air and sea forces to give the Korean Government troop cover and support. The attack upon Korea makes plain beyond all doubt that Communism has passed beyond its use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war. It has defied the orders the Security Council of the United Nations issued to preserve international peace and security..."

Korea, then, became the hot theater for the Cold War that day. Elsewhere in the statement, President Truman notes that he has ordered the US Seventh Fleet "to prevent any attack on Formosa. As a corollary of this action I am calling upon the Chinese Government on Formosa to cease all air and sea operations against the mainland. The Seventh Fleet will see that this is done." Though skirmishes continued for some time after that between the People's Republic and the Republic of China, that was effectively the end of the Chinese Civil War, and created the political anomaly that Taiwan is today.

Way down in the fifth paragraph, the president also said: "I have similarly directed acceleration in the furnishing of military assistance to the forces of France and the Associated States in Indo China and the dispatch of a military mission to provide close working relations with those forces."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

June 26, 1963:

Ich bin ein Berliner

On an historic visit to West Berlin in the summer of 1963, President Kennedy made one of his more memorable speeches, known at the time and to history for this line: "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner' "

It was not a reference to a jelly doughnut, as David Emery in explains in reply to a question:

"Dear Guide:

"I have heard and read from several different sources the story that John F. Kennedy made a major German language blunder in his famous 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech in Berlin, Germany. The story goes that he should have said 'Ich bin Berliner' ('I am a citizen of Berlin'), and that 'Ich bin ein Berliner' really means 'I am a jelly doughnut.' (A Berliner is in fact a type of jelly doughnut made in Berlin.)

"Several years ago when I visited Germany, I found myself having drinks with a German journalist who struck me as fairly intelligent, so I asked her the question. She said that it is certainly not true. President Kennedy said the phrase absolutely correctly, although possibly with a thick American accent... She said that if President Kennedy had said, 'Ich bin Berliner,' he would have sounded silly because with his heavy accent he couldn't possibly have come from Berlin. But by saying 'Ich bin ein Berliner,' he actually said 'I am one with the people of Berlin.' "

"Dear Reader:

"Your friend, the journalist, was on the mark. This is truly The Gaffe That Never Was, despite reports to the contrary in venues as prestigious as the New York Times and Newsweek magazine. Experts say Kennedy's German grammar was flawless when he uttered those words near the Berlin Wall on June 26, 1963. The phrase had been translated for him by a professional interpreter.

"It is true that the word "Berliner" in German denotes a particular kind of jelly-filled pastry as well as a citizen of Berlin. But look at it this way: If I were to tell a group of Americans that my editor is a New Yorker, would any of them really think I've confused him with a well known weekly magazine?

"...while the proper way for a Berlin native to say 'I am a Berliner' is 'Ich bin Berliner,' the proper way for a non-native to make the same statement metaphorically is precisely what Kennedy said: 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' In spite of the fact that it's also the correct way to say 'I am a jelly doughnut,' no adult German speaker could possibly have misunderstood Kennedy's meaning in context."

June 25, 1876:

Custer’s Last Stand

Never a president, in fact barely eligible for that office when he died, George Armstrong Custer nevertheless has a connection to the presidency – he managed to piss a president off and nearly miss his appointment with Death on an obscure hill in the Montana Territory, a fate that has made him better known than most 19th-century presidents.

In the spring of 1876, Lt. Col. Custer testified before Congress during an investigation of corruption in the War Department. His testimony, though not ironclad, pretty much confirmed what most people suspected: that Secretary of War William W. Belknap (pictured), and Orville Grant, the president's brother and an Indian agent, were ardent bribe-takers. Later that year, Belknap earned the dubious distinction of becoming the only cabinet member to be impeached by the US House of Representatives.

Naturally, Custer's testimony vexed President Grant, who responded by pulling Custer from his next assignment, which was to take part in a campaign against hostile Cheyennes that summer. Custer wrote to the president, asking him to reconsider: "I appeal to you as a soldier to spare me the humiliation of seeing my regiment march to meet the enemy and I not share its dangers." Perhaps to get the well-known Custer out of his hair for a while, the president relented and sent him along to "share the dangers" of the Indian Wars which, in this case, proved very dangerous indeed.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

June 24, 1908:

Grover Cleveland Dies

He was fat, loved cigars and beer, and survived an exceedingly dangerous operation in the 1890s to remove a cancer in his jaw, but it wasn't until 1908 that Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President of the United States, passed away, apparently of heart disease. He had his run of three-score and ten years, plus one.

From page one of the June 25, 1908, New York Times:

PRINCETON, N.J., June 24. -- Grover Cleveland, twice President of the United States, died at 8:30 o'clock this morning at his home here, with his wife at his bedside. The only others in the sick chamber, besides the nurse were his friend of long standing, Dr. Joseph D. Bryant, and two other physicians. His children were away at the Cleveland New England home, Tamworth, N.H.

"The end came unexpectedly to the general public and to the former President's hosts of friends as well. Its announcement has thrown the Nation into mourning and created profound sorrow in the little university town where he had lived quietly with his family and his books since he withdrew from public life. All day messages attesting their keen regret have poured in here from every part of the country.

"Mr. Cleveland having been in ill-health since last Fall, the hurried arrival of the three physicians at the family home late yesterday gave rise to fears that his illness had taken a serious turn. Mrs. Cleveland set all misgivings at rest by a statement in which she declared her husband safely on the road to recovery.

"Failure of the heart's action following complications of pulminary thrombosis and oedema, is given as the immediate cause of death by Dr. Bryant, who came here from New York on Tuesday.

"For many years Mr. Cleveland had been a victim of severe gastric attacks and a sufferer from rheumatic gout, ailments which, according to his physicians, induced the attack of heart weakness to which he succumbed. With Mrs. Cleveland and Dr. Bryant in the death chamber were Dr. R.L. Lockwood of New York and Dr. J.M. Carnochan of Princeton. Mr. Cleveland's four surviving children, Esther, aged 14; Marion, 12; Richard, 10; and Francis Grover, 5, are at the Cleveland Summer home in New Hampshire with Mrs. Cleveland's mother.

"When it was found that the ex-President would be a long time convalescing from the serious illness which gave his friends so much alarm this Spring, the children were sent to the Summer home Mr. Cleveland built two years ago at Tamworth, N.H. Esther and Richard were summoned after their father's death, and are expected here to-morrow."

June 23, 1972:

The Smoking Gun

In a morning conversation on June 23, 1972, between President Richard Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman (pictured), the two discussed what to do about the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters the week before at the Watergate. They agreed that the best course of action was to tell the FBI to stop its investigation. That and two other conversations about the matter were caught by the Oval Office's tape recording system, and became the essence of the Smoking Gun tape.

The conversations came back to haunt Richard Nixon. In the summer of 1974, the president lost his bid to keep his tapes under wraps, including the Smoking Gun, in the US Supreme Court 8-0. According to the Gerald Ford Presidential Library: "On Monday, August 5 [1974], he released tapes of three conversations between himself and Haldeman recorded six days after the break-in. The text showed the president obstructing justice by ordering the FBI to end its investigation of the break-in. At the Cabinet meeting the next day, Vice President Ford stated that, as 'a party in interest,' he would have no further public comments on the issue. Nixon's remaining support in the House and Senate crumbled."

A transcript and audio file of the Smoking Gun tape is here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

June 22, 1993:

Pat Nixon Dies

It's easy to get the impression that as far as public life was concerned, it was "enough already!" for Pat Nixon in the 19 years between 1974 and her death from lung cancer in 1993. (She might well have felt that way after 1960.)

According to, "The immediate years following Nixon's resignation and his and Pat Nixon's return to their San Clemente, California estate "La Casa Pacifica" were difficult. Pat Nixon helped to maintain the former president through a series of traumas, ranging from legal wrangling resulting from his resignation to physical disability. In late 1974, he nearly died from phlebitis and other complications resulting from it, and then suffered through a depression.

  "In July 1976, Pat Nixon suffered a stroke, resulting in the temporary loss of speech and use of her left side. Through a rigorous physical therapy routine, she was able to rehabilitate full use of her motor and speaking skills, but her strength would remain uncertain. She most enjoyed the years following 1980 when she and the former president relocated to the East Coast where they were able to spend time with their children and grandchildren. Pat Nixon only rarely permitted the use of her name for various projects, including a San Clemente historical celebration, a fundraising effort to renovate and re-interpret the Smithsonian Institution's First Lady's exhibit, and a Carter Center conference on women and the U.S. Constitution. As a former First Lady, she only appeared at three public events, the dedication of Pat Nixon School (1975) in the Los Angeles area, named for her; the dedication of the Richard Nixon Birthplace and Museum (1990) in Yorba Linda, California and the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum (1991). She accompanied her husband back to China during his first of several return visits to that nation, but never joined him on the four trips he made back to the White House."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June 21, 1774:

Daniel D. Thompkins' Birthday

The Sixth Vice President of the United States, Daniel D. Thompkins of New York, holds a number of vice presidential distinctions. He was the second of only seven men to serve two full terms; he was James Monroe's vice president through his entire time in office, from 1817 to 1825. He had the shortest life span of any vice president, dying just before his 51st birthday, when he'd been out of office only 99 days. He was also the last vice president born before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

And he's the only vice president mentioned in Miracle on 34th Street, during Kris Kringle's "psychological evaluation" by the hostile Mr. Sawyer.

Kris: Excuse me, are you Mr.Sawyer?

Sawyer: Yes. You are?

Kris: Kris Kringle.

Sawyer: Ah, yes. I didn’t recognize you without —

Kris: Without the red suit? Well, I thought it more appropriate for our meeting to wear this.

Sawyer: And that cane – do you always carry that?

Kris: When I’m in street clothes, yes. Made it myself from one of the runners of my sleigh.

Sawyer: Your what?

Kris: My sleigh. And look, that’s a fine silver top, isn’t it? Looks like a sleighbell.

Sawyer (abruptly): Who was the first president of the United States?

Kris: Oh, we’ve moved on to the test, have we? Well, at least try to challenge me, Mr. Sawyer. You’d be better off asking who the Vice President was during the Monroe administration.

Sawyer: Just answer the question.

Kris: Gracious! George Washington.

Sawyer: Thank you.

Kris: The answer to the other one, by the way, is Daniel D. Thompkins, in case you’d like to use it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

June 20, 1910:

Howlin' Wolf's Birthday (Maybe)

It's an odd thing that a poor black child born in Mississippi in 1910 would be named for Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President of the United States, who had not only been out of office for 25 years, but dead for nearly that long, since he had died in 1886. Surely his parents had their reasons. Are children named for presidents any more? A few, maybe, but mostly the custom has atrophied.

Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as the bluesman Howlin' Wolf, was born either on June 10 or June 20, 1910, according to different sources. According to the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Vol. 3 (1996), Howlin' Wolf was born Chester Arthur Burnett... in West Point, Mississippi. After moving to the Mississippi Delta, he began playing guitar as a teenager under his tutor Charley Patton, who lived on a nearby plantation. Burnett began performing in the late 1920s. He traveled to various plantations throughout the South. In the 1930s, Burnette met Sonny Boy Williamson (Alex Miller), who taught him to play the harmonica. Burnett changed his name soon after learning to play the harmonica and developing his gutteral 'howlin' style under the tutelage of country blues man Charley Patton.

"After serving in the Army during World War II, Howlin' Wolf relocated to West Memphis, Ark., where he worked as a disc jockey for WKEM radio and formed his first band, which began recording in 1951. Following the success of 'Moanin' At Midnight' (Chess 1479), Wolf was signed to an exclusive contract with Chess Records and relocated to Chicago, where he reamined for the rest of his life. Howlin' Wolf continued to perform and record. He also toured the United States and Europe. He helped to define the postwar Chicago blues style.

"Even though Howlin' Wolf was born on a plantation in Sunflower County, Mississippi, he brought the delta blues from the South into the limelight of Chicago and London. Although armed with a harmonica and acoustic guitar, Howlin' Wolf's primary instrument was his voice. Moans and high-pitched falsetto wails defined his vocal style, bringing an emotional urgency to his recordings. Many of his recordings laid the foundation for the golden age of rock and roll. Howlin' Wolf died in Hines, Illinois on January 10, 1976."

June 19, 1865:


Strictly speaking, Juneteenth has a fairly low presidential content, but there is a connection. It marks the day in 1865 when the Union army started enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation, an initiative of the president, in Texas; the proclamation specifically applied to areas "in rebellion" on January 1, 1863, which included Texas. Afterwards, Juneteeth evolved into a celebration among the black population of Texas and a few other places. It became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and 13 other states have followed suit in making Juneteenth a holiday.

From the Handbook of Texas Online:"On June 19 ('Juneteenth'), 1865, Union general Gordon Granger (pictured) read the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, thus belatedly bringing about the freeing of 250,000 slaves in Texas. The tidings of freedom reached slaves gradually as individual plantation owners read the proclamation to their bondsmen over the months following the end of the war. The news elicited an array of personal celebrations, some of which have been described in The Slave Narratives of Texas (1974). The first broader celebrations of Juneteenth were used as political rallies and to teach freed African-Americans about their voting rights. Within a short time, however, Juneteenth was marked by festivities throughout the state, some of which were organized by official Juneteenth committees."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

June 18, 1812:

Mr. Madison's War

If the War of 1812 were commonly called something else, few people would have a clue as to when it was. Though also called the Second War of Independence, it hardly rises to the level of the make-or-break conflict for the nation that the first one was. It didn't involve taking territory from anyone else, as the wars with Mexico and Spain ultimately did; and it wasn't brother-against-brother over the fundamental issues of union and slavery and all the rest that the Civil War became. The War of 1812 just doesn't have much of a hook, to borrow a term from journalism.

But it too had its drama: naval battles still in the days when ships were made of wood, with some of that fighting on the Great Lakes; the fact that many Americans, especially New Englanders, objected loudly to the war; and the burning of Washington, DC, and the climatic Battle of New Orleans, fought because the telegraph hadn't been invented yet.

It is also "Mr. Madison's War." Reportedly, he hadn't really wanted it, but his more hawkish colleagues in Congress persuaded him to ask for it, which he did in the early summer of 1812. Congress obliged by declaring war on June 18 that year. As 19th-century war presidents go, Madison was hardly of the calibre of Polk or Lincoln or McKinley, but at least he didn't lose it. The conflict is generally considered a draw.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

June 17, 1972:

The Watergate Break-in

Five burglars were arrested on June 17, 1972, at the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee after a security guard, Frank Wills, correctly suspected that burglars were in the building and called the police. The five were:

Bernard L. Barker, a realtor from Miami and former CIA operative.

Virgilio R. Gonzales a locksmith from Miami and refugee from Castro's takeover.

James W. McCord, a security co-ordinator for the Republican National Committee and the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP). He was fired from his RNC and CREEP positions the day after the break-in.

Eugenio R. Martinez, who worked for Barker's Miami real estate firm. He was also an anti-Castro Cuban exile. Click here to read Martinez's account of the burglary.

Frank A. Sturgis, another associate of Barker from Miami and an anti-Castro activitist.

The five were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. Famously called a "third-rate burglary" by President Nixon's press secretary Ron Ziegler, it would lead to a first-rate presidential scandal.

The following is from an account by one of the Watergate burglars, Eugenio Martinez, on The entire article is here.

"McCord went into the Watergate very early in the evening [of June 17]. He walked right through the front door of the office complex, signed the book, and, I'm sure, went to the eighth floor as he had before. Then he taped the doors from the eighth floor to the bottom floor and walked out through the exit door in the garage. It was still very early, and we were not going to go in until after everyone left the offices. We waited so long that Eduardo went out to check if the tapes were still there. He said they were but when we finally got ready to go in, Virgilio and Sturgis noticed that the tape was gone, and a sack of mail was at the door.

"So we said, well, the tape has been discovered. We'll have to abort the operation. But McCord thought we should go anyway. He went upstairs and tried to convince Liddy and Eduardo that we should go ahead. Before making a decision, they went to the other room.

"I believe they made a phone call, and Eduardo told us to go ahead. McCord did not come in with us. He said he had to go someplace. We never knew where he was going. Anyway, he was not with us, so when Virgilio picked the locks to let us in, we put tape on the doors for him and went upstairs. Five minutes later McCord came in, and I asked him right away: 'Did you remove the tapes?' He said, 'Yes, I did.'

"But he did not, because the tape was later found by the police. Once inside, McCord told Barker to turn off his walkie-talkie. He said there was too much static. So we were there without communications. Soon we started hearing noises. People going up and down. McCord said it was only the people checking, like before, but then there was running and men shouting, "Come out with your hands up or we will shoot!" and things like that. There was no way out. We were caught. The police were very rough with us, pushing us around, tying our arms, but Barker was able to turn on his walkie-talkie, and he asked where the police were from. And then he said, "Oh, you are the metropolitan policemen who catch us." So Barker was cool. He did a good job in advising Eduardo we were caught.

"I thought right away it was a set-up or something like that because it was so easy the first time. We all had that feeling. They took our keys and found the identification in the briefcase Eduardo had left in our room.

"McCord was the senior officer, and he took charge. He was talking loudly now. He told us not to say a thing. 'Don't give your names. Nothing. I know people. Don't worry, someone will come and everything will be all right. This thing will be solved.' "

Saturday, June 16, 2007

June 16, 1775 & 1858: Washington and Lincoln Speak

On June 16, 1775, George Washington accepted the Continental Congress' appointment as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, the armed force that was, depending whose side you were on, either to lead the colonies in a struggle for freedom or in rebellion against King George and the mother country. There was no doubt where Washington stood. He said to the Congress (as recorded in the journals of the Second Continental Congress):

"Mr. President,

"Tho' I am truly sensible of the high Honour done me, in this Appointment, yet I feel great distress, from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important Trust: However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for support of the glorious cause. I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks for this distinguished testimony of their approbation.

"But, lest some unlucky event should happen, unfavourable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered, by every Gentleman in the room, that I, this day, declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honored with.

"As to pay, Sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress, that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to have accepted this arduous employment, at the expence of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any proffit from it. I will keep an exact Account of my expences. Those, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that is all I desire."

Four score and three years later, in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln made his "House Divided" speech. He was speaking to his party, who that day had nominated him to run for the US Senate. His opponent in that contest was Sen. Stephen Douglas, who was re-elected by the Illinois General Assembly, which had a narrow Democratic majority after the election of 1858.

"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

"If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

"In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'

" I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other..."

Friday, June 15, 2007

June 15, 1849:

James K. Polk Dies

The lyrics of "Napoleon of the Stump" by They Might Be Giants (John Linnell and John Flansburgh):

In 1844, the Democrats were split
The three nominees for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
James Buchanan, a moderate
Lewis Cass, a general and expansionist
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

Austere, severe, he held few people dear
His oratory filled his foes with fear
The factions soon agreed
He's just the man we need
To bring about victory
Fulfill our manifest destiny
And annex the land the Mexicans command
And when the votes were cast the winner was
Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

In four short years he met his every goal
He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
Made sure the tariffs fell
And made the English sell the Oregon territory
He built an independent treasury
Having done all this he sought no second term
But precious few have mourned the passing of
Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

And a non-professional video made to the song, better than many on YouTube.

June 14:

Flags and Presidents

Today is Flag Day, and on that occasion DPD will note the various presidents who have had an impact on the evolution of the US flag, aside from signing statehood bills that add stars (President Benjamin Harrison added the most stars, incidentally, with six).

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: "Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." The story that Betsy Ross's descendants argued in the 19th century was that she designed it; more likely, Congressman Francis Hopkinson did, but in any case it had the approval of Gen. George Washington. The motion was brought to the floor by future president John Adams.

After that, both stars and stripes were added as new states entered the Union, but soon it was clear that the flag would be overburdened with stripes, so an act of April 4, 1818, signed by President Monroe, provided for 13 stripes and one star for each state, to be added to the flag on the July 4 following the admission of each new state.

There was no uniform arrangement to the stars in the canton in the 19th century, perhaps befitting a sprawling, individualistic nation. But President Taft signed an executive order dated June 24, 1912, establishing the proportions of the new 48-star flag and the arrangement of the stars in six horizontal rows of eight each, a single point of each star to be upward.

In 1959, President Eisenhower signed two executive orders (dated January 3 and August 21, respectively), providing for the arrangement of the stars in the 49-star flag and then the 50-star flag still in use.

As for Flag Day, the day had been celebrated in various ways in various places in the 19th century -- again, that refreshing lack of standardization -- but in 1916, President Wilson proclaimed an official Flag Day. In 1949, President Truman signed an act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

June 13, 1967:

LBJ Appoints Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court

Even if he had never been appointed to the US Supreme Court as its first black member by President Johnson in 1967, Thurgood Marshall would have left a deep mark on American race relations.

"He joined the NAACP national legal staff in 1936, and by 1938 - five years after graduation from law school - became the Chief Legal Officer of [the organization]," wrote Bob Bankard in "In 1940, the NAACP created the Legal Defense and Education Fund, with Marshall as its Director and Counsel. For more than twenty years, Marshall coordinated the NAACP effort to end racial segregation, winning 32 of 35 cases he brought before the Supreme Court, and systematically deconstructing the Jim Crow and apartheid that had been built into the American legal system.

"A few of his more wide-ranging victories include:

Smith v. Allwright, in 1944, making it unconstitutional to exclude African-American voters from primary elections.
Shelley v. Kraemer, in 1948 made it unconstitutional to deny housing on the basis of race.
Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, both 1950, made it unconstitutional to provide 'separate but equal' facilities based on race in state universities.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 made it unconstitutional to racially segregate public schools."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

June 12, 1874:

Charles McNary's Birthday

Little-remember today, but in his time Charles McNary was an important member of the US Senate, serving as a Republican from Oregon in that body continuously from 1918 until his death in 1944. During the terms of Franklin Roosevelt, McNary was minority leader in the Senate, leading a much-diminished party through those years of Democratic ascendency.

In 1940, he was dark-horse candidate Wendell Willkie's running mate. "Although Willkie’s victory [at the Republican convention] showed that he was adept at convention politics, it was clear that he had given little, if any, thought to a post-nomination strategy," writes Timothy D. Walker, Willkie's grandnephew, of the convention. "This was understandable, of course, because all of Willkie’s efforts had necessarily been directed to overcoming tremendous odds and capturing the nomination itself. The first evidence that Willkie had no post-nomination strategy was his complete lack of thought into the question of who to select as his running mate. For advice on this matter, Willkie turned to Joe Martin, chairman of the convention. Martin suggested Oregon Senator Charles McNary, which Willkie readily agreed to even though McNary had been in the group of GOP leaders who had issued the 'Stop Willkie' statement on the first day of the convention.

"McNary agreed to be the candidate for Vice President, but not because he was a Willkie fan. Rather, he accepted the offer out of his loyalty to the Republican party. It was a strange pairing, because Willkie and McNary had conflicting views on major political issues. McNary was an isolationist and a supporter of public ownership of electrical power. But the union was also very practical; it was thought that McNary’s presence on the ticket would counterbalance Willkie’s major liability: his close connection to East Coast financiers. In any case, the combination worried FDR, who confided to his staffers on the day after the nomination that the Republicans had nominated a very strong ticket."

In the end, it wasn't a strong enough ticket to unseat FDR in 1940, who won his third term by about 5 million popular votes and 449 to 82 electoral votes.

Monday, June 11, 2007

June 11, 1776:

Jefferson Tasked to Write a Declaration of Independence

On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, appointed to a committee to draft a declaration of independence. Two future presidents were on the committee, which then tasked one of them -- Thomas Jefferson, with his gift for rhetoric -- with actually writing the thing. The end result was edited by others on the committee and in Congress, but on the whole the document was Jefferson's.

Later Jefferson wrote about the making of the Declaration of Independence:"On the 15th of May, 1776, the convention of Virginia instructed their delegates in Congress to propose to that body to declare the colonies independent of G. Britain, and appointed a committee to prepare a declaration of rights and plan of government.

"In Congress, Friday, June 7, 1776. The delegates from Virginia moved in obedience to instructions from their constituents that the Congress should declare that these United colonies are & of right ought to be free & independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them & the state of Great Britain is & ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.

"It appearing in the course of these debates that the colonies of N. York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina were not yet matured for falling from the parent stem, but that they were fast advancing to that state, it was thought most prudent to wait a while for them, and to postpone the final decision to July 1, but that this might occasion as little delay as possible a committee was appointed to prepare a declaration of independence. The committee were J. Adams, Dr. Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston & myself. Committees were also appointed at the same time to prepare a plan of confederation for the colonies, and to state the terms proper to be proposed for foreign alliance.

"The committee for drawing the declaration of Independence desired me to do it. It was accordingly done, and being approved by them, I reported it to the house on Friday the 28th of June when it was read and ordered to lie on the table."

June 10, 1940:

FDR's "Stab in the Back" Speech

On June 10, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt gave the commencement address to the University of Virginia, where one of his sons was graduating. The speech is known to history as the "Stab in the Back" speech, reflecting the president's view of the recent -- earlier that day -- declaration of war by Mussolini's Italy against France and the UK. Perhaps they seemed like easy pickings to Italy, since France was on the verge of collapse against the weight of the German attack that spring. But in fact it was the beginning of the end for Mussolini.

More generally, Roosevelt used the speech to argue against isolationism on the part of the American people, which would take a formal shape as the America First Committee later in 1940 (one of whose founders was future president Gerald Ford). "Perception of danger to our institutions may come slowly or it may come with a rush and a shock as it has to the people of the United States in the past few months," Roosevelt said. "This perception of danger has come to us clearly and overwhelmingly; and we perceive the peril in a world-wide arena—an arena that may become so narrowed that only the Americas will retain the ancient faiths [that is, in democracy].

"Some indeed still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we of the United States can safely permit the United States to become a lone island, a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force.

"Such an island may be the dream of those who still talk and vote as isolationists. Such an island represents to me and to the overwhelming majority of Americans today a helpless nightmare of a people without freedom—the nightmare of a people lodged in prison, handcuffed, hungry, and fed through the bars from day to day by the contemptuous, unpitying masters of other continents."

The entire speech is here.

June 10 is also the anniversary of the Battle of Big Bethel, with Union general Gen. B. F. Butler overseeing an embarrassing defeat. Benjamin Franklin Butler went on to fame, or infamy, as the military commander of occupied New Orleans, and after the war as a radical Republican and ardent supporter of President Grant. In 1884, he was the presidential nominee of the Greenback and Anti-Monopoly parties, polling 175,370 votes.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

June 9, 1791 (or '92) & 1851:

Birthdays of John Howard Payne & Charles Joseph Bonaparte

Today is the birthday of two noteworthy US presidential appointees of dissimilar background: John Howard Payne and Charles Joseph Bonaparte.

Payne was a successful actor and dramatist in the early 19th century. Late in his life, after his acting career had seen something of a decline, in 1841 John Tyler appointed him American consul in Tunis, where he stayed until his death in 1852. In his day, he may have been a darling of the stage in London and Paris (and in the US too), a friend of Washington Irving, a renown poet and playwright, but all that has retreated to the shadows, as most fame does.

These days, Payne is remembered -- when he's remembered -- for writing the lines, "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home," part of a song in a long-forgotten opera produced by Sir Henry Bishop, Clari, the Maid of Milan.

Also born on June 9, sixty years after Payne, was Charles Joseph Bonaparte, grandson of the youngest brother of Emperor Napoleon I, and a member of the now-extinct American Bonaparte family. He served Teddy Roosevelt first as the 37th Secretary of the Navy, and from 1906 to 1909 was 47th US Attorney General. He is remembered for his trust busting, especially in initiating action that eventually broke up the American Tobacco Co., but his must enduring legacy was in overseeing the creation of the Bureau of Investigation. Since 1935, that entity has been known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Friday, June 08, 2007

June 8, 1845:

Andrew Jackson Dies

The Seventh President of the United States lived to be 78, dying perhaps of TB and "dropsy" and other ills, but it's a marvel that he didn't die younger. Such as in 1806, as a young man with a way of getting into duels. That year he fought with Marylander Charles Dickinson, a expert marksman with many dueling kills to his credit. Marquis James, Jackson's famed biographer, describes that incident in harrowing detail:

"A fleck of dust rose from Jackson's coat and his left hand clutched his chest. For an instant he thought himself dying, but, fighting for self-command, slowly he raised his pistol.

"Dickinson recoiled a step horror-stricken. 'My God! Have I missed him?'
"Overton [Jackson's second] presented his pistol. 'Back to the mark, sir!'
"Dickinson folded his arms. Jackson's spare frame straightened. He aimed... and fired. Dickinson swayed to the ground... [the wound proved mortal. Jackson was also wounded, to the point where his left boot had filled with blood, but he survived.]

"Jackson's surgeon found that Dickinson's aim had been perfectly true, but he had judged the position of Jackson's heart by the set of his coat, and Jackson wore his coats loosely on account of the excessive slenderness of his figure."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

June 7, 1864:

Lincoln Renominated

It's in some ways astonishing that regular elections continued in the Union states (and were started in the Confederate ones) during the midst of a bloody civil war, but such is the power of regular elections enshrined in the Constitution and American politics. Come hell or high water -- and it was both in the 1860s -- there will be elections. The mid-term US elections in 1862 and the presidential election in 1864 were on schedule. Lincoln himself, who wasn't sure he was going to be re-elected, would hear no talk of postponement.

For the purpose of the 1864 election, the Republican Party went under the rubric National Union Party, the better to attract War Democrats. The nominating convention was in Baltimore, and Lincoln had that part of the contest fairly much sewn up. In May, a small splinter of the Republican Party had nominated John C. Fremont, the explorer and 1856 Republican standard-bearer, for president at a "Peoples Convention" in Cleveland. Little was to come of it.

According to Larry T. Balsamo, writing in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society in the Summer 2001 issue: "At about the time of the Cleveland Convention, John Hay in conversation with Lincoln noted that [John C.] Fremont could be a dangerous adversary if he achieved military and political influence, but that he seemed to lack energy and ability. According to Hay's diary Lincoln remarked, 'Yes, he is like Jim Jett's brother. Jim used to say that his brother was the damnedest scoundrel that ever lived, but in the infinite mercy of Providence he was also the damnedest fool.'

"The convention of the National Union Party in early June of 1864 was unusually placid and orderly. With his adroit and sometimes ironhanded use of the patronage, the demise of the Chase candidacy, and with Fremont and his supporters essentially out of the party, Lincoln's renomination was accomplished on the initial ballot with only the stubborn Missouri delegation opposed. The platform, including support for a constitutional amendment to end slavery, support for completion of the transcontinental railroad, and a specific endorsement of the policies of the Lincoln administration, was adopted almost without debate.

"The only real surprise and occasion for future historical controversy was the selection of Andrew Johnson to replace the incumbent Hannibal Hamlin as the Vice Presidential nominee. It now appears that Lincoln did not engineer this change, but he certainly did not oppose it. Lincoln's secretary John G. Nicolay was overseeing the president's interests at the Baltimore Convention and he wrote to John Hay in Washington on the first day of the convention seeking instructions. One of Lincoln's Illinois friends, Norman Judd, was gathering support for Joseph Holt, the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army and a Kentuckian, for the second spot on the ticket. On Nicolay's letter sent through Hay, Lincoln wrote 'Mr. Holt is a good man, but I have not heard or thought of him for VP. Wish not to interfere about VP. Can not interfere about platform. Convention must judge for itself.' "

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

June 6, 1944:

Operation Overlord

Order of the Day, June 6, 1944.

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.

In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men.

The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower

June 5, 2004:

Ronald Reagan Dies

Most of the obits and stories about the death of the 40th president three years ago focused on his various achievements in office, or his movie-actor-to-politician success story, his slow decline from Alzheimer's disease, or even talk that he would replace Roosevelt on the dime, Hamilton on the $10 bill or be an added face on Mt. Rushmore -- talk that has faded considerably since then.

Reagan is still a recent enough president to inspire partisan death notices. Fox News had this to say:

"Reagan, known as 'The Great Communicator,' was elected to office in a landslide victory over incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1980 and is credited with revitalizing the country's stagnant economy and forcing the end of the Cold War during his two terms in office from 1981 to 1989."

Phil Gasper, writing in the newsletter CounterPunch, had this to say: "Ronald Reagan has finally died at age 93. Predictably, politicians from both major parties have issued gushing tributes to this venal and vicious man, who was happy to slash workers' wages, see families thrown onto the street, support sadistic death squads and bomb other countries, if this was in the interests of the American ruling class."

And even the crackpot community (represented here by one Ellis Taylor) had its say about Ronald Reagan:"Reagan died on Saturn's day just hours before the 666 day of 6th June 2004. He died in Bel Air. Bel is another name for Saturn. I see that this member of the alleged Bohemian Grove child sacrificing ring will have a state funeral on Friday (El's day). El seems to be identified with Saturn's consort Ops. Mythology has become so confused that the origins of all of these deities have become scrambled. My research indicates that Ops was originally a version of Venus, who has now taken on a dark role. Saturn is a god who demands sacrifice..."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

June 4, 1932:

The First Washington Quarters

The Lincoln cent, first produced in 1909 to mark the centennial of the 16th president's birth, was a break in tradition for US coinage. No previous coin meant for regular circulation had ever featured an actual person, though commemoratives did and so did paper notes.

Previously the most popular human figure on American coins was Liberty, who in fact remained on a circulating design until the Walking Liberty half dollar was retired in 1947 in favor of the non-presidential Ben Franklin half. Presidential circulating coin designs, with one exception, have proven remarkably durable in the history of US coins. In 2009, the Lincoln cent will mark its own centennial; the Jefferson nickel has been around since 1938; the Roosevelt dime since 1946; the Washington quarter since 1932; and the Kennedy half -- though it doesn't circulate that much -- since 1964. Among presidential coins, only the Eisenhower dollar had a short span, 1971 to 1978, victim more of the unpopularity of a dollar coin than anything else. The new presidential coins, only two of which have been released so far (Washington and Adams), may or may not change the apathy toward dollar coins.

Production of the Washington quarter began 75 years ago today in Philadelphia. Only about 6.2 million regular-strike quarters were produced that year. Most of those, about 5.4 million, were made in Philadelphia, with a comparatively paltry 436,800 made in Denver and 408,000 in San Francisco.

According to the Jefferson Coin & Bullion Inc. web site, "The coin came into being in the depths of the Great Depression –- so while its arrival was welcome, it didn’t occasion a national celebration... In the midst of all this gloom, those with a longer historical view saw that the nation was nearing a milestone with happier connotations, for 1932 would be the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth.... In point of fact, the Washington birth bicentennial spawned a whole series of special observances [but] perhaps, none was more universally visible, or went on to enjoy greater longevity, than the Washington quarter dollar. Billions of examples of this now-familiar coin have been struck in the intervening years, and have passed through the hands of virtually every American. And yet, in the beginning, this tribute was envisioned as a one-time memorial to the nation’s first president, to be issued in the year of his birth bicentennial and then produced no more. In short, it was intended as a circulating commemorative coin –- arguably the nation’s first.

"Actually, the coin was only half – though clearly the more important half – of a two-part numismatic birthday tribute. The plans drawn up by the Treasury Department, in conjunction with the US Commission of Fine Arts and the Washington Bicentennial Commission, also called for issuance of a Washington national medal. And in the initial planning, the coin being targeted wasn’t a quarter at all but a half dollar –- the vehicle normally used for US commemorative coins during that era. Congressional approval was needed to replace the regular design on the half dollar, even for a single year, because the version then in use –- the Walking Liberty type –- had not yet reached the statutory minimum of 25 years. Congress chose to authorize a Washington quarter instead, but the same regulation applied for the reigning 25-cent piece -– the Standing Liberty quarter. It had entered the coinage system in the very same year as the "Walker." Both kinds had first appeared just 15 years before, in 1916.

"The substitution proved to be a serendipitous one for the Treasury and the Mint, for the Standing Liberty quarter had been a troublesome coin. Its high-relief design, while popular with collectors, was prone to excessive wear. And the widespread popularity of the “one-year” Washington coin would give the government’s minters a chance to make the substitution permanent, sending the Standing Liberty quarter -- unmourned by its producers -- to a permanent place on the sidelines."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

June 3, 1808:

Jefferson Davis' Birthday

One of the more famous what-ifs of presidential history involves the fact that Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln were both born in southern Kentucky late in the first decade of the 19th century, but neither stayed there to grow up: Lincoln went north, Davis went south. If it had been reversed? A few have imagined the two men switching presidencies, but it's only idle speculation, given the number of variables in any particular life.

Philip Robert Dillon, writing in American Anniversaries (1918), commented on Davis' birthdate, mentioning the curious coincidences of his birth fairly near Lincoln's, both in time and space, but keeps the speculation more realistic than President Lincoln of the CSA and President Davis of the USA: "Jefferson Davis was born in Todd County, Ky., June 3, 1808, less than a year before the birth of Abraham Lincoln and at a place but a short distance from Lincoln's birthplace in the same state. He was descended from Scotch-Irish and Welch ancestry. His father, Samuel Davis, was one of the border pioneers. He was he youngest of nine children.

"The early parallel between the lives of Davis and Lincoln has furnished a subject for speculation to many writers. Lincoln moved north to Indiana and later to Illinois where slavery was forbidden. Davis moved south to Mississippi where slavery was accepted... If Lincoln had been taken south by his parents, and if the father of Davis had gone north, would Lincoln have become a slave holder and would Davis have become an abolitionist?"

Saturday, June 02, 2007

June 2, 1886:

The Marriage of Grover and Frances Cleveland

There have been three presidents who have married while in office: John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, and Woodrow Wilson. Tyler's first wife Letitia Tyler died early in his term, in September 1842. About two years later, he married Julia Gardiner. Wilson became a widower in middle of his first term, in August 1914, when Ellen Wilson died; he married Edith Bolling Galt in December 1915. In both of those cases, the president and his new wife had wedding ceremonies at churches.

The marriage of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom, the daughter of a deceased law partner of Cleveland's, was different in that it was Cleveland's first (and in the end, only) marriage. He had been elected for in 1884 as a bachelor, age 47, the only bachelor president since James Buchanan. Unlike Buchanan, Cleveland didn't remain unmarried, and in a ceremony in the White House, he became the husband of Frances and the first and only president to be married in the executive mansion.

At 49, Grover was 27 years older than Frances, and they were married for 22 years until he died in 1908. She died in 1947, having married again in 1913 to Thomas Preston Jr., an archaeology professor at Princeton. Grover and Francis had five children, including two born during their father's second term in office. Their youngest child, Francis Grover Cleveland, died only in 1995.

Friday, June 01, 2007

June 1, 1868:

James Buchanan Dies

James Buchanan's last public statement was taken from his bed the day before he died: "My dear friend, I have no fear for the future. Posterity will do me justice. I have always felt, and still feel that I discharged every public duty imposed upon me conscientiously. I have no regret for any public act of my life and history will vindicate my memory from every unjust aspersion."

Tough luck, Jim.