Friday, September 30, 2011

George Washington, Englishman

From a review in the Wall Street Journal of Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press, 2010) by Andrew Roberts, author of Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West.

"The adjective that best describes Washington's personality and instincts, ironically enough, is 'English.' He had a fair complexion that sunburnt easily; he bought his clothes and most other goods from London merchants; he never affirmed the divinity of Jesus Christ but actively supported his local Anglican churches; he rebuilt Mount Vernon (named after an English admiral) on classically English architectural principles; he was phlegmatic and disliked overfamiliarity; he even played cricket during the dark days of Valley Forge. Mr. Chernow ascribes his break with Britain to the moronic refusal of the British authorities to grant Washington a regular army commission. 'His hostility to the mother country,' Mr. Chernow writes, 'was a case of thwarted love.' (Though he hints that it might also have involved greed, since Britain was threatening to curtail the distinctly dodgy Ohio land speculation that was enriching Washington in the mid-1770s.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Church of the Presidents, Long Branch, NJ

St. John's in Washington DC, conveniently located on Lafayette Square near the White House, is often called the "Church of the Presidents" because each president since James Monroe has attended services there. But there's another "Church of the Presidents," St. James Chapel in Long Branch, NJ.

Long before it was the setting of tawdry television show, the Jersey Shore was a place for the wealthy to escape pre-air conditioning summertime heat, and no fewer than six sitting presidents vacationed there -- Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, McKinley and Wilson -- while Ulysses S. Grant visited after he was president. The unfortunate President Garfield, who had been to the Jersey Shore with his ill wife shortly before he was shot in Washington, was taken to Long Branch in the vain hope that we would recover, but instead he died there.

All seven of the aforementioned presidents attended services at St. James Chapel, a branch of St. James Episcopal Church in the western part of Long Branch. That church wasn't convenient enough for the likes of George Pullman, so in the late 1870s, he and two other Gilded Age millionaires paid for the construction of the chapel, which was closer to their vacation homes. The New York firm of Potter and Robertson designed the small chapel in a pseudo-Tudor style popular at the time, and it has remain essentially unaltered since 1895.

Photo courtesy the Long Branch Historical Museum Association.

Long Branch faded as a vacation destination after World War I, and in the 1950s, the chapel was deconsecrated. Local residents Edgar Dinkelspiel and Bernard Sandler saved the structure from demolition, and it became the home of Long Branch Historical Museum in 1955. Among other artifacts on display were President Grant's gun cabinet and game table, and the flag placed over President Garfield's casket during services conducted by the Long Branch Masonic Lodge.

Currently the site is closed to the public while undergoing much-needed restoration work. Recently the Long Branch Historical Museum Association completed the restoration and repair of the masonry that comprises the lower exterior walls of the Church of the Presidents. Much work remains to be done, however, and the association is currently accepting tax-deductible donations for the project.

More information about the Church of the Presidents in Long Branch, and the effort to restore it, is at the association's web site.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

William Windom

Today is William Windom's 88th birthday. The well-known American character actor -- Commodore Matt Decker in the original Star Trek, the Thurberesque John Monroe in My World and Welcome to It -- has no direct connection to the presidency of the United States, though he did play "The President" in Escape from Planet of the Apes (1971).

He is, however, the great-grandson of William Windom (1827-1891), 33rd and 39th U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, first serving under Garfield and Arthur and later Benjamin Harrison, besides being a Representative and then Senator from Minnesota. Windom was regarded highly enough to earn a depiction on a series of $2 silver certificates issued after his death in office.

Windom also took a very modest stab at the presidency. In 1880, he received 10 votes on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention that year in Chicago as a favorite son candidate. The nomination ultimately went to the dark-horse James A. Garfield, who went on to the White House and an early grave.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Presidential Car Wash

Dead presidents have long been used to sell things. The deader the better in most cases, since presidents that are still in living memory tend to have too much baggage. Successful presidents with name recognition are also much more common in the advertising realm. It's unlikely that Lincoln Auto Insurance first considered the name Buchanan Auto Insurance, for instance, though Millard Fillmore had his moment a few years ago.

The custom continues. Here's a commercial for a car wash in California that offers a George Washington Wash, a Teddy Roosevelt Wash, an Abe Lincoln Wash, a Thomas Jefferson Wash, a Martin Van Buren Full Detail, Besty Ross Express Polish, and Uncle Sam's Deal (107 car washes for $1,776).

Apparently it's a real commercial, as much as it looks like a Saturday Night Live commercial parody. Presidential Car Wash is a real car wash at 10515 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood, and the commercial was created the duo Rhett & Link.

Adweek says "Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal have made a name for themselves by creating intentionally bad commercials for local businesses across America... Here's the latest — an intentionally atrocious rap for Presidential Car Wash that makes all other intentionally atrocious raps from commercials pale by comparison.

"Rhett and Link definitely have a knack for mimicking the worst aspects of local ads — the terrible acting, the awkward moments, the crappy production values. But what really sets them apart is that they aren't really being irreverent. They're legitimately trying to drive traffic to these businesses."

The entire Adweek article is here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Damage to the Washington Monument

Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said at a press conference today at the National Mall that the Washington Monument is "structurally sound" and -- as if anyone had any doubts -- "not going anywhere."

The monument, standing 555 feet and one-eighths inches tall on the Mall between the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, was damaged during the August 23, 2011, earthquake that shook the East Coast, and has been closed to tourists since then. According to Vogel, the quake damaged the elevator and put at least four cracks in the structure.

The Park Service will undertake an inspection of the exterior this week, with Brandon Lathan, a mountaineering specialist ranger, rappelling down the monument to look for more damage. Except some interesting pictures of the rappelling in the media in the days ahead.

The Washington Monument is the world's tallest stone structure, naturally dedicated to the memory of the First President of the United States, with construction beginning in 1848, during the term of the 11th President of the United States (Polk). It was dedicated in 1885, near the end of the term of the 21st President of the United States (Arthur).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The 12th Amendment

On September 25, 1804, in a circular letter to the governors of the several states, Secretary of State James Madison declared that the 12th amendment to the U.S. Constitution had been ratified by three-fourths of the states. It modified the way the Electoral College selected the president, as originally specified by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which had led to the electoral tie vote between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in 1800 and the consternation that followed as the House of Representatives chose the president.

The first part of the amendment says: "The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate..."

Under the original system, the electors voted for two candidates without specifying which was for president and which vice president. Whomever received the most votes of the grand total became president, provided he had a majority, and whomever was second became vice president. But in 1800, both Jefferson and Burr received 71 electoral votes, presumably when one of the Democratic-Republican electors forgot not to vote for Burr, as was the plan, since ostensibly Jefferson and Burr were on the same side.

The passage of the 12th amendment didn't prevent the selection of the president by the House one more time, in 1824, but that was because of a four-way race. Andrew Jackson actually received more electoral votes, 99 to John Quincy Adam's 84, but it wasn't a majority for Jackson, and the House picked Adams. (Jackson, of course, came back in four years to stomp on Adams, 178 to 83.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

TR Creates the First National Monument

On this day in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower, Wyoming, as the first national monument, noting in the proclamation that “the lofty and isolated rock known as ‘Devils Tower'... is such an extraordinary example of the effect of erosion in the higher mountains as to be a natural wonder and an object of historic and great scientific interest.”

The authority for him to do so was the newly passed Antiques Act of 1906, a Congressional response to widespread looting of Indian burial grounds beginning at the end of the 19th century. According to the National Park Service, "[the act] it authorized permits for legitimate archaeological investigations and penalties for persons taking or destroying antiquities without permission. And it authorized presidents to proclaim 'historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest' as national monuments -- 'the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.'

"So it was originally expected that national monuments would be proclaimed to protect prehistoric cultural features, or antiquities, and that they would be small."

TR did not think small. Devils Tower National Monument is about 1,347 acres, and during his presidency, TR created 18 national monuments, including Muir Woods in California, Jewel Cave in South Dakota, and Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon -- the latter some 800,000 acres -- both in the Arizona Territory.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Fala Speech

On September 23, 1944, President Roosevelt kicked his re-election campaign into high gear with the "Fala Speech," delivered in Washington, DC, to the Teamsters (the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, to give its formal name).

This clip is a little disjointed, but it does include some of the more memorial parts of the speech.

Aged from his 11-plus years in office, FDR nevertheless gave a spirited campaign speech. Fala of course was his dog, pictured here in bronze at the FDR Memorial in Washington DC. The president mentioned Fala toward the end of the speech, to answer the untrue charge that the president had left the dog behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him, and as an example of Republican falsehoods.

The president had plenty else to say about his opposition. "You are, most of you, old enough to remember what things were like for labor in 1932," noted at one point.

"You remember the closed banks and the breadlines and the starvation wages; the foreclosures of homes and farms, and the bankruptcies of business; the Hoovervilles, and the young men and women of the nation facing a hopeless, jobless future; the closed factories and mines and mills; the ruined and abandoned farms; the stalled railroads and the empty docks; the blank despair of a whole Nation -- and the utter impotence of the federal government.

"You remember the long, hard road, with its gains and its setbacks, which we have traveled together ever since those days. Now there are some politicians who do not remember that far back, and there are some who remember but find it convenient to forget. No, the record is not to be washed away that easily.

"The opposition in this year has already imported into this campaign a very interesting thing, because it is foreign. They have imported the propaganda technique invented by the dictators abroad. Remember, a number of years ago, there was a book, Mein Kampf, written by Hitler himself. The technique was all set out in Hitler's book -- and it was copied by the aggressors of Italy and Japan. According to that technique, you should never use a small falsehood; always a big one, for its very fantastic nature would make it more credible -- if only you keep repeating it over and over and over again.

"Well, let us take some simple illustrations that come to mind. For example, although I rubbed my eyes when I read it, we have been told that it was not a Republican depression, but a Democratic depression from which this nation was saved in 1933 -- that this administration this one today -- is responsible for all the suffering and misery that the history books and the American people have always thought had been brought about during the 12 ill-fated years when the Republican Party was in power.

"Now, there is an old and somewhat lugubrious adage which says: 'Never speak of rope in the house of a man who has been hanged.' In the same way, if I were a Republican leader speaking to a mixed audience, the last word in the whole dictionary that I think I would use is that word 'depression.' "

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Moore Misses Ford, Thanks to Sipple

Sara Jane Moore went down in history on September 22, 1975, as the first woman to fire a shot at a U.S. president -- Gerald Ford, as it happened. She wasn't the first woman to point a loaded gun at him, of course. That infamous distinction belongs to "Squeaky" Fromme, who pointed a gun at President Ford only 17 days earlier, though it misfired when she pulled the trigger.

Moore missed. A bystander named Oliver Sipple had grabbed her arm, and prevented a second shot as well.

It was a good deed that didn't go unpunished. As Lynne Duke wrote in the Washington Post in 2006, "... Oliver 'Billy' Sipple just happened to be standing in the path of history, right next to Sara Jane Moore, the would-be assassin, as she raised a .38 and aimed it at President Gerald R. Ford outside San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel.

"Sipple, a former Marine and Vietnam vet, saw the gun. He grabbed Moore's arm as she fired and saved a president's life. Afterward, he told people anybody would have done the same.

"Only later, after he was outed in the media as a gay man, after his parents back in Detroit were hounded and teased about their gay son -- only then would he realize the personal price to be paid....

"Oliver Sipple flew to Detroit to try to put his parents at ease, to explain 'that he wasn't embarrassing my father in any way, because he wasn't in the same state with him and he was an adult and should be able to live the way he wanted to.'

"The family became estranged... Oliver was not disowned, as some reports of that time said. But the family needed to absorb what had happened.

"Back in San Francisco, Oliver fought a battle on another front, against the media. He filed a $15 million lawsuit against seven newspapers, accusing them of invading his privacy."

After a few years, he lost his case. Oliver Sipple's unfortunate story is, of course, more complicated than these short excepts, involving lingering suffering from his time in Vietnam, a reported decision by Harvey Milk to publicize Sipple's orientation, heavy drinking, bad health and death in 1989. The full article is here, and more on Sipple is here, and on many other web sites.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hamilton Jordan's Birthday

Though he served a president who is very much alive, the eighth White House Chief of Staff, William Hamilton McWhorter Jordan, died of cancer in 2008 at age 63. As a younger man, he was an advisor to President Jimmy Carter, first informally, then as chief of staff from 1979 to 1980. Today would have been his 66th birthday.

The White House Chief of Staff is a relatively new office, created in response to the swelling of the executive branch in the 20th century -- either because of increased responsibilities or bureaucratic bloat, take your pick. Washington had one assistant, his nephew, whom he paid out of his own pocket. By Jackson's time, the government paid for the president's staff, which is to say, for one clerk.

Truman was the first chief executive to have a chief of staff, John R. Steelman, though his title was Assistant to the President. During the Eisenhower administration, chief of staff became the formal title of the official who heads the Executive Office of the President of United States (EOP), an entity created by an executive branch reorganization in 1939, the better to manage the sprawling New Deal.

Today, notes the Washington Post in, "the size and budget of the EOP are a bit of a mystery because many of the employees are detailed from other executive agencies. Staff estimates range from 2,000 to 6,000 employees with an annual budget between $300 million and $750 million."

In 60-plus years, holders of the position of White House Chief of Staff have ranged from obscure to notorious. Who remembers Kenneth Duberstein as Reagan's last chief of four? On the other hand, H.R. Haldeman is well remembered for his stint in the Nixon White House, and then prison.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The "Tweeting" Presidents

Created and posted by HerBunk Productions.

Interesting to watch, as morphs sometimes are, and to read to see how many of the quotes are familiar. Many are not.

For instance, the quote for William Henry Harrison, famed one-month president: "All the measures of the government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer." Which, however true it is, seems like an odd thing for a politician to admit.

A bit of investigation uncovers a longer (non-tweet) version of the line, which is, "I believe and I say it is true Democratic feeling, that all the measures of the government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer." It is from a speech Harrison made as president-elect in late 1840, having just defeated the Democratic incumbent, Martin Van Buren. It seems like Harrison was offering up some Whig criticism of the rival party, rather than ruminations on plutocracy.

Still, a fine list of pithy quotes. Watch especially for Nixon's.

Monday, September 19, 2011

James Garfield Dies

RIP, James Abram Garfield, 20th President of United States

November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Message from Matthew Algeo

Kind words by e-mail from Matthew Algeo, whose book, The President is a Sick Man, was discussed here a few days ago:

"Thanks for the heads up, and even more thanks for the very nice review! What a great blog, I posted a link to it on my Facebook pages. I will visit often.

"Definitely check out my Truman book, I think you'll like it.

"Thanks again!

The Truman book he refers to is his earlier work, Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, which is about a road trip Harry and Bess took shortly after Truman left office in 1953. It does look interesting.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eleanor Mondale and Kara Kennedy

RIP, Eleanor Mondale Poling, daughter of Vice President Walter Mondale and Joan Mondale. January 19, 1960 - September 17, 2011.

RIP, Kara Kennedy Allen, niece of President John Kennedy. February 27, 1960 - September 16, 2011.

Friday, September 16, 2011

FDR Signs the Burke-Wadsworth Act has this to say about the first peacetime draft in U.S. history: "Signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt [on September 16, 1940] the Burke-Wadsworth Act the first peace-time draft in United States history. Under the act, all American males between twenty-one and thirty-five years of age registered for the draft. The government selected men through a lottery system.

"If drafted, a man served for twelve months. According to the Burke-Wadsworth Act's provisions, drafted soldiers had to remain in the Western Hemisphere or in United States possessions or territories located in other parts of the world. The act provided that not more than 900,000 men were to be in training at any one time, and it limited service to 12 months."

In mid-1941, Congress extended the period of service beyond 12 months and the president agreed to that. There was some grumbling, but no widespread desertions, and after December 7 of that year, the grumbling stopped.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The President is a Sick Man

The President is a Sick Man (Matthew Algeo, 2011) is a crisply written, popular history describing a fairly well-known yet astonishing incident in presidential history, namely Grover Cleveland's cancer and its secret treatment. The book fleshes the story out with plenty of interesting context and detail. Such as the extreme dread cancer posed for those living in the 19th century. Who can doubt it? Cancer is dreadful enough now. Imagine when the diagnosis meant an almost certain lingering death, the kind that Ulysses Grant suffered.

Turns out that President Cleveland had a rarer, much less dangerous kind of tumor in his mouth than former President Grant. But it was dangerous enough. It seems that medical science was just advanced enough in 1893 for Cleveland's doctors to excise the growth without killing the president, but it must have been a near thing.

"It's worth mentioning just a few of the tools that the surgeons would not have had at their disposal, simply because they had not been devised or perfected," writes Alego. "They would have no suction apparatus for draining blood or other fluids from the operative site and no means of artificially resuscitating the patient should his heart stop. There would be no electronic monitors, no ventilators, no laryngoscopes, no endotracheal tubes. Surgery had come a long way since the Civil War -- but still had a long way to go."

And, of course, no blood transfusions or antibiotics. Fortunately for Cleveland, his doctors were fully persuaded of the benefits of sterile surgery, then a fairly new idea. As Algeo put it, "surgery pre-Lister was a gamble that most patients were bound to lose." So Cleveland got vastly better treatment than poor President Garfield did only 12 year earlier, when doctors examining his GSW couldn't be bothered to wash their hands, even though they must have heard of Joseph Lister's ideas by then.

The medical drama's only part of the story, however. Doubly astonishing is the fact that the July 1, 1893, operation -- performed on the yacht Oneida in Long Island Sound, of all places -- was kept a secret until 1917, long after Cleveland had died of another kind of cancer (probably) elsewhere in his body.

Well, not quite a secret. One of the best-known journalists of the day, E.J. Edwards of the Philadelphia Press, found out about the operation and published a major exposé. But in an age when newspapers -- being the cable news of their time -- weren't above completely making things up, Edwards was discredited. Mostly because the president and everyone else on the ship lied like dogs about what had happened. President Cleveland just went fishing for a few days, that's all. Oh, and he had a few teeth pulled on board. And he has a touch of rheumatism. E.J. Edwards is damnable liar! The book's subtitle tells the tale: "Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Glover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth."

Conspiracy buffs, take note. Edwards found out about the operation because one of the doctors involved blabbed about it to a colleague, who then told someone who knew Edwards, who then went to the doctor who'd first blabbed, who then confessed the whole thing to Edwards.

The president was able to pull off the deception for a number of reasons, but probably most of all because he made a remarkable recovery, and was able to wear a vulcanized rubber prosthetic jaw so lifelike that no one noticed it.

Also, to be fair to President Cleveland, he was certain that maintaining secrecy was the right thing to do, since news of his cancer -- about the worst health problem he could have, and still be alive -- would have made the Panic of 1893 even worse, and it was bad enough as it was, idling countless workers and bringing much commerce to a halt.

He made a political calculation as well. Being perceived as ill with cancer would have hurt his chances of persuading Congress to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, a cause dear to Cleveland, who was a gold-standard man. It's hard to imagine now the passion of the 1890s political quarrel between goldbugs and silverites, but some of it comes through in the book. It was the polarizing issue of the time, a collision of vested interests.

Cleveland got lucky, too, in that questions about his health were pushed off the front pages by a couple of large hurricanes that hit the United States in the late summer of 1893. One Category 2 storm hit New York City, and among other damage, destroyed an entire barrier island off Long Island. Another storm hit the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina, an estimated Category 3 that probably killed a few thousand people and made tens of thousands more homeless.

The story of the Sea Islands Hurricane of 1893 is a fascinating aside in Algeo's book for a number of reasons, such as the fact that such a tremendous storm, on par with Katrina, has been completely forgotten (as has the 1900 storm that nearly destroyed Galveston or even the deadly New England Hurricane of 1938). It's also worth noting that neither the states nor the federal government provided much relief to the victims of the hurricane, partly because most of them were Gullah subsistence farmers, and partly because the Cleveland administration didn't believe disaster relief was within the purview of the federal government.

The President is a Sick Man has a happy ending of sorts, in that in 1917 one of the surviving doctors, William Williams Keen, a dean of American medicine, wanted to tell the world what had happened. Cleveland's widow (the remarried Francis Cleveland Preston) agreed to it, so Dr. Keen published a long article about the operation in The Saturday Evening Post. Newspaperman E.J. Edwards was elderly at the time, but still alive, so he lived to see his vindication.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

McKinley Dies

RIP, William McKinley, 25th President of the United States

January 29, 1843 – September 14, 1901

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Andrew Lintner Harris

Andrew Lintner Harris, who died on September 13, 1915 (born 1835), was a running mate of William McKinley. Not, as it happens, when McKinley ran for president, perhaps because Harris and McKinley were both from the same state, Ohio. Rather, Harris ran for lieutenant governor of that state when McKinley ran for governor, in 1892 and 1894. They were victorious in both elections.

Harris was lieutenant governor again beginning in 1906, and became the 44th governor of Ohio when Gov. John M. Pattison died in office later that year. Harris had served the Union cause as a general -- playing an important part in the Battle of Gettysburg -- thus becoming the last Civil War general to serve as a state governor.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Battle of Chapultepec

The Battle of Chapultepec, west of Mexico City, began on September 12, 1847, between U.S. forces under Gen. Winfield Scott and a Mexican garrison under Lt. Col. Felipe Xicoténcatl. Franklin Pierce, who would become the 12th President of the United States in 1853, participated as a brigadier general.

One hundred years later, the site was visited by another U.S. president, and 50 years after that, yet another. "On March 5, 1947 President Harry S. Truman was on the next to last day of a three-day whirlwind visit to Mexico," notes "Departing from his prepared agenda, he announced that he wanted to make a stop at Mexico City's historic Chapultepec Castle. As the motorcade came to a halt by a grove of trees, Truman stepped out of his black Lincoln and walked over to a stone monument reading Niños Heroes ('Heroic Children').

Monument to the Heroic Cadets, Mexico City

"These were the six cadets who committed suicide during the Mexican-American War by leaping from the castle battlements rather than surrender. Truman laid a wreath on the monument and then stood for a few moments of silent reverence. All the while a contingent of contemporary Mexican cadets, some with tears streaming down their cheeks, stood at rigid attention.

"Truman's action, duplicated 50 years later by Bill Clinton, made him Mexico's all-time most popular U.S. president."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Annapolis Convention

The Annapolis Convention, which convened on September 11, 1786, set in motion the call for a constitutional convention. That much more famous meeting in Philadelphia the next year created the office of President of the United States. A future president was instrumental in putting together the Annapolis meeting: James Madison.

The formal name of the Annapolis Convention -- which was only five days long -- was a Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government. That is, the federal government as established by the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, whose defects, according to those who met in Annapolis, were all too obvious.

In Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution (1987), Robert K. Wright Jr. and Morris J. MacGregor Jr. wrote: "In January 1786, Virginia invited all the states to a special meeting at Annapolis in September to discuss commercial issues.

"Madison, who had been a key figure in Virginia's initiative, arrived in Annapolis on 4 September and took up lodging at George Mann's Tavern, which became the site of the Annapolis Convention. He was soon joined by eleven other elected representatives from five states.

"Virtually everyone agreed that the question of trade regulation could not be divorced from larger political issues, an area that the delegates had no authority to discuss.... When the others agreed, Alexander Hamilton prepared a draft with the assistance of Madison and Edmund Jennings Randolph. The full convention then polished the text before adjourning on the afternoon of the 14th. Each delegation carried a copy of the report back to its own legislature, while Dickinson delivered a copy to Congress. On 21 February that body endorsed the call for a convention to meet in Philadelphia on the second Monday in May of 1787 the convention that would write the Constitution."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Washington Wears a Toga

According to the web site of the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, "In 1832 the U.S. Congress commissioned sculptor Horatio Greenough to create a statue of George Washington on the occasion of the centennial of the first president’s birthday. Installed in the Capitol Rotunda after its completion, Greenough envisioned the statue to be a symbolic representation of Washington as a great exemplar of liberty.

"The completed 12-ton marble statue atop a granite pedestal and base depicted the first president wearing a chest-baring toga. While many viewers appreciated the artist’s attempt to create a timeless masterpiece, others saw only an inappropriately dressed Washington. A friend of the artist noted: 'This magnificent production of genius does not seem to be appreciated at its full value in this metropolis.'

"Greenough’s sculpture is enriched with symbols: Washington’s figure is modeled on the classic statuary of ancient Greece, seat of the world’s first democracy. Carvings on the sides depict the Greek god Apollo and an infant Hercules. Small flanking figures of an American Indian and Christopher Columbus represent the New and Old Worlds. The most important symbol, however, is the sword in Washington’s outstretched hand: this celebrates the fact that after he led the country to victory in the American Revolution, he selflessly relinquished his power to the people.

"The statue was on display in the Capitol Rotunda from 1841 to 1843 when it was relocated to the east lawn. In 1908 Congress transferred the statue to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was exhibited in the Smithsonian Castle until its relocation to the new National Museum of American History in 1964. It has resided on the second floor of the Museum ever since."

Friday, September 09, 2011

Esther Cleveland's Birthday

Esther Cleveland, second child of Grover and Francis Cleveland, was born in September 9, 1893. She has the distinction of being the only child of a sitting president born in the White House.

Other children had been born there, of course, just not presidential children. Before Esther, there had been nine births in the White House. One grandchild each was born to Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and Ulysses Grant, and John Tyler welcomed two grandchildren. Emily Donelson, Andrew Jackson's niece, gave birth to no fewer than four children in the executive mansion.

The only child born in the 20th-century White House was Francis B. Sayre Jr. (1915-2008), a grandson of Woodrow Wilson.

Esther Cleveland married Capt. William Sidney Bence Bosanquet of the British Army. Her daughter was the British philosopher Philippa Ruth Foot (1920-2010), who shared a name with Ruth Cleveland, Esther's older sister, who died in 1904 at age 12 of diphtheria. Esther Cleveland died in 1980.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Kennedy Center Opens

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, opened 40 years ago today, with the premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

According to the Kennedy Center web site, "Two months after President Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, Congress designated the National Cultural Center (designed by Edward Durell Stone) as a "living memorial" to Kennedy, and authorized $23 million to help build what was now known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

"Fundraising continued at a swift pace -- with much help coming from the Friends of the Kennedy Center volunteers, who fanned out across the nation to attract private support -- and nations around the world began donating funds, building materials, and artworks to assist in the project's completion. In December 1965, President Lyndon Johnson turned the first shovelful of earth at the Center's construction site, using the same gold-plated spade that had been used in the groundbreaking ceremonies for both the Lincoln Memorial in 1914 and the Jefferson Memorial in 1938."

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Vice President Thomas A. Hendricks

Vice presidents don't get nearly enough attention, especially 19th-century veeps who died in office after only a few months. So even though DPD has mentioned Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana, 21st Vice President of the United States, on a previous September 7, he needs another mention. Today is his 192nd birthday.

He was nearly Samuel J. Tiden's vice president, but was cheated out of the job as surely as Tiden was the presidency. Instead, William Wheeler served as vice president from 1877 to 1881.

Hendricks became vice president on March 4, 1885, at the beginning of the first Cleveland administration. He died on November 25, 1885, during a visit to Indiana, and is still there, buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

McKinley in Buffalo

The assassination of President McKinley, who was shot on September 6, 1901, and died on September 14, shocked the nation. The president had been visiting the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo when he was attacked -- which unfortunately is what the expo is best remembered for these days.

Pan American Exposition by night

James Hall, a young man employed at the expo, wrote a letter on the day after the president died:

Dear "Liz,"

Isn't it awful? After everything seemed so favorable to recovery that McKinley should pass away so suddenly - I can't realize that he is gone. That one so loved, admired, and respected by all should be called home just in the prime of his life, as he has been, seems rather hard. And to think that it was only a week ago Thursday that I saw him show himself a gracious acquaintance, an able statesman, a loving husband, a man worthy of the trust placed in him, a cautious, far-seeing unselfish leader, the man representative of his race. Yet today I saw what is left of him, quiet in the long rest and he has been called Home to be with Our Father. And so let us pray that the man who succeeds him may prove himself a worthy successor, as we believe he will....

This afternoon I took an old G.A.R. man to see the house in which McKinley died and then down to the city hall where the body was lying in state. We stood in line about two hours before we reached the bier. When we went to take the car to go home there must have been nearly fifty thousand people in line. I never saw such a crowd. Thousands couldn't possibly have reached the city hall before it was closed. Tomorrow morning the body goes to Washington....

Your brudder

This web site, which published James Hall's letter, is devoted to the expo, including the awful event of September 6, but much else besides.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Grover Cleveland & Labor Day

For most of the developed world -- and a lot of other places -- Labor Day is May 1. Not in the United States, which goes its own way on a number of things (weights and measures, soccer, national health insurance, etc.).

Labor Day has been the first Monday in September in the United States since President Cleveland, who had badly mishandled the Pullman Strike, signed a hastily passed bill in the summer of 1894 designating Labor Day as a federal holiday. Twenty-three states had already made the day a holiday.

As Slate magazine noted: "In 1894, after President Grover Cleveland ordered the brutal suppression of the Pullman Strike, he realized that he had to do something to curry favor with the labor movement, which viewed him with contempt. Worried that a May 1 holiday would encourage rabble-rousing in commemoration of the Haymarket Riot, he followed the lead of several states and made the first Monday in September a federal holiday in honor of the workingman. The political maneuver didn't achieve its desired effect, however: Cleveland lost the Democratic Party's 1896 presidential nomination to William Jennings Bryan.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sarah Polk's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Sarah Childress Polk, First Lady of the United States from 1845 to 1849. She was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1803 to Joel Childress, a prominent planter and merchant, and Elizabeth Whitsitt Childress, and educated at the Moravians' "female academy" at Salem, North Carolina, one of the very few institutions of higher learning available to women in the early 19th century. Sarah married James Knox Polk when she was 20.

"In an age when motherhood gave a woman her only acknowledged career, Sarah Polk had to resign herself to childlessness," says her White House biography. "Moreover, no lady would admit to a political role of her own, but Mrs. Polk found scope for her astute mind as well as her social skills. She accompanied her husband to Washington whenever she could, and they soon won a place in its most select social circles.

"Constantly -- but privately -- Sarah was helping him with his speeches, copying his correspondence, giving him advice. Much as she enjoyed politics, she would warn him against overwork. He would hand her a newspaper -- 'Sarah, here is something I wish you to read...' -- and she would set to work as well."

She is credited with requesting that "Hail to the Chief" be regularly played for the president during his entrances, though it had been played on occasion for previous presidents. Historian William Seale posits that Sarah Polk was concerned the President Polk "was not an impressive figure, so some announcement was necessary to avoid the embarrassment of his entering a crowded room unnoticed."

Sarah Polk outlived her husband by 42 years, passing away in 1891.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Treaty of Paris

On September 3, 1783, representatives of the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris at the Hotel d'York – now 56 Rue Jacob -- in Paris, ending the American War of Independence. Not only did the treaty eventually pave the way for an independent United States to create the office of the president under the Constitution six years later, the document was signed by one of those future presidents: John Adams. (Benjamin Franklin and John Jay also signed on behalf of the U.S.)

Benjamin West, painter at the Court of St. James's and close friend of Franklin, tried to capture the signing on canvas, but the British delegation refused to pose. Adams is second on the left.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Big Stick Speech

"A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.' If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power."

-- Vice President Theodore Roosevelt at the Minnesota State Fair, September 2, 1901.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Presidential Plaques on the Floor of the U.S. Capitol

In the Old House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol -- called Statuary Hall these days -- there are small plaques on the floor identifying the location of the desks of House members in the chamber (1807-57) who later went on to become president: J.Q. Adams, Tyler, Polk, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln and A. Johnson.

With the exception of Lincoln, these plaques are among the few memorials for these presidents in Washington, DC. Take President Fillmore, for example. Sign the Compromise of 1850 and send Perry to Japan, and that's all you get. Whatever its other seductions, high office doesn't guarantee immortal fame.