Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rutherford & Lucy Hayes Marry

Dead Presidents Daily will be back after the first of the year. Much of the first week of January will be taken up with Millard Fillmore Week, to honor the 13th President of the United States, who has the first presidential birthday in the calendar (besides being the first president born in the 1800s).

The future 19th President of the United States and First Lady married in late 1852. This photo was taken on their wedding day, December 30.

Hayes was practicing law in Cincinnati at the time. Twenty-five years and a day later, on December 31, 1877, President and Mrs. Hayes celebrated their silver anniversary with a re-enactment of their vows at the White House, presided over by Rev. Dr. Lorenzo Dow McCabe of Ohio Wesleyan University, who had originally married them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Woodrow Wilson's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Thomas Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States -- wartime leader, two-term president, internationalist, progressive, governor, academic administrator, Ph.D., racist, author, stroke victim, Noble Prize winner and more.

In Woodrow Wilson (1958), Arthur Walworth describes Wilson's coming into the world in antebellum Staunton, Virginia: "In the ground-floor chamber of the Wilson manse, near midnight on the third day after the Christmas of 1856, Jeanie Wilson gave to her Joseph his first son. They named him Thomas Woodrow, after his maternal grandfather.

"The baby was put into a well-fashioned crib and was cared for and fed by free Negroes who cooked in the cellar over an open fire, baked in a brick oven, and drew water from a well. Before the child was a month old, arctic winds swept down upon Staunton and drove snow through the cracks of less substantial houses. The town was cut off from the world for ten days.

"But in his snug home the infant was safe and warm, and grew larger and fatter than his sisters had been. In four months Jeanie Wilson was writing to her father that she had a baby whom everyone called 'beautiful,' and that he was 'just as good as he can be,' that Joseph's congregation was growing and there was 'no desirable thing' that God had not done for her."

By a curious coincidence, today is also the anniversary of the death of First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, the president's second wife and either "steward" of the presidency (her term) or conniving de facto president (critics' characterizations) during her husband's illness in late 1919 and early 1920.

Edith died at age 89 on what would have been Woodrow's 105th birthday in late 1961, having lived long enough at attend John Kennedy's inauguration.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gerald Ford Dies

Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States, died five years ago. He lived longer than any other president, dying in late 2006 at 93 years, 165 days of age, of arteriosclerotic cerebrovascular disease and diffuse arteriosclerosis -- which is to say, old age.

But he almost died a young man's death in war, during his service as an officer on the USS Monterey (CVL-26), a light aircraft carrier on which he was director of physical training, a gunnery officer, and an assistant navigator. On December 18, 1944, Lt. Ford was deck officer during the midnight to 4 a.m. watch. A typhoon blasting through the Philippine Sea buffeted the ship -- a storm so intense that it sank three U.S. destroyers that were part of Adm. William Halsey's Third Fleet, as was the Monterey.

Exhausted, Ford went below decks after his watch, but didn't sleep long. "Waking, I thought I could smell smoke," Ford said in his 1979 memoir, A Time to Heal. "I went up the passageway and out to the catwalk on the starboard side which runs around the flight deck, where I started to climb the ladder. As I stepped on the flight deck, the ship suddenly rolled about 25 degrees. I lost my footing..."

John J. Kruzel, writing for the American Forces Press Service, continues the story: "The two-inch steel ridge around the edge of the carrier slowed him enough so he could roll and twist into the catwalk below the deck. As [Ford] later stated, 'I was lucky; I could have easily gone overboard.' "

The future president also risked his life that same day by leading the fire brigade that extinguished the fire that was ravaging the ship. "At the height of the storm, 100-knot winds and towering waves rocked the Monterey and several fighter planes tore loose from their cables and collided into one another," Kruzel says. "The collisions ignited aircraft gas tanks, and soon the hangar deck was ablaze. Because of a quirk in the Monterey's construction, flames were sucked into the air intakes leading to the lower decks, spreading the fire inside the ship.

“Into this furnace, Ford led his men, his first order of business to carry out the dead and injured. Hours later, he and his team emerged burned and exhausted, but they had put out the fire.”

Monday, December 26, 2011

Harry Truman Dies

Two U.S. presidents died on the day after Christmas. The first was Harry Truman, who passed away in 1972. Exactly 34 years later, Gerald Ford died.

Today, Truman. Tomorrow, Ford. The following is an excerpt from President Truman's obituary in the New York Times by B. Drummond Ayers Jr.

"Mr. Truman's final illness was the eighth to put him in Research Hospital. The others involved four cases of intestinal infection, a broken rib, a hernia and appendicitis.

"The final period of illness began in late November as a case of minor lung congestion. Doctors initially treated him at home.

"But they ordered him hospitalized on Dec. 5 when the congestion grew worse and his heart, already weakened by a long struggle with hardening of the arteries, began to beat irregularly under the strain.

"At daybreak of the 18th day of his hospitalization, Mr. Truman went through was doctor's called a 'dangerous period' as his blood pressure dropped and his temperature rose.

"Mr. Truman's condition was changed from 'very serious' to 'critical' and his doctors and nurses began to monitor him almost constantly, particularly as his breathing became labored, his kidney output decreased, fluid built in his lungs and his heart began to flutter.

"On Christmas morning, the former President was so weak that that his doctors said that death could come 'within hours.'

"Today, it finally came.

"The room in which the former President died is on the sixth floor of Research Hospital, a 500-bed facility he helped dedicate in 1963. Two red and green Christmas bells hang in the window, which looks east toward Independence and the recently completed baseball and football stadium of the Harry S. Truman sports complex.

"The room cost $59.50 a day. In Mr. Truman's case it was paid for by private medical insurance and Medicare. Long an advocate of Federal Health plans, Mr. Truman held Medicare card number 1. He had not been able to push such a plan through during his own presidency, but Lyndon B. Johnson was more successful and came to Independence in 1965 to sign the Medicare Act in the Truman Library, enrolling the former President as the first member.

"It was a final political victory for Harry S. Truman."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A TR Christmas

Merry Christmas from Dead Presidents Daily. Back again after Christmas Day.

"We had a delightful Christmas yesterday -- just such a Christmas thirty or forty years ago we used to have under Father's and Mother's supervision in 20th street and 57th street.

"At seven all the children came in to open the big, bulgy stockings in our bed; Kermit's terrier, Allan, a most friendly little dog, adding to the children's delight by occupying the middle of the bed. From Alice to Quentin, each child was absorbed in his or her stocking, and Edith certainly managed to get the most wonderful stocking toys. Bob was in looking on, and Aunt Emily, of course.

"Then, after breakfast, we all formed up and went into the library, where bigger toys were on separate tables for the children. I wonder whether there ever can come in life a thrill of greater exaltation and rapture than that which comes to one between the ages of say six and fourteen, when the library door is thrown open and you walk in to see all the gifts, like a materialized fairy land, arrayed on your special table?"

-- President Theodore Roosevelt, December 26, 1903, in a letter to his sister, Corinne Robinson. (The National Christmas Tree pictured, selected for being picturesque, is from another era: 1981, the first tree of the Reagan administration.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lincoln and the Dakota Uprising

In the summer of 1862, President Lincoln had a great deal on his mind. The distant Minnesota frontier probably wasn't a high priority, considering everything else that was going on. Then in August the frontier along the Minnesota River exploded in a spasm of violence known as the Dakota War, or the Dakota Uprising, or the Sioux Uprising. Several bands of eastern Sioux, angered by Indian agent swindles and broken treaty promises, attacked settlers along the Minnesota River, killing as many as 800 before the U.S. army, along with Minnesota volunteers and allied Indians, crushed the uprising in the fall.

Unjust treatment of the Indians might have been a proximate cause of the fighting, but in The Dakota War: The United States Army Versus the Sioux, 1862-1865 (1998), Michael D. Clodfelter posits a more fundamental clash. "Central to the culture of the Plains tribes and ingrained in their history and philosophy was the warrior ethos," he writes. "Boundaries between tribes had rarely been negotiated without prior recourse to war. The introduction of white settlers to the Plains amounted to, in effect, a new tribe entering the arena of an ancient war. The white intruders, in turn, were used to a history of fighting for land.

The Siege of New Ulm, Minn., by Henry August Schwabe.

"The two cultures were ultimately irreconcilable. Even though there were individuals on both sides who argued for reason rather than violence, theirs were minority voices. Even if those had belonged to people in power, the individuality and democracy of both societies guaranteed that the young men of both cultures, reared on tales of glory of war, would ignore the concerns of their elders and seek their idea of justice in battle.

"Young braves were enraged as they witnessed their weary old chiefs sell their birthrights for beads and booze. Young officers and frontier commanders were infuriated by a government policy of sanctuary, whereby Indian marauders could return to government-protected reservations after they had tired of a season of raiding and scalping. The series of minor conflicts on the frontier in the 1850s was only a harbinger: a greater clash between the cultures was inevitable."

At the end of the fighting in 1862, more than 1,000 Indians were taken prisoner, and by early December, 303 Sioux were sentenced to death by military tribunals, mostly in swift trials that many of the defendants probably did not fully understand.

President Lincoln himself read the trial records. Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey, among others, argued against clemency for the Indians; others, notably Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota, argued for clemency.

In the end, Lincoln authorized the execution of 39 Indians, and 38 of those (with one more reprieved) were duly hanged in public on December 26, 1862, at Mankato, Minnesota. It was the largest mass hanging in U.S. history.

Later, then-Sen. Ramsey told Lincoln that the Republican Party would have received more votes in 1864 had the president hanged more Indians in 1862. ""I could not afford to hang men for votes," Lincoln reportedly said.

The text of President Lincoln's letter authorizing the executions reads: "Ordered that of the Indians and Half-breeds sentenced to be hanged by the military commission, composed of Colonel Crooks, Lt. Colonel Marshall, Captain Grant, Captain Bailey, and Lieutenant Olin, and lately sitting in Minnesota, you cause to be executed on Friday the nineteenth day of December, instant, the following names, to wit [39 names listed by case number of record]. The other condemned prisoners you will hold subject to further orders, taking care that they neither escape, nor are subjected to any unlawful violence.

Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bomb the Bejesus Out of Them

"They can't impeach me for bombing Cambodia. The president can bomb anybody he likes."

-- Richard M. Nixon in Nixon (1995)

In December 1972, the Nixon administration ordered a brief, exceeding violent bombing of North Vietnam, known to history as the "Christmas Bombing," but whose code name was "Operation Linebacker II." From December 18 to 29, with a day off for Christmas itself, the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps flew 3,420 sorties and dropped nearly 16,000 tons of ordnance on North Vietnam.

Widely denounced at the time and later -- though it has some defenders -- the move stands as an example of war "as the continuation of politics by other means." The administration asserted that the bombing was to get the North Vietnamese back to the bargaining table in Paris, to conclude a peace deal. A less straightforward motive has also been suggested -- namely, that the bombing was a way to get the South Vietnamese government to go along with a settlement in Paris, by showing them that the U.S. government was still willing to fight on their behalf.

The December 14, 1972, meeting between President Nixon, U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, and Al Haig, then deputy national security advisor, was captured on tape. In "Memoirs v. Tapes: President Nixon & the December Bombings," the Nixon Library describes the roundabout decision-making that occurred during that meeting, as documented by the tape recordings.

"When this round of talks finally broke down on December 13, both sides placed blame on each other," the library notes, referring to the Paris Peace Talks. "Although the talks were scheduled to resume in two weeks, the Nixon administration decided to reassess its entire approach. On December 14, in a meeting captured on tape, Kissinger and Haig discussed the next steps with the President....

"This presidential recording is our best evidence of how Kissinger persuaded President Nixon it was time to bomb. The President continued to believe the talks had reached an 'impasse,' whereas Kissinger was convinced the talks were finished without a change in the situation on the ground in Vietnam.

"Joined by Haig, Kissinger advocated 'bombing the bejesus out of them' and stated the U.S. needed to continue the bombing campaign for six months. Although less resistant than he had been earlier in the month to the idea of launching a new bombing campaign, President Nixon thought Kissinger unrealistic in thinking Congress would fund a six-month bombing assault on the North. President Nixon knew that a priority of the new Congress would be extricating the U.S. from Vietnam. Any bombing would have to be done before they came back into session.

"At no point during the conversation does the President say, 'OK, Henry, you are right. It's time to bomb.' But by the end of the 1 hour, 39 minute conversation, all three men are speaking of bombing as an inevitability."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Taft Pardons Van Schaick

On December 19, 1912, President William Howard Taft, during the waning days of his administration, exercised his power to grant pardons by giving one to Capt. William H. Van Schaick. In the summer of 1904, Schaick was skipper of the General Slocum, an excursion paddlewheeler that caught fire in the East River off New York City. More than a thousand people died in the disaster, and the captain was eventually convicted of criminal negligence in the incident, which was New York's worst case of mass death until September 11, 2001.

When he received his pardon, Van Schaick had served three-and-a-half years of his 10-year sentence in Sing Sing, but had been paroled earlier in 1912. His wife and other supporters had been campaigning for clemency since his sentencing. President Roosevelt had declined to pardon Van Schaick, but President Taft decided otherwise. Naturally, the decision upset many others, especially relatives of those who died on the General Slocum and their sympathizers.

Yet the president was within his rights. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gives him broad pardoning powers: "The President ... shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."

Jurist, which is maintained by the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, notes that there have been attempts to curtain that authority: "Shortly after President Gerald Ford’s controversial pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974, then-Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would have added the following sentence to the pardon clause: 'No pardon granted an individual by the President under section 2 of Article II shall be effective if Congress by resolution, two-thirds of the members of each House concurring therein, disapproves the granting of the pardon within 180 days of its issuance.'

"In 1993, a member of the House of Representatives introduced a Resolution proposing the following language: 'The President shall only have the power to grant a reprieve or a pardon for an offense against the United States to an individual who has been convicted of such an offense.'... In 2000, the proposed Crime Victims Rights Amendment provided that a victim of crime or violence had the right 'to reasonable notice of and an opportunity to submit a statement concerning any proposed pardon or commutation of a sentence.' "

None of these efforts went anywhere. President Obama has essentially the same pardoning power that President Washington did (who used it sparingly, however, pardoning only 16 people in his two terms).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Site of Jackson's Law Practice Sold

The Tennessean has reported that 333 Union St. in downtown Nashville has traded hands. The buyer, Nashville-area radio host Dave Ramsey, got the office property for $1.6 million, considerably less than its last sale price of $3.7 million in 2007, before the nationwide commercial real estate contraction. Ramsey hasn't disclosed his plans for the building yet.

In 1996, the Nashville Bar Association erected a marker on the building. It says, "Andrew Jackson settled in Nashville in 1788 and served as Atty. Gen. until 1796. Lawyer John Overton owned a building here (1791-96) and shared office space with his friend Jackson. Jackson was Tennessee's first Rep. to Congress (1796) and state Superior Court judge (1798-1804). He led U.S. troops to victory at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans and was elected President in 1828."

Old Hickory is well known for many things, such as dueling and leading men into battle and hanging miscreants and showing President Adams the door in 1828 and for the characteristic saying, "One man with courage makes a majority." He's less well known for his legal and legislative careers, as sketched above. Aside from Abraham Lincoln, Jackson probably counts as the nation's most famed country lawyer, who attains the position by reading law.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Letter to President Adams: "The Death of the Great and Good General Washington"


MOUNT VERNON, December 15, 1799.


SIR: It is with inexpressible grief that I have to announce to you the death of the great and good General Washington. He died last evening between 10 and 11 o'clock, after a short illness of about twenty hours. His disorder was an inflamatory sore throat, which proceeded from a cold of which he made but little complaint on Friday. On Saturday morning about 3 o'clock he became ill.

Dr. Craik attended him in the morning, and Dr. Dick, of Alexandria, and Dr. Brown, of Port Tobacco, were soon after called in. Every medical assistance was offered, but without the desired effect. His last scene corresponded with the whole tenor of his life; not a groan nor a complaint escaped him in extreme distress. With perfect resignation and in full possession of his reason, he closed his well-spent life.

I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, sir, your most obedient and very humble servant,


Lear (1762-1816), pictured above, was Washington's personal secretary at the time of the former president's death.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

George Washington Dies

RIP, George Washington, First President of the United States, 1789-1797.

February 22, 1732 (N.S.) - December 14, 1799

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Presidential Coin Production Slashed

In a cost-cutting move, the Treasury Department has directed the U.S. Mint to stop producing presidential coins for circulation, beginning immediately. Going forward, instead of producing 70 million to 80 million coins per president, the mint will now only produce as many as collectors want, which will be sold at a profit to the federal government.

The last president to have circulating dollar coins, then, will be James Garfield, whose coin was released last month. There are 18 more presidents scheduled for the series, with the next four presidents slated for 2012 -- Arthur, Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and McKinley.

The coins are victim the longstanding popular resistance to using dollar coins instead of the iconic dollar bill. The Federal Reserve estimates that it has roughly 1.4 billion presidential coins in storage, since demand for them has been been so meager.

There's an upside for collectors, however. The dollar coins from Washington to Garfield aren't particularly valuable, since there are so many of them. A steep drop in mintage will likely make the rest of the series more valuable in the long run.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Worried Washington

On the occasion of John Jay's birthday (born 1745), the following are excepts from a letter from George Washington to Jay (pictured). Jay was a confidant of Washington's, so much so that he offered Jay the position of Secretary of State in 1789 in the newly forming government under the Constitution. Jay declined that post, which went to Thomas Jefferson. Instead, Washington appointed Jay to be the first Chief Justice of the United States, a position he held for nearly six years, though had he held on to it as a lifetime post, he would have been on the bench until 1829 -- John Marshall would have had to find something else to do.

Before all that, in 1786, a worried Washington wrote to Jay: "Your sentiments, that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own. What the event will be is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct. We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation... I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation, without having lodged somewhere a power which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner, as the authority of the different state governments extends over the several States.

"Many are of opinion that Congress have too frequently made use of the suppliant humble tone of requisition, in applications to the States, when they had a right to assume their imperial dignity and command obedience. Be that as it may, requisitions are a perfect nihility, where thirteen sovereign, independent[,] disunited States are in the habit of discussing & refusing compliance with them at their option. Requisitions are actually little better than a jest and a bye word through out the Land.

"What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking, thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable & tremendous! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal & falacious!"

The entire letter is here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Brooklyn Statue of Lincoln to be Relocated

The Wall Street Journal has reported on a plan to move a statue of Abraham Lincoln now standing in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, to Grand Army Plaza, the borough's monument to the Union war victory. Actually, move the statue back to the plaza, after it was removed in the 1890s.

"It should be noted that it isn't easy for a statue to find a place to park in Brooklyn, and this one of Lincoln has been circling the block since 1869," writes Barry Newman. "That's when it was put up in the plaza — the first time — by Calvert Vaux and his partner Frederick Law Olmsted, the Lincoln partisan and landscaper of Prospect Park. It was the nation's very first monument to Lincoln, 20 feet tall and paid for by donations of $1 apiece from 13,000 Brooklynites. Olmsted placed it on the commanding northern edge of his plaza's ellipse."

But later, "a grandiose triumphal arch went up in the plaza in 1892, trolley tracks were laid. 'The boys,' said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, began making Lincoln 'a target for every kind of missile.' The dour president was out of place. In 1895, he was hauled to a Prospect Park lakeside..."

With the current renovation of Prospect Park to its original Olmsted design, moving the Lincoln statue back to its original location seems like the thing to do. But it would mean dislocating a statue of pioneering gynecologist Dr. Alexander Skene at the site, and not everyone is happy about that.

The article continues: "Tony Horwitz, whose new book, Midnight Rising, carves a warts-and-all Lincoln figure, puts it like this: 'He's on the penny, he's on the Mall. Enough Lincoln, already. It's time gynecologists get their due.' "

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Colin Kelly Letter

In a letter dated December 7, 1941 -- symbolically, since it was written a little later -- President Roosevelt made a poignant request.

To the President of the United States in 1956:

I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.

My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage — Colin P. Kelly, III — for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation's appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.

In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.

Capt. Colin P. Kelly Jr. (pictured, in a painting by Deane Keller), a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber pilot, died on December 10, 1941, in action against the Japanese in the Philippines, saving the crew of his B-17 at the cost of his own life. Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

His very young son, on whose behalf President Roosevelt wrote to his unknown successor, did indeed attend West Point, with President Eisenhower appointing Colin P. Kelly III to the academy in 1959. He graduated in 1963 and served in the military, but his life's work is as an Episcopal priest.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Twilight of the Lincoln Penny?

One C.G.P. Grey, who posts educational videos on YouTube, has it in for the Lincoln cent, a coin minted by the United States since 1909, though the history of the U.S. one-cent piece goes back to the founding of the Republic.

"The U.S. sure has Lincolnified the penny within an inch of its life," he says at the end of the video. [But] sooner or later, even the most ardent Lincoln-lovers will have to give up the penny. They cost more than they're worth, they waste people's time, they don't work as money, and because of inflation, they're less valuable every year, making all the other problems worse. Sorry, Abe, but it's time to kill the penny."

Monday, December 05, 2011

Polk: There's Gold in California. And Much More

On December 5, 1848, President Polk transmitted his fourth and final Annual Message to Congress ("State of the Union" wasn't the term until Franklin Roosevelt's time). As was the custom during the 19th century, Polk sent a written message to Congress, rather than making a speech. Wilson revived the annual speech-making custom, which had lapsed in Jefferson's time.

In Polk's message, he confirmed some common knowledge about gold in California. "It was known that mines of the precious metals existed to a considerable extent in California at the time of its acquisition," the president noted. "Recent discoveries render it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated. The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service who have visited the mineral district and derived the facts which they detail from personal observation.

"Reluctant to credit the reports in general circulation as to the quantity of gold, the officer commanding our forces in California visited the mineral district in July last for the purpose of obtaining accurate information on the subject. His report to the War Department of the result of his examination and the facts obtained on the spot is herewith laid before Congress."

Not just a gold strike, in other words, but a lot of gold. Gold that would inspire an historic gold rush, and figure no small part in the development of California as a part of the United States, and indeed of the whole country.

But Polk knew that the value of California to the United States was much greater than any gold that might be extracted. He spoke with uncanny foresight, considering that in our time, California has, despite recent setbacks, the seventh- or eighth-largest economy in the world, counted as a separate entity -- larger than Brazil and almost as large as Italy.

"Upper California, irrespective of the vast mineral wealth recently developed there, holds at this day, in point of value and importance, to the rest of the Union the same relation that Louisiana did when that fine territory was acquired from France forty-five years ago," Polk emphasized. "Extending nearly ten degrees of latitude along the Pacific, and embracing the only safe and commodious harbors on that coast for many hundred miles, with a temperate climate and an extensive interior of fertile lands, it is scarcely possible to estimate its wealth until it shall be brought under the government of our laws and its resources fully developed.

"From its position it must command the rich commerce of China, of Asia, of the islands of the Pacific, of western Mexico, of Central America, the South American States, and of the Russian possessions bordering on that ocean. A great emporium will doubtless speedily arise on the Californian coast which may be destined to rival in importance New Orleans itself."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Senate Shows Breckinridge the Door

The U.S. Senate expelled former Vice President and southern Democratic nominee for president John C. Breckinridge in early December 1861. He had been a Senator from the commonwealth only since March 4 of the same year, following the expiration of his single term as President Buchanan's VP.

From the Journal of the Senate 2nd Session, 37th Congress:

Wednesday, December 4, 1861

Mr. Chandler submitted the following resolution for consideration:

"Resolved, That John C. Breckinridge be, and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate."

The Senate proceeded, by unanimous consent, to consider the resolution; and the same having been amended, on the motion of Mr. Trumbull, to read as follows:

"Whereas John C. Breckinridge, a member of this body from the State of Kentucky, has joined the enemies of his country, and is now in arms against the Government he had sworn to support: Therefore,

"Resolved, That John C. Breckinridge, the traitor, be, and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate."

Breckinridge wasn't around for his expulsion. Fearing arrest, he had already skedaddled behind Confederate lines. "I exchange with proud satisfaction a term of six years in the United States Senate for the musket of a soldier,” he wrote.

He became an important general in the service of the CSA, seeing action at Shiloh, Stones River, New Market and Cold Harbor, among other places. In the last months of the war, he was the final Confederate Secretary of War. After the war he spent a few years in exile, but returned the Kentucky after President Johnson's unconditional Christmas Day amnesty in 1868, resuming his legal work and becoming a railroad executive. He died in 1875 at a relatively young 54.

More on Breckinridge's decision to go south is at Disunion, the New York Times blog about the Civil War, 150 years after it happened.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dead Presidents: December

Three U.S. presidents were born in December: Van Buren (1782), Andrew Johnson (1808) and Wilson (1856). Three presidents also died in December: Washington (1799), Truman (1972) and Ford (2006).

Van Buren was born just before the United States won its independence in 1783, but he doesn't have the distinction of being the last president born before independence to hold the office. One-monther William Henry Harrison, who succeeded Van Buren, was considerably older, having been born not only before American independence was won, but even before it was declared (he was born in 1773).

Woodrow Wilson was the last president born before the Civil War to hold the office. His successor, Warren Harding, was the first one born after that war -- just barely, in November 1865.

George Washington was the first president born, the first to hold the office, and the first to die. Moreover, he was the only president whose entire live span fell within the 18th century.

Only two men who have been Vice President of the United States were born in December: Martin Van Buren and Andrew Johnson. No vice president who hasn't also been president has ever been born in December.