Friday, March 31, 2006

Game Time!

Well, I was searching for something fun to do since it is Friday…and I found some online games on the Presidents. You get to learn something and have fun!

Presidential Hangman
This is just regular hangman – you guess letters and then try to figure out which President you are spelling. The great thing about this is that you can keep playing – there are all the presidents to choose from the computer brings up a new puzzle and since they are in random order its never ending fun!

20th Century President’s Crossword
This is only good for one time, but it is a great puzzle and could be of use in a classroom.

President Concentration
You have to match the fact with the President while at the same time remember where the right cards (it just like the game show Concentration – only with Presidents). There are only a few variations.

Presidential Matching
This is just a simple matching game – find the fact that goes with the right President. This also only has a few variations.

Presidential Word Search
This is a word search, but you are given facts about the President and you have to find their names. This is only good for time through, but also could be useful in a classroom setting.

Hope you have as much fun at these sites as I did!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

National First Ladies Library

Me in front of the Saxton House
To counter Michael’s sad post on the diminishing number of visitors to presidential libraries, I’m going to talk about my trip to the first ladies library. I spent yesterday touring the National First Ladies Library and First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton, Ohio. The Historic Site is the Saxton McKinley House that was Ida McKinley’s ancestoral home. I actually also ended up signing up volunteer there. We just moved to the Akron/Canton area and this was my first trip to the library and museum.

The Saxton-McKinley House has been beautifully restored and is a Victorian showpiece. Not only has been restored to the state it was during the McKinley’s lifetime, there are many artifacts from all the First Ladies on display. The house tour is led by a costumed docent. Ours was dressed as Lucretia Garfield. The education center, which houses the library and archives, was once a bank and is also gorgeous. When they were restoring the bank they found pink marble floors that had been covered up! The library is still small, but shows great promise (they are working on an audio/visual project with Carl Anthony that looks to be awesome!). I didn’t get to see the archives as the archivist was out ill, but I will be back to see them. The current display on the main floor is “Private Wives, Public Lives” which includes dresses of Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Edith Wilson and more! There is a curling iron that was Abigail Adams that truly made me glad I didn’t have to use it.
If you can’t get to the Canton area, you can take an online tour of the Saxton House or search their catalogue. I think these are features that more and more libraries and museums are using that people feel are as good as visiting them in person (its not, but that’s a entire other post). I would like to see how many visitors libraries and musuems get each year to their websites and online catalogues. With those, I bet they would be at their regular visitor numbers or higher.

This is definitely a tour everyone should partake of if they are in Canton area. And if you come after I receive my training, you might just get a tour led by me…as Sarah Polk, of course (my favorite First Lady).

To leave you with, here is a piece of trivia from their site:

Lucy Hayes thought herself “too light” to be married to Rutherford B. Hayes. By "light” she meant her mind being too lightweight.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Visitors passing on presidents' libraries

Visitors passing on presidents' libraries. Can you believe that people are passing on visiting presidential libraries? As a librarian, and a fan of the American Presidency, I am just shocked! OK, not really.

The article notes, "For example, the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum has seen its attendance plummet nearly 60 percent during the last six years. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum has weathered an 18 percent drop-off during the same period."

I have visited the Gerald R. Ford Library and enjoyed it. However, I can understand why the average tourist might not find a visit to a presidential library exciting.

Maybe these libraries need to find some way to make a visit fun? Perhaps actors dressed up as a president, an apple festival, a dunk the presidential library director contest, trick or treat with the president at Halloween, etc. Or maybe not. If scholars can find what they need, it really does not matter how many tourists find their way in. But still, there should be some ways to make these places more interesting.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Millard Fillmore Was A Know-Nothing

I write the following sentence on the board: Millard Fillmore was a know nothing.

I ask students to tell me what the sentence means.

“Well…..somebody isn’t too smart,” a student volunteers.

Another comment is added. “That guy, Mil-, Mil-. That Mil- guy doesn’t know nothing.” I ignore the grammatical error. At this point it will just confuse them.

I try to turn students in another direction. “What are nouns?”

Someone regurgitates “Words that name people, places, ideas, and things.”

I counter with, “What’s our strategy to find nouns?” Several seconds go by. I hold up my board marker and point to it. Several hands go up.

“We look for noun markers like the words a, an, and the.”

“Good, take a look at the sentence again. What do you see?”

“Know nothing is a noun. It has an “a” in front of it.”

“Yes. So is Millard Fillmore stupid?”

“No, somebody is calling him a name.”

“What else do you notice about the words “Know” and “Nothing”?

After several tries someone tells me that the words are capitalized. I counter with a “So what?”

A show of hands. I choose someone. “Know-Nothing is a name for something.”

“Yes, but a name for what?”

I end our little language arts episode by telling students that Millard Fillmore was our 13th president and he was a member of a group called the Know-Nothings. I tell students their goal during the lesson is to determine how Fillmore became a Know-Nothing and what the group represented.

Millard Fillmore was a fine example of the American Dream. He grew up on a farm in the Fingerlakes region of New York. He attended a one room schoolhouse. By fifteen he was apprenticed to a clothes dresser. He worked hard and by 1823 was admitted to the bar. He got involved in politics and worked his way up through the ranks by serving as a New York legislator and later became a member of Congress. He was elected vice president to serve with Zachary Taylor in 1848.

As vice president Fillmore presided over the Senate. He remained fairly closed mouth concerning his position on the Compromise of 1850 aka the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but privately told President Taylor that if the vote was tied he would vote in favor of the bill.

Taylor died unexpectedly and Fillmore became the thirteenth president. The new administration had conciliatory views concerning the main issue dividing the country at the time----slavery----which was a 180 degree turn from the previous administration.

Fillmore said, “God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil…and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Fillmore’s presidency resulted in five important bills:
*Admit California as a free state
*Settle the Texas boundary and compensate her
*Grant territorial status to New Mexico
*Place federal officers at the disposal of slaveholders seeking fugitives (Fugitive Slave Law)
*Abolish the slave trade in the District of Columbia

Find out more about the Kansas-Nebraska Act here.

Northern Whigs were upset with the Fugitive Slave law. They broke with Fillmore and refused to nominate him as their party’s candidate in the election of 1852.

In 1856, Fillmore accepted the presidential nomination of the Know-Nothing or American Party. Per Wikipedia when a member of the party was asked about the group’s activities, he was supposed to reply, “I know nothing.” They were a Nativist group that feared Catholics would gain too much control of state and local governments and opposed their immigration. They wanted to use government power to push their agenda regarding a Protestant Anglo-Saxon society. They called for limits on immigration, wanted to limit political office to native-born Americans only, and called for a twenty-one year wait for immigrants to become citizens. Other extreme desires of the Know-Nothings were a limit on the sale of liquor, restrictions on public school teaching to Protestants only, and to have their version of the Protestant Bible read daily in classrooms. Though Fillmore did not win the election he did receive 22% of the vote and the Know-Nothings were eventually absorbed into the Republican Party.

See President Fillmore’s grave marker here
See President Fillmore’s home here

Monday, March 27, 2006

Jefferson's Poplar Forest

Jefferson's Poplar Forest. Official site of Jefferson's retreat located in Lynchburg, Va. It supplies visitor information, an events schedule, and a brief history lesson.

The site description reads, "Discover the unexpected Jefferson at his octagonal retreat built at his Poplar Forest plantation in Bedford County, near Lynchburg, VA."

Of course, Thomas Jefferson's main home was Monticello. However, he was also proud of his Poplar Forest residence. He wrote of the house, "When finished, it will be the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen."

There are a variety of short history articles here describing how the house was restored, Jefferson's life at Poplar Forest, and landscaping/architecture. There are also several articles which discuss the controversy of such a great man owning slaves. These articles attempt to portray Jefferson in a positive light as an enlightened master for his time. The articles on Slavery at Poplar Forest and Jefferson's View of Slavery in particular do this.

This looks like a neat place to visit. At some point, I would like to see both Monticello and Poplar Forest.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Rate the Dead Presidents

This is a fun website that offers a lot of interesting information, but what I see as the most fun is that you can rate the presidents. You can just give a number or even write up a comment on your rating if you prefer (and then read what others have written). I swear I wrote comments on this page years ago, but I can't find them...I will have do some digging!

There also is a great page that quotes presidents on each other, some of which are very humorous! Some quotes (I picked some nice and some not so nice):

The next man on my list of great presidents, a man who isn't much thought of these days, is James K. Polk. ....He exercised his powers of the presidency as I think they should be exercised. He was president during the Mexican War, and he was living in an age when the terrible burden of making decisions in a war was entirely in the hands of the president. And when that came about, he decided that that was much more important than going to parties and shaking hands with people. I know exactly how he felt, but in my time there were more able and informed people who were helping the president, and that made a difference. James K. Polk, a great president. Said what he intended to do and did it. --Harry Truman

McKinley has a chocolate éclair backbone. --Theodore Roosevelt, 1898

The honest, simple-hearted soldier had not added prestige to the presidential office. He himself knew that he had failed...that he ought never to have been made President.... He combined great gifts with great mediocrity. --Woodrow Wilson, 1902

Lincoln had a very deep feeling for people, but... he could be tough in a crisis. No one pushed him around. He was a very skillful political operator. --Richard Nixon

The rest of the Dead Presidents Website is devoted to one man’s quest to visit all the presidential gravesites. You can see the information and pictures he has posted.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

World War Two and George HW Bush

The first President Bush was a war hero. He was a navy pilot during World War Two. By 1944, he had flown 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded aboard the San Jacinto.

He also almost died. Wikipedia notes, "After finishing flight training he was assigned to Torpedo squadron (VT-51) as photographic officer in September 1943. As part of Air Group 51, his squadron was based on U.S.S. San Jacinto in the spring of 1944. San Jacinto was part of Task Force 58 that participated in operations against Marcus and Wake Islands in May, and then in the Marianas during June. On June 19 the task force triumphed in one of the largest air battles of the war. On his return from the mission Bush's aircraft made a forced water landing. A submarine rescued the young pilot, although the plane was lost as well as the life of his navigator."

In all, the San Jacinto suffered a 50% casualty rate among pilots during the war. President Bush was very fortunate to have survived World War Two.

What if Bush had died like his navigator did in 1944? How different would history have been? How would this impact the current world? There would have been no George HW Bush vice-presidency or presidency. Further, George W. and Jeb would have never been born so they would not now be President of the USA and Governor of Florida. I have the feeling that alternate history writers are going to have a field day with this scenario someday.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Tale of Four Favorite Sons

The Election of 1824 gives students a tremendous opportunity to analyze the problems sectionalism caused. Four men ran for president. Amazingly all four were Republicans and all were favorite sons of their region. That’s where the similarities end.

Candidate number one, John Quincy Adams, hailed from Massachusetts and was the son of our second president, John Adams. It would be extremely safe to say that John Quincy was an extremely intelligent man. He was one of those poor souls who had a hard time relating to others because he was so intelligent. It was said that Adams was as “hard as a piece of granite and cold as a lump of ice.” He was not likable and did not bargain well. He had served as President Monroe’s Secretary of State and was pushing for internal improvements to the American infrastructure.

Henry Clay was candidate number two. He was from Kentucky which was then considered the “west”. Clay was the Speaker of the House and favored the American System which included the national bank, a protective tariff, and nationwide internal improvements.

Andrew Jackson of Tennessee was candidate number three and competed with Clay for western votes. He danced around issues and focused on his war hero status at the Battle of New Orleans when campaigning.

The fourth and final candidate was William Crawford, a firm supporter of states’ rights, was from Georgia by way of Virginia, and was a favorite son of the South. He constantly spoke out for large planters against the rights of yeoman farmers. He was a strict interpreter of the Constitution. He had served in the Senate, been minister to France, and had served as Monroe’s Secretary of the Treasury. It was said that he was a great storyteller and was a real people person. He received the endorsement of Martin Van Buren as well as Jefferson and Madison though they did not make a public endorsement. Crawford was one of the first politicians to understand the importance of a “political machine”. He began this in 1820 with the passage of a bill that limited the terms of minor federal appointees to four years. He realized that a handful of properly distributed petty offices could win thousands of votes. Unfortunately he was unable to campaign much because he had suffered from paralytic strokes.

People in the west wanted cheap land. The north feared cheap land in the west would drain off surplus labor and force wages up. The South feared competition if the southwestern lands were developed for large scale farming. Though these were real concerns to the American citizens the four candidates did not make the issues the real focus. No candidate took a position either way on any issue. They were too scared they would alienate the other regions. Instead the election of 1824 was waged on a personal level rather than real issues, and only one quarter of the registered voters showed up at the polls.

Jackson won the popular vote, but no candidate won the majority of the electoral college. Therefore the election would be decided by the House of Representatives. They would choose from the top three. Clay was eliminated, but amazingly was still involved since he was Speaker of the House.

Clay and Jackson disliked each other, so Clay threw his support behind Adams. Adams ended up winning the election with 13 votes, Jackson received 7, and Crawford received 4 votes.

The election of 1828, started almost immediately as Adams appointed Clay as his Secretary of State. Jackson’s supporters called this action the “Corrupt Bargain” and accused Clay of arranging a deal where votes would be exchanged for cabinet positions. No proof of this was ever given, however, the Adams’ presidency was off to a rocky start.

Jackson and his supporters were outraged. They broke from the party and called their new faction the Democratic Republicans. Eventually they shortened their name to simply “Democrats”. Adam’s supporters and their faction of the party would be known as National Republicans.

Adams’ presidency was tainted from the beginning because of the Clay appointment. He never got the support from Congress that he needed.

During his time in office Adams called for government money to be spent on scientific research, a national university, and astronomical observatories. As he attempted to garner support for his road building program John Quincy cited the rulers of Europe. These high reaching goals resulted in fears that Adams was returning to his father’s Federalists policies. Critics compared Adams to a Royalist. People protested that his proposals would be wasting the taxpayers’ money. He did eventually receive money for a national road, but that’s about it.

Looking back on it now many of Adams’ goals were very progressive and worthwhile, however, he remained out of step with common Americans at the time. For example, when he wanted to gain wide support for a Federal bankruptcy law, rather than process his support in language most Americans could understand, John Quincy called for the “amelioration” of the “often oppressive codes relating to insolvency”. Most Americans said, “Huh?”

Even students as young as ten and eleven can review these events and see the waste. The brilliance of John Quincy Adams was misused, four intelligent and powerful men misused the issues in their attempt to become president, and the American people were still too immature in their liberty to demand more from their politicians and ultimately from themselves.

In the end I fear we are still too immature in our liberty.

White House…and Internet…Phantoms

No, I’m not talking about ghosts, but rather First Ladies. We often talk about women who excelled in the role of White House hostess, but just as we sometimes forget obscure Presidents we also tend to forget obscure First Ladies. First Ladies don’t campaign (well in modern society they do a lot of campaigning with their husbands, but you know what I mean) for office, rather they might not have ever supposed when they married their husband that he would one day be President. In the case of these two women, they actively tried to talk their husbands out of running for the office. Now I went looking for information on these two obscure First Ladies (Carl Anthony used the term “phantom” to refer to Peggy Taylor if you want to know where I got it from) and really found there was little information online beyond the obligatory biography in the “usual” places (the White House, the National First Ladies Library, etc.) and that they really were extremely similar and offered little new or exciting to get us interested in these women. So I decided to add some information from my own library to rectify that problem in a small way. The links are to what I considered the most in depth biographies available online.

Jane Pierce detested the life of a politician’s wife and repeatedly tried to get her husband to get out of politics. He told her that did not actively seek the nomination and only ran because they nominated him anyway. She found after his election that this was a lie. She agreed to go to DC, though, but on the way there her son, Bennie, was killed in a train wreck. Jane Pierce (Mrs. Pierce’s father was a religious fanatic and she took to many of his beliefs) blamed her husband for the boy’s death, deciding the God had killed the boy so Franklin would have no distractions while in office. She went into mourning for two years, refusing to come out and even go so hold a séance at the White House, trying to reach her son’s spirit. Even after this period, she did very little as First Lady. [Source: Carl Anthony’s First Ladies, vol. 1, pg. 157 – 159] Carl Anthony wrote: “She cast a permanent pall on the administration and rendered Pierce’s political career – which she so detested – and Washington – which she viewed with condescension – obsolete in her sphere.” [Anthony, 159]

Rumors abounded about why Margaret Taylor was never seen while her husband was President. Some said she was an embarrassment to the family and too “uncouth” to be seen in public or said she hated politics. The truth was she was a educated, genteel Southern lady, who had grown up with Martha Washington’s granddaughters. Margaret “Peggy” Taylor prayed that Henry Clay would be nominated in place of her husband for President. While she did not act as the White House hostess (her daughter Betty Bliss did instead), she did entertain special guests in her upstairs rooms. [Source: Carl Anthony’s First Ladies, vol. 1, pg. 145-147] According to legend, Peggy Taylor prayed that her husband would survive the Mexican War and if he did she would never partake of a social life again. [See website link for more information on this…Carl Anthony actually doesn’t bring this up which tells me there is probably no factual base to this legend]. Peggy Taylor predicted upon her husband’s nomination that he would die in office and he actually did – she called his nomination a “plot to deprive me of his society, and shorten his life by unnecessary care and responsibility.” [Anthony, pg. 146] Peggy Taylor was so little know in DC that there is no verified photograph or painting of her (there is more information on this on the website link…there is supposedly a photo that was found in 1998…Carl Anthony also addresses this issue in his footnotes).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Take a White House Tour

You can take an online tour of the White House. Now I've taken a real tour of the White House and I have to admit that this is just as good. Since you have to stay between the lines, never stop moving, etc., you never really get to see anything! Which makes sense in a way since would you want people traipsing through your house continuously? And I took the tour pre-9/11 so the security is probably now even worse.

From the White House Historical Association website here are some fun facts about the White House (all quoted):

President Harry S. Truman referred to the White House as a "glamorous prison," the "great white sepulcher of ambitions," or the "taxpayers' house."

Nancy Reagan said that about a month after moving in to the White House, she was surprised when the usher sent up a bill for their food. "Nobody had told us that the president and his wife are charged for every meal, as well as for such incidentals as dry cleaning, toothpaste and other toiletries."

It takes 300 gallons of white paint to cover the exterior of just the residence portion of the White House (center), excluding the West and East Wings.

The construction of the White House started in 1792 and was first occupied by President John Adams in 1800. The total cost was $232,372.

The White House was the largest house in the United States until after the Civil War.

Monday, March 20, 2006

"Dewey Defeats Truman"

"Dewey Defeats Truman." Lewis Kramer has this short article on The Story Behind "Dewey Defeats Truman."

In the current media saturated world, polling is everywhere. Upsets do occur but most of the time we have a good idea who is going to win an election. With constant polling (and gerrymandered districts), there is little suspense.

The Presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 of course did not follow this. The polls showed no clear majority. Further, the USA has 51 distinct Presidential electoral districts all of which are nearly impossible to draw electoral lines around to play politics which benefit one party only.

The article noted the 1948 election and Chicag Daily Tribune, "There were many factors involved in producing this error edition. Returns were coming in slow and they were running out of time before the printing deadline. The staff, based on early returns, 'felt' Dewey would win. In addition, many of the regular Chicago Daily Tribune staff were out on strike so inexperienced people were setting the type. They did the front page, and portions of a few others, on a typewriter. Rather than erasing typos or incorrect numbers, they simply "x"ed them out with the 'x' key on the typewriter. In the far right hand column, there are even 5 lines of type upside down! All issues went out this way. "

I have to guess that in the future, despite any advances in polling, Presidential elections are going to be harder to predict. Calling people up is harder and harder to do. Many voters use cell phones or internet phones and it is difficult to find a number to call. How do you randomly get a phone number of someone using an Internet phone service provider who has no land line? The polling firms claim they are finding techiques to update their methods.

However, I am skeptical. And is this a bad thing? The media should learn constraint and stop making potentially inaccurate predictions. And does it really hurt anyone to have to go to bed without knowing the election results until morning?

The Inaugural Address of Harry S. Truman failed to mention this event. Truman was amused by the whole affair anyway. He won and that was what counted. Regardless, the whole affair provided a good lesson on how not to place an overabundance of trust in the media.

Friday, March 17, 2006

American Presidents with Irish Ancestors

American Presidents with Irish Ancestors. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sean Murphy (Directory of Irish Genealogy) lists the following Presidents as having Irish ancestory:

1 Andrew Jackson, 7th President 1829-37
2 James Knox Polk, 11th President 1845-49
3 James Buchanan, 15th President 1857-61
4 Ulysses S Grant, 18th President 1869-77
5 Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President 1881-85
6 Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President 1885-89, 1893-97
7 William McKinley, 25th President 1897-1901
8 Woodrow Wilson, 28th President 1913-21
9 John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President 1961-63
10 Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President 1963-69
11 Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President 1969-74
12 James Earl Carter, 39th President 1977-81
13 Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President 1981-89
14 George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President 1989-93
15 William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President 1993-2001
16 George W Bush, 43rd President 2001- Present

Even though George W. Bush has Irish ancestors, I doubt that the White House is serving green beer today!

Adams Family Papers

John and Abigail Adams have always been one of my favorite first couples. They are an excellent example of a good marriage. Louise Young wrote that “Abigail Adams’ importance in the evolution of women’s roles rests, not on her views of women’s liberation, but on the model she furnished for a participant’s roles in a husband-wife political partnership.” (Young, Journal of Politics v. 38, Issue 3 (Aug 1976), pg. 304)

A great resource on John and Abigail is the electric archive of Adams Family Papers from the Massachusetts Historical Society. You can read (and see the original copy as well) of all their correspondence, John’s diary and autobiography. It is also fully searchable so you can look for certain words or terms. This is an invaluable research tool as well as being a lot of fun to browse through to learn more about John and Abigail. Both John and Abigail were eloquent writers who had a lot of important events to recount as well as the daily business of their lives.

I thought I would include on my favorite letters from Abigail to John from the website. I like it for what it says about Abigail Adams not because of the important matters discussed. With all their letters, make sure to consider what was going on in the US at the and where John Adams was when Abigail wrote the letter.

From the Adams Family Papers:
“June 23 1777

I have just retird to my Chamber, but an impulce seazes me to write you a few lines before I close my Eye's. Here I often come and sit myself down alone to think of my absent Friend, to ruminate over past scenes, to read over Letters, journals &c.

Tis a melancholy kind of pleasure I find in this amusement, whilst the weighty cares of state scarcly leave room for a tender recollection or sentiment to steal into the Bosome of my Friend.

In my last I expressd some fears least the Enemy should soon invade us here. My apprehensions are in a great measure abated by late accounts received from the General.

We have a very fine Season here, rather cold for a fortnight, but nothing like a drought. You would smile to see what a Farmer our Brother C--h [Cranch] makes, his whole attention is as much engaged in it, as it ever was in Spermacity Works, Watch Work, or Prophesies. You must know he has purchased, (in spight of the C--ls [Colonels] Threats) that Farm he talkd of. He gave a large price for it tis True, but tis a neat, profitable place, 300 sterling, but money is lookd upon of very little value, and you can scarcly purchase any article now but by Barter. You shall have wool for flax or flax for wool, you shall have veal,Beaf or pork for salt, for sugar, for Rum, &c. but mony we will not take, is the daily language. I will work for you for Corn, for flax or wool, but if I work for money you must give a cart load of it be sure.

What can be done, and which way shall we help ourselves? Every article and necessary of life is rising daily. Gold dear Gold would soon lessen the Evils. I was offerd an article the other day for two dollors in silver for which they askd me six in paper. I have no more to purchase with than if every dollor was a silver one. Every paper dollor cost a silver one, why then cannot it be eaquelly valuable? You will refer me to Lord Kames I know, [illegible] who solves the matter. I hope in favour you will not Emit any more paper, till what we have at least becomes more valuable.

Nothing remarkable has occurd since I wrote you last. You do not in your last Letters mention how you do -- I will hope better. I want a companion a Nights, many of them are wakefull and Lonesome, and "tierd Natures sweet restorer, Balmy Sleep," flies me. How hard it is to reconcile myself to six months longer absence! Do you feel it urksome? Do you sigh for Home? And would you willingly share with me what I have to pass through? Perhaps before this reaches you and meets with a Return, I wish the day passt, yet dread its arrival. -- Adieu most sincerely most affectionately Yours.”

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Can An Obscure President Become a Lesson in Character?

Is it plausible that a term in the White House can induce a man to change his ways and toil for the benefit of mankind? In our post-Watergate, post conspiracy-a-minute world we would be hard-pressed to find someone that the White House had changed for good. What about Chester A. Arthur?

Since President Arthur falls into fifth grade curriculum it had been about three years since I have uttered his name in the classroom. Generally, Arthur is treated very quickly in our curriculum during a section of content that drags on endlessly between Reconstruction and the excitement of Theodore Roosevelt. He’s mentioned on only one page in our fifth grade text.

When I taught fifth grade I generally began talking about President Arthur by asking students to refer to the page in the text. We read it together. I then ask students for their observations. I take all answers, right or wrong. If they are wrong I usually qualify their participation by stating something like, “Good observation but you’re heading in the wrong direction.” Some little sweetie will finally observe the small amount of information in the text. “Why is there so little?” I ask. In response to their thoughtful faces I bring out several resources that contain information about President Arthur. Some resources are simple elementary level trade books containing general information regarding presidents. Some of my resources are Internet biography sites that I’ve printed and copied. Students are in groups of four and they read through the information. They are asked to create a list of facts about Arthur. The next day each group shares from their list, and we begin completing a character analysis of President Arthur.

The following is a series of facts (black) and a compilation of students’ observations (red).

Following the Civil War the Republican Party divided into three distinct factions along the following lines: the South’s treatment during Reconstruction, civil service reform, and tariff regulations. The Stalwart Republican machine controlled the party in New York, and influenced national politics. They firmly supported the spoils system while the opposing faction, the Half Breeds, did not.

Students discuss civil service and they give examples of modern civil service type jobs. Students discuss why “half breed” would not be a nice name for a group of people. The class decides the Republicans were acting like a group of children instead of men with important jobs.

Before serving as president Arthur was employed as New York’s quartermaster general and as collector for the port of New York. He was known as the “Gentleman Boss” because he was powerful and could organize and deliver votes for political candidates including Senator Roscoe Conkling, the ring leader of the Stalwarts. Under Arthur’s direction the U.S. Customs House in New York City became the largest Federal office in the country with over 1,000 employees. The majority of these employees had received their jobs as payment for some type of political favor.

Students discuss the qualities we look for in a good employee. Students give their opinions based on the question, “Is it ok to hire someone just to repay a favor?”

When the Feds finally investigated the Customs House they knew that Arthur had far too many employees than what was really needed. They were only being retained for their merit as a Republican Party member. An order was issued banning civil servants from managing political affairs. Arthur, under Conkling’s direction, refused to comply with the Federal order. President Rutherford B. Hayes had no other alternative than to remove Arthur from office.

At this point many students are simply aghast. “How can he become president if he was fired?” “It’s not right to hire someone simply to pay back a favor.”

Arthur was still supported by the Stalwarts and he was placed on the Republican ticket for Vice President when James A. Garfield was nominated for President in 1880. It was quite a backroom deal. When the Stalwarts chosen candidate, U.S. Grant, was passed over by the Republican Party for Garfield, a Half Breed, they agreed to nominate Arthur to please the Stalwarts.

That doesn’t seem fair. What about ‘we the people’? We review the party system and how people are nominated for president. Students are still surprised how someone that seems so crooked could get nominated for president.

When President Garfield was assassinated in September, 1881, Chester A. Arthur became our 21st president. Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, had repeatedly requested a job from the White House and state department. When he was refused he reasoned that if Garfield was out of the way it would be easier to obtain a job under Arthur’s administration since Arthur had hired government employees as the port authority following the spoils system. In a note left behind, Guiteau stated:

“The President’s tragic death was a sad necessity, but it will unite the Republican Party and save the Republic…I had no ill-will toward the President. His death was a political necessity. I am a lawyer, theologian, and politician. I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts…”

Students usually agree that a government job is a silly reason for murder. I ask students to think hard. Do they think Guieau acted alone? Students immediately come up with a conspiracy theory. “I bet Conkling put him up to it.” “No, no! Arthur did it so he could become president.” I tell students that I haven’t ever seen any direct links to other Stalwarts, myself, but I wonder how the assassination affected the Stalwart Machine. We decide that the murder would give the group a black eye even if they weren’t involved. Our idea is correct.

Surprisingly Arthur put his Stalwart friends behind him and committed his efforts to moderate reforms. He placed reformers in cabinet positions and got rid of officials who had owed their jobs to party bosses. Arthut supported a civil service bill formally known as the Pendleton Act in 1883 which called for criteria to hire a government employee be based on merit rather than political connections. It ended the spoils system.

The Pendleton Act allowed the president to decide which federal jobs would be filled according to rules laid down by a bipartisan Civil Service Commission. Candidates would compete for jobs through examinations and appointments that could be made only from the list of those who took the exams. Once appointed a civil service official could not be removed for political reasons. Arthur placed approximately 14, 000 jobs (about 1/10 of the total) under the control of the civil service

Students usually are very excited upon finding this out. We discuss how it is important to not always follow your friends and sometimes you just have to do the right thing. I try to get students to analyze Arthur’s behavior. Why did he follow Conkling and then turn against him? Some decide he simply did what he had to do to get the positions he wanted. I ask, “Well, is it ok to do that?” Students decide it’s not ok if laws are broken or people are harmed. We discuss how civil service impacts our lives today. We discover that several parents have civil service jobs.

Another group shares information about the removal of White House furniture. It seems that upon moving in the White House Arthur was appalled at his surroundings. He renovated the White House with his own funds in a late Victorian style. The public became extremely outraged after Arthur had approximately 24 wagonloads of furniture removed from the house. The contents that were removed garnered the price of $8,000. It is estimated that many priceless items were simply lost.

“Maybe he didn’t know the items were priceless. They are priceless now because more time has gone by.” “There wasn’t a law against it then.” I tell students that there wasn’t a law at the time, but Presidents today are guided by strict procedures regarding White House furniture.

We learn that Chester A. Arthur increased funding for the Navy and helped it grow into a more modern force. He also laid the cornerstones for two important American monuments. Ninety-nine years after the Battle of Yorktown Arthur helped to dedicate its monument and he dedicated the Washington Monument on February 21, 1885. He also appointed a woman, Helen Hunt Jackson, as the director of Indian Affairs.

“Obviously history was important to Arthur or he wouldn’t have spent his time dedicating those monuments.” Students are really impressed that Arthur would appoint a women to a government job especially since women could not even vote at the time.

Finally, students are impressed that Arthur’s family were abolitionists and as a young lawyer Arthur won a case that allowed blacks entry to New York streetcars. Arthur also traveled to Kansas when it was “bleeding” prior to the Civil War to work against slavery.

Overall, my fifth grade groups generally decided that Chester A. Arthur was a good president. He may have been on the wrong side of right for a time but he found his way back again. A publisher named Alexander K. McClure probably said it best when he made the following comment about Arthur, “A man never entered the presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and none ever retired…more generally respected”

George W. Bush Speechwriter

George W. Bush Speechwriter. This is a neat site that will let you have some fun with the current President. There are 100 phrases and words that you can drag over and make a speech with including applause and pauses. Then you can click the button and listen to the President give your speech.

I think the person who made this has a liberal political bent as the phrase choice focuses on the war in Iraq. It is hard to have Bush give a positive speech on education for example. Still, despite any political motives, the site is still fun. It is great being able to control the speech of the President!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Welcoming Elementaryhistoryteacher

I am pleased to announce that Elementaryhistoryteacher of History is Elementary fame has joined the American Presidents Blog.

She notes, "Elementaryhistoryteacher is both a student and instructor of American History. She feels it is an honor each day to introduce our nation's history to the 80 fourth graders who pass through her classroom each day. She is elated to have the chance to post to the American Presidents blog."

And I will also add that she was featured today in the newest History Carnival for a recent post on George Washington. I am sure she will post high quality work here as well.

Monday, March 13, 2006

McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition

Thanks for the welcome and I hope that everyone will enjoy my contributions. My first offering was actually first pointed out to me by one of my students in a class assignment.

President William McKinley was assassinated in September of 1901 by an avowed anarchist, Leon Czolgosz. Czolgosz confessed saying, "I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn't believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none." offers information on the Pan-American Exposition and President McKinley's assassination. An interesting link at the bottom of the page leads to articles from medical journals on President McKinley's death. For anyone interseted in medical history this offers very interesting facts about McKinley's last days. The official cause of death was gangrene.

Anarchy was a major concern in the US and many people thought that Czolgosz' act was part of a larger conspiracy, but none could be proved. To make your own opinion:

Welcoming Jennie Weber

The American President Blog is now a group blog. I am pleased to announce that Jennie Weber is now a contributor to this blog.

Jennie describes herself, "I work as an online math/history instructor for two schools (Lake Region State College and Southern New Hampshire University). I've also taught middle school and high school at various points in the past. I have a MA in history and bachelor's degrees in math and history. I am currently finishing a MLIS at Kent State."

Welcome Jennie! I am certain that you will be a positive addition to this blog.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Off to Two Conferences

I will be out Thursday through Saturday traveling to two different conferences. I will be presenting my The Heart of Change: Julius Caesar and the End of the Roman Republic paper at the Michigan Association of Middle School Educators conference in Petoskey, Michigan on Thursday morning. (I am there by invitation. I would not have thought to present this paper to middle school educators but the conference chair thought it was a good idea!)

On Friday and Saturday I will be attending the Scholarship and Libraries in Transition:A Dialogue about the Impacts of Mass Digitization Projects symposium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I do not have to present but I hope to have some good conversations while I am there.

Obviously, much of the dialogue at this conference will deal with Google Books. Despite some legal troubles, there is a lot here already including a great deal of public domain pre-1923 material dealing with presidents. For example, type in "Franklin Pierce" date:1800-1860 and see all the neat stuff that comes up!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

President Wilson Locks up Debs

As we listen to the media and the blogosphere complain about the alleged erosion of civil rights and constitutional violations under the current administration, it is easy to forget that past American presidents did things which would seem far worse by comparison.

FDR had thousands of Americans locked up in interment camps because of their Japanese ancestry. President Lincoln repeatedly suspended the right of habeas corpus on American soil during the Civil War. President Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court (an impeachable offense!) and moved the Cherokee down the trail of tears. John Adams allowed the Alien and Sedition Acts to be used to throw supporters of Thomas Jefferson in jail.

However, one 20th century case I have always found shocking is Eugene Debs. The Wilson Administration persecuted him for the act of giving an anti-war speech during World War I. Wikipedia notes it, "On June 16, 1918 Debs made an anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio, protesting World War I, and was arrested under the Sedition Act of 1918. He was convicted and sentenced to serve ten years in prison and disenfranchised for life."

I still find this outrageous. Even in war time, free speech of this sort should be allowed. President Harding pardoned Debs so that he did not have to serve the whole ten years. I think this case from 80+ years ago shows that constitutional protections are actually stronger today that they have been in the past. Thankfully, war protestors today do not face jail time for speaking peacefully and they can hold all the rallies and post all the blog entries they want.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Two Blog Posts of Note

Here are two good blog posts of note dealing with American Presidents.

The first is Anniversary of Lincoln's first assassination attempt. It is from 2005 and it is by Norma Bruce. It has information on Lincoln's first assassination attempt which was foiled by a librarian who was his body guard. Got to love those hero librarians like William T. Coggeshall.

The second is by elementaryhistoryteacher. It is George, We Hardly Knew Ye! It deals with how she teaches elementary school students about President Washington including dispelling myths about him. (What, no wooden teeth!)

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Nobel Peace Prize 1906 Acceptance Speech

The Nobel Peace Prize 1906 Acceptance Speech. President Teddy Roosevelt is one of only three American Presidents to win the Nobel Peace Prize. (Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson are the others.) He was awarded this based on his role in helping to negotiate the end of the Russo-Japan War in 1905.

This is a copy of the speech that Herbert H.D. Peirce, American Envoy, gave on behalf of the President in accepting the award.

From the site:

I will not vainly attempt, by any words of mine, to add to the lustre of the name of Theodore Roosevelt. His acts proclaim him, and you, Gentlemen of the Norwegian Storting, by this award of the Nobel Peace Prize, a foundation conceived in God-like love of mankind, have blazoned to the world your recognition of his wise use of his great office in the best interests of humanity.

I quote President Roosevelt's words in a telegram from him, recently received by me, when I say that he regards the award of this prize as one of the greatest honors which any man, in any position, throughout the world, can receive.

Speaking for my countrymen, I may say that this award will deeply appeal to the hearts of our people and knit closer those bonds of sympathy which unite us in the brotherhood of nations.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Comparing the 3rd and 4th Inaugural Addresses of FDR

President Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only American President to give more than two Inaugural Addresses. This is due of course to the fact he is the only president to serve more than two terms.

There is a big difference between the Third Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Fourth Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt. And that is the length.

The Third FDR Inaugural Address was 1343 words long. By contrast, the Fourth FDR Inaugural is only 558 words. His second one was 1808 words by contrast. (Even at the wordiest, FDR can not compete with William Henry Harrison who had a 8442 word Inaugural Address!)

In 1941, FDR had been president for eight years and was facing likely war. In 1945, he had been president for twelve years and had endured being the leader of a country which was still being involved in one of the most brutal wars in history. Clearly, a sick and tired FDR was slowing down.

Of course, by the fourth time, maybe giving an Inaugural Address had lost all thrill and was just another chore to complete. Or maybe nothing can be read into these ceremonial speeches anyway.