Thursday, April 27, 2006

Happy Birthday to President Grant!

So how old would President Grant if he was alive? I’ll let you try the math on that one. That means you’ll have to go look for the year he was born and all. My mission is to make you look that up!

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has a US Grant Association that has a website that would help you start to look into the life of our 18th President and Civil War general.

Something that they have listed there is a complete online text of Grant’s Memoirs. In Grant’s conclusion he wrote, “But this war was a fearful lesson, and should teach us the necessity of avoiding wars in the future.” If only the world could manage to learn that lesson….it makes you wonder what President Grant would have thought of the atomic bomb.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

John Adams and the XYZ Affair

What do the letters XYZ and John Adams have to do with each other? If you are not sure, do not feel bad. I have a hunch that most people have no idea as to the answer.

Wikipedia's notes that, "The XYZ Affair was a diplomatic scandal that lasted from March of 1797 to 1800. Three French agents, originally only publicly referred to as X, Y, and Z, but later revealed as Jean Conrad Hottinguer, Pierre Bellamy and Lucien Hauteval, demanded enormous concessions from the United States as a condition for continuing bilateral peace negotiations. The concessions demanded by the French included 50,000 pounds sterling, a $10 million loan from the United States, a $250,000 personal bribe to French foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, and a formal apology for comments made by U.S. President John Adams."

By the time the affair was over, France and the USA had actually engaged in what is now called the Quasi-War. Although termed quasi, the fighting was real. The French seized over 300 American ships. The US retaliated by capturing 22 French ships off the American coast and in the West Indies.

President John Adams had to deal with the XYZ Affair during his term in office. In the XYZ Affair Speech, which he delivered on May 16th, 1797, he summarized what was happening and called on Congress to fund a navy.

Adams said, "A naval power, next to the militia, is the natural defense of the United States. The experience of the last war would be sufficient to shew that a moderate naval force, such as would be easily within the present abilities of the Union, would have been sufficient to have baffled many formidable transportations of troops from one state to another, which were then practiced. Our sea coasts, from their great extent, are more easily annoyed and more easily defended by a naval force than any other. With all the materials our country abounds; in skill our naval architects and navigators are equal to any, and commanders and sea men will not be wanting. But although the establishment of a permanent system of naval defense appears to be requisite, I am sensible it can not be formed so speedily and extensively as the present crisis demands."

The whole "quasi" conflict and diplomatic affair ended with the Convention of 1800. However, President Adams showed Europe that the new American nation was ready to defend itself and could not be bullied. The naval program Adams helped to stimulate would also help the USA defeat the Barbary pirates in the First (1801-1805) and Second Barbary War (1815) as well as aiding in the War of 1812.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Polls and Presidents

Well, I tried to post this earlier, but blogger was not happy with me...hopefully it will actually appear this time!
(from the article site)

Alan Dowd’s article Polls and Presidents was an interesting comparison of Presidents George W. Bush and Harry Truman. Both presidents chose (is choosing) to fight unpopular wars – Bush in Iraq and Truman in Korea. Neither one had (has) a strong popular support. Whatever your opinion of the war in Iraq is, I think this is an interesting article to read to consider current opinion and long term presidential decisions. Unpopular decisions are not necessarily bad decisions – that’s one of the reasons why being President is definitely not an easy job. I think that is one of the reasons why many past presidents can be reevaluated more fairly 50 years after leaving office – we’ve had time to see what their actions actually did as well as to overcome the basic “gut” reaction. An interesting assignment for students could be to compare the popular opinion of various presidents as well as the long-term evaluation of their careers. President Lincoln certainly got his share of bad press!

Dowd closes this thought:

This is not to say that Bush is destined for a Trumanesque legacy, of course; but neither is he doomed to failure. Tomorrow's historians — not today's polls or pundits — will render the final verdict.

Definitely makes you wonder what the history books will say about this war and president in 50 years.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Exploring Campaign Slogans


Pop quiz! What do the following things have in common?

*A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.
*Don’t swap horses in mid stream.
*Deeds not words
*Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, and Fremont
*Tippecanoe and Tyler too

and my personal favorite….

*We Polked you in ’44, we shall Pierce you in ’52.

These are all campaign slogans used throughout U.S. election history. You can see a more complete list here.

There are many different methods of studying history. You can simply jump in chronologically, study era by era, or even categorize facts by theme such as war, women, art, business, etc. One of my favorite ways to categorize American history is through our elections.

When I studied the American story in high school and in college my instructors generally hit on every election. The background details, the intrigue, and the campaign slogans brought life to what can be pure drudgery for the disengaged, average history student.

The introduction to history my fourth graders receive is more general in nature. However, I add in elections here and there to generate interest and as a problem posing exercise for young minds to think critically. Analyzing campaign slogans can help students determine what was going on in the country at the time, the promises being made, and serve as a character analysis for the participants involved. Even a casual student of history can use a campaign slogan to gauge the temperature of the nation during a particular time period.

The most powerful reason I can think of to use elections and campaign slogans to teach history is to aide in retention. The can serve as powerful mnemonics to aide in recall of details. 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too' refers to the 1840 election of William Henry Harrison. By the time the 1840 election rolled around Harrison was a man of 68. He had begun life as a member of a prominent and wealthy Virginia family. His father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The word Tippecanoe refers to a battle Harrison won in the Northwest Territory against the Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and the Prophet. Later Harrison played an important role against the British during the War of 1812 by recapturing Detroit and during the Battle of Thames. I guess 'Thames and Tyler' didn’t have quite the same ring as 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too'.

A study of the campaign slogan led my most recent group of fourth graders to question why Harrison’s family connections weren’t promoted but his dealings with Native Americans were. Through a very planned and guided question and answer session where students participated in small group discussions and in whole group conversations with me we discovered that there was a great surge of nationalism after the War of 1812 and eventually the property requirement for voting was eliminated for white men. After the war Harrison had retreated to a log cabin out in the Northwest Territory. To appeal to the common man Harrison was promoted not only as a war hero but as a log cabin man. Plus, if Americans voted for Harrison they would end up with Tyler as an added bonus.

We usually review the language arts term “irony” at this point because irony does prevail as Harrison serves the shortest time in office. His inaugural speech lasts much too long, he catches a cold which later develops into pneumonia and he’s dead one month later.

After informing the students regarding this tidbit and relating the events to “irony” one young man raised his hand and stated, “Well, I guess the country really did get Tyler too, didn’t they?”

I can always count on the wisdom of children.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Eisenhower’s Jehovah’s Witness Background

This is an interesting article on President Eisenhower’s Jehovah’s Witness background and why he tried to hid it. I will admit that I didn’t know about Eisenhower’s religious background.

Article Abstract (from the site):

It is commonly reported even in authoritative works about President Eisenhower that he was raised as a River Brethren by parents that were active in the River Brethren church. In fact, Dwight D. Eisenhower was raised a Jehovah's Witness, a sect commonly called Russellites or Bible Students until 1931. His mother was active in the sect from 1895, when Dwight was five years old, until she died. Eisenhower's father was also an active member, although after 1915 he eventually no longer considered himself a Witness.

All of the Eisenhower boys left the Jehovah's Witness religion when adults and openly opposed major aspects of Watchtower teaching, although some of the values they learned from their Bible studies probably influenced them throughout their lives. Some Watchtower values may even have been reflected in Dwight's statements against war made in his latter life. Nonetheless, the Eisenhower's endeavored to hide the full extent of their mother's and family's Watchtower involvement although they did at times admit their affiliation with them. The reasons why the Eisenhower boys took great pains to hide their early Watchtower associations are discussed.

Some of the reasons that the article cites are (from the site):

Other reasons for the press' and the Eisenhower boys' lack of honesty about their Watchtower background include embarrassment over the Watchtower's opposition to the flag salute and all patriotic activities, vaccinations and medicine in general, the germ theory and their advocating many ineffectual medical "cures" including phrenology, radio solar pads, radiesthesia, radionics, iridiagnosis, the grape cure, and their staunch opposition to the use of aluminum cooking utensils and Fluoridation of drinking water. Dwight Eisenhower had good reasons to hide his Watchtower background when he ran for president. Roy noted that Eisenhower's religious background was used by some to argue that he was not fit to become president: “Both Eisenhower and Stevenson were vigorously challenged by some Protestant[s]...for their religious ties. The association of Eisenhower's mother with the Jehovah's Witnesses was exploited to make the GOP candidate appear as an "anti-Christian cultist" and a "foe of patriotism" (Roy, 1953).

I think we can all understand why this background would not be something that Eisenhower – who had a long and distinguished military career before being President – would want widely known. While even in his era this was something that was brought up slightly, it is interesting to consider if a modern presidential candidate could keep something like this from the populace. The press has always been a presence in elections, but even more so today when every little background folly is investigated (slander campaigns are not unknown – the Jackson. And how the public would respond to a president from a “fanatical” religious background? The US public had concerns about JFK’s Catholicism – how would they react to something even more “radical?” How would the US public react to an atheist?

Whiskey Rebellion

Would you like a good stiff drink? So would I. A whiskey sour would be great right now! However, I do not know if I would be willing to rise up in armed rebellion over it.

However, this is exactly what happened in 1794. President Washington was required to enforce federal laws with troops for the first time. It was a key test for his presidency.

The Whiskey Rebellion was not only about whiskey. The Whiskey Rebellion - Whiskey Insurrection website notes, "This 1794 insurrection was caused, in part, by the lack of federal courts (which necessitated trips to Philadelphia for trial), large numbers of absentee landlords, lack of protection from the Indians, lack of access to the Mississippi River and the high excise tax on whiskey. President George Washington ordered 12,000 to 13,000 troops to the Washington Pennsylvania area. This was the first test of the power of the new government."

However, government taxes on whiskey are what enraged people the most. A majority of farmers in West Pennsylvania were poor and had little money. As a result, whiskey became a form of currency. They could distill their own whiskey, put it in jugs, and use it as a form of cash. Government attempts to tax it hit the poor farmers hard and they were willing to go to war to stop the taxation.

Wikipedia notes, "George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, remembering Shays' Rebellion from just eight years before, decided to make Pennsylvania a testing ground for federal authority. " When the federal army arrived, the rebellion collapsed. Twenty people were arrested. Two were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by hanging.

The death sentences were never carried out. President Washington pardoned them because he said that one was a simpleton, and the other, insane. That is good rationale for the use of a presidential pardon!

The Whiskey Rebellion did not amount to much. However, by taking decisive action, President Washington showed the new country that the federal government could enforce federal law.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fireside Chats with FDR

Franklin Roosevelt used his Fireside Chats to help explain his policies to the US populace. He came into the homes of each family to connect with them on a more personal basis. In the midst of the Great Depression and then World War II this was an important connection that many Americans needed to their government to feel that someone was trying to help and guide them. I think that we might all feel more in touch with our government if the President was explaining policy to us and what his plan for the country was!

Let’s concentrate on one of FDR’s Fireside Chats from 1937. I think these chats can be a great way to introduce New Deal polices to students as the “alphabet soup” quickly gets overwhelming!

FDR starts by explaining what the people want from the government:

The overwhelming majority of our citizens who live by agriculture are thinking (very) clearly how they want Government to help them in connection with the production of crops. They want Government help in two ways -- first, in the control of surpluses, and, second, in the proper use of land.

He then goes on to explain how the taking some land out of production can be good for the economy and the farmers – an idea that still gives us trouble today:

Crop surplus control relates to the total amount of any major crop grown in the whole nation on all cultivated land, (good or bad) good land or poor land -- control by the cooperation of the crop growers and with the help of the Government. Land use (on the other hand) is a policy of providing each farmer with the best quality and type of land we have, or can make available, for his part in that total production. Adding good new land for diversified crops is offset by abandoning poor land now uneconomically farmed.

Something that many students have trouble understanding is why the government used the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) which paid farmers to plow under fields and kill livestock, which seems counter productive to many modern students. But in one year the AAA managed to double the price of cotton and raise the price of pork and corn. The slaughtered excess pork (100,000,000 pounds) was then distributed free to the poor by FERA. I really like how FDR explained this idea in 1937 (which actually wasn’t the AAA anymore – the AAA was declared unconstitutional in 1936, but they were still working to raise prices of major crops):

The total amount of production largely determines the price of the crop, and, therefore, the difference between comfort and misery for the farmer. Let me give you an example: If we Americans were foolish enough to run every shoe factory twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, we would soon have more shoes than the Nation could possibly buy -- a surplus of shoes so great that it would have to be destroyed, or given away, or sold at prices far below the cost of production. That simple (law) illustration, that simple law of supply and demand equally affects the price of all our major crops.

He then goes to explain how helping the farmers will help everyone have a steady food supply at a steady price:

And when we have found that way to protect the farmers' prices from the effects of alternating crop surpluses and crop scarcities, we shall also have found the way to protect the nation's food supply from the effects of the same fluctuation. We ought always to have enough food at prices within the reach of the consuming public. For the consumers in the cities of America, we must find a way to help the farmers to store up in years of plenty enough to avoid hardship in the years of scarcity.

FDR’s simple and straight-forward explanations to the nation can reach students in the same way. I think primary sources like this can really touch you in a way a textbook paragraph can never come close to.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Jimmy Carter – Nobel Lecture

Jimmy Carter – Nobel Lecture. On December 10, 2002 in Oslo, Norway, Jimmy Carter accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. He was only the third American President to win this award. He was the first to win after leaving office though. (Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson also won it.)

He gave a fairly substantial speech (the Nobel Lecture) when he accepted. However, unlike other speeches made by American Presidents, this one is not in the public domain. The copyright is held by The Nobel Foundation.

Most presidential speeches are either pre-1923 (and by definition in the public domain) or spoken in a public setting that offers no copyright protection. This is why it is easy to find hundreds of sites on the Web (usually with extensive advertising included) that reproduce the thousands of presidential addresses and writings.

This is not the case with the Nobel Lecture of Jimmy Carter. If you reproduce it digitally without permission, you risk being sued for copyright infringement. As such, only a few sites have the text of this speech online.

Does the average searcher miss out when they can see this speech without advertising included? Not at all. However, it does make it less likely that the average Web surfer will find the lecture in the first place if it is in only a few places. This lecture was an important one and I think the Nobel Foundation is making a mistake by being too restrictive in the electronic publication of the lecture. It will be in the public domain someday. Why reduce the importance and impact of the Carter Nobel Lecture by stifling the spread of the text across the Internet?

Here are a few paragraphs from the speech. The small amount I am reproducing is for educational purposes and fits the fair use provision of American copyright law.

From the site:

It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I accept this prize. I am grateful to my wife Rosalynn, to my colleagues at The Carter Center, and to many others who continue to seek an end to violence and suffering throughout the world. The scope and character of our Center's activities are perhaps unique, but in many other ways they are typical of the work being done by many hundreds of nongovernmental organizations that strive for human rights and peace.

Most Nobel Laureates have carried out our work in safety, but there are others who have acted with great personal courage. None has provided more vivid reminders of the dangers of peacemaking than two of my friends, Anwar Sadat and Yitzak Rabin, who gave their lives for the cause of peace in the Middle East.

Like these two heroes, my first chosen career was in the military, as a submarine officer. My shipmates and I realized that we had to be ready to fight if combat was forced upon us, and we were prepared to give our lives to defend our nation and its principles. At the same time, we always prayed fervently that our readiness would ensure that there would be no war.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A. Lincoln Blog

A. Lincoln Blog. I have been reading this blog the last several weeks. I like what I have read so far and encourage APB readers to check it out. The blog description notes, "A blog about Abraham Lincoln, from a professor of history and Lincoln scholar." The author is Brian Dirck of Anderson University.

The blog uses a white text on a black background. I like this look (the chalkboard approach) and used it in the design of my Library Instruction site. However, I have had many readers complaints about how hard the pages are to read and print. I am not going to go back and make any changes but I have not used the design for any of my other sites. I hope the author of the Lincoln blog decides to stick with the current design.

Friday, April 14, 2006

President Bush's 2005 income: More than $700k

President Bush's 2005 income: More than $700k. As a follow up to a post from earlier in the week, the 2005 Bush income tax return showed President Bush and his wife making $735,180. They paid $187,768 in federal taxes.

This return included:

- Contributions of $75,560 to churches and charitable organizations, about $2,200 less than last year. Those included the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army's funds for hurricane relief in the United States and earthquake aid in Pakistan; Martha's Table, which provides food and services to the underprivileged in the Washington area; the Archdiocese of New Orleans Catholic Charities; and the Mississippi Food Network.

- Tax payments of $26,172 in state property taxes on their ranch near Crawford, Texas, up about $4,000 from the year before.

A PDF of the retun is available at: http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2006/images/04/14/bush.taxes.pdf.

White House Easter

2002 Easter Egg Hunt (from www.whitehouse.gov)

The annual White House Easter Egg Roll will take place on April 17th this year. This was an event first hosted by President Rutherford B Hayes in 1878. The story of its origin is somewhat hazy, starting with Washington children who liked to roll Easter eggs. But their play on Congressional grounds harmed the turf and annoyed the members of Congress. So they were banned from this form of play in 1878. That year egg rollers either stormed the White House, demanding that President Hayes allow them to use his lawn or he willingly did so. In any case, the White House egg roll was born. Some more tidbits from White House egg roll history:
  • John Philip Sousa preformed at the Egg Roll in 1889.
  • In 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt greeted the egg rollers and was also broadcast over the radio so that participants and others could enjoy the show.
  • The egg rolling race was first held in 1974.
  • The roll has been cancelled at times, due to weather or war. The longest period of no egg roll was during World War II and then followed by a White House renovation, to be reintroduced in 1953 by President Eisenhower.

This event is not above being used as a political tool. Hundreds of homosexual parents will attend the White House egg roll this year to raise awareness of homosexual parenthood. This decision has been objected to by conservatives.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

First Ladies and Charities

One of the efforts that US First Ladies have always been involved in is charitable good works. One of the boons, if you will, of being First Lady is to pick your favorite charity or cause and help to get Americans more involved in it – to give it national publicity. Lawrence Rifkind has compiled a list of First Ladies and their chosen charities or causes that is very interesting to peruse. Most of us may know what modern First Ladies have chosen, but you will be surprised by some of the choices of early First Ladies. While some of the issues have obviously been chosen because they fit with the presidential platform, I think it also shows the women who have held this position in what they have worked for. You can also see changes in American history and what is affecting the country by their choices (for example, one of Barbara Bush’s causes was AIDS as the first Bush administration was during the rise of AIDS in the US).

First Lady Laura Bush has worked to improve literacy. As someone in the library profession, I find her work commendable as many Americans have forgotten (especially come tax time when libraries need money) the importance of a library to a community. One of the events that Mrs. Bush hosts is the National Book Festival in DC. This event drew 100,000 people this last year. Mrs. Bush said in 2001, “I love to read, and I want more Americans to experience the sense of adventure and satisfaction that comes from reading a good book.” From her webpage you explore the other issues that Mrs. Bush has helped to strengthen in the US. What would you want to choose if you were First Lady?

Now something that I found when looking through Mrs. Bush’s webpage that I couldn’t resist sharing was from her remarks at the opening of the 2003 National Book Festival. This has nothing to do with charities (besides that fact she read it opening a charity benefit that is), but it was just too cute to pass. She read a poem that President Bush wrote to her that definitely shows a different side of the President:
Dear Laura,
Roses are red, violets are blue, oh my lump in the bed, how I've missed you.
Roses are redder, bluer am I, seeing you kissed by that charming French guy.
The dogs and the cat they miss you too, Barney's still mad you dropped him, he ate your shoe. The distance my dear has been such a barrier, next time you want an adventure, just land on a carrier.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Presidential Tax Returns

Presidential Tax Returns. The Tax History Project has a selection of Presidential tax returns available as PDF files. These include returns from George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and FDR. There are also returns for Vice-President Cheney and Senator John Kerry.

As citizens, Presidents are not required to make their tax returns public. However, most recent Presidents have decided to do so. The site notes, "Like all other citizens, U.S. presidents enjoy this protection of their privacy. Since the early 1970s, however, most presidents have chosen to release their returns publicly. In the hope of making this information more widely available, the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts has compiled an archive of presidential tax returns."

If you are curious, take a look. If you are an American and are preparing your tax return, take heart in the fact that the Chief Executive is paying too. Maybe their returns can help you find a new deduction.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The First Presidential Primary - Why New Hampshire?

The First Presidential Primary - Why New Hampshire? So, why does New Hampshire get to hold the first primary of the Presidential election cycle every four years? The author of this essay (Hugh Gregg) has some biased answers.

He notes tradition ("Since 1952, we've balloted directly for the presidential candidate of our choice") and egalitarianism ("It takes millions of dollars to run for the presidency elsewhere, but not up here.")

These are good reasons. Tradition should count some. And the egalitarianism allowed by small state campaigning could in theory allow for a political long shot to actually win the presidency with a surprise win that builds momentum and cash.

However, I am less enamored with the self-serving note that author makes on the desire of other states to hold the first presidential primary. Gregg wrote, "Jealous of the infallibility of our state's track record, now everyone wants to muscle in on our first-in-the-nation primary. Big states California and New York have moved their primaries up closest. Even smaller states like Delaware are licking their chops for a bite of the pie. For them, peace in presidential politics is spelled piece."

There are good reasons for allowing New Hampshire to have the first primary. But there are good reasons for letting other states have this role too. Perhaps there could be some rotating of which state gets to go first? Maybe the five smallest states could share the honor and rotate the first presidential primary every four years over a twenty year cycle? New Hampshire voters are more liberal than national voters so should they always get the first say? How about letting the Alaskan voters (more conservative yet with a strong libertarian streak) have a first go at this? And then North Dakota, and four years after that maybe Wyoming...

I doubt anything changes though. Unless there is Federal legislation to change presidential primary rules, the people of New Hampshire are going to always have an inordinate say as to who the President of the United State will be.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Election of 1912


The Election of 1912 has always been intriguing to me mainly due to the effects three candidates can have and the fact that the three candidates involved were very distinct men.

Candidate number one, Woodrow Wilson, was a former Princeton president and had served as New Jersey’s governor. Wilson had catapulted to state and national political levels due to the assistance of the New Jersey political machine. He had surprised many, however, when he had announced that if elected governor he would not be controlled by any special interest groups. Under Wilson, New Jersey became a model of Progressive reform. Election laws were improved, military regularity boards were established and cities were allowed to change to commissioner forms of government.

William Howard Taft, the incumbent, had been elected in 1908 largely in part due to the support of Theodore Roosevelt. Taft had served in Roosevelt’s administration as a judge, governor of the Philippines, and as Roosevelt’s Secretary of War. The American Heritage Pictorial History of the Presidents of the United States relates the following events:

One evening in January 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt sat chatting with Secretary of War William Howard Taft and his wife, Nellie, in the second-floor White House library. The mood was relaxed. Seated comfortably in his easy chair, Roosevelt was talking about a subject he had often discussed with his guests: the future role of Taft. Roosevelt toyed with a couple of options. “At one time it looks like the presidency,” he mused, considering a role for his future lieutenant, “then again it looks like the chief justiceship.”

The Tafts knew that Roosevelt had the power to bring about either of these options. “Make it the presidency,” interrupted Nellie Taft, always ambitious about her husband’s career. Taft himself was less convinced that he would make a good chief executive. “Make it the chief justiceship,” he uttered.

In the end, Taft bowed to the wishes of his wife and his boss. Following George Washington’s example and honoring his own promise in 1904, Roosevelt decided not to seek reelection in 1908. Instead, he endorsed an experienced administrator and moderate progressive to run for president on the Republican ticket: William Howard Taft.

Taft probably should have listened to his own heart and spoke up for a position on the Supreme Court. Several days after taking the oath of office Taft wrote to Theodore Roosevelt that when the words, “Mr. President” were spoken Taft was still in the habit of looking around for Theodore Roosevelt.

Taft never quite lived up the ideal replacement for Theodore Roosevelt. Progressives soured on him rather quickly. He angered many with his position on the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act and Taft had a different take on “trust busting” that the larger than life Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt became the third candidate for the Election of 1912 and attempted to gain the Republican nomination away from Taft. When Taft was declared the nominee Theodore Roosevelt declared he was “fit as a bull moose” and a new political party was born. At this point it can be correctly predicted that Republican votes would split between the Republican nominee, Taft, and the Bull Moose Party nominee, Roosevelt. Taft was quickly jostled back to the third position as the national focus remained on Roosevelt and Wilson.

Roosevelt’s platform was called New Nationalism. The basics were a stronger national government with more powers for the executive branch to regulate trusts, legislation to protect women and children in the workforce, worker’s compensation for those injured on the job, and the formation of a Federal Trade Commission to regulate industry.

Wilson and the Democrats countered with their platform called New Freedom which mainly focused on Roosevelt’s plan for trusts. The Democrats argued that Roosevelt simply wanted to regulate monopolies while they wanted to eliminate them completely. The Federal government would have to much power if Roosevelt was allowed to have his way.

The split in the Republican Party did cause a split in the vote and predictably Wilson won the presidency. Woodrow Wilson received 435 Electoral Votes while only receiving 42% of the popular vote.

The Election of 1912 was the first time since Grover Cleveland in 1892 that a Democrat became president.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

History Channel and the Presidents

Today there was a marathon of The Presidents series on the History Channel. I had seen bits and pieces of this series, but this was the first time I had been able to catch most of the episodes. Yes, yes, I’m geek enough to have spent all day watching it (I didn’t get to see the very beginning of the first one and the last two episodes as I eventually had to do something). In defense of myself, I did use the time to prep course materials. But it was so nice of the History Channel to have on something I actually wanted to see…anything I like seems to never come up again!

I was actually very impressed by this series. It managed to hit most of the important issues and treated them well. I had actually heard of many of the chosen speakers before this series. That in itself impressed me. Some documentaries (I’ll be nice and just leave it at “some” – although I usually like the history channel’s work) make me wonder where they dredged up their “experts.”

I see this as a series that could be very useful in classroom. It is interesting enough to catch most students’ interest and it is presented in a way that you could use much of it at any level (for younger students you might want to just uses pieces and stop and explain at times).

Some things I particularly liked:

  • The narrator’s explanations – they are concise and easy to understand without being overly simplistic. This also really helps to make this series universally applicable in US history classes – it shows how the president’s decisions and policies affect the “rest” of US history.
  • The modern political comparisons that will help to bring the past presidents into students’ world views. Both the narrator and the experts make comparisons how certain events, policies, etc. are comparable to that of President Bush’s or other modern events.
  • Good use of videos, photographs and reconstructions to augment narration.
  • The little “number” introductions that would make it easy to use in the classroom for just one president.
  • How other important politicians were mentioned and given credit for various contributions.
  • How all the presidents were treated fairly and with respect.
  • The very human way the presidents were portrayed, which I think will help keep audience interest.

Some things that I did not like (and I admit some of these are personal):

  • Except when it directly affected politics (i.e., the slander of Rachel Jackson that lead to Jackson’s hatred of certain people), the wives were left out. To me, it just isn’t possible to talk about James Polk with mentioning Sarah…but that might just be me.
  • I would have liked to see more audio use on some of the presidents. I know there is audio for TR and I would have liked to see that used (his voice is just so distinctive). They did a good job with FDR and audio. I didn’t see the most modern presidents so I don’t know how they did that. There is also audio on Woodrow Wilson and I think that would have added as well.
  • Some presidents, due to the issues in their terms, got a lot more airtime that others…this is to be expected, but some of the presidents I felt were cheated. I thought, for instance, Andrew Jackson went on forever…and that time could have been better used on James Polk (can you tell who I like….)

Overall, though I really thought this was a good series and would be of great use in the classroom.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Nobody's Grandson

I thought this was an interesting article on Benjamin Harrison because you wouldn’t see many politicians today avoiding nepotism if it was available to them. It is interesting, that in the mid to late 19th century we had a lot of men who almost seemed to ambivalent about the presidency and seeking office. Not something we see much of today (unless it’s a ruse to get our attention…)

From the site:
"My ambition is for quietness rather than for publicity," he wrote. "I want to avoid everything that is personal. . . . I want it understood that I am the grandson of nobody."

But against his wishes, Harrison's managers insisted on making the connection to his famous grandfather. Campaign posters referred to Tippecanoe." "Keep the ball rolling" had been William Henry's campaign theme; now the giant ball of his grandfather's day was re-created so that the grandson could also push it to victory. And to Benjamin Harrison's great embarrassment, mock log cabins were set up as his campaign headquarters to evoke the spirit of the first Harrison candidacy and to symbolize his grandfather's supposed humble origins.

This is an interesting look at a very different candidate and election that we are used of today. While mud-slinging is certainly not new, it seems to be omnipresent in modern elections rather than just something that appears in very close or personal elections. Political ads today are more about why not to elect the opponent than why to elect the candidate in the message.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Evil as Defined by American Presidents

What is Evil? The Concise Oxord Dictionary records that it is, "morally bad; wicked or harmful or tending to especially intentionally or characteristically." The full Oxford English Dictionary has over a dozen definitions for the word.

It should not be surprising then that American Presidents have used the word evil in various ways. Different presidents have used the word evil to advance their agendas in both foreign and domestic policy.

A search of one site (USA Presidents) returns over 114 hits mostly from State of the Union and Inaugural Addresses! And that does not include references to evil in less official speeches. Here is a sampling of a few of the uses of the word evil by presidents.

Foreign Policy

Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush have both received a fair amount of negative coverage for their portrayal of America's enemies as evil.

Reagan spoke in his evil empire speech of the Soviet Union, "At the same time we see totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and conflict around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a hail of fiery atoms? Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with totalitarian evil?"

George W. Bush invoked the same spirit when he spoke of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea in the 2002 State of the Union Address. "States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

However, Reagan and George W. Bush are the not the first American Presidents to refer to American opponents as evil. There are other examples of presidents referring to evil adversaries in their speeches.

For example, in the First Inaugural Address of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the President noted, "The world and we have passed the midway point of a century of continuing challenge. We sense with all our faculties that forces of good and evil are massed and armed and opposed as rarely before in history. " He was of course referring to global communism.

FDR noted in his Ninth State of the Union of the Axis Powers of World War Two, "We are fighting today for security, for progress, and for peace, not only for ourselves but for all men, not only for one generation but for all generations. We are fighting to cleanse the world of ancient evils, ancient ills. "

Domestic Policy

Not all references to evil though have come from the labeling of foreign foes. And it starts right with the first president. George Washington feared the disruption of commerce with Europe as an evil that "our fisheries and the transportation of our own produce offer us abundant means for guarding ourselves against."

President Pierce argued that the northern states were committing evil by harassing the southern states on the issue of slavery. In the 1856 Annual Message he noted, "Ardently attached to liberty in the abstract, they do not stop to consider practically how the objects they would attain can be accomplished, nor to reflect that, even if the evil were as great as they deem it, they have no remedy to apply, and that it can be only aggravated by their violence and unconstitutional action." Not surprisingly, President Lincoln just a few years later would equate slavery itself with evil.

President Andrew Johnson railed against the Union reconstruction effort in the south as "evil." He noted in the 1867 State of the Union, "I am aware it is assumed that this system of government for the Southern States is not to be perpetual. It is true this military government is to be only provisional, but it is through this temporary evil that a greater evil is to be made perpetual. If the guaranties of the Constitution can be broken provisionally to serve a temporary purpose, and in a part only of the country, we can destroy them everywhere and for all time. "

President Benjamin Harrison argued that ignoring laws was evil. He said in his 1889 Inaugural Address,"The evil example of permitting individuals, corporations, or communities to nullify the laws because they cross some selfish or local interest or prejudices is full of danger, not only to the nation at large, but much more to those who use this pernicious expedient to escape their just obligations or to obtain an unjust advantage over others."

President McKinley labeled the gold standard as evil. He noted in his 1897 State of the Union,"The evil of the present system is found in the great cost to the Government of maintaining the parity of our different forms of money, that is, keeping all of them at par with gold. We surely cannot be longer heedless of the burden this imposes upon the people, even under fairly prosperous conditions, while the past four years have demonstrated that it is not only an expensive charge upon the Government, but a dangerous menace to the National credit. "

There are many more references to evil by the presidents. This is just a small sampling. But I think it is an interesting look at how evil, and by definition then, good are seen through the eyes of a president. This, of course, invites the audience to think that agreeing with the president is a good act while disagreeing may help the cause of evil. Clearly, this has been true in many cases. However, at other times, the use of the word may be questionable.

If you have a favorite (or infamous) use of the word evil by a president, feel free to post a comment and include it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson and the Growth of Party Politics

The 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson and the Growth of Party Politics. This is a curriculum plan from EDSITEment and the National Endowment for the Humanities on the election of 1828. The introduction notes, "In this unit, students analyze changes in voter participation and regional power, and review archival campaign documents reflecting the dawn of politics as we know it during the critical years from 1824 to 1832."

There are four lessons in the unit:

Lesson One: Expansion of the Voting Base Before and After 1828

Lesson Two: Changes in Voting Participation

Lesson Three: Territorial Expansion and the Shift of Power

Lesson Four: Issues in the Election of 1828 (and Beyond)

There is also a good collection of links which teachers could use to help teach about this topic with each lesson.

I think this might be a great topic to teach at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary level. A great deal of this unit deals with the expansion of the franchise (voting) and how this changed the nature of national politics. It brings up good questions like:

Was the voting more fair in 1828 even if women and non-whites were not allowed to vote?

Is an election fair even if only a small number of people may participate?

Is the Electoral College a fair method of deciding an election?

This entire topic also might be helpful in teaching about women's suffrage and the 15th Amendment as well. There are a lot of good ideas here and I think American history teachers at all levels may find good inspiration here. Also, elementaryhistoryteacher has a recent post relating to this as well at http://american-presidents.blogspot.com/2006/03/tale-of-four-favorite-sons.html.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

USS Harriet Lane

I found it interesting that there have only been a few US naval ships named after First Ladies. The Lady Washington (named after Martha Washington) seems like an obvious choice. The Roosevelt named after Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt also was predictable. But the Harriet Lane? The USS Harriet Lane was a revenue cutter and launched in 1857. The boat saw action in the US Civil War on both sides of the war (yes, I meant to say that…you’ll have to go red the article to see how that happened!).


Harriet Lane served as White House hostess for her uncle, President James Buchanan, the only bachelor ever elected President. Ms. Lane was an accomplished hostess who was her uncle’s hostess throughout his career. Before the White House she traveled with him to England when he was appointed Minister to Great Britain. She was even successfully presented to Queen Victoria. The National First Ladies’ Library biography called her “young, beautiful, and extremely popular.” One of her biggest mistakes as First Lady was actually aboard the USS Harriet Lane, where she hosted a party that her uncle later berated her for since the boat was government property. Harriet Lane made many contributions including (these and many more can be found by following the link above):

  • The Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children (now part of John Hopkins)
  • Funded the start of St. Albans, which was to train choristers.
  • Helping the Native Americans
  • Donating her art collection to the Smithsonian in what would begin the National Gallery of Art

So now that you know the First Ladies who have naval equipment named after them - who else do you think should be so honored?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Great Debate & Beyond: The History of Televised Presidential Debates

Great Debate & Beyond: The History of Televised Presidential Debates. This site is a multimedia examination of American Presidential from 1960 to 2000. It includes video, photographs, and curriculum resources.

The most visible debate covered is the so called "Great Debate." This was the first Television debate between presidential candidates and it featured Kennedy vs. Nixon. Other topics include Televised Debate History 1960-2000, and Television: The Great Equalizer. What is nice of each of these sections is that they are loaded with videos, transcripts, photos, essays, and coverage of "spin" that played out after each debate.

The Curriculum Resources is also nice with lesson plans using the debates for courses in government and politics, history, debate, and communication. All in all, a nice site! I hope information on the 2004 debate goes up soon as well.