Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. This site presents presents state-by-state voting results for elections from 1789 to the present. The focus is on the presidential elections (as suggested by the title) but there is also information on governor and senatorial races. There is also information on primary results.

This site has a lot more too. There are predictions for the 2006 midterm election, a wiki, several forums, and tons of data files. Some of the files require a paid membership to access. All in all, this is a fun and information rich site.

From the site:

The Atlas is a free internet resource providing results of U.S. Presidential Elections to the world community. Data is collected from many official sources and presented here in one convenient location. Site membership is now available for those individuals or groups who desire greater levels of detail with regard to U.S. Presidential Elections.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jimmy Carter Oral History

The Miller Center of Public Affairs has a wonderful offering of oral history. The Jimmy Carter Oral History section contains comments from President Carter as well as many of his Cabinet members and advisors. You can read the transcripts or you can listen to the conversations. There is a lot of in depth information to be found on this website (it can be very overwhelming at first…the transcript for the President Carter interviews is 72 pages long). There are interviews from:

Griffin Bell, US Attorney General
Robert Bergland, Secretary of Agriculture
Zbigniew Brzezinski, foreign policy advisor
President Carter
Stuart Eizenstat, Assistant on Domestic Affairs and Policy
Hamilton Jordan, Chief of Staff
Charles Kirbo, close friend and advisor
Bert Lance, advisor
Alonzo McDonald, Director of White House Staff
James McIntyre, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Jody Powell, Press Secretary
James Schlesinger, Secretary of Energy
Charles Schultze, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors and chairman on the Council on Wage and Price Stability
Jack Watson, transition director

The interview that I found most interesting was the one with President Carter. I liked how he answered questions and although he gave his administration credit for what they did accomplish, he also wasn’t afraid to take blame for things that did not happen as well. I picked out a quote about the energy bill that I found interesting:

Another reason is a frustrating delay in passing the energy bill and the amount of effort we put in. I put in more time on energy by far than any other issue that I addressed while I was President, domestic or foreign. The headlines and the awareness in my own mind were the times when the Congress was deadlocked. Every now and then, you’d finally get a billed passed, would sign into law and it would get a brief mention in the news and a brief time of celebration for us. But then there you’d have twenty other bills for consideration in the Congress and the energy legislation was just despairing and tedious, like chewing on a rock that lasted the whole four years. I think that depressed people.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I would provide some presidential speeches (current and past) from this holiday. Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day) was first celebrated in 1868 to honor Civil War deaths.

President Bush gave a radio address on the 27th in which he honored the US servicemen and women (he also gave an address at the West Point graduation this weekend).

You can also read past remarks from other presidents.

And I will end with President Lincoln's remarks from Gettysburg (they were on the top of the page listing all the past speeches and seemed appropriate):
"...that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God, ...and that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth." --Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, May 25, 2006

James K Polk: A book and an article

Hopefully I don’t repeat myself…but both these are good sources and thought I would include both of them. They overlap some points, but hopefully will reinforce the importance of James Polk.

“Who was James K Polk? The Enigma of our Eleventh President” by Robert W. Johannsen

This is a great article that discusses Polk, his life and some of his accomplishments. I have to agree with this article in that many people don’t know who is James Polk was, even though he was one of our greatest presidents. He was a workaholic and the only president to actually accomplish all of his campaign promises. He was a many who did exactly what he set out to do. Now this probably contributed to his death just a few months after leaving office…many people say he actually worked himself to death and maybe he did. The author of this article wrote:
He brought a high level of discipline, diligence, and intellectual acumen to the responsibilities of his office. He was a man who fixed his eyes clearly on his goals, and pursued them "with undeviating resolution."

The article ends with this thought:
Perhaps Harry Truman, a person of no little presidential experience himself, put it best: Polk "exercised the powers of the Presidency ... as they should be exercised"; he knew "exactly what he wanted to do in a specified period of time and did it, and when he got through with it he went home."

I think that this article can help us to better understand the complex man who was our 11th president. He certainly would not play well in today’s media – he was too cold and calculating – but he was a strong president who knew what needed to be done and did it. It is always important for a leader to be willing to work and get events done.

Another interesting tidbit from the article that our presidents should all remember: “Presidents who wish to be remembered as great, some have said, should keep diaries.” After all, how else can we later judge them? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

James K. Polk by John Seigenthaler

I recently finished Seigenthaler’s biography of James K. Polk. Now this is a book that has been sitting on my shelf in “need to read” pile for over a year…and I actually started the book in like September…but hey, I finally finished it! I’m not a slow reader….just easily distracted by other books…and non-fiction doesn’t pull you with the “have to know the ending” the way fiction does, so it gets left behind easier…but enough defense of why it took me so long!

This is a well-written biography and that is easy to read. In other words, it is not one of the long-winded academic tomes where you have to be a historian to keep going. It really is a book that anyone can read and enjoy (and should…Polk needs more attention!). It is mostly a political biography, but does a really great job of summing up the politics of the era and making them accessible to everyone. While you might not like Polk as a person by the end, you will certainly respect him as a politician. Polk kept a detailed diary while President, so we have a great primary source for his thoughts and actions. Seigenthaler writes, though, that Polk “must be read as a brooding and humorless man.” (pg. 119) He was not necessarily a nice man and as the author tells us, very partisan. Everything was in party lines to Polk. While always polite to everyone’s face, in his diary, he would vent about hated political enemies. Seigenthaler ends the book with these words:

What Polk recorded about himself immeasurably enriches our understanding of his term in office. At the same time, it puts him under a looking glass with human flaws and personality quirks and sometimes makes him the author of his own disparagement. What he wrote in his diary often attests to his smallness as a human being. What he did in four hellish years attest to the greatness of his achievements. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has compared Polk’s standing among presidents with that of Harry Truman: “Neither Polk nor Truman was one of those creative presidents who make the nation look at things in a new way…But both had the intelligence and courage to accept the challenge of history. History might have broken them, as it broke Buchanan and Hoover. Instead it forced them, not into personal greatness, but into the performance of great things.” He did great things. That is a powerful epitaph.

On that note, though, there is some interesting views of Buchanan in this biography as well. Buchanan was Polk’s Secretary of State and I have never had a high opinion of Buchanan, but it was greatly lowered by this book. Buchanan really struck me, in this book, as a whiner.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mr. Cleveland as President

Mr. Cleveland as President. The Cornell University Library has this essay written by Woodrow Wilson available online. It appeared in the March 1897 issue of Atlantic Monthly 79(473), pp. 289-301.

In this essay, Wilson argues that history would regard the presidencies of Cleveland highly. At the time Wilson wrote this, he was regarded as a Bourbon Democrat. Later, Wilson would not think as highly of Cleveland. Wikipedia even notes, "After leaving the White House, Cleveland lived in retirement in Princeton, New Jersey. For a time he was a trustee of Princeton University, bringing him into opposition to the school's president Woodrow Wilson. "

From the site:

IT is much too early to attempt to assign to Mr. Cleveland his place in the history of our government and policy.That he has played a very great and individual part in our affairs no one can doubt. But we are still too near him to see his work in its just perspective; we can not yet see or estimate him as an historical figure.

It is plain, however, that Mr. Cleveland has rendered the country great services, and that his singular independence and force of purpose have made the real character of the government of the United States more evident than it ever was before. He has been the sort of President the makers of the Constitution had vaguely in mind: more man than partisan; with an independent executive will of his own; hardly a colleague of the Houses so much as an individual servant of the country; exercising his powers like a chief magistrate rather than like a party leader.

Monday, May 22, 2006

So Who Was Our First President?


A few weeks ago when we were still discussing the formation of the United States government we were reviewing the content by looking at a time line I had written on the board. This is what I had written:

*First Continental Congress-September 5, 1774 to October 26, 1774

*Second Continental Congress- May 10, 1775 to March 1, 1781

*Articles of Confederation-March 1, 1781 to March, 4, 1789

*Battle of Yorktown/British surrender-October 19, 1781

*Treaty of Paris-1783

*Constitution-March 4, 1789 to present day

One of my more astute students looked at a time line I had on the board and made an observation. He said, “George Washington couldn’t be our first president.”

All of a sudden those students who were simply pretending to pay attention sat up and took notice. Someone was calling into question one of the first things they had learned back in the early days of kindergarten and they wanted to hear what I would say.

“Really, why would you say that, Jordan?” I asked.

“Well, George Washington became president after the Constitution was written.”

I asked the class, “Is Jordon right?” They nodded in agreement and a few said yes out loud.

“Go on,” I prompted Jordan.

“Well, you told us that the Articles of Confederation was our first plan of government, and if that’s true then someone was leading our government then.”

Several students looked as if they were pondering this in their own minds for a minute and all of a sudden light bulbs were popping on above almost everyone’s heads. Several hands shot up.

“What about the time before the Articles?” asked one student.

“What about during the Revolution? We weren’t listening to what the British told us to do,” countered another.

A third student said, “Yeah, like we’d listen to them while we’re fighting them, duhhhhhhh”

“Wasn’t George Washington leading the army?” said one of my more quiet girls.

“He was leading the army but not everything else. He couldn’t do everything,” said Jordon, the one who had started our discussion.

Cody was nodding as he said, “Yeah, remember? Washington had to ask Congress for stuff.”

Everyone began talking at once and I let them go back and forth for just a minute before I rang my bell. I have one of those old fashioned customer bells you see on counters in places like the dry cleaners. Students know my quiet signal is a tap on the bell. Once the room was quiet I turned back to the board and wrote one word…..context.

I asked, “What does this word mean to you?”

One of my language arts stars raised her hand, “Is it like context clues? You know, where the reading gives us hints for an unknown word’s meaning.”

“Ummmmm, your right about context clues, but that’s not where I want to go right now,” I said.

I turned back to the board and wrote the definition to “context”. The circumstances in which an event occurs, a setting appeared on the board. I continued speaking, “If we want to be truly be correct about the whole thing we need to know what our starting point is, and we need to know what we mean by the word president. When was the United States a recognized country? When was the moment it existed for the first time? Was there a president of the First or Second Continental Congress? What were the duties of the leader? Did the Articles of Confederation designate a president with the same rights and powers as the Constitution? What is the difference between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution? Boys and girls, in order to determine the answer to this question you must look at the history….the facts.”

The First Continental Congress met in reaction to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. Records indicate the proceedings were led by Peyton Randolph and later by Henry Middleton. The main accomplishments of the First Continental Congress were to formalize a boycott across the thirteen colonies as well as stop exports to Great Britain. It was during the First Continental Congress that open warfare began with the skirmish at Lexington and Concord in 1775.

The Second Continental Congress directed the patriot cause during the American Revolution. A leader, referred to as president, did control the body and would have had duties similar to what our Speaker of the House of Representatives would have today. They could not debate, would vote last, and unlike today’s Speaker of the House, could appoint delegates to committees. The presidents of the Second Continental Congress were Peyton Randolph, John Hancock, Henry Laurens, John Jay, and Samuel Huntington.

Under the Articles of Confederation the delegates were referred to as the Congress of the Confederation or the United States in Congress Assembled. The first delegates to the Congress of the Confederation were the same delegates who had finished up with the Second Continental Congress. This new body took control of the decision making during the last days of the American Revolution. They saw us through the Battle of Yorktown and eventually the Treaty of Paris where Britain finally recognized the United States. This body also managed to formulate a plan to begin settlement of the Northwest Territory and was smart enough to finally admit the Articles of Confederation was not the best plan of government if the United States was to survive. The leader of the Congress of the Confederation was not the chief executive as laid out in the current Constitution, but several men held the job. They were Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, John Hanson, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, and Cyrus Griffin.

The First and Second Continental Congresses controlled patriot actions before and during the Revolutionary War while the Articles of Confederation was our first plan of government. It can be argued that the men in charge of both of the Continental Congresses and the government official who was the leader during the time period of the articles could be precursors to the office of president. It just all depends on the time period that is being examined and what the definition of president being used. The correct title for George Washington would be first president of the United States under the U.S. Constitution.

The other men mentioned in this article all served their country in a most valiant effort risking life and property in order to perform their duties. They should all be taught and remembered for the importance they hold in our nation’s formative years. However, the argument that there were fourteen presidents before George Washington does not pass muster as these men were not president with the same rights and powers given by the U.S. Constitution.

There is a great link to a lesson plan regarding John Hanson as the first president here. There are several links to primary sources even if you don’t need the lesson plan itself.




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Should Historians Try to Rank President Bush's Presidency?

Should Historians Try to Rank President Bush's Presidency? This is a good essay by Larry DeWitt at the History News Network. In it, he explains why it is inappropriate for historians to attempt to rank the Bush presidency now.

I like this quote, "We cannot honestly evaluate the Bush Presidency, as historians, until that presidency is finished, until it passes into history. Any attempt to do so while that presidency is in motion is both foolish and dishonest. It is dishonest because it misrepresents what are the historian’s political opinions as being the profession’s historical assessments."

I know I have covered this topic before in this blog but I think this essay is worthwhile in how it makes this point. Unfortunately, it is apparent that too many historians are letting their own personal political opinions influence their historical analysis. DeWitt cites the example of Sean Wilentz who wrote The Worst President in History? for Rolling Stone recently. Wilentz makes that claim the current president is the worst ever. But how the heck can we know that now? In 100 years will historians really rank Bush behind Buchanan and Harding? I am skeptical...

Sean Wilentz has a rebuttal at HNN as well if you are interested in a different view.

Friday, May 19, 2006

American Presidents Blog Featured in Journal

I just discovered that the American Presidents Blog was included in the April 2006 issue of Social Education. The article is "Privileges, privacy, and protection of youth bloggers in the social studies classroom (Connect with Technology)" by Ilene R. Berson and Michael J. Berson in volume 70, issue 3.

The article mentions APB, "Blogs have become valuable resources for the social studies classroom. (11) News service blogs, in particular, enrich regularly accessible print, radio, or television news coverage. There are also blog sites that relate to specific social studies content. For example, the American Presidents blog was created by Michael Lorenzen, a librarian at Central Michigan University, and explores interesting facts about American presidents and the presidency. In a March 6, 2006 post, on Lorenzen highlights two entries from other blogs on Abraham Lincoln and George Washington."

There is then a quote from a March APB post. This is no longer just my blog (Jennie W. and elementaryhistoryteacher post here now too) but I was the sole author back in March so the article is accurate in attributing the blog to me. Besides, the quote from the APB in Social Education includes a link to History is Elementary so elementaryhistoryteacher's blog got a mention as well.

Social Education is a publication of the National Council for Social Studies. Their web site describes Social Education as, "Our flagship journal, Social Education contains a balance of theoretical content and practical ideas for classroom use. Our award-winning resources include techniques for using teaching materials in the classroom, information on the latest instructional technology, reviews of educational media, research on significant topics related to social studies, and lesson plans that can be applied to various disciplines."

Thanks to Ilene R. Berson and Michael J. Berson for including the APB in this article. If you found this blog based on the Social Education article, welcome!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lou Henry Hoover

Mrs. Hoover was an educated and cultured woman who saw much of the world and was involved in many different causes.


Lou Henry Hoover was an independent spirit who received from her family a love of nature and adventure, a sense of self reliance, and the ability to value courage. She received from her education a scientific, analytical mind, and good mental discipline. She received from her husband, Herbert, a partnership characterized by respect and mutual understanding. She received from her children and grandchildren love and admiration. Lou Henry Hoover gave to the world a caring, selfless woman. She gave to thousands of Girl Scouts, guidance and sustained work for many years. She gave to the United States exemplary public service. (From the Hoover Library)

Some thing about Lou Hoover that I find really interesting are:

  • Her geology degree in an era when many women did not go on to higher education, let alone a scientific field
  • Her work with the Girl Scouts
  • Her journeys throughout the entire world
  • Her willingness to stand up for her beliefs, such as inviting the wife of a black Congressman to the White House.

Mrs. Hoover could have done a lot of good as First Lady, but was overshadowed by the Great Depression that hurt her image. The First Ladies Library wrote that, “she also believed that women could do any job a man could do, oftentimes better.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Taft Gained Peaks In Unusual Career

Taft Gained Peaks In Unusual Career. This site has the text of the New York Times obituary for President Taft. It was published on March 9, 1930. Taft died less than a month after retiring as the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

From the site:

Twenty-seventh President of the United States and its tenth Chief Justice, William Howard Taft was the only man in the history of the country to become the head of both the Executive and Judicial Departments of the Federal Government.

Elected to the Presidency to succeed Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 by a tremendous majority, both popular and electoral, he met overwhelming defeat four years later in the political catastrophe which wrecked temporarily the Republican Party, ruptured his long friendship with Roosevelt, who had brought about his first nomination for the Presidency, and resulted in the election of Woodrow Wilson.

The worst beaten Republican candidate who ever ran for the highest office in the nation--for he received only the eight electoral votes of Utah and Vermont--President Taft left the White House with his Administration discredited, although personally he had lost little of the esteem in which he had been held by his fellow countrymen.

His appointment by President Harding as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, an office which by both temperament and training he was better fitted to hold than that of President, came as a realization of a lifelong ambition, and was received with every manifestation of popular approval. It was a "come-back" unprecedented in American political annals.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Feisty First Ladies

This article is a lot of fun, which little vignettes about various First Ladies and the powers they had. For instance, it includes this bit about our “presidentress,” Edith Wilson:


PRESIDENTRESS: From the get-go, Edith Wilson, who married the widowed president after a whirlwind romance in 1915, blurred the line between the personal and the political, says Phyllis Lee Levin, author of Edith and Woodrow: The Wilson White House. The president himself was complicit, teaching her secret codes so she could help him read and respond to classified messages in the run-up to World War I. On the positive side, Mrs. Wilson worked with the Red Cross, volunteered at military canteens, and even let sheep whose wool would be used for uniforms graze on the White House lawn. But her single-minded devotion led to a monumental misjudgment in the wake of her husband's massive stroke of Oct. 2, 1919, Levin believes. Insisting that the incapacitated president could still govern, Mrs. Wilson (with the backing of the president's physician) resisted any suggestion that her husband yield to the vice president. She assumed the role of gatekeeper, funneling to him only those issues she deemed important enough for him to attend to and severely limiting access by his cabinet and members of Congress. Mrs. Wilson claimed she merely carried out her husband's wishes; Levin disagrees. "It was a great deception," she says. "For many months, we didn't really have a president; we had her." Historians continue to argue about the extent of power wielded by the "lady president."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy

Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy. This is the text of the speech that JFK gave after he was sworn into office on January 20, 1961. The fabled Camelot began here...

From the site:

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning--signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Presidents at War

This is an interesting article on Presidents at War. It starts with the Barbary Pirates and ends with 9/11 and the Gulf War. It ends with this chart, “But the most difficult decisions, and the greatest burden of responsibility, have rested on America's presidents, who, relying on imperfect information, must make, and have often made, life-and-death decisions without being able to know for certain what effects they will have.”

Then there is an article about how wars have shaped our country, from the War of 1812 to Vietnam. It includes little “lessons for today’s war makers” in each section. For instance, from the Mexican War, they include this lesson: “The law of unintended consequences: Polk got the land, but the war fueled the conflict over slavery, fracturing the Democratic Party and leading to the Civil War. - Michelle Andrews”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Barbara Bush

Barbara Bush is known for some really humorous quotes. I thought I would include some for you all.

One of Mrs. Bush’s best known speeches was the one she gave at Wellesley College in 1990. You can get a copy of the text as well as an audio at this site. She ends on a fun note: “Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president's spouse. I wish him well!”

There is this one about George W. that is very funny: “I may be the only mother in America who knows exactly what their child is up to all the time.”

Here’s one of my all-time favorites, “I married the first man I ever kissed. When I tell this to my children, they just about throw up.”

This one about Clinton…well, it is true, but very pointed: “Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is.”

This is simple, but very true: “War is not nice.”

This one is a good way to look at losing an election: “One thing I can say about George... he may not be able to keep a job, but he's not boring.”

Okay, I have to end with something good, rather than just funny, so here is an uplifting one: “If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather that dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.”

I pulled these quotes from:
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/barbara_bush.html
http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/barbara_bush.htm
http://www.whatquote.com/authors/362-Barbara-Bush.htm

There are lots more…as well as from lots of other Presidents and First Ladies.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hail to the Chiefs

Hail to the Chiefs. Entertainment Weekly has this article on Presidents from fictional TV series and movies.

The article begins, "The next presidential election is more than two years away, but a couple of fictional contenders are vying for your vote this month. One, Commander in Chief's Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis), would seem to have the advantage of incumbency; her show returns to ABC on April 13 after a long hiatus. But while Big Mac can resolve geopolitical crises, outmaneuver political rivals, make the First Husband feel useful, and still find time to tuck her kids into bed, she has a hard time getting people to take her seriously — including Nielsen voters. Meanwhile, the big screen will introduce President Staton (Dennis Quaid) in American Dreamz (opens April 21). He's an isolated, out-of-touch, folksy president (sound like anyone you know?) who aims to boost his sagging popularity by appearing as a guest judge on an American Idol-like show. But can he get ticket buyers to support political satire, a genre that usually gets voted down at the box office? And how will history judge these presidents? Visit EW.com's Hall of Presidents on the pages that follow, and see if these chief executives measure up to our favorite fictional presidents from TV and movies."

My favorite president on this list is Laura Roslin (played by Mary McDonnell) from Battlestar Galactica. She is a great character! However, she is the only one on this list who is not being portrayed as the President of the United States. Sorry, the Colonial government does not count. Of those pretending to be the POTUS, my favorite on this list is Kevin Kline playing Bill Mitchell/Dave Kovic in Dave.

I wonder how many actors/actresses have actual played fictional American Presidents on stage, TV, or in the movies?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Key player in Clinton library discusses perks of being a presidential site

Key player in Clinton library discusses perks of being a presidential site. I found this short but interesting news report about the benefits that a city receives when it hosts a presidential library.

There is a list of questions and answers with James L. “Skip” Rutherford. I loved this one:

Q What was the worst advice you received during the bid for the Clinton library?

A If you build it, they will come. It’s not true.

What, tourists do not flock to presidential libraries? I am shocked. :]

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Does the Man Make the Name or Does the Name Make the Man?


I guess every president needs some type of hobby, but I was most impressed to find out that Rutherford B. Hayes had a hobby that not only served a personal purpose but many people today use the Hayes Presidential Library to access many of the books the library contains regarding genealogy and local history of the area surrounding Fremont, Ohio.

The Hayes Presidential site gives some insight into how serious President Hayes was about his hobby by posting excerpts from his personal journal. Here’s a taste:

"I have always thought of myself as Scotch, but of the fathers of my family who came to America about thirty were English and two only, Hayes and Rutherford, were of Scotch descent. This, on my father's side. On my mother's side, the whole thirty-two were probably all of other peoples beside the Scotch.

Again, I have been proud of my descent (not very of course, only a trifle so,) from the famous Rutherfords; but it is plain that the brains, energy, and character possessed by my grandfather's children and grandchildren-- by the children and grandchildren of Rutherford Hayes--are mainly derived from our plain ancestor, whom [who] Uncle Sardis says was the homeliest woman he ever saw (!), Grandmother Chloe Smith.

I have been digging into Savage and other books on genealogy during the last week. I trace my lineage up almost to the Mayflower but not yet into it. I have only run back on the line of my father's side of the house, and the important family of the Smiths is left out!! Almost one-half of the stock! To be exact, it leaves out exactly one-fourth of the stock, as I find nearly one-half of the Smiths.

Now, the new idea I get by this study is, how futile it is to trace one's descent from a distinguished name in the past. Two hundred and thirty or forty years ago my ancestors were from thirty to a hundred different persons. The Hayes or the Rutherford of 1625 was only one out of forty or more who are equally my ancestors. What does it signify that John Russell was able and pious in 1640? I am but one part in forty to sixty of his blood. We attach more importance to the deeds of ancestors of our own names. But this is a mere figment of the imagination. I am just as much a Trowbridge, referring now to the Thomas Trowbridge who founded the family in New Haven in 1640, as any of those now living there who bear his name. The blood, the physical, mental, or moral qualities which distinguished an early "father," do not follow the name; do not accompany it."


It would seem that even in the late 1800’s it was difficult to find correct documentation for family research. I agree with his last observation. It’s very easy… yet dangerous… to attempt to link yourself to an important person with the same last name thinking that some of their greatness may rub off on you simply because you share a name.

The website also has a great photograph section that shows some of the Hayes family members but also has many images from the Gilded Age. There are also extensive genealogy charts for the Hayes family members.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Censuring James Polk

The words from the House of Representatives were harsh. They stated, that the war was "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States." And with that, the vote was to officially censure President Polk.

The year was 1848. The United States was emerging victorious in the Mexican-American War. And a lot of people were angry with President Polk as they believed he fabricated the pretext for war in the first place.

Mexico was angered by the United States acquisition of Texas in 1845. They protested that Texas was a rebel province of Mexico and the United States had no right under international law to illegally annex Mexican territory. Further, the official boundary between Texas and Mexico was disputed.

The Oxford Reference Dictionary described what happened next, "The power of the president as commander in chief is at its low point when there is no standing army and Congress must act to raise troops. But when a standing army exists, ready to move at the president's command, the balance of power can shift decisively. The capacity of the president to put the nation at war is illustrated by the actions of President James K. Polk in 1846, when he ordered Gen. Zachary Taylor to occupy disputed territory on the Texas-Mexico border. The order provoked a clash between American and Mexican soldiers, prompting Polk to tell Congress a few weeks later that war exists."

By moving Zachary Taylor and an army into the disputed territory, Polk openly provoked a war with Mexico. War may have occurred anyway. However, it is possible that a diplomatic solution could have worked. Polk's opponents realized later that the President had wanted the war and had used his powers as Commander-in-Chief to make it happen.

As a result, in 1848 the House of Representatives voted to censure the President for his actions. Most notably, Abraham Lincoln (who himself used forced without Congressional approval during his Presidency) was one of the leaders in the House to get the censure passed.

As we listen to debates about the current war in Iraq, it is sobering to realize that this is not the first time that a President of the United States has been accused of starting a war without a good justification. The Mexican-American War ended well for the US despite this.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Carter’s UFO

I was going through my copy of Secret Lives of the US Presidents by Cormac O’Brien (which I bought simply because the name was too intriguing to pass up) and saw that Jimmy Carter was reputed to have seen a UFO. I think the fact that we have had a president report a UFO shows how ingrained the belief, or at least the want to believe, in extraterrestrials is. Whatever your opinion on the existence of life elsewhere in the universe, this is still an interesting topic. I think it also says something about Jimmy Carter - that he not only saw what he believed to be a UFO - but that he reported it.

Carter reported seeing a UFO in October of 1969. The Presidential UFO Website has a copy of Carter’s UFO report and letter about it scanned in. The Humanist magazine printed an article in it that stated what President Carter saw was actually the planet Venus. The article goes on to state that many UFO sightings are actually Venus:

Mr. Carter is in good company in misidentifying Venus as a UFO. Many highly trained and responsible persons, including airplane pilots, scientists, policemen, and military personnel, have made the same mistake. During World War II, U.S. aircraft tried to shoot down Venus on numerous occasions, believing it to be an enemy aircraft. In October of 1973, Ohio Governor John Gilligan made headlines by reportedly sighting a UFO. Governor Gilligan's "UFO" turned out to be a misidentification of the planet Mars.

This site also had a typed (versus scanned) copy of the Carter UFO report. It also copies an article (from The National Enquirer so I can’t say I much care for this article’s veracity) that said the Carters once lived in a haunted house in Georgia.

While I would advocate being skeptical of some of the sites, this is still a fun topic to delve into for a time.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Eleanor...and hot dogs?

So did Eleanor really serve the king and queen of England hot dogs? Yes, she actually did, although she served a variety of items at this picnic-style lunch. And while the press made much of this, the king and queen were very impressed by Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and even the menu choice. The Queen wrote to Eleanor in 1941 to say just that:

We look back with such great pleasure to those lovely days we spent with you last June. We often talk of them, and of your & the President's welcome & hospitality. The picnic was great fun, and our children were so thrilled with the descriptions of the Indian singing & marvelous clothes - not to mention the hot dogs!

This visit began a good relationship (this was the first time a British royal had ever visited the US) between these heads-of-state that helped lead to the important alliances of the Second World War: “Britons were no longer strangers or the evil colonial rulers from the past but familiar friends and relatives with whom Americans could identify.” The site that I linked (the FDR Library) includes many letters between the English royals and the Roosevelts. In the same letter from above Queen Elizabeth (not the current queen, but her mother) writes of the response of the US population to the English war effort:

I must tell you how moved I have been by the many charming, sympathetic, and understanding letters which I have received from kind people in the United States. Quite poor people have enclosed little sums of money to be used for our wounded, our sailors, or mine sweepers. It really has helped us, to feel such warmth of human kindness & goodness, for we still believe truly that humanity is overall.

This visit also discussed more “political” topics as well. You can read George VI’s notes on talking to FDR and see that the US was already taking an active war interest at this point. So you can see that this visit, while often reduced to hot dogs, was a very important occurrence.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Franklin Pierce and the Mexican-American War

While doing some reading on the Mexican-American War, I rediscovered that Franklin Pierce had served in the war. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General of volunteers and took charge of a reinforcements which aided Winfield Scott who was marching on Mexico City. During the war, he was seriously injured when he fell from his horse.

Overall, Pierce played a minor role in the war. However, his actions during the war became huge a few years later when he ran for President in 1852. His opponent was none other than General Winfield Scott who he had served under during the conflict.

During the election, rumors spread that Pierce had been injured during the war because he had been cowardly under fire. To counter this, Pierce's friend Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a biography titled The Life of Franklin Pierce. It was written to portray Pierce in a good light and it was widely distributed during the campaign.

Two of the seven chapters deal directly with Pierce and his experiences during the war. Chapter Four (The Mexican War--His Journal of the March from Vera Cruz) is a reproduction of Pierce's journal. Chapter Five (His Services in the Valley of Mexico) is Hawthorne's attempt to put Pierce's injury in a heroic light. Hawthorne wrote, "In the midst of this fire, General Pierce, being the only officer mounted in the brigade, leaped his horse upon an abrupt eminence, and addressed the colonels and captains of the regiments, as they passed, in a few stirring words--reminding them of the honor of their country, of the victory their steady valor would contribute to achieve. Pressing forward to the head of the column, he had nearly reached the practicable ground that lay beyond, when his horse slipped among the rocks, thrust his foot into a crevice, and fell, breaking his own leg, and crushing his rider heavily beneath him."

Pierce went on to win the election in a landslide. His opponents attempt to turn his war record against him failed. Despite his minor role in the war, he beat a man who had a much larger one. Hawthorne used the biography successfully as a campaign tool to make a minor general in the conflict sound important and also heroic in the course of breaking his leg!