Thursday, September 28, 2006
From the article:
Personalities emerge at a glance: John Adams' hard, straight lines and precise geometrical patterns; Theodore Roosevelt's rugged sketch of two dogs staring across a campfire; Dwight Eisenhower's plain, practical illustrations; Ronald Reagan's childlike portraits, including of himself in a cowboy hat.
So take some time to read about doodles (you wanted to have some fun this afternoon, I know it!).
Monday, September 25, 2006
The Truman remodel was a major undertaking that encompassed the entire structure of the building. Here is what the Truman Library writes about this renovation:
It was an engineering marvel. In December 1949 crews began dismantling interior rooms, saving much of the wood trim, doors, hardware, and other visible details for possible future use. At the same time other crews poured 126 new reinforced concrete support columns to a depth of 25 feet to provide solid support for the exterior walls. This would eventually provide space for two new sub-basement levels beneath the White House. By March 1950 the wholesale demolition of the interior was well underway, leaving only a web of temporary steel supports to hold the exterior walls in place. By autumn, the White House was just a cavernous hollow space, 165 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 70 to 80 feet high.
Men inspecting steel supports for under the oval office (can you believe that’s the White House?)
The final product that the Trumans returned to was a White House that looked much the same, but was completely refurbished.
On the evening of March 27, 1952, in a small ceremony at the entrance door, President Truman received a gold key to the newly-renovated White House. After spending more than three years living in the smaller quarters of the Blair House a block to the North, the first family returned to the mansion for their first night back in residence. It was both the same home they had left three years earlier and a new and larger home as well. Its original 48 rooms had expanded to 54, not including two entirely new sub-basement levels containing service areas and other support facilities. Where once the White House had nearly collapsed from its structural deficiencies, now 660 tons of steel strengthened the new concrete inner walls and floors. Although retaining much of its historical appearance, the interior of the house now sparkled with new paint, wall coverings, parquet flooring and tile. At a cost of $5.7 million, the White House had been rebuilt to serve the needs of the modern Presidency while retaining the symbolism as the historic home of the President.
Friday, September 22, 2006
In the summer of 1919, a young lieutenant colonel Eisenhower was part of a convoy to road-test US army vehicles and to see how easy it would be to cross the continent. The convoy averaged 6 miles an hour and it took them 62 days to go just over 3000 miles. What did they notice about the roads?
- Half the distance (specifically west of the Mississippi River) was all dirt roads, wheel paths, desert sands or mountain trails.
- More than 230 recorded road accidents
- Lots of quicksand and mud on the roads
- Inadequate bridges
- Lack of places to stop for food, bathing facilities, shelter, even good drinking water.
- Eisenhower’s report after the trip noted that: "Extended trips by trucks through the middle western part of the United States are impracticable until the roads are improved and then only a light truck should be used on long hauls."
During World War II, Eisenhower saw a much different scenario. The autobahns in Germany made for easy troop movement, which impressed Eisenhower as he oversaw the invasion of Western Europe. The article quotes Eisenhower: "The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land."
Today’s interstate system is now 46, 876 miles long – thanks to the experiences of President Eisenhower that made him make an interstate system a priority of his administration. So go explore more about Eisenhower and his interstate system!
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago, Illinois on August 29th, 1864. The peace faction of the party was able to fend off pro-war Democrats and dictate the language of the 1864 Democratic platform. Several themes are apparent in this short document.
To begin, there was no hiding the fact that the Democrats were ready to concede the war and allow the Confederacy to survive. The platform stated, "Resolved, That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity of war-power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States."
This was coupled with attacks on the Lincoln Administration for eroding American civil rights. The platform declared, " Resolved, That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired, and they hereby declare that they consider that the administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution; the subversion of the civil by military law in States not in insurrection; the arbitrary military arrest, imprisonment, trial, and sentence of American citizens in States where civil law exists in full force; the suppression of freedom of speech and of the press; the denial of the right of asylum; the open and avowed disregard of State rights; the employment of unusual test-oaths; and the interference with and denial of the right of the people to bear arms in their defense is calculated to prevent a restoration of the Union and the perpetuation of a Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed."
However, the Democrats were also quick to show their support for the troops. The platform included, "Resolved, That the sympathy of the Democratic party is heartily and earnestly extended to the soldiery of our army and sailors of our navy, who are and have been in the field and on the sea under the flag of our country, and, in the events of its attaining power, they will receive all the care, protection, and regard that the brave soldiers and sailors of the republic have so nobly earned. "
Strangely, the Democrats followed up this platform by nominating a war Democrat. General George B. McClellan was a vocal critic of President Lincoln who believed that Lincoln was militarily incompetent. However, he believed that the war needed to continue and rejected the platform he was nominated on.
The Presidential Election of 1864 did not go well for the Democrats and McClellan. Much to their horror, Lincoln won in a landslide. He won with 212 Electoral College votes to 21 and a popular vote margin of 403,000, or 55%. The American Civil War ended the next year as well with a Union victory. The Democratic plank that read "that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war" had been seriously in error. That "experiment of war" had saved the Union. The Platform of 1864 seriously weakened the party and they would not elect another president until 1884.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
With the hope of according these overlooked yet decent men a small and fleeting modicom of recognition within the dust bin of history, the Paro-Dise website takes on the Herculean, curious and thankless task of raising the public's awareness about them.
Of course, I think this is a noble and important mission, so I thought I would include some of the facts from the three "forgotten" presidents that these authors are trying to raise awareness about. Of course, we at APB haven't forgotten them so I've included a few past posts as well!
Specters of the tainted past greeted Arthur when he assumed office as the political pundits of the day predicted a flood of corruption and graft. However, that never occurred and Arthur ran the presidency in an honest and upright fashion. In fact, he showed great political courage by vetoing a graft-laden "rivers and harbors" bill, by breaking relations with his former New York political boss and by vigorously prosecuting fellow Republicans accused of defrauding the government.
For more information on Arthur, see EHT's earlier post on him.
Clearly, Tyler was no "party animal", and believed in making decisions based on an idea's merit and impact on what he perceived to be the nation's best interests, without regard to politics. In fact, about the only thing Tyler and the Whigs agreed on was the annexation of Texas in 1845.
For more information on Tyler, see Michael's earlier post on him.
President James K. Polk remains one of those six Presidents crowded into the period between 1840 and 1860 which tend to become a hazy blur, rather than attaining the place of greater prominence he actually deserves. In fact, a leading historian called Polk "the one bright spot in the dull void between Jackson and Lincoln." Despite this, Polk, who "came out of nowhere" to become President in 1844 and accomplished all he set out to do during his administration, managed to return to obscurity and remain there....
It's hard to imagine the United States without the vast expanses of the Southwest and Far West - particularly the State of California. The taming of these areas became an important part of the country's folklore and national identity. Yet all this might not have been, had President James Knox Polk not pursued his principles with such vigor. Therefore, it's strange indeed that there is so little national remembrance of this man and the critical role his presidency played.
For more sources on Polk, see my earlier post on him.
So take some time today and learn about about a "forgotten" President!
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Well, the only book we had was Reflections by Barbara Bush, which is about her life after the White House. No help there. We didn’t have any biographies of either Bush (we have a strange and always changing variety of books in the gift store). And none of the First Ladies’ compilation books we had had anything but the traditional pictures of grandmotherly Barbara Bush. By this point, this was driving me nuts (I have to follow up any quest – forgetting it is impossible for me). I had to find something. So we called over the actual library for help and started doing some Internet searches while we waited to hear back from them. Barbara Bush did not just appear with gray hair!
I had a feeling the Bush Presidential Library would be our best bet, but we could not find anything from the main page, so we had to turn to search engines. These of course gave us a lot of false links to the younger Barbara Bush (the current President’s daughter rather than his mother). But we found some hidden at the Bush Presidential Library! Then of course, as soon as we found those, the library called back with a book. So our visitors got to see the online pictures plus go over and peruse the book. They were quite happy and I felt satisfied.
In any case, since I did all that work, I thought I would share some pictures of Barbara Bush with you that you may not have seen in the past. As I guessed, she did not appear with gray hair! She was a very lovely young woman.
From the Bush Presidential Library’s online photo collection:
George and Barbara Bush on their honeymoon
It is amazing when you start looking how much of the information available to us is the same. The same pictures, similar text and similar stories…there is a lot of diverse information out there, but it often takes time to find it!
I think this is also an interesting commentary on image as well. Barbara Bush has always given off a grandmotherly image. When we were seaching for these, we were discussing whether or not she had ever released any early pictures - as they don't really go with her "image." While First Lady, the image we saw of a sweet grandmotherly woman was what we were supposed to see and that is the one we remember. That does not necessarily meant that is all there is to know! Barbara Bush is really a fascinating woman. You can see one of my earlier posts to read some of her quotes and speeches.
Monday, September 18, 2006
I am very pleased to see elementaryhistoryteacher get this recognition. She is a valued contributor to this blog. Her posts are more indepth and insightful than my own for example. She adds a lot here. Nice job elementaryhistoryteacher!
Sunday, September 17, 2006
The question “What is a homesexual?” is not one of the questions I feel comfortable answering. Neither is “What is oral sex?” or “What is virginity?” Believe it or not these are questions I have been asked before during class. Was the inquiry a real wonderment on the inquisitor’s part or was it for shock value to disrupt? I tend to think it is generally for the latter since these types of questions come up at the strangest times from students I suspect already know the answer. Needless to say I don’t take the bait. I certainly don’t need little Bobby or Sue to go home and say, “EHT says a homosexual is someone who….”
It’s not my place.
Michael, who so kindly allows me to take up space here at his spot on the Internet, recently provided a link to a very interesting web site called Tall, Slim, and Erect. I clicked on several presidents and read the information presented there. The information concerning James Buchanan gave me pause. It reminded me of a predicament I got myself into soon after I had started teaching.
Fifth grade students were assigned a president to research. I have quite a collection of presidential trivia books, and our media center has an extensive collection of short presidential biographies, so it really is a good topic for fourth or fifth grade to put their research skills in action.
So that particular year one eager student was assigned James Buchanan. The student arrived on the due date with paper in hand along with the required poster. The poster was exquisite. It was almost too perfect, if you get my drift. As teachers we all experience this when we assign home research projects. Parents get involved and they finally get to do the project they didn’t get to do because their parent horned several years before. It’s a rite of passage, isn’t it?
The student in question was one of those young men who was never organized, who had physician handwriting, and usually turned in things that looked like they had been up his nose or some other cavity before he turned them in. I usually needed a clothespin and rubber gloves to grade his assignments.
My fine young historian had elected to present his research in the form of a concept web on a red piece of posterboard. The name James Buchanan was in the middle written in crayon with fine script writing on white paper. Each entry was also framed with a piece of blue construction paper that peeked out from the edges of the white. The handwriting was an appropriate height. Black lines spread out from the middle to each concept and wrapped around the entries giving them focus and depth. It was a stunning poster…..you could read each entry from half a classroom away.
There were several ideas spread out around Buchanan’s name….lawyer, state representative, senator, diplomat, and finally my gaze fell upon the final entry………gayfer. GAYFER. GAYFER?
I’d been had. Not just by a parent who relived their childhood by completing their son’s project for them, but by a parent who wanted to push the envelope a bit to see what I would do.
Pushing the envelope is fine but in the immortal words of Dirty Harry, “A [teacher] has to know their limitations.” Some envelopes are razor thin and leave nasty paper cuts if you push back too hard, however, allowing the poster to go up in the hallway with a slur towards a particular group of people would not do.
As far as James Buchanan being gay it is more than likely true.
Many historians would agree that James Buchanan was not our best president though he seemed to be adequately qualified for the role. He had a fine pedigree as his family was directly descended from King James I of Scotland. He was the first to volunteer for service in his area during the War of 1812 and helped to defend the city of Baltimore following the burning of Washington D.C. He served five times in the House of Representatives, a decade in the Senate, and was a Minister to Russia. He was President Polk’s Secretary of State and Pierce’s Minister to Great Britain.
He threw his hat in the ring several times for the presidency (1844, 1848, and 1852), but was finally successful in 1856. Many feel he was finally sucessful because he had been out of the country serving as a diplomat and had been out of many of the domestic squabbles leading up to the election.
This is probably true since the country had been on a long slow road to war from the 1820s due to the slavery issue. The country began to divide even more rapidly after Buchanan’s election due to his inability to see what was going on. He did not understand how sectionalism had changed the political landscape of our country and could not understand that the Constitution alone could not heal the chasm forming between the north and south. Buchanan was fortunate enough to be president not only during the beginning of the secession crisis he also was president during the Panic of 1857, the John Brown/Harper’s Ferry incident, and the Dred Scott decision.
Buchanan never married though he was engaged for a time. The engagement was tragically broken when Buchanan’s fiance learned that Buchanan had visited the home of another young lady before coming to see her after being out of town. The finance refused to see Buchanan and soon left town where she mysteriously died. There have been hints of suicide. The finance’s father refused to allow Buchanan to attend the funeral.
One of the best sources to read about the allegations of homosexuality is in the book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong by James W. Loewen. In his book Lowen assets that Buchanan didn’t try very hard to hide his preference. He lived with William Rufus King, a Senator from Alabama, for many years. King had served as Pierce’s vice president in 1852. Many referred to them as “the Siamese twins,” a known reference to a homosexual couple. Lowen asserts that Andrew Jackson dubbed King “Miss Nancy,” and Aaron Brown, a prominent Democrat, writing to Mrs. James K. Polk, referred to him as Buchanan’s “better half,” “his wife,” and “Aunt Fancy…rigged out in her best clothes.”
Lowen’s research further found a letter that King wrote to Buchanan in 1844 upon his move to France in which he said, “I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our seperation.”
A letter from Buchanan to a Mrs. Roosevelt dated May 13th stated:
“I am now "solitary and alone," having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.
Many speculate that Buchanan who hailed from an anti-slavery Pennsylvania began to form pro-slavery views through his relationship with King who was a planter form Alabama. Buchanan called slavery a “moral evil” and thought the question of it should be handled by the states. He dreaded what he said would be chaos if the slaves were freed. Regarding sesession Buchanan wrote, “The South has no right to secede, but I have no power to prevent them.”
For even more information regarding whether he was or was not gay this article here has some interesting points.
Does it matter to me if Buchanan was gay? No, it really doesn't. What I find interesting about the possibility is the span of time between then and now and how supposed evidence of it would have been handled in the press. Today's press would have had a field day.
So, you may be wondering how I handled my poster with the homosexual slur. I simply went over to the student privately and told him we couldn’t display the poster in the hall with that particular word on it.
He asked, “Are you going to call my Dad? I told him I didn’t think you’d let me put it up like that. ”
“Why, is he one that actually did the poster?” I countered.
“Yeah,” was the response. I didn’t refer to it again. I gave the young man a list of words that would describe Buchanan that he had not already used including the term homosexual. He chose the words “bachelor president” and taped it over the word gayfer. The poster was well received in the hall when it went up with the others. The parent was probably waiting for an angry phone call from me, but I didn’t make one. It wasn’t worth it.
So, did I continue my tradition of presidential research. You bet I did, however, there was one little change. The president project is now done in my Language Arts classes and is researched and written entirely at school under my supervision.
State research is now one of home projects I assign. I think I’m safe. I haven’t ever heard of a gayfer state.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
This article addresses that recent US Presidents are harkening back to Wilsonian policy, so Mr. Hodgson’s feels its time to discuss Wilson and his foreign policy (and of course, we at the APB never mind that!). Hodgson defines Wilsonian policy as “the idea, that is, that it is the destiny and the duty of the United States to use its great power to spread American ideas of democracy and also the American version of capitalism throughout the world.”
Wilson’s foreign policy was heavily influenced by Colonel Edward House, as Wilson himself had little experience or knowledge of foreign policy. Hodgson sees Wilson as an idealist, while House was a realist. The article goes on to discuss this in terms of world politics:
The difference was that Wilson saw politics not as a map, with stubborn, irremovable features — rivers and mountain ranges to be crossed — but as a theorem inscribed with the luminous simplicity of his own moral purity on a sheet of blank paper. House saw political leadership as a matter of dealing with people as they were, warts and all.
Hodgins ends with this thought:
At a time when an American administration is inspired with a Wilsonian vision of a world transformed by American democracy, it is time, I believe, to reexamine the debate at the heart of the Wilson Administration’s foreign policy between Wilson himself, with his faith in the transforming power of American ideals, expressed in blazing, biblical rhetoric, and the more patient, realistic skills of Colonel House, with his nose for politics, whether in Europe or in Washington, as the art of the possible.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Friday, September 08, 2006
Mrs. Kennedy meeting the wives of the astronauts.
TR's White House. Notice the Elk heads? I thought that was so specifically Teddy!
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I have searched the Web for this and could only find three hits on the phrase "Blue Whiskey Van." The site above references The Health of the Presidents: The 41 United States Presidents Through 1993 from a Physician's Point of View by John R. Bumgarner for this fact. As I do not have access to this book, I'll have to try and search around some more.
Of course, being a heavy drinker was not considered a bad thing by most people in the 19th century. The water was bad and could kill you. Alcohol was a safe choice. Van Buren made it to his late 70s as well which was pretty good for his time so the drinking did not harm him too much.
I'll be keeping my eye out for more on this "Blue Whiskey Van" nickname. If anyone else knows of good sources, please drop me a comment. I expect that I'll find a treasure trove of references to this in 6 months to a year from now from a visitor who finds this post via a search engine search on this phrase.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
This is an article from Prologue (the journal of the National Archives). This is a nice discussion of the Babcock case and Grant’s role in the trial as well as a look into the mind of Ulysses Grant, who was faithful to the last for anyone he considered a friend. Rives himself describes the article as:
This is the story of how far Grant went— and how much further he almost went— to defend his good friend Babcock against criminal charges. It is drawn from long-overlooked records in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration in Kansas City, the accounts of contemporary trial observers, and the work of other historians of the Grant administration.
President Grant chose to testify for the defense of General Orville Babcock, who was his private secretary and a close personal friend, in the Whiskey Ring scandal trial. Grant did not actually testify in person (which he wanted to do originally), but gave a disposition at the White House for inclusion in the defense. President Grant was (and still is) the only sitting President to every voluntarily testify at a defense trial.
Rives writes of Grant’s disposition:
Grant's legendary photographic memory consistently failed him throughout most of the deposition, but it did not fail him when it came to Babcock. The President had no trouble remembering his aide's fidelity and efficiency nor in testifying to his universally good reputation among men of affairs.
Grant’s testimony effectively ended the prosecution’s case. Unlike later US cases, the President was to be trusted and not to be questioned. Rivers reports this on the presiding judge’s remarks to the jurors:
Judge Dillon instructed the jury that "evidence of persons of good character has more scope than in cases where the proof of offense is positive and direct." Conversely, "the testimony of conspirators is always to be received with extreme caution and weighed and scrutinized with great care by the jury, who should not rely upon it unsupported unless it produced in their minds, the fullest and most positive conviction of its truth." (53) Circumstantial evidence made up the case against Babcock. The message to the jury was clear: Believe Grant.
Babcock was found not guilty by the court. Rives goes on to ask if this was a fair trial:
Secretary of State Fish raised the question of propriety when Grant announced his plan to testify. Did Grant "faithfully execute the laws"? Did he comport himself as the nation's "prosecutor in chief" should? Grant did nothing illegal by testifying for Babcock. Grant the fighter and loyal friend could do no less. Fair or unfair, historians agree: Grant saved Babcock. Of all the major St. Louis Whiskey Ring defendants, Babcock alone received acquittal.
What happened to Babcock? He was indicted yet again, acquitted again and appointed by Grant as Chief Inspector of Lighthouses (see the tenacity of Grant's friendship?). Babcock drowned in the line of duty in 1884.
Rives ends with this thought:
Although Grant's place in history as a Civil War general remains prominent and favorable— the hero of Appomattox who humbled Lee— his presidency is remembered most for the scandals created by the friends to whom he was so faithful and loyal.
Monday, September 04, 2006
In 1893 the nation faced an economic depression. The Pullman Company (railroads), who owned the entire town of Pullman, IL, cut wages and laid off workers, but did not cut rents, which caused a lot of problems for the common man. So the employees struck, backed by Eugene V. Debs’ American Railway Union. The strike became a national issue and President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and sent troops against the workers to end it. Two men were killed, but by August 3, 1894, the strike was considered over. Debs was sent to prison, the union was destroyed, and the workers had had to pledge to never strike again. This was obviously NOT a good day for labor.
Before this strike, there had been public support of a national holiday for workers growing throughout the country. After President Cleveland’s harsh treatment of the Pullman strikers, there was a lot of negative backlash from the masses. So legislation for a national holiday was rushed through Congress and was on President Cleveland’s desk only six days after the Pullman Strike was broken. Since 1894 was an election year, Cleveland signed the bill in hopes of reelection (he wasn’t).
So where did Labor Day come from? It was an appeasement policy of the Cleveland administration to whitewash a nasty railroad strike.