Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mexican-American War

I went to PBS's gorgeous site on the Mexican-American War for information on Zachary Taylor, but got much more than I intended! I expected to see Polk listed under biographies since this was during his presidency, but there as well were Tyler, Lincoln and Grant. So why are all these Presidents associated with this war?

Well, we all know why Polk was there - this has been called "Mr. Polk's War." Polk went into the White House intending to annex Texas, which he did, but that ended up also meaning going to war with Mexico.

Taylor, of course, was one of the commanding generals. His fame from this war would propel him into the White House as Polk's successor. Interesting fact about Taylor - one of his daughters (Sarah Knox) married Jefferson Davis. Taylor was against the marriage because Davis was in the army at the time and Taylor didn't want his daughter to have to deal with what his own wife had had to. Sarah Davis died after just 3 months of marriage of malaria.

John Tyler actually started neogotiations for Texas, but would have to leave the final work to his sucessor.

Lincoln was a freshman Congressman who came out vocally against the war and Polk. He lost the next election.

Grant was a junior officier serving under Taylor. This war made an important impression on Grant and the lessons learned here would eventually be used in the Civil War. By the way, I rather like this picture!

So go spend some time with the Mexican-American War!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Job Advice from the Presidents

This is a bit cheesy, but fun. Laura Morsch gives career advice from Presidential examples. Her pieces of advice are:

  1. Don’t be afraid from Franklin Roosevelt’s example.
  2. Be willing to change from Abraham Lincoln’s example.
  3. Keep your nose clean from Nixon’s example.
  4. Learn from your mistakes from Kennedy’s example.
  5. Don’t indulge in office flings from Clinton’s example.
  6. Stand out from the pack – you don’t want to be forgotten like some of our presidents!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Presidential Speech Tag Clouds

This is SO WAY COOL! I’m so excited about it in a geeky kind of way. Dave over at Patahistory has linked to something called presidential speech tag clouds. You can link directly to his post here and read about it. You can link the tag clouds directly by clicking here. Once you are at the tag cloud site notice the button directly under George Bush’s name. Click on it and you will find it can move back to the left. As it travels left notice the tag clouds….they zoom back in time through all of the presidents.

This has many possibilities for research and classroom use. Have students compare and contrast tag clouds. When is terrorism first mentioned? Which president mentions war? Is there a president who doesn’t discuss the economy? Another possible activity could be to have students compare the tag clouds to actual events during a particular president’s administration.

It's also just very interesting!

Friday, November 24, 2006

November Remembrance, Part Two

Part One of this post can be found at History Is Elementary, here.

Mother often told us about the Kennedy assassination and how the four day coverage of that event actually helped her turn a corner. After that time things weren’t better but her ability to cope was better. Sister Dear and I now realize through Mother’s recollection of the whole time period she had actually lost an entire year. In her mind Nanny’s death and JFK’s assassination were simply a few days apart instead of one year and a few days. We have memories of Thanksgiving being a sad time. 1962 was the last Thanksgiving where we travelled to a grandparent’s home. Mother cooked from that point on, but it was always a little sad with a morose pall over the whole day. Mother cooked, and Mother grieved every Thanksgiving.


Having been born in May, 1962 I am a Kennedy baby, a child born during the fading Age of Camelot and at the tail end of the Baby Boom Generation. Once I was old enough to hear Mother tell her stories (she had a million of them) I was destined to entertwine the borrowed memories of Sister Dear and Mother regarding Nanny and President Kennedy’s tragic death, but even Mother it would appear, had borrowed memories because she had lost a year… a year between her own mother’s death on November 24, 1962 and Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.

While my mother grieved over the loss of her mother many of the events involving space exploration, civil rights, and the Cold War during the last three hundred and sixty-five days of Kennedy’s presidency would shape later events and the course of our country for over the next thirty years.

Following my mother’s tragic Thanksgiving on December 24, 1962 over one thousand Bay of Pigs prisoners were finally exchanged after two years of negotiations for medical supplies and baby food. The struggle for Civil Rights slapped Americans in the face when early in January Alabama governor, George Wallace promised, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” I continued to do things an eight month old baby does, Sister Dear went to school and played, and our Mother….she grieved.

In February, 1963 travel, financial and commericial transactions were made illegal by U.S. citizens to Cuba by President Kennedy. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered states to provide free counsel for defendants who could not afford an attorney in March. I jolted Mother into reality for a bit by falling out of my crib. The metal part of my hair barrette gouged deep into my scalp. Daddy came to the rescue and made it better. Sister Dear went to school and played with the kids next door, and our Mother…she grieved.

In April, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham with others for “parading without a permit” and wrote his Letter From a Birmingham Jail while incarcerated. In May, 1963, the Civil Rights issue heated up even further when Sheriff "Bull" Conner of Birmingham used fire hoses and attack dogs on demonstrators. The images splashed across television screens doing more for the support of civil rights than any speech or endorsement. I celebrated my first birthday with an extremely short haircut (no more barrettes, please), Sister Dear began her summer vacation, and our mother…she grieved.

On June 11, 1963 Kennedy gave two important speeches. In one he stated all citizens should have “the kind of equality of treatment which we would want for ourselves.” He spoke of promises that will one day become the Civil Rights Act. The second speech occurred at the Berlin Wall where he spoke of the failure of communism and stated, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” In July, NASA launched Syncom, the world’s first geostationary satellite. I run after and annoy Sister Dear while she runs after her dog Jingles who ran after Sister Dear's new Hula Hoop, and our mother…she grieved.

In August, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his eloquent “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. while in , JFK announced changes in policy and personnel were needed with the South Vietnamese government. Tragically in September, the Sixteenth Street Church was bombed in Birmingham killing four sweet little girls. Sister Dear and I are barely aware the nightly news is on as we play around the coffee table before Dad tells us, “Shhhhhhhh…..”, and our mother…she grieved.

In October, JFK signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and in early November President Diem of South Vietnam was overthrown and murdered. The next year the Gulf of Tonkin incident would play out. I spent my days playing in front of the television with a yellow plastic baby bed and doll I had gotten for my birthday while Sister Dear went to school and mother…she grieved.

The first Thanksgiving without Nanny came and went followed by the anniversary of her death. On the afternoon of November 24, 1963 my mother was watching her “programs” as she did for every day of my life. As the World Turns was on during that time of the day when Walter Cronkite’s voice interrupted the live broadcast to state,

“Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting. More details just arrived...these details about the same as previously, President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called 'Oh no!', the motorcade sped on. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News, President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details."

A few minutes later Mr. Cronkite, now on camera was handed a piece of paper from the Associated Press wire machine, put on his glasses, looked it over for a moment, took off his glasses, and told the viewing audience:

“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time---2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

After the announcement, Cronkite paused briefly, put his glasses back on and swallowed hard, apparently trying to maintain his composure. Still, there was noticeable emotion and a quaver in his voice as he intoned the next sentence, "Vice President Johnson has left the hospital..."

Mother was no longer alone in her grief. She grieved with Jackie and Rose and the rest of the Kennedy clan. An entire nation grieved. Our television, like many across the nation, remained on for four days straight as the nation’s networks instituted twenty-four hour coverage for the first time ever.

I never knew my grandmother. I never experienced an America while Kennedy was president. I quilted a memory of both them together through my mother’s grief. I cannot think of one without the other since they are so meshed together. Thanksgiving does not come and go without a remembrance of Nanny and the loss of President Kennedy.

Adlai Stevenson, U.N. Ambassador at the time, said it best regarding the effect of the Kennedy assassination, “All of us will bear the grief of his death until the day of ours…”

So, I’ll end this piece as I began part one……

Is it possible to love someone through another’s memory? To love and admire someone you never met, someone you will never be able to meet, someone who at the moment of their passing caused an incredible upheaval of grief and gouged an enormous chasm of longing for things that can never be, someone who a large number of people still speak of with reverence, awe, and thankfulness?

I believe it is possible.

I know it is possible.

I know it because I participate in this kind of love and admiration everyday for two vastly different Americans who left this Earth almost a year to the day from one another. My admiration for these two inviduals stems from my mother who shared her memories of them with me during my formative years where they became entertwined and linked indelibly in the murkiness where actual memory and grafted memories blend.

Dora Estelle Hill Blanton and John Fitzgerald Kennedy....two vastly different Americans....both worthy to be remembered!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

White House Thanksgiving

This is a just quick post because I'm in the middle of making coleslaw. See even us bloggers have a life!:)

Want to know how the White House does Thanksgiving does Thanksgiving? My new cool fact of the day: the annual presidential pardoning of the turkey. Go see what happens to these birds! You can even see a photo history of this day.

The first pardoning by President Truman

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Presidential $1 Coin Program

The Presidential $1 Coin Program. I do not like dollar coins. I always try to get rid of them. They do not fit in my wallet. However, I am excited about this new coin series coming from the United States Mint. Every dead American president will be featured on a dollar coin.

From the US Mint, "The United States is honoring our Nation’s Presidents by issuing $1 circulating coins featuring their images in the order that they served, beginning with Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison in 2007. The United States Mint will mint and issue four Presidential $1 coins per year, and each will have a reverse design featuring a striking rendition of the Statue of Liberty. These coins will have several features that are unique to United States circulating coinage. Although the size, weight and metal composition of the new Presidential $1 Coin will be identical to that of the Golden Dollar featuring Sacagawea, there are several unique features that make this new coin very distinctive. "

I can not wait to get my Millard Fillmore coin! I have to wait until 2010 to get it though. And that John Tyler coin coming in 2009 will be a real keeper. Of course, Grover Cleveland gets two coins both of which will be released in 2012.

I think this is a good idea. I have enjoyed the state quarter program. It makes me take a look at my quarters to see what state I am holding. The Presidential dollar coins will be fun too. How about vice-presidential pennies next? Or Secretary of State nickels. And first lady dimes!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The telegraph and the Civil War

Tom Wheeler in his article, "How the Telegraph Helped Lincoln Win the Civil War," shows how Lincoln used telegraph messages to change national leadership. It allowed him to be in constant communication with his generals and make up-to-the-minute decisions rather than having to wait days for messages to be hand-delivered. In the past the only way for governmental heads to make viable wartime decisions was for them to go with the army to the battle. In the US, leaders had not done that and instead were forced to wait and see what happened. The field generals could act pretty much as they pleased. The telegraph allowed Lincoln to stay in DC yet still make military decisions on a day-to-day basis. This changed the way the US made war. Added to that the telegrams are spontenaous communications and allow us to really hear Lincoln. We can, asWheeler writes, "eavesdrop" on the conversations between Lincoln and his generals giving us a better picture of Lincoln's leadership during the war.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

American Presidents Search

Over at my other blog, I wrote a post titled Create Your Own Search Engine. In it, I give my thoughts on a new tool from Google which allows you to create your own search engine which only seearches sites you approve. I went ahead and created a search engine called American Presidents Search which is currently at

I went through the Open Directory Project categories for Presidents. I did not select every site listed by I added the bulk of them to the presidential search engine. I hope this selction of carefully reviewed sites justifies my tag for the search engine of "Find information on American Presidents from good non-spam sites."

What do you think? Does it provide good results? I may go ahead and get a domain name and then place the code there. I do not think I will get much traffic at first but there may be a niche for a well vetted search engine for American Presidents. Feel free to post your thoughts as long as you do not try to slip a link to another site in! Comment spamming (no matter how clever) does not work here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Teddy’s Quest for the Medal of Honor

Mitchell Yockelson discusses Theodore Roosevelt’s quest for the Medal of Honor for his actions in Cuba in an article in Prologue. Theodore Roosevelt considered his involvement in the Spanish-American War to be one of his crowning achievements. He desperately wanted a war to prove himself in. Once back, he was soon after the military decoration to crown his achievement: the Medal of Honor. Yockelson evaluates Roosevelt’s efforts in the Spanish-American War and whether TR deserved the Medal he was so desperate to earn.

In his quest for the medal, Roosevelt wrote to everyone he knew to try to get himself awarded the coveted medal:
A multitude of War Department documents and Roosevelt's own published letters clearly state his argument that "I am entitled to the Medal of Honor and I want it.”…Four months after submission of his name for the Medal of Honor, Roosevelt became more obsessed with the issue. He painfully told Lodge on December 6 that "if I didn't earn it, then no commissioned officer can ever earn it. . . . I don't ask this as a favor--I ask it as a right. . . . I feel rather ugly on this medal of honor business; and the President and War Dept. may as well understand it. If they want fighting, they shall have it."

For all of TR’s efforts, though, he was not awarded the medal:
Twenty-eight participants of the Santiago Campaign were approved to receive the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action, but Roosevelt's name was not among them. Instead, his name appeared with other volunteer officers on a separate list for recommendation as brevet colonel and brevet brigadier general.

Did Roosevelt deserve this Medal? First, Yockelson looks at the requirements:
To determine eligibility for the Medal of Honor, the Brevet Board had to follow paragraph 177 of the United States Army regulations. It states that "in order that the Congressional Medal of Honor may be deserved[,] service must have been performed in action as such conspicuous character to clearly distinguish the man for gallantry and intrepidity above his comrades--service that involved extreme jeopardy of life or the performance of extraordinary hazardous duty. Recommendations for the decoration will be judged by this standard of extraordinary merit, and incontestible proof of performance of the service will be exacted."(35) Since its creation during the Civil War, the Medal of Honor had been haphazardly awarded because there were no clear rules or policies for documenting and authenticating the acts of gallantry befitting the decoration. The Brevet Board served to temporarily correct this dilemma.

Yockelson also rehashes the details of TR’s time in Cuba – you can go read it yourself (I’m all for making you do a little work). So why did the Brevet Board deny TR his Medal? Was it politics? Or for real reasons?:
Exactly why the Brevet Board denied Roosevelt the award is not officially documented. There are no extant War Department records nor similar correspondence among the personal papers of Russell Alger that hint at why Roosevelt was rejected. Certainly no evidence exists to support the contention that Alger held a grudge over the Round Robin affair or Roosevelt's testimony to the congressional committee. On the contrary, letters from the War Department to Roosevelt indicate that they were more than willing to assist him in getting the Medal of Honor. One can only assume that the Brevet Board came to the conclusion that, though Roosevelt's conduct in Cuba was quite admirable, it was not worthy of a Medal of Honor.

Yockelson’s conclusion – the Brevet Board made the correct choice:
Regardless of why Roosevelt was not awarded the Medal of Honor, it was the correct decision. In one way or another, most of the officers participating in the fighting on July 1, 1898, performed very well. Military historian Graham Cosmas states that "in most regiments, the officer casualty rate was about double that for enlisted men--an indication of the extent and price of leadership from the front."(43) To single out Roosevelt as a hero among the other line officers would have been a great injustice, and the merit of the award would have been cheapened. The denial of the Medal of Honor does not diminish the fact that Roosevelt gave his best effort in attempting to bring order to the chaos along the San Juan Heights. He risked his life by riding his horse during the charge while the Spanish bullets rained down upon him. There is no doubt that he was an inspiration to the men of the Rough Riders and the troops of the cavalry division.

Even without the Medal of Honor, Theodore Roosevelt made his mark on American history, but he had desperately wanted it in 1898. Publicly at least, TR recovered from the disappointment of being denied the Medal and moved past it:
Roosevelt took the Brevet Board's decision with great disappointment, as might be expected. But time also helped heal any ill feelings he may have harbored, at least publicly. Since he was no longer serving in the United States Army, the brevet ranks of colonel and brigadier general had only political value to Roosevelt.(44) His career as a politician was right on track, and there was no reason to stew about the Medal of Honor any further. In 1907 he rejected an offer to join the Medal of Honor Club for the reason that "I was recommended for it [Medal of Honor] by my superior officers in the Santiago campaign, but I was not awarded it; and frankly, looking back on it now, I feel that the board which declined to award it took exactly the right position."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

James K. Polk: From Sea to Shining Sea

With this being Geography Awareness Week and with next week being Thanksgiving it might be appropriate to take a look at the presidency of James K. Polk. He was the first president to govern our nation from sea to shining sea and was the first president to host a Thanksgiving dinner in the White House.

Polk was the first ‘dark horse’ elected to the office of president. He had been the governor of Tennessee, had served in Congress, and was considered to be a good ‘Jacksonian’. In fact, one nickname given to Polk was ‘Little Hickory’ since he was a great friend of Andrew Jackson.

At one point Polk made the following observation regarding the office of president, “No president who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure.”

Polk lived up this quotation. He was a very driven man. During his one term presidency from 1845 to 1849, he set four goals…he wanted to reestablish the independent Treasury System, reduce the tariff, resolve the Oregon boundary dispute, and wrestle California from Mexico’s control. Polk is fairly high in opinion polls that rank U.S. presidents mainly because his agenda was completed in full by the end of his first and only term. That is some accomplishment considering I have problems with a daily list of things to do.

Students are often amazed at the process it took for our nation to become the recognizable shape it is today. Most think the United States simply appeared as is. Bit by bit, territory by territory, treaty by treaty our nation took its shape over time. You can see the whole process by viewing an interactive map here. What most Americans don’t realize is the huge contribution Polk made to make the saying “sea to shining sea” a real possibility.

Polk’s election victory was considered to be a mandate for Manifest Destiny. It did not take long for Polk’s administration to obtain an agreement with the British over the Oregon boundary. The fight for Texas became a little more complicated.

Before Polk was actually sworn in, Congress voted to annex Texas. Mexico became angry when Texas entered the Union in 1845. They disputed the Rio Grande river as the southern boundary of the United States stating that the correct border was really the Nueces River. Any efforts Polk’s administration made with Mexico regarding an agreement failed miserably.

In January, 1846 a new government was in place in Mexico. They began to claim all of Texas and stated they were ready for war. General Zachary Taylor was directed to move American forces to the Rio Grande. The Mexican government stated that the American action was a declaration of war. During the next two years the Mexican War was executed and won by the Polk administration.

At the end of the Mexican War our nation gained territory larger than the Louisiana Purchase with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago in 1848. The Rio Grande was set as the southern boundary of the United States, Texas was most definitely part of the United States, and along with the Mexican Cession the U.S. gained territory that would one day become California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. On the downside the new territories would become tangled in the slavery debate eventually leading to the Civil War.

Sadly Polk died within three months of leaving office. Ever the workaholic some say he simply worked himself to death while others cite that he may have contracted cholera while on a trip through the south.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Top 10 Youngest Presidents

We were just talking about the oldest surviving presidents in Gerald Ford (who is now officially the longest lived president). So what’s young for a president? Who was the youngest President to take office? That would be Theodore Roosevelt at 42, while John Kennedy was the youngest ever elected at 43. Next, we had two presidents elected at 46 (Clinton and Grant). Two 50-year-olds round out the list as the 9th and 10th youngest presidents (Fillmore and Arthur). So I guess this means that 40-something is young for a president! Makes me not feel bad about my age!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ford set to eclipse Reagan as oldest living former president in history

As reported in USA Today, Ford set to eclipse Reagan as oldest living former president in history. If he lives until Sunday, he will have the record. I hope he makes it and sets a much longer record for longevity.

From the site:

Gerald R. Ford is closing in on a record held by Ronald Reagan — living longer than any other U.S. president.

Ford, who turned 93 on July 14, will become the oldest president Sunday by living to 93 years and 121 days.

"The length of one's days matters less than the love of one's family and friends," Ford said in a statement this week from the Rancho Mirage compound he shares with former first lady Betty Ford, 88.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

That Six-Year Itch and the House of Representatives

I hope every American who reads this blog voted yesterday. It is always exciting to go and vote and then turn the TV on later and watch the results pour in. I took my youngest son with me to the polls and I hope this will help him learn to be a good citizen.

The Republican Party has lost control of the House of Representatives. Right now they have lost 27 seats with 11 still undecided. This is President Bush's sixth year in office. And looking at 20th century presidential history, this is a normal result.

With only one exception, the party of the President in his sixth year of office lost seats in the House of Representatives. In many cases, the losses were much larger than the ones the Republicans suffered yesterday.

Here are the past six-year itch midterm House losses by President in the 20th century:

- In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt saw the Republicans lose 28 seats.

- In 1918, Woodrow Wilson watched as the Democrats lost 19 seats.

- In 1938, FDR was horrified to witness a 71 seat loss for the Democrats.

- In 1950, Truman saw the Democrats lose 29 seats.

- In 1958, Ike watched as Republicans lost 48 seats.

- In 1974, Ford (in what was the recently resigned Nixon's sixth year) witnessed a 48 seat Republican loss.

- In 1986, Reagan the Great Communicator saw a 5 seat Republican loss.

The only sixth-year president in the 20th century who escaped the six-year midterm House jink was Clinton. He actually was pleased to see the Democrats pick up 4 seats.

Getting out the crystal ball, I predict that if the president elected in 2008 is reelected in 2012, that president's party will lose seats in the House in 2014. History is not destiny but some trends seem to be rather clear.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

Well, it is election day 2006 - hope you have all been to or are on your way to the polls.

With elections on my mind, I choose a site for today that is aimed at kids, but still fun, on the process of electing a president. It includes some polls from the students as well (they weren't far off from the actual results either!). The "vote for your favorite president" poll dosen't work, but the others seem to. It also includes a teacher's guide for teaching your students about the election process.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lost papers of JFK

It is depressing to think about the amount of historical knowledge lost to theft. Libraries and museums face continuous problems with security. Libraries are by nature friendly and trusting places – letting you check out books to take home and read. But there are people who will take advantage of that generosity. Now this theft actually took place before the receipt of the donation occurred, the idea is still the same.

James Roth’s article in Prologue, Reclaiming Pieces of Camelot, discusses problems with the Kennedy collection. Evelyn Lincoln, a former secretary of John F. Kennedy, was suspected of “misappropriating” documents related to JFK and through a long effort by NARA, the JFK library, the Kennedy family and the Department of Justice, these items were returned to their rightful institutions. Lincoln was entrusted with gathering up Kennedy’s papers in 1963 for the family to go through to decide what would be donated and what would be kept, but Lincoln turned out not to be a trustworthy choice:
…rather than turning over all of these materials to President Kennedy's family and the National Archives, Lincoln appeared to have kept many of these items and eventually given them away or sold them.

As early as 1964, the Kennedy family noticed problems in the papers Lincoln had turned over to them, but it was not until 1998 that the case was brought to the limelight. An auction of Kennedy material was announced, some of it that the National Archives and the JFK Library knew belonged to them. The Kennedy children also stepped forward with claims to some of materials at this time as well. In a long process of documentation and legal issues, a solution was finally found in 2005:
In the spring of 2004, library staff were permitted to review the entire White collection and selected all items that were deemed to belong to either the library or the family. After a year of negotiation, a final settlement was reached by all three parties in the summer of 2005. The library and Caroline Kennedy obtained the items they claimed and provided the White estate with a release of all of the other items that they had reviewed.

The article discusses what some of these Kennedy artifacts are. I’ll let you explore what was found, but I’ll share two with you so you can see the scope and importance of these papers. First to the Pre-Presidential Papers:
A significant addition to John F. Kennedy's Pre-Presidential Papers is a group of 11 folders relating to the 1960 Democratic National Convention. Before their recovery, the collection of Kennedy's papers at the library lacked material from the convention. The Democratic National Convention materials were collected and generated by Senator Kennedy and his staff before, during, and immediately following the convention in Los Angeles, California.

Next to the Presidential Papers on the Cuban Missile Crisis:
In 2003, Kennedy Library Director Deborah Leff received a telephone call from NARA General Counsel Gary M. Stern informing her that a NARA researcher had seen a map of Cuba for sale on the web for $750,000. The map was advertised as The Cuban Missile Crisis Map, "the ultimate JFK relic, originally acquired from the noted Kennedy collector Robert White" with the claim that this was "the most important Kennedy manuscript extant in private hands." White had long sold the map, and it had changed hands numerous times, ending up in the hands of a collector named Ralph McElvenny. The director convened a team of archivists at the library to work with the general counsel to investigate the background of the document.

Lincoln’s theft was unknown for years and after discovery took ten years to sort out. Allen Weinstein, the Archivist of the US, had this to say at the announcement of the settlement:
I am very pleased that these important documents and artifacts are finally being returned to the Kennedy Library where they belong. It was the intent of the Kennedy family that the American people should have the fullest account of the Kennedy administration, and these materials are essential in telling that story.

This article is two things. First, it is the story of the documents themselves and what they tell us about President Kennedy, which is important in itself. Second, it is a story that illustrates the amount of cultural thefts going on in our country. While this story as a happy ending, many do not. Remember to watch out for your cultural artifacts!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

There is a serious attempt right now to change how the President of the United States of America is elected. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a proposed agreement between states in the U.S. dealing with their allocation of electoral votes. This interstate compact, if enacted by enough states, would shift the method of election of the President of the United States to a national popular vote system. Full details can be found at National Popular Vote.

The site description of the plan notes, "Nationwide popular election of the President can be implemented if the states join together to pass identical state laws awarding all of their electoral votes to the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The proposed state legislation would only come into effect only when it has been enacted, in identical form, by enough states to elect a President, —that is, by states possessing a majority (270) of the 538 electoral votes. "

Currently, the President is elected indirectly by electors in the Electoral College. Each state (and the District of Columbia) is allocated a certain number of electors based on their Congressional representation. (Except D.C. which gets three despite having no voting congressmen.) The results of this system usually elects a President who wins the national popular vote but not always.

According to the Popular Vote site, 29 states now have sponsors in one or more state legislative houses who will introduce the compact. The states right now are Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky,Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. It is a long shot but it is conceivably possible this could be implemented for the 2008 Presidential election.

While I do have some reservation about this, I can see its merits and may be able to support it. However, if the Electoral College is such a problem, why not just abolish it? This proposed plan plays games with the Electoral College to force it to conform to the national popular vote. This plan is legal and does not require a Constitutional amendment to bring about. However, would it not just be simpler to pass an amendment abolishing the Electoral College entirely?

In most states, electors in the Electoral College can vote for whoever they want for President. It is rare for an elector not to vote for the candidate they are pledged to vote for. This system would ask many electors to ignore the mandate from the voters of their state and instead pledge it to the national vote winner. If they do this, they are a faithless elector for ignoring the will of state voters. However, if they ignore the Interstate Compact and vote to reflect the will of state voters, these electors would also be faithless electors. It is not to hard to imagine electors making hard choices at odds with the Interstate Compact creating mass confusion and anger. Just think of the charges of a stolen election if enough electors solved this ethical dilemma by ignoring the Interstate Compact.

So, why not just pass a constitutional amendment and abolish the Electoral College? It would be cleaner and would be a whole lot simpler. If there is enough support to do this, do it. If there is not, then maybe trying to do this via other legislative means is a bad idea?