Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Presidential China

Presidential china is one of the ways that First Ladies have left their mark on the White House. There is now a special room at the White House (appropriately called the China Room) where pieces from each set are displayed. The plate to the left is from the Wilson set. Not every First Lady has added new china, but many have. The reason for new china every other administration or so is that the sets are used and therefore get broken, stole (yes, this is a big problem! Eleanor Roosevelt actually had some of the plates made larger so that they couldn't easily be put into purses or pockets!), and generally used heavily.



My favorite china is actually the Hayes set, which is displayed to the left. You can see that this china is very color and intricate. Theodore Davis designed these plates and the Haviland company produced them. Davis took designing the china to the next level because he made the plate itself part of his designs.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

FDR at 125

Did you all see the cover of Prologue for Winter 2006? The magazine celebrates FDR's 125th (January 30, 2007) with an issue full of interesting articles. While not all the articles are online, several are - which means you can read them without moving from where you are sitting!

First, here's an excerpt from the introduction to start you off: All the Presidents who have followed FDR have, to one extent or another, been compared to him. The author of the popular In the Shadow of FDR, William E. Leuchtenburg, noted that FDR was simply a tough act to follow for the 11 men who have succeeded him in the presidency:
"The shadow cast by FDR has created an imposing set of challenges with far-reaching consequences," Leuchtenburg wrote.
"The efforts of Roosevelt's successors. . . to prove their fidelity to FDR while distancing themselves from him," he added, "has done much to shape the course of events from the spring of 1945 to the present." In observance of the 125th anniversary of FDR's birth on January 30, 1882, Prologue devotes much of this issue to an examination of the nation's thirty-second President. The articles on the following pages examine FDR's place in history, his leadership, his impact on the nation, and his legacy.

What else can you get online?
Well, first you can get a list of events from the FDR library for 2007.
The first article available online is A "New" FDR Emerges, which has several noted FDR authors to comment on FDR: Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., James MacGregor Burns, Geoffrey Ward, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David M. Kennedy, Alan Brinkley, Warren F. Kimball, Joseph E. Persico, John Garry Clifford, Mark Leff, Frank Costiglioga and Jonathan Alter.
To whet your appetite for more, I'm going to quote Schlesinger's comments here:
American democracy has finally clasped FDR to its bosom. Polls show that Washington, Lincoln, and FDR are regarded beyond dispute as our three greatest Presidents. Newt Gingrich, no stouter-hearted Republican than Newt, rates FDR the greatest 20th-century President. FDR's New Deal is no longer to be condemned as a mortal threat to the American way of life. Instead, as President George W. Bush discovered when he tried to fool around with Social Security, New Deal reforms are generally blessed. And their architect is admired and adored.
It was not always thus. FDR was the most beloved of 20th-century American Presidents. He was also the most hated. Recall Madison Square Garden on October 31, 1936:
"I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and lust for power met their match." Over the cascade of cheers, he went on: "I should like to have it said—," but the mounting roar of anticipation threatened to drown out his words; he paused and cried, "Wait a moment!"; then "I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master."
The intensity of politics in a democracy emerges when the business community is challenged by other forms of countervailing power. Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, like FDR, were stigmatized by short-sighted business leaders; but their historic eminence shows their indispensable role in the dynamics of democratic capitalism. Their historic function is to rescue capitalism from the capitalists, functions belatedly recognized by intelligent capitalists themselves.
The other article that is online is on FDR and his role in shaping the National Archives. The National Archives was officially created during the adminstration of Herbert Hoover, but it was FDR's administration that saw its real formation. Under FDR the First National Archivist was appointed. FDR took an active interest in the National Archives: The first Archivist of the United States, Dr. R.D.W. Connor, whom the President appointed in October 1934, quickly found that FDR's interest in the Archives went well beyond bricks and mortar issues. FDR closely monitored appointments to the Archives staff and made his own recommendations for staffing.
There is also a also short piece from Allen Weinstein (the current Archivist of the US if you don't know), about the death of Roosevelt.
There are more non-FDR articles online in this issue and more FDR articles if you look at the print version.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

President Gerald R. Ford's Address at a Tulane University Convocation

Presidents like to compliment a host institution when they are giving a speech. This was the case with President Ford in 1975 in President Gerald R. Ford's Address at a Tulane University Convocation. How many times can you note Ford making comments on how great Tulane is?

From the speech:

It is really a great privilege and a very high honor to have an opportunity of participating again in a student activity at Tulane University. And for this opportunity, I thank you very, very much.

Each time that I have been privileged to visit Tulane, I have come away newly impressed with the intense application of the student body to the great issues of our time, and I am pleased tonight to observe that your interest hasn't changed one bit.

As we came into the building tonight, I passed a student who looked up from his book and said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins but with a single step." To indicate my interest in him, I asked, "Are you trying to figure out how to get your goal in life?" He said, "No, I am trying to figure out how to get to the Super Dome in September." [Laughter] Well, I don't think there is any doubt in my mind that all of you will get to the Super Dome. Of course, I hope it is to see the Green Wave [Tulane University] have their very best season on the gridiron. I have sort of a feeling that you wouldn't mind making this another year in which you put the Tigers [Louisiana State University] in your tank.

When I had the privilege of speaking here in 1968 at your "Directions '68" forum, I had no idea that my own career and our entire Nation would move so soon in another direction. And I say again, I am extremely proud to be invited back.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Which American President Rode a Mechanical Horse in the White House?

Q. Which American President Rode a Mechanical Horse in the White House?

A. Strange but true that Calvin Coolidge received a gift of a mechanical horse when he was in the White House. He often rode it dressed as a cowboy or sometimes in his underwear. It was a central feature of his exercise regime.

I guess this may have made President Coolidge one of the original rhinestone cowboys? Presidents today of course work out extensively and use a variety of equipment. As there were fewer indoor exercise machines in the 1920s, I guess President Coolidge's choice is not really that strange.

I can just imagine "Silent" Cal whooping it up on the saddle...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Washington’s Faith

Peter Lillback argues that the faith of George Washington has been underplayed and misrepresented in modern scholarship in his new book, George Washington’s Sacred Fire, and HNN has published a short article where he outlines some of his main arguments.

The article starts by saying that until 20th century, Washington’s faith was never questioned, but starting in about 1932, the viewpoint began to shift towards Deism. Lillback says the scholarly shift occurred in 1963, which Paul Boller wrote a book on Washington’s faith and classified Washington as a Deist. Lillback then asks why scholars have so easily – and he says uncritically – accepted Boller’s view.

He agrues this happened for three reasons:
The reasons for the scholarly minimizing of Washington’s faith seem to be due to factors related to three reasons: the uniqueness of Washington himself, the perspectives of recent historians, and the nature and availability of the relevant evidence.

In the first reason, Lillback states that Washington chose not to make a point of his religion because he was trying to unify a country and didn’t want to touch on anything devisive. Add to that, Lillback says that Washington himself was “an inward man who prided himself on non-self-disclosure,” and thus would naturally leave the topic unstated.

For the second, he states:
If the recent zeitgeist has been a conscious move toward secularism in the academy and in the courts, then it stands to reason that Washington would begin to take on a more compatible secular image in the hands of such authors who so significantly shape our American culture. If the separation of Church and State is a fundamental tenet of our view of American culture, then the scholarly shaping of Washington’s life to fit this view is an inexorable result…While some of the testimony for Washington’s faith falls in the arena of unsupportable legend, there is a temptation simply to dismiss all evidence of his faith by assuming that there is only hagiographical and apocryphal testimony to support it.

In the third, Lillback says that much of the material necessary to discuss this topic has been unavailable, but now with the digital age both access and searching is easier, thus making this a topic that needs to be revisited. Washington’s collection of out or print sermons and correspondence with religious leaders Lillback says are “a treasure trove for understanding his religious thinking.”

From this letters, Lillback discovered many interesting points:
Washington referred to himself frequently using the words “ardent,” “fervent,” “pious,” and “devout.” There are over one hundred different prayers composed and written by Washington in his own hand, with his own words, in his writings. He described himself as one of the deepest men of faith of his day when he confessed to a clergyman, “No Man has a more perfect Reliance on the alwise, and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have nor thinks his aid more necessary.”

Lillback ends this article by arguing that historians need to revisit this topic and resurrence the faith of Washington from his words and writings rather than simply following along with the current historical trend.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Will Audiences Accept Leo DiCaprio as Theodore Roosevelt?

A guest post by Julie Lorenzen.

With all the Oscar buzz going on all around I decided to go to imdb.com to check out the profile of Leonardo DiCaprio, who is nominated for (but probably won’t win) best actor for Blood Diamond. (Ok, I’m one of just a few or so it seems with a little crush on the three-time Academy Awards nominee.)

Anyway, I discovered that a project titled The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (2008) is being developed for director Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio (who will play Theodore Roosevelt if everything goes as planned). According to IMDB website, the film is “A look at the formative years of the 26 President of the United States, from his transformation from a privileged New York politician to commander of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.”

I guess I’m not surprised about the tentative plans given the actor’s tendency to do serious films and his seeming quest for a certain award that is often given to those performing in bioepics. He also has a known preference for working under the direction of Scorcese. As much as I like him, I cannot picture DiCaprio as the larger than life T.R. The actor and the great Teddy Roosevelt seem to be a mismatch. I’m uncertain that the actor will be able to conjure up the energetic bravado possessed by Roosevelt. Does anyone else agree? If so, what actor would be better suited for the role?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Wine, and Thou

When I was in Joy Fulton’s literature class at Woodward Academy we chewed up, digested, and spit out many or the world’s best known bits of prose. One that I remember quite vividly was The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam. In my young romantic mind I could see myself with the love of my life on a beautiful blanket in a forest setting while we broke bread, drank wine, had a fantastic conversation, and gazed longingly in each other’s eyes.

Of course, even back then Dear Hubby and I spent many of our dates in some of Atlanta’s finer restaurants while our friends were satisfied with McDonalds. The love of my life and I knew the food was important, the wine was a wonderful addition, but it was “thou”---the person we were with and our conversation--- that made a memorable meal. However, this post really isn’t about my adventures through Atlanta’s main dining rooms…..I have a presidential purpose here.

I have wanted to write something about Thomas Jefferson for some time, but where do you start? What do you focus on? How do you not end up with a 500 page tome? To properly study Thomas Jefferson I think it would be necessary to spend an entire semester----nine weeks at the very least---to look at all the different faces of a most interesting man. He was among other things a horticulturalist, an architect, an archaeologist, a paleontologist, author, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia.

Another great passion of Jefferson’s was food, wine, and the presentation and consumption of both. John Adams put Jefferson’s passion in perspective when he said, “I dined a large company once or twice a week. Jefferson dined a dozen every day. I held levees once a week. Jefferson’s whole eight years was a levee.”

Jefferson’s love of wine, food, and conversation began early on while he was a student at William and Mary. While Jefferson took his studies very seriously he often attended parties given by Virginia’s royal governor, Francis Fauquier, and the wine flowed.

Jefferson experimented with growing his own grapes at Monticello and at the Hotel de Langeac, his home while in France that stood along the Champs-Elysees. He had high hopes for the American grade and predicted American wines would one day rival those of the French.

The first wine cellar built at the White House was installed by Thomas Jefferson who referred to wine as “a necessary for life.” The cellar was installed [under] an outbuilding since there was no vault cool enough in the main building. Some resources state that during his administration approximately $10,000 was spent on the wine. Jefferson personally ordered and paid for the finest wines from abroad, and noted the rate of their consumption in his own account books.

Jefferson always served a meal for visitors in his home, but they were downright lavish affairs at the White House. Even so, White House protocol was relaxed and state dinners were turned into more casual entertaining social events. Jefferson’s Monticello overseer, Edmond Bacon has been known to say, “He had a very long dining-room, and his table was chock-full every one of the sixteen days I was there. There were congressmen, foreigners, and all sorts of people to dine with him. He dined at four o’clock, and they generally sat and talked until night.”

There are many resources to head towards when researching Jefferson’s tablefare since many notable people dined with him and wrote about it. While searching through the archives of American Heritage magazine I located an interesting article regarding the gourmet Jefferson written in 1964 by Jean Hanvey Hazelton.

The article refers to the redlabelled Day Book where a record of every financial transaction dealing with Jefferson’s household was fastidiously recorded for posterity by Entienne Lemaire, Jefferson’s major-domo. Lemaire joined Jefferson’s staff during his first administration. In the book he records every pound of meat purchased, every saddle of venison, and every box of currants…One hundred and fourteen pages are filled for the period 1806-1809. His records also include transportation charges for wine and water; coal, wood, and “cyder” (one of Jefferson’s favorite beverages); incidental expenses of the servants; and other disbursements which the [major-domo] of an important house naturally undertook.

From the Day Book we learn that Jefferson served macaroni, vermicelli, anchovies, olive oil, vanilla, citron, Parmesan Cheese, European nuts, ice cream, and figs to his guests. From the American Heritage article we also learn that the Day Book contains other expenditures that give an interesting picture of Jefferson’s White House.

Fanny Bowles was a slave from Monticello. Jefferson had brought her to the White House to help with the cooking. While at the White House she received wages of two dollars per month. Fanny had a baby that was born frail and contracted the whooping cough. Jefferson himself took time from his official duties to write a note to a lady in Washington requesting her “to send the receipt for a remedy,” which he had heard her say was effectual. Nevertheless the child died. Pathetic little funeral expenses for the slave child were duly recorded by Lamaire in his Day Book. A coffin, delivered together with a load of wood by a Mr. Lennox, cost $2.25; the grave digger’s charge was $1.35; the hearse---‘la voitur’---was hired for $2.75 for the cold, sad trip to the burying ground.

There are many more interesting tidbits in the American Heritage article. I encourage you to read the entire thing here.

Adopted Son by David Clary

I was contacted a week or so ago about a brand new book (it was released last month) and now have the pleasure of being able to offer you an excerpt from this book so you can preview some of its content! There are two things below - first a synopsis of what the book covers and then an excerpt from the book. Hope you enjoy this treat!

Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship That Saved the Revolution
By David A. Clary

Synopsis:
In Adopted Son, historian David A. Clary tells the exciting story of possibly the most important friendship in American history. Bringing together the latest research, this dramatic narrative interweaves the private and public lives of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, who did together what neither could have done alone.

They were unlikely comrades-in-arms. One was a self-taught, middle-aged Virginia planter in charge of a ragtag army of revolutionaries, the other a rich, glory-seeking teenage French aristocrat. But the childless Washington and the orphaned Lafayette forged a bond between them as strong as any between father and son. It was an unbreakable trust that saw them through betrayals, shifting political alliances, and the trials of war.

Lafayette came to America a rebellious youth whose defiance of his king made him a celebrity in France. His money and connections attracted the favor of the Continental Congress, which advised Washington to keep the exuberant Marquis from getting himself killed. But when the boy-general was wounded in his first battle, he became a hero of two countries. As the war ground on, Washington found in his young charge the makings of a courageous and talented commander whose loyalty, generosity, and eagerness to please his Commander in Chief made him one of the war's most effective and inspired generals. Lafayette's hounding of Cornwallis's army was the perfect demonstration of Washington's unconventional "bush-fighting" tactics, and led to the British surrender at Yorktown.

Their friendship continued throughout their lives. Lafayette inspired widespread French support for a struggling young America and personally influenced Washington's antislavery views. Washington's enduring example as general and statesman guided Lafayette during France's own revolution years later.

Using personal letters and other key historical documents, Adopted Son offers a rare glimpse of the American Revolution through the friendship between Washington and Lafayette. It offers dramatic accounts of battles and intimate portraits of such major figures as Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold, and Benjamin Franklin. The result is a remarkable, little-known epic of friendship, revolution, and the birth of a nation.

Author
David A. Clary is the author of numerous books and other publications on military and scientific history. He has been a consultant to several government agencies and has taught history at the university level. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, Beatriz.

Excerpt: A Youth of Great Sobriety, Diligence, and Fidelity
England and France had been at war with each other for centuries, and their colonists in America sometimes were drawn into the conflict. They provided troops and supplies, invaded enemy territory, and incited Indians to do their butchery for them. The Indians -- arrayed in groups varying from isolated bands to multitribal confederations -- played the two white tribes off against each other, promising allegiance to whichever offered the best tribute. As a general rule, the Indians favored the French, because their population was smaller and they paid the best bribes. By the 1750s the English were clearly a greater threat to native well-being. Their growing population displaced eastern tribes westward, where they collided with other tribes. In response, they attacked frontier settlements and farms. The French in Canada encouraged them with firearms, ammunition, and plenty of liquor.

In 1752 and 1753, French authorities in Canada sent expeditions to the Ohio River Valley to post markers of their king's sovereignty. In the spring of 1753 they extended a line of military posts from the eastern end of Lake Erie toward the Forks of the Ohio, where Pittsburgh now stands. That not only challenged British claims to the country but threatened the future profits of the Ohio Company. Its investors had plans of their own to build a post at the Forks, trade with the Indians, and claim the lands beyond.

Robert Dinwiddie, lieutenant governor of Virginia, was a Scottish tycoon and, along with the Fairfaxes, a heavy investor in the Ohio Company. News of three new French posts in what is now western Pennsylvania, forming a line aimed at the Forks, alarmed him. He complained to his government in London about this invasion, and suggestively asked for instructions. In October 1753, King George II's orders arrived. Virginia should build forts on the Ohio and send an emissary to confirm whether the French had invaded English soil. If that was the case, the officer should "require of them peaceably to depart." If they refused, "[w]e," said the king, "do strictly command and charge you to drive them out by force of arms."

King George did not understand that this order committed his government and its British and American taxpayers to doing the Ohio Company's work for it. Since Virginia's Assembly (House of Burgesses) would have to pay the major part of the bills, the conniving Dinwiddie kept it in the dark. He summoned the King's Council (the appointed upper house) and urged it to authorize an expedition to drive the French out, and build a post at the Forks. He had just the candidate to lead the enterprise -- the twenty-one-year-old George Washington.

Washington confessed, "It was deemed by some an extraordinary circumstance that so young and inexperienced a person should have been employed on a negotiation with which subjects of the greatest importance were involved." But he was "used to the woods," said one of Dinwiddie's business partners, and "a youth of great sobriety, diligence, and fidelity." Besides, he could be trusted not to feather his own nest while serving the interests of the Crown, so thoroughly mixed up with those of the Ohio Company.

On October 30 Dinwiddie ordered Washington to venture into the West, contact friendly Indians, and proceed to the French forts. There he was to present a nicely phrased ultimatum from Dinwiddie, politely inviting the "frog-eaters" (as the English called the French) to clear out. While awaiting their reply, he was also supposed to gather as much intelligence as he could about the other side's strength, dispositions, and intentions.

Washington trekked into a literally howling wilderness -- winter roared in ahead of schedule. He was accompanied by Ohio Company trader Christopher Gist; Jacob van Braam, a Dutchman who claimed to speak French; a scalawag who said he could interpret the Indians' languages; and four others who eventually deserted him. With Gist's help, Washington enlisted a few Indian allies, slogged through rain and sleet, forded torrential rivers, and reached Fort LeBoeuf (Erie, Pennsylvania) on December 11, 1753. The local commander received him with great courtesy. He invited Washington to cool his heels for three days as he prepared a reply to Dinwiddie's ultimatum, which he forwarded to his superiors in Canada.

The French officers wined and dined the Virginian. He reported later that the wine, which they drank by the gallon, loosened their tongues. They told him "that it was their absolute design to take possession of the Ohio, and, by G--, they would do it; for that although they were sensible the English could raise two men for their one, yet they knew their motions were too slow and dilatory to prevent any undertaking of theirs." Or at least that was how the message came through the Dutchman's translation; Washington spoke no French. He understood well enough, however, that the "rosbifs" (as the French called the English) were being told to go to hell. The official letter to Dinwiddie said much the same, but more politely.

Washington hurried back to Virginia's capital, the muddy little village of Williamsburg. His horses were worn out, so he decided he could make better time on foot. Leaving the rest of his party behind, he and Gist set out through storms and hostile Indians. Twice he came close to drowning, and once he narrowly dodged a musket ball. Gist became crippled by frostbite, and Washington left him at an Ohio Company post. He pressed on alone to Williamsburg, where he reported to Dinwiddie in early February 1754.

There he wrote a formal report to the lieutenant governor. After many pages of chipper boasting, its ending betrayed youthful uncertainty and hunger for approval. "I hope what has been said," Washington pleaded, "will be sufficient to make your Honour satisfied with my conduct; for that was my aim in undertaking, and chief study throughout the prosecution of it." Dinwiddie was satisfied; he ordered the report published, along with his praise of it, to justify the war he was starting.

Dinwiddie was in over his head and not bright enough to realize it. France and England were at peace, and he was about to blunder them into war. Moreover, Virginia had not mounted a military expedition since the previous century. Nobody in the province understood what a campaign would involve, let alone what it would cost. Nevertheless, the lieutenant governor called the Assembly into session to get it to pay for a war the burgesses did not want. They debated until April, when the Assembly voted some money, but not enough. Meanwhile Dinwiddie sent emissaries to the Indian tribes, and to other colonies, appealing for support. He did not get much.

The lieutenant governor appointed Washington a lieutenant colonel of the militia, and commander of the expedition. Meanwhile, in early spring Dinwiddie had dragooned about forty carpenters and militiamen into going to the Forks to build a fort. In April 1754, Washington, wearing a tailor-made uniform, set out from Alexandria at the head of 160 underpaid, disgruntled militiamen and wagoneers. He had been authorized 200, but he was lucky to assemble the force he did. As his little army cut its way through the forest at a rate of two or three miles a day, it became apparent that Washington also was in over his head, but not mature enough to realize it.

The men at the Forks faced starvation, because the Delawares refused to provide food. That was a sensible move on the Indians' part, because early in May about a thousand French soldiers arrived at the Forks with eighteen cannons. The forty Virginians surrendered and headed home. The French started building a professionally engineered fortification, named Fort Duquesne.
Washington was encamped in a grassy valley split by a swift stream, called Great Meadows. He ordered his men to cut timber and erect a circular stockade, which he called Fort Necessity. It was not big enough to enclose even his small complement, so he surrounded it with a ring of shallow trenches. The whole thing was commanded by wooded hills all around, where the French could pepper it with musketry and bombard it with cannonballs.

The commander at Fort Duquesne kept an eye on Washington's progress through Canadian and Indian scouts. In late May he sent out a party of about thirty-five, commanded by a young, popular, and well connected ensign, Joseph-Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. His instructions were to deliver an ultimatum telling the Virginians to leave the country. When Washington first learned from Indians of Jumonville's approach, he sent half his force off in the wrong direction. Receiving further information, he took forty-seven men -- half of what he had left at the fort -- and went looking for the French party at night in a driving rain.

Before dawn the next day, May 28, the Virginians reached a friendly Indian camp, less seven men who had gotten lost in the dark. The rain had stopped, and Washington ordered his men to reload their muskets, while Indians scouted the location where they believed the French were camped. It was a rocky glen, and as the French were rousing from their sleep, Washington posted his troops around three sides of the hollow while the Indians closed off the only way out. Exactly what happened next has been the subject of debate ever since, but it is certain that Washington had no control over the events.

A shot rang out, then the Virginians fired at least two volleys down into the Frenchmen, who tried to retreat into the surrounding woods but were halted by the Indians. Washington had given no order to fire, but when a French officer called for quarter, he ordered a cease-fire. Resistance had been ragged, and only three Virginians were wounded and one dead; fourteen Frenchmen, including Jumonville, lay wounded at the bottom of the glen. The bleeding ensign tried to explain, through an interpreter, that his mission was peaceful, but before he could present his ultimatum an Indian leader tomahawked him, reached into his open skull, and pulled out the young officer's brain. That was the signal for the other Indians to begin slaughtering the wounded, scalping, beheading, and dismembering their helpless victims.

Washington, who had been a passive observer rather than a commander, came to himself and ordered his troops to surround and protect the French survivors, one wounded, the others not. He hustled twenty-one prisoners out of the glen while the Indians finished their work. A French fugitive who reached the Forks claimed that Washington had fired on a flag of truce -- an atrocity of war. The massacre shook the young Virginian commander to his core. He sent a terse report back to Dinwiddie, papering over what had really happened, but he was fully aware that he had entirely lost control of a situation he assumed he could command by virtue of his rank alone.

Washington could more rightly be described as amateurish than as atrocious. When new arrivals just after the skirmish raised his manpower to about 400, he set out through the forest to attack Fort Duquesne and its garrison, grown to more than 2,000 men. For the next two weeks his little army struggled to move baggage, supplies, and nine swivel guns, and got nowhere. Wagons broke down, horses died, the men wore out, and the last Indian allies went home. On June 28, Washington learned that a large French and Indian force was headed his way, and he turned back. The retreat was worse than the advance, the men carrying whatever stuff could be salvaged after the last of the horses died. The whole force collapsed on the ground at Fort Necessity on July 1, 1754.

The next night it began to rain. Few of the men had any shelter while the valley turned into a swamp. By the morning of the third, fewer than 300 men were fit for duty. The enemy, about a thousand strong, attacked in late morning, led by a savvy veteran named Coulon de Villiers, Jumonville's older brother. Washington expected a conventional infantry slugfest of volleys and bayonet charges, but the French and Indians dispersed into the surrounding cover and blasted the Virginians with musket fire. The rain resumed, drowning the Virginians' muskets. The French, under trees, kept their powder dry and poured hell onto Fort Necessity. Musket balls smacked into its timbers, splatted into the sodden ground, and thunked into human flesh. Washington walked untouched through the storm of lead, not knowing what to do.

His lack of control became obvious at nightfall. Discipline disintegrated, and soldiers broke in to the rum supply. Over half of them were soon falling-down drunk, thanks to their fatigue and empty stomachs. De Villiers called on him to surrender and leave the territory. Using as intermediary the same Dutchman who had been with him at Fort LeBoeuf, Washington signed articles of surrender at midnight. He did not realize that he had just confessed to the murder of Jumonville -- van Braam was not much of a translator.

Out of the 300 combatants at his disposal on July 3, Washington had lost thirty killed and seventy wounded, many severely; French and Indian losses were negligible, only three dead. The exhausted, hung-over survivors of Fort Necessity carried their wounded out of the place and prepared to drag themselves back to Virginia. The defeat was total. "Whatever may have been the feelings of Washington, he has left no record of them," the historian Francis Parkman observed. "His immense fortitude was doomed to severer trials in the future; yet perhaps this miserable morning was the darkest of his life. He was deeply moved by sights of suffering; and all around him were wounded men borne along in torture, and weary men staggering under the living load. His pride was humbled, and his young ambition seemed blasted in the bud. It was the fourth of July."

Copyright © 2007 by David A. Clary

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wartime Announcements

This article looks at how various presidents have broken bad news in war to the American public. I just pulled a few examples from the article for you all!

FDR promised openness:
Most importantly, he promised the people openness, as much as possible. In his words: "Your Government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst ... You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your Government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us."

Lincoln kept in mind the fact that the Union great outnumbered the Confederacy:
It is also testimony to his optimism that even after a loss, Lincoln was able to make this observation: "If the same battle were to be fought over again, every day, through a week of days, with the same relative results, the army under Lee would be wiped out to its last man, the Army of the Potomac would still be a mighty host, the war would be over, the Confederacy gone, and peace would be won at a smaller cost of life."

Johnson used TV to help him deliver his own bad news:
Johnson was not without his own uses for TV. He could be short, precise, and sarcastic with his comments, and he could also time his messages. After months of deliberation and meetings over the situation in Vietnam, LBJ’s task would be to break the bad news of a dramatic increase in troop strength - from 70,000 to 125,000. The televised address came midday on July 28, rather than prime-time in the evening, coupling news of a fifty-thousand-man increase with another reiteration of why America was involved in Vietnam.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Two Presidential Articles from Newsweek

The February 12, 2007 issue of Newsweek has two articles relating to the American Presidency. These are:

1. Inside Bush's Fixation With Harry Truman - The authors are Holly Bailey, Richard Wolffe and Evan Thomas. The write, "Many presidents find solace in comparing themselves to their predecessors, the only people who could truly understand the job at hand. Truman is a favorite, particularly for presidents with low poll numbers. By 1952, the last year of his presidency, Truman's approval rating sank as low as 22 percent, about 10 points lower than Bush's. David McCullough, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Truman tells NEWSWEEK that, faced with an uphill re-election fight in 1992, George H.W. Bush invited McCullough to the White House to talk about how Truman had beaten the odds in the 1948 campaign (unlike Truman, Bush lost his re-election bid). The two Roosevelts and Lincoln, of course, are popular role models. Bill Clinton, who spent many hours in office fretting over his legacy, lamented that he might not rank highly because he lacked the opportunity to be a war president —perhaps overlooking in his meditations the impact of the Lewinsky scandal."

2. Happy Birthday, Abe: The Lincoln Bedroom is restored to its 19th-century glory - Author Michael Beschloss wrote, "A hundred and ninety-eight years after Abraham Lincoln's birth, the White House's Lincoln Bedroom finally looks like a room the great man would recognize." A photo gallery showing off the new look is available as well.

Happy reading!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

McKinley High School

I have some fun trivia for you that someone at work told me - who was McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio, named after? I'll post the answer in a few days, if no one can come up with it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Nixon Presidential Materials

Here is a Nixon site I do not believe I had seen before. It is Nixon Presidential Materials from the National Archives. It is described as the official source for the historical materials created and received by the White House during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon.

The site includes:

- approximately 46 million pages of textual material, of which about 7 million are available for public research

- over 30,000 gifts

- approximately 500,000 photographs
- 700 hours of film

- over 4,000 hours of "off air" video recordings

- 4,469 audio recordings

- 950 reels of Nixon White House Tapes, totalling approximately 3,700 hours, of which 2,019 hours are currently available for research

There is also a fun When Nixon Met Elvis page! This looks like a good resource with plenty of informative reading available.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

And another thing Eleanor!

So what's with my title? Well, in 1985 Ronald Reagan gave a tribute speech about John F. Kennedy to help support the JFK Presidential Library. It is a enjoyable speech in itself and I especially like that Reagan admits he worked against Kennedy's election:
Which is not to say I supported John Kennedy when he ran for president, because I didn't. I was for the other fellow. But you know, it's true: when the battle's over and the ground is cooled, well, it's then that you see the opposing general's valor.

But what I want to share from this speech is the end, talking about the history of the White House:
And sometimes I want to say to those who are still in school, and who sometimes think that history is a dry thing that lives in a book: Nothing is ever lost in that great house; some music plays on. I have been told that late at night when the clouds are still and the moon is high, you can just about hear the sound of certain memories brushing by. You can almost hear, if you listen close, the whir of a wheelchair rolling by and the sound of a voice calling out, "And another thing Eleanor!" Turn down a hall and you can hear the brisk strut of a fellow saying, "Bully! Absolutely ripping!" Walk softly now and you're drawn to the soft notes of a piano and a brilliant gathering in the East Room, where a crowd surrounds a bright young president who is full of hope and laughter. History is not only made by people, it is people.

I thought you'd all enjoy that with me! Please follow the link above if you want to read the entire speech (it isn't that long).

Friday, February 02, 2007

Grant was a Slave Owner

I was at work a couple of weeks ago organizing a new collection and found an article that stated Ulysses S. Grant was a slave owner. Of course, this peaked my interest as something you don't often hear about. The article claimed that Grant had owned slaves longer than Lee did. So I decided to do some research.

Julia Dent Grant came from a slave-owning family and was an apologist for slavery throughout her life and the Civil War. The Grants owned slaves that came from Julia's father and Grant himself was responsible for supervising them. These slaves were not freed until 1865 when Missouri officially abolished slavery.

Grant actually owned one slave himself as well:
Grant himself owned a slave named William Jones, acquired from his father-in-law. At a time when he could have desperately used the money from the sale of Jones, Grant signed a document that gave him his freedom.
Grant freed this slave in 1859.

Robert E. Lee came from a slave-owning family, but upon his father-in-law's death, all those slaves were freed (this was 1862 before the Emancipation Proclamation). In a letter to President Pierce, Lee wrote that "There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil."

So what is comes down to is the Grant family owned slaves longer than the Lee as the slaves in question were from Julia's family, not Grant's personal slaves. That being said, of course, in that day and age, that meant Grant was in control of them. It is interesting to see that both of these men - the two opposing Civil War generals - were slave owners at one point or another in their lives.