Monday, April 30, 2007

Today in History: Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb Edition

While browsing LIS News, I discovered that the Library of Congress now has a blog. That blog is located at I am very pleased to see that the Library of Congress has a blog and I have already found a useful presidential resource from reading it.

Today in History: Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb Edition has a an essay about President Grant richly linking to primary source material in the American Memory Collection. Here is an example paragraph with five links, "In the spring of 1861, after suffering failed farming and business ventures in Missouri and Illinois, Grant returned to the army as a colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Within months, he was promoted to brigadier general and placed in charge of 20,000 Union troops. Largely through the successive victories of the troops under his command, Grant rose steadily in rank. After the Union's November 1863 victory at Chattanooga, President Abraham Lincoln asked Congress to revive the rank of lieutenant general to honor Grant; only George Washington and Winfield Scott had previously held the esteemed rank. Grant received his commission in March 1864, just over a year before Confederate leader Robert E. Lee surrendered to him at Appomattox, Virginia."

The American Memory Project has lots of freely available resources relating to American Presidents. It is a good place to browse. The Library of Congress also has other resources relating the presidency and presidents as well. I will keep checking out the LoC Blog and maybe find a few new resources in the future.

Friday, April 27, 2007

1912 Presidential Ballot

This picture is from the Henry Ford Museum and is the “official ballot for presidential elector for Election District No. 2, Town of Castile…”

I find the pictures which each party fascinating! The 1912 election was one of the few times that a third party (TR and the Bull Moose Party) made a major dent in our two party system. Actually TR got a million more votes than the Republican nominee, Taft. The Henry Ford Museum writes about this election: “The presidential election of 1912 brought Americans a difficult choice between a reform Democrat, a conservative Republican, and one of the most popular presidents of the era.”

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase

There is also an interesting article about Jefferson and Louisiana. Jefferson wanted to explore Louisiana before the US owned it, but as this was claimed by several powers, he needed his explorations to be kept secret:
The President planned to ask Congress for the $2,500 in his budget message in early 1803, but his treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, cautioned against it, recommending instead a confidential message, since the expedition would enter lands claimed by other countries and it would be unwise to needlessly antagonize foreign powers. In this case, that meant the British, who claimed land in what is now the Pacific Northwest, and the Spanish, who still controlled the Louisiana Territory since the French had not yet arrived to take possession.

You can see part of Jefferson’s confidential message to Congress here, but you can access the entire piece through NARA.

Jefferson’s message first talks about contact and trade with the Native Americans and the importance of mapping the area, but then outlines his real reason:
Jefferson then raised the real reason for his "confidential" message: "The appropriation of two thousand five hundred dollars 'for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the US,' while understood and considered by the Executive as giving the legislative sanction, would cover the undertaking from notice and prevent the obstructions which interested individuals might otherwise previously prepare in its way."

Now Jefferson didn’t know it at the time, but by the time that Lewis and Clark left for Louisiana, the US would already own it.

Another article in Prologue that looks at the collection of documents from this historic purchase.
Jefferson’s original purpose in approaching France was the purchase of New Orleans:
Jefferson's men were in Paris because he wanted to buy the port of New Orleans. To him, New Orleans was key: Whoever owned it would be America's natural enemy because that nation would control the channel through which produce from more than a third of the United States had to pass.

New Orleans had been back and forth between France and Spain. Jefferson wanted to get control of New Orleans. He sent James Monroe to New Orleans to join the Ambassador already in Paris (Robert Livingston) to negotiate this delicate deal.

But a surprise change came up – the French foreign minister, Talleyrand, offered the more than New Orleans – the entire Louisiana Territory. Monroe and Livingston signed the deal on April 30. Jefferson didn’t even know about it until July 3rd and didn’t see the paperwork until July 14th. Now we get the to crunch time - Jefferson was worried about the constitutionality of purchasing that much land and spending that much money (15 million remember was the purchase price of Louisiana) and thought he might need a constitutional amendment saying the President could buy land. BUT Napoleon was getting antsy and threathening to void the deal if the US didn’t make a move quickly. So Jefferson ignored the tinge about constitutionality and pushed for a quick ratification of the treaty to make Napoleon’s deadline. The Senate ratified the treaty 24 to 7 on October 20th and the next day the American and French envoys signed the treaty.

Now comes the hard part – the financing. French banks wouldn’t deal with the American stock (for fear of English retribution), so two private firms were approached to conduct the sale. The story of this is complex and interesting:
Now the real work of implementing the treaty and the two conventions began. Because of a possible war with England, French banks would neither buy nor market the American stock. So Livingston and Monroe suggested that two firms, Baring and Company of London and Hope and Company of Amsterdam, conduct the sale of the stock.

Hoping the suggestion would be viewed favorably, between May 3 and May 5, 1803, Alexander Baring of Baring and Company was given powers of attorney by both companies for entering into negotiations with France and the United States. On May 28, Barbé-Marbois and the American ministers exchanged correspondence relating to what was now called the American Fund. France approved the suggestion and signed a contract with Baring and Company and Hope and Company for the negotiation of the American Fund, witnessed by Livingston and Monroe, on June 6. On the same day, Barbé-Marbois wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin that Baring would be arriving in America to begin the transfer of stock.

In the United States, Baring was granted more detailed powers of attorney by Hope and Company on July 20 and Baring and Company on August 12 as to the American Fund. He was now able to negotiate the number and amounts of certificates to be transferred, to whom the certificates would be made, and the place at which interest would be paid, among other points. The actual fiscal details fell into place, and the $11,250,000 became more than a figure.

The challenge, then, was getting the stock to Europe.

On December 1, Baring asked Gallatin for the stock to be issued, with receipts ($3,750,000 for Baring and $7,500,000 for Midshipman John B. Nicholson to be delivered to Lt. James Leonard for delivery to Livingston in Paris; Livingston would give a receipt to Leonard upon receiving the stock).

Gallatin wrote a note to Jefferson asking for the date possession was taken of New Orleans so that the register of the Treasury, Joseph Nourse, could fill in the date on the stocks from which interest was to be calculated. Jefferson replied on the bottom of the note that the date was December 20 and sent it back to Gallatin. Gallatin and Baring agreed that the funds would be paid yearly in four installments, and Jefferson approved. A warrant for the preparation of stock certificates for $11,250,000 at 6-percent interest was sent by Gallatin to Nourse, stating that the certificates were not to be issued without further orders from Gallatin.

On January 16, 1804, Jefferson sent a warrant to Gallatin to issue the certificates, and the same day Gallatin sent a warrant to Nourse to deliver certificates for $3,750,000 to Baring and another $7,500,000 in certificates to be delivered to Livingston in Paris. Also on the same day, Baring requested Nourse to transmit two-thirds of the stock (the $7,500,000) to Livingston. Somewhere along the line, plans changed as Gallatin then instructed Nourse to deliver the stock to be sent to Livingston into the hands of Jefferson's private secretary, Lewis Harvie, who would act as messenger and sail from Norfolk. Nourse drafted a letter to the French chargé d'affaires, L. A. Pichon, and Baring, requesting instructions as to the delivery of the stock to Livingston. Pichon wrote to Gallatin the same day agreeing to the transmission arrangements.

On February 7, however, Gallatin informed Nourse that they were back to the original plan: The stock was now to be delivered to Midshipman Nicholson to deliver to Lieutenant Leonard, who would sail from New York. The delivery was made and documented on February 13 by a receipt from Leonard to Nicholson. Livingston acknowledged the delivery of the stock to him in Paris by issuing a receipt to Leonard. On April 28, Barbé-Marbois issued a quitclaim to Hope and Company, relinquishing France's claim to the territory.

To complete the transaction, in a letter to Gallatin from Bordeaux, France, Leonard enclosed a duplicate original receipt from Livingston for the stock Leonard delivered to him. Nourse received a letter from Edward Jones, clerk for Gallatin, in which was enclosed the original receipt from Livingston for the stock delivered by Leonard to him in Paris.

The article also contains an interesting history of the documents themselves – their journey to the National Archives as well as their preservation story.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who is this couple?

Okay, I actually think this is pretty easy, but its raining here and I'm a little down after all the nice weather so I figured an easy trivia photograph was a way to make us all smile. And I LIKE this picture.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

President's Park

Do you think you would like to take a walk in park with 16 to 26 feet tall busts of American Presidents? If so, the Black Hills of South Dakota may have what you seek. For a mere $8, visitors can walk and see the large likenesses of all 42 men who have been the President of the USA. All of them from Washington to George W. Bush are present.

Can't make it to South Dakota? There is a sister park with the same busts in Williamsburg, Virginia. Maybe I can buy a franchise and open it here in Michigan.

Details on President's Park can be found at

From the site:

Presidents Park is the Master works of Internationally known Artist and Sculptor David Adickes. The park sits in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota and features incredible likenesses of all 42 of our Nations Presidents majestically standing 20 feet tall.

The Park is an educational, art, and nature experience for adults, families, and school groups. Each Presidential bust has a biographical panel and state and national flags of their era placed beside them. All 42 statues of our nation’s presidents are chronologically arranged along beautiful, naturally gardened trails. Grab a bite to eat in our garden café or picnic in the gazebos. We proudly serve Starbucks coffee. Self guided and guided tours of themes are available. Including themes about our Presidents in the military, their impact and the impact on others, the first ladies and their contributions, assassinations-the attempts and plots. We also have monuments to instrumental events in our history. Check out the beautiful Visitor’s Center and gift shop with Americana items. We also have a book store featuring Presidential books as well as other books.

Monday, April 23, 2007

This day will live in infamy….

I think we all know FDR’s famous speech after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is a speech that has etched itself into our collective memories. There was a great article in Prologue in 2001 that looks at the drafts of this speech to show us how FDR got to the final product that has become an icon of US history.

FDR decided he was going to ask for a declaration of war and went to write his short message, dictating the first draft to his secretary:
Biographer Nathan Miller recalls: "He inhaled deeply on his cigarette, blew out the smoke, and began dictating in the same calm tone he used to deal with his mail. He enunciated the words incisively and slowly, carefully specifying each punctuation mark and new paragraph. Running little more than five hundred words, the message was dictated without hesitation or second thoughts."

Roosevelt then started editing his message – one of the first changes included adding the term “date that will live in infamy:”
On draft No. 1, Roosevelt changed "a date which will live in world history" to "a date which will live in infamy," providing the speech its most famous phrase and giving birth to the term, "day of infamy," which December 7, 1941, is often called.

Interestingly, FDR has three drafts, but there is almost nothing on draft 2. He must have went back to draft 1 and correct to get to draft 3, rather than going through draft 2.

FDR’s speeches were usually a lengthy process, but not this one:
Rosenman, Sherwood, and Hopkins were usually involved in drafting major speeches, along with others in the government, depending on the subject. Usually, a speech took from three to ten days to prepare, far longer than the December 8 speech. But Rosenman insisted that all the speeches eventually were Roosevelt's. "The speeches as finally delivered were his-and his alone-no matter who the collaborators were. He had gone over every point, every word, time and again. He had studied, reviewed, and read aloud each draft, and had changed it again and again, either in his own handwriting, by dictating inserts, or making deletions. Because of the many hours he spent in its preparation, by the time he delivered a speech he knew it almost by heart.” Rosenman also wrote: "The remarkable thing is that on one of the busiest and most turbulent days of his life, he was able to spend so much time and give so much thought to his speech.

He gave the speech the next day in the House, changing still a few more terms:
The next day, at 12:30 P.M., in the House of Representatives, Roosevelt delivered his six-minute address to a joint session of Congress and a nationwide radio audience. He was interrupted several times by applause and departed only a few times from the wording on the final draft of the speech, which included four minor handwritten changes.

The article also includes some interesting facts about the copies of the speech themselves – where they are and have been (which is interesting to me, an archivist, at least!).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The First Lady at Cabinet Meetings?

Rudy Giuliani was backpedalling about his comment that he would let his wife attend Cabinet meetings. Many Americans feel uncomfortable about the unelected First Lady at these meetings.

Scott Kaufman debates the background of this thorny issue - the First Lady's place. The Carter administration recieved criticism because Rosalynn Carter attended (although didn't participate) in Cabinet meetings. Similar criticisms were lodged against the Clinton adminstration:
Over 60 percent [of the American public] believed Mrs. Clinton had the “knowledge and personal characteristics” to act as one of his advisers. Yet seven out of ten respondents wanted her to assume a traditional role, and six of ten rejected the idea of her taking up official duties in the White House. When President Clinton appointed Hillary as head of a commission to make recommendations to reform the nation’s health care system – in other words, a body that would help make policy – most Americans were outraged. After the Republican-controlled Congress killed the proposed reforms, and, even more important, after Mrs. Clinton adopted a new hairdo and assumed more traditional functions in her husband’s administration, her standing in the eyes of Americans improved.

Prof. Kaufman ends his piece by wondering what would happen if the US does elect a woman President? Would the American public have the same aversion to her husband (who would then be the unelected official) taking a role in public policy? What if it was Hillary Clinton whose husband has governmental experience? Should that make a difference?

What is the place of the First Lady? The First Lady traditionally takes on a "cause" that she uses her influence to help - such as Laura Bush and literacy, but what else can she do? Let's hear your opinion - certainly everyone else is talking!

As a note, I found a blog called America's Next First Lady if you are interested in the First Lady race for 2008. I personally am avoiding the 2008 election at the moment - way too early for me to care!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spring 2007 Alasandra Blog Awards

I just discovered that the American Presidents Blog (along with History is Elementary) has been named the winner of the best History Blog category in the Spring 2007 Alasandra Blog Awards.

My thanks to Alasandra. Her blog is described as, "A blog about homeschooling, issues affecting teens & issues affecting Jackson County, Mississippi. I also blog about books I have read, share recipes & comment on anything else that strikes my fancy."

Maybe we should start our own Blog Award contest here at APB? This could be fun.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Run for President of the United States?

Hey, you! Want to run for President? Do you lack money and connections? No problem! There is a site for you. lets anyone run a virtual campaign for president. To begin a campaign, visitors register a candidate name, build a profile and start campaigning. These candidates will find issues they can leave comments on stating their position and they and other visitors may comment on other candidates platforms.

This vanity site will probably never be the origins of a winning presidential campaign. However, for the self-obsessed, the ideologically pure, and those wanting to make the 2008 election a fun fantasy game, this site will probably provide tons of entertainment.

Lorenzen 2008? I think not. Maybe 2012...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Harry Truman: Poker Player

I thought we all needed something a little fun to start off the week!

Raymond Geselbracht, in an article in Prologue, shows us a different view of Harry Truman – as a poker player. He begins his article with this:
When Harry Truman was asked in a televised Person to Person interview in 1955 what he did to relax, he responded, "Well, my only relaxation is to work." This was no doubt almost true, but Truman forgot to mention something he loved to do, something that took a lot of time, demanded close attention, consumed a certain amount of emotional energy, and must have caused him some anxiety from time to time. But it probably couldn't be considered work. Truman forgot to mention that, for relaxation and to enjoy the company of friends, he played poker.

Geselbracht talks about Truman’s poker playing throughout his life, including as President:
Truman's favorite poker venue while he was President was the presidential yacht Williamsburg. "You know I'm almost like a kid; I can hardly wait to start," he wrote to his wife, Bess, as he looked forward to a poker outing on the Williamsburg in the summer of 1946. The President, together with some of his regular poker buddies, and perhaps some special guests too, would typically board ship on Friday afternoon and sail on the Potomac River until Sunday afternoon. Truman liked an eight-handed game best. His cronies joined him around the table. Fred Vinson, secretary of the treasury and later chief justice of the United States, was his favorite poker companion. Other regulars included Clinton Anderson, secretary of agriculture and later a senator; Stuart Symington, a Missourian who served Truman in several positions, including secretary of the air force; and longtime friend Harry Vaughan, now Truman's military aide. Future President Lyndon Johnson sometimes joined these games too, his attention focused more on the political talk than on the cards. Truman's young naval aide and later special counsel Clark Clifford organized the games. Clifford had replaced a naval aide who told the President that he didn't drink and didn't play cards. Truman listened to this with interest and very quickly found the man a good job somewhere else. He liked Clifford better; his new naval aide did drink and play cards, the latter so skillfully that he usually won a little money.

He goes on to talk about some of Truman’s poker buddies – including Winston Churchill. He ends with these thoughts on Truman’s poker playing:
Truman loved poker for some of the same reasons that he loved politics. There was a vitality in the game that let him share in the lives of people he liked and see them as they really were, underneath whatever formalities they usually had to adopt when they dealt with a judge, senator, President, or former President. Poker also gave him a chance to make his friends happy in some small ways, which was very important to him. "I've tried all my life," he wrote to Bess in 1937, "to be thoughtful and to make every person I come in contact with happier for having seen me." There's no record of anyone ever leaving a poker game with Harry Truman feeling unhappy.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Bushes 2006 Income Taxes

The Bushes have released their 2006 federal income taxes. Their income for 2006 was $765, 801 and they paid $186, 378 in taxes.

The Cheneys had a taxable income of $1.6 million and paid taxes in the amount of $413, 326. They actually overpaid this year (by $51, 463), but elected to put it towards their next years tax bill rather than get a refund.

You can access their actual tax returns as well:

Friday, April 13, 2007

Angelica Van Buren

I'm still on my White House hostess kick, so I have another for you today.

Hannah Van Buren died in 1819, almost 20 years before her husband became President, of tuberculosis. She left her husband four living sons (she actually had six children), and it was one of her sons' wives who acted as her husband's White House hostess.

Angelica Singleton met Abraham Van Buren - the oldest son of Martin Van Buren - while his father was President and married him in 1838. They were actually introduced to each other by Dolley Madison, as Angelica was a distant relation of Dolley's. After her marriage, she took up the role of First Lady for her widowed father-in-law. Before she took over the role, Martin Van Buren himself actually placed host to the White House, when he took time for entertaining.

Angelica's efforts as First Lady were popular in Washington. Her most well known coup was charming the picky French minister, Adolphe Fourier da Bacourt. She was not loved by everyone, though, and she was actually used by the President's enemies:
Angelica Van Buren's receiving style of forming a tableau with other young women set apart from the crowds and nodding to them, as well as the alleged plans she had for relandscaping the White House grounds into a plan that replicated those she had seen in the royal houses of Europe were fodder for a famous political attack on her father-in-law by a Pennsylvania Whig Congressman Charles Ogle. Ogle referred obliquely to Angelica Van Buren as a member of the president's household in his famous "Gold Spoon" speech. The attack was delivered in 1841 in Congress and the general depiction of the President as being monarchial in his lifestyle contributed to his failure to achieve re-election during the 1840 campaign.
Angelica's European tastes - and her European honeymoon - would be a continued soft spot for enemies of the Van Buren administration.

While in the White House, Angelica gave birth to a daughter, who only lived a short time. She had three sons after she left the Executive Mansion.

As a side note, in a 2006 interview with ABC, Laura Bush actually made a mistake, calling Angelica Van Buren Angelica Houston by accident, which pointing out her portrait in the Red Room.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mary McElroy

I talked about "Phantoms of the White House" in an earlier post and in one of the comments, I mentioned that some of the most obscure White House women are the ladies who took the place of deceased or ill wives - White House hostesses. These women are often glazed over and forgotten. I think these women deserve a little of the limelight for their efforts as well!

Ellen Arthur died a year and a half before Chester Arthur became President and he was still in mourning when President Garfield was assassinated and he became President. While in the White House, he placed a fresh rose by her picture every day. In her honor as well, he refused to give his hostess - his sister, Mary Arthur McElroy - the proctocol rank that went with the position, even though she performed all the duties. This meant that Mary McElroy would have been hard to pick out from the other women at a social function.

Mary McElroy was the wife of an insurance salesman and the mother of four. She only lived at the White House during the high social season and spent the rest of her time in Albany with her family. She was an able hostess despite the quiet atmosphere of the Arthur White House, giving events in honor of two former White House chatelaines: Julia Tyler and Harriet Lane. She also stood in as a surrogate mother for the 10-year-old Ellen Arthur.

The Arthurs refused to bar alchohol from the White House, even as pressure came from the American public. Arthur was reputed to tell the head of a temperance group: "Madam, I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody's damn business." (Boller, 165)

Carl Anthony quotes a description of Mary McElroy as a woman who "knew exactly what she wanted, and how she wanted it done." (Anthony, 246) One interesting thing she didn't want: the vote. Mary McElroy was a member of the Albany Association Opposed to Women's Suffrage.

New URL for the American Presidents Blog

The American Presidents Blog is now resolving to The prior Blogspot address still works but it will take you to the new address. If you have any links to this blog, please update them. I hope the new domain address will help make this blog appear more professional as it is no longer hosted on a Blogger subdomain.

Also, my information literacy blog (The Information Literacy Land of Confusion) is also at a new address for anyone who is interested.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Presidential Voices

This is pretty cool - you can hear Benjamin Harrison speak! The site says that this is believed to be the oldest recording of any US President.

From this same site, I browsed through to listen to the Presidents I hadn't heard before. The one that got me was Calvin Coolidge - you just HAVE to go listen if you've never heard Coolidge. I've always had a voice in my mind for Coolidge from reading about him (as I'm sure you have) and this is NOT it! The voice just doesn't fit my mental image of "Silent Cal!" Another great one to listen to if you haven't heard him before (and I had several times) is Theodore Roosevelt.

You can also access a variety of different later Presidents though the Vincent Voice Library. Go have fun - I certainly did...and make sure to let me know what you thought of President Coolidge!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Update to the Link List

I am pleased the report that The Educational Tour Marm has been promoted to the American Presidents Blog link list. Congrats Tour Marm!

Here is the description of the blog for those who are unfamiliar:

"Hop on the Tour Marm's educational student tour bus for a fun-filled ride to explore curriculum-based educational travel programs! Join me on the road to new adventures that will enhance on-site teaching. We'll be making the connections amongst the people, places, events, and ideas that have shaped America. For schools, home schools and family travel. Need tour advice? Consult the Tour Marm! Post Questions on: March 8, 2007. Mission statement: January 15, 2007."


The new address for Miland Brown's blog is World History Blog. I have adjusted the address on the link list here.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lincoln's Pockets

The Educational Tour Marm's weekly trivia post, Figure it Out Friday, for last week was the contents of Lincoln's pockets when he was shot. She also notes that the list was actually was in a rock song (which she quotes and links so you can listen).

The oddest thing in his pockets?
But the most controversial article was the Confederate five dollar note which probably was picked up by President Lincoln when he and his son bisited the Confederate Capitol Building (CommonwealthCapitol of Virginia) in the recently fallen Richmond.

Now to go with this, you can see the chair that Lincoln was sitting in when John Wilkes Booth shot him at the Henry Ford Museum (in Dearborn, MI if you want to see it in person).

You can also see small paper flags which Americans waved at Lincoln's funeral train as it passed as well as a memorial bookmark and a picture of the funeral train.

Lincoln's death touched the nation and his funeral train was a major event. This is what the Ford Musuem writes:
The train, dubbed the Lincoln Special, stopped at major cities along the way. The first day it stopped in Baltimore and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and then 300,000 people viewed the body in Philadelphia. In New York City, over half a million people waited to view Lincoln’s body and over 75,000 marched in a huge funeral procession. From there, the train went to Albany and Buffalo, New York, and on to Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. The train then made its way to Indianapolis and Chicago, where the procession rivaled that in New York City. The funeral train arrived in Springfield on June 3 and Lincoln was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery the following day.

It is estimated that over a million people viewed Lincoln’s coffin and nearly 30 million, about 75 percent of the nation’s population, watched as the funeral train made its way through the countryside and small towns.

You can also access their entire online exhibit (May 2005 Picture of the Month).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Am I gagged or am I not?

John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives after leaving the Presidency - the only President to ever do this. There "Old Man Eloquent" continued to fight for what he believed was right. One of these fights was against the "gag" rule. He actually tried to motion against it even as it was being passed in 1836.

The National Archives has an online exhibit that explains the history of this controversary:
The Constitution guarantees citizens the right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Nineteenth-century Americans exercised this right vigorously. Each session, Congress received petitions "respectfully," but "earnestly praying" for action. In 1834 the American Anti-Slavery Society began an antislavery petition drive. Over the next few years the number of petitions sent to Congress increased sharply. In 1837—38, for example, abolitionists sent more than 130,000 petitions to Congress asking for the abolition of slavery in Washington, DC. As antislavery opponents became more insistent, Southern members of Congress were increasingly adamant in their defense of slavery.

In May of 1836 the House passed a resolution that automatically "tabled," or postponed action on all petitions relating to slavery without hearing them. Stricter versions of this gag rule passed in succeeding Congresses. At first, only a small group of congressmen, led by Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, opposed the rule. Adams used a variety of parliamentary tactics to try to read slavery petitions on the floor of the House, but each time he fell victim to the rule. Gradually, as antislavery sentiment in the North grew, more Northern congressmen supported Adams’s argument that, whatever one’s view on slavery, stifling the right to petition was wrong. In 1844 the House rescinded the gag rule on a motion made by John Quincy Adams.

The online exhibit includes the handwritten gag rule, J.Q. Adams handwritten objection to it as well as a slavery petition.

You can see Adams' efforts against this rule in these House transcripts that Dr. Margaret Zulick has posted online:
Question of Non-Reception

Petition Purporting to Come from Slaves

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

White House China at NFLL

The National First Ladies Library opened a new exhibit yesterday - White House China! It will be up for the next 12 months (until March 28, 2008) so you have lots of time to plan a trip to Canton, OH!

This exhibit includes china from many administrations including Monroe, Hayes (the really unique pieces), Harrison (including china actually painted by Caroline Harrison), Polk, Lincoln, LBJ, FDR, TR and many more! There are also supplementary items like dresses (of which the Caroline Harrison gown is simply gorgeous), hats (a really interesting one of Betty Ford's) and Martha Washington's slippers.

From the site some First Ladies Trivia:
Which First Lady helped chose the first china to use the American shield?
Sarah Polk, wife of James Polk, ordered this china from the same factory Mrs. Monroe used in Paris. It was purchased in 1845.

Which china was the first to be made in America?
Edith Wilson chose this china in 1918 which was manufactured by Lenox, Inc. in Trenton, New Jersey.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

At His Father's Knee

Many schoolchildren across our fair country learn about the Louisiana Purchase followed by the Lewis and Clark expedition. I agree with that sequence of study. Those two events did follow each other chronologically, however, our collective interest in the west began much earlier, and Thomas Jefferson’s interest in exploring the west began much earlier than 1801. I contend that Jefferson’s love of the west….an area he never visited…began at his father’s knee.

We learn many things at our father’s knee---how to ride a bike, how to shoot a basket, and in my case I learned how to drive a tractor and plow a straight line. Thomas Jefferson was no different and it was from his father and father-type figures in his early life that he became facinated with the western frontier.

Peter Jefferson along with Thomas Meriweather, grandfather of Meriweather Lewis, as well as many other men of note in Virginia were members of the Loyal Company, a land development and land acquisition scheme. Their main purpose was to obtain lands west of the Allegheny Mountains, and they certainly met their goal. The first grant was for 800,000 acres in what is today Kentucky. Interestingly the grant did not require that any families had to settle on the land. In 1751 Peter Jefferson and Joshua Fry completed a map called “A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia Containing the Whole Province of Maryland” which was the first map of the area compiled from survey information. The map is pictured here with this article.

Dr. Thomas Walker was a member of the Loyal Company, served as Peter Jefferson’s physician, and stepped in as Thomas Jefferson’s guardian when Peter Jefferson passed away in 1757. Thomas Jefferson was then fourteen years old.

While Daniel Boone generally gets all the credit for the Cumberland Gap and for opening up the Tennessee and Kentucky areas for settlement it should not be forgotten that Walker first explored this area in 1743 reaching Kingsport, Tennessee. He kept journals of his journey to the Cumberland Gap in 1750 where he spent four months exploring. It would be a long seventeen years before Daniel Boone made this same area famous.

During the French and Indian War the patent for the land grants was not renewed since the Proclamation of 1763 outlawed white settlement or exploration in lands set aside for Native American use. A planned expedition was halted at the outbreak of the war, however, by 1766 many of the Loyal Company members were active in the area again, but illegally. It couldn’t have hurt that the two men chosen to act as Indian agents both happened to be involved with land schemes in the area including Dr. Thomas Walker, the president of the Loyal Company.

Jefferson’s tutor was Rev. James Maury. This made perfect sense since Rev. Maury’s father-in-law was Dr. Walker. Rev. Maury was very interested in geography and he considered geographic knowledge to be just one of the main ingredients for a well-rounded gentleman. Jefferson did not disappoint Maury as a student.

Jefferson’s only published book, Notes on the State of Virginia in 1781, make it clear that
Jefferson believed the Missouri River along with other geographical points of interest in the west were part of Virginia even though the Treaty of Paris clearly did not list them as such.

In 1783 Jefferson approached George Rogers Clark, the Revolutionary War hero, to explore the west. He politely refused the offer, but suggested his younger brother, William Clark for the expedition. The Monticello website discusses Jefferson's letter to George Rogers Clark as follows:

[Jefferson] begins his 1783 letter to Clark with the two topics which pulled his thoughts westward: science and politics. He thanks Clark for sending him shells and seeds and assures him that he would be pleased to have as many bones, teeth and tusks of the mammoth as Clark might be able to find. Then within the same paragraph Jefferson reveals his apprehension at the rumor that money was being raised in England for exploration between the Mississippi and the Pacific, and even though it was professed as only for knowledge, he feared colonization. Jefferson then wonders, if money could be raised in this country for western exploration, "How would you like to lead such a party?" Clark declines Jefferson's request for financial reasons, but as a hero of the western theatre of the Revolution, he was quite knowledgeable of the Indians of the northwest territory and offered advice on how to best proceed among the Indian peoples, advice which Jefferson stored away for future use. In later correspondence Clark would recommend his youngest brother, William, as also knowledgeable of the Indian territory and, "well qualified almost for any business."

In the Ordinance of 1784, introduced by Jefferson to the Continental Congress under the authority of the Articles of Confederation, he suggested new states could be formed from western territories. In fact Jefferson suggested a total of seventeen states from the region referred to as the Ohio River Valley and suggested names like Chersonesus, Sylvania, Assenisipia, Metropotamia, Polypotamia, Pelisipia, Saratoga, Washington, Michigania, and Illinoia. Jefferson’s particular proposal was not adopted by Congress, however, his ideas would become the basis for the Northwest Ordinance which was finally adopted in 1787 and is the one good thing that is commonly taught to schoolchildren about the Articles of Confederation.

John Ledyard, an explorer who had sailed with Captain James Cook, was given much support by Jefferson in 1786 while he was serving as Minister to France. Backed financially by people like the Marquis de Lafayette and John Adam’s son-in-law, William Smith, Ledyard attempted to explore the west by approaching it from the Russian side. The Monticello website advises “Jefferson supported the venture but noted that despite Ledyard's ingenuity and information, 'Unfortunately he has too much imagination.' Ledyard was arrested within 200 miles of Kamschatka, escorted to the Polish border and charged not to set foot within Russian territory again.”

In 1793, the American Philosophical Society, of which Jefferson was a member, fully supported Andre Michaux, a French botanist, in his efforts to locate the shortest and most convenient route between the United States and the Pacific Ocean. The Monticello website advises Jefferson organized the subscription to finance the expedition, and even though the undertaking was not under government sponsorship, he appraised President Washington, who offered to 'readily add my mite' to the project. Jefferson's instructions to Michaux on behalf of the Society reiterated the objective of finding the shortest route to the Pacific with equal importance given to the gathering of geographic and scientific data. But the expedition began to unravel before reaching the Mississippi river, as it became apparent that Michaux was involved in a French plot to gather support against the Spanish settlements west of the Mississippi. An important remnant of this truncated expedition was Jefferson's written set of instructions to Michaux, which would reappear in a more detailed form when delivered later to Meriwether Lewis.

Jefferson maintained many volumes in his personal library dedicated to the west. The PBS website, Lewis and Clark, advises some of Jefferson’s books described a landmass of erupting volcanoes and mountains of undissolved salt. Other readings led him to believe that Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains might be the continent’s highest. (The Blue Ridge Mountains peak at around 6,500 feet, while the Rocky Mountains in Colorado top out at over 14,400 feet.)
Depictions of land and creatures in the west often came from the imaginations of men who had never been there. Many reports told of western terrain spotted with wondrous creatures: unicorns, gargantuan woolly mastodons, seven-foot-tall beavers, and friendly, slim-waisted buffalo. Maps of the west proved equally fictitious. European geographers, for example, drew maps depicting California as an island. Other maps showed the Rocky Mountains to be narrow and undaunting.

Follow this link to a list of 180 titles belonging to Jefferson that concerned the west.

Finally, from the Monticello website:

These failed attempts [detailed above] undoubtedly added to Jefferson's store of information on western exploration, and when circumstances placed him in a key position to act, he was prepared to do so quickly and decisively. In his first inaugural address in 1801 Jefferson envisioned, 'A rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land, advancing rapidly to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye.' Less than two years later, on January 18, 1803, he would deliver a confidential message to Congress outlining a plan for exploring to the 'Western Ocean,' and requesting an appropriation of $2,500 for what would become the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In May 1804, as Lewis and Clark were poised to begin pushing westward along the Missouri river, Jefferson must have felt more confidence in seeing his western desideratum fulfilled, writing: 'We shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this great country: those who come after us will fill up the canvas we begin.'"

The entire message to Congress can be seen here.

Americans should find it very interesting, amazing even, that the one man who had been involved or around various events involving exploration of the west was finally in the right place at the right time to allow events to finally move forward. Fortified with the knowledge that the French had taken over the Louisiana Territory and understanding the use of the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans was in jeopordy Jefferson's time to act finally came to fruition.

There are many interesting details about Thomas Jefferson and his contributions to our nation’s history. Many websites and biographies mention the exploration of the west but few really go into the background of how it can be argued the exploration of the west was Jefferson’s destiny and it all began at his father’s knee.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Avery Lorenzen, 1926-2007

My grandfather Avery Lorenzen died last week at the age of 80. I went to his funeral last Wednesday. My grandfather worked for many years as a security man at Bowling Green State University and later as a sexton of a cemetery in Bowling Green, Ohio.

My grandfather was a good man and I miss him. He had been ill for several years and 50+ years of smoking finally did him in as lung cancer claimed him.

My grandfather was not a presidential historian. He was not active in presidential politics. He did not teach presidential history.

Despite this, I owe this man much appreciation for my lifelong interest in the American Presidency. Simply put, Avery Lorenzen was opinionated about every American President from FDR on and he shared these opinions with his oldest grandson (me!) often and eagerly.

My grandfather was a frustrated socially conservative Democrat. He watched his party change as he grew older and it angered him. Yet, he could never bring himself to vote for Republicans. ("I do not vote for the friends of millioniares!") This meant that as time went by he had reason to dislike just about all of the presidents of my lifetime.

His views:

Nixon: "Like all Republicans, he was a crook except he got caught. And like all Republican crooks, his croonies saved him."

Ford: "Dunce of Nixon who did as he was told and pardoned Nixon."

Carter: "Good man with few brain cells for reality."

Reagan: "Warmonger who almost killed us all!"

Bush Sr.: "He had potential but blew it by selling out to the rich."

Clinton: "Good man with terrible taste in women. Could he have not done better than Hilary, Monica, or that bimbo in Arkansas who sued him for sex harassment?"

Bush Jr.: "Idiot with power."

I remember grandpa lecturing at length on these presidents. He had a passion for it and he always shared his views. I remember debating with him my own views on these men (always different than his even at a young age) and then going to the library and looking stuff up when grandpa annoyed me too much.

Avery Lorenzen had some strange views. He believed that the communists controlled the Wood County, Ohio government based on the water/sewer replacement system being implemented. He also was convinced that some of the trees in the area had been seeds which had been planted upside down which explained their strange appearance. I remember my conversations on these topics.

However, these are not the conversations I remember the fondest. I remember best:

- The debate as a 10 year old I had with grandpa in 1980 when he was convinced that the election of Reagan meant that World War Three was certain in 1981.

- The praise grandpa had for Clinton's willingness to use his power to get women but his disappointment with which ones Clinton was selecting!

- His views that all presidents, no matter how well intentioned, invariably are the tools of the rich. The essence of this view is that politics is about compromise and that the rich rig the game by setting unrealistic goals which are still served when a middle ground is reached.

My grandfather never went to college as a student. Some of his views are odd. However, he was a smart man and he could articulate his points well. I learned a lot from him and I know it did not bother him too much (or surprise him in the least) when I registered as a Republican at age 18.

Avery Lorenzen, I will love you forever. Thank you. Rest in peace.