Thursday, May 31, 2007

This Day in Presidential History....

Today in 1913, the Wilson Administration certified the 17th amendment. The 17th amendment changed the election of senators to a direct popular election (before that most were appointed).

The Wilson administration actually saw THREE constitutional amendments: the 17th, 18th, and 19th. The 18th enacted prohibition and the 19th gave women the right to vote. There were also many other important legislative acts passed during Wilson's tenure:

Federal Reserve Act (1913)
The banking system was put under governmental supervision, loosening Wall Street's grip on the nation's finances. This act is considered Wilson's most significant accomplishment.

Federal Trade Commission Act (1914)
The Federal Trade Commission was charged with enforcing antitrust laws and preventing the unlawful suppression of competition.

Clayton Antitrust Act (1914)
The trusts were attacked and labor unions protected under this act. This law prohibited interlocking directorates and clearly defined unfair business practices. Labor unions were exempted from antitrust considerations. Benefiting labor further was the legalization of peaceful strikes, picketing and boycotts.

Keating-Owen Child Labor Act (1916)
The child labor act limited the work hours of children, forbade the interstate sale of goods produced by child labor, and began a new program of federal regulation in industry.

Adamson Act (1916)
This legislation established an eight-hour workday for railroad employees, and dramatically averted a potentially crippling railroad strike.

Workingmen's Compensation Act (1916)
With this act the government provided financial assistance to federal employees injured on the job.

If you go to the link above, you will find even more! History tends to remember Wilson as a wartime president - the president who sent our boys to Europe to fight in World War I. But Wilson's real strength was in domestic policy:
During his first two years as president, Wilson demonstrated his political acumen in accomplishing one of the most impressive strings of domestic legislative victories in history.

David Kennedy, a historian, wrote: "The first two years of Wilson's first term are one of the most remarkable moments in modern American politics. There's more reform agenda accomplished in that brief moment that in virtually any other two year period in the 20th century."

Wilson was a scholar (he was a professor!) and highly idealistic - look at his goals for peace in 1918 and the League of Nation. Unfortunately, the US and the rest of Europe were not ready for any of this, but we see the weight of his domestic policy even today with things like workman's comp.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Father Hesburgh and American Presidents

As I noted a few weeks back in Father Hesburgh and the Congressional Gold Medal, I recently went to Notre Dame and visited with former Notre Dame President and American civil rights leader Father Ted Hesburgh. Father Ted talked to me and about 14 other people from Central Michigan University.

We all went up to the 13th Floor of the Hesburgh Library. We were ushered into a lavishly decorated room which was full of furniture. Shortly thereafter, Father Ted came out and talked with us for about an hour.

His lecture was on the history of civil rights in America. His talk was heavy on references to American Presidents. I counted ten including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy, and LBJ.

Father Ted related numerous accounts of his personal interactions with presidents. I think he has personally known every one since FDR! One story I liked dealt with his early service on the Civil Rights Commission. The Commission (and their aides) traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to take testimony. The local hotels refused rooms to the Commission as some of people in the group were black. Finally, they went to a nearby Air Force base and asked for housing. They were refused! Frustrated, Michigan State University President and Civil Rights Commission member John Hanna demand a phone. He called President Eisenhower right in front of stunned Air Force personnel. Ike took the call and then demanded that the Commission be given rooms or that heads would roll. They all got rooms!

I asked Father Hesburgh a loaded question. I wanted to know who he thought was the weakest or least efficient American president he had worked with. He was very good at dodging that question. He started to talk about Nixon but stopped before giving Nixon as his answer. He stated all the Presidents so far have been good men trying to do an incredibly difficult job and each had their own strengths and flaws. However, he did think LBJ was the most effective of the ones he had worked with.

After the presentation, we all went back to Father Ted's beautiful office which has a spectacular view of the Notre Dame campus. He signed copies of his book God, Country, Notre Dame and let us look at some of his trophies. I was quite pleased to hold his Congressional Gold Medal which his secretary informed was worth 30K. Father Ted is a great guy, very friendly, and has lived an incredible life. I am pleased to have meet him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Theodore Roosevelt in Tallmadge, Ohio

The Akron Beacon Journal had an article about Theodore Roosevelt’s surprise visit to farmers in Tallmadge a 100 years ago:Two well-dressed gentlemen made an unexpected visit as Tallmadge farmer Frank Thomas stacked straw on a quiet spring evening.

Thomas was laboring atop a small mountain of grain when he glanced down and noticed a tall stranger peering up.

``Good evening,'' the lanky fellow said. ``Would you like to meet the president of the United States?''

The farmer slid down the stack to investigate. Surely someone was pulling his leg.

There stood a short, stocky man in formal attire -- definitely out of place for cow country. He had a thick mustache, wide grin and pince-nez glasses.

``Delighted,'' President Theodore Roosevelt said as he shook the farmer's hand.

Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks, the tall companion, introduced himself. The men had been enjoying a brisk hike and needed to take a breather.

Their unannounced visit May 29, 1907, was a pleasant surprise in local history. Farmers couldn't believe their eyes 100 years ago as the U.S. leaders strolled down a country lane with a Secret Service agent lagging behind at a respectful distance.

Earlier that afternoon, Roosevelt and Fairbanks had attended the Canton funeral of former first lady Ida Saxton McKinley. Roosevelt (1858-1919), a former vice president, rose to office after President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

The article then goes on to tell use about Roosevelt's visit to the Thomas farm:
Roosevelt, 48, stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 200 pounds, but still outpaced Fairbanks, 55, who had longer strides at 6-foot-4.

They were sweating by the time they crossed Brittain Road into southwest Tallmadge. That is when they spotted Frank Thomas on his straw stack.

``I won't forget the visit,'' Thomas told the Akron Press. ``No, sir. Never.''

After shaking off his initial surprise, the farmer offered some country hospitality.

``Don't you want a drink of fresh milk?'' he asked the men.

``Yes, I do,'' Roosevelt replied.

Thomas excused himself and came back with a cool glass from the farmhouse cellar. His family followed him outside to meet the distinguished guests.

``I will never forget the expression made by the president when he finished the milk,'' Thomas said.

``By gosh,'' Roosevelt told him. ``That's good milk!''

The Thomas children tossed a ball around with the president until the hikers bid farewell.

Roosevelt and Fairbanks visited two more farms that day and Roosevelt sent a note to them all from DC:
Roosevelt and Fairbanks boarded the train and it chugged off to Indianapolis. The next day, the president spoke to a crowd of 150,000 people.

In Tallmadge, the excitement of the presidential visit subsided -- until a large flat package arrived at the Wuchter home.

Inside was a White House letter dated June 1, 1907. Enclosed were autographed portraits of Teddy Roosevelt.

``My Dear Mr. Wuchter: I send you three photographs -- one for yourself and the other two I will ask you to give to the two Mr. Thomases (Frank and David) at whose farms I stopt,'' Roosevelt wrote.

``One of them gave me a glass of milk and the other had four such nice sons. Give my regards to your wife and all the Mr. and Mrs. Thomases and the other friends I met. Sincerely yours, Theodore Roosevelt.''

I hope you enjoyed this little local story. I especially liked it because it is so completely typical for Teddy Roosevelt's personality!

Monday, May 28, 2007

President Coolidge's Memorial Day Speech, 1928

Here are some highlights from Coolidge's 1928 Memorial Day Speech courtesy of Time:

President Coolidge journeyed to Gettysburg, Pa., to deliver a Memorial Day speech. In charge of the train was one Grant Eckert, son of the later Conductor John Eckert who had charge of the train which took President Lincoln to Gettysburg in 1863. In his speech, President Coolidge called Abraham Lincoln "one of the greatest men ever in the world." Then he dipped into figures and said that the U. S. had given between six and seven billion dollars, in pensions and gratuities, to service men of the Civil War. For service men of the last War, five billions have been set aside in a decade, he said. "All the countries on earth in all their history, all put together, have not done as much. . . ."

Next he took up disarmament, obedience to law, world peace. He called Secretary of State Kellogg's multilateral treaty work "one of the most impressive peace movements that the world has ever seen." In closing he quoted Abraham Lincoln's phrases, "of the people, by the people, for the people" and suggested that efforts for war-prevention were the best tribute to dead soldiers.

Friday, May 25, 2007

History Carnival is Coming to Town

Just a reminder, the History Carnival will be hosted here on June 1st. I have a lot of good submissions (and a few questionable ones) but I am still hoping to get some more. Please send nominations through the carnival nomination form.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

School House to White House

Prologue has a nice article on the education of modern Presidents in the Spring 2007 edition. Why? Well, because they are opening an exhibit on it in the National Archives. This will then turn into a travelling exhibit and visit several presidential libraries - so we all might get to see it without going to DC! This short article just gives us tantalizing bits of what this exhibit showcases. As a note, if you are interested in Harry Truman's school house days, Prologue had an entire article on that earlier that we discussed here at APB.

On Herbert Hoover:
Herbert Hoover spent his first years of education at a small public school in West Branch, Iowa. He was sent to live with an uncle and aunt in Oregon when he was 11, after his mother's death left him an orphan. He would later say, "Iowa, in those years as in these, was filled with days of school—and who does not remember with a glow some gentle woman who with infinite patience and kindness drilled into us those foundations we know today." Later, Hoover became the youngest member of the first class at Stanford University, where he studied geology and met his future wife, Lou Henry. The exhibit features images from Hoover's childhood and young adulthood, including a picture of the Stanford University surveying squad, of which Hoover was a member.

On Ronald Reagan:
Like many of the modern Presidents, Ronald Reagan learned to read from his mother, Nelle. He attended public school and was a member of the 1928 class of Dixon High School in Dixon, Illinois. The exhibit features a reproduction of a handwritten story about Halloween that Reagan wrote in high school. In "Hallowe'en," Reagan wrote, "'Twas the nite of Hallowe'en, but nothing was still.' The good people went to sleep that memor[able] Saturday night, with the sounds of laughter, running feet, and muffled shouts ringing in their ears." Reagan attended Eureka College in Illinois, where he played on the football, track, and swim teams and was a reporter for the school newspaper.

The article includes a short blurb on each included President as well as some pictures of the items in the exhibit.

Monday, May 21, 2007

JFK Assassination Revisited

Always another theory, right? Well, new bullet anaylsis research is saying that the lone gunman theory in the JFK Assassination could be flawed. The crux of the new information is that:
Official investigations during the 1960s concluded that Kennedy was hit by two bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald.

But the researchers, including former FBI lab metallurgist William Tobin, said new chemical and statistical analyses of bullets from the same batch used by Oswald suggest that more than two bullets could have struck the president.

As a note, the scientists aren't saying that it couldn't be right - merely that it could NOT be correct:
"This finding means that the bullet fragments from the assassination that match could have come from three or more separate bullets," the researchers said. "If the assassination fragments are derived from three or more separate bullets, then a second assassin is likely," the researchers said. If the five fragments came from three or more bullets, that would mean a second gunman's bullet would have had to strike the president, the researchers explained.

As a note - I linked two different articles on this subject for you. So what do all of you think? Was there there a conspiracy or did Oswald act alone?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Abe Lincoln, Alternate History, and the News

President Lincoln has been in the news a lot recently. Two articles are making the wire service rounds looking at alternate history scenarios of Lincoln's Administration. In one, he dies of small pox in 1863. In the other, he survives his assassination in 1865. Both articles are fun to read but with all alternative history it is hard to guess just how different events may have unfolded had the scenarios occurred other than that things would have been radically different.

Here are the two articles:

What if Lincoln had lived? "Abraham Lincoln might have survived being shot if today's medical technology had existed in 1865. Given that scenario, the question is whether Lincoln, the president who led the United States during the Civil War, would have recovered well enough to return to office, a doctor and a historian said Friday at an annual University of Maryland School of Medicine conference on the deaths of historic figures."

Study: Abraham Lincoln Nearly Died From Smallpox in 1863. " Abraham Lincoln might have been in the early stages of smallpox when he delivered his Gettysburg Address, lauded as one of history's greatest speeches and a masterpiece of brevity. The speech's powerful first words — 'Four score and seven years ago ...' — belied a weak and dizzy President Lincoln, concludes a new study. Nearly one-third of those who contracted smallpox in the mid-19th century died — a fate that would have dramatically changed U.S. history had it befallen Lincoln in 1863, midway through the Civil War."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Commander Nixon

Richard Nixon joined the US Naval Reserves in 1942. He started at aviation indoctrination training and upon completion he was sent to the Naval Reserve Aviation Base in Iowa. He then volunteered for sea duty and sent to Guadalcanal and then Green Island. While there he received a Letter of Commendation from Commander of the South Pacific. In 1944, he was assigned to Fleet Air Wing EIGHT, then in 1945 he was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics in DC. After this he was sent to NYC by the Bureau of Aeronautics. He was released from active duty in 1946 and was promoted to Commander of the Naval Reserve in 1953 and retired in 1966. Other medals that Nixon earned were: American Campaign Medal (with two engagement stars on it), the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.

You can also see the unit commendations that Nixon signed as President on this site.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

James Garfield and the Front Porch Campaign

Lawnfield, the Garfields’ home was named by the reporters who covered his campaign

James Garfield was the first candidate to run a successful presidential campaign from his front porch in 1880. This started a tradition that William McKinley, Benjamin Harrison and Warren Harding would all emulate.

The biography of Lucretia Garfield at the National First Ladies Library also talks about her role in this campaign:
One of the first "front porch" campaigns was conducted from their Mentor, Ohio farm, "Lawnfield," and thus she was able to occupy a semi-official role without compromising her sense of propriety regarding women's exposure to public life: the front porch may have been where the candidate appeared before large contingents of voters coming to hear him speak, but it was also her private home. In one corner of their property there was even a campaign office equipped with telegraph facilities from which election returns were received.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sarah Polk

I finally found a hoop skirt for under this - doesn't it look better? Although, it is harder to walk in now!

Chester Arthur and Victoria Sackville

President Arthur was a widower when he entered the White House unexpectadly in 1881. His wife "Nell" (Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur) had died of pneumonia on January 12, 1880. Her White House biography notes Chester Arthur's grief, "That November, when he was elected Vice President, he was still mourning her bitterly. In his own words: 'Honors to me now are not what they once were.' His grief was the more poignant because she was only 42 and her death sudden. Just two days earlier she had attended a benefit concert in New York City--while he was busy with politics in Albany--and she caught cold that night while waiting for her carriage. She was already unconscious when he reached her side."

Despite his grief, President Arthur still was known to notice ladies. One that has gone down in history is one President Arthur probably wishes history had not known about, Victoria Sackville. She was the illegitimate daughter of the Lionel Sackville-West, 2nd Baron Sackville and the Spanish dancer Josefa de la Oliva (née Durán y Ortega, known as Pepita). She later married her third cousin and became Victoria Sackville-West, Baroness Sackville.

At 19, Victoria went to Washington to serve as her father's hostess at the British-Legation. She was very popular and many men fell in love with her. Chester Arthur was one of them. According to Barbara Holland in Hail to the Chiefs (2003), Victoria claimed that President Arthur proposed to her. She wrote later the she "burst out laughing and said, 'Mr. President, you have a son older than me and you are as old as my father." Properly chastised, President Arthur dropped the matter.

Arthur would only survive his presidency by two years. It would have been a short marriage anyway. Victoria Sackville-West is best remembered today for her daughter Vita Sackville-West. Wikipedia notes, "Her life is mostly overshadowed by the high-profile and controversial lesbian lifestyle of her daughter, Vita, whose up and down and often volatile relationship with Violet Trefusis was the subject of gossip for several years."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bush Library Takes a Step Forward at Southern Methodist U.

From Today's Chronicle of Higher Education:

Southern Methodist University’s hopes of becoming the host of a proposed George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum cleared a minor hurdle over the weekend, when local voters approved a plan to sell city-owned parkland to the university, for possible use as the library’s site, the Dallas Morning News reported. The land, currently owned by the Dallas suburb of University Park, could also be used for other campus projects. A proposal to open a public-policy institute in conjunction with the library, for which Southern Methodist is the only candidate under consideration, has been sharply controversial on the campus, with several faculty moves to partly block the plan. — Andrew Mytelka

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Father Hesburgh and the Congressional Gold Medal

(President Bill Clinton, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, Senator Strom Thurmond and Speaker of the House Denny Hastert)

I am heading down to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana tomorrow afternoon. I am going with a group of Central Michigan University doctoral students in educational leadership to have a meeting with Father Ted Hesburgh on Friday. I recently read a biography of Father Hesburgh and I am looking forward to talking with him in person.

Father Hesburgh served as Notre Dame's President for 35 years from 1952 to 1987. He holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for “Most Honorary Degrees”, having been awarded 150. He was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on December 9, 1999. During his long career, Hesburgh served as a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission from 1957 until 1972 when President Nixon fired him. He also served on the Knight Commission that overhauled college sports from 1990 to 1996.

The picture above is from the ceremony where Father Hesburgh received the Congressional Gold Medal. I watched a C-Span video of the event and found it of interest. The speakers including President Clinton were good although Senator Thurmond embarrassed himself by standing up and announcing loudly that he had to go vote!

Here are some good sites on Father Hesburgh:

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. - From the University of Notre Dame.

Theodore M. Hesburgh - Encyclopædia Britannica Article.

Theodore Hesburgh - From Wikipedia.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Harding Home

I was in Columbus over the last few days for a conference (the Midwest Archives Conference). On the way back, I made a detour through Marion, Ohio, the hometown of Florence and Warren Harding to tour the Harding Home.

This is a gorgeous home and very well kept. The house is close to all actual Harding possessions, which makes it an absolute joy to go through. Definitely makes you feel as if you really are visiting the Hardings! While we often think about presidents as wealthy men, the Harding house really gives off a more middle class feel – upper middle class, but more middle class nonetheless. The house isn’t a mansion and many of the furnishing, while lovely, are normal pieces of furniture. It definitely gives you a different view of the Hardings.

The house is two stories with a basement. The tour encompasses the two main floors and the front porch. The house was built by the Warren for Florence in 1891.

Warren Harding speaking from his front porch

The front porch, as you can see from the first picture is really beautiful. It actually isn’t the original front porch – it was added about the time Harding became Lt. Governor of Ohio. The legend is that the original porch fell in due to all the visitors congratulating him on his victory. When they were building the front porch, Florence noticed a house down the street (still standing in Marion) that had a rounded front porch that she really liked. Warren told her she could have it that way IF they repainted the house. Why did he want this compromise? Well, the original house was painted red (Florence’s choice) and Warren said it made him feel like he was living in a barn. So the house was the repainted the color it is today and Florence got her front porch. It was from this front porch that Warren Harding conducted his “front porch” campaign in 1920.

Now I’m not going to spoil the tour for you, so I’m going to just name a few of my favorite pieces in the house. The house has three fireplaces on the first floor. To save space and heat, they all meet in one central chimney. They have the most beautiful tiling on them! The colors are really stunning! Also on the first floor is the dining room, which holds a lot of various Harding china and glassware, including pieces that they bought in Europe. The library includes many of the Hardings original books and was Warren’s favorite room. The first floor has three stained glass windows, all of which are perfectly preserved and exquisite.

The second floor has several bedrooms and a modern bathroom. There are four bedrooms: Marshall’s (Florence’s son by her first husband), the master bedroom, a guest bedroom and a maid’s bedroom. Marshall’s room and the master bedroom have really interesting windows. The windows have an outer rim of small multicolored glass. It is really different! The master bedroom contains the matched bedroom set (with twin beds due to Florence’s ill health – nephritis) and has the Hardings inaugural clothes on display. As a note, the museum does acknowledge Warren’s affairs (of which one has been verified). The guest bedroom has a couple of real neat things on it. First of all, there is a char in it that has a star and moon carved into it – it was what Florence used it for séances (she was big into the occult). Next, the Hardings’ bird, Pete, has been stuffed and is on display. The last item that I found fascinating was what I thought a doll on display. It was actually a lamp and the bulb would go under her skirt – it was a night light of sorts. It would terrify me of a fire! The maid (Bernice) actually married the chauffeur (Frank) and they lived in the last bedroom after their marriage. The cook (Inez) lived down the street. The items in that room aren’t actually Bernice and Frank’s, but rather various pieces from the Hardings, including Florence’s sidesaddle! There are two staircases to the upstairs – the main stairs and then the maid’s stairs.

The grounds have two other things on it besides landscaping. First, this building is now the office and gift store. It originally was a press house built by Warren and it was a Sears mail order house!

The second doesn’t actually belong the grounds, but has been moved there to preserve it. It is a mobile voting booth that was actually used in Columbus from 1880 to 1940. It is really neat – it is just a tin box with a couple of voting stalls inside that could be hauled from place to place (horses and tractors were both used).

The museum is run by the Ohio Historical Society and is mostly staffed by volunteers. The tour guide I got was a high school teacher who did an excellent job. Some things to remember if you come to Marion:
  • The house is only open for tours for weekends right now (April/May). During the summer, it does have more hours. It is closed completely from November to March. Since the tours are guided, you might want to call ahead to figure out times. You should also call ahead for large groups.

  • The tour costs $6 for adults, $3 for students or Triple A members and free for kids under 5 or OHS members. I actually think that’s pretty reasonable.

  • The museum is pretty easy to find, just follow the highway to Marion and then there are signs to the Harding Home.

Also in Marion is the Harding Memorial, where both of the Hardings are buried. To me it is very ostentatious and I don’t think that the Hardings would really appreciate it. Their house is a middle class dwelling, while the monument is very Greek and overdone. As a note, when it was finished President Coolidge refused to come dedicate it as originally did President Hoover. Hoover finally relented and dedicated it in 1931. Both men were leery of being associated with the scandals of the Harding Administration.

There are rumors that one of the Hardings’ dogs were buried with them, but according to the museum, there is no truth to that story.

So go enjoy the Harding Home and Memorial – they are definitely worth seeing!

Monday, May 07, 2007

The China and the SUV

I just found out a very depressing piece of news. The April 11, 2007 Marion Star (Marion, OH) reported that an SUV crashed into the side of the DeWolfe house on the might of April 9th. While I never like to hear about something like this (as a note, it was a 13 year old girl out joyriding with a 16 year old friend who had borrowed (without permission) her mother’s car), why did it depress me so much? Well, Peter DeWolfe is the great-grandson of Florence Harding and along the wall that the car drove into was where his family displayed their heirloom Harding china and stemware. It was completely destroyed in the incident. From the article (available from the Newsbank database which my institution has access to, but you’ll have to figure out if yours does) you can read the comments of the Harding Home site manager:

Melinda Gilpin, site manager of the Harding Home, said that while she cannot put a monetary value on the loss of Harding's stemware, the loss is still great.

"The DeWolfe family had such a wonderful legacy and they're so proud," she said, explaining that Peter DeWolfe is the great-grandson of Florence Harding, the wife of the nation's 29th president, Warren G. Harding. "I know that the things that the family has are treasured. We understand how much those physical links to the past mean."

While insurance will cover the damages to the home and its contents, the sentimental value of those items lost can never be replaced.

When I was at the Harding house (my synoposis of this visit coming tomorrow), my tour guide said that the entire DeWolfe collection had been entirely destroyed. One piece survived because it was on loan to the Harding Home at the time of the crash. While the Harding Home owns some Harding china and glassware, the loss of the DeWolfe collection is a major loss – both to history and the DeWolfe/Harding family.

Friday, May 04, 2007

James Buchanan from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica is according to Wikipedia," perhaps the most famous edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Some of its articles were written by the best-known scholars of the day." The entire work is now entirely in the public domain. I have found the biography of James Buchanan from the 1911 edition via Project Gutenberg. I am reproducing it here. Has this article stood up well over the last 95 years?

BUCHANAN, JAMES (1791-1868), fifteenth president of the United States, was born near Foltz, Franklin county, Pennsylvania, on the 23rd of April 1791. Both parents were of Scottish-Irish Presbyterian descent. He graduated at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1809, studied law at Lancaster in 1809-1812, and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He served in the lower house of the state legislature in 1814-1816, and as a representative in Congress from 1821 to 1831. As chairman of the judiciary committee he conducted the impeachment trial (1830) of Judge James H. Peck, led an unsuccessful movement to increase the number of Supreme Court judges and to relieve them of their circuit duties, and succeeded in defeating an attempt to repeal the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which gave the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction by writ of error to the state courts in cases where federal laws and treaties are in question. After the dissolution of the Federalist party, of which he had been a member, he supported the Jackson-Van Buren faction, and soon came to be definitely associated with the Democrats. He represented the United States at the court of St Petersburg in 1832-1833, and there negotiated an important commercial treaty. He was a Democratic member of the United States Senate from December 1834 until March 1845, ardently supporting President Jackson, and was secretary of state in the cabinet of President Polk from 1845 to 1849—a period marked by the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, and negotiations with Great Britain relative to the Oregon question. After four years of retirement spent in the practice of his profession, he was appointed by President Pierce minister to Great Britain in 1853.

Up to this time Buchanan's attitude on the slavery question had been that held by the conservative element among Northern Democrats. He felt that the institution was morally wrong, but held that Congress could not interfere with it in the states in which it existed, and ought not to hinder the natural tendency toward territorial expansion through a fear that the evil would spread. He voted for the bill to exclude anti-slavery literature from the mails, approved of the annexation of Texas, the war with Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850, and disapproved of the Wilmot Proviso. Fortunately for his career he was abroad during the Kansas-Nebraska debates, and hence did not share in the unpopularity which attached to Stephen A. Douglas as the author of the bill, and to President Pierce as the executive who was called upon to enforce it. At the same time, by joining with J.Y. Mason and Pierre Soule in issuing the Ostend Manifesto in 1854, he retained the good-will of the South.[1] Accordingly on his return from England in 1856 he was nominated by the Democrats as a compromise candidate for president, and was elected, receiving 174 electoral votes to 114 for John C. Frémont, Republican, and 8 for Millard Fillmore, American or "Know-Nothing."

His high moral character, the breadth of his legal knowledge, and his experience as congressman, cabinet member and diplomat, would have made Buchanan an excellent president in ordinary times; but he lacked the soundness of judgment, the self-reliance and the moral courage needed to face a crisis. At the beginning of his administration he appointed Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, territorial governor of Kansas, and Frederick P. Stanton of Tennessee, secretary, and assured them of his determination to adhere to the popular sovereignty principle. He soon began to use his influence, however, to force the admission of Kansas into the Union under the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, contrary to the wishes of the majority of the settlers. Stanton was removed from office for opposing the scheme, and Walker resigned in disgust. This change of policy was doubtless the result of timidity rather than of a desire to secure re-election by gaining the favour of the Southern Democracy. Under the influence of Howell Cobb of Georgia, secretary of the treasury, and Jacob Thompson of Mississippi, secretary of the interior, the president was convinced that it was the only way to avoid civil war. Federal patronage was freely used to advance the Lecompton measure and the compromise English Bill, and to prevent Douglas's election to the Senate in 1858. Some of these facts were brought out in the famous Covode Investigation conducted by a committee of the House of Representatives in 1860. The investigations, however, were very partisan in character, and there is reason to doubt the constitutional power of the House to make it, except as the basis for an impeachment trial.

The call issued by the South Carolina legislature just after the election of Lincoln for a state convention to decide upon the advisability of secession brought forward the most serious question of Buchanan's administration. The part of his annual message of the 4th of December 1860 dealing with it is based upon a report prepared by Attorney-General Jeremiah S. Black of Pennsylvania. He argued that a state had no legal right to secede, but denied that the federal government had any power forcibly to prevent it. At the same time it was the duty of the president to call out the army and navy of the United States to protect federal property or to enforce federal laws. Soon after the secession movement began the Southern members of the cabinet resigned, and the president gradually came under the influence of Black, Stanton, Dix, and other Northern leaders. He continued, however, to work for a peaceful settlement, supporting the Crittenden Compromise and the work of the Peace Congress. He disapproved of Major Anderson's removal of his troops from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter in December 1860; but there is probably no basis for the charge made by Southern writers that the removal itself was in violation of a pledge given by the president to preserve the status quo in Charleston harbour until the arrival of the South Carolina commissioners in Washington. Equally unfounded is the assertion first made by Thurlow Weed in the London Observer (9th of February 1862) that the president was prevented from ordering Anderson back to Fort Moultrie only by the threat of four members of the cabinet to resign.

On the expiration of his term of office (March 4, 1861) Buchanan retired to his home at Wheatland, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he died on the 1st of June 1868. His mistakes as president have been so emphasized as to obscure the fact that he was a man of unimpeachable honesty, of the highest patriotism, and of considerable ability. He never married.

See George Ticknor Curtis, The Life of James Buchanan (2 vols., New York, 1883), the standard biography; Curtis, however, was a close personal and political friend, and his work is too eulogistic. More trustworthy, but at times unduly severe, is the account given by James Ford Rhodes in the first two volumes of his History of the United States since the Compromise of 1850 (New York, new edition, 1902-1907). John Bassett Moore has edited The Works of James Buchanan, comprising his Speeches, State Papers, and Private Correspondence (Philadelphia, 1908-1910).


[1] This "manifesto," which was bitterly attacked in the North, was agreed upon (October 18, 1854) by the three ministers after several meetings at Ostend and at Aix-la-Chapelle, arranged in pursuance of instructions to them from President Pierce to "compare opinions, and to adopt measures for perfect concert of action in aid of the negotiations at Madrid" on the subject of reparations demanded from Spain by the United States for alleged injuries to American commerce with Cuba. In the manifesto the three ministers asserted that "from the peculiarity of its geographical position, and the considerations attendant upon it, Cuba is as necessary to the North American republic as any of its present members"; spoke of the danger to the United States of an insurrection in Cuba; asserted that "we should be recreant to our duty, be unworthy of our gallant forefathers, and commit base treason against our posterity, should we permit Cuba to be Africanized and become a second Santo Domingo, with all its attendant horrors to the white race, and suffer the flames to extend to our own neighboring shores, seriously to endanger or actually destroy the fair fabric of our Union"; and recommended that "the United States ought, if practicable, to purchase Cuba as soon as possible." To Spain, they argued, the sale of the island would be a great advantage. The most startling declaration of the manifesto was that if Spain should refuse to sell "after we shall have offered a price for Cuba far beyond its present value," and if Cuba, in the possession of Spain, should seriously endanger "our internal peace and the existence of our cherished Union," then "by every law, human and divine, we shall be justified in wresting it from Spain if we have the power."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Reagan Diaries

Ronald Reagan's White House diary is being published (May 22nd) and Vanity Fair has recently released excerpts in an article.

The diaries reveal much according to the article:
Although the diaries cover only eight years, they leave a sense of the full scope of Reagan's life. For example, there is no sense that he "left Hollywood behind." Some of the people he respected most were friends from his acting days, and so the likes of James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne, and George Murphy make regular appearances in the entries. A man who was admirably comfortable with himself, Reagan brought all of the experiences and the friendships of his long life with him into the White House years.

From the excerpts in the article, you can really see what a great source these diaries are:
Sat. Jan. 31 • Had a before lunch walk. (It was cold.) Spent afternoon in front of fire reading intelligence reports & Briefing papers for visit by Pres. Chun (Korea). We have definite evidence Nicaragua transferring hundreds of tons of arms from Cuba to El Salvador. p.m. ran a movie—"Tribute"—Jack Lemmon. He is truly a great performer.

Wed. March 4 • Our wedding anniversary. 29 years of more happiness than any man could rightly deserve. A Pakistani plane was highjacked and landed in Kabul. The Russians are holding it & 3 or 6 of the passengers are American. We haven't been able to learn which figure is right but we're going to let the Soviets know we won't put up with their games.

Mon. March 30 [written Sat. April 11] • My day to address the Bldg. & Const. Trades Nat. Conf. A.F.L.-C.I.O. at the Hilton Ballroom—2 p.m. Was all dressed to go & for some reason at the last min. took off my really good wrist watch & wore an older one.

Speech not riotously received—still it was successful.

Left the hotel at the usual side entrance and headed for the car—suddenly there was a burst of gun fire from the left. S.S. Agent pushed me onto the floor of the car & jumped on top. I felt a blow in my upper back that was unbelievably painful. I was sure he'd broken my rib. The car took off. I sat up on the edge of the seat almost paralyzed by pain. Then I began coughing up blood which made both of us think—yes I had a broken rib & it had punctured a lung. He switched orders from W.H. to Geo. Wash. U. Hosp.

By the time we arrived I was having great trouble getting enough air. We did not know that Tim McCarthy (S.S.) had been shot in the chest, Jim Brady in the head & a policeman Tom Delahanty in the neck.

I walked into the emergency room and was hoisted onto a cart where I was stripped of my clothes. It was then we learned I'd been shot & had a bullet in my lung.

Getting shot hurts.

The article offers ten pages (Internet pages) of excerpts, but you'll have to wait until the end of the month if you want to read it all.

Presidential Biographies for Children

The World Almanac for Kids offers presidential biographies that are at a child's level. They are also nice if you just want some brief information even if you aren't a child!

So you can see what this offers, here is the biography on Jimmy Carter:
CARTER, Jimmy, full name James Earl Carter, Jr., (1924– ), 39th president of the U.S. (1977–81), the first from the Deep South since Andrew Jackson, and an outsider to traditional party politics.

Carter was born in Plains, Ga., on Oct. 1, 1924. In 1927 his family moved to the tiny settlement of Archery, just outside Plains, where he lived until he was 17 years old. He graduated from high school in 1941, then spent a year at Georgia Southwestern College and another at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Carter began a military career in June 1943 by enrolling in the U.S. Naval Academy. By 1946 he was serving as a commissioned officer, and in that same year he married Rosalynn Smith (1927 - ). In 1948 he entered submarine school, and in 1952 he was accepted into the navy’s prototype nuclear submarine training program. The next year his father died, and Carter resigned his commission to take over the family peanut business in Plains.

In Georgia Carter became a prominent businessman and active citizen, known as a liberal on racial matters. He was elected to the state senate in 1962, was reelected two years later, and then ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1966. At this time he had a religious experience, becoming a “born-again” Christian. He won the governorship in 1970 and headed a politically moderate administration, representative of the New South.

Before his gubernatorial term ended, Carter had decided to run for the presidency. After intense primary battles, he surmounted the liabilities of being unknown and from the Deep South and having no national constituency to become (1976) the Democratic nominee on the first ballot. Carter and his vice-presidential running mate, Senator Walter F. Mondale, defeated incumbent President Gerald R. Ford and his running mate, Senator Robert Dole, in the electoral college, 297-241. Carter won 40,800,000 popular votes to Ford’s 39,100,000.

Two of Carter’s most difficult challenges were to combat rising inflation, and to institute an energy program to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Inflation reached a high of 20 percent a year in 1980, but when the government raised interest rates in an attempt to bring it down, unemployment became a serious problem. The economy eventually became the thorniest issue of his reelection campaign. He did, however, secure passage of a comprehensive energy program that was supportive of private energy development.

In matters of defense, Carter advocated increased spending, favoring a cruise missile system. He endorsed a strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization but opposed its use of neutron bombs. He secured passage of a new Panama Canal Treaty (signed in 1977) and concluded a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II).

Carter initiated a foreign policy based on respect for human rights. Critics charged that he applied the policy unevenly, leading to a deterioration in relations with the Soviet Union. He retaliated for Soviet intervention in Afghanistan by instigating an international boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. His greatest triumph in this area came in 1978, when he provided the framework for the historic Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty that was signed in 1979. His greatest frustration was his inability to free the more than 50 U.S. hostages who had been taken by the revolutionary regime of Iran late in 1979.

Although Carter’s popularity declined sharply during his term, he successfully campaigned for renomination in 1980, fighting off a strong challenge from Senator Edward M. Kennedy. In the election, however, Carter and Mondale were overwhelmingly defeated by Republicans
Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

After leaving office, Carter continued to champion human rights and became a public spokesman for several charitable causes. Frequently invited to mediate international conflicts, in 1994 he resolved a dispute between the U.S. and North Korea, and he led a U.S. team that arranged for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1953– ) to return to power in Haiti. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, each received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in August 1999; in December he helped resolve a long-standing dispute between Uganda and Sudan and then represented the U.S. at ceremonies marking the handover of control of the Panama Canal to Panama. His writings include the nonfiction works Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (1982); The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East (1985); Turning Point: A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age (1993); An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (2001); and a book of poetry, Always a Reckoning: And Other Poems (1994).

The Carter Presidential Center, which includes the Office of Jimmy Carter, the Carter Center of Emory University, and the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum (1986), is in Atlanta.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

History Carnival Returning to the American Presidents Blog

The June 2007 History Carnival will be hosted by me (Michael Lorenzen) here at the American Presidents Blog. This is a return for the History Carnival as Jennie hosted the June 14th, 2006 History Carnival. Please send nominations through the carnival nomination form.

The current History Carnival is now up at ClioWeb. Go and take a look and be watching for good entries for me to include next time.