Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Millard Fillmore Before the Presidency

This is a fun overview of Fillmore's life before the Presidency from the Miller Center of Public Affairs:

Millard Fillmore came into the world just one week into the nineteenth century. His large, desperately poor family knew little but struggle and failure. Nathaniel and Phoebe Fillmore had originally lived in Vermont, but by the time of Millard's birth on January 7, 1800, they had settled in upstate New York on a farm between Syracuse and Ithaca. The boy was the second of eight children and the eldest son. Farming the lean, rocky soil of Cayuga County proved to be a losing proposition, and the family often went hungry. While Millard had very little schooling as a young child due to the demands of the farm, he displayed both curiosity and ambition.

Thinking his son needed a trade and perhaps relishing the prospect of one fewer mouth to feed, Nathaniel Fillmore arranged an apprenticeship for Millard when the boy became a teenager. A clothmaker paid the family a small sum, took the boy to another town, and worked him nearly to an early grave. Millard detested the drudgery of the cloth trade. Barely able to read, he used his meager funds to buy a dictionary, stealing looks at it when the clothmaker's attentions were elsewhere. The apprenticeship amounted to little more than slavery, and the experience no doubt had considerable impact on an issue that would dominate Fillmore's political life. The young man borrowed thirty dollars and used it to buy his freedom from the apprenticeship. Millard then walked home to the family farm, which was one hundred miles away.

Escape From Poverty
Back home, Millard resolved to somehow gain an education. He pored over any book he could get his hands on and attended school in a nearby town. The teacher there, a highly intelligent, well-read young woman named Abigail Powers, would be the greatest influence on his life. Just nineteen, not even two years older than Millard, Abigail was probably the first person to encourage his ambition to become anything but a farmer or a tradesman. She loaned him books, challenged him to study difficult subjects, and cheered him on. Nathaniel Fillmore, meanwhile, finally saw that his son might have meant what he said about wanting to become a lawyer and arranged a clerkship with a local judge that would also allow Millard to study law. The teenager attacked the difficult bookwork with untiring relish, teaching school to support himself. He also began courting Abigail Powers. Impressed with his work ethic and aspirations, she accepted his engagement proposal in 1819.

About this time, Fillmore's family gave up their troubled farm and moved to East Aurora, a town near Buffalo. The young man moved with them, taught school and clerked, and gained admission to the New York bar in 1823. He opened a law practice in East Aurora and married Abigail Powers in early 1826. She counseled and advised her husband in his career, and the young lawyer prospered. The couple would have two children -- a boy, also named Millard, in 1828, and a girl named Mary four years later.

The Gateway to Politics
A few months after the marriage, a strange incident catapulted Fillmore into politics. Many of the era's ruling politicians were Freemasons, including General Andrew Jackson, the most popular man in America at the time. A man named William Morgan, a disaffected Mason evidently readying an exposé of the organization, was allegedly kidnapped and never seen again. Widespread suspicion arose that Masonic interests were behind Morgan's disappearance, and soon an Anti-Masonic Party arose to combat the fraternal order's political influence. One hotbed of the new party lay in western New York, and Fillmore joined it.

Not even thirty years old, articulate, tall and stately, Fillmore had already become a highly respectable figure in his area, and the fledgling party's leadership approached him about running for the New York state legislature. In 1829, he began his first of three terms in the state assembly. The driving force behind considerable legislation, he focused particular energy on the issue of debtor imprisonment. In that era, it was common to throw people who were unable to pay debts into prison. No doubt remembering the poverty he had so recently escaped, Fillmore worked hard to pass laws forbidding such incarcerations. Such policies played well with citizens in his district, and they elected Fillmore to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1832.

At that time, Andrew Jackson was President. Anyone who saw Jackson as power hungry and abhorred the policies he pursued gravitated toward the Whig Party. By 1834, Fillmore's increasingly marginalized Anti-Masonic Party had merged with the Whigs. One of its leaders in New York was newspaper publisher Thurlow Weed, who had been an Anti-Masonic leader and had helped with Fillmore's political climb. Joining the Whigs before Fillmore, Weed quickly took over the New York organization of the new party. Weed, who was deeply opposed to slavery, supported an agenda that was increasingly at odds with Fillmore's. Fillmore was also opposed to slavery in principle but thought that compromise was essential to resolving the issue.

Fillmore was reelected to Congress three times between 1837 and 1843. During his last term, which spanned from 1841 to 1843, he was named chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which dealt with tax and financial issues. He was aligned with the beliefs of Whig Party leader Henry Clay on the one issue eclipsing all others in that day -- slavery. Both Fillmore and Clay were convinced that only compromise could keep the nation whole. Late in this congressional term, Fillmore also oversaw implementation of a high tariff intended to protect imports.

In 1843, Fillmore left the House in hopes of gaining the Whig vice presidential nomination for 1844 and joining Henry Clay on the ticket. Thurlow Weed convinced -- or, more accurately, ordered -- Fillmore to run for governor of New York instead. In a close race, Fillmore lost, a defeat he blamed on abolitionists, recent Catholic immigrants, and Thurlow Weed. Feeling that Weed had undermined his candidacy, Fillmore broke with the party boss. In the end, Clay lost the presidential election to Democrat James Polk. Being out of a job, Fillmore looked for an opportunity that would keep him in politics. In 1847, he won election as New York's comptroller, or chief financial overseer. Fillmore's winning margin over his Democratic rival was so wide that he was instantly seen as a leading Whig candidate for the upcoming 1848 national campaign.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Who is this First Lady?

In line with a favorite game that Jennie likes to play here, who is this woman who served in the capacity of First Lady of the US in the 19th century?
I am sure Jennie not only knows the answer but has dressed up like her at least once. :]

Friday, July 27, 2007

Remembering ALL of the Presidents?

Have I got a quiz for you! Can you name all 43 presidents?

In ten minutes?

Go to the quiz Can You Name All 43 Presidents?

Actually it’s easier than you think, but the timer begins the minute you log on. All you have to do is type the last name of the president and the program will immediately place it where it goes.

I hope this stays up for awhile. Some of my students would love the challenge, and over time I guarantee that many of them would become more familiar with the names as well as the events that surround their administrations.

No cheating now….

President Schwarzenegger???

I saw an artricle on Yahoo! the other day, talking about Schwarzenegger for president. Well, of course, we all know, there is a major obstacle to Schwarzenegger running the president: the US Constitution. There are only three requirements to run for president, but Schwarzenegger fails one of them - he's not a natural born citizen (he was born in Austria). In case you forgot, the other two requirements are 14 years of residency and being 35.

This got me wondering and I did a little looking to find there is a movement starting to change this requirement in the constitution. There is a CNN article from 2004 that quotes Schwarzenegger saying it should be changed (he said that anyone who had been a citizen for over 20 years (as he has) should be able to run) and About.com brings up some interesting questions on this issue:
So, Schwarzenegger, a state governor married into a leading political family, can't run for President because he was born an Austrian citizen, in Austria. But an American baby born to US citizen parents abroad, even to, say, a US president, and then raised in the US for life, can never run for president either.

A Swahili baby, born to non-citizen parents vacationing on US soil, and then taken back to Swahili and raised there, can become President though. The child of illegal border crossers from Central or South America, who crossed the border simply to birth a child in the States, can run for president. See where this argument is going?

Democrats may not like the idea of Schwarzenegger for president. They may be right that he is less than an ideal candidate, but not because he was born abroad. (His alleged idealization of Hitler and sexual harassments are a different subject altogether).

In an age when a woman nine-months pregnant can get to the opposite side of the globe in 24 hours or less, and back again, the born-on-American-soil clause may indeed be outdated.

While I was looking, I even found a petition online to let Schwarzenegger run. Now whether or not you thinking Schwarzenegger should be President, do you think this requirement should be changed? Is it outdated as About.com argues? Or is it a tradition we should keep? Is it important that our President be born on US soil?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Franklin Pierce from the 11th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica

Here is how the now highly regarded 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica covered Franklin Pierce in 1911:

FRANKLIN PIERCE (1804-1869), fourteenth president of the United States, was born at Hillsborough, New Hampshire, on the 23rd of November 1804. His father, Benjamin Pierce (1757-1839), served in the American army throughout the War of Independence, was a Democratic member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 1789 to 1803, and was governor of the state in 1827-1829. The son graduated in 1824 at Bowdoin College, at Brunswick, Maine, where he formed a friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Pierce then studied law, and in 1827 was admitted to the bar and began to practise at Hillsborough. He at once took a lively interest in politics, and from 1829 to 1833 served in the state House of Representatives, for the last two years as Speaker. In 1833 he entered the national House of Representatives, and although he achieved no distinction in debate he was a hard worker, and a loyal supporter of the policies of President Jackson. After four years in the House he entered the Senate, being its youngest member. In 1842, before the expiration of his term, he resigned his seat, and at Concord, New Hampshire, began his career at the bar in earnest, though still retaining an interest in politics. In 1845 he declined the Democratic nomination for governor, and also an appointment to the seat in the United States Senate made vacant by the resignation of Judge Levi Woodbury. He accepted, however, an appointment as Federal District Attorney for New Hampshire, as the duties of this office, which he held in 1845-1847, were closely related to those of his profession. In 1846 he again declined public honours, when President Polk invited him to enter the cabinet as attorney-general. Soon after the outbreak of the war with Mexico, in 1846, Pierce enlisted as a private at Concord, but soon (in February 1847) became colonel of the Ninth Regiment (which joined General Winfield Scott at Pueblo on the 6th of August 1847), and later (March, 1847) became a brigadier-general of volunteers. At the battle of Contreras, on the 19th of August 1847, he was thrown from his horse and received severe injuries. At the end of the war he resigned his commission and returned to Concord. In 1850 Pierce became president of a convention assembled at Concord to revise the constitution of his state, and used his influence to secure the removal of those provisions of the constitution of 1792 which declared that only Protestants should be eligible for higher state offices. This amendment passed the convention in April 1852, but was rejected by the electorate of the state; a similar amendment was adopted by popular vote in 1877. In January 1852 the legislature of New Hampshire proposed him as a candidate for the presidency, and when the Democratic national convention met at Baltimore in the following June the Virginia delegation brought forward his name on the thirty-fifth ballot. Although both parties had declared the Compromise of 1850 a finality, the Democrats alone were thoroughly united in support of this declaration, and therefore seemed to offer the greater prospect of peace. This fact, combined with the colourless record of their candidate, enabled them to sweep the country at the November election. Pierce received 2544 electoral votes, and General Winfield Scott, his Whig opponent, only 42. The Democrats carried every state except Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee. No president since James Monroe had received such a vote.

Pierce was the youngest man who had as yet been elevated to the presidency. For his cabinet he chose William L. Marcy of New York, secretary of state; Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, secretary of war; James Guthrie (1792-1869) of Kentucky, secretary of the treasury; James C. Dobbin (1814-1857) of North Carolina, secretary of the navy; Robert McClelland (1807-1880) of Michigan, secretary of the interior; James Campbell (1813-1893) of Pennsylvania, postmaster-general; and Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts, attorney-general. This was an able body of men, and is the only cabinet in American history that has continued unbroken throughout an entire administration. Although Pierce during his term in the Senate had severely criticized the Whigs for their removals of Democrats from office, he himself now adopted the policy of replacing Whigs by Democrats, and the country acquiesced. Pierce had no scruples against slavery, and opposed anti-slavery agitation as tending to disrupt the Union. The conduct of foreign relations was on the whole the most creditable part of his administration. The Koszta Affair (1853) gave the government an opportunity vigorously to assert the protection it would afford those in the process of becoming its naturalized citizens. When the British government refused to prevent recruiting for the Crimean War by their representatives in America, their minister, John F. Crampton, received his passports, and the exequaturs of the British consuls at New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati were revoked. A commercial treaty was negotiated with Japan in 1854 after Perry's expedition in the previous year. As an avowed expansionist, Pierce sympathized with the filibuster government set up in Nicaragua by William Walker, and finally accorded it recognition. It was during this term also that the Gadsden Purchase was consummated, by which 45,535 sq. m. of territory were acquired from Mexico, and that three routes were surveyed for railways from the Mississippi river to the Pacific coast.

When the Democratic national convention met at Cincinnati in June 1856, Pierce was an avowed candidate for renomination, but as his attitude on the slavery question, and especially his subserviency to the South in supporting the pro-slavery party in the Territory of Kansas, had lost him the support of the Northern wing of his party, the nomination went to James Buchanan. After retiring from the presidency Pierce returned to Concord, and soon afterwards went abroad for a three years' tour in Europe. Many Southern leaders desired his renomination by the Democratic party in 1860, but he received such suggestions with disfavour. After his return to America he remained in retirement at Concord until the day of his death, the 8th of October 1869.

Pierce was not a great statesman, and his fame has been overshadowed by that of Benton, Calhoun, Clay and Webster. But he was an able lawyer, an orator of no mean reputation, and a brave soldier. He was a man of fine appearance and courtly manners, and he possessed personal magnetism and the ability to make friends, two qualities that contributed in great measure to his success.

A portion of Pierce's correspondence has been published in the American Historical Review, x. 110 - 127, 35 0 -37 0. D. W. Bartlett's Franklin Pierce (Auburn, New York, 1852), and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Franklin Pierce (Boston, 1852), are two "campaign" biographies, and are very eulogistic. J. R. Irelan's History of the Life, Administration and Times of Franklin Pierce (Chicago, 1888), being vol. xiv. of his Republic, is a more critical work, but inaccurate as to details. T. E. Cooley's Review of the Administration of General Pierce (New York, 1854) and Anna E. Carroll's Review of Pierce's Administration (Boston, 1856) are hostile anti-administration tracts. The best accounts of Pierce's administration are to be found in James Schouler's History of the United States, vol. v. (new ed., New York, 1894); J. F. Rhodes's History of the United States, vols. i. and ii. (New York, 1893-1894); and J. W. Burgess's Middle Period (New York, 1900).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Who is this young solider?

In preparation for the Military History Carnival coming to the APB, I thought I'd offer a military picture for you to figure out. You should be able to easily figure out the era and then its just a matter of narrowing it down.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

MIlitary History Carnival

Just a reminder that we are hosting the next edition of the Military History Carnival here in mid-August, so please submit articles.

New Nixon Tapes

This month the Nixon Library released new Nixon tapes on its first day of federal status (it is now part of NARA). What do these new tapes tell us?
The release was symbolic, coming as it did on the first day of the Library’s new federal status, and it was substantive, as these tapes shed light on issues such as the Vietnam negotiations breakthrough, the Nixon administration’s second term staff reorganization plans, and as the only presidential recordings to preserve the president’s and his closest adviser’s thoughts during a presidential election. Although the release comprises only 11 1/2 hours out of a total of 3,700 hours of Nixon tapes recorded between 1971 and 1973, there are numerous gems for scholars and curious listeners alike.

The article then goes into more depth on some of these topics. The authors also point out that this is just the beginning for Nixon scholars:
We have learned a remarkable amount from such a relatively small release of tapes, and with over 1,000 hours yet to be released, we are bound to learn much more from the Nixon tapes. The symbolic decision of the Nixon Presidential Library to release these additional hours marked a commitment to transparency and a reinvigorated effort to process and make public backlogged materials, a vigor matched only by that of so many researchers still interested—after more than three decades—in eavesdropping on one of our most controversial presidents.

If you had fun on this article, you can also check out this article on the job of the Nixon archivists.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Eisenhower Farm at Gettysburg

Front of Eisenhower houseSide of house
Last week I was able to visit the Eisenhower farm in Gettysburg, PA. The Eisenhowers lived all over the US and the world during their marriage because of Ike’s military career. Ike had first been to Gettysburg in 1915 as a cadet and in 1950 when the Eisenhowers were looking for a retirement home, Ike’s fond memories drew him back here. They bought a 189 acre farm, but their plans of retirement were first interrupted by NATO and then the Presidency.

Eisenhower farm from Gettysburg auto tour

In his first term, Ike and Mamie had the farmhouse renovated. Once these were completed, Ike and Mamie began entertaining here and that included foreign leaders like Khrushchev:
Back in Washington, the President received a steady stream of dignitaries, many of whom he invited to Camp David for meetings, then on to his farm. After a tour of his Angus herd and cattle barns, Eisenhower brought these world leaders back to the house to sit on the porch. Eisenhower said the informal atmosphere of the porch allowed him, “to get the other man’s equation.”
Sun Room - back porch (NPS photo)

Back porch/sun room from outside

View from back porch (so what Eisenhowers visitors would have seen)

Since this farm was used during his Presidency, it also housed the secret service and you can see the remnants of their activities with things like this hole in the side of the house, which was used to hide a camera.
That little hole is the secret service camera hole

During the Presidency, the Gettysburg farm became Ike’s retreat as it was close enough to DC to make it an easy commute by helicopter. Ike was the first president to use a helicopter in this way, going between Gettysburg and DC in a half hour instead of driving the two hours.
Me at the Heliocopter pad

The house tour includes most of the house, which is almost all actual Eisenhower items. The living room is full of the many gifts the Eisenhowers received from people all over the world. The Eisenhowers were the first Presidential family to watch TV regularly and you can see that in the several sets throughout their house. While the original house was historic, the Eisenhowers could only save part of it when they renovated the place as it was in such bad shape. But they did find the original house buried in it – a log cabin. You can see the beams in Ike’s den. You can take a virtual house tour online – it is aimed at kids, but you still get the idea.
Living Room - the rug was a gift from the Shah of Iran (NPS photo)

The den - see the beams? (NPS photo)
The grounds are also open for tours and you can visit the cattle barns to see the Black Angus or walk around near the house itself. There is a putting green, a summer kitchen, and a greenhouse and gardens as well as the guesthouse. The land is still planted each year by local farmers, who are required by the NPS to grow the same things that the Eisenhowers grew.
The farm - see the corn?

Putting green (that's my mother by it)

The summer kitchen where they would hold tea parties and BBQs. There is a built in brick BBQ there as well. There is a full kitchen the building - stove, sink, etc.

The Eisenhowers donated their farm to the NPS before their deaths (in 1967) and it was opened to the public in 1980, a year after Mrs. Eisenhower died.

Some things to remember if you visit the Eisenhower’s farm:
  • You can’t drive directly to the farm. You have to take a shuttle bus (it leaves every ½ hour) from the National Military Park Visitors Center (where there is tons of parking). You purchase your tickets there for your visit. It is only $6/person for adults, which is very reasonable.
  • Your tour will start with an introduction from a NPS guide on the grounds and then in the house. After you go through the house, you are on your own to explore the grounds and just have to go back to the bus zone to catch the shuttle when you are ready. You can stay as long as you want, but there isn’t any place to buy food there. There is a gift/book store and restrooms.
  • Pictures are allowed in the house as long as you don’t use a flash. I still wouldn't do it - just good practice not to.

This park is definitely worth the time, so do visit if you are in the Gettysburg area.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

President Bush Commutes Harry Potter Death Sentence

Here is some interesting news off the wire. Biff Scuzzy from Postcards has presidential news I missed. With the current Harry Potter blitz, I guess many are mixing Potter and the President with some clever satire.

From the site:

President George W. Bush announced yesterday that he is prepared to commute Harry Potter’s death sentence should he die in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the grossly popular series.

"I respect J.R. Rowling and her decisions as an author," said Mr. Bush in a written statement, “but I have concluded that killing Harry Potter would be excessive and would serve no purpose, other than giving millions of young readers nightmares. Therefore, if Harry Potter dies in Harry Potter and the Deathly Gallows, I will move swiftly to commute that portion of his sentence. A young life is a terrible thing to waste."

The president refused to establish a timetable for commuting Mr. Potter’s death sentence, but sources close to the White House expect the commutation to follow swiftly on the heels of the final Harry Potter book’s publication.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Texas First Ladies

I'm a little behind with this post, but I've been travelling...which means that I'll have a post on the Eisenhower's Gettyburg farm in a few days.

There was a nice AP story that compared Lady Bird and Laura Bush:
But Lady Bird Johnson and Laura Bush were both instrumental in their husbands' rise to power. And each endured harsh criticism of the White House over a faraway American war — Johnson for Vietnam and Bush for Iraq.

"It's got to be a very wearing ordeal for either family to endure the kind of disapproval and unhappiness that the American people visit on the presidents of unpopular wars," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas in Austin whose expertise is the presidency.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Teddy Roosevelt and the River of Doubt

American Presidents have been known to do many things when they leave office. Some are noble while others are less so. However, Teddy Roosevelt may have the distinction of being the only one who became an explorer! He went on to explore a newly discovered river in the Amazon and to have that river renamed in his honor.

In 1913, after suffering defeat in 1912 in his bid to regain the presidency, Teddy and his son Kermit went to the Amazon. Their subsequent adventure became known as the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition. The River of Doubt had recently been discovered deep in the Amazon and Teddy was eager to explore it to see if it connected to the Amazon River.

The expedition did not go well. Wikipedia notes, "Almost from the start, the expedition was fraught with problems. Insects and disease such as malaria weighed heavily on just about every member of the expedition, leaving them in a constant state of sickness, festering wounds and high fevers. The heavy dug-out canoes were unsuitable to the constant rapids and were often lost, requiring days to build new ones. The food provisions were ill-conceived forcing the team on starvation diets. Native Indian cannibals (the Cinta Larga) shadowed the expedition and were a constant source of concern - the Indians could have at any time wiped out the expedition and taken their valuable metal tools but luckily they chose to let them pass (future expeditions in the 1920s were not so lucky). One of the camaradas murdered another, while a third was killed in a rapid."

Teddy is reported as having almost died from a wounded leg that was infected. His death five years later was credited partially to the health problems he never recovered from on this trip. He survived and the expedition reached the Amazon River. Teddy later wrote a book on the expedition titled Through the Brazilian Wilderness. The river was renamed the Rio Roosevelt in Teddy's honor.

I think this is quite the story! Yes, Teddy was tough. And what better way to get over losing a presidential election than to go hike around the Amazon Jungle?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lady Bird---More Than Just Wildflowers

I was saddened to learn this week of the passing of Lady Bird Johnson. Until today I had ignored her passing…a bit I guess in part because the anniversary of my own mother’s passing was looming. I finally decided to dig in and see what I could find out regarding a very strong southern First Lady. I was a small girl during the Johnson administration but I rememember a great smile and a truly wondrous southern accent from Mrs. Johnson…someone who spoke the language of my kith and kin…for some it is truly an art form and she was a grand master.

I think this is a lovely picture of her. It shows how I would want to remember her if she was my mother---young, vivacious, and enjoying herself. This picture was taken on May 8, 1968 by Robert Knudsen (courtesy of LBJ Library). I believe this is the same gown she is wearing in her official portrait, but I like seeing her this way instead of seated. Don’t you?

Lady Bird and President Johnson had a whirlwind courtship. They met in Washington D.C. and he asked her to marry him almost immediately. For the next seven weeks he courted her relentlessly finally throwing down the gauntlet by stating, “Now or never.” The former First Lady relented. They came from two different worlds in the same state…..President Johnson was born in a small, poor farmhouse. Lady Bird hailed from a mansion complete with servants, the largest home in Harrison County, Texas.

The former First Lady’s father, Thomas Jefferson Taylor, began a mercantile operation in a crossroads town called Karnack, Texas. In fact prior to Mrs. Johnson’s birth the family lived above Taylor’s General Store. At some point Mrs. Taylor left the tiny apartment stating she wouldn’t be back until her husband purchased a proper home for her, their two sons, and any future little Taylors.

The resulting purchase was the home now known as the Andrews-Taylor House or “The Brick House” to area locals. The two story mansion is privately owned today and is not open for tours. The two-story structure is made of bricks…bricks made by slaves before the Civil War. In the 1930s Taylor had enlarged his business holdings to include another store, was making loans to small farmers at 10% interest, and had become the largest landowner in Harrison County. A sign above the doorway at one of his stores stated it all….”T.J. Taylor---Dealer in Everything.” Everything included cotton----fifteen thousand acres of it.

Years later when interviewed by biographer Jarboe Russell, Mrs. Johnson said, “My father was a very strong character, to put it mildly. He lived by his own rules. It was a feudal way of life, really.” T.J. Taylor may have lived by his own rules, however, he had community spirit as well. In 1934, he donated over 300 acres of his land which is now Caddo Lake State Park. Could this be the beginnings of the former First Lady’s love of the environment and conservation?

During the early 1960s the former First Lady was very instrumental acting as a spokesperson for the Civil Rights Act. The law protected the constitutional rights of many in the south who had not had such protection before, and it was not popular with southern Democrats. The website Lady Bird: The Biography of First Lady Lady Bird Johnson remembers the time period best:

At her urging, Lady Bird's staff began working up plans for a train tour of key southern states. Democratic governors urged the president and First Lady not to go through with the trip, saying they could not guarantee her safety. But the First Lady insisted on the whistle-stop tour winding 1,628 miles through eight states in four days. Organized by Lady Bird, her staff and the wives of southern members of Congress, the trip traveled through rural and poor areas where the First Lady faced large and unruly crowds of whites and a growing number of Republican supporters opposed to her husband's policies.

By now, Lady Bird could deliver a compelling speech and knew how to reach out to an audience. "You may not agree with what I have to say," she said in her soft southern drawl, "but at least you will understand the way I say it." As her tour moved farther south into South Carolina, protesters turned more hostile, confronting her with placards deriding her as a "Black Bird" and screaming, "Lyndon Johnson is a Communist, Johnson is a Nigger-lover." At each stop Lady Bird listened to the chants and then asked for people to listen to her. The First Lady's personal appeal and courteous manner calmed most crowds. The media -- there were 150 national press reporters onboard the train at all times -- portrayed Lady Bird as a fearless moral representative of her husband.

By the time the tour, the first time a First Lady had campaigned on her own, wrapped up in New Orleans on October 9, 1964, Lady Bird had delivered some 47 formal stump speeches to an estimated 500,000 southerners. One nationally syndicated columnist would say of the Lady Bird Special, "Perhaps this marks the emergence of women as central figures to a national contest instead of being on the edges of a campaign."

It would seem that we have more to thank Lady Bird for than just wildflowers, wouldn’t it?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nixon library's changes start with Watergate

From LISNews.org:

The LA Times Takes A Look At The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, which they say, has long been the most kicked-around of presidential libraries, and nothing invited more ridicule than the dim, narrow room purporting to describe the scandal that drove its namesake from office. In late March, however, workers roped off the Watergate gallery and methodically began to destroy it. Armed with hammers, a crowbar, a screw gun and a Sawzall, they yanked big display cabinets out of the floor, sliced through tough fiberboard panels, detached more than 100 fluorescent lighting tubes and removed the long strips of plexiglass that had sandwiched text transparencies.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lady Bird Johnson Dies

Lady Bird Johnson died today at age 94. She hadn't been well since her stroke in 2002, but was still making at least a few appearances until very recently.

Comments from President Bush:
"President Johnson once called her a woman of ideals, principles, intelligence, and refinement. She remained so throughout their life together, and in the many years given to her afterward," President Bush said.

Comments from former First Ladies:
"Her beautification programs benefited the entire nation. She translated her love for the land and the environment into a lifetime of achievement," Betty Ford said.

Nancy Reagan said that when Lyndon Johnson was called upon to take the oath of office in the face of tragedy after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, "he did so with his courageous wife beside him." She said Lady Bird Johnson served the nation with honor and dignity.

"I believe above all else that Lady Bird will always be remembered as a loyal and devoted wife, a loving and caring mother and a proud and nurturing grandmother," Reagan said.

FDR’s Death

Barron Lerner discusses the doctor’s account of FDR’s death at HNN. He talks about how the “official” story was published in 1970 by one the physicians and actually talked about the seriousness of FDR condition, but Lerner says there are still questions:
Why did Bruenn decide to go public? Did others assist in the writing of the article? And, finally, was Bruenn’s claim that Roosevelt remained mentally capable until his death based on clear-cut facts or a selective reading of the evidence?

Lerner reveals why Bruenn wrote the article when he did:
In short, Bruenn wrote his article at the behest of the Roosevelt family, particularly his daughter Anna Roosevelt Halsted and her husband, James Halsted, who were eager to set the record straight. The Halsteds were especially upset at the so-called “sick man of Yalta” theory: the notion that President Roosevelt’s mind had been so clouded at the February 1945 Yalta conference that he had given away Eastern Europe to Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union. Another claim that angered the Halsteds was that Roosevelt’s precarious health should have prevented his running for reelection in 1944.

It turns out that Anna Roosevelt actually wrote chunks of the piece and was involved in its revisions – which begs the question – was this all just facts? Or what the Roosevelts wanted the public to believe? Lerner then talks about the response to the article:
The response to Bruenn’s article was almost universal praise but one critic, cardiologist Howard Burchell of the University of Minnesota, raised several questions. Most notably, he suggested that Bruenn, as a historical figure in the Roosevelt saga, necessarily wrote the article in a particular way. “One could submit,” he stated in a letter to the Annals, “that Dr. Bruenn would have strong unconscious forces which would operate in his rendering a favorable report on the patient’s health.” What makes Burchell’s comment especially perceptive, in retrospect, is that he did not even know about the involvement of the Halsteds or Burns.

For more information on FDR's death, check Dr. Zebra.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


We here at the APB were tagged last week by klkatz at the US History Site Blog. That means that we have to:
  1. Let others know who tagged you.
  2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
  3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
  4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.
Since it was my post that was tagged, here are 8 random facts about myself (this might prove just how nerdy I am though):
  1. I've seen the largest tower of oil cans in the world - no kidding, it's in Casselton, ND.
  2. I can recite all the Presidents and First Ladies in order - from any place chronologically, forward or backwards. Yes, I'm THAT nerdy. I'm also pretty close to being able to do that for the Kings of England as well...why you ask? No reason other than to be able to do it.
  3. I have read all the Harry Potter books and have had Book 7 pre-ordered for months. I do plan to go see the 5th movie soon (although not on opening day), but I really didn't like movie 4 so I'm a bit worried. I did see (thanks to my husband) all three Lord of Rings movies on their opening days (at midnight no less).
  4. My cat (poor creature) was named after a medieval Russian princess.
  5. Although I mostly teach history now (which is what one of my master's degrees is in), it is my bachelor's degree in math that has gotten me the most jobs. And to think I almost didn't finish that degree (I really hated abstract math - non-Euclidean geometry almost killed me!).
  6. When my husband and I moved across country (ND to OH), we found out that our books weighed more than all our other stuff together. And not just a few pounds - by 500! We clean out furniture, clothes and whatnot regularly, but seem to just keep collecting books!
  7. I've driven the Alcan several times, including once in my brother's 1966 Mustang.
  8. I still have my entire collection of Sweet Valley Twins from elementary school in hopes that my kids will want to read them one day.

Now the fun part...who would I like to tag.....

The Educational Tour Marm

Dr. History

Behind AotW

Investigations of a Dog

World History Blog

Early Modern Notes

Uncovered History

Rantings of a Civil War Historian

American Presidents Blog Banned in China?

(Michael Lorenzen at the Great Wall on July 5th, 2007)

I got back from my China trip two days ago. I am still tired and jet lagged but am finally feeling up to blogging again.

I had some difficulty gaining Web access while in Beijing. I stayed in a dorm at the North China University of Technology. The Internet was locked down hard with only students/faculty/staff being able to access it. I even had trouble getting into the library! I was kicked out when I tried to enter it the first time as I had no student ID to scan at the entrance. I was able to get in after securing intervention from a university administrator. However, I still could not get online.

Using an alternate access method, I was able to get online twice during the trip. While I was able to access Blogger to approve comments, I was unable to view the American Presidents Blog. All attempts to gain access resulted in the site being unable to load. I tried several other Blogger generated blogs as well with the same result. It appears that China has blocked Blogger blogs so while APB is banned so is everyone else using this platform.

My thanks to Jenny and Lisa for their wonderful posts while I was away. My thanks also to those who commented on posts but had to wait a little longer than usual to have their comments moderated. I have several ideas for China related presidential posts and hope to have a few up shortly. I loved visiting China but I am glad to be home.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

One of Ronald Reagan’s most famous speeches is the Tear Down This Wall speech given in Berlin. This Prologue article is written by Peter Robinson, one of Reagan’s speechwriters who helped to write this speech.

Robinson first talks about his prep work in Berlin with the American diplomats:
I spent a day and a half in Berlin with the White House advance team—the logistical experts, Secret Service agents, and press officials who went to the site of every presidential visit to make arrangements. All that I had to do in Berlin was find material. When I met the ranking American diplomat in Berlin, I assumed he would give me some.

A stocky man with thick glasses, the diplomat projected an anxious, distracted air throughout our conversation, as if the very prospect of a visit from Ronald Reagan made him nervous. The diplomat gave me quite specific instructions. Almost all of it was in the negative. He was full of ideas about what the President shouldn't say. The most left-leaning of all West Germans, the diplomat informed me, West Berliners were intellectually and politically sophisticated. The President would therefore have to watch himself. No chest-thumping. No Soviet-bashing. And no inflammatory statements about the Berlin Wall. West Berliners, the diplomat explained, had long ago gotten used to the structure that encircled them.

Then Robinson spoke with Berliners:
That evening, I broke away from the advance team to join a dozen Berliners for dinner. Our hosts were Dieter and Ingeborg Elz, who had retired to Berlin after Dieter completed his career at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. Although we had never met, we had friends in common, and the Elzes had offered to put on this dinner party to give me a feel for their city. They had invited Berliners of different walks of life and political outlooks—businessmen, academics, students, homemakers.

We chatted for a while about the weather, German wine, and the cost of housing in Berlin. Then I related what the diplomat told me, explaining that after my flight over the city that afternoon I found it difficult to believe. "Is it true?" I asked. "Have you gotten used to the wall?"

The Elzes and their guests glanced at each other uneasily. I thought I had proven myself just the sort of brash, tactless American the diplomat was afraid the President might seem. Then one man raised an arm and pointed. "My sister lives twenty miles in that direction," he said. "I haven't seen her in more than two decades. Do you think I can get used to that?" Another man spoke. Each morning on his way to work, he explained, he walked past a guard tower. Each morning, a soldier gazed down at him through binoculars. "That soldier and I speak the same language. We share the same history. But one of us is a zookeeper and the other is an animal, and I am never certain which is which."

Our hostess broke in. A gracious woman, she had suddenly grown angry. Her face was red. She made a fist with one hand and pounded it into the palm of the other. "If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of glasnost and perestroika," she said, "he can prove it. He can get rid of this wall."

Robinson then went to work on the speech, but found it hard going to express what he had learned and wanted to say. He finally got an acceptable draft that the President liked:
"Mr. President," I said, "I learned on the advance trip that your speech will be heard not only in West Berlin but throughout East Germany." Depending on weather conditions, I explained, radios would be able to pick up the speech as far east as Moscow itself. "Is there anything you'd like to say to people on the other side of the Berlin Wall?"

The President cocked his head and thought. "Well," he replied, "there's that passage about tearing down the wall. That wall has to come down. That's what I'd like to say to them."

Robinson admitted that he actually considered taking out the “tear down the wall” comment:
I spent a couple of days attempting to improve the speech. I suppose I should admit that at one point I actually took "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" out, replacing it with the challenge, in German, to open the Brandenburg Gate, "Herr Gorbachev, machen Sie dieses Tor auf."

"What did you do that for?" Tony asked.

"You mean you don't get it?" I replied. "Since the audience will be German, the President should deliver his big line in German."

"Peter," Tony said, shaking his head, "when you're writing for the President of the United States, give him his big line in English." Tony put "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" right back in.

The speech was circulated first and got almost universal bad reviews. High US state officials were worried about the content and the challenge to Gorbachev:
A few days before the President was to leave for Europe, Tom Griscom received a call from the chief of staff, Howard Baker, asking Griscom to step down the hall to his office. "I walked in and it was Senator Baker [Baker had served in the Senate before becoming chief of staff] and the secretary of state—just the two of them." Secretary of State George Shultz now objected to the speech. "He said, 'I really think that line about tearing down the wall is going to be an affront to Mr. Gorbachev,'" Griscom recalls. "I told him the speech would put a marker out there. 'Mr. Secretary,' I said, 'The President has commented on this particular line and he's comfortable with it. And I can promise you that this line will reverberate.' The secretary of state clearly was not happy, but he accepted it. I think that closed the subject."

But the subject wasn't closed and more alternative drafts continued to come in from State and the NSC, but Reagan held firm – he was going to use it the original speech. While the wall didn't come down that day, it did fall two years later.

Robinson ends the article with his thoughts on why Reagan has been celebrated as a great speaker:
There is a school of thought that Ronald Reagan only managed to look good because he had clever writers putting words in his mouth. But Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Bob Dole, and Bill Clinton all had clever writers.

Why was there only one Great Communicator?

Because Ronald Reagan's writers were never attempting to fabricate an image, just to produce work that measured up to the standard Reagan himself had already established. His policies were plain. He had been articulating them for decades—until he became President he wrote most of his material himself.

When I heard Frau Elz say that Gorbachev should get rid of the wall, I knew instantly that the President would have responded to her remark. And when the State Department and National Security Council tried to block my draft by submitting alternate drafts, they weakened their own case. Their speeches were drab. They were bureaucratic. They lacked conviction. The people who wrote them had not stolen, as I had, from Frau Elz—and from Ronald Reagan.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Military History Blog

The Military History Blog is now up at Battlefield Biker. The next edition will be here at the APB in mid-August so remember to submit articles to me!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Truman and Marx

No, not Karl Marx, but the Marx brothers! Raymond Geselbracht wrote an article on “The Correspondence of Harry Truman with Groucho and Harpo Marx,” in Prologue Magazine.

Harry Truman loved vaudeville theatre from the time he was a teenager. But Truman’s association with the Marx Brothers didn’t stop with theatre shows and it went much deeper than comedy. In the spring of 1945, Groucho Marx sent President Truman a letter:
When Truman became President in the spring of 1945, one of the first problems that came to him was what to do about the survivors of the Holocaust who were living in displaced persons camps in Europe. He had great sympathy with the displaced persons, and he issued a directive in late 1945 intended to allow some of them to immigrate to the United States. Among the many Americans who were concerned about the displaced persons and were following Truman's actions with regard to them was a former vaudevillian whom Truman certainly remembered. On October 8, 1946, Groucho Marx sent Truman a clipping of a Life magazine editorial, "Send Them Here! Europe's Refugees Need a Place to Go and America Needs to Set a World Example." The article claimed that Truman's attempt to help displaced persons to immigrate to the United States had failed. "In God's name[,]" the editorial concluded, "can we go on doing nothing about these DPs?" Groucho asked Truman to consider the article. "I am sure that you are deluged with mail of this sort," he wrote, "but even a president at times can be confused." He added a PS: "Despite all this I propose voting for you in 1948."

Their correspondence, even when Truman was in office, wasn’t completely serious as this letter from Harpo shows:
Harpo contacted Truman a little less than a year after their meeting at the air base. There was much speculation at the time whether Truman would run again in 1952, and Harpo thought he had a good idea. "If you don't run in 1952," he wrote, "how about Margaret? I could swing a lot of votes."9 "I think that is a very important question about 1952," Truman responded, not willing to give anything away regarding this very sensitive matter. "At a later date I will be glad to discuss the matter with you."

The article sums up the friendship:
Truman felt the allure of the Marx Brother's zany view of life from the time he was a young man, and he never forgot or renounced it. His memories of the Marx Brothers' riotously irreverent attitude to authority and to all the people and institutions that embodied it might well have contributed to the remarkable humility that he maintained during all the time he held high office. His youthful encounter with the Marx Brothers certainly encouraged him to recognize, as he always did, that life, among its other mysteries, is fundamentally humorous.

For the Marx Brothers, on the other hand, Truman was the President whose heart was rightly positioned on the refugee issue after World War II and who recognized and supported Israel. Though it is not recorded in the correspondence in the Truman Library's holdings, they must have recognized that Truman felt strongly the need to bring social justice to all Americans and to bring what was best in American life to people all over the world. In any event, Groucho voted for Truman the only time he could, in 1948, and would have voted for him again; one thinks the same is true of Harpo.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The US Presidents and the 4th

James Heintze has compiled a list of what each President did on each 4th of July during their Presidency (if he can find out). I've picked out one President from his list (you can go see all of them if you like - it goes through George W. and will probably be updated tomorrow (or soon after that) to show what he did this year):

Calvin Coolidge

1924- President Coolidge addresses the national convention of the National EducationalAssociation in Washington, D.C. in the morning but spends most of his time at the bedside of hisson, Calvin Coolidge, Jr. who is very ill with septic poisoning.


1926- Coolidge plants a willow tree (the same kind of tree near the grave of GeorgeWashington at Mount Vernon) on the South Jersey exposition grounds in connection with theopening of the Delaware River bridge, and on 5 July he gives a speech in Philadelphia at theSesquicentennial Exposition there.

1927- Coolidge is in Rapid City, S.D., celebrating the Fourth and his 55-th birthday andhe appears in western attire.

1928- President Coolidge is at the Cedar Island Lodge in Superior, Wisc., fishing fortrout.

Have a happy and safe 4th!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Presidents Perform the Star Spangled Banner

I normally keep it fairly serious when I post about our executive branch, but I couldn’t resist sharing this latest offering from Jib Jab showing several of our Presidents singing and dancing to the Star Spangled Banner. I feel it’s very appropriate as the Fourth of July approaches.