Saturday, December 29, 2007

Abraham Lincoln Cottage

The National Trust has just finished restoring the Soldier's Home that Lincoln used as a retreat from the White House:
Now, after a seven-year preservation effort, President Lincoln's Cottage will reopen to the public as a National Trust historic site on February 18—fittingly, Presidents Day. The Trust and the Armed Forces Retirement Home (as the Soldiers' Home is now called) joined together to preserve and restore both the cottage and an adjacent 1905 Beaux-Arts building, the former administrative offices for the Soldiers' Home that will become the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center. The work began soon after President Bill Clinton named the house a national monument in 2000.

The house was used reguarly by Lincoln as a getaway:
For the president, the cottage offered an intimate setting away from the bustle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Sitting in the cottage's drawing room or library, Lincoln met with Union officers, politicians, foreign nationals, and old friends, having candid conversations that may not have been possible at the White House. On his commutes, he spoke with soldiers returning from the front, gleaning unalloyed information that he couldn't get from his generals. On the quiet cottage grounds, he revised drafts of the document that would become the Emancipation Proclamation, saw the horrors of the war in the increasingly frequent burials in the nearby graveyard, and planned his 1864 reelection campaign.

After the opening, you will be able to visit and tour this cottage:
Tours will begin at the visitors center, where a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation will be displayed, as well as exhibits on such subjects as wartime Washington, Lincoln's presidency, and the history of the Soldiers' Home. In one room, visitors will sit around a large wooden table similar to the one used by Lincoln's Cabinet, where an interactive computer program will allow them to assume the role of a Cabinet member and debate emancipation. At the cottage, visitors in guided groups of 15 will walk through the rooms, where they can sit at a facsimile of Lincoln's desk (commissioned by the Trust), or view a stack of his favorite books in the library. Without the distraction of fully decorated rooms, visitors will be free to ponder how the site might have informed Lincoln's views on emancipation and the war.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

U.S. Mint offers sneak peek of 2008 dollar coins

Is it me or does President Van Buren look like a goofy professor?

From USA Today:

On Thursday, the U.S. Mint offers the first glimpse of four presidential $1 coins it plans to issue in 2008. The coins bear the images of the fifth through the eighth U.S. presidents.

Beginning Feb. 14, the Mint will issue a new dollar every three months. James Monroe will be first, followed by John Quincy Adams on May 15, Andrew Jackson on Aug. 14 and Martin Van Buren on Nov. 13.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Poll: Which Presidential couple had the most tumultuous marriage?

The has closed for the question, "Which Presidential couple had the most tumultuous marriage?"

Bill and Hillary Clinton won with 32%. Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln came in a close second with 29%. JFK and his wife came in third and Franklin and Jane Pierce finished fourth.

Thanks to all who participated by voting.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Message 2007 (and 1965)

I thought I'd share this year's Christmas message from President Bush as well as one from a past president.

Christmas Message 2007
December 21, 2007

"But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High...his kingdom will never end.'"
Luke 1:30-33

During the Christmas season, our thoughts turn to the source of joy and hope born in a humble manger on a holy night more than 2,000 years ago. Each year, Christians everywhere celebrate this single life that changed the world and continues to change hearts today. The simple and inspiring story of the birth of Jesus fills our souls with gratitude for the many blessings in our lives and promises that God's purpose is justice and His plan is peace.

At this special time of year, we give thanks for Christ's message of love and mercy, and we are reminded of our responsibility to serve. America is blessed to have fine citizens who reach out with a compassionate hand to help brothers and sisters in need. We also remember our brave men and women in uniform who have volunteered to defend us in distant lands. Many of those who have answered the call of duty will spend Christmas far from home and separated from family. We honor their sacrifice, ask God to watch over them and their families, and pray for their safe return.

Christmas is a time to rejoice and remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Laura and I pray your Christmas will be blessed with family and fellowship, and we wish you a day of glad tidings. Merry Christmas.


The President's Christmas Message to the Men and Women in the Armed Forces
December 18th, 1965

THIS is a season of hope and rejoicing as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. It is a time for renewing ties of brotherhood with all men of good will, everywhere on earth.

Our thoughts are especially with the men and women in uniform. We ask that you may enjoy a full measure of this season's happiness. Far from your homes and loved ones, you make it possible for all the rest of us to enjoy more fully the meaning of Christmas. For your sacrifice we are forever indebted.We grieve for those who have made the supreme sacrifice, for those who bear wounds for freedom's sake, and for their families.

We rededicate ourselves in this season of good will to the ultimate promise of peace made 2,000 years ago. To fulfill that hope remains our urgent quest.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday in the National Parks

This photo essay has some fun pictures to enjoy! There is actually quite of a few of these "Holiday in the National Park" - including some videos, but some are pretty cheesy (in my opinion). Have a great holiday season!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Grant, Lincoln, and General Order Number 11

Expelling Jews has long been associated with European pogroms. The concept that Jews should be removed (or killed) is not something that is thought of as a part of American history. But it has happened. General Grant, under the auspices of the Lincoln Administration, did indeed order an expulsion of Jews.

Bonnie Goodman at the History News Network wrote December 17, 1862: Grant Issues General Order No. 11 Against the Jews. In it, she details the history of this shameful event.

Goodman wrote, " December 17, 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order Number 11, expelling Jews from areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. General Order Number 11 stands out in American history as the first instance of a policy of official anti-semitism on a large scale. The anti-Semitic order had deeper roots; many Northerners and Union army officials harbored anti-Jewish resentments. Jews in Union occupied Southern cities and towns faced the brunt of this prejudice."

Here is the text of the order:

The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department [the "Department of the Tennessee," an administrative district of the Union Army of occupation composed of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order. Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.

Needless to say, this order did not go down well. Although many Southern Jews supported the rebellious Confederacy (such as Confederate Cabinet member Judah P. Benjamin), many Jews were loyal to the Union. Large numbers of Jews were members of the Union Army and they objected to this order as well.

Lincoln wisely moved to nullify this order. Goodman noted, "Lincoln ordered General Halleck, General in Chief of the Army, to revoke the order immediately. Halleck wrote to Grant on January 4, 'A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms, it expells [sic] all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.' Grant complied three days later, but mass evacuation of the Jewish communities in Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky had already been carried out."

Despite the swift action by Lincoln, this still stands out as a bad case of antisemitism in American history. During war time, civil right violations occur frequently and are even sometimes justified. The American Civil War was the most serious challenge to the United States in American history. Lincoln frequently violated the civil rights of Americans during his presidency which probably made him the most unpopular American President in history during his administration. (The critics of President George W. Bush are mild compared to southern opinions of Lincoln...)

However, this order by Grant is troubling. Goodman offers reasons why the future President Grant made this decision. Thankfully, Grant did not allow antisemitism to impact his presidency.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

President Cleveland Message on the Repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act

In 1893, President Grover Cleveland had a problem. The United States was suffering a major economic crisis. It was dealing with the Great Panic of 1983 which was the worst economic disaster the USA had faced up to that point. Many believed at the time that the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 was a major cause of the crisis.

Here is what Wikipedia writes about the Sherman Silver Purchase Act:

The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was enacted in 1890 as a United States federal law. While not authorizing the free and unlimited coinage of silver that the Free Silver supporters wanted, it increased the amount of silver the government was required to purchase every month. In addition to the $2-4 million dollars that had been required by the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, the US government was now required to purchase an additional 4.5 million ounces of silver bullion every month. The law required the Treasury to buy the silver with notes that could be redeemed for either silver or gold. That plan backfired, as people (mostly investors) turned in their silver Treasury notes for gold dollars, thus depleting the government's gold reserves. After the Panic of 1893 broke, President Grover Cleveland oversaw the repeal of the Act in 1893 to prevent the depletion of the country's gold reserves.

Cleveland and others learned a hard lesson. It is difficult to legislate a good economy. The market works best when the government interfers as little as possible. When the government creates incentives for investors to make a profit at the expense of the general public, many probably will.

On August 8, 1893, President Cleveland sent a message asking that the Sherman Silver Purchase Act be repealed. Congress responded and repealed the law. Here is the text of the message (via USA-Presidents.Info):

The existence of an alarming and extraordinary business situation, involving the welfare and prosperity of all our people, has constrained me to call together in extra session the people's representatives in Congress, to the end that through a wise and patriotic exercise of the legislative duty, with which they solely are charged, present evils may be mitigated and dangers threatening the future may be averted.

Our unfortunate financial plight is not the result of untoward events nor of conditions related to our natural resources, nor is it traceable to any of the afflictions which frequently check national growth and prosperity. With plenteous crops, with abundant promise of remunerative production and manufacture, with unusual invitation to safe investment, and with satisfactory assurance to business enterprise, suddenly financial distrust and fear have sprung up on every side. . . . Values supposed to be fixed are fast becoming conjectural, and loss and failure have invaded every branch of business.

I believe these things are principally chargeable to Congressional legislation touching the purchase and coinage of silver by the General Government.

This legislation is embodied in a statute passed on the 14th day of July, 1890, which was the culmination of much agitation on the subject involved, and which may be considered a truce, after a long struggle, between the advocates of free silver coinage and those intending to be more conservative.

This law provides that in payment for the 4,500,000 ounces of silver bullion which the Secretary of the Treasury is commanded to purchase monthly there shall be issued Treasury notes redeemable on demand in gold or silver coin, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury, and that said notes may be reissued. It is, however, declared in the act to be "the established policy of the United States to maintain the two metals on a parity with each other upon the present legal ratio or such ratio as may be provided by law."

This declaration so controls the action of the Secretary of the Treasury as to prevent his exercising the discretion nominally vested in him if by such action the parity between gold and silver may be disturbed. Manifestly a refusal by the Secretary to pay these Treasury notes in gold if demanded would necessarily result in their discredit and depreciation as obligations payable only in silver, and would destroy the parity between the two metals by establishing a discrimination in favor of gold.

The policy necessarily adopted of paying these notes in gold has not spared the gold reserve of $100,000,000 long ago set aside by the Government for the redemption of other notes, for this fund has already been subjected to the payment of new obligations amounting to about $150,000,000 on account of silver purchases, and has as a consequence for the first time since its creation been encroached upon.

We have thus made the depletion of our gold easy and have tempted other and more appreciative nations to add it to their stock.

Unless Government bonds are to be constantly issued and sold to replenish our exhausted gold, only to be again exhausted, it is apparent that the operation of the silver-purchase law now in force leads in the direction of the entire substitution of silver for the gold in the Government Treasury, and that this must be followed by the payment of all Government obligations in depreciated silver.

At this stage gold and silver must part company and the Government must fail in its established policy to maintain the two metals on a parity with each other. Given over to the exclusive use of a currency greatly depreciated according to the standard of the commercial world, we could no longer claim a place among nations of the first class, nor could our Government claim a performance of its obligation, so far as such an obligation has been imposed upon it, to provide for the use of the people the best and safest money.

If, as many of its friends claim, silver ought to occupy a larger place in our currency and the currency of the world through general international cooperation and agreement, it is obvious that the United States will not be in a position to gain a hearing in favor of such an arrangement so long as we are willing to continue our attempt to accomplish the result single-handed.

The people of the United States are entitled to a sound and stable currency and to money recognized as such on every exchange and in every market of the world. Their Government has no right to injure them by financial experiments opposed to the policy and practice of other civilized states, nor is it justified in permitting an exaggerated and unreasonable reliance on our national strength and ability to jeopardize the soundness of the people's money.

This matter rises above the plane of party politics. It vitally concerns every business and calling and enters every household in the land. There is one important aspect of the subject which especially should never be overlooked. At times like the present, when the evils of unsound finance threaten us, the speculator may anticipate a harvest gathered from the misfortune of others, the capitalist may protect himself by hoarding or may even find profit in the fluctuations of values; but the wage earner-the first to be injured by a depreciated currency and the last to receive the benefit of its correction-is practically defenseless. He relies for work upon the ventures of confident and contented capital. This failing him, his condition is without alleviation, for he can neither prey on the misfortunes of others nor hoard his labor.

It is of the utmost importance that such relief as Congress can afford in the existing situation be afforded at once. The maxim "He gives twice who gives quickly" is directly applicable. It may be true that the embarrassments from which the business of the country is suffering arise as much from evils apprehended as from those actually existing. We may hope, too, that calm counsels will prevail, and that neither the capitalists nor the wage earners will give way to unreasoning panic and sacrifice their property or their interests under the influence of exaggerated fears.

Nevertheless, every day's delay in removing one of the plain and principal causes of the present state of things enlarges the mischief already done and increases the responsibility of the Government for its existence. Whatever else the people have a right to expect from Congress, they may certainly demand that legislation condemned by the ordeal of three years' disastrous experience shall be removed from the statute books as soon as their representatives can legitimately deal with it.

It was my purpose to summon Congress in special session early in the coming September, that we might enter promptly upon the work of tariff reform, which the true interests of the country clearly demand, which so large a majority of the people, as shown by their stiffrages, desire and expect, and to the accomplishment of which every effort of the present Administration is pledged. But while tariff reform has lost nothing of its immediate and permanent importance and must in the near future engage the attention of Congress, it has seemed to me that the financial condition of the country should at once and before all other subjects be considered by your honorable body.

I earnestly recommend the prompt repeal of the provisions of the act passed July 14, 1890, authorizing the purchase of silver bullion, and that other legislative action may put beyond all doubt or mistake the intention and the ability of the Government to fulfill its pecuniary obligations in money universally recognized by all civilized countries.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Presidential Cars

The Henry Ford Museum has a collection of presidential cars on display, which even includes the car that JFK was assassinated in. The car shown above is Reagan's limousine, which according to the site will be the last car preserved as the Secret Service now destroys them for "security" reasons.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Poll: Which presidential couple had the best marriage?

The poll has closed for the question, "Which presidential couple had the best marriage?" Thanks to all who participated by voting in the poll.

John and Abigail Adams had the highest vote with 40%. A close second was recorded by Ronald and Nancy Reagan at 36%. Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower got 11% while Ulysses and Julia Grant received 6%. James and Sarah Polk finished last with 5%.

My thanks to Jennie Weber for the question.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ike at D-Day

The last issue of Smithsonian Magazine had a fascinating article on Dwight Eisenhower in the days before D-Day. There is only an excerpt of the article up online, but most public libraries will have the full magazine for you to read from (I personally subscribe to the magazine). The article is also only an excerpt of a book by Michael Korda called Ike: An American Hero so if this is a topic you enjoy, you can find lots more on it.

What I found interesting about this article is how it talked about how the decision was made to go forth with the D-Day invasion and what helped the Allies out (the article quotes Napoleon saying that he liked lucky generals and luck was with Ike in June of 1944). The Allies had better weather radar and could tell that the weather would clear on June 6th, while the Germans, who did not, thought the bad weather would continue, meaning they were caught unprepared. The original assault was planned for June 5th, but moved back due to bad weather. This was a major decision as it meant 24 more hours for the Germans to find them and it was hard on the soldiers, who were already on the ships.

When the time for the decision about the 6th to be made, Eisenhower listened to his commanders, but it was completely his decision. In preparation on the 5th for the invasion the next day, he even wrote out what he would tell the news if the landing failed and in it he took full responsibility for the failure, "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone." (55) He spent a lot of the day with VIPs, but in the afternoon went out to visit the airborne troops. The causality rate for this group was predicted to go as high as 80%, but Ike believed that an airborne strike was paramount to success. Kay Summersby remembers that Ike told her after talking with these men that, "It's very hard really to look a soldier in the eye...when you fear that you are sending him to his death." (58) An American correspondent reported seeing tears on Ike's face as the C-47s rolled down the runways.

Ike's gamble paid off and after about three hours (the demolition of underwater mines started at 6:30 AM), he had his press aide announce that landings were underway in France and the Allied countries (even Stalin) rejoiced. The airborne causalities were not even as high as expected, but did prove to be critical in success. Of the 23,000 airborne troops, about 3700 were lost (58).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

So, what was the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Robert KC Johnson at Cliopatria noted:

It's not exactly reassuring to hear White House press secretary Dana Perino confess that, when asked by a reporter, she didn't know what the Cuban Missile Crisis was.

Her theory? "It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure."

Well, at least she figured out the missiles and Cuba part...

The White House Press Secretary is a PR agent and does not have much of a voice in policy decisions. Her historical ignorance only hurts her ability to spin stories. Still, she ought to know about this relatively recent historical event. At least, she probably should not being admitting she doesn't know something like this.

The story Johnson referenced is at

And thus ends a rather rare foray into current events here at the American Presidents Blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Official White House Christmas Card---2007

Right after Thanksgiving I began searching for something…..anything regarding the 2007 White House Christmas Card. I had so much fun last year researching the article I wrote and published here at American Presidents titled Have You Received Your Christmas Card From the White House Yet?, and I wanted to make sure I posted this year’s design as soon as it was made available.

Day after day….nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I couldn’t find anything.

Then suddenly what to my bleary eyes should appear…..but one tiny mention in the official White House Christmas Program seen here.

I hurriedly read the program cover to cover and discovered the following:

Nestled in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden beneath the branches of an Osage orange tree is Sylvia Shaw Judson’s bronze statue Gardener---the scene depicted on the 2007 White House Christmas Card, painted by David Drummond. Mr. Drummond is a watercolorist whose landscapes represent the beauty seen at out national parks. Look for Mr. Drummond’s original watercolor painting of the 2007 Christmas card in the East Foyer, along with an original painting by wildlife artist Michael Glenn Monroe, whose illustrations decorate this holiday booklet.

So, I knew who the artist was, I knew what the scene would be, but no image.

I was amazed. Wasn’t there an official showing of the card? Didn’t some White House photographer snap it as they took other official photos? Apparently not.

As in year’s past wasn’t there an outcry regarding was was on it or not included on it? Nope, at least not yet.

Perhaps the Bush family was as behind in their holiday preparations as I am and were going to be late sending the annual White House greeting…..

Last night my daily Google search since Thanksgiving paid off. Finally…..I saw this:

There’s the statue in the garden named for Jackie Kennedy and as promised it is a watercolor.

Here’s the inside that contains a verse from Nehemiah (9:6)

A huge thank you goes to Michael Swartz at monoblogue. He actually had the honor of receiving the card you see in the images above. He receives my undying gratitude for giving me his permission to post the pictures here in what seems to be the second time the official White House Christmas Card for 2007 card has had a mention along with an image on the Internet to date.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Silent Cal and White House Christmas Traditions

The other day while I was waiting for students to complete an assignment I noticed one particular little girl had removed her shoes.

I made a big circle around the rows of desks and as I passed the little girl I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Can you put your shoes back on for me, please?”

She looked up and said, “Oh, Mrs. Elementaryhistoryteacher… feet hurt so bad. I’m wearing new shoes and they’ve rubbed a blister on both my heels.”
“Ouch!,” I said as I noticed the red puffy blister on each heel. I directed her to follow me to my desk where I gave her a Q-tip with Neosporin and two Band-Aids specifically for blisters. I mimicked with my own feet what she should do and sent her off to her desk again.

Once the class had finished we still had a few minutes remaining. Not wanting to waste a minute I first asked the little girl if she had done what I had asked and then told her she should find it easier to get her shoes back on. Then I asked the class if they would like to hear a little story that involved a blister and the National Christmas tree.
Of course everyone said they would……

While there are many firsts involving what we refer to as the National Christmas tree in Washington D.C. it was First Lady Grace Coolidge that gave permission for the first tree to be erected on the grounds of the White House. Who knew when she gave permission to the District of Columbia Public Schools in 1923, a tradition would begin that continues to this day? The tree was placed in the President’s Park, now referred to as the Ellipse, and President Coolidge was given the honor of lighting the tree.

By 1924, however, it looked as if the tradition would end before it ever reached year two. The Coolidge family had been devastated in July, 1924 when their youngest son, Calvin Coolidge, Jr. passed away from pathogenic blood poisoning.

Today if a student of mine receives a blister from new shoes or because they stubbornly didn’t mind their mom about wearing socks, its not real big deal except for a little pain and discomfort and an ‘I told ya so’ or two. However, in 1924 there were no antibiotics. Calvin, Jr. received a blister after playing a game of tennis on the south lawn of the White House on June 30, 1924. He wore sneakers without any socks and didn’t tell anyone about his blister. By July 3rd the infection had reached his bloodstream, and he was listless and had a high fever. He was tranferred to Walter Reed General Hospital.
(This picture is Calvin, Jr. and was taken on a farm. His father usually hired the boys out as farm hands when the family was on vacation.)

In his book, Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President, Donald R. McCoy quotes President Coolidge stating, “He [Calvin, Jr.] was asking me to make him well. I could not.”

Calvin, Jr. was 16 years old when he died July 7, 1924. McCoy states President Coolidge took the boy’s passing extremely hard and planning for his campaign for the upcoming election was left to drag. Coolidge later said that when his son died, the power and the glory of the presidency went with him. Many of his scheduled campaign speeches were left to others.

It’s understandable that the Coolidge family was not in a festive mood when it came time to light the National Tree again, but Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge pressed on with the second National Christmas tree as well as finishing his second term. Robert H. Ferrell wrote in his book, The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge, the passing of that slender youth was so much like him, both in looks and in quiet earnestness, undoubtedly drove him back to work, taking refuge in the day-to-day routine rather than contemplating his triumphs or looking ahead to others.
Another first that involved the Coolidge presidency was he issued the first official Christmas message to the American people in 1927 on White House stationary. Because so many people requested a greeting from the president he asked newspapers to print it so everyone could see it.

This Christmas card (at left) is identified at many sites as the Coolidge Christmas card for 1927. It is the source of a Christmas quotation attributed to President Coolidge….Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.

Who was born here?

This picture looked so nice and summery compared to the icy rain we are currently having, so I couldn't resist. Do you know who was born here?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Poll: Who was the most effective early President?

The poll has closed for the question, "Who was the most effective early President?" Thanks to those who participated by voting.

George Washington won handily with 60%. Thomas Jefferson came in a distant second with 18%. James Monroe received 11% and John Adams got 5%. James Madison came in last with 3%.

Friday, December 07, 2007


This is a video of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's December 8,1941 speech. Listening to this speech makes one realize what a wonderful speaker FDR was. The Japanese sneak attack on American soil in Hawaii was one of the greatest tragedies an American President has had to face. FDR handled it well.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Early Jobs

There was an AP article today that asked the current presidential candidates about their worst jobs. Some of them even had some pretty bad jobs! This got me thinking about Presidential jobs before they were elected. Now you can access a list of major jobs in several locations, but that wasn't what interested me. I wanted to know about the very early jobs they might have had. I found some information in an article on Harry Truman's early jobs in a piece on his World War I service:
He had hopes of going to West Point, but he could not pass the eye test. Because of family financial problems, going to college was not possible. His first job was as a timekeeper on a construction crew for the Santa Fe railroad. He next worked in the mailing room of the Kansas City Star. In 1904 he went to work for the national Bank of Commerce in downtown Kansas City, and in 1906 he was employed by the Union National Bank.

Herbert Hoover had many jobs throughout college and started as a laborer in the Nevada goldfields after finishing his degree:
Hoover worked his way through college in a variety of jobs--as a clerk, delivering newspapers, operating a laundry, and managing special lectures and concerts. During summer recess, he worked on geological surveys in Arkansas and Nevada. He also served as financial manager of the Stanford football team.

After graduating in 1895, Hoover took his first job as a laborer in the goldfields of Nevada. In 1896 he went to San Francisco, where he was hired by a firm of mining engineers. He started as an office boy, but in less than a year he was assistant to the superintendent of one of the company's mines.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

20 Things You Didn't Know About US Presidents

I found this piece and was a bit disappointed as I already knew most of the facts, but figured not everyone might be as much of a geek as I am and therefore enjoy this list. I've picked out the facts I didn't know to share here:

6. Often depicted wearing a tall black stovepipe hat, 16th president of the United States Abraham Lincoln carried letters, bills, and notes in his hat.

9. Both ambidextrous and multilingual, 20th president of the United States James Garfield could write Greek with one hand while writing Latin with the other. [I had heard this about Jefferson, but not Garfield.]

10. Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th president of the United States, underwent a secret operation aboard a yacht to remove his cancerous upper jaw in 1893.

15. Herbert Hoover, 31st U.S. president, published more than 16 books, including one called Fishing for Fun-And to Wash Your Soul. [I knew he had published books, but not that one.]

16. 32nd president of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt was related, either by blood or by marriage, to 11 former presidents. [I knew he was related to a few, but 11 did shock me a bit!]

18. Military leader and 34th president of the U.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower loved to cook; he developed a recipe for vegetable soup that is 894 words long and includes the stems of nasturtium flowers as one of the ingredients. [I knew about the cooking, but not the recipe.]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Margaret Taylor

Margaret Taylor is the only First Lady we have no extant picture of today. If you see a picture of Margaret Taylor, chances are it is actually Betty Bliss, her daughter. Margaret Taylor did not act as the White House hostess and so little was known about her, although she actually was a well-educated Southern lady.

From the White House site:
After the election of 1848, a passenger on a Mississippi riverboat struck up a conversation with easy-mannered Gen. Zachary Taylor, not knowing his identity. The passenger remarked that he didn't think the general qualified for the Presidency--was the stranger "a Taylor man"? "Not much of one," came the reply. The general went on to say that he hadn't voted for Taylor, partly because his wife was opposed to sending "Old Zack" to Washington, "where she would be obliged to go with him!" It was a truthful answer.

Moreover, the story goes that Margaret Taylor had taken a vow during the Mexican War: If her husband returned safely, she would never go into society again. In fact she never did, though prepared for it by genteel upbringing.

"Peggy" Smith was born in Calvert County, Maryland, daughter of Ann Mackall and Walter Smith, a major in the Revolutionary War according to family tradition. In 1809, visiting a sister in Kentucky, she met young Lieutenant Taylor. They were married the following June, and for a while the young wife stayed on the farm given them as a wedding present by Zachary's father. She bore her first baby there, but cheerfully followed her husband from one remote garrison to another along the western frontier of civilization. An admiring civilian official cited her as one of the "delicate females...reared in tenderness" who had to educate "worthy and most interesting" children at a fort in Indian country.

Two small girls died in 1820 of what Taylor called "a violent bilious fever," which left their mother's health impaired; three girls and a boy grew up. Knowing the hardships of a military wife, Taylor opposed his daughters' marrying career soldiers--but each eventually married into the Army.

The second daughter, Knox, married Lt. Jefferson Davis in gentle defiance of her parents. In a loving letter home, she imagined her mother skimming milk in the cellar or going out to feed the chickens. Within three months of her wedding, Knox died of malaria. Taylor was not reconciled to Davis until they fought together in Mexico; in Washington the second Mrs. Davis became a good friend of Mrs. Taylor's, often calling on her at the White House.

Though Peggy Taylor welcomed friends and kinfolk in her upstairs sitting room, presided at the family table, met special groups at her husband's side, and worshiped regularly at St. John's Episcopal Church, she took no part in formal social functions. She relegated all the duties of official hostess to her youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, then 25 and recent bride of Lt. Col. William W.S. Bliss, adjutant and secretary to the President. Betty Bliss filled her role admirably. One observer thought that her manner blended "the artlessness of a rustic belle and the grace of a duchess."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Poll: Which American President had or has the most productive/interesting retirement?

The poll has closed for the question, "Which American President had or has the most productive/interesting retirement?" Thanks to all who participated by voting. The options were Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and Other.

Jimmy Carter won easily with 47%. Other came in a distant second with 17%. Jefferson pulled in 15% while Grant had 10%. Hoover came in last with 8%.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

All the President's Trees

My love of quirky little facts and interesting connections that a study of history can unearth often encourages some students to attempt to locate factoids on their own. My history investigators love to surprise me, shock me, and even sometimes stump me with their findings.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was beginning my day as usual glancing over my binder of lesson plans in a feeble attempt to remember where each particular class had left off the day before and where we needed to land by the end of classes that day. One of my sweet cherubs bounded into the room and stationed himself beside me as I sat at my desk. He placed his arm rather heavily on the back of my swivel chair and I felt my chair lean back sharply. My hands reached for the top of the desk as I attempted to steady myself. I turned and sent the young man my most freezing glance over the top of my reading glasses.

“Oops,” he said and backed up a bit.

I pointed down to the floor and waved him back, back, back behind the line of masking tape that had been on my carpet since I had moved into the room a few years before. I smiled to myself while I reemphasized my procedure for approaching my desk and continued to read through my plan. The young man stood quietly resting on first one foot and then the other.

Now before you think I’m a mean old teacher please understand that I had to begin an approach policy to my desk after being run over, stepped on, pushed accidentally, and nearly having my chair flipped over on many different occaisions. I had also had a few incidents with students in their excitement to be helped get into to pushing matches and slug fests over who was first. Student safety and my own survival instincts gave birth to my line in the carpet not my desire to be unapproachable.

After two or three minutes and after I thought I had made my point I removed my glasses, looked up, and smiled at my over enthusiastic student.

“Good morning!” I said. “What can I do for you?” I motioned for him to step forward.

He stood at the corner of my desk, puffed his chest out, and said, “I might know something you don’t.”

“Really?” I swiveled my chair towards him and crossed my legs as I sat back. “Well, I’m ready to be impressed. Fire when ready!”

“Well, you know Jimmy Carter? He’s from Georgia you know. He was a Senator or something…I don’t really know, but something important. Anyway, when he was President of the United States his daughter…I can’t remember her name….”

“Do you mean Amy? Amy Carter?”

He nodded vigorously and said, “Yeah, Amy. That’s her name. She was in middle school and had this school project about trees.”


“Yeah, she had to label some trees and tell what kind they were so Mr. Carter gave her permission to label the trees around the White House.”

I rested my chin on my hand and said, “Now that’s kind of neat when think about it. That must have been fun living in the White House while being in the sixth or seventh grade.”

“Oh I know”, he said, “I think she ought to write a book about it.”

“Hmmm….that would be interesting, but tell me more. How did her project turn out?”

“Oh, I don’t know, but apparently the President was impressed and he and Amy encouraged the White House gardners to label all of the trees on the grounds of the White House.”

I glanced at the clock. The bell to begin the day would ring in five minutes and I needed to go down the hall. I stood up and said, “I’m really impressed. I had never heard that before.”

“Wow, I knew something you didn’t.”

“Yep, you did. It’s not worth knowing though unless you share it. Thanks for telling me. Hey, where did you learn this anyway?”

“Some trivia site on the Internet. I don’t remember which one.”

“Well, remind me in class today and I’ll let you share it with the others, ok?”

My student’s effort to impress me inspired me to dig a bit deeper. I was wondering if I could very the episode from the Carter administration.

The grounds of the White House are very interesting and are as historic as the interior of the home itself. The White House homepage explains that the oldest trees on the grounds are more than like the two Southern Magnolias planted by Andrew Jackson in honor of his wife, Rachel. She had passed away before moving to the White House, so Jackson had the trees brought from his Tennessee home, Hermitage, for planting. The trees probably date between 1829 and 1837. They are still going strong.

In more recent times it has become the custom for each President to plant a tree of some kind on the grounds beginning with President Grover Cleveland. Currently there are 35 or 36 trees on the grounds of the White House that were officially planted by a President.

Our current president, George Bush, planted a Cut Leaf Silver Maple in July, 2001 while his father planted a Little Leaf Linden with the help of Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. Another interesting tree on the grounds of the White House involves an American Elm tree planted during the administration of Teddy Roosevelt somewhere between 1902 and 1906. During severe storms in 2006 the Elm came down. Take out a twenty dollar and look at the back. You can see Roosevelt’s tree on the right side.

Getting back to Amy Carter’s science project……my young man did share something with me I didn’t know. Before I posted the incident I wanted to verify the story, but have been unable to do so. It makes a nice story especially for school children who have to learn about the classification system for plants and animals, however, at this point I can’t be sure if it’s just a cute story or the real deal.

Did it really take Amy’s science project to get the National Parks Service to label the trees on the grounds of the White House? Why weren’t they already labeled? It seems like they would be. If you know anything about this incident with President Carter and his daughter please leave a comment and add to the story.

Finally, if it was really that simply don’t we all wish action from the White House could always be that swift and solution oriented?

This website from the White House Historical Society takes you to several short video clips regarding the grounds of the White House. Look for links to additional videos at the bottom of the page.