Wednesday, April 30, 2008

College Education of U.S. Presidents

So, where did the American Presidents go to college? Not all did. However, the majority did attend and graduate from an institution of higher education. College Education of U.S. Presidents lists the colleges and universities attended by the Presidents of the United States.

From the site:

The 2008 presidential election made me interested in the educational pedigree of past Presidents of the United States. Analyzing the facts, I discovered eight presidents did not graduate from college, including William Harrison, Harry Truman, Zachary Taylor, Grover Cleveland, Andrew Johnson and Millard Fillmore. George W. Bush has obtained diplomas from Yale and Harvard. Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson never attended law school, but their vigorous independent study enabled them to become lawyers. Eleven Presidents studied law and only one President completed medical school.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

First Black President?

There is an interesting article on HNN that asks the question, "Would Obama be the Nation's First Black President?" Now looking at a series of presidential portraits, you might think "of course," but this article highlights a race discussion about a prior president: Warren Harding. The author writes that there are two questions to consider:
In short, there are two elements to the issue of whether or not Harding (or one of the other four or five possible candidates) was the first black president. The two are linked but one is significantly more important than the other. The first is whether or not Harding had a black ancestor. The second, and the more important, boils down to whether or not there is a racial qualification to be president. Although it seems obvious that all of our presidents have been white, some Americans believe that a few presidents had black ancestors, thereby making them black under the outdated and racist “one-drop rule.”

In the election of 1920, "William Estabrook Chancellor, a professor at the College of Wooster, attempted to destroy Harding’s candidacy by charging that he was a “hybrid,” an “octoroon” descended from “Negro” ancestors. "

Did Harding have African-American ancestors? The evidence was sketchy and confusing at best:
What did Chancellor offer as evidence of Harding’s ancestry? Chancellor found people in central and northern Ohio who were willing to testify that members of the Harding family were black. They offered a variety of stories with little consistency and no hard evidence; indeed, Chancellor and many of those he interviewed dealt in the worst stereotypes of black promiscuity or vague descriptions of physical appearance. Perhaps the only thing more confusing and inconclusive than Chancellor’s evidence was the genealogy that the Republicans created to counter Chancellor’s charges in an attempt to document Harding’s “blue-eyed stock.” Rather famously, Harding refused to comment on the “scandal,” privately noting that for all he knew one of his ancestors might have “jumped the fence.”

This was not a good era for race relations and scientific racists, like Chancellor, were prevalent. But Harding, who certainly had his problems as President, did speak out against the Klan, which was on the rise in this period:
As president, Harding spoke out against the Klan and gave a speech in Birmingham that was surprisingly thoughtful for a man who was not supposed to be thoughtful. By modern standards, the speech was not particularly progressive, but he did call for qualified blacks to vote. Of course, they probably would have voted Republican but nonetheless it took courage in 1920 to stand in Alabama and say that. He set America’s racial difficulties in a national and global context, noting that racial and ethnic tensions plagued the world in the wake of the Great War. Some academic historians have argued that Harding’s address was the most significant speech on race given by any president since Grant. Indeed, a critical charge against Harding, according to Chancellor, was that Harding was sympathetic to the plight of black Americans. Despite the promise of his speech, African Americans were disappointed with Harding’s record; in his short administration (two years and five months) Harding did little that benefited African Americans.

In any case, the author states that the question of Harding's race really would only matter if we were to use the "one drop" theory:
Was Harding the first black president? Only by the dubious standards of the one-drop rule used by Chancellor might Harding have been considered black and even this is not certain. Chancellor’s research was biased, to say the least. Harding did not identify himself as black. His comment about not knowing if an ancestor had “jumped the fence” can hardly be considered a confession of mixed racial ancestry, although it is sometimes seen that way. The racist attacks of men like Chancellor and of some residents of Harding’s hometown might have made him sensitive about race, but they hardly make him black. Indeed, the vagaries of these charges can be seen in Harding’s relationship with his father-in-law. Amos Kling opposed his daughter’s engagement to Warren Harding and, in a pattern that others would follow, tried to destroy him by spreading stories that Harding was a “nigger.” When Harding later became successful, Kling came to accept him. Chancellor and others argued that Harding looked black, that he was “dark complected,” but more frequently, observers noted that Harding looked senatorial, presidential, or Romanesque. These comparisons make it clear that the discussion of Harding’s race took place within an arena marked by stereotypes and shifting standards.

But even if Harding had a black ancestor, America of the 1920s certainly did not consider themselves to be electing a black man and so really I (nor the author of this article) can see any way to justify the claim that Harding was our first African-American president. If Obama is elected, he will be the first knowingly elected black man and that would be a major event in presidential history.

By the way, what happened to the racist, Chancellor?
In 1920 Chancellor’s claims were seen as dangerous, even explosive, and he was fired from his job and had to flee the country as his book was suppressed by federal agents because of its content.

Monday, April 28, 2008

19th Century American Presidents on the Mormons

I recently had the privilege of visiting Salt Lake City, Utah for a library conference. It was the Off-Campus Library Services Conference. I had a great time and really enjoyed visiting Utah. In addition to attending many great sessions, I presented a paper on publishing for librarians. It is in the conference proceedings already and I also hope to get the paper up on the Central Michigan University Digital Repository soon. I also visited some attractions in Salt Lake City such as Temple Square.

In the 19th century, the Mormon church was very controversial in the United States. As this is the American Presidents Blog, I thought I would take advantage of this trip to reflect on some past presidential speeches which referenced the Mormons.

Here are a few:

1. James Buchanan First State of the Union 1857. "The people of Utah almost exclusively belong to this church, and believing with a fanatical spirit that he is governor of the Territory by divine appointment, they obey his commands as if these were direct revelations from Heaven. If, therefore, he chooses that his government shall come into collision with the Government of the United States, the members of the Mormon Church will yield implicit obedience to his will. Unfortunately, existing facts leave but little doubt that such is his determination. Without entering upon a minute history of occurrences, it is sufficient to say that all the officers of the United States, judicial and executive, with the single exception of two Indian agents, have found it necessary for their own personal safety to withdraw from the Territory, and there no longer remains any government in Utah but the despotism of Brigham Young. This being the condition of affairs in the Territory, I could not mistake the path of duty. As Chief Executive Magistrate I was bound to restore the supremacy of the Constitution and laws within its limits. In order to effect this purpose, I appointed a new governor and other Federal officers for Utah and sent with them a military force for their protection and to aid as a posse comitatus in case of need in the execution of the laws."

2. Rutherford B. Hayes State of the Union Address 1880. "The power of Congress to enact suitable laws to protect the Territories is ample. It is not a case for halfway measures. The political power of the Mormon sect is increasing. It controls now one of our wealthiest and most populous Territories. It is extending steadily into other Territories. Wherever it goes it establishes polygamy and sectarian political power. The sanctity of marriage and the family relation are the corner stone of our American society and civilization. Religious liberty and the separation of church and state are among the elementary ideas of free institutions. To reestablish the interests and principles which polygamy and Mormonism have imperiled, and to fully reopen to intelligent and virtuous immigrants of all creeds that part of our domain which has been in a great degree closed to general immigration by intolerant and immoral institutions, it is recommended that the government of the Territory of Utah be reorganized. "

3. Inaugural Address of James A. Garfield 1881. "The Constitution guarantees absolute religious freedom. Congress is prohibited from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Territories of the United States are subject to the direct legislative authority of Congress, and hence the General Government is responsible for any violation of the Constitution in any of them. It is therefore a reproach to the Government that in the most populous of the Territories the constitutional guaranty is not enjoyed by the people and the authority of Congress is set at naught. The Mormon Church not only offends the moral sense of manhood by sanctioning polygamy, but prevents the administration of justice through ordinary instrumentalities of law."

4. Chester A. Arthur State of the Union Address 1881. "The fact that adherents of the Mormon Church, which rests upon polygamy as its corner stone, have recently been peopling in large numbers Idaho, Arizona, and other of our Western Territories is well calculated to excite the liveliest interest and apprehension. It imposes upon Congress and the Executive the duty of arraying against this barbarous system all the power which under the Constitution and the law they can wield for its destruction. Reference has been already made to the obstacles which the United States officers have encountered in their efforts to punish violations of law. Prominent among these obstacles is the difficulty of procuring legal evidence sufficient to warrant a conviction even in the case of the most notorious offenders."

And not to be all negative,

5. Benjamin Harrison State of the Union Address 1890. "The increasing numbers and influence of the non-Mormon population of Utah are observed with satisfaction. The recent letter of Wilford Woodruff, president of the Mormon Church, in which he advised his people 'to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the laws of the land,' has attracted wide attention, and it is hoped that its influence will be highly beneficial in restraining infractions of the laws of the United States. But the fact should not be overlooked that the doctrine or belief of the church that polygamous marriages are rightful and supported by divine revelation remains unchanged. President Woodruff does not renounce the doctrine, but refrains from teaching it, and advises against the practice of it because the law is against it. Now, it is quite true that the law should not attempt to deal with the faith or belief of anyone; but it is quite another thing, and the only safe thing, so to deal with the Territory of Utah as that those who believe polygamy to be rightful shall not have the power to make it lawful."

Obviously, as indicated by the quotes above, the Mormon Church was very controversial in the 19th century in the opinion of many American Presidents. Things have changed a great deal. 20th and 21st century Presidents have not invoked negative images of Mormons in their speeches. And Governor Romney's recent run for President shows a great deal of acceptance for this home grown American church.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Naming a President

I guess we are fairly used to actors and actresses changing their birth names upon entering their profession, but what about politicians? I’ve asked around many admitted to me the first thing they would think of is what the candidate had to hide if they had changed their name. This does make sense since we are mistrustful of our government officials these days.

Many our our presidents have changed their names though or elected to use one name….first or middle as they entered the public arena.
  • Ulysses Simpson Grant’s given name was Hiram Ulysses Grant
  • Grover Cleveland’s name was changed from Stephen Grover Cleveland.
  • Woodrow Wilson was known at birth as Thomas Woodrow Wilson
  • Calvin Coolidge didn’t want to be known as John Calvin Coolidge
  • Dwight David Eisenhower changed his name from David Dwight Eisenhower. Gerald Rudolph Ford changed his name from Leslie King, Jr. when his mother married his stepfather and he was legally adopted.
  • William Jefferson Clinton changed his name from William Jefferson Blythe because of a similar situation with President Ford.
Ever wonder how many presidents are names James or John? Well six presidents have been named James (Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield, Carter) while four were named John (Adams, Adams, Tyler, Kennedy).

What about middle names? Well, seventeen of our former presidents have no middle name according to this site.

Would you consider naming all of your children after a president?

What about making anagrams with presidential names? If you rearrange the letters in William Howard Taft one of the combinations is A WORD WITH ALL: I’M FAT. Calvin Coolidge becomes LOVE? A COLD ICING, Woodrow Wilson becomes O LORD, SO NOW, WWI, and George Bush becomes HE BUGS GORE.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Presidential Food

I was watching Food Network and saw an episode of Top 5, which covered their top 5 choices of presidential favorite foods. I thought I’d share the tidbits here for you all:

5.) BBQ

  • This was LBJ’s favorite. In 1964, the Johnsons held a state dinner for the President-elect of Mexico, Diaz Ordaz. Check out LBJ’s toast if you like as well. LBJ held over 100 official BBQ as a president.

4.) French Fries

  • Pommes Frites (what we know call French Fries – they were named by WWI soldiers) were discovered by Thomas Jefferson while he was Minister to France. In 1802 he included “potatoes fried in the French manner” at a White House dinner.

3.) Potato Chips

  • Bill Clinton was a fan of Martin’s Potato Chips and had them stocked in Air Force One. Actually Martin’s still provides 30 cases a month to Air Force One even though Clinton is no longer in the White House. Clinton discovered these chips in 1991 while campaigning.

2.) French Cuisine

  • The Kennedys love of French food brought the entire US into a love affair with French cuisine. The Kennedys’ favorite French restaurant was La Caravelle in New York City and Jackie called their head chef to find her a new White House chef. La Caravelle actually trained her chef, Rene Verdon, for two weeks before he started at the White House. [You can read about White House chefs and choosing a new one in this article.] There was one American dish that JFK insisted be prepared regularly though – New England Clam Chowder.

1.) Jelly Beans

  • Ronald Reagan discovered jelly beans in 1967 while Governor of California. He used them to help him kick his pipe smoking habit. When the new Jelly Bellys came out in 1976, he was quick to make the switch. When he became president, the company made a new flavor – blueberry – so that red, white and blue jelly beans could be served as his inauguration. They provided 3.5 tons of jelly beans for the inauguration.

And a few more presidential food facts:

  • Nixon enjoyed cottage cheese with ketchup on it.
  • The Madisons introduced a novel new dish at their inauguration – ice cream

In the theme of presidential food, I enjoy mysteries as well as presidential non-fiction (yes, I do have normal interests). A few weeks ago I picked up a new book to try: The State of the Onion by July Hyzy. The main character is a White House assistant chef. It was actually a rather enjoyable read – nothing really historical, but it was quite amusing. Olivia Paras (Ollie) stumbles into the middle of the Secret Service chasing an intruder off and becomes involved in a hunt for an assassin.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Off With His Head!

I was completing a little bit of research regarding the recent acquisition of four paintings by George Ropes by the USS Constitution Museum when I stumbled upon a factoid I found amusing and felt I just had to share it here.

The original figurehead mounted on the ship depicted Hercules unfurling the United States Constitution. Unfortunately it was was severely damaged during the Barbary Coast Wars and was replaced by a more simple billet head.

Marching ahead through time a third figurehead was installed on the vessel during the 1833 overhaul. Commandant Jesse D. Elliott ordered a figurehead of President Andrew Jackson for the ship. Laban Beecher, a Bostonian, was commissioned to carve Jackson with a scroll that contained the motto, “The Constitution must be preserved.” The carving was done in secret at first, but eventually a flier began to circulate alerting Bostonians regarding what was taking place in their midst.

The folks in Boston were a bit upset. President Jackson was very unpopular with New Englanders and they were highly offended his image would defile “their” Constitution. Things got so bad that someone offered $1500 to let them steal the carving from his shop prior to its installation.

On the night of July 2, 1834, during a rainstorm, Samuel Dewey (his cousin, George, would eventually serve as commander on the USS Constitution) rowed out to the ship where he promptly sawed President’s Jackson’s head off! Dewey actually delivered the severed head in person to the Secretary of the Navy in Washington D.C. and received NO punishment for defacing property of the U.S. Navy.

Can you imagine the media coverage if this happened today?

The figurehead was covered up and eventually Jackson’s head was magically reattached.
An American Heritage magazine article recounts that President Jackson who was not in good health at the time actually thought the whole thing was amusing while an article by Valentign Byvanck titled The Jackson Figurehead states the nation capitalized on the incident as punishment for the policies and attitude of the president and incorporate it into the ongoing strife between Jacksonians and Whigs.

A more elegant image of Jackson was attached to the ship later and is pictured with this post. It was carved by Boston carvers J.D. and W.H. Fowle. The President was shown in a pose similar to Napoleon with his left hand in his coat front. When Jackson’s image was finally retired the Constitution was adorned with stars and flourishes.

The Naval Academy at Annapolis preserves the second Jackson figurehead for posterity as a statue. I will be attending a wedding in the Naval Academy chapel at the end of May and will make sure I find that figurehead and snap a few pictures to share.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thomas Jefferson and Kościuszko

This is a really interesting article on HNN about Thomas Jefferson and Tadeuz Kościuszko. Kosciuszko wrote in his will that his estate was to be used to free all possible slaves (starting with Jefferson's) and that Jefferson was to carry it out for him. Kosciuszko wanted to give the slaves the opportunity to prosper. While Jefferson agreed to this will, once Kosciuszko died, he backed out:
Kosciuszko died on October 15, 1817. After several years of vacillation, Jefferson withdrew from his pact of honor with Kosciuszko by pleading in a Virginia court in Charlottesville that he could not serve as executor of his friend’s estate and would not use the money to free his slaves. As William Lloyd Garrison would say many years later, “What an all-conquering influence must have attended his illustrious example,” if he had taken the lead to abolish slavery.

And what happened to to the will and to Jefferson's slaves?
As Kosciuszko’s will, abandoned by Jefferson, made its way through the courts, many complications arose. The estate was finally awarded by the Supreme Court in 1852, 26 years after most of Jefferson’s slaves had been auctioned on the rolling lawn at Monticello to extinguish his debts, to Kosciuszko’s descendants. For years in Poland, Kosciuszko’s countrymen held the view that the American Civil War could have been averted if the Polish hero’s philanthropic, abolitionist plan had been implemented. When the slaves at Monticello mounted the auction block to be sold off after the Founding Father died—the slaves that could have been freed if Kosciuszko’s will had been honored—a small-town editor in a Susquehanna River town asked how Jefferson, “surely the champion of civil liberty to the American people,” left “so many human beings in fetters to be indiscriminately sold to the highest bidder."

Military History Carnival

The newest military history carnival is now up at the Cannon's Mouth.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Pope and the President

With Benedict XVI in the US this week, it brings to mind the many times US presidents have meet with the Roman Catholic Popes. Last year, President Bush also met with the Pope in Italy (he also attended John Paul II’s funeral – he’d meet with John Paul II two times). The San Luis Obispo also has a pictorial show of past presidential meetings. The Seattle Times has a list of all 25 meetings.

I thought I’d talk specifically about the first meeting – Woodrow Wilson and Benedict XV (made sense to me since we have Benedict XVI here…I liked the continuity). Benedict XV actually tried to bring World War I to an early end in 1917 by mediating between the warring factions:
In the spring of 1917, Pope Benedict XV called on the warring governments to make a peace of mutual forgiveness and forbearance. As a starting point, the Pontiff proposed the restoration of Belgium, disarmament, arbitration machinery to prevent future wars, and freedom of the seas for all nations.

To the Americans, the timing of the Pope's message seemed almost devilishly unpropitious. In Stockholm, international socialists had convened a peace conference to appeal over the heads of the warring rulers to the workers of the world. In Petrograd, the Bolshevik wing of the Russian revolution had already called for peace on the basis of no annexations and self determination for all peoples, and bullied the so called Provisional Government of Russia into going along with them.

The Germans and the Austro-Hungarians promptly accepted the Pope's proposal, although Berlin avoided specific commitments. The provisional Russian government also welcomed the papal mediation. The leaders of France and Italy, with largely Catholic, extremely war weary populations, were transfixed with alarm. They wanted a fight to the finish but they hesitated to take issue with the Pope. The English, even more determined to go for what Prime Minister Lloyd George called "a knockout blow," decided to let Wilson answer for all of them.

At first the president was inclined to say nothing. He seemed angry at the Pope's intrusion into the war. However, as the impact of the pontiff's appeal grew larger, Wilson decided he had to reply. The Pope was saying many of the same things Wilson had said before he opted for war. Now, as British ambassador Cecil Spring-Rice wryly pointed out, the president was doing "his utmost to kindle a warlike spirit throughout [the] states and to combat pacifists." No wonder the pope's appeal gave him indigestion.

Colonel House strongly seconded this presidential decision -- and warned Wilson not to dismiss the Pope's proposals out of hand in his reply. The new Russian ambassador in Washington had informed House that alarming splits were appearing in the revolutionary government, with the call for immediate peace one of the chief issues. A dismissal could lead to the overthrow of Russia's moderate leader, Alexander Kerensky.

House also revealed that the Pope's proposal had evoked a sympathetic response in him. The colonel wondered if it would be a good thing in the long run if "Germany was beaten to her knees." That might leave a vacuum in central Europe which the Russians would be eager to fill. Before the declaration of war, Wilson had agreed with this balance of power viewpoint. It was the idea behind his appeal for a peace without victory.

Later during his tour of Europe, Wilson stopped at the Vatican to officially visit Benedict XV. Benedict gave Wilson a mosiac of St. Peter that hangs in the Woodrow Wilson House (so you can go see it in DC if you want or check it out here in the drawing room picture).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eisenhower and Augusta National: A Love Story

Dwight David Eisenhower became a member of the August National Club in 1948. Prior to becoming president he managed to visit the course five different times.

Ike loved golf. Estimations go as high as 800 regarding the number of rounds of golf Eisenhower played during his eight years in office visiting various courses. Some of those rounds were played during the 29 visits he made to Augusta National. A Golf Digest article advises President Eisenhower loved golf so much he installed a putting green on the south lawn of the White House and during inclement weather he hit long irons into a net in the basement.

With the help of donations from club members a cabin was built for Eisenhower on the grounds of Augusta National in 1953 for a cost of $70,000. However, your idea of a cabin, my idea of a cabin, and Augusta National’s idea of cabin are totally different things. The Eisenhower cabin is a house as seen in the image here. The cabin was built to the specifications of the Secret Service and has an entire lower floor where agents resided when Eisenhower visited Augusta. The cabin served as the first real home President Eisenhower had known since graduating form West Point in 1915 and entering the army. When the President wasn’t visiting the cabin, it was used by other club members.

Accomodations were also made for the President to complete his business affairs----the business of the nation---in an office that was provided for him over the club’s pro shop. In fact, it has been reported that the “Eisenhower Doctrine,” where America announced it would use force in the Middle East, was announced within a fairway wood of the first tee. Today Eisenhower’s own cracker barrel, pictured here, sits in the Augusta National Pro Shop. The wood used for the barrel was once part of the White House roof.

Sadly it was impossible for President Eisenhower to attend a Masters Tournament while he was president. It would have been too disruptive. However, he would usually show up on the following Monday to play a round with the winner. The same Golf Digest article I referenced above states Arnold Palmer remembered Ike as “a regular guy on the golf course and a regular guy period.”

Palmer also remembered Ike was a fierce competitor who fought for a $1 nassau bet as if he were hitting a beach in France. “When somebody conceded him a putt,” Palmer recalls, “there was no discussion. He picked up his ball and moved on fast.”

At least once during the coverage for the Masters Tournament you will hear a reporter mention the Eisenhower Pine. The tree in question is a Loblolly Pine that stands 65 feet tall and is estimated to be at least 100 years old. It is located on the 17th hole, and is 210 yards from the Master’s tee. The tree and Eisenhower had quite a contentious relationship. The pine had a bad habit of getting in the President’s way. At a 1956 club meeting Eisenhower addressed the members in attendance and suggested the tree should be cut down. The Augusta National Club website advises that club president, Clifford Roberts, adjourned the meeting immediately instead of offending the President by rejecting his request outright. Citing Roberts Rules the club president ruled the President of the United States out of order.

Some of the changes to the Augusta National property President Eisenhower proposed were more positive, however. At one point Eisenhower mentioned he had found a perfect place to build a dam in order to form a fish pond. Today the dam is exactly where the President suggested, and the pond is referred to as Ike’s Pond.

One of the best stories concerning President Eisenhower at Augusta National is the time when the press corps was allowed to follow him on a full round of the course. At Rae’s Creek Ike hit two balls into the water. The President of the United States immediately stripped of his shoes and went after the errant golf balls. The reporters had a very rare moment on their hands, unfortunately I have yet to find a photograph of this moment online.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Charles Adams

Charles Adams was the son of President John Adams and the brother of President John Quincy Adams. He lived a short tragic life. While young, he traveled in Europe. He later went to Harvard and became a lawyer. He married and had two daughters. However, he was a chronic alcoholic and he died from this condition at 30.

The John Adams series on HBO dealt with this on the most recent episode. It showed Charles in a drunken stupor begging his father for forgiveness as John Adams disowned him. It also showed Abigail Adams visiting her sick son begging him to "come back to us."

The final scene dealing with Charles Adams is when his parents receive word that he has died. Abigail is shown as being shaken by the news but President Adams is unmoved. Instead, he said, "I still will not forgive him."

This made me very curious about Charles Adams. There is not a lot on the Web about him. I hit some books dealing with John Adams and learned more. Charles is not covered in detail in any of them but glimpses of his childhood, his time in Europe, his relationship with his family, and his dying days do come through.

I found a letter from John Adams on the topic of the death of Charles Adams in John Adams: A Biography in His Own Words (1973) which was edited by James Bishop Peabody. President Adams had written a letter to his friend Adriaan Van der Kemp on December 28th, 1800. He wrote, "The affliction in my family from the melancholy death of a once beloved son, has been very great, and has required the consolation of religion, as well as philosophy, to enable to support us. The prospects of that unfortunate youth were very pleasing and promising, but have been cut off."

It is easy to see that President Adams was dealing with both grief for his son as well as his anger towards him too. 1800 was a tough year for John Adams. He lost the Presidency to Thomas Jefferson and he lost a son as well. The manner of his son's death made it even harder to take. I do not know if there is enough source material out there but a biography of Charles Adams would certainly be interesting. I hope someone writes one someday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Which American Civil War General are you?

Well, since General Grant is a possible result, I guess it is OK to post this quiz here.

Which American Civil War General are you?
created with
You scored as William T. Sherman

One of the Union's greatest heroes, your capture of Atlanta helped guarantee Lincoln's re-election and the winning of the war. South of the Mason-Dixon, they think you're a monster, but you're really only a *little* crazy...

William T. Sherman


General George McClellan


General Nathan Bedford Forrest


U.S. Grant


Robert E. Lee


General Jeb Stuart


General James Longstreet


General Phillip Sheridan


General Ambrose Burnside


Stonewall Jackson


Monday, April 14, 2008

Looking for Millard Fillmore

Of all the American Presidents covered on this blog, Millard Fillmore has gotten the least coverage. There is a good reason for this. There just is not a lot on the Web dealing with him. He truly seems to deserve the title as the most forgotten President.

The Open Directory Project has only six listings for President Fillmore. This is by the far the least of all the Presidents in that directory.

Here are the six listings if you want to go out and try to find something:

American President: Millard Fillmore - Fact file and comprehensive biographical sketch based on PBS series.

Encyclopedia Americana: Millard Fillmore - A detailed biography written for students. Includes fact file.

Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia: Millard Fillmore - Includes biography, quick facts, and suggested books for further study.

Millard Fillmore - Provides a biography of American president Millard Fillmore.

Millard Fillmore - Short biography from the official White House site.

Millard Fillmore's Obituary - From page 1 of The New York Times, March 9, 1874.

Fillmore is not entirely forgotten. There is a Millard Fillmore Elementary School in Moravia, New York. I wonder if their school mascot is the Know Nothings?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Book Meme Tagging

I was tagged by Eoin over at Eoin Purcell’s Blog. The rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

I am at the Reference Desk so I am picking up the Reference book I just used to help a patron:

1) Merriam Webster's Biographical Dictionary (1995) [99989797695]
2) The sixth, seventh and eight sentences on page 123 read:

Staatsoper (1921-27); musical director, Darmstadt (1927-31), Hamburg (1931-34), Dresden (1934-43), Vienna Staatsoper (1943-45, 1954-56); won international recognition esp. as interpreter of Mozart, Wagner,

Bonus points to whoever knows who this is!

And I tag in turn: Jennie's Rambles, ahistoricality, Autism Blog, Whitterer on Autism, and World of Royalty.

Update: OK, I messed up the rules. It is sentence 6, 7, 8 and not lines 6, 7, and 8. Due to being tagged again at the Information Literacy Land of Confusion, I did it better at Book Meme Tagging, Part Two.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nellie Grant

To go with my guessing game, here is information on Nellie Grant as well as a brief biography from PBS (this page includes information with the other Grant children as well):
The media adored Nellie Grant, Ulysses. S. Grant's only daughter. She was born on the Fourth of July 1855 at White Haven, her mother's family home near St. Louis, Missouri. Nellie spent her teenage years in the White House, where the newspapers made her out to be a kind of American princess. True, she did seem to live a princess' lifestyle. At age 16, she was sent to Europe, where she studied in London and even met Queen Victoria. On her return trip home, she met a dashing young Englishman, and immediately fell in love.

Nellie married Algernon Sartoris, the son of famed opera singer Fanny Kemble, on May 21, 1874, in the White House. But after the couple moved back to England, Nellie discovered her husband was less dashing than he seemed. Some said Sartoris had problems with alcohol. Others said that he cheated on Nellie, or just plain ignored her. Nellie had four children by Sartoris. The oldest, a son, died in 1876. Nellie was never happy in her marriage. Eventually, she and Sartoris divorced.

Nellie saw little of her parents during the time she lived in England. But when Ulysses S. Grant was dying, Nellie returned to the United States. After her father's death, Nellie and her three children settled in with her mother in Washington, D.C. In 1912, Nellie remarried to a man named Frank Hatch Jones. She died in 1922.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Lincoln Letter Sets Auction Record

The AP Wire is reporting that Sotherby's Auction House has sold a President Lincoln letter for millions of dollars. This is a record for any American manuscript.

The story notes, "Abraham Lincoln's heartfelt reply to a group of youngsters who asked him to free America's 'little slave children' has sold for $3.4 million."

The letter was in Lincoln's own hand. It was a reply to a children's petition from Concord, Massachusetts. In the letter, President Lincoln wrote, "Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy."

The abolitionists were working hard politically to eliminate slavery in the United States throughout the American Civil War. I am sure Lincoln received numerous petitions. I am not surprised that a petition from children would get this kind of attention from the President.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Who is this?

It is a gorgeous spring day and I want to play outside withy my son, but I'm stuck grading papers while he naps(on RFK's 13 Days...maybe I'll post a review of the book which I've read several times now next week if anyone is interested) so I decided we could play here at least. Can you figure out who this is? By the way, there actually is a clue on the picture itself if you can figure out why it would be there.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Clintons Tax Returns

The Clintons released their tax returns. According to the article, they have made almost $109 million since 2000. Supposedly the rest of the candidates will be releasing their tax returns as well - definitely something to keep an eye out for. We have posted here before as most presidents now release their tax returns, even though they are not required to, if it is something you are interested in viewing.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Poll: Which President was responsible for the most controversial territorial expansion?

The poll has closed for the question, "Which President was responsible for the most controversial territorial expansion?" Thanks to all who participated by voting. This was the closest result the poll has seen so far.

President Polk was the top vote getter with Texas at 31%. President Andrew Johnson was a close second at 28% for Stewards Folly (Alaska). President Jefferson was a close third at 25% for the Louisiana Purchase.

Closing out the poll results, President Pierce got 8% for the Gadsden Purchase. President McKinley came in last with 6% for Hawaii. Having been to Hawaii, I have to agree with this last place vote. It was a great addition to the Union.

Wikipedia has two articles which detail why adding Texas to the Union was so controversial. See the Texas Annexation article. The strange Legal Status of Texas article also has details.

I do not have a new poll question yet. Give me a few days and I will post a new one. Feel free to leave a comment suggesting a new one.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Book Review: Jefferson's Children

Several years ago, my wife (Julie Lorenzen) wrote a book review for Jefferson's Children : The Story of One American Family by Shannon Lanier. That book was published in 2000. The site where the review resided is now defunct. With her permission, I am posting it here.

The review:

Shannon Lanier, author of Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family, has always wanted to tell people that he is the sixth great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. However, until recently, he has had trouble getting people to believe him. The idea that a descendant of a slave is related to our third U.S. President has been controversial. It also didn't help that Lanier's family didn't have any historical documents to back up their claim because records of slaves are rare.

For example when Lanier, who is black, stood up on President's Day and told his first-grade class he was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, his teacher called him a liar. The history books did not recognize the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson and all Lanier had as proof was an Oral History passed down from generation to generation.

More solid proof arrived on October 31, 1998, when the Associated Press broke the news of the DNA findings linking Thomas Jefferson to Sally Hemings through the Eston Hemings line. On November 10, Oprah united members of the Jefferson family and the descendants of three lines of the Hemings family. During the show, writer Lucian K. Truscott IV, a Jefferson descendant, invited his Hemings cousins to a family reunion that May at Monticello. Eighteen-year-old Shannon, then a college freshman at Kent State University, saw the show and accepted the invitation.

At the reunion, Lanier met Hemingses who looked as white as Jeffersons, Jeffersons who refused to acknowledge the scientific evidence, and Hemingses who were angry at having to prove their lineage. Friendly and outgoing, the author was embraced in hugs by some family members, but snubbed by others. A positive outcome was that Lanier met photographer Jane Feldman. The two promptly decided to write this book with the hopes of providing more evidence of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship, giving family members of both sides a chance to speak, and emphasizing the importance of family.

The result: a stylish family album of one of America's most known families. The bulk of this book is an assortment of essays by historians and family members which are accompanied by Lanier's brief introductions. Artfully taken photos by Jane Feldman, provide the faces behind the essays. In conclusion, this book has information about the Jefferson and Hemings families and messages of racial acceptance and the importance of family from which most people can benefit.

About the Reviewer - Julie Lorenzen is a writer who lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. She has published in a variety of periodicals including News-Photographer Magazine and Ohioana Quarterly. She is also the author of the Autism Blog.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Guide to the American Revolution, 1763-1783

The John Adams miniseries on HBO has renewed my interest in the American Revolution. I have been searching the Web for sites to read and have got out some of my old books like 1776 by David McCullough. One site I found this morning is A Guide to the American Revolution, 1763-1783. It is from the Library of Congress.

Here is the description of the site:

The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a wide variety of material associated with the American Revolution, including manuscripts, broadsides, government documents, books, and maps. This guide compiles links to digital materials related to the American Revolution that are available throughout the Library of Congress Web site. In addition, it provides links to external Web sites focusing on the American Revolution and a bibliography containing selections for both general and younger readers.

This is a well done site and it is easy to find information on the activities of some future American Presidents by browsing. Take a look and you probably will find something interesting.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Camp David

Who was Camp David named after? President Eisenhower's grandson, David! It was original called "Shrangri-la" by FDR. Roosevelt had wanted a place to go away from the DC heat:
In March 1942 President Roosevelt directed the National Park Service to investigate locations reasonably close to the Washington area for use as a Presidential retreat. One of his reasons for desiring to establish it was the wartime necessity to remain close to the Capital at all times and to limit visits to his home at Hyde Park, N.Y. Also, for security reasons, naval officials had recommended that he discontinue weekend use of the Presidential yacht, the U.S.S. Potomac. Because of his aversion to air conditioning and the oppressive summer heat and humidity of Washington, his medical advisers recommended that he seek respite in a nearby region of high altitude.

After studying several locations, the National Park Service selected three tentative sites: one in Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, and the other two in the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area, in Maryland. The President chose one of the latter two sites, known as Camp Number Three or Camp Hi-Catoctin. By using the existing buildings there, the retreat could be completed in the shortest possible time and at minimum cost. The camp also occupied a perfect location, atop Catoctin Mountain at an altitude of about 1,700 feet above sea level; experienced a consistently lower temperature than Washington; and was only about 70 miles, or a 2-hour drive, from the White House. The camp was one of three units the Federal Government had constructed between 1936 and 1939 as part of an experiment to establish public recreation facilities out of industrially depleted and worn-out lands. Although portions of the area had been opened to the public in 1937, the events leading up to World War II had ended the project prematurely.

You can visit the provided link to learn more about the history of Camp David!