Friday, October 31, 2008

Lincoln at the Smithsonian

Lincoln at the Smithsonian - This site puts together a collection of events and exhibits that the Smithsonian Institution will be doing to commemorate Abe Lincoln at 200! This looks like fun if you can get to D.C.!

From the site:

In commemoration of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in 1809, the Smithsonian Institution presents a yearlong celebration offering visitors a unique immersion experience and an opportunity to explore the life and times of the nation’s most mythic and transformative president. Meet world-renowned Lincoln scholars. Relive scenes from Lincoln’s second inaugural ball. Walk in his footsteps, tour city sites from the Lincoln era.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

WayBack Presidents: The Secret History

My kids often visit the PBS Kids site. My oldest stumbled upon WayBack Presidents: The Secret History a few days ago. There is nothing here for most adults with a basic grounding in American history but it would be a good site for children or a teacher creating lesson plans.

Here are a few examples:

17. Andrew Johnson - Who says you have to have to go to school in order to be president? I never attended a single day of classes.

20. James A. Garfield - My assassin shot me in the back. The doctors tried to remove the bullet but they could never find it. I died eighty days after I was shot.

27. William Howard Taft - Some people might describe me as... "pleasantly plump." I guess it's true. When I was elected president, I weighed 332 pounds -- that's more than a baby elephant!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Successful Presidential Children

The newest poll asks, "Who was the most successful child of an American President who did not become President?"

I have deliberately left off John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush. They both became President in their own right and can be deemed successful regardless of any personal political views. Picking out five from the remaining children was hard. However, I have settled on five.

I have used The Presidents of the United States and their Children to identify five. Text quoted below is from that site:

Charles Frances Adams - "He was born on August 18, 1807. He died of a stroke on November 21, 1886, at the age of 79. The third child of the nation's sixth chief executive might possibly have become the third generation of his family to become president. He was determined to champion causes ahead of their time. He was beloved and respected by his peers. Charles was fluent in several languages, graduated from Harvard at seventeen and apprenticed in law under Daniel Webster. At twenty-two, he married Abigail Brown Brooks, daughter of a wealthy Bostonian. He then turned to promoting the radical position of the abolition of slavery. By 1841 he entered the Massachusetts State legislature. In 1858, Charles was elected to the House of Representatives. During the Civil War, he negotiated behind the scenes, and eventually England stayed her hand. In 1872 and again in 1876, Charles' name was placed in nomination for the presidency. By that time, however, he was leading the charge for civil service reform, another controversial idea years ahead of its time. Some historians, then and now, believe that Charles would have been elected president had he been willing to do what was popular, rather than what was right. "

Robert Todd Lincoln - "He was born August 1, 1843 and he died July 25, 1926. He served as Secretary of War and as Minister to Great Britain. He was an effective president of the Pullman Corporation. Considered by many historians as one of the most successful of presidential children, Robert married Mary Harlan, a Cabinet Secretary's daughter, had three children and lived into his eighties."

James Webb Cook Hayes - "He was born March 20, 1856 and he died July 26, 1934. Known all his life as "Webb, he served as a secretary in his father's White House. He latter launched a successful business career that spanned decades and made him rich. He reorganized one small enterprise, which would grow into the Union Carbide Corporation. He married Mary Otis Miller they had no children. Webb pursued his lifelong love of the military, risking his life as a soldier of fortune around the globe until he died at 78."

Marion Cleveland Dell Amen - "She was born July 7, 1895 and died June 18, 1977. Marion was twice married, first to William Stanley Dell with whom she had a daughter and, after his death, to John Harlan Amen. Marion spent 17 year of her life dedicated to serving the Girl Scouts of America. She served as community relations adviser. Marion's later husband John became famous as a Special Assistant to the U. S. Attorney and served on the U.S. legal staff at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in Germany."

John Kennedy, Jr. - "John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., was the founder and publisher of George magazine. He married elegant, blond Carolyn Bessette on September 21, 1996. John was a lawyer, an assistant district attorney, a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala after a severe earthquake, a tutor of underprivileged children, an amateur actor, an athlete, and an American icon. He had no children."

Obviously, other children could have been selected as well. However, I was limited to five and I think they were all successful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Poll: Which was the most important campaign speech?

The poll has closed for the question, "Which was the most important campaign speech?" Thanks to all who participated by voting.

The winning speech was Lincoln's Cooper Union with 50%. Coming in second was FDR's New Deal Speech with 30%. The third place finisher was Nixon's Checker Speech. Finishing a distance fourth was Bryan's Cross of Gold Speech.

Presidents in Film

First, thanks to Greg for suggesting this article. "All the Presidents" discusses film depictions of US presidents and how few have pulled it off. The article contends that the reason why most realistic presidential movies fail is:
The problem is that a realistic approach only replicates what audiences would have seen on television (Frost/Nixon, for example), and presidents don't need any satirists to show them making fools of themselves.

Many films treat US presidents with kid gloves:
In the past, American film-makers, before Nixon disgraced the White House, treated their country's leaders too reverentially, as though a tacit censorship operated. American presidents were represented most often as personifications of the ideals of the country, or as spokesmen for a current viewpoint. In the 1940s, several of them were hauled back from the dead to lead the flag-waving. In the historical allegories, The Remarkable Andrew and Where Do We Go From Here?, the young heroes (William Holden and Fred MacMurray respectively), gain inspiration from the ghosts of presidents past. Zanuck used Woodrow Wilson to warn against isolationism, although the president actually favoured neutrality in the first world war, only later reluctantly declaring war on Germany.

Since Watergate, the article contends, there has been satire used on US Presidents. What do you all think - are there some good acting jobs of US Presidents? Or is the original just too unbeatable? As the article said, who can outact Ronald Reagan, an actor himself? There have been some great TV biographies (I'm currently watching the American Experience biography of Nixon and enjoying it thoroughly), but I'm at a loss for a good presidential movie.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Taft and Coolidge

Here is another letter from a former president about an upcoming president. William Howard Taft wrote this letter in 1924 to his daughter telling her that Coolidge was gathering delegates and will probably win the nomination at the convention.

I also found something else in this letter fascinating – Taft talking to his daughter about her thesis. Helen Taft Manning was very well educated and went to be a college president (check where). In an era when women were just starting to really have this opportunity, she is a great example. I thought I’d transcribe the part about her education:
I sincerely hope that you are getting along successfully with your thesis. I don’t expect to hear form you in any lengthy correspondence while this burden is on you. I hope that you have settled down now to a satisfaction with your plan. There is real pleasure, after your plan in adopted, in filling it out and carrying out your general purpose. There is also a great advantage in finishing up what you have on hand. If you let it go for another year, you may want to change the plan and you will feel along, so that it will take you another full fear, whereas that ought to be behind you. The project of the book may well take you a long time, but it is wise to get the thesis out the way.

I find this very enlightening on Taft as it tells us that he was very supportive of his daughter’s educational pursuits and in fact was trying to keep her motivated (as all of us who have been here (and I’ve been there twice) now that is very hard to keep going) in finishing up her thesis promptly (I had to figuratively chain myself to my computer chair to finish up my final rewrites).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quiz Time

Live Sicence recently reported that Americans flunked a three question political quiz. The three questions were what is the controlling party of the US House of Representatives, who is the Secretary of State and who is the British Prime Minister. Not a hard quiz at all - could you pass?

Anyway, that article explains why I was at Live Science and found this quiz on on bizzare US presidential elections. I actually found this a hard quiz - how did you do? If some of you post your scores, I might post mine (it embarrasses me).

They also have a recent article on a current hot topic - what it takes to be president where they look at the prolifes of our past presidents. This has been published in various places with the election looming.

On a more interesting note, they have an article on two mathematicians who devised an mathematical method to predict the next US president. As a mathematican myself, I found this very interesting (although I must say not that convincing). There is also an article on why presidential polls aren't not always accurate predictors (I found this much more convincing). In addition, there is a piece on how cell phones are skewing results. To me this is similar to the issues they had when they first started using telephone polling and since only a certain segement of society had phones, it meant skewed results.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

LBJ’s Daisy Ad

I posted on campaign ads earlier this week and one of the ads mentioned in the article was Johnson’s famous “Daisy Ad,” which was only broadcast once (September 7, 1964):
At the time, the ad had shock value and reinforced the image that many Americans had of Republican nominee Barry Goldwater as a warmonger. In fact, Johnson and his advisers decided that running the commercial more than once would be overkill. They also knew that the news media would give it extensive coverage, which they did. LBJ won in a landslide.

Now, of course, I had to go find it and since I now understand how to embed YouTube videos, I thought I’d share it here as well. I promise this is the last old campaign ad for awhile!

LBJ’s Daisy Ad - YouTube

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Campaign Speeches

This week we are discussing what is the most important campaign speech (and I got the list from US News and World Report because I needed to narrow it down as I’m sure many of you have different speeches you might add in (you can always add in your pick as a comment)). Now in case some of you don’t recognize a particular speech, I’m including links to a full text version of each speech for your use in deciding your choice.

Have fun!

Poll: What Was the Most Consequential Presidential Election?

The poll has closed for the question, "What was most consequential presidential election?" Thanks to all who participated by voting. Also, thanks to Jennie Weber for suggesting the question.

1860 - Lincoln was the winner with 35%. It is hard to argue with this. As the wording at the Lincoln Memorial notes:


Would there be a Union as we know it if Lincoln had not won in 1860?

1932 - FDR came in a close second with 31%.

The Election of 1800 came in third with 14%. I am a bit surprised this did not rank higher. As The Election of 1800: Teaching about a Critical Moment in the History of American Constitutional Democracy notes, "But this democratic tradition had to be earned. In 1800 American democracy faced one of its most serious challenges when Republican Thomas Jefferson defeated Federalist President John Adams. World history reveals that in all too many cases, political leaders defeated at the ballot have not honored the voice of the people. But America followed a different course. The Federalists handed over the reins of power to their hated rivals, setting a precedent that has guided American politics ever since." It is still true. If Obama beats McCain, the Republicans will hand power over peacefully to the Democrats. This is pretty amazing considering most of history.

1980 - Reagan came in fourth with 11%. Finishing last in the poll was 1789 - Washington with 7%. President Washington may have been first but I guess the poll participants figure American democracy was preordained!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Campaign Ads

With the election looming, I'm sure you have all seen your share of this year's political ads. The first use of TV as a campaigning medium can be found with the 1952 campaign. "Eisenhower Answers America" ads set up voters asking Eisenhower questions that he would answer, like talking about the high cost of living:
One of the first TV ad campaigns was "Eisenhower Answers America" in 1952. Primitive by today's standards, it featured archetypal voters asking earnest questions to Ike, speaking upward as if to the heavens. In one, a homemaker says, "You know what things cost today. High prices are just driving me crazy." Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican nominee, immediately appears on screen and answers benevolently, "Yes, my Mamie [his wife] gets after me about the high cost of living. It's another reason why I say it's time for a change—time to get back to an honest dollar and an honest dollar's worth."

I've pulled the ad that is referred to above from YouTube for you to view!

You can read about some memorable TV political ads in the full story from US News and World Report. This is from a collection of campaign highlights.

And because that ad was so much fun, here's another one - this jingle might be more familiar to you!

YouTube - 1952 Eisenhower Campaign Ad

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Excerpt: Failures Of The Presidents: From The Whiskey Rebellion And War Of 1812 To The Bay Of Pigs And War In Iraq

A few weeks ago, I posted a book review of Failures of the Presidents as well as an excerpt. I had actually requested a different excerpt than the one I posted (on Kennedy) from one of the chapters I had noted as particuarly well done. The approval for that excerpt just came through, so now you are getting a second excerpt from this book - I personally think this chapter was one of the best in the book and hope you enjoy it as well.
The Pullman Strike
Grover Cleveland
DEATH, WORK, AND TAXES The Pullman debacle was the first national strike in American history. In President Cleveland's defense, there was no precedent of this magnitude on which to base a response. Some people later claimed that Cleveland should have acted sooner, before the strike got out of hand, or perhaps sent in an envoy to act as a mediator between Pullman and the strikers. But he of course did neither. In any event, by day's end on My 6, 1894, American forces would make history by firing on and killing American citizens. As it happened, US. marshals and American military forces moved in and tried to take back the town of Pullman- In doing so, soldiers killed six to eight men, according to an official report of the incident. Many more deaths were later attributed to the strike, though it was impossible to point a finger at which law enforcement group--if any--was responsible.
On July 8, President Cleveland issued a proclamation in haste, making it clear that he was cautioning “all good citizens ... against aiding, countenancing, encouraging, or taking any part in such unlawful obstructions, combinations, and assemblages.” Anyone refusing to abide by the order would be subject to arrest. The troops in Pullman and Chicago, in addition to those across the country, were given full authority, the president wrote, to "act with all the moderation and forbearance consistent with the accomplishment of the desired end.”
The violence came to a slow end in Pullman and Chicago, but it escalated in other parts of the nation. In the days following the president's proclamation, the White House received dispatches from North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington State, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, and New Mexico. Most echoed what Idahogovernor W.J. McConnell wrote:
Domestic violence in the form of an unlawful conspiracy to destroy life and property exists in Shoshone County, Idaho. Armed men in such force that I am powerless to aid the civil authority in restoring order. Citizens residing in the county are deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Constitution. The legislature of the state cannot be convened at this time. The presence of regular troops is absolutely necessary. I therefore call upon you to direct that at least two companies of regulars be stationed in said county until order is restored and the laws recognized.
By the end of July, trains were running again, commerce was literally back on track, and the US mail was being delivered. President Cleveland assigned a commission to investigate and assess the outcome and the reasons why the strike turned into a pitched battle that temporarily crippled the country's transportation system. Known as the President's Strike Commission, Commissioner of Labor Carroll D. Wright, John D. Keenon of New York, and Nicholas E. Worthington of Illinois could never pinpoint a direct cause of the destruction or identify one specific group responsible for the damages. What it did conclude, however, was how much the strike cost America, as well as the rail- roads, estimating that Pullman employees lost somewhere around $350,000 in wages. In addition, railroad workers in and around Chicago who participated in the strike lost about $1.4 million more. But more than any of that, the commission concluded, “On the plea of upholding the law and protecting life and property, the General Managers’ Association ... asked for and obtained the judicial and military arms of the federal government to crush the strike." Moreover, the commission further stated that “the facts obtained by the investigating commission appointed by Mr. Cleveland showed that there was very little disorder at Chicago [and Pullman] up to July 3, when the federal troops appeared on the scene.” On top of that, according to the Chicago fire department's official report, “the total damage up to July 6 had been less than $6,000.”
The commission reported twelve as its official number of people “shot and fatally wounded," a number few agreed with, considering that hundreds had died from being caught in burning buildings, hit by falling debris, or crushed by the crowds, while others were beaten to death and stoned, with perhaps thousands more dying under residual circumstances throughout the country. The commission recommended that Congress pass a federal law prohibiting employers from firing striking workers or "blackballing" labor union supporters. Born strictly out of the Pullman strike, the Erdman Act, passed in 1898, provided "voluntary mediation of railroad labor disputes and recourse to a board of arbitration.” Congress passed the law specifically in response to “growing public opposition to the use of federal troops to put down strikes."
Writing about the strike in 1921, historian David Saville Muzzey called it the 'Most serious industrial struggle in the history of our country." Surely, beyond changing the way labor disputes were later settled, the Erdman Act was likely a direct result of the Pullman strike. American labor and industry, in addition, changed drastically as big business became wealthier and union membership grew-enormously-from 447,000 to 2.1 million members between 1897 and 1904.
The precedent set in Pullman certainly made government less likely to get involved in labor disputes and encouraged businesses to hire special management teams to deal with unions and labor spats. The rise of the union, in general, helped increase blue collar wages and broaden public support for the American workforce, as support for the capitalists who hired them waned. Yet it would take years for corporate America to accept these changes. Suffice it to say that socialism was on the rise as the twentieth century dawned. In fact, Eugene V. Debs, who had played such a pivotal role in Pullman, emerged from his six-month prison term a radical socialist, running for president five times on a ticket that included his new title as the principal talking head for the Socialist Party of America.
The above is an excerpt from the book Failures Of The Presidents; From The Whiskey Rebellion And War Of 1812 To The Bay Of Pigs And War In Iraqby Thomas J. Craughwell with M. William Phelps
Published by Fair Winds; September 2008;$19.95US/$21.95CAN; 978-1-59233-299-1
Copyright © 2008 Thomas J. Craughwell
Author Bio
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of several books, most recently How the Barbarian Invasions Shaped the Modern World (Fair Winds Press, 2008) and Stealing Lincoln's Body(Harvard University Press, 2007). He has written articles on history, religion, politics, and popular culture for the Wall Street Journal, American Spectator, and U.S. News & World Report. He lives in Bethel, Connecticut.
Journalist, lecturer, and historian M. William Phelps is the author of eleven books, including his most recent, Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America’s First Spy (Thomas Dunne Books, 2008). He lives in Vernon, Connecticut.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Time to Play!

It's Friday and time to play! Who is this a picture of and what is the signficance?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Live-Forever Jones, Presidential Candidate

I recently finished reading a book titled Offbeat Kentuckians by Keven McQueen. It was great! I loved all the short kooky biographies.

One biography stood out for me though. It was of Leonard Jones. He is better remembered as Live-Forever Jones. He has many claims to fame one of them being that he ran repeatedly for the office of President of the United States in the 19th century.

Jones was born in 1797 in Virginia. He moved to Kentucky with his family when he was 7. He became a land speculator and amassed a fortune. However, the love of his life ended their engagement and broke his heart. His mental health seems to have suffered greatly as a result.

After trying out several religions, Jones fell in with a street preacher by the name of McDaniel who convinced Jones that he was immortal. According to McDaniel, death was a by-product of sin, and anyone could achieve immortality through prayer and fasting. Even though McDaniel died shortly thereafter, Jones took the message to heart and believed he was going to live forever.

Jones was also obsessed with politics. He formed a one man political party (The High Moral Party) and ran for a variety of offices. His big goal was to become President of the United States. Alas for Jones, he never won anything and got few votes. Jones filed a lawsuit against President Buchanan in 1856 on the grounds his name had not appeared on the ballot. He also sued Lincoln in 1860 trying to have the election declared invalid. He was ignored both times. When Lincoln was murdered in 1865, Jones took that as a sign from God that the "morally elected president" (himself) had not been allowed to serve.

Despite his obvious lunacy, the people of Louisville seemed to have liked Live-Forever Jones. They took care of him and often gave him money and goods. Despite what Jones believed, he did die in 1868 at the age 0f 71.

There have been a lot of "fringe" presidential candidates in American history. I think Live-Forever though may be at the top of the list!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Consequential Elections

Our poll this week came from an article in a recent US News and World Report and so to go with the poll, I’m posting the information from the article here so you can do some research before weighing in the poll. The five elections that we’ve pulled are from a ten part series the magazine did on consequential elections (we choose the ones that ran in the paper copy for the most part barring that we didn’t use two Lincoln elections):

The stakes in this year's presidential campaign are high. But that's nothing new. There have been many other pivotal presidential elections in our history, some that set an entirely new course for the United States and a few that were crucial to the very survival of the republic. To put the current campaign in perspective, U.S. News White House Correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh, author of four books on the presidency, examines the 10 most consequential elections in American history—the races that produced the biggest change and had the most lasting impact.

Now check out each of these elections:

Without George Washington, the survival of the United States might have been impossible. He had, after all, served as the top general and inspirational leader in the Revolutionary War, and he was the most esteemed presence among the Founders as they put together the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson called his election "the Revolution of 1800" because it marked the first time that power in America passed from one party to another…."The election confirmed the emergence of a two-party system in American politics, a development that must have seemed ironic to some Federalists and Democratic-Republicans," writes historian Thomas Connelly, "because most of them had believed with George Washington that the appearance of parties would do more harm than good….”

...hope for conciliation was a futile one. With the national government finally in antislavery hands, the South proceeded to secede. By the time Lincoln took the oath of office, in fact, a Confederate government under Jefferson Davis was already in place. It represented the breakaway states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. The Confederacy was joined later by Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Eventually, the economy would again stall and Roosevelt's opponents would slow his programs. He would be accused of overreaching and betraying the American values of self-reliance and free market capitalism. But the election of 1932 had changed America forever.

Reagan proved to be the antidote. He urged Americans to believe in themselves again and declared that the United States was a "shining city on a hill" whose best days were still ahead. Many people thought that he was too extreme and simplistic, but opposition to the status quo ran so deep that the electorate decided to give the former movie star a chance in the White House. He defeated Carter in a landslide, winning 44 million votes, or 50.7 percent, and 489 electoral votes to Carter's 35.5 million votes, or 41 percent, and only 44 electoral votes. It marked a historic departure from the path that Franklin Roosevelt set toward ever-bigger government and shattered FDR's political coalition that had dominated American politics for most of the previous half-century.

So take the information from this series and add it to your own as you choose what you think was the most historically important election!

Poll: What was the best 20th Century Presidential Autobiography?

The poll has closed for the question, "What was the best 20th Century Presidential Autobiography?" Thanks to all who participated by voting.

There was a tie for first place. The Autobiography of Harry Truman and The Memoirs of Richard Nixon each got 23% of the vote. My Life by Bill Clinton got 19%. An American Life by Ronald Reagan received 14% of the vote. Silent Cal (The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge) came in last with 9%.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Montpelier Restored

In January 2007 I was at Montpelier and reported that it was undergoing massive renovations. They have finally finished these renovations and it was officially reopened on September 17, 2008 (the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was even there). The renovations cost $24 million dollars and the goal was to return it to what it looked like between 1809 and 1836. These renovations were started in 2003, so this has been a massive project:
In 2003, the Montpelier Foundation launched its restoration, funded largely by $20 million from the estate of banking heir Paul Mellon. After architectural historians uncovered evidence of the old structure from documents and physical imprints beneath renovations, workers removed entire wings added by the duPonts, reducing the structure from 36,000 square feet to 12,261 square feet. They also stripped off stucco from the exterior brick, rebuilt the front porch and rear colonnade, and replaced the tin roof with a cypress-shingle roof, among other projects.

This renovation was discussed in the latest issue of Preservation Magazine. There was fear that an accurate renovation would be impossible, but researchers were able to find the needed information to correctly redo the house:
Several post-Madison changes were obvious. In the late 1850s, the front porch floor had been removed and the columns brought down to the ground. But architectural advisers doubted they could learn enough about other remodelings to proceed with an accurate restoration. "Probably every person on the committee went in there thinking you should probably not remove the duPont stuff," says Travis McDonald, director of architectural restoration for Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia retreat.

What changed their minds was painstaking research.

Historians peering under the hipped roofs on Montpelier's wings expected to find stuccoed walls, but discovered bare brick instead (leading to a lot of delicate chipping over the next few years). Researchers punched 300-plus investigative holes into the walls, discovering the ghostly outlines of missing chair rails and stairs. They even uncovered original fireplaces behind the duPonts' elaborate mantels, and fragments of carvings on chimney pieces—evidence enough to allow a master stoneworker to refashion the originals. The team also pored over James Dinsmore's bills, which included accounts of exactly which materials he had used. "It's been a mountaintop experience to witness the revelations as the house gives up its secrets," says Mark Wenger, an architect who was on the staff of Colonial Williamsburg when he started the investigation, and now works with Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects—the firm overseeing the restoration.

Serendipitous discoveries continued after the investigation ended and deconstruction began. A lecturer from Bryn Mawr College, informed of the Montpelier project, searched the records of a 19th-century insurance firm and happened upon a plat of the estate dating to 1837. It revealed several previously unknown buildings—slaves' quarters and smokehouses that are now being excavated by Montpelier's director of archaeology, Matthew Reeves.

In the end, Wenger's team determined that the house was "both knowable and physically recoverable," and the architectural advisers concurred.

Now, with the heavy lifting of restoration nearly done, curators are attempting to trace Madison's widely dispersed furnishings. In one recent coup, the curators tracked a large Madison-owned painting, Pan, Youths and Nymphs, by Gerrit van Honthorst, to a collector in Amsterdam, who has agreed to loan it. Associate Curator Allison Deeds has even figured out where it hung, using original nail holes and period descriptions of the room as her guide. (Paintings won't appear on the walls of the main building until the plaster dries and the air conditioning gets up to speed.)

Despite this, not everyone agrees with the renovation of the house:
One skeptic is Daniel Bluestone, director of the historic preservation program at the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville. Though he concedes that the scientific-sounding research and analysis at Montpelier are "seductive," they make it easy to overlook just how much of the building is, in fact, new—as opposed to "recovered." (Mark Wenger guesses that roughly 20 percent of the house is not original construction.)

A more central question, says Bluestone, is, "Do you take your preservation in layers?" The 2002 house, with its intertwined Madison and duPont legacies, offered extensive opportunities for public education. "What the Montpelier approach does is create a time capsule," he says. " That breaks any sense of continuity between the past and the present."

But in any case the finished house is gorgeous and well worth a trip if you are in the Virginia area.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ida's Slippers

This is a pair of crocheted slippers that Ida McKinley made. You can read the description, but honestly, I disagree with about half of it, so I’d rather you not. (I don't blame the Ohio Memory Project, but rather the institution who holds these a note unless you have young children, I do NOT recommend that particular is a great museum for little kids...dinosaurs and even live animals).

Ida made, by her own count, about 3000 pairs of these slippers that she would give away to anyone asking for a donation that they could auction off as something a First Lady made.

Now what I disagree with from the description (since you probably read it). First, you’ll note I have a different number of slippers. Second, we don’t know what Ida McKinley did at her father’s bank – I’ve heard cashier and loan officers, but the truth is we aren’t sure. All we know is that she worked there. Third, Ida did NOT have epilepsy. All her health problems date to her second pregnancy. It is very hard to reverse diagnose anyone, but since we can date her problems, that does offer some insight. As to her ailments, they were considered a problem when William ran for president and they made a point of using her picture to show she was willing and able to be First Lady. The McKinleys broke tradition and sat her by his side at dinners so that if she went into a seizure he could put a handkerchief over her face until she was done. Then he’d take it off and they’d go on as if nothing had happened.

Now I’ve also heard that some historians believe she used her health to keep William on a short leash because there are no known seizures after he died in 1901. She was living alone, so either way is possible – you can decide if you want to believe well or her or not.

Friday, October 10, 2008

FDR and Great Depression

This is an interesting article that showcases the ideas of two UCLA economists who say that FDR actually prolonged the Depression by 7 years. Cole and Ohanian argue that had the government not intervened the economy would have rallied on its own and much more quickly:
"President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services," said Cole, also a UCLA professor of economics. "So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies."

Using data collected in 1929 by the Conference Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cole and Ohanian were able to establish average wages and prices across a range of industries just prior to the Depression. By adjusting for annual increases in productivity, they were able to use the 1929 benchmark to figure out what prices and wages would have been during every year of the Depression had Roosevelt's policies not gone into effect. They then compared those figures with actual prices and wages as reflected in the Conference Board data.

In the three years following the implementation of Roosevelt's policies, wages in 11 key industries averaged 25 percent higher than they otherwise would have done, the economists calculate. But unemployment was also 25 percent higher than it should have been, given gains in productivity.

Meanwhile, prices across 19 industries averaged 23 percent above where they should have been, given the state of the economy. With goods and services that much harder for consumers to afford, demand stalled and the gross national product floundered at 27 percent below where it otherwise might have been.

"High wages and high prices in an economic slump run contrary to everything we know about market forces in economic downturns," Ohanian said. "As we've seen in the past several years, salaries and prices fall when unemployment is high. By artificially inflating both, the New Deal policies short-circuited the market's self-correcting forces."

Just a new look at the New Deal and the Great Depression.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

LBJ’s Shadow

There is an article by Harry Middleton (former director of the LBJ library) in Prologue about LBJ’s legacy as the centennial of LBJ’s birth passes (it was August 27, 2008).

The article says that Johnson reshaped the US government and “[h]is legacy—his revolution, if indeed that is what it should be called—was an avalanche of legislation.”

Johnson knew how to work the legistlative branch of the government and get things accomplishment:
When Johnson was majority leader in the Senate, reporters started calling him powerful. His reaction was that the only power he had was the power to persuade—which prompted another senator to observe, "Good God Almighty, that's like saying the only wind we have is a hurricane." It was legendary, but it was real, and it was a power Johnson carried with him into the White House. John F. Kennedy had had an ambitious agenda, but he had faced a Congress that was often hostile and almost always reluctant to move. So many of the Kennedy initiatives were still stalled in committees.

In virtually no time, Johnson—catapulted into the presidency after Kennedy's assassination—changed that condition. Along with his ability to bring reluctant senators to his side of a proposition, he skillfully exploited the trauma the nation experienced in the wake of Kennedy's murder—a sense that the country wanted to feel that something important and worthwhile was being accomplished in the midst of tragedy. The result was the outpouring of legislation that would continue—although encountering significant speed bumps caused by the war in Vietnam—right on to the end of his administration five years later.

His legislation covered things like poverty, education, medical insurance for the elderly, immigration changes, help to the consumer at the market, and then, of course, civil rights legislation:
Kennedy had proposed a law that would have outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, but it never got to the floor of either the House or Senate. Johnson urged Congress to pass it as a memorial to the fallen leader, and he put the full muscle of his administration behind his plea.

"We have talked long enough in this country about civil rights," he told Congress in his first speech as President. "We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is now time to write the next chapter and write it in the books of law." Eventually, the key to passing the measure was Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader from Illinois. Only Dirksen had the clout to persuade his fellow Republicans to vote to break a filibuster being staged by opposition Southerners. Dirksen was not known for any particular interest in civil rights—but he was known to be highly susceptible to flattery. So Johnson—at his persuasive best, or his shameless worst, depending on how you look at it—went to work. And the Texas President assured the Illinois senator that if he would take the leadership in getting the bill passed, Illinois school children would hereafter know only two names to honor—Abraham Lincoln and Everett Dirksen. Finally, Dirksen announced his recognition of an idea whose time had come. The bill passed. That was in 1964.

He then went on to tackle voting rights. At the end of his five years, he could claim over 1000 laws with 300 major laws all passed under his administration.

Johnson also was president during the war in Vietnam, which is what most of us remember him for more than the impressive legislative record:
Johnson inherited the war in Vietnam, and the commitments of the two Presidents who preceded him to assist South Vietnam defend itself against the efforts of the Communist North to take it over. He was as much a Cold Warrior as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy—and indeed the nation at large—were. He believed as fervently as most of his countrymen did in the danger of falling dominoes. But Johnson also—we know this because of his once-secret telephone conversations—revealed early in his presidency his fears of getting trapped in a war that couldn't be won.

Yet it was Johnson who changed the course of the war—Americanized it, in effect—by sending in U.S. forces to fight and not just advise the South Vietnamese, which had been the American mission. From this there was no turning back. Tensions grew. Protests rocked and then divided the country.

That critical decision was made by Johnson in the spring of 1965, when the war was steadily being lost. The only hope of "turning the tide," said his secretary of defense, secretary of state, national security adviser, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to commit combat troops.

The article points out that Johnson saw Vietnam as a way to prevent World War III:
Robert McNamara, who came eventually to doubt the wisdom of the war he had helped to shape, cited that warning of Rusk's as the basic reason for his, the President's, and the other advisers' decision for action: "I cannot overstate the impact our generation's experiences had on . . . all of us. We had lived through the years of war that resulted from the western powers not stopping the advance of Hitler when there still was time."

That was it: the lesson of Munich. World War II could have been prevented if only we had had the wit, the wisdom, and the fortitude to stop Hitler while there still was time. The relevance of that lesson was obvious: to avoid another war, communism, the new aggressive force bent on world domination, had to be stopped wherever it showed its aggressive face—and that face was clearly visible in Vietnam.

That's how a generation of leaders saw it. That's how Johnson saw it. He heard it from his trusted advisers, and he heard it from his gut. "I was staring at World War III."

The author points out that we see this war differently today:
All these years later, it's hard for a new generation to recapture—or perhaps even understand—that belief. All of Vietnam is under communist control today—but the dominoes did not fall; the juggernaut did not sweep through Southeast Asia, or endanger our security.

Did our stand in Vietnam count for anything? Did it contribute in any way to the ending of the Cold War? I don't pretend to know the answer, as once I thought I did. But I do know that Johnson died believing he had done what he had to do to prevent war, and that history would understand that. I hope it will.

One really interesting fact I learned in this article was that Johnson believed passionately that his library and paper should be open to the public – in all the good and the bad. As a researcher, this really hit home to me and I wanted to share it with you:
The Presidential library, on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin, that houses his papers and bears his name is also part of his legacy. "It's all here, the story of our time, with the bark off," he said at the library's dedication, "for friend and foe alike to judge."

He meant it. He wanted all the papers opened for research as quickly as possible. He was impatient with the general if unspoken rule at the time that it took at least five years for the first group to be opened. "Let's cut that in half," he ordered.

And he was not at all sympathetic with the general rules for keeping papers closed. "You're being much too cautious," he said when he saw some of the candidates for closing. "I said [referring to his dedication speech] the bark's off. Now you're going to have me pick up the New York Times and read, 'Well, Johnson's got the bark still on.'" When he thought he saw signs we intended to go easy on him, he told me, "Good men have been trying to protect my reputation for 40 years, and not a damn one has succeeded. What makes you think you can?"

He insisted that there be a prominent exhibit in the museum on the controversies of the time, and he made his own contribution to it—a postcard from a man in California. He found it by plowing through a box of unfriendly correspondence himself. It read: "I demand that you as a gutless son-of-a-bitch resign as President of the United States."

All of this was at some variance with the reputation for secrecy and thin-skinnedness he had achieved as President. But it was real, and we took him at his word and began to build the library's reputation on that word.

We violated his instructions when we opened his telephone conversations. Those instructions from the grave were that the tapes be kept closed for 50 years after his death. With Lady Bird's support, we cut that short by about three decades. But we would not have done it had we not been so impressed by his early instruction to open everything immediately. As it happened, the release of the telephone conversations has had a decided effect—positive—on his reputation. Had he anticipated that, I doubt he would have imposed that 50-year restriction—or any restriction at all, for that matter.

This is a wonderful encapsulation of Johnson’s legacy as President and really gives a good look at the man and his work.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Poll: What was the best series of Presidential debates?

The poll has closed for the question, "What was the best series of Presidential debates?" Thanks to all who participated by voting.

Not surprisingly, the almost mythical Kennedy-Nixon Debate of 1960 was the winner with 37% of the vote. The wildly entertaining Bush-Clinton-Perot Debates in 1992 came in second with 29%. The Carter-Reagan-Anderson Debates of 1980 (though Carter refused to show up for the first one) came in third with 22%. Bush-Dukakis, 1988 came in fourth with 11%. With no votes, Bush-Gore, 2000 came in last.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

McKinley Letter on Hayes Dinner

This is a fun letter that William McKinley wrote to his wife about a dinner he had with President Hayes. It is from the McKinley Museum and part of the Ohio Memory Project. I also find connections between past presidents and first ladies fascinating. Since most presidents were politically active (McKinley spent 14 years in Congress before becoming Governor of Ohio and then President) before they ran for president, it means they would have some connection to past administrations and these intersections intrigue me. In the letter I have posted here (and I also love handwritten notes – they seem so much more personal) is from March 22, 1880. McKinley notes that he “went last night to the President’s to dinner.” While he doesn’t describe the dinner itself, he mentions some people who were there, which included some of Mrs. Hayes’ relatives.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Patsy and Polly

I’m back to White House hostesses – my goal is eventually cover them all since they are often overlooked.

Martha Jefferson was long deceased by the time Thomas Jefferson came to office. So Jefferson used his daughters, Patsy and Polly, as well as the wife of his Secretary of State, Dolley Madison (who I hope you all know!) to help with his social activities.

I thought I’d provide a few details on the life of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph and Maria “Polly” Jefferson Eppes here:

Martha Jefferson Randolph, known as "Patsy" in her youth, was the eldest child of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. Educated in Philadelphia and Paris during the 1780s, she married her third cousin Thomas Mann Randolph, in 1790. The couple had 11 living children, whom Martha instructed at home. Closely following and supporting her father’s career, Martha served as "first lady" from 1802-3 and 1805-6 in the President’s House, or the White House, earning a reputation for her intellectual abilities. After Jefferson’s retirement, Martha and her children spent their time primarily at Monticello, even while Thomas Mann Randolph served in Richmond as Governor. The financial difficulties of both her father and husband were a continual strain on Martha. After Jefferson’s death in 1826, she was forced to sell Monticello and move to Tufton to live with her eldest son, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. Martha reconciled with her estranged husband shortly before his death in 1828 and lived out the rest of her life with her children in Boston, Washington, D.C., and at her Edgehill estate in Albemarle County. Upon her death, she was buried alongside her husband and father at Monticello.

Maria Jefferson, called Polly as a child, was the second of the two children of Thomas and Martha Jefferson to survive to adulthood. Following her mother's death in 1782, Maria was sent to stay with her aunt, Elizabeth Wayles Eppes. Polly became very attached to the family at Eppington, and when Jefferson arranged for the eight-year-old to join him and Martha in Paris, she wrote, "I don't want to go to France, I had rather stay with Aunt Eppes." Upon her arrival in England, Polly lived briefly with Abigail and John Adams, who were so charmed by the little girl that Mrs. Adams wrote to Jefferson that "she was the favorite of everyone in the house."
In 1797, Maria married her cousin, John Wayles Eppes, and returned to live at Eppington. Like her mother, Maria suffered from poor health; she died in 1804 at the age of twenty-five.

I hope you enjoyed this little sidebar into the lives of Jefferson's daughters.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

O.J. Simpson and President Clinton

O. J. Simpson was found guilty of armed robbery and kidnapping two days ago. I imagine most of us are not shocked. Back in 1995, I thought Simpson may have been innocent of the murder charges he was acquitted of back then. However, when he wrote If I Did It, I realized he had been guilty and had gotten away with murder.

The 'Trial of the Century" attracted high level scrutiny. His mid-1990s murder trial got the attention of President Clinton. Clinton had played golf with Simpson shortly before the murders. George Stephanopoulos at Newsweek (March 15, 1999) ( and wrote:

In the fall of '95, however, the American public was preoccupied with a drama far from Washington. In the White House, we calculated what the O. J. Simpson verdict would mean for Clinton and the country--and got ready for the worst.

On Monday, Oct. 2, Gene Sperling and I were in my office when CNN's "Breaking News" logo lit up the television that was always on. Caught off guard by the fact that the jury's deliberations had taken less than four hours, chief of staff Leon Panetta hastily called a meeting in his office. The president would need a statement responding to the verdict, which would come the next day, and the Justice Department was preparing for possible riots in Los Angeles.

Naturally, we began speculating on the verdict. Leon, a former prosecutor and strict disciplinarian, went straight to guilty. Dick Morris went straight to the polls: "Eighty percent of the blacks in the country think O.J.'s been framed or that there was police misconduct. He's innocent." My own conclusion was more a wish than a prediction. "Guilty," I said. The president refused to play, saying only that he was surprised at how quickly the verdict had been reached. Morris had an answer for that too: "That kind of impetuousness is characteristic of blacks."

The next morning, we met with Justice Department officials to review their contingency plans. Their Community Services Task Force reported that African-Americans in Los Angeles were on tenterhooks and focused on Mark Fuhrman. They feared a guilty verdict would set off riots in the streets, and were coordinating with the LAPD and community leaders to keep the situation under control. Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick told us that once the verdict was announced, the Justice Department would pursue a civil-rights complaint against Mark Fuhrman and investigate allegations of misconduct against the police--a move that would be especially crucial if O.J. was found guilty. We all agreed that the president's statement should be as neutral as possible.

When we went to get the president's approval, he opened the meeting with a wan stab at humor: "So, Jamie, are we going to have black or white riots today?" I flashed back to a moment shortly after Simpson's arrest. Clinton was in his dining room, recalling the time he'd played golf with O.J. and reflecting on the anxieties that eat away at a middle-aged man whose greatest achievements are behind him. But now the president was more focused on politics than psychology. The prospect of acquittal made Clinton anxious. He feared it would fuel white resentment and feed the prejudiced notion that "blacks can't be trusted with the criminal-justice system." An acquittal would deepen racial divisions; and while Clinton didn't say it then, he knew it could also mean more "angry white males" voting Republican in 1996.

The Washington Post noted:

Clinton thought O.J. Simpson was guilty and worried that his October 1995 acquittal would enflame the "angry-white-male" vote. When the verdict came down, "he struggled to remain silent, but a single disgusted syllable slipped out: 'S -- -.' "

I have to believe that the current O.J. Simpson trial and conviction resulted in no high level talks in the Bush Administration. This trial was a lot more low key. And further, few have sympathy for Simpson anymore. He probably deserves his fate. However, as he has money, he may be able to appeal his way out of this charge too. (Money talks which is the likely reason Simpson walked back in 1995). I guess he could be the biggest victim of the criminal justice system in history but I doubt it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Babe Ruth Letter

This is something light for a Friday. Babe Ruth wrote a letter of condolence to Mrs. Harding after President Harding’s death and the Ohio Historical Society has put this online as part of the Ohio Memory Project.
I thought I’d transcribe this letter for everyone as I found it an interesting little tidbit:
St. Nicholas Place
Aug 11th 1923

Dear Mrs. Harding

As I had the privilege of meeting President Harding on several occasions I hope you will permit me to offer you my sympathy not merely as an admirer but as a personal friend. President Harding ‘s interest in Baseball and his many kind acts toward individual players was deeply appreciated by all of us.

Mrs. Ruth joins me in the wish that you will be given the strength to bear your great sorry.

George H. Ruth

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Made in China

Jeffrey Engel argues that George H.W. Bush’s presidency was made in China in his article. Bush saw China as very important to world politics:
Bush arguably knew China better than any other American President, having served as Washington’s top diplomat in China during the mid-1970s. While in the White House he famously served as “his own China Desk Officer,” that is, as his own resident expert on all facets of the complex yet vital Sino-American relationship. China held the key to a peaceful 21st century, he argued throughout this time in office (and after), and American officials should take every opportunity possible to warm relations with Chinese policymakers and progressive forces alike.
Bush’s time in China taught him important lessons that helped him in his neogotiations when China during trying time:
These lessons bore fruit during Bush’s Presidency. They can be witnessed in his response to the Tiananmen crackdown, when he ignored calls from both sides of the political spectrum to sever ties with Beijing. He chose instead to contact privately his old friend, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, a man he had met in 1974, using their friendship as a lifeline to rescue Sino-American relations from rocky shoals. Upon flying to China for the first time in October of 1974, Bush admitted to his diary that “it is my hope that I will be able to meet the next generation of China’s leaders, whoever they may prove to be.” Fifteen years later, when faced with the Tiananmen crisis, he wrote Deng a personal letter, one shown only to his closest advisers. “I wanted a letter straight from my heart,” Bush later explained, “so I composed it myself.” Their two nations needed to preserve their relationship, Bush told Deng. But his plea should carry extra weight because of their long-standing friendship. Some have criticized Bush for being too friendly with the architects of the Tiananmen massacre. Yet the crucial point is not to judge what Bush did, but rather to understand that everything he did during those trying weeks in 1989, he consciously did because of his own personal experience with China and its leaders. As he related to his diary the midst of the crisis, events were “highly complex, yet I am determined to try to preserve this relationship—[and to] cool the rhetoric….I take this relationship very personally, and I want to handle it that way.” He said much the same during a 2005 interview, noting that his personal relationship with Deng deeply informed the policies he pursued. “Had I not met the man,” Bush said, “I think I would have been less convinced that we should keep relations with them going after Tiananmen Square.”

With this article we can really explore how important Bush’s time in China was and how well he handled the foreign situation there.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Let's take a history stroll.....

History Carnival Logo

Welcome to the history carnival! It's raining here, so a perfect time to take a stroll through some history blogs as you can't do it outside (unless your weather is better than mine). With the American election heating up, we have a number of election related posts (and I thought that was particularly appropriate since we are at the American Presidents’ Blog), but we also have posts that span a variety of history topics. Have fun "strolling!"

American History
Been watching the news about hurricane season in the US? Check the Ike of the past – Galveston’s 1900 storm - from Scott at The Edge of the American West. On the same topic of American storms, check out Hoover’s involvement in the 1927 Mississippi flood at the American Presidents’ Blog.

Sewer-Sewist talks about WPA sewing projects to help employ women during the Great Depression.

Progressive Historians discuss if this is the end of the American Empire.
You can read about Gil Martin’s “ghost” and what the real story was at the Virtual Dime Museum.

EHT at History is Elementary discusses the “Disease of Washington.”

It’s Election Time!
Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for US President and you can read about her disabled son from Penny at Disability Studies, Temple U.

Another interesting American candidate is Eugene V. Debs, who Jonathan Rees talks about at Milestone Documents.

Jennie at Adam’s Brag Book (this is me, let’s be honest here) posted a letter Mamie Eisenhower wrote during the 1952 presidential election.

Lisa at Ramblings of a pseudo intellectual tried to figure out whether executive experience makes a good president. See what you think!

World History
Okay, that’s enough time in the US! Let’s "stroll" to some other interesting historical places!

As a way to move from the US to the rest of the world, Lauren at History Hoydens tells us about the South Sea Bubble as a way to make the current US mess not look so bad!

Miland at World History Blog muses on the importance of the horse in history.

Elizabeth Chadwick offers information on Mahelt Marshal.

For a look into Byzantium, you can check out Philobiblon.

Cardinal Wolsey blogs about Saint-Malo and the “Infernal Machine.”

Barista shares the beginnings of television starting with the first public broadcast from Nazi Germany.

Brett at Airminded has an entire series on the 1938 Sudeten Crisis up on his blog, complete with newspaper excerpts.

Think your navigation system is outdated? Check out this early one at Strange Maps.

Research and Writing
Check out Mercurius Politicus for information about digital history and early modern studies. You can continue this discussion with Gavin at Investigations of a Dog.

Larry Ferlazzo shares with us some tools for Online Timelines.

Check out Elizabeth’s post at Scandalous Women on the feud between Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy.

Next Carnival
For something fun to end with, try some Bath Buns by going over to The Old Foodie.

We’ll see you at next month’s carnival, which will be hosted by Penny at Disabilities Studies. You can submit to the history carnival here.